30 April 2009

The play's the thing

Last night Blaise performed in Centennial High School's production of "Murder is Such Sweet Sorrow, A Shakesassination". This production was a student acted, produced, written, and directed. As was the case last year, it was not as bad as you might expect. I find that keeping reasonable expectations is the key to keeping my sanity. Blaise played Henry/Hamlet, and Raegan pointed out that at one point he seemed to be unintentionally channeling Bill Shatner. I thought he did quite well.

It wasn't painful, at least given that it was put together by a bunch of seventeen year-olds (one of whom was our own). Well, OK, you probably would have found it excruciating. So it's a good thing I went and you didn't. Sorry the picture's so bad. The light was poor and I am still using the crappy slow kit lens.

28 April 2009

Arlen Specter

I thought the next two years were going to be painful, as the Republicans would threaten the use of their only political leverage (filibuster) at every turn. Bereft of the White House, both chambers of the legislature, and ideas, the Republicans have become shrill. With Specter's decision, the filibuster is still a threat, as Democrats control 59 seats to the Republican 40. When, as appears inevitable, Al Franken is seated in the Senate and the Democrats control that 60th seat, the whining from the right will be unbearable.

Paul Krugman, of all people, made the point that America needs two parties. He's right, I don't see how the Republicans are viable as long as the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are taken seriously.

Controlling both chambers, and able to block filibusters, Obama will face a new challenge. Bush delighted in effectively disenfranchising the opposition. I will be deeply disappointed (and at least mildly suprised) if Obama is not more careful to preside over the whole nation, and not just the relatively small majority that puts one or the other candidate into office.

27 April 2009

They Must Be So Proud

One of the "Pork" provisions the Republicans stripped from the recent economic stimulus package was money for pandemic preparedness.

Their argument was that this particular segment of the economy wasn't in need of stimulus, and that this was therefore creating "big government" under the ruse of reacting to the recession. Perhaps, though I don't think that was proven. It is not surprising that the Republicans have forgotten that they espoused the trickle down approach to stimulus.

Anyway, since reading The Hot Zone and Flu, I've worried that a not unlikely viral pandemic in our lifetime would result in the deaths of millions of Americans, and possibly tens or hundreds of millions worldwide (and Ebola and Influenza are two frightening candidates). Stacked on my nightstand are a number of books I mean to read; next up is The Great Influenza. Actually, I've had it for about a month (I'm a little behind in my reading).

Given Jindal's derision of volcano monitoring just before Mt. Redoubt erupted, one has to wonder whether their next step will not be to try to dismantle the NHC.

Much of my political thinking was inculcated by my father, who was a resolute Republican. He believed that governments should be limited in scope to things that only make sense to undertake collectively; mustering armies and building roads were the examples he used. While I am no longer a Republican, I still believe many of the things Dad taught me. I would argue that volcano monitoring, hurricane monitoring, and pandemic preparedness also fall into the category of things that neither the market nor corporations, nor individuals can do effectively. For me, this is just further evidence that the Republican party has completely lost its way.

My Home State

There have been a number of disappointing revelations about Louisiana Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal. Among them are his support of teaching religion intelligent design in schools and the fact that he claims to have performed an amateur exorcism. Jindal wrote about the experience in 1994 while he was a student at Oxford's New College. Kathleen Blanco's abject performance during Katrina allowed the federal handling of the disaster a little wiggle room, excuse-wise. Then there's Edwin Edwards, about whom the less said the better. Edwards, of course, was following the path blazed a couple of generations earlier by the Kingfish.

Incredibly, none of these is the most embarrassing recent serious candidate for the governor's mansion; that distinction belongs to David Duke. As if being a Nazi weren't bad enough, he actually was convicted of tax fraud and of defrauding his own followers. Now he's been thrown out of the Czech Republic for violating their law against denying the holocaust. He serves as a reminder to all of us as to how bad humanity can be.

26 April 2009

HCFC 1-3 LFC

Liverpool escaped with three points from a scruffy match that was not particularly entertaining. Hull City, to their credit, did not park the bus, and that was probably fortunate for Liverpool, as they were so sloppy that that I doubt they could have broken down a resolute defense for a single goal.

