Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh Dance #2

I heard on the radio on the way to work this afternoon that the last time Davidson won a game in the NCAAs was 1969, when they beat St. John’s in Raleigh, North Carolina. Davidson College is located near Charlotte, North Carolina, and they won another tournament game today, knocking off 7th-seeded Gonzaga in - wait for it - Raleigh, North Carolina. It was one of two games in which I used the fake home court advantage theory to pick the winner. (The other was the Butler-South Alabama game, which I missed.)

Usually by Friday night my bracket is a wreck, with lots of blue going into the Sweet Sixteen and the Great Eight. I use a red pen to circle correct picks and a blue pen to circle incorrect picks on the penciled-in bracket - and when I have an incorrect pick that automatically makes a future pick incorrect, such as my pick of Connecticut going to the Sweet Sixteen this year, I go ahead and circle the automatically incorrect pick in blue - thus blue circles advancing farther into the bracket than games that have actually been played. Unusually, however, I have only one of those this year - the aforementioned Uconn Sweet Sixteen pick.

I mentioned in my first tourney post that I did not think that a 3 had gone out in the first round very often in the last 14 years, and I was right (sort of). It has happened six times, including twice in the 1995 tournament. The most recent occurrence was two short years ago, when Northwestern State knocked off Iowa. All of the three seeds survived the first round of this year’s tournament. The highest seeds to go out in the first round this year were two 4 seeds - Connecticut and Vanderbilt.

The Indiana game, of course, was aggravating - the only team from Indiana to lose in the first round, and the only team from the Big Ten to lose in the first round. Will anyone with any influence on his life bother to tell Eric Gordon that he desperately needs one more year of college in order to prove that he can play in the Bone Thugs Association? Not that I would blame him for wanting to leave Indiana, though - the Hoosiers are a long way from getting right, even if they are young. The two best players are gone, along with the lion’s share of the scoring - and there’s a search already on for the new head coach.

That was nice of Indiana - announce a head coach search party just as your team is getting ready for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. That had to make interim head coach Dan Dakich feel good - what amounts to a vote of no confidence going into the home stretch of what had started out like a monster season and wound up being an unequivocal disaster.

Speaking of the Big Ten...anybody else besides me thinking there might just be a bracket buster - or at least a minor one - looming on Saturday? If I’m an Xavier player, I don’t know that I’m all that excited to be meeting Purdue in the second round. I also would not be surprised to see Butler put the fear of Darwin into Tennessee on Sunday. American played Tennessee close for awhile there, and Butler was solidly in control of South Alabama in a hostile environment.

Any converts to my theory that Villanova might be the best 12 ever? I know, I know...not yet, right? Clemson wasn’t exactly the best 5 that ever went dancing, rising to that 5 with a great run in the ACC tournament and a surprising win over Duke and an almost-upset against North Carolina in the title game. If they knock off a spirited Siena team on Sunday, the Sweet Sixteen game - likely against Kansas - will be the real test.

Frolicking At The Union

Jackson & The Snow Lion

Here are some shots of Jackson from when we were at Snow Lion last Sunday. It's not really the kind of place where you can pose a kid in such a way that the viewer would know right away that the pictures were taken at Snow Lion, but that's where we were.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh Dance #1

Xavier-Georgia in the first round was one of those games that I left blank on my first pass through the bracket. Some picks are obvious and you just fill them in on auto-pilot - you pick the #1 seeds and almost always the #2 seeds, and picking teams like Indiana, Purdue and Stanford to go out in round one are usually safe choices, as well.

Then there are the ones you chew on for awhile, although they aren't usually 3-14 matchups. The fun ones are the 5-12 and 7-10 games. One of the guys I work with had Temple (12) over Michigan State (5), and I'll bet he wasn't the only one. I took two 12's myself - George Mason and Villanova. Villanova might be the best 12 ever and probably would have been higher if the Big East had sent fewer teams.

I looked hard at Georgia - even though they were sub-.500 going into the conference tournament (which they won), were the lowest-scoring team in the SEC, and tied for the worst regular season record in conference. Other than running the table in the SEC tourney, there's not much to remark them. But they gave the Musketeers a run for their money, leading by 9 at the break and holding the lead for part of the second half.

I don't have my past brackets in front of me and so can't tell you off the top of my head how many times in the last 14 years a 3 has gone out in the first round - but it's probably not many. I even wrote down Georgia on my second pass through the bracket. But then I was looking at a Georgia vs. Purdue-Baylor winner in the second round - the guys in Durham must have been giddy at the Georgia-Xavier halftime score - and changed my mind. I've got Xavier in the Great Eight in both brackets.

