Archive for February 2010

Vine/Wine Friday

Well it was off to Calistoga for a couple of days of R&R (Rest and Recuperation) and also a belated birthday trip.  Candace has stayed up there several times doing stuff for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and enjoyed the ambiance so much that she wanted to share it.  So Wednesday morning after some last minute running around (I had to get my pesticide/herbicide applicators permit) we were off.  For those of you who don’t know where Calistoga is, it is about 24 miles north of Napa on Highway 29.  Calistoga is known for its hot springs so it was a trip to taste some wine, relax and soak in hot mineral water.

This time I took my trusty GPS and I think I finally broke the woman whose voice you hear giving you directions.   “Turn left in 300 feet”.  “Merge right onto Highway 80.”  Things were going fine until I started to take a couple of detours.  “Recomputing, Recomputing, turn left on First Street, recomputing, recomputing, make a U-Turn at the next intersection.”  And so it went, but I notice a little edge in her voice.  “Recomputing (again).”  When I turned off at the outlet mall in Napa because I had forgot my bathing suit, I could have sworn she said, “(Oh lord, not again), recomputing (you moron).”  When I turned into Dean and Deluca just outside St Helena to pick up some sandwiches, wine, cheese, beer, paté, bread, you know, just basics, she was screaming, (“No, No, No you lunatic), recomputing.”  But I think the final straw was just before getting to Calistoga, I turned into Franks Family Winery to taste a nice Cabernet.  “(You are an alcoholic degenerate and a fool and you don’t deserve directions) recomputing.”  And when I finally got into Calistoga and realized that the address I had put in was the wrong Spa it was, “(Just throw me out the window and end this misery), recomputing”.   Talk about anal.  This chic needs to get out more and just go with the flow.

Calistoga is kind of a poorman’s St. Helena.  But you have to love a small town with a main street made up primarily of restaurants and wine stores.  The place we stayed in was the Calistoga Hot Springs Spa.  It was very reasonable, and very comfortable with a queen bed and a small kitchenette.  It had three different mineral pools, a lap pool, a warm pool, and a hot pool.  It also has an amazing gym and yoga studio that only a few of us used.  It is startling to see the number of older European people that live for soaking in the mineral water.  I must say that seeing a guy about 50 pounds overweight in a thong bathing suit was a vision that may stay with me for eternity.  Ukrainian, Russian, Uzbekistani, was spoken everywhere.  Candace and I were the young svelte couple.  Everything is relative.   Went out that evening to a restaurant called Brannan’s.  Food was just okay, waitress was waiting for a better gig.

Day two started with a good workout in the gym, then breakfast at the local mart (Peet’s Coffee and a sausage biscuit).  Then we went exploring Calistoga and St. Helena.  When you move from Calistoga to St. Helena (both beautiful in the Northern Napa Valley) you move from high $500 grand in real estate to the low $3 million for that cute little bungalow.  Location, location, location.  A lot more fixer uppers in Calistoga.  We went to two wineries that day.  The first was Sterling Vineyards just because it has an immense facility up on the top of a high hill overlooking the valley.  You arrive and ride a gondola up to the tasting room and processing facility.  They start you with a nice pinot gris and then you take a self guided walking tour of the facility.  They do 450,000 cases a year so you get some sense of scale.  It was a beautiful facility, and seeing those giant oak casks about the size of a swimming pool (puncheons?), was astounding.  The smell was heavenly as each was full of aging red wine. Finally you get to a tasting room where they sit you like you are in a restaurant and pour wines at your table.  I thought the wines were just okay, and the Mourvedre (that I asked specially for and they accommodated me) was scary.  Great visit, but I took away no wines.  A little too commercial, a little too impersonal.  I am spoiled.

Right next door was Clos Pegase.  We went there because Candace had had a lovely Chardonnay from there the night before.   When we walked in, we were the only ones there.  The tasting room staff was like a breath of fresh air.  The charge was $10 for a flight of whites, and $15 for a flight of reds (the gondola ride and tasting was $20/person at Sterling).  We had such a good time there tasting what turned out to be really good wines and talking wine with the staff that they waved the tasting fee and gave me a growers discount for the wine I bought.  The Sauvignon Blanc, even for me, was exceptional and the Chardonnay was as Candace remembered it. Their Syrah was only okay, with lots of oak and fruit, but the staff had a similar Rhone preference for Syrahs and I will have to send a couple of bottle from up here to them.  By the by, for you Rombauer Chardonnay fans, they sell Rombauer their chardonnay grapes.  They sold a 2006 Estate Cuvee red blend of  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominating, along with a significant contribution of Cabernet Franc that was wonderful.

