Many years ago, in the early 1980s to be exact, I was driving home early on a Sunday morning from L.A. to San Francisco, idly switching between radio stations, when I came across a broadcast. It seemed to be, near as I could tell, a church meeting, and a big one at that to judge from the roar of the multitudes, who were presided over by a fire-and-brimstone preacher, of some evangelical or born-again stripe. As I have always found this sort of thing interesting—in a Margaret Mead-amongst-the-Samoans anthropological way—I listened. The preacher brought his audience to greater and greater heights of frenzy. The roaring and “amens” increased in crescendo. The mists of time have erased from my memory most of the particulars of what the preacher said, but there was one part that so seared itself into my brain that, even all these decades later, I recall it word for word.
He was talking about people who resisted the Christian message of Jesus being Lord and all that. He said they (the Christians) would try their best to convert non-believers, but that, in the end, if the non-believers refused to obey, “We will drag them, kicking and screaming, into the tent.”
Yes, those were his exact words. “He’s talking about me!” I thought. I found this so striking that I pulled over to the side of the road, to mull over what I had heard. To “drag someone kicking and screaming” is an old term whose derivation I do not know but whose meaning is clear: to make someone do something they do not want to do, by the use of force. I remember clearly the distinct image, repeated often over the years, those words formed in my mind: I saw a tent—a huge canvas structure, set up in some Bible Belt pasture or field, in which a Pentecostal audience was arrayed, like Romans in the Coliseum, egged on by a fiery Protestant orator. I saw a group of four or five burly white men engaged in the act of seizing hold of the arms and legs of a smaller white man who was struggling to escape from their grip. That smaller white man was me. As I screamed and flailed, the burly men carried me through the tent flaps, to the rabid, ecstatic howls of the mob. And there the scenario always mercifully ends.
Thirty-five years ago, these Christian evangelizers were eagerly courted by the nascent Reagan administration. Reagan himself was not particularly religious—nothing that we know about him suggests otherwise—but his political advisors, particularly a fellow by the name of Robert Billings, who was the executive director, under Jerry Falwell, of the Moral Majority, were given a seat at the table because the evangelicals were viewed by Republican strategists as the new equivalent of the “Southern strategy” that had got Nixon elected. And so the evangelicals had the ear of the President of the United States. Now we come to the year 2017, and the evangelicals have not only the President’s ear, but his mind, heart and bully pulpit. They have swarmed into the White House and Cabinet, long ago having seized control of the House of Representatives, and have made major inroads in the Senate and in the United States Supreme Court.
I have a few words for them–for you, if you’re one of them.
When I said you’re about as Christian as my dog, I immediately realized how unfair that is to Gus, as gentle and loving a soul as ever existed. You evangelicals speak the words of your God but you practice the actions of the Devil. You say you care for the poor, yet you would do away with public schools where they obtain free education, with Planned Parenthood where so many poor women obtain health services, with the Affordable Care Act: you would actually take healthcare away from 20 million of the neediest Americans. You would defund Public Defenders’ offices throughout the land, ensuring that only people of means can afford lawyers. You would gut if not eliminate environmental agencies, such as the E.P.A., whose “crime” in your eyes is to protect God’s air, water, creatures and lands. You would toss Muslims out of America and forbid others from coming in, to protect your so-called “Christian” nation, thus violating Jesus’s main instruction: to treat others as you would have them treat you. You have allowed your churches and pulpits to be fouled by politicians who cynically use you, you have allowed mockers like Donald Trump to achieve high office despite the fact—which you know in your heart—that he thinks you are fools. You have watched this President squander the essence of what America has meant to the world for 250 years: a shining city on a hill, of compassion, fairness and hope for all. You have elected a three-times-married adulterer, a self-admitted sexual abuser of women who tells a relative stranger he would “like to fuck” another man’s wife, even while he, himself, is married. Is this how you treasure the sanctity of marriage?
But that is not all! You throw your support behind a man whose mockery of the disabled ought to make you cringe, especially those of you—and they are many—whose own children or siblings are disabled. You think this man, who repeatedly insults anyone who disagrees with him, and who lies with pathological abandon, is a paragon of virtue. You cheer on a man who insults the entire country of Mexico, calling our southern neighbors “rapists and criminals”—and you say nothing to challenge such slurs even though you know they’re false. You see him fritter away our friendships with Australia, Iceland, France, Great Britain—friends who fought beside us in multiple wars and have stood by us through every troubled time. You—who for decade after decade hated the Soviet Union for its atheism—now suddenly discover what a wonderful country Russia is. You, who fulminated against the evils of Big Banks and Wall Street, of Mammon, now have a Cabinet stuffed with the leaders of Goldman Sachs, led by a billionaire who will not reveal his taxes or his business interests–and you do not care. You say you believe him when he says we need to deregulate these monstrous banks–whose CEOs are his friends–and yet you conveniently forget that the greedheads that run them caused the Great Recession that made your neighbors, maybe even your family, maybe even you, lose your jobs and homes. In short, you render unto Caesar what should be rendered unto God, and unto God, you render nothing but pious platitudes.
