Thursday, January 29, 2009

The First Bourbon Country Reader of 2009 Is Here

Squeezing in just under the wire, the January 2009 issue of The Bourbon Country Reader is out. Now in its unlikely 16th year of publication (the fact that we're still in Volume 11 shows there have been some years when publication was erratic), the Bourbon Country Reader is still the only periodical devoted entirely to American whiskey.

We are always independent and idiosyncratic. We have no distillery affiliation and accept no advertising.

To get on board, go here.

The main story in this issue will be of interest to anyone who has a spirits collection, especially if you live in Tennessee. The case of the million-dollar Jack Daniel's collection has been settled but its meaning to collectors is unclear.

Or is it?

In an effort to clarify the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission's thinking in reaching this settlement, I wrote to TABC Executive Director Shari Danielle Elks. My letter to her is here.

The gist of my inquiry, sent shortly after the settlement was announced, was to ask how Tennessee citizens should behave in light of this agreement. "Are you, for example, saying that although the law remains in effect that it is illegal to sell alcohol without a license, the ABC will not treat the sale of collectible bottles whose contents are considered 'incidental' as the illegal sale of alcohol?"

I report in the story that I am still awaiting the Director's response. Naturally, it arrived as I was picking up the new Readers at the printer. It doesn't change anything, but her letter is here.

One fact of the case not reported in the Tennessee media is that because Mr. Piper had no prior record, he was eligible for pre-trial diversion. Pre-trial diversion is an alternative to prosecution that diverts certain offenders from traditional criminal justice processing into a program of supervision. Mr. Piper pleaded guilty to one of the criminal charges against him, of selling alcohol without a license.

The Director did not rise to my bait about enforcement policy but did point out that the purpose of her agency is to enforce the laws of the state. "Until such laws are changed by the General Assembly, a license is required to sell alcoholic beverages."

So that is the bottom line. You cannot sell alcohol without a license. There is no collectibles exception and there is no incidental contents exception. If the TABC catches you selling something with alcohol in it and you don't have the necessary license, they may prosecute you. There is only one way to mitigate that risk. Don't do it.

If you subscribe to The Bourbon Country Reader before our next issue is published (scheduled for March), your first issue will be Volume 11 Number 5, which contains the full Jack Daniel's story. If you subscribe thereafter, you can always request that your subscription begin with that issue. (We're very agreeable here at Reader Tower.)

What Are The Chances For Real Change In Illinois?

It has been noted that, despite the reputation of Illinois for political corruption, this is the state’s first gubernatorial impeachment.

It should also be noted that while many Illinois public officials, including several governors, have been tried and convicted for criminal offenses, no major public corruption case has ever been brought by an Illinois prosecutor. They have all been federal, investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Like this one.

The Illinois General Assembly has done its duty by removing Rod Blagojevich, but it needs to do much more. Everyone involved in Illinois government must concede what they all know. Corruption here is routine and Governor Blagojevich’s offense was one of scale, not of type.

Even in corrupt systems, there are sometimes limits. The guys behind the guys set those limits. Exceed them and you threaten the entire, corrupt edifice. Therefore, any person who goes off the reservation like Blagojevich did must be removed. It always goes down the same way. Federal authorities mysteriously receive enough evidence to begin an investigation. In time, they receive enough evidence to convict the targeted individual, and perhaps some co-conspirators, but never those at the center of the web.

Look at the Michael Segal, Near North Insurance case (2002-2004). One day he was favored, friend to the great and near great, then he was a goat. What changed? Did the feds just happen to discover his crimes or had he outlived his usefulness? Who made that decision?

It is likely that the prosecutions of Tony Rezko, Stuart Levine and Ali Ata were probably meant to send a message to Blagojevich, to get with the program or he would be next. He didn't and he was.

