Monday, October 31, 2005

Maybe Not A Trick, Definitely Not a Treat

When federal workers were offered the chance to be detailed down to New Orleans to deal with the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina, tons of feds signed up -- in fact, many more signed up than were needed. Today I got the following e-mail from the head of my agency:
From: xxxx xxxxxx
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2005
Subject: Support for the Reconstruction of Iraq

The United States is engaged in supporting the Iraqi people as they rebuild their economy, government, political institutions, and essential services. The President has called upon all Federal departments and agencies to support the rebuilding of Iraq through details of Federal employees to the Department of State's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office (IRMO). Federal employees detailed to IRMO will have a unique opportunity to achieve concentrated skill development while serving our country and the Iraqi people. Detailed Federal employees must have a security clearance at the SECRET or TOP SECRET level as required by IRMO.

Detail Opportunities: Listed below is the type of knowledge and skills IRMO is seeking for these elite assignments:

1. Knowledge of contracting practices, methods, and procedures.

2. Knowledge of budgeting and financial management.

3. Skill in using database management systems. Ability to analyze data and develop conclusions and reports. Experience with Microsoft productivity applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

4. Knowledge of government, ethics, and policy, gained as a member of a U.S. Bar with experience in the field of ethics and good government.

5. Technical knowledge of an essential services sector, such as telecommunications, oil, power, electricity, transportation, water, sewer and sanitation, and the distribution of subsidized food, medicine and consumer goods. Knowledge of management concepts and practices, especially related to engineering and design projects. Expert knowledge of analytical and evaluation methods in order to conduct large scale studies.

6. Knowledge of program planning, requirements, management, operations, and problems in an essential services sector, such as oil, power, electricity, telecommunications, transportation, water, sewer and sanitation, and the distribution of subsidized food, medicine and consumer goods. Knowledge of related finance, management, and planning in developing countries. Knowledge of governance concepts and structures, and experience working with governments.

7. Knowledge of counter-terrorism/special operations (CT/SO) programs, objectives and policies. Ability to develop a CT/SO unit and build a CT/SO training facility.

8. Knowledge of a wide-variety of national security affairs including structures, policies, and issues regarding police, border and internal security, and facility protection. Skill in institution building that creates stable, accountable, professional, and effective internal security institutions. Knowledge of analysis methodologies and processes.

9. Knowledge of critical communications networks and telecommunications, especially First Responder Networks.

10. Knowledge of firefighting and emergency response infrastructure. Ability to manage large contracts in these areas.

11. Knowledge and ability to manage complex scientific programs engaged in technology transfer.

Assignments: Each employee can expect to be detailed for 6 months to 1 year. Throughout the detail, each employee will continue to be employed by their current agency as a Civil Service employee with no break in Federal service.

Pay and Benefits: The employee's agency will be solely responsible for each employee's compensation and benefits, including but not limited to locality pay, danger pay, post (hardship) differential, the employer's portion of benefits, and premium pay authorized and approved under U.S. Office of Personnel Management rules and regulations and agency and Embassy Baghdad policies. Each employee will be entitled to a Home Visit once every six months, which the employee's agency will fund.

Approval: Employees must first discuss their interest and have approval from their supervisor and Bureau/Office Chief before applying for an IRMO detail.

Questions: Employees may contact zzzz zzzz, Human Resources Management's Point of Contact at xxx-xxxx for further information on how to apply for a detail with the IRMO. Also, additional information can be found at

Thank you.
I gave a lot of thought to signing up for Katrina clean up -- I didn't have to think about this one for a second.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I Can't Believe They Bleeped Out Shit

Beer rating is an interesting obsession -- if I'm not careful, I end up avoiding beer I know that I love because I've already rated it, in order to drink beer I don't think much of. Lately I've been trying to make more of an effort to balance my drinking so I can drink more old favorites (like this one, which I'm drinking right now). This time of year I'm more likely to drink old favorites, as I think that overall, winter seasonals are the most enjoyable. They're richer and bolder, or spiced, in a manner that goes well with the winter chill. I've already tried this year's Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, always one of the first winter seasonals to be released, and yesterday I picked up this year's Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, an annual favorite of mine. Truly, winter is my favorite time of the year beerwise.

