Saturday, February 23, 2008

Last Night's Dream

For some reason I have to take the LSATs again. I'm about an hour late getting to sign in, but when I get there, they hand me my 19-year-old original test, and I can use my answers from then if I want to. I go sit down to take the test, but somehow the test is transformed into a beer blind tasting, complete with palate cleansing snacks (mostly vegetables with a Ranch dressing dip). Although having the answers makes me feel like I should have no trouble acing the test, the fact that I started late makes it challenging to get through all the "questions" in time, particularly since I feel quite full. At some point I get up and take a break by going swimming in the pool that's right there. I go back to finish the test, but I have no recollection of whether I'm able to finish in time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Greetings from Warfordswhere?

A couple of years ago, when I googled for rental places in the region that allow pets, I came across the place that we stayed this past weekend. The cabins were unavailable when we've previously tried to visit, so this was our first trip up there, there being just outside Warfordsburg, which is the first exit in Pennsylvania on I-70. Yep, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, where we were able to hike, hot tub, and generally hang out. Other than a trip to a far away brewpub for lunch on Saturday, we stayed on the property the whole time.

1. The property evidently had been in the same family for years, and it was only in the last dozen or so years that they decided to rent out cabins there. The cabin we stayed in is called Sophronia, and there were a couple of other references on the property to Sophie. The first night in the cabin, I discovered a pamphlet/short story called "Sophie's Story." I skimmed it to learn that Sophie was a girl who lived in the valley about 100 years ago, and who, when she was eight, burned to death when the wind caused her to catch aflame from a controlled brush fire. The end of the pamphlet provided directions to Sophie's grave in case you wanted to put flowers there. We thought the fascination was a bit weird, though it seemed more than that when we found the needlepoint couplet on the wall in the bedroom that read, "This valley is my home, From it I never will roam. -- Sophie 1908."

2. Upon arrival, we discovered that Sophronia had no bathtub. By Sunday Emelia definitely needed a bath, so we improvised:

3. On our Sunday morning hike, we went up a small hill, not knowing where the path would lead. When I say hike, I mean that I carry the camera and Kathy carries Emelia. It may not seem chivalrous, but Kathy says she hardly feels the weight, while I have a bad back. The trail wasn't particularly steep -- it just went uphill for an extended time. Eventually the trail took us to a different trail, part of which we'd done Saturday morning. We ended up on a wholly different segment, however, that seemed tame at first, but then offered a brief sharply downhill section followed by a stretch that was against the mountain. This stretch was narrow, had poor footing (loose leaves covered by a little bit of snow), and was roughly 40 degrees (i.e., your left foot was supporting all your weight while your right foot was uphill). I had enough trouble navigating it without a child on my back, but Kathy had it much worse, particularly given that she wasn't wearing shoes with treads. By this time we didn't see that we could go back the way we came, so we pressed onward, only to discover that the trail abruptly ended with an arrow that pointed downward to the bottom of the hill. We tried to ease our way down, but ultimately Kathy sat down involuntarily, braced herself, then went on a lovely sled ride, hold the sled, with Emelia on her back laughing and loving it. A run in the washer and dryer later, Kathy's pants were as good as new. As for her willingness to hike again, I admit that I pushed her to take another one in the afternoon. Fortunately, it was much milder (though not easy by any means).

(I was above them for the climactic slide down the hill, and Kathy refused to go back up so I could get a good picture of it).

4. A couple of times last week, when I was counting with Emelia, I threw in the "ah ah ah!" of Sesame Street's The Count. Emelia doesn't watch TV, so she's never seen The Count, but the day before we left, and ever since then, she's been saying "ah ah ah!" all the time (not that she's actually counting). In her honor:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Going Blind Tasting

This past Saturday a group of local RateBeerians assembled at my house for a blind tasting of 25 imperial stouts. For those unfamiliar with the Imperial Stout style, it's a BIG beer, typically at least 8% ABV, with lots of malts and a fair amount of hops. Flavors that may be imparted include roastiness, coffee and chocolate, though they certainly don't stop there. And so we attempted to determine nuance among 25 different takes of this style, roughly two ounces at a time. Surprisingly, after trying so many beers over the years, I had yet to participate in a blind tasting. If you're curious how it went, I wrote an article about it over at RateBeer.

