July 30, 2009

The three sides of AI

I know, I should have known better, but I got sucked in by Bill Simmons's newest column using quotes from Almost Famous: the director's cut (apparently also known as the Bootleg Cut and newly added to my Amazon wish list) to explain the NBA offseason. In general, it's pretty typical but good Simmons because he actually focuses on one topic for an entire, lengthy column rather than his usual attempts to cram in as many Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, Rounders, Hollywood references as possible.

The part of the column that really shocked me was this section - nearly at the end of the column - about Allen Iverson's status as a currently-unsigned free agent:
To Iverson. The general consensus: His career as an effective player is over. How did we reach that conclusion? I have no idea. He averaged nearly 27 a game two seasons ago in Denver. Denver traded him to a declining Detroit team soon after opening night, where he was forced to play in a new system for a bad coach, and GM Joe Dumars soon made it clear Detroit traded for Iverson's expiring contract (and not Iverson himself). When the situation inevitably self-combusted and they asked Iverson to come off the bench, he "coincidentally" came down with a back injury and that was that. Meanwhile, Billups turned Denver around, enabling people to stupidly make the connection that Billups was wonderful and Iverson was the anti-Christ. Now everyone is afraid to sign him.

My first question: If we're writing off Iverson for the previous paragraph, why aren't we writing off Rasheed -- just as enigmatic, just as much of a volcano, just as much of a coach killer over the years -- when Sheed played worse than Iverson did last season?

My second question: Since when was it a good idea to bet against Iverson? Name another NBA player who overcame more obstacles over the years. For ESPN's "30 For 30" documentary series that premieres this fall, one of the first films is called "The Trial of Allen Iverson" (directed by Steve James of "Hoop Dreams" fame). I have only seen a rough cut. It has a chance to become one of the most important sports documentaries ever. Why? Because you will never think of Iverson the same way again. You will like him. You will feel bad for him. You will connect with him. You will admire him in a way that you never imagined. After witnessing what he endured legally and racially -- how unfair it was, how un-American it was -- and marveling at the dignity he showed as he put his life back together afterward, I promise, you will never bet against this guy.

A few weeks ago, Iverson gave a speech in Virginia to promote his scholarship program. It was one of the best three minutes of the sports year. You probably didn't hear about it because the sports media and the blogosphere is more interested in talking about Brett Favre, Michael Vick, civil suits, how ESPN is the devil and everything else. Occasionally, some relevant stuff slips through the cracks. Like this clip, for instance. Please watch it, then tell me why everyone is so willing to count out one of the best 30 basketball players of all time, as well as one of the greatest pure athletes in the history of sports, at the tender age of 34 when he has something to prove. We have not heard the last from him. Just wait.
That is Simmons at his sadly rare best.

He looks at a situation that everyone in the sporting world seemingly has figured out and attacks it from an entirely fresh and revealing point of view.

I looked up the speech of which he spoke and to which he linked...

...and I will admit that I was taken aback by Allen Iverson's touching speech in the clip. I had forgotten Allen Iverson's high school legal troubles - the first and sadly lasting impression that many of us had of Allen Iverson (recapped from Wikipedia):
On February 14, 1993, Iverson and several of his friends became involved in an altercation with a group of white teenagers at the Circle Lanes bowling alley in Hampton, Virginia. Iverson's crowd was raucous and had to be asked to quiet down several times, and eventually a shouting duel began with another group of youths. Shortly thereafter, a huge fight erupted, pitting the white crowd against the blacks. During the fight, Iverson allegedly struck a woman in the head with a chair. He, along with three of his friends who are also African-American, were the only people arrested. Iverson, who was 17 at the time, was convicted as an adult of the felony charge of maiming by mob, a rarely used Virginia statute that was designed to combat lynching. Iverson and his supporters maintained his innocence, claiming that he left the alley as soon as the trouble began. Iverson said, "For me to be in a bowling alley where everybody in the whole place know who I am and be crackin' people upside the head with chairs and think nothin' gonna happen? That's crazy! And what kind of a man would I be to hit a girl in the head with a damn chair? I rather have em' say I hit a man with a chair, not no damn woman."

After Iverson spent four months at Newport News City Farm, a correctional facility in Newport News, Virginia, he was granted clemency by Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, and the Virginia Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 1995 for insufficient evidence.
I'll also admit that I had no real idea that his conviction was overturned. Instead, I just had some vague memory that he had been to jail in high school and that it was a controversial case. Clearly, I should have learned more before simply letting Iverson slip into the pigeonhole of tatooed, selfish superstar.

The Allen Iverson Student Athletic Scholarship Program isn't something about which I can find much information. The only info, in fact, is here and gives no amounts or specifics about the scholarship beyond saying the requirements and mentioning the school of one of the awardees.

I hope that Simmons is right about AI. I hope, after reading Simmons's words, that AI can have a late career renaissance and not let his time in Detroit be his final image to the basketball world.

I also hope that he never loses his sense of humor about this press conference...

...because he clearly understands that it is funny...

July 29, 2009

Let's give it a try

If DanEcht recommends it, I'll give it a try...enjoy some music from my recent ramblings...

July 28, 2009

Help the economy and the LLS this weekend

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is having a fund raiser this weekend. By printing this coupon, you can save 30% at any Gap, Old Navy, or Banana Republic store in the US or Canada and have 5% of your check automatically donated to the LLS.

So, do your American duty and get out to help fight the recession monster, folks.

Looking at the future

Met the parents for lunch in Carrollton yesterday - halfway between the Queen City and the Derby City (quick review of the Two Rivers restaurant at General Butler State Recreation Area: blech). As we were crossing the bridge to Cincy on the way home, however, we got a phone call.

