Thursday, May 27, 2004

out on a school night

Last night we drove in to Somerville to see the Hot Club of Cowtown play at Johnny D's.

Back in the day, I went to Johnny D's fairly frequently, between the weekly swing dances with Jump Crew and the occasional local folk act. But the swing dances must have ended at least 3 or 4 years ago and since we don't kick around the Davis Square area much since the SOOTTAD moved out to the 'ham, I don't really go to Johnny D's much these days.

The place is split in two the long way, with the bar on one side and the dining area and stage on the other. There's a small dance floor too, which had tables when we arrived, but which were cleared away by the time the Hot Club took the stage. The only problem I have with the place as a music venue is that the only way to reserve seats is to make dinner reservations. And frankly, the food is generally less than stellar.

They often have things that sound pretty good, but invariably, the reality never lives up to the hype. This is the place where I learned to never order something when the only response to "Is it any good?" is "It's very popular." I bought the line with their fried chicken, and frankly, it sucked. (I must be a fussy eater.) Your basic bar food is probably your best bet, but it's often unnecessarily foofed up. And of course there was the time a friend met me there for dinner and a show and ended up spending most of the evening in the bathroom because she got food poisoning.

But despite all that, I generally like the place as a music venue. I'm not exactly sure why. I suppose it's because it's small enough that the performances feel more personal -- it is basically a bar, after all -- but it's big enough to get a good crowd, and they often have space to dance.

So last night, even though we couldn't get reservations for a table, we managed to snag seats at the bar. The SOOTTAD got the quesadilla -- the *ahem* Garlic Spinach, Mozzarella, and Goat Cheese Quesadilla served with artichoke pesto. Right. Other than the artichoke pesto being more or less superfluous to the dish, she found it quite acceptable. Tasty, even. I opted for the veggie burger and fries. I err on the side of caution. The burger was fine (I avoid their regular burgers because they're just too damn thick and end up cooked unevenly), and the battered fries that came with were actually alright.

The opener (a threesome of banjo, guitar and upright bass from North Carolina) was pretty good. Their first few songs were fun, but they ended up fading into the background as we talked with the friends that started drifting in for the show.

It was a different story when Hot Club started their first set. I was never cut out for the music review gig, so I'll try to keep it simple. They were awesome -- fun, lots of energy, and, of course, great music. We got some dancing in and generally had a grand old time. Two sets and an encore. Some of the high points for me:

  • "Dinah" A great version of the song that Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli made famous with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. A nice touch.
  • "Orange Blossom Special" There are plenty of cool tunes that have a train motif, but it really felt like the train was running through the club -- and they're only playing a fiddle, a guitar and an upright bass.
  • The pussycat song. Hi-larious. Innocent, and yet... heh.
It was a good night, despite getting to bed late on a school night and having to get into the office early this morning.

Also amusing: they mentioned offhand that they were going to be performing in Annapolis the next night (tonight). I shot an email off to Dr.J this morning and I think she should be heading home from the show as I write this. It's nice to be able to spread the love.

nice distraction

Having been known to become obsessed with Harry Potter on occasion, I was pleased to come across JK Rowling's Official homepage. Despite being flash heavy, it's a cool site with helpful information and a few Easter eggs scattered about as well.

Timely too, since I keep forgetting that it's almost June and the new movie is about to be released.

different responses

For some reason, I wanted to post these together.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Ack! Bugs!

So I was posting the other night, and right in the middle of a thought, what should I spy with my little eye?

Holy crap! Big F'ing carpenter ant crawling on the wall!

Man, it was like it was bug night at the homestead or something. Bug in my hair earlier in the evening. Ick. Bug on the keyboard. Another spider in the bathroom. The b'giant ant! And then two three four fly-things buzzing around my head while I was sitting at the computer. WTF?!

* * *

In an only marginally related note, the carpenter bees are back again.

