Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Federal Apology For Slavery

Hard to believe it's taken nearly 146 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, but it appears that the House of Representatives is on the cusp of issuing an apology for slavery.. While multiple states have issued formal apologies over the years, this would mark the first such acknowledgement at the federal level. Here is a link to the full text of H.Res. 194.
I don't want to waste too much energy blathering about a 146 year delay for what would seem to have been both easy and politically expedious to accomplish many years ago. We should take satisfaction in the fact that current opinion would provide fertile ground for this action to take root, and based upon the resolutions' wording, this is a comprehensive apology. Not only is slavery's destructiveness addressed, but so too is Jim Crow and the racism that underscored both tragedies.
This resolution from the House is the sort of thing that can be built upon, and like the document states, "a genuine apology is an important and necessary first step in the process of racial reconciliation."
By acknowledging shameful parts of our past at the highest levels, we can stop arguing over them and start moving beyond. When the federal government formally recognizes the "injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow", it removes the backbone from many a Lost Cause historian and Confederate apologists' argument about slavery being a benign institution. Moreover, in stating that slavery "should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of American history" it gives satisfaction and relevance to the current batch of historians whose work is designed to help us recognize and learn from our past as it actually happened. Lastly, it gives relevance to a particularly sore spot for a large component of the American melting pot.
We can only heal when we can understand the unfortunate parts of our history, we can only move forward together when we start from the same place. Hopefully there can be significant further discussion built from this action; a national museum explaining slavery in America being a great place to start. Regardless, this far-reaching document is a milestone from which we can all take some measure of motivation.

The Passing Of Alan Nolan

I just learned about the death of Alan Nolan, who was an attorney by trade as well as an accomplished Civil War author and historian. I refer you first to Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory blog, which is a premier ACW blog, for more information.
I first came upon Mr. Nolan's work in my studies of The Lost Cause, as his essays are featured in Gary Gallagher's collections. His discussions are provocative to say the least, but important in that they pull back the cloak on the mythology that has long veiled an accurate conception of the war. Of particular interest to Mr. Nolan was the deification of Robert E Lee, which he addressed in his book "Lee Considered". This text is next up on my reading list and will be reviewed here shortly.
It was given its intriguing name because, as Mr. Nolan said, Lee had never been properly and accurately considered despite the hundreds of books about him, thus it would be inaccurate to have titled it "Lee Reconsidered" Delicious! Needless to say, such efforts have vigorous detractors, some of whom are notable ACW historians, and there is probably truth in both views. The value of Nolan's efforts is in the novelty; these are the beginnings of a revisitation of true and accurate historiography, and it is important for old notions to be challenged. I suspect that in a few years, especially when the Civil War sesquicentenials start, Mr. Nolan's effort will be looked at with growing importance.
Along with these efforts, Mr. Nolan was known for a noteworthy history on the Iron Brigade, one the most famous units in the Army of the Potomac. His works are examples of how to both research and write history as well as challenge old notions and ideas. The field of ACW history is diminished by his passing.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Civil War Top 100 Blogs

I've added a few functionalities to the right sidebar that I want to share. First is a link to Civil War Top 100, a website that ranks blogs that discuss the American Civil War based upon number of hits they get per day. Also, there is a place to review my posts if you'd like. One request, please only vote for me if you read/enjoy/care about the Civil War content on this blog. The other blogs participating have the ACW as their sole focus, so I want to be fair to the rankings. Anyway, here is the process...
-click on the Civil War Top Site icon to the right
-click "enter and vote"
I think by doing just that you record a hit to my blog, for which I thank you. If you'd like to post a review...
-scroll down slowly until you find my listing
-click on "Stats" icon next to my name
-scroll down and click "rate and review"
Also, if you'd like to subscribe to The Tipsy Historian, I've added an RSS subscription function so you can add it to your blogroll of choice.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Civil War Art As History, Or Just Art