A friend of ours - guy I taught with at Mt Healthy a few years back - wanted to come over and bring some dog beds, dog food, dog toys for us. Turns out that he had to put down his 11-year-old German shepherd that morning and wanted to get all of her things out of the house but not throw them away. We stopped by on our way home, sat and had a drink with him. For two hours we just sat and talked - mostly not about our dogs, all of whom had stayed at each others houses and played together since they were pups - and occasionally wiped away a few tears. After the hours, we loaded up everything he had from Abby and headed homeward to hug our dogs.

We'll be taking some of the stuff - the dog food, some of the toys - to the local animal shelter where it'll be well used and loved.

In honor of Abbey, and with lots of assistance and suggestions...

In addition to dog songs, there are always dog movies, too - if you're so inclined.

July 27, 2009

Education and House Bill 1

So House Bill 1 (full text here) has passed and is pending on Governor Strickland's desk. The bill itself is massive - 3120 pages and 12MB as a pdf, something like 100,000 lines long - and I'll admit that I wouldn't have the foggiest idea where to start on reading through a document of that size. So I have, instead, turned to news agencies to offer me some sort of summary of the parts that particularly interest me - especially the educational parts.

I couldn't find much on The Enquirer's website in the way of a summary - I did find a page offering to show how much funding each district will lose or gain. (More on that later...)

So I headed to the Ohio Department of Education's budget page and found it about as equally helpful (though it was through that page that I found the link to the bill's full text).

And then onward to the Ohio Education Association's budget summary page where I found the above-posted YouTube video offering their summary of the bill. The OEA is, admittedly, thrilled with the budget's educational issues, so I'm not sure every conclusion that they reach is unbiased, but their summary leaves me with tons and tons of questions...
  • Wait, Jarod's Law is gone? When? Do I have to worry about it this year? Can I unlock my dish detergent today?
  • The OGT is gone, too? Again, when? When does the ACT come on board? Will there be a minimum ACT score needed for each student?
  • Why'd you get rid of the community service requirement?
  • What the heck is going to be involved in the senior project required for graduation? When will that come on board?
  • Really, all-day kindergarten? How're you going to fund that? Is it required for all students or just required to be offered by the district?
  • Just three calamity (snow) days in 10-11? How likely is year-round school at this point? If it comes, will teacher pay be increased?
  • When will these 'end of course examinations' be written? I thought the ODE didn't like the idea of breaking curriculum down by courses but rather just wanted to leave a group of standards for us to cover in the 7-10 grades and for us to arrange them as we chose. Does this mean a student won't get credit for bio (for example) unless they pass the end of course exam?
  • Do the teacher licensure changes affect me?
  • What's a 'non-civil service school district' in terms of the privatization of transportation? Will un-privatizing the transportation really save districts money?
  • What does it mean that teacher dismissal standards are now - over-ruling any collective bargaining agreements - 'good and just cause'?
  • What the heck standards will be applied to the 'semi-annual inspections' that will be replacing Jarod's Law? Will that be a county by county decision?
  • Yeah! to putting in some sort of accountability for charter schools.
  • What the heck is Eastern Gateway Community College?
That's for a start...

Nobody reading that happens to know any of those answers, do they?

July 25, 2009

Suck this through a straw, readers

None of these warrant a full post, but they're each worthy of a glance or two.
  • Kitchen & food reviews - everything from baking chocolates to wine openers
  • How to stump anti-abortionists with one questions - pointed out to me (and the rest of the world) by Kyle - it presents an interesting conundrum
  • Zach Johnson - Don't know what to say here. It's a blog of videos about a (assumedly) fictional sixteen year old dude who wakes up one day to find that - in his words - Went to the bathroom this morning to find that I suddenly possessed the aiming ability of a defective garden sprinkler. Soon thereafter I discovered that a super important body part of mine had gone missing.
  • Bacon Apple Maple Donut - There's never a wrong time to give me a gift, folks.
  • CatholicVote commercial (YouTube warning) - This CatholicVote, anti-abortion commercial kind of freaks me out.
  • The Die Line - A stylish blog about stylish packaging.
  • 10 Useful Inventions That Went Bad - I'm particularly intrigued with the fact that the same guy invented leaded gasoline and CFC's. That's a heck of a legacy.
  • Kali Amber Meadow's blog - Another great artist who makes awesome stuff like this and this and this.
  • Critics Top 10 - A compilation of critic top 10 lists of the best flicks of 2008
  • Indy Tennis Just Ain't Cutting It - It'll be sad to see the Indy Tourney (the first pro tourney I ever saw) go, but it's pretty clear that it's on its way.

July 24, 2009

Huge news!

Apparently, the science indicator doesn't matter...because Princeton is excellent - officially!

So, the non-Princeton world can suck it.

In case you needed a reason to love another genre...

Thanks to Neatorama for bouncing me to Urlesque for today's musical playlist...mariachi covers of songs...

And two film originals...

July 23, 2009

Our Year of Living Steakishly: July, Jeff Ruby's

We're on the home stretch now, and this past week we hit the titular Jeff Ruby's steakhouse across from the Aronoff in downtown Cincinnati. We even got lucky enough to see the man himself parking his convertible outside our window seat and coming in to grab a take-out dinner.

