Beer Review: Whale’s Tail Pale Ale

Beer: Whale’s Tail Pale Ale
Brewer: Cisco Brewers
Source: Draught
Rating: * (5.4 of 10)
Comments:  Another night at Bukowski’s, another New England-brewed beer, this time from Nantucket’s Cisco Brewers (There once was a beer from Nantucket…).  Like Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale, this beer looks quite good with a nice golden red color and a thick head, but has a strong bitter flavor.  Unlike Shoals Pale Ale, I actually kind of warmed up to Whale’s Tail the more I sipped.  It has a nice “bready” aftertaste.  I sipped it to the last drop leaving an empty glass lined with Brussels lace.

An Owl in the Arboretum

Susan, Peter and I took a walk in the Arnold Arboretum today, cut short by the rain. On our way back to Forest Hills, we saw a large whoosh of brown feathers fly low right over the path. It was a large owl of some sort and it was being pursued by a bunch of crows. We caught up with it down the path where it settled in the branch of a tree and looked pretty calm. Perhaps it realized that it is much bigger than the crows. It stayed still long enough for me to get one quick, blurry photo.

Owl in the Arboretum

I shared the photo with our friend Toby who is a birder and she identified it as a Barred Owl:

They tend to like densely wooded and swampy areas, but every winter one or two of them show up in downtown Boston … They feed mostly on rodents, so downtown Boston offers rich pickings.

Even though a Barred Owl does not present a threat to crows, they’ll chase it anyway. Any kind of raptor will set them off, and Great Horned Owls (which live in the same types of habitat) are a danger.

We’re having a problem with mice in our kitchen so perhaps we should invite the Barred Owl to stop by.

This concludes the ornithological lesson for today.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday perhaps due to the fact that after being born on a Sunday I came home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Thursday (which was on Nov. 22 in 1973 as it is this year). Thanksgiving was a holiday my family celebrated with more gusto than Christmas, and we always seemed to do something different. Sometimes we celebrated with the grandparents in Brooklyn, sometimes we feasted with the grandparents in Pennsylvania, once we visited cousins in Philadelphia, often we hosted people at our home or had it be just us (which was often the best way).

When I was little we watched the Thanksgiving Day parade from my dad’s office building in New York (at balloon’s eye view), later we watched it on tv. Once we drove in to the city but got there too late for the parade but ate dinner at Tavern on the Green (note: Thanksgiving dinner at Tavern on the Green isn’t that good). Usually my mom did the cooking – turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mmm-mashed potatoes. One year I fondly remember roasting cocktail wieners in the fireplace (although I should note that this did not replace Thanksgiving dinner, this was a light meal the night before).

Other great Thanksgiving traditions include watching King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young on TV. Then there’s the annual listening to “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” the official song of Thanksgiving. One year my mother proved on a drive up I-95 that the song is actually longer than the state of Delaware. What other holiday has traditions so delightfully odd?

New Englanders are rightly proud to be the originators of Thanksgiving as in this blog post It All Started Here. Then again, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub points out that Texas Was Thankful First. Berekeley Plantation in Virginia also lays claim to primacy in celebrating Thanksgiving. This all boils down to a modern day misunderstanding of the purpose of a day of Thanksgiving in the colonial era where it was a day proclaimed to solemnly commemorate a particular event to be thankful for such as a successful harvest. The Separatist Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth would never want to institute an annual event. So I think the real credit for the first Thanksgiving, the American holiday, goes to Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed Thanksgiving in 1863.

I have a lot to be thankful this year especially for my family which has grown by one this month, my friends, a new home, and an all-around safe, healthy, content life. Amen!

Cary Grant Film Festival

Quite by accident we had a Cary Grant Film festival at home both before and after the birth of our baby boy. Susan requested His Girl Friday from Netflix (our first film delivered thanks to Craig’s gift subscription) and then I stumbled upon the rest at the public library. I’d also checked-out The Awful Truth, but the DVD froze up in the computer a minute into the film so I didn’t get to watch it.

His Girl Friday (1940)

I don’t know why I’m surprised when old films are cynical and satirical, but this one caught me off-guard. The basic gist is that the media are dishonest purveyors of sensational stories at the expense of real news like “the war in Europe.” I was particularly surprised that the underlying plot is about a white man who shot a black cop and the mayor who wants to execute him so he will not lose the votes of his black constituency. And this is just background plot that the filmmakers figure the audience will get it. In the main story, Grant portrays a manipulative news editor trying to prevent his ex-wife from remarrying mainly because she’s his best reporter. Rosalind Russell overshadows grant as Hildy Johnson the quick-witted, fast-talking ex-wife who learns that she will not be happy away from the sleazy life of news reporting.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

This is one of my all-time favorite movies starring two of my all-time favorite actors, Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Once again Grant is somewhat overshadowed by his co-star as Hepburn is delightfully lunatic, but Grant holds his own as a nerdy (believe it or not) paleontologist. This movie is absurdly wonderful as Hepburn tricks Grant into to going to the wilds of Connecticut in a convoluted plot involving not one but two leopards (as a child I loved that this movie takes place in Connecticut and portrays Connecticut as a crazy place). As an added bonus, Grant utters a line in which for the first time on film the word “gay” is used to refer to “homosexual.”

