Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 20

A few days ago my wife, going outside to start her car in the morning (she parks on the street) found it making a horrible and upsetting noise.  Something was obviously horribly wrong, and she didn't know what.  She knew, though, that she couldn't drive it and so she came back inside and called AAA, to have it towed.

It turns out that the reason it was making such disgusting noises was that its catalytic converter had been stolen.  This apparently is a very common crime; catalytic converters have platinum in them (we learned) which can resell for upwards of 500$.  It turns out my wife knows half a dozen people who've also had THEIR c converters stolen--one of them from the parking lot of their work, during lunch.

Our insurance paid for it be replaced (minus the deductible) and it turned out to be not a big deal.  From now on we're going to have my wife park in our driveway.  Also I've attached a series of poison darts to the underside of her car; if anyone tries to mess with it, they'll taste the wrath of justice.  But there you go.  Life in the city.  The criminal element.  Rust never sleeps.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 19

Nas's Illmatic has grown on me.  I'm starting to get what makes it so celebrated.

Elizabeth Bowen--does anyone read her anymore?  She's great!

The most lasting impression I took away form the recent profile of Donald Antrim in the Sunday Times magazine was of Johnathan Franzen and how perpetually irritating and horrible he is.  Even though the piece was about how much he'd tried to help out Antrim!  I guess that reflects on me, doesn't it?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 18

I've watched most of "You're the Worst" on demand in the last two days.  It's a new series that just finished its first season on FX.  It's about two misanthropic, generally selfish and unpleasant people who get together for a one-night stand and then gradually, despite their best efforts to the contrary, grow attached to one another.  The male hero is a sharp-tongued British writer; the female lead is a blasé and brittle LA publicist.  The whole thing's set in LA's uber-hip Silverlake district, which allows it to do some funny riffs on Los Angeles culture (such as it is).  It's nothing fantastic, but it holds my interest.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 17

I finished a mystery novel last night (Deadheads by the guy I've been reading on and off--Reginald Hill. Who's great, btw) in which, at the end, the criminal who'd been murdering everybody WAS NOT CAUGHT.  He got away!  I was surprised to discover how angry I felt, putting it down.  I mean, I know it's fiction. I know that Patrick Alderman doesn't exist; that he didn't really get away with anything.  But, somehow, it infuriated me.   Was it because of the character's skating free of justice, or because I felt tricked and used, somehow, by the writer?   A lot of great writing is about defeating or surprising readerly expectations.  But in this case, having my expectation so frustrated...it was not enjoyable at all.

I wonder if he got angry letters after the book came out. He must have. I'm angry still.

I heard "Slit Skirts" by Pete Townshend on the radio today.  It took me back to high school, when I used to listen to two of his solo albums constantly.  And how well the song holds up!  Although now, now longer a teen-ager, I find its deep sadness and loneliness affects me in a way it never did in high school.  But, I'm going to revisit those albums, I think. "Can't pretend that growing older never hurts."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 16

Very brief post.  Courtesy of my brother, I learn that the famed Carl, of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, does a weekly football pick for ESPN.  Here's a link to the first two predictions.  The first one (Vikings) is my favorite so far.

I'm reading Isaac Babel right now every night before bed.  As a consequence my dreams are uneasy phantasmagoric montages involving pillaging Russian soldiers, pogroms, and Stalinist collectivization trials.  Well, not really.  But I feel like they should be.

Finally, I want everyone to watch this hilarious video I found at The Browser.  It'll have the most impact on people familiar with all the stories and legends surrounding the recording of Bowie's (seminal masterpiece) Low, but I feel confident predicting that everyone will enjoy it.

The reason the Visconti figure keeps talking about how he's the co-producer, btw, is because his contributions to the album, have, in fact, been mostly under appreciated over the last 30 years or so.

Man this makes me happy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 15

I don't know what to think of this whole Adrian Peterson thing.  On the one hand, the images and stories of his child-rearing methods are undoubtedly disturbing.  But on the other hand I doubt his methods--unsavory as they might seem to many people--lie so far beyond the pale of what's expected, or even common, especially within the African-American community.  Of course I have only anecdote and second-hand knowledge here, but isn't it more common, in black families, for children to be severely punished for transgressions?  And if that is so, if 'whoppings' of the severity we see depicted on TV now w/r/t Peterson, are common, then why is Peterson alone the one who's being made an example of?  Because he's an athlete?  I don't know.  Is the point to effect a widespread change in parenting disciplinary methods, across the entire US?  Or just to make an example of one person, so that we can all feel good about how enlightened WE are as parents, because we don't use corporal punishment?

