Monthly archives: April 2008
The Decadence Manifesto
"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." - Oscar Wilde.
Wikipedia defines decadence with ... well, you read it. To me, decadence is a nice description of the finer things in life, the ones that you can't or shouldn't do every day, but the experience of which adds a richness. We don't eat nightly at the finest restaurants, but there's some organic avocados and a recipe for guacamole. We don't have a case of Bordeaux in the cellar, but there's a nice Spanish Grenacha that will go well with the guac. There's a VW, not a Bugatti in the driveway and one turbo is enough. I am not, nor do I aspire to be, Paris Hilton or one of her friends.
Life is to be lived, to be experienced and savored. Over the last six months, I've spent far too much time wondering why my mother's death seemed so meaningless. I have visions of the end, but few from the good times. I do, however, remember taking her on the last Mother's day she had to Sullivan's, a steakhouse. She didn't really care for steakhouses and would never have gone had I not virtually required it. She dressed up a bit and if you didn't know the cancer was eating her away, you wouldn't have known it. She smiled. She ate the prime rib, rare, and never gave any indication that she was ill. Today nearly a year later, I know that it's that memory that will hold while the sight of her sliding away in her hospital bed will fade.
One special occasion is simply not enough. Birthdays and anniversaries don't happen often enough and every day is special. Is it decadent to have fresh avocados delivered to my home in the hopes that I can fashion some guacamole? Yes, yes it is. I'm still looking forward to trying that out. Decadent to spend a couple dollars extra to have the grass-fed, dry-aged steak or to drink the microbrew from my local tavern rather than the swill normally called beer? Yes, yes it is. Johnny Walker is good enough to drink and to enjoy, but a Macallan 18 is decadent enough to be needful. My MacBook Air is two pounds lighter than my old MacBook. Worth it? To me, yes.
It's not about being the smartest or the richest, about the latest gadget or the newest trend. Decadence is about the experience. Crash Davis reminded Nook LaLoosh that he didn't need a quadraphone Blaupunkt, but there's nothing wrong with having it once you have the curveball. Your decadence might be leaping out of a plane, surfing in Hawaii, or finding out how a $4,000 hooker earns her pay. Mine isn't, but there's nothing inherently wrong with yours, aside from the questionable legality and moral issues of the last one. You might disagree on the feeling I get dropping the top and driving, of sliding the virtual switch on the iPhone, or of anything I find decadent, but it's the personal experience.
You might not like my cigar. You might see me sitting in the corner with a beer, watching the game and talking too loudly and rightly think me obnoxious, but just politely tell me to dial it back a bit; you deserve your own enjoyment too. Just don't tell me I'm wrong just because we have different ways of experiencing things. Simple decadence is not something to be looked down on. You can use whatever terms you want, have whatever experience you want, and find your own path to fulfillment. I'm not an ascetic and my inner Buddha hasn't expressed itself yet. I can't stand silence or even quiet. I will look on things with lust and admiration. I will smile at the pretty girl. I will have a cool bluesman nickname. I'll help the old lady across the street. I'll scalp tickets to get the good seats. I will tip well for good service and very well for great service. I will pay extra to taste the ham that only ate acorns. I will wear a Sea Island cotton shirt for no other reason than James Bond did. I can pronounce Balenciaga. I'll always ask for the free upgrade.
Napoleon Solo once said he had an "elegant air of decadence." I want people to say that about me, admiringly, not grudgingly. I will live the life my parents dreamed I would.
Why My Super-delegate Vote Goes to Hillary
My guess is that those who gravitate towards writing blogs are politically similar to those who are journalists or those who have chosen to go into to into the entertainment field. (actors, screenwriters, musicians, etc.) When you choose to go into a creative field, I don't think it's a stretch to say that you are someone with a large ego---someone who thinks that their talents need to be consumed by a larger audience. By being filled with such an ego, these creative types are less likely to want to be part of a large group or subscribe to some type of religious or political dogma. When you are of the persuasion I listed in the sentence before, you are usually pretty liberal politically.
