31 August 2009

The view from 6E

If I look behind me to my right, I can easily tell whether the
lavatory is occupied. I can tell when someone has finished with the
facilities without turning, as the loud flushing sound is
unmistakable. It sucks (did you see what I did there?) but it's still
betterthan coach.

Greetings from 6E

Originally in 4C, I agreed to swap to 3A to allow a Czech gentleman to
sit with his wife and son. Then a young Mexican gentleman asked to
swap so he could sit with his girlfriend. I could hardly refuse,
though to be honest, the seat next to the designated crew seat is not
the best. C'est la vie!

The iPhone is not ideal for self portraits.

D09

Not the movie, the rating. Fencers are rated from A to E. Most fencers are unrated, even the lowest rating requires a pretty difficult tournament result. Blaise has long been E rated, and has narrowly missed earning his D more than once. Yesterday he won a D1 rated tournament which means that he was finally awarded his D rating. Well deserved. Congratulations!

30 August 2009

Katrina

Yesterday was four years since hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Most of the land under the greater New Orleans area had been swamp and marsh. The land beneath the French Quarter, Uptown, and the Gentilly, Metairie, and River Ridges were higher, but none were very high to begin with. Development meant draining, which resulted in already land already low sinking further.

The city had flooded several times in the past, and a fairly elaborate system of levees and drainage canals were built and maintained. When confronted with a dizzying array of demands for public funds, it is difficult to overspend on a risk that is uncertain, infrequent, and in the future.

The canals and pumps are used frequently and are among the world's most advanced. Rainfall of inches can come in one afternoon in New Orleans, and that might tax the drainage system of a lot of cities, even those that aren't flat and below sea level.

But the levees are different. They sit, silent sentinels waiting for the lake to rise. Over the years the levees have been maintained and raised. On August 29, 2005, the levees were breached in several places. The Army Corps of Engineers is blamed for the flooding, but from my chair a thousand feet above sea level and five hundred miles away, it seems like scapegoating.

For me, the lesson of Katrina is that it is hard to be prepared for a sudden environmental disaster, even one you know might be coming. If five years earlier, everyone in New Orleans had been studying the levees, were convinced they were inadequate, and had demanded that much more tax money be spent on improving them (even if that meant paying more taxes), the outcome would have been different. But there was no such involvement, no such outcry. Lone voices, perhaps, but on a small scale.

Climate change induced by carbon emissions are, I believe, the planet's Katrina. I'm not optimistic that enough people will make the sacrifices necessary to prevent a much larger disaster. The US is the largest single producer of CO2; we will soon be surpassed by China. The rest of the world could cut their emissions by half, and we'd still have a problem. The US can't cut emissions without lowering our standard of living, and Americans have lost the willingness to sacrifice. China can't grow its economy fast enough at current emissions rates.

After the levees were breached, it took merely days after the flood surge receded to patch the holes and drain the city. It took weeks to make much of the city habitable. Four years later, there are many houses still abandoned since being flooded. It has been years, and New Orleans will never be the same.

29 August 2009

BWFC 2-3 LFC

It was a scrappy match, and Bolton will feel hard done by a fairly generous second yellow on Sean Davis early in the second half. Johnson has been excellent, especially going forward. Insua continues to look promising, but probably second choice once Aurelio returns. But with Agger out with a back injury, Skrtel still nursing a jaw injury, and Hyppia playing in German, Kyrgiakos earned his first start. II blame an unsettled back line for much of Liverpool's early season struggles.

A title challenge is unlikely, especially with Chelsea racing out of the blocks. Still, I'm hoping for entertaining football.

Pervasive

It's not possible for everyone to be above average. However, not only is it possible for everyone to believe themselves above average, apparently they do.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is certainly rampant in the US.

(hat tip: Best of Wikipedia)

27 August 2009

Just Plain Silly

It appears that Americans haven't quite cornered the market on clueless.

Angry drunk holding a pint glass (made of glass): dangerous.
Angry drunk holding a ping glass (made of plastic): harmless.

Story here, hat tip: Schneier on Security

26 August 2009

Martini

I've been giving my liver a break, well, sort of a break. I might have wine with dinner, and a big tasting every two or three weeks, but I've been mostly off cocktails for a while. I'm out of rye, which is tragic, and so tonight I made a Martini. Two, if you're counting, but shame on you if you are. I used the Aviation gin, which is just top notch, and some M&R dry vermouth. Really, really good. I stirred them (Bond is simply wrong), but I think you really need to chill the glass beforehand (and I didn't). It deserves better vermouth, I think. Still, it is a great cocktail.