What does it say that not one of these guys has sung? Not one has told the tale and really laid out how it all works and who calls the shots. Once convicted, they quietly do their time. Levine sang, of course, which netted Rezko and others, but he has probably told all he knows. Segal, Ryan, and Sorich (Mayor Daley's patronage guy) have all been mum. Not one of them has told the whole story. Why is that?

It is hard to discuss the corruption of government in Illinois without reference to Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass. He calls it "the combine." Its members consist of corrupt political leaders, both public office-holders and private citizens, Democrats and Republicans. The third leg is organized crime.

Because they are all part of a criminal enterprise, they value secrecy and eschew publicity. Anyone who calls too much attention to themselves has to be removed. Periodic demonstrations of this fact, including evidence that even a governor is not immune, serve their purpose. In itself, the removal, conviction and imprisonment of Rod Blagojevich does nothing to change the system.

Only when crime doesn’t pay will it cease.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bourbon Event To Help Retired, At-Risk Thoroughbred Racehorses.

The historic Seelbach Hilton Hotel announced today the first-ever "Old Friends Along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail" dinner and bourbon tasting, to benefit the famed Old Friends Equine, a haven for retired thoroughbred racehorses.

The evening will begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 28, at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel, 500 South Fourth Street in downtown Louisville. Tickets are $100 per person and the hotel is offering a reduced room rate of $75 for the night.

"This will be a great match of two of our state’s signature industries – bourbon and horses," said Jon McFarland, the Seelbach’s general manager. "It’s going to be one of Louisville’s premiere events while helping such a dignified, worthy cause."

Old Friends Equine, located in Georgetown, Kentucky, is a home for at-risk thoroughbreds whose racing and breeding careers have come to an end. Among the many champions housed there are the great sprinter Ogygian and Eclipse winners Sunshine Forever and The Wicked North.

"I can’t think of a better way to spend a night in Kentucky," said Michael Blowen, President and Founder of Old Friends. "Great bourbon, unforgettable horse tales and a world-class hotel. And it all goes to help these great Kentucky athletes."

A live and silent auction will offer equine art, horse racing memorabilia, and other items for bid.

Each guest will receive a commemorative Kentucky Bourbon Trail/Old Friends rocks glass from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail links eight of the state’s legendary distilleries and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

The evening begins in The Seelbach’s famous Rathskellar, the only surviving Rookwood Pottery room in the world. Seven of Kentucky’s Master Distillers will be there to offer samples of the Commonwealth’s finest bourbon.

They are: Harlen Wheatley of Buffalo Trace; Jim Rutledge of Four Roses; Parker and Craig Beam of Heaven Hill; Fred Noe of Jim Beam; Kevin Smith of Maker’s Mark; Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey; and Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve.

Blowen, KDA President Eric Gregory, and Larry Johnson, the Seelbach’s celebrity historian, will also be on-hand to discuss the event and their respective Kentucky treasures.

Bourbon-inspired appetizers will be served, followed by a magnificent dinner in The Oakroom. The menu, prepared by Chef de Cuisine Nicole Walker, and served in the only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant in the region, will be a bourbon-inspired feast, followed by dessert and a live auction in the Rathskellar. Bluegrass and other regional music will be performed by Steve Cooley and Mike Shroeder.

For more information, call (502) 807-3463 or go to www.seelbachhilton.com.

For those guests enjoying the special reduced-rate rooms, there will be an after-hours party in The Old Seelbach Bar featuring jazz musician Dick Sisto. Sunday brunch will be available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $29 per person.

For more information on Old Friends Equine, call (502) 863-1775 or go to www.oldfriendsequine.org. The farm is open daily to tourists by appointment.

For more information on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, call (502) 875-9351 or visit their web site at www.kybourbontrail.com.