Friday, February 08, 2008

College Football Recruiting

[Updated below] Have you heard about the recruiting hoax that some kid (Kevin Hart) made up because he so wanted to be a college football player? Really quite sad, and I think that Hart's story serves as an interesting contrast to Pat Forde's column earlier this week about kids not following through on their verbal commitments to colleges.

The columnist writing about Hart, Gene Wojciechowski, is actually quite sympathetic to Hart for making up his lie. He recognizes that having to face up to the humiliation caused by the truth coming out is quite a punishment for Hart to face. It sounds that he won't be prosecuted for filing a false police report either. Wojciechowski points to the failure by the adults in Hart's life to realize that Hart's story didn't add up, and indirectly suggests that the hype surrounding college recruiting, including that from his employer ESPN, contributed to Hart doing what he did:
Hart apparently was overwhelmed by his fixation on playing big-time football, on being wanted, on the need to replicate what he had seen done by actual blue-chip players on National Signing Day: the semi-insanity of high school seniors announcing their college decisions on local and even national television outlets, including ESPNU.
Then there's Forde's column, which concludes by placing blame wholly on the high school seniors:
But college football players need to reacquaint themselves with the meaning of the word commitment. It doesn't mean you're going steady until something hotter comes along.
These kids may reasonably have a change of heart over one of the most important decisions of their young lives, but it's more than that. Forde somehow disregards that the recruiting hype and media attention (in large part created by his employer) puts ridiculous scrutiny over their decisions. Worst of all, he wholly ignores the coaching carousel (he only mentions coaches getting fired), and the fact that some of the backing out he decries happens because the adults, i.e., the coaches that recruited them, don't keep their written commitments. Implicit in his omission is a suggestion that somehow it's worse for the these young adults to not honor verbal commitments than it is for head football coaches to not honor their written contracts. He recognizes that once a kid signs a letter of intent, he's committed. But at the same time, he seems unable to accept that the whole purpose of the letter of intent is a recognition that an oral contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.

Update (the morning after my insomniatic posting): The bottom line to me is that Forde seems to put a college football program's ability to rely on a kid's commitment to fill its recruiting class above the kid's need to make the best decision for his future. I think he has it backwards.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Vote

Despite the fact that the United States started with the "self-evident" premise that "all men are created equal," it took 94 years after its founding before blacks were able to vote, and it took another 50 years for women to be given that same basic right. Another 88 years have passed, and we're still waiting for the first non-white, non-Christian, or non-male to be elected president. Amazingly enough, either of the two remaining contenders on the Democratic side could end the white Christian male reign, and in the abstract I'm delighted by that prospect. But elections aren't in the abstract, they're about the positions, qualifications, and character of the individuals running for office. And how one casts his or her vote usually is influenced by other, non-substantive factors, such as perceived electability and how the media characterizes and portrays the candidates.

I try not to consider these last two factors, but in order to do that, I have to recognize the possible influence they play. In national polls, Obama is much more favorably viewed than Clinton is. There are probably a number of reasons for this, but the three non-substantive reasons I can think of offhand are: (1) charisma, (2) familiarity, and (3) sexism. Obama is young and handsome, and a dynamic speaker -- he has charisma that none of the other candidates possesses. As for familiarity, the old saw is that it breeds contempt, and given the "dynastic" concerns with respect to the Bushes and Clintons, that certainly seems true here. And then there's the media, which seems to take delight in holding Clinton to a standard that none of the other candidates are held to, a standard that strikes me as sexism pure and simple. Quite frankly, it disgusts me. It dates back to at least the Lewinsky scandal, and probably before -- she was condemned for having been cheated on and staying with Bill, but she would have been condemned at least as much for leaving Bill. With a media that takes delight in focusing on non-substantive rather than substantive matters among the candidates (quick -- tell me three things about John Edwards' aborted candidacy that don't involve a $400 haircut), she is criticized no matter what she does.*

Ok then -- assuming I can get past these non-substantive factors, where am I on the substantive ones?