The interior of Jeff Ruby's (thanks to thadd) - our seat in out of frame against the far left windows

First off, the interior of Jeff Ruby's is gorgeous. The decor is art deco with classical statuary here and there breaking up the lines. On the east wall is a huge mural (you can see a bit in the background here) of movie stars, starlets, waiters, and diners in a highly stylized, period-appropriate design. The restaurant is awash in brilliant colors (a small glimpse can be seen here) and rich woodwork.

The wait staff attended us in black slacks and matching, signature embroidered shorter-cut waiters jackets, white shirts, and simple black ties, and they were - to a man - efficient, personable, and spectacular. When The Girl left her purse at the table at the end of our meal, one of the waitstaff (not our waiter, the guy who filled our water glasses, swept up the crumbs after the main course, and was downright hilarious) came running down the street with her purse. Heck, I probably would've given the service a perfect ten before that, but that's worth a bonus point.

Nice crusty rolls split, nicely salted rye

Our waiter went through a fairly extensive selection of specials - bison in two forms, a particular steak topping named the Collinsworth (asparagus, crab, some sauce) - and recommended a few items on the menu then headed off to let us make our decision. While we deliberated - wow, maybe the strip for me, huh? - our future street runner brought us a fashionable basket of bread options. All were tasty and fresh without being sticky. He also left us a butter pat of plain salted butter and a compound butter of wild mushrooms. The Girl liked the mushroom butter, but I found it a bit too earthy for my tastes.

When we put our menus down, our waiter popped right over to take our orders:
  • The Girl
    - Freddie salad
    - New York Strip, medium rare
  • ChemGuy
    - Tiffany salad with vinaigrette
    - New York Strip, medium rare
  • To share
    - potatoes anna
    - green beans sauteed in garlic and shallots
    - Mac Daddy and Cheese with six cheeses
ChemGuy's salad - Tiffany with basil vinaigrette

The Tiffany salad was excellent with a strong basil flavor in the vinaigrette. The tomatoes are starting to approach high summer, so that's always a strong addition. In all, the flavors were well balanced and fresh with a nice mix of field greens and slightly bitter lettuces. I did, admittedly, pass the radishes along to The Girl's plate.

The Girl's salad - The Freddie

The Girl's Freddie salad was simple and well received. She got the Freddie at Carlo & Johnny's as well, but this time she forgot to ask for the dressing on the side. For her, that meant far too much dressing. Were I eating it, however, it would have been just about right. Her salad tasted just like a deconstructed BLT should taste - fresh, crisp, flavorful, and rich with bacon. Both salads were excellent and almost exactly the same as the offerings at Carlo & Johnny's.

ChemGuy's strip steak - spectacular in every aspect

When the main dishes arrived, our table required a fair bit of rearranging as we had more then enough food for the two of us and the room accorded us on our table for two. Our waiter helped us shift things around - insisting, kind of entertainingly, on where each dish had to go in order to fit all of our dishes - each of which came on an individual plate.

The steaks that arrived were, however, outstanding. They were perfectly red in the center and a rich brown-black on the top and bottom. The plates were marked with a bit of orange-red juice, partially blood and partially fat mixed with the spices that lightly topped each steak. This small bit of spicing took what was an excellent steak and shifted it up a bit to thoroughly outstanding. The Girl felt the spice mix had just a bit too much salt, but I didn't think so as the slight sharpness offset the richness of the meat marvelously. (The Girl, by the way, chose the NY Strip at the recommendation of our waiter who affirmed that the filet was the filet - we all know the cut (his words) - but the strip here is outstanding. He was right.)

To me, this was a perfect steak. To The Girl, it could have been a little more lightly salted.

The Girl's strip steak - slightly too salty for her tastes

Mac and cheese with like nine hundred cheeses

The side dishes, however, were a more mixed bag. The Mac Daddy & Cheese (I swear that's what the menu said.) was far too rich with its six combined cheeses, half of which appeared to be added at the end before the dish headed under the broiler. The crust atop the dish was excellent, but the combination of all the cheese was too rich by far.

Green beans sauteed

The green beans were outstanding with a bit of salt flavoring them well in addition to the slightly browned garlic and shallot slivers. These were similar - though not quite identical - to the green beans offered at Carlo & Johnny's.

Potatoes Anna - crisp crust, no seasoning

The potatoes Anna were recommended by Cincinnati Magazine, and they appeared perfectly golden, quartered by our waiter before he set them on our crowded table. We differed on our opinions of the dish. I enjoyed the crisp crust and well cooked interior but looked for more flavor - salt and pepper, even - from the interior in particular. The Girl appreciated the simplicity of the dish as a contrast to the rich, flavorful steak.

With such a grotesque amount of food, neither of us felt the need to finish any of the dishes. So the waiters got to wrap up half of each of our steaks and a goodly portion of all the side dishes. We could easily have gotten away with a single steak and just two side dishes - something that we've found at nearly ever good steakhouse on our list and something that we'll likely be doing if we head back to any of the restaurants after finishing up the initial rankings.

Key lime pie - tart filling, sweet crust, great balance

With no appetizers to tempt us - seriously, what's with every appetizer being somehow fish- or crustacean-based? - we opted for a dessert instead. The Girl leaned, as always, toward the crème brûlée but gave me the final choice, so we got the key lime pie to split. The pie filling was rich and slightly too tart by itself, but the crust provided a brown sugar-cinnamon flavor and crunch that balanced the filling perfectly, particularly when the whipped cream was spread across the entire top. A great finish to an outstanding meal.

