Saturday, January 25, 2014

My take on Duck Dynasty controversy

Long before Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame made controversial comments about gays and minorities in a recent GQ profile, I placed a reserve for Duck Dynasty Season One DVD at the public library. And because Duck Dynasty is the most popular show in cable television history, it took months before my turn came to watch the episodes, which I did last week. Having never seen the show before, I wanted to know: Why is it so popular? What do people see in these bearded rednecks?

I enjoyed the show. Of course it is scripted. Of course all their hillbilly antics are probably fake. But Duck Dynasty appeals strongly to the 'Murica element of society, simple, God-fearing, hard-working folk who are a bit put-off and bewildered by modern day life. Life with the Robertson clan is wholesome family fun, semi-rural, agrarian, back-to-the-land, frog-catching, beehive dropping, Kennedy clan football playing. A potent mix of the Andy Griffith Show, the Waltons, and Little House on the Prairie. It also throws religion in with family prayer around a dinner table and a wholesome message, a morality-tinged voiceover, to recap each episode. There's crazy uncle Si, Phil, the even-keeled, often-barefoot, patriarch, Kay, who cooks and does community outreach service projects, the rival brothers Jep and Will who concoct odd schemes and competitions, and the visual candy, the smoking hot wives who married in to the family. Plus, they're rich! And funny! This is the American Dream condensed into 21 minutes of madcap hilarity.

But.... As the GQ profile reveals, there's an underbelly to all this wholesomeness. When Phil rails against "citified yuppies," he's referring to another class of people that bear no connection to his worldview or ways of life. The world of Duck Dynasty and the rest of redneck 'Murica has no room or tolerance for gays, minorities, sissies, gun control advocates, or, worst of all, Liberals!!!

What I don't understand is the public's surprise about Phil Robertson's views on gays and minorities. Most rednecks have enough common sense to keep their more controversial views under wraps because they are aware that mainstream society doesn't share their opinion. In fact, the redneck identity hinges on this separation, this "otherness," the bad boy outsider status that distinguishes them from the mainstream. Additionally, Robertson fancies himself a preacher, a modern day prophet, who preaches from the pulpit both at home in Monroe, LA, and in guest appearances at churches around the country.

And the views he expressed in the GQ article are preached by hundreds and thousands of conservative religious folk from hundreds of thousands of pulpits every Sunday. It's old news. It's kind of sad and bewildering to me, but it is what I expect from someone of Robertson's mien. This is country. This is redneck.

I like this video because its impassioned narrator rightly concludes that the entire "controversy" may be contrived to boost sales of Duck Dynasty merchandise and that it will only benefit the family.

What's interesting is that A&E, the cable network that airs Duck Dynasty, is in a bit of a bind. They don't want to alienate their viewers, but also don't want to cancel their cash cow franchise. They instead did a half-ass effort, first suspending Phil from the show, but then reinstating him when the rest of the family balked. It on;y proves that progressive values are all well and good as long as they don't affect the bottom line.

Yes, we have an African-American in the White House. Gay Marriage laws are being passed around the country. You can smoke weed legally in two states and the war on drugs is being seen as the money-making farce it really is. But, as Duck Dynasty, and its continued popularity reminds us, there is a vast population in this country that sees gay rights, minority rights, alternative lifestyles, and anything "citified" as an effrontery to their way of life. They may not have the numbers, but they've got the guns, and the money, to wield a powerful influence over unsuspecting 'Murica.

Let the culture wars continue....

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2013: The Year in books

In all of 2013, and on and on, etcetera, I kept a list of the books I read. For some reason, I thought I read more books. But I shouldn't feel bad for only reading 23. According to a recent Huffington Post survey, of 1,000 respondents, 28 percent hadn't read a book in the past year. I'm in a minority, one of 20 percent who read between 11 and 50 books in a year.

No doubt, my reading numbers would go way up if I included books I didn't finish. I went through a pile of books researching the home-buying process, but included none of them on this list because it only includes books I read in their entirety.

