Jack Daniel’s Distillery Tour

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Proximity, curiosity, and opportunity combined for me to visit the home of Jack Daniels, located in Lynchburg, TN.   While it’s hard not to maintain a certain cynicism for heavily marketed brands, the name Jack Daniel’s arrived honestly, as he indeed founded the company.  Jack Daniel’s is the nation’s oldest registered distillery, licensed in 1866.  Basically, that means from the beginning, they registered to pay their taxes, remaining compliant with US law ever since, including during Prohibition.

Today the company employs around 375, each of whom is said to get a free bottle of JD the first Friday of each month.  Otherwise, they’re busy distilling, packaging, marketing, and guiding visitors, amongst other things.  They’re currently producing 2,200 barrels per day, but they’re not at peak production.  Their website is informative, and it includes a virtual tour – well, once you get past the age verification screen.  If you explore the site, my comments will be largely redundant.

In my opinion, you don’t arrive in Lynchburg, TN by accident.  You have to intend Lynchburg, TN on going there.  It’s roughly an hour drive from I-24, through a very scenic countryside which offers a pleasant drive.  The faux Town welcome sign notes a population just above 300, but it’s actually about 5,500.  The road then descends to Small Town, USA, nestled amongst the low mountains.  The town’s rustic charm is actually deserving of the brewery’s fondness for recalling its history in “The Hollow,” which might otherwise seem a calculated marketing ploy. 

Upon arrival, the visitor’s center makes it clear that they can handle large crowds.  Parking seemed spacious, and the welcome center has ample exhibits capturing the process and the company’s history.


Tours take about an hour, with a low intensity half mile walk around a portion of the property and within several buildings.  After an introductory video, visitors are taken on a short van ride uphill to the Rickyard, where a disappointingly logo-absent picture is taken (though for free).  The Rickyard is where they weather and burn white maple to make charcoal (more on that later).

On my visit, there were just five of us, including a couple from LaGrange, GA, a man from Mobile, AL, and a fellow from Britain who sought other entertainment after his skydiving trip was cancelled due to weather.  As it turns out, England is JD’s #1 export market.

A short walk after the photo-op, you arrive at Cave Springs.  This is a rather IMG_1260fetching cave opening with clear water flowing through it, found to be 56o F and iron-free.  They’ve traced the water for up to a mile but have still not found its source.  It has never run dry in the company’s history.

A new term for me was “cooperage.”  Jack Daniel’s is reportedly the only whiskey manufacturer in the U.S. who manufactures their own barrels.  These are made with 33 staves of various widths and are made from white oak.  They’re heated and charred with flames, which add eventually to the flavor of the whiskey.  The barrels are used only once or twice before being sold to other whiskey manufacturers and wineries, domestic and abroad.  They believe very strongly that their flavor is dependent on using new barrels, and it’s hard to argue against their success.   Unfortunately, the cooperage process is not seen during the tour other than some photos in the Visitor Center.

Other things can be seen but not photographed.  As alcohol is flammable, it’s not a good idea for cameras and cellphonesIMG_1247 to be active while touring the production areas.

However, the tour is definitely aromatic.  Two 40,000 gallon vats of “sour mash” are opened for viewing, in which carbon dioxide bubbles can be seen breaking through the surface of a very unappetizing brew of yellowish slime.  Still, the aromas remind you that you are at a distillery, and you manage to digest the fact that the yeasts are busy converting the barley, corn and rye to alcohol. 

Even more potent is the mellowing tank, in which a crossed pattern of pipes drip alcohol onto the surface of crushed white maple charcoal.  It takes 6 to 7 days for the drops to make their way through the 10’ tank, during which impurities are removed. This process is the unique step in terming a “Tennessee” whiskey.  Gentleman Jack, a smoother option to the more caustic No. 7, is passed a second time through the charcoal after it matures. 


