Sunday, September 30, 2007

It's a Tendon, Guys

It's a testament to the violence of the game of football that it is not unusual for players to suffer from torn or ruptured Achilles tendons. It certainly sounds like a gruesome injury, and I certainly do not wish to belittle the players who have been unfortunate enough to have that happen to them. But the way that television sports journalists refer to the injury is just infuriating. Guys, it's not an "Achilles injury" or a "ruptured Achilles" or an "Achilles heel". Come on. Learn even a modicum of anatomy.

Today's Shoes

Mephisto Allrounder Teramo sneakers. Mine have a gray or taupe suede and copper-colored leather. I was in Harold's in the Heights yesterday, and I saw that they had gotten the same model in in black suede and gray leather. It wasn't ugly, but I like mine better. Johnny Mykoff, the shoe guy, said that there was another color scheme that they would be getting in the spring -- tan suede and antique tan leather. That should look pretty good. Anyway, I though that they performed admirably for doing errands and watching football.

Last Night's Tipple

American whiskey (at least good American whiskey) tends to come in clear bottles. Supposedly, that's to show off the whiskey's color and to assure potential buyers that the whiskey isn't underaged. As is the case with so much, things are different in Europe. While there are plenty of Scotches that come in clear bottles, a tinted bottle isn't a near-certain indicator of poor quality as it is with American whiskey. A quick romp through my liquor cabinet reveals that Bunnahabhain, Redbreast (and Irish whiskey, but the principle is the same), Lagavulin, and Ardbeg all come in tinted bottles, and there's not a dog in that group. And they're hardly the only good European whiskies that come in non-clear bottles. That makes sense: because European whiskies are typically aged in used barrels, they're just not going to get the showy depth of color that American whiskeys, which are aged in new charred barrels, are. We're fortunate that whiskey doesn't react to light the way that beer does.

Sazerac Rye really does have a pretty bottle, doesn't it? The color of the whiskey inside is part of the reason, obviously, but there's more to it than that. The long neck and the typeface used on the lettering makes me think of the Gilded Age, and that's not a bad association for a whiskey to make. Sure, most of the whiskey produced back then was absolute dreck -- remember that that George Gavin Brown's sale of exclusively bottled and sealed whiskey and the Bottled in Bond Act were both reactions to the prevalence of adulterated and otherwise disgusting whiskey -- but that was a time when men enjoyed the stuff and were unashamed of that fact. Anyway, it's not just a pretty package; it's also a quality rye. It's smoother and more dessert-like than Wild Turkey, but it still slaps you around and reminds you of the fact that it's rye, not Bourbon.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Style of Adolphe Menjou

Adolphe Menjou was one of the minor giants of American film. His career started in the silent era and continued on through the Golden Age of Hollywood. Through the '30s, '40s, and '50s, he was extremely prolific, although mostly a supporting actor; and from what I have seen, he was very good at what he did. What he is most famous for, though, is the way he dressed. He was the biggest clotheshorse and dandy in an era when most Hollywood leading men were clotheshorses and dandies. There are famous pictures of him standing next to his collection of shoes and boots, all bespoke, on racks covering his wall from floor to ceiling; and he cut an even better figure in white tie than did Fred Astaire, which is saying a lot.

Last night, I happened to flip to Turner Movie Classics, and they were playing one of Menjou's minor movies, Turnabout. It's a light romantic comedy with rich characters and an implausible plot, but it's enjoyable in spite (or perhaps because) of all that. To me, though, what is memorable is the way Menjou was dressed. He had three separate outfits. The last one was black tie, which he carried off admirably. But the other two were far more impressive. The first was a stroller with a wing collar and striped trousers. I suppose that this was not exactly unusual for the time (1940), but it's unusual to see anybody wearing such a get-up unselfconsciously, as Menjou did. The second outfit, though, really takes the cake. It was a dark tan lounge suit with a buff double breasted vest. A double breasted vest! And one that did not match the suit! It was brilliant. It makes me want one, even though I have utterly no use for it.

Today's Shoes

Alden two-eyelet chukka boot in dark brown calf with an extended split reverse welt and a commando sole (AF32 model, Barrie last). Alden's stock lineup doesn't ever change much and is notable for how conservative and boring it is. What really helps them is that they allow retailers to specify their own special make-ups, choosing pattern, last, leather, sole, and finishing. The only catch is that those retailers have to order a minimum number of shoes in each specification (I'm not sure what it is, but probably 6 or 12 pairs). This allows Alden to feed their admirers with new styles without taking a whole lot of risk. Alden of Carmel, which specified these boots, almost exclusively sells special make-ups, which they call Alden Fan shoes. I purchased these about six years ago, and they remain in good shape. The Barrie last is not the shapliest of lasts, and Alden's chukka boot pattern isn't exactly the sleekest -- there are three rows of stitching attaching the quarters to the vamp, for example. That's okay; these are still attractive boots, and Alden's dark brown calfskin is very clear and lustrous. Every time I wear them, I wonder why I don't do so more often.

Last Night's Tipple

I have previously mentioned that Austin Nichols is coming out with a new rye whiskey, Russel's Reserve Rye. Jimmy Russel is the distiller emeritus of the Austin Nichols Distillery, producer of Wild Turkey Bourbon and rye. The Russel's Reserve is intended to compete with Buffalo Trace's Sazerac Rye and is a couple of years older, 5.5% less alcohol, and supposedly smoother than Wild Turkey Rye. The release date for it was supposedly the middle of September, and I have been regularly visiting the liquor store looking for it. Alas, it hasn't reached Houston yet. Last night, I was forced to settle for Wild Turkey Rye instead of the Russel's Reserve. I have written about Wild Turkey Rye before, and there's nothing new to report: it's racy and spicy and full of character. It's the kind of whiskey I imagine that men (and women) in the old west would have drunk, only good.

Rye has been making something of a comeback recently -- one reads about it all the time in specialty whiskey magazines, trendy bars are emphasizing it more (not that I go to trendy bars -- I just see mention of them in the newspaper from time to time), and, most importantly, there have been lots more rye bottlings available recently, of which Russel's Reserve is the most recent. But it's necessary to put this rye revival in perspective. Heaven Hill, which produces Pikesville and Rittenhouse ryes, used to distill all they needed for a year in half a day. With the rye revival, they now have to spend a whole day distilling it. The situation is similar at Austin Nichols: the number of days per year spent producing rye whiskey can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Just so long as they make it, though.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Supreme Court Journalism

A brief note to journalists who write about the Supreme Court. While it is technically true that when the Supreme Court denies certiorari to an appellant, it could be said that the Court has ruled for the other party, using this kind of language is deeply misleading. Denying certiorari simply means that the Court doesn't want to hear the case. It does nothing to address the merits of the case, and it has no precedential value.

And another thing: it's simply bad journalism to write about any decision of the Supreme Court (or any other court, for that matter) and not mention the official name and number of the case. Yes, I know that most people would not bother to go look the decision up. But some of us might.

Honeycrisp Apples

Honeycrisp apples were developed by University of Minnesota researchers in 1960 by crossing the Macoun apple with the Honeygold apple. The variety is known for three things: its incredibly long shelf life (apparently up to seven months in the refrigerator), extreme juiciness, and a very nice balance of tart and sweet. They have been grown all over the world, but some of the prime examples still come from Minnesota. Including the ones that I bought this week from Central Market, which came from Pepin Heights orchard. They're the most expensive apples in the store, and the bastards had the unmitigated gall to put a container of samples right near the door, and I was of course, forced to have some. That's right: some. You can't have just one of those little apple pieces when the apple is as good as these are. So I bought four. They are excellent. I don't believe that I have ever had a better apple. They're crisp, flavorful, sweet, with just enough acid to balance it. And they're big, too. They're expensive, but they're worth it.

