October 17, 2006

Lay's conviction vacated.


Justice may be served, but it sure doesn't feel right

Hitch Quote

"What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof."

Christopher Hitchens

September 8, 2006

On the road again

I have been spending too much time at work, and on my other, self indulgent aging blog to post more of my interesting insights (right) here.

And now we will be taking another trip to France – part for work, part for fun (does this seem to be a habit?). During this time, I will be reposting to my Europe 2006 blog, since it is still 2006, and I will be once again in Europe. We will be eating at some interesting restaurants (at least ONE three star!) and I will be posting comments about the food and wine.

Send me an e-mail if you want me to send you a post card.

August 2, 2006


These are really the dog days of summer. It seems as if half of our staff and ¾ of our clients are on vacation. We always forecast a low July, and we were able to meet that. Or even end up lower that forecast! Man oh man.

I recently finished the book Theft by Peter Carey. It is set in Australia and New York City. It is a novel about the art community. What is good, how do agents and galleries work, who is hot, who is not. What gets stolen and why. Oh, it is also a love story. I have read several of Carey’s other books and was fond of them. Well, all except for Oscar and Lucinda. I could not abide that one.

If you like wine, here is a great v-blog worth spending some time with. Very fun.

July 19, 2006

From the NYTimes

You will need a subscription to the NYTimes to read this, but it is a good article:

Talking Points - The Rise of the Super-Rich by Teresa Tritch - New York Times

Income inequality is getting worse in the USA

The link below is to a PDF file discussing income distribution in the USA.

To be in the top 1% of income in the US in 20o4 you had to make more than $315k (that is per household)

pikettyqje.pdf (application/pdf Object)

July 13, 2006

Ken Lay and James Byrd???

That is the most absurd analogy I have ever heard:

Chron.com | Lay praised by family and friends

Next thing you know, Ken was walking on water while he fed teh poor with loaves and fishes.

He was convicted. That may be vacted, but the fact is that he was convicted by a jury of his peers.

July 12, 2006

One of my wife's buddies

Wrote this play.

It is a shame that Bruce won't give us his e-mail address. I would ask for his comments.

I would like to get to Chicago to see this:

Acerbic, sociopolitical farce takes no prisoners, needs soul Chicago Tribune

(You may need to register. It is worth it)

July 4, 2006

I have posted photos of our house before. But here is a PDF file of the history of the house. It is on the National Register of Hysterical Places. Posted by Picasa

June 30, 2006


This is a good story about Icehouses in Texas. It is mostly in San Antonio, but Houston is similar.

One of the more famous Icehouses in town is just down the street from us - The Alabama Icehouse.

NPR : Texas Icehouses Melt Away

Interestingly enough, it is illegal to advertise "Cold Beer" in Texas. That is why you always see the signs "Ice Beer Soda" on the stores.

June 24, 2006

Quote for Today

"To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself."

- Albert Einstein

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

- Thomas Jefferson

May 26, 2006

PCWorld.com - The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time

I like lists like this. I don't know all the products, but I have used enough of them to agree wholeheartedly with the assessment:

PCWorld.com - The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time

New Orleans Gangs

blogHOUSTON - HPD introduces New Orleans criminals to Texas law

Enron in the Houston Chronicle

Click here

Balzac Loved Coffee

This coffee plunges into the stomach...the mind is aroused, and ideas pour forth like the battalions of the Grand Army on the field of battle.... Memories charge at full gallop...the light cavalry of comparisons deploys itself magnificently; the artillery of logic hurry in with their train of ammunition; flashes of wit pop up like sharp-shooters.

Honore de BalzacFrench realist novelist (1799 - 1850)

What Enron means to me.

The Enron trial is over. And with it goes a piece of Houston history. (I’ll ignore the appeals for now.) It was a spectacular failure that hurt plenty of people. The architects of the plan will be, or have been punished, and justice will be served.

Houston was proud of Enron during those booming energy trading days. I have plenty friends who made a ton of money from Enron, and some made money on Enron stock. It was an audacious attempt to change the rules of accounting. It was an amazing group of smart people who looked at the rules and found ways around them. Some of these were legal (Mark to market was approved by the SEC, after all) but the deception came back to haunt the players.

We could cay we (My sweet ever-lovin’ and I) benefited from Enron sort of indirectly. We bought our house from an Enron coal trader after she skedaddled to New York City in disgrace. That is a great thing for us as we feel our house is the best place we have ever lived.

A friend introduced me to the Photofete group and tried to get me to do some consulting (Jennifer Binder was as arrogant as Jeff Skilling. No work for me there)

I dealt with the Enron Capital and Trade folks briefly when one of the companies I was with was looking for investors. (We were too mundane)

I have friends who worked at Enron, interviewed at Enron, or hoped that they may get a job at Enron. I worked with a woman who was an executive assistant at Enron (and she said those jokers were just as mean and mean spirited as you thought they might be.

Young professionals in school wanted to work for Enron when they got out because they made so much money. Whenever you ran into someone who worked for Enron, whether they were an accounts payable clerk or an energy trader, they let you know it. They really and truly thought they were smarter than anyone they met – and wanted to prove it.

I live in Houston during the last big boom (1980-1984 or so) and there were plenty of people on the make. But they were all trying to build something (dig wells, apartments, strip centers). They all knew it was not a zero sum game, and they could win by coming up with a better idea to deliver something. These Enron jokers were there to game the system.

If Lay and Skilling every get out of jail, it will be too soon.

May 16, 2006


It is fun that we are all provincial.

I am sitting on my porch, drinking a glass of (not too good) Chilean Pinot Noir, and I see a guy and his wife walking down the street pushing a stroller mit baby. Blaze for some reason doesn’t bark, and as they turn the corner and get closer to me I see that the fellow is wearing a Green Bay Packer’s shirt.

I ask if he is from Wisconsin, and he says no, they are just fans. I said I am heading up there this weekend and he tells me that they went to school in Chicago (and Blaze starts to bark now).

I think Kurt Vonnegut called these “Granfalloons”

May 6, 2006

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It goes into great detail about what we eat, and why we eat what we eat in this country. It is disconcerting on some fronts, sad on others. It does not try to make one a vegetarian (he is not a vegetarian) although I can see how that may be an outcome of reading this book.

