10 December, 2013

America's First War in Defense of Secession

Prior to the conception of the colonial revolution - a war of SECESSION by thirteen (13) Independent nation-states (countries) from England - the Constitutional Monarchy of the Crown was widely considered the most permissive an libertarian of governances on the planet.

Even the French, without whom the revolution would most-certainly have utterly failed, fell victim to their own monarchical malfeasance shortly after aiding and abetting our liberation.  A large component of society would agree that what we have today - industry, social and economic freedom, systems of law - is directly attributable to the shaking off of the shackles of King George's arguably soft-tyranny and sallying forth on our own into the vast unknown of self-determination.

So, then, who - or rather, WHAT - is to say that waiting on the other side of a total collapse, or an exodus from the reign of the united State does not await the next era, the next iteration of human genesis?  When the "greatest country on earth" was formed out of the smoldering ashes of a war for independence from the previous most "greatest country on earth", would logic not bring one to the possible conclusion that by abandoning the American experiment, we may experience a metamorphosis, a step of such evolutionary magnitude that all social, economic, and cultural boundaries are shattered and a new "GREATEST COUNTRY ON EARTH" would not be waiting for us on the other side?

People are complacent.  People are comfortable.  People are fearful.  What people fear most is change.  Change on the scale that revolutionary acts like secession suggest is absolutely terrifying to most people.  They know, innately, that if the present system is dispelled or dismantled that their comfort and their component contribution to it will be immediately devalued to zero.  In a new system NOBODY is ANYBODY.

And who does that scare the most?  The people at the very top.  Human nature is always to control others.  But it is imperative to realize that the most sacred right of ANY HUMAN BEING is to exercise control over and responsibility for oneself.  Once you subcontract any portion of that contract between yourself and God, you are a slave.  There is no such thing as "kind of" a slave any more than you can be "a little bit pregnant".

18 November, 2013

History, Legacy... Heritage?

This past weekend I was chance to participate in a conversation between a number of people when the subject of "possessions" arose.  More particularly was the subject as it related to heirlooms and family history.

One young man man had been set in the predicament of selling his father's house and the possessions therein.  At one point an "estate specialist" had been brought in to consign or resell the contents of the house in order to get it ready for a pre-sale inspection, as a contract had been entered into for sale of the home.

In the interim the sale fell through, but the contents, having been removed from the home, were sold.  The young man came upon an old receipt from an appraiser done some twenty years prior and he was appalled to discover that the things which ultimately needn't have been sold so hastily, had been sold for what amounted to pennies on the dollar.  He of course felt betrayed by the home inspector who had told him the house had to be empty in order to do an inspection, by the realtor who validated that falsehood, and by the "estate specialist" who had undersold a house full of family heirlooms and various antiques.

It is how the conversation evolved which struck me.  This young man was now at odds with HIMSELF because he was trying to rectify why that should be so important.  They were, after all, just THINGS.  Possessions.

As I listened to this young man troubling (and rationalizing) himself and his situation, I came to appreciate the dichotomy we all face when it comes to remembering and honouring our past(s).  In certain "things" there are stories, stories sometimes which cannot be told using just words, but which demand visual aid or accompaniment, like scenery in a play.  Sure, the story is intriguing, but what, exactly, are we talking about.  Where is the vessel, the vehicle which drives the story?  One person can tell that story to a dozen people and tell it a dozen different ways, but the object of that story is static, unchanged.

In the South we are very fond of our "oral histories".  Stories are told from one generation to the next to entertain, to hazard, to educate.  Without OUR STORIES it is likely that future generations of Southron will drift a little further from that place from whence we came.  So are they just "things"?  Or are they subtle reminders of who we are and where we came from?  Are they a tangible, physical link to our past that allow us to connect with our ancestors in a way which cannot be duplicated by mere spoken or even written word?

I decided not to interfere with this young man's apparent serenity over the things that he had lost at the hands of such scoundrels and ne'er-do-wells.  Beyond that is was out of his hands, he had made his decision on how to handle his own disappointment without rancor or malice.  Rather than dwell on that over which he no longer had control, he chose to to be gracious and search for a new peace.

And that is a pretty humbling lesson in itself.

13 August, 2013

Album Review: Blanco Diablo - Attack the Fire

No review of a record of this sort would be complete without a backstory.  And my backstory for this review is pretty extensive.

Back sometime in 2006 or 2007 I was invited by a friend and local music promoter, Chris "Big Daddy" Serrano to join him at Zakk's Coffeehouse in Murfreesboro, NC to go see "House of Lords", a rock outfit featuring Jimi Bell on guitar.  Jimi Bell had been considered the shoe-in to take over guitar duties in the Ozzy Osbourne band after Jake E. Lee's ouster... right up until Ozzy was introduced to Zakk Wylde.

Also featured on the bill that night was a metal band out of Richmond whose lead guitarist eventually became one of my closest confidants in the regional music scene, Ed Savoy of "Bullistic".

The third band was a three-piece outfit called "Blanco Diablo".  I had never heard of them before, but the venue wasn't too filled, so I took a space up front just before I had my face torn completely off.  Blanco Diablo is fronted by Jamie Ray who, if you squint just a little, could be a perfect doppelganger for the aforementioned Mr. Wylde, circa Pride & Glory.  Long, flowing blonde hair, whispy, barely-there beard stubble, cleft chin, Les Paul slung insanely low, cockney swagger, road-worn faded jeans - and chops.  My God, this guy could play.  I have been listening to rock-and-roll music for almost three decades and this was only the second or third time I actually felt like I was witness to something phenomenal, remarkable.

At the time I was also promoting shows in the Hampton Roads area at a club called "Steppin' Out" (a location now occupied by The Jewish Mother) and I absolutely HAD to have this band come and play one of my shows.  I wanted EVERYONE to hear what I had heard in this band.  Their first record "Paper, Poison, Revolution" was exactly the raw, raucous, uncompromising, "snarling firepiss rock-and-roll" that I felt the scene desperately needed to light a fire under its butt.

