19 November 2005


I have a guilty habit. Y'see, I spend a lot of time perusing websites that espouse opinions with which I vehemently disagree. I consider if part of "knowing thy enemy" and find it fascinating to see the kinds of mental distortions that, say, members of the white nationalist movement go through on a daily basis.

With that preamble, I was wandering around the Stormfront.org website today (no link because I don't want to increase their Google rating any more than I have to) and spent a bit of time on their forums. Lurking only, of course. One of the posters there had an Arthur C. Clarke quotation as his signature. That quote?

"A faith that cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets."-- Arthur C. Clarke

The user's name is "sparrow" -- anyone overly interested should be able to verify without too much effort. I suppose Sparrow is completely ignorant of modern theories of human evolution, and the overwhelming evidence that due to a relatively recent population bottleneck (possibly due to an Ice Age) there is virtually no variation among humans of any race or ethnicity, at least when compared to the variation among most other species.

The Wikipedia has a fairly good article on the subject here and those who are sufficiently interested in the history of such social constructs can read Steven J. Gould's excellent The Mismeasure of Man.

Of course, I will not bother pointing this out to Sparrow, because I am a firm believer that one cannot be argued out of a position which he or she was never argued into in the first place -- Sparrow's positions are almost certainly borne out of emotion and hatred, and reason is left far, far behind.

04 November 2005

Big Beer Companies

Over at Beer Advocate.com, a common complaint on the message board is that people who drink Budweiser, Miller, and Coors products (i.e. the Big Three brewers in the United States, accounting for more than 95% of the U.S. beer market by volume) are brainwashed, have no taste for anything good, et cetera. And, of course, that those of us who drink better beer should easily be able to convert all the swill-drinkers of the world to drinking Russian Imperial Stouts (they're beerlicious!) and the like, if only the marketing campaigns of those Big Three (hereafter referred to as BMC) weren't so insidious.

To which I say, bullshit.

Look, I'm a huge craft beer fanatic, and I rarely dare to stoop to lesser-quality macrobrews. But what I look for in a beer (a new taste experience combined with a mild alcohol tinge that leads slowly to drunkeness when desired) is not anything at all like what most BMC drinkers seek. Beer, for most people, is quite simply an alcohol-delivery system, and all that a beer has to be to be "good" is to be cold and easy to pound -- most craft beers actually get in the way of this process with their sensory depths and generally warmer serving temperatures.

And, to be honest, I don't think that there's anything at all wrong with that. BMC sells a product that people like, that people want to drink, and they make a bundle doing it. So long as their advertising is honest, it's not a big deal -- I drink what I like, and those who drink BMC products can drink what they like.

(Which isn't to say that I don't think it's absurd when Miller Lite bases the whole of its marketing on being a "great tasting" beer compared with Bud Light -- I don't think I could even tell the difference between the two, if pressed at a blind taste-test. Even compared to a medium-level beer like Samuel Adams, though, Bud, Miller, and Coors fall way behind on the taste factor -- Sam Adams has some.)

It does lead to the question, though, of why BMC has such a high percentage of the beer market (Anheiser-Busch itself has more than half of US beers under its belt) with literally thousands of smaller brewers making up the remaining four percent or so. Another of the common refrains on BA is that the Big Three maintain their market dominance by hooking consumers when they're young, and deliberately keeping their products dumbed down so that most beer drinkers won't try anything better.

To which I say, well duh.

It's something of a truism today, but marketing isn't really about selling a product, it's selling a lifestyle. The millions of horny young guys who couldn't care less how they smell normally wouldn't spend more than a buck for underarm spray, but they all want to have the irresistible influence over hot young babes that only Axe Deodorant bodyspray can give them. Don't go to McDonald's to buy grease-laden fries and burgers, go because you're a trendy young urbanite looking for some soulsista comfort. And don't drink Coors Light because it tastes good, but because that bitchin' babe at the party drinks Coors, and you're lookin' for some hot poon.

What's more, the conglomeration of beer companies into a massive ogliopoly is not an isolated incident. I think many of those who seek to determine why it is that BMC is so large compared with smaller breweries commit the error of reification, they thingify what they are studying and give unreal phantoms true relevance. In other words, the monolithic nature of BMC is a fact, but that this has a definite cause in and of itself is probably not true.

Instead, I submit that the Big Three brewers are merely a symptom in an ever-growing world of decreasing-in-number monolithic choices in our day-to-day life. How many of us visit anything locally-owned anymore? The easy transportation of goods and services across the country and the world, combined with the increased speed of communication over the last century or so, and the strange accidents of history that led to corporations having real rights as individuals under the Constitution with few of the responsibilities inherent in personhood, has led to a world in which we have a choice of Wal-Mart, Target, or Sears, but not a locally-owned clothier around the block.

There are very solid reasons for all this, and there is a lot of good to go with the bad, but my point is that craft beer enthusiasts (and, for that matter, Linux users) should stop talking about the stupidity of the masses and realize that people go for what works for them, and that while the lack of popular appearance of choice is demoralizing, that being in the minority can be exhilirating in and of itself.

So long as I can run my Fedora box and drink my Mackeson XXX, I'll leave those Windows CDs and Budweiser cans to those who want them.

03 November 2005

I am Jack's Amusement

I was at the store the other day, and noticed a little something on a package of Avery 8293 circular inkjet labels.

Check out the name on the pictured label Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

As anyone who's ever seen or read Fight Club can attest, Tyler Durden is the main character of the piece, lives on Paper Street, and according to director David Fincher, the story takes place in Wilmington, DE, where many credit agencies and banks have their home offices.

In other words, someone has a really good sense of humor over at Avery. Or maybe someone no longer has a job. Either way, it was startling to see it.

30 October 2005

Camden arrives! and Roger Ebert makes a good point

Beth and I went down to Millbrook from last Wednesday to yesterday, for the long-awaited birth of my sister Alicia's new baby, Camden Thomas Harper. On Thursday, October 27, 2005, at 4:11 pm, a 6 lb 12 ounce baby was born to my sister by Cesearean section. A great moment for the family, one that will have ramifications as long as I live.

But right now I've had (and reviewed) a Bass Pale ale and Steel Reserve 211, so I'm not really capable of discussing it at the moment. I've got a lot to say about the new baby, things that seeing Alicia with him made me think about, but my reflexes are a bit shot and I'm pretty much incapable of doing any higher thinking at the moment.

So I'll leave you with a comment from Roger Ebert's current Movie Answer Man. (For those not reading this week, a link to the entry in question is here.) It deals with a reader of his who objected to the political commentary present in the new George Clooney-directed Good Night, and Good Luck (as of yet unseen by me), and it's about as clear a rebuttal to all those Ann Coulter-obsessed Joe-McCarthy-blowjob-givers that I can imagine appearing in a family newspaper.