Then it was to Dean and Deluca for sandwiches and rosemary olive oil potato chips with a Becks lager, nap, and then another trip through the mineral pools being the young fun couple.  That evening we were meeting my daughter Serena (who is now the V.P. for Coppola Resorts) at a wonderful restaurant in St. Helena called Go Fish (Cindy Pawlcyn).  The restaurant has a sushi bar and traditional fish entrees and is bright and beautiful.  I had oysters on the half shell (Hog Island and Canadian varieties), a Go Fish Caesar salad, and a very large shrimp tempura, crab salad, avocado sushi roll with a whole poached lobster tail on top.  So did everyone else.  The wine and staff were wonderful, knowledgeable, and helpful without being intrusive.  It was a pleasant change from the night before when we asked the waitress about the Meyer lemon with butter, crab fettuccini and all she could come up with was that it was a Meyer lemon and butter sauce with crab on fettuccini.  I highly recommend Go Fish.

So ended a perfect little vacation as we packed up in the morning and headed home, although not without a stop at Dean and Deluca’s to pick up a few more “supplies”.  Carpe Diem.

Under Reaching

Well on Thursday the President will be meeting with Republicans to discuss health care.  He presented his “plan” yesterday and it was less than stellar.  In fact it was almost identical to the Senate plan that was agreed to after working with Joe Lieberman and Max Baucus.  Talk about under reaching.  Now he has decided that 51 votes is okay and then he presents the plan that he got 60 on.  Why not ask for what we know will work like a public option that everyone wants?  I don’t get this White House.  The public supports a public option so why not put the Republicans on the spot because the GAO has already said this would save money?

Then of course there is the finding by the Obama Justice Department that John Yoo and Judge Bybee should not be held accountable for their legal opinions legalizing torture.  Think about this one.  It says find a lawyer who will give you a legal opinion justifying anything and you are off the hook.  John Yoo was asked if the President could authorize the crushing of a child’s testicles in front of his parents to make them talk and he said, “It depends.”  And we don’t hold them accountable for their legal incompetence?  It is not just morally repugnant, it is legal malfeasance.

This administration came into office on Mr. Obama’s soaring rhetoric and since then the only thing that has soared is the disappointment of those that supported him.  Clearly their first year has been a stunning disappointment but we could cut him some slack as he faced monumental problems and tried to bring the country together.  But a year ago this week when the Stimulus Bill passed, it was clear the Republicans weren’t players so you have to look at his and the Democrats strategy for Health Care Reform as a total failure to recognize reality.  Worse, they are settling for policies that don’t really change anything.  Now the word on health care reform is incremental.  The world is passing us by and our soaring is defined as incremental?

The Republicans and the hard right philosophy they have adopted are bankrupt.  They took John Kennedy’s famous quote and have turned it around:  “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what you can do for yourself.”  They are presenting chaos as an alternative to progressive policy.  Just starve the beast.  Cut taxes, don’t touch spending and collapse the government, seems to be their way forward.  Yesterday the daughter of the derange man who crashed his airplane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, and killed a hard working civil servant there, called her father a hero for standing up to government.  That is what the present Republican crowd is promoting as they pander to these loony tunes. Meanwhile the new Republican Governor from Virginia has made it legal to discriminate against gays.  And we don’t think religion in politics is a problem?   They are the epitome of anti-American and unpatriotic and that is their brand.

