April 2005
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Month April 2005

1988 Clape Cornas

Whew…kicked back a bit last night, and opened a decent bottle of wine and put on Miles Davis (My Funny Valentine and Bye Bye Blackbird both seem to be able to just melt the stress away…). After finishing the last quarter glass from a bottle of the Servin 2003 Chablis (previously mentioned here), I bypassed the open Tempier Rose (rainy here today) and grabbed something red. Found a bottle of the 1988 Clape Cornas, knocking about in my bag since not opening it at a recent tasting.

It’s funny how older Cornas can completely shed the stereotype of a big, massive, almost brutish wine; I suspect it’s the magic of Syrah when grown near the limits of its ability to ripen. Young, the Cornas wines are blocky, and tannic almost in a “chalky” way. Fully mature Cornas, on the other hand, has a refinement completely lacking in the young version. The 1985, for example, combines depth with delicacy. The 1988 Clape lacks a bit of that depth, and is merely delicate. Spicy blackberries with just a hint of coffee and floral aromas burst out of the glass just after opening the bottle. Over the next hour or two, the wine didn’t go over the cliff quickly but the coffee becomes slightly more pronounced. The wine is definitely mature, and possibly a bit over mature at this point, so drink up…

Sunstein and Ackerman on constitutional agendas

One of the "main attractions" of the recent Constitution in 2020 conference was a dialogue between Yale’s Bruce Ackerman and Chicago’s Cass Sunstein.  The dialogue was broad, but centered around the aspirational visions available to the next generation of progressives.  Ackerman is the author of the (projected) trilogy We The People (Foundations, Transformations) , which presents a sweeping vision of the formal and informal ways in which popular mobilization has resulted in constitutional change; with Ian Ayres, Anne Alstott, and Jim Fishkin he is the author of bold proposals for the next great progressive agendas.  Sunstein is perhaps the most widely cited legal scholar today, author of One Case At A Time and The Second Bill of Rights:  FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever.

Read the rest at Progressive Commons

Our Constitution in 2020

Last weekend, the American Constitution Society held a conference at Yale Law School titled “The Constitution in 2020.” The conference, which I was able to attend, was a phenomenal three day discussion of the progressive constitutional vision, with presentations by Bruce Ackerman, Cass Sunstein, Reva Siegel, Kathleen Sullivan, Guido Calabresi, John Podesta, David Boies, Walter Dellinger, and literally dozens of other progressive scholars, lawyers, and politicians. Over at Progressive Commons, I’ll be turning my voluminous notes into a series of posts which try to capture the issues and topics discussed.

At a personal level, it was a terrific trip. A friend from the East Coast met me and we attended the conference together, and we had a terrific time in New Haven digesting what we’d heard and debating back and forth. It’ll probably take me a few days to completely go through my notes and write them up, given a busy schedule at work and the need to hit the gym (travel always makes it difficult to get decent exercise, and I’m definitely feeling worse than a couple of weeks ago when I was hitting a regular workout schedule).

Book #22: Ken MacLeod’s The Cassini Division

Not much to say about MacLeod’s The Cassini Division, other than the fact that it was good fun, and made a five hour flight to Newark go fairly quickly. This is another in a series of novels about technological “singularity,” which is either popular among authors of speculative fiction nowadays, or I must gravitate towards that subset of books (probably both). The book did feature an interesting first-person perspective from a society where true community “socialism” was ingrained for several hundred years, and depicts their horror in encountering a group who still practiced an advanced laissez-faire capitalism. Hilarious…

Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? (Book #21)

Frank’s book, What’s The Matter With Kansas:  How Conservatives Won the Heart of America is the best description I’ve yet read of the "conservative" victory in American politics.  Micklethwait and Wooldridge’s Right Nation is the more scholarly, detatched of the two books, but the latter lacks a deep understanding of the internal dynamics of the radical right’s approach to linking culture and politics.  As nominal outsiders, Micklethwait and Wooldridge understand the overall shape of American conservatism, but not how it feels to those who have been swept up by it over the last thirty years.   The brilliance of Frank’s book is that one is led to understand cultural conservatism at the gut level, through the eyes of those who have converted Kansas politics from the moderate Republicanism of the pre-Reagan days into the hellfire and brimstone cultural politics of today. 

