30 October 2008

Monster Camp

Last Night: Our most recent movie from NetFlix was the documentary Monster Camp. At this writing, Rotten Tomatoes has it at a barely fresh 62; That feels low but I don't watch enough documentaries to have a sense of whether that's right or not. My lovely wife R happened across the trailer at Apple's web site. This documentary follows a group of people in the Seattle area who play a Live Action Role Playing (LARP) game called NERO. My disclaimer is that while I have never played (nor been tempted to play) a LARP or World of Warcraft (some of the films subjects appear to have an unhealthy fascination with WoW), I have been known to play Dungeons and Dragons and Everquest II.

It's a good film, and while I believe the filmmakers treated the subjects with reasonable delicacy and respect, I think that the movie is likely to reinforce stereotypes of enthusiasts of fantasy role playing games.

Tonight: The return of 30 Rock. Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, and the whole cast were terrific as usual, but I really think that the stars of the show are the writers. The acting is very good, but the writing is superb.

Strong Dollar

This is a good article about the recent strength in the dollar. Exerpt:
Sadly, at least for dollar bulls, it is not that the dollar is newly back to being the de facto world currency, the position it held for most of the last sixty years. Matter of fact, the U.S. dollar's so-called reserve status is more endangered than ever. The U.S. is still spending more than it brings in every year; it borrows money abroad to finance an unsustainable trade deficit; and it has lost its way with respect to building an economy around selling things for more than they cost. You know, the capitalism thing, as opposed to the financial engineering thing.
The article explains why he believes this is a temporary situation. Unfortunately, I think Dr. Kedrosky has this pegged, dead to rights. Not bad for a Canadian.

29 October 2008

More Miscellanea

Yesterday - I spent an hour at the dentist having my #3 tooth shaped for a crown, prompting M to email "So, heavy lies the head that wears the crown?". Punishing. I've got a temporary for three weeks (hopefully no problems while I'm in the U.K.).

Last night - Opened the last bottle (of six) of Wolf Blass Grey Label. It was consistent with the others: not bad, but not as good as I had hoped. I seem to remember I paid around $25.

Today - Filled the tank of my car; the total was $35. The price was 2.29 or about 38p/l at current exchange rates; the previous tank was at 3.49, and the one before that was 3.99. I believe that the price of fuel is overrated in its impact to the economy. However, since the price is prominently displayed, making it the retail commodity with the best-known pricing, I believe it contributes significantly to consumer confidence. Which is in the crapper lately.

The NY Times has an article indicating that credit card issuers will be reducing credit. Last week we got a letter from American Express informing us that they had raised our credit limit to an absurdly high number: about what I paid for my car.

The Economist has released its annual graph showing the ratio of tax to GDP for several larger economies. Many Americans believe they pay too much in taxes. In fact, we don't pay enough for our expenditures. Because we run a deficit every year, we're really just deferring taxes to our children. This election can't possibly be over soon enough.

Speaking of the election being over, the trading at Intrade suggests that maybe it is. Obama is trading at about 86 while McCain is trading at about 16. 538 is even more lopsided.

LFC 1-0 PFC. A penalty kick from captain Stephen Gerrard was all Liverpool could net against a tenacious Pompey defense. Just as in the earlier match against Stoke City, Liverpool looked dramatically better than the visitors and dominated possession but was unable to score against the deep defense. Liverpool will have to figure out how Chelsea and Manchester United have broken down those defenses over the last couple of years if they really hope to be title contenders.

Odds and Ends

Here is an interesting article about how the media might be misrepresenting the mortgage crisis. Nearly all of the media coverage shows working class people forced out of their homes. But the evidence suggests that that has been happening at typical historical rates. Not good news if you're out of a home, but not a crisis either. The spike in foreclosures is tied not to the unemployment rate, but to the change in the direction of house prices. The articles suggest that speculators are at the root of it. And what's more, not wealthy speculators, but ordinary folks (often, I suspect, amateurs) trying to flip houses. I know some people who were doing that; I hope they're doing OK.

My wife has just told me that she's seen (for the fourth time) the clip of early voters taken while I was in line (screen shot). I'm a celebrity! OK, given that I'm near the edge of the frame, and only shown for about 3/4 of a second, maybe not.

Diego Maradona has been named the coach of the Argentine national team. I cannot imagine that this will turn out well. Argentina is loaded with talent, and Maradona was a brilliant player; one of the best ever to lace up boots. But he's not been known for the kind of self-discipline I'd expect to see in a coach.

28 October 2008

Adventures in Democracy


I will be traveling next week, and therefore unable to cast my ballot on the designated election day. Absentee ballots are possible, but you must apply well in advance of the election. The only remaining alternative available to me in Georgia is early voting. I left the office early (about 3:30) yesterday to vote; hoping that I could be finished in time to return to work.

The first indication of trouble was the presence of cars parked on both sides of the road far from the Northeast/Spruill Oaks Library. A couple who were leaving after having voted wished me good luck and warned that the wait would be three hours. As it turns out, their estimate was low. The weather was reasonably pleasant: sunny, if cool and breezy. The people waiting were all in good spirits. A television news crew came out and caught me listening to Elvis Costello (Imperial Bedroom) on my iPod (screenshot above).

Fortunately, the last couple of hours on queue were indoors, and the library had positioned chairs to accommodate the voters. Finally, four hours after I arrived, I was able to vote in my eighth presidential election.

27 October 2008

A Double

I only follow two teams, and both won on Sunday. This would not be especially remarkable, except that both contests were in London. As I mentioned earlier, Liverpool defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge which is not, strictly speaking, in Chelsea. Neither is it anywhere near Stamford Bridge.

About ninety minutes later, the New Orleans Saints defeated the San Diego Chargers 37-32 at Wembley Stadium. Asking two football teams to fly 4000+ miles and adjust to a time zone 5-8 hours offset from their normal to play a league game is a bizarre annual ritual of the NFL. The game was sold out as soon as tickets became available, but there appeared to be many empty seats. The crowd was vocal and enthusiastic. When the cameras focused on the crowd, a wide variety of NFL team supporters appeared to be represented. Unfortunately, the game wasn't a particularly good one. Unlike the earlier match, this one featured poor defense. The game was marred by penalties, replays, poor kicking, and three replay challenges. It was not the beautiful game. As they say, a win is a win (and all tautologies are tautologies).

