Archive for May, 2013

Heard Any Good Books Lately?

30 May 2013

Once again I clicked on an intriguing Internet page title and found video only without even a printed article accompanying it. I clicked away immediately. I literally do not have time to listen to someone yammer when I could read the same number of words in seconds.

As a college comp instructor, I’ve long been depressed because so few students read fast enough to consume with ease all the material necessary for an undergrad degree. The old studies I’m familiar with contend that a reading speed of around 350 words a minute was necessary for college success. Of course, those old studies came out decades ago. My experience suggests that a good many people muddle through college today with a reading speed closer to 160 words a minute.

To me that’s pretty much talking speed.

My way of life is almost gone. As an example, an extremely bright college student told me she’d been assigned a classic novel and then cheerfully added she was listening to it instead of reading it.

Listening to a good book can be fun. It was of course a Victorian tradition. But reading is just so much more efficient, so much more–fun.

As a reader, I feel more alone each year.



Bang Bang! Kiss Off

14 May 2013

I’m not anti-gun, but I do wish our government represented us rather than the gun lobby, something that’s just not so anymore. This list merely tracks one particular lobby.

I liked it better when I harbored a shred of belief that our representatives actually represented the rank and file of their states. Alas, not so.

Having “our” representatives wear NASCAR-type patches to indicate who bought them sounds better and better to me.


7 May 2013

I subscribe to way too many email lists and hence spend too much time deleting them each day. Occasionally however, a happy accident occurs. How I came to subscribe to, which usually sends out history-themed articles, escapes me, but I’d guess I found it through Facebook or Twitter or some other waste of time. Happily, the emails tend to be informative, thought provoking, or at least time well wasted. Here’s the entry for 5/7/13 in its entirety: 5/7/13 – how expert are wine experts?
In today’s selection — expertise in evaluating wines may be more elusive than wine experts would have us believe:

“Because it’s hard for people to gauge quality by flavor, they tend to gauge it by price. That’s a mistake. [Industry consultant Sue] Langstaff has evaluated wine professionally for twenty years. In her opinion, the difference between a $500 bottle of wine and one that costs $30 is largely hype. ‘Wineries that sell their wines for $500 a bottle have the same problems as wineries that sell their wine for $10 a bottle. You can’t make the statement that if it’s low-cost it’s not well made.’ Most of the time, people don’t even prefer the expensive bottle — provided they can’t see the label. Paul Wagner, a top wine judge and founding contributor to the industry blog Through the Bung-hole, plays a game with his wine-marketing classes at Napa Valley College. The students, most of whom have several years’ experi­ence in the industry, are asked to rank six wines, their labels hid­den by — a nice touch here — brown paper bags. All are wines Wagner himself enjoys. At least one is under $10 and two are over $50. ‘Over the past eighteen years, every time,’ he told me, ‘the least expensive wine averages the highest ranking, and the most expensive two finish at the bottom.’ In 2011, a Gallo cabernet scored the highest average rating, and a Chateau Gruaud Larose (which retails from between $60 and $70) took the bottom slot.

“Unscrupulous vendors turn the situation to their advantage. In China, nouveau-riche status-seekers are spending small for­tunes on counterfeit Bordeaux. (from Mary Roach)

“Marc Dornan, of the Beverage Testing Institute, for instance, says to anyone who asks him that rating wines on a hundred-point scale, which is now common practice, is ‘utterly pseudoscientific.’ Tim Hanni, a Master of Wine, believes that most commentary about wines fails to take into account the biological individuality of consumers; he claims that he can predict what sort of wine appeals to you according to such factors as how heavily you salt your food and whether your mother suffered a lot from morning sickness while carrying you. Hanni has said for years that the matching of a particular wine with a particular food is a scam, there being ‘absolutely no premise historically, culturally, or biologically for drinking red wine with meat.’ As a way of illustrating the role played by anticipation in taste, Frédéric Brochet, who is a researcher with the enology faculty of the University of Bordeaux, recently asked some experts to describe two wines that appeared by their labels to be a distinguished grand-cru classe and a cheap table wine — actually, Brochet had refilled both bottles with a third, mid-level wine — and found his subjects mightily impressed by the supposed grand cru and dismissive of the same wine when it was in the vin ordinaire bottle.

“An urge to refute the notion of expertise certainly seemed to be reflected in the headline of an article from the Times of London about the research Brochet has been carrying on — ‘CHEEKY LITTLE TEST EXPOSES WINE ‘EXPERTS’ AS WEAK AND FLAT.’ The headline caught the tone of the article, by Adam Sage, which began, ‘Drinkers have long suspected it, but now French researchers have finally proved it: wine ‘experts’ know no more than the rest of us.’ The test of Brochet’s that caught my eye consisted partly of asking wine drinkers to describe what appeared to be a white wine and a red wine. They were in fact two glasses of the same white wine, one of which had been colored red with flavorless and odorless dye. The comments about the ‘red’ wine used what people in the trade call red-wine descriptors. ‘It is a well known psychological phenomenon — you taste what you’re expecting to taste,’ Brochet said in the Times. ‘They were expecting to taste a red wine and so they did. . . . About two or three per cent of people detect the white wine flavour, but invariably they have little experience of wine culture. Connoisseurs tend to fail to do so. The more training they have, the more mistakes they make because they are influenced by the color of the wine.’ ” (from Calvin Trillin)

author: Calvin Trillin
title: “The Red and the White”
publisher: The New Yorker
date: August 19, 2002
author: Mary Roach
title: Gulp
publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
date: Copyright 2013 by Mary Roach. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company
pages: 29-30
If you use the above link to purchase a book, delanceyplace proceeds from your purchase will benefit a children’s literacy project. All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity.

See what I mean? Intelligent fun with charity on the side, a nice mix.

This particular entry is going to help with dinner parties as well. I figure I can buy a few bottles of fashionable wine and refill them with some good cheap wine. Impress friends and save money. Win win.


“Long Odds and Tough Times”

2 May 2013

My eyes stopped moving after I read Nick Turse’s final words in a post on today’s “[L]ong odds and tough times.”

I used to feel sympathy and outrage when I read articles like that and the one that follows, “The Downwinders: Fracking Ourselves to Death in Pennsylvania,” but I also felt a certain comforting detachment. However, now that we have a fracking well within a quarter of a mile of our house, these articles elicit a bit more emotion. The problem is now almost literally in my backyard.

I suppose I can take comfort because my horses do not drink well water. Like us, they drink water piped in from a reservoir high in the foothills. However, like us, they also breathe the air that may or may not now be contaminated by the new well. Our area also has numerous saline seeps that fill our neighbors’ ponds and keep the ground under our house contantly damp. Perhaps someday we’ll see a suspicious sheen on the ponds or notice an odd odor under our house.

I’m just saying that knowing the primacy of corporations in America, knowing that the government protects its people–at least its important people, the corporations, especially fossil fuel companies–makes me feel safe and loved. I’m also saying that reading about “long odds and tough times” improves my state of mind no end. In fact, I’m chirping like a canary–in a coal mine.


Droning On

1 May 2013

Much of the world fears and loathes us. Ever wonder why?

Watching this video, I thought, nice young man. Then I thought too bad America’s government is going to drone on and on without resolving anything–except maybe America’s fate as the Great Satan.