Properly mellowed, the alcohol is placed into kegs and moved to one of 77 barrelhouses, all of which are within 1.5 mile of the plant.  These structures are up to 7 stories in height and are not climate controlled.  Yet, they affect the flavor depending on the seasons and a barrel’s placement within the building.  The picture below shows the relative maturation of whiskey distilled on the same date, but located at different levels as indicated above in a barrelhouse.  Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel products are pulled from the higher regions.


Speaking of which, for $9,000 to $12,000 (depending on taxes), you can buy a true Single Barrel.  For that tidy sum, you (plus other investors?) wouldIMG_1258 receive approximately 40 cases of whisky, plus the barrel in which they matured, delivered to your driveway on a pallet.  It’s recommended to be at home when it’s delivered…

Jack Daniels whiskey is made only in Lynchburg, TN.  There is no contract manufacturing, licensing, offshoring, or other perversions to the sanctity of their end product.  Even with 77 barrelhouses, all their eggs are pretty close to being in one basket.

A careful eye will note lightning IMG_1263protection rods on the roofs of their buildings (but not in these pictures).  JD hasn’t been struck by lightning, but Jim Beam lost a barrelhouse in 2003, including 800,000 gallons of bourbon.  Alcohol begets vapors; vapors ignite.  

Even their older barrelhouse, pictured below and included on the tour, is provided with a fire sprinkler system, but the system only provides a cooling mist in the event of an alarm.  As water isn’t a suitable extinguishing agent for alcohol, a foam truck would be summoned to extinguish the fire, the foam providing a barrier that prevents oxygen from reaching the alcohol (fuel).


Jack Daniel’s further minimizes risk by mixing their stock in the barrelhouses.  Whiskey made within a year is stored in numerous barrelhouses, mixed with barrels of other vintages.  Should a barrelhouse be lost, they maintain adequate stores of barrels that would come of age to meet market demands, rather than losing all of one year’s product in a single loss, for example.   

Speaking of aging, there is no fixed formula for when the whiskey has matured to retail sale.  Probably the dream job of many would be that of the Master Distiller.  This gentleman taste tests each barrel to determine whether it is fit for sale.  Their recorded history of Distillers indicates that this, sadly, a very low turnover position.

There are a couple of surprising and refreshing points about the distillery tour.  First is the placement of 30 or so self-storage lockers – which are free.  IMG_1240Did I say free?  Wow, I did.  Free lockers. Free parking. Free tour.  Free photo at the Rickyard.  Is this any way to run a business?

Where’s the Capitalism?

Right. Following the tour, there is a relatively low-key post-tour sales effort.  Sure, you can buy from a handful of commemorative whiskeys (special glass bottle, box, and/or certificate), but what about the Grand Universe of licensed Jack Daniel’s logo products?

For this, you have to go to the ol’ town square, where 80% of the stores are IMG_1265counting on you to purchase just that sort of thing.  The courthouse might be used for those ticketed for leaving town without a purchase.

But one thing you can’t buy is a stiff drink.  Moore County is a Dry County, meaning no liquor can be legally sold.  For those used to taking tours of distilleries or breweries and sampling their product… you’re out of luck. 



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Robin Trower – The Playful Heart


Robin Trower has a legion of faithful fans who have followed him from his 70’s heyday as a guitar great.  Trower is not one of the fast-fingered prodigies that seem to garner “guitar god” status amongst the current generation.  His craft is taking a Fender Stratocaster, cranking it up, and bending the strings expertly for an intended expression… all the while rocking fairly hard.

I hadn’t listened to Trower until a couple of years ago when I saw him in concert, purchasing his CD, What Lies Beneath, at that time.  Was it a great CD?  No. But, it became the soundtrack for a day spent driving around Death Valley and is now indelibly associated with that experience.  The power of music to stir memories of an event or a period in one’s life can be a wonderful thing.  That album began with a jazzier, more exploratory mood that carried through the work, though there were definitely some rockers.