Today's Shoes

Alden split-toe bluchers in Color #8 shell cordovan with double leather soles (model 2210, Aberdeen last). There are four canonical American styles of lace-up shoes: the wholecut plain-toe blucher, the long wingtip blucher, the saddle bal, and the Norwegian split-toe blucher. This is not to say that these styles necessarily originated in the United States (although some of them might have), just that they were popularized here and that there was a time when every American shoe manufacturer had all four models, and all four were among their top sellers. The highest expression of all of these styles was in Color #8 (deep burgundy) shell cordovan. Alas, all decent American shoe manufacturers except for Alden and Allen-Edmonds have either shut down or moved production overseas and are now selling a sadly diminished product. And Allen-Edmonds has lamentably retired some of these models (the saddle bal and the Norwegian split-toe) in favor of trendy-wannabe new designs. Alden not only still makes all four; they still make all four in shell cordovan.

Shell cordovan cannot be stretched over the last like calfskin can be. Consequently, shoes made from shell cordovan tend to fit slightly more loosely than shoes made from calfskin in the same size on the same last. The result of this is that even though Aberdeen is Alden's narrowest last, these shoes are still a bit loose in the heel. They're killer, though, in a good old fuddy-duddy American way.

Last Night's Tipple

Apropos of my last Last Night's Tipple post, Highland Park 12 year old can be had for £26.99 for a 700 ml bottle from Oddbins in the UK; I paid less than $32 for a 750 ml bottle from Spec's. Apropos of my Last Night's Tipple from two days ago, Highland Park decided to stop using spirit caramel in their 12 year old bottling (the only one that they had previously used caramel in) when they changed the packaging to the current retro-looking flask a year or two ago. I had had a bottle of Highland Park 12 with the old packaging (and consequently, with spirit caramel). I can't say that I noticed any difference between the way it was then and the way it is now, but that doesn't mean anything: we have previously established that my palate isn't the most sensitive in the world.

In any event, there's nothing for me to write about the aroma, flavor, or other characteristics of this whisky that I haven't already written. In my mind, it's the perfect combination of smoke, honey, and barley. If you don't like Highland Park 12, then you don't like Scotch. That's not to say that HP must necessarily be your favorite if you do like Scotch, just that anybody Scotch lover would find something to like in it. At less than $32 a fifth (which is something of an anomaly -- I've seen it for substantially more elsewhere), it's an outstanding bargain, as these things go.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Today's Shoes


Gaziano & Girling modified adelaide half-brogue bal in fox suede (kind of an orange-y, tobacco-y color) with single leather soles (Hughes model, DG70 last). The shoes pictured above are the same model and last as my shoes, only different leather (obviously). Tony and Dean are scheduled to introduce some boot models in January, and I can hardly wait -- a chelsea boot or a true balmoral boot on this same DG70 last would be perfect.


Martegani six-eyelet plain toe bluchers with a floating medallion in antique tan calf with thick leather soles (Lucca model, 3B last).

Last Night's Tipple

I have always heard that prices are the same in Great Britain as they are in the United States, only they're in pounds instead of dollars. For example, consider McDonald's. A Quarter Pounder with Cheese value meal might cost $5 over here; in London, it might cost £5. Same thing with Ralph Lauren or Brooks Brothers (yes, apparently they do have these over there): a shirt that costs $50 here might cost £50 over there. Since the dollar:pound exchange rate is now close to 2-1, that means that a whole lot of stuff is twice as expensive in Britain as it is in the US. Of course, all of these examples are American imports. For some things made in Britain, like Hilditch & Key or Turnbull & Asser shirts, it's possible to get them for a lot less money in London than in Houston. I had assumed that what's true for British shirts would be true for Scotch. After all, shipping it in bottles across the Atlantic ocean has to add considerable expense, and then there are the high American excise taxes that have to be paid. Plus, Scotch is largely regarded as a luxury liquor in the US, which provides an incentive for American wholesalers and retailers to jack up the price. And don't forget about the fact that the US is really 50 separate markets due to state liquor regulation, which further increases the price. Well, I was wrong.

Consider Clynelish 14 year old. Its price (for the 700 ml bottle used in the EU instead of the 750 ml bottle used in the US) from Oddbins, a prominent UK wine and spirits retailer is
£27.99. From Sam's, a major Chicagoland liquor store, it's $41.99. Now, it's true that the Oddbins price includes VAT while the Sam's price doesn't include sales tax, but when you adjust for that and bottle size, it's still cheaper at Sam's. (The comparison is more even when you compare Oddbins to Spec's -- for some reason, the Spec's price on Clynelish is significantly higher than the Sam's price.) And Clynelish is actually not typical -- the comparison is even worse for some more common Scotches. Macallan Fine Oak 10 year old: £26.99 vs. $39.99. Glenlivet 12 year old: £24.99 vs. $29.99. Glenfiddich 12 year old: £28.99 vs. $29.99. What accounts for the price disparity? I have no idea. Maybe liquor excise taxes in the UK are even higher than they are in the US.

All of the tasting notes for Clynelish mention that it's "waxy." I hadn't previously gotten that, but last night I did, at least on the nose. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. It's not that I dislike Clynelish, and I am happy that I tried it, but there are other whiskies in its same style that I like better and cost less. So I will probably not rebuy this once the bottle is gone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why Are They Called Austerity Brogues?

In her comment to my post about the shoes I wore on Monday, Mamacita asks:
Have you said before why they are called austerity brogues?

Well, no, I don't think that I have. Here's what Nicholas Antongiavanni has to say about them in his book The Suit:

The "full brogue" has perforations along every seam, from toe to heel. The Americans call it a "wing tip" because the toe decoration, instead of being straight, comes to a point and is said to resemble the wing of a bird. During the Second World War, when tight restrictions were placed on leather usage, English shoemakers offered full brogues without broguing, called "austerity brogues." Their distinctively sleek lines ensured their survival beyond the war, and they remain popular with dandies as an alternative to the plain cap toe. (p. 94)

Mr. Antongiavanni asked me to read and comment on the chapter about shoes in his book before it was published, and I remember that I told him that I didn't buy this explanation. I didn't see how the lack of broguing would save any leather. "Well," he said, "that's the story that I have heard from the London shoemakers." But now that I've thought about it, it really does make sense. If you have broguing on a toe cap or heel counter, you have to back it with finished leather so that the proper color shows at the bottom of the broguing. That means that the toe cap and the heel counter on a standard full brogue must be almost completely underlaid with other pieces of finished leather. Not so on an austerity brogue. The overlap just has to be at the seams. Hence, austerity brogues will use less leather.

(BTW, the shoe pictured is from John Lobb St. James.)

Today's Shoes


Gravati high-lace punch-cap balmoral boots in dark brown calf with single leather soles (10278, 683 last). Gravati's 683 last is my current favorite. It's what Tony Gaziano would call a smart round toe -- slightly elongated, which allows the toe to be narrower, but not needle-nose narrow. It has the same general visual characteristics as the John Lobb Paris 7000 and the Edward Green 82 lasts. It really works on these boots and on most of the other Gravati shoes that I have ordered on it.


Martegani wholecut side-lace bals in waterproof snuff suede with thick single leather soles (3B last). The 3B last is also elongated, only with a square toe instead of a round toe. It works on this shoe. I should wear them more often.

Last Night's Tipple

Jim Murray hates spirit caramel. He's a prominent whisk(e)y critic and one of the guiding lights behind The Malt Advocate magazine, and he has been known to rant about the use of spirit caramel as a coloring agent in Scotch. It mutes the nose and the flavor of the whisky, he says, overpowering it with toffee and vanilla. Well, it makes sense that it would have that effect: spirit caramel is, well, caramel. That is, caramelized sugar. Scotch producers claim that it's just a coloring agent and has no effect on flavor, but I don't see how that can possibly be accurate. Caramel is a strongly-flavored substance. How could it not effect the flavor of a spirit that it's added to? Scotch bottlers have found that their buyers like darker whiskies better than paler ones and that they tend to associate a dark color with quality. Darkness is no problem with Bourbon because it's aged in new charred oak barrels. The char easily gives up its color. But when you reuse that barrel (and the vast majority of Scotch is aged in used ex-Bourbon barrels), there's not a ton of color left for the barrel to give up. Ex-sherry butts makes coloring easier, but ex-Sherry butts are becoming rarer and are certainly more expensive. And so Scotch producers are left with spirit caramel, particularly for the younger whiskies that make up the bulk of the market. It's so pervasive now that some malts (Bruichladdich, for example) make a big deal about the fact that they don't use it.

