The origins of alcohol

The weather is fine in the middle of this September, but September always wears the gold-tooth smile of a thief.

Someone pulled the plug on August, and all that accumulated warmth is emptying sloppily into the southern hemisphere, may they thank us well for it! As above, so below. Speaking for himself, Paracelsus will miss the heat, and he ponders what liquid concoction is most likely to stanch, at least for the duration of Happy Hour, the ebbing tide of seasonal warmth.

Perhaps a fine Kentucky bourbon will do the trick, with its connotations of golden harvest and its unmistakable fire in the belly.

Old Dr. Paracelsus, the medieval alchemist and medicine man, thought of alcohol as the quintessence, the fifth element, next to those established worthies earth, air, fire, and water. Indeed, it was none other than Dr. Paracelsus who gave alcohol its name: al-kohl originally referred to black sulphide of antimony, and he arbitrarily transferred that name to wine spirits. Which is just as well, because who likes to drink black sulphide of antimony? Olive or twist, on the rocks or straight up, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that zing.


Thoughts of chemistry and the ancient and estimable art upon which it was based set us puzzling about alchemy. What do you suppose they would have made of Goldschlager in the fourteenth century?

Lammas Tide

This week we pass another significant milestone for the year: August the second is a cross-quarter day, which is to say that it is halfway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. It used to be known as Lammas, and it marked the first harvests. Notice that it happens to be just across the calendar from Groundhog Day. What happened to the celebrations? A quick perusal of the month of August reveals a strange dearth of official holidays of any kind.

We at the Star Chamber propose a remedy to this situation: call it Grounding Day. Leave work early one day this week. Get the good gin out of the freezer and fix yourself a big martini. Sit outside in the hot air with both feet firmly on the ground and listen to the quickening pulse of summer. It’s damned important to stay grounded.

A comet-viewing party

One cool spring evening recently, the Star Chamber editorial staff assembled at its favorite watering hole for cocktails. Some of these cocktails were fine, spirited martinis, and some of them were gallant if ignoble admixtures of vodka and dry vermouth. No matter. The point is that the gathering was followed by a comet-viewing party, as Comet Hyakutake was forming a particularly admirable display at that time. In elder days, comets were considered great and dangerous omens (they were also called hairy stars in honor of their plumage). The strange perceived relationship between matters celestial and terrestrial set Paracelsus a-puzzling.

Also new this week is a brief story about the web-wide bot revolution, called Sims.

Welcome

Welcome to the Star Chamber.

Every Monday, original material will appear at this site, courtesy of the members of the Star Chamber. Some of it will be commentary, some of it fiction, some of it artwork. It will tumble out in no particular order or grand scheme. We are staking out a small patch of the swampy real estate between print and broadcast in the belief that its value will appreciate. The Star Chamber is not a zine. It is not a weekly program. It is, if anything, a place. A place we promise to maintain and keep free of cobwebs. An extra attic room shared by many people. Cut a hole in the ceiling and come on up. The weather is fine.

We start things off with a little story.