The Playful Heart, by contrast, opens with the titular track which harkens back to a fine 70’s era, riff driven rocker.  I wasn’t impressed with lead singer Davey Pattison’s vocals in concert, but they sound very good here.  On drums, Pete Thompson adds character to this song as well as many of the others, which is a welcome dimension as the band otherwise is a placeholder for the guitarist. 

After the third song and into the fourth, it dawns on you how good, how surprisingly good, this CD is.   Trower definitely is in a creative mood.

Vocals, though, are only okay.  Pattison all but alternates lead vocal duties with Trower from song to song.  Some may find this off-putting, but in terms of musical tone, after a few listens, Trower’s voice is at one with the music, to the point that it’s hard to imagine Pattison taking those over despite being a better singer.  In either case, their range is limited enough so that the sing in almost a conversational loudness, which is then raised in the mix.  The lyrics abound in imagery, but while their imagery suggests something meaningful or symbolic,  they’re fairly vaporous.

Like it’s predecessor, it’s the guitar work that is the strength of this album.  Moods and styles are varied, with “The Turning” sounding cautionary, “Don’t Look Back” more fiery, and the wah-wah heavy “Dressed in Gold” leaning towards funky.  In its jazzier tracks (“Camille” and “We Shall Call it Love”), Trower almost seems to be searching for a tonal expression that says something he can’t quite frame correctly, but it’s nothing quite as desperate, lacking, or sophomoric as a “search for the lost chord.”  But whether this is true or if he’s just having fun, I’ll buy what he’s selling.   Thirty five years or so past the peak of his celebrity, Trower isn’t settling for retreads, and he can flat out play.

This CD is certain to please his fans, but without a vocalist with a decent range, it’s not likely to find a new audience.

Recommended Tracks: “The Playful Heart,” “The Turning,” “Don’t Look Back,” “Find Me.”

4 of 5 STARS


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Taco Mac Brewniversity

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I’m only a “pledge” at BREWNIVERSITY, but I’m beginning to understand the differences between ales, India pale ales, stouts, pilsners, lagers… and, well, maybe not so much.  But I’ve managed to characterize beers as darker or lighter as a starting reference.  That’s the marketable value of the diploma I’m pursuing, I suppose.  I can at least tell you if I like a beer when I taste it.  Sorry, stouts. 

It’s a start.

Rather than training my palate to appreciate and distinguish between grains, hops, yeasts, and adjuncts, I prefer to think less and enjoy more.  Less thoughtful, tastes great?  Unfortunately, not all beers do. 

Taco Mac is a growing chain, with locations in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.  An early purveyor of “buffalo wings,” the restaurant has evolved to pub status, with a bar and separate dining area that serves the basics of pub food – burgers, wings, sandwiches, and selected staples of Southwestern foods to justify their name.

I’m sure other bars/chains have similar customer loyalty programs, but Taco Mac’s Brewniversity  program is, to my knowledge, unique BrewUniversityto my area.  Drink 13 different types of beers, get a Brewniversity Pledge T-shirt.  Drink a lot more beers, get… well, keep drinking and eventually you’ll get other rewards.

It’s better to focus on each step of the journey.  Each time you present your membership card, they provide you with a record of the beers you’ve ordered in the past. To build credits, you have to purchase beers that you haven’t ordered before.  This might seem quite a challenge for those whose universe of beer measures all the way from Bud to Miller and back (including Lites, to be fair).

Here’s a breaking story.  There are more breweries out there than those who advertise during the SuperBowl.  See below.


And that’s just the draught beers.  They also offer perhaps 200 bottled beers as well, plus a monthly rotating stock of other beers available for only a limited time.

