Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Iraq War Claims More American Casualties

In this case, however, the victims are residents of New Orleans. Of course Katrina played the most prominent role in the damage done to the city, but remember that New Orleans was spared the worst of the hurricane, because Katrina slowed a bit before landfall, it veered east at the last minute, and the west side of the storm was the weaker side. The biggest problem facing the city of New Orleans is a bit more indirect, i.e., the flooding due to the broken levees. So it's worth noting that to help pay for its unnecessary war in Iraq, the BA diverted millions of dollars from New Orleans flood control. No doubt the people of New Orleans are mighty grateful for the efforts to bring democracy to Iraq, as are soldiers and members of the Louisiana National Guard who are in Iraq and no longer worried about just themselves, but also about their families back home. Of course, if those National Guard members (from both Louisiana and Mississipi) in Iraq weren't overseas, they (and the equipment they took with them) would be working with their short-handed colleagues to deal with the aftermath of Katrina, as the National Guard has done traditionally in times of emergencies.

Fortunately, the President was doing all he could yesterday to address the growing crisis in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Fantasy Sports

Tonight is my fantasy football draft. Because there are participants from all over the world, it's hard to select a time for everyone. We're going with 10:30pm EDT, which would be pretty good for me if not for my having still not fully adjusted from our Europe trip. I haven't stayed up that late since I've been back, so it'll be tough having that as a start time. I don't think being away from the U.S. will hurt me too much -- I seem to have heard most of the news that happened while I was gone. Because it's a RateBeer league, there are 16 teams (in an attempt to accommodate as many people as possible), as opposed to the standard 10 or 12. Thus, it's going to be pretty slim pickings by the end of the draft -- everyone will have to "settle" at one position or another.

I think I enjoy (and do pretty well in) fantasy sports because they combines my interest in sports with my mathematical mind. I only play for fun though -- I have no interest in betting on it, as I waste enough time without putting money on the line.

Does anyone who reads this play any fantasy sports? Anyone have any last-minute tips?

Switching to Haloscan

I got comment spammed last night in a big way (apparently it's possible for shitheads to automatically generate spam comments onto a blogpost, and I deleted about eight before I got really pissed off), so on a going-forward basis I'm switching to Haloscan for comments -- the link that will appear below any post will let you comment similarly to before. Hopefully that'll make the problem go away. If not, I'll try something else.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Copenhagen Photos

Four pictures cannot define five days in a city, but nonetheless...

Copenhagen is a city of islands joined together. This is one of the canals that separate the islands. In the distance, you can see one of the many bridges that are used to connect the islands. This picture also gives you an idea of what the weather was like -- mostly overcast.

Before we left, Kathy contacted someone who works with the Parliament doing some of the things Kathy does in her work with Congress. He gave us the royal treatment, including a traditional lunch, an hour of meeting on substance, and two tours -- one of a fantastic mock Parliament that's set up for high school students to learn about their government; and the other of Parliament itself. In one of the hallways of Parliament is portraits of the former prime ministers. Rather than limit themselves to traditional staid paintings, a number of the politicians selected rather funky artists to render their portraits, as this one bears out.

I can't help but be fascinated by nature wherever I go. Here I was struck by four bees hard at work on the same plant/flower.

The bulk of our time in Copenhagen was spent with other people from RateBeer as part of the European Summer Gathering. In addition to ourselves, a Canadian, a Norwegian, a Finn, a German, a few Brits, a couple of Aussies living in England, several Swedes, and a bunch of Danes were present. As we've come to expect from such gatherings, we met a bunch of genuinely neat and nice people. This photo was taken (by Kathy) on the first evening of the gathering, at the Nørrebro Brewery.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


Bags packed and computer docked,
Dogs have been fed and walked,
The windows and doors have all been locked,
I sit ready.

Both of us have showered,
Breakfast has been devoured,
Dishes have been scoured,
I sit ready.