After a particularly stressful day at work last Sunday, I decided a sojourn to Adams Avenue Bookstore was just what I needed to soothe my nerves and calm my mind. There's something about used book stores that just helps me feel relaxed and quiet. They're always cool inside, that pervasive musty smell, and oh my the books. There's never a time limit or obligation to buy anything, and the stunning diversity of the collection at Adams Avenue just lets the imagination run wild.
It's always been a personal rule that book-buying is non-budgetary spending; if I see it and want it, I buy it. We're not talking signed first editions here, we're talking old paperbacks and hardbacks without dustjackets. I'm not collecting for the money, I read everything I buy (admittedly I've gotten a bit behind) and having a library stuffed full of books on sports, old cocktail recipes, and the Civil War is just too freaking cool.
Anyway, I went into AAB and immediately got settled in the history section. Within 20 minutes, there was a lovely stack of texts on all manner of Civil War esoterica, now destined for my library. Among these books was a collection of works by famed contemporary Civil War artist Don Troiani, and this is the crux of what we're going to discuss.
Mr. Troiani is touted in circles both historical and artistic as "modern America's finest historical artist" and his depictions of Civil War personalities and battle vignettes are perennially among the best-selling CW pieces, and the marketplace is enormous. He keeps a massive collection of uniforms and armaments in his studio, and goes on location to develop his images, using models in full battle dress to set the scenes. His meticulous attention to detail and historical accuracy even includes test-firing various CW firearms into trees and planks to get the bullet markings just right.
If you read the link about, you will understand the size of this man's reputation and portfolio. Underpinning his reputation and success is this attention to historical accuracy, and here is where I have a huge issue with his work.
I provide you with a link to google images that has a host of images of his paintings (the gallery that supports him online is down). Here it is, what I invite you to do is take a look at the paintings and think about what things strike you. Then think about what might be missing from this depictions of Civil War combat by an artist known for his historical rigor. Here is some music to listen to while you browse the paintings

What do you think?
The uniforms are perfect, the locations are golden, the flags, weaponry, everything is just right, just what collectors want to hang on their walls.
Everything except the accurate depiction of what happens to a human body that has been struck by flying lead from a carbine or shards of iron flung from a cannon. There is no rendering of the limbless, headless, eviscerated men who covered the fields that Troiani apparently so accurately depicts. Somehow amidst all of his "accuracy" he has forgotten the men killed and wounded in the Civil War.
I am quite familiar with penetrating trauma and have a good sense of what it looks like. I can say unreservedly that these pictures fail completely when it comes to the accurate depiction of Civil War combat. Even more maddening is that Troiani does include vivid images of men flying through the air, lying prostrate on the ground, or reaching up to a comrade for help. Like something out of a PG war movie, however, these men have only the faintest traces of blood on them. This is absolutely not reality, because these men would have been absolutely shattered the moment they were struck.
So why is this so, and why too is he still regarded as the very greatest and most accurate Civil War painter? The underpinning of this stems from a theme that comes up again and again here; how we remember the Civil War. In our consciousness, this was a glorious fight fought by inspired leaders and superhuman men (oh how do the Lost Cause themes run rampant). There is little room for the harsh reality of what happened to the men on the firing line. We all hear and read the numbers killed, wounded and missing, but are never given a chance to think about what it looks like.
The closest we ever come to the reality of Civil War combat is through made-for-TV movies like "Gettysburg", reenactors marching bloodlessly into fake combat, and artwork like Mr. Troiani's.
This is a conscious choice that the painter and buyer make, this is the way they want the war depicted and remembered, this is how the bloodiest war in our nation's history looks on the walls of tens of thousands of American homes, as well as on the Internet. Not only is this wrong, but it is disingenuous as well. The men depicted in Troiani's scenes deserve to be remembered and memorialized, but they deserve to have it done accurately.
I'm not naive enough to think that Troiani hasn't painted more graphic depictions in his studio and probably trashed them, because the simple fact is they just won't sell. Who wants blood and guts on display in the family room, right? But you can't have it both ways, you can't say something is accurate to boost sales while simultaneously shirking historical responsibility. I am as loud a proponent of Civil War memory in our culture as anyone, but it must be correct! If it's not, it should be placed on the sideline.
I actually have a piece of Civil War art on my wall; a black and white photograph of Little Round Top at the left edge of the Union line. This is the ground made famous on July 2, 1863 as it looks today, including the regimental markers of the 20th Maine. There is nothing but the ground in this picture without overt historical interpretation, my point being that we can remember and consider famous Civil War locations in our homes, but for artists like Don Troiani to be touted for their "historical accuracy" is just wrong. Art? Yes. History? Absolutely not.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Imbibe, My Friends, Imbibe

