A Watershed Event

At the Webner House, we’re all about supporting local businesses.  Two Columbus businesses that we enthusiastically endorse — especially after we’ve enjoyed their products — are two local distilleries, Watershed Distillery and Middle West Spirits.

IMG_3671Watershed Vodka is my vodka brand of choice.  Speaking on the basis of my chilly vodka-sampling visit to the Belvedere Ice Room a few years ago, I can attest that Watershed produces very high-quality, corn-based vodka that is every bit as good — and in some cases better — than the vodkas we tried.  It also fits well with the low-carb diet approach I’ve been taking the last few months.  And the Watershed event is that this year the distillery is producing its first seasonal concoction, a black walnut liqueur, made from Ohio walnuts, called Nocino.

Kish and Richard and Russell are the occasional whiskey samplers in our family, and they’ve enjoyed making Manhattans and Old Fashioneds with OYO whiskey, one of the trade names used by Middle West Spirits.  Made from 100 percent Ohio soft red winter wheat, OYO Whiskey has won a number of distilling awards, as well as a lot of fans.

Watershed’s distillery is just west of downtown in the Grandview area, and Middle West’s distillery is in the Short North.  Both are the kinds of successful local businesses that employ our neighbors, pay local taxes, care about the quality of their products, and help to keep the Columbus economy ticking — which is why we support them.

The next time you’re out on the town and in the mood for a mixed drink, give one of their products a try.  You won’t regret it.

Whiter Shade Of Pale

Let’s all take a break from the work week, decompress a bit, get a good chuckle, and get mentally ready for a nice pre-Thanksgiving weekend.  And to help us on the way, how about this vintage, poorly directed and trite video of Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale?

Whiter Shade of Pale is a great song — but I’m betting you’ll get a laugh out of the video, with its clumsy cuts, out-of-sync lip-syncing, and late ’60s Nehru jackets.  It reminds me that, long ago, UJ asked for a Nehru jacket and got it.  I think he maybe wore it once.

An Issue That Captures And Frames The Worst

Immigration is a hugely important, multi-faceted issue.  In a world of many terrorist threats, border security is of paramount importance.  The influx of immigrants who don’t enter the country in an authorized way puts pressure on education, health care, and social benefits systems.  Immigrants are happy to perform physically challenging, low-paying jobs that are essential to our economy.  And what should we do with immigrants who crossed the border illegally but have worked here for years and whose children were born here?

So it is perhaps not surprising — in fact, it’s entirely predictable — that the incredibly important immigration issue manages to encompass much of what is appalling about the current sorry state of American government:  completely politicized yet frozen in place, featuring a legislative branch that is seemingly incapable of acting despite the obvious need for action and a President who can’t lead or forge a compromise and so acts unilaterally, and infused with finger-pointing, cringing political correctness and demagoguery that seems to preclude both rational discussion and reasonable compromise.

President Obama’s decision yesterday to issue sweeping executive orders on immigration issues — orders that will establish new programs that will change the legal status of millions of immigrants, change deportation practices, and end other programs — don’t help matters because they just highlight the politicization of this important issue.  President Obama has previously said, correctly I think, that changing immigration laws and policies through unilateral executive orders would be “very difficult to defend legally.”  The President also earlier had made the decision to defer any action on immigration until after the election, an approach that obviously was calculated to help Senate Democrats up for reelection.  In view of that decision, arguments that unilateral action is urgently needed now ring awfully hollow.

I’m sure that President Obama’s supporters will argue that issuing executive orders of dubious constitutionality is justified here because it will goad Congress into taking action that should have been taken long ago.  That argument is like saying that the behavior of the bully in A Christmas Story was justified because it ultimately provoked Ralphie into standing up for himself.  I’m not buying that, either.  America is supposed to be a constitutional form of government where the executive branch and legislative branch both respect and honor the limitations on their powers.  The fact that Congress has dropped the ball doesn’t excuse the President’s overstepping of his constitutional authority.

I’m not trying to excuse Congress’ leaden inactivity on developing a comprehensive set of immigration reforms or side with the anti-immigration fear-mongers, but I think President Obama’s decision to issue these executive orders is a mistake that will only make it much more difficult to address a crucial issue in the correct, constitutional way.  Brace yourself, because the shrill demagoguery on all sides is about to increase in pitch and volume.

Seven Feet Of Snow

The weather has been cold and blustery here in Columbus, but we can at least be glad we don’t live in Buffalo, New York.

Poor Buffalo!  It received 7 feet of snow in two days, with most falling in a 24-hour period.  Seven feet of snow!  It probably set a record for the most snow falling in a 24-hour period.  I guess a “lake effect” that produces seven feet of snow just confirms why Lake Erie is a Great Lake.

To put this in context, consider that seven feet of snow would bury my car completely.  Seven feet of snow would reach the bottom of a basketball backboard and would completely cover a standing LeBron James.  Seven feet of snow would reach the top of most doors and would put enormous weight on the roofs of homes.  You could look out over your yard and see nothing but a vast expanse of whiteness — no shrubs, no streets, no mailboxes, no fire hydrants, all slumbering peacefully beneath the unbroken blanket of white.

Seven feet of snow!  It boggles the mind.  And every guy who lives in the snow belt is thinking:  how in the heck do you shovel out of that much snow?  And even more bizarrely, how many of us are physically capable of throwing a shovelful of snow more than seven feet into the air to clear our buried driveways?