It is well written and compelling (He writes for the New York Times Magazine, and I have read one of his other books – The Botany of Desire, which is also very good.)

This book follows the food chain of three meals – one “industrial” one “organic” and one “perfect” (ie hunted and gathered) It is fascinating to see him follow the river of corn that this country produces and turns into any number of products (including, of course HFCS) and how our government encourages that industry (he lays a lot of the credit for that to Earl Butz. You youngsters may not remember him, but he was Sec of Agriculture who had to resign after a ribald and racist joke)

The “Big Organic” part is interesting too. DO you really think that it makes sense to eat “organic” food that was grown in Chile? Talk about energy intensive! And the “free range hens and eggs that I always buy to assuage my guilt are probably treated little better than battery hens.

There is relief in both his “grass farm” chapter, and oddly enough in the hunting and gathering part of the book. While neither are touted as solutions to the problems raised (hard to scale) it is nice to see that these things are possible.

An interesting statistic in our energy hungry world that he points out is that it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to grow a calorie of corn. Think about that when you think about the energy efficiency of producing ethanol from corn.

Well worth the time invested in the read.

April 29, 2006

Can't see the white bucks, but I am wearing them. Along with a white belt. Posted by Picasa

White Bucks

I bought a pair of Johnson and Murphy white bucks last week. It was for a Gala at the Hermann Park Conservancy. The theme was summer whites. I was wearing my blue seersucker suit, and I thought that there was nothing that would go better with that than white bucks and a white belt.

I was feeling like Atticus Finch. I didn’t wear my Panama Hat just because it was going to be dark, but I thought that I would be lookin’ good if I had.

I was stylin’!

April 23, 2006

The Glass Wall

We bought season tickets this year to the Alley Theatre with our friends Tom and Gary. We saw some good plays this year, including one about WWI, one with Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter, and one about spies in the cold war.

This last Saturday, we went to see the last of the series, a new edition of Moliere’s The Miser which was created by the Jeune Lune theatre ensemble. Quite a play! It was written in the 17th century, but it is (like all good works of art) independent of time when treated correctly. You can read a review of it here and here. It was a fun experience.

Prior to the play, however, we always try to find someplace interesting to eat. I am always wanting to try new restaurants, and when I read this review, I knew where we had to go to the Glass Wall.

So we made reservations at a place that had not even been open for two weeks, something that I am usually loath to do. (well, ok, not really. I love trying new places, and will cut them a lot of slack) So we made reservations for four at 6:00 PM. Early enough to catch the show.

The place looks pretty cool as you drive up to it, and as you walk in. After some minor confusion emblematic of a start up restaurant, (what is table 14 again?) we were seated promptly. I will not rewrite Alison’s description, but I will talk about the food and service.

The waitress was great – ready to describe the food and wine, explaining that they had already changed the menu after only 12 days in service. The kitchen was open, and you could see the cook standing back there making (yes, not just supervising) every dish. They had some nice wines by the glass, which is good when you are in the pre-theatre mode and don’t want to drink too much.

The menu was great (not exactly the one I am linking to, as I mentioned above). Well laid out and simple. Between the four of us, we had Beet Gazpacho, Tuna Tartare, Crabcakes and Risotto with Parmesan Cheers and Morel mushrooms. (I had the Risotto. Each grain was separate and well seasoned. The cheese was shaved over the top, not grated, and the mushrooms were firm but not crunchy, full of flavor.) I had a taste of the gazpacho and it was something else. It looked like it should taste like borscht, but it tasted like creamy gazpacho. Interesting.

For our main courses, we had Crabcakes (the appetizer as the main course – twice) the halibut, and the roast chicken. (I had the chicken). The chicken came with mashed potatoes which were nier an chunky, with roasted asparagus on the side. But the chicken! Poems are written to such birds. Crispy skin, tender, juicy flash. That bird must have died a good death, because it tasted great.

For dessert, we had three sorbets, and the napoleon. I had the napoleon. The crispy part was crispy, the creamy parts were creamy. And it was all great.

We will go back.

Bistro Moderne

I will talk about the Bistro Moderne.

We attended the wake of a dear friend of my wife, and had been looking for someplace interesting to settle afterward and take the edge off. I had thought Mark’s but we could not get reservations on such a short notice. So we called Bistro Moderne, and they had no problem giving us a 7:30 spot on a Friday night. We called at about 5:00 pm. That seemed like a bad sign.

The first problem we had was just getting into the place. I am not fan of valet parking, but when them make you go around the block and THEN valet park, I get especially annoyed. But we had turned north onto the feeder road from Westerheimer (heading east) and were forced to drive around the hotel, back onto Westheimer heading west, and then into the hotel valet area.

We gave our keys up, and walked inside the restaurant. There was exactly ONE other table occupied at the time, although I believe that there was a rehearsal dinner going on. We were seated at a nice banquette, both of us looking into the restaurant. I liked that.

The waiter came by shortly and gave us the menus. He they asked if we wanted sparkling, still or (tsk) tap water. We chose the last. A few minute later, ANOTHER waiter cam by as ask if we wanted sparkling, still of (hmmm) tap water. We told him that we had already played that game, and water was on its way.

The menu looked nice, and the wine list looked good. We were offered bread, and I asked for some of the sliced baguette. It was exactly the consistency and flavor of Styrofoam. But you put enough butter on it and it seemed fine.

We had decided on our meals when the waiter returned and ordered an appetizer each – my wife asked for the foie gras saute a la rhubarbe, ($17) sauteed foie gras with fennel and rhubarb, dandelion salad, vanilla black pepper sauce and ordered the suggested glass of Chateau de Segur, Sauternes, ($11) as well.

I ordered the joue de veau ($11) veal cheek braised on a thin open lasagna with morel mushroom sauce. For wine, I ordered the Joseph Drouhin, Vosne-Romanee, Beaune, Cote-D'Or 02 ($80)

The Sauternes came almost immediately but we had to wait over ten minutes for the Burgundy, and even had to ask the manager after it. I was getting thirsty.

I have to say that the wine and the veal cheeks were delicious. However, the rhubarb was soggy and tart (and I come from Wisconsin where we know our rhubarb) the foie was cool and stringy, and the salad was best left on the plate.

