Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Whining about Wine

Interesting piece about a growing brouhaha in the world of wine.  My wife and I enjoyed the TV show Top Somm last year; it showed a group of highly-driven, slightly unstable New York sommeliers working to prepare themselves to qualify as Master Sommeliers--a designation that counts for a lot in the wine world.  One of them, Morgan Harris, is referenced in this article.

Cork Dork, the book that's excited all the furor, will, I confidently predict be turned into a movie within the next five years.  You heard it hear first.

Monday, May 8, 2017


Last night the wife and I attended the HGO's production of Wagner's Gotterdammerung (trans: kitten play-time). It's about the apocalypse at the end of the world, and ends with the death of all gods. It lasted five and a half hours and featured two intermissions.

I have been to only two other operas in my life; both were relatively obscure Baroque works that featured little in the way of spectacle.  This had been described to my wife--two of her close friends at work are hard-core opera fanatics--as being like 'Cirque du Soleil, only with singing.'  So I was primed for some big-time excitement.  It's the end of the world, here, people.  It ought to be big.

The actual ending--the end of the world, and the burning down of Valhalla--did not live up to expectations.  Essentially it consisted of various 'Gods' hanging from the ceiling on wires and writhing in mid air while computerized fire imagery played on the large movable blocks they used for scenery.
Image result for images gotterdammerung hgo
The performance itself, however, had a lot to offer.  The first scene features the three Norns suspending in mid air wearing an immense strand of rope which represents time and fate.  While they sang complicated net images played over them, and they rose and fell in mid-air as each one handed the rope to each other.  Later, the Rhinemaidens sang while suspended in floating cubes of water (each, according to the program, weighed about 2500 pounds).  The sequence where Siegfried, disguised as the evil Gertrun, comes to Brunhilde's fortress castle and forces her to marry him was exceedingly well done.

In general the whole experience was supremely satisfying.  Sitting in a dark space and surrendering to  an experience offers an escape from day-to-day worries.  For the first thirty minutes I worry about my dog and my business and the emails I need to send.  Then that all gives way and I attain true contact with the present, existing only in the moment, without any irritable reaching before or ahead.  It has value.

I want to see more operas, I think.

I also intend to resume posting.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


I am sad but I am slowly making my peace with it. I am nourishing the hope that, while Trump has done a lot of awful things, and said a lot of awful things while running, he has always, in the years prior to now, been (politically) a fairly moderate person. He's so duplicitous that I think it's fairly likely most of what he said he would do on the campaign trail won't happen. I hope. My fear is really international relations. I don't want us to go to war.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The New House

We've now been here about two months and slowly things are coming into shape. For the last two weeks we've had landscapers shuffling and rooting around the home's perimeter. The dog is a constant state of furor and working on anything requiring unbroken concentration has proven impossible. But--and it's a big but--our yard finally exists. We no longer are surrounded on three sides by piles of grassless dirt. We have planter boxes and climbing jasmine and Backstar gravel (which is gray) and all variety of flowering plants. And our sprinklers have been made to work. The inside of the house also progresses. Two of our rooms are still uninhabitable, however--the formal living room and the dining room. Our dining room table, ordered off EBay, arrived last week. Then, as the movers were bringing it inside--check that: after they had brought it inside and were in the final stages of lowering it to the floor, the table slipped. A leg broke and they took it away. They claim they can repair it back to how it was, however. We'll see. Regardless, we have no light source for that space--the home sellers took the chandelier--so it's not likely we'll have any dinner parties very soon. Maybe before the New Year. In an hour I'm going to a football game--the first professional football game I've been to in maybe twenty years. My wife's father has season tickets to the Texans and he's been good enough to let us borrow them. We're going to go early and experience the tailgating. The way our QB is playing, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Coach O'Brien asked me to suit up, either. Given my knowledge of 19th century French poetics.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Jeopardy Test

First off, I am aiming to get back to regularly weekly blogging.  We've been laboring mightily these last few months to get our new house operational.  At the same time, I'm trying to reestablish my tutoring business in the city after many years away.  Add my growing cosmetics empire to all of that, and it leaves very little time for blogging.

But I will make the time.  Damn those women and their mascara needs!

Last night I took the Jeopardy qualifying test.  (They are offering it today and tomorrow as well, if any reader wants to sign up for it).  It went well, I think.  It's not a hard test--I passed it fifteen years ago, and I know more now than I did then.

The challenge, though, is blocking out one's nerves and focussing on the questions.  Not that I should be nervous, sitting in my room, typing answers into computer, but somehow I was.  It gives me insight into the real challenge of going on the show.   It goes without saying that it's far easier to summon up a fact when you're out with your friends than it is to do so when you're standing in a TV studio with lights and cameras all around you.

