Sunday, June 29, 2008

Smokehouse On Shelby

So the price of everything has been going up lately. Have you noticed this? They even raised the price at Yats, and while that remains the best place in town to get a bite to eat that won’t make your wallet sing Ave Maria, it is by no means the only place in Indianapolis where you can get a hot meal at a fair price and keep your money out of the hands of the corporate chains.

Amy and I happened on one of those places last week, on her suggestion that we try a new barbecue place in Fountain Square. Naturally, she suggested this just as I pointed the car - while listening to Dream Theater’s Once In A Livetime - in the opposite direction from Fountain Square. A couple of right turns later and we were zipping down Virginia Avenue toward what is easily - easily - the most underrated and underappreciated part of town.

Yes, parts of Fountain Sqaure are downright scary - a disproportionate number of its denizens seem to favor the wife-beater/jeans shorts ensemble, and the (underfed) pit bull is clearly the pet of choice - but for all of its plight, it has one of the greatest concentrations of independent restaurants anywhere in the city. As an added bonus, a number of those restaurants are ethnic places.

The place we landed at was Smokehouse On Shelby, inside the Fountain Square Theatre building at the corner of Shelby and Prospect where those two streets intersect with Virginia Avenue. The interior is updated diner chic, with black and white checkered tile on the floor and red for the walls, barstools, and chairs throughout - including the felt on the two vintage pool tables in pride of place near the front window.

It won’t take you long to pore over the menu, which includes most of what you would expect going into a barbecue joint - pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked chicken - and even a smoked meatloaf, which sounded interesting but was not what I wanted to try for my first go round. For my money, when you’re trying a barbecue place for the first time, you have to go with the pulled pork.

It comes with potato chips, a pickle spear, your choice of one side, and either sweet or chipotle barbecue sauce served - as it should be - on the side. I got cole slaw and kept the chips (and added an extra side of sauce, which turned out to be unnecessary), while Amy substituted fries (the krinkle-cut variety, out of a bag - and the plate was huge) for her chips and took the southern style baked beans as her side. If you can’t tell from the picture, the portions are extremely generous - a lunch like this at one of those crappy bar-and-grill places in downtown proper (and here I’m thinking of places like Champps Americana and Rock Bottom) would have run you at least $9.99; but if you’re adventurous enough to explore Fountain Square, you’ll get this tasty lunch for only $5.95 - and that’s the regular sandwich price, not a daily special.

As the picture clearly shows, the sandwich is overflowing with a pulled pork that is so finely pulled that it could just as easily be called shredded pork. It had a light smoked flavor to it, so that you could tell it had been smoked without having to guess that it also tasted like pork. The chipotle sauce had a vinegary taste and was slightly spicy, but complemented the meat well enough; the sweet sauce, on the other hand, was astonishing. Rich, sweet, and smoky, its base of tomatoes and molasses was powerfully flavorful, and the pungent flavor of garlic lingered after. The sweet sauce was so thick that its texture more resembled chunky tomato sauce than that syrupy barbecue sauce that comes out of a bottle. I like spicy food as much as (hell, probably quite a lot more than) the next guy, but here the sweet barbecue sauce is clearly superior. Both, I was told when I asked our server, are homemade - and it shows.

As for the sides, the cole slaw was as good as it gets - creamy without being heavy, though it is made with celery seed, which I have always thought is an odd addition to cole slaw. Maybe it’s a barbecue thing - there was celery seed in the cole slaw at Smokey Joe’s, the now-defunct barbecue place that for awhile brightened the chain restaurant dead zone that is 135 down in Greenwood. The baked beans were like your mom’s, which is to say just about perfect - strong with the flavors of molasses and barbecue sauce.

