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Sunday, March 12, 2017

My Year Off: Trading in Wine Studies for Science and Comics

Batman reading
A little over a year ago I decided that I was going to take a year off from wine and alcohol studies so I can do other things that I enjoy. I had gone hardcore at alcohol education for years, earning the Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Specialist of Spirits certifications in the process, and writing so much for this blog that I had become detached from everything that other people in my age group were talking about while socializing.

When my peers were excited about the second Captain America movie, I wasn't even aware there was a first one. "Did you watch Breaking Bad?" Pffft, ain't nobody got time for that! Oh wait... they do. I'm just a weirdo.

That year is a few months more than over and it's time to get back into wine education, which means you'll be seeing much more of the monthly articles you expect from this blog that have been coming out less frequently lately. And since I'll be thinking about wine nonstop, more original memes and stuff from elsewhere shared on social media.

At the end of this post I'll give a little glimpse into the future of the blog. But first, this is how I mostly spent my time off: reading SCIENCE BOOKS and COMIC BOOKS.

Science Geek-out

I love to read and I love to learn. I am a true believer that nobody should ever stop furthering their knowledge and that education is not something that ends. However, it's not easy with ADHD. It takes me longer to read a book than most people because something in a book may cause my thoughts to trail off, and next thing I know I've read two pages and didn't retain any of it. And information retention isn't all that easy for me anyways, which is why I'm so obsessive and repetitive in my studies. This is why I think it's so very important for people to understand how their own brain works and what is the best learning process for them.

Carl Sagan
If you keep up with the blog then you know that I'm an outspoken atheist and science enthusiast. Peer reviewed studies and empirical evidence mean everything to me; perhaps too much. The only time I let feelings form my opinion is with humanism and human rights.

In the past year I was able to read many books on science. Mainly on the universe and evolution.

I started off with the classic of all classics: Carl Sagan's Cosmos. What a great communicator this man was. There was something special about him that the likes of today's science communicators such as Neil Degrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins or Michio Kaku could never have, and the ones before him lacked as well. He was one in a billion. Cosmos is an educational masterpiece that covers everything within the cosmos, from the formation of stars to the formation of life, with humor, intelligent arguments, and all done in a way that my pea-brain can easily understand. I still think about the great moments of this book often. Carl Sagan is the hero that the Earth needs right now.

I also read Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark. This one takes a look at the human brain and why it fabricates encounters with aliens, ghosts, and fairies. It also takes on psychology, anti-science, pseudoscience and religion. My favorite part is the The Dragon In My Garage chapter, of which I will share a clip with you right now:

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage."
Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you.  Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself.  There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

Empty garage"Show me," you say.  I lead you to my garage.  You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle -- but no dragon.
"Where's the dragon?" you ask.
"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely.  "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.
"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."
Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."
You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
"Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."  And so on.  I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?  Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.  Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.  The only thing you've really learned from my insistence that there's a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head.  You'd wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me.  The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind.  But then, why am I taking it so seriously?  Maybe I need help.  At the least, maybe I've seriously underestimated human fallibility.  Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded.  So you don't outright reject the notion that there's a fire-breathing dragon in my garage.  You merely put it on hold.  Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you're prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you.  Surely it's unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative -- merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of "not proved."

Imagine that things had gone otherwise.  The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch.  Your infrared detector reads off-scale.  The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you.  No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons -- to say nothing about invisible ones -- you must now acknowledge that there's something here, and that in a preliminary way it's consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Religious cultNow another scenario: Suppose it's not just me.  Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you're pretty sure don't know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages -- but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive.  All of us admit we're disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence.  None of us is a lunatic.  We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on.  I'd rather it not be true, I tell you.  But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren't myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported.  But they're never made when a skeptic is looking.  An alternative explanation presents itself.  On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked.  Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon's fiery breath.  But again, other possibilities exist.  We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons.  Such "evidence" -- no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it -- is far from compelling.  Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion had probably the greatest start to a nonfiction book I have ever read. He wastes no time what-so-ever and asks why a ridiculous belief should be given any more respect than anything else that is absurdly ridiculous. And then he just doesn't stop! He picks apart every little thing about religion until there is no argument. The guy is a champion. A rude champion, but that's why I love him so much.