This is not a post designed to encourage you, dear reader, to consume alcohol or any beverage for that matter (though it is summer and the physiologist in me wishes to remind you to take plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration). No, this missive is actually an introduction to a most spectacular publication called Imbibe Magazine.
I have long been a magazine enthusiast, as my 24 year collection of Sports Illustrated and my mandatory trip to the newsstand when at the airport will attest. Imbibe, which I subscribed to one year ago and will now be discussed here is one of the single most wonderful and tempting periodicals out there.
If you haven't guessed by the name or clicked on the link, Imbibe is dedicated to all liquids fit for human consumption. The focus is on cocktails and spirits, but there is plenty of discussion on beer, wine, tea, coffee, and soft drinks. Basically, if you have ever been thirsty in your life, there is something for you in the contents of Imbibe. There are also pages and reviews of all the accoutremonts required for the preparation and consumption of your chosen bevvy, so not only can you learn what you want to drink, but how best to get it down.
Each issue is a whirlwind tour of beverages: their preparation, their origins, the cities where they are popular, and the recipes and dealers you need to get yourself some. There are tons of appetizing pictures, the writing is quite solid, and the breadth of coverage is just amazing. From Amsterdam to Seattle, from absinthe to vodka and all destinations between, it's all there.
Perhaps you're feeling that, as a teetotaller, there isn't going to be enough here to tickle your tastebuds, but I can happily divulge that I was introduced and continue to learn about home coffee roasting through this mag. I've bought root beer selections for friends and picked out crazy plates for The Jess. The newest issue has a huge feature on tea in all of its permutations. As I said before, if you've ever been thirsty, Imbibe will slake it for you.
The best and most titillating part of this magazine has got to be it's timing. It only comes out every two months, so each issue must be carefully savored and rationed ensuring that the fun isn't over too quickly. Oh, and archiving is particularly important so you have back issues for a reference. I usually skim the whole mag and read the reviews section on arrival, then do one article every few days with more than one sabbatical in between. I got the newest issue a few weeks ago and still have about 1/3 left to enjoy. See, Imbibe even encourages moderation!
It's entertaining, it's incredibly diverse, it'll broaden your horizons, it's Imbibe. Check it out!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

San Diego District Tennis Championships

A goodly portion of my sports-related free time is, as you have probably guessed, devoted to tennis. Watching, reading, writing, and most of all playing the game are just about the best ways I can think of to have some fun and get exercise. Over the past few years, I've been playing more and more, and have decided to throw my hat (or racket, as it were) into the competitive ring next month.
The 80th annual San Diego District Tennis Championships kick off August 22 at Balboa Park, and I just submitted my entry to play in the NTRP 5.0 singles tourney. This is a single-elimination format, USTA sanctioned event, and should be quite a challenge.
I spent my early teen years playing in local and USTA tournament, and despite always having a steadily improving game, never had the most auspicious results. The game was there, but the performance in the crunch was frustratingly missing. Time after time I'd over-think the big points, doubt my abilities, think negative thoughts, and time after time, those thoughts would come true. My old coach always told me that my problem was my head, that I was too smart to be a tennis player, that you have to be dumb on the tennis court and trust your ability.
Despite that comment always really annoying me, there is a vein of truth in it. I disagree that a good player should be dumb on the tennis court; this is a game that requires active stratigizing and problems-solving, but at some point, you have to release the negativity and self-doubt and just play.
I always loved the preparation for tournaments and the atmosphere on the day. That feeling of nervous anticipation, meeting a new player, getting a free t-shirt, the coaches all milling about, just a fantastic feeling. When I would get on the court; however, I would have progressively less and less fun as I got more and more nervous, frustrated and doubtful. I would even experience the dreaded "choking". The double fault on set point, the flubbed volley into the open court, surrendering the big lead in a tiebreak. Oh my God, so frustrating!
My tourney play slowed down after a knee surgery when I was 17, and I stuck with high school tennis, which was fun for the camaraderie and the fact that our team was awesome, but our coach was a pain who liked to set up conflict and anger between members of the team. In college and beyond, the game was purely recreational, and as my knee started troubling me again, faded into the background.
I tried to come back strong after a second knee surgery and effective rehab, but found the old mental goblins still up to their old tricks when I played in the Fallbrook Open 3 years ago. Truth be told, I had no business being in that tournament, I wasn't match fit and it was 110 degrees on the court. I got out there anyway, only to face the most irritatingly effective opponent in tennis, the player known as "the backboard." This dude got to everything. EVERYTHING! No pace, no winners, but tireless running and hardly any unforced errors. For a player like me who thrives on pace and had issues staying focused, he was an absolute nightmare to play.
Oh yeah, and I double-faulted on my only set point in the second set and lost 6-4, 7-5. Sucked.
Worse, my knee was really hurting afterwards and I had to shut things down for several months afterward. A disheartening return to tournament tennis, that's for sure.
Having put aside tournament tennis again, and having started taking lessons from Simon the Great at Pacific Beach Tennis Club (if anyone reading this has any interest in taking lessons, Simon is your man. Doesn't matter your level, he is just a fantastic coach. Let me know and I'll give you his info) tennis has been more fun than ever over the past years. I still battle old demons when I play competitively, though, and am determined to find a way through it.
Thus my entry into the SDDTC next month, and this time I'm trying a new approach. Of course I want to train hard and play lots of tennis to get ready, but now I want to start putting to rest these doubts and nerves that have plagued my game for so long. Easy? No. This is stuff that pervades the game, with numerous bestsellers written and gurus giving lectures designed to help players work through the mental game of tennis.
So here's my approach:
-when I play, try to keep the negative comments out
-practice focusing during matches with the oldest trick in the books, looking at my strings between points. Watch any match and you'll see nearly every player do this. It's not that I don't, it's that I don't do it consistently and my mind starts to wander
-try to get a bit more fitness under my belt
-look towards the progress I'm making, instead of the match result
-match play, match play, match play
I'm really excited about this and am hopeful this will introduce a new phase of enjoyment in my game. I'm one month away, so here we go!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Review: "Ghosts of the Confederacy"