So why do I bring spirit caramel up when writing about the Aberfeldy 12 year old? I should say that I have no definitive evidence that Aberfeldy uses spirit caramel. Indeed, I don't really have the experience or the quality of palate to be much of a judge. However, I will say that it's pretty dark in color, even though it doesn't have many sherry notes; and that what I mostly get on the palate is one-dimensional honied sweetness. It's a tasty whisky, and I like the strong orange notes on the nose. Still, I would be very interested to know for sure whether they use spirit caramel in it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Successful Implementation?

Today's Wall Street Journal had a fascinating article about strategy that the Arizona State University IT department used to deploy Oracle HR software and the consequences of that strategy.
When Jay Reinke's July 31 paycheck wasn't automatically deposited into his bank account, the 42-year-old painter at Arizona State University, went to the school's human-resources office. A paper paycheck was waiting for him. For $0.00.

Mr. Reinke is one of roughly 3,000 Arizona State employees who have been underpaid or unpaid since the school started using new software from Oracle Corp. to manage its payroll. Others have received paychecks thousands of dollars too high. The payroll problem has caused so much unrest that armed police guarded the university's HR office on several recent paydays. ("Try Software on Workers First, Fix It Later" by Ben Worthen, p. B1)
Sounds like a disaster, doesn't it? Not being able to pay one's employees correctly or in a timely manner is one of the cardinal sins of any business. How could this happen? Well, deploying ERP software is notoriously difficult, costly, and fraught with peril. ASU originally estimated that it would take $70 million and multiple years to deploy the Oracle HR suite. Instead, ASU's IT department did it in 18 months for $30 million.

The information-technology department at Arizona State decided it would be more effectie to stick to rigid [implementation] deadlines, releasing the software on schedule even if all the kinks hadn't been worked out -- and try to fix problems on the fly.

They're getting a lot of positive reviews from IT departments at other universities, and the ASU board is ectatic and deems the implementation an astonishing success. I really don't know how it's possible to argue that that is true. Large-scale IT implementations are difficult, and it's very difficult for them to spiral out of control very quickly. More than that, it is impossible to plan for every contingency and be able to ensure a problem-free implementation. At some point, you have to take a leap of faith, implement the software, and clean up whatever problems you find. But for the implementation to fail so badly that it can't accomplish what it's there to accomplish (pay employees) a sizable percentage of the time is not good. For the IT department to fail to plan adequately for what they would do if employees failed to get paid is not good. And for the IT department to blame the payroll catastrophe on others (which they did) is unconscionable. Sure, the project came in $40 million under budget, but who cares? By throwing it out there before they were ready, they seriously damaged some employees, violated the trust of all employees, and have guaranteed that no matter how well they fix the problems, everybody at ASU will be quick to blame any problem on the software and slow to believe that the software is working.

Today's Shoes


Gravati plain-toe double monkstraps in Radica 033 calf with double leather soles (13618, 500 last). The two straps are parallel to one another, which is a bit unusual -- on a double monkstrap, they're typically a bit skewed.


Gravati half brogue bluchers with a U-like throat in antique tan calf with combination leather/rubber soles (16407, 640 last).

Last Night's Tipple

One of the virtues of common Macallan bottlings like the 12 year old and the 10 year old Fine Oak (of which I had another pour last night) is that they are of high quality and they are ubiquitous. I will be first to say that the 10 year old Fine Oak is a bit one-dimensional and boring, but it is tasty and satisfying and can be purchased at just about any mediocre bar or liquor store: if you're looking for a tasty whisky but you're not someplace that caters to whisky nerds, you can look for Macallan and have a reasonable degree of assurance that where you are will have it.

I tried this again to provide a comparison to The Rich Spicy One. The Rich Spicy One aspires to be an aggressively-sherried whisky, and Macallan, whether with their regular bottlings or their Fine Oak line, is the most famous purveyor of aggressively-sherried whiskies. Well, it is true that the Macallan and The Rich Spicy One both have plenty of sherry in them, but they're not really much like one another. The Rich Spicy One is bigger, peatier, and Scotch-ier, if that makes sense. The Macallan is smoother and maltier and has more finesse. Which is better? I guess that that depends on what sort of mood the drinker is in.

Monday, September 24, 2007

On This Day

On this day in 2005, Hurricane Rita made landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border. It was a Category 3 hurricane when it came ashore, but it had been a Category 5 storm in the days before landfall, with maximum sustained winds reaching 180 mph on September 21. Rita was devastating to the Golden Triangle of Texas, although it certainly could have been much, much worse if it hadn't weakened considerably in the day before it came ashore -- I saw what it did as a Category 3 with 115 mph winds, and I can't even imagine what 180 mph winds would have done.

Despite the damage it did in Southeast Texas (and that damage was extensive and severe), Rita will probably be remembered mostly for the evacuation of Houston that it spawned. For several days before September 24, the National Weather Service forecast that it would make landfall near Galveston, which would have meant that it would have blown by Houston as a Category 3 storm or worse. Having seen what happened to New Orleans with Katrina less than a month earlier, a significant portion of the population of the greater Houston metropolitan area evacuated. Or attempted to. It was a disaster. All of the roads out of town were gridlocked. Gas stations ran out of gas. Stalled vehicles were lined up along freeways and back roads all the way to Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio.

I have lived a sheltered life, and I am very fortunate that I didn't have to live through a major hurricane hitting Houston. However, that evacuation was the worst day of my life. I left home at around 3:00 AM on September 22, heading for Dallas, where I have family. By 5:00 PM, and still hadn't reached Conroe. Interstate 45 was a disaster area. Traffic was moving at maybe two or three miles per hour. I was still miles south of where the contraflow lanes had been opened up. I realized that I was never going to reach Dallas by the time the storm hit. I made a mid-course adjustment and headed for Austin on back roads with the help of my brother, who relayed directions from Mapquest over the phone. By 2:00 AM, I had reached College Station, but I was almost out of gas. Because they are the best friends a person could have, Mamacita and Papi Chulo, who had managed to make it to Austin on the afternoon of the 22nd, drove back to College Station to bring me gas. We ate at the Whataburger in College Station with a bunch of drunk (but very polite) Texas A&M students and then headed to Austin. We finally pulled into Mamacita's aunt's house at around 6:00 AM, by which time I had been up for 27 hours, was badly sunburned, and was caked in the salt from my own sweat. I called my father, who by that time was downright alarmed, and went to sleep. As I wrote, I don't have that much to complain about in comparison to those who lost loved ones or all of their worldly possessions in the storm; but it was truly a terrible experience.

Today's Shoes


Edward Green austerity brogue bals in antique burgundy calf with single leather soles (Beaulieu model, 888 last -- the picture is of the same shoes only on the round-toe 82 last). Don't you think that these shoes would be fantastic in Color #8 shell cordovan. I do. If only Edward Green would work in shell cordovan...


Gravati wholecut cap-toe bluchers in navy blue Lama calf with leather soles (15537, 640 last). An interesting feature of these shoes is the sole configuration: in the forefoot, the sole is double thickness, but it narrows to single thickness at the waist, allowing it to be close-cut and beveled on the inside of the foot. It's very attractive, and it's something that Gravati did on their own without any prompting from me (these were special order shoes, which means that I specified all of the details). Amazingly enough, they have developed quite an aesthetic sense after nearly 100 years of making shoes.

Last Night's Tipple

Continuing with the theme from Saturday night, I had another pour of The Easy Drinking Whisky Company's The Rich Spicy One. You may recall that this is EDWC's attempt to create a big, sherried malt like Macallan, and it is largely composed of Tamdhu, which is another distillery owned by the Edrington Group, parent company of Macallan. I originally wasn't completely sold on this: it seemed a bit too Scotch-y and lacking in any finesse. The second time I had it, I liked it better. Last night, when I had my third pour of this bottle, I liked it even better. I don't know if this is a testament to the complexity of the whisky or the crappiness of my taste memory and the variability of my palate, but last night, I got a lot of sherry and vanilla, both of which I like. It was a very pleasant experience. Perhaps I will write something nominating this for Scotch of the year after my fourth dram.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Hex Worked!

