It’s like film studios making movies to appeal to Roger Ebert, knowing millions would not only watch those films, but pay 10 times more for a ticket. This reliance has grown despite increasing evidence that wine judges and critics, even with their deep knowledge and experience, aren’t much more consistent than Joe the Plonk Drinker in their judgments. These judgments are based on the false premise that wine assessment can be absolutely objective. But it absolutely cannot; there’s always a measure of subjectivity, even though our minds seldom reward nuance. Critics’ reliability is secondary to the need they fulfill. You can say the emperor has no clothes, but the masses still yearn for a king they can raise a toast to.
“Then you have The Story of the Emperor Who Had No Clothes… But if you knew a bit more, it would be The Story of the Boy Who Got a Well-Deserved Thrashing from His Dad for Being Rude to Royalty. – Terry Pratchett
Last November, Caltech teacher and author Leonard Mlodinow wrote in the Wall Street Journal (note: we don’t agree with his points on all counts) about studies that found:
Gold medals seem to be given nearly at random, with any wine regularly entered in competitions having a 9-percent chance of winning in any given tasting
A judge’s ratings – for the same wine in different tastings - typically varied 4 points, plus or minus, on a standard scale of 80 to 100. So, in a 20-point range, their rating for a given wine might vary up to 8 points, or 40 percent of the range
Expectations can be decisive. Give experienced tasters two glasses of the same wine, but tell them one glass contains an expensive high-end wine and the other a cheap table wine. The drinkers will rate the “expensive” wine significantly higher
Wine descriptions typically list as many as eight different flavors, even though studies show even flavor-trained professionals “cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture,” Mlodinow wrote. And those trained professionals don’t even consistently identify the samecomponents in a given wine.
None of these individually have the same mainstream impact as the Sokal Affair had on postmodern cultural studies or even the same social criticism that Penn and Teller created by peddling “Eau du Robinet” from a garden hose as $10 bottled water. But collectively, we have to start suspecting that Booze Crit Lit may indeed signify a lot less than we thought.
“May you all have champagne for breakfast.” – Freddie Mercury
At the same time, prices this decade have skyrocketed, particularly for the most exalted French and California red wines and French champagnes. The concept of “investment” wines is growing in importance. Yet production also has increased, flooding the market with product even as new growing areas are sprouting up around the world. Anyone with basic economic training (except, apparently, most mortgage bankers) knows what happens when both supplies and prices increase dramatically at the same time: a bubble develops. And what happens when a bubble gets big? It pops. Now, Napa’s “cult cab” cellars and top cru Bordeaux and Burgundy makers are scrambling. Some have cut prices dramatically. Others have cut production, selling off their premium grapes to other winemakers. Either way, getting great juice for far less is far easier than it has been in years. We have seen such a huge shift in the market that Wine Spectator made the rise of “value wines,” even at the high end, a recent cover story.
More recent spiritual teachers such as Arnold Patent also tell us to put our lives where our mouths are. His Circle of Love and Joyfulness emphasizes giving as much as receiving. Yes, money is an expression of plenty, but it only matters as a way to give back, not as a tote board for how big your….ego is.
Leo Buscaglia went even further. In his equation, love is not something that can be given, but only may be received. Similarly, you can’t “give” gratitude. Only those who benefit from acts of gratitude can name them as such. Anyone who claims they have gratitude is just a self-absorbed showboat begging for attention.
“Anything that is of value in life only multiplies when it is given.” – Deepak Chopra
Now, appreciating all you have is indeed a lovely idea, so much so that we Americans have created an annual national day of Giving Thanks. It is our most widely celebrated and beloved holiday, the mostly non-religious feast of plenty that virtually all Americans fondly embrace.
So we gather, maybe say Grace, gorge on a feast and slip into a tryptophan-tastic daze. Yet the way we show our thanks on that day is quintessentially American in other ways too.
