Sunday, October 30, 2016

More Book Reviews / October 2016

The McCarthy era was hardly a highlight of American political history where paranoia, false accusations and ruined lives were the order of the day.
According the the publicity blurb, A House Divided: The Story of Ike and McCarthy is the story of the political battle between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin for the political leadership of the Republican Party and the moral leadership of the nation

This is about the years when the United States fell under the 'spell' of the right-wing ideologue Senator Joseph McCarthy's so called reign of terror.
It tells how President Eisenhower, although new to politics, used tactics and cunning to defeat McCarthy's irresponsible and self-aggrandizing grab for power.
A particular interesting part of the book is about the Army-McCarthy hearings which dragged on for some months threatening to destroy the US Army. Instead it ultimately led to McCarthy's downfall.
This book is concise and clearly written and, for anyone who wants a better understanding of the Cold War, is an essential read.
Billy Battles bequeaths his great grandson a trunk containing journals documenting his life and requests he compiles them into a 3-part trilogy of which this book is the first. 
Finding Billy Battles results in a rollicking tale of the old West with gunfights and outlaws galore. Born in Kansas in 1860, a young Billy begins his adventures as a reporter on a Dodge City newspaper.
From there his exciting and dangerous life takes off across Kansas, Arizona and Texas.
This book is an amazing blend of historical fiction and fact using famous figures of the American West eg, Wyatt Earp.

I really liked this book. Its well written prose combined with the often humorous, dry and witty vernacular of the period is fun to read.
And we know from the last chapter life will not get any easier for Billy.
The second book of the Billy Battles trilogy was published in June.
It is definitely on my 'to read' list.
It's India in the 1870s and a young boy lives a quiet life in a relatively poor but vibrant river village with his loving family.
His father has a good job in a jute factory and he is getting educated.
But suddenly disaster strikes and his father is dead.
As a Hindu widow, his mother loses her status in the family the day her husband dies. She cannot remarry and is expected to live a life of penance.
As a result her son is sent off to a far away school and eventually to an English University to study law.
There he experiences the seeds of the feminist movement struggling for equal rights.
He returns to India determined to work to improve the lot of his countrywomen.
But this means living in a twilight world, being not fully accepted by his colonial masters and shunned by his fellow countrymen.

Flame Tree Road is very atmospheric drawing the reader into Hindu village life and then contrasting this with the stark reality of western civilization in Cambridge and London. It also exposes the inequality imposed on the population by the British Raj.
And there is also two love stories, one unrequited, the other bound for heartbreak. 
Unreservedly recommended.
The Manhattan Project was a research and development project that produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II. 
As part of that program, the US government established the town of  Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to aid in the construction of the first atomic bomb.
City Behind the Fence is a social history of that town.
It is not a story of the development of the atom bomb itself but provides a detailed account of the social issues and the effects of a secret city on a person's psyche. It relates stories of human sacrifice and class as well as racial distinction while living under Big Brother's thumb in the name of national security.

The fact that the vast majority of inhabitants didn't know what was going on in the place where they lived and worked for years until news of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was made public is testament to the atmosphere that must have pervaded the town.
A fascinating story that would appeal to those interested in a unique chapter in American social history.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Reviews / October 2016

10% Happier was selected by the co driver for its meditation discussion.
She thought I might be interested to read it solely because it included the author Dan Harris's journalistic background.
He is a correspondent for ABC News, an anchor for Nightline and co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America.
Harris has reported on a series of events such as a number of USA mass shootings and has covered various natural disasters around the world. He has also reported on combat in Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank and has made six visits to Iraq.

Domestically, Harris has led ABC News' coverage of faith, with a particular focus on the evangelical movement. He scored one of the first interviews with former pastor Ted Haggard after his sex and drugs scandal.
The book covers all this and his early life dealing with drug addiction and an infamous on-air panic attack on June 7, 2004.
With the help of various mental health professionals, religious leaders, self-help gurus and news industry mentors, he stopped using drugs and discovered the benefits of meditation as a cure for his anxiety.
I must admit I skimmed over the more woo woo parts of the book but enjoyed his career story.
It's a great insight into the competitive nature of the main stream media, particularly TV current affairs, today.
Linda Greenlaw was featured in the 1997 book 'The Perfect Storm' and the subsequent 2000 film adaptation.
She was the first female sword-fishing boat captain on the American East Coast and has written a number of best-selling books about life as a commercial fisher. The Lobster Chronicles is one of them.
In this book she has given up her deep sea fishing exploits and returned to her place of birth, the Maine island of Isle au Haut to fish for lobster.  

