Previous month:
March 2005
Next month:
May 2005

Ken Layne: Technology Savant & Merry Prankster

In his daily "Shift Memo" at Sploid, Ken Layne reveals himself as yet another podcasting skeptic.   Colorful idiomatic expressions are deployed and the application of patented iPod technology to evil purposes -- albeit evil purposes of a remarkably petty nature -- is contemplated.

Hilarity ensues. 

Sobriety counter-ensues, but you can be sure that only the lawyers will make out well in the end.

[Elsewhere, Ken promises fresh posts this week for his nifty, but sadly neglected, Highways West.   It appears that this will involve wildflower appreciation and other manly virtues.]

On Wine Online: the 21st Amendment vs. the 21st Century

Wine and law, jointly or separately, crop up in unexpected places.   InformIT is self-described as "a family of Web sites that represent the best publishers of computer and technology books," but has just posted and article on the interstate wine shipment cases currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nearly anything can be bought online these days—from new automobiles to the latest in zydeco music.  But forget about buying a basic bottle of wine in the 24 states that prohibit direct wine shipments bought online from a winery or reseller located out-of-state.  In fact, eight of those states -- Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Maryland, Tennessee, and Utah -- make it a felony to ship certain wine shipments from out of state directly to consumers instate.

The entire situation devolves into near-lunacy at times.  For example, visit a vineyard in California while on vacation in the Bay Area; you can't even ship that wine back to yourself if you live in one of the states prohibiting such direct wine shipments. . . .

The article provides a good layperson's overview of the issues in the case, including particularly the peculiar interaction between the Commerce Clause -- which generally prohibits individual states from interfering with shipments of lawful goods between states -- and the 21st Amendment, which [good news] repealed Prohibition but [less-good news] reserved to the states a broad power to regulate/interfere with commerce in a particular lawful good, alcoholic beverages.  The article concludes with a fearless prediction -- its author is a soon-to-graduate law student, so he can't resist -- and tries to expand the logic of these cases into the realm of broader regulation of internet-based commerce:

My prediction?  I'll go out on a limb and say that the Court will strike down the elements of New York and Michigan's three-tiered schemes that do directly discriminate against out-of-state wineries, but uphold the States' otherwise broad 21st Amendment regulatory power.  That's the easy part. How the court goes about reaching this conclusion -- and, more importantly, perhaps clarifying just what States can and cannot do in regulating interstate commerce -- will keep an army of lawyers across the U.S. busy on the morning the decision is announced.

At a time when States faced with budget shortfalls are aggressively searching for every bit of tax money they can find and are tracking down and claiming taxes from Internet sales (as New York State and New York City have in the past year), you can expect the Court's rationale to make its way into other commerce clause-related arguments, even discounting the otherwise unique 21st Amendment tie-in here.

We shall see, when the decisions come down -- which at this point could happen most any day.  For those with an obsessive need to track the cases still awaiting decision in this year's Supreme Court term, a useful chart has been cobbled together by Mike at Crime & Federalism.

Of Related Interest:  The experiment of Prohibition, with its arcane vestigial regulatory structures and strictures of which the interstate wine shipping rules are examples, is part of a broader pattern that has set this country apart from its European forebears from the very beginning.  Tom Wark, musing on whether the United States might ever engender a "Culture of Wine," yesterday remarked:

Very little of European culture has been affected by the notion that drinking is sinful.  The very idea that alcohol and its consumption is sinful would be the most foreign view you could bring to the table in most European circles.  Yet here in America it is a mainstay of our culture represented in our laws, customs and constitution.

Score one for "Old Europe."


Another amalgam of this 'n' that, stumbled upon whilst out and about:

  • O! O! O! That Cthulhuhuvian Rag! Dept.:

H. P. Lovecraft, of all people, parodies T.S. Eliot and The Waste Land in his own poem, Waste Paper.  Excerpts:

Out of the reaches of illimitable night
The blazing planet grew, and forc'd to life
Unending cycles of progressive strife
And strange mutations of undying light
And boresome books, than hell's own self more trite
And thoughts repeated and become a blight,
And cheap rum-hounds with moonshine hootch made tight,
And quite contrite to see the flight of fright so bright
I used to ride my bicycle in the night

* * *

Fry the fat, fat the fry
You'll be a drug-store by and by.
Get the hook!
Above the lines of brooding hills
Rose spires that reeked of nameless ills,
And ghastly shone upon the sight
In ev'ry flash of lurid light
To be continued.