I invited them to come headline one of my shows and they agreed.  Between then and the date of the show I nearly wore their CD out, listening to it over and over again, mesmerized by the songwriting, the arrangements, and the intensity they managed to inject into every song.

In the ensuing handful of years I had Blanco Diablo back to town a half-dozen times, sometimes playing support to other bands, sometimes headlining on bills where I only wanted the opportunity to hear them again.

Their sophomore effort "Killing Kings" was a lesser-publicized release and did not see a lot of fanfare or resultant airplay on terrestrial radio, though the title track was picked up by a handful of streaming radio stations online.  To me "Killing Kings" seemed like it was never intended for mass consumption.  The copy I was given contained no liner notes, no gatefold; only a CD with a black-and-white inkjet-printed label in a compact jewel case.

But I listened intently because I was hungry for anything new I could get from them, and I was not to be disappointed.  "Killing Kings" was what I would call "studio raw".  It sounded almost unfinished, like a record that got put out before being sent to final mastering; demo tracks.  But that's the sound I like from bands, when their sound is CAPTURED rather than manufactured.

Over the years, the Blanco Diablo lineup has consisted of guitarist/singer/frontman Jamie Ray, bassist Patrick Jason Boswell and just enough different drummers for me to lose track.  Prior to the recording of "Killing Kings" drummer Bradley "B-rad" Snipes took over the hitherto ephemeral position and made it his own.  That lineup is the same one which we hear on the third release, "Attack the Fire".

In casual conversation with Jamie (who along with the rest of the band I now consider PERSONAL friends) I congratulated them on their new record, produced by the legendary and incomparable Chris Tsangarides (Anvil, Bruce Dickinson, Y&T) and Jamie asked me for my address.  About a week went by and (as I had expected) a copy of the new album arrived in my mail.

I have to make an aside here: I WANTED to like this record immediately... but I couldn't.  My head just wasn't in it.  I told Jamie about my misgivings and he responded "Yeah, bro, it's not Paper, Poison.  That's the thing.  There can only be ONE Paper, Poison.  We're proud of that record, man, but this is the record we did this time, and we're proud of this one, too."  Jamie is a godd*mn warrior poet.  What he said wasn't the kind of bulls**t you hear from musicians all the time who make a great record and then follow it up with another record that sounds so exactly the same that you forget which record you're even listening to.  It was a real statement about Blanco Diablo, and it made me put the album on and spin it over and over and OVER again.  It made me go back and give it the kind of listen that ANY record deserves.

The production values are what you would expect from a world-class engineer like Tsangarides.  At times though, I can almost hear him in the background demanding one more take or one more track to overdub into the mix.  As a result, "Attack the Fire" is very clean and polished and that amount of lustre tends to take away from the rawness, the grittiness of the experience.

Jamie's guitar tone hearkens back to that mid-heavy, chugging mid-to-late '80s sound of players like Jake E. Lee, Dave Meniketti, Sammy Hagar, Tommy Shaw, etc.  It is meaty and cuts, unlike a lot of today's super-scooped, detuned tone hacks.  His setup has ALWAYS been very minimalistic, and I have deeply respected him about that, being able to coax most of his sound out of just his hands, a chunk of lumber and strings.

And, to be brutally honest, some of it is quite amazing... but some of it, well, here goes:

Track No.
  1. No More Promises

  2. This song has a catchy hook, but ultimately fails to deliver as a "great" song.  Somewhere along the way the lyrics, especially in the chorus, just kind of disconnect.  I can't place my finger on it exactly, but if I was to try and say what I didn't like about this song it would be that it doesn't really have anything about it that stands out to me.  This song reminds me of something I might have written and then tried to force-fit to an existing arrangement, rather than write a entirely new song.

  3.  All I Know

  4. This song starts out with a kind of Slade, "Run Run Away" vibe to it and then almost becomes a surf-rock song.  The transitions remind me of Gary Hoey, particularly his earlier stuff off of "The Endless Summer II" soundtrack and "Animal Instinct".  It is a very up-tempo, jingly song, something you can really tap your fingers to when you're out on a drive.

  5.  Combination

  6. Listening to this song makes me wonder what the name of the girl is who pissed Jamie off.  It's obviously an ode to someone, but who?  This is one of those tunes that is either one or the other of two things:

    Inspired by a bar brawl.
    Intended to start one.

    Whoever the antagonist is, she's a real mean catch.  Like the girl in Y&T's "Keep on Running".

  7.  Monsters

  8. Now we're getting somewhere.  "Monsters" starts off with what sounds like a nod to Black Label Society, segueing into a Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains) type melodic riff before really taking off.  I believe this song was intended as a "single" and has received some advance screening and critical acclaim in the music industry community.  That being said, "Monsters" is an inside-the-park home run.  Well, maybe ground rule double.  It has a slickness and production that wouldn't scare off someone listening to Blanco Diablo for the very first time, but is certainly genuine enough to tantalize long-time fans.

  9.  Trouble Walkin'

  10. This track starts out with a classic AC/DC-style boogie riff and settles in to a steady groove throughout.  One of the standout parts of this song is the solo.  There is slide.  Slide, slide, slide.  My ex-guitar player used to play a lot of slide.  Killer slide.  I could never get it down, but he had it.  Damn, I miss it sometimes.  In this song Jamie goes to the slide and unleashes a torrential downpour of unassuming, rotgut, cajun deep-south blues.  It's a rollicking little ride, but it's one of those rides where you don't feel like you're going to fall off and get hurt... but just barely.

  11.  No Prophet

  12. This song has all of the trimmings of a mid-career Led Zeppelin tune.  I hear "Dancing Days" and "The Crunge" (both off of Houses of the Holy).  The progressions are very mid-'70s without being overly nostalgic and there's that kinky fill which makes me want to ask someone where to find that confounded bridge.