The University of Alabama football team, demoralized by my post about why I dislike head coach Nick Saban, lost to the University of Georgia 26-23 in overtime on Saturday. Seriously, the press about what a coaching genius Saban is (and I suppose that he may be, despite the fact that he's a worm) notwithstanding, the most that you can say about the Alabama football team is that their defense is pretty good. Their offense is, um, uninspiring. They're simply not good enough to beat good teams (like Georgia) thoroughly, which means that the best they can hope for is to stay close and win at the end. That's what happened last week against Arkansas. They were outplayed this week against Georgia, and Georgia was able to pull it out in the end. I would expect to see the same story repeated as Alabama plays the rest of its SEC schedule -- they might be able to beat Tennessee and Auburn, but it won't be by much. And I don't see how they can possibly stay close with LSU, absent a miracle.

Today's Shoes

Gravati cap-toe bals with reversed seams and a leather-stitched faux-brogueing on the toe cap and throat in tobacco suede with single leather soles (16492, 655 last).

Last Night's Tipple

The Smooth Sweeter One is another of the Edrington Group-backed Easy Drinking Whisky Company's vatted malts. I have previously written multiple times about The Rich Spicy One, which is their attempt at a big sherried malt along the lines of a Macallan, and The Smokey Peaty One, which is their Islay-style product that Ben enjoys for its taste and its good value. The Smooth Sweeter One is supposed to be, well, smooth and sweet -- a pleasant, light aperitif whisky. The bottle that I have is different from the bottle pictured to the left in three respects: first, it's a lot paler than in the picture; second, it had a foil capsule instead of the wax seal; and third, the label specifies that it's Scotch malt whisky, whereas the bottle pictured to the left is a blend of Scotch and Irish malt whisk(e)y. That's right: this was originally a blend of 70% Irish malt whiskey from Cooley Distillery (Ireland's third distillery, after Midleton and Bushmill's) and 30% Scotch malt whisky from Bunnahabhain (famous as an unpeated, light Islay malt). I'm sure that Irish and Scotch whisk(e)y have been blended commercially before, but this is the only one that I am aware of where the fact of the blend is emphasized on the label. Well, for whatever reason, EDWC decided to scrap the Irish whiskey component of the blend between the original bottling and the one that I bought. I don't know if this is due to their supply of Irish whiskey drying up, for marketing reasons, or for some other reason But for whatever reason, the current bottling is Scotch malt whisky only.

As I wrote, this whisky is pale, probably paler than any Scotch I have ever seen (and that includes Ardbeg 10 year old, which is pretty pale). That says two things to me: first, that it's not very old; second, that the barrels this was aged in weren't very active. From the color alone, I would doubt that this has been aged in ex-sherry butts (unless the sherry was so many fills ago that the barrels don't have any of it left in them). I can't imagine that first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels would give this little color, either. The little neck tag that comes with the bottle says that the dominant characteristics are lemons, vanilla, and coconut. I get the lemons -- this is a sharp little whisky -- but I don't get much vanilla and coconut. When someone mentions vanilla in conjunction with a whiskey, I think of Bourbon. I suppose that I can smell a bit of vanilla in The Smooth Sweeter One, but it's nowhere near as potent as it would be in a good Bourbon: the vanilla in Bourbon is a three hundred pound body builder slapping you around, while the vanilla in this is scrawny guy at the beach yelling "Look at me!" in a squeaky voice. To tell you the truth, this is just too light for me. There just isn't much there, at least that my leaden palate can pick up on. I don't mind drinking this, but that's about all I can say.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Today's Shoes

Gravati wingtip bals in waterproof walnut suede with a combination leather/rubber sole (15902, 640 last). I wore these to E&B's soccer games this morning. There was dew on the grass, and I kicked the ball around with Big E before his game. The shoes got wet and a little grassy, and they now look as good as new. Yet another tribute to the usefulness of waterproof suede. It may not be as powerful as my Hot and Sour Soup anecdote about these very same shoes, but it still is a tribute.

More Jasmine Tea

I firmly believe that if some is good, more is better. Accordingly, since I liked the Fujian Butterfly Label jasmine tea that I wrote about a couple of days ago, it seemed prudent to buy some more. From a quick perusal of the interweb, it appears that there are two major varieties of jasmine tea: the regular kind, which is just plain old pouchang tea with jasmine blossoms interspersed in it, and the kind pictured to the right. Each of those little balls is called a dragon pearl, and each one is apparently hand-balled and is composed the same mixture of tea and jasmine petals. A number of different sources sell them, but they're rather expensive. I'm willing to shell out decent money for tea, but not without trying it first. Therefore, I went to Central Market to see what they had. They had two different options: one from the Republic of Tea at $160 per pound and one from Rishi Tea at $58 a pound. Shockingly enough, I chose the Rishi Tea version and bought about an ounce.

There is no doubt that this version of jasmine tea has a more potent jasmine aroma than the Fujian Butterfly that I tried earlier this week. That's to be expected since the Rishi is fresh and the Fujian is not and since it seems highly unlikely that the Fujian sells for $58 a pound. However, the problem with the Rishi version is that it's all aroma. It doesn't have much body, and there's not a whole lot of flavor there. Maybe that's due to the fact that the Rishi appears to be made from green tea instead of pouchang tea, I don't know. But it was disappointing.

I'm not alarmed, but...

It's now possible to buy MICR printers on eBay for under $200. (For those of you who don't know, MICR stands for Magnetic Ink Character Recognition, and it is typically used to refer to those funny characters at the bottom of your checks. Those funny characters are printed in magnetic ink that allows them to be machine-readable. Since they represent numbers that uniquely identify your bank account, this facilitates the automated processing of paper checks. The string of funny characters is typically referred to as the MICR line or the raw MICR by check professionals. For those of you who are trying to figure out what mischief a miscreant with a MICR printer could make, see the movie Catch Me If You Can.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Adventures in Money Laundering

One of the principal problems that any criminal enterprise has is the question of how to enjoy the fruits of that criminal enterprise while disguising the fact that those fruits are ill-gotten. In other words, how to launder the profits. In recent years, the US government has instituted more and more stringent banking regulations designed to frustrate money laundering, such as the requirement that cash deposits and withdrawals of $10,000 or more be reported to government regulators and the rule that bankers must make a good-faith effort to know their customers. At the same time, technology has made it much easier to move money around and across borders without the involvement of any human bank employee. These two trends have resulted in the development of money laundering via ATM-based microtransactions. As reported in Mark Schoofs's page A1 article in today's Wall Street Journal ("ATMs Become Handy Tool For Laundering Dirty Cash"), the scheme works like this: Someone has a large quantity of cash, usually the result of drug sales, that he needs to launder. He and his accomplices open a large number of bank accounts at a large number of banking institutions, and he collects all of the ATM cards for them. He then goes on an ATM deposit spree, depositing his cash in small transactions of a few hundred dollars apiece at various different ATMs using accounts at various different banks. His accomplices, often in a foreign country, can then withdraw the cash in similar microtransactions. Because of the large number of accounts and the small amount of money per transaction, the laundering is hard to detect. Here's how the article described the deposit spree of Luis Saavedra and Carlos Roca, agents of Colombian cocaine and Ecstasy dealers, in March of 2006:
At 8:50 a.m. on March 15, 2006, Luis Saavedra and Carlos Roca began going from bank to bank in Queens, New York, depositing cash into accounts held by a network of other people, according to law-enforcement officials. Their deposits never exceeded $2,000. Most ranged from $500 to $1,500.

Around lunchtime, they crossed into Manhattan and worked their way up Third Avenue, then visited two banks on Madison Avenue. By 2:52 p.m., they had placed more than $111,000 into 112 accounts, say the officials, who reconstructed their movements from seized deposit slips.

