Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What's Brewin'?

A lager, actually:

But not a true lager. That would require ingredients and equipment and skill that I don't possess. This is a good substitute, though, and my taste isn't sophisticated enough to tell the difference.

The picture shows a higher, frothier head than this beer should have but I'd poured it a little warm and spent a few too many minutes getting the camera right so that the head began to collapse. When it's poured cold, though, this is a fine, tasty beer that's not fussy at all.

So it looks like I'm set for the Winter. The Porter and this beer may not be the obvious choices for the season but I'm happy enough with the results.

Stalin's Ghost - Book Review

Holy crow! Nearly two months to get through one measly book? Well, not quite. I've spent a good deal of that time working my way through a couple of golfing books a and I don't count them for book review purposes. Maybe I should.

Regardless, it has taken me some time to get through Stalin's Ghost but that says more about me and my reading habits than it does about this fine mystery. It was good to get back to Smith's Russia and his investigator Arkady Renko after laying off for several years. Like a lot of readers, I thought Gorky Park was very well done and though I enjoyed both Polar Star and Havana Bay, I found other books and writers to interest me and so I never returned.

That's too bad. If Stalin's Ghost is an example of what I've been missing, I've been missing out on a lot. Renko is the same - an honest man, or a man trying to be honest, in a society that's entirely corrupt, haunted by the past and by the present. A bit of a mope, really, but not unpleasantly so. They mystery to be solved is the reason for the sightings of Stalin's ghost - no, it's not real, but there's a political motive and Renko, like any good investigator in these kinds of series, steps on a lot of toes trying to get to the bottom of it. I've missed out on the introduction of several characters from prior books but I didn't find it too big of a distraction. I struggled with the Russian names, of course, but that's probably more a function of my lousy handling of names in general than anything. Smith delivers a world that's strange to our Western eyes and immerses us to completely that it becomes familiar and that's quite an accomplishment.

I'm glad to re-discover a forgotten favorite writer and to see the old magic is still there. I'm looking forward to filling in the pieces I've missed - hey, I may even revisit some of the old stuff! Or even some of Smith's non-Arkady novels.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 - Movie Review

Emily's a huge fan Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 so though we didn't make the opening day, we did make it to a Saturday afternoon showing and that was good enough.

I've never read any of the books - oh, okay, I sneaked a look at the last section of the last book so I know how things turn out - the prior movies were easy enough to follow, though I'll have to admit, I'm hard-pressed to recount the plots of any of the most recent releases. Confusion reigned for me in this outing - we start with Harry and friends battling/running from bad guys and then a great deal of the rest of the movie is spent hiding out from the bad guys and then something important is suddenly found and there's a sad death followed by a steely determination to face whatever's to come in Part 2. Spoilers omitted not only on purpose but because I have no other choice: I really didn't know what was going on. But that didn't stop me from enjoying the effects and the sets and marveling at Rowling's imaginative world. Not a world as detailed as Tolkien's creation - really, what is? - it's a world that, nonetheless, looks like fun to inhabit. I'm just sorry I'm not one of those who caught the ride at an early stage.

Emily, is, though, and she pronounced the movie awesome though she admits it didn't quite live up to her expectations. Still, she's looking forward to Part 2. If I can go with her, so am I.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another Beer Update

My, my, it's been a couple of months since I've posted anything about brewing beer. Let's remedy that.

I chose a Porter for my Fall beer, sort of a poor man's stout. Dark, not as full-flavored as I'd like, and a little too carbonated so as smooth as I was hoping for either:

The head looks a little punk because I poured it carefully and cold; a little more noise and warmth and the head's has quite bit more presence. A little too foamy, actually. Things smooth out if you let it set for a bit and come to temperature but, honestly, I'd rather have had brewed up a stout; if you're gonna go full-bodied, you might as well go full out.

Still, I'm not entirely disappointed; I did what I wanted to do and that's try something a little different and the results weren't bad. You can't ask for much more than that, can you?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Unstoppable - Movie Review

Unstoppable is a traditional disaster movie: something goes wrong at the first of the movie and the rest of the movie is spent making it right. (Wait, I just defined the plot of all movies! Welcome to Screenwriting 101.) The personal stories of the main characters are interesting but, really, we're just here for the runaway train barreling down the tracks to sure disaster, aren't we? Denzel Washington is his usual likable self but I think we get a little more with him than just likability; I can't help but think that when we seem him work, we're witnessing movie star power that we haven't seen in a long time and he'll be looked on years from now as one of the true greats. Chris Pine makes good on his promise he showed in last year's Star Trek re-boot and the charming Bottle Shock so this makes three good movies I've seen him in. He may have a future in this business.