Do we have a new leader, folks? I think we just might.
  • Salad/Dessert/Appetizer - 9 - Excellent salads, very good dessert.
  • Steak - 9.5 - A solid 10 from ChemGuy, a 9 from The Girl averaged out.
  • Side dishes - 7.5 - Total rankings get averaged here again (Mac 6&6, Beans 8.5&9, Potatoes 6&8)
  • Atmosphere - 10 - Right there with our best yet and without the schmutz that C&J's had all over the place.
  • Cost - 3 - Things were a bit pricey, but we over ate by at least one side dish.
  • Service - 10 - Great stuff, very friendly and attentive.
  • Bonus - +1 - They ran down the street after us.
  • Total score - 50 (out of 60)
Wow...just wow...best...meal...yet.

Realistically, neither of us thought it was that far above Embers (5 points is a huge lead.), but we both agreed that this was our best meal yet.

Summarizing things so far...
  • Jeff Ruby's - 50 (of 60)
  • Embers - 45
  • Carlo & Johnny's - 44.5
  • Celestial - 44.5
  • Mitchell's - 44.5
  • The Palm - 41.5
  • Oakwood Club - 40
  • Jag's - 38.4
  • Red - 38
  • Pine Club - 37.5
  • Boi na Braza - 35
  • Guenther's - 30
Next up, Morton's...then The Precinct...then out of town for Ruth's Chris somewhere.

July 22, 2009

Another knot of streets

I've gone with subdivision themes before, but I wanted to add in one more. I'm sure it wouldn't be tough to guess, but I want a subdivision with these street names...
  • Stibium St
  • Cuprum Ct
  • Aurum Way
  • Ferrum Dr
  • Plumbum Pl
  • Hydrargyrum Dr
  • Kalium Ct
  • Argentum Ln
  • Natrium Dr
  • Stannum St
  • Wolfram Rd
There is one real subdivision in the Cincy area that entertains the heck out of me. The Girl runs through it in her Team in Training training. It's to the east of I-71 just north of Pfeiffer.

July 21, 2009

Stop, Vader Time!

Either George Lucas is gonna sue somebody or he's already getting some huge bank from Disney.

July 20, 2009

Stunned...just stunned

In flipping through channels this evening, I stumbled across this sign of the coming apocalypse...

I can't tell which makes it worse - the unterdwarf, the Robert Palmer girls, the parasols, the fur coat, the back seat mannequin, or the titular pun.

July 16, 2009

Two tactics

I'm not a religious man. I'll readily admit to that.

In fact, to say that I'm not a religious man is probably underselling my general attitude toward religion.

It's probably truer to say that I simply don't understand religion at all.

I don't understand how people can believe that there is a greater force in the universe - especially a greater force that is somehow personified - that drives us, creates us, and wants to dictate how me act during our time in this life.

Often times, this total befuddlement leads to cynicism and mockery of religion from me.

That being said, I recognize that many people - many of you, my readers - have a great deal of faith - either in a God or in the religion through which his/her/its presence manifests to us. Because of my respect for your faith - I don't get it, but I know it's important to you - I try to always keep my cynicism in check.

Sometimes, though, a bit of light ribbing can be fun. To see two ways in which religious mocking can be lighthearted and not (in my eyes, anyway) hateful, check out Mr Diety, a web show about the Christian God, his personal assistant, and their efforts to communicate His word without being misunderstood. Then try this single webcomic - which is admittedly far too wordy for its own good - over at Subnormality.

But always remember that there is a more confrontational, less kind, just outright mean way to make obvious your hatred of religions - a position and tone that is continually taken at Unreasonable Faith.

Personally, I prefer Mr Diety's way.

July 15, 2009

Reason #121 to not use Jheri Curl

I'm kind of amazed that it's taken this many years for the Michael Jackson Jehri Curl fire footage to make its way to my eyeballs.

July 14, 2009

The great debate

So, who was the greater artist: Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson?

To the tale of the tape, in purely alphabetical order...

Michael Jackson
  • Album sales - 750 million +
  • Grammies - 13
  • #1 singles - 13 (plus 4 with Jackson 5)
  • Top 10 hits - 29 (plus 7 with Jackson 5)
  • Top 40 hits - 37
  • Top 10 albums - 7
  • 4 1/2 star albums - Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad
  • Trivia
    • #35 on Rolling Stone list of greatest artists (as of 2004)
    • 1st artist with 4 top 10 singles on one album - Off the Wall
    • 1st artist with 7 top 10 singles on one album - Thriller
    • Only artist to have five #1 hits on one album - Bad
    • Won Record of the Year twice ("Billie Jean", "We Are the World"), Song of the Year once ("We Are the World"), Album of the Year once Thriller
    • Won 8 Grammy awards in 1984 (tied for most in a single year)
    • Thriller is actually the 2nd best selling album in the US (behind The Eagles' Greatest Hits vol 1)
    • Thriller is #1 worldwide with over 109 million records sold
    • Two time member Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (solo & as Jackson 5)
    • Subject of Eddie Murphy Delirious (but I'm not going to link to it)
  • Negatives
    • um, the general weirdness post-Bad
    • the freaky thing with kids (his and others)
    • the freaky thing with his apparently stunted adolescence
Stevie Wonder
  • Album sales - 100 million+
  • Grammies - 22
  • #1 singles - 10 (plus 20 on R&B charts)
  • Top 10 hits - 31
  • Top 40 hits - ??
  • Top 10 albums - 11
  • 4 1/2 star albums - Songs in the Key of Life, Up Tight, Where I'm Coming From, Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Hotter Than July
  • Trivia
    • #15 on Rolling Stone's list of greatest artists (as of 2004)
    • Won Album of the Year three times (a record - Songs in the Key of Life, Innervisions, Fullfilingness' First Finale)
    • Won Album of the Year three times in four years
    • Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
    • Um, he's blind.
    • Won Academy Award for Best Song ("I Just Called to Say I Love You")
    • Can play pretty much any instrument
    • Actually born as Stevland Hardaway Judkins (changed to Stevland Hardaway Morris
    • Funked up Sesame Street like nobody's business
    • Subject of Eddie Murphy stand-up in Delirious (but I can't link to it)
  • Negatives
    • Late career work has been kind of weenie ("I Just Called..." in particular)
    • Mocked in High Fidelity
So, who is the greater?