When I tutor, I suggest to my students that to really KNOW a fact means you can be woken up at three in the morning and instantly summon it up.  That's how it is with your name or your birthday--that's information that's always accessible.  For me, that's going to be the challenge going on the show: instant recall, no matter the situation.   At this point, I would say I 'know' 90% of what's likely to be on the show.  The question is, can I recall it all under pressure.  We'll see.

The test, though, was easy.  Easy easy easy.  A few questions that I can recall (not the exact wordings):
1) In what month was Julius Caesar murdered?
2) Biggest hit of Meghan Trainor  (knew this only b/c I'd studied pop music--and found I really like M Trainor, btw)?
3) What's the stuff in plants that effects photosynthesis?
4) What animal's name means 'water horse?'
5) What's a ten letter word to describe a country that doesn't border water?
6) Recent musical about someone buying an old shoe factory (knew this only b/c I'd studied musical theater)?
7) Where's the Simpson desert?
8) Who was ruling England when Shakespeare died?
9) What former first lady wrote a memoir called "Woman from Plains?"
10) in 2017 Charles Darwin will be taken off the UK 10 pound note and replaced with this woman.  (Did not know this)
11) The seven largest starts of Ursa Major are better known as ___
12) Who wrote 'The Naked and the Dead'?
13) What does LAN stand for, in computer-speak? (missed this)
14) What word that starts with an 'a' means 'to give up a throne'?

I think last time I took the test, a passing score was 30 out of 50.  Maybe 35?  But no more than that.  I can only think of three questions that I missed so far, and I doubt I missed more than six.  So, I should be ok.

Next step is to do some kind of physical audition.  If I get invited to do so, I'll let you know.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Echo Chamber

Here is a recent piece in the Times that tells you everything you need to know to understand why the GOP is no longer functioning as a viable party in presidential elections.  The fact that serious people can be conned into believing Hilary Clinton has hidden health issues based on the outright lies concocted by Sean Hannity should convince any genuine Republican that they need to do more--much more--than watch FOX News if they want to be informed.

In fact, I'll go further: to watch on FOX News

Note the pushback from Wall Street Journal and former Bush officials, however.   There is some sign of hope.

