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.