For our main course, I had the l'onglet sauce moutarde ($19) a 9 oz hanger steak, mustard sauce and pommes frites. My wife had the magret de canard ($27) (duck breast with grapes and chanterelles, broccoli flan and a fried duck leg ravioli)

The duck was ordered rare as per the chef’s recommendation. It was tough and chewy. The broccoli flan was great. The duck leg ravioli was OK, as well.

The hanger steak tasted like liver, and the frites were coated with grease and cold.

We skipped desert because of the quality of the rest of the food.

April 2, 2006

NYC Day Four

On our last full day in New York, we again woke up late. We had an appointment to meet Doreen’s decorator (mentioned below) at a Fifth Avenue apartment. When we did, I was floored by the opulence. It was enough to make you a Bolshevik. I won’t say any more about that for now.

We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw a couple of their shows. In particular we saw the Rauschenberg show, and the Kara Walker exhibition. (A funny story: We have a Rauschenberg print from an illustrated version of Dante’s Inferno that I bought at Doreen’s first Evening in the Park silent auctions. I told a former boss that I had bought Doreen a Rauschenberg and he looked shocked that I could get my hands on such a thing and asked me “Did they know it was a Rauschenberg when they sold it to you?”)

We then met one of Doreen’s other New York Friends, Linda, for brunch at Café Ronda. That was great fun, as always. As we were leaving Woody Allen and Soon Yi walked by me on the street. I didn’t say anything, just was cool. I didn’t even stare.

After lunch Linda walked us down to the Boat Basin Park, very close to where we were staying. It was a very nice place. We walked back to her place for a cold drink, and then we picked up our tickets for our final show.

That show was The Three Penny Opera. It had just opened in Previews, and Jack was able to get us seats. Doreen really wanted to see this because Cyndi Lauper is in it. Alan Cumming is in it, too. We saw him in Cabaret a couple of years ago.

Since it was a Sunday night, the show was full of working actors. I knew some of them – Cynthia Nixon was there, Michael Cerveris (he played Sweeny Todd, and is a Yalie. Doreen went up and introduced herself to him) and Tony Roberts was there as well. Those are the only ones that we could recognize (well, that Doreen could recognize. I think my hit rate would have been lower than that)

The show was startling, set in sort of a modern day mythical city. Brecht is trying to teach us something. As he often said:

Erst kommt das Fressen First the grub (lit. "eating like animals, gorging")
Dann kommt die Moral. Then the morality.

We ate, then we were moralized.

Then after we were moralized, we at again. This time at Molyvos, a fancy Greek place not far away.

Then we walked home, got to sleep late one more time, packed, and flew Home.

April 1, 2006

NYC Day Three

The next morning (and another late morning, I might add) we again walked through the park. This time, our goal was the more conventional galleries on the East side.

But we couldn’t get there without first going into Bergdorf Goodman. Doreen was in search of something white that she could wear to Evening in the Park, her fundraising gala. We saw plenty of peasant blouses, plenty of gauchos. Plenty of Empire Waistlines. What a trip!

We had the great fortune to have lunch with Doreen’s friend Bruce Norris. He has a very dark worldview. Oddly enough, Bruce went to Africa and wrote a blog about it. He did not have a fun trip. But it did make for some fun stories.

We ambled down to see the Shake Shack in Madison Park, and then just walked around in the afternoon.

That evening we went to see the new version of Sweeny Todd. What a great production! Only ten people total – the actors also played instruments.

After the show we had dinner at ViceVersa, another wonderful theater area restaurant.

Sweeny Todd and Fleet Street

Sweeny Todd and Fleet Street

NYC Day Two

Our second day in New York started late and slow. Considering we didn’t get to bed until after 1:00 AM (Amazing when you think about our usual Houston bedtime!) I figure sleeping until after 8:00 AM was fair.

We spent the morning looking at geegaws at some fancy Geegaw shops. Doreen has a designer she is now working with who sent us the names of these stores. It was fun, but sometimes a little much. There was an Asian antiques store that had some wonderful, but rather expensive, pieces. We looked, we did not touch.

We did stop by the Thomas Moser’s store, as we have ordered one of their beds. It may be here in another month or so. They have some very nice furniture. We may be ordering some kitchen stools from them. A tall one for Doreen, and a short one for me. That way we can look each other in the eye while we eat at the counter. If we would eat at the counter.

In the afternoon, Jack had invited us to see Martin Short promote his new one man show. It was twenty minutes of his show that was being pitched to group ticket sales people. He was very funny. Beside, he grabbed my hand in a soul grip as he walked by. This was the first of many celebrity sightings we had on this trip.

After the comedy, we went to the art galleries in Chelsea for a different sort of laugh. We started at the Hotel Chelsea which is both a hotel and a gallery. Yes, it is THAT Chelsea Hotel (“I stayed up all night, in the Chelsea Hotel, writing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for you”) Disconcerting.

Then we visited Sonnabend. Scary and disturbing.

Paula Cooper.
Max Protech
Mary Boone
Pace Wilderstein

That evening we saw Spamalot. It is the musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was really very silly. But we did sit across the aisle from Alice Cooper! I must admit we did not know who he was. But the people in front of us did. The funny part of that story is that the woman was there with her brother, as she and her boyfriend had a big fight that day. The boyfriend is a huge fan of Alice Cooper. He (Alice) volunteered to call the boyfriend to rub it in for the woman. Ha!

We ate supper at Angus McIndoe. A hot spot for the theater crowd.

NYC Day One

We left Houston in good time and arrived at the airport when we should have. We had relatively good seats (exit row – I should say excellent seats for me, just OK for Doreen as I had no seat immediately in front of me, but she had to sit in the middle seat) and the flight was uneventful.

We got in a cab that had the smell of a stale men’s locker room at the end of a long week. That was not really too much fun. But we got to the place we were staying (a b&b type hotel called the Inn New York we stayed in the Vermont Suite) without any difficulty.

We checked in and decided to take a walk through Central Park. It was a very pleasant day, and we had a great time. The birders who keep constant watch on Pale Male were in the park, and graciously let us look through a scope at him standing on an aerial some distance from his nest. It was a nice walk.

We returned to the apartment for a quick nap before venturing out to Café Boulud, one of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants. We met Jack Thomas there, one of Doreen’s college buddies.