During major inflection points in Donald J. Trump’s campaign, the advisers, family members and friends who make up his kitchen cabinet burn up their email accounts and phone lines gaming out how to get his candidacy on track (and what counsel he might go along with).
But one person in the mix brings more than just his political advice. He also happens to control an hour of prime time on the Fox News Channel.
That person is Sean Hannity.
Mr. Hannity uses his show on the nation’s most-watched cable news network to blare Mr. Trump’s message relentlessly — giving Mr. Trump the kind of promotional television exposure even a billionaire can’t afford for long.
But Mr. Hannity is not only Mr. Trump’s biggest media booster; he also veers into the role of adviser. Several people I’ve spoken with over the last couple of weeks said Mr. Hannity had for months peppered Mr. Trump, his family members and advisers with suggestions on strategy and messaging.
So involved is Mr. Hannity that three separate denizens of the hall of mirrors that is Trump World told me they believed Mr. Hannity was behaving as if he wanted a role in a possible Trump administration — something he denied to me as laughable and contractually prohibitive in an interview on Friday.
But he did not dispute that he lends his thoughts to Mr. Trump and others in his close orbit whom Mr. Hannity has known for years.
“Do I talk to my friend who I’ve known for years and speak my mind? I can’t not speak my mind,’’ he said.
Continue reading the main story
But, Mr. Hannity said, “I don’t say anything privately that I don’t say publicly.’’ And, he acknowledged, it’s unclear how far his advice goes with Mr. Trump, given that “nobody controls him.”
Mr. Hannity is unapologetic about his aim. “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States.” After all, he says, “I never claimed to be a journalist.”
That makes Mr. Hannity the ultimate product of the Fox News Channel that Roger Ailes envisioned when he founded it with Rupert Murdoch 20 years ago, as a defiant answer to what they described as an overwhelmingly liberal mainstream news media that was biased against Republicans. Mr. Hannity was there from the beginning with Mr. Ailes, who was forced out over sexual harassment allegations last month.
Mr. Hannity’s show has all the trappings of traditional television news — the anchor desk, the graphics and the patina of authority that comes with being part of a news organization that also employs serious-minded journalists like Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly.
But because Mr. Hannity is “not a journalist,” he apparently feels free to work in the full service of his candidate without having to abide by journalism’s general requirements for substantiation and prohibitions against, say, regularly sharing advice with political campaigns.
So there was Mr. Hannity last week, devoting one of his shows to a town hall-style meeting with Mr. Trump at which his (leading) questions often contained extensive Trumpian talking points — including the debunked claim that Mr. Trump opposed the Iraq invasion. (As BuzzFeed News first reported, Mr. Trump voiced support for the campaign in a 2002 discussion with the radio host Howard Stern.)
On other days, he has lent his prime-time platform to wild, unsubstantiated accusations that Hillary Clinton is hiding severe health problems. He showed a video of a supposed possible seizure that was in fact a comical gesture Mrs. Clinton was making to reporters, as one of them, The Associated Press’s Lisa Lerer, reported. He also shared a report from the conservative site The Gateway Pundit that a member of Mrs. Clinton’s security detail appeared to be carrying a diazepam syringe, “for patients who experience recurrent seizures.”
A simple call to the Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor, as I made on Friday, would have resulted in the answer that the “syringe” was actually a small flashlight.
People in Mr. Hannity’s audience of 2.5 million who are inclined to believe the health allegations, and who believe the mainstream media are covering for Mrs. Clinton, are unlikely to be impressed by the Secret Service’s explanation.
That’s the ultimate result of the hyperpoliticized approach Mr. Hannity and so many others use in today’s more stridently ideological media: A fact is dismissed as false when it doesn’t fit the preferred political narrative.
But while this informational nihilism appears to have hit a new high, the last two weeks have signaled the start of a possible reckoning within the conservative media.
First there was The Wall Street Journal’s deputy editorial page editor Bret Stephens, who, after trading insults with Mr. Hannity over Mr. Trump, said on the MSNBC show “Morning Joe” that “too much of the Republican Party became an echo chamber of itself.”
Those who spend an inordinate amount of time “listening to certain cable shows” and inhaling the conspiracy theories promoted on “certain fringes of the internet,’’ he said, wind up in a debate that’s “divorced from reality.”
Then there was the conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, who lamented in an interview with the Business Insider politics editor Oliver Darcy, “We have spent 20 years demonizing the liberal mainstream media.”
That criticism was often warranted, Mr. Sykes said. (Just take a look at the decision by the former Clinton White House aide and current ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos to give some $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation, for which he apologized last year.) But, as Mr. Sykes said, “At a certain point, you wake up and you realize you have destroyed the credibility of any credible outlet out there.” Therefore any attempt to debunk a falsehood by Mr. Trump, he said, becomes hopeless.
What really caught my eye, though, was the moment on Fox News on Wednesday when Dana Perino, a host of “The Five,” refused to go along with a colleague’s attempt to dispute the many polls showing Mrs. Clinton leading Mr. Trump. “That’s a real disservice to his supporters, to lie to them that those polls don’t matter,” said Ms. Perino, a White House press secretary for George W. Bush.
She went on to express regret for joining with other Fox News hosts who doubted the polls showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney in 2012.
You can’t help but see it as a sure sign that Mr. Ailes, who presided over all of that polling doubt four years ago, had left the building. Still, even Mr. Ailes occasionally reined in his more opinionated hosts when he worried they would tarnish the credibility of his news reporters.
It’s why, for instance, he abruptly canceled Mr. Hannity’s plans to attend a major Tea Party rally in Ohio in 2010 after it came to light that the organizers were using his appearance to raise money.
Mr. Ailes faced another Hannity-related issue shortly before his ouster, when CNN reported that the host had provided Newt Gingrich with private jet travel to Indiana, for a possible vice-presidential interview with Mr. Trump. (Mr. Hannity had been lobbying Mr. Trump to choose Mr. Gingrich.)
Mr. Ailes opted against forcing Mr. Hannity to collect the fare from Mr. Gingrich. He had a possible reason: Mr. Hannity was among those supporting Mr. Ailes amid the sexual harassment scandal, eventually even discussing a walkout in the event of Mr. Ailes’s ouster, as Breitbart reported a few days later. (After Fox News executives shared with Mr. Hannity and others the full details of the allegations, which Mr. Ailes denies, the talk of a walkout ended.)
Mr. Hannity says Mr. Gingrich is a very close friend and it’s his business what favors he does for him, though he left open the possibility that Mr. Gingrich might cut a check for the plane trip just the same. Since Mr. Ailes’s departure, Fox executives have not pushed the issue. Nor, apparently, have they warned Mr. Hannity away from giving advice to Mr. Trump and his campaign — at least not so far during a turbulent time at the network.
Then again, at this point there are questions about how much advice Mr. Ailes himself was lending to Mr. Trump when he was running the place, given that, as The Times reported on Saturday, he has already emerged as an influential Trump adviser.
Mr. Hannity told me his support for Mr. Trump makes him “more honest” than mainstream reporters who hide their biases. It turns out even “honesty” is a relative concept these days. For some people more than others.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Last Day

The home is in boxes.  Yesterday the movers were here all day.  Today they are coming to take us away.