Oddly, though, I didn't stop to think about Michigan State-Temple at all, even though it was a 5-12 and Michigan State has not played great ball down the stretch. People say the Big Ten is soft, but Tom Izzo might be the best coach in the country when it comes to preparing his team for the tournament (and if he's not the best, then he's second behind Jim Calhoun). Also, the A-10, other than Xavier, is even softer than the Big Ten. There's a sharp drop-off after Xavier - so much so that Temple's bubble probably would have burst had it not won the conference tournament.

Michigan State didn't seem to have much trouble with Temple - which I hope portends good things for the Big Ten this weekend. I only have one Big Ten team (Wisconsin) winning past Sunday in my serious bracket (The Usual Suspects) - but I have Indiana in the title game in my goofy bracket (No Country For Old Men).

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Day In Bloomington

What follows is a sort of exercise in free writing, just to see how it comes out. If any of you have read The Rules Of Attraction, by Bret Easton Ellis, you’ll probably spot the similarity in style, if not perhaps in tone. There are pictures that go with this, but I’m running short on time, so those will come later, probably in a separate post.

Today we took off for Bloomington because we hadn’t been in a long time and we both had the day off and the weather was reasonably nice and we went through the usual discussion about where we were going to eat when we got down there but the only problem with that is that there are pretty much two places where we eat when we go to Bloomington and those are Snow Lion and Café Pizzaria (used to be Nick’s but certain people, by which I mean those under twenty-one, including babies, can’t go into Nick’s) but Café Pizzaria is closed on Sunday or closed for lunch at any rate and so we wound up at Snow Lion this afternoon.

I really used to like Snow Lion because you got a hot meal at a fair price and the food was just amazing with so many different kinds of sesame and Cajun and curry flavors going on and plenty of vegetarian options - does it get any better for vegetarians than Asian food? The food has been sub-par the last several times we have eaten there though and it’s gotten so far off from what it used to be that eating there doesn’t really get my blood pumping the way it used to but we went for it today because there was no way to get a stromboli short of taking them to go from Nick’s and eating them at the Union (which Amy actually floated as an idea and which I might have gone for except that I had had Snow Lion on my mind since yesterday) and I have to say that this was the best meal I’ve had at Snow Lion in quite awhile. I had Cajun vegetables and Amy had chicken sesame vegetables and both dishes were excellent - spiced correctly (you select your level of spicy, from 1 to 5) and adequately sauced so that there were not great clumps of stuck-together rice lurking underneath the layer of vegetables.

After a zesty meal like that, I was ready for a nice cup of coffee and genuinely lamented the fact that I could not walk over to Lazy Daze and get my usual four shot hazelnut latté. There are pleny of Starbucks stores in Bloomington (even one inside the Union) but I opted for a place called Bistro Et Crepe which is on 4th Street west of the clump of restaurants and used to be just a crèpe place but which is now a Mediterranean restaurant and a crèpe place and is where we’re going to eat the next time we’re in Bloomington because Amy is always up for a falafel and I can almost always eat a plate of spinach ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and both of those things were on the menu I looked at while the girl behind the counter who spoke a language I did not recognize made my latté.

Then we walked over to the Union because Jackson’s diaper was full and then we went back downtown because I wanted to walk around the courthouse square because we almost always go walking on campus after lunch and then hit downtown on the return swing and it never occurs to me to go all the way to the square even though there are lots of new things that have popped up there in the last few years that look interesting as we are coming into town on College Avenue but which we never seem to get to. Upon further inspection today, however, it was not as interesting as it seemed on the trip in because most of those new places are condos or bar-and-grill eateries and I could quite do with the proliferation of both of those kinds of things coming to an immediate end.

Back to campus then and coming in along Kirkwood Avenue toward the Sample Gates where there is no longer a university seal that Scott and I were once heckled for walking on by an idiot I could have stabbed in the eye with an ink pen and not though twice about it and it really pains me to walk by the Von Lee theatre and see that it has become a Noodles & Company restaurant but what are you going to do but shrug your shoulders and move on and walk through the Old Crescent and come upon the brand new Simon Hall and then you wonder what a new building is doing in the Old Cresecent or maybe only I am wondering that but at least they tried to make it look like it belongs there even if all the stone is clean and unworn and the vast expanse of greenspace that used to exist near that vehicular turnaround behind Rawles and Lindley Halls is now a memory.