On the subject of beer rating, I recently found out that I am being used. To be more accurate, a beer review of mine is being used by Great Divide Brewing on its website. Perhaps this will be the first step toward becoming a professional reviewer, a dream job if ever there were one. Not so coincidentally, the beer reviewed is Yeti Imperial Stout, the Great Divide beer to which I've given the highest rating. Yesterday while out beer shopping, I decided to pick up a bottle, to see if I still like it as much (or perhaps even more) as when I rated it, over 1 1/2 years ago. It is, after all, an old favorite.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Halloween on the Hill

The term "inside the Beltway" has gained some meaning to the outside world -- the Beltway refers to I-495, the road that surrounds Washington, DC and its immediate suburbs. So when "inside the Beltway" is used, it refers to the mindset that separates DC from the rest of the United States. That midset has to do with politics, and how people inside the Beltway generally respond differently to political events than do people in the rest of the country.

At times it seems that Capitol Hill, where we live, has a hyper-political perspective that exceeds even the rest of the area inside the Beltway. Such perspective can be reinforced by various stimuli, and one that did so to me this weekend was a rather liberal take on Halloween.

Take a look at the standard Halloween scene erected in this yard a few blocks from me:

Now look a bit closer at some of the gravestones:

On another side of the house they even had a last-minute addition:

At least such sights demonstrate that Washingtonians have a sense of humor. It may be a little more pointed than humor elsewhere, but it's something.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

He Was a Boy

I was friends with his older brother -- he was entering seventh grade when I went off to college, and I don't think I've seen him since. But small town connections run deep, especially when his mom was your favorite teacher in high school. When I stopped in to visit her last summer, and to introduce her to Kathy, she filled me in on what was going on with all her children, including Steve, married to a wonderful woman with a small child. All I could remember of him is that he seemed like a good kid, but too young for me to know the man he would become.

So I don't know the man who, two weeks ago, lost his wife, five months pregnant with what would have been their second child, in a car accident. There's nothing I can say to him, no connection to build on, to reach out and offer my support. All I can do is feel sad for someone I don't really know.

I called his brother over the weekend, and he tells me that he's grateful Steve has a child, because it gives him a focus.

A lot of the time these days I can't help but think of the absence of children in our lives, but trying to imagine the absence of Kathy from my life, damn that's hard! I try to contemplate what that would mean but my thought process short-circuits -- I cannot will myself to imagine it. My mind changes the subject, anything to avoid thinking about such a thing. But he cannot change the subject -- that's what he's going through.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Same Old Song

As Fitzgerald is likely to wrap up his investigation this week over Plame-gate, and the rumors are circulating that at least one indictment will be handed down, we get great quotes from Bush, saying that Fitzgerald's leak probe is very serious, and that Fitzgerald is conducting his investigation in a "very dignified way." Meanwhile, Bush allies begin undermining the investigation, denigrating possible indictments if they're based on perjury rather than on the crime for which the investigation took place, and suggesting that Fitzgerald is overzealous, even out of control.

Two thoughts:
1) I can't help but note the hypocrisy involved given the position these folks took during the Lewinsky scandal, when they supported the investigation. Even though there, the indictment was over something that had absolutely nothing to do with the original Whitewater investigation. Even though Starr was appointed by Republicans to investigate a Democrat, as opposed to here, where Fitzgerald was appointed by Republicans to investigate a Republican. Even though Starr spent $70+ million on his far-flung investigation, while Fitzgerald hasn't even spent $1 million. Even though the release of Plame's status, for political purposes, could very well have cost the lives of people who have worked for or with U.S. intelligence, while I'm still not sure how the blue dress affected the American people.

2) Haven't we seen this act before? The President acts all dignified while his allies, deputies, cronies, hatchetmen, aides, and advisors all work behind the scenes, smearing the opposition. It was only a year ago that the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" did their Kerry smear, funded by Bush's allies, while Bush did his dignified "I respect the service Kerry did for his country" shtick. If indictments are forthcoming, especially if Rove or Cheney are among those indicted, I expect such things to come at Fitzgerald full throttle. From what I've read, he's a cool customer and anything but partisan, but that would be unlikely to stop such a campaign.