In a few hours I'll set out to drive by myself to Houston.  It's been a long time since I drove across the country to move.  In my youth I seemed to do it every other year.

For our last meal, last night we ate at In-N-Out.

And it was righteous.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The House Is Ours (Probably)

So it's all over.  The original sellers--the ones who walked away from the deal on Monday night--have come back to the table.  All has been forgiven.  The band and trumpets are sounding.  The parade grounds are filled.

Here's what happened.  After our disastrous and dispiriting Monday night, we moved on to a new house.  We began to have our realtor feel out the new seller about terms and conditions.  (I should say that this second house was one we'd seen on our house-hunting trip last month, and that it had always been our second choice).  We spent all of Tuesday mentally adjusting to the idea that the new house--Swimming Pool House, as I call it (because it had, in the back yard, a giant greenhouse.  No, no)--would be, if not as good as the first house, still perfect acceptable.  It was smaller, yes, and a little more generic.  And there was no real backyard.  And we'd never wanted a pool.  And it was haunted by the ghost of Stonewall Jackson.  And there a pit of iron spikes in the middle of the master bath.  But other than, that, you know.  It was fine.

So we had mostly gotten our minds around the idea that Swimming Pool house was going to be our new home.  And then, on the same day our agent had been dispatched to Swimming Pool house to do some scouting, he got a call.  The original sellers--from the First House--had a new offer.  They would give us [substantial sum] off of the price of the home if we'd come back to the table.  In money terms, it was a clear home run.  Even adding in all the repairs we'd have to make, we'd be getting the house at a great price.  The only consideration was the sellers themselves.  Had their lack of forthrightness in disclosing the plumbing situation the first time round ruled them out as someone to do business with?

In the end, we decided it hadn't.  Maybe they aren't the most ethical people out there, but given all the many, many inspections we've performed on the house, there seems very little chance that it could have any other hidden problems.  I should also say, though I don't want to go into details on a semi-public forum, that we've since learned something about one of the sellers that has made me reconsider my earlier judgement of their lack of ethics.  They have some other big things going on in their life-- troubling things--and it's possible they weren't so much unethical as...what...distracted?

Anyway, point is, we got the first house--the one we wanted--and we're feeling good.  Tired, emotionally, but good.  There's now the issue of effecting a large amount of repairs and remodeling in  the relatively brief window between the time the Sellers depart and we move in.

But that's a story for another post.  Or, more likely, several.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Or Did It?

The sellers have changed their mind.  They've just come to us with a new offer, to rebate us a significant amount of cash--more than we'd asked in the beginning.

Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How the Home Purchase Fell Through

There is no joy in ANCIANT land; our home purchase has fallen through.  Yesterday was a dark, hard day.  It was 110 outside, for one thing, and even though we had the AC on inside it was still sweltering.  Plus I hadn't slept well the night before, and all day I felt kind of dizzy and tired.  And then, the house....

As you know if you've bought a house, throughout the process of escrow buyers have several opportunities to exit the deal.  Contingencies, they're called.  For us the only relevant contingency was Inspections.  Inspectors come out to look at the property.  They make sure it's structurally sound and they identify any hidden problems.  If there are problems you ask the seller to fix them (or, more often, you ask for money to be taken off the price off the house, which you then use to make the necessary repairs).

Last week, our realtor had a number of inspectors come out, and we hadn't turned up anything major (there were some termites, and there were mild drainage issues).  But he wanted also to get something called a HydroStatic test.  This is a test in which they pressurize your outgoing water pipes and see if there are any leaks.

It's not a test everyone effects; most realtors will get a basic inspection report and maybe on top of it, a structural report.  But our guy (who's fantastic, btw--if anyone needs a realtor in (CITY) let me know)--gets as many inspections as possible.  In part, he wants to do his due diligence, but he also wants to increase his own bargaining position going into the inspection negotiations (the more things you can find wrong, the more you can ask for).

So, he wanted the HydroStatic test.  And the sellers, at first, refused.  They had to sign some kind of waiver to allow the Testing Agent to go in and pressurize their pipes, and somehow last Friday they "couldn't be found" in time to sign said waiver.  But our realtor pursued them, and he got it set up so that the test would be done yesterday--Monday.  Which was the last day we had to negotiate our inspection contingency. 