Cheating, surely

Shameful. Or perhaps I should say shameless. I watched a replay, and was sickened as Brazilian "Croatian" Eduardo happily celebrated the converted undeserved penalty kick. Arsenal would have advanced in the competition without the tainted goal. Never mind UEFA, I'd love to see a manager with the stones to suspend a diver. I'm not talking about a player who goes down too easily after contact, but one who obviously simulates contact where it didn't exist.

(later) I had typed this up yesterday, and wasn't sure whether I wanted to post it. Then Wenger showed his colors (nearly every manager would have done the same. Without a hint of irony, Wenger said “I find it a complete disgrace”. He was referring not to his cheating player, but to the idea that Eduardo is being singled out.

24 August 2009

Inglorious

We watched Inglorious Basterds yesterday. Tarantino is not afraid of violence, and this movie has plenty of it. But it was entertaining; I'd recommend it. (Rotten Tomatoes: 87) Bradd Pitt was very good, but the movie belongs to Cristoph Waltz, a previously little-known Austrian actor.

There are some nice twists (I'll say no more lest I spoil anything).

Convertible

The weather this morning in Atlanta has been beautiful: 69f/20c, sunny, dry. I took the top down, only to find myself behind a garbage truck on the road out of my subdivision. The aroma was not very pleasant, and with the top down, you get it in its full glory. Once I got out of the subdivision, traffic was too heavy for me to pass the truck, but thankfully it turned off after a short distance.

Once I got to Spalding though, the smell returned. At first I thought it just residual, but then I noticed a telltale wet trail on the road. Sure enough, a half block ahead was another garbage truck, redolent with the sour smell of rot. Eventually it turned off the road. Bleccch.

22 August 2009

In Defence of Lucas

In the past I have been a critic of Lucas, Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder, and while he and Benitez are likely to receive more unwanted attention after articles like this, I think it's time people backed off.

1) He wasn't priced at a premium. At 6 million pounds, he was not a terribly expensive signing by Liverpool standards; he's probably performed about as well as anyone should have expected.

2) For the most part, his appearances have been as a substitute, or because preferred players are injured. Only the most resolute scouser would suggest that Jay Spearing is likely to be much better.

3) He's young. He's still only twenty two, he can mature and improve. He'll never be Steven Gerrard, but every team needs squad players, too.

It is fairly easy to argue that, recent performance notwithstanding, he has been given more playing time than the quality he's shown warrants, but to that, see #2. When Aquilani heals, the Italian is likely to be the first choice. And the truth is that Lucas has looked much better so far this year.

Whether he is good enough for Liverpool's ambitions is a different question, but Lucas works hard, and can only be as good as the talent he was born with. After Gerrard, Mascherano, and Aquilani, he is Liverpool's fourth choice central midfielder. How does he compare to other clubs' fourth choice at central midfield?

19 August 2009

Journalistic Ethics

Investor's Business Daily recently posted an editorial (against Obama's plan) saying:
"People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."
Professor Hawking, of course, has lived in the U.K. his whole life. Further, he has stated:
“I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”
When they learned that they had managed to get it completely wrong, IBD did the unconscionable. They posted a corrected version with this note:
Editor's Note: This version corrects the original editorial which implied that physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, did not live in the UK.
That part isn't so offensive. What is unforgivable is that they removed the reference to Professor Hawking entirely. They got a fact wrong, and when called on it, they didn't admit that their fundamental premise was wrong, they just pretended like they hadn't said it in the first place and that the conclusion predicated on the false premise was still valid. That is the sort of intellectual dishonesty I'd expect from Fox.

There is a much better writeup in the Columbia Journalism Review.

US Health Care

The current US Health Care system has a surprising number of proponents. Well, surprising to me. In general, I have a pretty low opinion of insurance companies. Really of any industry where there is more marketing than product (I'm looking at you, Coca-Cola). We spend more than any other country on health care. Most Americans believe that we therefore receive the best health care, but the evidence to support that is, well, hard to find.

Where does the hundreds of billions extra that we spend in health care go? Insurance companies, to be sure. Doctors, some of whom are absurdly overpaid. Attorneys, and lots of them. Medical supply companies. And big pharma. Nearly all of that money stays in the US economy to be spent here again, so there's some value there. Still, I'd rather have the money in my pocket, thank you very much.