26 October 2008

CFC 0-1 LFC

Chelsea's string of unbeaten league matches at Stamford Bridge has been stopped at an unbelievable eighty six. For a change, Liverpool played most of the match with a lead, and showed tremendous discipline across the back. Chelsea enjoyed long periods of possession, but Reina was seldom troubled. Gerrard was masterful in midfield, Carragher never put a foot wrong, and Riera bothered Chelsea's right side throughout. Alonso's goal was a fortunate deflection; he later hit a free kick that Cech hardly saw before it had hit the hardware. Kuyt was his indefatigueable as always. Both teams were missing star players, but that did not mean there was any shortage of excellent, exciting football. The Reds were simply brilliant in the second half.

Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp has resigned as manager at Portsmouth to take the same job at Spurs. Will Redknapp succeed where Jol and Ramos didn't? Tottenham is not likely to play in either the Championship or Europe next year.

25 October 2008

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

The Netflix movie of the night was OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies. A parody of spy movies of the sixties, this French film (English subtitles) hits the mark spot on. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating is a respectable 74; that sounds about right.

I've seen a lot of spy parodies: Top Secret!, Spy Hard, Undercover Brother, What's Up, Tiger Lilly?, Austin Powers, and Casino Royale. This movie is at the top of that list. There are chickens, but no egg salad recipes.

Just as the Casino Royale parody was based on Ian Fleming's book, so is this based on a series of serious spy novels originated by Jean Bruce. Casino Royale was broad and sometimes bizarre; OSS 117 is tidy and true to its roots. The Austin Powers movies wink at the audience "aren't we clever?"; this movie keeps a straight face throughout.

OSS 117 reminds me a little of the early Pink Panther movies, with an often clueless hero who is in spite of himself endearing and in the end, effective. The chicken fight scene alone is worth watching the movie.

Before the movie, I made myself a Sazerac. It is a superb cocktail. That it was invented in New Orleans only makes me like it more. The drink was originally made with Cognac; the American Civil War and the Phylloxera plague meant that Cognac was unavailable so the recipe was changed to Rye Whiskey. Next, the 1915 ban in the United States of Absinthe meant the use of substitutes; though that ban has been recently lifted. Yea!

We Miss Sandy

http://nbcam.org/
http://cms.komen.org/komen/index.htm

24 October 2008

Hypocrites

Christ would have nothing to do with these people. He'd forgive them, but he sure wouldn't approve.

Mark Your Calendar: December 5th

In 1928, the New York Times endorsed Alfred E. Smith, pointing out that a vote for Herbert Hoover was a vote for the Volstead Act. Hoover was elected anyway. Things did not turn out well. In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt ran against Hoover; among his campaign pledges was the repeal of Prohibition. The 21st amendment was passed within a year of Roosevelt's inauguration. Neither Louisiana (where I was born) nor Georgia (where I live now) voted on the amendment. Michigan was the first of thirty-six states which ratified the amendment, and only South Carolina rejected it.

I first read of Repeal Day here, but he also set up a dedicated web site. This year will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the repeal of prohibition. On December 5th you should raise a glass (if you choose) to John Blaine. Or Carrie Nation. Whatever.

Blood and Sand

A chance Google search that yielded an article by Jeffrey Morgenthaler triggered my recent fascination with cocktails. His thoughtful writing and enthusiasm for interesting cocktails make his blog "must read" material. I was a little taken aback when I read in a recent entry:
I confidently placed my order for Gonçalo’s Blood and Sand, and it arrived expertly-prepared by Mario with Laphroaig 10-Year single-malt Islay scotch, Guignolet de Dijon black cherry liqueur, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, and fresh orange juice.
I'd be willing to taste this, but as there is no chance that I'll be purchasing a bottle of creosote Laphroaig, it will have to happen somewhere besides my bar.

Poker Results

For the first couple of hours, it was probably the best I've played in a long time, maybe ever. After that I was too worried about preserving my stack. Stole some pots, snapped off some bluffs, made big pots when I had big hands. Even successfully simulated my notorious "tell" when I didn't have a made hand.

23 October 2008

Unexamined Presuppositions

I love indexed, but this entry took me to an unexpected place.

I am convinced that if you asked a random sample of Americans, they would overwhelmingly say that their children should have a higher standard of living than they did. That's natural enough, I suppose, but I get the impression that it is now considered an entitlement. How did that happen?

Somebody's bound to be disappointed.

22 October 2008

Atletico Madrid v Liverpool FC

At the fifteen minute mark, I have broken out the laptop. Keane looked offside on his goal. The offside rule is hopeless.

18:00 The ball was off Mascherano's arm, but the ball was struck smartly. No intent.
20:25 Alonso takes a very speculative shot.
22:45 Keane just misses a gorgeous cross by Gerrard. Liverpool looks the better side.
28:00 (Yawn)
30:20 Benayoun hasn't been playing much recently, but he's not having a good game.
31:00 Dossena has not impressed this season, but he made a nice cross, which was headed out for a corner that Liverpool squandered.
38:10 Riera's booking was harsh I think.
40:30 Forlan hits a sharp strike that misses just right. As threatening as Atletico has looked thus far.
42:30 Arbeloa was booked for a sloppy challenge, but Reina grabs the free kick.
45:00 Maniche booked for simulation. Tommy Smyth is too easy on simulators; the contact did not justify the theatrical fall to the ground.
47:00 Gerrard keeps finding space on the right.
49:00 Benayoun's goal is not allowed on a close offside call, I'm not sure I agree. Karma for Keane's goal perhaps.
52:00 Keane comes off for Kuyt, with an eye to Stamford Bridge I think.
55:00 Liverpool is dominating the action but they are still vulnerable to a counterattack.
55:50 Atletico puts it in the net, but are judged offside. The replay shows another bad offside call. Aguero stands out for Atletico.
56:30 R: "Man, that was close". Atletico seems to have woken up and are taking the game to Liverpool at the moment.
60:20 If there was any doubt about Rafa's intentions, there can be none now. Gerrard off for Babel.
68:00 Alonso's shot is deflected for a corner.
73:50 The game is suffering long stretches of unproductive possession. Dull.
74:45 Both teams make their final substitutions: Lucas for Alonso and Miguel for Sinama Pongolle.
75:30 Riera still running balls down on the left. Or trying to.
81:30 Neither side showing any urgency to score.
82:30 Simao equalizes after Carragher plays sloppy at the back.
87:55 Kuyt feeds Babel who heads just wide.
90:00 Corner to Atletico.