The Greatest Show on Earth, also by Richard Dawkins, is all about the evidence of evolution. He goes to great lengths to put aside his opinions on theology itself, and focuses on the evidence that proves that evolution is real and that creationism is not. What makes this book different from any of the books on evolution I've read is how much he emphasizes that, even if there were no fossils ever found of anything, we would have still uncovered evolution and proven it as fact. Now, the other books I have read of course use more non-fossil evidence than fossil evidence, but they don't point this fact out directly like the way that Dawkins does (several times). Creationists are obsessed with fossils, and Dawkins is making a statement here. He makes a statement with the entire book. Again, he just picks apart every little thing until there is no argument.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind by Yuval Noah Harari is one of the best books I have ever read. From how we became the only sapien species left, to the creation of religion, to civilization, imperialism, democracy, etc. I had never thought of money as an IOU slip before. When you buy something you're repaying a service with future service from somewhere else. Because of this book, this 36 year old man finally understands how the world economy works too. There are some moments when he says things for shock value. Yes, human rights really don't exist; they're a creation of man. But it's the way that he says it, multiple times, that can be unsettling. Yet he says these shock value things at the right time to prove a point. Yuval Noah Harari is a brilliant man, an even better writer, and I highly suggest this book to history geeks.

Bill Nye
If you're going to read only one book on evolution, you need to make it Bill Nye's Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. Bill has a way of really dumbing down complicated subjects and making it easy for idiots like myself. I mean, it's Bill Nye! It truly is his thing to save the world and make everybody care about science! I adore this man and I adore this book. What's also great about Undeniable is that it was written when he was against GMO's, and there's a chapter about it in there. After its release he spent some time learning more about them and changed his stance on the topic, so he added a chapter explaining why. Like a true man of science, his old opinions will change when presented with new data. We all need to be more like Bill.

Bill Nye does go above heads in Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change The World and he knows it. He even says, on several occasions when he needs to get really complicated, that he wouldn't blame you if you skip the rest of the chapter. I actually had to do that a few times because I was like "I have no idea what is even going on right now." This book is about climate change, something that myself and Bill are deeply concerned about. Not only does he explain why climate change is fact and why its man made, but he also gives a bunch of ideas on how we could stop it or reverse it... and then why we won't do them. This is a seriously depressing book because it basically says we're fucking screwed. To the point where, when ever-the-optimist Nye says he has hope, you want to actually yell at him and present to him his own words.

DC Fanboy Returns

Hands down, the most fun I had with my year off was getting back into reading comic books.

DC Universe Online
It started by playing DC Universe Online on the PS4. Just seeing the characters and being able to run around Metropolis and Gotham and be in that world brought me right back to my childhood. Marvel's Spider-Man is the superhero that got me into comics as a kid, but other than him I always gravitated towards DC. I still did plenty of Marvel reading, but in DC the heroes are more profound in their spirit and the villains are more legendary and charismatic, which just leads to better story arcs. I was the token DC fanboy in an ocean of Marvel fanboys.

Once I got into this game I needed more comic stuff in my life. I caught up on all the movies I had missed. Some were great, some were awful. Captain America: Winter Soldier was the best of the Marvel movies, but Man of Steel is the best comic book movie of all time. I mean, it's absolutely fantastic. I was never much of a Superman fan but this movie completely changed that for me. The Marvel movies are great but they're just popcorn movies of the week, where as the DCEU is epic cinematic art. Sorry not sorry, haters, but Batman is not going to crack jokes while cities are being destroyed. The Justice League will have no equivalent to the Avengers shawarma scene.

Because of perfect timing, the DC Rebirth campaign began just when I wanted to start reading the comics again. I decided that I would follow just a few so it wouldn't be an expensive habit. I made The Flash and Green Lanterns my bi-weekly starters because of childhood reasons, and then Batman Beyond as a monthly just because. My reading material purchases quickly expanded from there.

Green Lanterns Rebirth
The Flash began the race with a meh. I was disappointed. But once the Lightning Strikes Twice story arc was out of the way it started to really get good. As I'm writing this, the Rogues have returned and IT IS SO AWESOME! Green Lanterns has been great from the very beginning. Jessica's struggle with anxiety is so very well done, and I like how Simon has moments of total badassery and moments of poser badassery. Also, the Phantom Lantern quickly became a favorite villain of all time for me and I hope he returns. I'm following Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps by the volume instead of issue because I love Lanterns. Although, I gotta say, the Green Lanterns title is actually better!

Batman Beyond suuuuuuucks but he just got a killer new suit and the Joker actually is back, so maybe it will get better. Teen Titans is way more hardcore than anybody would expect, with Damian Wayne as Robin being an absolute savage as he struggles with an assassin past and vigilante future. The Trinity series (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman together) has Poison Ivy trap them all in a dream where they visit Smallville, Themyscira and the Monarch Theater. Aaaaand then they get their asses handed to them by Mongul. It's a visually beautiful and emotionally heartfelt book.

However, at the end of the first story arc on all three of the monthly books listed in the paragraph above, I decided to drop them and pick up the bi-weekly Batman at the start of the I Am Bane story. Why? Because he's Batman. Also, monthly releases are about to go up a dollar. I'm just a few issues in and I have not regretted my decision. DC clearly pours everything into their cash cow character. The art, the story, the epicness, and the brutality. Batman's Rebirth is phenomenal.

