The internal inconsistency of the Vanity Fair Free Tote

When the US 2020 election was approaching and anxiety at its height, I added subscriptions to several publications beyond my existing barrage of news gatherers (Bloomberg, WAPO, the Atlantic, Politico). I was looking for any source of tea leaves to read to know where this election was going, whether or not the US was going to descend into autocracy. As I furiously scanned the internet, I followed various Internet threads into Vanity Fair articles a few times, so when I saw the $15/year offer, I pulled the trigger. I like to support journalism when I use it.

Their online subscription offer includes a paper version of the magazine. Odd, because you can’t opt-out of the paper mag and just go digital. Also odd, as having a magazine is an entirely different experience. A magazine, being a curated set of articles, presents you with information you probably would not choose to pursue as you would by following an internet search. So the mag came, and one Sunday I sat down with my coffee and started reading.

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Whisky and Words Number 70: Battle of the Speyside Giants: Glenfiddich 12 vs. The Glenlivet 12

Glenfiddich is the world’s best-selling single-malt whisky” according to Wikipedia. Though not quite as ubiquitous as Jameson’s (a blended), you can find Glenfiddich in about any bar. More remarkable is that Glenfiddich is a marque of William Grant & Sons, a family business, not a multinational, and yet they are number 3 in Scotch whisky production behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard. I have an unscientific survey (visiting bars for 30-odd years) and in my estimation, their closest competitor is The Glenlivet, another Speyside distillery (owned by Pernod Ricard) with a near-equal global reach. I’ve reviewed a number of their whiskies recently but the comparison for this head-to-head will be the Glenlivet 12-year.

To produce their worldwide reach, Glenfiddich employs an astonishing 31 stills to produce 13 M liters of spirit per annum. Their spirit stills are rather small (4550 l.). Compare to Glenmorangie’s 12 stills (6M liters per annum) or the Glenlivet’s 14 stills (10.5 M liters per annum). Even the mighty Macallan, which also uses small stills, has only 24, but produces 16M liters a year (per whisky.com). Continue reading “Whisky and Words Number 70: Battle of the Speyside Giants: Glenfiddich 12 vs. The Glenlivet 12”

Whisky and Words Number 69: Ardbeg Wee Beastie

The Wee Beastie promises monstrous flavor.

Five years is sufficient to age a good bourbon in the American South’s hot, humid summers and mild winters. While Scottish law requires no less than three years maturation, the colder weather of Scotland means that most single malts are aged 10 years before release. There are a few 8-year single malts out there but that is not common.

One wonders why Ardbeg, known for a superb 10-year and a collection of standout NAS whiskies, would release a young whisky like the Beastie, and as a permanent selection at that. Other whiskies are made with spirit as little as 5 years old, but more typically, distillers hide the spirit’s youth behind an NAS label. The Wee Beastie label proudly proclaims 5 years of maturation. I expect economics plays a part. If Ardbeg can figure a way to market their younger spirit in a way that does not sully their reputation, they can increase output and thus market share.

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Book review: Blinded by the Right

While intensely informative and alarmingly eye-opening in its expose of intrigue, deceit and thuggery by the political right, this is not an easy read. Brock is brilliant but he wields his mastery of detail as a blunt instrument. He needed a stronger editor. If the book was to be an expose of the Republican smear campaign against the Clintons, the web of cronies, deceit and hijinks he illustrates is compelling. If the book is a dish on his enemies, the details of their hypocrisy are dishy. If it is a tale of a gay man’s collaboration and later fallout with the political establishment most at war with the LGBTQ population, he has that covered. If it is to be an act of repentance for his own (very effective) acts to smear both Anita Hill and the Clintons, he does recount in excruciating detail how he wandered into that thicket and slowly, excruciatingly found his way out. Along the way there is much grief, recrimination and a few healthy dashes of self-pity.

Put it all together and Brock could have had a compelling, rollicking read. But delivered as they are with Brock’s insane attention to detail, those themes get drowned and the reading is often a chore. The book encouraged me to skim in many places. He recounts more players that Tolstoy did in War and Peace, and includes too much trivial detail that does not drive the narrative: every party he went to, restaurants where the players meet, what they look like, what they wear, their history, their organizations. It overwhelms any one of the stories Brock is eager to tell. What he could have highlighted more with some editing is how the players fit into the interrelationships that form the morbid inbred pond of dishonesty and hypocrisy that was and is the Republican establishment. That was interesting.

On top of the information dumps, Brock is just plain wordy. Never succinct, his interior monologues go on, over and over again. We get it, the tension of being the gay rainbow fish in the shark tank. (He’s never that catchy, unfortunately). Get to the point!