Here’s the dinner menu:

First Course

SWEET POTATO BISQUE
Topped with Bourbon Smoked Goat Cheese Flan
Bourbon Crème Fraiche
Pancetta Brittle

Main Course

KUROBOTA PORK SHANK
With Anson Mills Polenta

Heirloom Winter Vegetables
With Bourbon Reduction

Bourbon Roasted Apples

Dessert

OAKROOM CHOCOLATE BOURBON BREAD PUDDING
With Fee Brothers Orange Bitters

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"We Will Restore Science To Its Rightful Place."

In a speech full of significance, those eight words from President Obama yesterday may prove to be the most significant.

Science is the objective search for answers. It is not the pursuit of evidence to support conclusions that have already been reached.

This problem manifests itself in many ways, some more weighty than others, but the abuse or undermining of science and scientific method has to be pointed out and resisted wherever it occurs.

Like in my area of interest, alcohol policy.

Neo-Prohibitionists are very fond of citing 'research' to support their crackpot ideas about underage drinking. The Illinois General Assembly, led by my own State Senator and State Representative, has been in there pitching the crap about so-called alcopops, as I wrote about here and elsewhere.

Lew Bryson, on his blog, pointed me in the direction of this post by wine enthusiast Tom Wark, about the abuse of science and scientific method by Neo-Prohibitionists who are attempting to build a case to shut down online alcohol sales.

In case you've never received a shipment of alcohol from UPS or FedEx, the package will not be released without an adult signature so, essentially, it's the same control that occurs in a liquor store. Kids cannot obtain alcohol over the internet any more easily than they can from their neighborhood retailer. It's as simple as that.

So why is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation willing to spend $400,000 to prove something else?

I'm not saying the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a bad outfit. Quite the opposite. They do a lot of good work, but this is nonsense.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Little Bit More About the Barton Sale.

I keep struggling with what to call this transaction, as 'Barton' is the name American whiskey enthusiasts know, but with the exception of Very Old Barton Bourbon, the Barton name had just about disappeared at Constellation even before it sold off the last assets that connected it to the heritage of Chicago's Barton Brands, Inc.

I wrote about the sale of those assets, by Constellation to Sazerac, on Monday, here.

Before I tell you the little bit of additional information I've learned, a moment of silence for the end of a proud American whiskey company.

Chicago businessmen Oscar Getz and Lester Abelson founded Barton shortly after Prohibition ended in 1933. They were family too, as Oscar was married to Lester’s sister.

Both men had been whiskey brokers before the drought and founded Barton to enter that business again. In those days, by the way, there was no distilled spirits business. It was the whiskey business. This was even still true after Prohibition, although people had by then acquired a taste for gin and other things. There was always a brandy market too, but most spirits drinkers drank bourbon, rye or some kind of blend.

Barton went along for a few years, buying and selling, but the business had changed. In 1944, to ensure a reliable source of whiskey, they bought an old distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, called Tom Moore, which they renamed Barton. It made neutral spirits for the military during WWII, but switched back to bourbon production thereafter.

Although they made good whiskey, Barton was always in the commodity or "cats and dogs" business. Their products were not household names, and were moderately priced, but it was a good business that thrived in good times and survived the bad.

Oscar Getz was president and a colorful personality. He loved the heritage of America's whiskey business and collected whiskey memorabilia. In time, he built a small museum in the distillery's Bardstown offices, which was open to the public. He also wrote and published a book, Whiskey: An American Pictorial History (1978).

Oscar Getz died in 1983. I'm not sure when Lester Abelson died, but he was gone by then too. After Getz's death, Barton closed the museum. The 70s had hit the industry hard and by 1983, many distilleries had closed and most that had not only operated for a few months each year, as they already had plenty of whiskey in their warehouses. Barton considered the collection Oscar's personal property and asked his widow, Emma (Abelson) Getz, to do something about it. She donated it to the City of Bardstown, along with enough money to get a small museum started. That museum is still small, but it's still going, and it is called the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History.

Emma passed in 1995, in Chicago, at age 95.

