Monthly Archives: November 2007

Especially You, HedonismBot!: Westvleteren Blonde

hedonism_bot.jpgAnd we’ve opened the Winter Beer Supply.  Thank God.

We debut the WBS on a sideways note, as we’re drinking the least acclaimed and respected beer from, perhaps, the most acclaimed and respected brewery in the world.   The Abbey of Saint Sixtus, which produces Westvleteren beer, produces three different brews–a dubbel, a quadrupel, and a blonde.  The blue and gold capped dubbel and quadrupel are sought the world over, and a six-pack of the beers will easily reach over $65 on eBay, and that’s before shipping.

The Missus and I have all three types Westvleteren beers, but we decided to open the WBS with the green capped blonde and save the best for later.

The blonde pours a hazy golden-wheat color, with a fuzzy head about one or two fingers tall, which bubbles away rapidly leaving a lacing of white foam around the edges of the glass.  The third glass in that picture is the blondie.

The scent is like wet grass and flowers and wheat and hay.

The beer is creamy, smooth, and grainy up front, and finishes with a quick ring of bitter hops.  Very crisp from start to finish, and dry on the palate.

There is no alcoholic presence at all.  And the flavor is dry and quick and pleasant from start to finish.  Very sessionable, and very good to drink, but, given the scarcity and the cost, it’s probably not worth more than a taste.

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Especially You HedonismBot!: Storm King Stout

hedonism_bot.jpgAmong the many fabulous breweries in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, perhaps the most well regarded is Victory, in Downingtown, which is a little less than an hour from Center City.  The brewery is most well known for its HopDevil Ale, a nicely bitter IPA, with good malty body and a floral scent.  They also have excellent pilsener, Prima Pils, a big, grassy double IPA called HopWallop, and an outstanding, sweet weizenbock named Moonglow.  Oh, and they make one of the best imperial stouts I’ve ever had: Storm King

Storm King is the kind of unique, complex beer that can evoke strange, irrepressible desires in enthusiastic beer drinkers.  Or maybe just Mrs Thursday. 

Now, your average Russian Imperial Stout is a big, black beastie, with huge malty body, and generally tastes of chocolate and coffee, but without the bitterness of either.  There’s a bit of alcoholic warmth, probably, but, when the beer is done right, the boozy heat is hidden under the layers of malt sweetness. 

Storm King isn’t quite like that.  It pours a deep black, completely opaque, with a meager tan head, even when the beer is poured aggressively.  The beer smells sweet and bitter at once, with raisins and black currants and molasses and roasted coffee. 

Its taste is complete in the mouth.  It seems to sticky coat everything–all sides of the tongue, the insides of cheeks, the roof of the mouth, and all the way down the throat.  Everything gets its own impressions.  The dark fruit sweetness hits first, followed by a lightly bitter, lightly sweet coffee flavor, and then an everlasting, bitter, hoppy aftertaste from the back of the mouth on down. 

An utterly outstanding beer.  A lot of flavors going on, but each one so pleasant that the beer is remarkably easy to drink for something so big and bold.

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The Way We Watch

There has been debate for years about whether baseball should have instant replay.  Football has its red challenge flags (which, frankly, has always seemed a little hokey to me), and basketball reviews “buzzer” plays at the end of each quarter, and hockey reviews questionable goals.  Baseball, however, to this point has resisted this technological advent.  Instant replay may be on its way, however, as Major League Baseball’s General Managers voted, overwhelmingly, in favor of instant replay in regards to home runs, specifically in relation to issues of fan interference and “fair or foul”. 

Baseball has held out largely by the force of will of so-called “traditionalists”.  The argument of these traditionalists has been “human error has always been part of the game”.  I think this is insane.  Tradition, solely for its own sake, I think, is crazy.  Other things that were “tradition” (at least, in the sense that they’ve been around for most of baseball history): no free agency; segregation; only day games.  Hell, why don’t we just bar the Chicago Cubs from making the playoffs, because “the Cubs losing has always been part of the game”. 