I'm not suggesting, at all, that I find Peterson's methods anything more than appalling.  But I find, in this widespread condemnation, an element of smugness and superiority that's off-putting.  Too, I'm not sure what purpose it all serves.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 14

As noted previously, I'm doing a three-day on, three-day off type thing.  So we're back on!  How exciting!

Nas's Illmatic has yet to make much of an impression on me either way.   Talk Talk's album Laughing Stock--also a recommended 'top of the 90s' CD on Pitchfork--on the other hand, is slowly insinuating its way into my mind.

Having placed money on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl, I'm now very much invested in their season.  That made last night's game (a come-from-behind win against the Colts) vastly more thrilling than it would have been otherwise.  They are a fun, fun team to watch.  Shady McCoy and Darren Sproles on one team.  Come on!  A great piece appeared in ESPN The Magazine last month about Chip Kelly's innovations with the Eagles.  He's apparently super-obssessed with health and wellness; he seemingly believes he has discovered ways to keep his team healthier and in better shape throughout a season than a typical team (and indeed, last year, the Eagles suffered a surprising paucity of injuries).  Among the things he stresses: constant hydration during practice, and a rigorous insistence that all his players get lots of sleep.  (I forget the number, but he tries to make them all get a minimum of...what? nine hours a night?)  They all have monitors and devices hooked up to them all the time so he can track their sleep totals.  Crazy.  But then you see how fresh they look in the fourth quarter--both their victories this season have been come-from-behind efforts--and it all seems to work.

It's in the 100s again today but I must go play tennis.  It's like 115 on the courts, but my body is now addicted to the exercise.  Yesterday I tried to take it easy and did a light workout; as a result I didn't sleep at all well.

I'm going to read some William Trevor novels, next, I think.  I know at least one reader who can recommend some.  And would like to hear his thoughts.

I recommend strongly William Finnegan's piece on the efforts to unionize fast-food workers in the new New Yorker.  Apparently pay disparity between executives and low level workers in the fast food industry is among the greatest in the nation.  Fast food chains also enforce a variety of fairly sinister rules that make it essentially impossible for anyone working there to earn a subsistence level income.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 13

The received opinion seems to suggest that Nas's Illmatic is "the greatest" hip-hop album ever.  Obviously, that's a subjective assessment, but there is widespread consensus among hip-hop cognoscenti that Illmatic is a high point in hip-hop history.  I've seen it compared several times now to Kind of Blue.  So, that's what I'm going to to be listening to this week.  We'll see.

I also have a whole host of NFL predictions, for which I know you all hunger.  Here are a few.
1.  The Indianopolis Colts will finish 8-8 or 9-7; they will not make the playoffs.
2.  Blake Bortles will pan out; he'll be a success as an NFL quarterback.
3. The St. Louis Rams and New York Giants will finish with the league's worst records.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 12

Short and sweet, b/c I've got a lot going on...
-Just read the Pitchfork top 100 albums of the 90s, looking for music recs.  Surprised to see I had actually already listened to (and in many cases owned) 80% of them.  I'm thinking I want to give Hip Hop another try--it's never done much for me, but maybe I'm ready now?
-If you want to feel profoundly depressed about humanity (and who doesn't!) watch the new Fox show Utopia.  Horrible on every level.  I gave it a shot, and now I'll never get those hours back.
-trying out two different grilled steak recipes tonight.  We'll see.  Doing a perfect grilled steak is harder than it seems.  We ate at the Batali/Bastianich "Carnevino" in Vegas last weekend and had maybe the best steak of our lives.  So.  This will probably approach that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 11

I enjoyed the Joseph O'Neill story in the recent New Yorker.  Less so the one by Thomas McGuane.  I think I'll dig up one of O'Neill's books.  I'd never heard of him before.