The beer world is getting interesting.  In college, on the few occasions when I was flush with money, I might have had a Molson.  Maybe a Heineken.  Imported beers were $1.50 or $2.00, compared with domestics at $1.00.  But there was a certain distinctiveness that made them worth more than the beer flavored water favored by most.  Ah, those were the days…

Graduating from college into real life did not afford me the opportunity to take residence in a bar à la Norm or Cliff at Cheers.  I had better things to do, and, when it comes down to it, I actually prefer soft drinks to complement most of my meals.  As my wife doesn’t like beer, I’ve always considered that it would be a sad commentary on my life to be drinking a beer by myself.  At home. It’s not the type of thing that I would seek to make a habit.

Beer, for me, isn’t just about savoring a hint of chocolaty roasted malt or assessing the amplitude of the bitterness of the hops.  It’s a social thing.

But back to the beer.  The Brewer’s Association, as of June, 2010, lists 1,599 “Craft” breweries.  Some argue what a craft brewery is, but it’s basically an independently run brewery with a relatively small production capacity as compared with the national brands.  Look at the growth:

Interestingly, imported beer sales were down 9.8% in 2009.  Chalk up a win for “Made in the USA.”  One current estimate puts the number of planned craft breweries at over 500.  There’s clearly plenty of options, as each brewery releases multiple types of beer.

So back to Taco Mac.  Brewniversity, despite a structure that encourages trying new beers and periodic rewards, is not sufficient in and of itself to draw me back Highlandsregularly.  Beer isn’t cheap, and it costs quite a bit more when sold separately, not including tips.

But, that’s not the end of the story.  For myself and a number of friends, the attraction to Taco Mac is the Beer of the Month.  As that title suggests, Taco Mac features a brewery (sometimes two) and a few of their beers.  There are no discounts, but each Thursday evening, if you order their featured beer, you also get a FREE glass with the brewer or product logo.

Now, there’s a structure and even an increased incentive to come back regularly.  This isn’t a small thing, given the vast number bars from My HipstaPrint 0which to choose to meet with people for a beer.  It clearly works, as evidenced by the small crowd waiting for for us to leave our seats each visit.

Properly executed, the Beer of the Month also brings with it an expectant attitude of “Oh, good!  We’re going to Taco Mac next Thursday.”  Even as our visits are becoming a recurring marker of how time is fleeting by, it’s also a reminder that beer and friends (and to be fair, nachos with salsa) are not things that should be kept apart for too long.

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Global Warming Part 2

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As I have mentioned before, I’m skeptical that “global warming” or “climate change” is appreciably affected by human endeavors.  Lengthy periods of global warming or cooling have occurred throughout the millennia, during which there was 1) an significant human population and 2) no industrial pursuits that elevated our presence beyond a warming fire and a cook pot.  It is obvious that natural forces were responsible for past periods of significant climate change, but in an age where we still can’t make a local forecast accurately, it seems strange that we insist that natural forces are not the cause behind relatively short climate aberrations in recent years. 

But, constant change is here to stay, and I’m open to the possibility that the very recent population explosion and that our waste heat and gases could represent new variables into the Great Thermostat’s programming. I’ll keep an open mind and keep reading about the subject, if only to be proven right.  Or wrong. If I live long enough. 

Back to those natural sources as potential causes...  Last time I poked around on the internet, I couldn’t find compelling references that sunspots or solar flares have direct correlations to periods of climate change on Earth.  But, from a common sense perspective, I have to think the sun would have to be the leading contender.  It’s our solar system’s heat lamp, after all.

The video below piqued my interest.  It’s unfortunate that it’s length isn’t edited down to the 4:00 or so of salient content it offers.  Instead, one has to continually suffer through the fawning of the interviewer to hear what Dr. Piers Corbyn, an astrophysicist, as you’ll hear repeatedly, has to say about his methodology.  As quirky as he seems, the factors he includes in his forecasts seem quite reasonable.

For full disclosure, I will note that I found this video on a website that was linked from another page that had a link…, anyway, originally from a website that focuses on energy resources that I read periodically.  The video’s home, I have found, belongs to a website that focuses against arguments of manmade climate change, a view which Dr. Corbyn shares. 