The real war is about a view of government.  The Republicans claim they hate it and want to make it small as though that will solve our problems.  I say claim because every time (go ahead look it up) they are in power, they grow government and our deficit.  But if you think about this you find some real flaws with their logic.  First is that when government was ineffective during the Bush years, people were aghast.  Katrina, WMD, the lack of regulation of banks, to just name a few.  In the last 40 years, name one big program that Congress or the United States has embarked on.  There aren’t any and we are where we are because of that lack of direction and nation purpose reflected through our government.  Other countries have full medical coverage, high-speed rail, and an infrastructure in much better shape than ours.  Finally consider China whose economy is rapidly leaving us in the dust.  They understand that government sets the tone and the direction for the country and they are making big investments in our future.  In the meantime, we can’t even pass an anemic jobs bill.

So when will Democrats finally over reach?  When will they get the courage to fight for government involvement in our lives and a progressive way forward?  Isn’t it time to start thinking big again instead of small and selfish?  There can be no compromise with Republicans.  There can be no working together on solutions.  Their solutions are the root of our problems and it now time to jettison them.

The Hurt Locker and Its Many Messages

Spoiler Alert:  If you haven’t seen it yet, this will spoil any surprises.

I think The Hurt Locker is the best picture of year, but I doubt very seriously if it will get the Oscar.  There are just too much uncomfortable intellectual truths in this picture.  I like a movie that I spend days thinking about.  And what I found about this movie is that it summarized and presented on an emotional level all the things I know about war.  Avatar will probably get the Oscar because of the beauty of the movie and the feel good ending, but the story was just Broken Arrow retold.  No, not the John Travolta movie, but the 1950 movie staring James Stewart about trying to make peace between settlers and the Apache Indians.  And like that movie, the story ending leaves one knowing that money will drive the train and the Company will just come back with bigger weapons and crush the natives.

But The Hurt Locker presents so many troubling ideas almost in passing and that is its beauty.  Everything that is wrong with war is there, and how we get seduced by war is there too. So let me just raise a few of the many issues raised by this wonderfully troubling movie.  The first scene we are watching as a young man in a bomb suit goes to defuse a bomb in Iraq.  He doesn’t live through it and we get the first subtle message; war is about heroes.  Want to be a hero sign up.  If your life is in shambles and you have no future, here is a way out.  Go to war and find meaning and purpose.

This scene and several others also raises the why.  Why bother?  Why not just blow it in place and walk away?  It is a microcosm look into what the war is about and does what we are doing there make any sense.  And that raises a whole other issue so well portrayed in the movie.  If we are doing it for the people of Iraq, why are they just watching, like a crowd at a car race, waiting for the crash.  They certainly aren’t innocent bystanders and one begins to wonder who this war is being fought for.  You get a real sense that we are aliens in a very strange country going about our mission with little connection or even contact with the people we are fighting this for.  Makes you wonder if we should ever fight a war for anyone but ourselves.

But on a more disturbing level the movie addresses why individuals do these truly brave things and it is somewhat sobering.  There was the usual men being boys and playing with their toys, but the real motivation was exposed in one scene when the lead character admits maybe part of it is the rush of adrenaline.   I think it is more than that, although the movie doesn’t take us there except maybe in the cereal aisle scene.  In war these men are part of a tight knit and very important group.  They have a level of responsibility and respect that few will ever get behind a counter selling junk back in the United States.  It gives them a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.  For many it will be the only meaningful job they will ever have.  So our killing machine is our social program for making lives meaningful?

Then we have the all important cereal aisle scene.  Our hero is back from his tour and he is in the grocery with his wife and she asks him to get some cereal for the kids.  He stands in the cereal aisle of the store and looks at row upon row of choices.  Nothing is said and he finally just grabs one and moves on, but you can’t help thinking he was thinking, this is what I am fighting for, infinite choices in junk food?  Is that what we are about?  It is the age old question the purpose of our lives, is it to have, or is it to be.  In a market place society it is to have with the false assumption that we will then be.

In another scene he mentions to his wife that they are really short of bomb disposal guys and they really need him.  But the reality is that he is home and he is empty and he misses it.  At home is just another guy in a uniform.  In Iraq, it is the show.  And the last scene we see him in his bomb suit on day 365 to go, walking toward another EID.  So on it goes and it leaves us with a feeling that we haven’t resolved anything, that war is just a vehicle for so many other needs.  And that is what scares me.  Is war what drives our train and gives us self worth?  It certainly lines many pockets although this is never addressed in this movie.  Is this the only way we can give our young people a job and hope?