Director Tony Scott finds the perfect material for his frenetic style and we're kept enthralled by the events. The personal stories do their work and engage you with the characters and I'm with those who hail the movie as a tribute to the regular working class folks who keep this country running so that's something new. The sound design and settings make this a movie worth going to see in the theatre so you'll miss out if you wait until it comes out on DVD.

All in all, a very good outing.

(I can't figure out how to embed the video of the preview but go here if you want to watch it.)

Oklahoma Sisters Each Record Hole-in-1 in Same Round

For someone who's returning to the game of golf after an 18 or so year layoff, this is both an encouraging and discouraging story:
Two sisters on the Central Oklahoma golf team are celebrating holes-in-one recorded in the same round.

Erica and Lindsey Bensch each pulled off the feat Tuesday during a round at KickingBird Golf Club.

Erica Bensch, a junior, had the ace on the 124-yard No. 3 hole, using a gap wedge in windy conditions. Less than two hours later, freshman Lindsey Bensch knocked in an 8-iron on the 142-yard No. 11 hole.

Encouraging because it's clear good fortune favors the prepared. Discouraging because of the range these young ladies have with their short irons. I'm just trying to get my drives to stay in the middle of the fairway for more than one shot in a row; Erica Bensch is using a wedge to knock her ball 124 yards.

Man, have I got a long way to go.

Ah, but sibling rivalry dies hard, doesn't it:

"I had finally got my first hole in one to tie her and she had to go one-up me again." – Erica Bensch.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fixing a Hole

Not good. We came home from work to find this in our front yard:

It's part of the water main upgrade currently going on in our 'hood. Our side of the street is getting some brand spankin' new pipes and we'll be the envy of our neighbors across the street. Oh, how the water will flow!

From past experience, this looks worse than it'll end up being. They're a good crew and when they're finished, what they've left behind isn't all that bad. In the meantime, though, count on this thing being fired up in the pre-dawn light.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

IRS Aims at Non-Filing Businesses

Finally, the IRS gets off its collective duff and go after non-filers:
The IRS plans to take a closer look at businesses that fail to file tax returns, and identify more of themhe agency cannot develop a comprehensive estimate of the number of businesses that do not file returns because it lacks data about the population of all businesses, but it could use the inventory of business non-filers it already has on hand to determine noncompliance, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, which noted that the IRS identifies several million potential business non-filers each year, more than it can thoroughly investigate.

Why is this news? Because the IRS would rather spend its budget on terrorizing the compliant - the fish in this barrel over here who are easy to shoot - than going after the non-compliant - the fish in that other barrel way over there, who are too hard to shoot and aren't much fun to shoot at anyway.

The IRS thinks it spends too much time and effort hunting down the non-compliant and the potential payback is negligble, dollar-wise - most non-compliant taxpayers are non-compliant for a reason: they're off the grid because they don't earn that much money anyway; you won't see a company like GM not filing a tax return but the handy-person down the street who works for cash has more incentive to underreport his income or not file at all. After the chase, these kinds of cases rarely give up a lot of tax dollars and when they do, the taxpayer is rarely in a position to pay. That kind of budget expenditure requires the IRS to do a lot of 'splainin' to Congress and there's one thing the IRS doesn't like to do and that's 'splain itself.

No, rounding up non-filers won't make a significant dent in the deficit but the sense of fairness - you're filing your returns and paying your taxes, why isn't the IRS going after that guy who isnt? - will go a lot farther in promoting voluntary compliance with the tax laws than disallowing reasonable deductions. Taxpayers may grumble about paying taxes but what they grumble about most, and tempts them to cheat even more, is perceived unfairness in the system. It's not fair you should try to play by the rules of the game when others don't even show up to play.

So if you haven't been filing, the IRS will be looking for you. Finally. Get caught up. I happen to know a pretty good CPA who can help you out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Civilization Has Beer to Thank

This will come as no surprise to my brother John: Beer Lubricated Rise of Civilization Study Suggests.


Link takes you only to a picture. Funny but when I sent this to my drafts a few days ago, there was an article that accompanied the picture this link now takes you to. Don't ask me. I don't know how the FoxNews site works.

Bottom line: ancient artifacts show folks have been making beer for a long time. Civilization rose. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Friday, November 5, 2010

iPhone Photo Dump

Time for another iPhone photo dump. Can't let these days pass without documentation, can I? Let's see what's on the memory card that I haven't blogged about.

I've mentioned in passing about my new obsession - golf! - and I'm lucky enough to have my father-in-law agree to come along. But at 87, he claims he's not quite what he used to be; he loses his balls easily (!) and he'd prefer to have a cart rather than walk the course. Enter Emily, Grandpa's designated handler and caddy:

When we asked Emily to be Grandpa's caddy, she said: "Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. I'll watch Grandpa for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Not like going down the pond chasin' bluegills and tommycods. It's not gonna be pleasant. I'll watch him but it'll cost ya'. A trip to the mall. And some Pad Thai after. For that I'll watch him, drive him around, keep him outta the hazards, the whole darn thing."

