Author: Theo

Revolutions in Counterfeit Wine

Over fall break I attended a lecture on revolutions in the wine industry. These revolutions stemmed from wine production and wine sale, to forgery. Naturally, my eye was drawn towards the mysterious. Wine forgery has been around for thousands of years; there have been biblical tales of creating duplicitous wines in order to fool into thinking you are of a higher monetary value than you are; even some middle English works have involved imposter wine. That’s not what this lecture was about, however. The main focus was on a man named Rudy Kurneawan, a fairly young, fairly unknown, Indonesian man who has a truly natural talent for wine. For years, he was an active member in some round table wine clubs that included some extremely high rollers, like billionaire Bill Koch. He bought, sold, traded, and drank some of the finest, rarest, and most valuable wine in the world. This, as I found out, what his game. He became “buds” with some of the worlds’ elite, gaining their trust, admiration, and respect. He is a confidence man. The best conman the wine world has ever seen.

Rudy’s scheme was just as much art as thievery – he created nearly perfect versions of hundred-year-old wine, and sold it, gifted it, and auctioned it. For me, the most mesmerizing part of this lecture was when his process was explained. To gather the bottles, he frequented auction sites, and scavenged through dumpsters. He selected only the finest quality glass that would meet his requirements for age, weathering, and structure. For the labels, he had a high quality embosser, printer, die cutter, and silk screener. The labels were incredibly impressive, even to the trained eye; the age and weathering were immaculate. For bottles that rudy had claimed had come from an old cellar, he even added traces of mold to the labels to validate his statements.

As amazing as his label making technique was, what was more amazing was his ability to closely recreate the taste of a wine from memory. Wine counterfeiting is not an exact science, as there is no exact taste that a wine must have. To recreate 1982 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, you need a quality starter of Bordeaux, and an ounce or two of some California cab to add a little funk. This is the type of recipe that is used in order to recreate some of the best flavor profiles and bottles of wine on the planet.

Laurent Ponsot, the proprietor of Domaine Ponsot (one of the greatest wine makers of our time), spotted vintages of Clos St Denis from 1945 and 1971, even though the family vineyard only started producing that wine in 1982. Small mishaps like these are the only reason that Rudy was caught. Counterfeiting wine, it seems, is fairly simple. In fact, there was a study done in 2001, that embarrassed experts across the globe: at first 12 wine experts were given a mediocre wine, which they critiqued as “weak.” 7 days later, they were given the same wine, but labeled as Grand Cru, and the same 12 experts lauded the wine as “complex” and “mighty.”

Being a revolutionary

Throughout the entirety of human history, communities of people have organized around principles and agendas that prompt social change. What does it mean to be a revolutionary? Why do some people make substantial economic, social, and political sacrifices to effect real change while others do not? Revolutions are not clear-cut. They are a confusing event, especially during the time in which they occur. Living through a revolution can be extremely confusing because its effects may occur at a much later time. A revolution, simply, is an event that prompts social change. There is no time limit on revolution.


The prospect of a global revolution is something relatively new, formed during the mid 19th century. The concept is something wholly new and entirely dependent on a connected global sphere. Before this time, a joint social agenda was not something that could realistically be achieved. The global standard of sociality was not set. Each territory had specific needs and desires. There was no


Okay, now that we have established some background on the idea of revolutions. Why is it that people join revolutions? This is perhaps the most interesting idea that comes from revolutions. The actors in revolutions are, without fail, brave and bold. In order to form a revolution, one must battle through the high economic and social costs of establishing a movement. More important than the costs of establishing a movement is the collective shared dilemma that must take place. There must be a substantial group of people who share social, political, and economic reform in the same way that you do. This, on its own, is rather hard to accomplish. There is a finite number of agendas upon which one could garner substantial participation. The last piece of a revolution is that success cannot be guaranteed. Imagine you are starting a business; you are given a specific amount of money, an idea, and a work force. Unfortunately, the product you are selling is not wanted, and it turns out to not be needed. This is the risk that a revolutionary must face. There is no guarantee that efforts will pay off.

Again, why do people join or start revolutions? Ok, so the real, and simple reason is, it is a social actor’s only shot at gaining support and recognition to an issue that is important and personal to them. On the surface, that is the basic prompt for a revolutionary. But clearly, there is much more at play than that.