That's right: they made deposits into 112 different accounts in six hours. And when they were caught shortly after this spree, they still had $283,000 in cash left to deposit.

Obviously, all banks have software that is designed to detect suspicious transactions, and it is possible for this software to be modified so that these kinds of microtransactions are detected. The problem, as with any security measure, is the risk of false positives. If the software is too sensitive, too many legitimate transactions will be flagged, resulting either in the banks being unable to give the proper attention to the ones that really are sinister or in honest customers being harassed. And, of course, that's exactly what the people who designed this particular money laundering scheme were trying to do. I deplore what they're doing, of course, but I respect their ingenuity.

Hey, Little Girl. Want Some Apple Fritters?

Ever had an apple fritter with actual hunks of apple in it? I hadn't. All the fritters that I had had were just gigantic cinnamon doughnuts without the hole. And then at the behest of a colleague at work, I went to Christy's Donuts at the corner of Montrose and West Gray in Houston. Their apple fritters are the way that I imagined all my life that apple fritters ought to be: big, fried until golden brown and delicious, iced thickly enough to induce a diabetic coma, and chock full of real apples. Very, very tasty. And cheap, too: I think that they are something like 98 cents apiece. Their apple turnovers are good, too: there are apple slices in them as well, not just the standard apple-flavored goo. I was less impressed with the chocolate glazed doughnut that I had, but who cares? The fritters and the turnovers are more than enough reason to go back. I have been told that they make good kolaches, too, with dough that doesn't have the leaden consistency of that found at a certain kolache megachain; but I haven't tried any yet.

Today's Shoes

Gravati chelsea boots in tobacco suede with leather soles (16366, 655 last). I love these boots, but they don't get more wear for one principal reason: the elastic in the side gores is too tight. That means that it's not an effortless exercise to get them on and (especially) off -- in fact, the easiest way to get them off is using a boot jack, just like with cowboy boots. That's annoying. But they are lovely...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bad Coaches, the College Edition

During the offseason, Nick Saban signed an eight-year, $32 million contract with the University of Alabama to become Alabama's head football coach. The fact that that contract made him the most highly-paid college football coach in the country is not what makes him a bad coach. The fact that he's a lying bastard who has repeatedly shown that he cares not one whit for anyone other than himself is what makes him a bad coach. Let's consider his career over the past seventeen years:

In 1990, he became a head coach for the first time, leading the University of Toledo to a 9-2 season. He celebrated his success by dumping Toledo for a job as the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator the next year. When that job didn't turn out so well, resulting in him getting fired after the 1994 season. He managed to get the head coaching job at Michigan State in 1995. The next four seasons were the very picture of mediocrity, with the Spartans never finishing better than 7-5 or worse than 6-6. Then in 1999, he got lucky: Michigan State went 9-2 during the regular season and were invited to the Citrus Bowl to play Florida. Saban didn't coach that game because he jumped ship to Louisiana State University after the last regular season game. He spent five years at LSU, four of which were good and one of which was excellent -- LSU shared the national championship after the 2003 season. In 2005, he decided to try his hand at coaching the NFL's Miami Dolphins. That wasn't exactly a success, so he jumped ship to Alabama in January 2007 after repeatedly claiming that he had no interest whatsoever in doing so and that he would come back and fulfill his 5-year contract with the Dolphins.

You see, contracts apparently don't mean much to Nick Saban. Neither do the commitments that he has made over the years to the high school players that he has convinced to accept scholarships at the schools he was coaching at the time. Whenever the prospect of a more desirable job has come up, Saban has been after it like a dog after a bone. He's the epitome of the modern mercenary football coach, and I don't think that the world of sport is better for it. And I'm upset that I can no longer root for Alabama, about whom I had been moderately enthusiastic for years. Go Auburn and LSU!

Today's Tea

I haven't written about Scotch, Bourbon, or other liquor of any kind for the past few days because I've had a cold and haven't felt like drinking. So it's time to start putting up tea reviews!

Today's tea is a jasmine-suffused pouchang (I think) from Fujian Tea Import & Export Co., Ltd. What's pouchang, you ask? Well, I didn't know until this morning, either. The big division in the tea world is between green tea and black tea. According to the Harney and Sons website,
To make green tea , the fresh tea is briefly cooked using either steam or dry heat. This process "fixes" the green colors and fresh flavors. For black tea, the tea is left outside and becomes limp (withered), then put into machines that roll the leaves and damage them. The damaged leaves change color to brown, then black. This natural process is called oxidation and is similar to the ripening of a banana (from yellow to brown and finally becoming black.)

Oolong tea, for the most part a Taiwanese specialty, is halfway between black tea and green tea: it's been oxidized, but only partially. Pouchang tea, which apparently is halfway between green tea and oolong tea; in other words, it's only slightly oxidized. To make jasmine tea, fresh jasmine flowers are packed with pouchang tea; every night, the jasmine flowers open and their scent suffuses into the tea. The grade of the tea is partially determined by how many nights this process is allowed to continue. I have no idea what grade this particular tea (Butterfly brand, ref. 1030, if you're curious) is because most of the text on the tin is in Chinese and the website has next to no information, but I can tell you that I like it. It brews fairly light and doesn't have a whole lot of body. What it does have is a whole lot of jasmine aroma. I happen to like jasmine, and I like this tea. I didn't think that I would, but I do.

The tea was a gift from Mamacita's friend Letitia, who apparently found it while purging her linen closet (why there was tea in her linen closet is good question, but perhaps it is better not to ask) and realized that she would never use it. Well, I thank her, and I can promise that I will use it.

Today's Shoes


Edward Green double monkstraps with a pie-crust-style handsewn apron seam and a reversed, ghosted toe seam in an medium brown antiqued calfskin (EG calls it burnt pine antique) with double leather soles (Fulham model, 82 last). One reason that I wore these shoes today, aside from the undeniable virtuosity of the design, was that I am considering another EG shoe order, and I wanted to confirm my impressions of the 82 last before I ordered something new on it. 82, you will recall, is the narrow round-toe last that Tony Gaziano designed for EG. It being a Gaziano-designed last, it's a bit on the long side, at least when compared to other EG lasts. Aesthetically, it's also my favorite, at least right now. In any event, if you're between two sizes in other EG lasts, I would go with the smaller of the two on 82.


Gravati bal austerity brogues in red-brown Lama calf -- Gravati calls the color larice -- with double leather soles (14953, 640 last).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Today's Farming News

Tobacco farming is booming in Illinois. Didn't know that there were any Illinois farmers who grew tobacco? Neither did I. According to yesterday's Wall Street Journal, significant amounts of tobacco hadn't been grown in Illinois since the end of World War I. Beginning in 1938 with the passage of the second Agricultural Adjustment Act, it didn't make economic sense for Illinois farmers to grow tobacco because only farmers from certain states (Illinois not included) were eligible for the tobacco subsidies that the AAA set up. That changed in 2004, when Congress enacted a law disbanding the tobacco subsidy and quota system.
The system was junked in 2004 through a $9.6 billion buyout of tobacco growers and farmers who owned quotas, with tobacco companies funding the payments. Thousands of tobacco farmers, many reaching retirement age, collected their checks and stopped growing the crop. Some farmers planted strawberries or tried to raise catfish in their farm ponds.

In 2005, tobacco acreage dropped 27% from the year earlier, to 297,000 acres. With the government no longer supporting prices, those dropped too, to $1.64 per pound, from $1.98, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Cigarette makers worried that they wouldn't have enough supply.

But predictions from some quarters that tobacco farming was headed for extinction inthe U.S.. proved incorrect. Today, farmers can grow as much tobaco as they want, wherever they want. Economies of scale have kicked in.