Q. In your review of "Good Night, and Good Luck," the new George Clooney movie about Edward R. Murrow, you said about Sen McCarthy: "He destroys others with lies, and then is himself destroyed by the truth." The only problem is that McCarthy wasn't lying. He might have gotten a few of the details wrong, but he was substantially correct.

The Venona Project was a top-secret U.S. government effort to decode Soviet messages which ran from 1943 until 1980. Untold thousands of diplomatic messages were decrypted, providing invaluable intelligence. Some of that intelligence proved that there were, indeed, spies imbedded in the U.S. government in far greater numbers than the public suspected. Many of the people that McCarthy singled out as being spies actually were working for Russia, traitors that were selling out their country to the most murderous regime the world has ever seen.

The threat was very real, and Murrow did the free world no favors with helping to bring McCarthy down. The film has no mention of Venona, no mention of Soviet spies that certainly did exist, no nuance and no truth. Instead we're treated to a rehashing of the same old debunked story about how journalists managed to bring down a greater threat to freedom than Stalin. What is beyond my comprehension is how most of the people who know and care about the Red scare of the 1950s are completely unaware of Venona. Many of the decoded documents have been available to the public for more than a decade.

James R. Rummel, Columbus, Ohio

A. If McCarthy had that information, why didn't he cite it to save himself? Obviously, because it was not available until years after his death. Evidence at the Army-McCarthy hearings and elsewhere indicated that he fabricated most of his charges out of thin air. Do you have any sympathy for the majority of his targets who were completely innocent? What about the blacklist that ended careers and destroyed lives because innocent people exercised their constitutional privileges?

It is significant that government security officials in possession of facts about spies did not choose to share them with McCarthy, who was a loose cannon. Presumably the security experts were taking care of business while McCarthy was disgracing himself. Edward R. Murrow is the public servant in this scenario.

In short: Roger Ebert cuts to the heart of the matter like no one else I've seen. Maybe we can get him to go on Bill Mahr and debate Ann Coulter sometime.

More on Camden and such in a day or so.

23 October 2005

Farkers are retarded

So BeerAdvocate.com was farked today. And anonymous farkers seemed to have absolutely no understanding of what they were talking about, as usual.

Granted, Fark.com is amusing for awhile, and sure it's a nice way to while away the hours looking at bizarre stuff on the Internet (and Boobies links), but the users on the forums pages are almost always completely idiotic. Which is why (unless I'm looking for those fables Boobies links) I'm not the sort to go wandering over to Fark.com very often.

For whiling away the hours on the Internet looking at interesting stuff, I vastly prefer The Wikipedia or The Snopes Urban Legend Page.

PS Apologies if your browser is giving you issues with the last post. I was trying something new, and I'm not quite sure how well it worked.

This Modern United States

A post on Free the Hops's new board reminded me of my previous passion for the evolution/creationism "controversy", and so I started wandering over to The Panda's Thumb and checking out some of their archives. While there, I discovered a really interesting Response to a very interesting Tech Central Station article about the future of the Intelligent Design movement.

The original article (it's short, and worth reading, especially for those who disagree with the ID movement in general) is essentially about politics, listing a number of reasons why Intelligent Design is likely to eventually triumph over evolutionary biology in the not-too-distant future. The author, Douglas Kern, doesn't make any scientific arguments in favor of ID, but rather speaks largely in social terms, and on those terms he is probably --scarily-- correct. Here's the first part of his argument:

ID will win because it's a religion-friendly, conservative-friendly, red-state kind of theory, and no one will lose money betting on the success of red-state theories in the next fifty to one hundred years.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: families that reproduce people tend to reproduce ideas, as well. The most vocal non-scientist proponents of ID are those delightfully fertile Catholics, Evangelicals, and similarly right-leaning middle-class college-educated folk -- the kind whose children will inherit the country. Eventually, the social right will have the sheer manpower to teach ID wherever they please.

(Read the above-linked response, as well, for the author there deals quite nicely with the substance of this post, better than I'm going to do today.)

This reminds me of the very depressing fact that the country as a whole is leaning in a much more conservative direction, particularly on religious and social issues, and that secular liberals like myself are, quite frankly, largely outnumbered and have virtually no political power on the national level today. What's more, the argument above figures that the conservative movement as a whole will simply walk right over constitutional limits on, say, church-state issues, simply in order to get their ideology in place.

All of which I obviously disagree with, but which I must reluctantly agree is a likely course of future history. Theocracy encroaches slowly but surely, and what we have in the past believed were largely settled rights will probably become history lessons to my future children, and to Camden Thomas Harper.

All of which reminds me of a post that I made to the talk.origins newsgroup the day after the 2004 presidential election, mere minutes after the race had been more-or-less decided for George W. Bush. I'm going to link to the thread on Google Groups, and also quote it in full for those who dislike the Google interface.

I apologize for this, but I don't have a lot of moral support in my area, and I think I can keep this at least marginally on-topic, so please hold the anti-election flames.

Right now it's right at nine o'clock Central Time, and the final vote tallies haven't been done up yet. CNN has projected 254 electoral votes for Bush, 252 for Kerry, with Iowa, New Mexico, and Ohio being still outstanding. Iowa and New Mexico could go either way as far as the electoral college is concerned -- the big winner will be whoever gets Ohio's 20 electoral votes. The Kerry camp is talking about waiting for provisional ballots and overseas ballots, and that may very well be a significant factor here.

Unfortunately, the margin looks to be too large -- Bush is a little over a hundred thousand votes ahead in Ohio, and the provisionals would have to be overwhelmingly in support of Kerry in order for it to swing the election. As depressing as it is, absent evidence of major voter fraud as happened in Florida in 2000, or some numerical miracle in Ohio, George W. Bush will continue to be the President of the United States.

God help us all.

There are a lot of things that contributed to this event, not the least of which is that the electoral map shifted even more in Bush's favor, allowing for Kerry to actually pick up a state that Gore won in 2000 (New Hampshire), while losing the electoral college. At least Bush actually won the popular vote this time -- again, absent major vote fraud, it looks like Bush won the popular vote by something like three and half million votes.

Three and a half fucking million votes.

CNN pundits have been talking about the turnout issue (this is the highest turnout we've ever had), and while high turnouts tend to favor Democrats, in this case the majority of new voters look to be Republicans. It appears that Karl Rove organized major "get-out-the-vote" campaigns through evangelical churches, based primarily on ballot initiatives on social issues like abortion and, most especially, gay marriage.

In other words, Bush and Rove used the evangelical community's dislike of homosexuality to get out the vote and put themselves over the top. (Estimates are that somewhere around four million evangelicals didn't vote in 2000 -- add four million to Bush's 2000 vote difference with Gore and
you get approximately Bush's lead over Kerry.) I have no particular beef with those like Klaus Hellnick and Fred Stone who sincerely believe that Bush is the better man to run the country (although I wholeheartedly disagree), but at least a point of view like theirs is honest and reasoned. Bush and Rove didn't rely on people like Klaus and Fred to win this election -- they traded on bigotry and fear. On hatred just as nasty and virulent as the hatred that led Southerners to vote Dixiecrat sixty or seventy years ago, just with a different target.

