Whine Tasting Book Now Available

The book Whine Tasting is now available!  260 pages of whine, whining and even more whinage!  And some blather, too!

The paperback is less that $10 and available here 

The Kindle version is less than $3 (can you beat that?) and available here

And soon … a PDF of the book available at the “shop” tab on this very website!  How cool is that?

Whine Tasting

At long last, the book Whine Tasting

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A Tale Of Two Senate Campaigns

“What was your name again?” the woman on the other end of the phone asked me.

“My name is Tom Thurlow.  I am a columnist writing about the Iowa Senate race, and I would like to talk with Ms. Ernst or someone involved in her campaign.”

“And you said your prior work can be found … where?”

“At my website, Napa Whine Country, dot com.  ‘Whine’ with an ‘h’.”

“OK, thanks, Napa Whine Country, with an ‘h.’  I will pass along your message.”

This is the routine I went through with the Joni Ernst For Senate Campaign several times during the months and weeks that preceded the 2014 midterm elections.   I never got a return phone call.

And I was already sold on Joni Ernst!

"Let's make them squeal" was just the slogan voters in Iowa wanted to hear from their next senator

“Let’s make them squeal” was just the slogan voters in Iowa wanted to hear from their next senator

I was trying to write a column on the Iowa Senate race, with some comments from Ms. Ernst or her campaign staff, and my column had just about already written itself.  For a writer like me, who tries to include as much humor as possible, this Senate race was a gold-mine of humor, starting with the introduction of the two candidates.  In the Republican primary for Senate, Joni Ernst introduced herself as someone who had experience in castrating pigs, so therefore she would be quite comfortable in “trimming the pork in Washington.”

“Let’s make them squeal” became her campaign slogan.  Her TV commercials usually ended with a close-up of a pig, looking surprised, or the audio of a squealing sound.  The viewer knew the pig was about to be castrated.  There were no actual pig castrations, but the point was made.

What a great metaphor for today’s Washington!  Families are working so hard, barely making ends meet, paying their taxes, only to have the money blown in any number of ways.  Just one example, off the top of my head: over the last few years the State Department managed to lose $6 billion!  Just … lost!  How exactly do you lose $6 billion?  And yet, the Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Clinton, is a front-runner for president in 2016!

Yes, castration of the pigs in Washington struck a chord with the voters.  It was a great and funny introduction of Ms. Ernst to the race.

Meanwhile, Ernst’s opponent, Democrat Congressman Bruce Braley, introduced himself to the voters by a grainy, cell-phone video taken of him at a fund-raiser at a group of lawyers outside Iowa, where he talked ominously about the danger of a “farmer from Iowa who had never gone to law school” becoming the next Senate Judiciary Committee chairman if the Republicans took over the Senate.  Think of it: a mere farmer from Iowa, who never even went to law school, chairman of the Judiciary Committee!  Horrors!  If the audio of that speech was any better, you could have heard a shudder go through the room.

One minor problem: Braley was an Iowan, hoping to be elected to the Senate by, uh, farmers from Iowa.  Not a good start to his campaign.  But funny.

As the weeks progressed there were a number of other humorous twists to the Iowa Senate campaign.  At one point Braley had neighbors whose chickens got loose and trespassed onto Braley’s property.  As would any self-respecting lawyer, Braley mailed his neighbors a sternly-worded letter in which he threatened to sue.  Definitely not behavior one would expect from an Iowan.

CNN described the incident as “crying foul,” and an outside conservative group accused Braley as being part of the “War On Chicks,” which is a pretty humorous departure from the usual “War On Women” accusation of Republican candidates.  The controversy also enabled some Ernst supporters to follow Braley around at the Iowa State Fair in a chicken costume, which was a great way to highlight some definite un-Iowan behavior from a candidate running for office in Iowa.

At one point in the campaign there were some newsworthy comments made, and Ernst simply was not available, as she – get this — was serving her required 2-week stint in the Iowa Army National Guard Reserves.  Even better than a quote!

As the campaign came to a close, the Braley campaign recruited big-hitters in the Democrat party to come to Iowa and campaign.  The problem was that these campaigners, like Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, could not even remember Braley’s real name!

There might have been other humor missteps by the Braley campaign, but by the end of the campaign, even liberal news outlets started to call the Braley campaign a disaster.  It was almost funny to watch.  People began to pay attention to the Braley campaign just to watch for its next misstep.  Kind of like watching a Joe Biden speech.