We met at about 8:00, and Jack came by minutes later. We had just received our drinks (a martini for me, a cup of Champagne for Doreen) when Jack sat down. He got a martini as well, and we started chatting.

Several minutes later the waiter came by, and we asked about the Tasting Menu. She didn’t describe it all that well, and sent off for the Captain. He came by and warned us that it would take at least two and a half hours to eat our way through the tasting. We didn’t mind, and asked if they had a flight of wines ready to go with it. They sent off for the sommelier, and he assured us they did.

I won’t even attempt to describe the meal here. Mainly because I can’t remember much of it. Suffice it to say that we spent four hours in the restaurant, ate an amazing variety of wonderful food, and drank what seemed like gallons of high class wine that was suited to the food we had. What a treat.

March 28, 2006

Here is the tagger's sig file... Posted by Picasa

Our house, well, our fence actually, was tagged by the knitting taggers. It happened on St Pat's day. Here is the tag. Posted by Picasa

We looked at Art while in NYC. Here is a photo of 3,000,000 plastic cups set up to look like a landscape. It was pretty darned amazing. It was selling for $350,000. Here is a review. Posted by Picasa

We were in New York City this weekend. Here we are at Rockerfeller Center Posted by Picasa

March 19, 2006

Chez George

We went to the New Chez Georges last night – the one that is now on lower Westheimer. It is in the space where Aldo’s was before they closed. They have been open since Valentine ’s Day, so we figured that the kinks would be worked out by now. We were not disappointed.

We had reservations at 7:00 PM for four of us. We were the first to arrive, and dropped our car off with the valet. I am no fan of valet parking, but they really don’t have too much space available. We would have walked over, but it started to rain just as we walked out our back gate. So we hopped in the car and got there tout d’suite and were greeted by a friendly American hostess.

There were only about three tables occupied (out of about ten, maybe? I didn’t go into the back room or upstairs. It is not a huge place) and we chose a nice big four-top in the quiet main room. The room had been renovated nicely, with some of the wood being restored to just wood, and the coffers in the ceiling being painted in contrasting colors. The overall effect was quite calming.

While we were waiting for our friends, we luxuriated over the great wine list. The presentation was wonderful – one wine per page with the label pasted to said page. I talked to the sommelier and she said that they liked this presentation even though it took up more space. The selection was great, too. They had, of course, the Grand Crus at hundreds of dollars per bottle. But they also had a nice selection of lesser known wines from around France, including some nice white burgundies and red Bordeaux.

We started off with a bottle of a Roederer NV Brut Rose just as our friends walked in. They were happy with the selection, and we all relaxed and enjoyed the friendly ambiance as we chatted and started looking at the menu.

They then brought over a little amuse bouche, Frog Legs wrapped in paper. Oh! If we could have had a plate of those little hoppers! Succulent, tender, and a bit greasy, just the way frog’s legs should be served. They went perfectly with the Champaign, and we knew we would be in for a nice treat.

We were trying to decide what we would be eating from a rather simple menu – starters and main courses, about eight of each. It is apparent that the philosophy is offer great food that you have the right stuff to make. There is a statement somewhat to that effect on the menu. Personally, I am all for that sort of a plan. (I once mistakenly ordered mussels in an Italian place on Richmond and was served something that turned my stomach.)

As we chatted and ate, we also picked our food. We had a nice selection, with only two duplicates. To start with we had the Chef’s pâté (a country pâté), the scallop salad, oysters in puff pastry and the pâté de fois gras (that was mine) My pâté was served with a warm brioche, and it was great. My wife had the oyster, and I had a taste of one. Tremendous – buttery, salty, and soft – no overcooked. I did not try the other two appetizers, but based on the reception they received, I think that there were no complaints.

Then on to the main course. We had two bottles of wine ordered, a red (a 2000 Bordeaux Haut Brisson) and a white (A Jadot Montrachet, but I don’t know which one). Our Bordeaux was an excellent choice for what we ordered – I had the veal filet and veal sweetbreads in a reduction sauce. My mouth is watering as I write this. I had a small potato gallette, and some baby spinach. A great combination. I am a sucker for sweetbread, but they too often come out overcooked and chewy. These would melt in your mouth, and you knew why they were called sweet-breads.

My sweet ever-lovin’ had the Filet Mignon. She said it was good – that is a piece of meat that ends up being tender and tasty when you have the right sauce (which I believe she did). Our friends had the salmon (which looked great) and another order of the veal.

Dessert was profiteroles and another ice creamy treat, as well as a couple of cheese plates. A very nice way to end the dinner.

The only real downside was that the water glasses got awfully low before they were refilled, and occasionally I was wondering if my wine glass would go empty (it never did).

Overall, the ambiance was lovely (quiet and calm, especially compared to Dolce Vita down the street) food was great, and wine selection was superb. We will be going back.

Oh wait. The damages? $460 total with tip – but that did include $190 worth of wine. Well worth it.

March 17, 2006

St Patrick's Day

I live a block away from an Irish Sports Bar.

Today is St Patrick’s Day.

Ordinarily this bar is not too crowded. It is as close to a neighborhood bar that Houston has to offer without being an Icehouse (more on Icehouses by and by). It is owned by the staff, and I always fear that they are about to go out of business. They have bands three or four times a year, and we stop in for burgers or wings maybe a half dozen times a year.

We don’t go in on St Patrick’s Day.

First of all, they charge a cover. Second, it is really crowded. Third, it is filled with a bunch of green drunks!

I always enjoyed the St Pat’s day festivals that I visited in the past (did you know that St Pat was an engineer?) and always had my share of green beer and sang my share of Irish songs.

I guess I am getting too old. And not being Irish, it just seems like a lot more trouble than it is worth.

But, unlike other festivals, I don’t begrudge the participants their fun. They usually don’t break anything, they tend to vomit in the streets and not on my lawn, and the music stops at 10:00.

What could be better?

Pass me if you can.

I drive about 18 miles one way to work. Because I have a ‘reverse commute” I am able to drive fast and watch traffic ebb and flow (as in the story below). One thing that has become apparent to me, however, is that people HATE to be passed.

I understand that it is bad when someone passes you and then they slow down. Or someone passes you, and then get in the right lane in front of you and don’t turn right, thereby keeping YOU from making a right turn.