The current, employer-subsidized system has, as best I can tell, only a couple of advantages. One, it is an incentive to be employed, and that's a good thing. Theoretically, insurance companies compete for business (see? a free market), but what they do (like cell phone companies, etc.) is create captive markets. Once you're locked in, the market is not so free.

Wikipedia has a pretty extensive article on health care reform in the US. I might even read it.

One last thing that supporters of the current system seem to conveniently ignore. At current trends, we will soon not be able to afford it. So the question is, should we be thinking about changes now, or wait until we run out of money?

18 August 2009

New Toy

I have added another component to the pile of no-longer-wanted technology in our house. I went to Best Buy and bought one of these. The picture is very impressive (better than HDTV).

We now have two unneeded DVD players to go with about five old computers and a 27" Television.

17 August 2009

Back to School

Not the kids, who returned to school last week, but Raegan, who is starting at Kennesaw State today. In the mid 90's, she attended U.N.O. in pursuit of a teaching certificate, but the May '95 flood interrupted that.

16 August 2009

Climate Change? Feh!

This just confirms what the rest of the world already knows about Americans. We're a little clueless sometimes.

THFC 2-1 LFC

The match started poorly, and Liverpool had bad luck when Carragher and Skrtel crashed heads. Skrtel eventually left the match (and perhaps should have much sooner). Most of the first half was pretty dire, but Spurs created chances, with Reina's heroics denying Keane. A fortunate rebound from a free kick fell to Assou-Ekotto who blasted the ball into the top far corner. Liverpool could have no complaints about the score at half.

In the second half, Liverpool finally started to attack, and Johnson showed why he had been coveted when his run prompted a poor challenge by Gomes, with a Gerrard penalty kick the result. Three minutes later, Carragher held back Defoe and Liverpool defended the set piece poorly as Bassong headed home the winner.

In open play, Liverpool never deserved to win this match, though how Assou-Ekotto wasn't sent off for his assault on Voronin is beyond me.

As happened last year, Liverpool left White Hart Lane disappointed. There were few bright spots to pick out for Liverpool. Benayoun may have been the best player in red, and he only played thirty minutes. Johnson played well, most others held to form from last year. I wouldn't be surprised if Skrtel misses action with his jaw injury. Lucas wasn't awful, but neither did he show the quality that I want. Aquilani, get well soon.

D9

All four of us saw District 9 yesterday afternoon. When I can, I try to know as little about a movie as possible before watching it. I don't watch much TV, so it's really not that hard. I knew almost nothing about this one, except that it featured insect-looking aliens.

It is very good, deserving its current 88 from Rotten Tomatoes.

Peter Jackson produced, Neill Blomkamp directed, and Sharlto Copley is terrific in the lead.

When I typed "District 9" in Google, the first suggested search was "District 9 sequel".

My main complaint is that an important part of the premise is just not plausible scientifically. It won't bother most people; science fiction is, after all, fiction. But part of the science, if it could happen at all, couldn't happen nearly as fast as it does (and needs to for the plot to work). It's a nit - I recommend the movie.

Grey Goose, etc.

Darcy O'Neill has an interesting post on vodka, and why you should be suspicious of "premium" vodkas.

15 August 2009

Liverpool 2009/2010

As a lifelong supporter of the New Orleans Saints, my capacity for hope (at the beginning of the season) is matched with about thirty seasons of disappointment. So while I am hopeful for Liverpool's chances this season, I also try and be realistic. Generally great seasons are often followed by regressions to the mean (especially at the individual level; e.g., Ronaldo and Torres from 07/08 and 08/09).

That doesn't mean that Liverpool will finish in the middle of the table. But it does mean that fewer goals and more losses are not unlikely.

13 August 2009

Birth Nonsense

OK, anybody who has (or even claims to have) any doubts about the legitimacy of Obama's presidency is a fucking blooming idiot (or a disingenuous asshole jerk). I'm afraid there is no third option. If that's you, well, I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but there it is.

12 August 2009

The Time For Optimisim

Just a few more days before the English Premier League opens. Burnley can still hope that they'll manage to stay up. Manchester City can still hope that they can buy a trophy or two. And I can hope that Torres and Gerrard stay healthy, that Glen Johnson is worth half what was paid for him, that Aquilani can stay off the trainer's table.