As it was, the first goal was an excellent shot by Alonso on a rebound from a free kick generously given. Mascherano, finding himself in the unfamiliar position of being in possession at the edge of the penalty area, showed why it is unfamiliar as he went down untouched (I don't believe it was a dive; he seemed to trip over his own feet). As Mascherano fell, a Hull player clipped the Argentine's heel, and that resulted in the foul.

Hull, still out of the relegation zone with easier opponents to come, could afford to take nothing from this match, but they were fighting back even after they fell behind.

Hull had the better first half, but found themselves behind. As announcer David Faircough said, though, Hull will be disappointed, as they won't figure on Liverpool looking that bad after the break. Indeed, the first half was pretty dire fare from the men in red.

Folan took a cue from Pepe and took a kick at the Slovakian central defender, earning a straight red. The linesman seemed to signal a foul on Skrtel for obstruction, but referee Martin Atkinson saw the kick and really had no choice. The kick was not evident until the replay, and the home crowd booed Skrtel for the rest of the match. Arbeloa later earned a yellow card for a less egregious case of obstruction.

Skrtel took a shot that didn't look very threatening, but that bounced around a bit and fell to Kuyt, who showed no confusion as to what to do next, heading home from close range.

Shambolic defending by Skrtel and Insua managed to allow a cross into a completely unmarked Geovanni with a predictable result. Now 1-2, the Tigers were resurgent and though a man down, they looked like they might yet take a point. Benitez brought on El Zhar, Agger, and Dossena for Mascherano, Benayoun, and Kuyt. Before he left, though, Kuyt scored on a rebound from an Arbeloa shot. Kuyt repeated the infamous Rafa gesture in front of the visiting fans.

Credit to Hull City (if not their fans, who chanted in support of the Mancs). They do not have the talent that top clubs possess, but they played hard for ninety minutes (almost half of which they had only ten men).

The scoreline flatters the visitors, who did not play particularly well. For a few hours in the end of April, though, it put us top of the table. United need to lose twice in five games (Arsenal, Man City, Wigan, Middlesborough and Hull), and that seems pretty unlikely. When Spurs went up by two on United, Liverpool probably had their best hope, but Fergies boys put in five to ice the game.

At the half, Setanta analyst Pat Dolan raised a point that will certainly be considered sacrilegious by some, that Liverpool can't win the title with Carragher at center back. He is tough as ever, but he is 31, and was one of the players who looked decidedly ordinary in the first half. Benitez seems fond of over the hill center backs. This summer, I would hope that Hyypia moves into a coaching role (perhaps nominally a player coach), with Agger getting more time on the pitch to forge a partnership with Skrtel.

Next up: Newcastle.

23 April 2009

Destroying neighborhoods to save them

Back in February, I started an entry that I never finished about supply and demand in the housing market. My fundamental assertions was that New Orleans would have been better off after Katrina if some neighborhoods had been sacrificed: purchased by the government and razed. This would reduce the housing oversupply (which would stabilize housing prices) and would reduce the miles of road that need to be maintained by the Streets department and patrolled by the police. It would increase green space, making the area a more pleasant place to live. I never finished the post (it sits forlornly in the "drafts" section of the blog).

I read this today on the Economist Free Exchange blog, and now I kinda wish I'd finished the post two months ago so you could all see what a forward thinking person I am (grin). I know not everyone takes the time to follow links; this one is a brief post about how Flint, Michigan is considering tearing down houses. It in turns links to this more thorough NY Times article.


22 April 2009

David Kellermann

There's plenty of empty rhetoric and uninformed finger pointing surrounding the current financial meltdown. How many stories like this would it take to sate the blood lust?

It may not have been suicide; we'll learn more soon. But it seems not unlikely that the cause was related to his job (acting CFO of Freddie Mac).

20 April 2009

Abusing my body

I ran two miles Saturday. I was pleased that I was able to run most of the way at a reasonably aggressive pace. I am very sore, though.

Sunday we went to the Georgia Renaissance Festival (which deserves its own entry). The "Test of Strength" (at least I think that's what it was called) is a traditional carnival contest: you swing a maul, striking a lever, which then slides a weight up a graduated scale that has a bell at the top should you hit it hard enough. I managed to reach the top segment, which is probably better than I should hope for, but did not hit the bell. It's harder than it looks. And now my shoulder is hurts.

19 April 2009

Carcassonne



Great game, great cake.

Credits:
Pic swiped from this entry at Cake Wrecks. Wiki on Carcassonne, the game and the town.