  13.  Shadows of Angels

  14. Track 7 turns the "blues" knob down a notch while turning the "rock" knob up.  It actually sounds a lot like any number of songs that I've written but could never get to come together, always missing the mark by a lick here or a transition there.  Jamie must have found those missing pieces and put this song together.  I'm glad somebody finally did.  I always wondered what it would sound like finished.  And I would be remiss if I did not point out how much I dig the solo in this song.  The first movement sounds like something my old boy Dave Coleman would have written.  I mean, I can almost even hear him playing it.  The middle of the solo is a bit disconnected and sounds less rehearsed, while the last movement is Dave all over again. 

    Seriously, listening to this song made me kind of wish I HAD written it back in my old band so I could have heard Dave write this solo.

    Additionally, and while I cannot be absolutely sure, it sounds as if Jamie clicks over to the neck pickup for the solo, a-la Alex Skolnick (Testament) in one of my all-time favorites, "Electric Crown".

  15.  Hot July Damnation

  16. This song, of all the ones on the record, is the one that has grown on me probably the most.  There is an eerie "wubba-wubba-wubba" thing going on under the guitar in the very beginning which kind of reminds me of "Legs" by ZZ Top.  But the main riff; very heavy, almost like a thick treakle.  It is syrupy and sticky... but not in the way that makes you want to wipe it off like, say, a Nickleback riff.  It remains heavy throughout and that drives the song like a coke-addled long-haul trucker trying to sneak past one more weigh station so he finally crash.

  17.  Season in Hell

  18. "Season in Hell" is the obligatory slow song.  Every record seems like it has to have one, and this is theirs.  I don't have much of an opinion either way on this track.  It starts out like a brooding, sad ballad-ey kind of thing and then becomes more of a dirge.  Overall it was hard for me to follow because it is the one track that really sticks out to me as being the odd-man-out.  It just doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the record.

  19.  Pretty in Pieces

  20. And then.  And then.  Now that I have listened to this album AND watched the video produced for this song... every listen to this record leaves me wishing more of the songs were like this one.  It is attributed by Jamie Ray to be a kind of ode to the television show "Dexter" which features the main character leading a double life as a blood-pattern splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department and, alternately, as a serial killer.  There are so many things this track brings to mind.  In one moment I recall the first time I heard "Painkiller" by Polish metal band "Mech".  Crushing.  Brilliant.  Terrifying.  In another moment I can hear Chris Tsangarides channeling John Lord on a Hammond B3.  In yet another instance I can make allusions to key components of a song my band is in the middle of writing, except now I have to double-up and make sure I don't end up writing this song again by accident.

    If I only had one song on this record that I could choose to try and explain to someone what I thought Blanco Diablo was about, this would probably be the one.  I said there were some songs on this album that were truly amazing.  This is their granddaddy.

    "Pretty in Pieces" is that naughty girl you could never bring home to mother.  The whole "madonna/whore" complex.

  21.  Locked and Loaded

  22. If you can believe it, this sounds like a poppier version of Van Halen's "Feel Your Love Tonight".  Now that I've said that, I dare you to listen to this song and not hear it.  It's not necessarily a bad song, I just wanted to mess with your head a bit.

  23.  Walk On

  24. This tune has a main riff reminisce of Ozzy Osbourne's "Bark at the Moon", a song I KNOW I have heard Jamie cover and one I myself used to noodle with from time to time.  It's kind of a "goodbye" song of sorts in its lyrics.  I really like the solo break in this song despite that nagging sensation that there's something missing and I just can't put my finger on it.  It may be that I know Jamie's style and it is apparent he wrote multiple guitar parts for one [each] song, knowing full-well he can only play one part or another at any given time.  In those instances, since I haven't heard any of these songs live (yet!) I hope that Patrick steps up to the plate and fills the gaps.
So there you have it.  My in-depth and completely 100% incontrovertible and inarguable opinion of the third salvo from Blanco Diablo.  Ultimately, because I love this band and think that overall, they are STILL one of the best bands I have ever heard, this record deserves a spin or two from any fan of hard rock and heavy metal, if for no other reason than to give Jamie, Patrick and B-Rad the motivation to keep slugging it out in the clubs and bars, to keep writing, and to keep recording their brand of snarling firepiss rock-and-roll.  Because, dammit, I'm already looking forward to their next album!

12 August, 2013

Gear Review: GAMO Whisper

I bought this rifle from Cheaper Than Dirt knowing VERY LITTLE about airguns and having only a few friends to pry for help on the subject.

The "Whisper" is a .177 caliber, single-shot, break-barrel rifle.  It requires some 30-35 lbs to breach and load.  There is an integrated safety and it comes with fairly well-mounted fiber optic sights and scope, as well as a 50rnd tube of GAMO "Raptor" PBA (Performance Ballistic Alloy) ammunition.  I paid $175 plus shipping.

Online reviews for this rifle and similar ones from other manufacturers were wildly disparate. Some heralded the gun as a brilliant shooter while others bemoaned it as clumsy and poorly built. Still others claimed the scope was complete garbage.

None of the latter were experienced on this end.  I sighted the gun using the included PBA ammo and it made a "crack" like a .22 when fired.  Not very "silent" at all.  However, inside of seven rounds I was able to soundly hit a 2" target at 25 yards using just the iron sights.  Now, I have a reasonable amount of experience with modern firearms, and I practice with some regularity, so shooting is not a foreign activity.  Once I had the irons where I wanted them, I mounted the included scope and I must say, for a "cheap piece of junk" as some reviewers elsewhere have suggested, I was blown away.  The tube appears to be extruded aluminium mounted in the typical airgun version of a Weaver rail.  The reticle has seven (7) focal lengths (3-9x40) and reads as a wide-duplex type.  Considering that, the lines are crisp and tuning it was very simple, requiring no tools.  Even shooting the PBA ammo I was able to deadeye my 2" circle inside of seven rounds to my satisfaction.

Red Circles = iron sights; Blue Circles = scope On my way home from work the following day I picked up some Crosman Destroyer ammo and aside from the telltale "pop" of the air expelling, there was almost no noticeable report.