I am of two minds.

One agrees with the annoying Scot up the M62 that Liverpool will be hard pressed to repeat last year. If Ancelotti has righted the ship, if Michael Owen can fill the boots of the preening one, if a zillion pounds worth of players make a team, Liverpool might well be fighting just for the last Champions League spot.

The other is thinks that Johnson and Aquilani are more threatening than Arebeloa and Alonso, on a team that was already good enough to lead the league in scoring, even with their striker out for a third of the matches.

I think that if Liverpool can survive the first couple of months of the season (half of the starters have injury concerns), this could finally be the year. Lucas has looked very good in the last couple of games; with the new Italian weeks from fitness, he will need to be.

I hope that this will be the year that I finally make it to Anfield. And that we finally knock United off their fucking perch. Hope springs eternal.

11 August 2009

Two Different Movies

Last week we watched our current Netflix selection, Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. It was made by Joss Whedon and meant to be watched over the web (which you can do here). It's a little hard to explain, and if you don't already know about it or who Joss Whedon is, it's not unlikely that you'll think it's stupid. It is a musical, by the way. We thought it was a lot of fun.

Saturday we went to see Julie and Julia (currently 76% at Rotten Tomatoes). Meryl Streep was awesome (at this point, that should go without saying). I thought the NYT review was a little harsh on Amy Adams. The script has some problems and I found the conclusion unsatisfying, but I'd still recommend it. The movie was based on a book that Raegan had read, here's the NYT review of that.

08 August 2009

Last Night's Wine Tasting

This is Trevor's (not ours, a different one) last weekend at Bin 75. We wished him well the way we pretty much do everything, by drinking wine. We tasted a sick number of wines (I think it was 16, but I'd have to get up and walk all the way to the den to get my notes).

We brought two wines, both of which were well received. Wine of the night was a tie between two wines (neither of ours), but neither were they near the bottom of anyone's list. The first wine we tasted was the '00 Dauzac.

We also brought the '03 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon. Our group tends to prefer old world style wines, so for a Napa Cab to hold up, it has to have been well made.

My pick for wine of the night was an '01 Langoa Barton, which was everything I love about Bordeaux wines.

Very good (and tied with the Barton for wine of the night) was this '97 Poggio Alle Mura. I should buy more Brunellos (though we need to work down our ridiculous inventory).

People very rarely bring white wines to these tastings, but someone brought a GrĂ¼ner Veltliner. I correctly guessed that it was Austrian (only because I was being contrary, Alcase and Germany having already been taken), though I thought it was a Riesling. Keith picked it for wine of the night (switching from our Duckhorn).


I've had the Guado Al Tasso before, this '99 was disappointing.


Speaking of disappointing, we all expected a lot more from this '98 Latour.

06 August 2009

Stimulus: working? (part 2)

The stimulus exists in at least two contexts: economic and political. In the political context, it is difficult to find any facts at all amongst the withering barrage of partisanship; I'll leave that to others. In the economic context, the stimulus is (as I mentioned last month) just getting started and unlikely to solve everything in any case.

The Economist is a great journal: believers in markets, but not blind to other arguments, relentlessly thoughtful and pragmatic. This brief analysis of a speech by Christina Romer suggests that there is some evidence that the stimulus package is having some (ahem, positive) impact.

To be honest, I remain encouraged by the current administration. Faced with an immediate economic crisis created entirely before they arrived, they have done about as much as was politically viable. The most pressing mid-term financial problem of our nation appears to be health care, and that's getting attention. Finally, there is the deficit. While I fervently hope that the recovery within Obama's first term will be sufficient to talk about addressing the deficit, I am dubious.

It is well documented that I supported Obama before the election, so perhaps that's just confirmation bias. If it is at all possible to be objective, it is quite difficult.

03 August 2009

How to avoid ever getting hired

Our litigious society.

Liberty Matters

Here's a really good article from Forbes making a compelling case that the Gates arrest was unconstitutional. Lately, we seem to be in a hurry to piss away the liberties that our forebears worked so hard to earn. The first amendment applies even when you're being rude to a police officer.

Bruce Schneier writes on security, and points out in this article that not only is government surveillance bad in the libertarian sense, it is a real security exposure.

02 August 2009

Too Much Time on Their Hands

There are some amusing reviews at Amazon for this unlikely product.