I've been waiting for Obama to sell me on why I should want to support him, but as stirring as some of the rhetoric he offers up, I just can't get past the feeling that his coronation might be 4 to 8 years too early. I'm sure I will still vote for him, as McCain's war politics and keeping the Bush tax cuts permanent I believe will keep us going on the disastrous path we have been going towards this whole decade. I just think that in the place our country finds itself, Hillary Clinton provides a better bet to put us back on the right track. I guess this declaration will keep me from hainging out at Hollywood parties or get a gig writing for the Huffington Post, but I have to follow what my head tells me is right. I have a lot of elitist traits and have no problem being called on them, but I guess my childhood growing up the son of a
Second Generation Ouch!
You know, it's one thing to see Tony Gwynn Jr or Eric Young Jr, guys who I remember watching their fathers play. Cutter Dykstra (I mean, that name, seriously) is about to be a top pick. But that's not the most disturbing thing I've seen recently. Tonight, I was flipping around and saw a blonde wrestler putting another girl in a Sharpshooter. A SHARPSHOOTER! I mean, the last guys that used that were these guys --
Yeah, I grew up hoping to be Jim "The Anvil" Neidhardt. Ok, not very long, but it was reasonable for a 13 year old. Of course, I turned out a bit more like Jimmy Hart ...
but the girl doing the Sharpshooter? She's a new WWE Wrestler called "Natalya" ... and she's Anvil's daughter!
I think we're going to have a tequila review up here after that ...
This film, much like the Pulitzer-winning story about Joshua Bell in the subway, is heartbreaking.
I'm more surprised by Bell. In the video in the story, you can see the people who simply HAVE to hear the music. For the art, it's just there. With ubiquitous advertising, people can tune things out and it doesn't exactly "pop." Keith Haring's work is some of my favorite and it began as graffiti.
Yes, I can enjoy the stilted arty people getting their noses rubbed in it, but to make a broader commentary on it is harder to do. Do people just not notice? Too busy to stop and smell the roses? Late for a meeting? So inured of any beauty in their daily life that they can ignore the best the world has to offer? (YMMV, of course.) I'm just not sure.
Which brings me around to the term "elitism." It's a pejorative now and without going too poltical, I want someone to stand up and own it. "Damn right I'm an elitist. I want the best," Obama could say. "I want people to demand the best from themselves and our society. I want my kids to go to the best schools, but I also want your kids to have the best schools or at least give you the opportunity to afford the best schools." I could go on and on, but I won't and it's not strictly an Obama issue, so don't make it one. Just an example.
It's in stark contrast to what I do and what I believe baseball analysis should do, which is work for the masses. I have to explain what the world's best doctors are doing to the world's best athletes in terms that non-medical people can understand. I want to figure out how to explain the amazing work the rest of the BP team is doing so that people can go "Oh, okay" and understand a little more about the game, but not do it in such a way that you can't just go and have a beer and enjoy the game.
I feel like so much of life for so many people is just a missed opportunity. What about you?
Cigar Reviews, Quick Hits
I've saved up some notes over the last couple weeks and even though I didn't get a lot of response on the last one, I'm doing it again. I hope to have more on why later this week. I'm knee deep in what might be the hardest piece I've ever done, in the sense that it's being actively a bitch to get quotes for. I'll have it finished soon ... or else Aaron Schatz might kill me.
Ok, the reviews:
* Another CI Legend, this time "Green", which is the Rolando Reyes version. Reyes makes Puros Indios, which is kind of like the Buick of cigars. This one was a cigar for people that want to smoke cigars but don't like them. There was virtually no flavor to the first half, but there was a lot of smoke. If you were making a movie about playing poker or someone wanted to get that dramatic effect of light in smoke, this one would work great. It's not bad, but it's so innocuous as to seem a prop. Worse, it was described in the catalog as "intense and flavorful." I'm very curious what kind of cigars Robin smokes on How I Met Your Mother. Has Barney blogged about this? The show is so detailed that someone probably knows.