On many of the issues I care about, such as choice, I think there's basically no difference between Clinton and Obama. With respect to the economy, their initiatives, while similar, show some differences, but to be honest I don't feel I'm qualified to say which one offers the superior package. On healthcare, I think Clinton has the more carefully considered approach, and Obama is looking somewhat shabby (but where she's going to come up with the money to pay for her superior proposal is another matter entirely). Otherwise, on pretty much every issue where they have a substantive difference, Obama comes out ahead. Katherine supports Obama based on her knowledge of the issues of Iraq, foreign policy generally, immigration, civil liberties, criminal justice, and human rights. Given the extremes that the Bush Administration has gone to on most of these issues, it seems critical to me that we have in office the person most likely to undo as much of those extremes as possible. hilzoy, probably the blogger I most respect, makes numerous additional points in Obama's favor.

As for qualifications, some argue that Obama is inexperienced, but on closer examination, that doesn't seem to hold up. Much has been made of Obama's desire to be bipartisan, which some have taken to mean that Obama will compromise on issues that he shouldn't just for the sake of bipartisanship.** But if one actually looks at his track record, as hilzoy has done, one can reasonably conclude that "Obama tries to find people, both Democrats and Republicans, who actually care about a particular issue enough to try to get the policy right, and then he works with them. This does not involve compromising on principle. It does, however, involve preferring getting legislation passed to having a spectacular battle." That strikes me as leadership -- he's been able to get good things done.

Lastly, there's the hard-to-quantify character issue, which I think also favors Obama.^ With respect to the campaigns, it's nearly impossible in a constantly under-the-microscope environment to remain completely clean among the inevitable mudslinging, and Obama isn't spotless in this regard. At the same time, Clinton seems to have done more mudslinging (largely through intermediaries, including Bill). Of greater concern to me is her efforts to change the rules of the election in midstream -- by arguing that the Florida and Michigan delegates should count only after it was clear that they broke in her favor (rather than challenge the DNC's bad decision to exclude them at the time the decision was made), and to sue days before the Nevada caucus over the rules that some of her campaign team helped create in last-minute changes to the rules established in Nevada. Beyond the campaign, however, is the sense that she formulates her positions not necessarily on what she believes is the right answer, but what she considers the most politically supportable one. Perhaps not surprisingly, I feel this way most about the way her position on Iraq has "e vol ved."

For these reasons, I've decided to vote for Obama this Tuesday. That being said, I still favor Clinton over any of the Republican offerings. If you watch the January 31 debate that had only the two of them, you can see substantive discussions and debate, something generally absent from the "I'm more conservative than you are, you hippie Liberal (but I still represent change from Bush)" Republican slugfests.

* -- That being said, sometimes charges of sexism go too far, and are unwarranted. New York NOW's condemnation of Ted Kennedy's support of Obama is one example. Another is the indignation some folks feel when Hillary is asked about Bill Clinton's role -- if she considers him an asset on the campaign trail based on his experience (and fails to repudiate his remarks that generate controversy), it's fair game to ask whether she considers him an asset in the White House based on his experience.
** -- T
ruthfully, I'm much more concerned that Clinton, rather than Obama, will seek bipartisanship at the expense of progressive principles, something her husband was frequently accused of. Case in point.
^ -- Then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

It Definitely Could Be Worse

  • Furnace problems last night, thought we fixed 'em.
  • No hot air coming out this morning, time to call repairman.
  • Stay home until repairman's assistant comes, here by 9am!
  • Fixed by 10:15, head to work by 10:20, in before 11.
  • Kathy and Emelia get home to find house smelling of gas.
  • I call repairman, who agrees to drive the hour to check the furnace.
  • We go to Brian and Elisabeth's, the couple we share the nanny with, for pizza and put Emelia in the Pack and Play (where she refuses to sleep).
  • Repairman arrives, sees problem (assistant stripped the valve when reinserting it), apologizes profusely, but needs part that he can't get until tomorrow morning.
  • Furnace is shut off -- no danger to us, but no heat until tomorrow.
  • I open doors and turn on ceiling fans to air place out.
  • Get Kathy and Emelia.
  • Emelia falls asleep immediately in her own crib.
  • Tonight's forecasted low, in early February, is a delightfully unseasonal 54 degrees.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Your Kid is a Freak"