The secondary argument by the traditionalists, which is less crazy, is that instant replay will slow down the games.  This, however, shows a lack of common sense.  When a player comes up, turns on an inside fastball, and BOOM! there goes the ball flying, hooking down the right field line (our hypothetical batter is probably Chase Utley), this is what seems to generally happen, assuming the ball is very, very close to the foul pole.  The first base umpire rules the ball fair, and Utley circles the bases, having hit a home run.  Some grumpy manager thinks the ball was foul, though, and so he rushes out as quickly as his advancing age and expanding waistline (our hypothetical manager is probably Bobby Cox) will allow, and tells the umpire (our hypothetical umpire is probably CB Buckner) that, among other things, he got the call wrong. 

The two of them argue for a bit, and our blockheaded announcer (our hypothetical color man is Tim McCarver) will explain that Bobby Cox is inspiring his team, or something.  Eventually, Cox gets his point across, and so CB and the rest of the umpires get together on the infield grass, roughly 2/5th of the way between first base and the pitcher’s mound.  They all saw American Gangster(separately) over the weekend (our hypothetical situation is probably anachronistic), and two of them are complaining that, on the Giant Screen upon which the movie played, they were able to see the boom mic for most of the movie, and, boy golly, was it irritating.  Ump number three didn’t see the mic at his theater, and thought the scenes between Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe at the end were forced and unnecessary.  Ump number four explains that the boom mic isn’t the fault of director Ridley Scott, but rather that the theater in question was playing a small screen version of the movie on a really big screen, and this was causing editing problems.  Oh, and those scenes at the end were totally lame. 

Anyway, after they chat up American Gangster, having compared it the canon of overly long gangster movies (Scarface, Godfather I and II, Goodfellas, Casino, and Heat), they turn around, head for their positions, and one of them indicates that the call stands.  It’s now the bottom of the second inning of a game that started at 7:05PM EST on a Tuesday, and now it’s Thursday morning.  With instant replay, the umpires wait until commerical breaks to have Cinema Time, and there’s no Bobby Cox arguments.  The call goes immediately up to the booth, and the disembodied voice declares the ball fair, and the game moves on at approximately the same rate. 

Needless to say, I’ve never been a part of the anti-instant replay crowd.  Naturally, however, Joe Posnanski has provided the first argument against instant replay that I really buy into:

But I still despise [instant replay]. Nothing is real. Instant replay gives us asterisk feelings. An amazing play happens — a quarterback throws a bomb, a receiver dives and catches it — the referee signals touchdown and … and what do you feel? You feel thrilled*

*Pending further review.

Then you see the replay and, oh oh, he may have not caught the ball. It may have hit the ground. Now there’s a red flag thrown. How do you feel? You feel worried*

*Especially because the announcers are saying they’re going to overturn it.

Then they show another replay on TV from another angle and this time, you know what? Yeah, it looks like he DID catch the ball, maybe. It looks like he may have had an finger under the ball so that it never hit the ground. Maybe. You feel hopeful*

*Because while we’re still not sure he caught the ball, it does look like there may not be enough visual evidence to OVERTURN the play.

Then, finally, the official comes out and he says, “After further review, the play stands as called.” Now how do you feel? You feel relieved*

*Which means in about 90 seconds of watching the same play over and over again, you went from thrilled to relieved, which isn’t the way you’re supposed to watch sports.

That last part is the point that sticks with me.  Utley hits his home run, and Phillies fans should be giddy and dancing in the stands and whatnot.  We shouldn’t be waiting to see if the Phils just took the lead, or dreading that the ball is foul.  The calls should be made on the field, to happen instantly, so that the results seem like a product of the action on the field, and not some distant, emotionless Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down sign of approval. 

Of course, the calls should be correct, too.  As a fan, watching at home or in the stands, of any game, I want things to move as quickly as possible.  My emotional investment in a team or a game is stronger over about 2-3 hours than it is over 3-5 hours.  Generally.  I like to see hits and steals and diving catches and all that stuff, and I like to know what I’m seeing as I’m seeing it.  But I want my catches to be catches and not trapped balls, and I want my home runs to be fair, and, really, I want my strikes to be over the plate.  And, of course, I’ll tolerate the time it takes to get the call right a lot better when the right call goes in the favor of the team for whom I am rooting. 