* The next to last Legend in the sampler was "Grey," by Cusano. I like Cusano's though they're far from a first choice. The double Connecticut wrapper was solid and held up the best of any of the Legends so far. I was worried because for the first inch, it was very mild and I was worried that the Green might have been prelude. Then a big hit of cedar hit. It stayed mild, but pleasant. The construction was flawless and the draw and feel were top notch. If you like Cusano but want a bit cheaper stick, this one's definitely worth trying.
* I love Gurkhas. Seeing one of their more recent blends at my local store at a reasonable price made it a no brainer. The Ancient Warrior is much darker than I normally go for and with a Brazilian wrapper, it looked different as well. It was kind of mottled, not in a bad way, but something like marbling in a steak. It started out very much like a strong CAO (that's a compliment) with initial pepper and leather, but at the halfway point, a sharp change brought in vanilla and cedar. It was very warm and stayed all the way to the nub. Good cigar, but not so good that I'd pick it over a Centurian.
* And then the big one. Not in size, but certainly in quality. A Greycliff Professional might be the best smoke I've ever had. Beautifully constructed, I really didn't want to like it knowing that the price (about $20 per) wasn't something I wanted to get used to. Problem is, I really, really could. The smoke stayed consistent despite some subtle changes. It went from a mild spice at the start to a very warm wood about an inch in. At just before the halfway point, it slid from woody to peaty, not drastic, but like a Springbank Scotch. At the end -- and I took this thing until I couldn't hold it -- there was some coffee there. Again, the price is insane, but I can understand why it is what it is. I'm told they age well, so I'm going to try holding the rest I got in this batch for a couple months. I'm not sure I can wait.
Cooking For Men
Keith Law might do cooking on a different level than I do, but I can do good food that reasonable people can do. If you don't think you can cook, you're wrong. If you're reading this, you can already read and that's half the battle. The other half is being able to taste. Do a little bit more Yogi-math and there's a small bit of fresh, local ingredients, knowing what you like, and being able to improvise.
Here's a very simple recipe that looks a lot harder than it is. We'll call it baked chicken with apples, but feel free to come up with some French or other fancy sounding name if you're really wanting to impress your significant other.
To start with get GOOD CHICKEN. I buy mine at The Goose, a local market here in Indianapolis. Find a place like this with people you know and trust. They only use local produce, which is important because it's fresher and better for the environment to boot. I hate breaking down chicken, so I'll buy boneless, skinless chicken when possible.
Lay out the chicken in a baking pan (8x8 works) and line it with aluminum foil. Put a little salt and pepper on them. One tip -- don't go from the fridge to the oven. Let the meat come out and come up in temp a little bit. Keep it covered, but you're going to cook it well anyway, so don't freak about germs. Preheat the oven to 375.
Chop up three good sized apples. Size doesn't matter here and you can peel the apple if you wish, though I leave the skin on for a bit more crispy texture. I'm using Pink Lady apples. They're very sweet and crisp, which gives them good bite if you're eating them and they'll stand up to baking without turning into mush.
Place the apples over the chicken. There's no style points here, just make sure there's some air so the heat can circulate. Once those are in place, sprinkle some cinnamon over the top. Don't use too much - cinnamon is a stronger taste than most people realize and very tough to cover with something else. It's possible to add more later.
Here's what it should look like:
The oven should be up to speed by now, so pop it in there and set the timer for 20 minutes. Go read Baseball Prospectus and try to make some sense of the new "blood spatter" charts on the PECOTA cards. About the time your brain starts to cramp, you'll be ready for the final step. Everyone should have some maple syrup on hand, for whatever reason, so grab that and pour a bit lightly over the top of the apples. Not much, just some. There's already sugar in the apples that will seep out, so don't pour like you're soaking the french toast at the IHOP. Put it back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes.
You'll have to take it out at the 15 minute (35 total) mark and check the chicken. Move the apples aside and use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. What's the temp you're looking for? Poultry is safely cooked at 180. If you don't have a thermometer, cut into the chicken and make sure you see no pink at the thickest portion and the juices run clear. Then go get yourself a meat thermometer. Seriously, you'll need it once we get the grill out anyway.
