Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Contagious peevishness*

* I'd really prefer it if the commonly-used word here was "peevery". I find it a lot more fun to say.

Hermanito Scott made my Christmas Eve when he volunteered that he had adopted one of my pet peeves. Specifically, he now gets annoyed at airport baggage claims when people press forward, as close to the carousel as possible, to look for their bag. Essential to this behavior is that all members of the party - especially those small, frail, and with neither hope nor intention of retrieving a bag - stand along the belt. Since no carousel is large enough to provide a space for everyone trying to recover (or just look at) a bag, multiple ranks are formed; inevitably, abrupt "excuse me"s and jostlings are required as people from the latter ranks try to make their way to the belt to get their bags and then maneuver them back out through the crowd.

This is annoying because there is a very simple way to improve the whole process. If everyone would step roughly six feet back from the belt to watch for their bags: they would be able to see their bags just fine; in fact, they would see their bags more easily, as their view would not be obstructed by a wall of waiters; and they could quite easily step forward at the appropriate time, retrieve their bags, move away from the belt, and get the hell out of the airport, which is what they really want to do.

Kerry suggests that it is the burning desire to get the hell out of the airport that would ultimately prevent any sort of sensible, coordinated action like I am describing. People are tired of traveling, they think the end is in sight, and whatever immediate step looks to get them there the fastest is the one they will take, the other 200 people feeling the same way be damned. I think she's right. It's a very Hobbesian environment: nasty, brutish, and short - except for the "short" part.

I'm not writing about this because I think that baggage recovery is all that important, or that I think proselytizing will make a difference. What I find interesting is that my irritation was passed on to Scott. I think of these annoyances as being so personal; after all, we call them pet peeves. But this pet has found a new home, and a new master who will nurture it with clenched fists and bitter mutterings.

Incidentally, I'm no longer as bothered about the whole thing as I used to be. I mean, I'm right, but it's never going to change. I might as well get upset that the gravitational acceleration of falling bodies on Earth is 9.81 m/s/s, instead of a nice, round 10.

Hmmm.... that is annoying.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

'Twas the week after Christmas...

It's only been a few days since my last post, but it feels much longer. I suppose that's because, as important as Van Helsing was to the holiday, I haven't really reported on "official" Christmas information. So here goes, and sorry if this seems a bit of a list.

Kerry had six days off, her longest Christmas break since starting residency. Her parents were here for those six days, having left just this morning. Scott and Carlie were here for about 48 hours around Christmas. I'm sorry they had to make such a short trip, but it was great to have them here. While the rest of the US experienced extreme winter weather and nasty travel delays, we had moderately cold, moderately cloudy weather, with four of the easiest trips through BWI on record.

It was a Tyler Christmas dinner. Kerry's parents again sent us a smoked Greenberg turkey, Papa B made his cornbread stuffing, and Scott made silky gravy. In fact, there are lots of all three left over, so feel free to drop by The Holler for a Thanksgiving sandwich. (In all the excitement of Christmas Day, we forgot to make both the cranberry sauce and the Indian pudding. If you give us a little notice, you can have both, fresh.)

Lots of game playing during the visit: DDR, Quiddler, Alhambra (will those Germans ever stop making cunning tile-board games?), and RoboRally. We even tried to take a trip down memory lane with Crash Team Racing, but one of our PlayStation controllers seems to have died.

I helped direct parking traffic at the 5:00 Christmas Eve service. It was kind of fun, though I think we added little value; people parked themselves just fine, thanks. (On Christmas Day, I discovered that I had had more fun than I'd thought; my bum shoulder gave me gifts of needle-like pain.) The whole family returned for the 8:00 service, the largest of the year, with about 1,000 in attendance. We also went to the Christmas morning service, a smaller affair where everybody brings a bell and rings through many of the carols. It's a fun, joyful service.

We may not have Tivo, but our ability to watch good TV at any time increased on Christmas Day, as we now own the complete series of The Critic and The Office. (The latter was a gift from Scott and Carlie. Coincidentally, Kerry and I gave them the same thing.)

Kerry also added to our collection of Sandman books. As if you needed more reasons to read good comics, in doing so you might learn about Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

The thing I'm struck with today, alone at home for the first time in a week, is that Christmas is so all-encompassing. It's not just decorations. It's not just gifts. It's decorations and gifts, and travel, and music, and food, and church services, and parties, and cards... Any one of those things is wonderful. All of them together are wonderful, too, but when it ends, the whole thing is left a bit of a blur. And there's hardly anything left for the other holidays. I mean, really, if we wore some costumes and set off fireworks, Christmas would pretty much sweep the board for celebratory techniques. I'm not complaining; it's just the musings of someone coming down off the holidays.