It quite honestly disgusts me to the pit of my soul, and I am ashamed of my country that it has stooped to this level. May the rest of the world, and history, please forgive us.

One final note, and then I'll shut up. That douchebag Robert Novak was talking last night about how the Democratic party needed to reconsider the candidates they put out, the platform they embraced, that the country is more and more conservative, and that flaming liberals like John Kerry wouldn't be able to win the support of rural voters. That's a load of bull -- Barack Obama (the huge success story of the 2004 election, the new Senator from Illinois) was voted in on huge margins, with good numbers from even the most rural areas of his state. The problem is not the candidates, but they way they're packaged and the way campaigns are run -- Bush and Rove simply ran a killer campaign, with all the negative ads, all the mudslinging, and all the fearmongering that was needed to stay in office.

A girl that I work with yesterday said that Kerry was an atheist. How much longer are we going to let ignorance and propaganda run our electoral process?

I'm done. Hate mail to the listed addy -- unmung it if you want to be supportive. :->

[snip signature]

And which makes me think of one more thing, from the web comic I Drew This. It expresses perfectly what I felt on that fateful morning, and how I look at the world when I am depressed about the state of civilization in this country.

The Day After.

09 October 2005

Beer Tasting or Getting Lost in Birmingham sucks!

There was a Free the Hops beer tasting last night. It was held in Birmingham and started at 8:00. I was planning on being there, well, right at 8:00, or maybe a few minutes after. We didn't actually get there until about 9:30 or 9:45.

Getting lost in Birmingham is not a fun way to spend an evening. Especially when you're in the "not so nice" parts of town.

So here's the thing. The invite specified an address (2301 1st Ave N, Birmingham, AL) and a landmark (at the Liberty House). Now, apparently, if I was native to Birmingham, those directions are about as clear as can be, since the Liberty House is a local landmark of sorts, and the numbered streets are laid out in a pretty decent grid that makes it easy to find these sorts of locations.

Unfortunately, I'm not from Birmingham and know nothing about the geography, so I punched the address into www.mapsonus.com and got what looked like really decent directions for how to get there. And, to be fair to mapsonus.com, it got me to a 2301 1st Ave N, Birmingham, just not the 2301 1st Ave N, Birmingham. Turns out that there are two, apparently completely unconnected, sets of numbered streets in Birmingham, one of which is in the downtown area, and the other of which is in the ghetto.

Guess which one mapsonus.com sent me to? Yeah. The error was so non-obvious that even when I called Danner Kline (president of FTH) to get more specific directions, he had no idea that I was way off and figured I was within walking distance of the location. So we circled. And circled. And circled.

Finally, after about an hour of trying to find the place, we said, "Screw it, let's just find something to eat (we were starving at the time, having eaten lunch about six hours before) and forget the tasting." But Birmingham had surprises for us yet -- would you believe that we simply could not even find a place to eat, we were so far from anything resembling the city of Birmingham's retail/cultural/business areas? Beth and I drove around the city, miserable and irritable, looking for some place, anyplace, to eat that we could actually catch our breath in, when my cellphone rang again.

It was Danner, calling to check on me. "Dude, where are you?"

"I don't know if we're gonna make it. It's so late already (it was about 9:20 at this point) and we're probably just going to get a bite to eat and call it a night."

"Well, where are you?" I described to him the basic layout of the streets, landmarks we had recently passed, street names. By this time we had been driving so long that absent a trail of breadcrumbs we were never going to find our way back the way we came -- we were just looking for an interstate or some other readily identifiable major landmark. But Danner said, "Hey, you're really only about ten minutes from here. We're still going strong. Are you sure you can't make it?"

I told Beth, "He says we're just a few minutes away," and she agreed to try to take me there. I got directions from Danner (basically, turn around and go the other way, then turn right at 1st Street N), and hung up. And lo and behold, the place seemed to magically appear in front of us; once we were in the right section of town, it turns out that the location was pretty damned easy to find.

So we climbed four flights of stairs (not fun for Beth or myself, as worn out and irritable as we were) carrying the sixer of mixed beers plus two nitro cans, and made it to the roof of the Liberty House, where the tasting was obviously in full swing. It was a really nice, cool temperature out -- thankfully I'd worn a long-sleeve button down over my T-shirt, but even with her jacket Beth was freezing all night. We split up, me heading for the beer table where I meeted and greeted for a bit (and handed out bottles of the stuff I brought from home to share) and Beth skedaddled to the back to drink the two Mike's Hard Lemonades we purchased at Wayne's Package Store on the way down, and chatted with some of the other people who had either already done all their tasting for the night, or were not tasting at all.

The two nitro cans I brought were a couple of Young's Double Chocolate Stouts, and those came open pretty immediately, given that no one else had brought any Young's and they were already at the stouts when I got there. (Honestly, I was happy that others liked them so much -- I had brought them really as an afterthought, figuring that since I had them leftover from a previous trip to Nashville, I might as well share them with others.) Nice to get that kind of welcome from the crowd, even having been so late, but I guess when you bring some good beer, everybody likes you.

After that, I had a chance to try Old Engine Oil, which lived up to its name and then some, but was actually a very nice full-bodied stout. Only 6.2% alcohol, but it had the flavorful complexity and the mouthfeel of an Imperial Stout. Very nice, and something I'd like to get a full bottle of, although I'm not sure how well it would pair with a meal.

Here's where the thing got really interesting -- as I was tasting and enjoying the Old Engine Oil, a voice says, "Daniel? Daniel Harper?"

I look up at the face from which my name is coming, and recognize it as vaguely familiar. "I know you...." I stammer, before the visage says, "Joseph."

"From ASMS?"

"Yeah, wow, how have you been?"

(A bit of explanation, but only a bit, so that this post doesn't grow as long as the list of admonishments in Leviticus. ASMS is a magnet school in Mobile, AL, where Joseph and I attended -- I was a year older than he, so I was a senior while he was a junior, but he also happened to live in Prattville, AL, at the time, and so I got to visit his parents' apartment once or twice since my family lived in Millbrook, less than five miles away. To keep it simple, Joseph and I hadn't seen each other in about seven years, so to run into one another at a tasting was pretty much the highlight of the evening for me -- despite how nice it was to get a chance to taste some of those really good beers.)

We chatted for a bit, tasting on this and that, nothing too special. (Most of the beers at the tasting I'd had before and was simply getting a chance to enjoy, so I didn't take detailed notes. I know I had some Mackeson XXX at one point, and I believe I was sipping on a Rogue American Amber for most of this period.) Danner came up to me, apologized for my getting lost (he really is a nice guy, despite Beth and my desire to strangle him earlier), and made sure I was all right. And by, "made sure I was all right," what I mean is he said, "Down that. I got one for you."