And what I read scared the hell out of me…though perhaps not in the way the Kansans portrayed in Frank’s book would prefer.  The picture confirms what we all suspected about the contemporary conservative moment:  a strong group norm of "fighting cultural decay" through restoration of "traditional values" creates activism for electing candidates who then make little political progress on cultural issues, but quietly and thoroughly push an economic agenda which hits hardest in those communities who most strongly support the conservative values movement. 

Frank describes how modern cultural conservatism functions as a perpetual-motion machine for energizing the grassroots to achieve an ecnomic transition which directly harms its own supporters:

American conservatism depends for its continued dominance and even for its very existence on people never making certain mental connections about the world, connections that until recently were treated as obvious or self-evident everywhere on the planet.  For example, the connection between mass culture, most of which conservatives hate, and laissez-faire capitalism, which they adore without reservations.  Or between the small towns they profess to love and the market forces that are slowly grinding those small towns back into the red-state dust – which forces they praise in the most exalted terms (p.248).

This is pretty scary stuff.  Social and economic inequality is on the rise in the United States, principally because of the economic policies tied to the rise of the conservative movement.  This inequality threatens the ability of communities to block their own exploitation, the ability of individuals to take advantage of opportunities (given that one’s economic starting point is a strong predictor of eventual mobility and success), and because the disadvantaged have fewer options for education, the ability of individuals and groups to understand how we’ve gotten ourselves into this mess. 

I’d like to be optimistic.  Frank doesn’t, however, give one much leeway for optimism, at least with respect to Kansas itself.  The conservative movement rolls onward in Kansas, because:

As a social system, the backlash works.  The two adversaries feed off of each other in a kind of inverted symbiosis:  one mocks the other, and the other heaps even more power on the one.  This arrangement should be the envy of every ruling class in the world.  Not only can it be pushed much, much further, but it is fairly certain that it will be so pushed.  All of the incentives point that way, as do the never-examined cultural requirements of modern capitalism.  Why shouldn’t our culture just get worse and worse, if making it worse will only cause the people who worsen it to grow wealthier and wealthier?

Progressives need to wake up to the picture Frank paints of mainstream conservative America, because we have focused exclusively on identity politics for far too long; economics was taken off the table by both parties, who largely agree on a free-market laissez-faire agenda.  Progressives need to be the voice within the mainstream which articulates the interaction between the politics of culture, and the politics of money; our goal must be to break the automatic connection between cultural conservatism and the sub-rosa economic agenda which harms the middle class and working poor.

Tasting notes

OK, am catching up on a few posts. A bunch of us had our regular monthly tasting recently, and by random chance it turned out to be a terrific lineup of wines (i.e., we didn’t coordinate with each other).

The list of wines is below, with highlights in bold. No real notes right now — am sitting in the Newark airport so I don’t have my notes.

  • Ramonet 1995 Caillerets (good)
  • Moulin Touchais 1959 Anjou (not what it should be)
  • Dauvissat 1986 Forests (excellent)
  • Dauvissat 1987 Preuses (corked)
  • Dauvissat 1988 Preuses (excellent)
  • Ramonet 1986 Morgeots (painfully incredible – wine of the night)
  • Coche Dury 1991 Meursault AOC (good)
  • Gagnard 2000 Criots-Batard (good)
  • Trimbach 1992 Clos Saint Hune (terrific – right where it should be)
  • Felsina 1993 Fontalloro (excellent)
  • Chateau Le Gay 1989 Pomerol (good)
  • Mont Olivet 1990 Cuvee Papet (terrific)
  • Vieux Telegraphe 1986 (superb and holding up well)
  • Dujac Morey-Saint-Denis 1997 1er cru (decent)
  • Engel 1986 Roulets (corked)
  • Tardieu-Laurent 1996 V.V. CdP (decent)
  • Andre Passat 1976 Cote Rotie (Jaboulet) (terrific esp. given age)

The white wines blew us all away, and by the time we hit the (still terrific) reds, it was all kind of gratuitous.