Let’s quickly look at the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Many of the actors in these protests were actually children of the people against whom they were protesting. Why would such a social paradox take place? Is it guilt? Or anger? The heart of the movement was founded with rational and well founded intentions. But the movement became something so distant from its original intentions, that the goals disappeared. Protesting happened for the sake of protest. Are these people considered revolutionaries? I’m not so sure.


African Movement (R)evolution

In place of the lecture on Monday this week, I attended a documentary screening about contemporary African dance. For me, this is really interesting because I am in the African drumming ensemble, where we work on historical polyrhythmic pieces. We sometimes watch tribal dances (of the Yoruba people). I also take an African dance class here at Colby, where we focus on dance inspired by the African diaspora. Neither of these two classes reflects what was shown in this film exactly. The choreographers in this film came from places as diverse as Senegal and South Africa. The types of movements representative of each of these countries was visible – it was very interesting to see how the overarching term of African dance is not at all descriptive enough to represent was African dance really means. African dance is so diverse is style, origin, and interpretation, that the term “African dance” really isn’t suitable. In this documentary, each choreographer and dancer was described by their country of origin. There were some from cote d’ivoire, some from the congo, and there was even one choreographer from the US with rooted. The goal of the dancers was to show fresh perspectives on African dance. The same stories and roots, just with more cultural experience, history, and modernity. The dances are all expressions of the self image and culture of the choreographers. Faustin Linyekula is an exiled survivor of the democratic republic of congo. She was present during the Congolese eight-year war. His choreographic style is that his body is his true self and is the epitome of his country. Germaine Acogny is the mother of Senegalese contemporary dance. Her movements are intended to be reminiscent of her life and context within the Rawandan genocide. Her movements are raw, natural, and big. Within the documentary, she spoke with wisdom and confidence, but also with sadness. Beatrice Kombe, from Côte d’Ivoire, journeys through love, and union through the context of an abused and disadvantaged life within a country that has lost the support of so many. Nora Chupaumire’s work embodies her own pain and struggling from her time in Zimbabwe. She juxtaposes this with the societal issues taking place in the united states. A dancer from Madagascar, Ariry Andriamoratsiresy, dances a phrase on what it really means to be African. These artists come together to create an amazing dialog on what it mean to be African, and what it means to be African in a modern context. It freshens the idea of African dance by riffing on African roots while creating and interpreting events in new and unique ways.

A United Revolution: California’s Civil War

California is a state that is often associated with Manifest Destiny, the Gold Rush, and American opportunism and prosperity. The newfound and prosperous mining economy was a driving force for policy change, and ultimately played a huge role in the admission of California into the Union as a free state. While the rest of the country held its breath, the California Constitutional Convention debated the abolition of slavery in clear economic terms. As Anglo-American miners flooded the state, they found themselves in competition with slaveholders who possessed armies of slave laborers. This unfair advantage caused an outcry for the abolition of slavery, and politicians responded with legislation. As California was declared a free state, John C. Calhoun remarked that the decision would cause a “destruction of the equilibrium between the North and the South, a more intense agitation of the slavery question, a civil war and the destruction of the South.”[1] His foresight was all too keen, as the country did indeed tip forward into war. While the Civil War raged on the other side of the country, a different war took shape in California. Five months before the admittance of California into the Union, the 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians was created to take advantage of a particular loophole in the state’s ban on slavery. The economic void created by the loss of black slave labor was filled by Native American labor, first under the provision of convict labor and then expanded into full indentured servitude through the 1860 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. The California legislature therefore continued the economic institution of slavery while remaining a “free” state in name, and did so for another 12 years after declaring chattel slavery illegal—until even five months after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The 1850’s remained a period of massive fluctuation for Californian minorities. As the Fugitive Slave Acts expired, the Indian Acts became more forceful, and blacks slowly gained more and more ground in their fight for rights. In 1855, the first California Colored Convention was held to address issues of discrimination and in essence “marked the beginning of organized civil rights activism in the American West.”[1] The main goals of the first conference were to repeal the law that prohibited blacks from testifying in court and to bolster education throughout the black community.[2] The following Convention in 1856 also focused solely on education and sought to repeal the law that banned black children from public schools, with positive results: blacks in California slowly gained separate but equal educations, and “for a limited period in the 1850s, some school districts admitted black children to common schools…When the Grass Valley Common School opened in 1854, three black children were admitted.”[3] Although these changes were not widely implemented or prevalent throughout California, they nonetheless marked a distinct change in the sociopolitical climate for black citizens. The activism of the Conventions eventually resulted in the repeal of the testimony law in 1863, and by 1864 there were 6 state-supported black schools.[4]