Get ready -- if indictments come down, they'll only be the end of the first part of a very long and very messy book.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Mr. Bad Example

Friday night we went out with friends to an Ethiopian restaurant. Our friends have a 21-month-old boy, and before dinner he asked what I was doing on the notepad I'd brought with me. His parents told him that I was rating beer, which indeed I was. The dinner itself was quite tasty, and the adults agreed that we'd need to return.

It turns out that these friends didn't know who Wallace and Gromit are, or why we're so excited about going to see the new movie (which we haven't done yet). We offered to loan them one of the short movies, but they no longer have a VCR, and we only have the movies on VHS. So with Saturday being rainy, we invited them over to see Kathy's and my favorite of the three movies, The Wrong Trousers. The couple enjoyed it quite a bit, though their son was asleep upon arrival, and so missed it. Not a big deal, I suppose, because he's not quite to the point of appreciating even short movies.

It was a little after noon when we finished watching, so we asked if they wanted to order pizza. They said yes, and we went downstairs to wait for the arrival. To keep her son occupied, Ann borrowed pen and paper we had at the kitchen desk. After he had been drawing for a while, Ann asked what he was doing. The response, clearly enunciated, was, "Rating beer."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

About Supermarkets

We have a Safeway that's conveniently located, only three blocks away. Over the years, it actually hasn't been too bad, though it has a number of quirks that have sometimes made it inconvenient. For example, a lot of the time they're out of milk. Now I know you're probably thinking that I'm a whiner -- why should I expect a grocery store to carry such an insignificant item whenever I would want to buy it -- and it's a fair point. If I want milk to be readily available, I should live in the suburbs.

About a year ago, however, a major announcement hit our neighborhood -- a Harris Teeter will be opening up in the Spring of 2007 two blocks beyond the Safeway. Strangely enough, almost as soon as that announcement was made, things at the Safeway got noticeably worse. As one cashier put it, "It's like they want you to go to the Harris Teeter as soon as it opens." Recently, however, Safeway has decided to meet the competition, and is moving upscale. To that end, it's adding a Starbucks and a bank. Sadly, however, these additions aren't being "added on," but instead require a reconfiguration of the existing space. For the time being, this means that there are some significant changes in the way things are set up. For example, the cereal aisle is presently closed, and the cereal is both in the greeting card aisle and on a rack beside the checkout aisles. From the looks of things, I better get used to it, because it looks like it'll take at least another six months, more likely eight, before they can get things back to normal. Of course, the "normal" at the end of this process will leave me with a smaller supermarket in exchange for a bank and coffee shop that I don't need and almost certainly won't use. Nevertheless, odds are that it won't be too hard to get used to Safeway, version 2.0, as I'm sure that I'll be able to count on the milk being as available as ever.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lottery Fever

The Powerball jackpot for tonight's drawing is at a new record, $340 million (if you take an annuity; if you want the cash up front, it's "only" $164 million). For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, Powerball is a multi-state lottery, and like all lotteries in the U.S., it's a way for state governments to raise revenue without resorting to taxes. Generally speaking, I hate the concept of lotteries -- they're a regressive way to collect revenue, i.e., the poor pay more than the rich. I also hate the misrepresentations that have been told to get lotteries authorized. For example, I lived in Florida when the matter of having a lottery went to the ballot. Voters were told that the money was to be used for education, certainly a laudatory use of the revenue. And ever since the lottery measure was approved, all that money has indeed gone to education. Money, however, is fungible, which means that while all that money was earmarked for education, the state diverted money that previously would have gone toward education elsewhere. Consequently, where before the lottery 61% of general revenue went to education, now only 51% of general revenue goes to education.

Given my opinion on such things, it may come as a surprise that I bought lottery tickets for tonight's drawing. In fact, on two other occasions while the jackpot was growing to its current size, I also bought tickets. The fact that I didn't win either of those times tells me that I'm due to win tonight -- the odds, after all, are a highly likely 1 in 146.1 million. (Actually, given that the grand prize is over $160 million, and taking into account the other, smaller prizes, the expected return on a dollar in this drawing is over one dollar (though most of it will go to one or two individuals, and almost everyone else will get nothing)).