If you’ve bought into the newscasts and choose to ignore the possibilities beyond the human-CO2 tether, that’s your choice.  But even if (a big IF) every scientist doesn’t bring a financial or or other bias to their assumptions and methodologies, the results are what they are, and they’ll be used by those who tend to shepherd and publicize arguments that support their own ends. 

More about his forecasts and views can be read at www.weatheraction.com.

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Fringe Watchers


If posted on Facebook, the video which you’ll eventually scroll to would be just one of any number of YouTube migrations to entertain and be dismissed.

However, by posting a video here on my blog, it’s elevated to “serious” status.  Yessiree, don’t think a minute that I’m just filling in a blank space in my uneven attempts to post “something” twice a week.  Nope, this here’s serious stuff.

Ever watch Fringe?  You know, that odd show about FBI agents who investigate unusual happenings?  No, not X-Files!  This isn’t that old 90’s conspiracy claptrap; these are evolved investigations that could only happen after almost 20 years of special effects advances.  As I said, serious stuff.

Anyway, I like Fringe far better than that 90’s imposter, if only for the quirky ensemble casting and the willingness to move beyond the boundaries of the conspiracy theorist fringes.  Eh, something like that.  Never mind the compelling drama that has been blended into episodic tales of earthly and alt-earthly woes.

In any case, those who follow the show know that there are Watchers out there.  Like the rest of the cast, they’re quirky, too.  They’re bald, expressionless, and conservatively dressed, much like Clemson football fans who only faintly remember football greatness.  They usually just stand there, IMG_0570watching.  Please, don’t regard the fedoras as a failure for remaining inconspicuous.  Every teenager and Mad Men fan knows that classic hats are now hip.  Just visit your local Target. 

But as they’re going about their Watcher business, they often are blended into the crowd… just innocent bystanders at a spot where all perceptions of scientific possibilities are warped, if not trounced, and the extraordinary unfolds.  I wonder if the use-them-and-lose-them actors who appear in the opening scene or later on the cadaver cart consider an appearance on the show a help to their career. 

Off subject!

Crowds, yes, the crowds!  We’ve all been in them. Who the heck are all those people?!  You know someone is in there, just… watching.  Well, you should know.  And if you don’t, you should be watching more closely.  Yes, you should.  Scientific anomalies abound, if only you watch carefully

Having now successful extrapolated what could have been a very simple Facebook post to sufficient blog length (with dazzling pictures), I present to you a most curious event from 1928.

Is that really a cell phone?  Read the person’s lips.  They’re saying… “Yes.”


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The Rat Pack – at Villa Venice

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Hour long commutes can make mush of my brain. Sports radio helps… if it’s football season. But music often works for me – the tried and true as well as whatever new that I’ve acquired.  But the particular commute I had for several years regularly pushed me to an aggravated, frustrated and tense frame of mind that are the breeding ground for rage.    

Enter Frank Sinatra for a soothing ride.At Villa Venice, Chicago, Live 1962, Vol. 1

Having listened now to much of his recorded output, I find his live recordings to be as entertaining as his studio work, for different reasons.  His studio work was usually splendid (particularly in the Capitol years).  But the live concerts (at least in the 50’s and 60’s when he was at the peak of his celebrity) invoke a nostalgia for an era that I, as a late-era boomer, missed.  His solo concerts include often humorous (if sometimes ill-advised) monologues, usually with a fairly serious interpretation of his music.  However, on stage with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., the live performances take on another tact.  Of these, the “at Villa Venice, Chicago” recording is by far my favorite.