And from there we walked over by Ballantine Hall and hoisted the stroller up the red brick steps to the path that slopes down past the Chemistry Building and then we stood there on the sidewalk and thought about going further into the heart of campus but I elected to walk back to the car and drive around a bit and in so doing turned into the parking lot at Ashton Center and then exited by way of the service street that goes past where the Center Building used to be before they tore it down and one of these days I’m going to get a picture of where that building used to be because I worked a lot of hours in the dining hall in that building and I have a lot of good memories of working there and now it’s gone and not just closed but actually no longer in existence.

NCAA Tournament Challenge

It's that time of the year again - the Big Dance. My buddy Scott has set up a team on ESPN's Tournament Challenge, where you fill in a bracket online and compare how good your picks are compared to however many other people join the team. He's got a movie theme this year, so you name your team after your favorite movie - you can enter more than once, so I presume that your second entry would be your second-favorite movie, and so on. Shoot me an e-mail if you want to get in on the fun, and I'll send along the team name and password.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Jackson And Grandpa

These are just a few shots of my dad with Jackson when we were visiting my parents about a week or so ago. Hopefully my dad won't have me rubbed out for posting them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Big List #3

Okay, irregular feature. Or something. I had a hard time coming up with anything that really interested me, or that I thought would be interesting in general - and then had two or three land all at once in the last couple of days. So here we go with the third installment...

China Sacks Plastic Bags

From the Mother Jones enviro-blog The Blue Marble comes a report by way of Reuters announcing that China has outlawed the plastic bags you get at places like groceries and other places of business. The post notes that China, before the ban, went through 3 billion of those little plastic bags every day, triple the amount gone through each day in the United States.

To Read Or Not To Read?

A report from the National Endowment for the Arts, which I read about in Poets & Writers magazine, To Read Or Not To Read shows an alarming downward trend when it comes to reading good old fashioned books in the United States. Adults are busy these days, trying to make ends meet in an economy where the vast majority of the wealth is being stolen by the upper one percent, but it’s sad that kids aren’t reading that much anymore, either.

Oh, Moses Smell The Roses!

So it’s possible that Moses may have been under the influence when he went to go tell it on the mountain? Not the kind of thing you can ever prove, of course, but it’s certainly interesting to ponder. I’m not big on musicals...but I would love to see John Waters take this idea and put some songs to it and cast Will Ferrell as Moses. Naturally, biblical scholars are skeptical. The journal in which the article appears seems to be brand new and looks like the kind of thing that you won’t be able to find at your local bookstore - but you can go here to download the PDF if you can’t find a copy of the journal. I read a bit of the paper at work tonight, and it’s really interesting. Outside chance I may come back with a longer post on just this, after I finish reading the paper.

Christ The Lord: The Road To Cana

So how many of you who know me well are scratching your heads at this point? Believe it or’s true. I’ve had my ups and downs with Anne Rice’s writing, but the first novel in this series, Christ The Lord: Out Of Egypt was pretty good. You can find a page full of notes on the first novel on her website.

That’s No Moon...It’s A Space Station

This is the article that goes with the picture I posted yesterday from MSNBC. It’s a pinwheel in space called WR 104 and is actually two massive stars in orbit around each other - and one of the pair is particularly unstable. When that unstable star goes supernova, some say that it could release a gamma ray burst. What’s interesting about this particular star and its potential gamma ray burst is that it seems to be pointing directly at good old planet Earth. Said gamma ray burst could theoretically obliterate something on the order of 25% of the ozone layer - contrasted with the 3-4% erosion of the ozone layer that we humans have achieved by pumping toxic gases into the atmosphere and pretending that global warming doesn’t exist.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Friday, March 07, 2008

Dinner At Luxor Restaurant

Amy and I were heading to Luxor Restaurant for dinner tonight, and just as we came to the intersection of Prospect, Virginia, and Shelby, Amy asked how it was that the neighborhood of Fountain Square could support two Mediterranean restaurants. (The other is Santorini Greek Kitchen.) I did not know the answer to that, except to say that food is one of the two things other than plight that I think of when I think of Fountain Square - the other is Radio Radio.

We parked on the street in front of the restaurant and saw a lunch buffet advertised on the window. It took a few minutes for anyone to greet us when we walked in - for the record, the only two other customers were the first people to acknowledge our presence in the restaurant. By the time we got the wrong salads before the appetizer sampler we had chosen to split for an entrée, we both figured that it had to be that lunch buffet that was keeping them afloat. The restaurant is close enough to downtown that a lot of people could make that lunch buffet trip and get back to the office inside their allotted hour.

The appetizer sampler lets you pick four of the dozen appetizers they serve; Amy chose the gyro and the falafel, and I chose the spanakopita and the fattoush - described in the online menu (but not in the menu at the restaurant) as “[a] traditional Arabic salad with lettuce, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, cucumbers and tomatoes mixed with pita croutons.”