She has more she needs to achieve,
She'll be done in a minute she believes,
Still an hour before we have to leave,
I sit ready.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Books Review

Here are brief reviews of what I read on the trip:

White Apples by Jonathan Carroll
Carroll tells of Vincent Ettrich, someone brought back to life by his pregnant lover Isabelle to help raise their child-to-be Anjo, who's supposed to have great things ahead (and who talks to Isabelle from the womb). The story worked very well as I weaved my way through the first two-thirds, but at some point Carroll seemed less inclined to finish developing the story and more determined to expand on the cosmology he created for the book. Consequently, some of what appears important when introduced was ignored rather than resolved. It's enjoyable fiction, just not sure that it's all that it could have been. Rating: 7/10.

The Coffee Trader by David Liss
Liss sets this story in 17th century Amsterdam, and the protagonist is Miguel Lienzo, a down on his luck Portugese Jew who is a commodities trader that gets involved with the about-to-burst-onto-the-scene coffee trade. Treachery abounds, to such a degree that the plot gets a bit far-fetched. Still, an entertaining yarn that evidences much research into both the era in the Netherlands and the Iberian Jews that were required to practice their religion secretly for fear of the Inquisition. Also entertaining is the fact that the protagonist is no saint, but unmistakably human. Rating: 7/10

Under the Frog by Tibor Fischer
I'm not sure what the author is trying to convey by making the protagonist's surname the same as his own. Still, Fischer does a fine job telling the story of Hungarian youth Gyuri, from a time late in World War II through the days following the failed Hungarian Revolution in 1956. As in The Thought Gang, Fischer's story is constructed using vignettes and flashbacks, though this time the narrative is more jagged, as each chapter is months or even years apart from the preceding one. I don't think it works quite as well as The Thought Gang, but that may be because I read that book first. No complaints, though, and I recommend it. Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Trip Comments

I'll post some pictures after I have a chance to go thru them all, and I might try to do some sort of trip summary, but in the big picture sense, suffice it to say that we had a very good time and for the most part we're sorry we had to return.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

We had great weather -- sure there were days where we had a bit of rain, but it was sunny most days, and more importantly, it was a much cooler August than we're used to in DC.

Prices in Copenhagen and London are very expensive compared with those in the U.S. No doubt that's due in some part to the decline of the dollar recently, but I figure they never were "cheap."

We had a small room in Copenhagen. In fact, no space was used to create a separate shower -- instead, the shower was created by pulling a curtain between the toilet and sink area, and showering in the sink area.

For a beer lover, Copenhagen is a great city -- two great Belgian-focused bars, an English-focused bar, a very good brewpub (and a second one that's pretty good), and a couple of excellent beer stores.

The public transportation in both cities looked pretty complex, but while our lack of the language left us using just one line on the Copenhagen system (from hotel to one of two stops in the center of the city), we were quickly able to figure out the London Underground.

Both Copenhagen and London had lots of green space, and we spent a fair amount of time enjoying the parks in both cities. Other than Portland and perhaps Seattle, I'm not sure what cities come close in the U.S.

Similarly, bicyclists were everywhere in Copenhagen, and all roads had lanes for them. Given the high price of gas (a friend we were with had to tank up his Chevy van (not too many of those in the city), and it cost him $130 (at the station selling gas at a low price he hadn't seen in months)), and the relatively compact city, this shouldn't be too much of a surprise, but it was still nice to see. People in suits and all other types of clothes (though rarely shorts -- Kathy thought I stuck out) rode them, presumably the cooler climate helping to keep sweating at tolerable levels.

Call me cheap, but I had no desire to spend 16 pounds (8 pounds per person = ~$14.50) to see the interior of Westminster Abbey, or of St. Paul's. From the outside they both look like beautiful churches, but there's a limit.

While you can "do" Copenhagen in a few days, we quickly realized it was hopeless to attempt the same for London, deciding that we'd need more time (and more money) to take it in as much as we'd want. As it was, we still did plenty, we just decided it wasn't worth running all over the place in an attempt to do it all.