I was probably not the only blogger watching this campaign, itching to write a humor-filled piece on it.  But there was zero coordination between bloggers and the Ernst campaign, at least from my corner of the blogosphere.

Contrast this with the 2012 Ted Cruz Senate campaign.  Now that was a great campaign!  Cruz fed us conservatives in the base so much red meat that I am surprised none of us came down with gout!  Not only in the positions Cruz took on the campaign issues, but also in the Cruz campaign’s cultivation of the blogger community.

Cruz’ campaign set up a group of bloggers that was constantly communicated with and cultivated.  “Bloggers For Cruz” badges were disseminated for bloggers to post on their websites, and I proudly posted one at Napa Whine Country.

Barely three days after I signed up as blogger/supporter at the Cruz campaign, I was invited to participate in a telephone press conference with the campaign manager.  I remember barely having educated myself on the issues in the Cruz campaign when I was called upon to ask a question.

Which was nice.  But it also served a great campaign function.  Sometimes a blogger will write a full-size column on a candidate that will be published by pretty important online publication.  In my case, a column I wrote praising Cruz was published by American Thinker.  And I claim full credit in getting Ted Cruz elected to the Senate with my article praising him.

But more importantly, my column showed the importance of coordination with bloggers.  In my column I explored the details of the campaign contributions of Ted Cruz and his opponent.  Despite the claims of each candidate to support a repeal of Obamacare, the campaign contributions of each candidate, posted on the FEC website, showed nearly opposite funding situations.  Cruz’ opponent was getting money from hospitals and medical companies, while almost all the money that went to the Cruz campaign was from individuals, in small amounts.

I exposed all this in my American Thinker column.  None of the other columns I had read on Ted Cruz had this information.  Sure, it took some extra time and work going through the FEC filings of both candidates, but I felt so included by the Cruz campaign and was happy to do the extra research.  My e-mail exchange with Ted Cruz himself highlighted the column.

Fortunately, both Ted Cruz and Joni Ernst won their campaigns for Senate, despite their opposite approaches to the blogger community.  But lessons can still be learned from the mistakes of a winning campaign, like the Ernst campaign.  Republican campaigns need to embrace bloggers and include them in as much of their campaigns as possible.  Bloggers should not be relegated to leaving phone messages that never get returned.

My mostly-written column on the Iowa Senate race sat in my computer hard drive, collecting virtual dust, and was never submitted anywhere.  But I guess the Ernst campaign was not a total loss for me.  I still have my Ernst “Let’s Make Them Squeal” t-shirt, which I wear with pride.  My friends here in Napa don’t understand the shirt and its reference to “squealing.”  They think squealing might be a new way to ferment wine or something.


This column was originally published in Caffeinated Thoughts



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Perry Indictment Not Thought Through

So let me see if I understand this correctly: if the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, had just waved through the $7.5 million taxpayer funding for the public integrity unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office, an office led by a convicted drunk driver with an astronomical .24% alcohol level, then Perry would not now be facing “abuse of power” felony charges.  Had Gov. Perry just put down his veto pen, and sent the money to this particular Democrat District Attorney, he would not be facing almost 100 years in state prison.  Do you see how ridiculous that sounds?

And have you seen the video of the prosecutor in question?  It would be funny if it weren’t a lead prosecutor of a very important Texas county, Travis County.  The video, which has been making the rounds on the Internet, shows District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg at different times claiming that she was not drunk, which was obviously not true, kicking her jail cell door, calling the case against her stupid, and topping it off with a kind of “do you know who I am?” routine.  That didn’t work for former United States Senator Larry Craig when he was busted for lewd sexual conduct in a men’s restroom, so why should it work for Lehmberg?  Ms. Lehmberg can even be heard mumbling “this is the end of my political career,” making at least some sense in her extreme drunken state.

But she was wrong there, too!  A local court later decided that Lehmberg was just fine to stay where she was as Travis County District Attorney, prosecuting other drunk drivers and even available to prosecute other public officials as part of the office’s public integrity unit.  From that point on, any prosecution, especially any “public integrity” prosecution, led by Ms. Lehmberg was suspect.

Here’s why: if anyone is arrested for drunk driving and is prosecuted by DA Lehmberg, a fair question to be asked would be “maybe she is being so hard on that defendant and his drunk driving because she wants to show that she has extra regret for being caught doing the same thing.”  Or “maybe she is going easy on that drunk driver because she wants to show that what she did was really no big deal.”  Or if she prosecutes a public official for some misdeed in office, “maybe she is being so harsh or lenient (take your pick) to compare that case favorably with her own case or to show that she really regrets what she did.”