OK, now we're getting into some seriously dense academia with this effort from LSU professor Gaines Foster. There is a broad selection of texts written for the ACW-interested public, and this effort falls on the more rigorously academic side. This is not a problem, unless you're looking for the readability of a McPherson or Ambrose, because the data is wonderfully presented, just lacking in color.
"Ghosts of the Confederacy" is a study of how the post-Confederacy South and the Southern memory of the Civil War took shape in the period directly after the end of the war through 1913. We are walked meticulously through the adaptation of the South to the evolution of its society and economy in post-bellum America and the formation of soldier's groups, advocacy organizations, and memorialization movements, first in Virginia, then throughout the entire south.
This is a story of a beaten people trying to find some redemption in the dregs of defeat through the growth of the Lost Cause movement, all the while chasing and intercalating the culture of the victors in the birth and nascency of the New South. Foster shows us how the two moved in lock-step with each other; for every step southerners made in moving forward, be it politically, socially, economically, there was a proponent of the Lost Cause ready to denigrate them for the purpose of elevating Confederate memory.
There was real muscle behind this movement, as Foster meticulously demonstrates the growth of Virginia-based movements such as the Southern Historical Society and Association of the Army of Northern Virginia. He is not shy about showing how they were unable to mobilize the entire South and then moves to groups such as Lee Camp and United Confederate Veterans. These were the groups that brought in much more attention and money as the 19th century drew to a close; Foster shows clearly the political maneuvering that made this possible and how these groups pushed the memorialization movement further, including the erecting of monuments to Robert E Lee and Jefferson Davis.
Foster's real strong suit comes in his ability to illustrate the reconciliation between North and South. This detente was instrumental in the cementing of the South's conception of the Confederacy in wartime and in the Lost Cause. This is an amazing story that deserves much more robust treatment than I will give here, but the idea that the two sides came together as quickly and peacefully as they did is quite remarkable. From Joshua Chamberlain and his troops saluting the defeated Confederates at Appomattox to the return of captured Confederate battle flags to the South, gradually the New South moved towards the validation it wanted: the public concession by the North of the honor and nobility of the Confederate's fight. This would finally be cemented, but it would take another war to do so.
Foster's strongest chapter and best argument comes in his analysis of the Spanish-American War and it's effect on reconciliation. When President McKinley moved the nation towards war in 1898, the powerful leadership of groups like the United Confederate Veterans called upon the South to join the fight. Southerners joined Northerners in the blue uniform of the national army and marched off to war and "the obliteration of all sectional distrusts" together. Foster even posits that this joining together of North and South was one of McKinley's war aims. Apocryphal or not, this is exactly what happened.
"The Spanish-American War, in sum, allowed southerners to affirm their loyalty to the union and, of equal importance, to demonstrate their courage and that of the Confederate soldier."
With this approval, the ideas of a war fought over Constitutional issues and states rights instead of slavery, and suppression of opinions that did not glorify the Confederate soldier and leadership became the standard throughout the now truly United States.
I would have liked Foster to take this discussion a bit further and investigate the effect of the next major war the United States fought in; World War I. It remains unclear if sectionalism was even on the table when America entered the war in 1916, and Foster does not explore past 1913. Perhaps an opportunity missed.
Another hole in Foster's narrative is that he does not address the rise of the Ku Klux Klan during the Reconstruction period, and I believe this to be a mistake. This was a tangible, albeit small, reaction in the South to the defeat of the Confederacy and certainly had a larger role in decades to follow. Some discussion of the birth and development of this group as well as it's role in the suppression of opinions and even an entire race unsavory to the New South would have been in order.
The book is completed with a final chapter that begins to explore the challenge that historians faced (and continue to face) in collecting and recording an accurate history of the Civil War. The field of history. At the turn of the 20th century, the professionalization of history was in full swing, as scholars trained in the North and overseas and skilled in the rigorous application of primary versus secondary sources and using a balanced view on an issue turned their attention to the Civil War.
One can easily imagine how this approach would clash with the approach taken in the South (recall our previous discussion of the Southern Historical Society Papers) and Foster just begins to scratch the surface of this collision. He posits, and I tend to agree, that the losers of this battle in the South and really throughout the nation as a whole at the turn of the century, were the professional historians. It was the histories presented by the Southern Historical Society, United Confederate Veterans, and Daughters of Confederate Veterans that would hold sway in the general public, and launch the southern conception of the war and the Lost Cause into the national consciousness.
This is a provocative argument, and certainly one that merits an in-depth study; sort of a history of Civil War history, if you will. I tell you what, if I was a grad student now, I would try to crank out exactly that dissertation in time for the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, because that's the time that people's attention will turn back to the Civil War and it's memory.
Overall, I have a few issues with this book, but Foster certainly reaches the goal set out in the title. There are some real nuggets of genius in here, as well as some juicy starting points for further analysis. For those reasons alone, definitely an important read.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