18 April 2009

Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle entered the Britain's Got Talent television program, and when she walked out on the stage, she looked like a frumpy 47 year old unemployed charity worker who lives alone with her cat (in this case, looks are not completely deceiving). Asked of her dream, she said it was to be a singer. This was greeted by unconcealed cynicism and derisive laughter.

How many gifts are hidden behind a homely facade while more attractive but fundamentally talentless hacks like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton continue to receive undeserved airplay?

Watch her in this youtube video, both for her performance, and for the judges' apologies for their prejudice.

Big Sam

I think Sir Alex Ferguson has enjoyed unbelievable success in his career, which has affixed his name in the permanent pantheon of great football managers. While he has had resources most managers can only dream of, that alone does not guarantee victory.

Especially touching is the way he rose to defend the honor of poor Sam Allardyce, so contemptuously treated by Benitez in last week's thrashing. Obviously, the only possible explanation for a smile and hand gesture after a goal is "this game is over and Blackburn is managed by a git".

I've watched most of Liverpool's matches this year, and typically Rafa is emotionless after goals (and most any other time during a match). My interpretation at the time (and still) is that the team (probably Alonso specifically) did not do what he had expected (Benitez is notorious for micromanaging matches) and that the result (a goal, recall) was a pleasant surprise. As though he were going to shout what they should have done, and he realized the folly of trying to improve the outcome. There was no indication that it was dismissive of Allardyce, and it would be inconsistent for Benitez to be dismissive of the opposing team.

Maybe the fourth estate is required to take seriously everything that emerges from the Scot's mouth. Hopefully, though, he's getting the ridicule he deserves for needlessly commenting on a match that did not, as best I can tell, include his club.

And Allardyce ought to be shamed for needing his bully friend to come to his defense. What he could have used more was a striker on the pitch and the courage to come forward.

17 April 2009

Cocktail Update

Our bartender last night has been named by Playboy one of the top ten mixologists. The article, which while safe for work might still set off alarms in your IT department if you follow the link at work. I follow the blogs of two of the others on the list: Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Jamie Boudreau.

In the (very brief) article, he gives some details for the Rhythm and Soul: an antique cocktail of vermouth, rye whiskey, angostura bitters and Averna–an Italian herbal liqueur. (As Best puts it, “imagine a sazerac clashing head-on into a manhattan.”)

Congratulations, Greg, well deserved.

Holeman and Finch - Worth the Hangover

My wife's sister arrived last night for a weekend stay. She has become a cocktail enthusiast, so we naturally resolved to take her to Holeman and Finch. The small seating area was again full; we had brought friends from New Orleans there in February and with the pub full had dinner at its fancier sibling, Restaurant Eugene. This time, we found seats at the bar while we waited for a table.

Holeman and Finch is for cocktail purist: no appletinis in sight, only classic and original cocktails meticulously prepared with the finest ingredients. Their cocktail menu is full of interesting combinations. We've found some more appealing than others, but the current slate is full of winners. I started with an Ernie McCracken: Famous Grouse scotch, Orange Curacao, Drambuie, and fresh lemon, served in a stemmed glass. The girls had a Punch in the Rye and a Jack's Press.

A table was not yet available, so we ordered another round. My first drink was tasty, but I was in the mood for something more intense (more "boozy", as my sister in law put it). The bartender had heard that my favorite cocktail is a Sazerac, so he had some sense of my preferences, and I asked for a bartenders choice. He made a Vieux Carré, which I've tried at home, but this was better. Rich, balanced, and fragrant. I don't believe that his version included Benedictine; I may need to seek out other recipes. The girls had a Harrier and a Diabolical.

By now, we had decided that the bar was more fun than a table would be, so we ordered our food: mussells, crawfish and fava bean ragout, crunchy gentleman, pimento cheese with crackers, mushrooms, peas, and finished with a chocolate tart.

Though I am paying for it with a throbbing head now, I requested one more (I was not driving). This was last was his own invention, a Rhythm and Soul, which combines a Sazerac and a Manhattan. I love both cocktails, and their offspring did not disappoint.

I looked at the name on our receipt; we had been served by a "Darth V". His real name, we learned from his business card is Greg Best, and he is a partner in the enterprise. We seldom make it inside the perimeter; it is no accident that more often not when we do, we visit Holeman and Finch. Excellent food and service, a pleasant casual atmosphere, and great cocktails.