I finished off that American Amber taster in about two swallows (a good beer, but a little hoppy to chug, at least for me) and Danner poured me a taste of something out of the smallest beer bottle I saw that night. It was Thomas Hardy's, and this stuff poured like hot maple syrup. The aroma was really nice, thickly inviting, and the taste -- oh my God, heavenly. (Of course, Danner told me the things were going for something like $25 for four of those tiny bottles, so I guess I understand why it tasted so good.) Easily the best beer I tried for the first time that night, and one that I am definitely looking forward to being able to get in Alabama once we get these stupid laws changed.

We talked about the Thomas Hardy's for a bit, all of us (I think) in awe of its flavor, complexity, and 11.7% ABV, and I think at that moment, seeing an old friend I hadn't seen in years and drinking some of the finest beer on Earth, I decided that the immense driving time and confusion was probably worth it.

And then the really good stuff showed up. Yeah, that's right -- better than Thomas Hardy's, better than Mackeson XXX or Young's Double Chocolate, better even than that rank amateur Ommegang -- nope, I'm talking about Colt 45. And PBR. And a dab of Schlitz. This stuff is what we all come to these beer tastings for, a touch of the old-school quality brews that just can't be matched by any microbrew.

(Okay, I think my tongue is shoved so far into my cheek it's threatening to break through the skin at this point. A couple of people brought some "joke beers" to the tasting and, good sports --and drunkards-- all of us, we popped a couple of cans and tasted them like pros. Purely for the science, y'see?)

By this point, much of the structure of the thing was going out the window anyway and I, being pretty much behind the tasting table anyway, started getting requests for different beers as if I was running the thing. Always an adaptable sort (well, not really, but I do like giving people beers that I think they'll like) and armed with my trusty bottle opener (I carry a Bridgeport keychain bottle opener wherever I go) I started popping open brews and giving latecomers a taste of stuff they missed, or stuff they just wanted to try again. I opened maybe a half-dozen beers, passing around a few bottles to let people get some tasting done, including one of the two Rogue Mocha Porters I brought, and one of the two Olde Towne Ambers. The Mocha Porter was a hit, unfortunately the Huntsville-brewed Olde Towne was not. Hey, Olde Towne's still working the kinks out of their brewing process, so I'm willing to cut the local boys a little slack, but I still wish that I had had some of their hefeweizen (which really is good) to showcase the brewery.

Around this time Danner came up to me again and we chatted for a bit, about FTH, driving in Birmingham, and the like. He pointed out a beer that I hadn't tried yet, called something like Knoxville IPA. (A little help here on the name, Danner?) "Is it any good?" I asked.

Danner shook his head and smiled. "Not really. Tastes like somebody's homebrew that's just a little bit off."

"Is it worth trying?"

"Well, you should try it to try it, but it's not that great."

Good enough for me. I popped the cap and poured a couple of ounces into the plastic cup. Yep, pretty much exactly as Danner described it -- worth a chance, but certainly not a very good IPA. I finished off the small sample size, but probably wouldn't want a full bottle.

Around this time, the guy who actually lived in the building where this was going on, Wes, showed up with his Mom, fresh in from California. I'd never met him, so we shook hands and all, and it turned out that his mom had gotten some beers from California to share with us. This included some 12oz bottles of Young's Double Chocolate, so I tried it from the bottle, and I think I like it better that way -- the nitro cans give the beer a sort of astringent texture that I don't much care for. (Now that the beer's in 12oz bottles, it should be possible to get these in Alabama -- hint, hint, Alabama distributors and beer stores.)

Wes also had a couple of bottles of Brooklyn Brown Ale, which I'd heard nice things about but never had. I'm not the biggest fan of browns, but the Brooklyn had a complexity and hop bite that made it much more pleasant than most other beers of the style -- particularly Newcastle. Brooklyn isn't distributed in Alabama, but I think that's more due to the regional nature of the brewery than anything else -- so far as I know their Brown Ale is below 6% alcohol.

Time passed, Danner excused himself and left (apologizing again that I got so lost and promising me some Imperial Stout for the next one) and, well, all the beer that I had consumed suddenly started to catch up with me. Not in terms of the alcohol, but in terms of the bladder -- I excused myself, ran down those four flights of stairs about as fast as I could without shaking anything loose, and just barely made it to the restroom in time. A quick sigh of relief and thoroughly washed hands later, and I'm back to the roof.

Okay, so the tasting was pretty much dying by this time. I took back up my location behind the table, couldn't find my tasting glass (I believe Lee Winnige, a sort of unofficial second-in-command at FTH if I read it right, had been throwing some of the trash away and my cup got tossed along with it), so I started just drinking some of the leftovers from half-empty bottles behind the table. I finished off the Brooklyn Brown and some of the Olde Towne Amber, and Wes and I shared some Anchor Porter (he's a huge fan of porters, whereas I find the raisiny sweetness a bit much) while we chatted about dark beers in general. I swapped email addresses with Joseph and a couple of other people, and Beth and I decided to hit the road.

On the way out, we started asking if there was anyplace around to eat. It was past midnight at this point, and neither of us had eaten since about 2:00 pm, so we were pretty famished. Joseph, Wes, and a couple of other locals gave us some decent ideas of where to go that was open late, so we hopped in the car (she drove, having finished her two Mike's Hards hours before) and started down the path.

And got lost again. Who designed this city?

Fed up, exhausted, and ready to get out of town, we finally just settled on finding an interstate (which still took us about twenty minutes of false turns and stops) and hopped on I-65 heading north at right about exit 260 or so. Turns out she met some interesting people, one of whom is actually from the Huntsville area, so maybe we've enlarged our tiny social circle just a bit. Beth re-iterated that I owed her big time for this, and I agreed, apologized, and we chatted off and on as we came back to Huntsville along that pitch black interstate.

We stopped in Decatur for a quick Waffle House dinner. (Past 2:00 at the time, I guess it was breakfast, really.) We both had hasbrowns, mine a triple order, scattered, covered, smothered, and chunked, and she got a single order without the ham but with a side of pie. With tax and tip, the meal was still under fifteen dollars, and the comfort-food nature of the joint made a nice respite from the pain of driving around Birmingham, completely lost, for something like two hours.

We came home, I went to the bathroom, she went to bed. I checked my email, found an email from my mother that I decided to just answer tomorrow, and climbed into bed myself.

The moral of the story is: never plan a city with multiple locations with the same street address. And if you do, make sure that online mapping software knows that.