San Diego Civil War Roundtable

Being that tonight is the third Wednesday of the month, it is a big night for myself and my fellow San Diego Civil War aficionados, for this is the time when the San Diego Civil War Roundtable convenes.
So let's bust up a few stereotypes right here, right now
-no, we do not all dress up like Union or Confederate soldiers
-no, I am not a Civil War reenactor
-no, we do not whistle Dixie
-no, there is no campfire
-no, we are not trying to glorify the Confederacy (or the Union, for that matter)
The group functions as a resource for people interested in discussing and learning about the Civil War through a monthly lecture series. Each meeting covers a specific topic selected by the person giving the talk that night. We usually start with updates on local lectures and interesting book publications. There is also a great opportunity for bibliophiles to augment their collections as the stash of used Civil War books for sale is never-ending. The cause is also noteworthy, as all proceeds go towards battlefield preservation.
Once we've all spent a few bucks, we get started with the subject at hand. Over the past 1.5 years I've been a member, there have been lectures on topics ranging from Jefferson Davis and the Pope to infectious disease during the war. We've had authors discussing their books, battlefield guides covering their experiences, all sorts of fantastic authorities.
Tonight, we'll be hearing a group member who is an expert at geneology discussing the path he took to find the war records of a relative in Michigan. This is a fascinating topic and one that is broadly applicable; most people, including myself, have relatives that fought in the war whether you know about it or not.
October will be my opportunity to take the podium for a lecture on the Harvard Regiment and its service during the Battle of Gettysburg. This is going to be a great opportunity to discuss this band of warriors in a single campaign without all of the myth-making and glorification that usually accompanies regimental discussions. I'll be sure to post more about it closer to the time, right now the talk is very much in the formative stages.
Anyway, the SDCWRT website has directions as well as a link to the monthly newsletter if you wanna check it out. The meetings are free and there is no expectation of any Civil War knowledge or background, thus the material is readily accessible to anyone with a hint of interest. It's a unique experience in a really relaxed environment, so join me if you're so inclined

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Pair Of Belgians

No, I'm not talking about waffles, nor am I planning to discuss the careers of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. I have no intention of comparing diamonds or chocolates or anything else from Belgium...
except Belgian ale.
The Tipsy Historian is not a huge consumer of all things hoppy; however, greatness must be recognized. After a day of sun and little league baseball, we needed cold refreshment. First came ice cream, then came our meeting with Two Belgians.
Both were categorized as Belgian style golden ales; the first called Piraat Ale, the second goes by Pranqster. Both come in good, dark bottles, and the Piraat bottle is charmingly squat (don't call it short, or it'll stab you with a dirk.)
I got into the Pranqster first, and immediately decided I needed to write about it. This beer is an appetizing butterscotch color with wonderful carbonation and a fantastic bready, fruity bouquet. The taste is where the true genius is, this brew is refreshing and smooth, with nice subtle fruit and a remarkably easy drinkability.
The Pranqster lives up to it's name with its' 7.5% alcohol content; after two bottles, you're laughing at everything. After 4 (they come in 4-packs), everyone else is laughing at you.
The Piraat is a bit darker and has a nose like WC Fields. The bottle it comes in may be short, but there is more flavor crammed in there than can be believed. The Jess got into this one in a hurry and immediately claimed it as her favorite, especially with its' 10.5% alcohol content. She was still singing this morning; "Do da le do-de-doooo, two Belgians, do da le do-de dOOOO!"
We've got 5 of our eight bottles still full of these lovely brews, but not for long. For those of you who enjoy big, hearty beers, book your flight, because you're going to Belgium.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Beautiful Game