If it stood today, the Villa Venice would likely have pilgrimage value to the Sinatra faithful, just as would the now demolished Sands Hotel in Las Vegas (it’s space now occupied by The Venetian).  In late 1962, the Villa Venice Supper Club had newly reopened after renovations with canals, high trees, a ballroom, fountains, terraces where people could dine and dance, gondolas, a casino, and a revenue stream for Chicago mobster Sam Giancana, a personal friend of Sinatra.  Amongst accounts of difficult finances and/or Sinatra being in Giancana’s debt for working the union vote in favor of JFK, Sinatra was asked to play at the club.  He then invited Martin and Davis, Jr. to appear,  seemingly an offer they couldn’t refuse.  The venue mysteriously burned several years later.  The mafia tones are there if one listens, from Sinatra thanking his “partners” in his new record label (Reprise), Deano singing about singing for free, and Davis, Jr. placating those at a table at whom he poked fun. 

There are a variety of recordings of The Rat Pack, most of which are very similar in content though they vary by location and the members present.  These are best captured on various bootlegs, despite often disappointing audio quality.   The officially released materials tend to cut from just several recordings that were of reasonable quality, this one included. 

While the Villa Venice performance sounds fresh and spontaneous, it remains very similar to other Rat Pack performances.  While the humor plays off a very involved audience, it’s a practiced performance as evidenced by the ability of the orchestra to chime in during and after comedy bits speaks.  Whereas the audience detracts from many rock recordings, they’re part of intimacy here.

Dean Martin is introduced “direct from the bar,” with swoozy interpretations (or hysterical rewrites) to songs for which he was known.  Sinatra then appears and offers an uninspired performance of a disappointing sampling of songs from his catalogue.  Only “When Your Lover Has Gone” getting a fairly serious treatment.  Then, Sammy Davis, Jr. steps in with voice ready to outperform those before him, but the focus on comedy won’t allow for it as the others heckle him from microphones off stage.  Then the three appear together for a very loose comedic blend of insults and severely paraphrased songs.  Amongst all the on-stage drinking and boozy attitudes, Sinatra’s standout performance of “Nancy,” responding to an audience request during the encore, provides ample evidence that it’s all an act.

So, while the music isn’t necessarily compelling artistically, this recording remains fantastic entertainment, in large part due to the unedited entrance to the evening. These two CDs were released unofficially in 1994, and capitalism being what it is, were later released formally but without the majority of the banter.  Whether the artists’ estates are trying to reshape the image of the performers can be debated, as there are ample comments made that might prove somewhat embarrassing in the modern age.  These CDs, illegitimate though they may be, preserve a historical treasure.  

We’re talking about political correctness, folks.  I’m of the generation where this term was first coined and ultimately has come to reign supreme over the conduct of all societal dialogues.  I’m certainly not saying that this is wrong, but it is refreshing to hear two Italians and an African-American Jew offer humor that today would be shunned, even if much of it is at their own expense.

Some of the vernacular of the day just whet the appetite, such as “baby,” “boy,” “broads,” and “Good-o.”

Terms or phrases frequently used include “the boat that brought you over” (at only 1:30 into the set), Dago, Wop (Without a Permit), Jew, “your people” (referring to African Americans – Sinatra was actually instrumental in helping push forward Davis’ ability to perform and stay overnight in “whites only” venues.  Perhaps in respect of their friendship and in keeping with the only redeeming value (anti-racism) Sinatra had revealed to this date, the “N” word is never used). 

Sinatra was known for lashing back at gossip columnists and their photographers, who periodically vilified his public behavior, for which he provided ample opportunities.  Regardless of their immigrant humor or other targets (a fleeting comment by Dean of Cary Grant being gay, for one), only Sinatra’s insults of columnist/"What’s My Line” panelist Dorothy Kilgallen come across as being intentionally mean.

Contrarily, Sinatra raises cautions on two of today’s cultural no-no’s.  The first is introducing a new cigarette, called LM, which he jokingly terms a “long mother.”  The double length filter is noted to help avoid cancer, well before the Surgeon General dictated warnings (1970).  Secondly, he advises everyone to be certain to drive home safely, making that known before everyone would get drunk as the evening progressed.  Go Frank.

I’m sure some would be offended by these CDs, or perhaps entertained by other aspects.  But throughout, I think it’s great entertainment.

