Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2007

Two South American Wines

Los Vascos
Cabernet Sauvignon
Colchagua, Chile
2005

The most distinguishing thing about this cabernet is that its label reads "Domaines Barons De Rothschild (Lafite)" at the top. At first glance I somehow assumed this meant I was drinking genuine Chateau Lafite Rothschild. When I actually had a sip however, I knew this could not be Old World wine. I re-checked the label and, indeed, at the very bottom in light gray microscopic print it reads "Produced by Vina Los Vascos - Peralillo - Chile." Apparently this is a wine estate in Chile owned by the Lafite Rothschild domaine in France. In this case, they get an A+ for clever branding, and probably sell a good deal of this wine simply because it bears the Rothschild name.

And right that they should sell a lot of it, because the wine itself is quite surprising for a young, Chilean cabernet. Its most distinct feature is a strong aroma of pepper--not the spice, but the vegetable--which follows through onto the tongue, giving it…

Don't See "Juno"

Movie Review: Juno

By: Grant Catton

This isn't a movie review, so much as it is a movie warning: don't see Juno. This probably flies in the face of everything you've been hearing on the street. Yes, people do seem to be "raving" about this film for some reason. In fact I just came back from the video store where people were aghast when I told them I thought the film sucked. I asked them why they liked it, no one could tell me for sure. They seem to have been duped into the same mainstream-indy movie reverie that Little Miss Sunshine induced in viewers (yes, I hated that movie too). But I'll get to that later.

Since no one can tell me exactly why they liked Juno, I'll explain to you why I didn't. For starters, it had no dramatic tension, and none of the film's themes or characters were developed to any appreciable degree. If all that sounds a little too nebulous, read below...

Brief Synopsis (With Plot Spoilers)

The film is about Juno, a 16-year old gir…

Congress Overrides Bush Veto

Just as soon as I got done lamenting the fact that Congress--more specifically, the Democrats--can't get anything done, they accomplish something extremely difficult, and which has so far not been done to George W. Bush; they overrode his veto.

The vote was on a Bill to authorize $23 billion in improvements to the nation's water-related infrastructure. Bush apparently opposed it because he felt it contained too many unnecesary projects. That's a fair enough reason to oppose it, I guess, but given that the projects involved repairs to levees, dams, beaches, and sewage systems--as well as money for hurricane damaged areas in the Gulf Coast--I would be curious to see exactly which ones he considered unnecesary. The override vote was reportedly 351 to 54 in the House, and 79-14 in the Senate, meaning a serious load of Republicans joined in.

I'm not well-informed enough to expound at length on the possible ramifications of this, and I'm not optimistic enough to hope this …

Town Hall Meeting on the War in Iraq

Last night, a so-called Town Hall meeting was held in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. This was organized by the Central Brooklyn Independant Democrats, one of various Democratic party organizations in the area. Three U.S. Congressional Representatives from New York City were there; Yvette Clark, Jerrold Nadler, and Anthony Weiner, along with other state and local politicians, even the former U.S. Congressman from the district, Major Owens.

Each politician was allowed to say a few words about the war in Iraq and what could possibly be done to stop it and pull out U.S. troops. Then, the Congressmen took questions from the audience. Despite a few outbursts of angry boos and catcalls, the event remained fairly civilized, and the politicians were allowed to speak their minds and answer the questions without disruption.

I went into the meeting with an unbiased (I'd like to think) attitude, and I came away with the following impressions...

1.) Despite having a majority in the House and Senate,…

Movie Review: Into the Wild

Movie Review and Commentary:

Into the Wild

Synopsis (with ending spoiler):

Into the Wild is a movie adapted from the book of the same title, by John Krakauer, and it is a true story. The main character is Chris McCandless, an American college graduate who is determined to live a life of adventure. Immediately after graduating college, Chris gives his life's savings to charity and sets out for the Western U.S. He soon abandons his car, burns what little pocket money he brought with him, and sets out on foot. The movie depicts the adventures Chris experienced in two years on the road with no vehicle, no identification, and virtually no money. The film is not completely chronolgical, however, and cuts back and forth between these adventures on the road, and those he experienced during final phase of his journey; his time spent living in a bus in the Alaskan wilderness. The film includes a voice-over by the main character, as well as that of his confused and hurt younger sister, and also…

A-Rod, and Old-Timey Base Ball...