Not counting when we've had someone watch her so we could go to a wedding or Bar Mitzvah, I think last night was the fourth time Kathy and I have left Emelia with someone and gone out, just the two of us. Like the other three times, last night involved nothing more adventuresome than going to dinner and then returning. Oddly enough, each time has involved someone different watching her, and this time it was our friend Bryce's turn. Bryce loves kids, and she has none of her own. She keeps threatening to teach Emelia all the things we'd never want her to learn, which, given that both Kathy and I are oldest children who were ridiculously conformist growing up, is probably a good thing.

We went to Georgetown, a part of town we almost never frequent, as it's filled with tourists, college students, shops, bars, traffic jams, and it's a good walk from the nearest Metro. There are some good restaurants there, however, and we decided to try a seafood place several people had recommended. It was a bit noisier than we might have wanted, but we could still hear each other fine. The food was great and we ate far too much, but the service enabled us to dine in a leisurely manner, something we do all too infrequently these days. Our conversation over dinner was substantive, serious even, but refreshing all the same. Far too often these days we find ourselves reacting to circumstances, causing friction with and defensiveness from the other. Last night had none of that, and maybe that's what made it so enjoyable. Most evenings after Emelia goes to sleep, Kathy and I have a couple of hours to ourselves to talk about anything, but we rarely do. It seems strange that we have to go out to do what we could do any other night, but given that in the evenings we feel more in need of down time than serious conversation, maybe it isn't so strange after all.

We got home a little over three hours after we left (the longest of our four dinners out). The first words from Bryce when she saw us were, "Your kid is a freak!" Long pause. "In a good way." Bryce explained how after we left, E didn't get all upset. Then Bryce read to E, they played together, and E had a little bit of food. Then E said, "Night night," and Bryce followed Kathy's directions by preparing a bottle, then reading her a story as E drank the bottle. When E finished the bottle, Bryce stood up with her, said "Night night I love you," and put Emelia down. Emelia went right to sleep. In her experience with children (that includes nannying and lots of babysitting), bedtime was something kids avoided, not asked for, and she'd never had a kid that didn't fuss at least a little bit. Of course, Emelia fusses a little bit some evenings (and frequently for naps), but what Bryce experienced isn't uncommon for us (in fact, I'm writing some of this while E's napping -- she said "night night" at 8:15am, and was in bed shortly thereafter without a fuss).

At the same time, we hadn't thought much of it, simply because we don't have anyone to compare Emelia with -- we don't have any other children, or a great deal of experience with small children. In some ways, not thinking about Emelia as compared to other kids is the norm for us -- we haven't done a lot of reading about stages or expected experiences, so we take everything as "normal." I mean, we think she's amazing, but I generally chalk that up to being her parent. As far as our interactions with her, we don't hold a lot of preconceived notions about how she should be -- as long as she seems to be growing and developing, we don't sweat the details. Whether that's bad or good, I can't honestly say, but it does create these moments when someone on "the outside" finds something remarkable in what for us is the ordinary.

"I'm a Freak?"

Friday, February 01, 2008

Afghani Sentenced to Death

What was Sayed Pervez Kambaksh's crime? He shared a report he downloaded from the Internet which contended that "Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed."

I'm not about to suggest that things aren't any better under Karzai's rule than they were under the Taliban, but on this matter, there doesn't seem to be much difference. Karzai can still pardon Kambaksh, but given that a key ally of his proposed a ruling in Parliament that condemned Kambaksh, I don't expect it to happen without significant international pressure. As the article notes, the UK is attempting to do just that.

Unfortunately, I haven't heard anything about the U.S. doing anything on Kambaksh's behalf, and while I'd like to believe the government is doing something, I'm not optimistic. For Bush to acknowledge that there's a problem with freedom in Afghanistan would serve as too sharp a contrast with what he said in his State of the Union address:
In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies, and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al Qaeda is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope.
With that context, I'm not optimistic about Kambaksh's fate.