For most of us, the Thanksgiving consists only of sacrificing millions of turkeys and tons of cranberries to our burgeoning waistlines. Some volunteer to serve at a soup kitchen that morning, but most volunteer merely to watch football and gossip about Uncle Charles. So much for being grateful.
“If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy.” –Proverb
Critics slag the Millennial generation for their sense of entitlement in the absence of any real achievement. But bless those kids: they also share a deep commitment to public and community service, to giving back, and giving back joyfully. Whoever said that about Baby Boomers or Gen X slackers, like, ever?
So it’s time we changed a few things. Stop misusing “gratitude,” both the word and the idea. Gratitude deserves better. Do something, or a lot of things, that show you actually are grateful. For goodness sake, don’t talk about how grateful you are. And wipe that smug, grateful smile off your yaps. Happy holidays!
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. “ – John F. KennedyShare
“A great many men’s gratitude is nothing but a secret desire to hook in more valuable kindnesses hereafter.”– Francois de La Rochefoucauld
We live in an era of compulsory gratefulness. Ministers scold us to thank God for all His blessings. New Age gurus demand an “attitude of gratitude.” We’re told we must give thanks for the slightest of gifts. It’s all about being grateful, if we want to create a life lived humbly yet well.
Well, gratitude, shmatitude.
Really, you lazy person, what have you done to be so filled with all this grateful goo? More importantly, what, exactly, did you do to express your gratitude? Did you just talk about it? Well, shut up. Go do something useful for once. And don’t talk about it.
“A man’s indebtedness is not virtue; his repayment is. Virtue begins when he dedicates himself actively to the job of gratitude.” – Ruth Benedict
Herded toward the corral of gratitude, most of us routinely mouth about how grateful we are. Then we show how deep our gratitude is in the most insubstantial, inadequate, even inane ways.
In fact, gratitude may be the smuggest of sentiments, the world’s most selfish act this side of suicide. Its adherents are too often filled with an oozy glow devoid of any corresponding action. As we expand the grasp of our gratitude, we do little to show we actually mean it.
“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” – Henri F. Amiel
The point? Words matter. We should give thanks, of course, but that’s different. Those are words, hopefully heartfelt. We should practice acts of gratitude, not just hollow attitudes of gratitude. Attitude is nothing but show. Until you’ve earned it, don’t use it. And don’t gloat about how much of it you have either, because that isn’t the point.
As a small example, what happened the last time you were treated to a lovely dinner in someone’s home, where they created a fabulous meal wrapped in lively conversation? They went to a lot of trouble. You had a wonderful time. Then you went home.
Did you a) begin planning how to create in turn a similarly wonderful experience; b) dash off a crappy little 20-word email and hit “send;” or c) uh, forget to do anything?
Chances are, you said “B,” and counted yourself a well-bred yet technologically modern person. Or maybe you just said “C,” and forgot to count at all. Could you at least have taken the time to write a thoughtful Thank You card in longhand, stamp and address and mail it?
There’s little in the way of actual gratitude on display here. And it only gets worse the more we embrace the attitude without the action.
“It’s a sign of mediocrity when you demonstrate gratitude with moderation.” –Roberto Benigni
This imbalance occurs because we actively misread what many different spiritual teachers and practices have long said. And we do it because it’s easier this way.
Taoists describe a circular, balanced life in their yin and yang. Each complements the other, and completes the whole. Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism suggests a unity of opposites, words and action, in building to an EnMore recent spiritual teachers such as Arnold Patent also tell us to put our lives where our mouths
“Wine is bottled poetry.” - Robert Louis Stevenson
Have you ever had a really good wine? How about a really expensive one? How about a wine withreally high ratings from famous wine critics? Were all three the same bottle of wine? Maybe that expensive and/or highly rated bottle of wine wasn’t really that good for that night, given what you spent and given what you expected. But maybe you were afraid to admit it, fearing you’d only expose your ignorance. After all, everyone else was praising the wine to high heaven. Are you confident enough to trust your taste buds over everyone else’s? And are you truly passionate enough to shout it out loud?