Piecing Together The Back Story Of Humpty Dumpty

The familiar nursery rhyme of Humpty Dumpty is:  “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”  Is Humpty Dumpty, like many nursery rhymes and fairy tales, based on an actual person or event?

This piece explores the back story of the rhyme and potential explanations for its origin.  It concludes that the two proffered explanations of the rhyme that try to link Humpty Dumpty to historical events — like the death of Richard III — are implausible and decides that Humpty Dumpty was originally intended as a riddle to which the answer was an egg — which is why Humpty Dumpty is always shown as an egg in nursery rhyme books.  I’m not so sure about that, because the piece also notes that the phrase “humpty dumpty” first came into the English language as a reference to an alcoholic concoction and then later was used to describe a clumsy or a stumbling inebriated person.  Given the latter meaning, I think it’s more likely than not that the rhyme traces its origin to a drunk person who fell from a wall and was killed.

It’s not a pretty picture, but when you think about it most of the old nursery rhymes and fairy tales were pretty disturbing.  Ring around the Rosie is commonly thought to trace its origins to the Black Death, with “rosie” referring to the red swellings of the lymph nodes associated with the Bubonic Plague, posies being carried to avoid the smell of the afflicted, and “all fall down” reflecting the suddenness of death.  Rock a Bye Baby and its baby mysteriously perched on the treetop who falls to the ground isn’t very reassuring to children, either — and we haven’t even gotten to ugly tales of cannibalism, poisoning and terrifyingly smart wolves like Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood.

We heard these stories as children and somehow managed to make it to adulthood without too much long-term psychic damage.  Kids are more resilient than we think.

Playoff Peculiarities

Ohio State fans are happy because the Buckeyes vaulted up two spots, to sixth place, in the college football playoff rankings announced last night.  That’s certainly better than heading in the other direction, but there’s just something a bit . . . unsettling about this whole process.

The Buckeyes, who won on Saturday, passed higher-ranked Arizona State, which lost.  I get that. But the Buckeyes also moved past Baylor, which had a bye week.  Why?  Who knows?  And for many Ohio State fans, the answer is:  who cares?  As long as the Buckeyes are moving up the chain and still have a chance to make the first college football playoff, they’re happy campers.

But seriously . . . why should Ohio State leapfrog Baylor?  The answer, I think, is that the 12-member selection panel that figures out the rankings is filled with people that aren’t much different from the rest of us.  They’re aware of win-loss records, but they’re not prone to some purportedly scientific analysis of relative strength of schedule, common opponents, and other quasi-scientific factors that the computer wizards have used to determine rankings in the past.  Instead, the panel members are prone to out-of-sight, out-of-mind notions, winning pretty versus winning ugly, the presence of stars on teams, intriguing match-ups, and other attributes of the rest of us everyday football fans.

That means that, if the college football playoff continues in its current form, you’re going to see it affect how the game is scheduled and played.  Late-season bye weeks that might cause you to drop a spot or two in the rankings will be eliminated.  Teams will try to pile up the points to get the most impressive wins, which means that starters will continue to play in blowouts and might suffer injuries that otherwise would have been avoided.  And you’d better hope that your team and your conference are getting pretty good, respectful coverage on ESPN and other college football venues.

All of these factors might work in Ohio State’s favor right now — no late-season byes, a schedule that is backloaded with games against good teams, a lot of scoring, and the interesting J.T. Barrett story — but it only works until it doesn’t.  If the Buckeyes get out to a good lead against Indiana and keep Barrett in the game, we’ll know that Urban Meyer and his staff have learned some lessons from how the rankings are developed.

Stephen King

Recently Richard got me Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep as a present.  It’s the sequel to The Shining, which I had never read.  I’d seen the Stanley Kubrick/Jack Nicholson movie, but had heard the book is different (and it definitely is) so I decided to read the book first.

The Shining was an enjoyable, page-turning airplane read that I finished on the return leg of our recent trip to Phoenix, and I was looking forward to starting the sequel that seemingly just came out.  As we were walking through the airport on our way to our car, however, we passed the bookstore and I noticed that Stephen King had another new book out, called Revival.  My God, I thought:  how many books has Stephen King written?

The answer is . . . a lot.  According to King’s website, if you just count novels, there are more than 50.  50!  Indeed, in between Doctor Sleep and Revival there was at least one other book, Mr. Mercedes — and perhaps two, because I can’t tell whether Doctor Sleep was published before or after Joyland.  And that is just novels; there are countless essays, short stories, and other pieces in a listing of written works that seems impossibly long.

By anyone’s definition, Stephen King has been astonishingly prolific.  Those of us who aren’t creative can only marvel at where he could come up with so many ideas for books — but what really impresses me is King’s obvious dedication to his work and his craft.  You can only publish that many books, short stories, and writings if you are willing to sit down at your writing desk, day after day, and work.  And Stephen King is still doing it, at age 67.

Critics will probably never look upon Stephen King with the same affection they have for, say, Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace.  I don’t pretend to know precisely what separates fiction from “fine literature,” but I do know this:  Stephen King has stayed atop the bestseller lists for decades now, producing book after book that people want to read, and he has done it by working hard, grinding away at new stories when he presumably could kick back, live off his royalties and speaking fees, and become a man of leisure.

If you want a living testament to the merits of a strong work ethic, consider Stephen King.  We should all be able to find some inspiration in his example.