No last second miracle for Liverpool tonight. Liverpool might feel hard done, but it was a rare poor play by Carra that evened the score. Without Torres, Gerrard or Keane, Liverpool is decidedly less threatening.

Buckle your seatbelts.

The financial economy has recently had a crisis, which appears to be abating.

There are signs, though, that the real economy is teetering on the brink.

Whomever is elected next month, we're in for a rough ride. And partisanship is unlikely to help. Maybe we need more journalists. We certainly need courageous leadership. And I could do with less bleating about the media elite.

Barney Frank's long arms

On the one hand, I'm inclined to cut Barney Frank slack because he has shown leadership in defending a hobby of mine (online poker).

On the other hand, as this post points out, he's overreaching.

Seriously, we have morons running the country

Unbelievable.

If this guy had a brain and any sense of propriety, he would resign.

As tempting as it is to blame this on Palin, I think GWBush started it with the contemptible practice of questioning the patriotism of anyone opposed to his administration's positions.

Speaking of lacking brains and propriety, the Sacramento Republican party went way over the line and they're not particularly apologetic.

21 October 2008

Mondo Monday

The "third thursday" wine group broke from tradition (such as it is) to have a special Mondo Monday edition for Brian, who was in town from Washington, D.C. Mondo in this case means more expensive, and the usual $40 minimum was bumped to $70. Attending were Keith, Larry, Michael, Shelley, Seth, Tyler, Kelly, Erik, Brian, Mark, Matt, and David.

Twelve attended, and the wines ranged from good to great. Sadly, the first wine poured, a 1989 Haut Brion, was corked. Michael, who had generously brought the First Growth had a backup bottle in the car.

It is nearly certain that I was the least sophisticated oenophile present (if I even qualify for the title), but even to my limited palate some wines stood out. There were thirteen wines to choose from: after we had exhausted the wines brought by the twelve participants, Brian ran next door and purchased a second wine; everyone had conformed to the one-bottle-only policy (the price requirement provided a compelling incentive).

After the tasting, everyone ranked their top three wines (Shelley named only two). There was broad consensus that the three outstanding wines were (in the order tasted): 1996 Fisher Wedding Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 1996 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, and 2001 La Spinetta Barolo Campè. Everyone named at least one of those wines, and half picked all three. Also mentioned among the top wines were 1999 Pride Vineyards Reserve Claret, 1997 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 Penley Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1997 Montesole Taurasi (wine of the night at a previous gathering). My offering, the 2002 Whitehall Lane Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, fared poorly against the formidable competition. I wasn't embarrassed, but no one seemed temped to name it among the top three of the night. It was the second youngest wine tasted, and would likely improve given more time.

We haven't been to a tasting in some time; we may just find our way to Bin 75 this Friday.

20 October 2008

General Motors Again

In my doctor's office waiting for my annual physical, I read an article about a potential merger between Chrysler and General Motors. GM is more screwed than I originally thought, and that is saying something.

19 October 2008

Fencing Tournament

Yesterday, Centennial hosted Lassiter and Alpharetta, with 31 boys and 26 girls competing. As Centennial's fencing mom, R ran the tournament. The consensus is that the tournament was well run (we thought so, but we are biased). T finished 11th (quite respectable for a freshman). B was disappointed with his 7th place finish, but he can curse the draw: the fencer who eliminated him in the round of eight went on to take 1st place.

Being the spouse of the head of the tournament is exhausting enough; I can only imagine actually running the thing. In the end I suppose it is a pretty typical management assignment: mostly about keeping people focused, keeping track of the tasks, and delegating.

My assignments included directing one of the girls' pools: fifteen bouts. I must admit that I did not try to dodge the assignment since it gave me the opportunity to use a spiffy new iPod application for scoring fencing matches. The application itself is terrific, but the iPod's lack of a tactile button to start and stop the timer is a problem. I much prefer directing girls; boys are sometimes churlish but I have never found a girl fencer to be so. I did direct one of the boys DE bouts; they fenced well and behaved as gentlemen.

T is taking a course in video broadcast journalism, and checked out one of the school's cameras and shot about eleven minutes of video at the tournament.

After cleaning up the gymnasium, we returned home where I watched the recorded Liverpool match. No one was in the mood to cook, so we drove to the nearby Little Azio. The boys and I shared a mushroom truffle pizza (my favorite) and a barbecue chicken pizza, while R had pasta. She ordered angel hair, but we both thought it was more likely spaghetti. I like Little Azio (I love their Italian Panino), but their barbecue chicken pizza is not as good as Double's (admittedly, they are of different styles).

18 October 2008

LFC 3-2 WAFC

Poor defending by Liverpool and bright play by Egyptian striker Zaki made for an exciting match. Injuries and the international break led to Rafa moving Kuyt inside and giving the first starts in ages to Pennant and Agger. At about the thirty minute mark, Reina made a sloppy pass to Agger who butchered the touch, and Zaki confidently buried it in the net. Shortly afterward and at the far end of the pitch Agger showed nimble footwork (especially for a central defender) and set up Kuyt's equalizer (his first premier league goal in forever). Then at the end of stoppage time for the first half, a completely bungled opportunity to clear the ball resulted in a brilliant strike by Zaki.

Early on, Wigan looked confident, aggressive, and positive. Just before Zaki's first goal, I thought that a goal would open the game for Liverpool. The Reds looked confused to find themselves at Anfield; for the first thirty minutes they were not even playing to Melwood standards. Sure enough, after the goal Liverpool started playing better.