Uh, okay. Emily the steely-eyed negotiator:

Emily earns her fee and keeps Grandpa out of the mossy creek:

Emily drives, Grandpa holds on for dear life:

Emily has time to lend advice to Mom: Green breaks to the right, give it some oomph. The hole's not gonna run up to the ball:

Approaching the clubhouse. Grandpa accounted for while Mom follows:

Another day, another caddying session. We've been blessed with some beautiful early Fall days:

Grandpa addresses the ball, Emily and Mom look on:

For Fall Break, we took an overnight trip to Dallas for some shopping and a meet up with Clara's cousin. The great Hoyt Axton's comment about Oklahoma to the contrary - he'd claimed we're the cultural center of the universe and it's true! - we don't have a Buca Di Beppo but Frisco does and that's where we met up with Clara's cousin and her husband. (We'd first been to this restaurant chain a few years ago while visiting family in Florida. Good times.)

Clara prays the food arrives soon:

Emily would appreciate quick service, too. She gets cranky when she's hungry:


The cousin and her husband arrived, we had a fine dinner and conversation and carried it over to the hotel lobby. A nice visit and good to get caught up.

Next day, shopping. And a hard day of shopping requires a break. Product placement by Wetzel's Pretzel's:

With Rachel's graduation from high school this past May, she's doing more of her own thing with work and hair school and that means less time with us. And that means fewer pictures. But I got this one of her showing off her latest 'do, courtesy of the instructor's at school. She'll hate me for posting it but tough. It's the only recent one I have of her:

Enough for now. Time to fill the memory card again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hereafter - Movie Review

The Clint Eastwood-directed Hereafter is less about what the hereafter is really like - it seems, according to this movie, to be a mush of the dearly departed walking around, trying to communicate with the living and predicting the future and saving some of us from it and then moving on to whatever business the dead have to attend to on the other side- and more about how the characters deal with their individual tragedies and how their stories intertwine.

An impressive opening sequence of the tsunami in Indonesia, what follows is more of a deliberately paced character study. And by deliberately-paced, yes, I mean slow, but I don't really mind slow and, besides, it's Clint Eastwood who's directing. If you want a fast moving film about the hereafter, direct your own, punk. I liked the scenes of London and Paris and San Francisco, all safe and travelogue-y and temporarily taking me out of the movie and wanting to go actually visit these places. Matt Damon underplays his roll and the kid who *spoiler alert!* loses his brother is charming. I didn't know who the French actress is but, well, she's French and you don't have to say anything else after that, do you?

If you're looking for a more, heavily-plotted movie, you'll be disappointed but there's much to like here. I don't think much, if anything, would be lost watching this on the small screen so it might be one of those movies to wait for on DVD.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inside the Rolling Stones Inc.

TaxProf Blog links to an old article - internal clues point to 2006 - about how tax-savvy the Rolling Stones are:
Like the protagonist in one of his most devilish songs, Mick has been around for many a long year. He had plenty of smarts to begin with, and now he has 40 years of music industry experience under his belt. Jagger may be getting a trifle old to rock & roll--he'll turn 60 next July--but from a business perspective he's at the top of his game. Which makes sense in a way. After all, that's a typical age for a CEO of a large, multinational organization. (Okay, so most of the CEOs we follow don't have to swivel-hip their way through "Midnight Rambler," but you get the point.)

Even aging rockers want to avoid the tax man.

(OKC rockers: wanna be like the Rolling Stones? Tax-wise, I mean? Gimme a shout. I'd be glad to talk with you.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lileks and Disney

Once again, James Lileks does Disney (scroll down):
We went to Epcot the first day. I love Epcot. Don’t have the same reaction I did the first time, where newness and delight was tinged with a certain sort of sadness – seeing the 70s ideas of THE FUTURE! was nostalgic and bittersweet. The glass pyramid, the monorail, the enormous million-faceted sphere, the tinged concrete, and all the other details that made you feel like you were in a Gene Roddenberry pilot. Now I enjoy it for what it is, and enjoy its curious conjoining of Science! and international comity. One half techno-theme-park, one half permanent Festival of Nations housed in exquisite sets.

Here he is from two years ago and, as I noted then, Lileks gets it. He's blogged each of his visits since though I've failed to note them. Each of his entries, though, just about sums up my own feelings for the place and makes my own seem paltry in comparison.

But that's okay. If I can't go there myself, I'll relive those trips through Lileks. Good enough for now.