February 2005
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Month February 2005

Random cocktail generator

In keeping with the “interesting cocktail” theme that I’ve been on lately (thanks to Jay at Sambar and Ernie at May), here’s a Random Cocktail Generator. Those wacky Brits…

Try reloading a couple of times…it took awhile before I saw something remotely drinkable. After all, anything with “banana milk” in it isn’t fit for human consumption. Though a combination of Goldschlager, white rum, and lemonade has possibilities…

(tip from Bob at Unfogged)

Happy Darwin Day….a bit late

Saturday was Darwin’s birthday, an event now known in some circles as “Darwin Day.” I’d have posted on this over the weekend, but my adventures in reducing veal stock took my mind off things Darwinian for a brief moment. Last year, we celebrated by having a lecture series over in Ellensburg at Central Washington University, but this year I guess we were all too busy.

But Happy Darwin Day, everyone!

It’s all Thomas Keller’s fault…

My head hurts and my kitchen looks like the Golden Horde stopped in to resupply. I suppose I should take responsibility, but I’d rather blame the chefs and cookbook authors that inspired our wretched excess.

Last night I hosted our cooking group in a dinner of small plates and Washington wines. The evening was a wonderful success, leading us to wonder whether regardless of cuisine, we ought to make small plates from now on. For one thing, we might survive the decade that way.

Dinner began with some amuse-gueles: quenelles of my tapenade on Macrina ficelle toasts, and ficelle toasts brushed with white truffle oil and triangles of Boorekaas aged gouda. This was served with tiny cocktails of Hangar One Kaffir lime vodka tonic with Kaffir lime leaves. The drink comes from Ernie, the bartender at Wallingford’s new Thai restaurant, May. Oh, and somehow a bottle of Tempier Rose 2001 snuck in there…

Buying French wine in California

I ran across something at Crescat which surprised me. Amy Lamboley, in a comment upon an assertion by Professor Bainbridge, claims that "few wine stores in California have a spectacular selection of European wines…"

As a resident of Washington State, where in fact only a few wine stores (especially the terrific folks at McCarthy and Schiering) do have a good selection of European wines, I have to wonder if we’re shopping in the same places. California, in my experience, is home to several of the very best importers of European wines, as well as some fabulous wine shops.

The list, for me, begins with Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, of Berkeley. Kermit Lynch not only carries a number of lower-priced but excellent wines which go directly to refuting Bainbridge’s point, but they represent Jean-Louis Chave, Francois Raveneau, August Clape, Vieux Telegraphe, Tempier, Zind-Humbrecht, Robert Chevillon, and other wonderful producers. Sadly, Kermit Lynch doesn’t have a website, but you can receive their monthly catalog by mail, and likely you have a local representative or distributor if you’re near a major city.

North Berkeley Imports has also built a fine selection of producers, which includes Texier and a number of solid Burgundies. Then, one can look at retail shops like Premier Cru in Oakland, or a perennial favorite, K&L Wines in Redwood City and San Francisco.

Or if you’re interested in unique and very collectible wines, Rare Wine Company of Sonoma has one of the best portfolios in the country. In addition, RWC is the specialist in fine old vintage Madeira.

And if you’re looking for something special or rare and RWC can’t help you, Eddie Gelsman of the Wine Library in Petaluma can probably help you.

Riesling your thing? Age of Riesling in Berkeley is your best source, and Bill Mayer has impeccable taste and superb relationships with the producers.

And that’s just the Bay Area, and the folks I’ve dealt with frequently.

I will agree with Professor Bainbridge’s observation that good $10 European wines are largely gone. The exchange rate and soft dollar have driven prices on many wines which formerly were in the $10-12 range up toward $18-20. Case in point — the Produttori di Barbaresco Langhe used to be $10-12 in the Seattle market, and was a superb case buy. Nothing profound, but at $10 with a case discount I’ll drink it with pasta all year. Now, the 2002 is priced at $18-19, and is no longer worth it. This is happening across the board, but until the dollar is stronger there’s little we can do about it. Except be glad that there’s wine in the cellar.