05 October 2005

More on Tony Scott

A bit of an update to my August entry called "Old Dogs and New Tricks", in which I talk a bit about director Tony Scott and the way Man on Fire is a much better and more original film visually than it really had to be, and how I was impressed by how an older filmmaker seemed to have found his visual originality so late in life.

I was reading Aint It Cool News yesterday, and ran across this article, a review of the upcoming flick Domino directed by one Tony Scott. The review is written by "Massawyrm", who seems to have a more thorough understanding of Scott's oeurvre than I do, and places it into larger context. From the article:
You see, Tony Scott’s greatest asset is also his greatest curse. Tony Scott films are always very stylish, utilizing the newest and latest camera, lighting and editing tricks to make a film that just plum looks cool as all hell. However, Tony Scott’s films also date themselves rather quickly, each of his films becoming wonderfully entertaining relics that ultimately define the look of the age in which they were made.
He then goes on give examples of what he means, which is too lengthy to include here, but which is a reasonably convincing argument that the modern-day incarnation of Tony Scott, with the hand-cranked cameras, whiplash editing and the like, is actually well-in-line with what Scott has always done. (He then goes on to give Domino a very positive review, which only makes me want to see it more.)

What do I think of this? Well, it's entirely possible that Massawyrm is correct, and the most recent Scott films are simply "more of the same" from the director, who has always been cutting-edge. I can see quite a bit of it, personally, now that it's been pointed out to me. But I would still argue that Scott's latest films differ in kind from his earlier work, in that while he has always used cutting-edge techniques to generate box office-friendly movies for popular consumption, never before has he extended and expanded on the very language of cinema in quite the way he's doing in Man on Fire and (possibly, as I haven't seen it yet) Domino. It's also the case that while Top Gun's effects-heavy style was widely imitated immediately after its release, the stylistic work of Man on Fire have not been imitated by another filmmaker yet (whether through lack of time or lack of interest I cannot hazard a guess).

No real controversy here, just an interesting alternative viewpoint that I'm not entirely sure is wrong. I guess we'll just have to see how far Tony Scott and his colleagues take this stuff, to see whether this new style becomes more-or-less standard or whether it exists more as a personal take on cinematic language.

01 October 2005

A bit of a scare

I've been known to have my share of all-nighters, but right now I'd just as soon be asleep. It's about 2:11 AM here, according to the trusty timepiece at the corner of my KDE session, and about 1:40 or so I heard what I thought was my cellphone ringing.

In a panic, I awoke immediately and stumbled half-asleep, in the dark, into the office, where I had my cellphone on the desk. It wasn't ringing. I picked it up, fumbling, and activated the keypad. Nothing -- no missed calls. But how?

I ran to the bathroom for a couple of minutes, emptying out a bit of last night's Mackeson XXX from my system, and crawled back into bed. Then I heard it again -- my cellphone was ringing.

Visions of either an early delivery for my sister or a hurt family member in my mind, I was faster this time, I'm out of the bed and into the office. Except it's not my cellphone. Listening again, I hear it from downstairs. It turns out that Beth changed her cellphone ring from the previous "vaguely pleasant pan-Atlantic island music tone" to the more standard (and louder, since she couldn't really hear the phone that well) "loud ringing" that I have mine set to. It was her phone that was ringing.

I get downstairs just a moment too late to answer it, but I check the missed calls list, and there have been four missed calls. "Shit," I think, "someone must really be hurt or something." Except when I check the number, I don't recognize it.

Anyway, long story short, I call the number back, can't get through, and then a few minutes later they call me back again. "Hello?" I ask. "Is Rick there?" "I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number. There's no Rick here."

The woman was deeply apologetic for waking me up at 1:40 in the morning, and it seems like an honest mistake, but still, it scared me to death -- I'm not used to getting calls at all, especially not that time of night, and I was terrified that something had happened to someone I care about.

Maybe a glass of milk will help me to get back to sleep. Yeah, that's at least worth a try. Thankfully I don't have to be at work until 11:00 tomorrow -- that's eight and a half hours from now. Sheesh.

28 September 2005

New Link

I just added Beth's new blog, Lair of the Dorkfish, to the list of links to the right. She's much better at this than I am -- I'll bet she even updates her blog from time to time.

Currently drinking my last Rogue Shakespeare. The joy that I get from consuming such a fantastic stout is partially dampened by the fact that I can't get any more until I go up to Nashville again, which given Beth's job situation (see her blog for details) might be a little while coming.

If anyone knows of a position open for a Java programmer in Huntsville that requires about two years of experience, email one of us. Please.

20 September 2005

Animated Fox Television Shows

I'm twenty-five years old, and I grew up with The Simpsons. Other than Saturday morning cartoons and the like, one of the first shows I can actually remember watching was that classic Fox show with Bart, Lisa, Homer, and the rest. And while there are very few shows that I currently will actively try to watch, The Simpsons maintains its interest for me, for nostalgia value as much as anything.

I say this because I just watched the tape I made of the first two episodes of the newest season, and I think it's clear that the show is, if not quite as good as when it was at its peak, perfectly good entertainment, funny, intelligent, and with sharp satire, and is fucking loads better than that steaming pile of cow manure called Family Guy.

Here'sa review I wrote about five years ago of Family Guy. And here's a review I wrote of The Simpsons a few weeks later. Re-reading the two of them now, I still agree with much of what I said back then, so I'll leave it to the reader to poke through those reviews to check out my overall feelings, but allow me to continue on for a bit.

Humor is very often about context. Great comedians know how to build jokes on a suspension of disbelief, and how to use the audience's expectations in their favor to create unexpected and hilarious moments. Family Guy is popular because it is beloved by fans who adore the wackiness and the outrageousness of the show's many pop-culture references and sexual humor, but the very thing that they love about it, its randomness, is exactly what causes it to fall flat in the long-term -- it lacks any sense of structure or context into which its humor can be placed. The Simpsons, at its best, is highly-polished social, political, and pop-culture satire with a wildly strange fictional universe at its center. Family Guy at its best is, well, a gag reel that feels highly derivative of the other show.

The common retort here is that, of course, modern-day Simpsons isn't nearly as good as the previous seasons, and that the present-day episodes of Family Guy are at least equal to those of . Now, I admit that there is an element of truth to this -- many of the current adventures of Homer and the gang are, well, tired and recycled from previous episodes. And some of them, the season premiere being a prominent example, are simply not very good to begin with. But even episodes like that one have their moments, and both of the episodes from the current season have been infused with some new energy that strikes me as being a positive sign for good-quality comedy. Hopefully the writers will get the kinks worked out and the show can spend its final years being the brilliant critical powerhouse it once was.