See how that works?  No one is perfect, but anyone prosecuting other people for crimes or public officials for their misdeeds at least needs to be above such questions and have nothing in their background that prompts a discussion like this.  And “public integrity” prosecutions are supposed to be a serious discussion of an accused public official and whether they broke the law, not some scorecard to be compared with the prosecutor’s own personal past.

In context, Gov. Perry’s funding veto makes perfect sense.  In fact, Gov. Perry would have been irresponsible had he not vetoed the funding for Lehmberg’s office.

Let her manage $7.5 million or be indicted

“Oh, but this charge is being led by a special prosecutor, with no direct connection to the Travis County District Attorney,” the defenders of this prosecution might say.  But it is no secret that these charges were first suggested by Texans For Public Justice, a liberal Texas activist group that specifically targets Republican office-holders.  And according to the Dallas Morning News, the special prosecutor in this case, Michael McCrum, was almost appointed to be the local U.S. Attorney by President Obama.  The Travis County District Attorney’s office also has a habit of criminally prosecuting prominent Republicans: first, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, then Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and now Republican Governor Rick Perry.

Recently, the members of the grand jury that signed onto the indictment have shown their partisan colors as well.  Five members of the grand jury were shown to have been consistent Democrat voters while one member was even found out to be a Texas Democratic Party delegate while the Perry proceedings were going on.

If this prosecution ever goes to trial, it will be impossible for the trial jurors not to notice that this case is being prosecuted by a DA’s office that was denied funding by the defendant, Gov. Perry.

Even some Democrats agree that this indictment is a bad idea.  Former Obama adviser and prominent Democrat David Axelrod tweeted “unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry’s indictment seems pretty sketchy.”  Liberal columnist Jonathan Chait, of New York Magazine, calls the Perry indictment “unbelievably ridiculous.”

This prosecution is so bad that instead of defending it, some Democrats have invented new theories of the case.  As was reported in the blog Powerline, a Democratic party official sent out an e-mail arguing that Perry’s funding veto was in part because the Travis County DA was investigating a group with close ties to Gov. Perry.  However, a report in the newspaper Austin American-Statesman, points out that the friends of Perry in the group in question were cleared long ago.  So this argument is a total red herring.

In the end, this has a big possibility of backfiring on Democrats.  If there is a verdict of “not guilty,” it is conceivable that a similar “abuse of office” charge could be brought against the special prosecutor, which would be funny, but Gov. Perry could use the acquittal in his presidential campaign, just like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will use his recall victory in his presidential campaign.  Republican voters like candidates who fight, and a few battle scars on a candidate are appealing.

If, on the other hand, the jury somehow convicts Gov. Perry, the conviction will eventually be thrown out on appeal, as was the conviction against Republican Thomas DeLay a few years ago.  Not only that, but Republican prosecutors in other Texas counties will begin to catch on that if Texas someday has a Democratic governor, similar criminal charges could be brought against that governor.  Only a few years ago, Texas actually did have a Democrat governor, Ann Richards, and she issued a few vetoes.

It could also work out that being prosecuted for something will become a kind of rite of passage for either side: Republican governors will be criminally prosecuted by the Travis County District Attorney, while Democrat governors will be criminally prosecuted by district attorneys in any of the various Republican counties in Texas — maybe in succession!

No, this indictment against Gov. Perry was definitely not thought through.  As they say in Texas, this case is “a dog that won’t hunt.”



This column was originally published in Caffeinated Thoughts



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An Idea For A New Murder Mystery Series: PC Detective

Murder mystery shows just aren’t what they used to be.  Long gone are the days when you have a murder committed, and it is solved by a mildly-disheveled Columbo, or the eccentric French detective Poirot in Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Poirot is Belgian, not French

Poirot is Belgian, not French

Oh that’s right, Poirot is Belgian, not French.  Sorry.  But you get the point: nowadays murder mysteries are all over the place with their detectives.  In Monk, the detective is obsessive compulsive.  Psyche has a con man as a detective, and he claims to be psychic when he is merely very observant.  Then there is CSI, in which is a murder is solved mostly by using physics and chemistry.  Bones has a detective who has Asperger Syndrome.  Sometimes Doc Martin solves mysteries in his medical practice – and he is a doctor who hates the sight of blood!