MJ - wikipedia, wikipedia, Rolling Stone, allmusic

July 13, 2009

Mighty cool

I really wish that one of three things were true:
  • either I was a bigger fan of one of the licensing lines that Hasbro has - Star Wars, GI Joe, Marvel, Transformers, Indy Jones
  • or Hasbro had licensing agreements with DC
  • or I had a buttload of money
Without one of those things being true, I just can't bring myself to start collecting Mighty Muggs because I absolutely love the things and am tempted to start buying them every time I see one of them in the stores.

The most awesome part about them is their simplicity and near-perfect graphic design. As Jason Knize points out, The simplicity of the Mighty Mugg is the line’s trademark. Scale isn’t a priority, the molds are all basically the same, articulation is limited, accessories are minimal, and the paint applications aren’t too complicated.

But I don't really care about that, they just look so cool.

I want to buy all the ones on Amazon. I want to check the whole Wikipedia checklist. I want to start making custom Muggs from the blanks that they sell. I want to start following the Mighty Mugg blogs.

July 12, 2009

Our Year of Living Steakishly: June, The Palm

If we're wandering far afield - and Washington is far enough - then Our Year of Living Steakishly is going along for the ride.

It took us some decent research, but we came to the conclusion that The Palm was going to be our best bet to find the best steakhouse in the District of Columbia.

The Palm is a few blocks northwest of the Farragut North Metro stop on the red line, but it's not too bad a walk, two blocks over and two up. The interior walls are covered with cartoons and characatures: Hagar the Horrible from its original artist and sketches of patrons both famous and unknown (at least by us). We elected to sit in the front, glass-walled room, however, as the weather was nice and the sky clear as a bell as we sat down.

The Palm at we departed. Our table was the second from the right.

Our waitress was very friendly without being overly casual or officious. She offered us a description of the special - 4lb lobster for two, which we of course declined as we are Living Steakishly.

The Palm's assorted breadish options.

After each of us ordered a drink - since we were going via Metro, there was no need for either of us to designate - we made our dinner choices:
  • The Girl's choices
    - half of a mozzarella, tomato, basil salad
    - half of a New York Strip, medium rare
    - string beans, sauteed in garlic
    - three-cheese potatoes
  • ChemGuy's choices
    - half of a mozzarella, tomato, basil salad
    - the other half of the New York Strip, medium rare
    - split of the side dishes (both served for two, so we split everything)
While we waited for the red meat to come, we were delivered The Palm's bread assortment - two slices each of sourdough, dark rye (with raisins), and simple white bread. The raisin rye was a very nice, moist change from the usual sourdough and rye that we'd gotten at pretty much every steakhouse so far. All the breads were, in fact, quite fresh and tasty, offering a nice assortment for every taste.

Oddly, we found none of the appetizers to our liking, they being nothing but seafood, something we find that many steak houses seem to offer. So we took a pass and opted instead to save some room for a dessert.

Half of the tomato salad. The waiter had it split for us.

The waitress brought us our split salad - on two plates, that's solid service - which was still enough for the two of us. The mozzarella was fresh and creamy, the basil high quality and without a touch of licorice flavor, the tomatoes surprisingly fresh and not watery - not quite high summer tomato but close. The balsamic vinaigrette was nicely flavored, and the fresh cracked pepper on top was appreciated. The salad was certainly a good choice.

The Girl's steak half

Our New York Strip was sixteen ounces, meaning that even a half was still technically two servings a piece. The steak arrived split, as well, and the sides were in individual plates each, from which we served ourselves.

At this point in our Steakish year, we've become rather jaded in what we're looking for in a steak. My half was nicely red in the center; The Girl's was a bit less so being the thinner end of the steak and cooked through a bit more thoroughly. A bit of seasoning had been lightly applied to the steak but not much crust was developed on the steak, and the steak had an oddly tangy off flavor - nothing bad enough to send back but just off.

ChemGuy's steak half

The sides were the better part of the main meal. The potatoes showed up in a small ceramic dish with the cheese still bubbling and nicely browned. They were full of flavor and richness, thoroughly excellent. The string beans were lightly sauteed in olive oil with pieces of garlic throughout. The beans could have used a bit of salt, but we each fixed that fairly quickly.

The sides - string beans up top, three cheese potatoes down low

With no appetizer, we were happy to peruse the dessert menu, and in what I am sure is a shocking development, The Girl leaned us toward crème brûlée. As many restaurants do, The Palm offered up this dessert with three raspberries topping it. The top was pleasantly crusty and browned and fully absent of any burned spots. We were a bit surprised with the lemon flavor of the custard beneath the crust, but the flavor turned out to be a pleasant surprise instead of the assumed vanilla.

The shocking dessert choice of crème brûlée

As we finished our crème brûlée, The Palm's manager stopped by our table to ask how our meal had been and to inform us that - as it was our first visit to The Palm - the dessert would be on them. He chatted to us about our visit to Washington, and we told him about our trek around the steakhouses of the Cincinnati area and mentioned that we were headed to a couple of Jeff Ruby restaurants in the next few months.