Believe the hype:

  1. The Incredibles is a good movie.
  2. The International Spy Museum is a good museum. (Our advice: buy tickets ahead of time, and get there early. We spent five hours inside.)
Kerry put the birdfeeder back into service for the first time since May. It's just sitting on the deck rail, as opposed to hanging from a hook. Interestingly, though the idea of the hook was to limit feeder access to flying critters, I've seen but one squirrel at the feeder in its new location. Go figure.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Unstoppable dapper crane and unbelievably bad Van Helsing

1. Thank you, Dave, for introducing us all to the unstoppable dapper crane shirt-folding technique. (Of course, I welcome alternate suggestions for the name of this method. I have no idea what the written or spoken words in the video mean.)

2. Van Helsing is an incredibly bad movie. I can hardly think of enough bad things to say about it, but it's fun to try.

  • Poor Hugh Jackman. (Have you ever noticed how, when someone says "Hugh Jackman," you hear, "Hugh needs a new agent"?) His title character of Van Helsing, as Kerry noted, is like a cross between Indiana Jones and Aragorn, without the panache of either, wearing a costume left over from Brotherhood of the Wolf.
  • Kerry also noted that Kate Beckinsale's character looked like "hooker Zorro."
  • The accents! Oh, the accents!
  • The music sounded like rejected tracks from Gauntlet for PlayStation, or numbers from the next Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
  • Most impressive of all was the breadth of the movie's assault on other cinema. Primarily, the film abuses the legacies of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Werewolf. But thanks to a large budget and a script that knows no shame, Van Helsing also manages to taint Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, James Bond, The Name of the Rose, Return of the Jedi, Fellowship of the Ring, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Castaway.
  • At the same time that it is all-encompassingly offensive, the script also has numerous holes. But they're not like ambiguity intended to provoke thought or speculation; it just seems like laziness.
I can't say the movie was perfectly bad. The little baby vampires were cute, as was the way they spontaneously exploded.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The fickle world of director's cuts

We've finished watching the extended version of Return of the King. (Thanks, Dad!) On the whole, I think I may prefer the theatrical release of this one. I'll not go into details (ostensibly to prevent spoiling surprises and biasing others, but really to avoid appearing as nerdy as I truly am). Overall, I thought that most of the new/expanded scenes added little value. Some were nice, but some were downright negative. I'm a bit surprised. The extended version of Fellowship filled out that story, it saved The Two Towers, but this one seemed to miss.

Do not dawdle, faithful reader. The Christmas edition of The Economist has already been on news stands for one week; only one more remains. If you only read The Economist once per year, this is the time to do it. In addition to the standard exemplary review of goings-on outside the world of Travis and Kerry, the Christmas double includes a variety of surprising and entertaining articles. I've already read about the end of the world, mule-packing, and Bhutan, and I'm not even halfway through. Cranberries are yet to come. Don't miss it.

I cooked a standing rib roast for the first time last night. It went well, I think. I highly recommend the rib roast for those festive occasions when you need to cook a gallon of meat. It's very straightfoward; as long as you've got a meat thermometer (and I do; thanks, Dad!), there's not much to mess up. You can get pretty consistent advice on how to cook a roast from Dad, the new Joy of Cooking, ochef, or Alton Brown.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Winter Wonderland

Well, "wonderland" might be a little strong, but we did get our first snow of the season last night. And thanks to the single-digit temperatures, it's staying around. We have a nice, white dusting on ground and houses.

Since last Thursday, I've been busy with Christmas preparations. Beyond cleaning up around the house, I made four trips to Target in three days. (This is the kind of gripping news only The Elkridge Hollerer brings you.)

We finally got our Christmas tree last Thursday. After looking around for a couple of years, we've concluded that Home Depot is clearly the best place in the area to get a tree. We set a new standard, though, this year for non-Currier & Ivesness: we arrived at Home Depot some 15 minutes before closing time to pick from the dozen or so trees they had left. There were actually a few decent ones left, plump and bushy like we always seem to get. It's not taking much water, so it's probably just as well that we got it late.

We had a beautiful service at Glen Mar yesterday morning. It was sort of a lessons and carols format, with lots of music and four short messages, versus a full sermon. All of the elements of the service were wonderful in their own rights, and they complemented each other perfectly. It was one of those services where you could feel the congregation responding. Everyone seemed to float out of the sanctuary. I wanted to find everyone in the service to thank them for giving us a superb conclusion to our Advent Sundays.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

I cicle, you cicle...

