31 May 2009

"I love this country!"

Our pal had a birthday party this weekend and we brought him a bottle of Rowan's Creek Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. His response was the above joyful exclamation. I couldn't disagree--folks out there are getting together and making small batch bourbons. That sort of behavior should be encouraged! Bourbon is America's unique contribution to whiskey, and it remains my personal favorite. Our local liquor shop had another small batch bourbon called Corner Creek Reserve which we picked up for ourselves. It had a remarkably smooth and mellow quality, not as full-flavored as the gift batch. But those were first impressions only, and a good whiskey requires re-visiting. Here's to spiritus kentuckii and the folks who create it!

28 May 2009

Double dose of P.I.

I am always interested in the "hard-boiled" P.I., and I finally got around to reading a couple of paperbacks that I'd accumulated within the last year. The first was Act of Fear (1967) by "Michael Collins" (Dennis Lynds), featuring Dan Fortune, the one-armed detective. The second was The Lime Pit (1980) by Jonathan Valin, featuring Cincinnati detective Harry Stoner. Both stories were the first in a series, Stoner appearing in ten more novels and Fortune in another sixteen. Of the two, I liked the Lynds book the best--it was shorter more tightly plotted. Both gumshoes, in the hard-boiled P.I. tradition, mused on life and love while solving the crime. Fortune was less wordy than Stoner, and kept his philosophical preachings brief. Another point in his favor. Mr. Valin's work suffered a bit from too many adjectives and adverbs, a pet peeve with me, especially in a noir novel. Mr. Lynds created a somber atmosphere with his re-creation of the Chelsea district of Manhattan that seemed to infuse the story with dread. I have been to Chelsea, and actually walked the streets there, and NYC is big and bad and infamous, so perhaps he had an easier task. The Stoner book was set in Cincy, and there are lots of references to streets and neighborhoods, but much of the action takes place in the neighboring town of Newport, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River. Newport is morally "on the other side" for the genteel Cincy residents, where gambling and whoring and whatnot take place under a lax legal system. Valin uses that motif nicely, and Stoner has to do the real ugly work in Newport. Both books are very much in the Chandler tradition, with the loner/outsider detective struggling to make sense of a crazy world, and fighting to right a wrong just because, well, that's just what they do.

19 May 2009

Eye in the Sky

The world is full of good news, it just gets drowned out sometimes. Fixing the Hubble Space Telescope is good news. This is the end of the Space Shuttle. NASA says its next step forward is Constellation, which involves a new launch vehicle, new orbiter, and a new mission. I'm not sure we'll ever get the scientific payoff from human space missions that will compare to Hubble or Voyager or Cassini or the Mars Rovers or any of the spectacular achievements of the last few decades involving robotic craft. Those vehicles may not have men or women inside them as they fly through space or orbit a planet, but they are surely not "unmanned." The enormous human capital required to design, build, fly and maintain these things surely makes that a misnomer. Human spaceflight is a funny thing. Forty years ago the nation was captivated by Apollo X, the penultimate moon mission. Today's Shuttle missions don't generate the excitement of exploration that intoxicated everyone during the moon landings. The new generation of manned space journeys will most likely not recapture those feelings, but there will be a heightened sense of urgency as our world struggles with environmental degradation and overpopulation. NASA knows that the probes and instruments will tell us what we need to know, but that the people won't buy it without a human face. I hope I get to see it all unfold. Meanwhile, bravo to the astronauts and the ground crews and the thinkers and planners and technicians for what they accomplished this week. The Eye in the Sky still sees.

