Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Question of the Morning

Given that one's nose keeps growing throughout life, how come none of the many sci-fi books I've read that have dealt with immortality ever brought up the elephantine noses of the extremely aged?

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Weekend in Review

Friday night I crashed your party
Saturday I said I'm sorry
Sunday came and trashed me out again
-- Billy Joel

Non-stop social weekends will soon be a thing of the past, but I'm sure enjoying them now.

Friday night we did dinner with Sharon and Gary in Logan Circle by their new place. These are friends who live "in the country," but when they needed to stay with us for a week, fell in love with the commutes that are one-third of what they're used to. So they bought a condo in the city, and suddenly they have an extra two hours each day. I knew Logan Circle had been undergoing significant revitalization, but it was really neat to see all that's happened there -- it's really turned into a chic spot that nevertheless maintains its historical character.

Saturday afternoon was spent at the Old Dominion Beer Festival, a tried and true annual event in a big field next to one of the best local breweries (~40 minutes from home). And lucky me that I had a designated driver this year. It wasn't too hot (otherwise Kathy wouldn't have come), and the rain that was forecast didn't arrive during the few hours we were there. We enjoyed meeting up with a few of the local RateBeer people too. Sadly, the beer really wasn't that impressive, and the price (a steep increase to $20 per person, including designated drivers) didn't even include beer -- you had to pay extra for that. So I think that the ODBF, having been tried, is no longer so true, and short of a significant change in their approach, I don't intend to go back next year.

After a quick nap, I made dinner then headed for the DC United game, the last home game I'll get to see for nearly two months (they only have one home game in that span, and I'm busy that night). United has the best record in the league, but the truth is that their record is better than their performance has been. In 2000 the team looked great but couldn't win to save their lives. While this season isn't the exact opposite, there's no question we shouldn't be comfortably ahead in our conference. Around halftime the long promised rain started up, and I wasn't exactly dressed for it. No biggie -- I didn't mind getting wet to keep watching the game, and it kept me bouncing around. The game, however, was suspended due to lightning just a few minutes after halftime. While we waited in the stadium concourse, we figured the game would be called, but after a 40-minute delay, play resumed, and back into the rain we went. It took less than a minute after the game started back up that United scored the only goal of the game, so again the home team was victorious. I came home quite soaked, then took a quick hot shower and put on some dry clothes.

Sunday we did lunch at a brewpub, then drove over to the theatre where Spamalot was playing in an attempt to get tix. I didn't even know it was playing in town until Dave posted on his blog, and then was reminded of my interest in it during the rain delay at the soccer game when my friend Noah recommended it as well. When I got to the box office, I discovered that they didn't have any pairs of tickets next to each other for the remaining two weeks of the show's run in town. I couldn't quite bring myself to spend $90+ per ticket for two seats, one in front of the other, on the far left where you couldn't quite see everything due to the angle. So I came home slightly dejected, but on a whim checked out Craigslist and found a pair of tix for below face, in the center of the second lower balcony row, for that evening. First time I'd used Craigslist, and major score.

The show was great, and if you haven't seen it, I recommend it. Plenty of laughs, and lots of nostalgia (assuming you watched and enjoyed The Holy Grail). There were some twists, plus a few additions and subtractions (bring back Castle Anthrax!) -- I'd say it's about 50% faithful to the original. After the show, we were treated to more rain, and sadly we hadn't brought an umbrella. When I say "more rain," you have to understand that "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was our song for the evening, as we got more wet in the 2.5 blocks to the Metro than I did the entire previous evening at the game. It was torrential. Our train went right through the station that was closed until this afternoon due to the flooding that this storm caused. Fortunately Kathy figured she'd want to go to bed shortly after the show, and we drove to within 1.5 blocks of the Metro. Otherwise, we would have been in the lightning storm that we found ourselves in when we got off the Metro quite a bit longer. When we got home, I once again took a quick hot shower and put on some dry clothes.