[Found entirely by accident.  I can't rightly recall where.  Apologies to whoever I ought to be crediting here.]

  • Attention devotees of Hayao Miyazaki, world's master animator:

Links to the trailer for the American release of Howl's Moving Castle -- last mentioned here in February -- in nearly every size and format imaginable, are available through Ain't It Cool News, if you'll just step through the convenient hyperlink here.   Opening date, at least in the major markets, will be June 10 (exactly one year prior to the next Pixar release).   Disney has not yet launched an official site, but one can always rely on to keep one apprised of all things Miyazaki.

Illustrations for each and every page -- all 760 of them -- of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.  [Link via ::: wood s lot ::: .]

  • Attention connoisseurs of political speechifying, and cock-eyed optimists:

Linked and quoted in any number of places (might as well get it from Jeff Jarvis), former President of these United States William Jefferson Clinton speaking at the tenth anniversary observances of the Oklahoma City bombing:

It seems almost impossible that it's been a decade, doesn't it? The memories are still so clear.  Yet, by the grace of God, time takes its toll not only on youth and beauty, but also on tragedy.  The tomorrows come almost against our will.  And they bring healing and hope, new responsibilities and new possibilities.

It falls apart in the last sentence -- too generically late-20th-Century-inspirational/political/generic for my personal taste -- but the highlighted passage is near-Elizabethan in its succinct expression of the capital-"T" Tragic View of Life, which paradoxically is at the same time the Belligerently Optimistic View, to wit:  Life is frequently miserable, and we have no right as mortal creatures to expect otherwise, but Life is at the same time continual, grand, miraculous, and the best thing we could ever ask for, so let us cherish it and reel and marvel that we are here to perceive it at all.  I wonder where the erstwhile President's writers found that one.

  • Annals of Collectivist Kitsch Dept.:

Behold! Power Porcelain for the People.

Why Don't You Just Vigneron Business?

A rrrriot is an oogly ting . . . und I think it's about time ve had vone!

-- Inspektor Kemp [Kenneth Mars], in Young Frankenstein

"Only in France," I said to myself with a smile and a chuckle, "could there possibly be such a thing as dissident wine producers."  But seriously, isn't this situation getting out of hand?  The Independent [April 21] reports:

The grapes of wrath fermenting in the French wine industry boiled over into a mini-riot on the streets of Narbonne yesterday.

A group of 50 young wine producers hurled molotov cocktails, cobble stones, bottles and flares at riot police at the end of a turbulent but mostly peaceful demonstration by 10,000 growers from the French deep south.

Joined by a sprinkling of local anarchists, the young wine-growers taunted and confronted the CRS riot police for nearly two hours across two bridges over a canal in the heart of the town.

At one point a launch crewed by Dutch tourists found itself trapped between the two bridges, on which wheely bins had been set aflame.

The CRS bombarded the rioters with tear gas. The Dutch tourists turned their launch and escaped. Finally, the rain came down and both sides dispersed.

The riot was always more theatrical than violent but demonstrates the growing anger of French wine-growers, especially in the south.

The problem: while southern French grape growers have been pulling up vines to reduce the risk of oversupply, their Bordelais brethren have been planting just as many vines of their own.

This year, the unsold stocks in France are largely 'appellation controlee' (i.e., supposedly medium quality) wines from the Bordeaux region ­ something unprecedented in the history of French wine.

Jean Roger, 58, president of the wine growers of the Pyrénées Orientales département ­ himself convicted recently of hijacking a lorry-load of wine ­ said: 'While we were suffering and destroying our vines and reducing production and improving quality, the Bordeaux growers were planting new vines, thousands of hectares of new vines.'

'Now they have run into trouble and they are bleating but it is we, the Roussillon and Languedoc growers, who are suffering most.  Just when we should be reaping the benefits of the sacrifices we have made, our prices have collapsed.'

I can understand the French growers' anxiety, but I can't help but perceive a splendid opportunity for wine consumers.  In a spirit of international amity, here is my suggestion:

Some aspiring French entrepreneur1 needs to emulate California's Fred Franzia2 and his Charles Shaw brand, better known as "Two Buck Chuck."  Buy up all that excess supply, especially that "supposedly medium quality" Bordeaux.  Bottle it.  Sell it at an absurdly low price to thirsty French and Americans.  Give the product a sunny Gallic3 brand name such as "Bon Francois," then -- and this is the critical bit -- let it become known by the perfect snappy nickname, one that harks back to those halcyon, romantic days before the adoption of the Euro.  I refer, of course, to . . . "Deux Franc Frank!"