On the whole, carpenter bees are pretty cool. They're big, like bumblebees, except with shiny black butts that remind me of the "Bullet Bill" or "Bob-omb" Nintendo characters. They're fairly non-aggressive and do this cool hovering thing that makes me think of sci-fi alien scout ships. (I'd swear the picture I have in my head is from a movie but I can't think of it.) And it appears that they're good pollinators, too.

But carpenter bees also bore into wood, which is not so cool. And seeing as they're buzzing around the roof near sections of exposed wood (damn, I've been meaning to deal with that), it may be time to start checking out pest control services again.

* * *

The reliance and concord have finally started leafing out. Sadly, the himrod and mars still aren't showing any signs of life (it was a rough winter, we're fearing the worst). But the reliance leaves weren't looking particularly healthy -- they've been stunted and discolored around the edges. Upon closer inspection, we found these little green bugs which we're thinking are some variety of leafhopper nymph.

We bought Pyrenone today. It's supposed to be organic.

Hope so.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Score one for the good guys...

Headline: Mass. Senate Votes to Repeal Marriage Law

BOSTON - The Democrat-controlled state Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to repeal the 1913 law that Republican Gov. Mitt Romney is using to bar out-of-state gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts. [link]
I did find it a little strange that the article framed it as a move by the "Democrat-controlled" state Senate given that the division over gay marriage seemed to ignore party lines. After all, it was a "Democrat-controlled" constitutional convention that passed the initial amendment to ban gay marriage. But I guess that's neither here nor there. It's too bad it probably won't get enough votes in the House to override the Romney veto that's sure to follow. Alas, a small victory.

I've been deeply offended that Romney has been trying to enforce his beliefs (which, he claims, "has nothing to do with discrimination") with an archaic law that, from my understanding, was enacted specifically to bar the recognition of interracial marriages:
According to Mary Bonauto, a lawyer at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the law was first proposed in 1912 by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, a body of judges, professors, scholars, and law practitioners concerned with creating roughly equal statutes from state to state. The law, which was adopted in only five states (Louisiana, which later repealed it, Massachusetts, Vermont, Illinois, and Wisconsin), was in part intended to uphold laws in other states that barred interracial marriages Conference documents explaining the law's intent state: "As to marriages against the public policy of any state, e.g. marriages with [criminal intent], or with a minor without parental consent, . . . or between a white and a colored person . . . this act, being general in its terms, will apply to all of these states and give full effect to the prohibitory laws of each state by making void all marriages contracted in violation of such prohibitions." [link]
That's an attack on me personally. It didn't even need to go there for me to care about this issue. But, well... there it is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

"...we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is."

Kurt Vonnegut writes an article that touches on America, religion, history and the meaning of life, among other things:

When you get to my age, if you get to my age, which is 81, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven kids, four of them adopted.

Many of you reading this are probably the same age as my grandchildren. They, like you, are being royally shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations and government.

I put my big question about life to my biological son Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir, The Eden Express. It is about his crackup, straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from which he recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: "Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is." So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.
Check it out -- good stuff. [thanks to Cynical-C]

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Top Down

The top came down this afternoon on the drive to practice. It's the first time this season. I'm always a little hesitant to do highway driving with the top down -- the wind picks up dramatically over 40 and it can often feel a lot colder than when you're standing still or even cruising around on city streets.

But today, it's sunny, mid-80's and mostly clear. It's a beautiful day. And the humidity that would have made it gross and miserable to run in at noon makes the open-air ride that much nicer. It keeps it warm, but it's not oppressive. (yet) The air is still refreshing, but it doesn't chill.

You can see the light puffy clouds in the distance. You occasionally catch the fragrance of the spring flowers: lilacs, fruit tree blossoms and I don't know what.

There IS this particular section of 93 South between exits 42 and 41 that smells like ASS, but fortunately that passes fairly quickly. (Does anyone know what that is? It's been bugging me since I started making this commute.) Otherwise it's a good drive down to Waltham.

I play for the first time in over a month. It feels good to run around; although I'm still trying to be careful not to push too hard or to get into situations where a collision will drop my ass back to square one.