The apples should be crinkling slightly at this stage. What you don't want to see is the apples breaking up. If one breaks, it's not bad, but get it out of there when you can. It will bake unevenly and tend to go mushy very quick. At 35 minutes, I checked mine and the chicken was at 160. Check the pan by tilting it. You should see some clear juices run to the corner, but they shouldn't be too syrupy. Pop it back in .... tick tick .. check and when done, get it out and get your plate ready.
Simple works well here. Chicken and apples on one side, then drizzle a little syrup on the other. It looks good and helps the taste if you want a bit more sweet. Add in a salad and you're golden. See? Not so hard.
Remembering John Marzano
The phrase "full of life" was first uttered about someone who was like John Marzano. That he's gone, passed on at age 45, is just a ... there's no words. "Tragedy" isn't something that should be said about John's life, because we'll remember the comedy and the drama much more. I met him only briefly, working with him last October while I was doing MLB.com for the playoffs. John, Vinny Micucci, and I did the "Hot Corner" together twice and each time, I laughed and learned more than I can ever put into words. Most of his jokes were childish and crass, but it was that laugh that let you know he lived life like he was letting you in on the joke.
At one point, we were watching Roger Clemens warm up and I turned to him and said "What did you look for when you were catching Clemens in the pen?" I certainly had no idea what he'd say, but how many men in the world even HAVE an answer for that? He launched into one of the most amazing monologues about how a catcher prepares his pitcher for the game. I can remember asking him afterwards, off air I think, about how he saw all that while still catching a ball coming at him at nearly 100mph. He paused and said "I dunno. I just did." He was never more than what he was, but he was willing to think about those things.
I came in a no one to him. He was a major league player, a guy who had been in playoff games. I was some writer, but he never said "who is this geek?" without a playful tone. He asked me about something I said about pitching mechanics and somehow it got turned around to a discussion about how catchers were never taught what to look for, but that they ended up master reverse engineers, looking for inconsistencies.
John Marzano taught me about baseball in our brief encounters. From what I know of him and what his friends say, he lived a life most of us only dream of. Godspeed, Johnny Marz. I still owe you a beer.
New Media for Old Fogies
Baseball tends to skip generations. Maybe not if you're a Boone or a Griffey, but when it comes to technology, teams tend to make advances in leaps, not steps. When I started -- which wasn't that long ago -- teams dealt in phone calls and faxes. Like most people, I didn't have a home fax machine, but I did have email. It was very annoying that they'd take one, but ignored the other.
Then mobile phones became ubiquitous and scouts discovered the Blackberry. Texting quickly became the new way of touching base. Over the last two years, it's become significantly easier to get a text response than it is to email or even get someone to pick up a call. I know of at least one GM that conducted almost all of a trade via text, using that to once say to the media that he hadn't spoken to his counterpart. He wasn't lying.
So what's next? Players are beginning to blog (though I have ideas about why this won't work in this form) and things like Twitter and Pownce are getting some traction in the tech world. I still haven't found a way to use these in my work. I tried using Pownce, mostly because a friend begged me to try the service, during the spring. I wasn't doing UTK but there were updates and I wanted to get them out there. It worked, but ... not great and not high enough adoption rate. I'm no Scoble ... yet. Facebook? Same thing. So far, I've only found ways to be more connected to my readers, which I was already doing a pretty good job of through email. It's actually "spread my attention" - instead of one inbox kept on a GTD plan, now I have an inbox, Facebook, and more.
What are you using, how could you see it used, and why? Hit it in comments.
Next time, I'll tell you why I think. GPS is the key to the next generation.
The Conversation I Can't Use
The phone rings. Currently, my ringtone is Tenacious D's 'The Metal.' It's beginning to annoy me.
Will Carroll: Will Carroll.
This is a paraphrase of an actual conversation. Names and details have been changed to provide plausible deniability.