He hadn't heard of Jeff Ruby but hoped and felt fairly confident that The Palm's steaks would hold up well against any that we tried. We didn't feel that theirs did, but we didn't tell him that.

So, where does the The Palm rank against the best of Cincinnati?
  • Salad/Dessert - 8.5 - Good if imperfect tomato in the salad. Lemon was a nice touch with the dessert.
  • Steak - 6 - Tangy and without a good crust, but the meat was rich and moist without a visible fat run.
  • Side dishes - 9 - The string beans were lesser than those at Carlo & Johnny's - but not by much. The potatoes were outstanding.
  • Atmosphere - 6 - Meh.
  • Cost - 3 - With alcohol and splitting everything, we were at $113. $28 of that was booze, so we're down to $85, but if we'd each gotten a steak, we would have been up in the range of $120 or so with tax (which is a healthy 10% at restaurants in DC).
  • Service - 9 - Things were a little slow coming out initially, but the waitress and manager were very friendly and helpful.
  • Total score - 41.5 (out of 60)
The Palm wasn't better than what we've had in Cincinnati. It won't be our reason to get back to DC.

Summarizing things so far...
  • Embers - 45 (of 60)
  • Carlo & Johnny's - 44.5
  • Celestial - 44.5
  • Mitchell's - 44.5
  • The Palm - 41.5
  • Oakwood Club - 40
  • Jag's - 38.4
  • Red - 38
  • Pine Club - 37.5
  • Boi na Braza - 35
  • Guenther's - 30
Comments on the rankings:
  • The best steaks we've had so far have come from Ember's and Carlo & Johnny's.
  • The best value has come from Mitchell's.
  • We actually liked Boi na Braza more than their ranking suggests, but we wouldn't go there if we were looking for a steak.
  • We would be hard pressed to choose between Carlo & Johnny's, Embers, and the Celestial for a good night out. Personally, I'd probably choose Embers. The Girl, however, might take Carlo & Johnny's.
The places left are Jeff Ruby's (July), Morton's (August), and the Precinct (September). Two from Ruby and the one that Cincinnati Magazine nicknamed The Expense Account.

Perhaps mislabeled

I swear that Life magazine's photo archive on Google has this picture labeled as being "Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder".

Um, that's not Michael Jackson.

July 11, 2009

I need more fiber

Seriously, I've got a backlog in the bookmarks that you wouldn't believe...

Holy crap I had no idea how trains worked...

July 10, 2009

July 7, 2009

Check it tomorrow, folks

Thanks to StumbleUpon and this page for pointing out tomorrow's chronological oddity.

Except, of course, that a similar occurrence will take place next year at seven seconds past 5:06 AM on August 9th.

Media from here to there

Night at the Museum II: Battle for the Smithsonian - Haven't even seen the first one, though I kind of want to now.

We were in the Museum of Natural History checking what was playing on their IMAX screen and saw that they were playing Night at the Museum 2, so for $12.50 each (a bit pricey, but it's IMAX, it's Washington, it's vacation) we grabbed a couple of tickets for Monday night.

Our screening - the 7pm show - was nearly full, with just a few single seats scattered throughout the auditorium, and the screen was massive. If you've not been to a true IMAX screen - not the stupid quasi-IMAX at National Amusement theaters - it's three stories high and slightly curved toward the audience at the edges. This makes for a nearly immersive experience, particularly for the people at the center of the drastically sloped theater seating.

I was a bit worried, initially, that the movie would not occupy the entirety of the screen as I'd seen The Matrix in a similar setting a few years back and gotten a regular-sized movie on a screen that was 1/2 empty. No disappointment here, however, as the image stretched from side to side leaving only small bars at the top and bottom to retain the original aspect ratio.

Initially, the film was a bit slow with the necessary updating of where the characters had been since the first film ended - something I was actually appreciative of as I had no background on where they had been during the first film. About half an hour in, however, the action got rolling along and maintained a manageably frantic pace throughout the rest of the film.

The museum characters from the first film are being shipped up and are to be archived in the Smithsonian's near-endless underground archives (which don't exist, as the Smithsonian's accompanying pamphlet pointed out) where they will be without the magic tablet that allows them to come alive. Said table accidentally comes with the characters, however, allowing history's worst museum subjects (Chicago gangsters, Mongol hordes, evil Egyptian pharaohs, Darth Vader, Oscar the Grouch) to come to life and threaten the good museum subjects and eventually The WORLD.

Hank Azaria, master of a million voices, gives a marvelous turn as the lisping, fey long-dead evil pharaoh (check a clip here) who never quite manages to be menacing but drives the entire story with his hilarious performance.

Azaria and Amy Adams - as Amelia Earhart - are the real gems the movie. The rest of the cast - Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, a massively disguised Christopher Guest, Bill Hader - are all solid supporters, but this movie belongs to Adams and Azaria, and the movie is hilarious, loads of fun, lots of out loud laughs. It's probably not one that will age into an old favorite for most folks, but it's not one to avoid in the least.

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk didn't change my thinking about Palahniuk in the least. Some of his works (Fight Club, Diary, Haunted, Rant) are among my favorite books that I've ever read. Others (Lullaby, Choke, and now Pygmy) are works with a few interesting bits but that simply don't work for me.

The titular Pygmy is a foreign exchange student from - according to Wikipedia - his totalitarian homeland (a mash-up of North Korea, Cuba, Communist-era China, and Nazi-era Germany) who has been sent on a terrorist mission to do significant damage to the United States.