Alex Roderiguez is once again in the spotlight...and I don't mean for the blond woman he was seen with in Toronto, I mean for that play in which he startled a Blue Jays player by yelling "hah!" to him as he was trying to catch a high pop-up. The Blue Jays player allegedly thought it was his teamate calling for the ball, and backed off, letting the ball drop and eventually allowing the Yankees to score three runs. The Blue Jays player, and the fans, and many people in major league baseball, have been debating whether or not A-Rod "did something wrong." Well, I've got a word or two for anyone--ANYONE--who is even debating this play for a minute; GROW UP.

This is professional sport! This is not a Miss Manner's tea party, where we all dress up and lift our pinkies when we drink and act courteous and proper to each other! This is a game where the finest physical specimens in the world play on a dirt field wielding wooden bats, metal spikes, and hurl rock-hard…

Love Him or Hate Him, He's Barry!

The New York Mets are poised to play the final leg of a three-game home stand against the San Francisco Giants and...the San Francisco Giants AND??? Barry Bonds.

I'm proud to say that I will have attended all three, yes, all three games at Shea; Tuesday's, Wednesday's, and tonight's games. I say with even more pride that I have been going for the sole purpose of seeing Barry Bonds hit a home run in his quest to break the all-time record of 755, and to watch the viscious New York fans work him over with such creative chants as "You're on steriods," "You're a cheater," and various juvenile comments about what he should go and do to his mother. Its been educational. Not only about the speed with which sports fans abandon all civility and good taste, but about the Spanish language, too. The group of Hispanic guys sitting next to me heckled Bonds in English and Spanish. I learned a few new phrases, though I don't think I'll be using them a…

News Commentary Digest

The following is a wrap-up of recent current events and my brief opinions on them.

Wolf-O and the World Bank

So Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, has come under fire for alleged special treatment he gave to his girlfriend, who worked at the World Bank when he became president. Supposedly, she was given a bigger promotion than she deserved, and was given a plum assignment at another department. Now, some of the European partners in the World Bank are calling for Wolfo's resignation and also standing in his way as he tries to push new initiatives through.

This is to be expected. Wolfo was an exteremly unpopular nomination to head the World Bank. He is one of the main "architechts" of the Iraq war, and is seen by the world as just another extension of the Bush administration. So, the world wasn't exactly happy to see him run the World Bank in the first place. Now, throw in some accusations of double-dealing, favoratism, cronyism, what-have-you, and now the world…

A-Rod Kicking Early Season A-ss

Anyone else out there pleasantly surprised (read: shocked) by A-Rod so far this season? The man has (as of this minute) 9 HRs and 19 Hits in 13 Games, for a .365 average. He has hit safely in every game so far this season. At this pace (which is almost unthinkable) he would have 112 HRs and 236 Hits by the end of the season. The home run thing is ludicrous--unless he starts going to the same chemists as Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, et al.--but as for the hits, he could do it. He hit 213 in 1998 for Seattle, and the record is 262 by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004. But that's not the point...

The point is A-Rod is making it happen. My memory isn't good enough to say whether he's jumped out to great starts like this in prior seasons, but I know he's jumped out to far, far worse ones. He's earning his keep, enough for two players, so far this season. The real test will come in two months, three months, FOUR months, to see if he can keep up the torrid pace and re-endear himself to New Y…

Author's Note

It's been over one month since I've posted anything on this blog. In that month a lot of weird, bizarre, and tragic events have happened. I can't even add them up in my head, there are so many.

But, I will try to make sense of some of them here in the next few weeks. I'll cover some old topics, adress some new ones, but...I'm back.

The Sub-Prime Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost

Actual Conversation from last week:
Investor, to his stock broker: "Do I have anything in my portfolio with exposure to the sub-prime mortgage market?"
Broker: [laughing]

From the Wall Street Journal, 3/15/07:
"People lack the tools to quantify the exposure of the financial system to subprime, and where there is uncertainty, you sell first." -- Teun Draaisma, co-head of European equity strategy at Morgan Stanley

The Point: Everybody who has anything invested in the stock market is directly or indirectly exposed to the sub-prime mortgage market, and as the sub-prime bubble goes, so will go the market.