This is truly a movie to think about.  As we try to decide what we are as a people and whether we can commit to a new path forward to really accomplish something for our future, this movie tells us where we have been.  It is not a pretty picture.

What the Voters Want

The central question that is running through my mind is should our government provide  what the voters want or should it provide what they need?  Our government is structured as a representative democracy so the voters don’t have a direct say, except at election time.  The rest of the time it is up to our representatives to represent us.   So do they take polls and go with the wind of public opinion or do they try to take a longer view of our welfare?  If history is any indication, when elections get close, it is poll time.

I see some disturbing trends here.  Leadership could be defined as seeing the proper course and then convincing your followers to follow.  Watching the Republicans pander to the Tea Partiers, I think they got this exactly backwards.  See where your followers want to go, then jump out in front of the mob.  But of course Republicans are not the only ones guilty.  Watching the Obama administration try to sweep the eight years of torture and torture memos under the rug is another form of the same thing.  They are making a political calculation (a bad one I think) that the people would be happier to just move on.

Probably the worst of this Democratic pandering is watching Eric Holder, our Attorney General, twist in the political winds.  First was the decision to try the accused 9/11 perpetrators in New York in our civilian courts.  Then “the people” spoke and he has become more sensitive to the politics of the issue and is considering some other form of trial.  Just last Friday, his Justice Department watered down the criticisms of the two lawyers most responsible for the obviously flawed memos authorizing torture (John Yoo and Jay Bybee).  Both of these actions were in response to putting political (read populist) considerations before what our laws and values demand, however inconvenient.

What I see in common with this pandering to populist whims is that in the short term it is good, if you measure good in terms of your political success, and in the long term could do immeasurable damage to our country and who we are as a people.  The Republicans are encouraging anti-intellectualism and violence which eventually will come back to haunt them as they become victims of the fickled masses.  The Democrats, by taking the easy way out now, will see the same Republican policies that should have been thoroughly discredited, rear their ugly heads again.  It does not resolve our problems to just ignore them because it is simpler.

Of course there is another side to this double-edged sword of the people’s will.  Republicans of late have been claiming that the people don’t a public option for health care and therefore they are the true representatives of the people.  However every single poll says they do so in this case the Republicans are just pretending to protect the populist interests as they cleverly try to mask their real masters, the health care insurance industry. Meanwhile we have Harry Reid and many of the Democrats in the Senate also oblivious to the peoples will.  So now am I arguing we should follow the people’s will?

Let’s face it, the people’s will is lower taxes and more government spending and we all know that doesn’t work.  What I am saying, and I know this is against Tea Party wisdom (oxymoron), is that our leaders should be sensitive to the people’s will, but apply the test of rational thought.   Leadership and political courage come from seeing when the people’s will is destructive and to stand up for a different path.  That is why we have a representative democracy and not a pure one.  The Founder’s understood the destructive  gyrations of the popular winds.  In the case of health care, the people are smarter than our politicians because they are forcing a reconsideration of the public option because every analysis tells us it saves money.  In the case of taxes, the people can be their own worst enemy and someone has to be an adult.  In the case of not exposing our past failures, doing the expedient thing instead of the hard thing, our failures will just fester until we repeat them.

What we are looking for is leadership that is ready to lead instead of follow.  We are looking for leadership that instructs and convinces instead of panders.  We are looking for leadership that no longer is tying themselves in knots to play politics, but just looks for what would work best and fights for it.  There are signs of hope in both the White House and the Senate, but I am not holding my breath.

When I’m 64

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine.

If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.

Thanks Candace for ever more

Link to the whole song: When I’m 64

Is Reality Dawning?

What I find really amazing is hearing the conventional wisdom that the voters just want politicians to work together and solve problems.  Does anybody believe that?  Work together for what?  That is the critical question.  The reality is that we now have two very different approaches to our way forward and you either do one or the other, but doing some compromise deal, beside the fact that Republicans won’t compromise, is just continuing the failed path we were on.

