Stick to baseball, 1/7/17.

I’ve been working on the top 100 prospects package, which begins a three-week rollout on January 18th, since New Year’s, so I didn’t write anything for Insider this week. My boardgame reviews continue, with a review of the Celtic-themed game Inis for Paste and a review of the boardgame and new iOS app for Colt Express here on the dish. I did hold my regular Klawchat on Thursday.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

  • Several former Justice Department lawyers penned an op ed claiming that Jeff Sessions is lying about his involvement in civil rights cases. They say, “Sessions knows that his real record on race and civil rights is harmful to his chances for confirmation. So he has made up a fake one.” In a rational world, that would end his nomination for Attorney General.
  • Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic meltdown may lead to a recall of president/dictator Nicolas Maduro, but he appointed a successor this week in new Vice President Tarek el Aissami, who is (or was) under investigating by U.S. authorities for drug trafficking.
  • Author Ryan Holiday wrote an insightful, somewhat angry piece on the ‘online diversity police’, folks who immediately decry the lack of diversity on any list or grouping (often inaccurately, as it turns out).
  • Lindy West wrote one of the week’s best, most important essays, on why she left Twitter after six years on the service, citing the endless abuse and the rise of neo-Naziism.
  • The Daily Beast exposed the long con of 55-year-old “millennial” comedian Dan Nainan, who tries to pass himself off as 35 and has fooled several media outlets as such.
  • Esquire has a longread on former Deadspin and Gawker EIC A.J. Daulerio, whose career was derailed by the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit.
  • Grierson & Leitch each posted their top ten films of 2016, along with a 100-minute podcast where they reveal their lists to each other and discuss them. As usual, Leitch’s list comprises fairly well-known films, while Grierson’s has several films I’ve heard of and three that may not actually exist.
  • The eight-year-old transgender boy kicked out of a New Jersey Cub Scouts group after other parents complained talked to the Jersey Journal, as did his mother, about what happened, in a piece that also explores the psychiatric community’s evolving understanding of “gender dysphoria.”
  • Jill Saward’s death didn’t garner much coverage here either, but she was an important figure in the movement for sexual assault victims’ rights, as the first British rape victim to waive her right to anonymity and publicly discuss her case.
  • Will Trump’s election mark the return of civil disobedience? So far it has, but can the various movements opposed to the Republicans’ reactionary agenda keep it up for four or more years?
  • Let’s talk about the Russian hacking operation, which a US intelligence report says Putin ‘ordered’ to get Trump elected. David Remnick weighed in as well.
  • The Seattle Times called out Trump’s “reckless linkage” of vaccines to autism, desperate overwhelming evidence that there is no link.
  • Lauren Duca of Teen Vogue has quickly become one of the most important voices in political journalism, thanks to pieces like this one about the family selling access to the President-Elect at a party at Trumo’s Mar-a-Lago resort that made over $420K.
  • Republican Christine Todd Whitman headed up the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, but she said she fears for the planet under a Trump regime for many reasons, including his denial of climate change.
  • The Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel outlines the Republican Party’s plan for a “sweeping conservative agenda” now that they control the White House and both houses of Congress. I’d dispute the word “conservative” here, though; this is very much an agenda written by and for white Americans, especially Christians, but doesn’t bear much resemblance to the traditional economic and libertarian-minded conservatism of Reagan or Buckley.
  • The political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo hasn’t gotten much attention here amidst our own, but President Kabila hasn’t signed the agreement to end his rule, which has been marked primarily by his looting of the country’s coffers of millions of dollars.
  • Finally, the Huffington Post made news of nothing with a piece on Mark Zuckerberg apparently becoming an ex-atheist. I’m linking this for one major reason – my disdain for the need to classify people by their religious beliefs, something I first encountered on Wikipedia maybe a decade ago, where articles on people can be categorized by the subject’s religion. You can change your religious beliefs on a dime; you can lie about them (in many countries, you may have to); you can fail to fit in any neat bucket of beliefs. As a general rule, I don’t think your religion is any of my business unless you wish to make it so, so I particularly dislike the idea that you need to know what someone believes or, as in this case, that a possible change in the beliefs of a famous person are somehow newsworthy. I’ll be happier when Zuckerberg’s beliefs include extirpating fake news sites from Facebook.

The Billionaire’s Vinegar.

