A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Friday, February 20, 2009

1st Amendment, 1; Sanity, 0

How will they keep from putting each other in the bags?

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Tasting Notes (Feb. 12): Cabernet Sauvignon, Or, Hail to the King

Cross-posted from Grape and Grain.

As much I've been into syrahs lately, I have to admit that cabernet sauvignon is still the one grape that, when it soars to the heights it's capable of, can mesmerize like no other wine, with simultaneous strength, balance, concentration, elegance, and sheer flavor. As (potentially) an "iron fist in a velvet glove," cabernet, when done well, deserves its reputation as the king of grapes.

Now, the notes:

1. Clos du Marquis 2002 (Bordeaux, France; $49.99/bottle)
Still somewhat young at seven years old, this medium-full-bodied Bordeaux (the "second" bottling of Chateau Leoville la Cases) is nevertheless drinking beautifully, with a spicy, earthy nose and gorgeous flavors of black currant, tar, leather, dried leaves, and a hint of wet stone. Balanced and very smooth. Excellent. Rating: 93

2. Cignale 2001 (Tuscany, Italy; $72.99/bottle)
Full-bodied, sweetly ripe, and incredibly sensuous, with almost primordially earthy flavors and aromas of black plum, mushrooms, animal hide, chocolate, and spice. Beautiful. Rating: 94

3. Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington; $34.99/bottle)
The first time I tried this wine (last week) I thought it was lackluster, but it was my first sample of the day, and I didn't go back. This time, with some warm-up samples under my belt, I saw this wine's charms: bright acidity and sweet, jammy plum and rhubarb fruit are laced with rich vanilla and lead to a lively, licorice-tinged finish. A bit one-note, but it's a good note. Rating: 91

4. Schweiger Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Napa; $49.99/bottle)
Full-bodied and very smooth, with black currant, black earth, spice, and tar notes. Ripe, well-integrated tannins and acidity from the cool Spring Mountain fruit lend a hard-to-resist elegance. Drinking beautifully now, but may not hit full stride for another 3-5 years. Rating: 93

5. Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Reserve 2004 (Colchagua, Chile; 16.99/bottle)
Very big, bold, and concentrated, this South American cabernet is not for the faint of heart. Full-bodied, with assertive flavors of blackberry, earthy leather, and (telltale Chilean) baked stuffed bell pepper. A bit rough around the edges, but overall not bad (and a decent value). Rating: 86

6. Vinum Africa 2006 (South Africa; $17.99/bottle)
With a nose of currant, plum, smoke, and pepper, this medium-full-bodied cabernet is super-smoky on the palate, with round but penetrating blackberry fruit and chewy, peppery tannins. Bold, classic South African wine. Think BBQ. Rating: 88

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Re-Working (a Metaphor)

We're talking about the difference between revising and editing in my "grammar for language arts teachers" class today, and that has got me thinking about writing teachers' penchant for literalizing the term revision as re-vision, re-seeing.

I've accepted and even used that literalized sense myself, but there's always been something about it that didn't feel quite right. As I was preparing for class today, though, what had been a vague, gut-level dissonance emerged into the light of consciousness: To me, re-seeing implies wholesale change--a total do-over. Of course, it is possible to re-see as a way to solve a problem with an existing argument and, so, to not completely scrap what's already there. But the term definitely tends toward the global: To truly revise, you have to re-see your writing, to understand it in a wholly new sense.

But sometimes revision doesn't require re-seeing. Sometimes it just takes a lot of brain-wrenching labor to get your writing where you've always wanted it to go in the first place. When that's the case, one is less re-seeing one's writing than re-working it.

Why bother with the distinction? For one, I think re-working gets closer than re-seeing to the heart of why so many of our students seem not to be able, or not to want, to engage in deep, meaningful revision of their writing. While it's true that students who fail to engage in deep revision often do so because they can't "see" what needs to happen in their writing, the nature of that blindness stems not from lack of knowledge but from lack of having powered through three, five, ten hours of cross-eyed attempts to figure out what, exactly, it is that they're not seeing. Or, more precisely, the lack of knowledge itself is a lack of work, and vice versa.