[4] ibid


Dante Aligheri as Revolutionary Poet

I wrote a piece on Dante Aligheri and Giovanni Boccaccio, and their revolutionary works. The many literary worlds that the poet Dante Aligheri created were rich with imagery, symbolism, and paradoxes. Within these worlds, Dante Aligheri the pilgrim remained a steadfast traveler, with his sights always set on the light and truth of God. Dante’s readers gained spiritual sustenance by accompanying Dante the pilgrim on his journey and by listening to the wisdom and artistry of Dante the poet. At the heart of all of Dante’s writing is the incessant push-and-pull of the forces of reason and faith: the battle between Dante’s philosophical leanings and his unwavering belief in God and in salvation through ultimate faith. This line between logic and unquestioning religious conviction is often blurred, and throughout the literary journey of the Commedia the reader learns that there is no simple answer to the issue of salvation. In the Inferno, the punished only possess reason and not faith. In Purgatorio, the penitents have the capacity for both reason and faith, but they did not correctly or perfectly apply their reason towards their faith. In Paradiso, the inhabitants have reached a perfect sense of theology—a union of reason and faith that has lead to their salvation. Therefore, Dante’s purpose as a mortal voyager is to show that salvation is only a result of the product of reason and faith in the correct relationship to each other.

Although Giovanni Boccaccio was born over fifty years after Dante Aligheri’s death, Dante was a major influence on Boccaccio’s works. Boccaccio’s opus, the Decameron, was a series of tales that were parodies of many famous works (including Dante’s). In the Eighth Tale of the Second Day of the Decameron, Boccaccio tells the story of a corrupt and immoral abbot who wants to take advantage of a wife of a member of his congregation. It is in this tale that Boccaccio makes a tongue-in-cheek comment on Dante, both on his Rime and on the Commedia. When the abbot tries to convince the woman to engage in sexual relations with him, he entreats her by asking her “can you do that which will be the good and salvation of my life.” In Dante’s Rime 61, he refers to Lady Philosophy by explaining the fact that “her aspect helps to induce belief…our faith is strengthened” (Rime 61). Boccaccio is making a comparison to the divine qualities of Lady Philosophy’s beauty by having the abbot employ a similar argument—but in the case of the Eighth Tale, the end result is to commit adultery and sin, not to achieve true salvation. The abbot continues his plea, and uses logic in order to cajole the wife when she questions his motives: “sanctity nowise abates by this, seeing it has its seat in the soul and that which I ask of you is a sin of the body.” The abbot is using strictly logical discourse, explaining to the woman that there is no issue with intercourse because it is strictly a corporeal issue. As with Dante and St. Peter in Paradiso, the abbot “talks a good game.” But unlike Dante, the abbot does not have a true understanding of faith, and instead uses his logic to immoral and sinful ends.

The quest for salvation has always been an uneasy task for man to undertake. Dante’s particular road, as both poet and pilgrim, was fraught with peril and many different challenges. As a pilgrim, Dante had to maneuver the waters of the Commedia, avoid the pitfalls of the Inferno, and have his faith and heart tested in the Paradiso. As a poet, Dante had the daunting charge of communicating his often-indescribable journey to his readers—with their salvation weighing in his hands. In the end, Dante was able to successfully convey the conclusion of his experiences: philosophical reasoning, in combination with faith in God, will lead one to salvation. Anything outside of perfect theology, be it an excess of logistical and practical thinking, or an approach to faith too late in life, will not set the reader on the one true or correct path.

Revolution in the term of Radical Islam

This is a piece inspired by Khalid A. Ali’s art and how much of the world misinterprets the muslim faith.

