Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The End Of An Error: The Inauguration

I've been fairly vocal of my support for Barack Obama. It's not that I was necessarily thrilled with his policy proposals, or even enamored by the empty rhetoric that simply "change" represented, but instead I weighed the two candidates for the Presidency and went with the one that I thought offered the best chance for positive change and necessary action to drudge this country out of the stagnant quagmire in which it has fallen. I firmly believe that the last eight years have been a disaster, or more pointedly the final stages of the disaster-they have been the medical examiner finally removing the bodies from the scene of a horrific traffic accident. Never has the label 'lame duck' been more adequate than over the past year of the Bush administration, a year which has seen panic and inaction (or worse, mis-action) as the President realized that the American public had no faith in him, did not support him, and ultimately wanted to finally forget that he was even President. Short of the estimated 10 million lives he saved in Africa (kudos to Gavi for the link), I'm really not sure in a historical sense that there are any contributions George W. Bush made to this country that will differentiate him from the Herbert Hoovers of the American Presidency. But history will be the judge, and generally it is a very fair one-and I am happy to leave it at that.

That said, one thing that is clear, is that his term has finally ended. It's been a tumultuous eight years from the beginning, what with the 'Hail To The Thief' quasi-scandal that marked its beginning and bookended by an economic collapse not seen in decades, with a large terrorist attack, a couple wars, and all manner of political cause in between. It really has been a wild eight years, and while I'm not terribly fond of the idea of the current Democratic Party taking power, that has become the only solution. I'm nervous at the idea of a party that disrespects property and personal rights (see: smoking bans), favors nationalizing healthcare (is there a problem? sure, but is nationalization the solution?), restricting gun rights (and i dont even own one), expanding government and nationalizing industry (I know Bush started it, but its not a place I want to be) and mandating public service (a noble idea, but unconstitutional) having carte blanche to run ths United States of America. That said, I threw my support behind the party believing-however naively-that Barack Obama would deliver on his message of a united America, of a bi-partisan approach, on a practical approach that poached what needed to be and worked sensibly, and one that would finally make the decision on what the fuck this country is going to do in a few years when people my parents' age start retiring and wanting SS and Medicare money that just isn't there, to say nothing of flaunting the abuse of civil liberties that has been ongoing.

That said, I find myself cautiously-very cautiously-that President Obama might just actually mean what he says. If Star Wars has taught us anything, it's that power corrupts and if the history of American politics has taught us anything, its that politicians lie, cheat, and steal whilst looking out for number one. The odds are overwhelming that four years from now, we will see the same inaction, lies, and corruption that have been the trademark of the American Presidency since Dwight D. Eisenhower. That said, theres just something about the man....about his apparent honesty, his foresight, and his oratory skills that screams to me that he is the man that this country has been waiting for. Will we be duped again? We shall see, and we shall see in short order....President Obama has a lot on his plate, and the will of the American people is fickle and the patience of politicians seeking re-election even shorter. If strides aren't taken in one year-and yes I know that seems like an insanely short window, but a year from now house representatives will be looking at re-election-then this could end up a failure. Is it shitty? You betcha, but it's the reality.

And it was with that reality, that I decided to go down to Victory Park earlier today, arranging my day to be in Downtown Dallas during the speech and taking an early lunch, to watch the Obama speech. Considering it has become Dallas' defacto version of Times Square I figured there would be people down there, and upon arriving wasn't disappointed as an estimated 800 people were in the plaza to watch Obama take the oath and then give his speech. Huge turnout? No, but this is Dallas, I will take what I can-and am happy to say that the mood was electric down there. Enthusiastic, loud, and happy would be my adjectives with a fair number of Obama signs/shirts and no shortage of applause, as South Dallas came North and East Dallas came West (North Dallas meanwhile is still afraid of black people, and West Dallas is all warehouses) in a very cool experience as we all shared our common heritage as Americans, and shared our hopes that this country has finally taken a turn for the better. And so, at the end of the night and having heard Obama's speech a good three times now in full, I find myself very cautiously optimistic as the Bush administration has finally ended and now we get to, you know, fixing the damage it's left in it's wake.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shiner 100

Back in September of last year I reviewed Shiner '99, the Spoetzl Brewery's final anniversary offering before the Shiner 100 was going to pop up in 2009. Well the day the calender turned it seems, Shiner had their trucks shipping the 100 all over the state and last week I finally had a chance to try Shiner 100 for myself.