Afterwards, the drive home. More lilacs.

For now, life is good.

Vegas, baby? (maybe not)

Shortly after returning from our last desert adventure, I discovered that our friend JB was going to be stuck in Vegas for a week for work. Not that she can't entertain herself, but I figured it'd be cool to hang out, and I really was looking for any excuse to plan another getaway, even if we had just gotten back from one. Plus, the SOOTTAD still hadn't seen O because we never bought tickets far enough in advance, so really, this provided the perfect excuse.

We got the Cirque tickets first, then the plane tickets. The plan was to depart Saturday, May 8th and return Tuesday, May 11th. (Yeah, that would be last Saturday and today. We'll get to that.) We'd save some money too because we'd be crashing with JB.

As the date drew near, I was really looking forward to the trip. I had read a few Vegas stories online (like this one [thanks to WWdN]) and was getting pretty psyched. I'm going over craps odds in my head. I'm imagining myself not being at work. Ahhh, that's a nice thought. No work. Mmmmm.

By the beginning of last week, we realized we hadn't really figured out what we were going to do there, besides the Cirque show, of course. We hadn't even decided if we were going to get a car when we got in. Work has been a distraction; it's been draining. And the lack of exercise (what with the shoulder injury keeping me sidelined) was taking its toll as well. Blood not flowing, senses dulled -- not enough oxygen or something. We needed to get on the ball.

Wednesday morning, I finally send JB our flight itinerary and she floors me with the news: she's been laid off. (I'm sorry, what was that about the economic recovery?) She's still working, at least through the end of the month, but the trip is off for her. Totally sucks. Just having the trip cancelled would be a bummer, but really, it's no big compared to a RIF.

We try talking her into coming out anyway, but she doesn't think she can afford the time or money. So now we really need to figure out what we're doing. The car is incidental, now we've gotta find lodging too, on top of figuring out what we're gonna do during the day. The SOOTTAD finds a couple cool sounding hikes online, but meanwhile, back at the office...

...well, let's just say that things are bad.

We're supposed to tape out the following Friday (that would be this Friday), and basically, there are some loose ends that need to get taken care of. Except, they're not getting taken care of, and in the process, we're finding more ends, as it were. And I'm about to take 2 days of vacation (not counting the weekend that I could also be working). I really do just want to bail. It's not unheard of: another guy on the project took a week off just 2 weeks ago. But things really weren't going as planned with the trip anyway. And as much as I wanted to go, I didn't want to deal with the airports, and sitting on a plane for hours seemed unappealing.

So we bailed.

The SOOTTAD was ok with it; she's good that way. Man, she rocks. Have I mentioned that? She rocks. She's got my back. The company is reimbursing me the costs for changing the plane tickets and (hopefully) giving me an extra day for my trouble. Of course, the moment I made the call, I had buyer's remorse. The hikes seemed REALLY cool. I wanted OUT of the office. But we'll reschedule and it'll be good. And we got to just chill. Which was a good thing, too.

What I really needed was some downtime. Dinner with a friend. Worked on the garden. (melons are in, baby!) Pulled weeds. Reseeded the lawn.

And I got some work done, too.

Vegas, baby. We'll be back.

Monday, May 10, 2004

he said, she said

I swear I'm not a crazed Michael Moore fan.

I know who he his, I think I have a sense of what he's about, and I think he performs an important role in presenting information and viewpoints that aren't always heard but need to be recognized and discussed. But I've never actually seen any of his films, and having read a thing or two about Bowling for Columbine, I'd definitely approach his films with a critical eye. (more on that later)

Anyway, I think I first read about the whole hullabaloo regarding his new movie in a news article on Yahoo. Food for thought, certainly. Accusations of censorship. Troubling, to say the least. But there's also the whole business about the business of Disney; I can certainly understand the argument that as a for-profit corporation, and an entertainment company at that, that they have a vested interest in not pissing off their viewers, customers and visitors. (perhaps more on that later, too)

But there's a lot of stuff going down these days and I've been crazy busy at work and I really don't have the time or the inclination to get myself all worked up about stuff like this right now. I mean, there's that whole Abu Ghraib badness and the Bush administration's handling of it that just seems to get worse and worse as the days pass. Michael Moore getting screwed is the least of our problems. At least he has the resources to do something about it, not limited to opening it up to the media (albeit at potentially considerable expense).