I bought this weapon for target shooting, teaching and varmint control on my property.  Squirrels have just been devastating my birdfeeders.  The rifle arrived at my office on a Thursday afternoon, I sighted it in on Friday evening and the hunt was on.  Saturday in my AO brought WICKED downpours.  Sunday was a much better opportunity and I was not let down.  Around mid-afternoon the little rascal was marauding about the back yard terrorizing the finches and wrens.  I crept around the corner of the house and took a knee.  He must have spotted me briefly, because he took off for cover of a stack of pallets another 10 yds away from the feeder.

He paused briefly and it was all I needed.  One shot, one kill.  When I paced it off it was a clean 25 yard shot.

The only reason I could not give this gun a top rating is that it is quite heavy (though cradles easily) and does not come with any way to mount a conventional sling.  I understand that there are a number of airgun slings out there, so I will have to investigate that shortly.  Also, the report is quite loud when using non-lead ammo.  A great shooter I hope to get many good years out of.

Another drawback based solely on my reason for purchase is that it probably would not make a good instructional aid.  This rifle is just a bit much for a young shooter, I think.

On all other counts I would definitely recommend a member of the GAMO "Whisper" line to anyone looking for a powerful, accurate air rifle.

14 May, 2013

Wealth Inequity In America

A fellow netizen turned me on to the following "digimentary" (digital documentary) and I thought I would share a few thoughts on its relevance to my personal situation, perhaps as therapy, perhaps to get the rest of you thinking about what is really going on in this country.

Financially-speaking, the disparity between just the middle and upper class(es) is astounding.  In most other first- and second-world and emergent economies the comparison of CEO (chief executive officer) pay to that of the AVERAGE employee is roughly 25:1.

Even taken as an sum-total, the next highest rates of compensation in the chart at left of the other nine (9) countries is less than HALF that of the united state.

 Are "our" CEOs that much more valuable or is it that we have an inherently flawed system which rewards these individuals with obscene salaries and benefits, salaries and benefits made possible by lobbying, legislation and corporate welfarism?

To suggest that company owners should not be paid commensurate to the amount of capital, enterprise, effort, energy and, above all, RISK which they have invested into their companies is, of course absurd.  To try and set a self-correcting or even arbitrary value on their worth comparative to that of their employees is asinine.  To pay them 475 times as much as their average employee is ludicrous.

Is there a middle ground?  Surely the risks must meet with appreciable reward, otherwise enterprise and the "American Dream" would sputter and implode.  But is there a particular reason why, over the past 30 years or so that the disparity between the "haves", the "have mores" and the "have nots" has become so exaggerated?

It is not because companies are making better products.  It is not because people are working harder for less money.  It is because government has chosen to prop up industry and corporate America with its fiat money scheme, borrowing from the producers to finance the profits of the elite.

 And now, on to my own story...

I make today a little more than my father made 30 years ago.  30 years ago the money my father made as an executive VP at a prominent local engineering design firm did not make us "rich" but we were comfortable.  We had a nice house and nice clothes (not always designer clothes, but "nice" clothes).  We got to take a ski vacation mostly every winter thanks to a fraternity brother of my dad's whose family lived in Salt Lake City, letting us stay with them in the valley.

My mother did not work.  My mother did not have to work.  My brother and I went to public school.  She went to the local community college while we were in junior high and high school and got an Associates Degree in Medical Transcriptioning and Bookkeeping to pass the time.

We never wanted for ANYTHING.

Fast forward 30 years.  Both my wife and I work.  Between us, with two children and grossing TWICE what my dad made by himself 30 years ago we are just getting by.

My parents built their house in 1978.  We just built a brand new "forever" house.  Even back then a 9, 10 or 11% mortgage wasn't unheard of, nor was it unaffordable.  Today we were terrified we wouldn't be able to cover ours if rates rose above 4½.  Fortunately we were spared and locked in a 3.75% rate.

Our children do not wear designer clothes.  Many of their clothes are from consignment sales and hand-me-downs.

Both of our vehicles are paid for.  We have one investment property (our former residence) which we leveraged for the capital to build our new permanent home and were only able to accomplish that because we have been savvy enough to have that property nearly paid off (note matures in 2015).

We consider ourselves "middle" class, but we are among a dwindling, disappearing group.  We have enough forthrightness and wherewithal to be preparing for the inevitable collapse, but no real ability to divine WHEN this may occur.  So we plan as best accordingly as we can.  We are raising our children to be self-sufficient.  We are farming (gardening) and are hopeful to include a vineyard and orchard in the coming year(s).

I wish I could make it so my wife did not have to work, so she could raise our children good and proper, teach them the way they deserve to be taught - privately, independently, dedicated and tailored - without all of the negative trappings of the public school system.

But government does not want it that way.  Government thrives on dominion over others and the best way to maintain that monopoly is to keep both parents working so that the children are FORCED to spend 8 hours (or more) per day in the compulsory Prussian school system, taught obedience, groupthink and a homogenized, watered-down version of their own history, divested of any association with the great thinkers and doers of generations gone by who fought to prevent this very thing from occurring.

I hope you will wake up and join the fight.  Compare YOUR LIFE to that of your parents.  Are YOU doing as good or better than they were at your age?  Do you feel hopeful about your future, or are you starting to see through the lie coming apart at the seams?

22 April, 2013

Virginia Wine Country

And now for something completely different... a trip into Virginia's magnificent wine country in the shadows of the Shenandoah.

This past weekend I spent a day tasting, enjoying and learning about Virginia's wines from some vineyards and wineries who, for all intents and purposes, produce their vignettes from vine to bottle.  This visit centered around the city of Charlottesville, which is an independent city surrounded by the county of Albemarle in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains about 20 minutes east of Waynesboro.

Charlottesville is probably best known as home to the University of Virginia, a public university conceived by Thomas Jefferson and built on lands once owned by James Monroe, with courses of study including architecture, economics, law and medicine.