Today it was back to the grind (starting my second week of covering for my boss and another fellow manager), with more rain forecast (and falling now amid thunder). Still, having had a weekend like that made the previous week seem like a distant memory. Maybe I should have weekends like this more often.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A More Timely Obituary

In some ways, I was too early in writing off the U.S. team at this year's World Cup. As bad as the team looked in its 3-0 opening loss, so did the Ukraine in the 4-0 drubbing it took from Spain. Yet the Ukraine made it out of its group, thanks in part to a weaker group, but also to the fact that it came to play. After its impressive draw against Italy despite playing a man down for almost the entire second half, the U.S., amazingly enough, could have advanced had it beaten Ghana. Instead, the team fell 2-1, as numerous things went wrong, most notably the phantom penalty call that led to Ghana's winning goal. But that was only the final straw, when in reality the team wasn't up to the considerable challenge it faced in a group that included the best team in Europe, the best team in Africa, and a 3-time World Cup champion. The U.S. looked good in its game against Italy, but there's no reason it should have come out flat in the opener, or passive in its must-win game against Ghana.

I'm a big fan of Coach Bruce Arena, and have been since before he became the National Team coach, when he was leading D.C. United to multiple championships. But this tournament showed that it's time for him to move on. What was he thinking when he started only one striker (again!) in a game that the team needed to win? We needed offense and instead Arena went with a conservative line up. I could see why he might have decided to do this in the first two games, but it still was in stark contrast to the bold style that he used in the 2002 World Cup to stun Portugal. In many ways, his approach in this tournament was eerily similar to that of his predecessor, who for the 1998 World Cup decided that the team wasn't good enough to play attacking soccer, and so switched to a 1-striker line-up.

In 2002, when the team advanced to the quarterfinals, Arena turned to untested players and they shone. Here Arena refused to call on young players unless he felt it was absolutely necessary -- for the most part he stuck with players even when they weren't producing. There were exceptions -- Oguchi Onyewu displayed the composure to anchor the central defense, despite the questionable call against him in the Ghana game. Also, Clint Dempsey, the only U.S. goal scorer, showed that he's up for the challenge of international soccer, and could be a mainstay at right midfield in the coming years.

Despite the way the team flamed out, Arena's lasting legacy should be, even more than the team's run to the quarterfinals in 2002, that he turned the team into a fixture at the World Cup. For the three World Cups before Arena showed up, the U.S. barely qualified for the 1990 World Cup (for the first time in 40 years), was automatically entered in the 1994 World Cup as the host nation, and got hot late in qualifying to make it in 1998. But in 2002 and 2006, the teams qualified with ease, and given how weak the region is and how much the team has developed under Arena, there appears to be no reason why such success can't continue into the future.

(Acknowledgements to my friend Barrett for having a discussion with me on this matter, where certain of my thoughts crystallized and where he imparted other thoughts that influenced my opinions -- I can't pretend to separate them here, so I'll simply say that I didn't think of all the things in this post on my own).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Have You Seen Me Lately?

Through 21 weeks and all's looking well. At least, that's what people who can tell these things say.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Stoop Sale

For about six years, Anna has lived in the basement apartment of the rowhouse five down from us. We'd see her on occasion on the steps, reading and/or having a cigarette. Or coming into or out of the house with her son. About a year ago, however, she started dating Tom, and before long Tom had moved in. And from the time he moved in, it seems that he's been out on the steps, greeting whoever passes by. And somehow, over a period of time, that got my introverted wife to start talking with Anna and Tom. From there, we've quickly become friends with them, and these days we frequently find ourselves all hanging out on their steps drinking beers or wine (or in Kathy's case, water) into the evening.

But as I said, Tom moved in recently, and as a result, they have a lot of stuff crammed into the apartment. So they decided they would have a garage sale this past Saturday, only they don't have a garage (or a yard for a yard sale), so I guess you can call it a sidewalk or stoop sale. They let all the neighbors on the block know in the hope that a bunch would all have a yard sale going at the same time, to attract lots of folk. Their efforts at handing out flyers to everyone on the block resulted in one other couple joining in the sale, but at least they were next door, allowing us to hang out all the more.

We had plenty of stuff to get rid of. There were a few kinckknacks, some lighting fixtures that were removed as part of the renovation, a couple of pieces of furniture, some movies that kathy doesn't watch any longer (or which she's bought on DVD so has no use for the VHS version), and some wedding gifts that never have been used. And there were clothes, lots of them, bags and bags worth, all being Kathy's. We basically did no preparations, so we only grabbed whatever we thought of right then and there, instead of what we might have put outside if we had done any planning.