1 An ambitious, creative business person; what is called in English an "entrepreneur."

2 Despite his potentially confusing surname, Fred Franzia is not French.

3 "Gallic" does not mean "of or relating to the Gallo family," although it should be noted that the Gallos are already operating in Languedoc.

A Wark on the Wine Side

Wine_barrels_photo_by_abraoEarlier this week, I received a friendly e-mail from Tom Wark, inviting me to visit (and to link to) his weblog, FERMENTATIONS: The Daily Wine Blog.  Tom is proprietor of Wark Communications, a public relations firm specializing in the wine trade and located in the town of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County's beauteous Valley of the Moon, just down the hill from Jack London's old spread.   Do you detect my envy, readers?   I thought as much.  To return:

FERMENTATIONS, which Tom describes as "Where Wine, Marketing, the Media and I Mingle," focuses on its author's professional interests, particularly the ways in which wine once made is actually sold to a waiting public (which perhaps didn't know it was waiting, until a clever PR professional brought that fact to its attention).  This is a side of the wine business at which the consumer rarely gets to take a close look, and one that I find mightily interesting.   

I have added a link in the sidebar -- launching a new category that for the moment consists of FERMENTATIONS and Professor Stephen Bainbridge's wine site, but which will likely be expanded in short order -- and, despite this not being exclusively or even predominately a wine-related weblog, Mr. Wark has kindly added a link to this part of the Forest on his site.  Thank him for me by paying him a visit.

[Photo by Alexandre Abrao, courtesy of stock.xchng, which in turn was found via the endlessly helpful Lifehacker.]

UPDATE [1203 PDT]: Oh, the things you can learn just by clicking . . . .   

I wrote once before concerning the unfortunate fate of the De Loach winery of Sonoma County, a longtime favorite taken down by the cold hand of economics.    Thanks to a link in Tom Wark's sidebar, I know what the De Loaches are up to now: starting up a new winery, with a name -- Hook & Ladder -- that harks back to founder Cecil De Loach's service as a San Francisco fireman in the late 1960's.   

And, say: do my eyes deceive me?   Isn't that Cecil De Loach, beaming grandfather, in the background of these attractive photos?

Let's Dante

One day in the midst of the dark wood of the Internet, I discovered that the first feature-length motion picture ever produced in Italy was a 1911 silent version of Dante's Inferno, designed to emulate the famed illustrations of Gustave Doré.  What is more, the film has been released in Europe (alas, apparently not in North America) on DVD, in restored if not-quite-complete form and with the addition of a score by old guard German electronicists Tangerine Dream.

As in the Doré illustrations -- and, let's be honest, as in the original poem -- the film appears to consist of a series of tableaux of Virgil Showing Things to Dante.  As such, the material is well-suited to the theatre-style special effects that mark the early cinema.  Black and white, silent and patently artificial, the film looks to possess a magical/mystical quality that is difficult or impossible to achieve with contemporary digital methods.  (Cf. The Denis Dutton commentary on special effects that I quoted at length about a year ago.)

Variously sized streaming Quicktime versions of the film's trailer are available for viewing, as are selected stills

Paolo_and_francesca_filmPaolo_and_francesca_doreFor comparison, I have reproduced parallel images from the film and Doré to the left and right. 

Both depict that sad victim of the persuasive power of romantic literature, Francesca da Rimini (one of the few souls permitted by the filmmakers to wear clothing) and her fellow reader and paramour, Paolo Malatesta. 

Special bonus for Paolo & Francesca fans: Joseph Cornell puts them in a box.

[Existence of L'Inferno discovered in the low-cultural depths of Harry Knowles' Ain't It Cool News.]

When You Drive in Your Car to Sip Fine Pinot Noir, C'Est L'Amour, Eh?

Tomorrow [Saturday, 4/9/05] we'll be spending the afternoon in a bright breezy field across the way from the Firestone winery, attending the 23rd Annual Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival.   (Tickets may still be available.)   Not surprisingly, especially since it coincides with the film's release this past week on DVD, this year's event is themed around Sideways.   [Nope, still haven't seen it.]