I titled this post "Animated Fox Television Shows", and yet so far I've only discussed the creations of Seth McFarlane and Matt Groening. There's another juggernaut in the room that quite possibly has the kind of quality that exceeds even that of The Simpsons, at least on the average of any given episode, and that's Mike Judge's King of the Hill. Now entering its tenth and final season, this show, episode for episode, has been some of the finest television of its kind -- it succeeds not by aping the grandaddy, but by mining the small moments between people for their absurdities and their humor. Nowhere in King of the Hill do you find endless pop-culture parodies -- the shooting style of the show owes far more to live-action TV than to any animated series, and the humor comes from character, not from overblown absurdity. Hank Hill and his family and friends are characters that actually reward deeper thought, and are, in some bizarre sense, believable as human beings at every moment.

My sister's child will almost certainly have his own interests and will watch whatever children watch. But my guess is that he, and his children after him, will gain far more enjoyment from watching King of the Hill and the first seasons of The Simpsons than anything Seth McFarlane will every produce. Family Guy exists for the moment -- the other two shows are for posterity.

16 September 2005

Two short bits about beer

Just a short one today, but enough to whet your appetite, I hope. :->

One: I was having a splitting headache until a few minutes ago, but instead of taking Tylenol for it, I decided to have a couple of beers. The reason being that the alcohol (in moderate doses, of course) helps to stimulate the production of dopamine and other endorphins, and causes a feeling of well-being that is a hell of a lot better than anything Tylenol can do for me. And because I have the sneaking suspicion that the reason I was having such a serious headache in the first place was because I'd been neglecting my beer lately -- I've become slightly chemically dependent on it, although not nearly to the level that I could be classed as alcoholic in any way, shape, or form. My body's just used to having a pint or two of beer every day or so.

Two: Last night Beth and I went out to Ruby Tuesday for a nice dinner of good burgers and onion-thingies for her. I ordered a Sam Adams to go with the meal and, like the dumbass I am, forgot to order it in a non-chilled glass. They brought me a frosty ice-covered glass of Sam Adams that was almost completely undrinkable. Even as the beer warmed, it only became slightly moreso.

Now, I love Sam Adams as much as any beer that you can find just about anywhere in the United States, but drinking it ice-cold just accentuates the bitterness and robs the beer of its more sophisticated flavors. I like my Sam Adams at very close to room-temperature, of course poured into a glass. I'm pretty sure that the process of tapping the beer into an ice-chilled glass killed much of the flavor that went into it, and created a much-different beer than the Boston Beer Company intended.

Anyone who's only tried Sam Adams cold should let it warm for a bit, and pour into a glass. Only then does the beer reach its true potential.

12 September 2005

A bit of my personal life

Over the weekend I went to see my parents and sister, which was really nice because A) I don't do it nearly often enough and B)my little sister Alicia is pregnant with her first child, and it was really nice to see how she was holding up. The family seemed fine and all, so I was really happy to see them, but what astonished me was looking at my sister, seven months pregnant, and looking as happy as she could be.

(Check out the new link "The Story of Boo" over at the right to visit her blog.) Psst -- Alicia, re your July 23 entry, the whole "eight glasses of water a day" thing has been dramatically overplayed, and few true experts in proper nutrition recommend that much water every day. But I digress.

Getting to see my sister for only the first or second time since the beginning of her pregnancy was a really fascinating experience. Y'see, I was always the boring, good little nerdy kid who followed the rules and got in trouble only for being too antisocial to those around me. Alicia, well, she wasn't by any means a "wild child", but she was certainly more social than me, had more friends, and in general tended to push her boundaries a lot more. A year ago, I was living a life of sitting at my computer and reading messages on talk.origins, while she was out having adventures with her friends and basically raising a little hell -- in other words, exactly what you'd expect a hot young twenty-three year old blonde to be doing.

So when she found out that she'd accidentally gotten pregnant, while my first reaction was to be happy for her and to wish her the best, part of me, the part that I really don't like because it's not a very polite person, worried about the welfare of the child, whether or not Alicia would have the maturity to pull it off.

(No disrespect to Alicia here, as I know I'm sure as fuck not ready to be a father, and I'd probably end up seriously fucking the kid up if he was left with me for a week or two. I have trouble keeping my two cats fed and their litter cleaned, so a son or daughter would be way more work than I was ready for.)

But it turns out that my little baby sister, who part of me still insists is such a little girl, is actually maturing and preparing for impending motherhood right before my eyes. I was sitting on the couch in the living room where I grew up and watching her sit in a nearby rocking chair -- she had her eyes half closed and was rocking gently in the chair, all the while holding her stomach gently in her arms and looking for all the world like she was simply listening to a far-off song that only she could hear. Which, really, probably isn't all that far from the truth.

I'm not a very good brother. I'm distant and antisocial and difficult and self-centered to a fault. But seeing her with the love and affection she feels for that baby makes me realize that she's grown up while I wasn't looking, and is a wonderful person whom I'd like to have the opportunity to spend some more time with. The prospect of being an uncle soon is just icing on the cake.

28 August 2005

Old dogs and new tricks

Well, I didn't want to do two movie posts in a row like this, but last night I caught the entirety of Man on Fire for the first time (I'd seen bits and pieces of it on pay-cable several times, though) and realized that I just had to put down a few thoughts about the flick. (Warning here: I'm going to reveal some plot details, so those who haven't seen it but plan to should probably back away now.)

First of all, it's got impeccable credentials on the acting side. Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, Dakota Fanning, even Mark Anthony are great actors who are working at the top of their game here. (Tell you what, just check out the IMDB listing for the flick here for a detailed cast listing.) Washington in particular gives one of his best performances as a very human monster of an antihero, blunt and bloated at times, but sensitive and heartfelt at others. It's also got the great writer/and-sometimes-director Brian Helgeland (wrote and directed A Knight's Tale, best remembered by me as the writer of the utterly brilliant LA Confidential) on the screenplay side. Helgeland doesn't do his best work here; the film is very formulaic in its structure and relies heavily on overdone cliches (killer with a heart of gold, etc.), but for a genre flick it more-or-less gets the job done, and certain sequences (of both the action and character-based variety) are among the best I've seen of the type.

But the thing that really made me want to write about this movie was the direction. Tony Scott is probably best known as the guy who directed Top Gun and for his long-time partnership with Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson (before the death of the latter), and given his career there was really no reason to ever think that he'd do anything really special with his life, other than make really good examples of high-octane action pictures. And there's nothing wrong with that -- Lord knows that really solid genre flicks are as hard to make as anything else, and action filmmakers in particular tend to reduce their flicks to overedited mush with a lack of anything cohesive to the story. Most action movies are just plain bad, and even if Tony Scott was producing mediocre product, it was still better than most of the junk out there.