I explain these seemingly contradictory positions thusly. If I were given the opportunity to vote to rescind the lottery, I would do so in a heartbeat. That being said, the lottery is here, and is serving in lieu of a higher tax rate. Thus, by purchasing lottery tickets, I am in a sense paying my share of the tax bill. This is, of course, a rationalization -- what matters more to me is the entertainment value.

I can watch a movie for about $8 at the theatre, and that entertains me for about two hours, plus whatever time I take afterwards to contemplate it. From the time I purchased my lottery tickets on Monday, I've been thinking about what I might do with the money for a total time of more than two hours. It may not be a likely outcome, but it's more likely than finding an unclaimed $2 million on the sidewalk. These idle daydreams of course include quitting my job and lots of travel. After that, there are so many possibilities. How much do I donate to worthy charitable causes, and how much to worthy political causes? Do I purchase a brewpub or brewery and do my part to bring good beer into the world? Do I spend on several ideas, or do I spend on one, such as an attempt to buy D.C. United? How many houses do I purchase, and where? So many possibilities to give my daydreams life! (In a LOL coincidence, while I've been editing this paragraph, my Yahoo radio station started playing "Dreamer" by Supertramp.)

Never fear, however -- even if I do win, I plan to keep my blog going. Whether it'll make you gag, and whether I end up hiring someone to write it for me, however, are different matters.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Escape in the City

Where do you go when you need to escape the city, to reconnect with nature? Actually, you don't need to leave the city -- the National Arboretum is about one-and-a-half miles away from our house, and it makes for a nice getaway where we can take the dogs for a little walk in the woods. I wouldn't say it's the middle of nowhere, but it does make for a nice asylum.

When we went on Sunday, we saw only one other person in the area we took the dogs. It's not always so peaceful, but it's nice when it is.

Monday, October 17, 2005


The New Pornographers gave a great concert Saturday night. On the one hand, at 75 minutes their set was shorter than I would have liked. On the other, the set was tight, included all the songs I wanted to hear, and had the audience (including me) completely bouncing. I definitely recommend seeing them if you get the chance. Destroyer, the warm up band I saw (we missed the first band while heading from the soccer game), was decidedly mediocre. I won't be in a hurry to check out any of their music.


One of the things about having stopped my newspaper is that I miss certain stories. When I happened to go to the Washington Post's editorial section today, I read about a problem that I thought was being addressed -- pension reform. Beyond joining my disgust with the Post's, I have nothing further to add.


Finished reading Gil's All Fright Diner last night, and didn't think much of it. I suppose I shouldn't have expected much -- I was looking for lighter fare, and that's what I got. Then again, I wasn't the one who referenced Christopher Moore on the book jacket -- Gil had a plot for a Moore book, but got bogged down in the telling. If anyone has suggestions for authors for Moore fans, speak up!
Rating: 5/10


Despite the late night Saturday night, and my inability to get to sleep until after 4am this morning, I am in fact feeling better. Maybe the virus needs sleep more than I do.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

How To Treat A Cold

When cold symptoms hit, get something into you to prevent post-nasal drip.
Get plenty of rest.
Don't spend an afternoon at a party.
Don't drink beer at said party.
Don't go to a meaningless soccer game in the evening.
Don't go to a concert after the soccer game, especially when the featured band doesn't take the stage until 11:30.
Don't attend the concert at a venue that permits smoking.
Don't stay up once you get home from the concert in order to type up a blog entry.

On the whole, 1 out of 8 isn't too bad, is it?

On the bright side, if Kathy or my folks want to yell at me over this, my ears are still ringing enough from the concert that I doubt that I'll hear them that much.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Religious Holiday for an Atheist

In my 100 Things About Me post, I note that I am both a cultural Jew and an atheist (#81). I am reminded of what this means at this time of year, in part because people ask me about my decision to take the day off for Yom Kippur, and to fast. The problem with identifying one's self as a Jew is that the term has two meanings rolled into one word. When someone says s/he's an Irish Catholic, for example, that person is identifying both ethnicity/culture and religion. The term Jewish serves both functions, and as such, while I don't share the religious component, I do identify with the cultural. This is why I like to go to (or host) a Seder at Passover (and because it's a wonderful opportunity to be with family and/or friends).

