2008 is Going…

It seems an endless slog, 2008 does. It has, however, a very special place in my heart because it’s when my writing career, after 17 years of hard working and trying, came into a bit more focus and provided the very likeness of the thing I set out to create: The ability to write for many different publications on many different topics that interest me. I owe it mostly to the local paper and particularly to Mike Comeaux, one of the editors at the paper with whom I work-the finest editor I’ve had the pleasure of writing for. Because of the newspaper gig, I was able to talk my way into a few other gigs as well and even a few clients to boot. So, in that sense–the biggest sense–2008 was wonderful.

It was grand to watch Peanut grow into her 7th year on our planet and she’s doing so well, so wonderfully. She’s come a long way from just a year ago when, faced with Sofie’s departure, her best friend’s departure and a few other large changes, she wilted under the strain and became a “clinger” on to her mom. That has largely disappeared and she has combined a new sense of real independence and growth with a keen and logical mind, an incredible sense of mathematics and a delightful funny personality. I don’t know how many people have told me what an incredible thing it is to raise a child, but they’re all right. You just have to get open to the ride–and God knows, I wasn’t for a long time. I am now, though.

That also changed in 2008. I became more open to dad-hood. I simply demanded it of myself, to be honest. At once, I determined to work harder and more hours (as a writer) and still provide plenty of time for being “daddy” to my second grader and I’m proud to say both worked.

So–why a long slog? I’m asking you, not me. Well, I suppose if you measure 2008 in terms of the news, politics, elections, budgets, recessions, wars, and all the rest of it–well, it was a long and difficult slog. But of course, my point here is just the opposite: 2008 wasn’t about those things, though they certainly happened.

I made a determination to make some profound changes in my life and in my family’s life in 08 and I did. They were all for the better and so I think it’s just that. Of course, we’re all going to have to respond to the circumstances around us–jobs, money, all of that is a vital function of who we are and we need to pay attention to it. My family is no different than any other, we too have had to make some sacrifices and I expect there will be more. But, that’s not what 2008 was about. 2008, and I dare say 2009, 2010, etc. will be about this:
Creating a life for myself and my family that brings us closer together, honoring God, our values and our lives–while reaching out to create closer and better relationships with those around us.

Happy New Year indeed.

My girls-lovely and gracious wife, sis-in-law and the Peanut.

My girls-lovely and gracious wife, sis-in-law and the Peanut.

Man-made Global Warming has been Disproved

…But don’t take my word for it, go here and read Mr. Cooper’s evidence and proof. It’s not compelling, it’s fact–but then, fact is something that the left has dispensed with lo these many years ago. Perhaps they’ll have a tougher time dealing with this than we thought. Mr. Obama’s picks for “science advisers” are woefully behind in the….well, in the science. That’s a shame. I hope he wises up. The consequences could indeed be disastrous–not because of rogue waves, tornadoes and hurricanes–but because big government is back. Oy.

Doing just fine, thank you.

Doing just fine, thank you.

Valkyrie

The darkest days of the middle 20th Century are surely a wonder still to anyone with even a passing interest in history. The Nazi regime still awakens a thread in us, about what is evil, about how even average folks could allow themselves to be swallowed up by a machine like Hitler’s Germany. The drama is so heightened, so intensified when one stops to realize the sheer enormity of the issue, that it can hardly be contained in words, in books, even in films.

But, of course, it is. In fact, the history channel is forever and constantly referencing the Third Reich and Hitler’s name is so reviled, so much a part of the lexicon of evil, that it has, perhaps, lost its punch. That Stalin was just as brutal, and probably more so, that Rwanda was an injustice on similar proportions, that radical Islamists seek a similar fate for the Jews of the world, hardly compares anymore. Now, it’s de rigeur to see iconic post-modern imagery of President Bush as Hitler and have Hitler compared to anyone that we plain don’t like.