Ever since the terrorist attacks directed at the US on September 11th, 2001, non-radical Muslims have faced increased hardship around the globe. Due in part to media sensationalism, personal prejudice, and historical misinterpretation, a balanced view of the religion of Islam has become unavailable for many non-Muslims (especially those in the West). The minority (radical Islamists) has been incorrectly characterized as the majority, and the struggle for understanding is rooted in looking beyond this misconception.

Media sensationalism regarding Islam has been a hot-button topic that has been used to increase viewership, but it has caused many non-Muslims to harbor misconceptions about Islam as a result. A recent study has shown that since the attacks on 9/11, news stories that portray Muslims in a negative light receive more attention from the media than any positive stories.[1] This revelation was proven from “articles from the New York Times, USA Today and the Washington Times, as well as from CBS, CNN and Fox’s television broadcasts to ensure a wide range of ideologies.”[2] The widespread demonization of Islam in mainstream media cannot help but influence the ideas and opinions of non-Muslim viewership. The significance of this type of indoctrination can be incredibly detrimental to Muslim and non-Muslim relations, as researcher Christopher Bail points out that “[t]here are consequences of this media coverage, so that fringe organizations can actually come to redefine what we think of as mainstream.”[3] This type of redefinition exposes entire audiences to the views of “fringe” groups, who are already radical themselves, and takes it one step further by portraying these views as prevalent and accepted.

Personal prejudices, often compounded by media bias, are yet another obstacle in understanding Islam. There is a general tendency to assign the view of a single person or group of persons to an entire religion, both in the media and in the public. The problem of essentialism—viewing one aspect and applying it to the whole—is especially apparent in non-Muslim views of Islam, as high-profile radical figures can become representative of the entire faith. There is far too much complexity and scope within Islam to apply one set of values, radical or not. The divisions that exist within the Muslim world are many: the different ethnicities and religious views, from Sunni and Shi’a to Wahhabis, cannot be classified under just one ideological umbrella. It is important to let Muslims self-identify in order to clarify any possible misconceptions and to allow individuals to distance themselves from radical groups.

Similar to essentialism, scriptualism is yet another analytical device that further separates non-Muslims from an understanding of Islam. One piece of scripture cannot speak for a whole people or religion; it is imperative to understand individual communities and cultures. The Quran, which at its essence is an anthology of religious text, is often seen as one absolute definition of Islam. Although even the most learned religious scholars face challenges when reading and interpreting the Quran, many laypeople assume they can interpret any piece of prominent scripture. For example, Sura 8 Ayah 38 and 39 can be seen as a part of text that could be easily misinterpreted:

“You tell the unbelievers in case they desist whatever has happened will be forgiven them. If they persist, they should remember the fate of those who have gone before them.”

Out of context, these Ayahs make Islam sound radical, militaristic, and intolerant of all other “unbelievers”. These particular Ayahs are indeed militant, but the idea of Jihad in this Sura is not an all-encompassing offensive war against non-Muslims. In context, the Ayahs produce a very different story—in the case where Islam is being directly threatened by outsiders, the Quran tells believers that it is acceptable to fight back in order to protect the religion and people. If the aggressors cease fighting, the Muslims will do so in turn, and the aggressors will be forgiven. When taken completely out of context, parts of Quranic scripture are very susceptible to misinterpretation. The obstacle to overcome for non-Muslims is to view these texts not as stand-alone passages, but as a complete work that is an integral part of the structural backbone of Islamic communities.

The overall theme that emerges for each obstacle is not to judge a whole by one of its parts. The complexity and elaborate nature of Islam as a religion cannot be simplified by the media or by personal opinion: it is only through open and honest dialogue about scripture and practice that non-Muslims will come to a better understanding of this consistently misrepresented faith.


[2] ibid

[3] ibid


Professor Emanuel is one of the most knowledgeable and well-informed climatologists of our time. We were lucky enough to have him spend two days on Colby’s campus speaking about weather, hurricanes, and the impact weather has on society. While his lectures were certainly interesting and informative, I found that the way in which he interacted with the audience, and the conversations that were spurred from those conversations were much more intriguing. One question, for instance, was on the topic of climate and hurricane engineering. The question essentially asked what some of the most interesting climate engineering proposals were. His response was sort of funny in that he suggested that somebody proposed using nuclear weapons to control the formation of hurricanes. To conclude the question, however, he simply said that nobody has come up with any concrete solution.