16 April 2009

Tweenbots

I'm generally pessimistic and cynical about human nature. Within social norms and with base needs fulfilled, humanity can be very good. Absent those (and there are stark recent examples) people rapidly descend to barbarism. This story doesn't really refute that belief (perhaps if they'd tried it in Darfur instead of a park in New York). Still, it is an interesting exercise.

More info at Tweenbots.

15 April 2009

Remembering Hillsborough

In fact it would be impossible for me to remember Hillsborough; I had never heard of it until long after its day of infamy. I read this article after the 2006 World Cup and its descriptions of the clubs had a great deal to do with my choice of Liverpool.

In the US, April 15 is income tax day. In 1989, it fell on a Saturday, between Easter and Jazz Fest. We were still newlyweds, and likely spent the day driving around looking at prospective houses. Much has been written about the events of that day. Liverpool was to play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup Semifinal at the neutral stadium of Hillsborough, home field to Sheffield Wednesday. Ninety-six people were killed when too many fans packed into two tragically overcrowded section of stands at the Leppings Lane end. If you're interested, Wikipedia has a pretty decent summary.

Many Liverpool supporters remain outraged to this day, primarily for two reasons. One, no one was convicted for the mistakes that led to a horrific loss of human life. Two, the tabloid The Sun made scurrilous accusations of Liverpool supporters.

The Taylor Report placed the blame for the tragedy squarely at the feet of the police, who bungled the crowd management but deflected blame to late-arriving and intoxicated fans. The Sun printed an apology in 2004, though some have questioned their sincerity. For some, the crusade for "justice" is a lifelong pursuit. But the Sun could print a heartfelt retraction in every issue and every member of the South Yorkshire police could be jailed for their mistakes, and not a single one of the dead would be returned.

Remember and honor the dead, certainly. Boycott the Sun if you like. But let go the seething anger that has simmered for twenty years now. (Telegraph article) For me, this is a story of sadness, not hatred.

It is peculiar that a song written by Americans has become the anthem for a storied English football club, but that song is among the things that drew me to Liverpool support in that summer three years past.
When you walk through a storm keep your chin up high,
And don't be afraid of the dark.
At the end of a storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart,
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never walk alone!


Photos: Guardian, Guardian, Telegraph, Wikipedia

14 April 2009

CFC 4-4 LFC

This match was too exhausting to write about. Nothing left but the Premier League now, but at least we put a scare into 'em when the match was 0-2 and again 3-4.

12 April 2009

Three Wines from South of the Equator

Turnout was light for wine tasting Friday night; the combination of Spring Break and Easter weekend meant that there were but three of us to taste two wines. The first was Elderton Ode to Lorraine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot. It was quite good, though I think it was still a little too young. The other was Ernie Els (who shares a nickname with my home town) Stellenbosch. I liked it a lot. David's guess was either a right bank Bordeaux or a new world producer's homage to Bordeaux, so he was right in the neighborhood.

Raegan went home, but David and I hung around a bit longer. A friend of Drew's had a birthday party in the tasting room, and we mingled with the guests. We ran next door and bought another bottle each, David bringing an Australian Shiraz (the details of which I failed to record) and I brought Campo Viejo Crianza, a good Rioja (and an incredible value at the price). We shared our wines with the guests, and tasted some of their wines. There was a good Barolo (some fruit, but still too much tannin for my taste) and a tasty Brunello. Far and away, the most impressive wine on the night was the Catena Zapata Malbec. Simply superb.

Three Movies

Movies from most recent flight (CDG-ATL):
Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Woody Allen's movie about two friends summering in Barcelona. I found it a little depressing. The main characters are beautiful and enjoy a summer abroad finding themselves and engaging in passionate relationships. Juan Antonio is a successful painter who manages to bed Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, and Penelope Cruz. Unfortunately, I'm more like Mark, the middle aged man in a happy, but not completely satisfying marriage (don't read too much into that). Or Doug, Vicky's fiance: a shallow, materialistic asshole. Sigh.

Vilaine - An amusing, if not great, French comedy about a nice girl who finally turns on those who have taken advantage of her nature. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but I enjoyed it.

La Guerre des miss - A silly Belgian (in French) comedy about a local beauty pageant pitting two villages against each others. Better than nothing (and there was a reference to OSS117), but the plot was pretty formulaic.