The Worst Thing Ever
There's few things in life more boring than hearing someone talk about their fantasy team. First, we need shorthand for it. Next time someone calls in to a show I'm doing and spends more time explaining their rule set than their actual problem, I'm going to call Leon. Second, most questions seem to come from people in leagues I've never seen. 4 team Mixed Leagues that look like All-Star teams or a guy who's trying to decide whether to drop Jimmy Rollins or Hanley Ramirez because he has Jeter already. Finally, most questions only seem to matter to the caller. Give me something, anything, that someone else can take something away from it and I'm ok.
So I'm going to bitch about my team. 10 Team Mixed League with five keepers. I kept Pujols, Russell Martin, Ichiro, Manny and C.C. Two of those have tanked hard in two weeks. The problem is my pitching, starting with Sabathia, who's been crap.
So the starters have stunk or been injured. That looks like enough -- Sabathia, Wang, Gallardo, Kazmir -- and it should be, with depth. Except it hasn't been. The bullpen is no better.
Broxton (decent enough, but not as many Ks as I expected)
Ok, Rivera's fine, but I had to trade Justin Upton to get him. I was stacked in the OF (Ichiro, Fukudome, Manny, Carlos Gomez, and Josh Hamilton with Rick Ankiel on the bench) so it made sense, but I'd punted saves in the draft but made a quick U-turn on that strategy when faced with the chance to get Rivera who should on his own put me mid-pack in saves.
I'm hitting well, so I'll save you that discussion. At least I'm doing well in the Experts League I usually tank in.
So in the midst of doing a BP chat today, I mentioned that I'd played around with the idea of doing an audio chat. I'm glad I didn't mention that I've also considered doing video chats, since the reaction was immediate.
"How do you expect me to alt-tab and check the chat at work if it's audio?" was one response. "There's no sound card on my work computer," said another. Aside from the concept that people are surfing the net during their jobs rather than, you know, working, it surprises me that people resist new technologies.
When I got my first computer, it had a friggin' cassette tape drive. Seriously -- cassettes, just like what you play music on. It was a TRS-80, Model 3, if I remember correctly. It worked in BASIC and had 16k of memory. 16k! I had a Commodore Vic-20 later and even once I got into Macs, my first one had the expensive and unthinkably huge 40 megabyte harddrive. Earlier today, I was listening to a lecture on Buddhism that was just over 40 megs.
Before broadband, YouTube wasn't possible. Today, I'm not sure what the next step is, though I'm still unconvinced by lifecasting, though I enjoy the work of Justine Ezarik and Robert Scoble. So why do baseball fans, or at least BP readers, resist something as low-tech as sound?
Simple. Convenience and comfort.
Sound doesn't work for most because they don't think they can use it and it's a bit outside their comfort range. The problem is that until you work out the kinks of something, there's no way to get it comfortable for people. Video is the same as sound in this way, but to me, besides the impulse to innovate and push forward things, I think it's the choice. I doubt that people would listen to a chat in the same numbers that they read chats today, but I'm not sure that it wouldn't end up being 50-50, especially if we could get more questions in and get better answers. If there was a way to do both the audio chat and a transcription in near-real-time, all the better, but I don't have a way to do that, let alone a cost-effective way to do it.
At the leading edge of "new" technologies, there's a resistance that's difficult to overcome, both internal and external. Why do you resist? Discuss in comments ...
UPDATE: Rights issues are something that I often run into. It's illegal to do secondary comments, even post-broadcast, and to run videos using MLB property. Yes, I know a lot of people are doing it, but they tend to be too small to attract notice.
CI Legends (Copper and Blue)
Cigars are bad for you.
Ok, that fact aside, they're also one of those simple pleasures that, if you so choose, should be experienced. Not so much that they're addictive. Just like any simple decadence, moderation is the key. (I'll have more on this in the Decadence Manifesto, which I'm at work on, once I clear everything else off the deadline list.) I never understood cigarettes, despite both parents being smokers. One every week isn't a bad pace, which makes the sampler pack of Cigar International Legends I got a nice treat. The idea is that CI, one of the largest Internet cigar dealers, got some of the top cigar makers to put together a cheap blend. One size, one price, and may the best smoke win.
