Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Classes started for me today. Hebrew II, a couple writing classes and of course senior project II.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Friday Wine Blogging (cont)

Been a while since I made one of these

Marietta Cellars. Lot Number Forty One.

I normally tend to steer clear of table wines. However, this one is particularly refreshing in ways I wouldn't have expected. For one, it's bouquet of blackberries is pleasing and the taste launches into an immediate garden fresh fruity berry taste. When people say they like "sweet" wine, but not "sugary" wine, they usually mean wine that taste fruity. This is their wine. The

It cost me around 12 dollars. For similar wine, I would expect to pay up to 15 dollars.

It does have some tannins and other acidic overtones and as such, you might want to consider eating cheese just before, or while drinking this wine. It may help balance the tannins out a little and bring out even more flavor. Alas, I have no crackers and don't feel like opening my St. Albray without crackers.

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On Approaching Wine

Often, when I go out to dinner with my friends, they will ask me to pick out a bottle of wine for us. I actually enjoy picking out wine, so I don’t mind doing this. However, it is not that my friends don’t enjoy picking out wine, but that usually, the lists and the language are simply too cumbersome and often times the ratings are far too subjective to be of any use.

I had a similar conversation today with my local wine retailer. I’ve tried most of the 15 and under bottles of wine and I’ve had a few in the 15-20 range of the domestics, as well as most of the South Americans, Australasia, and a couple Italians. Today, I simply walked in and asked for a recommendation – something I rarely do. By now he, Michael Lovice of the White Horse in Red Hook, NY, should be somewhat familiar with my tastes. He asked me if there was anything I’m in the mood for and I told him I wasn’t. He asked if I had this new Marietta Cellars blend and before he finished I told him I usually didn’t drink from display case wine. I’ve found at most stores display case wine tends to be overpriced and at times the quality is lacking. He explained that his display case wines were simply new wines or wine he ordered a lot of, furthermore he said he uses the display case wine barrels to break up some empty floor space.

I told him how I came to the conclusion that all display case wine is to be avoided, and I went off on some tangent about Robert Parker. This lead to another tangent about rating systems in general and why he doesn’t use them. I agree with him, personally. Stores that use a rating system are selling their customers short; even if the customers don’t realize it, they tend to gravitate towards a very subjective rating system.

Most people don’t drink as much variety of wine as I do. They either find a couple they like and stick to them, or they drink other things in between bottles of wine, which is fine. Personally, I like the adventure of it all. It’s like a small mystery. Even if I find a wine that simply blows me away for twelve dollars, I might only buy it once or twice more and then only to entertain. The ratings systems hurts this sense of adventure and it does not mean you will never buy a bad bottle of wine. More then once have I bought a Wine Spectator 88 or 90 and it had aromas reminiscent of turpentine, texture that of sandpaper and a flavor which can only be described as a subtle mixture of cow urine, stale beer and slight overtones of motor oil.

When I first started to drink wine it was more of an academic exercise. I wanted to know how I should appreciate wine and not the why. It took me several years to realize that the why is far more important the how. I can summarize how to appreciate good wine in these few points:

-Drink wine – make a rule to only buy wine over twenty dollars a bottle once a month.
-Drink one bottle per week
-Eat a large variety of good food. Not expensive food. Just good food. To appreciate good wine you need a large variety of what I call “palate flavors”, that is, how many flavors your tongue (and nose) can tell the difference of.
-If you are in a bad mood do not open the cork. Seriously. This will highly affect how you experience the wine and probably for the worse. Save it for another day. Besides, you should never be drinking to make yourself feel better.

By the bye, I bought that display case wine and I am not regretting my decision.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Handicapping The Oscars

Always a fun office pool exercise. Here is what I have seen so far, of the nominated films:

Blood Diamond
The Pursuit of Happyness
The Departed
The Queen
The Devil Wears Prada
The Good Shepherd
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Children of Men
Marie Antoinette
An Inconvenient Truth
Flags of Our Fathers


Pan's Labyrinth
The Last King of Scotland - Forest is awesome. He'll win best actor. Adjust accordingly.

I’ll probably go to the theatre today to see Babel, I also want to see Volver and Pan’s Labyrinth, and a few of the other ones nominated. The key to good handicapping is remembering what the academy is. It is an invitation only club type membership. From my understanding, they are people who work in the film or have influence in the film industry. They aren’t academics (though some may be) and they aren’t studio executives (though some may be). Since the membership list is private, it is more likely that people will vote with their feel good side of their brain rather then their analytical side of their brain. This has an affect on certain nominations who otherwise wouldn’t have won (Judi Dench, for example). This year we have Peter O’Toole and Martin Scorsese, both have never won, both are extremely good at what they do. Both have been nominated many times and have lost out (Scorsese lost to Costner, for God’s sake).