Constellation Brands, a wine company, bought Barton Brands in 1993, but it continued to be called Barton Brands, with its headquarters in Chicago and a whiskey distillery in Bardstown. It also acquired the old Glenmore Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky, which no longer had a distillery, but did have warehouses and a modern bottling house. In addition to the spirits business, the acquisition gave Constellation the U.S. marketing rights to Corona beer, one of Barton's most valuable assets.

About a year ago, perhaps in preparation for an eventual sale, Constellation divided its spirits business into two divisions and renamed the overall spirits company Constellation Spirits. The realignment divided the portfolio between 'value' and 'premium' products. The value group retained the Barton name and the premium group got a new name, Ascender.

All of the brands in the Barton group are now owned by Sazerac.

Also last year, Constellation changed the name of the Bardstown distillery back to Tom Moore.

The sale announcement did not say anthing about the Chicago office. However, someone in Fairport told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that the remaining spirits business will be moved to corporate headquarters there.

Chicago's Barton Brands is now surely and truly dead.

Sazerac, which already owns the very large Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, has said very little about the transaction so far. They have welcomed the Tom Moore Distillery into the family and indicated that Ridgemont Reserve 1792, a premium bourbon that Barton launched in 2003, was one of the prizes they sought. They also needed more warehousing and bottling capacity. The ink is still wet and the deal won't close for another month or so. Meanwhile, Buffalo Trace is still deciding exactly how the pieces will fit together. The deal, valued at $334 million, is a very big one for Sazerac, though it is impossible to say how big since Sazerac is privately held.

As often happens with blogs, where you're not writing to a target length, what started out as me intending to write a few words about the little bit of additional information I've learned since Monday became, well, this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

David Ellis, Good Writer, Named As Impeachment Special Prosecutor.

Yesterday I wrote about the Illinois House impeachment committee report. Among other things, I said it was well written and wondered who wrote it. Now we know.

Today, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan named David Ellis as the special prosecutor for the Illinois Senate impeachment trial of Governor Blagojevich, which begins January 26. Ellis, Speaker Madigan's legal counsel, was the committee's lead lawyer and primary author of its report.

Ellis also is the author of five novels.

Publisher's Weekly called his debut, Line of Vision (2002), "a wicked courtroom thriller." His next, The Hidden Man, is scheduled for a September, 2009, release.

The Official Word on Old Forester Birthday Bourbon.

I don't usually just post press releases, but the one I got today from Brown-Forman about the new release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon contains so much good information, I'm going to reproduce it here, verbatim and in its entirety. It covers the same basic ground I did here a month ago, but I didn't have some of the data this contains.

What follows is the release.

ANTICIPATED RELEASE OF OLD FORESTER BIRTHDAY BOURBON HITS SHELVES

Founder’s Birthday Honored with "Belated" Birthday Bourbon

Louisville, KY - Old Forester has released this year’s expression of its Birthday Bourbon in honor of George Garvin Brown, the founder of Old Forester, America's First Bottled Bourbon™. Launched six years ago to commemorate Brown’s Birthday on September 2, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is a premium, historically award-winning bourbon and a must-have for bourbon enthusiasts.

Due to the one-time release of Old Forester Repeal Bourbon along with complications with the glass supplier, this year’s version of Birthday Bourbon was delayed until now. The bourbon remains the same as it was intended to be released on September 2, having been stored in stainless steel tanks since its maturation several months ago.

"This year's Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is crafted from a 62 barrel batch that was distilled and barreled in the late summer of 1995," said Chris Morris, master distiller of Old Forester. "These barrels were entered on the sixth floor of Warehouse H on September 6, 1995. This is an upper floor location which builds heat in the summer months ensuring a robust, complex barrel character will develop. The result is a taste profile that is much more chewy in terms of rich fruit and caramel character than the 2007 and 2006 releases."

Unlike the standard Old Forester, which is a blend of whisky from several different years, Birthday Bourbon is a vintage-dated bourbon, hand-selected by Morris from one specific day. The result is a one-of-a-kind character and flavor that will never be replicated again. Its unique decanter style glass bottle is a throwback to the late 1800’s when Old Forester was first produced.