But before I get to the 100, let's review what they've done to get us here. Shiner '96 was the first anniversary beer and it was a Marzen style ale. '97 was a Bohemian Black (now marketed as Shiner Black), '98 a a Bavarian Style Amber, and as mentioned above '99 was a Helles lager. So while all have been done in an "old-world style," they've been fairly good about changing things up and brewing different styles-and honestly I've been excited to try each new one, even if they tended to be very different from an actual European equivalent of their namesake styles.

Shiner 100 follows in that legacy in most every way. It bills itself as a starkbier which means it should be strong, though it's really not that strong at 6.7% ABV (atleast compared to the 8% or 10% you will find in Maredsous) and while Shiner hasn't released a whole lot else about the style, I'm guessing it's supposed to be akin to a dopplebock, which is to say just a stronger and darker version of a bock beer-which is a good thing since bock is what Shiner does best.

Poured into a glass it has very little head (as do most Shiner brews), a nice copper/ruby/tawny color with tan head, and it laces nicely as you drink it down. The nose is fairly unpronounced smelling what I can best describe as, well, like Shiner bock-maybe a little sweeter. On the taste, it has that tinge of metallic tasting hops that is vintage Shiner bock, but otherwise very understated hops. It's primary flavor is fairly dark roasted malt, but its an extremely complex malt showcasing both sweetness and bitterness which then plays off the alcohol which is evident. It's a little more effervescent than I'd like for the style, but in the end I find myself extremely impressed. As the anniversary beer they've been building up to over the past few years, I think Shiner 100 delivers and is the best of the lot. In many ways, I drink it thinking it's just a better version of Shiner Bock-it tastes very similar but has a better mouth feel, more complex flavors, and a little more alcohol. In short, if you like Shiner Bock I'd be willing to wager you should also really like Shiner 100.

B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Vineyard Cabernet (2005)

I think this is probably the fourth or fifth time that I've had a wine from B.R. Cohn, to the best of my memory each of them have been cabs, and I've come away from them fairly unimpressed. It's not that they were bad wines, quality wise they were very nice, its just that they were fairly unspectacular, fairly simple. They tasted like a California Cab normally does, and my thought process was if I wanted an unspectacular California Cab, I would be just as well off grabbing a bottle of Clos du Bois or J. Lohr and save myself the money.

This bottle however changed that opinion. I recieved it as a gift a few months back and this past weekend decided to open it up to go with a steak, and I was extremely pleased. Best I can tell it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, was aged 24 months in new French Oak, and the AVA is Sonoma County (but Olive Hill Estate Vineyard subset). The primary flavors on it were cherry with a little bit of plum and black currant and this was countered perfectly with a fair amount of oak and a softened tannin. The flavors were very concentrated and explosive and the finish was excellent. Not an oaky Cab, but instead an extremely balanced and well rounded one where each of the flavor components complements the other nicely-and complemented the steak extraordinarily. Now to be fair it's a $50 bottle of wine, so it damn well better be good, but at the end of the bottle I found myself quite pleased with it.

I'm not sure who in this economy has $50 lying around for a bottle of wine (which isn't to say I'm not hoping there are lots those people in Dallas), but if you do I'd have no problem at all recommending the B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Cab.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Slow Painful Death Of The Newspaper

It's no secret that the newspaper, atleast the newspaper as we know it, is dying. That much has been quite clear for a few years now, and the point was brought home last April when it was announced that American newspaper circulation fell 3.5% down to it's lowest level since 1946, despite the American population having essentially doubled over that same period-thus selling the same number of newspapers as 1946? Well, that's not a good thing buddy.