No, I am talking about people that are just poking along on the freeway, and then try to speed up as you pull along side them (usually on their right, of course). These are people that invariably think that they are in the right (I was doing the speed limit!) and yet no doubt cause more accidents and road rage than any slipshod lane changing without signaling fool.

The other day I was getting on the freeway (before my entrance because two full lanes again) and I zipped by a fellow in a pick up truck (who was dawdling) and he flipped me off! I mean really. Did he need to touch his brakes? No. Did he need to swerve to miss me? No. All he had to do was keep his foolish hands on his wheel and get his tiny mind behind the fact that my car was faster than his. No value judgment, just a fact.

What a loser.

Speed Sting

Every Friday we have donuts in the office. Usually our sales guy buys them, but today he was out of town (selling something, I hope) so I picked them up. I get a dozen glazed and dozen mixed. It is nice to have variety.

I met someone I had not seen in 20 years at the donut shop, but that is not really the subject of this entry. I pull out of the strip center and headed over to the freeway (my beloved US 59, entered via Spur 529). There was a motorcycle cop waiting at the light to get on, and I pulled in behind him.

We all got up to speed and bunched around d behind the policeman. One dopey guy started to pass the cop, and he just made a downward motion with his hand to have the guy slow down. Slow down he did, and the cop eased over to the right lane and took the next exit.

Of course, as soon as he took the exit, two cars – one a brand new BMW 750Li and the other a late model Lexus took off like a scalded cat. You have to realize that the average speed of this freeway, as we are going against traffic, is probably 75 mph. The speed limit is 60 (which see). So these jokers were feeling hemmed in.

But from my viewpoint, I could see a drama unfolding. This is one of those exits where you can get off the freeway, and then immediately back on without going through a stoplight or crossing a road. The cop was just watching the freeway, and keeping pace with these two cars. He had a plan

And he jumped back on the freeway without and further adieu, popped his lights, and fell in behind the BMW. Poor dumb fellow. He didn’t know what hit him. AND HE SHOULD HAVE!!!

He got a ticket.

March 5, 2006

David Bromberg in Conroe

I first heard David Bromberg when I was living in Kemmerer, WY. I was working for the Kemmerer Coal Company (now owned by Pittsburgh Midway. See a satellite image of the mine here.). This was in 1978. Well, I didn’t hear him live, but I was introduced to him on vinyl. It was his David Bromgberg:Wanted Dead or Alive! album. I fell in love with his music almost instantly. I mean, anyone who can sing a song about a fellow who killed his girlfriend, and then pleads with the judge to give him the death penalty, and make you LIKE it. (Send me to the ’lectric chair.“I said Judge, Judge, Mr Sirica, PLEASE!”) as well as a song about how he should be happy, but somehow he has the blues (Someone Else’s Blues) has my vote.

I first saw David Bromberg perform with his large band in a converted church in Madison called (cleverly enough) The Church Key. I am not sure if it is still open, but it was a great venue. It was inexpensive, and you had a great view from most of the pews. I frequently saw a band called ‘Out of the West with Beverly Jean” which was sort of a local Cosmic Cowboy band. Once when Jerry Jeff Walker was in town for another gig, he sat in with OOTWWBJ. So did The Amazing Rhythm Aces.

When Bromberg performed in a small venue, and that venue was a bar, it was a wonderful experience. Whenever he looked at the crowd, you felt as if he was looking straight at you. I am not sure how he did it, but everyone I talked to experienced the same thing. He put on quite a show, with talking, laughing, singing, and performing. He is one of the best stringed instrument players that I have ever seen.

I saw him at least two other times in Madison, I think that both of those time he was playing at a purpose built facility called Headliners that was next door to The Church Key. Bromberg would walk on the tables while playing and singing. It was quite an experience.

I moved to Houston in 1980, and back then Bromberg and his band was still touring. I saw him at Fitzgerald’s at least once, and at Rockefeller’s at least twice. Sometimes he would have his big band, sometimes his small band, and one time I even saw him with a gospel choir. On one of his trips here is had the flu, and yet the show went on. One of the local music reviewers mentioned it, and it made him mad.

How do I know? I ran into him at a local BBQ place the next time he was in town. I introduced myself to him and told him how much we enjoyed all his shows. He started complaining about the reviewer (I think it was Marty Racine) whom he said gave him the review. I found that review (see it here). It was not bad, but then memory plays tricks. (Bromberg opened for Arlo Guthrie! Talk about inversion!)

So that gets us to recent times. Last December (or so) I was listening to our local Pacifica station (KPFT) which does some local music especially on Saturday. One of the DJs (your friend and mine) Larry Winters mentioned that Bromberg would be coming to the Historic Crighton Theatre in Conroe. Now, Conroe, TX is about 50 miles from my house, but it only took about 10 minutes for me to decide I needed to see David again. (The last time I saw him was the night the US attacked Iraq – the FIRST time. It was January 16, 1991! Way too long)

Of course, the first person I thought to call was my old buddy David Chandler. He and I had gone to many concerts, and have had many adventures. Some were even fun! He agreed that he and his new wife would be glad to come. So I bought tickets and we waited.

The wait was over yesterday when we finally made the long trip up to Conroe and the music. David had called Larry Winters and asked for a place that we might grab a bite before the show. He suggested a small taqueria near downtown Conroe. We drove up with the sketchiest of directions (across the street from the Donut Wheel) and amazingly enough found ourselves in front of (a quite empty) Taqueria Vallarta.

We have never been a group to shy away from new food, so we walked in. They were obvisouly setting themselves up for a party, and we sort of walked over to the emptier side of the room. Then a fellow came up to us, all smiles and introduced himself. “Hi! I’m Larry Brown!” We all though he was the manager of the place (and an unlikely one at that) as we said hello in turn. “So it’s y’all’s birthday today?” He asked. Uh, no. OH, he then told us that they were having a birthday party for anyone whose birthday was in March. It was free, and we were welcome to join, birthday or not. He said that they eat, drink, and then go dancing. He pointed at Doreen’s strappy sandals (very cool, by the way) and said “Those just won’t do.” We all laughed, thanked him, and went to sit down. This is why one loves small towns.

