Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day - from Johnnie Walker

I’d like to propose a toast.

To do that properly, I’m going to enlist the help of my old friend Johnnie Walker. Even if you’re not a scotch drinker, you’re probably aware of the fact that Johnnie Walker is the most popular brand of scotch whiskey in the entire world.

Before I stray too far from topic, though, here’s my toast:

“To my wife of 39 years, my favorite daughter, my favorite sister, and to all the women I know who have “significant others”, best wishes for a happy and joyous Valentine’s Day.”

There’s a bit of uncertainty about when people first began exchanging messages, poems, and gifts on Valentine’s Day, but the fact remains that St. Valentine himself lived a very long time ago. The most reliable information about him is that he lived (and died) during the waning days of the Roman Empire.

Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, the Roman Empire was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. As a result, the emperor found it difficult to attract men to his military leagues. Since Claudius believed that men were refusing to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families, he BANNED all marriages and engagements in Rome.

At the time of the decree, Valentine was a holy priest in Rome. Because Valentine felt it was wrong for people who loved each other to be unable to marry, he continued to perform marriages in secret.

Eventually, of course, the emperor found out about the secret unions, and Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs, and to have his head cut off. While he was in jail awaiting his execution, he left a farewell note for his jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend.

He signed the note, “From Your Valentine”

He was executed on February 14
, 278 A.D., and was later elevated to sainthood. In the year 496, Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. Coincidentally, the pagan festival of love, Lupercalia, had been celebrated on the same date, so it’s likely that the pope’s decision was an effort to eliminate the pagan holiday, just as Christmas has replaced the pagan festival of Saturnalia.

The first bottle of scotch whiskey was produced in the year 1494, almost exactly 1000 years after the first St. Valentine’s Day, and 1216 years after the martyrdom of the saint who is most strongly linked to romance. Legend has it that St. Patrick introduced distilling to Ireland in the fifth century, but the original process was applied to perfume, not fermented mash.

It’s likely that you haven’t previously linked scotch whiskey with romance, but the truth is that the Johnnie Walker brand can provide some interesting connections for us.

Scotch whiskey has traditionally been viewed as a “manly drink”, an image reinforced by the actor Robert Carlyle in a video titled, “The Man Who Walked Around the World”.

I’ve attended FIVE Johnnie Walker tasting events in Chicago, and I enjoyed every one of them. Although the food offerings were usually very modest, the highlights of the evening were (1) the spellbinding presentation by the Johnnie Walker scotch ambassador and (2) the ability to sample all five Johnnie Walker flavors at the same event.

As I looked around the rooms, I was a little surprised to note that fully half the audience sampling this “manly drink” were WOMEN. My view of this manly drink also got altered when I first viewed the video below on YouTube:

Que sera, sera

As the tagline at the video proclaims, every revolution starts with a splash of red, and the video got me to start thinking about a topic that causes apoplexy among the more conservative members of our society:

Same sex marriage

The first country to legalize same sex marriage in modern times was the Netherlands, in 2001. Since that time, nine other countries have legalized same sex marriage. As of today’s date, at least ten other countries are also considering legalization.

Prior to the modern period, contractual relationships between members of the same sex existed during several of the Chinese dynasties, but the first historical record of same sex marriages occurred during the days of the Roman Empire.

In the United States, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriages, in 2004. Subsequently, five other states, and the District of Columbia, passed similar legislation. Washington State also recently legalized same sex marriages, but the law has not taken effect yet. In addition, at least ten other states permit civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Traditionally, the prohibition of same sex marriage seems to be favored by Republicans (Rick Santorum is the most extreme example of this outlook) , but it’s absolutely true that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed when a Democrat (Bill Clinton) was President. The bill passed both houses of Congress by a large majority.

During the recent debates in Washington State about same sex marriage, the most compelling argument in favor of same sex marriage was given, surprisingly, by a Republican:

who is Representative Maureen Walsh?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I don’t get worked up over a lot of things, although I have to admit that the topics of the Keystone XL pipeline and guns on campus in Arizona (which I’ve written about recently) have made my ears wiggle a bit. I’m not going to agonize over discussions about same sex marriage, but I’ll leave you with one simple question:

If St. Valentine felt that it was wrong to not allow people who love each other to marry, shouldn’t that still be true today?

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