Since its introduction in 2002, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon has received unprecedented acclaim and has collected honors from USA Today, Malt Advocate, Wine & Spirits Magazine, and Santé. A favorite among critics, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon has taken home gold from numerous tasting competitions including a gold medal in the 2005, 2006 & 2007 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The 2007 expression was also named American Whiskey of the Year at WhiskyFest New York.

Depending on the market, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a Brown-Forman product, retails between $35 - $40, and is sold at most liquor stores with a wide and varied range of bourbons. The 2008 edition of Birthday Bourbon is bottled at 94 proof.

About Old Forester Bourbon

George Garvin Brown was the founder of Old Forester Bourbon Whisky and Brown-Forman Corporation. Brown-Forman Corporation, Louisville, Kentucky, is a diversified producer and marketer of fine quality alcohol brands, including Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort, Finlandia Vodka, Tequila Herradura, el Jimador Tequila, Canadian Mist, Fetzer and Bolla wines, and Korbel California Champagnes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Constellation Exits American Whiskey, Sells to Sazerac.

The gist of the deal, announced today by Constellation in a press release here, is that it is selling its portfolio of 'value brands' to Sazerac, along with production facilities in Bardstown and Owensboro, Kentucky.

Significantly, one brand in the sale is not considered a value brand but, rather, a super-premium. It is Ridgement Reserve 1792, a bourbon that competes in the segment with Beam's Knob Creek and Maker's Mark, and Brown-Forman's Woodford Reserve.

The company's other American whiskey products, such as Very Old Barton bourbon, Ten High bourbon, and Imperial American blended whiskey, which are considered value brands, were also sold. This means Constellation has completely exited the American whiskey segment. It has, however, retained entries in the single malt scotch (Balblair, Speyburn) and Canadian whiskey (Black Velvet) segments.

The Bardstown production facility, the recently-renamed Tom Moore Distillery (formerly the Barton Distillery), is a whiskey distillery with rackhouses and a bottling house. The Owensboro facility has rackhouses and bottling, but no distillery.

The net result of this transaction is that American whiskey production has become more consolidated. There is now one less producer of American whiskey.

Constellation is a public company, bound by disclosure requirements, and its press release is admirably detailed and complete. Sazerac, which also owns the Buffalo Trace Distillery, is a private company and isn't required to tell us anything. So far they haven't, which is not to say they won't. Buffalo Trace, under the direction of President Mark Brown (who is now Sazerac's President and CEO as well) has long been very open and transparent about its activities.

We have many questions that we hope Brown will be quick to answer, most significant being whether or not they will continue to operate the Tom Moore Distillery.

As this news is just literally breaking today, one should also consider that there may be other shoes not yet dropped. It is not unusual in these situations for there to be a subsequent swift resale of some of the assets, typically to one of the other usual suspects such as Bardstown's Heaven Hill or St. Louis's Luxco. Even some much smaller players, such as Bardstown's Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Limited, may be in the mix.

Considering that Buffalo Trace is one of the few distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee that still has excess production capacity, why do they need another distillery and two more bottling houses?

We'll keep you posted.

A Winter Reading Recommendation: The Blagojevich Impeachment Report.

I just finished reading the “Final Report of the Special Investigative Committee,” the Illinois House of Representatives committee that recommended Governor Rod Blogojevich’s impeachment last week.

I recommend it, especially if you are a citizen of Illinois. Yes, it has been in all the papers, but I got a lot out of reading the actual report.

You can find it, in PDF format, here.

Just so you know, the PDF logs in at 78 pages, and the body of the report is about 60 pages. That’s what you need to read. It is written in the form of a legal brief but it is very well written and easy to follow. No special knowledge is required to understand it. Whoever drafted it did a very good job.