50 Book Challenge #5: Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country

After finishing Philosophy and Social Hope, I went back and re-read Rorty’s Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (AoC). I’d read it prior to last year’s major spree reading liberal theory and moral philosophy, so I wanted to see how much more I picked up this time.

AoC improved upon re-reading, especially since pragmatism and anti-essentialism resonates with me strongly. After all, if we deny that there is a fixed "human nature," then it becomes difficult to articulate a single conception of the "good life" and thus to ground a universalist moral theory. In this sense, I agree with pragmatic (and "post-modern") critiques of Enlightenment rationalism. What I dislike about other critiques of rationalism — for example, Gray’s "modus vivendi" liberalism (about which more in a future post) — is that many appear to treat the incommensurability of ways of life as an unchangeable fact, to which all else must be accomodated. This seems to me to be essentialism, merely writ at the level of cultural groups rather than the entire species.

In the pragmatist vision, it’s true that different groups may favor incommensurable ways of life, or rival freedoms in incompatible mixes, but since we do not consider these to be "fixed" and permanent features of either individuals or groups, we are free to argue and discuss our way to compromises. Individuals and even groups are free to change and evolve their conception of the good, to include the compromises which are necessary to civil life. The pragmatist holds her views lightly, and thus can build political consensus or coalition much more easily than any view of liberalism which assumes a fixed human nature or an "optimal" way of life.

What Rorty accomplishes in AoC is to tie this pragmatic vision to an intelligent patriotism; this is attractive because what he calls the "cultural left" has spent twenty years deriding the goodness that does exist in American liberal democracy and civil society in favor of a vision of corruption and institutional evil. Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky are well-known products of such a left, and although each has made important points about the current political system, it’s also clear that neither is able to present a wholly balanced picture. Instead, Rorty calls upon progressives to keep the lessons of the cultural left with respect to cultural identity, but rebuild the practical bridges that the "old left" had created between leftist thinkers, the labor movement, and the economic middle-to-lower class population. That coalition, built so successfully by Progressives and New Deal Democrats, has eroded since the left turned away from economics in the 1960’s in favor of the politics of ethnic and sexual identity.

The argument in AoC resonates strongly now, not just because of the additional reading I’ve done but because we’ve been through the 2004 election. We’ve seen how Republicans have captured much of the left’s former lower and middle class constituency, through a combination of patriotism and what the pundits and pollsters are calling "values." There are many theories about how the left failed, but I am coming to prefer Rorty’s view that the left’s turn towards post-modern identity politics alienated them from their mass audience, who had little use for the over-theorizing of the academic left and the anti-Americanism of the "new Left" of the 1970’s. The country has not so much become authentically conservative as it has fallen into the conservative orbit as a result of lacking a liberal left to which most people can proudly identify. Rebuilding such a left could be highly successful (if time-consuming), because much of the population still appears to support New Deal-style liberal policies, as well as strong protections for civil liberties. If such a consensus can be rebuilt, we can also satisfy the needs of cultural leftists who demand progress on identity issues; sadly, the reverse has not proven true — cultural leftists have not been able to satisfy the needs of those who view their country patriotically but simply want more economic fairness and justice.

Naturally, this topic deserves a fuller exposition. At the moment, I highly recommend Achieving Our Country as a prelude to how a Deweyan pragmatism might be reborn within contemporary progressive politics.

Google Maps: fascinating but still very beta

Google has introduced another fascinating technology prototype: Google Maps. The premise is that you search for terms which are then associated with map locations.

So just for fun, I tried the search “vodka in Seattle”, trying to find either liquor stores (I’ve been trying to find Hangar One’s Kaffir Lime vodka lately to replicate a drink I had at May, in Wallingford) or bars. Google returned (partial list):

  • Bambuza Vietnamese Bistro
  • Tamara Wilson Public Relations
  • Tini Biggs Lounge
  • Earth and Ocean
  • Designer Furniture Galleries
  • Rossi for Governor

The restaurants I get. But apparently I’ve been shopping at the wrong furniture store all this time, and I know who my next PR firm will be.

But the real surprise is that Google thinks that Dino Rossi’s Bellevue campaign office is where I ought to be looking for vodka. (suppressing evil grin)

Clearly the technology is still in its infancy, so play with it while it’s still wacky and fun…