In the second half, Liverpool brought pressure, but Wigan looked as though they might withstand it. At about the 70th minute, Keane earned a free kick from the edge of the "D" and the Wigan wall started edging up on the ball before Liverpool could take the kick. After setting the wall, then resetting it, the referee Wiley finally found it necessary to book Valencia. Not five minutes later, Valencia made a sloppy late tackle on Alonso with predictable results: a second booking. Rafa recognized that Wigan's scoring threats were essentially gone and took off both full backs (Dossena had a poor game) and brought on El Zhar and Benayoun. You don't often see a 2-5-3 but there it was. Even before Valencia was sent off, I felt a Liverpool equaliser was not unlikely, and with about ten minutes to go and against ten men, El Zhar put a ball into the middle, Gerrard wisely stepped over it, and Riera opened his Anfield account with a tidy strike into the lower right corner. Wigan looked spent and a Liverpool win seemed likely; sure enough five minutes from time Kuyt hit a Pennant cross for his second to give Liverpool their first lead of the match.

Once again Liverpool has scored late in the match to snatch three points from an opponent who had every right to one (if not the win outright). That Liverpool is winning matches while not playing particularly well bodes well for them, but only if they start playing well more consistently. Dossena has not appeared to be the answer at left back. Kuyt looked better playing his natural role of striker than he has as right winger, but with Torres and Keane, that doesn't seem a likely choice. With Skrtel hurt until Christmas, Agger or Hyypia need to step up. Riera continues to play well, and Gerrard, Carragher, and Reina will start every meaningful match as long as they are fit.

Bruce has every right to be disappointed at not getting a result, but I think that his complaints about Valencia's bookings were both mistaken. The Wigan "wall" looked more a mob, and after Wiley warned the players when he had to reset them, a booking was not unwarranted (I've seen cards shown and not in similar situations). On Alonso's tackle, Bruce claimed that he thought Valencia had got to the ball, but the replay seemed to show otherwise.

For Latics Kirkland made two brilliant saves denying Kuyt to keep Wigan in the match and Zaki has been a discovery - big, strong, and tireless and assured with the ball.

Liverpool now face a midweek trip to Madrid to face Atletico, then to Stamford Bridge at weekend for a battle with Chelsea for table supremacy.

17 October 2008

Rojo Taqueria

A new restaurant has opened at the back entrance of our subdivision. In the space formerly occupied by a Johnny's Pizza is now Rojo Taqueria. We arrived late (about 9pm) and went to the bar while our table was prepared. Boise State was playing Hawai'i on that disturbing blue field. As it turns out, clearing the table didn't take as long as preparing a couple of Margaritas, so we took our drinks to the table.

The chips were a little greasy, the salsa was good but not rapturous. In fact, that's also how I would characterize the tacos. I decided to try four different styles: chicken mole, fish, chimichurri flank steak, and chipotle chicken. The last was very disappointing - if you claim chipotle, I expect smoked peppers; this was bland and I couldn't find a hint of chipotle. In fact, it was so far from my expectation that now I'm wondering if the waitress or the kitchen botched the order. The flank steak was a little chewy (as it is prone to be), and the chimichurri was lost in the chunks of mango. I like mango, but I'd have liked a little more chimichurri. The mole was, as is nearly always the case, not nearly as good as it can be. The fish taco (fried, not grilled) was the best of the lot, and it wasn't as good as I've had in the San Diego Airport. In fairness, you can probably get better red beans and rice in the New Orleans Airport than in any restaurant in Atlanta.

The Margaritas did not use fresh limes, but in a sad statement about Margaritas in general, better than most.

The restaurant only opened this week and they admitted that they are still working the kinks out. Will we be back? Undoubtedly. Three margaritas, five tacos and a large salad were $40. It is probably the closest restaurant to our house, the atmosphere was pleasant, the prices are reasonable, and the food is not bad.

Simple Pleasure

If it were up to me, I'd watch everything on the DVR. One of my favorite things is recognizing a particularly annoying advertisement as it blurs by at about 15x speed.

Maybe I'm on to something

I was kidding last time, but once again a post of mine is followed by another.

Given the current circumstances, I cannot imagine GM surviving. An electric car with a range of 40 miles is not going to rescue them. Neither will resurrecting the Camaro.

16 October 2008

Is Libatio a bellwether of thoughtful discourse?

My post on patriotism may have prompted this, but I doubt I can take credit for this.

15 October 2008

Careful, man, there's a beverage here

This month's MixMo theme was guilty pleasures. One of the contributors picked White Russians in homage to The Big Lebowski. Several of the regulars at our poker game are fans of the movie, but I had never seen it. Also, the new husband of a friend and colleague is also a fond of the film. Monday evening after work, I stopped at the just opened Super Target (that sobriquet no doubt the product of a team of highly-compensated marketing professionals) and picked up a DVD of the movie which I watched that evening.

If you haven't see The Big Lebowski, I recommend it. You might not enjoy it but it's only 90 minutes and it's sufficiently different from most other movies that its unique style makes it worthwhile. As I had mentioned, before I had seen it I was already aware of the cult-like following the movie has. Having now seen it, my hypothesis is that the movie does not conform to the typical Hollywood script paradigm. The Coen's mess around with character archetypes and plot lines, and as a result, when the movie ends, not everything has landed where your brain has been trained to expect them to. This leaves you either deeply dissatisfied, in which case you'll probably decide that you hate the movie, or wanting to understand it better, in which case you'll probably watch it again (possibly becoming part of its following). I'm in the latter camp, though I doubt I'll be driving to a Lebowski Fest.

If you're offended by vulgar language, you might want to skip it. Allegedly, the word "fuck" is used over 250 times. On the other hand, it's just a fucking word.

After work on Tuesday, I stopped at Hinton's Wine Store and picked up a bottle of Stolichnaya and a bottle of Kahlua; then to Kroger's for a carton of Half and Half. This last ingredient is in homage to The Dude; the traditional recipe call for cream. The drink was OK; I'm not big on cream drinks, so except for special occasions it is not likely to be the drink of choice. But maybe the next time we have Wii bowling...

There was a poker game last night, the fifth event in this year's Roswell Poker Series. I finished in the money in third place, but don't feel that either my wins early in the evening nor my losses later on were particularly deserved. Without our Syrian friend (and playing a "limit" game), the night was relatively subdued.