After a week in London hitting lots of different pubs and trying lots of different beers, I'm in no hurry to try another cask bitter any time soon -- something like 95% of the beers we tried there were in this narrow style range or a close cousin's (had we gone in the winter time there would have been greater variety). I knew so little about the style before we visited, owing to their limited availability in the U.S., and now I feel I know more than I want to.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Be Seeing You

Dunno how much I'll be able to blog in Europe, but I'll try. Regardless, be back August 22.

August 10-15: C O P E N H A G E N

August 15-22: L O N D O N

Sunday, August 07, 2005

What's Normal?

One evening early in our marriage Kathy asked if I would walk the dogs, offering to, well, you know, if I would. I got pretty pissed off -- I said that sex isn't a commodity, a weapon, or a tool. If you'd like to make love, that's great. If you want to ask me to do something, ask. But I didn't like tying the two together. I don't think Kathy had thought about it before, and when I put it that way, she agreed with me. To the best of my knowledge, sex has not been used as anything other than an expression of love (or horniness) between us ever since. I bring this up because recently a friend stated in an e-mail that "the notion that sex shouldn't be used to alter behavior by men or women is a purely romantic notion and not in my view based on any reality we mere human beings are capable of achieving." Am I delusional, is my relationship with Kathy truly unusual, or is my friend too jaded for her own good?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Pics from PDX

Suz & Julian at Amnesia Brewing

View from Vista House, Crown Point


Back side of Mount Hood (view from Northeast of the mountain)

Friday, August 05, 2005

News of Back Home

I used to joke that the four seasons I experienced growing up in North Florida were summer, summer, summer, and football. And because I was there long before the Jaguars joined the NFL, football meant college football. One's loyalty generally went to one of two places, either the Gators of the University of Florida, or the Seminoles of Florida State University. I went with the latter, and years later ended up attending Florida State Law.

Ah yes, the Seminoles. Complete with the Tomahawk Chop (long before the Atlanta Braves imported it as their own), and an undergrad decked out in traditional Seminole Indian garb riding a horse and throwing a burning spear onto the midfield logo just before the start of each home football game. Some folks are offended by the name as being racist, but the school has the support of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has maintained a good relationship with the university (though there were rumors of their endorsement coming in exchange for financial considerations).

Today, those offended by the name were able to carry the day, as the NCAA has made it exceedingly difficult for colleges sports teams to keep using Indian names or mascots:
Nicknames or mascots deemed "hostile or abusive" would not be allowed on team uniforms or other clothing beginning with any NCAA tournament after Feb. 1.

. . .

The NCAA plans to ban schools using Indian nicknames from hosting postseason events.
I was not at all surprised to learn that Florida State plans to challenge this decision, so I guess this one should be filed under "to be continued."

Having been a fan since childhood, I guess I'm a bit biased, but I don't see why it's offensive. The name used is tribal in origin, rather than something that has an historically negative connotation such as Redskins. Plus, a significant segment of the Seminole people has worked with the university in an effort to respectfully represent the Seminole culture (after I wrote this, a google search showed me this article by a Native American that supports my distinction more eloquently than I do).

One question I have is why NCAA doesn't deem the nickname Fighting Irish, complete with a leprachaun for a mascot, similarly offensive. On its face the disparate treatment seems hypocritical, but perhaps there's a logical reason to differentiate.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

20 Years and Counting

This past weekend my high school class held its 20-year reunion. I didn't go. My class had 39 of us, which at the time was the largest class in school history. Three classmates were at my wedding, and there's a fourth I also keep in touch with, but at this point I'm not close to any of them. They all made it to reunion, but with having gone to Oregon the weekend before, plus the heat that is a Jacksonville summer night (why didn't they schedule it in January or February?!), plus the event taking place in a box suite at a minor league baseball game, I didn't feel like going.

It's weird, but I don't remember much about my high school years. I wasn't a particularly happy kid, so perhaps I've suppressed most of it. Would the boy of 20 years ago recognize me today?