Given his attention to detail, it’s no wonder that, even though written back in 2002, Blinded covers a number of players now familiar to most Americans: Bill Barr, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham (his special friend), Tucker Carlson, George Conway, Kelly Ann Conway, Robert Bork, Brett Kavanaugh, Judge Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Mark Levin, Arianna Huffington and more. The intricate relationships of all these to each other is mind boggling and for me illuminating. Most of these names had some hand in working with either Ken Starr or Clarence Thomas. Much intellectual inbreeding in that bunch.

Then there are the players of yesteryear who hardly show up today, like Bill Bennett, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, Tom Wolfe, William F. Buckley, Robert Novak (latter two deceased of course) and many others. And then there are about another 200 bit players Brock calls out. It’s overwhelming as a read for someone with merely a passing interest in political history. For example on one page, he throws out 10 names in one sentence, some of whom are mentioned either never again, once, or twice more. It’s a coup-counting of little interest and does not serve any narrative.

To be fair, Brock is quick and witty in the physical descriptions. For folks he does not like, he is unflattering. Christopher Hitchens was a ‘misshapen, unkempt, and seemingly unshowered.’ Yes, Brock can be quite catty, though he’s usually more subtle in his descriptive takedowns. For folks he likes, he’s flattering. For example, buddy Naomi Wolf is ‘stunning.’

So why read this? I came away from Blinded with a startling appreciation for how far back the total lack of ethics in the right’s political gamesmanship extends. You see the genesis of today’s morally bankrupt conservatism (Trumpism). Brock does not cover all of the Republican descent into madness—the book predates the Tea Party—but he does disclose where many players of today came from and how they all relate. The reader can then extrapolate to the current dysfunction. Reading how it began, seeing the teapot that became the tempest is eerie.

For example, there is the always-present Richard Mellon Scaife, a billionaire who was like a shadowy third Koch brother, funding an astounding number of magazines, think tanks and campaigns against the Left and the Clintons in particular. That such men have so much power in America is a sobering takeaway. Scaife provided the oxygen and fuel to support an incalculable volume of propaganda. Most of the people he subsidized would have had to have found real jobs if not for him, and perhaps have done less damage.

Brock and his unrelenting dishy details also highlights the roaring hypocrisy of all the righteous blowhards like Gingrich and the Moral Majority who hid their own marital infidelities, sexual harassment, mistress-abortions etc. while railing against the left for their sexual liberality. In fact, sex appears to have been the prime engine driving the Right’s witch hunts. They were so obsessed with the Clintonian sexual escapades and intrigues, real and imagined, one has to wonder if the New Right was working out their own repressed sexualities through anger and demonization of the Other (Clinton, Brock, et al).

In the end of course this is a book about ambitious humans. They are an odd bunch, these folk who would rule us. I don’t have any misconception about the Left being any less weird, ruthless or ambitious. Bill Clinton would have been better remembered if he could have kept his dick in his pants and while some of the allegations against Bill were admittedly fake, Hillary’s reflexive derision of all Bill’s accusers has not aged well. But you have to wonder if there is a deep sickness that inhabits the Right. This book gives a glimpse into their parlor, and it is not pretty.

Whisky and Words Number 68: Laphroaig Lore

They have swapped the usual Laphroaig label color profile for a darker look, to match the richly colored spirit.

I gave Laphroaig’s Triple Wood a positive review a couple weeks back. Essentially their Quarter Cask whisky using Oloroso butts for a third stage, the ‘3Wood’ brought a punchy midrange of fruit and spice notes to the classic Laphroaig style. According to the carton notes, the Lore reads like a super 3Wood, as the spirit is “drawn from a selection of aged casks including first-fill sherry casks, smaller quarter casks and our most precious stock,” presumably of ex-Bourbon casks. The carton notes tell us the intent was to crate the “richest ever Laphroaig.” Like the 3Wood, the Lore is not chill filtered and is also bottled at 48% ABV. Frankly, using the Triple Wood as a starting point sounds like a good strategy to me. I assume they are taking the same recipe, but being more selective with casks. So I’ll use the 3Wood as a comparison for this review.

On the UK website, they state they use five different casks, aged 7 to 21 years. They also state Jim Murray listed Lore as the best NAS whisky in his 2019 bible. Promising! We won’t get much more info from Laphroaig’s website as they have terrible coverage of their range, just a shopfront. And their ‘contacts us’ page will not load if you have even the minimum protections on with your browser. Sorry Laphroaig, I’m not pulling my knickers down for you. Get with modern security! Anyway, the five types would be first-and-second fill Bourbon, same for Sherry, plus the quarter casks, there’s your five.

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