The HydroStatic report showed that the pipes on the left side of the house (site of the Master Bedroom) were leaking fluid into the area underneath the home's foundation slab.  This was very bad--and something that has to be fixed.  (If not, you risk softening and ultimately destroying the foundation).  The cost to do so was twenty thousand dollars.  And this, at least from our point of view, was not a negotiable repair--you can't move into a house where water is pooling under the foundation. 

Well, you can, but it seems stupid.

Keep in mind that we had to have all this negotation finalized, and a final number agreed upon, by 6 pm on Monday night (8 PM central time).   We've just gotten the HydroStatic report at 5 PM (our time).  We have an hour.  So this is a very hectic and tense time (in our sweltering, sweltering house).  Remeber, we not only asking for the pipes to be fixed, we're also asking for a lot of other smaller repairs (drains, termites, etc).  And we're trying to decide, as we wait to hear from our Realtor, the minimum amount we would accept in repair allowances.  They've already promised to give us money for the termites (that's about 4k).  We're assuming they're going to give us the money to fix the pipes.  But will they give us any more?  They should but how much more?  That's what we're wondering.

The answer is: zero much more.  Not only will they not give us any additional money, they're refusing to give us enough to cover the plumbing fix.  Their total number turns out to be 8k.  That's for everything.  The termites, the pipes, the drains--all of it.  So that's very bad.

And that's not all.  Our HydroStatic guy has had, for some reason, to have a phone conversation with the Seller.  What he reports back to our realtor is that the he believes that Seller KNEW THE PIPES WERE LEAKING FROM THE START.  HydroStatic can't prove this conclusively, of course; the Seller hasn't come out and directly stated that he knew--to do so would be admitting to an illegal fraud.  But based on the Seller's deep familiarity with HydroStatic testing, and judging by some very pointed 'in the know' questions Seller has asked, HydroStatic guy is confident the Seller knew the whole time.  He's been trying to con us, in other words.

Later, the Seller's Realtor ("Sara") concludes essentially the same thing.  This is after the deal has collapsed; she has called our Realtor to apologize for how it all went down.  She was acting on behalf of friend, and she had no idea that they were up to something.  But now, in the light of what's been discovered, she's gone back over their interactions and put together other fragments of their conversation, and she thinks it smells bad.

(The Seller, I should note, just to finish up on the scintiallating 'pipes discussion'--has had their house partially--but not entirely--repiped three years ago.  So they're likely to be very cognizant of the pipage situation in their home). 

Anyway, it's all very sad on many levels.  I feel great anger and rage against the sellers, who have revealed themselves as liars and frauds.  I'm sad we didn't get the house.  I'm sad and weary that we have to go through this whole process again.  And I'm glad we have a good realtor, who was able to ferret out this deception before we got took.

From the start of our interaction with these sellers, my wife has been calling them 'squirrley.'  And I have been saying she was wrong.  But I was wrong.  She was right.  I guess she sensed from the outset, that they were no good.  And, credit where it's due: she was right.  I think it just never occurs to me, in these situations, that people will deceive you.  I think I assume that everybody in the world is like my parents, and they all act with integrity, and that their word is their bond.  [That to me, is what it is to be an adult.  It's certainly what it means to be a man.  Integrity.  Your word is your bond.  All that good stuff.]  So I'm kind of just...at a loss when I learn people are otherwise.  Which, I suppose, shows how naive I am.    

A final note--now that Sara knows about the plumbing leak in seller's house she is obliged, legally, to disclose said leak to any new potential buyers.  If she fails to do so, she could lose her license (and Sara, we're confident, is an honest person; she's on the hook for any of this).  What that means is that the Sellers are going to face the same negotation about fixing the plumbing with whoever they find to buy the house.  Now, possibly a new buyer might accept the leak--they might not insist on the repairs being made.  But that seems unlikely (would you buy a house knowing that water was leaking under the foundation?) 

The Sellers could get around this problem by firing Sara and bringing in a new agent.  Doing so would make it possible for them to continue to hide the information about the leaking pipes to new buyers (the new agent would presuambly not have been told about the plumbing problem).  However, our agent has already indicated that, should the Sellers puruse that parth--should they fire Lisa and hire a new Agent--he will make sure and be in touch with anyone who enters into escrow to buy the house, to make sure they know about the leak.

Also, we're going to where they live, these sellers, in Wyoming, and burning down their house.  At least that's my thought.  And the land will be sere and dark wherever they may dwell, and their children shall eat the crusts of broken bread, and locusts and plague shall be their comforters, in their dark streets of Babylon.