Before we get to the food, a quick word on the dining room - there are, maybe, half a dozen tables seating from two to eight people each, the walls are painted mostly a vaguely minty forest green, and the heating unit, hidden behind a wall somewhere to the immediate right of where we sat, was so loud when it started revving itself up that I was afraid for a moment that the whole place was coming down. When that puppy is going with a full head of steam, a tornado could meander down Viriginia Avenue, right outside the front door, and you would never know - at any rate, there would be no aural clue.

The buffet tables take center stage in the middle of the dining room, reinforcing my thought that the lunch buffet is what keeps them from going under. The space in front of the U-shaped buffet table arrangement is, presumably, where the belly dancing and Spanish flamenco take place during dinner on the weekends. Pointed down on that space is a bank of colorful track lights. Four shaded hanging lights were turned on about halfway through the meal as dusk stole the day away; those four lamps were red, green, yellow, and blue - making me thinking immediately that we should have been playing Uno.

The salads we got were small Greek salads, not the Village salads we had ordered, and they were about as pedestrian as it gets. I keep hoping that one of these days a Greek salad will be something more than a regular salad with crumbled Feta on top and oregano added to the vinaigrette. The only time this has ever been the case was at a place called Ben Ash in New York. It’s directly across 7th Avenue from the Carnegie Deli, but much less famous. Their Greek salad, which cost $19.99 three years ago, looks - I kid you not - like Minas Tirith, if you take away that jutting precipice from which Denethor flings himself. If Amy had brought three Multiplicity-like clones with her to the table that day, the foursome might have been able to finish that salad.

But back to the Luxor! Up to the arrival of the appetizer sampler, I was unimpressed - with the ambience, the service, and the food such that we had already had. But then the appetizer plate came; and I will say this with no reservation - great food can almost always trump everything else that sucks about a restaurant.

The falafels were crispy on the outside and very flavorful inside - though this version is made with fava beans (sans Chianti, because I know someone is going to think it) and cilantro to go with the standard parsley. Most falafel that I have had in the past starts with a base of garbanzo beans and parsley. The gyro meat was a bit dry and tasted like it was made more with beef than with beef and lamb, and it lacked the strong seasoning that is usually found in gryo meat.

The spanakopita was a rich golden brown and crispy, with a mostly-spinach filling that could have done with a bit more cheese. But the highlight of the meal, for sure, was the fattoush salad, a perfect combination of light flavors (lemon juice, cucumber, tomato, mint) and slightly heavier, earthy flavors (olive oil and pita croutons, which is just a cute way of saying “cut-up pita bread”) that pretty much exploded with flavor in every bite.

A bonus highlight was the little dish of tzaziki that came with the plate. Tzaziki is a traditional Greek dipping sauce made primarily with yogurt and cucumber, and a little bit of sour cream - but this version was heavier on the sour cream and had so much garlic in it that any self-respecting vampire would have been nervous just to smell it. The garlic and sour cream were pleasant additions that almost made the tzaziki the highlight of the meal.

I was ready to write this place off and never look back - before that appetizer plate came. Now I’m already thinking about the next time, and the Egyptian Koshary ($8.95), described on the menu as a “mix of rice, lentils, and macaroni served with tomato sauce and topped with caramelized onions.” The front of the menu says that they specialize in Egyptian food, so I have reasonably high hopes for this dish the next time around.

The appetizer plate was $14.95 and the little Greek salads were $3.95 each (which I thought was a bit steep), and we stuck with ice water, so the total bill with tax and tip was just under $30. Dinner with two entrées and a couple of drinks apiece would easily double that.

One last thing, just for a laugh - Meditarranean women apparently have absolutely no qualms about asking to hold your baby. This happened tonight with the woman who served us, and has also happened both times we’ve eaten at the Bosphorus Café - the first time we ate at Bosphorus, the woman actually picked Jackson up and then walked into another room with him. The women at both places were just as nice as could be, but there was that monentary twinge when the Bosphorus lady took him into the other room - Amy and I looked at each other, and both of our expressions said, “Did we really just let a stranger take our baby out of our sight?”

At the end of the day, then, I think that I would recommend Luxor Restaurant, though perhaps not highly. If you only have one chance to do Mediterranean in this part of the city, then you should go for either Santorini or Bosphorus (though Bosphorus is not actually in Fountain Square - it’s on south East Street just before the interstate, but it’s nearby enough to count, I think); but if you’ve been to both of those places, give Luxor a shot.