Another thing to keep in mind is the “token” aspect of the awards as well as "splitting". We’ve seen this before in 1998 when Shakespeare in Love won the award. In that year The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Brian, and Elizabeth were all nominated (also Life is Beautiful). I personally think The Thin Red Line split with Saving. If the academy used a different voting mechanism, we would have to think about this differently, of course, but I believe they use “first past the post” type voting. Keep this in mind every time you see Blood Diamond and the Last King of Scotland up against each other (I would also have said To Catch a fire, however, it wasn’t nominated for anything, I don’t believe).

By token, I mean sometimes the awards like to make a token award. In a year that sees a lot of films from one background or genre this becomes important, in this case one becomes a token for the rest of them.

Another thing to keep in mind is the ongoing politics of the world. The academy likes to send a message, but it doesn’t want to send an overt message. Many important films have lost out due to this, in my opinion. They usually reserve this for the nominations and not the actual award, however. The Killing fields (lost to Amadeus) , for example, did not win, neither did All the President’s Men (lost to Rocky, was also up against Taxi driver in that year).

The Academy tends not to like violence, especially blood violence. The made-for-tee-vee type violence that Lukas and Spielberg do is OK. The type of violence that Scorsese does, generally is not. This isn’t always true, however. For example, Braveheart won and is both violent and bloody. Keep in mind, there is a difference between someone getting shot and dieing with no blood and seeing someone getting shot, dieing, and watching their blood pulse out as they watch themselves slowly bleed to death. Films like Blood Diamond and The Departed, which show people getting shot and maimed, both extremely violent movies, are competing against The Queen and Little Miss Sunshine. However, this is a violent year for movies. Babel, as I understand, is also violent, as well as “Letters”.

The “only one musical every twenty years” rule. Well, I made that up, but it’s the truth. The Academy is not Broadway. To the academy, Broadway is for those NYU type actors who majored in dance to “find their craft”, until they move away from soho to California. The Academy can only stomach a musical every twenty years. We’ve had two recently, Moulin Rouge and Chicago (and Chicago won). The last big Oscar musical before that was “All that Jazz”, a Fosse film. There were a few in the early 60’s as well (West Side Story won).

Another way movies can split is if there are two “NYU type” art films done in the same and both were nominated. The NYU types have a loyalty to their film makers (Scorsese, De Niro, and Lee {both Spike and Ang are of NYU fame and made movies together} for example). Where someone went to school is less important then the “school of thought” they belong to. Someone may have graduated from UCLA and be seen as part of the NYU school (De Caprio, for example, is certainly moving in this direction). This probably the least important of the criteria.

Another thing to keep in mind is the hierarchy of the awards. Best Picture, director, Actor, Actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, screenplays, and cinematography is the general hierarchy of awards. This is not my opinion, but rather how important “the industry” thinks each award is. I could be wrong of course.

Last but not least, occasionally, the academy will pick the best film / actor / actress of the year. This may or may not be coincidence. Soderbergh won in 2000 for Traffic. He was also nominated for Erin Brockovich. That was the year of Crouching Tiger, Gladiator and Billy Elliot.

I write the above so people in office pools can make good guesses without having seen every film.

So here are my thoughts. I reserve the right to change these as I catch up on the last of the films.

Edit: interesting, I lost everything past this point. I'll try this again

Best motion picture of the year
“Babel” #2
“The Departed” #3
“Letters from Iwo Jima” #5
“Little Miss Sunshine” #4
“The Queen” #1

All Clint Eastwood stuff goes to the bottom of my handicapping. Why? There is an unofficial cooling off period after winning a bunch of awards. He very recently won for Million Dollar Baby. Both picture and director went to him. It is common for these two awards to be shared.

The Queen is a British production and this goes against it. The Departed is too violent. I would hedge my bets with the guys in the IT department against Babel, personally.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Leonardo DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond” #2
Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson” #5
Peter O’Toole in “Venus” #1
Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness” #4
Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland” #3

Tough year for male leads. Sucks for Will Smith. The legacy award will go to O’Toole. He may deserve it, he may not. It doesn’t matter. The hedge is DiCaprio.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Alan Arkin in “Little Miss Sunshine” #4
Jackie Earle Haley in “Little Children” #5
Djimon Hounsou in “Blood Diamond” #1
Eddie Murphy in “Dreamgirls” #2
Mark Wahlberg in “The Departed” #3

When the voters are going down their voting card and they vote for legacy in acting, they are going to vote for Hounsou in Diamond as a conciliation prize. In any other year, I would say he wouldn’t have a prayers chance in hell. The snub factor goes to Eddie Murphy. I liked Wahlberg this year, personally. Your millage may vary. If you feel O’Toole will not get the legacy award and a real award, or if you feel he won’t get an award at all, you should move Hounsou towards the bottom.