The performance is recorded on separate CDs, sold as Vol 1 and Vol 2.  They're out of print, but they can occasionally be found for sale on eBay or from resellers at amazon.com rather inexpensively.

5 of 5 STARS

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Mafia Wars – Killin’ Time

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This innocuous “social networking” game drew my interest a…, gosh, couple years ago?  There’s certainly no romanticizing the mafia, but it’s admittedly a fun premise for gamers.  Items such as Dillinger’s gun, Brass Knuckles, hired thugs, and Capone’s Model 341A added a little chutzpah to various “jobs.”  These included blackmailing the district attorney, flipping a snitch, and dodging an FBI tail.

Sounds kind of fun when I set it up that way.  Despite the theme, I’ve known from the start that Mafia Wars is a pointless game.  Decorate the gaming all you want, but it basically involves clicking away an allotment of points to complete jobs, earn cash (no real monetary value), get prizes, and increase your daily allotment of… points.  Yippee. 

Social networking?  Well, yes, there is some of that.  I’ve bugged friends (and acquaintances) to join my mafia.  But it hasn’t increased in the slightest the frequency (never mind the quality) of more worthy communications.  I’ve even added several people to my Facebook page who I don’t even know so that my mafia would be stronger.  Why?  That’s a really dumb idea in these days of identity theft. It’s a pointless game!

I’ve also more or less assaulted (in keeping with the mafia theme) everyone to send me energy packs, parachutes, and… whatever else object du jour may be of use in building a stronger mafia.  I’m fairly certain (hopeful?) that the vast majority of my friends have blocked everything Mafia Wars related (or from Zynga, who publishes an assortment of similar games) from their news feeds.  How can you not?  The frequent requests and game “accomplishments” can literally smother posts that actually have interesting content.

I’ve known this, and still I played.  After the original launch of New York themed tasks, on came different cities including Moscow and Las Vegas…  Why?  Zynga recognizes that many players’ ever increasing daily allotment of points have no useful value without new tasks.  This would result in, duh, people leaving the game.  Zynga didn’t stop with slandering cities, though.  The entire countries of Cuba and Italy are also player destinations where mafia corruption can apparently be found from border to border.  Sucks to be them. 

Well, okay.  The mafia aspect that intrigued me wasn’t limited to just the 20’s through 40’s.  And, obviously, it wasn’t just in New York.  Organized crime continues today, and in different places.  That gives substance to an ever evolving assortment of weapons, armor, transportation, and animals (Animals?  Seriously?) Predator Posterto meet a modern mafia’s needs.  Witness my modded assault rifles, Boomslang ACR, Nguhea Sniper Rifles and Predator Miniguns.  Wait?! A Predator Minigun?  Really?  Right, how about a Rhinestone Cowboy or a Dr. Dre?  There’s ample evidence that thematic inspiration was exhausted long ago.

Well, there’s another reason for better, stronger, and faster weapons, ad nauseum.   Mafia Wars is about wealth, and not yours or mine.  Zynga’s.  Zynga doesn’t make money from people like me who build levels as they’re able.  They make money from the 1% of their audience who use real cash to buy better virtual “stuff.”  Want to win fights against strangers?  Win wars?  Rob their properties?  Well, then.  Buy! Buy mafia members.  Buy boosts!  Buy weapons! It’s not like Zynga keeps it a secret.  The game screen is built to entice sales.

The business model has a pronounced shelf life, though.  In order to keep selling virtual nothings, Zynga necessarily has to increase the attraction of new items, with ever increasing statistics that make them more powerful than what (Oh, sorry!) you may have just bought.  That’s their business.

So why am I still playing this game?!  Well, when should I quit?  I’ve already said that the game has no point to it.  The game has no end to it.  And yet I keep playing.  Those not afflicted no doubt rush to quote Mrs. Reagan, “Just say no!”  But… but… but…  I’ve put so much time into it! 