Red Hood & The Outlaws
But Red Hood & The Outlaws is BY FAR my most favorite of the books that I'm following. As you know, the Trinity is Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. The Outlaws are basically Trinity Dark, which is the name of the first story arc. Red Hood is Jason Todd, a former Robin. He teams up with Artemis, an Amazon like Wonder Woman (there are zero similarities to the Artemis from Young Justice), and Bizarro, a clone of Superman gone wrong. Bizarro is amazing and kinda gives you the feels, as does Jason's relationship with him. It's got the best written story out of all the Rebirths I've read, and I don't see how it can't be one of the best, if not the best, of all of them.

It just couldn't stop with Rebirth, right? I had missed too much! I had so many great stories and novels to read! So then came Kingdom Come (1996), Batman: Hush (2002), Green Lantern Rebirth (2004), Superman: Last Son of Krypton (2006), Blackest Night (2009), Flash Rebirth (2009), and Flashpoint (2011). One I had somehow missed when I was fourteen was Zero Hour (1994) so I read that too. I noticed that, in my old collection, I had all of Superman: Blackout (1991) except for the first issue. Amazon helped me fix that.

Out of all of these great comic book stories, the most sentimental read was Identity Crisis (2004). Wally West was the Flash that I grew up on, with Barry Allen lost to the speed force when I was six. Wally is all over Identity Crisis being oh-so-Wallyish that it made me miss him as The Flash. He's back in the Rebirth series for Titans and I'm trying so hard not to add it as another series to follow.

Superman: For Tomorrow
But the best of the best that I read, the one that had me reeled in the most, was, surprisingly enough, Superman: For Tomorrow (2004). Like I said, I was never that big on Superman but I'm becoming a big fan of his, and this story arc solidifies it. Lois Lane and millions of others around the world disappear in an event that's basically the rapture, and Supes just goes around fucking up everybody. I don't know what was more badass: his talk about sand being "stones, hills, mountains reduced by time" while he creates a sandstorm with his breath, or telling the elementals that he'll destroy the Earth's ozone and atmosphere, scatter their bodies, and then just find a new home for himself. Dude, Supes is hardcore. I highly suggest you read For Tomorrow to see just how much of a badass that dude is, especially if you're a Superman hater.

Because of how much I enjoyed Last Son of Krypton and For Tomorrow, and because of the way the boys at DC Comics Squadcast talk about his Rebirth, I decided to also follow the DC Rebirth of Superman in trade volumes as they come out, and Son of Superman is so awesome. No wonder why it won comic book of the year. I wish I realized sooner just how great Supes really is. 

The Future of the Blog

So I'm back with my focus on wine. I've got my wine books and I'm ready to learn everything I possibly can, while using this blog to help me do so by writing about it. I'm thinking about getting the Society of Wine Educator's HBSC certification to up my hospitality game and gain a basic knowledge of other beverages such as sake, coffee, tea and soda. I just received the SWE's 2017 study guide in the mail so, who knows, maybe I'll begin the road to the CWE certification.

You may have noticed that, in February, new buttons popped up above the post bodies on this blog. There's one for wine reviews, but also there's buttons specifically for the wine science and wine history articles I've written. There is a reason for this update.

Trump ToiletWith our current President and his administration being deniers of science, history and facts, it's important that we push the issue on these things in all areas. 

LET ME BE CLEAR: I'm not going all political on you. Sure, I get distracted sometimes and go on rants every so often, but this is a friggin' wine blog. An obnoxiously unorthodox wine blog, but still a wine blog. I don't want to do political analysis to Pinot Blanc.

What I'm saying is that we all need to promote science, history and facts WITHIN whatever we do, FOR whatever we do, to make these things matter. What do I do? I sell wine for a living and I write about wine as a hobby. So it is there that I will do my best to MAKE IT MATTER.

Because you cannot just say "nah-ah" or "fake news" or "biased reporting" when presented with actual facts or things that have happened just because you don't like it, or because you're too stubborn to accept that your opinions and views are factually inaccurate or grossly out of touch. It's not okay to deny climate change so you can profit off of repealing guidelines and regulations. It's not okay to even try to silence National Parks from educating the public on their research or scientific facts. It's not okay to let the coal industry dump their waste into rivers and streams. It's not okay to openly want to destroy separation of church and state. It's not okay to try and spin slavery into immigration. How do you fight back? With the basics. Make facts matter WITHIN whatever you do, FOR whatever you do.

This blog has always had a focus on the science and history of wine and it's about to double down on that. I'm looking forward to it, and I hope you are too.

- Joey Casco CSW/CSS
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