We ordered and ate. The food was good, the service was well intentioned. We finally made it out the door and over to the theatre. They had Main Street blocked off in front of the place, and after picking up our tickets, we milled about outside.

The theatre itself was quite nice. Built in the 1930s, renovated in the 70s. The seating was good, the sight lines were good. After several introductions (including one by Larry Winters) James McMurtry got onstage.

James in Larry’s kid. He is a good guitar player, but man! Is he a downer or what!

After a 40 minute set, there was a 15 minute break and Bromberg got on (All times were strictly adhered to. Unlike in my youth when a 10:00 pm concert seldom started before 11:00)

Bromberg was playing with his quartet, which was (nominally) a violin, David on guitar, a bass guitar, and mandolin. I say nominally because everyone but the bass player would change instruments with some frequency.

They played one set, about an hour and forty minutes. It was all great. There were instrumental pieces, “Bad women done him wrong” pieces (the staple of the Bromberg oeuvre) and several of his older classics like “Summer Wages”, “The New Lee Highway Blues”, and (thank you!) “Sharon” (Whoa whoa whoa Sharon! What do you do t ho these men?)

It was a great show. If he comes to your town, go see him.

I graduated Phi Beta goddamned Kappa from THAT school!

March 3, 2006

The most important part of espresso making is the grinder

Several weeks ago I decided that I need a new grinder. It is not that my current grinder (a six year old Rocky) is failing, it is just that I felt I needed to take the whole process up another notch. So I started to do some research, and as always I was led to CoffeeGeek, Alt.Coffee, and various other random websites.

To recap, my coffee history goes something like this: (skip to the *******s if you want to get right to the review of the grinder. Here in Texas, we feel you need some back story before you jump right in. Think of it as foreplay)

Back in 1999 I stayed in an apartment that had a La Pavoni Europiccola. I thought it made the best coffee I ever had. So when I got home, I decided to get one, and bought it from Italy Direct. I played with that great machine for a while, and decided that the beans I was using (Starbucks. Sure, go ahead and scoff if you want, but the fact is that Starbucks has done a very good job of introducing a lot of people to the fact that you can get better coffee than Folgers.) at the time.

Making a long story short, La Pavoni led me to a Hearthware Precision, which led me to a Silvia/Rocky combination, which led me to an Alpenröst, which led me to an Isomac Rituale, which led me to a Hottop, which lead me to last week. That was six years in 45 words.

So I started looking at ways to improve on what I thought was a pretty good thing. And the most obvious point that I came up with was a new grinder.

Of course, if you read anything about grinders, you will feel that you need a couple of things. First is a big stinking motor, second is a stepless adjustment, and third is chrome. (I made that up.) All three things point in one direction – The Mazzer Mini.

So I started searching and searching for a good price on a Mini. (I didn’t really search too hard. I looked at e-bay, and I checked out the big internet sellers, all the while knowing that I would get it from Chris’s Coffee. I have had such good experience from him in the past that I saw no reason to go elsewhere) I realized that this was not a cheap piece of kit, and something I have not heard of before – a MACAP started coming up in the reviews.

But the MACAP seemed to have a flaw – a stepped grind adjustment. So I asked around, sent Chris an e-mail or two, and he let me know that MACAP was coming up with a stepless adjustment. He recommended it strongly, and I was sold. (having been a salesman for a large part of my career, I love talking to people who love their products. I am an easy mark for passion)

So I ordered a chrome stepless MACAP from Chris, and it arrived in my office yesterday.

SO here is the review part:

The machine was well packed and wrapped, with no transit damage in the box or in the packing material. The box was much taller than it was wide, and I worried a bit about getting it into my car. It was also pretty heavy, but as I not infrequently buy cases of wine on the internet and have them delivered to my office, that was not too much of a problem.

I got the machine home and removed it from the box, putting at the pieces on the counter. It was very easy to assemble, with the hopper fitting into the grinder and then tightening down a set screw. I did not put on the tamper, as I have a Reg Barger tamper in Purple Heart (the short one. It is a great tool). The tray for spilt grounds fits loosely under the grinder, slipping under one of the MACAP’s rubber feet. It is nice to catch coffee that doesn’t make it into the portafilter.

The hopper has a little guillotine that you can use to stop bean flow, but as I only put in the beans I will grind immediately, I removed that. I also removed a finger guard from inside the doser (DO this at your own risk. I don’t recommend you do it at all) so I can sweep out the path between the burrs and the grinder.

The portafilter stand is a nice thick piece of steel that holds the PF nice, but doesn’t collect grounds. The machine is very good looking. There is a lot of shiny chrome on my countertop right now.

The grind control mechanism is an easy to use and intuitive worm gear that is on the back side of the bean hopper. It moves effortlessly, and makes changing the grind a charm. I have not used the Mini, nor have I used the stepped MACAP, so I cannot compare and contrast, I can only offer my impartial analysis of the device, and it is a good one.

I had some old grounds that I wanted to run through the machine before I used my homeroast, and turned the thing on. (It has a rocker switch covered by a clear soft plastic guard.) It hums – a little noisier than the Rocky. I slowly tightened the grind until I could hear the whisper of the burrs kissing, and then backed it off several twists.

Dumping in the beans, I thought that it was taking a long time to grind. I then took these old washed out beans and tried to pull a shot, and the Rituale was chocked. It took so long to grind the beans because I had the grind so fine! I moved it back to what I thought was a more reasonable grind, and the beans just flew through.

After grinding the beans, I take a small brush and clean the chute into the doser. As this is my first day, I don’t have the doser tuned yet to deliver my 17g of coffee (and I probably never will) but the fins sweep the doser much, much cleaner than I have ever seen a Rocky sweep.

I am still tuning the grind, and will post more later, but I wanted to get a first look in for y’all.

The short end of the story is:

This is a big, serious grinder. The stepless mechanism works effortlessly and easily. The grinder is fast, quiet, heavy, and very good looking. It is probably worth a look for anyone who was going to spend money on a top quality grinder.

Are smart people overrated? more from Gladwell

gladwell dot com - the talent myth

February 24, 2006

Skinless Bodies

I am sure that everyone has seen the ads for the museum exhibit Body Worlds. It is two German doctors who have come up with a way to preserve body parts so that they can just sit there in the open air. It is called Plastination. They started doing this (back in the 1980s and 90s, I believe) so that they could have body parts to show to medical students. Another doctor told him that these things were too good to be held with the medical community only, and that the should put them in museums.