The favorite book I read in 2013 is William Least Heat Moon's Prairyerth: A Deep Map, which also, at 624 pages, is the longest book I read. Least Heat Moon explores Chase County, KS, township by township and does so by connecting deep into the landscape, its history, geography, and particular issues; and also the social history of the people who've settled there. This county, population 3,000, is one of the most unassuming locales in America, and Least Heat Moon lives up the challenge of making "flyover country" interesting.

Check out this video in which the author explains what he means by "deep map."

In 2013, I also discovered the works of a quirky relic of the 60s, Richard Brautigan. I started with what I could find in the fiction stacks at the DeKalb Public Library, and read a book published posthumously, An Unfortunate Woman: a Journey. This is very loosely defined as fiction, but is actually the author's journal. In it, he briefly chronicles a trip to DeKalb. I found out that Brautigan did indeed come to DeKalb for 10 days in February 1982, which is outlined in a chronology of his life here.

An excerpt:
Thursday, 18 February 1982
Brautigan flew to Chicago, Illinois, where he was met by Dennis Lynch and driven to DeKalb, Illinois, about 50 miles to the west. Lynch and Brautigan met in 1979, when Brautigan participated in a panel discussion entitled "Zen and Contemporary Poetry" at the 94th annual meeting of the Modern Language Association of America (MLA), 29 December, in San Francisco, California. Lynch organized and chaired the panel. Lynch was an instructor in the English Department at Northern Illinois University and had arranged for Brautigan to visit, teach his class, and give a public reading. Brautigan stayed with Lynch, at his one-bedroom apartment on campus for ten days. Brautigan describes the trip in his novel An Unfortunate Woman (59-64).
Here is the list of books I read in 2013, including the date of completion, title, author, and number of pages.

1/28, Timeline - Michael Crichton (474 pages)
2/10, Manhattan Transfer - John Dos Passos (371)
2/18,  A Year in the Maine Woods - Bernd Heinrich (258)
3/3, Hiking Through: One Man's Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail - Paul Stutzman (332)
3/13, Summers with the Bears: Six Seasons in the North Woods - Jack Becklund (178)
3/17, The Search: The Continuing Story of the Tracker - Tom Brown, Jr. with William Owen (219)
5/28, Mountain Adventure: Exploring the Appalachian Trail - Ron Fisher (200)
6/20, An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey - Richard Brautigan (110)
6/24, The Old Ball Game - Frank Deford (240)
7/20, Prairyerth: A Deep Map - William Least Heat Moon (624)
8/3, House of Sand and Fog - Andre Dubus III (365)
8/18, The Final Solution: A Story of Detection - Michael Chabon (131)
8/27. The Killer Inside Me - Jim Thompson (244)
9/6, Uncommon Carriers - John McPhee (248)
9/29, Without a Hero: And Other Stories - T. Coraghessan Boyle (238)
10/8, Trout Fishing in America - Richard Brautigan (112)
10/15, The Pill Versus The Springhill Mine Disaster - Richard Brautigan (108)
11/8, The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years - Greil Marcus (210)
In Watermelon Sugar - Richard Brautigan (138)
11/13, A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisine - Anthony Bourdain (288)
12/8, Heart Songs and Other Stories - E. Annie Proulx (224)
12/15. A Canticle for Liebowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr. (334)
12/30, The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (374)

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Beer Reviews

Starting in late August last year, I wrote a review of each different kind of beer I drank, excluding the large variety of beers I drank during the Brew Ha Ha event in Sycamore, IL, in September. Things got a little foggy after awhile and reviewing each beer (I must have tried close to 50 different beers, in shot glass portions) was impossible. But except for that omission, every different beer I’ve tried since August 31, 2013 has gotten a short review.
Writing reviews on beers inspired me to try many different beers. I have many old favorites, but am always open to new flavors. And the onslaught of variety that has become available in my lifetime means it will take more than a lifetime to explore all the different varieties of beer available. These are indeed heady times!

I follow a simple 5-star scale. I tend to bias towards IPAs and darker beers. Lagers, pilsners and other lighter beers are treated fairly, but I tend to give higher ratings to the beers I like. I will list the approximate date, the name of the beer and (if I have it handy) the brewery, my star rating, and the short review.
So far, my favorite is.....