But when I'm busy and stressed at work, I have been known to take breaks now and then and surf around. And on one of those days, I ended up stumbling upon this post, (er, the May 5th post here since the archives seem to not be happy at the moment) which the author originally finishes with:

"Let's not confuse the First Amendement with having standards and enforcing them."
Certainly a valid argument. But in my reading of it, her tone seemed to imply that the film was clearly a load of crap and that any claim of censorship was simply a pathetic attempt at pressuring Disney to release a film that didn't come up to snuff. I'll certainly admit that's possible; I certainly haven't seen it. Obviously, it hasn't been released yet, but has there even been a review written? I wasn't sure where the opinion came from; I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume it's based on historical evidence.

This movie sooo isn't important to me. I don't care. I really don't.

And yet I felt that the post had such a narrow perspective that several points (that I thought were important in understanding the issue) were ignored. Thinking about this now, I realize that what bothered me was that without the full picture, it wasn't fair. I suppose that's why my posts get so long. You burn a lot of words trying to cover all the bases.

Anyway, I thought, people might read this and think that's all there is to it. And I thought, hey, she seems like a decent person. she's a local. We must have some common ground. I ended up at her site through the bostonites webring, after all. I'm just going to post some additional, relevant information; it's not like I'm attacking her or anything. And, I mean, that's what the comment links are for, right?

But it's still weird, because you're basically talking to someone you don't know. And it's not like a newsgroup or forum where it's understood that it's a free-for-all. It's a specific response to one person's writing. It's a bit like heckling the TV or a movie, I suppose, except they can actually hear you.

So I posted a comment, and she sent a polite reply via email. I sent a response (that probably crossed a line; I really need to learn to shut up sometimes), and read her own comment response. And the follow-up (Again, if the direct link is dead, check for the May 7th post here) based on a bunch of articles (like this one) about how Moore had just pushed the censorship button as a publicity stunt. (I think I may have even suggested as much in my email.) And that was pretty much the end of it.

Until I stumbled onto Michael Moore's response, posted on his own website: [BoingBoing]
In April of 2003, I signed a deal with Miramax, a division of the Walt Disney Co., to finance and distribute my next movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. ... In my contract it is stated that Miramax will distribute my film in the U.S. through Disney's distribution arm, Buena Vista Distribution. It also gives Miramax the rights to distribute and sell the movie around the world.

A month later, after shooting started, Michael Eisner insisted on meeting with my agent, Ari Emanuel. Eisner was furious that Miramax signed this deal with me. According to Mr. Emanuel, Eisner said he would never let my film be distributed through Disney even though Mr. Eisner had not seen any footage or even read the outline of the film. ...

But Michael Eisner did not call Miramax and tell them to stop my film. Not only that, for the next year, SIX MILLION dollars of DISNEY money continued to flow into the production of making my movie. Miramax assured me that there were no distribution problems with my film.

Yep, you guessed it: I posted another comment.

This leads me to a couple of other things that are on my mind, but I'll end this here for now. I'll put the rest in another post to break it up a bit and give folks a chance to go take a bathroom break. ;)

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Fat = Good

This may not be the start of the new all-butter diet fad, but a new study has been published that suggests that fat isn't the evil-doer that many take it for and may even be good for you. [Reuters]

"A relatively high amount of fat in the diet may be a boon to a healthy person's cholesterol levels, a small study suggests. On the other hand, limiting fat intake too much could have the opposite effect."
I realize that there's probably a study out there that will support just about any position out there, but it's still nice to have something out there backing me up.