So they did.

These things have been seen by 18 million people (we are told) and have traveled around the world. The one that is opening in Houston this weekend in Body World 3, and is all BRAND NEW DEAD BODIES! Never before seen in any museum anywhere.

I had been seeing the ads for this exhibit for a while, and I mentioned to my sweet ever-lovin that I wanted to see it. She said, “Really?” (add a tinge of incredulity into that voice) and said that she had tickets to the press opening. (remember that the Houston Museum of Natural Science is in Hermann Park) She had not said anything earlier because she had not really wanted to see the exhibit, and I usually just want to stay home, if I have my choice. But we had tickets, and we were on our way.

I got to the park right around 6:00 PM, when the show opened. Doreen met me and we walked over to the Museum. The queue was pretty long to get your nametag (not quite sure how they defined “press”. Of course, we were there, so I guess that gives you some idea of the breadth of definition.) and Doreen was in a different line than I was in. (different last names, different parts of the alphabet). They had a bit of trouble finding my name (me: “Piette” them “how do you spell that?” me “Pea. Eye. Eee” Them “Nope, not here” (they were looking AFTER the name “Phillips”. Me: “No, look back here. Ah, there I am” Them “but you said PEA EYE EE. This is PEA EYE EE TEA TEA EE”. Me “ok”) but once that was done I was able to wait for Doreen. (her line was longer than mine). Our entry time was 6:15, and it was about 6:05.

We walked into the reception and it was rather crowded. There was an open bar, and I wanted Doreen to have at least one glass of wine, as she was still reluctant to think about the skinless bodies. We each had a small glass of wine (Hers: white. Mine: red) and ate two deep fried snap beans each. Then it was time to walk to the bodies.

The HMNS is a nice museum for a city our size. It was a good collection of dinosaur bones, a great gemstone collection, some cool dioramas (lions eating zebra parts, for example) and a big butterfly room. There is also a multi screen IMAX, and a big permanent exhibit on oil and gas (as you would expect). We got to walk through parts of the museum on the way to the Body World 3, and enjoyed the fuzzy dinosaurs and the recreated raptors. Made me feel as if I was in a Michael Creighton novel. .

We got to the exhibit floor and area, and gently made our way inside. There were not too many people there yet, so we had a pretty good view of everything that we wanted to see.

The very first thing you saw was a skinless may praying. It was sort of an introduction to the exhibit, as well as an acknowledgement that these were real human beings. (All bodies were donated specifically for this exhibit. The Drs knew all the folks. They now have a waiting list of something like 6,000 people who are willing to be plastinated) It also pointed out that during the middle ages, the plague was the first time that there were plenty of dead bodies around, and that this was when skeletons and anatomy first became familiar to most people. (the death in the middle ages theme comes up later, when they show a body as if it is coming out of the grave, and throwing off its shroud. The comment was that in the Middle Ages that people thought that corpses got up and danced at night…)

The kneeling body was a trifle disturbing, but they had some reassuring stuff around there as well. Bones, for example. We all know what bones look like, so seeing an arm bone is not so bad. Hands. Feet. (The feet look just like pig trotters). Then they start to assemble the bodies into more recognizable entities.

The first really disturbing fellow was the guy who had his skin in one hand – sort of like a jacket. (it reminded me of Bragadino. You remember him, the guy who was flayed alive by the turks? Read about him here. Scroll down, and you will see his picture). The disconcerting thing was that he still had hair on his skin. Yipes! It was something. He was also naked (of course. He had no skin!!!) and his genitalia was exposed to the world. Skinned. I told Doreen not to look. (But I think she did)

From there on it got weirder and weirder. There were bodies with the innards coming our. There were bodies with only the digestive track in place. There were limbs that only show the vascular system! (That was some thing. They inject red plastic into the veins and arteries, let it harder, and the get rid of the flesh). There were chicken vascular systems. There were lungs (heathly and otherwise) prostates (healthy and otherwise) Kidneys, livers, islets of langerhans and medulla oblongatas.

There was a man riding a horse. He was exploded, and the horse was exploded. He was holding his own brain in one hand, and the horse’s brain in the other! (This fellow was apparently a good friend of the Drs. He was diagnosed with cancer and ask the doc to “make him spectacular”. He did)

We finally made our way to the end. In the last room, along with a ballerina (there were fewer female bodies than male bodies) there was a gymnast, and, best of all, a recreation of the “Dogs Playing Poker” painting (actually called “A Friend in Need”) doen with human bodies, complete with one of the guys giving another guy an ace with his toes. And to cap it all off, his had was Aces and Eights – that’s right: Dean Man’s Hand.

February 23, 2006

Katrina “victim”

I ran into an acquaintance at a Digital Oil and Gas conference this week. He is from New Orleans (he lives in Mandeville – across the lake from New Orleans, actually). I asked him if he was back in his house, and how things were going. He told me that things were going fine.

Now, keep in mind that this is a college educated professional (Petroleum Engineer by degree). He said that he had no damage at all to his house. He did have to evacuate for the hurricane, and he said that traffic is real back right now.

I asked (jokingly) if he got one of the $2,000 cash cards from FEMA. He said no, that they put the money directly in his account. I asked why, and he said that it was because he had to evacuate. He then told me that FEMA also paid for the chain saw he used to cut up some trees that fell on his property, and that a month or so after the hurricane he got ANOTHER $2,300 deposited in his account.

I had to walk away.

February 22, 2006

and THIS is the thanks I get?

There really is someone for everyone in this world. Friends. Lovers. Bosses. Yes, I think that the fact is that everyone in the US is capable of calling up at least one person and saying: “Let’s go have a beer!” without being turned down. And yes, I think that everyone in this country, no matter how unappealing to you or me, has a soul mate somewhere nearby. Someone who will say “yes” when asked, will carry their water, and will stand by them through think and thin. And finally, I really do think that almost everyone in this country is employable. They may not end up being Donald Trump, or even Leona Helmsley, but I think that most people can get, and keep, a job.