I tried this one on Sept. 20, 2013 (see review below). The following are brief, non-scientific reviews of the 35+ different beers I've had since August 31.

8/31, Guinness draught (from a can), Guinness Brewery, Dublin, Ireland, 4 stars. Creamy delicious. A classic for a reason. I first discovered this beer more than 15 years ago and it still ranks up there as one of my all-time favorites. I remember when I lived in Antigo, WI, and couldn’t find this beer, so I took a trip to Green Bay just to hunt down a few cases.

Hop Notch IPA and Baba Black Lager, Uinta Brewing Co., Salt Lake City, UT. 3-stars for Hop Notch, 4 stars for Baba Black. I drank both of these at The House Café in DeKalb during a live show of a favorite local band, The Great Influence Machine, at Cornfest. Hop Notch was almost too hoppy, an insult of flavor, but the Baba Black was creamy coffee smooth.

9/1, Shock Top Belgian White, Anheuser Busch, St. Louis, MO, 3 stars. A macro brewery approximation of a Belgian white, with fake flavor additives and over-the-top cloying tartness.

9/2, Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA, The Boston Beer Company, Boston, MA, 4 stars. Hoppy goodness!
Sam Adams Hazel Brown and Mild Ruby, 2 stars. Fake. Flavors added. All three beers were part of a specialty 12-pack. The IPA was by far my favorite of them all.

9/7, Sam Adams Pumpkin Harvest Ale, 3 ½ stars. Smooth, crisp, surprising and subtle. I was expecting more fake flavor nastiness, but the hint of pumpkin showed restraint.

9/8, Busch, Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, MO,  3 ½ stars. Along with Old Style, Busch is one of favorite swill American Style Lagers. Drank with a townie friend while watching a Bears game.

Hop Stoopid Ale, Lagunitas Brewing Co., Petaluma, CA,  4 stars. Fragrant citrus notes. An Imperial IPA. Strong, with a high ABV, but deceptively smooth.

9/13, Sam Adams Boston Lager, 4 stars. A classic for a reason. Crisp, fruity, with some bitter notes. A well-rounded beer.

9/16, Stella Artois, Anheuser-Busch Inbev, Leuven, Belgium, 4 ½ stars. Light. Crisp. Refreshing. Almost a perfect lager.

9/20, Chimay Peres Trappiste Premiere (Red Label),  Chimay Brewery, Hainaut, Belgium, brewed by the Scourmont Abbey, 5 stars. The only one of the eight Belgian Trappist ales widely marketed in the United States. A true labor of love, time and devotion. Full-bodied, balanced, smooth, and full of flavor across the entire palate.

9/22, St. Peter’s Cream Stout, St. Peter's Brewery Co Ltd in Bungay, Suffolk, United Kingdom, 4 ½ stars. Complex flavors. Char aroma. Cocoa and bitter finish. A very good stout.

9/27. Pumpkick, New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO, 4 stars. Any beer touting cranberry and pumpkin flavors raises a frou frou red flag, but this full-bodied lager was subtle on those flavors, which came out mostly on the back palate.

Old Style,  Pabst Brewing Co., Los Angeles, 3 ½ stars. My favorite swill beer. (Go Cubs!!) But still a swill. A little weak and watery, but with a distinct flavor I like.

10/4, La Fin Du Monde, Unibrouie Brewery, Chambly, Quebec, 4 ½ stars. A superb, triple-fermented golden ale. Very complex finish and surprisingly light-bodied and easy-to-drink, considering its 9 percent ABV.

10/5, Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider, The Woodchuck Cidery, Middlebury, VT, 3 ½ stars. Not technically a beer. Very full-bodied. Sweet. A little strong on the spices, but a very sippable dessert quaff.

10/11, Farmhouse Hatter Farmhouse IPA Belgian Style Pale Ale, New Holland Brewery, Holland, MI, 3 ½ stars. As IPAs go, this is pretty tame, so it may be a good introductory beer to those a little put off by the hoppy effrontery of most IPAs. Nice, frothy head. Golden body. Hops balanced by sweetness.