Such a growing field of sleuths deserves yet another entrant.  And here is my idea: the politically correct detective.  The idea is that political correctness, or “diversity,” or “inclusion,” or whatever you want to call it, would guide the thinking of the detective to such an extent that major turns in the plot of the show would hinge on the detective’s idea of what is right, inclusive, encouraging of diversity, whatever.

“Ridiculous,” you say?  “It will never fly!”  Have you read the news lately?  Political correctness has injected itself into many otherwise normal national conversations.  Recently, an MSNBC commentator suggested that the US should not support Israel over Hamas terrorists because a poll showed that minorities and people of color are less supportive of Israel.  And just last week, some developers of an iPhone app called “Sketchfactor” are being called racist because their app guides users out of bad neighborhoods, which might also be minority neighborhoods.  I could go on.

Political correctness is out there, and it distorts the thinking of a lot of people in many different situations.  So, in the words of Teresa Heinz Kerry, our almost-First Lady from 2004, take your thoughts of this idea being ridiculous, and “shove it!”

My PC Detective show would open with a garden variety murder.  The details really don’t matter.  Our protagonist would be a university sociology professor who is hired as a consultant by the local police to solve the crime.

A police liaison would approach the professor at the end of one of his class lectures, and the policeman would hear the final comment or two from the professor to the students.  The professor would be heard echoing some worn-out liberal platitudes (“…so this demonstrates how Tea Party members are a bunch of racists,” or “… so the findings of this latest study show conclusively that Republicans as a whole have smaller skull-size and therefore lower IQ’s”).  Then the professor dismisses the class and reminds the students to read the next week’s homework assignment.  Then the police officer meets with the professor and updates him on the facts of the murder.

Throughout the various twists and turns of the investigation, the detective/professor would find clues and either conclude that the murderer was a white male heterosexual Christian, or if any other possibilities exist, the detective would caution himself and the police against “profiling.”

At some point a lower-level police officer – maybe an intern — would stumble across some definitive clue that clearly identifies the murderer, at which point the murderer instantly confesses and specifies a motive (that also happens a lot in popular murder mysteries).  Then the professor/detective would claim full credit and begin writing an article on the case (showing the importance of publication for academia).

There would be an epilogue, just like in some of the shows of the 1950’s and 60’s, in which the professor/detective talks directly to the audience.  If the murderer is a NON-white male heterosexual Christian, the professor/detective blames racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. in society for the murder.  If, on the other hand, the murderer IS a white male heterosexual Christian, then the professor blames the murder on the inherent hateful tendencies of this group of people.  Obviously the epilogue would be tongue-in-cheek.

Although the ideas for this murder mystery series may be limited, here are some other ingredients to prolong the series:

Other protected groups: environmentalists, Prius or Volt drivers, vegetarians, vegans, union members, guilty white people, college professors, teachers, illegal immigrants, abortion providers, gay marriage supporters, and Elizabeth Warren supporters.

Other non-protected groups: Republicans, Walmart shoppers, cigarette smokers, oil company employees, stay-at-home moms, physicians, rich people, people who work on Wall Street, gun-owners, football fans, NASCAR fans, global warming skeptics, SUV drivers, abortion protesters, opponents of gay marriage, Rush Limbaugh listeners, and Sarah Palin supporters.  Let’s face it, all of these people are barely human anyway, so portraying them as vicious killers would not be a stretch.

There are several readers of my work who have written screenplays or who have had some success in show business.  Feel free to use this idea, royalty-free.  I could use a “shout out” from the writer every once in a while, but I would probably live if I get ignored.  I’m pretty sure this idea will sell in Hollywood.  So go for it!


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Persecuted Movie Review: Thanksgiving Turkey Comes Early

Back when my wife and I would often go to movies with other couples, I would tell a joke that “if I were a movie producer, what I would do is read Variety and keep track of the next blockbuster movie being made. Then I would make a similar movie, with a similar name, but extremely low budget. That way, when the blockbuster movie comes out and the ticket-buyers circle the block for it, maybe some of them will settle for my movie instead of waiting in line for the blockbuster. Or maybe some people will just get confused and go to my movie instead of the blockbuster. Either way, this plan is a sure-fire moneymaker!”

Jurassic Plaza, Insomniac In Spokane and Supraman were some names suggested. This joke usually got a few cynical laughs.