During the course of the day we visited six (6) wineries throughout the area, each with unique and different ideas of what a wine "tasting" should be and the manner in which their wines are produced, marketed and delivered to their customers.  It is my intention here to provide my personal opinion of the "sum of the parts" for each vineyard and give you, the reader, an opportunity to share in my very first tour of Virginia's wine country.

Our trip begins at 7 AM on Saturday morning.  I am moderately hungover and totally exhausted from playing in my rock band at a headlining gig the previous night which put me in my bed somewhere between 3 and 3:15.  Fortunately my wife had volunteered to drive and she and her girlfriend Joyce sat up front while I crashed out on the bench seat in the back.  Coming from Virginia Beach I managed to sleep from Newport News to about ten minutes outside of Charlottesville, so that gave me a little bit more energy for our first stop: Jefferson Vineyards.

Jefferson Vineyards is, as the name suggests, the winery at Monticello. This winery sits in the valley below the manor house designed and occupied by one of America's most revered and prolific patriots, President Thomas Jefferson.

Walking into the tasting room was not the spectacle I would have expected (or was I being overly presumptuous?) from the former President and statesman.  There were a handful of "stations" where sommeliers (guides?  hosts?) were offering tastings to groups of tasters, a cashier's station, and rows of wine bottles arranged as a backdrop for the tastings.  For $10 we were each given a somewhat large (but very finely crafted) Riedel long-stem glass and a list of the wines (also called a "flight") being offered during our particular visit.

My personal preference is for a slightly sweet (apparently between 0.25 and 1.5% residual sugars) white, rosé, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  I only discovered this during later tastings in the day, as most of the wines at Jefferson were VERY DRY (Pinot Gris, Chardonnays) or too bold for my palate.  The guide was knowledgeable and courteous, but the presentation came off as overly scripted, as if straying from it might have been discouraged, perhaps as a consequence of the number of people waiting to be served.

At the Jefferson Vineyard we decided to bring home a bottle of 2011 Viognier (vee-on-yay) and a Pinot Gris which I think my mother would really enjoy.  With Mothers Day imminent, I felt this would be a good time to start thinking about gifts...

Our second stop was at Keswick Vineyards.  Keswick is a personal favourite of Joyce's as they have a wine "club" where you join for free and every visit you receive a free tasting for yourself and a guest, as well as a quarterly offering of selected wines delivered at discount.  Or, if you  like, you can pick them up when you visit the winery... if you happen to visit with that kind of frequency!

On our way in the door there was a handful of picnic tables and Joyce mentioned that they also do a number of pet-friendly tasting events throughout the year, another reason she is partial to Keswick.  At one of the tables was a group of bachelorettes, which explained the Hummer H2 limousine we had to maneuver around just to manage a parking spot.  Pay attention, as the bachelorettes show up again later.

Once inside we were greeted by what I would consider VERY YOUNG faces to be considered wine "experts".  I don't often think of twenty-somethings to have lived or experienced enough to be any kind of authority on anything, much less wines.  I know when I was in my twenties I wasn't drinking anything more gourmet than Miller High Life, the "Champagne of Beers"...

Anyhow, Joyce and my wife (as Joyce is a "member") tasted for free while I paid $10 for a chardonnay tasting glass with the vineyard logo on it.  In my opinion the Keswick glass is the most visually appealing of the six we used, and of the five we brought home (I'll get to that in the next review), though the Jefferson (even without any logo) is by far the "nicest" glass.

We tasted about a dozen wines at Keswick but none of them really spoke to me, except for the Norton chocolate sauce wine.  About 3/4 of the way through our tasting the young lady who was guiding us disappeared to the other end of the tasting room where... the bachelorette party was gibbering about like a bunch of giddy schoolgirls.  Without being overly insulting, these girls looked to me like they were trying just a bit too hard to get into a second-tier sorority.  I still have not been able to figure out what caused our guide to gravitate to the register in the middle of our tasting, but a young man came by to check on us and remarked that it was quite strange that she should do that.  This fellow for some reason thought it was acceptable to very noticeably chew gum while entertaining guests.

We finished our tasting, made our purchases, and went outside to the picnic area to have a sandwich and some snacks to line our bellies for the afternoon's excursion which, if all went according to plan, was to include four (4) more tastings.

Our third stop was at Horton Winery.  Horton is a neoclassical castle-esque looking farmhouse building sitting on a hilltop overlooking a vast expanse of vineyard in the rolling valley below.  It was a beautiful location, probably the most visually stunning of all the wineries that day.

As we walked up there was a van/limousine parked at the door with yet another bachelorette party group unloading and clamoring about for a picture before going in to taste/toast the bride.  We made a hurried entrance in the interest of being "ahead" of a group of giggling schoolgirls.

Inside Horton comes off more as a gift shop than a tasting room.  There were tables and displays of kitschy and generic "wine person" things like shirts with girlie slogans ("If I Seem Like a Bit*h, it's Because I'm Out of Wine"), buttons and logo stemware.  One table in particular caught my eye, laden with items of Southern interest where the vineyard was obviously trying to capitalize on the 150th (sesquicentennial) Anniversary of the civil [sic] war.

There were three (3) wine offerings at Horton which offered the suggestion of some kind of tie to the recent unpleasantness: "Freedom", "South Ridge", and "North Ridge", as well as both stemmed and stemless wine glasses (we call these "tumblers" where I'm from) were conspicuously displayed on a banquet table flanked by flags of the Southern republic.

The tasting at Horton was $3 for up to "10 or so" of the wines on the list and $3 for the souvenir glass.  This is the only glass we did not bring home, as it was emblazoned with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and a quote which read "Those who would deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves".  I almost threw up reading it, I certainly was not going to pay money for it.

The guides throughout this tasting changed as customers came and went.  We were standing at the end of the "bar" closest to the flag display in the accompanying photo.  The wines were described in VERY BRIEF terms on our tasting sheet and the hosts made little effort to expound on the character of the ones we selected.  Much to my dismay, of the three "civil war" offerings, the "South Ridge" was the least appealing, while the "Freedom" was the most.  Perhaps they mixed up the labels by accident...