This is an interesting story not only about the ins and outs of lobster fishing and the industry as a whole but also the politics and relationships of a very small and somewhat eccentric island community. It is also a another chapter in the author's life journey which continues in subsequent publications.
I enjoyed this book immensely although the author seemed to be in a hurry to finish the book with the final chapters seemingly disconnected.
It's just after the Civil War and straight laced Aurora from Boston travels to Montana to help her uncle document Crow Indian Culture. She meets up with a mixed Mohawk European race major in the US Army whose job it is to protect the wagon train heading west.
She is smitten. So is he.
Jonah's Woman could easily be called 'Sex on the Prairie'

In between graphic couplings there is an Indian war brewing due to the skulduggery of white ranchers wanting to take over Indian land with the help of corrupt army officials. The on again off again relationship between heroine and hero due to his experience of a life of discrimination fills out the rest of the story.
A pretty lightweight book with shallow characterization and extremely predictable plot.
But it's always a gamble and you take what you get with the free offerings on Amazon.
George Thring was orphaned at a very early age due to an incident at a lion safari park.
He is a boring man stuck in a boring job where he is continually put down and exploited.
One day he leaves work and just drives to nowhere in particular finally running out of petrol. Rescued from his predicament, he ends up in a small village of on the eve of their Elvis Festival long weekend.
Here among the quirky population he finds love, gets himself in trouble with an over zealous police officer as well as involved in a bizarre bank robbery.
He also eventually 'finds' himself.

I quite enjoyed this book despite having to suspend belief many times throughout the tale. It is humorously and well written. We just might see a bit of ourselves in George Thring without trying too hard.
Another freebie from Amazon and a good one.
It's the dark days of World War II in Great Britain and a wounded officer from the Tobruk campaign returns to London to take up an desk job to help plan the allied invasion of Europe.
By chance he is corresponding with an American lady exiled by choice in a small Irish village. Intrigue is fermenting there due to IRA plans to unite the two Irelands while the British are distracted by the war.

Cardigan Bay is romantic historical fiction set in great part in neutral Ireland during the war which was an environment conducive to IRA and subversive German activity. It also deals with the lead up to D-Day and the internal plot to kill Hitler by the Schwarze Kapelle.
The circumstances of the relationship between the two main characters may be a little far fetched but the sub plots have substance although it does seem that everyone is talking too much to one another about what was surely, at the time, classified information eg. goings on at Bletchley Park. And the number of passages of religious propaganda adds nothing to the story.
Despite all this it was an enjoyable easy read that manages to capture the essence of the times in rural Ireland and war torn London.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Vintage 2017 Continues / Post 600!

So I have reached some sort of minor milestone with 600 posts (500, for some reason, seemed to pass unnoticed). This has taken just over 12 years.
Up until this date, according to Blogger stats, I have had just under 120,000 page views. Not a huge amount compared to many others eg, Doctor Grumpy, but the blog has been written mainly for family, friends and as bit of a personal diary. That it has managed to collect a few other regular readers on the way is a bonus.
The top 5 posts have been:
  1. Fish, Milk, Eggs and Nuts in Wine?
  2. Pruning Grapevines
  3. Sulphites in Wine
  4. Ampelography
  5. Some Fish of the Great Barrier Reef
Number 1 has found itself a place in the top 5 Google hits for that subject matter for a considerable length of time.
The top 5 audience countries are:
  1. United States (30%)
  2.  Australia (20%)
  3.  Russia
  4.  United Kingdom
  5.  France
Page Views by Country