Speaking of no planning, none of us actually put up any signs until the morning of the event, and even then our efforts were slightly haphazard. For example, as Tom and I drove around with the signs he made, I decided it would be a good idea to write in the date and time on them.

Fortunately, it was a bright sunshiney day. Unfortunately, it was very bright and very sunshiney, and it climbed to around 90 degrees on the day. Fortunately Kathy's only in her fifth month of pregnancy, because if she were in month eight while sitting outside in that lovely weather, and getting a sunburn on her neck (where the rays snuck in under her hat), she might have really been miserable rather than simply exhausted enough to fall asleep at 8:30 that evening.

Somehow or another, Kathy and I ended up splitting the "how much to charge" decisions, as one of us was always unavailable while the other was being asked by the friend with the stickers how much? So it was to my surprise when, for example, someone decided to buy an unused ceiling fan, still in box (though the box had been opened), for $2. That being said, the price on the label doesn't mean much when the person wants to negotiate downward. And while I'm ok with that, especially when it's late in the day, I wouldn't have minded if Kathy actually threw out a counteroffer rather than accept whatever price was offered. Then again, if I had been out there at the time, rather than having gone inside to watch the US-Italy match, maybe I'd have a legitimate right to complain.

We ended up selling about $130 worth of stuff. Subtract out the $15 for the rack rental (to display Kathy's clothes), $15 for our share of the lunch, $20 for the infant car seat we bought, $2 for the books I bought, and $15 for the table Kathy bought (countertop high, she want to use as a changing table), and we made $63 on the day. That being said, saying you've made money on selling items for $2 that you bought for $20 is a peculiar way to interpret the phrase "made money."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Yellowstone Revisited

In 1989 during our cross-country road trip, Pete and I visited Yellowstone. There were two distinct reasons why that experience was less than ideal. First, record wildfires had hit
Yellowstone the year before, and blackened forests were everywhere. Second, we had no clue what we were supposed to check out -- we saw Old Faithful, saw the charred forests, figured oh well, and moved on down the road to the Grand Tetons. But Pete now lives just 90 minutes away from there for almost a decade, and he knows what spots to check out, which made our Sunday day trip far better than the first visit.

Sure there's Old Faithful, but there are many other geysers plus additional geological oddities in the area.

On this trip, we knew to check out "the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone," complete with waterfalls.

And as most of yesterday's Yellowstone critter pics show, we also knew to visit the Lamar Valley, which is replete with animals.

Pete took me out the Northeast Entrance, so we could travel the Beartooth Highway. The road climbs several thousand feet (and the temperature drops 20+ degrees) through switchbacks to end up back in Red Lodge, Montana.

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Did I mention there was a brewer's taphouse waiting for us on the other side?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Critters From the Weekend

Tomorrow I'll post some of the scenery I saw during my visit to Montana and Yellowstone, but today I decided to focus on the myriad critters we saw over the weekend.

Along our first hike of the weekend we saw dozens of snails scattered along the path.

Butterfly, or moth? Regardless which, it's Pete's latest fashion statement, and one he paraded about for several minutes. For a while, we thought he'd acquired a new pet.

Pete has bunnies that visit his yard. I didn't have my camera when a couple of them were playing -- one lunged and the other leapt over the first as if they were in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Rabbit.

The rest of these were taken in Yellowstone on Sunday:

We saw lots of buffalo, but this is the only shot that included a calf.

This coyote was being chased by an antelope -- seems like they got their roles mixed up.

And speaking of antelopes, this one was just hanging out.

Moose! At least, it's supposed to be a moose, though in this picture it looks more like a horse.

An osprey in flight, one of several we saw (we also saw a few nests).

That blurry brown spot in the middle is supposedly a Grizzly bear. It was at such a distance that we couldn't see it clearly even with binoculars, but people around us with 20-40x scopes said there were three of them there.