The next stop on our tour was Barboursville.  If I could choose just one word to describe the tasting room at Barboursville, it would be "clusterf*ck".  $4 got you a souvenir glass and as many tastings as you could manage... if you could get to the counter.  The tasting room was like a medieval banquet hall with a side-room and narrow counters at which to taste.  Our "friends" from Keswick were there, now wearing mustaches for some reason and the lines at each tasting station were ten to fifteen deep.  The hosts had no interest in nor motivation to individually engage the guests.  Several of them were quite surly, barking orders at guests to "take your tasting pour and move to the back" apparently grudgingly considering the addition of "please" to somehow lighten the brusqueness of their demeanor.

Barboursville was, for lack of a better term, a very corporate operation.  There was no personality and no real care taken to individualize the experience: pour, sip, repeat.

That is, until we arrived at the "dessert" wines.  The woman at this counter was obviously less overburdened than her associates and had a simple flirtatiousness about her which I found rather charming.  Above all, she was SMILING.  That alone made her a far superior host than all the rest.

I rightly enjoyed all of the dessert wine selections, but settled on a bottle of Phileo, turning down the Malvaxia largely due to its $32/bottle price tag.

We took a short break at one of the tables and discovered four (4) Barboursville tasting glasses which had been abandoned and decided to collect them for ourselves as we made our exit.  Joyce purchased a couple of bottles herself and we took them back to the car.  Then we drove over and walked up to the ruins of the former Governor Barbour's mansion, from which the "Octagon" label at Barboursville derives its inspiration.  Apparently the "Octagon" is an award-winning vintage, but it tasted like it truly needed to live in the bottle for a while longer, perhaps several years.

At any length, the mansion of Governor Barbour, the only Governor of Virginia who was never actually "elected" to office was designed by Jefferson and construction commenced in 1814.  It was completely destroyed by fire on Christmas day in 1884.  "Damn those candles!" my wife was heard to exclaim, referring, of course, to the ancient practice of suspending lit candles from the firs throughout those grand colonial homes.

After we found our escape from the zoo which was Barboursville we discovered that we were still making fairly good time despite that chaotic scene and would have time to visit at least two more wineries.

Our next stop took us to Burnley.  I cannot say enough to reinforce how far above the rest my experience at Burnley was.  A rickety wooden staircase escorted us to the second floor of an old hillside residence done in farmhouse style with a mid-'70s mansard roof.  Frankly it is not at all what I would think of when I think "winery".

And the initial unimpressiveness did not stop there.  The tasting room at the top of the stairs was a plain, unassuming niche with a bar which more resembled the lunch counter at an old pharmacy, with a little old man and a little old lady and a young woman (perhaps in her late 20s) tending to the dozen-or-so guests.  So begins our odyssey.  We "bellied up" to the bar and the elderly gentleman, who was walking (rather, hobbling) with noticeable trouble grinned broadly at us and asked if we would like to have a tasting.

Well, of course that was what we had come for!  And he did not disappoint.  Not only was he a consummate gentleman, he was a font of knowledge, both informative and trivial.  As we went down the list, my wife even tasting wines of the families she generally avoided (mostly bolder reds) he gave us a mental tour of the heritage of wine in Virginia.  He gave us an in-depth synopsis of the "Norton" grape, one of the only native vines of these shores which was developed by grafting an introduced species with a wild grape and cultivated for over 200 years to derive the unique specie.

Mr. C.J. Reeder (C.J. as we came to know him in the short time) regaled us with stories about a house favorite, the "Dog Gone Red" which features a picture of the winery's mascot, Cooper (a Belgian Shepherd), who appears to enjoy his residency behind the bar amidst the bustle of the host and hostesses.  In fact, we were even invited behind the counter to make a formal introduction and give him a pat behind the ears before continuing on our escapade.

And I do not know if it was because of the richness of the insight and casual demeanor of the host or because the wines were THAT MUCH BETTER, but I thoroughly enjoyed nearly every drop of every vintage.  Of particular interest was the presentation of several of the reds.  At the previous wineries the red wines served were of only 2010, 2011 or 2012 vintage, even though the tasting cards recommended shelving such bottles for up to ten years before uncorking.  At Burnley we were treated to red vintages from as far back as 2005, with the proprietor suggesting that it is nigh-on irresponsible to sell a wine to someone and then expect THEM to keep it for five to ten years before enjoying it.

It is precisely that sort of care and consideration, on top of the wealth of character, knowledge and anecdotal history shared by Mr. Reeder during our visit which truly made it extraordinary.  We purchased several bottles from Burnley.  Unfortunately, during the shuffle of bottles and overnight bags in the back of the vehicle when we arrived at the hotel later in the evening, one of our tasting glasses slipped from its perch and tumbled to the ground, snapping the stem on impact.

My wife was crestfallen, as she had wanted to take home a matching pair from each winery.  Joyce suggested that since we had commandeered an extra bunch from Barboursville (that we weren't terribly interested in anyway) she would give us her Burnley glass, so it all worked out in the end.

It was starting to get late and most wineries advertise that they close around 5 PM.  It was nearly 4:15 when we bid a fond farewell to Burnley and headed north to our final destination: Reynard Florence Vineyard.

Reynard Florence is a "new" vineyard, having planted their first crop in 2008.

The parking lot of this diminutive winery is a mess of crushed stone and shell marl.  Walking up to the tasting room we passed by a few rustic patio tables with chairs and entered a small, however well-lit room with a large round bar-height table in the center of the room and a small counter at the far end with a half-dozen or so bottles lined up for viewing.

A precocious Welsh corgi by the name of T.Rex welcomed us with a cheerful bark and the proprietress (as we came to discover) greeted us and invited us to the tasting counter.  As we were nearing the end of the day, we nearly had the room to ourselves, save for a quartet of ladies who entered just behind us and were hosted around the central table.