No complaints with the quick, attentive service, either - though that might have had something to do with the fact that we were the only diners in the restaurant when we were there. Smokehouse On Shelby is one of those run-don’t-walk things that I cannot recommend highly enough; if you haven’t expanded your culinary map to Fountain Square, you’re missing out on some of the very best meals Indianapolis has to offer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Notes On The Sampson Mess At IU

I recently sent up a Big List post with one of the items being a link to the NCAA’s case summary for the school’s hearing over the Kelvin Sampson brouhaha, and I noted that I thought there was a book that could be written about the whole mess - about how a once-proud school had been brought so low by a recruiting scandal they might well have seen coming when they hired the man who perpetrated it. I think that it would be a fascinating read, if written well and painstakingly researched by someone such as John Feinstein, who has written gobs of really fine sports books (three of which I have read: A Season On The Brink, The Last Amateurs, and The Majors).

A lot of people would prefer just to blame Kelvin Sampson, but that’s the simplistic way to go; it takes into account none of the other context of the story, including - especially - why Indiana would have hired Sampson in the first place, knowing as they did that he came with some fairly heavy recruiting violation baggage from his time at Oklahoma. To be sure, Sampson deserves plenty of blame here for the things that he did at Indiana - but why was he given the chance to do those things in the first place?

Who were the ones who enabled Sampson to bring about this dark cloud that now hangs over Indiana University? You might be quick to say that athletic director Rick Greenspan comes in for the lion’s share of the blame here, but consider this blog post from Hoosiers Insider, an Indiana sports blog run by Terry Hutchens at the Indianapolis Star. In the post, Hutchens makes references to no less than eleven other people that Greenspan hired since he took the AD job at Indiana. Hutchens notes - and I’ll have to take his word on this for most of these people, as I don’t know much about them, other than the late, great Terry Hoeppner - that they are all high-quality people in terms of character. The only person of questionable character - and we’re NOT talking about ability or track record of success here, only character - that Greenspan hired since taking over at Indiana was Kelvin Sampson. Hutchens questions whether Greenspan was completely on board with the hiring of Sampson, or if there might have been...pressure...from higher up the food chain than Greenspan.

Now, just what kind of pressure are we talking about? What kind of pressure might there have been in 2006, when Sampson was hired? You might be thinking that there was pressure to hire a black coach, but that would be wrong because Sampson isn’t black - he is of Native American descent. Also, Mike Davis, who is black, had been the head coach at Indiana for the six years prior to the hiring of Sampson. This was no feel-good race thing - the pressure was on the Hoosiers to win, and to win NOW!

And that leads to the question of who exerted the most pressure - and why that pressure was exerted. These questions are especially relevant if it is true, as Hutchens suggests, that the hiring of Sampson might have been an anomaly for someone like Rick Greenspan. (He is also spoken well of in his capacity as AD at Army in John Feinstein’s The Last Amateurs.) I don’t imagine there are many people at a school who can overrule the AD with respect to matters related directly to the athletic department.

The university President and the Board of Trustees come to mind here. It’s no secret that the athletic department at Indiana has been in the red for a number of years. It’s also no secret that football and men’s basketball bring in the lion’s share of revenue for the athletic department, especially the television dollars. In Indiana’s case, the football team has been so bad for so long that it has fallen on men’s basketball to provide a disproportionately high percentage of revenue for the athletic department. For over fifteen years, from the mid-1970s all the way through to 1993, that was no problem. They won three national championships in that span, along with a slew of Big Ten titles (at one point during Bob Knight’s tenure, Indiana was winning the Big Ten, on average, once every two years), and were - I think - the top program in the country.

Thing is, the basketball team has fallen on hard times, too. They made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the 1994 NCAA tournament before being felled by Boston College. They have been back to the Sweet Sixteen exactly one time in the fourteen years since. They have not won the Big Ten title since 1993. When the basketball team suffers, the university suffers. That may not be an ideal situation, but that’s the way it is for Indiana - such is the symbiotic relationship between big schools and their super-successful sports programs.