Hamm’s,  Hamm's Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI, 3 stars. C’mon. Sing along with me. “From the land of sky blue waters (waters). From the land of pines. Comes a beer refreshing. Hamm’s the beer refreshing. Hamm’s.” The jingle. The classic unchanged can. $3 a six pack. A typical swill beer, but be warned. Don’t get your swerve on with this beer. It will rip through your system like a marauding bear.

10/13, Rampant Imperial India Pale Ale, New Belgium Brewing Co., 3 ½ stars. Very aromatic, or, as I joked, “odoriferous.” And hoppy. As an IPA should be. It’s clean and smooth and flavorful, but there’s nothing distinctive about it.

Pabst Blue Ribbon,  Pabst Brewing Company, Los Angeles, 3 stars. The ultimate swill American Adjunct Lager. Hipsters across the nation decry the superior drinkability of PBR. I bought a 24-pack for $9.99, so it’s my beer of choice for awhile.

10/26,  Wernesgrüner, Wernesgrüner  Braueri, Steinberg - Wernesgrün, Germany. 3 ½ stars. Can’t beat the price on this one – free. I found it in Aldi’s dumpster. For a beer available at Aldi’s, it is clean and crisp, with a little sweetness on the back palate. A light and refreshing pilsner.

11/2, 5 Vulture, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, Bedford Park, IL, 3 ½ stars. My brother Ken visited for Halloween and brought this local micro brew. It’s an amber ale brewed with ancho chili, called an “Oaxacan-style Dark Ale.” I had my misgivings. Peppers and beer? But it’s fine. There’s only a little spice at the finish. Nice body. Subtly sweet.

11/15, Leinenkugel’s (original golden draft),  Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Chippewa Falls, WI, 3 ½ stars. An old favorite. Typical lager, yeah, but well-crafted. Good head. Sweet finish. True golden color. I poured a Leinie and PBR side by side. The PBR is lighter and more bubbly. The head dissipated quickly. The Leinie looks solid and darker by comparison. Leinie’s bring back memories of camping trips up north. The brewery also produces solid craft and seasonal brews.

11/22, Winter White, Belgium White Ale, Bell’s Brewing Co., Kalamazoo, MI. 4 ½ stars. I’ve never had a bad beer from this brewery, and the Winter White continues the standard of excellence. Very cloudy. Very white. Full-bodied. Complex wheaty flavors, with a sweet finish of coriander and cardamom. One of the best whites I’ve had in a while.

Accumulation White IPA, winter seasonal, New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO. 4 stars. Another seasonal tried on tap at PJs Courthouse Tavern in Sycamore. Intensely hoppy with a sweet finish. This is a beast of an IPA, but after it bowls you over, it picks you back up. I like this brewery. Fat Tire is one of my favorite lagers.

11/23, Icehouse, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee WI, 2 ½ stars. I bought this beer at Liquorland on 11th St., in Rockford en route to pick up my friend Shawn for a road trip into Chicago. Liquorland is in a seedy part of town and boasts the largest selection of cheap 40 and 24 oz. beers I’ve ever seen. The primo ultima in cheap-o I saw is LaBatt’s Max Ice (7.1 percent ABV), 99 cents for 24 ounces. I wasn’t brave enough for that. The Icehouse is bad enough.

All Day IPA, Session Ale, Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. 3 ½ stars. A low ABV for an IPA, but a very balanced flavor. Flowery aromas. I drank it too cold out of the bottle – not the best arrangement – but the flavor improved as the beer warmed.

Breakfast Stout, imperial stout, Founders Brewing Co., 4 ½ stars. Again, less than ideal drinking conditions – cold, out of the bottle – at a rock concert, but the complexity, sweet and bitter balance, coffee and chocolate notes, makes for a very fine beer. I am not surprised to see it gets a 100 rating on Beer Advocate. A great find!

11/30, American Pale Ale, Wisconsin Brewing Co., Verona, WI. 3 stars. This is a put-hair-on-your-back in-your-face blast of hoppy goodness. While it’s not for the faint of heart, and the hoppy/ sweetness interplay is all out of balance for hoppy, I’d drink it again because what I love about IPAs, or, in this case, an APA, is the aura of a floral bouquet you get in the front palate. This beer has quite an aura!