11 April 2009

LFC 4-0 BRFC

Like Wednesday's debacle, Liverpool opened the scoring early with a goal from Torres, but that is where the similarities end. Big Sam started defender Samba as a lone striker, suggesting that he would pursue the tactic often taken by weak teams against Liverpool. Should Liverpool fail to win the league, the success of that tactic delivering scoreless draws will be the reason.

The first goal was a piece of Torres brilliance turning on a pass from Carragher, who wore the armband in the absence of Gerrard. The second was an Alonso free kick headed in by Torres, besting 6'5" Samba. Even after they were behind, Blackburn never looked interested in scoring. Liverpool finished the first half ahead 2-0, a scoreline that flattered Blackburn.

Much of the second half was quite poor, but even a sloppy Liverpool left Blackburn second-best. The outcome was never in doubt, and Benitez took the opportunity to rest Torres, Kuyt, and Alonso and bring on youngsters El Zhar, Ngog, and Lucas. Center back Agger scored the third goal, beating Robinson from distance. Finally, Ngog scored his second of the season by easily heading a ball supplied by Lucas.

The statistics say that Liverpool enjoyed 68% of possession, but the ball spent more time than that in the Blackburn half, regardless of who was passing it.

I doubt that Man United will falter, but it is exciting to have a legitimate chance at the title this late in the season. Unfortunately, after Tuesday that will likely be all that remains for the men in red.

09 April 2009

Three Museums in Prague

We visited two of them.


Settlers of Catan

The game Diplomacy is at once great and deeply flawed. I've played it a few times, and almost never to completion. It also has pretty simple mechanics and fairly consistent rules. It relies on sometimes time consuming communications between players, in varying degrees of privacy. The last time I played was by post in 1988; at that time, games were typically moderated by an additional person (i.e., not one of the players). It is also nearly impossible to win without betraying a fellow player from time to time. This requirement of betrayal can be difficult for some, though easier if you are playing anonymously. It has always seemed to me to be a game particularly suited for implementation over the web.

A few years ago, I was looking for web Diplomacy resources when I happened across a personal web site (a blog, before there was such a thing) of a Diplomacy enthusiast who said that his gaming group had mostly abandoned Diplomacy for 1830. 1830 is a very good game (which does not require you stabbing your friends in the back), but it never caught on with our group. Like Diplomacy, the game is fairly deterministic, with most of the luck having to do with the unpredictability of your opponents' actions. This web site said, though, that more recently they had discovered a new game from Germany and was playing it nearly exclusively. That game was Settlers of Catan. Later that year, we were in Biloxi at a Science Fiction Convention, and one of the vendors in the dealers room had a single copy of Settlers which I snapped up.

We started playing and loved it. I don't know whether it is the Perfect Board Game, but it is certainly one of, if not the very best I've ever played (and I've played a lot more than most). Games don't take too long (unlike History of the World), clever play is rewarded (unlike Oh Pshaw), being ahead is an advantage (unlike Naval War) but being behind doesn't mean you can't win (unlike most games of Diplomacy). The mechanics are simple enough that kids can play (unlike Wacht am Rhein).

If you enjoy board games at all, I recommend it. It is a great game, but only when there are four players, but I also think that very few games play well with much more than four. Board Game Geek is a terrific resource for games, here's their entry on Settlers of Catan.

In case you're wondering why I decided to write about it, it is because the Freakonomics blog mentioned it in this article, which in turn links to this article at Wired.

LFC 1-3 CFC

Impostors in red kits took the pitch at Anfield last night. For the first thirty minutes they offered a good impression of Liverpool's first team, passing well and penetrating the Chelsea defense. Then Serbian defender Ivanovic came free on a corner and headed the equaliser. After that, Liverpool fell apart. A stunned crowd watched on passes went awry and defending was awful. Chelsea has some talented players, and Hiddink seems to have them believing in themselves again. Liverpool just don't have the talent to match up with Manchester United; for Liverpool to challenge, they must work harder and play closer to their ability.

The worst part of last night's match, worse even than the scoreline, was that throughout Chelsea looked the hungrier side.

It would require a 3-1 away win at Stamford Bridge merely to force extra time. Now the Premier League seems to be the only hope for a trophy at Anfield this year.