During my UCLA experience and working as a sportswriter for the Daily Bruin, soccer in the fall and tennis in the spring were my bread and butter for two years. I watched match upon match, practice upon practice as these well-trained athletes plied their craft. The soccer in the fall was a particular blast, as those Bruin squads were packed with guys who went on to play Major League Soccer and even for the US National Team
It had been a long time, nearly 10 years to be exact, since I got to watch the most popular sport in the world played live. Not only was lack of opportunity a problem, but lack of motivation as well.
Last night, the drought was broken, and boy did the cup runneth over!
Myself, The Jess, Mr. Triathlon, and his wife Femme Futbol made a pilgrimage yesterday to Carson and the Home Depot Center to watch the Los Angeles Galaxy play right before our eyes.
What an amazing homecoming it was, having spent my undergrad years at UCLA fighting that traffic, only to find the 405 freeway wide open through Long Beach at the peak of rush hour. This was the gas crisis in specific relief, because usually this road is bumper to bumper from Mission Viejo to Westwood. We seized the opportunity; however, and plunged into Carson on a mission. First, though, we needed to quench a more primal instinct: pre-sport beer and grease.
What better place to slake this need than at Shakey's Pizza. Oily, cheap, massive quantities of pizza, potatoes, and chicken, Shakey's was a college standby and was the stuff of many post-bar snacks.
The munching commenced on our way into the parking lot for this sold out affair, then a quick tailgate, and in we went. What an atmosphere! Singing, scarves, air horns, just what you'd expect at a soccer match. We had fallen bassackwards into a rivalry match between two first place teams!
There has been much talk since the 1994 World Cup in the US about when and if soccer will ever translate into a major sport in America. I don't want to revisit the whole debate here, but the essence is and will remain television. The sports-watching public here gets its fix not from actual attendance, but watching on TV: live, replays, highlights, chat shows.
Soccer, to the detriment of our society, does not translate well on a television screen. It is not simply a game played in the direct vicinity of the ball; it is a fluid, spontaneous, kinetic ballet played out over the entire pitch, and to be able to grasp that you have to be able to see it
The TV screen, unfortunately shows us the ball and the men right around it. You can't see an attacker moving into space to receive a pass, or a fullback tearing up the sideline into wide open space. The charge of a defender, or the choices of a keeper to move up or stay in the goal mouth are all widely evident to the peripheral vision of the fan in the stands, but sadly absent on television.
The TV fan is left only with goals and shots on goal to give them joy, but the game is just so much more. There really is so much artistry and creativity as a skillful midfielder maneuvers the ball forward. The technical ability and staggering dexterity of these men only really comes through by watching live.
Of course it will never translate into American households, because the constant need for action isn't satisfied. Tragically for us, the action is endless, the tension stupendous, and the talent magnificent.
The perfect encapsulation of this, and I mean this sincerely, is David Beckham. Think what you will about the hype and ballyhoo around him; I agree it's way overdone and not a little annoying.
Be that as it may, the man is a spectacular soccer player.
Remember in your youth sports days there was always that one kid. A little bigger, a little stronger, a little sharper vision, a little more creative. And a whole lot better. That's David Beckham playing in MLS.
I don't say this to denigrate the quality of America's longest running major soccer league, I say it in appreciation for this man's ability, even in the twilight of his career. The touches this guy puts on the ball, the spin, the control, and the speed are really amazing to see in person.
The beauty of this is not that it always leads to a goal, or even an opportunity, it's that a man can pluck a ball out of the air with the outside of his foot, redirect it with a defender draped over him, and fling it to a teammate who is able to collect it without breaking stride.
Setting the daunting physical requirements it takes to pull this off aside, only a player with tremendous vision, confidence, and creativity would even attempt such bold moves and Beckham has that skill set. His risky and audacious maneuvers sometimes caught his teammates unawares, and they would relinquish possession.
To thoroughly appreciate such talent, and to get past the Beckham hype machine, you have to see it up close. Not only the move itself, but the development of the play, the sprints of the players around him, the chess board developing.
The game we saw was also the perfect encapsulation of what makes this sport so beguiling, because even though he is that much better than other players, he is unable to simply take over a game. Stauch defense, brilliant goal-keeping, and bold tackling frustrated nearly every Beckham-ignited Galaxy attack, of which there were many.
The Chivas side launched assault after assault of their own, and that's exactly how it looks live, like a military offensive. Players surging forward, sprinting through openings, defenders scrambling back looking frantically over their heads for the ball.
The first goal of the match came off the foot of Ante Razov, an old acquaintance of mine from UCLA and a brilliant striker. This effort was a sweet little bender from the top of the box that curled just past the diving keeper.
It looked like that might be the only strike of the match until the 79th minute, when we witnessed this gem... (damn, my wife is so cool!)