The reality is that we are approaching a failed country.  Oh, I know, we are exceptional and Americans will rise to the challenge.  Who do you think you are kidding?  They haven’t risen to anything in 40 years.  Instead of hard work and steadfastness, we have let our infrastructure rot while we have eaten up our savings and then mortgaged our future.  In the last 9 years we have implemented the final solution and we are the ones who will get purged.  It’s called conservatism and selfishness.  Whatever you do, cut taxes for the rich and don’t invest in our future.  The market place will solve all problems. Worked well hasn’t it?

Now there are no longer choices or compromises.  We can either continue down the Republican road of the rich get richer and the poor get poorer or we can pick a new path.  The false choice is “that work together thing”.  There is no longer a middle road.  We are either all in to save ourselves or we are lost.  We either buy into progressive values and start making changes, or we make compromises and continue on the course we are on t0 second or third world status.

Bob Herbert, in his column, What is Wrong with Us?,  points out that we have let our infrastructure deteriorate to the point that we have a hell of a hole to climb out of. It is the perfect way to employ people and build our future.  This is no time to start worrying about the deficit.  If we don’t invest in our future there won’t be any.  The conventional wisdom of the pundits is that the masses are worried about the deficit and we need to limit our spending.  This is a proscription for disaster.  These conservatives that think this is just a great idea now were the ones who wanted to cut taxes and empty out our Treasury when we were flush.

But half measures won’t cut it.  We are either all in or we fail.  We need to decide where our investment for future would best be focused and then spend our way out of this problem.  Sure there will be hard days to come when we finally have to pay the bill, but if we then have a truly growing economy, we can stand a little sacrifice.  But if we withdraw now, the deficit is going to truly balloon and bury us along with the country we neglected following this conservative bullshit.

So forget bipartisanship.  Forget working together.  There is only one path forward.  We have a choice.  We can align ourselves with the ignorant led by the likes of Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and the whole Republican Congress who think science is a debatable idea, who deny the reality all around us, or we can start using our minds again.  We are at the point of no return.  If we continue wallowing in indecision and middle roaditis, it is over for us.  We will never catch up.  It is clear the Republicans are not going down our road and it is time to jettison them.

The nation needs leadership that knows the road to be taken and is not afraid to defend it.  Convincing the masses that we need to invest in our future and that cutting spending is the road to failure and even worsening our deficit as our economy falters won’t be easy. Apparently so far none of them have the courage to go against public sentiment even though that sentiment has been manufactured by the Republicans.  Well it is time. A middle course will destroy us.

Well there is hope.  More and more are seeing Harry Reid as the problem. Having him defeated by a Republican in November would be an improvement.  The Democrats might then get real leadership.  More and more are demanding something be done about the filibuster that has paralyzed this nation and has left the Republicans in charge of the agenda even after losing the election.  More and more are seeing what hypocrites the Republicans are.  More and more are saying the good old boy rules of the Senate are no longer acceptable.  More and more are seeing that those Conseradems in the Democratic Party are the problem.  More and more understand that looking for the magic 60 votes is handing your fate over to those that want to compromise away our future.

A sign of progress is seeing Evan Bayh bow out.  This guy was part of the problem and was holding the Democrats back as he pushed a watered down conservative agenda.  Trust me on this, there are skeletons in his closet.  Nobody lines up his family for protection and bows out abruptly without a ticking time bomb somewhere a la John Edwards.  One down and many to go.  We need to really start applying the pressure.  It is now or never.  Don’t give up yet.  Maybe even President Obama will wake up.

Three Insights

My wife probably said the most profound thing about the news:  “Just turn it off, or play a rerun from the last year, it is the same shit.  Sadly she is correct.  It would appear that we learn nothing.  We are a nation in reverse and nothing seems to ever change.  So I thought I would present the three things that strike me as relevant truths worth thinking about.

The first is my reaction to anything written about the Israeli/Palestine problem.  For instance, on Sunday, Tom Friedman wrote a very insightful and thoughtful piece about the Israeli/Arab problem, and I know I should have read it, but all I could think of was snoring noises.  All my life, and no this is not hyperbole, we have been discussing the Arab/Israeli conflict.  Anything changed?  Have we learned anything about the endless rounds of war and violence?  Of course not.  Religious intolerance and young male Muslim testosterone levels have driven this conflict and apparently they like it or they would have just ended it.  It is amazing how the quest for vengeance and “justice” can perpetuate so many injustices.  The could learn something from Bishop Tutu.   I just don’t care any more and I would be surprised if anyone else cares either.  You know, when people say the solution is complicated, I always think, peace is complicated?  Just walk away.  End it by not participating in it anymore.  It is not that complicated.