But the makers of the film Valkyrie were quite clear on the evil that Hitler perpetrated. Chris McQuarrie’s apt, tight, elegant script and Bryan Singer’s simple and effective direction, with sweeping cinematography and focused special effects, provided a canvas that was so sweeping, so eloquent and so understated, that even Tom Cruise couldn’t mess it up. Indeed, the prince of bad press did the role of Claus Von Stauffenberg justice. And God knows, justice was not something that was present in Hitler’s Germany.

The story is based on the true elements of the most effective, yet failed, attempt to assassinate Hitler out of the 15 that were tried. Kenneth Brannagh brings yeoman’s service to the role of a General who begins the whole thing and winds up bringing Von Stauffenberg and a host of others, including General Olbricht, played by Bill Nighy, into a nightmare storm where the only honorable course is to assassinate der Fuhrer and remove him while simultaneously taking Berlin and the Nazi party under arrest. It was an ambitious plan that came close to fruition under the guidance of its single-minded and heroic patron, Von Stauffenberg. But, as with all the other attempts, it was doomed to failure and resulted in the executions of many of Germany’s most heroic warriors who sought a better Germany, a better Europe and a place on the ash heap of history for the father of the Reich.

Cruise, Nighy, Brannagh, all were magnificent in their roles. My brother and my friend, Ron, both said the film would have been better had it been in German with subtitles and with German actors. They say it would have lent a kind of gravitas that was missing from the American version. I disagree with their read. For one thing, subtitle movies still smack of esoteric arthouse fare and are usually only consumable by a few. That’s not fair, of course, but this is a film with a message. The broader the sweep, the more powerful the message. Cruise is indeed an apt officer here, understated, under-photographed and made into a character in a story, not a Hollywood star with lots of close-ups on the screen. Oh, there are some close-ups, but our hero was so badly maimed in North Africa, leaving him without a right hand, missing two fingers on the left hand and without a left eye, that Tom Cruise is subsumed by Von Stauffenberg. He’s also written deftly, manifestly as a soldier should be. No, there’s no accent–and Cruise doesn’t try. But he’s damned good in the role.

Brannagh, as I am a big fan, doesn’t get enough screen time. But the time he gets is worthy, necessary and he works it to perfection. He’s a loyal German General officer and his loyalty is shattered by Hitler so badly, that he knows the only way out is to betray his country and kill the Fuhrer. Von Stauffenberg’s failure is his failure and he takes his own life, in a truly soldierly way.

The film is excellent, dark, misty even and full of the layers of bureaucracy that littered the German landscape in the 1940’s. In many ways, it’s that redundancy, that truly absurd level of paperworking, clerical hell, that is Operation Valkyrie’s undoing. It’s the death of art, really–as the planned assassination’s project name is destroyed by Hitler’s layers of red tape, loyal but know-nothing soldiers and ultimately, twists of fate that no one could have foreseen.

Go see it. Be prepared for Cruise to surprise you. He did me.

A Christmas Open-letter to G.M.

Dear Sirs:
Merry Christmas to you! As a U.S. Taxpayer, I’m sure by now you are enjoying your gift of billions of dollars from those of us who were stupid enough to lie back supinely while you fleeced us. Yessir, with a fleece as white as snow.

In light of your Christmas largesse, and feeling the holiday spirit upon you, I think now is the time to put forth an immediate discount to anyone and everyone who sought fit to help you out by buying your less than excellent products. I think a fair offer is this: Anyone who bought one of your cars within the past four years (during which time you frittered away billions of dollars) should cease making car payments to you at once. After all, you went sniveling and whining to our representatives in Congress and took every ounce of dignity you had, burned it up in the fuel on your private jets–then, admittedly, a commercial flight the second time, and asked for money because you don’t know how to run a business.

You may detect a note of bitterness in my tone. Admittedly so. It’s there because, you see, in the real world, those of us who make any money in business, actually have to succeed in order to turn a profit. I’m a teacher by trade. But, I’m also a freelance writer and have more than a dozen clients that I keep because, well…I’m good at what I do. I create a product that my clients, be they magazines, newspapers, businesses or websites, want and that works. As a result, I make money. You on the other hand, make money by making less than adequate products, trying to hawk them and then, when everyone sees through how bad they are, you ask us to bail you out. This is the part where I get confused. You just got a bailout from taxpayers of billions of dollars because you couldn’t create a product that taxpayers want to buy.