Oh, that weird dark hole that fills the screen in the final second? That's Mr. Triathlon's nostril.
Thanks to Edson Buddle's 11th goal of the year, the Galaxy pulled even and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. Not before a phenomenal last few minutes where the teams tore up and down the field creating chance upon chance, only to be denied at the end.
If Carson was just a bit closer, then season ticket holders we would be, because this was sports-watching at its very best. Viva the Galaxy, Viva MLS, Viva Futbol. It was really special to watch the beautiful game live again, and it will not be another decade before it happens again!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Final Days For Entries Into Andy Murray Nickname Contest

Don't forget to send me your ideas for the Andy Murray nickname contest; I'll be open for entries until this Monday. Next week, I'll put up all of the choices in a poll and everyone can vote. Share with friends, colleagues, family, anyone who would find behavior like this as comically ridiculous as the rest of us!

Good nicknaming, everyone!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Book Review: "The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History"

This book is actually a collection of nine essays by a host of notable Civil War and Lost Cause historians published in 2000. If you look at the "reading stand" sidebar, you'll notice that I started this work several months ago, and this is why. Each essay is really a stand-alone work that fits under the umbrella of the broad title, thus it can be consumed in a leisurely fashion without having to go back over old ground.
Dr. Gary Gallagher, a professor at the University of Virginia and a noteworthy Civil War historian, has made a nice niche for himself by co-editing this work (with Alan Nolan) and many others like it. Most cover a specific campaign, and as I've read the three volumes on Gettysburg, one on Fredericksburg, and have texts on Antietam and the Peninsula Campaign in the library, I was quite curious to see what this non-campaign based collection would be like.
When I read the previous efforts, I was struck by how they are certainly not meant for beginners on any particular subject. Each essay assumes some level of previous reading/learning about the subject, thus my experience has been mixed. I opened this book knowing that my expertise on the Lost Cause was more in its nascency, so I kept my expectations limited.
I was most pleased to find the first two essays, by Gallagher and Nolan, titled "The Anatomy of the Myth" and "Jubal Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy." These two essays, each about 25 pages, pack a tremendous amount of background into the Lost Cause both as a theory and its development. The space limitation really isn't much of an issue, especially for Nolan, who packs a huge amount into his space.
After those first two efforts, the rest of the book is quite different in tone, as each essay focuses more on a subset of the Lost Cause mythology and dissects it in some detail. Particularly strong efforts are Brooks Simpson's study of the Lost Cause and its vendetta against U.S. Grant, and Jeffry Wert's discussion of James Longstreet and the Longstreet-lost-it-at-Gettysburg myth.
I closed the book with a vastly increased understanding of the subject, which is clearly the point; yet I was somehow unsatisfied. I had hoped for an essay that would examine the propagation of the Lost Cause mythology into contemporary thought and education; sort of a history of Civil War history if you will.
The essays are chock-full of things that the mythology has made quite real in movies and textbooks throughout the country, and though there is a clear foundation for the mythology and reputations it tried to injure or bolster as the case may be, the long-term ramifications are not explored. Is this a fatal flaw in the book? Of course not, each essay is a separate entity and these disparate parts are brought together under the same cover. If this was a single text on the Lost Cause, this would be much more of a problem.
There is much to be gained by studying the Lost Cause and it is a complex issue. This text not only covers much of the subtlety of the issue, but provides a cogent and quite complete background for someone entirely new to the subject.