Should I read something by Elizabeth Gaskell?  I never have.  Her name came up recently in a William Trevor story.  Also, Jude the Obscure.  Another novel I've never read.  But I liked Return of the Native.  Also, The Muppet Movie (little-known fact: that was based on one of Hardy's short stories).

In Vegas I made a bet that the Eagles would win the Super Bowl.  Not because I think it's likely, but because, at 20-1, I thought the bet offered good odds.  I bet 100$.  The wife bet 10$ that the Falcons would win the Super Bowl.  I wanted her to bet 20$, but she didn't want to get crazy.  That was funny.

The guy I've been taking tennis lessons from cancelled today, the morning of the lesson.  He said it was too hot.  It's 90 degrees!  Weak sauce.  I went out and hit by myself, but clearly I need a new guy.  Next week it's going to be in the 100s.  I might have to curb things a bit, then.  I've been spending two hours a day on the courts.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 10

Well since none of you wretched excuses for friends has responded to any of my prior posts in anything near the depth or wisdom I'd expected, I'm not much disposed to continue to bestow on you the ripe and succulent fruits of my intelligence.  Fruits are for winners!

But I did think of another problem I have with Breaking Bad: in the crucial "Ozymandias" episode (the antepenultimate one, I believe--in which Hank is killed by the biker nazis), there's a moment where the biker gang dudes call out, to Hank and his partner, "Gomey", something to the effect of "Show us your [DEA] badges, and we won't shoot."  Prior to that, recall, Hank has announced that he's a cop but hasn't shown any proof.  Now, possibly we're meant to understand that the bikers are lying here--that, badges or not, they're still going to shoot.  But it's very unclear that that's the case--and certainly, given the straits Hank and Gomez are in at that point--massively outnumbered, and about to die--you'd think they'd at least give it a shot, and show their badges.  But they don't.  Why not?  Another story flaw, says I.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 9

One more hand from Vegas.  I don't know if I could have played this better or not.  Like to hear some feedback.  Also about the prior post.

Game: 2/5.  We hold about 900$.  Have been at the table about an hour and have not done anything especially exciting.

We're on the button with AA.  One player limps UTG.  Cutoff makes it 25.  We call (?!).  UTG folds.

Flop is: Ah  5c 9d.  

Cutoff bets 40.  We call.

Turn is: Kc.

Cutoff bets 65.  We raise to 150.  Cutoff folds.

Cutoff is the irritating type of player who always can explain to everybody every single strategic move made by two players in hand--and does, as soon as it's over.  (E.g.: "I knew he didn't have an ace because he'd never bet the ace there, he'd just check." OR: "You had to either be betting to push me off a chop or for value and I knew you couldn't be betting for value because I had the ace." etc etc.)  We're only played two prior hands.  In one he raised and I called pre flop, then folded when an ace hit the flop.  (I had JQ).  In the second hand I raised the button with AQ: he called me out of position and then called me down on an AQ high board before making a crying call on the river with what was clearly a bad ace.  (Before he called he said "it feels a lot like you have AQ here."  Then, after making the call he bragged about how clever he'd been to identify my hand).

Anyway, back to this hand.  I smooth called pre in order to disguise my strength, obviously.  The flop was a dream; when he bet both it and the turn, I figured he almost certainly had an Ace.  My hope was that he might have AK and the turn had given him two pair--a hand I didn't see him getting away from very cheaply against my set (especially given how I'd played it).  I guess he must have had a hand like AJ or something, in which case I wonder if I should have smooth called one more street and hoped he maybe made two pair on the river.  I didn't have any real draws to fear--very unlikely he had a backdoor straight or flush draw given the betting.  So, I don't know.  Not sure what to think.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 8

As promised, a hand I won but misplayed...

The game is 2/5 NL.  We have about 1200$ in front of us, covering the other players in the hand.  We are in MP.  A player limps in front of us.  We look down and find JQs.  We raise to 20.  The button calls and so does the original limper.

The flop comes: 4h 7s 9s.  The EP player checks.  We check.  The button checks.