In the course of the novel, we are often beaten over the head with the confusion between the "evil" of Pygmy and his plan and the overly-obvious decadence and immorality of his American host family - a daughter who drugs her parents and steals from her father's work, a mother who engages in sex parties in the basement, a father who is seems hollowly religious, a son who is stupidly immature. All of these are largely nameless characters referred to in Pygmy's broken English as Pig Dog Brother, Cat Sister, Cow Father, and Chicken Mother.

This use of broken English that makes the novel difficult to understand at first, perhaps intentionally introducing the reader to the novel the way that a foreign exchange student would find himself in a land whose language he has previously spoken only in classes. In the course of the novel, the broken English becomes more understandable but not because of a change in the writing, rather simply because the rhythm - with its lack of articles, its constant reflections on how to kill the characters in Pygmy's world, repetition of chemical elements, and other linguistic tics - becomes more familiar.

In the end, the conclusion felt too obvious, as though Palahniuk were leading us down a road hoping that we would expect a turn and then surprising us by not allowing the road to turn. In the end, the lack of a turn left me cold as though any drama, any conclusion, any rising action were simply left behind as the build was too slow, too deliberate.

For a book that didn't work for me, I did find a number of moments where I chuckled nearly out loud on the train. Palahniuk's gift with words is a natural talent that comes through even in this, one of his weaker works.

Up is another Pixar gem.

As has been written in other places, the first ten or so minutes of Up - the set up and background - are note perfect and whitheringly emotional. The wordless exposition of our main character's backstory should be used in every film class to show what can be done without a word of dialogue to communicate every possible bit of meaning and emotion and humanity. This is a time-capsule-worthy sequence.

The rest of the film's ninety minutes is not nearly as note perfect, but it is still very good. This is not, however, Pixar's finest, but it is still a very good film, one that is as emotionally affecting as anything else that I have seen this year.

What it is also not, however, is a children's film. This is a film exploring some very mature themes - loss, love, chasing and knowing when to abandon a dream, abandonment - in beautifully moving ways. Yes, there are jokes and laughs to be had throughout the film, most of which come from the villain's pack of dogs with their Cone of Shame, broken voice collars, Greek hierarchy, and Star Wars dogfight quotes.

The characters are relateable and entirely human; the plot is clear and linear with enough drama; the emotions and themes are deep and clear and true. The film is imperfect, but Pixar's imperfect is still an amazingly high bar.

Freakonomics was a gift from The Best Man. He'd read the book and thought I'd enjoy it.

The book is a recapping of Steven Levitt, an economist who is admittedly bad at economics and bad at math. By his own admission, he can't predict the stock market, can't explain why inflation is bad, and generally has no interest in macroeconomics.

What he can do - and do marvelously - is explore interesting questions using relevant statistics. In this book, he and his co-author, New York writer Stephen Dubner, explore a dozen very interesting questions and whether conventional wisdom seems to be true about these questions.

They explore the reasons behind the drop in crime statistics in the 1990s, cheating in sumo wrestling, cheating on high stakes tests in Chicago, why crack dealers still live with their mothers, whether giving a child a 'black' name hurts their economic outlook, what matters in parenting, and a half dozen other questions. In each case, Levitt and various paper co-authors have exhaustively researched the questions and come to some very surprising conclusions.

Most of the quantitative and exhaustive research is left to the book's extensive footnotes as the chapters are devoted to presenting the arguments and the general patterns found in surprisingly clear and concise prose. Within the endnotes - and 'extras' found at the rear of this expanded edition - are significantly more detailed analyses along with references to the original research - all of which Levitt co-authored.

The book has three glaring flaws in its construction, however. First, nearly every question and its conclusion is summed up in the introductory chapter. Where each chapter takes twenty or so pages to define the question, search for appropriate data, and come to conclusion, the introductory chapter presents the question and quick data summary in a paragraph or two, meaning that every chapter is begun with the reader largely already knowing the chapter's outcome.

Secondly, the various chapters are not held together in any way. There is - as the introductory chapter admits - no central theme, no major tenant to this book. Because of that, the chapters read as a series of separate articles, extensive and interesting blog posts but not a coherent whole of a book.

Thirdly, the chapters are written as though reporting on research conducted by separate researchers. The test cites each study's co-author but doesn't acknowledge Levitt's co-authorship other than in the footnotes. Perhaps Levitt's involvement in each study was to be understood as he is partially the subject of the book, but I didn't realize until skimming the endnotes that Levitt was the co-author of all the articles and research cited.

The chapters are excellent and compelling reads. I might suggest taking them in as individual doses, however, rather than in one full sitting.

July 6, 2009

In greater depth

Most of our DC vacation was just vacation time: walking 'round, seeing museums, hanging out in a different place than where we usually hang out. It's vacation, and I'm guessing Friday's listing of where we went was about as boring to you as any slide show of anybody's vacation ever could be.

So I'll continue with more details about my favorite couple of places on the trip...the Library of Congress and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).

Before we headed to DC, we'd both gotten fairly middling reviews of the NMAI, and our initial explorations didn't do much to dissuade that. The top floor covered the universal beliefs of many Indian tribes - their cosmologies, their religions - and while each each presented very attractively, I couldn't help looking at each one the way I would a two- or three-paragraph summary and drawing of either Greek mythology or current religion and wondering just how such crazy thoughts came to be a full belief system. You're saying that a wolf coughed out the entire world which landed into water and now floats on an island supported by a giant salmon? Really? Okay...