("U.S. Farmers Rediscover the Allure of Tobacco" by Lauren Etter, p. A1)

The acreage under cultivation is rebounding, according to the article, although it is not back to its 2004 levels, and larger farms are now beginning to be seen. In addition, farms are cropping up in states, like Illinois, that had not seen tobacco cultivation in decades. Tobacco requires a different sort of farming than Illinois farmers are used to -- less mechanized, over a longer season, requiring more intense supervision from the farmer -- but the profits per acre far exceed those for traditional Illinois crops like corn and soybeans: $1800 per acre for tobacco versus $250 per corn. It seems to me that everybody is happy: the farmers are taking home more money (including those who were tobacco farmers before 2004 who had to rent their tobacco quotas), the tobacco companies are getting reliable sources of tobacco, and the taxpayers aren't being hit for subsidies. Well, everyone except the anti-smoking zealots.

Today's Shoes

Mephisto Allrounder Teramo sneakers. Due to Mamacita's smackdown over the weekend, I won't say that these are "ugly but comfortable." Of course, I don't think that they're all that unattractive, though.

Literary Trivia That May Interest Only Me

I don't know about you, but the image that I've always had of Long John Silver, the principal pirate character in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, has been of a man with a peg leg. Well, it turns out that that's not the case. Here's how Stevenson introduces Silver in Chapter 8:
As I was waiting, a man came out of a side room, and at a glance I was sure he must be Long John. His left leg was cut off close by the hip, and under the left shoulder he carried a crutch, which he managed with wonderful dexterity, hopping about upon it like a bird. He was very tall and strong, with a face as big as a ham--plain and pale, but intelligent and smiling. Indeed, he seemed in the most cheerful spirits, whistling as he moved about among the tables, with a merry word or a slap on the shoulder for the more favoured of his guests.

There is plenty of mention of the crutch throughout the rest of the book, but nothing whatever about the pegleg. So the picture to the left is only half right.

(As an aside, I should mention that I had never read more than the first two or three chapters of Treasure Island, although I had tried more than once as a child. I found an online version -- click the link above -- a couple of days ago and have been spending spare moments at work reading it since. It's the perfect book for young boys. I especially like the moral ambiguity of Long John Silver's character, the sort of thing that is sorely missing from a lot of literature for children. Sure, he's a murdering pirate, but that's not all he is.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Santa Monica License Plates

Rachel Zimmerman of the Wall Street Journal indulges in a bit of health alarmism in yesterday's paper:
Pregnant women already have plenty to worry about. But now some doctors are pointing to another potential problem: tattoos.

The issue is whether it's safe to stick a needle through a tattoo in the lower back for an epidural -- an injection of painkilling medicine that can ease the discomfort of labor...

In 2002, a pair of Canadian anesthesiologists published a report that questioned whether administering an epidural through such a tattoo could be risky. The doctors speculated that complications like inflammation or nerve damage may arise if the needle pulled a bit of dyed skin along with it, and then deposited it into the nerve-rich region outside the spinal column.

The small study of three women -- which concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to determine if the practice is safe or not -- set off a mini-wave of panic among expectant moms.

("Why Some Expectant Moms Are Worried About Tattoos", p. D1)

That's right. The study included three women. How on earth could a study of three women tell you anything? The story then goes on to quote a single anecdote from a California anesthesiologist where he speculates that it could have been a woman's tattoo that caused the problems with her epidural and more speculation about the possible effects of tattoo ink from a Canadian doctor. So, the sum of evidence that Zimmerman presents for the potential danger of combining epidurals with tattoos is a pitifully small study, an anecdote of epidural complications that a doctor speculates might have had something to do with tattoo ink, and more speculation from another doctor. There may be more evidence that would support concern, of course, but Zimmerman doesn't present it.

Look, I lament the trend in recent years toward tattoos. They look stupid and trashy, and I think that most people who get them today will have cause to regret them in later years. Furthermore, as the article correctly points out, the tattooing process itself is fraught with peril, largely due to equipment that has not been properly sterilized. But come on. Don't we have enough bad medical journalism without this pointless and misleading story?

Today's Shoes

Edward Green punch cap adelaide bals in chestnut antique calf with single leather soles (Canterbury model, 202 last). These shoes were the first pair of Edward Greens that I ever ordered (from Maus & Hoffman in Florida) and remain among my favorites (behind the Dovers, of course). I love adelaides (also called U-throats) because they're a bit different from the normal but not so different that anybody other than a shoe geek would ever notice the difference.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Look good? It's a crepe stuffed with Nutella, banana slices, and whipped cream. I went out and bought bananas and Nutella after seeing this picture. I have neither the talent nor the energy to make crepes, but the combination is right tasty on toast.

Today's Shoes


Let's face it: fall clothes are better than summer clothes. In fall, you can wear tweed and flannel and cashmere and corduroy and Aran sweaters. In summer, you can wear... polo shirts and linen. I like linen as much as the next guy, but it's a island paradise in a sea of banality. Watching football over the weekend, I noticed that fall has apparently come to wide swaths of the country, with temperatures in the 50s and suchlike. Alas, such is not the case in Houston: we're due to see highs around 90 for the foreseeable future. So I can't wear tweed and flannel and cashmere and corduroy and Aran sweaters, at least if I don't want to me marked as a freak. But I can wear shell cordovan boots, which most people consider appropriate in the fall and winter. Alden cigar shell cordovan wing-tip high-lace boots on Plaza last with double leather soles, to be precise.


Vass five-eyelet plain-toe bluchers in burgundy pebble-grain calf with double leather soles (Budapest last).

Last Night's Tipple

The problem that I've had with WL Weller 12 year old before is that it has this disconcerting graininess on the finish. I think that I've seen this described as a "Wheat Thin-like quality" or something like that, and it's apt enough. I just don't like Wheat Thins in my Bourbon. Perhaps due to the chameleon-like nature of Bourbon or to my variable, amateur palate, however, I didn't notice that graininess when I had a pour of this last night -- just sweetness and vanilla. Quite nice.

Because, You Know, We're All Child Molesters...

From Slate's "Dear Prudence" column:
My younger, 13-year-old sister is having a slumber party for her birthday, and invited three or so of her 13- to 14-year-old girlfriends to our house. Shortly after, "Sara's" mother suggested that my sister's party should be held at "Tammy's" house. Why? Because Tammy has a single mother. Sara's mother is concerned that my father will be in his house during the festivities. There is no reason to be concerned about my father doing anything inappropriate to any of the girls (all the parents have met each other), but she is just uncomfortable about the idea of her daughter sleeping in the same house with another nonfamily man. She has also convinced the other parents that a change of venue would be a good idea. Although Tammy's mother is willing to host the event, my family is offended that the situation has come to this. Since when is it a crime to have a happy two-parent household? Should we cancel the event altogether, at my sister's expense? Ask my dad to go on a mini vacation? Go along with the venue change? Tell this lady she is overreacting?

I'm speechless. I don't know what to say, except that I'm appalled. (Via Instapundit.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bad Coaches

You might have seen (or, more likely, given my readership, you might not have seen) that Bill Belichick, the head coach of the NFL's New England Patriots, was embroiled in a cheating controversy this week. During the Patriots' game with the New York Jets last Sunday, a Patriots assistant coach was caught videotaping Jets coaches making defensive signals. This is a violation of NFL rules, which limit the locations from which teams can videotape games: it is legal to tape games from the pressbox but illegal to tape from the sidelines, which is what the Patriots coach did. This is not an obscure rule, nor is it a matter of interpretation as to whether the Patriots violated it. As punishment for this incident, Belichick was fined $500,000, the Patriots were fined $250,000, and they will forfeit either their first round or their second and third round draft choices in 2008, depending on whether they make the playoffs this year.

There are a lot of Patriots apologists out there, both among the general public and in the sports punditariat, who say that this was a dumb rule and that violation of it really didn't upset the competitive balance in the game. They're all missing the point. The rule is explicit, and Belichick new very well that videotaping from the sideline was illegal. Nobody has presented any evidence that this kind of miscreance has been perpetrated by any other team. In fact, the reason for the league's warning in 2006 were repeated complaints that the Patriots were doing this. Not only that, but other complaints of systematic, intentional violations of the rules have been buzzing around the league for years. See Paul Zimmerman's Sports Illustrated column for more details. Bill Bellichick intentionally violated league rules that were meant to ensure a fair game, and he did it right in front of everybody's face. The man is a cheater, and he's arrogant. He deserved a much more severe punishment than he got, and he has solidified his position as the most offensive coach in the NFL today.