“Whiskey has killed more men than bullets, but most men would rather be full of whiskey than full of bullets.” - Logan Piersall Smith
For some people, the wine’s taste practically isn’t even the point of the experience. That wine cost $100 and it got a 95 rating from somebody important. Hey, you’d better like it. What’s wrong? Don’t trust the expert’s judgment? Drink up! To compound it all, you, the average wine drinker, have more choice than ever. Going to the wine section of your local grocery store can feel like entering the Minotaur’s maze. Bring some yarn, so you can find your way out. But what if you can’t taste the difference? What if that highly rated wine you’ve read so much about is unavailable, at least near you? What if you can’t afford it? And what if it doesn’t fit your sweet tooth or coffee passion or distaste for high alcohol levels? Shouldn’t that make its rating a zero? Sadly, most wines would never earn that rating in this marketplace. The dominant critical voices drown out our own. Even if we don’t like the same kinds of wines that those critics like, we don’t think, “What’s wrong with them?” Rather, we ask, “What’s wrong with me?”
“Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” – Chico Marx
We’re all struggling to figure out what we might actually want to drink, can afford and can find. But keeping track of the latest and greatest in booze can be bewildering: Is a shiraz an Iranian shawl? Does absinthe make the heart grow fonder? Is premier cru the rowing team? Does “first growth” mean they’ve passed puberty? Is a Riesling Kabinett something I could store my German wines in? If vodka is an “odorless, tasteless neutral grain spirit” like the government says, why am I paying so much for bottle service at Hollywood clubs? Am I allowed to like Gewürztraminer if I can’t even spell it? All this uncertainty has fueled a booming business in what I’ll call Booze Crit Lit. It is an industry riddled with incomprehensible argot, warring schools of thought, and harsh reactions to anyone too persistent in noting the scientific problems with such fundamentals as 100-point scales, gold-medal competitions and the ability to recognize a dozen flavors in one wine. We’re desperate to find tools that will help us find the right wines and spirits. It’s just the current tools aren’t very reliable. Entire sub-disciplines have emerged around tasting, testing, evaluating, classifying, codifying and having an expert opinion about the thousands of wines released each year. And now we have the rise of mixology, as adventurous bartenders combine molecular gastronomy, historical research and new kinds of spirits and ingredients to create tasty, if sometimes unlikely, concoctions far beyond a simple martini or Cosmo.
“The three most astonishing things of the past half-century were the Blues, Cubism and…Polish vodka.” - Pablo Picasso
The sound and fury is so everpresent, we cannot believe it signifies nothing. So we turn to critics and experts whose prominence correlates directly with how complicated, arcane and downright opaque their descriptions are. Our dependence on their opinions has been so substantial that wineries create products specifically to win the critics’ favor, knowing that customers will follow and pay far more for the highly rated stuff.
I have found that truth and bias are often mutually exclusive. Can you cover global warming with a facade of no bias.ie treat a nut-bird like James Inhoffe with an even hand? The business, and indeed the facade, have traditional journalistic middle ground is increasingly defunct.
It has always been a myth, albeit a relative one. Walter Cronkite had lots of integrity but admitted to all sorts of bias that huge impact on his work and the country.
“The Economist” is quite credible but lives and breathes to pursue its biased world-view and has no problem using completely compromised anonymous authors to advance its agenda.
TMZ is extremely credible amid its own tawdry milieu as they pay cash money for true facts from the police and are almost always accurate.
Fox is accurate simply because they claim to be and a vast number of people believe something if you say it over and over again while tickling them in the right place.
Truth is one the great, unwashed see it in only one way…. to bastardize a famous South Asian fellow. It is however impossible to dismiss the wisdom of the crowd when you query “: the stream” to find out what people care about… their truth…thus technology has enabled an entirely new measure.