Benjamin Wallace’s The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine is the best nonfiction book I’ve read in almost two years, since reading The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber in February of 2009. Vinegar is a bit of literary pinot noir, starting with the auction of a bottle of wine allegedly owned by Thomas Jefferson and left in Paris when he fled the Revolution, a sale that smashed the previous record for a single bottle and helped accelerate the trend of high sale prices for ultra-rare wines. Of course, we wouldn’t have a book about it if there wasn’t an underlying controversy. Was the wine legitimate, or was Hardy Rodenstock, the German who purportedly discovered the cache of wines, a fraud and a forger of the highest order?

The ability to make money through doctored wines wouldn’t exist with a market willing to pay top dollar for what those wines purported to be, and Wallace documents the role of auction houses, particularly Christie’s, in marketing and selling rare wines and troves to a changing market, one that saw collectors bidding up bottles as investments or trophies rather than as libations. The man who built Christie’s wine-selling business over a period of four decades, Michael Broadbent, is a central character in the book for his role in selling the Rodenstock/Jefferson wines and impact on the rare-wine industry. (Michael’s son, Bartholomew, makes a few cameos, and has become a successful importer of fine wines.) The rich men who chase these wines also become significant characters in the book, including millionaire scion and America’s Cup winner Bill Koch, fellow scion Kip Forbes, and wine merchant Bill Sokolin, who bought one of the Jefferson bottles only to damage it and have most of the wine leak out on a restauarant floor as he carried the bottle to show off during a tasting.

The is-it-real storyline is paramount in Billionaire’s Vinegar, but, as an oeneophyte, I found the lay descriptions of wine chemistry fascinating, particularly explanations of how wine’s character changes over time, which also ties into how someone might alter a wine to make it seem older than it is – and how difficult it was until very recently to test a wine to determine, even within a narrow range, its age. The book also dabbles in the politics of wine manufacturing, culture, marketing, and the culture of wine connoisseurs, including massive tastings like “verticals” (many different vintages of a single wine) or “horizontals” (many wines, one year).

But at heart, the book is a mystery, starring Rodenstock and Broadbent, both eccentrics given to showmanship and bravado, one a dealer, the other an auctioneer, one a German of unknown background, the other a Brit of impeccable credentials. (Other eminent authorities on wine also gave their imprimatur to Rodenstock’s Jefferson wines, including Robert Parker, the most influential American wine critic of the past three decades and creator of the now-ubiquitous 100-point scale for rating wines.) The answer to the question of the wines’ provenance isn’t that hard to figure out, but Wallace plays it straight, only gradually revealing more information as the people involved the story themselves would have learned it, giving the book that mystery/detective feel – not to mention a surfeit of narrative greed – that sets it apart from most nonfiction books I read. I needed to put this book down so I could do other things, but found myself picking it back up repeatedly, finishing it inside of 72 hours.

Of note: the book is actually not available for sale in the U.K. because Michael Broadbent sued and wrangled a settlement from Random House, although he didn’t name Wallace in the suit and, having read the book, I’m hard-pressed to understand Broadbent’s complaint from a my non-lawyerly perspective. Wallace himself stated that U.K. libel laws are “notoriously plaintiff-friendly,” and I have to say that Broadbent might only have brought more bad publicity for himself by drawing attention to the book. He hardly comes off worst of the many shady characters populating the book’s pages.

Next up: Humorist and erstwhile sportswriter Roy Blount Jr.’s Alphabet Juice, a compendium of mini-essays on various words and their etymologies.

Robert Irvine’s Resume Improbable?

Courtesy of longtime reader Chris L. comes a link to a story in the St. Petersburg Times about Food Network star Robert Irvine, who appears to have fabricated parts of his resume and whose plans for a pair of big-time St. Petersburg restaurants are rapidly falling apart. Good work by the team that worked on this piece, although I would have liked to have seen some comments from the Food Network people (or at least the obligatory “no comment”). I’ve emailed the writer to ask if he reached anyone at FN on this topic.

Update: The article’s main writer, Ben Montgomery, told me that Food Network did not respond to his requests for comment, and that their food/dining blogger has also been trying to get a comment. You can see an update to the story related to the Princess Di wedding cake lie.

5:24 pm EST update: Ben sent me a link to a statement from a FN spokesperson over on the Mouth of Tampa Bay blog regarding Irvine. The gist seems to be that they’re distancing themselves from Irvine already.