The wines were fairly good, and I particularly enjoyed the Petit Manseng (of which I also purchased a bottle) as well as a bottle of Reynard Blanc to pair with the bottle from Jefferson for my mother.  Being a "young" vineyard they had an understandably limited selection of vintages, particularly reds since they have not been operating for many more years than it would take to produce a respectable crop.

Of other interest was the checkout at Reynard Florence.  When we made our purchase with credit card, Ms. Florence "Dee" Allison was using a Smartphone application which had the shop's entire catalog programmed in and a card-reader attached.  I signed using just the tip of my finger.  Ms. Allison explained that she could not provide a paper receipt in this manner but would be able to either email it or send it via SMS to any other "smart" phone.  I gave her my phone number and before I was out the door I received a message on my Windows (8) Phone with the purchase confirmation attached.  Pretty nifty use of technology, I think.

Once we left Reynard Florence we headed into Charlottesville to locate our hotel and find a good local spot to enjoy a steak and glass of wine.  Our hotel was a hot mess, reeking of cigarette smoke (even though it was a non-smoking room) and a bathroom which my wife said she would not feel comfortable bathing in.  Further, the in-room phone would not ring up the front desk and the TV didn't even work.  With this dismal predicament weighing on our minds, Joyce phoned the front desk using her own mobile phone and we told them we would be heading out to supper, that they had an hour or so to remedy the situation.

We drove past the heart of UVA and to a little Bohemian district out past the East End and located a place simply called "The Local".  This restaurant is apparently generally a by-reservation-only venue, but Joyce managed to schmooze the front manager enough to get us a table.  The building is an ex-garment and shoe repair shop crammed into what might pass for a early 20th century brownstone.  If it was twenty feet wide I would be surprised.

Our waiter was dutiful and courteous.  My wife ordered the pork loin special and Joyce and I both ordered the Steak Frites.  It is one of the few places I have had a steak where they truly achieved the "medium" doneness I demand.  The waiter also did not even skip a beat when I asked for a suggestion from the "by-the-glass" wine list to pair with my dinner selection and I was not disappointed by the respectable Cabernet Sauvignon he recommended.  It was (as I alluded earlier) a bit dry for my palate, but went well with a steak cooked nearly perfectly by my standards.

We returned to our hotel to find an ionizer running full-blast but having eradicated none of the stale smokiness from the room.  Joyce phoned the front desk again to inform them that we would not be staying and that she would not be paying for a room so obviously neglected.

We then drove another 30 minutes west to Waynesboro to a hotel in which I had previously stayed, where the rooms were clean (however otherwise unassuming) and came with a "continental breakfast" which included, among other things, a waffle station and biscuits and gravy.  The biscuits were good but the gravy was a little on the mild side for my tastes.  For a continental breakfast it was fair-to-middlin', but likely far superior to whatever half-baked excuse they might have offered at the first location.

To conclude, in order of preference by quality of experience and overall wine selection I would recommend:
  1. 1. Burnley
  2. 2. Jefferson
  3. 3. Reynard Florence
  4. 4. Keswick
  5. 5. Horton and Barboursville (tie)
I hope you have enjoyed my review of what is truly only a FRACTION of the offerings of Virginia's wine country and will be inspired to make your own visit to God's Country.

08 April, 2013

Seven Words You Can't Say on Facebook.

OK, seven words you cannot use in a "derogatory" context.

Nigger. Jew. Hebe. Kike. Spic. Slant. Faggot.

Apparently if you are a straight, anglo Christian male and use any of these words in a context which doesn't kowtow to the PC doctrines of the overlord class, you get sent to timeout to think about what you've done. "Hate speech" they call it.

Well you know what I hate? I hate being a straight, anglo Christian and walking on eggshells all the time (figuratively-speaking) when I am posting or commenting online. I hate looking over my shoulder and wondering which victim-class is going to feel slighted by my opinion of them or, God forbid, some culturally and contextually-relevant discovery about them that doesn't fellate their fragile victimized egos.

Special rules and special legislation protects these people from FEELING objectified and marginalized, but what those special rules ACTUALLY do is objectify and marginalize. Every one of them points out just how different we all really are.

18 February, 2013

Secret Millionaire - Chicago

I watched several back-to-back episodes of a show called "Secret Millionaire" on a recent flight from JAC to ORD.  The premise was this: a very rich Chicagoan spent a day each with a handful of charitable organizations based around the southside of Chi-town.

The charities were "H.O.M.E.", "BinDonated" and "Kids Off the Block".

H.O.M.E. is a charity dedicated to providing home maintenance and general care for seniors who would otherwise be relegated to hospice or assisted-living facilities, so that they could remain in their own homes.  The millionaire volunteered first by helping prepare a Sunday Brunch for a contingent of elderly citizens and then spent a day helping one of the other H.O.M.E. employees perform some routine maintenance tasks at the house of one of the group's seniors.

BinDonated was a one-man operation who gave up a lucrative career, cashed in his 401K and spent his time collecting school and hygiene supplies from wherever he could get them, sorting and distributing them [mostly] by himself.  He set out with one box truck and a bunch of surplus 55-gal drums at hotels and shopping centers to collect as many items as possible for redistribution to local homeless shelters and underprivileged schools and communities.  The millionaire popped in unannounced and helped unload several 200+ lb barrels and then sort and deliver some of the supplies to a local shelter.

Kids Off the Block was an organization started by a woman out of her own home to try and get kids off the street and who was dismayed at the number of senseless deaths of teens and youths (yes, those are code words) on Chicago's gritty southside streets.  She started a memorial wall made up of landscaping stones, each representing a child (or "youth") who had been a victim of violence in Chicago.  At the time of the show she was well into the many-hundreds but seemed to not be appreciative if the source of all the violence.  I'll just leave that one to simmer.