12/1, Two Brothers Sidekick American Pale Ale, Two Brothers Brewing Co., Aurora, IL, 4 stars. Drunk on draft in a tall glass at Buffalo Wild Wings. Hoppy, but not overwhelming. Well-balanced. Not weak. Not overwhelming. I have yet to be disappointed by a beer from Chicago-area Two Brothers.

12/6, Local 1529 IPA, Detroit Beer Company, Detroit, MI, 3 ½  stars. Two friends and I stopped at this brew pub before attending the MAC Championship Game featuring our alma mader, NIU, versus Bowling Green. This IPA has an odd, skunky hoppiness on the front palate, but finishes nice and sweet. A distinctive, acquired flavor.

Steam Tunnel Stout, Detroit Beer Company, 3 stars. Non-distinct. Very basic. None of the coffee or chocolate notes I look for.

At the game itself I tried…

Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch Inbev, 3 stars. Not much to say about America’s most popular beer. It’s like most things pop. Simple. Direct. Bland. Serviceable. Its risen to the top by being “smooth,” i.e. a beer for people who have yet to acquire a taste for beer. And that’s why I don’t seek it out.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, CA, 4 stars. By comparison to Budweiser, the Sierra Nevada is an onslaught of flavor. Balanced, yet smooth (sans quotation marks), and quite drinkable. It’s hoppy and floral, but not in IPA intensity. I discovered this beer a long time ago (15+ years) and return to it time and time again.

12/11 Don De Dieu, triple fermented wheat ale, Unibroue Brewery, Chambly, Quebec. 4 stars. I loved Fin Du Monde by this brewery and their wheat ale is excellent as well!At 9 percent ABV, it packs a punch, but is balanced by the wheaty sugars, making for a surprisingly smooth beer.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Happy New Beard

I took a walk with the woman and child on New Year's Day. We went to a park near home, almost two miles round trip, and it was blowing snow. But it was nice to be out, even though it was so cold and blustery. All these people complain about winter weather in northern Illinois. Come on. This kind of weather literally comes with the territory. Deal with it. Embrace it. Or move. You can always shift your latitude if the climate does not agree with you.

This photo shows what my crunchy beard looked like after the hike.

I call 2013 the year of the beard. I made a decision before the year not to shave unless I had to. And since I drive a semi truck and maintained that employment, there was no reason to. I also did not get a haircut either. And over the course of the year I went from a short haircut to a ponytail.

Here's what I looked like the day after Christmas last year. I got a haircut and shaved on Christmas Eve, and have done neither since.

Rare is it when a fashion decision I make becomes the cultural zeitgeist, but as it turns out, because of Duck Dynasty and the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, 2013 was indeed the Year of the Beard.

I've gotten many compliments on my beard, even though it is slow growing and doesn't grow too high up the cheek bones. The only other times I've grown serious beardage was on long distance hikes in 2000 and 2004, and in those years there were noticeable bald spots and slow growing areas under my chin. But time has filled things out, in more ways than one, and I'm a little gray in spots too. The grays are so few in number, though, that a little plucking ameliorates their abundance.

This blog was neglected in 2013. Except for journaling, which I did more often 2013 than other years, the rest of my writing life was neglected. I made no headway on a novel and did no other creative writing other than writing a couple songs. 2014 will rectify these creative lapses. This will be the year I finish the novel, get it published, and start work on another one. This will also be the year I get back into a disciplined, regular running and workout routine, watch my diet, and lose the extra poundage that becomes easier to gain each year as metabolism ebbs.

And as for the beard. I'm leaving it as is until April 1. On that date I will decide whether I want to shave it entirely, trim it, or leave as is. Who cares about such cosmetic concerns?

2013 was a wonderful year! I re-married the love of my life, bought a house, and in so many ways enjoyed the good life with long-time friends and family. I am truly blessed and am ever striving to make life better in the small, beardy sphere of influence I maintain. May you, dear reader, wherever you are, be finding life equally as blessed.

And one more thing. Maybe, just maybe, I'll blog a bit more too. Time will tell.