It is well-known that the leadership of the House of Representatives has been at odds with the governor for some time. It is easy, following their battles in the media, to assume it is all just the usual political maneuvering: power plays, jockeying for position, trying to influence public opinion. You get a very different picture from the report. Its drafters also took pains, while making liberal use of the U.S. Attorney’s criminal complaint against the governor, to also document abuses of authority and violations of state and federal law, committed by him, that play no part in the U.S. Attorney’s complaint. (There are concerns that the impeachment investigation might compromise the federal criminal investigation.)

Anyone who believes it is just about the governor’s alleged attempt to sell President-Elect Obama’s former senate seat will be disabused of that notion quickly.

Some of these offenses date back to 2002-2003, which is disturbing in itself, as I don’t recall them being raised during the 2006 election campaign, when he won his second term. It should disturb every Illinois citizen that these abuses were all public knowledge, to a greater or lesser extent, and little action was taken to prevent them or stop them, or really raise a red flag about them. While the report is excellent and the House is to be commended for taking the action that it has, it took the U.S. Attorney’s arrest of the governor and issuance of the criminal complaint, with the resulting national publicity, to bring everything to a head and force the legislature to take action.

The first part of the report does a great job of explaining impeachment. The body of the case against Governor Blagojevich begins on page nine. If you feel you have a good handle on the senate seat issue, start reading at page 17. If you just can’t manage the whole thing, cherry pick from the table of contents. Some of the charges that come late in the report are the most interesting, and have been reported the least. I found the tale of the Governor’s Agency Efficiency Initiatives (starting on page 43) especially riveting.

So put a log on the fire, curl up in a comfortable chair, and dig in. Or, perhaps, if you have a family, take turns reading aloud from it around the dinner table. It’s a teaching moment, for sure.

Except for some of the language, sanitized in the report for your protection, it is all G-rated.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Meditation on the Boilermaker.

Some friends were discussing the custom of ordering whiskey or some other spirit with a "beer back," and that got us talking about that and the related bar calls, like "shot and a beer" and "boilermaker." (Not to be confused with the Purdue University campus icon.)

Shot and a beer is traditionally the working man's drink, in part due to economics. It would have been considered a trade-up from just drinking beer. It also ties in with the idea of session drinking, which is something people talk about in Great Britain more than here. Session just means you are going into an evening of drinking with a modicum of a plan, based on how much you can afford to spend, what you like, and perhaps also a calculation of how drunk you dare get and when you want that state to be achieved. The shots can be any spirit, and often among some of my younger friends it is tequila, vodka, rum or Jagermeister rather than whiskey.

"Shot and a beer" as a bar call also means you're asking for well whiskey and the house's cheapest draft beer. The "beer back" call usually follows a specific spirit call, but the orderer is still indifferent about the beer. If you are calling the beer too, you usually don't use the "beer back" terminology, you just place the two orders.

I haven't heard the boilermaker ordered as such very often. Although Wikipedia disagrees, I would say the term "boilermaker" means the spirit will be whiskey. Here again, we're talking well whiskey and draft beer. It's also not uncommon for the beer to be a pony, i.e., a smaller glass, often called, quite literally, small beer.

Again, working man's drink in working men's bars. Part of the idea was that the boilermaker would be the house special, a fixed price, and usually the cheapest way to drink at that establishment, save for quaffing the house draft all night. I've never known it to be served with the shot in the beer glass and never knew many people who liked to drink it that way. The shot in the beer I've also heard called a depth charge and now, commonly, a ______-bomb, e.g., Jager Bomb.

Again, in the tradition of working men's bars, if you were drinking straight whiskey, period, you were probably looking to get plastered as quickly as possible and wanted to be left alone. The shot-and-a-beer call was an indicator of sociability.

Personally, I might get a beer back when I feel like a whiskey but I'm also thirsty, though I probably get water back most of the time. Sometimes, though, there's nothing quite so refreshing as chasing a good whiskey with a cold lager.