Ask Trilby

The US stock market dropped precipitously today, on news that the economy struggled in September. It is nearly certain that October's numbers will be significantly worse than those released today. I can only hope that the markets took this into consideration (that is, the drop wasn't just in reaction to September, but in anticipation of further bad news in October).

The news media are fond of publishing polls describing whether randomly selected Americans believe the economy is in recession.
On the one hand, consumer confidence is a real and important component of the health of the economy. On the other hand, asking most Americans whether this is a recession is as pointless as asking our cat the same question. They are equally qualified.

13 October 2008

Candidates as Cocktails

A blog entry at AJC suggests a cocktail to correspond with the four candidates (alphabetically):
Biden - Bloody Mary
McCain - Rusty Nail
Obama - Gin and Tonic
Palin - Jello Shot

General Motors

General Motors' market capitalization is about $3.5 billion (and the only reason it's that high is because the stock is up 29% on the day). You could buy all of GM for that price. This is a company with almost $20 billion in CASH. As you'd expect based on the fact that no one seems to be in a hurry to buy GM for $3.5B, its balance sheet is toxic. GM's shareholder equity is NEGATIVE $57B. Based just on its balance sheet, I wouldn't buy GM unless somebody gave me fifty seven billion dollars to take it. I suspect it may be less valuable than that.

Magnet - Game Review


One of the birthday presents received by B is the game Magnet from Z-Man Games.

It is a two-player game, played on a board consisting of various lines in different directions. To start the game, the players distribute their eleven pieces along the edges of the hexagonal board. On each turn a player places a special piece (the "magnet") on the board, and then moves closest piece from each axis toward the magnet. The goal is to occupy the center space with your king or to capture the opponent's king. The game has a couple of tactical elements common to Stratego: your opponent can't discover the relative strength of your piece until he captures it and some pieces destroy the other piece when captured. Also like Stratego (or Chess, or Go), there is no randomizer.

We've only played it once. My approach was to try to control the center. While this was successful, it also resulted in my pieces being clustered closely together (and the rules for capture could make that disasterous). It is a game that will improve with multiple playings. i enjoyed the first playing, we'll see how well I like it after I lose a couple of times.

TARP

Lost in the discussions of the Troubles Assets Relief Program (TARP) is the point of the exercise. Politicians are now (no doubt predictably) saying that in addition to bailing out Wall Street, we should bail out Main Street. But the reason for the bailout isn't to save rich traders in New York, it's to try to prevent the economy from collapsing entirely. A significant global recession is not unlikely, and there will be plenty of suffering to go around. The people who will suffer the most are those with the least. Many people won't understand that money that goes to others might help them more than money that went to them directly. $700B is about $2300 per person. Distributing $2300 to every American won't fix the credit markets, and without credit the economy will come to a screaming halt.

TARP is imperfect, and the credit meltdown could have been avoided, but TARP is a bailout of Main Street.

12 October 2008

Cult of Personality

In what is a nightmare of marketing, Sarah Palin is becoming more popular with the Republican base than the man who lifted her from anonymity. For a presidential campaign, the presidential candidate is the brand. According to the Times (the whole article is worth a read), people are showing up for Republican rallies, cheering for Palin, and then leaving when McCain gets up to speak. There is already shamefully premature talk of Palin running for president in '12.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that Palin is a poor choice. At the time she was nominated, my children had seen more of the world than she had. She got her first passport in 2006. While it is true that she is the only member of either ticket with executive experience, it is in the least populous state: by that measure there are forty-nine better qualified sitting governors. A journalism degree would n0t be my first choice, but it is not a deal killer. She graduated from Idaho, but also attended Hawaii Pacific College, North Idaho community college, and Matanuska-Susitna community college. We have had enough presidents from Harvard and Yale; a little diversity would not kill us, but community college? By the way, the Idaho sports teams are known as the Vandals. Oh, and I have heard that some people in her church claim to speak in tongues. Speak. In. Tongues. It might just be urban legend, but if not I would rather Bill Ayers be president.

The Bill Ayers issue is another odious misrepresentation. That she persists bringing it up indicates either a single-minded determination to repeat a politically expedient message, or a world view as shallow as a curbside puddle. Neither reflects well on her character.

I have commented before - I do not want Joe six-pack or a hockey mom to be president. (Hockey mom? Is she running for vice-president of Canada?) I want somebody who is stunningly brilliant. Somebody who understands the Constitution. Who understands the relationships between price, supply, and demand. Who can comprehend the subtle nuances of complex international diplomacy. Who can locate Austria on a map.

To capture the imagination of the country, you need charisma. Whether you agreed with them or not, JFK, Reagan, and Bill Clinton all had it. Nixon, Mondale, Dukakis, and Dole did not. Obama might have it. A good case can be made that by resume alone, Hillary Clinton was the best qualified candidate. I believe that she failed to secure the nomination because she is not charismatic enough. I can sympathize.

People want to like their leader, and while she is polarizing, the people who like Palin really, really like her. At least once, someone has shouted "kill him!" when she mentioned Obama's name at a rally. Look, there are lunatics all over, and political campaigns bring them out of the woodwork. That she refuses to distance herself from the rednecks is disturbing. Worse, though, she is actively appealing to them.

It is a real shame. I do not believe McCain would be a good president, but he has dedicated his life to service to his country, in ways that the most of us cannot comprehend. There are indications that he is now refusing to take the low road (referring to Obama as "decent", even though his supporters boo him when he does it). Sadly, taking the high road is unlikely to improve a candidate's chances. It is very likely that he will lose the election. If he does, his legacy is likely to be just another guy who lost an election. I would bet that he wishes he had picked a different running mate. John McCain deserves better.

Wicked Good

Our son B's girlfriend (M) took him to see Wicked for his birthday yesterday. We split driving duties with her parents, and dropped the couple off at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Finding ourselves Inside the Perimeter, we took the opportunity to go to dinner. Due to poor planning on our part we did not pursue reservations until too late, so 4th and Swift and Ecco (both had been recommended) were ruled out. Instead, we returned to Holeman and Finch, part of the Restaurant Eugene organization. H&F doesn't accept reservations, and we noted on our last visit that it was just after eight that it filled up. It was a quarter to eight so we took our chances. We actually had planned to eat at the bar, but it was full and so we settled for a community table. It is not, precisely, a single community table, but rather a row of tables for two that are spaced a couple of inches apart. The intimacy makes it nearly impossible to resist asking your neighbors what they are eating and how they like it. Though the truth is everything we've had there was outstanding. This is a restaurant for foodies.