The two I tried were Copper (Drew Estate) and Blue (Matasa.) Drew Estate is known for it's Acid line, a series of oh-so-hip cigars made with infused flavors. The Copper is no different. If you're new to cigars, this might not be a bad one, though you're in for a shock. The initial taste is pure cherry, so sweet it's like someone dipped it in koolaid. The sweet shock stays for about the first inch of this 5 3/4 inch cigar and while I can't say I liked it, it was different enough to keep me interested. Deeper in, there was more of a classic cigar taste with a bit of pepper and some nutty flavor to the smoke. It was never overpowering and is clearly on the mild end of cigars, but it was pleasant. I tend to smoke outside, sitting on my patio, and it was never too much or too strong. I had to relight once, which was my fault -- I was yapping on the phone and left it for a couple minutes without a puff. It's not a great cigar, but it's certainly well worth the price. I'm a bit more likely to try some of the Drew Estate product after this introduction.
The Blue Legend is from Matasa, best known for their Fonseca brand. I hadn't smoked one of theirs since a Romeo y Julieta a couple years ago, so I wasn't expecting much. The sampler was 8 cigars, so this was one of those "well, I gotta pick one and I want to save the Cusano for another time" kind of picks. It was a tight draw (which means suck harder) through the first inch. I use a punch rather than a cutter, so this is probably more an issue for me and others that prefer a punch than it is for the traditional cut. The wrapper, a sun-grown Ecuadorian, was one I hadn't had before and I can't say I'm a fan. It was brittle for me despite keeping my humidor near 70% and unraveled a bit as it burned. At the halfway point, it got very woody, something others have described as cedar, but which I experienced more as an intrusive ... something. Cedar - maybe, I just can't say. It wasn't mesquite either, but if you like your steak very woody, you might like this more than I did.
The Copper was a nice cigar for the price. The Blue wasn't bad, but I wouldn't buy one on it's own. The Orange Legend isn't even worth writing about, so I won't. I'm not going to give stars or ratings, because decadence is about the experience.
Heresy You Say to My Bullpen Theory
When it comes to baseball, I believe the tenets of the sabermetrical approach are holy...except for relief pitching. I have watched enough guys blow leads in the 8th and 9th innings to realize that the last 2 frames of a game are the toughest to have success. I know many sabermetricians believe that you can run a bullpen by committee and it can be successful. I don't. Some guys have the sack to do it and others don't. Losing a lead and then the game in the last 2 innings are worse than losing them in the first 7. I know mathematically this makes little sense, as a computer sees a loss as a loss. Well in my time watching the dynamics of a team, blowing games at the end wrecks a team's confidence faster than anything else. There have been plenty of great hitting teams who couldn't get over the .500 mark. While it is less the case, the same could be said for teams who had a better than an average starting pitching, I would argue that over the past decade, if you had a top-notch bullpen, you were going to be a playoff competitive team at worst and most likely a division winner or better.
Be forewarned. I'm back.
Blogging will commence when I get a good idea.
Until then, read this.
What's on My Radar
The World's greatest rock band, Muse, just put out a great live disc with bonus DVD last week. The show demonstrates the amazing talents of the band. They rock Wembley Stadium like they are QUeen during their prime. Check out Knights of Cydonnia.
I can't explain why this makes me laugh so hard, but it does. Unicorns....Ambrosia....yummy.
Steve Stone and Ed Farmer share the White Sox radio broadcasting booth. They are the best duo I have ever heard cover a game.
David Cook is my favorite contestant in American Idol history. The show has 6 contestants better than anyone on last season's show.
Considering what is on my plate, I can understand how this might happen.
2008 AL Preview
In my last season preview, I thought there was only one superior team and that was the Red Sox. Well, this year I think it is more wide open than that, as I believe Boston has fallen off just enough to join the pack of flawed, but potential world champion teams. Below is the way I see it, with predicted wins next to each club.
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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