... and on Loudon Ave, everyone cicles - their houses, that is. Loudon Ave (street motto: "The Gateway to The Holler") is practically walled with icicle lights. Now you know.

Some years ago, Grandad commented on a house decorated with icicle lights, saying that it "looked like a saloon." For some reason, that remark has always reminded me of Crystal's Pizza.

I finished the fall semester today with an exam in the theory and practice of politics in Latin America. Unlike William, I am bound by an Honor Code that lets me freely discuss the test I just took. So if you're interested in

  • why neoliberal economic forms have failed to deliver Latin America to the promised land of electoral democracy,
  • which states are closest to the post-Washington Consensus "smart state" ideal, and what stands in the way of further emsmartenment, or
  • an assessment of Vicente Fox's frustrated presidency, in the broader context of consolidating Mexican democracy,
I'm your guy.

If you want to know how to say "lightning" in Spanish, you should look elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Español en México

I forgot to mention that, while in Mexico, I did quite a bit of talking in Spanish with people. It was fun, and they seemed genuinely pleased/amused by my efforts. One conversation with a taxi driver stood out, however, for being less than fruitful:

(translated into English as best as I can manage)
Travis: Did it rain much last night?
Driver: No, not much.
Travis: While we were at dinner, we saw the... oh, how is it said in Spanish, the light in the rain?
Driver: It rained.
Travis: Yes, but how is it said, the light in a storm?
Driver: A storm?
Travis: Yes, a storm. [Pause] I'm asking about the light that comes with the noise in the storm.
Driver: A windy storm.
Travis: Oh, here's our hotel.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Scott and Carlie's Fantastic Wedding

Kerry and I got back today from four wonderful days in Playa del Carmen for Scott and Carlie's wedding. It was a triumph. They picked a lovely resort for the event. Naturally it had a beach and a pool, several places to eat, and a variety of entertainment. It also had a substantial section of jungle in the middle of the resort, such that every trip to our from our room took us through wonderful trees and a variety of animals: peacocks (who slept outside our room each night, one evening actually visiting our balcony), flamingos, howler monkeys, guinea fowl, iguanae, a big tortise, and agouti (which I only just now figured out what they were).

About 65 people traveled for the wedding, making it a relatively large affair for the beach. Scott and Carlie actually drew more than the 65 formally invited; many beachgoers decided that watching these two strangers (to them, not to each other) get married was more interesting than watching a freighter cruise by on the ocean (which it did. How many couples can say they had friends, family, topless men, and a 30,000-ton vessel present as they exchanged vows?) And in the midst of all that was a beautiful ceremony.

With all respect to the sentiments expressed by other people at other weddings, the toasts offered to Scott and Carlie that evening were exceptional. And among those toasts, Reuben's stood out. Reuben had lived with Scott and Carlie in a house for a couple of years in Dallas, so he probably knows them, as a couple, as well as anybody. He offered up five little-known facts about the couple (eg, Carlie can't survive more than 30 minutes without eating and, surely unrelated, when Scott and Carlie have a fight, they make up by cooking a huge meal). He then read a poem that Scott wrote to Carlie four years ago. It began, "I sit here drunk / More drunk than horny," and it may have actually gotten worse from there. More notable than the quality, or lack thereof, of the poem, was Scott's sheer embarrassment. Those who've met Scott only briefly can attest that he is not a shy man; to see him actually sink to the ground as Rueben read the first line was a rare moment.

Faithful reader, please do not take my going on about animals and bad poetry to suggest anything other than delight for my brother-in-law and new sister-in-law. Kerry and I are could not be more pleased that they have one another, and we look forward to seeing their marriage grow through the years (not least since we'll see that marriage in less than two weeks, when they come visit at Christmas).

Ixnay on the IcKinseymay

Secure suspense. I found out today that McKinsey is not offering me a position. Reactions:

  1. Naturally I'm disappointed, but I still consider the whole interview process with the firm to have been positive.
  2. Actually, the process isn't over just yet. All I've heard from them so far is the yes/no result. I'll get in touch with my interviewers to learn what went well and what I could do better in future interviews. (Since they offer that information, it seems foolish not to take them up on it.)
  3. Before my first-round interview, I asked God to put a quick stop to this if it wasn't what He had in mind for me. Apparently, putting a quick stop to it wasn't what He had in mind, either. So now, to learn what better idea He has in store.
No more on this. On to Scott and Carlie's fantastic wedding. (Or depending on the order you read, just go back and read that again.)