16 May 2009


I'm a bit of a stickler for usage, and often find myself riled by abusage. I'm not over-zealous, but I try to be correct. When I find that I've committed a diction sin or grammatical error, I like to work on it and rid myself of it. One of the many, many phrases in English that had a narrow, specific meaning or usage at one time but has morphed into a less precise, broader-applied phrase is "begging the question." There is a blog--well, a website, at least--that attacks this abusage and points us to the proper path. It is called Beg the question: get it right. Just this morning I improperly used BTQ in a comment on a blog post. I meant to say "raises the question," but lapsed into an idiomatic mistake and used the aforementioned BTQ. Blog posts are timely, ethereal things. Tomorrow there is a new post and the old ones are forgotten even if they are carefully archived and catalogued by Google. Comments are often conversational, and the grammar, spelling, and diction mistakes they exhibit are more than anything a result of the hurried, off-the-cuff nature of that form of expression. But I don't like that: I appreciate proper English. So I was chagrined by my casual mistake. "Begging the question" means to assume something is true simply because you've stated it. It is a logical fallacy, a weakness in an argument, a bit of rhetorical cluelessness. "I don't like hamburgers because they aren't any good" is begging the question. You are asserting the truth of the statement without any foundation. Alas, this usage is perhaps obsolete in our fast-moving times, but it got WordMan™ off his duff for today, at least!

10 May 2009

Manny, Mothers, and Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball sure wants you to know all about Manuel Aristides Onelcida Ramirez' urine. That trademarked and copyrighted fairytale-factory wants you to care a lot about what's in a grown man's bloodstream. But I don't. I'm one of those baseball fans that doesn't want to know or need to know. Sportswriters are a funny beast--they project much of their fantasies about athletic achievement on to the athletes they cover. They assign them roles in a myth, and rank them as heroes or villains. The billionaires who own the clubs don't care, they've got PR departments and advertising budgets. Slap on a heavy coat of patriotism and motherhood and you've got a product. These same billionaires convince cities to pump tax dollars into corporate playgrounds called ballparks. The business these same billionaires are in enjoys a Congressionally-approved monopoly status. Major League Baseball has Budweiser and Chevrolet to sell. If one of the heroes is tarnished by something he ate, fewer people might buy Budweiser and Chevrolet, and that would be bad for America. Manny is a hero--and when he falls, he falls hard. At least that's what Major League Baseball wants you to think. Manny's a damn fine ballplayer. I don't know if he's a damn fine man or not. That's his business. And as long as he's not hurting anyone, I'm damn sure I don't care. I have a hero. My mother is my hero. I'd be willing to bet mothers are heroes to a lot a people. Look for the heroes closest to you. And let plumbers be plumbers and ballplayers be ballplayers, and let them have whatever makes them happy. Happy Mothers Day.

05 May 2009

Celtic Summer

It always seemed strange to me that we marked the start of summer on the solstice--the longest day. After that point, the days get shorter. The Celts reckoned the solstice as mid-summer. Day length increases once you are past the equinox. At some point you get to say "summer is starting." The logical spot would be halfway from the equinox to the solstice--the so-called cross-quarter day. If the orbit of the earth around the sun is a circle, and it damn near is, it can be cut into quadrants. Summer Solstice to Autumnal Equinox to Vernal Equinox to Summer Solstice--four big pieces of pie. Cut those pieces in half and you get eight parts. Those four new dividing lines are the "cross-quarter" days because they cut the quarter-parts in two. Lammas, or Lughnasa, is the first, coming halfway between the June solstice and the September equinox. Then we have Hallowe'en, or Samhain, between the equinox and the December solstice. Imbolc, or Groundhog Day, splits the solstice from the Vernal Equinox. Now we have reached the next spot, halfway to Midsummer (the solstice). We call it Beltane or May Day. This year, according to those who know, the cross-quarter day, the first of the Celtic summer, is today. May 5th. Cinco de Mayo.

Happy summer!

03 May 2009

Sunday mornin' comin' down

On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
'Cause there's something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there's nothin' short of dyin',
Half as lonesome as the sound,
On the sleepin' city sidewalks:
Sunday mornin' comin' down.

--Kris Kristofferson (1969)

Just because it's Sunday.