Anyway, since this blog has basically concentrated on wine and wine growing I thought it appropriate for #600 to continue with that theme.
As mentioned before, Vintage 2017 has begun. Grapevine growth after bud burst is very rapid.
The various stages of growth are documented. The most common is the modified Eichhorn Lorenz system or modified E-L System.
This provides a simple listing of major stages as well as detailed intermediate stages.
For commercial growers, knowing the growth stage of grapes during the growing season has many useful applications.
If problems arise during the growing season, a grape specialist helping solve problems will need to know what stage of development the grapes were at when the problem manifested.
Communicating this information helps pin-point what problems would most often exist during this stage of grape development.
Culture and chemical applications are often prescribed at certain stages of grape development. For example, bunch thinning/removal is sometimes performed when the berries are pea-size or smaller. Often you will see chemical labels refer to certain stages when chemicals should or should not be applied such as pre-flowering, flowering, and bunch closure. For the chemicals to be effective in controlling pests, chemicals should be applied at stages as specified on the label.

This is not as relevant to a hobby grower like me but for the first part of the season, up until flowering, I am interested in the first 17 of the total 47 stages just for academic reasons.

Our main task during this time is to prevent fungal diseases. In this region, with a warm maritime climate, that means downy and powdery mildews. These are combated with a copper/sulphur spray mix every two weeks or more often after major rain events ie. >10mm.
These are preventative sprays.
Curative sprays are available for downy but not powdery so it is important to keep on top of this.
The sulphur sprays also keep blister mite at bay.
We have never sprayed insecticides here. This has enabled a huge population of 'good guy' predators to build up in the vineyard and they take care of any unwanted 'invaders' at a very early stage of their development eg. grapevine and hawk vine moths. Occasionally we come across the odd caterpillar of those species which has managed to evade our resident army at the egg stage but quick snip of the pruners does the job.

Other tasks in the vineyard include water shoot removal, shoot thinning, shoot positioning, weed control, inter row mowing and the ever present net mending.
All this is never tedious. Being out in the sunshine on our warm spring days is always a pleasure. And now the nets are higher it's even more enjoyable.
I guess this is the time to confess I am more fond of the grape growing than the wine making.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Taste and Flavour / There Is a Difference

Wine tasting is always fun.
Recognizing the varietal character of the various grapes via aroma and flavour and how these can vary from region to region or vintage to vintage is always interesting.
Then assessing any winemaker input and if this enhances a wine. eg. oak, MLF, bâtonnage can be challenging.
And then of course there are the technical components like fruit/acid balance, alcohol content, length of finish, faults etc.
But to get technical, taste is limited to just five aspects (but usually only two, maybe three, in wine) and we are probably more interested in the various flavours that wine exhibits.
Sweet, sour (acid), bitter, salty were the original four tastes and then umami was added and recognized properly around the year 2000.
Umami is a savoury, meaty and brothy taste dried shiitake mushrooms, Vegemite, kombu seaweed, miso and  parmesan cheese.
In our mouths there are particular receptors that are sensitive to each type of taste.
Sourness and saltiness are about ions going through ion channels. The other three tastes work with G-protein-coupled receptors.
Flavour recognition comes from other sources.

According to Dr. Alex Russell, a taste and smell perception expert, flavour is a 'hedonic' sense involving smell, texture, temperature and expectation.
Let's, as an example, look at a New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Gooseberry, passionfruit, capsicum, herbaceous and grassy are the common flavour descriptors used for this most distinctive and easily recognizable wine.
On a molecular level, there are 3 individual chemicals strongly associated with this Marlborough wine that give it this flavour profile. For the chemistry boffins out there they are hexyl acetate, trans-3-hexan-1-ol and 3-mercaptohexyl acetate (3MHA).
But I digress.
When in the mouth, the actual taste of the wine would be acid.
But the actual fruity flavours come from smell.
This smell is not entering the nose via the nostrils at this point. It's entering the nose through the throat.
This perception of odours from our smell receptors via the throat is called retronasal olfaction. Perception of odours through the nose is called orthonasal olfaction..
So when 'tasting', you'll get the temperature of the wine in your mouth, that's the touch sensation. You'll get the acidity. That is the actual taste itself.
And you'll get the fruitiness from the smell through retronasal olfaction.
Put all of those elements together and that's flavour.
By the way, that tannin component of wine (mainly in reds), that makes your mouth pucker is not generally a taste or a flavour although an excess can impart a bitterness. It is normally a mouth feel or a tactile sensation.
Something to think about (or probably not) when taking your next sip of wine.