This is part of a somewhat larger problem in baseball,  I think.  Mostly, the problem is that the things that, in baseball, are most fun to watch, are not the same thing that create winning teams.  I call the Bobby Abreu Hypothesis.  Bobby, of course, was a long-time Phillie right fielder.  He worked long counts constantly (I believe he led the NL in pitches seen for three or four straight seasons before heading to the Yankees), walked a ton, and hit with moderate power.  Mostly, he was a really good baseball player for the Phillies.  He was not a beloved Phillie, however, because walks and long counts are really damn boring to watch.  If they got people excited, Adam Dunn would get a lot more love in Cincinnati.  Wilson Betemit probably wouldn’t have lost his job with the Dodgers. 

I’m not really sure what could be done about this.  To get the calls a correct as possible, the fan experience has to suffer.  To field the best possible team, organizations have to field fairly boring teams that walk a lot whose games against similarly good teams take 4 or more hours to get through 9 innings. 

The powers that be have decided to give helmets to third base coaches.  Honestly, this doesn’t seem like even a modestly important issue for baseball.  The different between exciting and good ought to be priority number one.

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Do They All Die?: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

dtat.jpgLast week, we looked at Cormac McCarthy’s book, No Country for Old Men.  To start off this week, we take a look at the Coen brothers’ cinematic adaptation of the same book. 

As with the book, the movie focuses on the three characters of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who finds the money, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who chases Llewelyn, and Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who slowly and steadily paddles in the wake of their destruction.  All three leads are played outstandingly.  Jones is known for his frequent role as a law enforcement-type, but the personality of his role is not the brash, respected law officer he has been known for, but, rather, a reserved, contemplative small-town sheriff. 

Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss laconically, and Moss very clearly comes off as a man who understands that he is in immense danger, but doesn’t quite understand the extent of that danger.  Bardem’s Chigurh is as menacing as villains come, but his vaguely philosophical banter, and his remarkably restrained politeness give him an edge of black comedy. 

The movie, from what I noticed, features little to no music, which reflects Cormac McCarthy’s stark writing well.  It also features a great deal of his dialogue, nearly verbatim, and, most importantly, the movie reflects the odd non-climax of the book.  As I alluded to in the book review, the climax of No Country for Old Mentakes place off-screen.  The audience only arrives to the climax as Sheriff Bell does–that is, far too late.  We see the shocking aftermath, but we’re not sure quite how we got there. 

Chigurh, at two points, forces people to call a coin toss.  What each person stands to win or lose goes undefined, but powerfully implied, and this shows an element to Chigurh that is reflected in the movie.  Mostly, that we can make choices, like “heads or tails”, but the results of our choices are inevitable.  Every time “heads” is called, something shall occur, and there is no getting around it.  McCarthy elucidates that point fantastically in the narrative, and the Coens are masterful in their reflection of the theme.

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Barack Obama: Hand and Heart

So, a couple of days ago, there was a mini-controversy surrounding Democrat Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who was accused of keeping his hands at his sides during the Pledge of Allegiance.  In addition, while all his competitors placed hand on heart and said the pledge, Obama kept his mouth silent and shut.

As it turns out, Obama and company were merely witnessing the national anthem, and for odd, unknown reasons, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson placed their hands on their hearts, while Obama watched the anthem like, ya know, a regular person.

The real story here, though, is the performance, I think.  I don’t know who this woman was, but this is one of the worst anthems I’ve heard in years.  Atrocious.

Watch here:

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2007/11/08/obama.steakfry.anthem.cnn

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Ed Wade Continues to Bring Veteran Relievers to Phillies

Astros (and former Phillies) GM Ed Wade completed a trade with current Phils GM Pat Gillick last night, sending Geoff Geary, Michael Bourn, and minor league third baseman Mike Costanzo to Houston for closer Brad Lidge and infielder Eric Bruntlett.  [Link]

Personally?  It’s hard to tell what’s happening with Lidge.  His numbers were mostly good in 2006, though his home run rate was elevated, and his general luck worsened, and posted a hefty 5.28 ERA.  Last year, his K/9 rate was down, and his home run rate was almost identical to 2007, and yet the ERA dropped to a nice 3.36.  The question is, of course, whether Costanzo or Bourn turn into league average every day players.  Costanzo is a slugging third basemen with a pretty good eye at the plate, but he’s a catastrophe in the field, and will likely have to be moved to first base or left field.  Plus, there is, apparently, some question about whether his swing translates to the majors.  Bourn is a very light hitting speedster, who may or may not have some semblance of plate discipline.  He’s certainly a good baserunner, and appears to be an above average defensive outfielder, but I have serious reservations about whether his bat can play every day in the majors.  Given Costanzo’s and Bourn’s 11 combined years until free agency versus Lidge’s 1, it would seem that if either Bourn or Costanzo pan out in the majors, Houston gets the better end of the deal.