Another film is stalking the wine world as we speak: the documentary, Mondovino.  Most commonly described as "the Fahrenheit 9/11 of wine" -- which may or may not be a compliment -- the film had its premiere at Cannes and is reputed to decry the effects of internationalism on the wine business, contrasting huge operations such as those of Robert Mondavi with li'l ol' artisans [les petits vieux artisans] of the French soil.   Advance reviews are mixed.  Steven Malanga, in City Journal, is unimpressed by the film's rhetoric:

But Mondovino’s filmmaker, Jonathan Nossiter, says he wasn’t interested in making a mere movie about wine; he wanted instead to examine larger issues of the globalization of tastes.  Here’s where the movie goes wrong.  Nossiter transforms the clash of terroir versus modern wines, something reasonable people can disagree about, into a simple black and white argument, with Moore-ish potshots along the way at the United States’s crass commercial culture and its homogenizing effects on the rest of the world.

Mondovino sets any reasonably skeptical person’s humbug detector off immediately because of the ham-handed way Nossiter proceeds.  For instance, right after Robert Parker, the famous wine critic whose tastes many believe are determining how modern winemaking is evolving, describes how he feels he helped change the wine world from one dominated by elitists to something approaching American democracy, the camera pans swiftly to passing billboards of ads for fast-food chains.

Further, the director brings before the camera the Italian and French winemakers who have gone over to the modernist side and asks them whether their families collaborated with the Germans (in the case of the French) or the Fascists (in the case of the Italians) during World War II, as if this were relevant to the wine debate.  Throughout the movie, the modernists appear as collaborators (with American tastes, now) and the traditionalists as members of the resistance.

Malanga's piece is entitled "Antiglobal Terroirism," so it is worth noting a recent instance of the real thing, an application of what the headline writer puckishly describes as "brut force:"

Dissident wine producers in the Languedoc region of France have raised the stakes in their struggle with the French government, using dynamite in attacks against official buildings in the cities of Montpellier, Carcassonne and Nimes.

A shadowy group calling itself the Comité Regional d’Action Viticoles (CRAV) used the explosives in protest at the diminishing market for their wines and at the government’s offer of aid, considered insufficient to ease the industry’s crisis.

* * *

Wine exports from the Languedoc-Roussillon region fell last year by seven per cent in volume and by 6.8 per cent in value. The region has been particularly hard-hit by the current crisis industry, which is suffering from overproduction, a sharp drop in domestic consumption and aggressive competition from New World wines, which overtook French wines on global export markets in 2003.

A fifth of wine exported worldwide comes from France but wines from Argentina, Chile, the United States, South Africa and Australia now account for 23 per cent of international wine business.

Another major problem facing the French wine industry is that the French themselves are drinking less wine. Wine sales have dropped by 20 per cent since 1980.

The link to that story comes by way of Kerry Howley at Reason, who has also written somewhat more favorably concerning Mondovino, under the title "Critique of Pure Riesling".  (That's a very good joke, but I kan't avoid mentioning that it was already used by oeno-philosophe Randall Grahm on a label for Bonny Doon Vineyard.  Hunter S. Thompson protege Ralph Steadman is the artist.  A larger reproduction of the label -- do we detect some Schwitters influences at work? -- is here.  But I digress.)  Says Howley:

Mondovino starts as a mournful elegy for fine wine, but it's too smart, or perhaps too honest, a film to end that way.  Instead, wine emerges as an experience open to invention and reinvention, a nebulous pleasure that can be captured only fleetingly in the strained metaphor of a critic or the romance of an Italian estate before it is reconceived as something wholly different.  Connoisseur Lawrence Osborne claims wine is '99 percent psychological, a creation of where you are and with whom.'  That's a profoundly empowering concept for a beverage once thought to be the province of elites, whether they be crass American businessmen or cranky European farmers.

More Mondovino-related links for your free trading or freebooting pleasure:


The film's French site features the very French logo on the left and a series of stills designed to make Robert Parker and the Mondavis look as sinister as possible.

The film's American site is rather more slick, just like American wine production.  Quelle ironie!

Unrelated to the film, "Mondovino" also turns out to be the name of a Belgian wine distributor whose site features noisy crickets.


Update [1310 PDT]:  Welcome Roger L. Simon readers, and many thanks to Mr. Simon for the link!   It's like receiving an Insta-lanche, but with better hats.