For their writing to be good, most people have to be willing to put in what amounts to more work on the revision than they did on the first (or second, or seventh) draft. "Re-working" may not have the benefit of cleverness that the vision/seeing wordplay did at one time, but it more than makes up for lack of wit in its simple, if somewhat brutish, precision.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

(Potential) Injustice and the Rhetoric of Duty

I found the "Officer Down Memorial Page"--and specifically this entry on Pierce City, Missouri police officer R.J. Chappell--after doing some research to find out more about the Pierce City race-cleansing of 1901, in which a gun-toting, torch-wielding mob drove around 200 blacks out of town. In the process, the mob killed three black residents of Pierce City and attempted to kill many more, after the alleged murder of a white woman by a black man.

One of the people killed by the mob was Pete Hampton, who was suspected of having killed Chappell the year before. But, given Southwest Missouri's racial climate at the time, how, I wonder, can people today be so sure that Chappell was a faithful public servant? His memorial webpage reads: "You have served your country and community with devotion, courage and valor. You will not be forgotten. I know the Lord has said to thee, 'Enter faithful servant in whom I am well pleased.'"

Assuming that Pete Hampton was involved in Chappell's killing, is it really not possible to imagine a scenario in which Hampton acted in self-defense against someone he perceived, possibly even rightly, as a threat to his life? After all, since even in turn-of-the-20th-century SW Missouri, Hampton was only suspected and not tried or convicted, the details of the shooting must be unknown. Without having done a lot of archival footwork about Chappell himself, how is it possible to know that he was a fair man and not a petty thug? How is it possible to know that he wasn't trying to kill Chappell or to pin a crime on him that he didn't commit?

Such a seemingly innocuous tribute is to me a chilling illustration of how the rhetoric of duty, of "devotion, courage, and valor," can (even if only potentially), by virtue of its blanket applicability and immunity to context, allow specific acts of injustice to be exonerated by the broad blanket of honor wearing a uniform seems to provide.

The August 25, 1901 St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a detailed story of the Pierce City race cleansing. The text is reproduced on the Chappell memorial page, but below is a (very big) jpeg image of the original article. Some time I'll write about the events themselves:

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Carlin on the Repressive Hypothesis

George Carlin died less than a year ago, so there’s still a fair amount of hyperbolic rhetoric about his comedic greatness floating around. (His posthumous, November receipt of the Twain award has no doubt helped.) Not that he wasn’t a great comic; he was. But so far nobody seems willing to point out how strained a lot of his concepts were, despite how brilliant the tirades they enabled often undoubtedly were. (A house is nothing more than a place where you keep your stuff? Really?) Even the good folks at Slate’s “Cultural Gabfest” take him to task more for his very brand of humor than for its occasional lapses in execution.

But the “seven dirty words” routine was, and is, brilliant from start to finish. And the best part of it—despite what I would have told you when I was 12 years old—is not the part where he says the seven words. Not even close. It’s the intro material, where Carlin says about profanity in a few brilliant lines what Foucault labored to say about sexuality in a whole book.

….Without even having to pronounce the word, modern prudishness was able to ensure that one did not speak of sex, merely through the interplay of prohibitions that referred back to one another: instances of muteness which, by dint of saying nothing, imposed silence. Censorship.
Yet when one looks back over the last three centuries with their continual transformations, things appear in a very different light: around and apropos of sex, one sees a veritable discursive explosion.
….There was a steady proliferation of discourses concerned with sex….

And Carlin:
We have more ways to describe dirty words than we actually have dirty words. That seems a little strange to me. It seems to indicate that somebody was awfully interested in these words. They call them bad words, dirty, filthy, foul, vile, vulgar, coarse, in poor taste, unseemly, street talk, gutter talk, locker room language, barracks talk, bawdy, naughty, saucy, raunchy, rude, crude, lewd, lascivious, indecent, profane, obscene, blue, off-color, risqué, suggestive, cursing, cussing, swearing. And all I could think of was shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.

Still, those seven words are motherfucking hilarious, too.

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