For the time being Brett Myers will move back into the Phillies rotation, and Lidge will assume closer duties.

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Mr. Thursday’s Book Shelf: PATHOLOGIES OF POWER

“First, to what level of quality can medical ethics aspire, if it ignores callous discrimination in medical practice against large populations of the innocent poor? Second, how effective can such theories be in addressing the critical issues of medical and clinical ethics if they are unable to contribute to the closing of the gap of socio-medical disparity?”
–Marcio Fabri dos Anjos “ Medical Ethics in the Developing World: A Liberation Theology Perspective”

I took a class in college on medical ethics. Professor Peluchon, a tiny blond professora from southern France, tried to explain to my class (mostly pre-med students and one philosophy major who was, uh, me) the intricacies of ethics concerning End-of-Life issues such as euthanasia or palliative care (treatment which alleviates symptoms without treating the underlying cause). She taught about the utilitarian approach of stem-cell researchers and abortion clinics. She focused on topics that will be important to medical practitioners who will work in the suburbs of America in the future.

Now, I don’t like to think of myself as small-minded, but I didn’t even begin to consider the questions of medical ethics that concern over one sixth of humanity. I thought of medical ethics as abortion, palliative care, drug abuse, and just nominally The Tuskegee Experiment. However, I never took my questions to the next step. I never considered the larger picture. I never looked outside of US healthcare needs, and even then, I barely considered America’s destitute. That’s where Paul Farmer comes in.

Paul Farmer is a Harvard and Duke educated doctor and medical anthropologist. He works in one of the best hospitals in the United States, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. He co-founded an internationally recognized medical non-profit, Partners in Health. He has also dedicated his life to working with individuals in the Central Plateau of Haiti, and he has been doing it for over twenty-years. I first learned about Paul Farmer’s work in Kenya this summer. Another volunteer raved about him as being inspiring and tenacious. Reading his biography and some of his own books not only inspired her to work in a clinic in Western Kenya, but he also inspired her to return to school for a nursing degree.

Pathologies of Power is Paul Farmer’s unveiling of a new worldview. It is a worldview that has been violently apparent to the silent multitude for decades, but ignored by the minority who possess power. Those who die prematurely from disease, those who are sentenced to death by disease, and those who are used or ignored by Western medicine are the focus of this book. Farmer asserts, through individual stories and grandiose theory (liberation theology), that the international community has an inherently flawed view of aid especially concerning healthcare. Structural violence enacted against the world’s most desperate cannot be their fault. It is the fault of the Western market economy. And it is the duty of the West to correct this.

He decries the West for focusing on “the right to vote” as opposed to “the right to survival”. He exposes the hypocrisy of Western leaders who proclaim that sufficient care for those with Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDRTB) is “not cost effective” although they would demand the best care for themselves. He challenges the reader to truly recognize that all human beings deserve to be treated with respect.

For example, recently there was a study conducted in Uganda that found that circumcision reduces risks for HIV transmission in heterosexual couples. That’s all good. What wasn’t widely reported was that participants (who participated under the promise that they would receive medical care) were not provided any antiretroviral drugs and their spouses or partners were not to be advised of the participants’ HIV status. These individuals were a control group. Those who ran the study believed that their actions were justified for the greater good.

Pathologies of Power forces one to consider the tragic irony of the international aid apparatus. The World Trade Organization is designed to provide guidance on improving healthcare for the world. However, it is restrained by donor states who don’t want to hear that a new TB program in Bolivia will save millions of lives except will be very costly. They’d rather have a program that will save thousands of lives and be “cost effective” or “sustainable”. Paul Farmer rejects this approach. To his (and the book’s) detriment, he is unable to provide an alternative approach to healthcare that improves state apparatus’ from the inside out. He only approves of programs that ensure large influxes of capital into failing health infrastructure. How can progress be maintained? If he has an answer to that question, he does not provide it here.

Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor
Paul Farmer
Paperback: 402 Pages
University of California Press

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