That being said, what about Yom Kippur? Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, a fast day where Jews seek forgiveness from God and others for any misdeeds committed over the past year. The reason is to ensure one's inclusion in the Book of Life, i.e., the list of who will live for another year. I take the day off not to go to services, but to reflect. When people ask, I joke that I'll be contemplating my navel, but there's a lot of truth to that -- I think that taking one day each year to reflect on where I've been over the past year, and where I'm going over the next, is a constructive exercise, and for me, Yom Kippur seems like the logical day to do it.

As for fasting, it helps remind me what I should be doing during the day (i.e., helps me focus on the task at hand), and reminds me of what I have in the world compared with the hundreds of millions who lack necessary food and water every day, and for whom fasting a day here or there is often not a choice. It also helps me identify with my culture, sharing with Jews around the world this holy day that for me blurs the line between religion and culture. In addition, I have to acknowledge that there's a bit of pride that I have the discipline to fast (granted, it's a discipline that millions of others also possess). Lastly, it's habit (tradition?) -- I've been fasting on Yom Kippur for over 25 years, and I'm not ready to stop now.

L'Shana Tova Ha'Ba'ah -- May You and All Your Loved Ones Be Inscribed in the Book of Life

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kathleen Edwards and My Morning Jacket

Amazingly, it'd been about a year since I'd been to a concert, and when artists who put out two of my favorite albums from 2003 were on the same set, I decided I needed to end my streak (if I didn't last night, then I would have ended the dry spell this upcoming Saturday).

Canadian Kathleen Edwards has recorded some great rocking out tunes and a few slow ones, all the while intertwined with some twang. Her husky voice sounds very much cigarette and booze inspired (and she did nothing to dissuade the booze part, finishing her set by downing a shot), and works well with her many tales of failed and failing relationships on her two albums, 2003's Failer and this year's Back to Me. Her set used a five-piece band, most of the time employing three lead guitars, a bass, and drums. This led to some serious jams in her 45-minute set, which essentially expanded on eight of her songs. She got to most of my favorites (given that her music never gets played on local radio, I'm not sure if any can be considered "hits"). I missed two things from her set: the horn used on the album version of "12 Bellevue," and the song "Hockey Skates" off her first album. Also, her voice wasn't at the peak that I found it on the albums (no surprise I suppose). That being said, these are mere quibbles from a great live performance.

While My Morning Jacket was the headline band, and this fact was easily reflected by audience interest, I was there more for Edwards. I only have two of MMJ's four albums (and am missing their latest, Z (for which I can't really be blamed since it had only come out six days earlier)), so I was more in the dark about their tunes. Stylewise, the languidness in the voice of lead singer Jim James, magnified by serious effects that drag out his voice, evokes classic Southern rock, and it came as no surprise when I found out that the band hails from Louisville.

Live, the band seems even more from the Southern rock genre, as they repeatedly took off on intense, long, guitar-driven jams. Indeed, this show may be the closest you can currently get to a '70s rock concert (in contrast to the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney shows this year, where you can see the rockers closest to their 70s). Even on the tunes I didn't know, it was easy to get caught up in the riffs and guitar interplay. FWIW, it seemed to me that where Edwards conveys emotion, MMJ tends to evoke mood. Perhaps that difference is felt due to the fact that much of MMJ's lyrics were indecipherable, with the vocals used more as another instrument, while Edwards is a storyteller.

I found that the show got better as MMJ proceeded through its set, peaking with its last three songs, "Northern Sky," "Mahgeetah," and "Anytime." The first is a delicate Nick Drake tune (as most are), which the band rendered beautifully. "Mahgeetah" is off their 2003 album, It Still Moves, and is both playful and jamming, perfect for following a slower song, and for an encore set. "Anytime" is off their new album, and was my favorite of the ones they played off of it -- it was catchy, straight on rock.