The second was listening to Paul Volker on Freed Zacharia (CNN) saying he had never in his life seen a Washington (or our government) so dysfunctional.  He was specifically referring to the inability of even the lower level appointees to get Senate approval after a year of a new administration.  In the meantime here in California, the Governor’s pick of Lieutenant Governor turned into a catfight.  It is almost the same thing as the Israeli/Arab conflict.  It was all about whose penis is bigger.  The lieutenant Governor in California is basically a eunuch.  There is no real power transferred and he will only hold office for nine months till the next election.  Yet they managed to get into a food fight about that.  And we are wondering why there is gridlock in Washington?

The problem, my friends, is not these morons we elected, but the fact that we elected them to be morons in the first place.  The choices we are making for public officials are a reflection of our own shortcomings.  We hear what we want to hear and that is who gets our vote.  When was the last time you heard what you needed to hear.  We don’t like people who tell us the truth.  Here is an even more important truth:  America will be fine as long as the rest of the world has confidence in our ability to solve our problems.  We are losing their confidence and Washington is sinking in the just say no morass of Republicanism.  Somebody needs to finally push them out of the way.

But the third truth related to “would someone please push them out of the way”, popped out of the mouth of Pat Buchanan and it was a beauty.  He was responding to the fact that that moron for a Democratic leader, Harry Reid, after working out a truly toothless jobs bill with the Republicans, had seen trouble ahead from those who really care about doing something for the jobless, and pulled the bill off the table.  Now Pat and I have very different politics and I can’t remember when it was that I ever agreed with him, but on this one we are singing the same tune.  He said (I am paraphrasing because they still haven’t published the transcripts yet):

“That’s the problem with the Democrats.  They put it out there then they yank it back.  Why don’t they just stand up for something and put it out there to vote on.  It looks like they don’t stand for anything.”

And that my friends, from the enemy camp, is a description of all that is wrong with the Democratic Party.  They stand for nothing.  So we have three truths out there, and nobody but me is paying attention to them.

New Beginnings

I just watched Bottle Shock again with a lovely glass of Hill Top Syrah from Holly’s Hill and remembered why I grow grapes.  My knee, injured last fall, is not healing well and I am beginning to wonder if this is going to be what the future holds for me.  I was not looking forward to the tasks in front of me, limping through the vineyard.  Then I remembered why I do this, and you know what?  I don’t care.  There are a couple of lines in this movie that kind of sum it up for me.  The first is from Leonardo Da Vinci, who describe wine as “sunlight mixed with water”.  The second went something like this:  “The vineyard’s best fertilizer is the footsteps of the owner.”

Leaping forward to the here and now, I read an article about Randal Graham from Boony Doon, the guru of Rhones and fun wine making, and he could not have said it better:

“The winemaking I can do in my sleep, but being present in the vineyard, walking, looking, observing, being in tune with its real subtleties. That’s something I don’t have yet, and may never have.”

“I love pruning, it’s my favorite thing in the whole world, apart from crossword puzzles. They are one and two, and I couldn’t even say which is one and which is two,” he adds. “When I planted the first vineyard in Bonny Doon and put up the fences, pounded the fence posts, strung the barbed wire, hoed the whole thing with a hoe, that was amazing.”

“That was the best experience in my life, and I lost it. I don’t have the physical endurance I had 25 years ago to do all those things, but for me that was connecting, that was a great presence for me. I may not be able to duplicate it, but I want to try.”

So what am I trying to say?  The vineyard is a connection for me.  It connects me to nature.  It connects me to my humble ability to shape it.  It connects me to my fellow man whose sweat I depend on to help me bring this thing off.  Most importantly it makes me look at wine as a culmination of all that is alive and wonderful.  When I taste a great wine, I am transported to the hombres in the field, to the wine maker and his decisions in the winery, to the guy/gal in the tasting room who is trying to make you stop and really taste what it is you have in your glass.  It connects me to every step of the process.