Historical Trivia That May Interest Only Me

It's well-known that Osama bin Laden's father, Mohammed bin Laden, made his fortune by being the civil engineer to the House of Saud once Saudi Arabia became flush with money after large-scale production of oil began in the 1950s. What's less well-known (at least to me) is that bin Laden and his company renovated the three holiest mosques in Islam: the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, and the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Not only that, but one of his other sons, Salem, was a crucial source of information to the Saudi regime when Juhayan al-Oteibi and his band of Islamist militants seized control of the Grand Mosque during the hajj in 1979. The Grand Mosque has a warren of chambers that functioned as prayer rooms for pilgrims. The bin Laden company was still renovating the Grand Mosque in 1979, and, as such, was one of the few organizations that could have provided the Saudi government with the detailed plans necessary to plan an assault on the militants holed up there. Salem bin Laden, the oldest of Mohamed bin Laden's sons and his successor as head of the construction company, provided those plans to the government in preparation for their assault. The irony in this, at least to me, is that Oteibi's political program and hatred of the House of Saud shares many similarities with Osama bin Laden's thought.

Today's Shoes

Mephisto Allrounders sport shoes (or sport-like shoes, I guess) with elastic gores in taupe suede and black neoprene with a rubber cleated sole (Arto model). Ugly but comfortable (a familiar refrain from me, isn't it). They are more attractive than some of the garbage I saw out and about today. Why must everybody wear flip-flops?

Last Night's Tipple

Okay, okay, the title of this post is incorrect: I didn't actually drink this last night. Someone who shall remain nameless held me hostage last night until nearly midnight while she beadazzled a plastic cup for a friend's birthday, and I just felt like going to bed when I got home. I had a bottle of Anchor Porter this afternoon during the second half of the Texans' game against Carolina, but "This Afternoon's Tipple" doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "Last Night's Tipple."

Anyway, Anchor Porter is a product of Anchor Brewing Company, based in San Francisco. Anchor Brewing Company is the brainchild of Fritz Maytag, and is, along with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, one of the most important pioneers of the American craft brewing revival in recent decades. Anchor's main claim to fame is their Steam beer, which is brewed using lager yeasts at ale temperatures. Porter is another one of Anchor's continuously-brewed varieties, and it is pretty popular, too. I don't have the breadth of experience or the tasting vocabulary to do much with beer, but I can tell you that Anchor's porter share one thing with the myriad of microbrews that are on the market today: it's extravagantly hoppy. American brewers seem to think that the hoppier the beer, the better. Well, that's okay, at least in this case. I enjoyed it -- it was dark and chocolaty, with a nice hop kick.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Today's Shoes

Edward Green chasses with pie-crust-style handsewn apron and ghosted handsewn toe seam in navy blue antique calf with double leather soles (Dover model, 606 last). Supposedly, 606 last derives from 202 last and has the same fit characteristics. I have not found that to be the case. These shoes have always been a bit large, particularly in the heel, while my 202 last shoes in the same size are not. If I had it to do over again, I would probably have these shoes made up on 808 last, which fits better, particularly over the instep and in the heel. I just may do that: you can never have too many Dovers, and you can never have too many blue shoes. Olive antique would be nice, too, don't you think?

Last Night's Tipple

I had the last of my bottle of my Tullamore Dew 12 year old last night, and good riddance. There's really not a whole lot to like in it, at least for me. It has this dirty sweatsock character to it that I attribute to the unmalted barley in the mash, and I don't particularly like dirty sweatsocks. With some time in the glass, that particular aroma mellows a bit, and I'm left with some hits of vanilla and bits of spice that aren't unpleasant. However, I'd really just spend the extra $8 a fifth to get Redbreast, which is a lovely whiskey all the way around.

As I have written before, the "Dew" part of the Tullamore Dew name is supposedly an acronym for Daniel E. Williams, a general manager of the Tullamore Distillery in the 19th Century. That sounds just a little bit too pat to me, and I had originally thought that "dew" had to refer to whiskey. After all, American moonshine is sometimes called mountain dew, and more than one Scotch distillery has the Gaelic word "dhu" in the name (Dallas Dhu, Tamdhu, and possibly others). However, the Internet assures me that the Gaelic word "dhu" means black, and I can't think of a legitimate way to twist that into whiskey. So maybe the story about Daniel E. Williams is true after all.

Friday, September 14, 2007

From the Annals of Fast Food

The most outstanding food item offered by any fast food restaurant in America is the butterscotch milkshake from Dairy Queen. Don't laugh until you try it. It really is. Denial of this basic fact will expose you as a raving loon.

Last Night's Tipple

Another pour of Barton's 1792 Ridgemont Reserve. I still really like it (dark, dessert-like, viscous -- cinnamon bread pudding with pecan caramel sauce), and it makes me wonder what Barton's other Bourbons taste like. Well, not all of them. Mostly just Very Old Barton, which has next to no distribution outside of Kentucky.

It is a fact, childhood cliches notwithstanding, that a book's cover does matter. I like good packaging, and I know myself well enough to realize that good packaging increases my enjoyment of the spirit inside. The packaging of Ridgemont Reserve is just about perfect. I like the flask shape of the bottle. I love the fact that the bottom is nicely weighted to give it considerable heft. I like the understated labeling. I don't particularly like cork closures, but this one is at least attractive. Just about the only thing to complain about is the burlap band around the neck -- it's not in keeping with the rest of the packaging. Ridgemont Reserve would be good Bourbon even in a crappy bottle, and a good bottle could not save crappy Bourbon. But I am very pleased that Barton paired very good Bourbon with an excellent bottle.

Today's Shoes

Brooks Brothers Peal & Co. three-eyelet unlined desert boots in light tan suede with crepe rubber soles. No, the boot to the right is not mine. It's one made by Clark, which is the original marketer of the desert boot after World War II. The lacing of my boots is less low-slung than the one pictured, mine have three eyelets rather than two, and mine have thin round laces instead of those broad flat ones. The last that my boots are made on is much shaplier, too. But the boot pictured should give you a good idea of what mine look like.

Crepe rubber soles are extremely cushy. The positive thing about this is that they are comfortable, particularly when walking on hard surfaces. The problem is that it can sometimes feel like walking through loose sand, which can get tiring. The complete lack of arch support doesn't help, either. Still, these are good boots, at least for my purposes -- I'm not exactly going on campaign in them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Today's Shoes


Edward Green chasse bluchers with pie-crust-style handsewing on the apron and a ghosted toe seam in antiqued tan calf (EG calls it Edwardian Antique) with a double leather sole (Dover model, 808 last). The shoes to the left are Dovers on the 808 last, but they're in a leather that EG calls Brandy Willow, not Edwardian Antique. The pictures that I could find online of shoes in Edwardian were significantly lighter in color than mine, which points out an important fact about Edward Green: there is a tremendous of variation in their different colors (except for black) because most of that color is hand-applied during the finishing stage. My Edwardian Dovers are about the same color as my Chestnut Antique shoes, but that's not typical. 808 last was Edward Green's first attempt to update the classic 88 last, and I believe that it started being made in the late '90s. It apparently did not fit most feet very well because they quickly replaced it with the Tony Gaziano-designed 888 last. I like it, though. It fits me well, and it offers a more shapely square toe than the 606 without being as severe as the 888.


John Lobb Paris split-toe penny loafer in dark brown pebble-grain calf with a single leather sole (Campus model, 3198 last).

Last Night's Tipple

I had another pour of Elmer T. Lee last night, and I have nothing new to add to my previous impressions of its character or quality. I like it, and I'm fairly certain that Ben wouldn't: lots of vanilla and caramel flavors and aroma, not much in the way of char and wood. You will recall that Elmer T. Lee is the master distiller emeritus of Buffalo Trace and that this bottling is Buffalo Trace's tribute to him. It's priced and marketed like a baby Blanton's -- Buffalo Trace's super-premium offering. I don't know how much like Blanton's Elmer T. Lee is because I haven't turned loose of the $45 necessary to purchase a fifth, but the two are made from the same mashbill and aged in the same warehouses. It would be interesting to see how similar the two are in character.