Incidentally, you have an advantage in considering this review when compared with a standard concert review. Namely, you don't have to take the reviewer's word for how the show was, but can instead check out the show here (the link also provides set lists, which I didn't notice until after I had figured them out for Edwards). It's not the same thing as being there -- the sound quality of the recordings, particularly for Edwards' set, is quite inferior to what we had at the show. Also, you'll miss the great tap selection and the extreme smokiness at the packed 9:30 Club, as well as the vast quantities of bobbing hair on stage during MMJ's set. Still, you'll get to hear some great tunes.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Kite Runner

I'm not going to give a long review for this one. It's been a best seller, and you can read a lovely review of it at my friend Lory's blog, among other places. It's a story of redemption (and of this there is little doubt, as in the first chapter someone tells Amir, the narrator, "There is a way to be good again"). The book is simply detailed, in a manner that gives one a better appreciation of what Afghanistan used to be, before the Soviets, civil war, and the Taliban essentially destroyed it. There's a great deal of sadness, as the narrator's story is at times little happier than that of his country.

The first part of the book could be a novella on its own, telling of Amir and his childhood best friend Hassan, who was the son of his father's servant. Class and race are as much a part of this story as they would be in any American book -- Amir takes his status of privilege for granted, and in many ways denies his friendship because Hassan is just a servant and a Hazara (a minority ethnicity). Hassan is in many ways a saint, always there for Amir despite Amir's repudiation. Amir's father, Baba, thinks highly of Hassan as well, and thus Amir is also jealous for his father's affection, something he has trouble obtaining due to his lack of the manly attributes his father desires in a son.

This part of the story is told in flashback, but of the final part of the book, back in the present, it would reveal too much to tell more than that Amir gains the chance to "atone" for his mistreatment of Hassan. Once the particular way to make good is presented to Amir, the reader is left with little doubt what the resolution will be, though the trials he must endure to get there are not as obvious.

I enjoyed it, but can't say I loved it. It's a good read though, and I think it's well worth checking out.
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Trite Metaphors

I am running. I am running faster than I have ever run before. I am even running faster than anyone else has before. I am a blur, and I'm moving so quickly that all I can see is the track just ahead of me. After the race is finished, and I've set a world record, I look around the stands and they are completely empty. There is no one around, not even a race official or timekeeper. I want to keep running.

I am a child who has just had a birthday. The toys seem endless, stacked in a corner of my room, and I am excited to have so many. I play with them one by one, until finally I have played with them all. I now want more toys.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America

What do you remember from what you were taught in school about the American Revolution (this question is directed at everyone -- while I would like to hear if fellow Americans recall as I do, I'm very interested in hearing how Canadians and other foreigners remember being taught, as they presumably have a very different understanding than we do)? And what did you learn about Ben Franklin and his role, if any, in the Revolution?

I remember learning about the Declaration of Independence, and about George Washington and the battles the armies fought. I remember that Lafayette and a few Frenchmen came over to assist. I know that there was a Congress that was working under the Articles of Confederation. I don't remember hearing of any role for Franklin, and had no idea that he'd been sent to France to work out a treaty with that nation. Thus, I found it provident that the absence of any interesting new fiction at my library branch sent me over to the non-fiction, where I discovered this interesting book by Stacy Schiff.

The setting is quite interesting: 70-year old Benjamin Franklin has to sneak across the ocean, past the strongest fleet in the world, to come to Paris in order to seek French assistance for the American Revolution. Add to that the fact that Franklin had to represent a country from which contact takes months, not to mention that such contact is also subject to interception from the British fleet. Franklin, at times aided by fellow negotiators (and at times at odds with them, most notably John Adams), was able to secure financial support from Versailles, repeatedly, as well as a treaty that essentially drew France into war against England.

There were additional layers of complexity in the whole affair. Perhaps most significantly, the Americans didn't really want to go to the French. They were of a different religion, spoke a different language, and were perceived to have different morals than the Puritanical colonists. In addition, there were concerns that France would want to serve its own colonial interest, rather than aid the new country in establishing its freedom. The lack of a central leader, e.g., president, during this time also meant that the regionalism reigned supreme in Congress, no surprise given that the colonies were in many ways independent governments who placed their own interests ahead of the new country's interests.