In a working men's bar, whiskey rocks, whiskey and water, whiskey and soda, etc., would have been considered effete or pretentious, that being the way whiskey was taken among the middle and upper classes, the middle class being nothing but a bunch of aspiring snobs anyway.

A little bit higher class call for the exact same thing is to order a whiskey with a beer chaser. You just don't hear that word--"chaser"--much these days, though it was common in my youth. I can recall bars where the beer chaser was assumed, and provided at no additional cost, so you had to speak up if you did not want it.

What whiskey? It would depend on where you were drinking. Certainly in the South it would be bourbon. Pre-prohibition it would have been rye in a lot of places. In the Northeast it might be blended whiskey or even scotch or Irish. In the midwest it might be Canadian.

It's never been wrong to ask the bartender to show you what's in the well, within reason of course.

How the shot/beer combo picked up the name "boilermaker" is unclear. My theory is that boilermakers, as skilled craftsmen, would have been the highest paid workers patronizing a particular bar, and may have been the only ones who could regularly afford to alternate whiskey with beer throughout the evening. If you ordered a whiskey and a beer you were "drinking like a boilermaker," and eventually that became the bar call.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why I Still Have a Landline Telephone.

Two of my three siblings no longer have landline telephone service. Neither of them is a college student or otherwise-rootless twenty-something. Their ages are 46 and 55. Both have fulltime jobs and permanent addresses, but not a landline telephone.

My third sibling has a landline but no cell phone. I’m the only one who has both.

Here’s why.

I work at home and do most of my phone-using there. That may seem like a reason but it’s not. I could do that equally well with a cell phone. My landline also supports a fax machine, but that’s not a reason either as it’s easy enough to send and receive faxes via the internet. Since I have a computer, scanner and printer; the fax machine is redundant.

So, therefore, is my landline. It’s redundant. And that’s why I’m keeping it.

I am not so much loyal to the telephone as I am to the line; those thin, copper wires that connect your telephone to the outside world.

So far as I can tell, the wired telephone network is still more reliable than either the cable or cellular networks. By “reliable,” I mean “available;” as in it’s there when I need it.

Moreover, the wired telephone network is independent. In a power outage the telephone still works, assuming you have at least one on your line that doesn’t need supplementary juice. (Hint: If all your handsets are cordless, you don’t.)

Cable doesn’t have that. Even if the signal is still available, it can’t power any devices on its own. In a power failure, cable is useless.

Maybe I’m just a braces-and-belt kind of guy. I have a telephone landline, a cable broadband internet connection, and a cell phone. Because I have a landline, I can maintain a dial-up ISP account in case the cable goes out. I suppose the cable likewise backs-up the phone line, but I don’t think of it that way. I’m not complaining about my cable service. It’s very reliable. So, for that matter, is my cellular service.

But this way I have two forms of voice communication and two forms of data communication. I don’t have back-up power, but as already noted the landline phone has its own power supply, and while a cell phone battery is finite, it’s better than nothing.

None of this amounts to a disaster survival strategy. It’s about convenience. If the cable goes out for an hour, as it did earlier today, I can check my email via dial-up with nothing more than a few extra key strokes. If the power goes out, I can at least call ComEd.

Since all of the different networks are generally two-way and have plenty of bandwidth, they’re all trying to sell us service bundles. It’s hard to go 100 percent wireless, but there are lots of ways to go from two wires down to one. This is what my siblings have done. Both have cable for TV and internet, and cellular for phone.

The problem for me is that the wire they cut is the more reliable one.

I know there is a higher level to this that I don’t fully understand, such as the extent to which the telephone network remains independent of the internet. Are there truly multiple systems or is there really just one system with multiple fail safes, including multiple redundancy?

At the personal level redundancy isn’t hard to achieve, but doing it affordably is challenging. I’m trying now to align my service packages with my actual usage patterns. It’s easy to pay more than you should by buying more than you want or need, and because the companies all want more of your business, they don’t make affordable redundancy easy to achieve.