What I am trying to say is that when I stand in some foreign territory, intimidated by those around me who have the lingo and sophistication of the lexicon of wine tasting down to a nat’s eye, I know I know.  I know what is to stand in my vineyard and feel connected to each and every plant.  I know every inch of the territory (terroir) they grow on.  I know who needs more sun and who doesn’t.  I know the work that goes into each and every plant because it is usually done by me.  But don’t kid yourself.  Big vineyard or small, someone is out there walking the rows and doing the work, connecting to every aspect of the plant and its growth.  It is not a factory.  It is not a repetitive process.  It is an art form.

I also know that only a very few will have any idea what I am talking about.  But I know they know, and I seek out their company because they have glimpsed what it is to be a part of perfection.  Through the sweat and blood of those that work in this endeavor, something beautiful is brought.  And when it is, I am not awed by those that covet the spotlight with their smooth descriptions and coveting of its success.  What I am in awe of is the dedication and human toil that went into taking terroir, and marrying it with the plant.  I am in awe of the human connection to nature and what, with luck, we have wrought.  It is just sad to me that so many have no depth of appreciation for this connection.  Let Spring begin.  I love new beginnings, limp and all.  Carpe Diem

What Debate?

I have found myself reading less and less of a full article on many subjects these days and it finally occurred to me why, other than I am old and have age induced attention deficient disorder.  Let me give you an example.  In the New York Times this morning was the following headline and lead in:  Climate Fight is Heating Up in Deep Freeze: The two sides in the climate-change debate are seizing on the mounting drifts to bolster their arguments. What debate?  There is no debate except one side is ideologically constipated.

I am sorry, but I am an engineer and I know difference between scientific reasoning and fact, and pseudo science.  Picking and choosing your data to support a point of view is not science, or even rational thought.  The sad thing is that our media still treats this as a debate.  Would they say the debate between Flat Earthers and globe advocates is heating up? Of course not.  There is no debate.  One side is the looney fringe.  So why do we continue with this fiction that every issue has two sides and both sides have equal merit?

Well, sadly the answer to that question is that for many of us, our education has failed us.  We have this whole segment of our society, and I would say more than half, who do not understand what is to know something scientifically.  Their idea of really knowing something is best described as, “I feel it deep in my gut.”  This is not knowing something, it is believing something and that belief could be very misguided.

The other part of this is that for some reason in this country, we distain intellectuals as though they are quaint quacks.  Look at the Sarah Palin phenomenon.  She is utilizing the distrust of intelligence and rational thought to rally a whole group of our citizens around a mindless approach to our future.  Examine anything she says and see if there is a rational basis for an alternative approach.  “How is that change thing coming along?”  So Ms. Palin can make fun of President Obama’s struggles with change, but what does she offer to fix our problems?  Some small town values?  What the hell is that?  And the truly sad thing is people love it.  She is the epitome of an empty vessel and yet that seems to be her attraction.

So we are now living in an age where rational thought and scientific analysis are just one opinion and any whack job with an alternative theory is taken seriously.  Tea Partiers are mad as hell about big government and spending, but what is their plan when evaluate against the cold light of outcomes?  They don’t have one.  Republicans hate the health care plan, but as President Obama showed us during the Republican Retreat, their alternatives are smoke and mirrors.  Yet our media continues to allow these people to come and make their wild ass claims without really examining them.  Is that what we have come to be?  The land of the pseudo scientists?

Let us take any issue that has been grossly oversimplified.  I know, big government.  Who hasn’t been the victim of a bureaucratic fool at one time or another?   So big government is bad?  Is the military big government?  How do you administer a nation of 304 million without government that is large?  Let private industry do it?  We hate big government but when Katrina hit we were screaming for it.  When the banks almost destroyed our economy we wanted to know where were the government regulators?  My point is simply that when we boil our arguments down to some anecdotal experience we had, we are making conclusions that are generally false.  It is the essence of pseudo science.  The real debate here is how to make government more efficient and effective, not some pipe dream about a la-la world where government doesn’t exist.