I had one of their cocktail creations: a Resurgens Cocktail. Made with peach-infused rye whiskey (Old Overholt, likely), Noilly Prat sweet vermouth, and house made cola bitters. I'm battling allergies (I hope) at the moment, so my olfactory acumen (not as good as R's on my best days) is compromised. I had trouble detecting the peach, but nevertheless found it is a pleasant twist on a great cocktail. Manhattans are great, and variety is the spice of life. R had another of their inventions, a Southern Cola: Coca-Cola with Amaro Ciociaro and a lime juice ice cube. I tasted it near the end (as the lime melts, the drink gradually becomes more sour). Tasty.

For food, we had sweet potatoes lyonaise, mushrooms with polenta, spare ribs (with pureed potatoes) that literally melt in your mouth, and fried okra. For dessert, I had a fried apple pie with vanilla ice cream and R had another cocktail (the name escape me). It was apple juice and sparkling Sauvignon Blanc with grated cinnamon. She loved it.

After dinner, we resolved to find our way to Pearson's. Having failed twice recently to locate it while in Buckhead, I had taken the precaution of programming it into the SatNav. We don't get Inside the Perimeter very often, and Buckhead has one-way streets sprinkled about, so the GPS was essential but occasionally took unlikely routes. At Pearson's, I was happy to find a bottle of Aviation Gin as well as more Stirrings Tonic Water. Now if I could just find a bottle of St. Germain.

11 October 2008

Seventeen

It is at once natural yet impossible to conceive that our first child came into this world seventeen years ago today. The infant in this picture:

is the young man on the left in this picture:

For the record, these two were not leaving that bar. As far as you know.

They are very nearly exactly the same age, as this photo of their expecting mothers testifies:


Happy Birthday, son. Many happy returns.

10 October 2008

Buckley's for Barack

I can't quibble with Christopher Buckley's arguments (read them here, they're short). I wonder if he could have publicly taken this position before his father died.

My father was a great admirer of his father. I remember as a child cursing Buckley because I had asked my father to do something with me (the "what" is lost in history. table tennis, perhaps?) but he declined because Firing Line was on. I still think of Buckley whenever I hear Bach's Second Brandenburg Concerto.

[later]
This is the full Buckley article. He's a friend of P. J. O'Rourke; that's got to count for something.
This is the Kathleen Parker article on Sarah Palin that evoked, apparently, thousands of irrational emails from National Review Online readers.
For good measure, this is the Stephen Colbert segment interviewing David Gergen.

How Awful is Walsall?

I've been given stick recently by an English colleague outraged by my recent "scurrilous accusation"* that our Walsall office is posh compared to our Moscow office. I admit that to some extent, it was just an excuse to link to a photo of the Spice Girls; I am not above that sort of thing. And I might just as easily have linked to this guy. Nobody wants that. In the interest of letting the reader decide, I am including two more pictures that I have taken of and around the Walsall office (Note: there were no Porsches to be seen at the Moscow office). Even with the diesel fourecourt, Walsall seems tidy and clean, with well-maintained shrubberies.

Still, in the interest of fairness, I include a link to this three-year old article. I suppose if I lived here, I might be disappointed at driving into Walsall every day. For good measure, there's also this (more amusing than the Telegraph article).

I also include more photos from Moscow. You'll have to take my word for it, but the to the immediate left of the first picture is a variety of debris (e.g., a discarded matress). Twenty yards further to the left is a menacing abandoned building with countless broken (and unboarded windows). And surely you'll concede that's a pretty unsavory-looking character loitering about. The second photo shows the car park gate. No fancy remote-control here; though there is a guard shanty just out of the frame to the left. Evidently this guard's primary function is to prevent taxis from approaching the building. Again, I would observe a paucity of German engineering.

Finally, there's no chance that I'd use a camera inside a lavatory, so you'll have to rely on my testimony. Let's just say that this is one "worst" title that the Walsall office should be happy to concede. If my word is insufficient, I can produce other witnesses.

I will happily grant that as a holiday destination, Walsall is closer to Płock than to Moscow. (This site makes Płock look a lot nicer than I remember, though). By the way, I have heard of at least these two sons of Walsall. As impressive as that might be for a town of a mere 200,000 (or so), it is not unlikely that Moscow can surpass that list.

On the other hand, I think I will stand by my original assessment that our Walsall office (including its environs and facilities) is less undesirable than its Moscow counterpart. Given that there are discussions of moving the Moscow office, Walsall's claim to the title might yet be restored.

* - Direct quote.

09 October 2008

Price Controls Have Negative Side-Effects: Who Knew?

I live in the Atlanta area, and we recently endured a period with gasoline in very short supply. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike started the problem by disrupting the supply chain, and this was exacerbated by panicked Atlantans topping their tanks at every opportunity. As a result, most gas stations were without fuel, often for days at a time. Georgia Governor Perdue had invoked a “price gouging” law to limit prices. I have no way of knowing if this was ignorance of the relationships between price, supply and demand or political expedience. Given that Governor Perdue has publicly prayed for rain as a serious solution to a statewide drought, I cannot bring myself to give him the benefit of the doubt. But for his market intervention, prices would have temporarily soared, people would have carpooled and avoided unnecessary trips, nobody would have topped up, and the crisis would have passed almost immediately.

Unfortunately, this runs against conventional wisdom. I don't know of a single case where a politician or journalist seriously suggested what is, to me, the obvious solution. Even though nearly everyone would have actually been better off, the moral indignation would have been unbearable.

Gasoline Consumption and Social Incentives

Yesterday I read the article “Why Vote?”. Today while driving to work, I had the thought: what if automobiles were required to display the vehicle's MPG boldly on the back of vehicles? Everyone would be constantly reminded that a Hummer burns twice as much fuel as, say, a Focus. Would that act as a scarlet letter? Or would the relative anonymity afforded by tinted windows and the mobile nature of cars blunt the effect? What if you had to wear a lapel pin with your car’s mileage? There is an awful precedent for mandatory badging, so let's not start down that road. Would people even comprehend that the difference between 10 and 20 mpg is not, in fact, the same as the difference between 30 and 40? What other social incentives are available to discourage conspicuous consumption of gasoline?