You have hated on and discriminated against huge swaths of the American republic in your religiously-based bigotry against gay people–a bigotry every Republican administration, including Trump’s, has exploited, and which, in your heart of hearts, you know is wrong. And now–the frosting on the cake–you urge Trump on as he seems hell-bent on unleashing more foreign wars—wars that will kill your sons and daughters or, if they are not killed, will leave them legless, armless, blind, and ravaged by PTSD. You–who talk about love!–loathed Obama, whom your Jesus would have blessed as a peacemaker. Now you are stuck with a warmonger, the father of sons who kill God’s noblest animals on the plains of Africa, not for meat for their well-laden tables, but for their own privileged, twisted pleasure.
What would Jesus have said about that?
I have no respect for you, evangelicals. You worship false gods and you speak with forked tongues. Your movement is spiraling downward, as ever more and more Americans, including Christians and elected Republicans, see through your hypocrisy. You have brought a godless, unstable person to the highest office in the land; through your stiff-necked, spiteful, reckless anger, you have wrought, upon this nation and the world, Havoc. Heed the lesson from 1 Samuel:
“So Saul died, and his three sons, and his amourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.”
This isn’t a very thankful time for many of us. Our side lost. I, personally, believe the country as a whole lost, and furthermore I believe that History will agree. A friend of mine, a peaceful man of Latino heritage, told me today he’s thinking of buying a gun, for the first time in his life. He used the words “civil war” to describe his fear. I told him that, while I don’t think civil war is in the cards, I cannot dissuade him from his feelings. He may be righter than I am.
Still, one must persevere in hopefulness. I travel to Southern California for Thanksgiving, to be with family and old friends. Many of my family who used to be with us, no longer are. Now the family includes babies and young children I barely know. It’s a reminder that life goes on.
So let me wish you all the happiest, safest and most meaningful of Thanksgivings! I’ll be back here on Monday morning.
P.S. Today (as I write, yesterday as you read) is the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He was my first political hero. I think he would be shocked and appalled by the direction this country has taken. Thank you, JFK, for inspiring a generation, and continuing to inspire us. Your legacy will survive even this.
I’ve been hard on the Republican Party for being such ideological purists that they can’t compromise with Democrats (or anyone else) on anything. So in my guise as the F.F.W.C. (former famous wine critic), along the same lines I have a few observances about In Pursuit of Balance.
IPOB, as many of you know, was the non-profit organization formed in California for the purpose of promoting the production of Pinot Noirs that are lower in alcohol and higher in acidity than some, or many, other Pinot Noirs, especially those produced around the time of IPOB”s founding, in 2010.
In that year, the Pinots emerging onto the market were of the 2008 vintage, or possibly 2007—two warm vintages that produced ripe, lush, soft, full-bodied wines. IPOB’s precise goal, however, was never entirely clear. Their website says it was “to promote dialogue around the meaning of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay,” but certainly, the public and the wine media perceived it as more than the mere promotion of dialogue. Most people saw it prescriptively. In the popular mind (and IPOB did nothing to dissuade people from thinking this), IPOB was saying that Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) should be below 14% in alcohol.
It’s true that Raj Parr, IPOB’s most visible representative, never came right out and said so, at least in my presence. In fact I heard him once welcome us to an IPOB tasting (at RN74) by stating that he was emphatically not referring to specific alcohol levels. But if there was no specific recommendation along those lines, people were scratching their heads and wondering just what else “balance” could mean that was not merely an arbitrary quality in the eyes of the beholder.
I sure wondered. In the four years after IPOB’s founding, and before I quit Wine Enthusiast, I strove mightily to understand. (Perhaps that’s what IPOB meant when they said they wanted “to promote dialogue.”) I decided that the question was meaningless, because no two people, no matter how competent they are, are ever going to agree all the time about so elusive and subjective a concept as “balance.” That was fine with me: wine writers, critics, producers, consumers and restaurateurs love to gab about wine, and IPOB provided plenty of gabbing opportunities.