The picture to the right shows how Buffalo Trace currently packages this Bourbon. The bottle that I have is in the original packaging, the only difference being that mine was sealed with gold wax rather than gold-painted aluminum foil. There has been something of an explosion of wax-sealed Bourbons in recent years, imitating, I would assume, Maker's Mark, which seals their bottles with that distinctive red wax. Just off the top of my head, I can think of the old Elmer T. Lee, Baker's, Knob Creek, the various Black Maple Hill bottlings, some bottlings of AH Hirsch, and Evan Williams Single Barrel. I will admit that the wax looks cool, but it is annoying as hell to open. The fabric pull tabs that are embedded in the wax frequently don't work, and I end up having to chisel away the wax with a knife. I do not like it, Sam I Am. Well, evidently, Buffalo Trace realized the error of their ways, because they stopped sealing Elmer T. Lee with wax and started using the gold-painted aluminum foil. Not as cool-looking, but much more functional.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tropical Storm Allison

With the news this afternoon that Tropical Storm Humberto had formed in the Gulf of Mexico and was due to come ashore east of Galveston tonight and tomorrow morning, I naturally thought of Tropical Storm Allison, which hit the Houston area at the beginning of June, 2001 and which is the last tropical storm or hurricane to hit the Houston area. Those of you who lived in Houston at the time will recall that it wasn't the wind with Allison, it was the rain. The system got stuck over the area, dumping large quantities of rain day after day, until Friday night, June 8, when just about all the bayous flowing through central Houston flooded and turned downtown and significant portions of the metropolitan area into one big lake. The freeways inside the loop were flooded, too, at least along the sections that are below grade. My most enduring memory, however, was footage from a news helicopter showing a Budweiser truck stopped on I-10, flooded up almost to the top of its trailer, with the trailer door broken open and a beer can sitting on top. Someone swam through the flood waters out to the truck, broke in, and enjoyed a stolen beer while sitting on top of the trailer. The picture above was taken by Dan Wallach of that truck after the waters had receded a bit. He has a number of other pictures, too, all of which are still amazing to me, even after more than six years.

Update: Similar to what happened with Hurricane Rita two years ago, Humberto turned east and came ashore near the Golden Triangle early this morning. The extra time over water allowed it to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane. Eric Berger from the Houston Chronicle reports that winds in Orange haven't gotten too high. Let's hope that the principal problem continues to be with rain, not wind. We can handle ten inches of rain; hurricane-force winds, not so much.

Today's Shoes


Gravati split-toe monkstraps in caramel brown Radica 03 calf with a combination leather/rubber sole (17194, 697 last). The apron and toe seams are machine stitched. 697 last is a bit long, and it has a bulbous toe, which is not particularly noticeable on a split-toe shoe but which calls attention to itself on a plain-toe. I can't really imagine a cap-toe on this last, but a wing-tip would be interesting -- sort of an Italian rendition of a Budapester.


Santoni two-eyelet chukka boot in dark brown suede with a thick, cushy, latex rubber lug sole. These shoes are from Santoni's mid-level Goodyear-welted line and are very nice.

Last Night's Tipple

Charles MacLean's MacLean's Miscellany of Whisky reprints an anecdote about George IV's visit to Scotland in 1824 from Elizabeth Grant's memoirs. Miss Grant was the daughter of a prominent Edinburgh lawyer who, despite his lack of noble credentials, made quite an impression on the king's party. She writes:
Lord Conyngham, the Lord Chamberlain, was looking everywhere for pure Glenlivet whisky; the King drank nothing else. It was not to be had out of the Highlands. My father sent word to me -- I was the cellarer -- to empty my pet bin, where there was whisky lond in wood, long in uncorked bottles, mild as milk, and the true contraband goût in it. Much as I grudged this treasure, it made our fortunes afterwards, showing on what trifles great events depend. The whisky, and fifty brace of ptarmigan all shot by one man, went up to Holyrood House, and were graciously received and made much of, and a reminder of this attention at a proper moment by the gentlemanly Chamberlain ensured to my father the Indian Judgeship. (p. 98)

What does this have to do with Redbreast, which, after all, is Irish whiskey, not Scotch? Absolutely nothing, with the exception of the phrase "mild as milk," which came to mind while I was enjoying a dram of this last night. It is indeed mild as milk -- smooth, sweet, flavorsome, and pleasant. If someone doesn't like Redbreast, he will not like whisk(e)y of any sort. It's simply wonderful.

Education Theater

Noted cryptography and computer security expert Bruce Schneier coined the phrase security theater in his book Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World (actually, I think that he may have coined it in earlier writings, but this is the first reference I could find):
But some countermeasures provide the feeling of security instead of reality. These are nothing more than security theater. They're palliative at best.

In 1970, there was no airline security in the U.S.: no metal detectors, no X-ray machines, and no ID checks. After a hijacking in 1972 -- three men took over a plane and threatened to crash it into the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear power plant -- airlines were required to post armed guards in passenger boarding areas. This countermeasure was less to decrease the risk than to decrease the anxiety of passengers. After 9/11, the U.S. government posted armed National Guard troops at airport checkpoints primarily for the same reason (but were smart enough not to give them bullets). (p. 38)

My godchildren are in kindergarten and first grade, and they get homework every night, and often times not just a little. This is a significant change from the way things were when I was in elementary school, and I don't think that it's a positive change. I seriously doubt that it actually helps them to learn anything or do much of anything other than frustrate them and their parents. A growing body of evidence seems to give credence to my doubts -- see, for example, The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish and The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn. I'm not saying that homework is pointless for all students of every age, just that it makes no sense for five- and six-year-olds, especially in significant quantities. I strongly suspect (although I have no evidence for it) that teachers and schools realize that it's pointless but assign it to create the image of academic rigor for parents and others evaluating the school. In other words, I suspect that it's education theater, not really education.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Today's Shoes


Gravati three-eyelet wholecut bals in burgundy Lama calf (14391, 683 last). I like wholecuts better in theory than in practice. The problem is that there are no seams or decoration on the uppers of the shoes, which means that there is nothing that can hide creases or imperfect fit. More than that, there's also nothing to give the shoes shape, and they tend to bag. They don't ever look as good on the foot as they do on the shelf.


Crockett & Jones Handgrade split-toe bluchers with pie-crust-style handsewing on the apron seam and a reversed toe seam (Cornhill model, 330 last). My feet have two principal problems with the 330 last. First is that 330 is to wide in the heel, like lots of lasts designed for European feet. The second is that there's not enough room over the instep, which can make the laces uncomfortable after a period of wear. This is a pity. While Crockett & Jones doesn't do this model nearly as well as Edward Green does (Dover model for EG), these are great shoes.

Last Night's Tipple

Cragganmore's tag line is that it has the most complex aroma of any malt. I don't know about that, but I do know that it provides an interesting counterpoint to the pours of Glenrothes Sepcial Reserve and Tamdhu 10 year old that I've had the past couple of days. It's silky smooth and very grainy. Not much (if any) peat, not much (if any) citrus, not as sharp either in flavor or aroma as Glenrothes or Tamdhu. I won't claim that there is as much difference between Cragganmore on the one hand and Glenrothes and Tamdhu on the other as there would be between, say, Cragganmore and Laphroaig, but anybody who thinks that all Speyside malts are the same should try these three back to back.

Cragganmore is one of Diageo's Classic Malts (which, of course, is more a marketing ploy by Diageo than some sort of historic designation; it's not that the Classic Malts aren't good, just that they have not traditionally been regarded as superior to their competitors), and one of the marketing ideas that has come out of that program over the past couple of years is to bottle and sell a Distiller's Edition of each of the distilleries in the group. Cragganmore's Distiller's Edition was distilled in 1992 and probably bottled in 2005 or 2006. It was finished in port casks; and by all accounts, it's really, really good. At the very least, it should be an interesting experience.