The reasons presented for this decline are myriad. Most people blame the internet (and by proxy our Blackberry's and iPhones) for providing instant access to news that is constantly updated and free. And while reading your phone in the restroom or during lunch isn't quite as appealing as a newspaper, it's something we're becoming accustomed too. Other people blame it on the rise of cable news networks and niche sports networks. After all, if you read the paper primarily for news-wouldn't CNN or FNC give you better information? And if you read it for sports, wouldn't the NFL Network, FSN, or even ESPN give you better information? (i hesitated to include ESPN there, as their product is so freaking bad, but I figured I had to). Others blame it on the quality of the newspapers, especially in places (such as Dallas) where there is but one newspaper holding a monopoly. I'm sure the actual reason for the decline is some blending of those, the rise of the blogosphere, and the general dumbing down of the American populace, but the why isn't as important as the simple fact that the newspaper as we know it is a dying industry.

Today we get word of the next step in the dying process, as the Dallas Morning News reports that they will now be sharing content with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a trend I'd expect to be picked up by other newspapers across the country where its possible. Beginning Feb 1, the DMN will have the beat for the Dallas Stars and the Dallas Mavericks whereas the FWST will have the beat for the Texas Rangers-and the two papers will share their beat writers and their articles (both papers will maintain separate coverage of the Dallas Cowboys, only because they're what people actually care about in Dallas). They will also share their coverage of college sports and some individual sporting events. The decision was of course made to cut costs for the papers in the face of shrinking revenue.

You might ask, well why is this that big a deal? I mean it's just sports, right? Well first off, most of the "news" in a newspaper isn't produced by the newspaper itself, but instead taken off the AP or another wire. Outside of local news, columnists, and articles of interest-sports is the bulk of the original material a newspaper produces. So to be slashing that, well that's a pretty big deal. I'd also present to you that sports and business are the two biggest reasons the average consumer picks up a newspaper. While that bombing in Gaza or those potholes down the street might interest you, they I believe generally interest you less than your stock portfolio, the general economy, or what your sports team of choice did yesterday. So again, this is a pretty big deal.

In equally grim news on the newspaper front, it's also been announced that the Seattle Post Intelligencer has been put up for sale and will close unless a buyer is found (unlikely). Likewise Colorado's oldest newspaper, The Rockie Mountain News, has also been put up for sale and will likely close as well.

I'm quite the hypocrite on this subject. I love the newspaper and am sad at the prospect of losing them, but then like most people I rarely buy them. Sure if I grab a bagel for breakfast or am having a long lunch I will get one, but generally I too get the bulk of my news online. And of course while doing this, I don't click on any of the ads that would generate revenue for the newspaper (as little as it is), because let's face it-who actually clicks on banner ads? Furthermore, if I am looking for local news I will head over to Unfair Park (where much more honest journalism exists than you'll ever find in the DMN) and while I may read the local sports beat writers, their articles generally reak of knee-jerk reactions and are usually overtly simplistic, with much better sports discussion found elsewhere online. If it's business I'm after, I flip on the TV. The point is, I think I love the nostalgia of the newspaper-the memories of reading it as a child over a bowl of Cheerios or reading the Sunday edition-far more than I actually love the newspaper as it currently exists. I find myself thinking I like it far more than I actually do, and while I will miss the occasional good article my local newspaper gives me that I can't get elsewhere (and they are rare.....), I can't say that I'd miss it enough to actually subscribe or buy more than maybe a paper a week.

Change can be scary by definition, but I just don't see any other way. It's simply an outdated industry, as sad as that sounds.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Wire

For a few years now, I've listened to dozens of people tell me how great The Wire is and how I just had to watch it, it was the greatest show to ever be televised, etc. ad nauseum. Everyone from my leaders Bob and Dan to female friend that is a Harvard graduate (and has a spotty tv record, enjoying amongst other things that model show on Bravo), to people with whom I've never discussed television, and the critics always agree-supposedly this is one of the best television shows ever.