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Another Frank Capra classic which is one of my all-time favorites. This time it is Brooklyn that is the borough of insanity in a comic Halloween caper. Grant is a drama critic who marries the girl next door and on his wedding night learns that his entire family is criminally insane. There’s Teddy who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt and does bugle charges up the stairs. There’s his beloved aunts who poison lonely old men because they believe it’s charitable. Then there’s the mysterious Jonathan who returns after a long absence with a corpse and a creepy Peter Lorre. Grant shows off that he is a master of doubletakes and slow burns as everything comes to a head. It’s a comedy so all ends well in this diabolically funny film.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

Mr. Blandings is evidence that “starring Cary Grant” does not equal a good movie.  The basic gist is that Cary Grant and his wife portrayed by Myrna Loy are dupes who put everything into a money pit in rural Connecticut to escape the city life.  Most of the jokes and sight gags fall flat and the film is basically annoying sarcastic about everyone: the city and the country, the swindling real estate agents and contractors and the dopey people who pay them.  Really, Grant and Loy are miscast because they are far too witty and urbane to be believable as these dull proto-yuppies leading the white flight out of New York.

Book Review: Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis

Several years ago my friends Mike and Annie lent me a time-travel adventure novel called The Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis.  I enjoyed the book (it helped me get through a kidney stone for starters) and have been smitten with Willis’ brand of science fiction ever since.  A typical Willis novel generally involves some psychological phenomenon with a number of people obsessively trying to unravel it’s mystery.  This is true for fads in Belwether (1996), near-death experiencs in Passage (2002), and psychics in Inside Job (2005).  The Doomsday Book and its sort of sequel To Say Nothing of the Dog merely have people obsessing about time travel and the predicaments they find themselves in as a result (and remain my first and second favorite Willis books respectively). A weakness of these books are that all the characters seem equally obsessed and serve only to present new information and twists and turns rather than be fleshed out as individuals.  Willis makes up for this with a good sense of suspense, humor, and well-researched scientific and historical facts.

My fondness for Willis and Abraham Lincoln made reading Lincoln’s Dreams (1987) a natural choice.  The topic of obsession here is naturally dreams: do they rehash one’s day, foresee the future, or are they your body’s way of telling something. The book could easily be called Lee’s Dreams as a central character Annie appears to be revisiting the Civil War through the Confederate general’s dreams.  The title comes from another character, a Shelby Foote-like author, who obsesses over the dreams Lincoln had foreshadowing his assassination.  Despite a nice hodge-podge of dream psychology, history (with great historical tales about Lee’s horse Trigger Traveller), and the familiar setting of Washington and Virginia, this book didn’t hit the mark to me.  The characters are so subservient to plot and the plot so subservient to a nice pat theory of dreams that there really is no story here at all.  Then again, it’s brain candy, but a least of an intelligent kind.

I’m the birthday, I’m the birthday boy or girl!

Today I turn 34 years old. Thus my Jesus Year has reached its end. While I’ve outlived Jesus, resurrection, salvation of humanity and eternal life are still way out of my grasp.

I received my best gift 2 1/2 weeks ago. Everyone I know (and then some) are well aware that our first child was born on November 1st. If there happen to be any strangers out there who read this blog regularly, Susan and I are proud parents of a boy named Peter. It’s delightful to be a parent and get to know our little guy.

This is also the reason why I haven’t had time to blog recently. I have a whole bunch of half-completed posts from before and since November 1st that I’m going to work on soon, so if you’re reading a feed and notice a bunch of posts from the past popping up it’s because I’m cheating.

In the meantime, celebrate my birthday by reading This Day in History. I’ve long known that I shared a birthday with Mickey Mouse, but learned today that I also share a birthday with William Gilbert (somewhat ironic since I share a name with his partner).

Book Review: Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (2001) by Steven Johnson is a fun and fascinating book that explores self-organizing systems from slime molds to software.  Debunking “The Myth of the Ant Queen,” Johnson tells of the research done in urban studies, neuroscience, and computer games that shows that there is no need for a leader or “pacemaker” to get things going.  Don’t make me explain the science but I do reccomend reading the book.

Here’s an article from The New York Times on the swarming instinct (Nov. 13, 2007) that may be related (via MetaFilter).