Playing Mafia Wars started innocently enough.  It took literally just several minutes early on to do what could be done.  But then… it grew, and grew, and grew.  It’s now easy to spend a half hour on Mafia Wars… and still leave things undone.  Why?  It’s a pointless game!

Just say no!

Sigh.  Ever the goal setter, I decided when I finished all the jobs in the current venues and when I iced my 3,000th mobster I would call it a day.  Today, finally, is that day. 

Glory be.

Okay, here’s my stats.  Fear me.Mafia Wars 

Holy addiction, Batman!  232 consecutive days doing jobs? And it’s a pointless game!  Why have I wasted so much time to play 232 consecutive days and accomplish… ZERO.  Nada.  Nothing?

I’ll tell you.  A vapid sense of accomplishment.

This isn’t social networking.  This isn’t competitive in any sense that involves craftiness, cleverness, or strategy.  It isn’t, and never was, worth my time.

But look at those stats! 

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Dan Brown – The Lost Symbol

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I read Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol over the holidays.  It’s a fast, entertaining read that continues his successful formula of mixing and twisting fact and fiction to suit a tale of unlocking ancient secrets.  This outing builds on his carefully stated but clear aversion to religious dogmas at the expense of freemasonry.  But hey, where better to find a conspiracy amongst ancient symbols and proceedings?  Good pick.

The thoughtful aspect of this book was humanity’s ultimate destination at “truth,” specifically that truth that will be found when science and theology are in agreement.  Brown introduces Noetics as a modern field of research that promises to resolve the two, principally by finding the god within each of us.  The notable hypothesis was that thoughts have mass.  So what?  Well, if thoughts have mass, then they become weighty.  And if enough similar thoughts start pushing at the material world, we can move mountains.  The reference to add legitimacy to the idea was a study where a person who expired was found to weigh a minuscule amount less after mental activity ceased.  The intriguing part of this was that the body was in a completely sealed environment.  So, what was the difference?   The weight of one’s thoughts?  Or the departure of the soul? 

Righto.  Hello Google, and the Institute of Noetic Sciences.  click.click. Global consciousness.  Uh huh.  So I moved to a more specific search on the weight of the human soul. 

Goody!  In 1901, a doctor tested 6 patients and determined that the soul weighs 21 grams.  He also weighed dogs (before and after death), who were, sadly, soulless.  No mention of a contained environment, however.  The search continues. Aha!  Research by East German scientists seems to be a bit closer to the subject… nicely credited from a tabloid amongst two other comical headlines (funny stuff if you click it; article on page 15). 

The result? Internet garbage.  You know internet garbage when you see the same quote on multiple sites… with no other attributed mentions.  I bumped into this when I Googled various threads on Global Warming “experts” (pro and con). If you repeat the same information on any number of sites, does that make it fact?  Of course not.  Does it reflect an intentional effort to establish legitimacy to an idea?  I’d say so.  Want an example?  Here’s a Google list on Gerard Voisart.  Try Dr. Becker Mertens for your own fun and joy.

Well, bah humbug.  I personally like the idea that the soul has weight, and it’s certainly a credit to Dan Brown to lift a tabloid article and craft a bestseller with it.  The mind is a mystery, and it with books like this or the movie Inception, it’s thoughtful stuff to speculate on dreams, souls, the mind at work, and the nature of stored memories.  Beyond the tabloids, it will be interesting to see what the coming age reveals in this regard, because we should all agree that science and theology will someday converge to an ultimate truth, regardless of where within that spectrum one puts himself.   Only the polar end towards the theological is likely to offer the opportunity of learning where that convergence lies, but it is what it is.

As for a book review, yeah, go ahead and read it.  The CIA angle is awkwardly inserted and detracts from the, ahem, credibility of the proceedings.  But without dramatic tension, the protagonist would just be doing research.  And who wants to read about that?

3 of 5 STARS

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