At the time, as the man who harnessed electricity, Franklin was the American best known outside the country. Indeed, Schiff's book contends that were it not for his reputation, the United States would not have gotten French support. The French adored Franklin, and Franklin was able to work with them in a way that his predecessor, and fellow commissioners, could not. This fact created tensions with his fellow commissioners. Speaking of which, Schiff does not deify Franklin; rather, she takes the time to point out his weaknesses. Still, she draws a line -- Schiff argues against many of Adams's contentions, e.g., that Franklin was conniving or self-serving, even referring to some of Adams's assertions against Franklin as suggesting mental imbalance. After reading such extreme claims, I am now quite interested in reading the recent McCullough biography of Adams for additional perspective.

A final question is what you remember about the cause of the French revolution, which took place only a few years after the American Revolutionary War was completed. I remember that class inequality and royal extravagance were the largest causes. It seems somewhat ironic, then, to learn that one of the extravagances that bankrupted Louis XVI's court (though certainly not the only one) was its financial support of the American Revolution, which in certain years equaled 10 percent of its expenditures. I wonder if such things were taught in my history class, but that time has dimmed such details. Sadly, I am skeptical, as it does not comport with this country's sense that it defeated the British almost wholly on its own.

As you can see, this book made me think a great deal about events I'd hardly considered over the last 20 years of my life. The book was engaging, and not simply because of the subject -- Schiff brings to life the era, pointing out the conflicts, acknowledging the humor, and taking pains to explore the many sides of the issues at play. I highly recommend it.
Rating: 8/10

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Denver and the GABF

The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is held annually in Denver during the last weekend in September. This was my second time out there for it, the only other time coming in 2001. This year I knew a lot more about what to expect, a giant convention hall filled with brewer booths, but still I was overwhelmed. It's hard enough to take it all in when there are hundreds of brewers and about 1700 beers (and of course, you can't), but thanks to the RateBeer crowd, I was tuned into lots of other activities, plus the ones we did for ourselves.

My schedule was fairly tame compared to some of the people I met up with, but it was more than enough for me. Before I'd even left the Denver airport, a fellow RateBeerian recognized me and we agreed to hit a brewpub in town for lunch. Another one spotted me when I got out of the SuperShuttle to let a fellow passenger off, and he ended up joining us. So after checking in at my hotel, I made my way there for lunch, meeting up with even more folks. After lunch, we hit one more brewpub before we went to the initial session of the GABF. I went to two of the four 4-hour sessions of the GABF (Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon), and I tried roughly 30 beers each time. In between samples, I drank about two times as much water as I had in beer, a big key to avoiding hangovers, not to mention dealing with the dry Colorado environment. Much of the time I was with one or several of the fellow RateBeerians in attendance, many of whom I'd met at previous events. Between the brewpubs and the GABF session, I felt too winded to hit any of the other activities going on, either at Falling Rock, one of the best taphouses in the country, or at the hotel tied to the conference, which was hosting an industry event that I could have attended. The fact that the GABF session ended at midnight east coast time didn't help, as I'd gotten up at 5:30 that morning.

Because I essentially stayed on East Coast time while out there (in large part by going to bed at a decent hour), I had no trouble going to Falling Rock for opening the next morning (11am), and a friend and I stayed until we'd had time to finish the pint of Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale we drank from the tapped-at-noon keg. From there we made our way to a brewery open house where we met up with the other RateBeerians, then to two nearby brewpubs, before I went back to my hotel to await a friend from back home who drove up from Colorado Springs for dinner. Dinner was very nice -- I hadn't seen Jennifer in over two years (and it may have been as much as a year since we had spoken), but we found it very easy to pick right back up. It really is nice to have friends like that. After saying goodnight after a too-filling dinner, I found myself too tired to make it to the Falling Rock yet again.

After Saturday's afternoon session, we did have a RateBeer gathering, and while it was nice, it felt a bit too crowded (it was in a nearby apartment), and I wasn't really up for drinking much so soon after a GABF session (though it didn't stop me from trying a few of the bottles being passed around). I left fairly early, went back to the room, and took it easy, never overcoming inertia to head to Falling Rock.

This morning, like each of the other two mornings, I met up with Mark, a fellow early morning RateBeerian, for breakfast at Sam's #3, a nearby diner that offered tasty food, big portions, and fairly reasonable rates. Afterwards, I caught the SuperShuttle back to the airport, and I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise to discover another RateBeerian already in the van.

I'm not sure if I'll make it to next year's GABF, but I have to admit, I'm already thinking about it.