I have since retired that joke, but you would think that with the other Christian or religious-themed movies out there, this might have been what motivated the promoters of the movie Persecuted. After all, religious movies Noah, Son Of God, and Heaven Is For Real, have just recently appeared in the theaters, so one could easily confuse the movie Persecuted with being in the same genre as the others. But no.

And that is a shame, because there is so much actual Christian persecution going on in the world. Like the Christians being killed in Nigeria, Egypt and Iraq, Meriam Ibrahim and her children held in Sudan, Pastor Saeed Abedini imprisoned in Iran, and many, many others.

Or even the softer forms of Christian persecution going on everyday in the United States. For example, the Christian-run businesses like wedding cake-bakers or photographers who now must participate in gay weddings or shut down. Or the Mozilla CEO who was fired because he had supported a ballot measure, California’s Proposition 8, which passed with a majority of California voters in 2008.

Unfortunately, the movie Persecuted is a cheesy political thriller that involves a television evangelist pastor who opposes some legislation and gets framed for murder by the corrupt senator promoting the legislation. After faked photos turn up that show the drugged pastor and the girl later found murdered, the pastor goes on the run and becomes a fugitive. To clear his name, you know.

But the “persecution” for which the movie gets its name is not the widespread persecution of Christians. It refers to the persecution of an individual who happens to be Christian. Christianity is only tangentially related. The movie might have been more appropriately named “Frame-Up,” except it wouldn’t sell movie tickets to Christians like me, who want to see a movie addressing the issue of Christian persecution, and didn’t fully research the movie before putting our money down.

So the title “Persecuted” is misleading.

The movie is not even a good political frame-up movie. Loose threads abound. At one point the pastor’s wife was shown having a glass of champagne with her husband’s replacement pastor. The two of them make comments that give the impression that they were both in on the plot to frame her husband. But yet the wife looked stressed and guilty, and when her fugitive husband called her on the phone, she fills him in on the evidence against him, and advised him to lay low.

Here is an image from the movie Persecuted, showing the pastor, who is on the run from the law.  Notice the gun he is aiming at someone (!), and the rosary beads he carried, both of which drove me crazy in this movie.

Here is an image from the movie Persecuted, showing the pastor, who is on the run from the law. Notice the gun he is aiming at someone (!), and the rosary beads he carried, both of which drove me crazy in this movie.

And how did the fugitive pastor make a phone call to his wife without his cell phone being traced?

And why did the pastor, while on the run, begin carrying rosary beads? Someone should pull the movie director aside and explain to him that an evangelical pastor, like the protagonist here, would not carry rosary beads. Unless he converted to Catholicism while on the run.

And the fugitive pastor became less of a pastor and more like any other run of the mill fugitive when he carried a gun into his meetings with various players in the scheme. I’m pretty sure it is written in a pastor rule-book somewhere that you lose your moral authority as a pastor being framed when you bring a pistol to talk with someone.

And at another point in the movie the fugitive pastor calls a sympathetic priest “Dad.” Excuse me? Not “Father,” but “Dad.” “Dad” is a pretty loaded nickname to call a priest. It requires some explanation.

What about the involvement of Jesus or Scripture in this film? A couple of Bible verses, like John 14:6, were recited, but not explained or made relevant. Almost window-dressing.

And while he was on the run, the fugitive pastor prayed to God, but nothing changed as a result of the prayer. The plot didn’t change and the pastor didn’t change any of his strategy. The pastor didn’t even feel any more at peace.

What I would like to know is this: how did this movie get such a cast of respectable actors? Not Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, mind you, but Persecuted include some experienced actors like James Remar, Dean Stockwell, and former senator Fred Thompson. I am sure each of them have had lousy scripts suggested to them before, so they probably know the difference between a good movie and a bad one.

I have a theory, and here goes: the script that got these actors on board was far from what survived the editing process. The final product may have taken four hours, but there were no loose ends and everything made sense. Who knows, maybe the fugitive pastor did convert to Catholicism while on the run, got confirmed and was handed some rosary beads. That’s possible.

And then the film’s editor went to work and shortened the movie to two hours.

And speaking of the production process, at times the sound effects in Persecuted were just too loud. It gave the movie the feeling of a Spaghetti Western from the 1970’s. I almost expected a long list of Italians in the closing credits.

In the end, Persecuted is a flop of a movie — a real turkey — either as a movie of Christian persecution or as a political thriller. Save your money and wait for the movies Exodus or Mary, which come out later this year. Or with any luck the Kendrick brothers will come out with another movie soon.


This column was originally published in Caffeinated Thoughts

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