The temptation of hiring Kelvin Sampson, then, must have been, for some, overwhelming. He left Oklahoma as the winningest coach in that school’s history, having taken the Sooners to the NCAAs ten times in eleven seasons and collecting three consecutive Big 12 titles (2001-2003). He even got his team to the Final Four once in that span, where they lost, in 2002, to - wait for it - Indiana. The recruiting phone call mess that brought Sampson down at Indiana was already with him when he left Oklahoma - and it must have been appealing for Sampson to think about going to a place where the program was clean and there was the distinct possibility that he could slip back under the NCAA’s radar.

We know how it turned out. Sampson, now coaching in the NBA (and no doubt helping the image of that troubled organization), is likely to receive a “show cause” order when the NCAA rules on the Indiana allegations - which means that his college coaching career is effectively over. Indiana has one scholarship player returning from last season - Kyle Taber - and a postseason penalty is not out of the question.

What disastrous set of circumstances would have forced Indiana to the point even of considering a coach like Kelvin Sampson? I think the answer is pretty clear, and can be summed up in a phrase from Scott Adams, the cartoonist who gave the world Dilbert: “A paradigm shifting without a clutch.” Indiana seemed to take for granted that its basketball team would always be there for the school, would always have the kind of success that it had under Bob Knight. And there’s the rub - you take Bob Knight out of that equation, and all of that success becomes a memory. The slide began before he was actually fired, of course - as any Indiana hoops fan who witnessed the 50-point drubbing the Hoosiers were subjected to at Minnesota in the 1994-95 season, and the string of first- and second-round exits in the NCAAs that started in 1997, will attest to - but that slide did not begin until Myles Brand was installed as president of Indiana University in 1995.

So everything that’s wrong with Indiana basketball now is because of the shameful way that Myles Brand fired Bob Knight in 2000? Well...not just because of that. See, Brand fired head football coach Bill Mallory, too. With those two terminations, Brand effectively pulled the financial legs out from under the Indiana athletic department. (Both were extremely popular coaches - and while Mallory’s success was not as spectacular as Knight’s, it should be noted that Mallory took a football program that was dismal, worse than it is even now, and made it a bowl contender pretty much every year.) And while the football team was never exactly great, the basketball team was - but they struggled to find leadership and identity under Mike Davis after Knight’s dismissal, and the record suffered. The low point came when they missed the NCAA tournament in consecutive years, 2004 and 2005 - and that meant even more missed revenue for the athletic department.

By the time Sampson was hired in mid-2006, Adam Herbert, the embattled then-president of Indiana University, had already announced that he would resign at the end of his contract term, facing strong criticism from faculty and students for communicating poorly and too often not being available to the needs of the university community. Hutchens seems to point the finger of blame - without actually doing so explicitly - in the Sampson mess on Herbert, who may have bent to the will of the trustees, who may themselves have felt the pressure to stanch the financial bleeding of the athletic department, which was losing money because of the lack of success in the football and men’s basketball programs and not making much back in the way of donations from alumni who had tightened their purse strings in the aftermath of the callow firings of Mallory and Knight.

Indiana gambled on Sampson and lost - making a bad decision for a bad reason. And while it is not directly the fault of Myles Brand, he did - by firing Knight - set in motion the chain of events that led to this mess. Like him or not, Bob Knight ran a clean program at Indiana. His players went to class, and the vast majority of them graduated. Brand’s point has always been that the academic side of college suffers because of the financial importance that schools place on athletics. Indiana never felt the pressure to put success in sports ahead of success in academics during Knight’s tenure as head coach; that pressure formed in the void left by the removal of Knight. Brand did not expose a problem that already existed - instead, his actions created an example of the very problem he was trying to stop.

Sampson’s actions have forever sullied the good name of Indiana University. I am confident at this point that Tom Crean will do his very best to rebuild the basketball program that Sampson very nearly destroyed. Sampson was willing to piss on the rules - and lie about having done so - in order to be successful as a basketball coach, and it was in part due to Myles Brand’s crusade to change the face of college sports that Sampson had the opportunity to do those things at Indiana University.

The Big List #8

New Blog - Hoosier Insider

This is an IU blog by Star sports writer Terry Hutchens. Some of you may have picked up a hint of criticism of the Indianapolis Star here in the ol’ Blog-O-Rama, and it’s true that, generally speaking, I think the local news rag blows. There is the occasional diamond in the rough, though - and Terry’s writing is one of those diamonds.

