December 2004
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Month December 2004

Happy New Year

Just wanted to wish Happy New Year to everyone! 2004 was a tough year on both a personal and public front, and I couldn’t be happier to see it go. I’m drinking a toast to family and friends, and wishing all of us a better, happier, healthier, more peaceful 2005. Cheers!

The Washington governor’s race

The nation’s press seem to have noticed that we in Washington still don’t have a governor. Moreover, they seem to have picked up on the fact that most of us seem disconnected, ambivalent, and disgusted by the whole thing. Even politically motivated people such as myself appear to have lost steam through the process of count, recount, recount again, lawsuit, counter suit.

I’ve been trying to work out why this is. If there was a good reason to prefer Gregoire (for example) over Dino Rossi on November 2nd, then why isn’t there a good reason to continue preferring Gregoire on December 26th?

Well, at some level I continue to prefer Gregoire for governor, but my lack of fervor in that opinion seems to originate in a profound lack of interest in state politics. Throughout my lifetime, Washington governors have been fairly lackluster, and governance has increasingly shifted from elected officials to the poisonous over-reliance on initative and referendum which seem to plague California as well as my own state. Increasingly, revenue issues are impossible for elected officials to decide in their capacity as the people’s representatives, and are either passed back to referendum or initiated by citizen groups themselves.

Anti-tax rebellion continues full force, despite the fact that Washington sits in median ranks of states in terms of total tax burden. And despite daily evidence that funding our children’s education through a combination of liquor taxes, Lotto, property taxes, and unsustainable timber sales on impoverished fourth-growth forest plantations is not working. Relatively “rich” districts have some of the best teachers and schools around, while districts in areas with little wealth and sluggish local economies suffer through large class sizes and a general lack of quality. And even in the best districts, teacher salaries are ridiculous compared to what individuals with Master’s degree-level education make in the private sector. And the dominance of Democrats in the legislature and in the governor’s office hasn’t changed any of this a damned bit. Nor do the Republicans offer a real alternative — the need to pander to anti-tax fanatics virtually guarantees that.

And so, as the governor’s race in Washington winds down to a virtual draw and we prepare for the Inauguration Day of whichever candidate wins the last round of legal challenges, I find that I identify completely with the fatigue and ennui chronicled in the Times. Which is sad, because breaking the deadlock in state politics will be impossible without the committed effort and checkbooks of those, like me, who found themselves energized and passionate about electoral politics at the national level as recently as last month.

Liberalism: liberty versus equality, or liberty and equality?

It’s been quiet here on Extended Phenotype in the run-up to the holidays, but here’s a cross-post from Progressive Commons. The essay follows an earlier post here at EP, analyzing the fallacy that New Deal liberalism is actually a betrayal of classical liberal principles. In reality, the “lost liberalism” narrative is the result of modern libertarians taking a narrow view of Hume, Locke, Madison, and other classical authors. In the essay I argue that classical liberal theorists were far more concerned about concentrated power in any form — private or public — than the modern narrative admits. This recognition leads to seeing far more continuity between classical theorists and New Deal liberalism than, say, Milton Friedman (as an example) does. And that’s a good thing, in my book, because it should help us reclaim our political past and not accept the modern political narrative as related by Republicans and Fox News.

Holiday wine tasting highlights

Our wine tasting group had its holiday get-together this Tuesday, where we each bring “something that hurts” from our cellars. Typically this means a spectacular bottle, something that we have only one bottle, that sort of thing. There were quite a number of people and quite a number of wines, so I won’t list them all (lest anyone think we’re a bunch of lushes…). But here are some highlights, skipping a number of reds that weren’t as interesting and a few of the starting whites (although I usually don’t skip Raveneau…).

Pol Roger 1990 Cuvee Winston Churchill
The best champagne I’ve had in a long time, this was savory and creamy, with few hard edges but still good acidity and body. Really a lovely way to kick off the evening!

Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc 1985
Haut-Brion Blanc is the best white wine in Bordeaux, and at its heights, some of the best white wine any of us have ever had. The 1971 is almost painfully good, ruining your palate forever for white Bordeaux. The 1985 runs a close second, and this wine continued to improve in the glass for hours. An incredible coconut nose was followed by immense body and the honey of botrytis, with a melon-like palate and long finish. The wine smells like a top Sauternes on top of a crisp dry white. Spectacular.

Chateau Palmer 1983 Margaux
A superb Bordeaux, with an initially leathery and stinky nose that made us all think Beaucastel. The wine mellowed out and was a superb older Bordeaux, but still well within its prime.

Vega Sicilia Unico 1981
Elegant, with that “strawberry and old wood” Spanish nose, but big, beefy, and structured on the palate. This was our “pizza” wine, as we devoured Pagliacci pies with sausage and sweet fried peppers and the Proscuitto Primo — and the wine matched really well.

Les Cailloux Cuvee Centenaire 1989 Chateauneuf
This was my red wine offering, and it was a big but subtle wine. Smelled like roasted peanuts out of the decanter (1.5 hours decanting), with deep dark Grenachy fruit and a savory/herbal palate. Really incredible bottle of Chateauneuf, and hopefully the 1995 and 1998 will turn out this well.

Les Cailloux Cuvee Centenaire 2001 Chateauneuf
Coincidentally brought by my friend Chuck, this was huge, spicy, very sappy and viscous, with a lemony black fruit palate and immense concentration. Everyone at the table immediately wanted to know where it could still be bought.

Chateau Rayas 1988 Chateauneuf
A gorgeous example of the Rayas strawberry nose, with savory palate. Good finish and a fine wine.

Mouton 1982
What can you say….it’s a Mouton. Deep, dark Bordeaux with a hint of green pepper. The concentration and power is phenomenal but this bottle wasn’t as good as others we’d tried. Some of the complexity is missing, but still, an excellent bottle all around.

Baumard Quarts de Chaume 1995
My other offering, this was an immense sticky dessert, with the bruised apple Chenin Blanc thing on top of good acid (unlike the flabby 1997’s) and a massive finish. Incredible stuff, and fortunately I’ve still got some in the fridge!

Whitwham’s 1853 Millenium Port
That’s right, 1853. Rare Wine Company in Sonoma did an offering awhile back of a rare 1853 colheita port which had been forgotten in barrel until 2001 and then bottled. This seemed a dead ringer on the nose for fine — seriously fine — Madeira, but on the palate it was Madeira crossed with tawny port, and was incredibly yummy. The gentleman who brought the wine was incredibly generous in sharing it with the likes of us….

Blogging at Progressive Commons

The pace of blogging has slowed down here at Extended Phenotype. I’m busy at work, and the holidays are (too) fast approaching, but there’s another reason. I’m now also writing about progressive politics at Progressive Commons, a virtual think tank and collective blog spearheaded by Kenneth Rufo of the University of Georgia. Ken began a blog this year called Broken Letters, devoted to the nexus between media, language, and politics.

Progressive Commons will be publishing a mission statement soon on our site, but suffice it to say that we’re a nonpartisan research and educational group aimed at promoting, reformulating, and communicating the progressive political vision in America. We’re just getting started, and in our initial phases the Commons will work much like a collective blog, with longer essays, reviews, and position papers posted as these crystallize.

Thus, some — but not all — of my political writing will move from Extended Phenotype to the Progressive Commons. I expect to continue posting on related topics, science, and of course good wine here at EP. I will also link posts between the two sites so that folks looking to see if I’ve written anything can come to either site.

In fact, I’ve posted one essay already on Progressive Commons — a short piece examining the relationship between “progressive” politics, reformism, and liberalism as we now understand it.

Also, here’s the RSS feed for Progressive Commons.