If I’m speaking in a sort of self-righteous way maybe the best one can hope for is a palate of rigorously reported facts with self-identified bias and enough people out there capable of making up their own mind… ”
That said, dating online is quite similar. If you rely on others experiences with a target love candidate, you may certainly miss the love boat. A woman I dated last month told me her friend quipped that I wasnt ready for a relationship. The truth was I wasnt interested in a relationship with her.
Curiosity usually drives intuition. Be curious. Experience. Bias is a wonderful gift. Point of view. Even better. Onward
“What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful.” – Sappho
Not long ago, I was taking a shower in a beautiful woman’s home. A close beautiful woman’s home. For those of you who know of my existence, this revelation is, I know, shocking. Actually, even being there was a bit stressful, given that this Santa Monica-bound beach hound travels to New York more often than to Hollywood.
But to the point, as I groggily peered around my friend’s shower, I saw at least 25 products that promised to defy age, remove wrinkles, add fake sun, block real sun, delete smells, add smells, straighten hair, curl hair, nutrify hair, kill hair, add (body to) hair, remove cellulite, reshape what’s under the cellulite and, I’m pretty sure, create small miracles by invoking some deity or another.
All told, there might have been $1,000 worth of goops, goos, tools, salves, soaps and more, with all their attendant belief systems and unsubtle claims of transformation, wedged into every cranny and nook of this shower. It made me wonder how soon Cash for Gold will start a new division for your unused RéVieve. At $600 a bottle, surely there’s a market, at least on late-night TV.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” – Confucius
Soon enough, though, I snapped out of my reverie and started doing what I’d come there to do, inspired by this bounty of possibility. I scrubbed and dubbed, washed and conditioned and nutrified, anti-oxidized, vitamin enriched, non-GMO-modified, plumped, whitened, de-wrinkled, body-fed, sun-blocked and fake-sun-applied, de-cellulited and reshaped and age-defied and yes, called in the miracle-working skills of at least a couple of minor demigods. In short, I was once again the same curly-headed 19-year-old Antoine Greenberg I see in my mind every morning when I wake up. Ah youth, the divine physical manifestation of my ever-ebullient self.
Except, of course, as looked in the mirror, I wasn’t my French alter-ego boy, once again. As I got past my dismay, I got to thinking about whether all that scrub and dub was worth the time, effort and (somebody’s) money. Would I have been just as well off to break out my old favorite, Dr. Bronner’s18-in-1 Magic Soap-one pronounced as a natural GHB, for a quick shave, shampoo, and scrub, and then moved on to the rest of my day?
Beauty is not caused. It is.” – Emily Dickinson
Spurred further by this holiday season of wretchedly excessive giving, I began thinking about what we really need in this life. Newer doesn’t automatically equal improved. More complex doesn’t necessarily equal more useful.
Dr. Bronner’s is a great example. For a mere eight bucks at Trader Joe’s, I get a quart bottle that offers “18 in 1” different uses. It’s massage oil, a cleaner of dentures and diapers (hopefully not at the same time), a car wash, an aftershave, toothpaste laundry soap a concoction for facials and shampoo and yes, I even use it for soap. Making Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps even more magical, the bottle labels even educate me. Depending on the bottle, I get Kipling and Longfellow, Thomas Paine, Confucius and Mohammed, and of course the good doctor’s own Moral ABC, should I ever need an ethical alphabet.
I love this stuff. Forget swilling an ’82 Montrachet, racing a Ferrari on Mulholland, Alba truffles or enjoying OOO vegetarian caviar. I wont live without a little Doc’s in my day, in at least a couple of its different uses (no diaper or denture washing yet, thank you).
“Simplicity is the peak of civilization.” – Jessie Sampter
Doc Bronner’s is just one mere example. My kitchen favors the simple too, nowhere more so than with my favorite tool, invented by Denis Papin, the Pressure Cooker. Replaced by a hundred or so Cuisinart and Breville one trick ponies that clutter my precious counter, be gone.