Sub-prime mortgages are loans made to borrowers with sketchy or outright bad credit, usually taken out to buy houses or refinance existing loans. These types of loans sometimes have higher-than normal interest rates, but also include loans with certain features that allow borrowers to pay abnormally low interest rates--or no interest at all--for a certain period, in exchange…

A-Rod on the Clock

In the pre-millenium days, drugstores and gift shops used to sell "Millenium Countdown" clocks, that ticked down, to the second, the amount of time until the new millenium. Someobody needs to start making A-Rod Countdown clocks, to measure the time between now and when he bolts from the Yankees or is run out of town by villagers with torches in the middle of the night. I say "when," because as everyone knows, it isn't a question of "if" anymore.

Not only has A-Rod failed to live up to expectations as a Yankee, but he is now running afoul of New York's Golden Boy, Mr. Yankee himself; Derek Jeter. If he was under the microscope before, he will be under the Hubble Space telescope now. Yankee fans will view each breath of his as a grave insult to their beloved club. Each twich of his lip will be countend as grievous affront. He will not be able to do anything, ANYTHING, right. Unless he jumps out of the gate this season with 15 home runs and a .450 ave…

The Great Troop Rift

An interesting and unfortunate battle is about to be waged in the U.S. government, and that is the fight to get our troops out of Iraq--or at least the fight for politicians to appear strongly enough on one side or the other of the issue to get elected in 2008. Strap in, because this is going to be one of the biggest, and maybe ugliest political battles of the decade.

This, folks, is politics at its absolute worst. This is that ugly territory where literally life-and-death issues are decided by people have one goal and one goal alone: to get elected.

You have the Democrats promoting a phased, pull-out plan, the same week as U.S. General Petraeus (the Julius Caesar of this campaign) saying that the U.S. needs to put more troops there, and for a longer period of time.

You also have an un-popular president of a bruised and battered party on his way out, who has no plans of changing his course and will almost certainly pass the buck onto whoever replaces him. Meanwhile, he's trying to in…

Greenspan's Still Got It and Beware The China Bubble

As you might now, last week saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumble 416 points on Tuesday, recover a bit on Wednesday, and then get slammed again to the tune of 200 points on Thursday. What's behind this volatility? Is it a signal of the next big stock market crash? Probably not. What's behind it is one man; Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Chairman.

In a speech last Sunday, the man simply uttered the word "recession" in relation to the U.S. economy, and all hell broke loose in the world markets. First the Chinese stock market plunged about 10%, and then the U.S. market tanked later in the day. Did Greenspan singlehandedly cause the Chinese market--and thereby the U.S. market--to crumble? The offending speech was, after all, made to an investor group in China. Maybe the fact that he was there, in China, talking about the U.S. economy, to which China is closely linked, caused skittishness that culminated in a sell-off. There's no way it can be a coinciden…

Blogger Jailed in Egypt

Last week, an Egyptian man was sentenced to four years in prison for writing comments on a blog that criticized the Egyptian government and a Muslim university.

This isn't the first time we've heard about such oppression in Egypt or elsewhere in the Middle East, so it doesn't come as much of a surprise. Still, as a blogger, it alarmed me. As an American, it filled me with pride, but also with concern.

While we live in a free country, we have to realize that our freedom is not guaranteed by anyone, we have to actively guard it and fight for it. Luckily, it is enabled by a government that was engineered to ensure personal freedom, and to create the conditions in which people could be free to live as they chose. However, if we stopped paying attention and stopped fighting for it, that freedom would disappear. It wouldn't happen over night, but it would happen eventually.

If you look closely, you can even see the early warning signs. Laws like the Patriot Act, which use fear …

Modern Day Air-Travel; or Buses That Fly

In aftermath of the JetBlue debacle, I feel its the right time to unleash a frustrated rant about air-travel that I've had bottled up in me for some time.

Just as a preface...I've been on ten flights in three months (two on JetBlue); my luggage was lost twice (once with JetBlue, once with Delta), half the flights were delayed, each of them was packed to the gills. I nearly missed one flight because, though I was sitting five feet from the gate, no announcements were made until the plane was literally sealing its door to go. On two of the flights there were babies that screamed in mortal pain for the entire trip, on one flight the toilet odors seeped upward and throughout the plane. Going through security was actually a highlight of the whole thing. If I had a perfect memory, I could go on, but these most recent flights are a pretty good sampling.