I'm 40 pounds heavier, though that's because I was a beanstalk then.
I'm much less self-conscious and more emotionally secure.
I wear glasses full time now.
I'm liberal, just as he was -- only now, I know lots of other liberals.
I love beer -- back then I hated beer because I foolishly assumed it all tasted like Budweiser.
I'm no longer a virgin.
I'm still a goof.

The biggest difference is that I have such a greater understanding of who I am. Would that sort of thing be obvious to my younger self?

If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, it'd be to invest in Microsoft.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Paul Hackett

Paul Hackett, a Marines reservist who has served in Iraq, ran as a Democrat in a special election for a seat in Ohio that has traditionally been very Republican. Nine months ago, the incumbent, Rob Portman, won almost 72 percent of the vote. Yesterday, Hackett fell short in his upset bid, but came much closer than the last Democrat did, garnering 48 percent of the vote. In other words, the margin dropped from 53 percent to four percent. The question is what this means. Liberal blogs are bragging that the Dems took the fight to the Republicans, and that even if Hackett lost, the fact that he was so close in a Republican stronghold suggests that Republicans are in trouble in the mid-term elections. I'm not so sure. I believe that the comparison to the last election is not nearly so significant for several reasons.
  1. This time the incumbent wasn't running -- instead, the Republicans threw out Jean Schmidt, someone who displayed herself as a reliable vote for Bush, but someone whose campaign hit several bumps along the way, including the whiff of scandal. It likely will be different in 2006 in the races where there's a solid incumbent, or even where they field a better first-time candidate.
  2. Last time the Democrats hardly contested this seat, and didn't pour in the amount of money they did for this single race. Had they challenged for this seat in the 2004 election, it's fair to presume that the race would have been closer, so while there's no doubt that things have changed, it's not clear how much is tied to a shift in the political winds and how much to the strong support Hackett received.
  3. Special elections have a much smaller voter turnout at large, and a greater turnout among interested groups, which raises he possibility that during a normal election, the margin would have been wider.
  4. Hackett deviated from the Democratic party line on several significant issues, most notably gun control. Would he have been so close had he followed the party line?
Truthfully, I don't know if the election result is truly a harbinger of good fortune for Dems in 2006. Still, yesterday's election should provide the Dems hope that they can make serious inroads in 2006, and maybe even take back the House.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

50 or so Days

Last night, after exiting at Union Station and beginning my walk across Capitol Hill to home, I soon passed the French restaurant where we ate dinner with S & G, our friends also doing IVF, in mid-June. I couldn't help but think of the good spirit and cameraderie that was in abundance that night, and everything that's happened since.

"So you had the embryo transfer last Friday?"
"No, we had the egg retrieval on Friday, the transfer was Monday."
"Oh, ok."
"And you have your retrieval on Monday?"
"Yes, G has to give me the trigger shot on Saturday night at 10:30."

"Hi G, it's Aaron -- Kathy's pregnant -- now it's your turn!"
"That's great! Congratulations!"
"How's S? How'd the transfer go?"
"It went well.
S is sleeping right now, she's been pretty worn out since the transfer yesterday."

"The good news is that S is pregnant. The bad news is that she's having a reaction to the meds -- they're making her ovaries swell to several times their normal size. It shouldn't hurt the pregnancy, but she's in a lot of pain right now."

"S and G got to see the embryo's heartbeat!"
"She's behind us by over a week. How come she got to do that already?"
"She had to go in for a sonogram because of her ovaries, so they got to see the embryo while they were checking on S."

"S, it's Aaron. There's no heartbeat."
"Are they sure?"
"Yes, they're sure."
"That's not acceptable. That's just not acceptable."

"I'm supposed to do lunch with S tomorrow."
"Are you ok with going?"
"I think so. I'm happy for her, but I'm trying not to think about the miscarriage until we go to Europe. I'm nervous about how I'll feel talking to her."

"Aaron, S had a miscarriage!"

I want to go back to that dinner in June, to capture the moment, its twinkle and its glow, the positive vibes and hopefulness. Even if both couples are successful down the road, however, I know that the mood from that evening is irretrievable. I never knew that a loss of innocence could happen in one's 30s or 40s.