His talk was furthered by the use of stories and personal experience. One of my favorite stories from this talk was his retirement plan. His plan is to open a hurricane tour group. Simply the put, the idea is to take groups of people on an old plane and fly to the eye of a hurricane and observe the structure and rotation. I thought this was particularly funny because I envisioned a double decker style tour with a guide at the front of the plane saying something along the lines of, “to your left you will see the famous cumulo nimbus cloud, and to your right you can see evaporation taking place due to particulate.” I thought this prospect as very amusing.

He told another story about flying through a hurricane, which was quite interesting. He flew up to a hurricane with the intention of observing and studying, but once he and his team arrived at the eye of the hurricane, they discovered that their radio wasn’t working. They had to fix it, so he and his team flew around the eye, around and around, until the radio was fixed. Little did they know, however, that they had just broken the record for longest time spent flying through the eye of a hurricane.

During his lecture to the weather and climate class, he spoke about hurricane prediction, which was very interesting. His visit was very timely due to hurricane Matthew’s presence. Hurricane Matthew was a remarkably hard hurricane to follow through the media because the hurricane was so poorly forecast. One day, Matthew could have been on course to hit Florida, and the next it could have been on track to go straight out into the ocean. When asked why this forecasting was the case, he said that due to variance in weather models in different forecasting zones, sometimes hurricane path predictions are incredible sporadic. He also said that due to hurricane Nicole, which followed Matthew by less that one day, modeling was further skewed.


Black hat chat rooms

The Internet is a black hole. You can do anything on the Internet, from gambling, to TV, to reading. You can find anything on the Internet, from groceries, to cars, to guns. You can also write anything on the Internet. With so many mediums to express written word, the Internet is an incubator for all people (good and evil). Forums and blogs allow for people from all walks of life to write about and discuss topics of personal interest and importance; may that be something relating to food, or something related to the annihilation of millions of Jews. The Internet is a place with virtually no laws, and no rules. The only conceivable practice of governance is physically preventing one user from seeing the content of another user, and this is by no means an easy task. With the rise of IP blinding schemes, and other various algorithms that increase online privacy and anonymity, there is no way to identify who writes what, and for what purpose. There are even black market social engineers who are paid exorbitant fees to try and sway voters in political elections.


Khalid Ali is a famous political cartoonist who was a pillar in the Arab Spring. Ali gave one of the most informative, personal, and engaging lectures/panels I have ever heard. He spoke with knowledge, experience, and passion. For Ali, the Internet was a visa to various countries that he would normally be unable to visit. Through chat rooms, he met people who shared similar social and political ideals. Governments with a strong stance on censorship and anti-freedom of speech reviewed and redacted all literature and press, frequently viewing it as propaganda. Ali even said that the governments try to bankrupt newspapers and magazines by censoring after materials have been printed. In other words, money and time is wasted on pieces of writing and art that are deemed unfit for the public. The internet was the way around this. The uninformed government didn’t censor these chat rooms, and this, according to Ali was their mistake.


Facebook became the face of a rapidly growing revolutionary movement. Millions of people could share stories and views that were uncensored and unprosecutable. Cartoons, Ali’s cartoons, became the face of a movement. Even though Ali was not currently present during a time of protest and struggle, his art was there. Pieces he posted on Facebook, hours later would be converted into life size graffiti on walls. “People take my work and use it for change,” Ali says. Cartoons were a way for people to visualize change without having to understand context. Grafitti was the expression. Ali ended his talk by speaking about how collective online groups allow for the most rapid and impactful change. He also said that anyone can start a revolution, which was inspiring.

The volcano that knocks your socks off

Gillen Wood is an interesting character. He is an English professor and writer, who happens to be among the most knowledgeable researchers on the Tambora volcano. The Tambora volcano eruption, also known as the Eruption of 1815, is without doubt the largest environmental disaster of that time. Most interesting, however, is that even though Tambora was such a massive event, most people today have never heard of it. Even worse, the Abdication of Napoleon, which also occurred in 1815, overshadows Tambora ten fold.

