Sunday, March 14, 2010

Founders and Empire

Note: Due to being a bit under the weather and being busy, particularly with work, I've been working on this particular post for about two weeks. I only hope it's a good one, so let's get to it.

Growing up, I was a big fan of science fiction. I was particularly fond of authors from the so-called "Golden Age of Science Fiction" including Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. Like many other people however, my favorite author was Isaac Asimov. I enjoyed his short stories and books, especially those from his epic Robot and Foundation series. I also find it amazing that he wrote his first published story, "Marooned Off Vesta", in 1938, when he was only 18 years old. For several years, I was subscribed to Asimov's Science Fiction magazine which every month included a editorial from the good doctor himself. Nowadays, I don't gobble up science fiction as I did when I was younger, but when I'm in a used bookstore, I always like finding one of his paperbacks covering various topics of science.

The title of this post is take-off on the Foundation and Empire, the second book of Asimov's original Foundation trilogy. The Foundation in that series was a group of intellectuals, I would call them historical mathematicians, who used complicated mathematical formulas to forecast history on the grandest scale. Being science fiction, the empire was, of course, a galactic empire. Being me, my references to Founders and Empire are to a brewery and a book.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was reading Empire by Gore Vidal, and last Wednesday, I finally got around to finishing it up. Empire is the fourth book in historical order of Vidal's fictional series spanning the history of the Unites States. While I enjoyed the first two books, Burr and Lincoln, I found the third book, 1876, a bit lacking. Unfortunately, Empire was more like 1876 in that it was basically a soap opera. In a way, Empire serves as a bookend to Lincoln. In Lincoln, John Hay is a private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln. In Empire, John Hay starts as the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom before moving back to the United States to become Secretary of State under William McKinley and then Teddy Roosevelt.

In my previous post on Vidal's historical series, I mentioned that I felt both Burr and Lincoln benefit by their dramas revolving around major wars, the American Revolutionary and American Civil Wars, respectively. Empire starts with the end of the Spanish–American War which Hay famously described as "a splendid little war." However, the war itself is only a topic of discussion. It is the aftereffects of the war that play more into the plot of the book, particularly the transfer of foreign territory from Spain to the United States. The acquisition of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines are the empire referred to by the title.

But the dawn of the American empire and effect of that change on the country and the world is not really the main focus of the book. The book is mainly about the newspaper business and the influence of the media. Aside from the fictional main characters, a sister and her half-brother who are the grandchildren of a character from Burr and 1876 and squabble over their inheritance and control of a newspaper, the main character is not Hay or McKinley or Roosevelt. It is not Hay's close friend Henry Adams nor multiple Democratic nominee for President around the time, William Jennings Bryan, although all of them share large parts of the book. No, the main character is William Randolph Hearst, the heir of a mining fortune turned newspaper magnate turned politician. Hearst is the spiritual fore-barer of the National Enquirer and Jerry Springer. Through his newspapers, Hearst goaded McKinley into entering the country into war against Spain, and the end of the book insinuates that Hearst manipulates Roosevelt into turning against the robber barons who financed his run for President and becoming the king of trust busting.

Moving on to Founders, I mentioned in another previous post that El and I picked up a four-pack of Founders Brewery's Nemesis 2009 which is a one-time concoction aged in bourbon barrels. I did not care for this brew, but El loved it. Of course, El also enjoys a good Scotch or bourbon, and she likes wines aged in the barrel. I'm beginning to think that I just don't like the woody taste of barrel aging. I generally don't care for whiskey. Instead, I prefer the clearer liquors like vodka. The other day, El and I had a wine which was trumpeted for being aged in the barrel, and once again, I did not like the woody taste of the wine.

Luckily, all is not lost for Founders Brewery. Last Saturday, we visited our favorite wine and beer shop where I had a Founders Dirty Bastard which is a good, malty beer. I also sampled two beers from Allagash Brewing, Black is a dark Belgian stout, and Four also a darker Belgian ale. Both are good solid beers.

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