I’m working on it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

We Won't Forget You, Heather.

Today the Chicago Tribune editorial page--the same editorial page Illinois Governor Blagojevich is accused of trying to suppress--provided a useful history lesson.

Although it seems like a lifetime ago, it was only last spring that Governor Blagojevich enjoyed enough support in the Illinois Senate to defeat a House-sponsored recall bill. Had it passed, we probably would be voting right now to remove him. Back then, Emil Jones was Senate President and Rod's buddy. The Trib today lists all the Senators who defeated one recall proposal and kept another one from coming to a vote.

One of those faithfully lined up behind Jones back then was my own state Senator, representing the 7th District, Heather Steans. She was even trotted out at the time to carry the governor's water on Chicago Tonight and elsewhere, ironically arguing against the recall but for a measure that would reform (i.e., increase) the state's income tax.

It was a sorry spectacle, as I told her in a letter I shared with you blog readers here.

The surprise retirement of Jones back in August may have been the beginning of the end for Blago. Or maybe it was the Rezko conviction in June. The feds were clearly getting close, the guys behind the guys were cutting their losses, and the front men and women were scrambling for cover. It's hard for somebody like Steans, used to following orders, to know whose orders to follow when everything is falling apart. Her most recent constituent report described at length, but bloodlessly, the impeachment process and how the all-important U. S. Senate seat at the center of it all might be filled. It was distributed on December 17, before the Burris appointment. Here is the closest she came to taking a position or even expressing an opinion about any of it, but even with all of her careful weasel-wording, she got it so very wrong.

She wrote:

Harry Reid, the majority leader of the Senate, has indicated he will not seat anyone who the Governor appoints, and the Governor's legal defense attorney has stated that the Governor will not act to fill this seat. Thus the threat of the Governor trying to fill this vacancy no longer exists. We have some time over the holidays to see if the Governor resigns or steps aside before the U.S. Senate reconvenes in the new year. There is no perfect solution for filling the vacant Senate seat. I continue to prefer conducting a special election despite its downsides, but there is no consensus on this in Springfield.

(Emphasis mine.)

As the citizens of Illinois pour their outrage onto Rod Blagojevich, we should not forget his many enablers, including what the Tribune today called "The Blagojevich 26."

Voters have notoriously short memories so I won't speak for anyone but myself. I won't forget you, Senator Steans. I won't forget how you got your seat, nor what you did with it, no matter how many food drives for the needy you promote.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Hockey in the Hood.

For those who don't know, I live a few blocks east of Wrigley Field. Today (New Years) was the outdoor hockey game at Wrigley between the Blackhawks and Red Wings. Detroit won.

I didn't go, but here is what it was like around here today.

The jets flying overhead sounded like thunder. Really loud thunder. I didn't have the TV on then so I didn't realize it had been jets until someone mentioned it later. We're used to that from the annual air show.

The hovering blimp is a constant, low hum. That too is familiar, from baseball season. I couldn't hear it at my old place but they seem to spend a lot of time hovering directly above my building here.

Overall, it was just like during a Cubs game, except in January. I live right on one of the major East-West streets, so it's easy to tell when something is going on at Wrigley from the bumper-to-bumper traffic.

One interesting thing is that the stadium lights were on most nights for the last week or so, as they prepared.

I could have skated on the rink if I had wanted to, had skates, and had been on ice skates at any time in the last 35 years (I ice skated a little as a kid). They give perks like that to we neighbors to keep us from complaining about the inevitable disruption caused by 40,000 people coming into our neighborhood.

I didn't go over by the Wrigleyville bar strip last night, nor tonight, but I'm sure it's hopping still.

I was reminded of the Police concert there in the summer of 2007, although then they had seating on the field, which they did not appear to have today.

It's fun to see anything in Wrigley Field.