NCAA Enforcement Staff Case Summary - PDF (Option-click to download)

This is the case summary the NCAA used during IU’s hearing (which took place last Friday) on the Kelvin Sampson charges. There’s a book in all of this, I think - and I would love it if John Feinstein winds up being the guy who writes it. I’m very curious to see how far back the mea culpas go, and where the blame for this fiasco really lies.

Paging Kermit The Frog

Yeah, who in the world needs a 10,000 square foot mansion, right? Probably not many people, especially not those of the empty nest set. Thing is, though, Al and Tipper bought an 80-year-old house and greened it up - it is noted in the article linked above that a number of the green improvements to the house could only have been made by people of fairly extraordinary wealth, such as the Gores. The folks at Snopes looked into an e-mail from early 2007 that compared the Gore home to the Bush summer home and noted that the Gore home was much less “green” than you would think it would be, being owned by an enviro-hippie like Al Gore. Trouble is, the e-mail was obviously created and circulated by conservative Gore-bashers and contains absolutely no context. It’s just a straight up-and-down comparison of energy use, and also happens to cite incorrect electricity consumption data published by a conservative think tank and which was later corrected by the Associated Press. The e-mail also does not mention that the Gore home is 80 years old, compared to the Bush summer home, which is less than ten years old. The Gore house also contains the offices of both Al and Tipper Gore, which ramps up the energy use. Oddly, though, the e-mail doesn’t mention that, and neither does the Snopes analysis. Conservatives and Republicans don’t go in too much for context, though - it makes their simplistic assertions way too complicated for their rank and file.

Ethanol’s Advantages Far Outweigh Costs

Note the paragraph near the bottom of the letter where the writer mentions how efficiency in the production of ethanol has improved over the course of five years. I really hope that we the people are smart enough to stick it out with ethanol as part of the wider solution to the fossil fuel crisis. The long-term solution is renewable fuel sources that cost more to produce and yield less energy than fossil fuels - sad but true. There’s a finite supply of fossil fuel out there, and we can’t make more. Click here for a really good article on the topic from a recent issue of Mother Jones.

Give Me Fuel, Give Me Fire, Give Me That Which I Desire

Finally, from the Intersection blog, a story about Craig Venter, the chap who decoded the human genome a few years back - and who is now working on creating an energy bug, an organism that will feed on carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, and then turn those things into petro-based fuels that people can use in their cars. Sounds maybe too good to be true...but what if it worked? Either way, Terry Gilliam should take some part of the idea and make a movie out of it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin Goes To The Grey Havens

George Carlin passed away on Sunday. There are not enough truly bright lights in this fading republic that for reasons passing understanding still attempts to pass itself off as the United States of America, but Carlin was one of those bright lights. So much of what he spoke about in his comedy routines was startlingly correct - but he was seen by far too many people as someone who just swore a lot, and that's too bad. You'd be hard pressed to convince me that there has ever been a better stand-up comedian than George Carlin.

16th Annual Indian Market And Festival

This weekend was the 16th annual Indian Market put on by the Eiteljorg Museum, and it was the first trip to said event for young Jackson, who was only a couple of weeks old when last year’s event took place - and we thought he was probably a bit too wee to take to an outdoor event where it is almost always hot and humid and the lines for food are typically quite long and feature plentiful sunshine. The Indian Market is also one of our favorite things to do during the summer and fall festival season here in Indianapolis and Amy and I were looking forward to getting back. was time for Jackson to take a nap when Amy brought him home from church, and I was having trouble getting awake after working for nearly twelve hours on Saturday - my usual 10-8 shift having been extended on the front end because of a Heartland Film Society screening in the morning. I finally dragged myself into the shower and got ready to go and we picked up advance tickets at Marsh on the way to pick up my mom (who introduced us to the Indian Market I don’t even remember how long ago now) and we got there just as that thunderstorm that started in the early afternoon began to let up.