It occurs to me that the 10-20/30-40 comparison might not be obvious. Improving mileage has a diminishing return. Much more good is done moving from 10 MPG to 20 MPG, than from moving from 30 MPG to 40 MPG. To drive 1000 miles, these four vehicles will use 100, 50, 33.3, and 25 gallons respectively. Replacing a single 10 MPG vehicle with a 20 MPG vehicle has the same fuel savings (50 gallons per 1000 miles) as replacing two 20 MPG vehicles with 40 MPG vehicles. Gallons Per Thousand Miles (GPTM) would be a better measure of comparative fuel economy. When this catches on, remember you read it here first.

My car, by the way, would be in the second or third round of targets; long after the Yukons and Expeditions were eliminated. Also, I only drive about 7500 miles per year: the less you drive, the less your mileage matters. It will be another six years before I replace my car; I'm certain the next one will be more fuel efficient.

08 October 2008

The Case for Limit Hold 'em

Limit Hold 'em has fallen completely from favor. It's less flamboyant than its No Limit partner and it makes terrible television. I just played a half-hour of Limit at Full Tilt today and doubled my decidedly modest buy-in (I was winning at an absurdly high rate of 21 big blinds/hundred hands)

It is interesting to me that while the rules of the two games are nearly identical, profoundly different skills are required. No Limit players are often very bad at Limit. The constrained betting means that you can pay off an opponent to the river when you have a decent hand against a scary board. I'd have folded some the hands I won were I facing No Limit action. Limit rewards the cautious poker player. And with the occasional exception, that's what I am.

07 October 2008

Maybe Keane Just Needs a New Belt

Is there some bizarre recent correlation between proficient Premier League scorers and poor taste in choosing belts? First this, and now this? For all their faults, at least these guys can dress themselves.

Patriotic Laundry

Somewhere along the line, an unquestioning patriotism became a virtue. The current administration did not invent the idea, though they have shamelessly employed it politically (for example, suggesting "if you're against our policies, you're for the terrorists"). The photo on the right is a collar stay supplied by the laundry who cleans and presses my dress shirts. Are we so proud (or so paranoid) that we need to display our flag on even our laundry?

I have recently had opportunity to see a little more of the world. Other countries are proud of themselves, too. That's natural, and in most cases (certainly all of the places I've visited), they are right to be proud. The difference is that Americans seem to have a perverse view: not only are we the best country ever, we're the only one that matters. Many (most?) Americans are defiantly ignorant of the world.

I think America has a lot to be proud of; I don't hate my country. But I'm not blind to the fact that we have not always acted in the right. But for an intervention by the Japanese, public policy was convincingly against getting involved in stopping Hitler. We imprisoned American citizens in internment camps during World War II. We have been involved in overthrowing sovereign governments. Ahem, democracies even. We spend on cosmetic surgery while tens of millions have no health insurance. We intervene when it suits us, and ignore when it doesn't. We are more likely to help light-colored people and Christians. Dark-colored people and non-Christians, not so much.

I am painting with a broad brush. There are three hundred million Americans; we are not all the same. The nature of democracy, though, means that our leaders tend to be homogeneous. And the criteria by which we choose them are more likely to pick grand-standing populists than courageous leaders. Worse, even if a politician might be inclined to think independently, we have a two-party system that rewards party loyalty and punishes acting on conscience. Or expertise. Nearly all politicians vote predominantly on party lines. Back-room policy makers (like Karl Rove and whoever his Democratic counterpart might be) effectively run this country, while politicians with patriotic lapel pins repeat the sound bites they've been fed. Sarah Palin and Joe Biden are more alike than either would have you believe. It is difficult for me to believe that we are not on an inexorable slide into the dustbin of history.

05 October 2008

The Counter

We had a late lunch at The Counter. Their premise is that they offer premium, custom-built hamburgers. At $75 for the four of us, I would expect spectacular burgers. They were not. I had a strawberry shake, and we shared a huge order of fries. The burgers were not bad and the options are dizzying, but I can't recommend them for the price.

MOCKBA

I frequently link gratuitously, which might lead you to skip them all. Some of the links in this entry are to photos taken on this trip; I've tried to identify them so you don't accidentally miss them. Many of the photos were taken with mobile phones, the quality of some is poor.

Eleven hours is a long time to sit in an airplane seat, even in business class. I watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was the best of the movies I watched this week on airplanes. Russell Brand did good work, making it the third time I've run across him in the past two weeks. Ambien facilitated several hours of good sleep.

Sheremetyevo airport is not bad, but a little shabby for a major capital city. Schiphol it is not. The border control lines were pretty long and very slow. After a quick stop at a Bankomat for rubles, we were off to the taxi. Traffic in Moscow is a nightmare. Lanes are just suggestions, and while you can make good time occasionally, congestion becomes a interminable quagmire at other times. Drivers almost never voluntarily permit others to change lanes, instead it becomes a game of chicken where the cars, inches apart in the slow moving flow, try to nose in front of each other.

The office is in an unfashionable, if improving (photo), part of town; it makes our office (photo) in Walsall (photo) look positively Posh. Er, posh. The office building (photo) itself is tired; its space is shared by several companies. Inside the PPR offices things (and people) are cramped, but fairly tidy (considering the human:square foot ratio is as high as I can ever recall seeing). Morale seemed high, not that I could understand a word of what was said. Their workforce was skewed to young and female. Work spaces are small offices with several people squeezed together. An office the size of mine would probably have three or four people in it.

The meetings were productive but, you'll be happy to learn, outside the scope of this journal.

As far as I can tell, taxis in Moscow are unmarked, unregulated and un-metered. To call a taxi, you put your hand out and negotiate a price with the first car that pulls over. Anybody with a car can choose to be a taxi at any time.

For lunch, we walked a few blocks to a nearby shopping mall and ate at what we think was a Portuguese restaurant. I had a salad and a dish of stewed pork with potato. It was good. After work, we met at the hotel bar, where I had a Stary Melnik (a Russian unremarkable beer). Dinner was at a Sushi restaurant, where the sushi was excellent, but the sake was overheated and watery.