But Man on Fire almost takes its basic source material (I haven't read the book, so I'm referring to the screenplay as-filmed here) and raises it to a whole other level. Scott uses the appearance of hand-cranked cameras, multiple exposures, and whiplash editing to build whole nuances of meaning and structure onto what is, really, a very trite and overdone story about murder and mayhem. I am always the most respectful of artists who, in whichever medium they choose, work to actively expand and redefine the very language of that medium -- in the filmmaking world, historical examples being many of the men I praised in my last post. There are only a handful of filmmakers today that I feel are honestly expanding the horizons of cinema in this way (Darren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson, Oliver Stone, David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino to a lesser extent), and most of these filmmakers are working in the doldrums of the industry, working for peanuts to expand their art. Tony Scott, I must say, impresses me with the way he is working on just such a project, and in a major studio film, no-less.

I'm really excited at the prospect of seeing Scott's upcoming Domino now, for I believe that even if the film fails, that it will at least be an interesting failure.

Okay, no more movie posts for awhile. Hopefully in the next day or so I can get one out about the nature of scientific education and dissemination of information, and the way people misunderstand scientific progress by oversimplistic thinking. 'Til then.

27 August 2005


Wow... I guess I'm just really bad at this whole blogging thing. It's been a week since I've posted anything, not because I haven't been thinking about things or reading anything interesting, but just because I can't seem to get off my lazy ass and spend some time on it.

Hopefully I can get a fairly full post out later today.

20 August 2005

Filmmakers and Age

I was reading Brad Plumer's blogspot July 2005 archives today, and found a post that aroused some interest in me. Titled, "The Dismal Science Does Artistry" (scroll down to the July 25 entries), Plumer quotes a for-pay article by David Galenson and Joshua Kotin about the nature of innovation in the film industry. You can read Plumer's post for details, but here's the gist:
From the article:
"Conceptual directors, who use their films to express their ideas or emotions, mature early; thus such great conceptual innovators as D. W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, and Orson Welles made their major contributions early in their careers, and declined thereafter.
"In contrast experimental directors, whose films present convincing characters in realistic circumstances, improve their techniques with experience, so that such great experimental innovators as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and Akira Kurosawa made their greatest films late in their lives."
Plumer goes on to basically agree with the premise, referencing an earlier paper by the same authors regarding paintings, and admitting at the end, "Not knowing much about movies, I have no idea if this theory is even remotely plausible." Full disclosure here, I am not in any sense a hardened professional here; I am merely am amateur fan of the filmic arts, but I suspect that the paper has little to no validity.

The abstract quoted above calls Griffith, Eisenstein, and Welles "conceptual artists", defined from the painting paper as those who define the work primarily during the planning stage, whereas experimental artists work with their chosen medium and work towards further perfection by examining the canvas in-progress. I would agree that the greatness of those three directors lies in their conceptual abilities, for they innovated many of the techniques that have been used in cinema ever since (or at least perfected their use from earlier experimental shorts), but it's also true that the artists, Welles in particular, did plenty of fine and innovative work later in life. Welles is best known as a filmmaker by his Citizen Kane (1941) and, to a lesser extent, The Magnificent Ambersons, made one year later, but a list of his greatest films must also include Touch of Evil in 1958. A fairly recent documentary, Orson Welles: The One-Man Band, shows much of the later work of Welles, after the studio system had written him off, and the result is a man who, in short home-movies and the like, continued to innovate for his entire life. Certainly his acting skills did not deteriorate, and the brief glimpses of his final picture (The Other Side of the Wind), still uncompleted and unreleased, show a filmmaker still being boldly experimental, still pushing the envelope as much as ever, and using few if any of the cinematic techniques he perfected in Kane.

So far as the other side of the equation, I'm not sure that the "experimental" filmmakers listed in the paper make any more sense. Ford was a standby of the old studio system for decades, making film after film -- his greatest success is arguably The Searchers from 1956, but equally solid claims can be made for Stagecoach from 1939 or The Grapes of Wrath from 1940. Hitchcock was active in animation for years before getting the chance to direct his first features: he brought the standard animation technique of storyboarding over to live-action films, and is now a standard part of any filmmaker's process -- his greatest films were scattered throughout his life, with his greatest peak near the middle of his long career with Vertigo, Psycho, and others. Both men had their greatest successes at the end of their lives not because of their process, but because only towards the middle of their careers, when their box-office potential had been proven and the old studio system started to crumble, were they set free to do the work they had always been capable of doing.

Kurosawa is another odd one to add to that list. Arguing that his greatest works were at the end of his life is futile: is Ran (1985) superior to Rashomon (1950) or Ikiru (1952)? If the measure is innovation, I'd argue that Kurosawa would belong in the other category, of "conceptual" filmmakers, whose works speak of enormous ideas that are merely enacted on-screen -- Rashomon was so unique for its time that it has been imitated hundreds of times, and the word itself acts as an adjective universally recognized. The relative recognition he received late in his career was due to political problems in his native Japan, not a lack of innovation or a problem with his methodology.

In the end, I believe that this way of viewing innovation in film is more-or-less useless, except to the degree that it's obvious. Every student of cinema quickly learns that many of the medium's greatest innovators peaked early, but circumstances surrounding the lack of innovation in later years revolves as much around biography and politics as artistic merit. Scorsese's great films dot his resume; from Taxi Driver to Goodfellas to The Aviator, he continues to grow and adapt to new technologies and methods. Altman invented new technologies and methodologies for M.A.S.H. and Nashville, but he's still using them to great effect decades later in Short Cuts and Gosford Park. Steven Spielberg had great innovative work in the early days of his career, with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but who would argue that Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan are not just as high-quality and innovative in their own way?

Innovators in film generally continue to innovate during their entire lives, unless personal circumstances deny them entry into their respective fields, those artists who start strong tend to continue doing so, and those who start in a lackluster way tend to work in the same area. The only counterexample I can think of is Woody Allen, who started off doing silly comedies like Bananas before moving on to more complex and sophisticated fare like Manhattan, but even then that seems to be a matter of personal choice than of lack of innovative method. I'll continue to try to think of a counterexample, but for now I can't really think of any.

14 August 2005

The Appearance of Reason

In the news lately has been George W.'s increasingly vocal support for so-called "intelligent design" to be taught in schools alongside the theory of evolution. As it happens, I have spent a lot of time discussing this issue on the talk.origins newsgroup, and feel like I know enough about the subject to discuss it here.

Creationists and their only-slightly-more-respectable younger cousins IDers are really engaging in a rhetorical battle, not a scientific one. The honest truth of the matter is that the theory of evolution has been shown to be true so many times, in so many different ways, with so many years of hard empirical evidence backing it up, that it is highly unlikely to ever be overturned by anything; in particular, the arguments put forward by so-called "doubters" of the theory are, in a word, bullshit.

See The Talk.Origins Archive for more details.

So if the arguments are nonsense (and they are), then what exactly are the advocates of ID and/or creationism really doing? Some of them, I feel, are simply honestly deluded; they are convinced that the arguments they espouse are correct, and either have not been exposed to their errors or are willfully ignoring responses from scientists. Others, however (and most of the "respectable" ID crowd like Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe fall into this crowd in my opinion) are seeking not so much a scientific advance, but a sociological one. The point isn't to make arguments that are, in and of themselves, valid and sound, but to make arguments that seem valid enough to the average nonscientist to force respectable men of learning to get down in the muck and argue with the creationist/IDer.