As Above, So Bellow

I have never actually read any of the novels of the late Saul Bellow -- there goes my cultural credibility -- so I have nothing in particular to add to the chorus of commentary and appreciation on his passing this week.  By the sort of free association to which the reading of weblogs often leads, however, my thoughts have gone a-wandering from Bellow himself to other, related topics. 

In the second of his two notes on Bellow, George Hunka touched on a central Bellovian theme:

[I]t occurred to me how much of his best work reflected the value of friendship, particularly in the world of the arts.  In Humboldt’s Gift, the close affection that the young poet and critic Charlie Citrine and the older poet and critic Von Humboldt Fleischer share constantly provides meaning to their lives, even as they spend their lives in search of meaning, and one of the most profound jokes of the book is how this friendship provides comfort and support even after the death of one of its subjects; Ravelstein describes this friendship as a central means of common sympathy and affection between and within generations.

Human expression and communication was a central theme of Bellow’s work, as it’s a central aspect of all our lives.  This is especially important to artists, I suppose, because we all struggle with the same issues, and against a feeling of loneliness; mass culture today sometimes seems to value superficial, easy, trite expression at the expense of that which tries for something just a little more difficult but with far greater reward than the glib cheerfulness of entertainment.

Ravelstein, Bellow's final novel, is in large part a fictionalized account of Bellow's close friendship with Allan Bloom of the University of Chicago, best known/most infamous as the author of The Closing of the American Mind, for which Bellow provided the Foreword.  I have read The Closing twice -- there is much in it that is worthwhile, if you ignore the shrill "these kids today and their crazy rock and roll" segments -- but I contend that Bloom's best book was his last: the apparently out-of-print (but readily available used) Love & Friendship.

On his weblog, Gideon Strauss took the occasion yesterday to mention Bloom in connection with Saul Bellow's son, Adam Bellow, now a self-described "right-wing controversialist and hell-raiser."  Gideon's remark that "Mr. Bloom's most famous book [i.e., The Closing] is not to be taken at face value" sent me Googling through his site for more, and led me to discover that, back in the summer of 2003, Gideon had included Love and Friendship in position #4 on his "short list of things to read that I would recommend to any college student."  (You'll need to scroll down to August 26 to find the reference.)  That post provides a good, succinct statement of the book's virtues:

Bloom was a student of Leo Strauss and a homosexual (see "Bloom, Bellow, and the Ravelstein Controversy" at, and I do not agree with him on much.  But he brings a seriousness and intensity to reading, and a seriousness and intensity to love, that is very different from the dullness, sullenness, blandness, and apathy in which much of college culture is awash.  Bloom raises questions about love that must be considered, and there is hardly a better time for considering love than the college years.  Listing this book is cheating, though, because reading it well would require reading the books Bloom discusses, which include Rousseau's Emile, Stendhal's The Red and the Black, Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and several of Shakespeare's plays.

(Emphasis added; original links omitted.)  That summary leaves out my own pick for the best part of Bloom's book: his long, serious and intense reading through Plato's Symposium.  To round out this post, and to give you a flavor of what I consider to be a near-indispensable book, here is a passage from Bloom's Epilogue.  Share it with a friend or lover:

Whatever their selective rank, and it has to be thought through at some time by every serious human being, both love and friendship are splendid things, peaks of humanity, plausible candidates for election as the highest end of life.  The capacity for love or friendship always indicates a superior and generous nature, and when we see them in life or art, they always engage our sympathies.  They are witness to an expansive being that can in the pursuit of his own happiness encompass the happiness of another.  In such a person the perennial tension between the pleasant and the noble seems to disappear.  The lover or friend does what he most passionately wants to do and in doing so benefits the friend or the beloved.

For this reason love and friendship not only attract everyone but they flatter us by making us think well of ourselves. . . .  Hunger and mere sexual desire are similar in directing us to immediate apparent goods; but they remain purely animal and constitute no morality in relation to their objects, while love and friendship are unthinkable without the will to benefit their objects. . . .  Hunger and sex, even when they involve using other human beings, do not induce concern for them.  Thus to be a friend or a lover, one must have somehow transcended the neediest of needinesses, the most self-regarding passions.  The wonder is that this is done effortlessly in the case of the lover and the friend.  It follows from the nature of the thing.