The top floor also held an exhibit of the history of the American Indian as Europeans came to North America. The most interesting part of this was the introductory video explaining that some of the comments within the exhibit would challenge our beliefs and cause us to explore what we already knew. The comments were, as the speaker said, one person's belief system held at the time of the exhibit's creation. It was an interesting way to acknowledge but defuse any controversy right at the beginning. The exhibit went on to compress a half dozen centuries of history into an exhibit through which you could walk in about two minutes if you didn't read everything. Far too short a shrift.

Things didn't get exciting until we headed down a floor and skimmed the exhibit on the current lives of Indians around North America, how they were keeping their traditions, languages, beliefs alive while leading lives that didn't seem terrifically different from what I would expect most non-Indians in the same areas to be leading.

Then came Indian/Not Indian, a retrospective (also covered by NPR on the works of Fritz Scholder, an artist - painter, sculptor primarily - who grew up with a German name and proceeded to become - according to the exhibit - one of the most important Indian artists working. He initially refused to paint Indians, having grown up - by his own admission - non-Indian and feeling that he had nothing to say about the Indians that he knew - or at least knew of.

Luckily, for us, he came to become a fabulous painter, portraying Indians often as contradictions caught between a huge legend and a very tangible reality. The work in the exhibit that impressed me most was Indian with beer can, something I found very reminiscent of Ralph Steadman's work.

One floor down, then, was an even more impressive exhibit: Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America. The exhibit showed a history of skateboarding in Native American cultures from the first skate days, tacking skate wheels on the bottoms of small surfboard-style boards through to the current trend of some Indian-founded companies using an impressive sense of graphic design to keep their Indian heritage alive and pass on some of that heritage to the youngest skaters in many Indian communities.

This one image, in particular, struck me. It was shown on a skateboard as well as a t-shirt for sale by the exhibit. I'm thinking pretty strongly about getting a t-shirt or hoodie with the design on it.

Below the Ramp It Up exhibit, on the main floor of the museum, was Mitsitam Cafe, effectively the museum's food court. This was the only part of the museum that people had actually recommended to us - somewhat understandably as the other two exhibits that impressed us were temporary exhibits that others probably didn't see on their previous visits. The food court is, admittedly, a bit of a mess as directional signs are lacking, but the mess is worth the work as the food here is outstanding and reasonably priced.

The cafe is broken up into five regional cuisines: the Northern Woodlands, South American, Meso America, the Great Plains, and the Northwest Coast and Columbia Plateau. Each provided diners with an opportunity to taste what the typical diet of that region would have been in pre-Eupopean days, and everything that I tried - two meals of mine and two of The Girl's - was amazingly tasty. The dishes change every few days, but feel free to ask the servers what they would recommend as the labels can be a bit confusing. (For visitors like Tony & Jennette's info, meals can range anywhere from $7 to $20 depending on your choices. It's a solid value for the amount of and quality of food, though.)

And then came the Library of Congress.

The awesome, fabulous, amazing Library of Congress.

We began in the Madison Building - one of three that make up the Library of Congress now. The Madison isn't the building typically visited by tourists. That's the Jefferson, and it's amazing, but we started at the Madison by taking an elevator down two floors to the basement and turning the corner to room B03.

See, it turns out that the Library of Congress (henceforth, the LOC) has too many books. Every book that has LOC information on the verso has to send three copies to the LOC, and lots of people who publish books without this information also send their books to the LOC. Were the LOC to keep all of these copies, they would have quickly run out of room. So any books that they don't want - or books that they simply don't want all three copies of - go to the Surplus Books Program and are made available to any school or non-profit institution - like PHS!

So The Girl and I each got letters from our building principals stating that we were, indeed, representatives from such non-profit institutions, faxed them to Joe Mahar - check the bottom of the surplus page, that's him - and took our copies in to Joe. Joe is a smallish man who clearly spends a lot of time alone and who really seemed to enjoy having people visiting who would talk to him and were impressed and geeked out (that would be me and The Girl) to be taking books from the Library of Congress.

Joe sent me to the bay that started the month with about five thousand surplus books from which we got to choose. The Girl got to start on the book carts with elementary-appropriate books. After we'd spent enough time searching the half-month-old bay, Joe let us head to the next month's bay, from which no one else had yet gotten to choose. He likes to help out first time visitors, he said, by giving us a little special chance to search.

And we geeked right out for three or so hours picking our books - most of which will find their way to school with us, either into classroom libraries or school libraries.

But we were pretty near our limit already with what we could take with us on the train, so we had no way to get all of these books back with us. We'd have to pass by a bunch of the books we wanted. At least we would until Joe stepped in to save the day. It turns out that there's a plan already in place to let Senators or Representatives take care of the shipping of the books. All we had to do, Joe said, was to check with our Senators or Rep and get a mailing frank - an address label with the Congressperson's signature on it.

The next morning, we headed to the Hart Senate office building to Sherrod Brown's office to get a few mailing franks. We Senator's staff took care of things quickly for us, and we headed back to Joe's B03.

We didn't have to pack up the books, just stack them up on a side shelf, and the LOC's staff would take care of the packing, wrapping, and shipping for us. Sure, the books would be sent media rate, but I'm all cool with that. It'll take a few weeks to get things to us, but no worries there.

(Except that the books showed up today, just a weeks and a half after we chose our books. Awesome!)

None of this even mentions the awesomeness of the Jefferson building and it's ceilings, statuary, exhibits (Jefferson's recreated library, Bob Hope, Pete Seeger, Creating the United States), and phenomenal reading room. The Jefferson building of the LOC was easily the most beautiful building that we saw on our trip. (Buildings also in the running: Reynolds Center, National Museum of Art east building)