Monday, September 8, 2014

Lift a glass to bourbon this month

It’s understood among us ink-stain’d wretches that good things are to be celebrated whole-heartedly, and I believe nothing deserves celebration more than one of humankind’s greatest achievements, that being the fermentation, malting, and distillation of crop-based fluids. Here’s to beer, wine is fine, and whiskey is … well it is simply the nectar of the ancient gods. Civilization, the learned among us will say, is possible only with systematic agriculture. I agree, for only the routine planting, cultivation, and harvesting of grains, fruits, and vegetables can support the making of decent booze.

And so to the point: September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, and if you thought I was rowdy on Saint Patrick’s Day back in March, wait until you see me celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month. One of my favorite hobbies is drowning ice cubes in amber liquid, and friend, I ain’t talkin’ about tea.

Some of the best writing I’ve ever done was composed under the influence of bourbon and, yes, there is a dollop within reach as I write this. My favorite pour is Jack Daniels which, while not marketed as a bourbon, is technically one of the better bourbons available today. My dream is to one day be able to afford a barrel of Jack Daniels Single Barrel. This is the finest liquid gold to ever come out of Lynchburg, TN. The distillery will select a premium 12-year-old barrel, bottle it, box it, and shrink-wrap the whole thing, along with the barrel it came out of, and ship it to you. You have to make arrangements through a local liquor store, and state and federal taxes make the price vary, but suffice it to say that if you flinch at dropping fifteen large on a damn fine whiskey, son, you’re out of your league here.

Yep, I’m out of my league here.

Still, some great writers have changed the face of American literature while sipping my go-to libation: Old Crow Kentucky bourbon. Legend has it that two of my heroes – Mark Twain and Ulysses Grant – did their best work while partaking of the dirty bird. President Abraham Lincoln (a liberal Democrat by today’s standards) famously told Grant’s critics to find out what bourbon Grant drank and he’d send a cask of it to each Union general.

While Grant wasn’t much of a wordsmith, his one great literary contribution – his memoir – is long on plain-spoken prose and completely lacking in self-justification. That he wrote with such clarity, precision, and frankness while choking to death on throat cancer is nothing short of amazing. I would point out that the cancer is generally blamed on his smoking, not on his drinking.

I do not smoke.

Twain, on the other hand, defined the turn-of-the-century American man of letters with a pen in one hand and a glass of bourbon in the other. I won’t say that Twain’s best work went on paper while he was imbibing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

My son the chef insists that I imbibe only Colorado’s own Brekenridge, and while it is by far the second-finest bourbon I have ever tasted (nothing can touch Blanton’s, including my wallet) it is also a very expensive pour, and something I reserve for special occasions. Or, as I tell my wife, “Honey, any time I can drink Breck, that’s a special occasion.”

The worst bourbon I’ve ever tasted is something called Wyoming Whiskey, distilled in small batches in Kirby, WY. It is, like its namesake state, raw and unsophisticated, and best enjoyed disguised as Coca-Cola™.

Whatever your daily pour, whether it’s humble Old Crow, staunch Jim Beam or the ethereal kiss of caramel and hint of mint of Blanton’s Private Reserve, join me this month, won’t you? Let’s hoist two fingers of the good stuff in celebration of a truly all-American beverage. And the oftener, the better.

Friday, September 5, 2014

It's not slut-shaming, it's reality

Anyone who knows me will attest that I abhor the rape culture that has become the world of twentysomething dudes. Instead of seeing increasing respect for young women as self-determined people of fully equal standing, we see an increasingly mysoginistic culture in which adult human females are looked at as collections of eroticized body parts, and judged according to the erotic value of said body parts. I have three little granddaughters and a small grandson, and I fear for all of them; the boy that he might become some over-masculinized sexual predator, and the girls that they may become prey. I fully support the idea that we need to pour as much effort into teaching our boys to not rape as we pour into teaching our girls to not be raped. Rape is never the victim's fault. Period.

But my feminism, if it even is that, does not extend to the arena in which dwells the frankly alarming trend of taking pictures of oneself in the nude and then posting them somewhere online, only to have them suddenly pop up all over the world. I simply do not buy into the idea that a young woman who takes naked selfies and stores them in The Cloud is absolved of all responsibility when some cretin hacks her storage site and passes around the evidence.

I don’t pretend to know why “sexual self-expression” is such a necessary thing among people under 40 these days, but it appears to be, and the smart phone self portrait appears to be the medium of choice for this expression. I do wonder about the misandrist double-standard – if a man takes a naked selfie and shares it, he’s a creep, but if a woman does it, she’s making a sexual statement. I'm a huge fan of the First Amendment, but I doubt that when the Mythical Founding Fathers penned it they had in mind an unclothed Betsy Ross sprawled across Old Glory.

So you won’t be surprised that I have little sympathy for the likes of Jennifer Lawrence since her naked selfies have been shared across the great digital ether. The news stories all depict innocent little J-Law snapping some naughty pix on her smart phone, but some clarification is required here. First, they aren't really selfies; they are tasteful nude photos taken by a professional photographer (come on, do you really think a pampered Oscar-winning businesswoman is going to point her iPhone at her nekkid self? Get real! What would Siri think?) Second, they were reportedly meant as a gift to a Significant Other. Finally, they are no more or less revealing than anything Playboy published back in the mid-1960s. Compared with what some tequila-soaked housewives are posting these days, it’s pretty classy stuff. And no, I won't elucidate how I know that. Let's just say journalistic research is sometimes a thankless, dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

The militant feminists who write for left-wing blogs these days (I’m looking at you, Tracy Clark-Flory) would accuse me of “slut shaming,” as if that’s something bad. They would be wrong, by a country mile. As I have said before, I support any man’s or woman’s right to express himself or herself in any way that doesn't degrade, humiliate, or otherwise harm anyone. So if million-dollar Hollywood starlets want to preserve images of their now-perfect bodies for posterity, I have no argument with that. And if they want to store those images on secure hard drives locked in private vaults, to be shared only with loved ones or those willing to pay-per-view, they’ll not hear a peep from me.

But when they cry “Foul!” when some jackass hacks into the so-very-public “cloud” and then scatters the images along the information superhighway, I call bullshit. Who stores intimate images in anything called “The Cloud” anyway? Its very name suggests an amorphous, porous, ethereal vapor easy to penetrate and violate. I have probably a half-dozen photos stored in PhotoBucket, but they’re photos of my shop projects, Yellowstone Park, and interesting cloud formations. If I had intimate photos of anyone, they’d be on a password-protected external drive locked in a safe.

This isn't to suggest that people, both famous and obscure, shouldn't express their most intimate selves digitally. But just as it isn't wise for man or woman to walk drunk down a dark alley in a strange city, neither is it smart to store photos of one’s privates in the digital equivalent of a bus station locker.

Yes, I do hope the bastard who hacked the photos and released them is caught and punished, either by the authorities for theft and harassment, or by Lawrence and her lawyers for misappropriation of valuable private assets. Either way, the guy is a cad and a heel of the worst stripe. At the same time, however, I also hope pretty people around the world will learn to be a little more circumspect about where they store the images of their sexual self-expression. It’s just not a safe world out there.