Monday, December 06, 2004

Our eyes were looking southwards

The great busyness of last week went pretty well, I think. In short:

  1. All things academic (test, presentation, more tests) seemed to go smoothly.
  2. The McKinsey interview last Friday could have gone better, but it could have gone much worse. I wouldn't mind doing parts of it over again, but I don't know exactly how I'd do them differently. Suffice it to say, it's done, the thank-you notes are sent, and I should hear by Tuesday. (I only mention it now because so many people have been kind enough to wish me well and ask how it went.)
So now I have a relatively light load left for the rest of the semester. Good thing, too, as Wednesday morning is getting closer all the time. Kerry and I are both getting excited about the trip, and of course about Scott and Carlie's wedding this Saturday. Admittedly, we're biased, but we think they're pretty wonderful people and are wonderful together, as well. We would appreciate it if you would keep them in your thoughts and prayers, not just for a great wedding week, but for a growing, deepening lifetime of marriage.

Last night was caroling night for the Glen Mar Youth Group. For some reason, it was decided that my car should be "leaved," so every time we came back from singing at a house, there were leaves all over the hood, windshield, and roof. Harmless, of course, and highly amusing to the girls (including an adult advisor) doing it.

Following the caroling was the traditional gift exchange/gift swap/white elephant, which I've run the last three years. We had 46 kids playing, almost double the previous two years, and this year they finally got into the gift-taking aspect of the game. (Thank heavens they finally put aside all that Christian ethic about contentedness and not coveting, and played the game right.) They also gave me a lovely hat, skirt, and jewelry of wrapping paper and bows (again, egged on by an adult). I'll let you know when we've got a picture.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

What to do with an old car

Rhees Lane, old friend and best man, has raised the bar for patio furniture. I can't improve on his description and photos; please just visit his website.

If that's not enough of the adventures of Rhees for you, you can read about what he's doing with the rest of his Scout.

In the timeless words of our 9th-grade world history teacher, Craig Benton, "Nice hat."

Oh wait, in Mr Benton's other timeless words, "If he didn't exist, we'd have to invent him."

Monday, November 29, 2004

Monday surprise

Geodesic tent
appears in Dupont Circle
like a mushroom home.

Did huge Smurfs build you
under the cover of night?
And do you meet code?

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Thanks given

I traveled over to Belpre for three days with AP, Aunt Ann, Grandad, and Yolanda Romanelli. Kerry only had two days off, so she was unable to join us. Rachel and Ben had already invited her over for Thanksgiving dinner, so I knew I was leaving her in capable hands.

I knew the other characters already, of course, but this was my first time to meet Yola, a friend and former co-worker of Grandad's from his time at Algonquin Gas in Boston. She still lives there, but was good enough to come to Ohio to share the holiday with us. She is a delightful and spirited lady. If you have the opportunity to play a game with her (eg, Quiddler), it will take you a good 20-30 seconds to discover her competitive streak. I look forward to seeing her again. (I look forward to seeing everybody else soon, too, but you knew that already.)

Yes, we ate. We went up to Marietta to get some handmade pasta and see some of the beautiful homes. We visited the Belpre Christmas lights down on the Ohio River and the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg, both of which have grown since I saw them last. But the highlight may have been the sunsets we had on Wednesday and Thursday. Both days were solidly overcast, with precipitation throughout the day, until dusk, when the sky opened up to reveal dazzling sunsets that lasted for at least a quarter of an hour. Actually, they could have been shorter or longer, and I'd not know; I just stood there watching them with my jaw hanging open. Such colors: in a photo, I'd have sworn they'd been enhanced, but there they were, in gaudy, changing real-life.

I'm looking forward to a busy week. Between now and about mid-day Saturday, I've got a final exam, my Spanish proficiency oral (preferably not reprising my trainwreck in August), a group project presentation, and my third and final job interview with McKinsey. I would appreciate any candles, cereal box-tops, and/or prayers you can spare. On the positive side, this will definitely clear the decks for a week from Wednesday, when Kerry and I head to Mexico for Hermanito Scott and Carlie's wedding.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Washington Nationals

I'm not the biggest baseball fan, and I don't really know if DC is getting a good deal getting a team, but I did want to mention the renaming of the Expos franchise as the Washington Nationals. Apparently that was the name of the first DC baseball team, back in the day (1873). I'm glad that MLB managed to avoid giving the team a ridiculous name, either for perceived coolness (Toronto Raptors - NBA) or foolishness (Kansas City Wiz - MLS 1996). That said, I think they could have done better than a name already in use in MLB. (Why not the "Washington Major Leaguers," just in case the teams get realigned?) I guess the best feature of the new name is that, as nationals, they are less likely to be deported.

Monday, November 22, 2004

China has 2,900 TV channels...