Still, IPOB had an overall negative impact. It divided Pinot Noir people into two opposite, warring camps. IPOB’s tastings never made any sense. They were fun to go to, in that they let us taste many famous, small-production Pinots we would otherwise miss. But I always wondered why IPOB’s gatekeepers, who included Jasmine Hirsch, allowed some wines in, while shutting other wines out. For example, Calera was there—no one ever accused Calera of making low alcohol wines—while some fine low alcohol Pinot Noirs from the company I started working for in 2014, Jackson Family Wines, were not. I think that’s why people who were not fans of IPOB started calling it “the cool kids’ club.” It reminded me of the cafeteria in college, where the jocks and cute chicks gathered at their tables, while the geeks, freaks and nerds (of which I was one) had to scramble to figure out where to sit.
This was not a happy development. IPOB caused divisiveness within the ranks of Pinot Noir producers and critics; and while I’m sure it was a fabulous marketing tool for Hirsch Vineyards, Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte and other IPOB favorites, I do not in retrospect think it contributed much that was positive.
My biggest problem with IPOB was the way the mainstream wine media treated it so worshipfully, without questioning the process or the assumptions behind it. This wasn’t journalism; it was lazy reporting by press release. Unimaginative wine writers considered themselves lucky to be invited to IPOB, and to be feted by such famous personages, so they failed to write with due diligence. I had the same problem with the mainstream media during the recent election process. It was awful the way they accepted pretty much all of the Donald Trump scandals with a shrug of the shoulders, while relentlessly pursuing Hillary Clinton’s emails as if they were the biggest security scandal since Benedict Arnold, with Hillary actively working for ISIS. The email thing, of course, turned out to be absolutely nothing: a non-issue in every respect. But every media outlet in the country, print and broadcast, jumped on it like junkyard dogs and refused to let go, even while practically ignoring Trump University, his late-night infomercials on how to get-rich-quick through real estate flipping, not paying his bills, rape charges, lies, smears, prejudices, unproven allegations, insults, his current wife’s questionable background, his ties to Russia and foreign plutocrats, his taxes, and above all his utter ignorance of the issues. This glaring irresponsibility will be a sorry chapter in American journalism.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Esther Mobley, in her summation of IPOB’s final event on Nov. 14, at least did yeoman’s work in backing up far enough to write objectively about it. She praises it, not for dramatically changing the style of Pinot Noir in California (it didn’t; style is defined by climate, soils and viticultural practices, not by ideologies), but by making us all think a little harder about Pinot Noir than we might have otherwise. That’s a good thing, but I wouldn’t want future wine historians to overrate IPOB’s importance. It was not up there with the French Paradox or the Paris Tasting or Sideways. IPOB was a curiosity, a sort of hippie movement that flourished at a particular time and place, but whose import now has passed.
For years, my town of Oakland has been at the center of the commercial marijuana business in America. Downtown is studded with medical marijuana clinics and small shops selling paraphernalia. (I, myself, have had a medical marijuana card for a long time.) Oakland’s pot entrepreneurs were forward-looking visionaries who never doubted that pot would be legal someday. They wanted to be like Henry Ford or Thomas Edison: in the forefront of an industry that would be very, very big.
On the last election day—which also saw the catastrophic election of Trump—California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative (sponsored by my old friend, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom). It now is legal for Californians 21 years or older to grow and use pot. The proposition also placed two different kinds of taxes on pot: one on cultivation, for growers, and the other on users, at the retail price end. However, and apparently, Prop 64 does not mandate that other jurisdictions, such as cities and counties, cannot place additional taxes and restrictions on commercial marijuana. That’s where Oakland enters the picture—in a way that does not paint a very flattering picture of it.
A hard-core splinter group of city councilmembers is pushing for Oakland to do things that would effectively kill Oakland’s nascent pot industry, thereby undoing all the work of recent years. These council members are demanding that retail licenses be granted only to people living in districts—largely Black—in which large numbers of residents have been formerly convicted of violating marijuana laws, when weed was illegal. This would effectively limit license holders to those living in minority districts; its proponents call it “an equity permit program” but it’s really race-based discrimination against everyone else who lives in Oakland.
I suppose you could argue that minorities have been disproportionately convicted of drug crimes, although whether that’s true for pot, as opposed to crack cocaine, is arguable. Even if it is true, two wrongs don’t make a right. This is a misguided attempt—when you examine it closely—at a kind of reverse discrimination I find troubling.
