Category:Not wine related

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

?You have to realize you’re not writing for the filmmakers, you’re writing for the potential film audience. And I would much rather hurt somebody’s feelings who made the picture then send somebody to see a movie and spend two hours of their life seeing a movie that I don’t think is worth seeing. ?

                                                                     — Roger Ebert

What better credo could a critic ? any kind of critic ? live by? Would that more wine writers kept it in mind.

I never met Ebert, though he did decline to write the introduction for my book about the movie ?Casablanca, ? written for its 50th anniversary. My editor, who knew him a little, thought she could talk him into it, but without success.

I did, however, have a great moment with Gene Siskel, who was Ebert ?s original co-host on their TV movie review show. I was a 17-year-old phone clerk in the sports department at a newspaper in suburban Chicago in 1975. One evening, I answered the phone, expecting to talk to a high school basketball coach.

?Is Temple Pouncey there Pouncey was one of the writers, and was hosting a party that was legendary at the paper.

?No, he ?s not. Can I take a message

?Yes, this is Gene Siskel, Can you tell him that I ?m coming to the party

I almost dropped the phone. Siskel was the film critic at the Chicago Tribune, and this particular 17-year-old phone clerk wanted nothing more than to one day work for a big city newspaper like the Tribune. I idolized reporters the way others did rock stars.

?Yes sir, Mr. Siskel. I ?ll give him the message. ?

?OK. Now, that ?s Gene Siskel, ? and then he spelled his name for me, ?S-I-S-K-E-L. ?

Which is another lesson wine writers should learn ? no matter how famous you think you are, you probably aren ?t. Humility never goes out of style.

A sip of dandelion wine

Anyone who grew up in the Midwest and cared about books and reading always had Ray Bradbury. He didn ?t seem all that different from us ? a Chicago-area boy whose books were full of awkward characters who always seemed out of place, and whose places were somehow both familiar and strange. How many 16-year-olds know how that feels?

Bradbury died Tuesday at the age of 91, and if it seems odd to write about him on a wine blog, then it ?s no odder than the fireman who started fires in ?Fahrenheit 451 ? or the colonists from Earth who made over Mars in their own horribly flawed image in ?The Martian Chronicles. ? And ?Dandelion Wine ? was his autobiographical novel, set in a fictionalized version of Waukegan, Ill., about a half hour from where I grew up and where my mom worked for the school district.

There ?s a scene at the end of Fahrenheit, something that ?s stuck with me for more than 30 years. The outcasts who took in the fireman return to the society that shunned them after a nuclear attack. ?They ?ll need us now, ? says their leader, and he says it not with revenge, but with grace and redemption and forgiveness. Such is the power of books.

So a glass held high tonight for Ray Bradbury, and let ?s all have a sip of dandelion wine.

So long, Ron Santo

The great Louie Canelakas, a very wise man, said that being a Chicago Cubs fan prepares one for life. Life, ultimately, no matter how successful, is about disappointment, and those of us who follow the Cubs — a team that has not really won anything for more than a century — know disappointment all too well.

Ron Santo, who played third base for the Cubs in the 1960s and early 1970s, embodied that ethos. He was a great player on great teams that never won anything; and, to add insult to injury, was regularly voted down for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Santo died yesterday, and his passing is worth noting here — not just because I'm a Cubs fan, but because Santo stood for everything that matters. He worked hard and he kept trying, even though he was repeatedly disappointed. What better approach is there to life?

Enjoy this effort from YouTube, courtesy of TerminalShockRecords, featuring Santo and several of his teammates from the 1969 Cubs.

Say goodbye to Gourmet

I'm in there, with Charlie Trotter and banana desserts, in the March 1997 issue. The Wine Curmudgeon has always enjoyed Gourmet magazine, and not just because it had good recipes. One of the most pleasant experiences I have had in my 20-some years of freelancing came when I sold a story to the magazine: The Not so Thin Man: Food and the Detective Novel. (The link is a bit iffy ? my Web site is having technical problems.)

I mention this not to plug myself; the story is 10 years old. I mention it to wish the magazine a fond farewell. Its publisher, Conde Nast, announced today that it ?s closing the book after 69 years, a victim of the recession that is gutting print media.

Freelancers always — and I mean always ? complain about editors, the editing process and anything that has to do with getting a story in print. To hear us tell it, there are three evils in the world, and magazine editors are first and second. I ?m as bad as anyone, and I ?ve got the whining to prove it.

But that didn ?t happen with Gourmet. It paid promptly, and if the story got held for six months, at least the editors kept me apprised of what was going on. Most importantly, it ?s a better story for the editing process. Few writers like to admit that editing can improve their work, because we ?re perfect and our prose is untouchable. But the Gourmet editors were tops, using a sure hand and good sense. It was a fine story when I wrote it, and it is a great story now.

So long, Gourmet. You will be missed.

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Anti-spam software

And it ?s free! And it works! Maybe I can make it an honorary member of the $10 Wine Hall of Fame.

The Wine Curmudgeon has been inundated with spam, even with my Outlook 2007 control set to high. But SpamBayes, in a matter of days, has sent almost all the spam to my junk mail folder, and I don ?t have to spend my morning cleaning out the mailbox from the night before.

SpamBayes uses a statistical anti-spam filter, with new-style algorithms to detect spam. Plus, as near as I can tell, it learns from its mistakes. Plus, did I mention it ?s free?

SpamBayes installs as an add-in for Outlook (and apparently works for Thunderbird, Gmail and Mac). After installation, it will ask how to configure it. Just use the suggested method. The software will set up a junk suspect folder, and if it isn ?t sure what to do with email, it sends it there. Then, you can click on a button on the toolbar and send the file to the correct folder. It ?s that simple. I don ?t know that it has sent any legitimate mail to the junk mail folder without me getting a chance to identify. And almost all of the spam has gone directly to the junk email folder.

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Wine Curmudgeon gets all squirrelly

image As in the American Squirrel Wine Blog Awards.

I got an email this morning from a friend who told me I had been selected, and sure enough, there I am — Best Use of a Hat as a Prop in an About Post. (You have to scroll down toward the end to see it, right after the self-loathing award and just before the lifetime achievement award.) My thanks to whomever nominated me, which is all it took to get in. These are not quite serious, which is much welcome in the all too serious world of wine blogging. Next year, I want to win the award for best punk rock obit. Seriously.

And, as regular visitors here know, my hat is no prop ? I wear ?em all the time. Own almost a dozen ? fedoras, straws, you name it. And I have even written about them on the blog.

The Wine Curmudgeon enters the 21st century

image Yes, the Wine Curmudgeon is on Facebook, and has entered the world of social networking. I am told it is a key part of the future, and the people who have told me that (and you know who you are, dammit) usually know what they are talking about.

So look for me there ? my account is Wine Curmudgeon. We ?ll see how this works, part of my never-ending attempt to negotiate the marketing environment in the New Millennium. The catch, of course, is that I have to post updates, which I have not been very good about doing in the short time I have had the account.

And I can tell everyone right now that there is no chance ? ever ? that the Wine Curmudgeon will ever Twitter.