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Penélope Cruz in “Volver” #3
Judi Dench in “Notes on a Scandal” #2
Helen Mirren in “The Queen” #1
Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” #5
Kate Winslet in “Little Children” #4

Judi got her prize in 1998, as you will remember. She was also nominated in 2005, however and there could be a residual vote for her. This makes her a good hedge bet for that reason. Cruz is both foreign and a comedy. The Devil Wears Prada is simply not possible. Remember the Academy is a “very serious” organization with “very serious” people. Even if she was good, it doesn’t matter. Mirren was actually good and deserves the award.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Adriana Barraza in “Babel” #3
Cate Blanchett in “Notes on a Scandal” #5
Abigail Breslin in “Little Miss Sunshine” #2
Jennifer Hudson in “Dreamgirls” #1
Rinko Kikuchi in “Babel” #4

I haven’t seen any of these. Sorry Cate but it’s too soon. Babel nom’s will split. This leaves smooth sailing for Hudson to win. This could end up being the only major award for, what is possibly, the best movie of the year (and I haven’t seen in yet!).

Achievement in directing
“Babel” - Alejandro González Iñárritu #2
“The Departed” - Martin Scorsese #1
“Letters from Iwo Jima” - Clint Eastwood #4
“The Queen” - Stephen Frears #3
“United 93” - Paul Greengrass #5

Scorsese will get the lifetime achievement award here. If he does, Babel will get best picture. If voters vote for his actual directing, and they should, The Departed may win both. I doubt it though.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Guardian Nails It

A land tax is 200 years overdue.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

One Giant Leap Backwards for Plattsburgh

The area I was born in and the city I was raised in has seen many changes in the past few years. Old roads have been repaved. Buildings have been revitalized. When the Governor and political pundits talk of the problems and deep depression in the “upstate community”, citizens of Plattsburgh have always been able to say: not in our town. Plattsburgh, an isolated pocket of industry, commerce, education, culture and fine dining surrounded by an area of long term economic depression, is in danger of losing part of what makes it unique and becoming yet another mill town north of Albany that time forgot.

The city should ask itself, not only what are the short benefits of these proposed budget cuts, but as well as some of the short and long term costs associated with these cuts. Of the many line items listed in the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, most are a step backwards for the city and will have serious long term consequences for the city, for children who are growing up in the city, for the elderly who call Plattsburgh home and for the people commuting in to the city from surrounding communities. The goal of the city should be efficiency, not absence of service; a return to slalom like driving conditions on the roads, a return to a deserted downtown and the general run down nature of Plattsburgh pre-Stewart.

The Mayors Cup festival, which in recent years has devolved into more of a carnival then a festival, is still a major tourist attraction and something that, quit literally, puts Plattsburgh on the map for racing enthusiasts all over the North Eastern area. The city should seek to improve The Mayors Cup festival, not eliminate it. If the carnival atmosphere was not what people intended, the efficient thing to do would be take the established brand for The Mayors Cup and develop it. At one time there were games for children and during the day times the festival was populated with families going from restaurant to restaurant and staying for the music at night. According to the latest census, there are 18,800 people in Plattsburgh. The city seeks to gain 75,000 dollars by eliminating the festival. Or put in another way the cost savings equate to 4 dollars for every man, woman, and child in the city per year. How much does it cost to go to the fair for a day? How much does it cost to go to the movies for a day? How many part time laborers will no longer be hired by private firms? How many fewer dollars will flow to this city from the outer regions, other states, and other countries? Is all of that worth 4 dollars a day? The city will also loose something far more important. For one week every year, people get out of their little hovels and come together as one community. I remember the Fred Phelps tribe of hatred and how Plattsburgh came together in unity and with one loud, clear, succinct voice the community said: not in our town.

Some of the items listed for cuts are equally as short sighted. The JCEO is a program that keeps young adults out of trouble. Instead of spending their summer months wandering the streets, these young adults are instead working, learning what it means to save and being a productive member of society. I challenge any of the councilors to go to the High School and ask the teachers how they feel the JCEO has affected some of those students. This program frees parents from investing time at home, to investing time in the work place. It frees the police from picking up young adults. When these young people graduate and go on to college or get a job they are in the position to be leaders in their field and they are already here in this community.

Everything from new fire equipment, police cell phones, Fire Hose 5, and Police retirement, et al, are not bloated city expenditures. They are important services to the health and vitality of every citizen as well as to the long term growth of the city. If the police are slow to respond or the fire trucks are broken down peoples are in danger, capital investment is threatened, and time is wasted. If other competing communities are taking these steps to lower their risk of disaster, firms and industry will move to those communities before they move to Plattsburgh. If a young person looking at becoming a police officer sees that part of their retirement is threatened, they will chose another line of work, or more likely, move to another community which does provide these benefits. The mayor, mayor pro tem and the common council must not forget that Plattsburgh is competing for citizens with all of the other communities as well as industry, commerce, and culture.

Not all of the cuts are bad cuts; however, I question the wisdom and foresight of the leadership who seem more interested in saving a few dollars then on bringing the city forward into the competitive twenty first century. I ask all of you to write your local councilor and the mayor and tell them to vote no on this budget. Tell them you want a better Plattsburgh, not a barren Plattsburgh. Tell them not in our town.

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