... or so reports The Economist (20 Nov 04).

Go now, William, before your chance to sample this unimaginable, televisual dim sum is lost forever in a wave of state disinvestment and foreign joint ventures.

TV news blows snow

There are a couple of TVs around SAIS that are always on, generally on a news channel. This morning, a business reporter from CNNfn was offering advice on buying and operating snowblowers. And they say hard-hitting journalism is dead.

Kerry and I had a very relaxing Sunday yesterday. (We had tried to have a very relaxing Sunday three days ago, but it just didn't work out.) One of her ACS colleagues was offering coverage, so she got a bonus day off. We went to church, had lunch* with Rachel, then went back to church in the evening for the advent workshop (fun with glue and glitter!). And in the midst of all this chilling, I even managed to finish a draft of my Timor Sea paper for environmental law.

I've enjoyed my exposure to law in my international environmental law class, particularly studying cases. It's an interesting process: assembling the facts to try to establish what happened, having the law as a framework for description and analysis, with an ultimate end of determining if an outcome is, for example, "equitable." (Here's where Dick, Angus, William, or any other readers with more legal knowledge than I will correct my overly-simplistic notions.) It doesn't make me want to be a lawyer, but it's good exercise.

* - Potential visitors to The Holler should know that The Mango Grove is once again on our must-visit list for guests. As always, it offers delicious vegetarian Indian food, but now we are hooked on the lunch buffet.

Friday, November 19, 2004

How irrational

Kerry likes chicken pot pi from the hospital kitchen.

Election review

For better or worse, most Elkridge Hollerer readers have been denied my fairly heavy commentary on the past presidential election. For the record, I feel I ought to sum up.

  1. I am disappointed that Bush was re-elected.
    a) I did not feel that his record of poor execution, broken promises, and fiscal irresponsibility warranted a contract extension.
    b) I was hoping for a party split between the White House and Congress.

  2. I am disappointed that Kerry was not elected almost entirely because of 1a and 1b, above. But there is consolation:
    a) I think I prefer John Edwards being more than one heartbeat away from the Presidency.
    b) A Republican White House means the chattering class will be able to amuse themselves for the next few years speculating about Hillary in '08.

  3. I saw what I consider the most interesting story of the campaign after the fact. On 21 October, The Program on International Policy Attitudes and Knowledge Networks released poll results showing an impressive divergence between fact (as best as we know it) and what Bush supporters believed about Iraq, terrorism, foreign perceptions of US policy, and the President's own positions. It makes me question how far we've really progressed into the Information Age (or how far behind we've left the Age of Reason).

  4. The overlooked story of Election 2004: Badnarik almost took Nader! Libertarians unite! It's revolution time! #3 in '08! (I'm sure the Libertarian Party would welcome any and all alternative slogans.)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Behind the times

I'm out of it. When I wrote the following, a couple months ago, it was already half a year late. Now it's later, and I'm not so addicted as I was. Oh well, I guess I'll never be the answer to Tower of Power's question: "What is hip?"


The most addictive music I've heard in a while is The Streets, "A Grand Don't Come For Free". The Streets is a British rapper with an unusual flow and stripped-down beats. With his incredibly everyday lyrics, he's what Hank Williams, Sr might have been had he grown up an urban lout in today's England. Except unlike Hank's lyrics, where he seemed always to be catching a bad break, The Streets' troubles are mainly of his own doing. Maybe he's got at bit of Johnny Cash in him. Or maybe he's some sort of Elseworld Beastie Boy who lost the juvenile lyrics of "Licensed To Ill" without adopting the thicker production of their later work. The tracks on "AGDCFF" form a single story. It may not be "The Wall" or "2112" for grandeur - it doesn't presume to tell a psychodrama or of global revolution - but it's more tightly-constructed than either. You can hear almost the whole thing online, but be forewarned: he drops plenty of f-bombs, it's not exactly uplifting, the first track is not the catchiest, and you'll definitely need all your UK slang knowledge.

But if nothing else, it's novel to hear the only album I can think of with a rapper who doesn't rap about being a rapper.

Fog of War & the origins of jogging

1. Last week, I saw Fog of War, a documentary / reminiscence of Robert McNamara. It was very interesting; he's a fascinating figure, and it's easy to see why he was both so popular and unpopular. Unfortunately, I don't know enough of the history to feel like I could recognize fair recollections vs. revisionism. I did notice that he didn't go out of his way to talk about the Edsel, which occurred during his tenure at Ford. Anyway, I recommend it, and I'd love to hear from those who know more of the history.

2. Like Bruce Springsteen said, "Homo sapiens like us, baby we were born to run."