As if this proposed rule isn’t bad enough, the rogue supervisors pushing it have another dumb idea: they want the City of Oakland to seize 25% of all pot business profits for the General Fund. Put yourself in the shoes of an aspiring marijuana entrepreneur: your margins are going to be thin enough, what with massive competition (including from Big Tobacco). Now, these morons from Oakland want to take one-quarter of your profits! Are you really sure you want to open a pot business in Oakland?
It’s unbelievable. Oakland is a city badly in need of revenue. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake destroyed downtown; it was twenty years before it began to recover, and then, Wham! the Great Recession put us right back into the hole. Since then, however, downtown Oakland has seen an exciting revitalization of restaurants, clubs, wine bars and the like, capped by Uber deciding to headquarter here, in the old Sears building (which also happens to be in the heart of the marijuana district). Revenues from pot dealers would have brought extraordinary sums into the City’s coffers. Instead, selfish, short-sighted councilmembers are trying their damnedest to kill the goose that’s laying the golden egg. Oakland politics has been broken for years because of race, and it’s really time for narrow-minded politicians to think of the City as a whole and put their parochial concerns aside.
That’s what the Washington Times is reporting. Seems my great state of California is considering allowing—not just barbershops—but beauty parlors too, a total of 42,000 shops in all, to serve wine and beer on their premises. The proposal is in the form of a bill, AB 1322, that would expand California’s current alcohol laws in order to “additionally allow the serving of beer or wine without a license as part of a beauty salon or barber shop service if specified requirements are met, including that there be no extra charge or fee for the beer or wine, the license of the establishment providing the service is in good standing, and the servings are limited to specified amounts.”
Sounds good to me! In fact, it sounds more than good: it’s civilized. But, wouldn’t you know it, no good idea goes without someone bashing it, and in this case the basher is the so-called “California Alcohol Policy Alliance,” a group whose website purports to “promote evidence-based public health policies and organize campaigns with diverse communities and youth against the alcohol industry’s harmful practices,” but which sounds suspiciously like the anti-alcohol groups in this country that have popped up forever, whose ideology seems like something out of Carrie Nation’s brain.
And not surprising! This California Alcohol Policy Alliance is just the latest incarnation of The Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems; they had to change their name because the Marin Institute got such a bad reputation. These people always claim that their motives are sincere, but there’s something fishily ideological about them, and their anger towards legal alcoholic beverages seems, well, outsized. They call themselves “The Industry Watchdog.” Well, “junkyard dog” would be closer to the point.
But I digress! The beautiful thing about the barbershop-beauty parlor idea is that it normalizes the drinking of beer and wine. There is probably no place more “normal” for Americans to go to than a barbershop or beauty parlor. That’s why serving beer and wine in such places makes so much sense. To be able to drink these alcoholic beverages in these normal, everyday hangouts would be a huge step towards making the consumption of wine—not a fancy thing for rare occasions—but an everyday practice, as it is throughout the wine-producing nations of Europe.
Incidentally, let me give credit to AB 1322’s Republican co-sponsor, Asemblyman Scott Wilk. It’s probably not a good idea for a Republican politician to ever be in favor of anything having to do with alcohol or drugs, and Wilk certainly represents a conservative district: Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley. But he’s not a nutbag Republican, and he’s okay in my book for this humane and positive step forward. Our Governor, Jerry Brown, now has AB 1322 on his desk, and he may veto it or let it pass into law. The anti-alcohol forces, including the Alcohol Policy Alliance, are lobbying him heavily, on social media and directly, to veto it: they are fear-mongering the general public with alarmist warnings that, if passed, AB 1322 will allow beer and wine to “flow freely without licenses, permits, monitoring, Responsible Beverage Service training, or enforcement of current regulations.”
Well, that’s fine with me. I don’t expect a beauty parlor colorist to have training in “responsible beverage service.” When the neo-prohibitionists at Alcoholic Policy Alliance say that passing AB 1322 will put the “health and safety of all California residents” at risk, that’s just a big lie. I want a country where drinking wine is so natural that you can do it in barbershops, in supermarkets, in movies, in fact pretty much everywhere. Does that mean I’m in favor of public drunkenness? Of course not. But rightwing groups like the Alcohol Policy Alliance base their fundraising on spreading such fear, the same way certain politicians are trying to make us so afraid of ISIS that we close this country’s borders, making it no longer the oasis for “Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Fear is never a good way to govern, and those who use fear to further their own purposes are to be pitied.