Fill in the Forum

All roads lead to this...In ancient Rome, the Forum (forum Romanum magnum) was a center of discourse, an arena of exchange, a place where (to paraphrase the TV producer twit in Annie Hall) a notion, with a bit of backing could turn into a concept, and then an idea.

Much in the way that the colossal dinosaurs (sauropsida dinosauria) evolved into today’s comparatively diminutive birds (archosauria aves), the forum likewise grew smaller, sleeker and eventually acquired the ability to dispense drinking water. This is evident in its current form – the modern office water-cooler (forum minimus aqua) – where the tradition of discourse and exchange persists.

This tradition also endures in the online world through forums such as the recently launched Daedalus Howell Forum (forum daedalus masturbari). Here, Dear Readers, having tired of reading me, you can now read each other.

And me.

Please note the new “forum” button on the navigation bar above.

Nomaville: The Word Shortage

Words, words, words.As a writer who has made it a professional priority to be personally accessible to my readership (“Take Daedalus Howell out to lunch” contact information below), it’s not uncommon for me to be approached by readers who are interested in jumping the transom to become writers themselves. Of course, I understand the appeal – the writer’s life brims with riches and carnal delights on par with most minor deities, not to mention the option for immortality and free wine. I have often paused to ask myself while on assignment traipsing through the Garden of Earthly Delights, “How is it that I’ve found myself in this ever-growing heap of pure, wanton ecstasy?” To which I invariably reply, “Oh, that’s right, I’m a writer. Tee-hee.”

Though I’m happy to share my insights on the gig with aspiring writers, I feel I also have the responsibility to educate them about a subject seldom discussed outside of literary circles: the word shortage.

The world’s word shortage has been approaching crisis levels for decades but reached dangerous new heights with the recent proliferation of blogs, text messaging and the sudden surge in fan letters sent to the Sun. Though advances in visual media like on-demand television and videogames have helped stymie literacy, a major contributor to word usage, the shortage continues unabated. Even our government’s attempts to curtail word use (by jailing journalists, for example) have proven only palliative measures.

We must remember that, despite the fact that we have hundreds of languages on Earth, their collective vocabularies only add up to a few million words. When one considers the amount of words trafficked in a week’s worth of e-mails alone, the enormity of the crisis becomes clear. Moreover, the price of words keeps rising: a formerly 50-cent word such as “meretricious” now goes for about a buck and a half and medium-grade words like “adamantine,” once a dime a dozen, now find writers between a rock and a hard place.

Those of us who work with words are keenly aware of our responsibility to preserve this precious resource. Writers have long been encouraged to use brevity and economy when turning a phase, or as the mantra more or less goes: Less is more. To wit, in my own writing, I often employ more word-efficient polysyllabic terms where, say, a couple of smaller words would do. Some call this “stylistic pretension” but I call it “undertaking to accomplish the right thing.”

In Nineteenth Century Japan, an epidemic of epic poetry strained the nation’s word count. Poet and language conservationist Masaoka Shiki alleviated the burden by creating a more practical poetic form – the comparatively zippy haiku. A similar movement was launched early in the past century when the great poet Hallmark rendered his written works down to bite-sized aphorisms that we know today as “greeting cards.”

In America, people assume that our First Amendment right to freedom of speech guarantees us eternal withdrawals from the word bank. Not so – as it turns out freedom of speech is apparently only guaranteed in English: shopping elsewhere in the supermarket of world tongues is prohibido. At first glance censorship may appear to be an effective means of word conservation, but it actually has the reverse effect. No matter how much language is spent redressing the issue, no matter how many words are siphoned from the reserves, I can guarantee you that those who censor never have the last word.

SonomaWino: Bartholomew Park

Boo.The kid sister of wine juggernaut Gundlach Bundschu, stately Bartholomew Park Winery is nestled in the Sonoma hills on the site of a former women’s prison — an odd but scenic locale for something that sounds like it belongs in a Henry James novel.

The warden and guards are long gone, and I was warmly greeted inside by a sage trio of wine women perched behind the counter. Kathy and Connie are veteran staffers recently joined by Mychal, to whom bits of their wisdom seem to drift, effortlessly, like the filaments of a dandelion. When I mentioned the local lore about a prison ghost at the winery, wide-eyed Mychal confessed to having just heard of it, Connie reiterated my query neutrally to Kathy, who effectively exorcised the ghost by nonchalantly saying, “She’s gone.” Public-relations lesson learned: there is no ghost. No worries, Bartholomew Park makes up for its lack of the supernatural with a bevy of preternatural wines.

Consider the 2005 Sauvignon Blanc sourced from San Lucas Vineyard in Monterey County; it’s practically the summer solstice in a bottle. A sip of this wine, and you’re a child running through the sprinklers, a flock of badminton shuttlecocks overhead and nary a weed underfoot. A pale blonde wine drenched in citrus kisses, it would pair well with a sundress and a mild sunburn (with just enough sting to prove you’ve been dancing in the sun). Serve poolside with a lawn chair and paperback.

Likewise, the 2002 Merlot, sourced from the Desnudos Vineyards (a former nudist colony looming over the Sonoma Valley), boasts hints of tobacco, brambly blackberry and the deepest black cherry–the breath of the wrong acquaintance whispering the right words in your ear at a party. It’s a devilish wine, like the person you’re not sure you’re avoiding or saving for later and, made from 100 percent Merlot grapes, suffers no Pinot envy (curse you Sideways!).
I followed with the 2003 Kasper Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, an earthy, broad-shouldered wine with mature tannins and notes of currant, raspberry and, inexplicably, Fudgesicle, or more specifically, Fudgesicle on an Oak Stick. A pleasant, full-bodied wine, its closest rival on Batholomew’s list is its older sibling, the 2001 Estate Vineyard Cab, which is marked by dark berry flavors augmented with notes of cooled espresso. Its suggested cellaring time is five to 15 years, but if you don’t have a cellar, I suggest using the next best thing: a corkscrew.

Bartholomew Park Winery, 1000 Vineyard Lane, Sonoma. Open daily, 11am to 4:30pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.935.9511.

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

Talkin' 'bout my generation...In this episode of the Daedalus Howell Show we chat about notions germane to my generation: Roberto Castiglioni of discusses wagers placed about the End of the World As We Know It – which is today (06/06/06); David Landis of returns to talk about his favorite decade; Maddox, creator of The Best Page in the Universe and author of the New York Times bestseller The Alphabet of Manliness, shares some words; and “Gen X philosopher” and Vomit Factory scribe Alexander T. Newport seeks the truth – well, sort of.