Do you honestly believe that this will somehow endear you to the very people whom you one day want to call customers? If so, I’m dying to learn how. When I write something and it gets rejected, by your logic, I should be able to go to that business and others like it and say “I’m not making enough money and I’m going to go out of business. You need to give me money.” So, you can either make money by building something someone wants–or, you can coerce them into giving you their money and not do anything at all other than grovel. Interesting times we live in, aren’t they?

And the thing is, there are so few ways you can get yourselves out of it. Oh, I know, you think the bailout will give you time. Funny-those of us who fail at business have another system we use when we fail and need time to reorganize. It’s called bankruptcy. But here’s the thing–You’ve ensured, for me and my family, at least–that we will never, ever, under any circumstances, by a GM product save one exception: You tell everyone whom you’ve fleeced with this absurd bailout that they need not make any more car payments on their GM’s. Do that–and maybe one day, you can get your dignity back, along with more customers who might actually buy what you’re selling, provided you build something better than you are currently building. Otherwise, you’re simply whistling past the graveyard–or, in your case, the junkyard. Do you see my point?

If you don’t do this, then you’re simply getting paid twice for a product that isn’t worth half of what you’re getting. Why would you do that to the people you want to call customers? After all, they’ve given you enough money, haven’t they?

Merry Christmas. I’ll look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,
Mark Storer

Merry Christmas

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

–Charles Dickens1951-xmas-fred1

Welcome to the Upgrade

Thanks to Jason, a man with a plan, we are back up without spamming. Wow! I was getting over 200 hits a day in the comments section of purely nasty nonsense spam. It was ugly and I was helpless to stop it. Jason, however, was not helpless to stop it and so here I am. So, I have upgraded to the latest and greatest wordpress and I’m toying with changing the design for no other real reason than that I can. We shall see.

Tonight was lovely. Our friends Larry, Jody, Bill, Ellen, Cyndi and my brother Doug, Aunt Laurie and Sue and I all went to The Cave in Ventura and enjoyed an evening of wine and food par excellence. I’ve written about the Cave before, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here how great was the food–the pork tenderloin with apple chutney, the “drunken” hangar steak with herbed mashed potatoes, the chicken and mushroom strudel and so much more. Oy.
above_cave3

The wines were wonderful, powered by the ever brilliant Saintsbury Pinot Noir from the Carneros region. I confess, I’m still partial to the Santa Rita Hills for my pinot, but this was pretty good.

Christmas is upon us, all is well–all is bright. All is less spammed and I’m feeling pretty good about that. It’s going to take a while to get used to this format. It looks different than the old version and I’m not as clear on all the particulars, but it’s far more attractive to look at than the old screen (in the editing and adding of new posts, that is) and there are a lot of tools right at my fingertips which is great.

Anyway. I’m off for the evening. And a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

I'm being pummeled

Spammers are having at this site in an unprecedented way. I’ve got spam karma 2 and all the checks are in place, but it isn’t catching the spams to the direct blog posts. I’ve gotten more than 60 of them today alone and it seems to be getting worse. I’m wondering if any readers have any suggestions for how to handle it because the spam is bad stuff and not becoming of a family website, as they say. I’ve no idea what to do short of simply disabling comments and I don’t want to do that. But it may come to that at some point.

If it does, remember you can always contact me by clicking on the contact button over on the left or e-mail me directly at: mark_s2112ATyahoo.com Gotta do it that way, replace the AT with the @ symbol and you have my e-mail.

Meantime, Christmas is rolling in and it’s pleasantly cold and intermittently rainy outside. Lovely, just lovely. If I cannot have snow, I’ll take this. It’s seasonal joy the way it was meant to be. Why, you can even see your breath when you stroll out in the evening air. Perfect.