I was thinking about this because I was thinking back on the folks I have fired in my day. Some of these people I still have an almost day to day dealing with. What I am always amazed at is that these jokers, some of whom I felt were not worth the spit it would take to put them out if they were on fire, are working! And, by all accounts, getting paid and not fired.

Now, let me say that some of the people that I have fired I had to be let go out of economic necessity rather than performance. These people, almost uniformly, are much better off than they were before. Some even come to me and thank me for making them change their ways. I accept the gratitude. But I notice that there is never cash associated with those cries of thanks.

Ungrateful punks.

February 4, 2006

This is the view of the Houston Downtown skyline from the new townhouses that are being built across the street from our house. Posted by Picasa


One of the reasons that I am sitting on the porch writing today is that my lovely bride is off with a group of women friends to Fredericksburg in the Hill Country. She abandons me like this once a year, and leaves me to my own devices. Or rather, she pretends to leave me to my own devices. You see, if I was really left to my own devices I would never leave the house. But she makes sure that someone calls me and makes be go out to dinner or something foolish like that.

Thoughts from The Porch

It is a beautiful afternoon in Houston. I am sitting on my front porch, the sun warming my legs and the dog guarding the perimeter of the yard.

The dog (I have pictures of her posted below somewhere) is rather protectived of the yard. She really barks at some people, and tolerates others walking by. But there are two people that she really, really hates. One is a poor kid who looks like he is doing the “thorazine Shuffle” and is always talking to himself.

The other is an older, short fellow named Peter McDonald, and he YELLS at the dog, kicks the fence, and throws rocks at her if nobody is around.

I confronted Mr McDonald last week. It was not a pretty thing to see, but I did come to an almost amiable arrangement that I will make sure that the dog is inside between 2:00 and 3:00 pm daily, as he never, ever, ever changes his walk. He also told me that he talks the same path within a two foot boundary. I say OCD.

But I guess that is why we love this neighborhood. Nuts abound.

Earlier this week I had to call 911 at 3:00 AM. The construction site across the street was being robbed of building materials. Two guys were just loading up sheets of plywood and rolls of tar paper. The cops arrived not five minutes after I called, and yet the thieves were already gone. That is too bad. I wanted to see them go down.

Anyway, it is a beautiful afternoon here today.

January 27, 2006

I am living in two booms.

The new Oil and Gas boom, and the latest Tech boom

Good Advice

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”

Lao Tse

Words to live by

Si le vin te gêne dans ton travail, supprime le travail

January 22, 2006

January 4, 2006

Eggs don't keep you out of Houston City Council meetings

abc13.com: News from KTRK, around Houston and southeast Texas

La Dolce Vita

Last night I was supposed to meet my lovely wife at Sorrento’s, an upscale Italian place on lower Westheimer for a Sue Lovell victory party. I, as usual, was working late. And since I have one heck of a commute home, was delayed. (small pun there. I work in Tom Delay’s congressional district. But we don’t live there)

Sorrento’s was packed by the time I got there, and they were just taking the food up to roust the folks out onto the street. I don’t particularly like being in crowds of strangers (and believe me, these people were stranger than most!) so my much better half suggested we leave. She gave Sue L a hug goodbye and we walked outside.

There are many, many restaurants in our neighborhood. The funny thing is that we seldom go out to dinner, but that is mostly because I like to cook. But whenever a new place opens up, we always are dying to try it.

And low and behold, that night (last night, 3 January, 2006) a brand new “Pizzeria & Enoteca” was opened. It is called Dolce Vita, which, someone counter intuitively, makes me think of Bob Dylan, not Fellini. But it is the “second growth” restaurant of famous Houston Chef Marco Wiles. His flagship is called DaMarco and is quite pricey. I have only eaten there a couple of times, but we have acquaintances that eat there ALL the time and love it.

But getting back to La Dolce Vita (which does not yet have a web site, or at least I can’t find it). We knew it was going to open last night, since we had stopped by there over the weekend and got the big boot. Now, we have been thrown out of better places than this, and with far less reason. The place was having sort of a soft opening, and we, of course stopped in. The bartender told us to come on in and have a drink, but then the General Manager (Ron) nicely told us that they were not yet prepared to open, let us eat a sliver of prosciutto, and gently steered us towards the door. Nicely done!

We were so impressed that we did indeed want to return. So since Doreen was done with her politicizing at Sue’s soiree, we hiked across the street to La Dolce Vita. (I’m getting there).

The place is an old house, formerly housing the Marrakesh House of Couscous. They shut down about six months ago, and the time was well spent in renovation. The place has a nice bar and some seating areas downstairs, and what I took to be the main seating area and the kitchen upstairs. We were seated at a small deuce, but it was fine for the simple meal we had imagined for ourselves.

The holidays were ones of great bounty for us. We cooked a goose, visited some friends on Christmas Day, and then had a New Year’s Eve party. Whew! So we have been eating and drinking more than usual. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to try something new.

So to move the narrative ahead, we decided to simply get a couple of pizzas (which we always split) and a bottle of wine. For the wine, we got a Piedmont Boschis, a nice smooth red wine that cost $30. I had never had one of these before and enjoyed it tremendously. For the pizzas, we got on Romana (cherry tomatoes, mozzarella , and anchovies) and one Salsiccia e Friarielle (Sausage, rapini, and pecorino).

The pizzas came out fast and they were very good. The size of a large dinner plate, with athin crispy crust that occasionally boiled over the toppings in a black blister. Just the way I like ‘em! Doreen isn’t too fond of sausage (she doesn’t like the fennel seed taste) but I enjoyed it. The anchovies were a bit of a disappointment in that they tasted like simple, salty, canned fish. I enjoy the subtleties of oil cured anchovies, but there were not really all that tasty. The S e F pizza was good with a small forest of rapini laid on thick.

We ended the evening with some gelato – they give you a three ball bowl. Doreen ordered Banana, Coffee, and Vanilla. All quite tasty.

Then, we walked back to our cars (since we had gone right to the victory party from work) and made our short way home.

(some of the other things on the menu that we want to try:


Orecchiette – escarole & sweet sausage
Paccheri – tomato, basil, reggiano
Spaghetti – calico e pepe
Bucatini – octopus, tomato, chillies
Spaghetti – clams and cecci
Gnocchi – al ragú

And various other pizzas.)

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