It was rain cooled because of the thunderstorm, and the storm might also have chased some of the folks who had been there in the morning and early afternoon - there was virtually no line for food, which was unusual; but it was nearly three o’clock by the time we got there, and that left only two hours to eat and then check out all the artwork for sale in the four big tents set up on the grounds of Military Park. Past years have featured one big food vendor that served up fry bread, Indian tacos, buffalo burgers, corn soup, and drinks. This year there were a couple of carnival-style food vendor trailers with all of the above items (except corn soup) and some other items not Indian-related. There was also a stand selling Mexican food from a Mexican restaurant in Franklin, Indiana, though I don’t recall the name of the restaurant. Amy tried chicken tamales and a steak taco from that stand, and both were quite tasty.

After we ate, there wasn’t much time left for perusing the art in the four tents, but we got to at least three of them (and maybe all four, but we were moving so quickly that I’m not sure). I tell myself every year at the Indian Market that I will find some way to make way more money the following year so that I can buy some of this art, but it never happens. The paintings and sculptures and jewelry are really nice to look at, but they’re also really expensive. This year, though, I managed to find a ring I liked for only $25 - contrasted with several other nice rings I saw that were between $45 and $180. I meant to take a picture of it and of the pair of earrings that Amy bought, but managed not to. Once I do get that picture, though, I’ll add it to this post.

Time ran out on us while we were in that last tent where I got my ring and Amy got her earrings, so we didn’t get to check out the tent with items from the White River Trader, the gift shop inside the Eiteljorg; and we didn’t get to the museum itself, wihch you can visit for free as part of the purchase price of your ticket to the Indian Market. It was a good time, though, as always. Click here to check out the pictures.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bringing Light To A Lifeless Screen

UPDATED: Flickr blows, so I moved my photos to Picasa. Click here.

Man, do I have all kinds of those technologies on the Interwebs. I just set up one of those Flickr deals so that I can post lots of photos of Jackson all at once. I always seem to get backed up on the pictures I want to post on my blog, and posting them via dial-up and Blogger is...aggravating. So, most of them will go up in Flickr and the wayward handful will be posted here in the ol' Blog-O-Rama. Click here to check out the first couple of shots (from Jackson's lunch this afternoon). I have a lot of pictures of the little scamp, so the Flickr set may be updated quite a bit in the next couple of days.

I've also been backed up on regular posts, but there are a couple that are just about ready. One is a moderately long piece about Indiana Univeristy men's basketball in which I pin most of what's wrong with Indiana basketball on former university president Myles Brand. This will also by my first contribution to Mid America Sports, a new sports blog that Josh started . There is also a Big List in the works, and a Bonus Item in the form of a CNN story I found that debunks that horseshit going around about how George Bush's house is greener than Al Gore's.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Big List #7

This is long overdue, I'm afraid. Most of these items have been sitting around waiting patiently for me to blog about them for weeks. I still think they are interesting, though, so here they are. Also, for those who are interested, Rush has pushed back their Indianapolis concert from June 25th to July 24th. June 25th is now the makeup date for a show they had to cancel in Denver earlier this month because of weather.

On to the big headlines!

New Blog - Indy Insights

I was reading Ruth Holladay’s blog a couple of days ago and came across this link to a blog about city life here in Indianapolis. It’s run by Bill Benner, who used to do sports for the Star and now works for the Indiana Convention and Visitors Association.

My Carbon Pledge

This is a project being put on by the Indianapolis Zoo to try to replace one million standard incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs in the state of Indiana in 2008. They have a running tally of how far along they are - and you can even check your profile to see how green your house is! Help save a polar bear - make a pledge today!

American Beauty (Now That's Esoteric!)

A kid called Daniel Burd, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, did a science fair project in which he figured out a way to make those horrid plastic grocery store bags biodegrade by 32% in six weeks. It’s still best to use a canvas tote or take paper sacks at the store - but maybe an idea like this will help ease the fears of those Republicans who want to pay lip service to saving the planet without also alienating all those votes from the semi-skilled laborers in the plastic bag industry.