Let me put it this way: there is, quite simply, zero evidence that supports any form of intelligent design, in a scientific sense. (Whether the argument holds water theologically is another matter that I won't get into here.) When a certain class of fundamentalist Christian sees ideas contrary to a narrow reading of the Bible taught in schools, he or she is already incensed against that teaching, but can do nothing to overturn it from a religious viewpoint, due to the separation of church and state enshrined (and rightly so) in the U.S. Constitution. In order to get their voices heard, they must at least sound scientific -- if they do so well enough that real scientists feel the need to respond, if they can even stand on the same stage as a real scientist and be seen as roughly co-equal with them, their battle has been won; they can scream "teach the contreversy" at the top of their lungs.

It is for this reason that notable biological scientists like Stephen Jay Gould (now deceased) and Richard Dawkins have long had a policy of refusing to debate anti-evolutionists. But it seems that we have been pushed into a corner, rhetorically-speaking, anyway. The anti-evolutionists appear, to the uneducated eye, to simply be seeking academic freedom and to "let all voices be heard" -- there is nothing more basic to the ideals of liberal democracy than that. In the eyes of the disinterested observer without a grasp of the issues, they are the reasonable ones, they are the downtrodden minority seeking simple redress of grievances. The fact that their arguments were heard, given proponents as lofty as the greatest scientific minds of their time (see Louis Agassiz), and rejected based on evidenciary support, is not given a hearing in the minds of John Q. Public.

Make no mistake: evolution is true. But in order for evolutionary supporters to get their point across, they're simply going to have to get better at the rhetoric and, dare I suggest it, the politics of the situation. The Supreme Court is about to become 5-4 (or even 6-3 or 7-2) the other way; we can no longer rely on the courts, and the courts alone, to save liberal democracy and mainstream science as we know it.

I only wish that the ignorance of the persons we're trying to sway was not as astounding as it is. But the future of our country, and in many ways, the world at large depends on there being not just an appearance of reason, but the true gem of rationality itself. May God have mercy on us if we fail.

12 August 2005


I posted five new beer reviews within the last twenty-four hours, because I had been saving them for a couple of days instead of writing them up immediately. (Beer purists take note, though, for I did take notes during the tastings and used them virtually exclusively for the content of the review itself.) Among them was Firestone Double Barrel Ale, which I found that I actually enjoyed quite a bit.

Y'see, Firestone Double Barrel isn't exactly a fine Belgian Ale, or an Imperial Stout, or even a good IPA or hefeweizen. It's really just a simple-enough brew that goes down easy and has a nice malty, almost oaky taste to it. And on that level, it's a perfectly enjoyable beer. I'm looking forward to having it with a burger or a steak, or just as a nice finish to a long day at work.

And what it got me to thinking about was the context in which we beer geeks consume our favorite beverages. If I'm going to sit at home and just drink a beer while watching TV or enjoying some kick-back time on the computer and not really pay attention to it, this beer is a perfectly good experience. On the other hand, if I want to savor every drop and really get every bit of experience possible out of the beer, I'd much rather have something with a bit more complexity, like a Franziskaner Hefe-weiss, a Mackeson XXX Stout, or the aforementioned Belgian Ales.

And I think it's for that reason, as opposed to some "bias" against simple brews, that certain types of beers are reviewed so highly over at Beer Advocate. It's a sort of Uncertainty Principle of Beer, that whenever one pays attention to the attributes of a beer, that those attributes tend to shrink in context and what was once a perfectly fine lager ends up being a pale imitation of a drinkable beverage.

(Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending bad beer in the slightest. A Bud Light is at best mediocre even in the best circumstances, and many beers are quite a bit worse than that. But certain styles are consistently given less than due credit, and this is my --admittedly simple-- hypothesis to explain this behavior.)

I'm sure plenty of other posts that I write here will have to do with this phenomenon, but for now I'll just say that some beers are good, but just don't stand up to in-depth scrutiny, and for me that's perfectly okay.

08 August 2005


So here's the deal -- on Saturday the sixth, i.e. two days ago, the fiancee (Beth) and I drove up to Nashville. For a couple of reasons, actually, needing to get out of Huntsville and into somewhere with some actual, y'know, culture and stuff, wanting a simple change of scenery, wanting some time together. Et cetera. But mainly so I could pick up some really kickass beer that, due to bullshit post-Prohibition laws, are simply not available here in Alabama.

(Psst: Free Beer!)

We had a really nice time up in Nashville, even though I only had about two pints' worth of beer the whole time and Beth had a small glass of Lindemann's Framboise at the Beer Sellar, but on the way back we ran into some pretty heavy traffic. By which I mean that two lanes of southbound Nashville traffic (this was around mile marker 61 on I-65, if anyone cares) were backed up bumper-to-bumper for about three or four miles. Took us about forty-five minutes to get out of it.

Now, being a fairly intelligent and sophisticated guy (ha!), I tend to assume that when I'm on an interstate that's backed up for miles on a Saturday night, that we're seeing a current wreck (or possibly the longitudinal wave caused by the aftereffects of a wreck, amounting to the same thing over short time scales). So when I'm sitting in the car wishing that I wasn't stuck in traffic, at least I take heart in the fact that I'm not the unlucky son of a bitch who actually got into the accident, and whenever I'm with Beth, I can always be thankful that we're both safe and, y'know, still breathing and all.

So what happens when we get through the traffic and start seeing over the hill to the end of the jam? While there are several flashing police lights visible in the darkness, they're not exactly helping out with a wreck. Oh, no, they're simply directing traffic....

...towards the Williamson County Fair.

I mean, I understand that there's a certain segment of the population that really likes the sort of old-fashioned pleasures that can be found at a fair, like cotton candy and tilt-a-whirls and voluntary inbreeding, but we're talking about a county fair that's less than twenty miles from one of the most cosmopolitan and entertaining cities in the southeast. And is the country music capital of the world, if you'd rather drown some tears in your beers.

I just don't get it. Were they selling crack at the Williamson county fair? Was there some giant orgy about to take place that Beth and I missed? Or is a county fair really just that great of a draw? If anyone knows, please shoot me an email, because I'm honestly curious what would draw that kind of crowd at that hour on a Saturday night.

07 August 2005

Starting up

Just started a new blog. Hopefully I can do this every few days, keep the whole thing reasonably interesting to people who don't know me personally, and not get myself into any legal, moral, or spousal trouble. Be gentle, kind readership (at least at first) for while I have spent many years on this beast known as the Internet, I am new to the concept of blogging.

Thanks, and happy reading!