Favorite Passages

According to the gospel of Death and Life, individuals only benefit indirectly from their sidewalk rituals: better sidewalks make better cities, which in turn improve the lives of the city dwellers. The value of the exchange between strangers themselves. The sidewalk exist to create the “complex order” of the city, not to make the citizens more well-rounded. Sidewalks work because they permit local interactions to create global order. – p. 96

The neighborhood system of the city functions as a kind of user interface for the same reason that traditional computer interfaces do: there are limits to how much information our brains can handle at any given time. We need visual interfaces on our desktop computers because the sheer quantity of information stored on our hard drives — not to mention on the Net itself — greatly exceeds the carrying capacity of the human mind. Cities are a solution to a comparable problem, both on the level of the collective and the individual. Cities store and transmit useful new ideas to the wider population, ensuring that powerful new technologies don’t disappear once they’ve been invented. But the self-organizing clusters of neighborhoods also serve to make cities more intelligible to the individuals who inhabit them — as we saw in the case of our time-traveling Florentine. The specialization of the city makes it smarter, more useful for its inhabitants. And the extraordinary thing again is that this learning emerges without anyone even being aware of it. Information management — subduing the complexity of a large-scale human settlement — is the latent purpose of a city, because when cities come into being, their inhabitants are driven by other motives, such as safety or trade. No one founds a city with the explicit intent of storing information more efficiently, or making its social organization more palatable for the limited bandwidth of the human mind. That data management only happens later, as a kind of collective afterthought: yet another macrobehavior that can’t be predicted from the micromotives. Cities may function like libraries and interfaces, but they are not built with that explicit aim. – p. 108-109

The Web may never become self-aware in any way that resembles human self-awareness, but that doesn’t mean the Web isn’t capable of learning. Our networks will grow smarter in the coming years, but smarter in the way that an immune system or a a city grows smarter, not the way a child does. That’s nothing to apologize for — an adaptive information network capable of complex pattern recognition could prove to be one of the most important inventions in all of human history. Who cares if it never actually learns how to think for itself? – p. 128

One last note: the names of E.O. Wilson and Jane Jacobs keep coming up in my readings, so I really ought to find some of their works to read.

Book Review: Local Attachments: The Making of an American Urban Neighborhood, 1850-1920

Local Attachments: The Making of an American Urban Neighborhood, 1850-1920 (1994) by Alexander Von Hoffman is an historical work on the urban neighborhood in the late 19th century.  I read this book because the subject of this case study is my own neighborhood of Jamaica Plain – once a part in Roxbury, then the central district of the town of West Roxbury, and finally annexed as a neighborhood into Boston (but never a separate municipality unto itself).  Frankly, if this book were not about Jamaica Plain, I would have lost interest rather quickly due to the dry academic tone of the work.

Von Hoffman seems to be arguing against a traditional understanding of urban development that I’ve never been acquainted with before so it makes it hard to see his point at times.  I also wish he would heed the writer’s advice to “show me” (with specific examples and anecdotes) rather than “tell me” (with statistical summary).  There are some interesting tales of JP here and there such as how Protestant churches helped St. Thomas Aquinas raise building funds, a great contrast to the usual story of Protestant antithapy toward Irish Catholics in Boston.  There is also a chapter of how the city-organized, universally designed parks of Jamaica Plain were built at odds with the neighborhood and Jamaica Plain residents had no proprietary feelings toward them.  That’s certainly changed today as the parks are a big reason why I live in JP.

Anyhow, this book is probably great for an urban studies course but it is not so interesting for someone like me who just wants to read up on the neighborhood.

Movie Review: You Can’t Take it With You

You Can’t Take it With You (1938) is one of my favorite movies of all time, although it’s not the movie I remember.  The last time I saw this film I was a teenager and I remember it being an inspiring movie about a household of eccentric people who do what they desire in life.  Yes, I remember a plot about a granddaughter dating the son of an industrialist who is planning on destroying the neighborhood, but somehow the rest of the plot escaped my memory.   You Can’t Take it With You turns out to be a less madcap and more sobering movie than I remembered, and a times a bit preachy too.

It’s a still a delightful movie in the Frank Capra mold.  The strength of You Can’t Take it With You  is in the performances of two actors portraying fathers and the decisions they face that will affect their children (I can relate to fathers now).  Lionel Barrymore plays Grandpa Martin Vanderhoff, head of the eccentric household in Brooklyn while Edward Arnold plays his foil Anthony P. Kirby, the big businessman who has lost his way.  A very young James Stewart also stars as the younger Kirby and even though he was a Reagan Republican in real life, he is seen spouting liberal anti-corporate ideology as he always seems to do in Capra films.

The supporting cast are excellent in portraying their various characters pursuing their crazy dreams.  Message or no message this is a delightful film full of witty banter and all-around silliness.  I highly recommend it.

Best Quote:

Grandpa Martin Vanderhof: Lincoln said, “With malice toward none, with charity to all.” Nowadays they say, “Think the way I do or I’ll bomb the daylights outta you.”