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The strangest critter of all from that weekend, a Petus goofius.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cup Blues

On June 5, 2002, I awoke before dawn to turn on the TV, and sat alone to watch the event that millions (billions?) were watching all over the world, the World Cup. The opening match for the U.S. was against heavily favored Portugal, and in quick succession the U.S. scored three goals, then held on for a 3-2 victory. When the phone rang at the game's conclusion, I screamed in joy at whomever had called to share the moment with me (my father). My celebration was fairly jarring to Kathy, as she had been awoken by the call and had picked up the phone to see who was calling. This game began a wonderful journey for the U.S. team, one that ended far later than anyone had a right to hope for, in a quarterfinal match against Germany that many feel the U.S. should have won.

Since that time, American soccer fans (don't laugh -- there are many of us) have been looking forward to this year's World Cup, feeling that even if the team couldn't win, they could show that the results in 2002 weren't a fluke. I considered going to Germany for the Cup, but knowing that Kathy might be pregnant now prevented me from pursuing it (good thing too!). So I put that possibility out of my mind. I put it so far out of my mind that when I scheduled a visit to see my college roommate Pete in Montana, I neglected to consider that I'd be flying back during the U.S.'s first match. Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to head to the airport, I remarked to Pete how envious I was of the people I knew who'd gone to the match. I thought I'd be able to at least watch the first half at the airport, but Bozeman's airport was devoid of televisions past the security gate (and the only one I saw before then was in a bar that wasn't open).

Upon arrival at Minneapolis, I called one friend while we were taxiing (no answer), then looked around for a TV to tell me the result. It took fifteen minutes, but upon learning of the 3-0 shellacking the team suffered at the hands (feet?) of the Czechs, suddenly I didn't feel so unfortunate to miss watching the match, and the envy for the people I knew at the game had shriveled into pity. Many had thought that the U.S. wouldn't advance to the next round of the Cup anyhow, given that they're in the same group as the Czechs (ranked second in the World, behind only Brazil) and the Italians, and that only two of the four teams advance. After yesterday's debacle, however, it will take a miracle (in case of a tie in the standings, goal differential is a factor in determining who advances). And so, after only 90 minutes of the tournament, four years of anticipation have given way to mourning, as now all the U.S. can reasonably do is play for pride (and for a better result than in 1998, when the team was deemed number 32 out of the 32 teams in the tournament).

I guess it's time to restart the four-year-long timer, in anticipation of the 2010 World Cup.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


People tend to associate with like-minded people. It makes sense that one doesn't want to confront strong disagreement, or grit one's teeth, regularly. Especially when you're talking about a situation where you have a choice, as compared with family. And with family, most people have good enough manners to try to stay clear of controversial topics (not sure that I do, but at least most of them do).

On Saturday, I received an e-mail from P, a friend from back home, showing a group of soldiers praying and asserting that the ACLU was trying to prevent soldiers from praying. At the end of the e-mail was a Christian prayer. It took only a four-second Google search to determine that the claim in the e-mail was false. I sent my findings to the many people that P had e-mailed, and P's response was "Nicely done with the fact checking, thanks. The ACLU is still rotten though." P and I also had a couple of e-mail exchanges, which I found equally disturbing -- "I believe [...] that there is a clear, left-wing media driven attack on christians, and battles in court by the ACLU by the ACLU and others against Christians and values of Christians."

In case you haven't already figured it out, I'm liberal. Many of my friends have similar political viewpoints, but not all of them. A significant portion of my friends lean libertarian or are economically conservative, and I don't have a problem talking politics with them. But other than on the RateBeer political forum, I don't often encounter social conservatives (and there, given how many social conservatives treat alcohol consumption, social conservatives are a tiny minority). I have a number of religious friends, but they share the same basic take on religion that I do -- religion is a personal choice. In short, I can't really think of other friends who I'd consider part of the Religious Right.