Why was Tambora so important? Is it the nearly 100,000 people who died from direct effects relating to the eruption? More likely it is the devastating environmental impact that has affected species for over 200 years. 1816, often called the “year without a summer,” was the most dramatic visualization of the impact of the 1815 eruption. The global temperature dropped by a full degree Fahrenheit. The new york times states that 1816 had “so much cold weather and torrential rain” that it wholly deserved it’s moniker. Switzerland was among the hardest hit areas after the eruption; summer time, during mid june was when the torrential rain, and atypical weather began. Mary Shelly writes that june had “as almost perpetual rain.” Numerous other volcanic eruptions had weakened the environment and the soil so much that areas that had normally been regions of crop prosperity had not seen agricultural success in years. Tambora was the cherry on top of sunday that was the terrible European living environment of 1816. Europe suffered massive food shortages, leading to violent and uncontrolled food riots. Switzerland was by far the most violent territory ­– so violent that the government of Switzerland declared itself in a state of emergency. As it was landlocked, there were no ports to help lessen the food shortages.

The East Indian eruption impacted more than just Europe, as North America and Asia were also greatly affected. The weather in New England was so drastically different than usual that the corn crop bloomed significantly ahead of schedule, causing the crop to ripen so dramatically that the crop largely failed. Reportedly, only one quarter of the expected crop output was usable.

According to Gillen, any present day environmental issue, such as the droughts in India, the wild fires in California, or the spreading of Zika, had an analogous Tambora related environmental concern. In the Yunnan region of China, known specifically for it’s farm land and crop growth, experienced incredibly low temperatures. Such a small amount of rice could grow that widespread famine ensued. Reportedly, fields had frost instead of rice.

I was lucky enough to have Gillen Wood as a lecturer in two classes. Both times he conducted engaging, informative, and interesting classes. It was a real treat to have a visiting professor put so much effort and sincerity into his work. I look forward to reading more of his work, Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World.

The Scientific Revolutions?


What was the Scientific Revolution? Was it a time of immense advancement in the fields of math, astronomy, religion, and politics? Was it even the beginnings of the modern science we know today? The scientific revolution was a period between the 16th and 17th century that supposedly revolutionized the meaning of natural science. In short, this period is typically defined as the time when the most important scientific improvements were developed. It was a mathematically precise, experimentally based, objective body of knowledge that was a radical break from the medieval worldview.

Basil Willey says that the “seventeenth century begins with a blend of medieval and modern elements and ends with the triumph of the modern.” But isn’t this true of every major time period in which humans have grown to have a heightened understanding of the world in which they live? Let’s quickly look at what the term revolution means in this context. According to Dan Cohen, a revolution can be cover one of two themes: first, a revolution can refer to a revolt. This type of revolt could refer to something as violent, unsettling, and politically motivated as the Arab Spring, or something as small and relatively uncharged as a protest about the handling of animals in a slaughterhouse. The second type of revolution is the physical act of revolving. The earth for instance, revolving around the sun. Even on a smaller scale, there have been hundreds of so-called revolutions. Cohen explains that the grand Scientific Revolution was not particularly violent, nor was it particularly sudden. If nothing else is known about the revolution (ignoring completely the content, the characters, and the time period) other than that it was a revolution that was not particularly violent, and not particularly sudden, one might say that a revolution such as this seems nothing like that of the Arab Spring; this is exactly Cohen’s point. This was not a revolt of the kind that is publicized by the media today, but instead it was a return. It was a complete revolution to face back to classical antiquity. To rephrase an earlier question, aren’t there a vast number of possible revolutions regarding advancements in the fields of science, math, and technology? I’d say that in at least every century since the fourth century BCE, there has been some kind of advancement so radical to the scope of the time that the period itself be deemed a revolution. During the third century BCE for instance, Euclid wrote 13 books that would become the basis for mathematical theory. This work called “The Elements” is still used as the basis for every textbook on geometry over 2,000 years later. Or Ibn al-Haytham’s work on the very first controlled experiments the world had ever seen? This work alone should be enough to qualify the 11th century as a period of scientific revolution.

Dan Cohen brings up a really interesting idea, which is that the scientific revolution was not in fact a revolution, but instead a metaphor for what a revolution is. My own view is that there have been countless scientific revolution throughout the course of history that through the lens of the time periods have been just as grand as the scientific revolution is to ours.