The debates raging right now are not really debates.  Mainstream economic understanding will tell you that if we cut government spending right now, the economy will go in the tank.  So why are we even having this debate?  The real focus ought to be on what we are spending on that will secure our future.  Why do we debate torture when mainstream intelligence gathering experts will tell you it is counter productive?  Every other nation in the world has come to the conclusion that universal health care is generally delivered in a single payer system.  Why are we still having this debate?

The reason is simple.  We as a nation no longer think rationally.  We think with our gut and in this world of marketing and shaping public perception, we have become very good at getting people to believe anything.  We have been taught muddled thinking.  The status quo wants to stay the status quo (read power and money here) and they are working very hard to have us believe things that prevent change.  The Republican party is about preventing change and that is why to many of us, they seem to be almost looney in their beliefs.  The fact that they may be winning with so many unsupportable positions says all that needs to be said about our loss of our reasoning power.  Welcome to Idiot America.

What’s the Point?

President Obama is going to meet with Republicans and Democrats one more time in an attempt to find middle ground on Health Care reform.  Now at this point, if you really have been paying attention, this is beyond futile.  Look at the current Senate Bill and it has everything John Boehner said Republicans wanted and they won’t support it.  The President is not dumb, so what is the point?

Well, I have two thoughts.  The first one is optimistic.  The Administration and the Democrats know the Republicans will balk at any compromise and are just setting them up for all the world to see their failed ideas before they bring out their reconciliation bill and move forward with a more robust health care reform bill.  They are now working in secret to get that bill ready, and as soon as the Republicans step into it, they will be ready to launch.  Believe that?  Democrats with a Plan B ready to go into operation?  Me either.

Then there is the second option, which I think is more likely and foolish.  That is the conventional wisdom that the Democrats are just trying to look more bipartisan than the Republicans and to blame the failure of the health care reform bill on the Republicans.  It is both callous and foolish.  What the political manipulators are missing is that the blame game won’t work in this economy.  People want results and change.  Quite frankly they need help.  But instead of standing up for a policy that will really help people, Democrats have been compromising away good reform for failed ideas.  Now instead of taking the more risky, but efficacious approach of real reform, they may be taking the politically safe root of playing the blame game.  They will lose at that too because people are hurting and they want to see results from the party they put in power or they are going to throw them out.

The sad thing is that life is so much simpler if instead of going through all of the mental gymnastics of political intrigue, you just did the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.  Think of all the befuddled political analysts trying to explain the motivation of a politician by doing the right thing regardless of whether they get a legislative win or not.  The other sad aspect of this is that until the Democrats take these guys on idea for idea and quit compromising, they just look weak to the average American who doesn’t pay attention to the details of this.  Look at Sarah Palin and her airhead approach to policy, which of course doesn’t exist and is nothing more than derogatory comments without any plan forward, but the Tea Party loves her.  I rest my case.  These are not a bunch of thoughtful, rational people.  I wish the media would quit pandering to them and start grilling them.

I think what Americans thought when Barrack Obama came in to offices was that these people were going to be different.  They thought that these political games would be over.  But I think Rahm Emanuel and his choice by Obama is a symptom of the problem.  On a totally different issue, Rham was quite unhappy with Eric Holder, the Attorney General, because he went against his best political advice to let the past go, and wants to pursue Bush Administration personnel for war crimes.  It was a choice between what is best for politics or follow the law and maybe what is best for this country.  In my little brain this is a no brainer, but for politicians this is also a no brainer with the opposite conclusion.  The trouble is they are out smarting themselves.  Instead of exposing the scab that was the Bush Administration and the Republican Party for enabling this, they thought it would be better to let it go and fight new battles  Now the bad eggs are back with credibility they ceded them to attack their every policy.

So the best outcome here would be for the President to expose the Republicans for not caring a wit for the country and its suffering people as they continue to obstruct, and come back full steam ahead with a better bill pushed through reconciliation.  Then attack, attack, attack.  But my fear is the Democrats will try to depict themselves as victims, and their wish will come true.  They will end up being victims of their political manipulations without anything to show for it.  I don’t think they are trainable.  The White House needs a whole new approach and I don’t think the people there are capable.  Why is it so hard to quit playing politics and just do the right thing and not worry about it?  That would include quit trying to play nice with a party that just wants to destroy you.  Could it possible be time for tough love with your own party?