Kathy and I talked about my exchange with P at length afterwards. We searched for an explanation of what it is that makes it difficult for either of us to stomach the Religious Right. Two things in particular stood out (and of course, this is generalization, where I define the Religious Right to be those people who want to impose the consequences of their beliefs on others). First, they want to impose their beliefs of what is acceptable behavior on others. Second, they don't argue the way we do, in that they have little interest in arguing on the basis of logic. For example, on the gay marriage issue, what I hear them say is that it goes against traditional values, or that an amendment banning it would strengthen marriage, or even that allowing gay marriage creates a slippery slope that'll allow marriages with minors or sheep. But tradition is a terrible reason to maintain a practice -- slavery was traditionally acceptable but that didn't stop society from deciding it's a bad thing to allow. And the contention that the amendment can strengthen the institution of marriage is a phrase that's rotely recited but makes no sense. Similarly, I fail to see why they think that a union between two consenting adults can't be distinguished from all other types of unions. Still these are the arguments I hear put forth in the face of any logic to the contrary, e.g., it doesn't affect you or your marriage; and your church wouldn't have to marry gays any more than it would need to marry people of a different faith.

Interestingly enough, one of P's close relatives e-mailed me, thanking me for determining that the e-mail was a hoax. She was saddened by P's thinking, but as she put it, "as long as there is dialogue, there is hope." It got me to back away from my cringing, Monty Pythinesque "run away" mentality of wanting nothing to do with P ever again. Too many times Kathy and I talk about "fleeing," be it to Canada due to our government's policies, or to a rural area where we can be left alone. P's relative reminded me that if we want the country to improve, we need to continue the dialogue.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Plan in the Making

Kathy gets no paid maternity leave, but under the Family and Medical Leave Act, she's allowed to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Which she'll use.

I get no paid paternity leave, but I also can take 12 weeks off under the same law. More significantly, I'm allowed to use accumulated sick leave, up to 12 weeks, and since I have more than 12 weeks of sick leave saved up, I'm able to get paid during paternity leave.

So what we're looking at doing is have Kathy take her 12 weeks off unpaid, then she'll return to work while I take my 12 weeks off paid.

During my time with the baby, Kathy will decide if she wants to stay working full-time, and we'll deal with day care (or not) accordingly.

So few fathers (at least in the U.S.) have the option of taking significant paternity leave, and I feel fortunate that I can. That being said, me taking care of a baby for three months is more than a bit scary -- I was reminded how little I know about infants when we went out to dinner on Friday with friends who have a 1 1/2 month old. But I'll learn.

Kathy will make sure of it.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Thursday, June 01, 2006


The full name of John Barlow's novel is
Intoxicated: A Novel of Money, Madness, and the Invention of the World's Favorite Soft Drink
, lest you think I selected the book due to an association with beer. Barlow's book is set in 1860s Leeds, where Isaac Brookes, wool manufacturer, is retiring to his home. Brookes has spent most of the last 20 years in France for the sake of his business, which has meant that he's neglected his wife Sarah, and his sons Tom and George. On the train home, a chance encounter with Rodrigo Vermilion, a destitute hunchback midget, leads Isaac to the start of a friendship of sorts, and perhaps a business opportunity as well.

Upon his arrival home, however, Isaac discovers that things haven't exactly been proceeding smoothly in his absence. At 22, Tom seems destined to squander the fortune his father has amassed through whoring, drinking, and terrible investments. George, five years Tom's junior, is a simpleton who has trouble even reading. And most significantly, Isaac learns that his wife is quite ill.

When Vermilion is saved from a beating at the hands of drunkards through the assistance of Temperance soldiers, and they offer him a vile non-alcoholic substitute for refreshment, Vermilion finds a business waiting for him -- soft drinks. He enlists Brookes into his scheme, and they almost immediately stumble upon rhubarb as the beverage's base. When George coins the term Rhubarilla, the marketing is established. All that remains is to actually settle on the product.

The story is engaging as it dances around its fictitious soda center. Isaac's personal conflict between trying retirement to be there for his wife and the need to pursue a new business is well-developed, even as it becomes complicated by a growing addiction. Vermilion is the story's most interesting creation -- even as he's both P.T. Barnum and one of Barnum's sideshows, Barlow is able to give this creature depth in his desires for love and success.

The book certainly possesses an element of the absurd, but the direction the book takes means that this element all but vanishes through the lsat third of the book. This change results in something of an identity crisis for the tale, but this shortcoming is a minor one, and I certainly recommend the book despite it.
Rating: 8/10.