Besides, they're pushing moderation. People should already know this, but this is America, where apparently the only way people can stop Super-sizing their extra-value meals is for Micky-D's to take it off the menu.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

CEO president

Things are really busy at work right now and reading news just hasn't been the right kind of distraction. I find it all so depressing and I simply become paralyzed just thinking about it all. It feels like writing about it would just make it worse. But this morning I hooked onto a thought after reading a post on Talking Points Memo that referred to President Bush as the "CEO President" and linked to this post on Washington Monthly.

Bush styles himself a "CEO president," but the world is full to bursting with CEOs who have goals they would dearly love to attain but who lack either the skill or the fortitude to make them happen. They assign tasks to subordinates without making sure the subordinates are capable of doing them? but then consider the job done anyway because they've "delegated" it.
This isn't the first time I've heard that term. I'm pretty sure the President has been quoted saying as much. But it made me wonder, how good of a CEO was he when he was actually a CEO?

This is not the most straightforward thing to find out. If you look at most of the official biographies (like here and here), all you get is that after leaving business school (oooh -- Harvard!) he "returned to Midland and began a career in the energy business." Generally, the next thing they talk about is his work on his father's 1988 presidential campaign followed closely by the purchase of the Texas Rangers with a group of "partners."

Digging a bit, I finally found most of what I was looking for at the Center for Public Integrity, the Washington Post and Arkansas Encyclopedia (of all places). Here's the basic points:

In 1978, using the leftovers from his educational trust fund, W starts an oil and gas exploration company, Arbusto Energy (although active operations don't actually begin until 1979). By 1984, Arbusto (renamed Bush Exploration) is deep in debt, but is bailed out when it is purchased by Spectrum 7 where W becomes CEO.

1986 and under W's leadership, Spectrum 7 is also deeply in debt (the figure of $3.1 million is often cited, but it's not clear whether this is for Arbusto/Bush Exploration or Spectrum 7). One source says Spectrum 7 goes bankrupt. Spectrum 7 is bought out by Harken Energy and W is made a director. He makes $600,000 on the transaction (presumably from the $300,000+ in Harken stock).

It should be noted that this doesn't even begin to get into how the company was run: investors get $1.54 million on $4.66 million in investments, Bush's company collects $678,000 on a $102,000 investment, and yet W is quoted as saying that he "thought we'd developed a reputation as honest operators who worked hard [and], who gave people a fair shake." WTF?! (I know it's old news, but if you haven't already, you definitely need to read the Washington Post article.)

In June of 1990, he wisely unloads almost $850,000 in stock, a mere 2 months before the company announces a $23 million loss. There's an SEC investigation in 1992, but he is exonerated. Well, sorta:
[SEC associate director for enforcement Bruce A.] Hiler, however, was more cautious. His statement said it "must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result from the staff's investigation." (Washington Post)
In 1989 he purchases the Texas Rangers with close friends of Bush Sr. (investing $606,302 of the total $86 million raised for the purchase, according to the Biography channel) and is made managing general partner. He earns $15 million on the sale in 1998.

And there you have it, George W. Bush's professional experience prior to entering government. So, was he a good CEO? Well, I dunno. There's this quote from the Washington Post article:
James McAninch, who joined Arbusto in 1982 to take charge of production, said Bush at that point was operating about 15 wells in the Midland area in which he had a majority interest.

"George was a good operator – very honest and straightforward," McAninch said. "He hired you for what you were qualified to do. He didn't interfere. He turned you loose. He'd say, 'Man, it's your responsibility. You do your job, no problem.'... He could make quick decisions too. ... He had enough savvy to ask almost all the right questions. And [months later] he'd remember what the answers were.
Which sure sounds to me like a person who sits at the top and lets other people do the work and doesn't really know what's going on. And quick decisions and a good memory? I'm not sure those are sufficient qualities of a good leader. Maybe good decisions and a quick memory? But really, who am I to judge? (and, of course, who cares what I think? [yeah, I know, I already used that link before]) But judging from past experience, if we're lucky, he'll get Germany to buy us out or something. I'm sure he'll get a nice bonus for that one, too.