Thoughts:  This check is non-standard, certainly.  Most players, with two overs and a flush draw, would bet out.  Honestly, I couldn't tell you, now, why I decided to, but in the moment it felt like the right play.  A small part was that the EP player had shown a tendency to play some aggro/tricky poker; I thought he was more than capable of check-raising a c-bet he perceived as weak.  I also think that NOT betting a flush draw actually disguises your hand.  Because everyone "knows" that "good" (by which we mean aggressive) players always bet their draws.   But if you don't bet the draw, you will sometimes find it easier to get paid off when you hit the flush.  Also, betting on a draw has value only if some of the time you can get people to fold without hitting your hand.  And in this case, with two players who'd shown themselves to be fairly 'sticky', I thought that was unlikely.  I could have bet here and it would have been fine, but I didn't.  (This street was not the reason I think I misplayed the hand, btw).

Turn comes: 8s.  EP checks.  I bet 35$.  The button calls.  EP folds.

Thoughts: Clearly, with a Q-high flush, I have to start putting money in the pot.  When the button calls, I assume he has a high spade (Ace or King, obviously) and is calling on a draw.  The button, by the way, is a man in his mid-50s.  He lives in Vegas and is clearly a regular at the Venetian Poker Room.  That said, I'd guess he's a slight loser, lifetime, playing at this level.  He hasn't shown a lot of imagination, and he shares a lot of the flaws of your standard 2/5 player; he overvalues medium-strength hands, he makes bad calls pre flop, and he bluffs in situations where it's obvious he's getting called.  He's not by any means a donkey, but neither is someone we particularly fear.

The river: 6h.  The board now reads: 4h 7s 9s 8s 6h.

I now check.  I've been watching this player for a while, and I've noticed a tendency on his part to bet any river when checked to (he's used this play to pick up a number of pots where, my guess is, he does NOT have the best hand).  So, the odds of him bluffing here aren't terrible.   Recall, too, that my assumption, based on his betting so far, was that he was on a flush draw.  If I lead out, betting into him, his missed flush draw will fold.  However, if I check (representing, maybe, that I too was on a flush draw--remember what I said earlier: everyone assumes that everyone else will always bet their flush draws) there's some chance he might try to bluff me off my missed draw.

So, as noted, I check.  He now bets 75$.  And I make what I decide later is a real mistake.  I call.

Why is this a mistake?  What should I have done?

I'll wait for the inevitable deluge of comments from my legion of rapt readers before I post more.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Thirty Days of Blogging: Day 7

We got back from Vegas yesterday afternoon after passing a pleasant weekend sleeping, eating out, and going to the gym.  Yes, I actually went to the gym in Vegas (the wife went twice!)  It's this new health kick I'm on.  It's gotten so I start to feel physically...wrong if I don't do some kind of workout.  I also have less desire to eat rich meals and drink good wine than I used to.  Which makes Vegas a bit of an ill fit, vacation-wise.  But we still had fun.

Another joy that's lessened for me considerably over the years: poker.  I don't know why, but sitting for hours by myself at a poker table no longer holds much excitement for me.  (It's different when I'm with friends.)  This weekend, though, I wanted to play at least six hours; that's what it takes to get a poker room rate for one night at the Venetian.  (Interesting info: they apply the poker room rate to your MOST expensive night.  Which is pretty sporting of them.)

To keep myself from playing "Bored Poker"--in which I raise every hand, pretend I'm Phil Ivey, get called down by a lot of people with middle pairs on four flush boards, and then go on tilt--I played 2/5.  I played a super-tight ABC game; I made only two bluffs the entire seven hours I played (and in one I was probably bluffing with the best hand).  I caught decent cards and ended up winning about 1500$.  And yet, in the end, it wasn't all that much fun.  I mean, yes, it's obviously fun to win (way better than losing) but, I don't know.  2/5 no longer holds much excitement for me.  If I play my game, and I don't get sucked out on, I think over the long run, I can beat that game, in the average Vegas casino.  But "my game", the game I play to win at those stakes, is pretty unimaginative; it basically involves doing what the books all say--trying to only play hands in position, folding a lot pre flop, and basically only betting big when I have a hand that's better than top pair.

And then, too, even when you win, or even when I win, I feel somewhat dissatisfied.  Because you can always play better.  You could have always won MORE.  I made a few mistakes this weekend--I played a B+ game, I'd say--that, had I not made, would have upped my win total to about 2000.

Tomorrow: an example of a hand I won, but, in the end, misplayed.