On Wednesday for lunch, I suggested we try a different restaurant. I had a salad, a rice dish, and a cabbage stuffed with beef. I enjoyed it, but my fellow travelers whined for the remainder of the trip about their selections. After work, we had dinner at restaurant Uzbekistan. It was pricey, but outstanding. Our colleague and guide being Uzbek prevented any unfortunate menu choices. Vodka (photo), a hookah (photo), belly dancers (photo), good food, and good company.

From the restaurant, we took the Metro (photo) to the center of town for some photo opportunities. I believe that the carriages (photo) are survivors of the Soviet era. General Zhukov (photo) had no small part in the defeat of Hitler. From his statue, you walk past the center of Moscow (photo). Red Square is cobble stoned(photo); the gaudily illuminated building to the left is a department store (!). To the right is Lenin's tomb (photo), where Soviet dignitaries watched military parades. We arrived too late to see the corpse. At the southeast corner is St. Basil's Cathedral (photo), which is breathtaking by night. We were unable to see it during the day. The late hour likewise precluded our visiting the State Historical Museum (photo).

Thursday for lunch, V and W insisted we return to the Tuesday's restaurant. At least we didn't go to McDonald's (photo). After work, it was beer in the hotel bar (Oktoberfest, though now I can't remember if it was Paulaner or Spaten). From there we walked to Gorki where we drank, wait for it, vodka. We had a number of starters which were very tasty; I had a delicious stroganoff.

Our hotel was the incredibly expensive Marriott Grand. My hotel bill was more than I have paid for a car. My room faced Tverskaya Street, with a view of Moscow traffic (photo).

Friday, it was another unpleasant taxi ride, and then no fewer than five security checks between entering the airport and boarding. On the flight home, I watched Get Smart, which features a scene in Red Square. It was strange seeing a scene shot at a location where we had stood thirty-six hours earlier. I also saw Hancock and Baby Momma. All were watchable but none were remarkable. Baby Momma would have been better if it had also featured Tina Fey's writing.

It is hard for me to visualize Moscow as a communist city. Today it is vibrant with cars and commerce. The architecture ranges from bland to impressive (at its worst, it is not as mind-numbingly awful as what I saw of Warsaw, or even the Communist-era buildings of Prague). The people of Moscow were not unfriendly; New York's position as the least friendly place I've visited remains intact.

The weather was cool and pleasant, with an occasional drizzle. As our arriving flight was landing, I was struck by how green the foliage was. Three days later, green was rapidly giving way to yellow (and then falling to the ground). Unfortunately, we had very little time for anything but meetings, taxi rides, sleeping, and eating. My visa has eleven and a half months remaining; it is not unlikely that I will get another opportunity.

I got to the point where I could sound out most words, but some Cyrillic characters resolutely defy me memorizing.

We had planned to attend a UEFA Cup match between Spartak Moscow and Banik Ostrava (a club from the Czech league). Unfortunately, working late and traffic conspired against us. We gave up the ghost at about ten minutes until eight. Had we continued, we would likely have missed all of the scoring (match summary). Unfortunately, that also scuttled my best hope for interesting souvenirs (I assume that Spartak has a fan shop at the stadium). My family had to settle for tchotchkes from the airport.

MCFC 2 - 3 LFC


Warning: Footie match report below.

Liverpool turned in a gutty performance today. Liverpool dominated possession early; City's first goal was against the run of play, and bad luck for Arbeloa whose attempted clearance deflected into the path of Ireland. The goal emboldened the Blues, who started to bring pressure. The second g0al was a gorgeous curving free kick; Reina needed to be in a better position to have any chance of defending it. Liverpool was down two-nil, and the announcer pointed out that to anyone counting the visitors out, he had only one word in response: Istanbul.

The stakes were not nearly as high, the Reds were not down by three, and the crowd was not as decidedly partisan in their favor, but it was still a sterling effort. Unlike at Ataturk, the skipper had a pedestrian performance (at least, by his standards). Riera continues to impress, literally giving right backs the run around. On the other side, Robinho failed to impress. He looked a little like the stereotypical striker diva - waiting for service, never tracking back, and moaning about missed calls. Shawn Wright-Phillips looked good; I thought he was the hardest working and most influential player for City.

Whereas his scoring was predominantly at Anfield last year, Torres is now scoring mostly away this campaign. And score he does. Gerrard and Arbeloa set up the first, and it swung the momentum to the Reds. Then Zabaleta was sent off for diving studs first into Alonso's planted foot. Shortly afterward, Gerrard hit a beautiful corner which Torres headed past Hart for the equalizer. Now even on goals and against ten-man City, the Reds had an air of confidence that made another goal feel inevitible. Torres squandered an opportunity for a hat trick, but Liverpool kept coming.

Late in the match, and after Liverpool had used all three substitutes, Skrtel landed awkwardly and had to be carried off the pitch with his left leg in a brace, reducing the sides to ten men each. Two minutes into the six added for stoppage, Kuyt got a monkey off his back by finishing off an effort started by El Nino (thankfully, better at football than at choosing belts). The Dutchman hadn't scored a league goal since the previous November (and the match might have been completely different had he not squandered the clinical cross offered by Riera early on).

Two weeks until the next match (Wigan). Hopefully Skrtel's injury wasn't as bad as it looked and he won't be out long. With Hyypiä left off the Champion's League roster, Liverpool might have only two center backs available.

I've followed Liverpool for a little more than two seasons now. While I'm happy for the results, some of which may not have been fully deserved, (cough) Sunderland (cough), I'm more pleased with the more open football Rafa has them playing. Hopefully, they'll keep playing this way all season (both in results and style).

04 October 2008

Michael Clayton

HBO earned its keep this week. Michael Clayton is a compelling, exciting, excellent movie. George Clooney was very good. Better still were Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton (who won an Academy Award for her performance). But it is unfair to single out individual performers. All of the actors did well; which speaks volumes of the quality of writer and director Tony Gilroy. The movie has terrific pace, and a compelling plot. That the underlying premise is a cliche (big bad company uses lawyers to take advantage of small farms) doesn't detract from the entertainment. See it.