Didn't flying used to be glamourous? Remember the pleasant stewardesses with Southern accents who were just dying to take care of …

Afghanistan? Redux

An interesting article* on Afghanistan caught my eye today. In it, a powerful Afghan warlord predicted the U.S. will pull out of Afghanistan at the same time it pulls out from Iraq, and that both will happen this year. I don't agree that it will happen this year, or that the withdrawals will happen on the same time frame, partly for reasons I mentioned in a past blog; that the Afghan theater gets less attention.

However, the warlord does make some statements that echo my previous posting, namely:

"The occupying forces...have only one successful way and ... that is to pull out of Afghanistan as soon as possible." Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister whose forces operate in southeastern areas near Pakistan.

Notice, he refers to the "occupying forces." It doesn't matter where they are from, they all eventually get forced out, in other words. This guy isn't just shooting off his mouth, either. He and his militia were basically responsible for ejecting …

Pro Sports All-Star Games

Professional Sports All-Star games rank thusly in order of importance and seriousness:

1.) baseball
2.) hockey
T-3.) football and basketball

I bring this up because I turned on the NBA All-Star game last night for about ten minutes. Don't get me wrong, it was mildly entertaining to see the best in the game dunking on each other and burying three pointers, but it had the congenial feel of pre-game shootaround. The score was in the 40s after the first quarter. Guys were throwing alley-oops off the back board, dribbling between their legs...it was the Harlem Globetrotters. It was a circus, on top of the circus that already is pro-basketball. That's fine, but it's not enough to get me to watch.

When I watch an all-star game I go to see the sport's best, at their best, playing their hardest. I don't think this is too much to ask. If not, then just have the skills competitions and call it quits, as I believe was suggested in Sports Illustrated recently, but don't bill it…

Afghanistan?

Yes, Afghanistan. You may be shocked to learn that the U.S. has nearly 30,000 troops there. That's one quarter of the Iraq force. The only thing is, we barely ever hear about them until, like last week, we hear that president Bush extended the tour of duty for about 4,000 of them...how nice of him. Could anything be more demoralizing that believing you are on your way home from risking your life in one of the most forbidding places on earth, and then finding out you have another six months there? There's nobody to appeal to, because The President has decreed it.

The only other time we hear about what's going on in Afghanistan is when we hear that someone was killed. Other than that, the media is pretty much mum. Maybe that's because we are keeping things so secret that nothing leaks out, maybe that's because nothing materially good is happening. Either way, I've got some food for president Bush to think about:

"Never get involved in a land war in Asia."…

Book Analysis & Review: The Corrections

Book Analysis & Review: The Corrections
By: Jonathan Franzen

Review By: Grant Catton

Description and General Synopsis

The Corrections is over 560 pages long and the majority of the action in the book takes place shortly after the turn of the recent millennium, in the year 2000. The book centers around the Lambert family, who are originally from St. Jude, Kansas. The father, Alfred, is losing his mind due to dementia or Alzheimer's, or a combination of the two, and is wearing on the nerves of his wife, Enid. Enid is still sprightly and in full grasp of her senses, and coming to terms with the compounded anxiey of nearly five decades under Alfred's stoic and affection-less thumb. They are in their late 70s and have three children who represent Generation X to a stereotypical T.

Gary, the oldest, is a successful financial planner who appears even more successful in the heady days of the internet technology stock market bubble. While it seems he can't lose in his career, he is …

Super Bowl Dissillusionment

Okay. This will be brief...

The Super Bowl was a letdown. It's not necessarily anyone's fault. The rain had a lot to do with it. It rained for literally the ENTIRE game and that definitely deadened the whole pace of the game. There were more turnovers and kooky plays than I can even count or remember properly; a botched hold on an extra point, a missed chip-shot field goal (both by the Colts), the requisite two INTs from Grossman (one of which arguably cost him the game), one INT from Manning early in...throw in a dozen fumbles and you've got a strange game that seemed to have been won more on paper than on the sloppy Miami gridiron.

When the Bears returned the OPENING KICKOFF for a TD and followed up with an INT on the next series, I really thought we had a game on our hands. I was wrong. I expected some more from Grossman, though I don't know why exactly I expected that. He didn't play badly, I guess, but he didn't have a great game either. Chicago continued t…