Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Wine Expert

The Wine Expert

“Competition by confusion,” Herbert Denenberg, former insurance commissioner of Pennsylvania, called it. Bewilder consumers so much that they finally just throw up their hands and put themselves in your good hands—and you sock them with high commissions. Or just turn them into dependents of yours.

Our wine expert was what is called, I believe, an obscurantist. Things are so complex and subtle, you can’t be expected to know the answers. Only he knows all the answers.

Which wineries are generally reliable? Clos du bois?
His answer: No one winery is generally reliable.
Aren’t red wines especially good for you?
It hasn’t been proved. (Of course it has—at least for men.)
What about wine ratings?
Forget them. A lot of hanky-panky goes on.
Then he laced into me for seeking “simple” answers—when life, and choosing wines, is so complex.
I murmured that some things in life are simple. (Examples: Thomas Aikenhead shouldn’t have been hanged. We shouldn’t have gone into Iraq. Gore should have been President. Julie Andrews should have played in the movie version of My Fair Lady. Etc.)
The wine expert’s views were congruent with his economic interests. Everything is too complex for you. Just trust me.
I once heard a mutual fund executive say something like that. Morningstar ratings are worthless. Just trust a fund salesman. And happily pay his commission.
I pay lots of attention to Morningstar ratings—and to wine ratings.

***

I once paid $100 to take ten dance lessons at Fred Astaire studios. Years ago. I learned the rudiments of ten dances. And I still couldn't dance. But the teachers were eager for me to take lots more lessons.
Not exactly competition by confusion. But in the same category.

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