The show was essentially centered around someone who wanted to do something with his riches other than "be rich" and to see the impact firsthand of what one person who CARES can do to make a change.  Between the three charities, the millionaire donated $225,000 for them to use as they saw fit.  I'm not really sure if I'm trying to say anything else with this post, except that everyone has the ability to make a change - in themselves, in their communities, in their world.  You just have to WANT TO.

24 January, 2013

Think 'Racism' is a Uniquely White Ideology?

Earlier this week congressman Charles Rangel pontificated that there are some 'Southern areas' with cultures which must be 'overcome' in order to put an end to gun violence in this country.

Of course we all know what this race-baiting leftist means by 'cultures which must be overcome' but allow me to agree with the good congressman.  Statistics are funny things, they tell a story all their own, but can be manipulated to pretty much defend any position.

For instance, if I said that driving drunk is dangerous (and it arguably is) and that 30% of all traffic fatalities involved alcohol, you would probably conclude that if we were magically able to eliminate ALL drunk driving through preemptive measures, that traffic fatality rates would fall by roughly 30%.

What this neglects is that 70% of all traffic fatalities do NOT involve alcohol.  What, then, do you (the reader) conclude is the solution to preventing the remaining 70% (more than 200% of 30, BTW) of traffic fatalities?

Charles Rangel condemns Southern culture for being too conservative, for being too white, for not kowtowing to the demagoguery of the progressive social model, etc, etc, etc.

What Mr. Rangel wholly and broadly rejects is that there is indeed a culture in the South which is in dire need of being overcome - his.  He and his ilk need to overcome their guilt-driven culture of race-baiting and entitlement.  They need to overcome their malappropriate sense of shame and inferiority.  They need to stop masquerading as a race of disenfranchised VICTIMS of horrible oppression in the one country on earth where they are afforded the most freedom, the most opportunity and the greatest potential to improve their own lot.

Instead they murder.  They rape.  They steal.  They rob.  They collect welfare.  They complain that everything is the fault of the horrible, racist white man, and then stick their hand into his pocket for the substance which sustains them.

The incarceration rate among black males between 18 and 24 in this country is well over 400% that of whites, even though they comprise less than one-fourth of the population in that age group.  The dropout rate is more than double that of whites.  The number of single- and no-parent homes is grossly disproportionate to that of whites.  All of these things are not a consequence of their environments.  They are consequences of culture.  Blacks, for generations now, have enjoyed preferential treatment through relaxed testing, hiring quotas and public services.  Through subsequent iterations they have not taken these 'opportunities' as inspiration to improve themselves.  They have used them as an excuse to beg for more and to learn how to work the system so they do less and less.

Don't tell me about how 'backward' we are in the old South, Mr. Rangel.  'Your people' commit violent crimes against whites (and blacks) at an alarmingly disparate rate than whites commit against all other races COMBINED, they receive a far greater amount of financial and social taxpayer-funded subsidy, most of which is PAID FOR by whites.

I argue that there is indeed a culture in the South in DIRE NEED of being overcome... and it is YOURS.  Please encourage 'your people' to move up north - perhaps to one of the lovely, nearly all-black neighborhoods in and around Detroit - and I promise you, white people will not bother you ever again.  You can be rid of all of the things about white culture you seem to hate so much - industriousness, charity, enterprise, compassion - and join your brothers and sisters in what I am sure will be a veritable utopia of opportunity and prosperity.

15 January, 2013

Gun Control is a Distraction

There are thousands, if not millions of people out there arguing themselves blue in the face over gun control.  What does the 2nd Amendment say about it?  What does the Supreme Court say about it?  What does congress and the several States say about it?

Is the militia reserved to the several States?  Does the right to keep and bear arms guarantee citizens the inarguable right to own arms of military purpose?  Is the Constitution "outdated" or obsolete?  Is it a "living" document to be interpreted and reinterpreted every few generations as new technologies and new perspectives on morality become the accepted norm?

Or do they all miss the most important point of all: that self defense is a HUMAN RIGHT.  It is unique and specific to the individual.  It is not the purview of the States or congress or the supreme court to determine.  It stands alone among all other rights as the one which says "I have a right to exist, and no one has the ability to take that right from me".

Government would have you believe that self-defense is a canard of the right.  That only crazy people who want to harm others would even want to own guns of military purpose - or any guns at all, for that matter.  They reject the notion that EVERY SINGLE DICTATOR in written history came to power after removing access to weapons from the common people.


An unarmed populace is easy pickings for a government wielding supreme and unchallenged military dominion.  Laos.  Cambodia.  The Soviet Union.  Uganda.  Communist China.  Governments first disarmed the citizenry and then set out on missions to exterminate anyone who spoke out in opposition.  Once the 2nd Amendment is gutted and the people disarmed, what is to stop the government of the United States from enacting similar restrictions on speech, association and religion?  What is to stop them from incarcerating citizens indefinitely without cause and without trial?  What is to guarantee a trial for anyone at all?

Do you honestly believe that a government so culturally and morally bankrupt is going to disarm you and then just let you go about your lives as if nothing has changed?

And then there are your so-called "friends" who think that some gun control measures are a good idea.  Compulsory background checks.  Registration.  Permits.  Psychological screenings.

Psychological screenings.  Can you imagine if the founding fathers had suffered psychological screenings before owning their arms of military purpose?  They were certifiable.  They wanted to leave the British Empire.  In their day they were heretics against the crown by their thoughts and deeds.  Who would have sold them arms?

And further, if your so-called "friends" believe in this truly insane (and I mean "insane" with a capital "I") idea then consider what they are really saying.  They are not just saying that they want access to guns restricted, they are saying they want YOUR ACCESS TO GUNS RESTRICTED.  Your "friends" either do not trust you or they do not believe that YOU have a right to defend yourself from criminals or criminal government.

In essence, they are afraid of you.  They are afraid of some imaginary evil lurking inside you which, when combined with a gun, will unleash itself in a torrent of death and destruction.

They want YOU disarmed.  It is that simple.

I don't need friends like that and I certainly don't need countrymen like that.