You Lose One More, You’re A Talking Monkey

Anytime George Bushtard implies that he is pro-life, he is instead proclaiming that he is a lying piece of shit. Nearly all of his vetoes have been of bills that would bring the troops home from Vietraq or provide further funding for embryonic stem cell research. This post talks about induced pluripotent stem cells, yet another group of stem cells that scientists have discovered that might be able to do some or all of what embryonic stem cells can do. There’s also the possibility that these cells could be banked - in much the same way blood is banked today. Nice ideas, both - too bad scientists had to waste time discovering them when they could have been working on embryonic stem cells. It’s sad that one closed-minded idiot can obstruct Congress and stall the progress of science to such a degree - but it’s good to see that science marches on, even if it has to take the (very) long way around the Bushtard learning curve.

More On Expelled

So one Cosmic Log post on the Ben Stein movie wasn’t enough, it seems. Here’s another, about an evolutionary biologist called P.Z. Myers, who agreed to be interviewed in 2007 for a project called “Crossroads,” which purported to be a documentary concerned with the ways in which science and religion intersect. Turns out that the project was actually Ben Stein’s “intelligent design” movie, Expelled - and that Myers was lied to about why he was being interviewed. Classy. Later, Myers went to a preview screening of the film, but was asked to leave the screening when one of the producers recognized him. Again, classy. Whatever will those on the right do now that they are no longer eligible to complain about Michael Moore?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Male Bovine Fecal Matter (#1)

The standard 35mm film projector works like this: The film, spliced together from 2000-foot-long reels into one huge 12,000-foot-long reel of film that rests horizontally on a platter, is threaded manually through an intricate system of rollers from the platter upon which it rests to a second platter (sometimes called the “take-up” platter - okay, always called the take-up platter). The film is then threaded through the projector head and the sound head. The take-up platter is then turned by hand to cause the motor of the take-up platter to engage just enough to place tension on the film so that when the start button is pushed, the take-up platter motor and the projector motor operate in sync with each other so that the film moves smoothly from one platter to the other while a 2000-3000 watt high-pressure short-arc xenon lamp projects the picture onto the screen (a precisely timed shutter oscillates over the projected image to create the seamless illusion of motion) and an optical LED feeds information encoded on the edge of the film into a digital sound processor that then delivers dynamic digital surround sound first to a stack of amplifiers and then to the speakers strategically placed throughout the auditorium.

This process is one-way only. Once the film is threaded through the projector, all of the film must be run through the projector before it can be shown again. If something - say, a power surge caused by a strong thunderstorm containing an enormous amount of cloud-to-ground lightning - causes the projector to stop (ultra-sensitive electronic failsafe devices cause the the projector motor to stop and the xenon lamp to turn off at the first hint of trouble, including interruption of electrical power), it cannot be rewound. None of the projectors I have worked with (I’m not quite ready to admit defeat yet and call it a career) have been able to do this.

Maybe some of you out there have worked with projectors that go backward? I’d sort of be interested to hear about it - except that it would somewhat upend the point I had to try to impress over and over the other night that such a thing cannot be done. It’s possible that digital cinema can overcome this shortcoming of the moviegoing experience, as the shortcoming is entirely mechanical in nature; but the symbiotic nature of 35mm film and the machines that project that film makes “rewinding the movie” an impossibility for the vast majority of theatres.

So when we tell you that it can’t be done, that’s not male bovine fecal matter. It’s the truth. The male bovine fecal matter? That’s coming out of your vocal orifice, Elsie. If anyone out there knows of a cure for pretentiousness, would you please send me some in water-soluble tablet form? I shall perform a public service and dump it into the water supply that feeds Washington Township and lower Hamilton County.

Male offspring of a female dog. I should probably note that the last sentence of the previous paragraph is an example of humorous rhetoric. I'm obviously not going to do anything to the water supply. I wouldn't even know where to begin, and I sure as hell don't have the time.