I was skeptical, I'm always skeptical but willing to try out new programs. And with the Tivo nearing empty and re-runs going full bore, I decided that I had the time to adopt a new show. The candidates were The Sopranos, The Shield, and The Wire-and after seeking the opinions of others, The Wire won out. The had been so much hype surrounding this show, that I completely and totally expected to be underwhelmed by it. I mean it could be great, but how could it ever live up to the hype? That said, last night I finished watching season one.

And it was awesome!

I don't know how else to describe it. What a fantastic television series-great acting, great drama, great characters, very gritty and edgy but still totally believable. I have to take my cue from those that got me to finally watch it and say that I cannot recommend The Wire enough. Go over to Amazon.com right now, pay the $134.49 for the entire series, and consider it one of the best investments in entertainment you've ever made. I have only seen one of the five seasons, and I cannot wait to watch the next four. I liked Oz, Oz was great, and this puts Oz to shame.

So consider this a public service announcement. If you haven't watched the Wire, go rent/borrow/buy/steal yourself the first season. You will thank me. And if you have, well then, feel free to rub my nose in the fact that I am quite late to the party.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008

Pardon me, dear reader, for the prolonged and unannounced absence, its just that things get a wee bit hectic in the wine business for the last few weeks of December into the first week of the New Year. It's can be fun and it can be profitable, but also stressing and quite the timesink. Needless to say, 2008 has finally ended and 2009 is underway. So we've got that going for us.

However while I wasn't blogging for the past few weeks, I have been spending more time than usual reading, and not reading for fun (see: Ender's Game, Xenocide) but for fun and education, the most recent book being Paul Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics, an updated re-issue of his 1999 book by the same title written in light of the current economic crisis that has us all abuzz. So I thought I'd offer up a little bit of a review, knowing full well that rare is the person that would have any interest in reading a book on economics for fun, and that I am weird that way. I accept that.

While I am wired in that strange way that makes books on history, politics, economics and other social sciences strangely fascinating, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that my knowledge of economics is extremely weak. In fact, a big portion of why I enjoyed this book is that in all my 27 years on this earth, this is the first time anyone has been able to adequately the difference between short-selling and long-selling in a manner that I can wrap my tiny brain around (and then, as with so many other economic concepts, wonder aloud how the fuck that's legal but I can't legally play poker or bet on football, but I digress). As I read through it I couldn't help but think to myself that in many ways, this book was like 'Economics For Dummies' as it explained concepts that even Mr. Holmes, a fine teacher in his own right, couldn't get me to understand during Economics classes in high school. Furthermore, upon explaining the concepts in a meaningful way it did a fantastic job of linking them all together.

Why did the Mexican economy crash in the '90s? Why did the Argentine peso collapse and how did they fix it? And then, after explaining them, Krugman would link the two events, link their causes and their solutions. Then he'd go into the oft-publicized Asian financial crisis of the '90s, explain it, and link it to the other two, and finally he stuck the landing and managed to offer a reasonable connection-atleast to my economics brain-between all three of those events and the ongoing worldwide economic crisis, and lend credence to the old adage that 'the past is prologue.'

He threw out just enough economic jargon to make it an economics book, but explained enough of it that I'd feel it to be pretty easy reading for anyone with just a basic understanding of the economy (ie, a high school diploma). And considering the hundreds of billions of dollars the American government is throwing at this economic mess, and the reality that this is having a profound impact on all of our lives and will for the foreseeable future, I find it have been a great read so that I'm atleast somewhat abreast of the economic events of the day. I'd strongly recommend it if you're into that sort of thing, and by that sort of thing I mean trying to keep yourself knowledgeable of current events and your [crooked] government.