Peanut caught round two of the gunk last week on Wednesday. Speaking of intermittent, she’d been intermittently feverish and not until this morning when she was right around 100. The cough was productive, nasty and colorful and so I put in a call to our doc. He was closed today. So was the allergist, that sees both Sue and Peanut….luckily for me, our doc is a really class act and he got the message I left him, called me back from a snowstorm up in Big Bear where he was stranded, and asked me to recite the symptoms. He OK’d a refill of Amoxicillin that we had and we gave her doses today. I swear to you if it were a one time thing, I’d not even mention it–but, each time Peanut has been hit with bronchitis or a sinus infection–and that’s not as often as all that—but when she is, by the end of the first day’s dosing, there is a noticeable change in the illness, the cough mellows out a bit and the fever begins to wane. It’s astounding, really.

No–we don’t stop with the first dose. We’re not dumb.

Well–December is here in its twinkling, sparkling, luscious wonder and it’s time to put some effort into at least one article, maybe two–and move into a long winter’s nap.

Peace-

Cantara Cellars

Cantara Cellars is unique if only because they are located right here in Ventura County and, in fact, in my own hometown of Camarillo. Mike and Chris Brown haul in grapes from the Lodi appellation and prepare what I think is some of the finest, smoothest wines I’ve had in a long time. Full disclosure, I’ve done some work for the Browns as a writer and I’ve helped produce their new brochure. But, I wouldn’t have done it had I not had the confidence in the product and that I surely do.

The varietals are made with such hand-crafted care and I’ve been privileged to witness some of that. Mike is a consummate wine scientist mixing art and science to provide the perfect blend to his varietals and the unifying touch of careful attention to his blends. The Browns don’t hire other folks, though they do work with other winemakers on a custom crush basis, so they too are constantly evolving and learning.

Last night, I opened a bottle of Old Vine zinfandel for our dinner guests, six of them in all. The bottle was a magnum size and by the end of the evening, it was drained. The wine was full of ripe berries and a hint of a smoky core that allowed the fruit to surface wonderfully on the finish. Truthfully, I have not had a better Zinfandel.

Here’s to Ventura County’s winemakers. The Browns and a few others are exploring ways to provide brilliant tastes to a thirsty county. And it’s working.

Claiborne-Churchill


I’ve written previously about what a life-changing experience Forum Vinum in Oakland was a year and a half ago. Brian and I spent nearly an hour at a table of Alsatian wines being totally blown away by the subtle nuances, the dry textures and tastes and the flowery, earthy aromas of Dry Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris that were, in our view, made the way those wines deserve.

The problem for mass consumption in America is that our Rieslings and the others tend to be perfumey, fruit and syrup bombs that are suitable to pour over pound cake or fruit, but not much else. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a couple bottles of Firestone’s Riesling in my wine fridge right now, but they don’t call to me.

I have found some Central Coast of California Alsace-style whites that do, though. The wines of Claiborne-Churchill from San Luis Obispo are a real step in the right direction. I imagine if I lived in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, I’d name some of the others, too. But Clay Thompson and his wife Fredericka have mastered the art of beautiful, fragrant yet dry Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris. These are beautiful things. I interviewed Clay about these wines for an article in Wine Country This Week. He said, ““We don’t create our dry Riesling with that earthy quality, for example, that you find in Alsace Rieslings. But, we do give our wines barrel fermentation which gives them more complexity in texture and structure.” That it does.

The price on these wines is right, less than 20.00 a bottle, and the satisfaction you’ll get from them is far beyond that. By the way, the go wonderfully with Christmas style dinners of turkey or ham and all the trimmings. I recommend them highly.

A Christmas Carol-sort of.


Well, good evening. A long day has passed and I’ve just put to bed the last of four winery articles I had to get done and the requisite invoices. Result? You guessed it, tired and cheating on the blog. So, for your Christmastime jocularity, I invite you here–to experience yours truly as the narrator in a very overly simplified version of A Christmas Carol–done at our church Christmas dinner last night. Click on the one titled Christmas dinner or something like that. As of right now, it’s the first one up there.

More fun than it should have been–come on, you’ve got 10 minutes, don’t you?