Reflections On The Greatest Sporting Event Ever

Frequently in the sporting world, not to mention news in general, once a notable event has concluded and the appropriate articles written, we in our short attention-span-having splendor do what comes naturally. We move on to new issues.
By yesterday morning, ESPN and CNNSI had dropped the Nadal-Federer epic final from their respective front pages completely. The only mention of Nadal was that he had pulled out of this week's Stuttgart tourney. You had to search into the website to find the substantive summaries and editorials. Just like that, a once in a lifetime event begins to slip from our consciousness.
That, my friends, is something that I'm just not okay with; I believe this match does demand a bit more reflection, because we may never see its equal in our lifetimes. I don't; however, wish to rehash the match shot for shot (though I don't think it will ever be deleted from my DVR) or discuss player statistics.
The impact of this match was larger than any of that, and I'm not the only one who feels that way. On "Pardon The Interruption" yesterday, a show that notoriously relegates tennis to the back bench, the first 4 minutes of the program were spent discussing what transpired at the All England the day before. More than that, the discussion was not a loud bashing of Federer or elevation of Nadal. No, it was a discussion about just how huge this classic was in the sporting pantheon and whether it will bring about a tennis renaissance in America.
On ESPN Classic, the match was re-aired yesterday as an "Instant Classic". That is the billing usually reserved for Super Bowls, college sports or MLB playoff games. Again, there is a most satisfying tenor of recognition of what happened; that we need to see it again and again to believe it.
In the world of tennis writing, of course this match is still on everyone's tongues and keyboards. The good thing is we are starting to see some interesting reflection, photos, and video compilations as the size and structure of the battle is dissected. With months to go before the US Open, this will certainly continue to dominate the conversation of the tennis fan and cogniscenti alike.
The greatest and most unique recognition I've seen thus far came from the NY Times. Yesterday there were two stories about the match, coverage usually reserved for Super Bowls and World Series'. Clearly a good start, but today was the exclamation point. For the first time I can recall in the 5 years I've been getting the Times online, there was an editorial about sports. It wasn't the Giants winning the Super Bowl, or the travails of the Yankees, it was Rafa and Roger.
Certainly, this classic will be on all of the year-end "best of" lists, but I am certain that it will, over time, transcend those labels. This contest will become a magnum opus for us to reminisce about, re-watch, read and write about. This was history unfolding in front of us and the sporting public is clearly not ready to let it go.
Of course time will move on and ardor will cool, but when the 2008 Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer finds its way onto bookshelves and into all-time highlight reels, it will always be our privilege to remember when we were witnesses to sporting history.

Monday, July 7, 2008

New Creations From The Mixing Lab

So it's midsummer now, and there's nothing nicer than barbeque, veggies, salad, and a few friends to enjoy it with. Thankfully we had just such an opportunity after the unbelievable drama of the men's singles final at Wimbledon. Rest assured, I made my feelings about this epic known in the post preceding this one. Anyway, time to get focused on post-sports-history-making refreshment. The Jess cranked out the marinade for the chicken and took care of the veg, I manned the grill and got behind the bar.
Warm days and great fruit call for cold, crisp drinks with bold flavors. We had some brilliant limes from the farmers market and a new bottle of Leblon cachaca, thus...caiprinhias! This Brazilian refresher is fashioned from sugar (I like brown sugar cubes, most recipes call for fine white sugar), ice, limes, and cachaca.
The ice must be crushed, so you get just a bit of melting during the shaking process. I'm having tons of fun mixing drinks with fresh crushed ice generated by my first class hand cranked ice crusher (take one guess who bought it for me). The lime is quartered with the pith cut away, but leave the peel on. There's a certain romance that comes from this process; each drink really feels like it has been assembled out of very disparate components.
Anyway, here's the recipe:
The Tipsy Caiprinhia
2 oz cachaca
3 brown sugar cubes
one lime
freshly crushed ice

Quarter the lime and add to lowball glass with sugar cubes. Muddle vigorously until sugar fully broken up and dissolving. Add 1.5 oz of cachaca, then ice to fill glass. Transfer mix into shaker. Use 1/2 oz cachaca to rinse bottom of lowball and add to shaker. Shake vigorously until metal is cold. Pour back into lowball. Rinse out shaker with splash of soda (some of the sugar likes to stay behind, you gotta go get it!) and pour into glass.

As the premeal festivities wore on, other drinks were needed, and I was called upon to make an old staple; the amaretto sour. I had forgotten how satisfying this one can be. Dry and tart, sweet at the end. Really a perfect aperitif and easy as sneezing with your eyes closed.
Amaretto Sour
3 oz sweet and sour
1.5 oz amaretto

add amaretto and s/s to lowball glass. Add ice cubes. Stir. Drink. Order another one because it's so good!

Though we were still thirsty, we were running short on ice, so we had to adapt. Only items cold from the fridge would suffice. Thus was born a new concoction from The Mixing Lab, dubbed The Markalicious by Mr. Triathlon.
The Markalicious
1.5 oz vodka
1 oz sweet and sour
1.5 oz Odwalla Pomegrand juice

add vodka, s/s, juice to highball glass. Add ice cubes, splash of soda. Squeeze generous lime wedge and toss into glass. Stir gently (the juice is quite dense and will settle if not mixed a bit before drinking)
I promise, dear reader, that I will try to remember to take pics of my concoctions from The Mixing Lab before they're consumed, because they look as brilliant as they taste.

The Greatest Sporting Event Ever

There is no comparison. No metaphor, no debate, no polls.
What happened yesterday in the men's singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was the most stunning athletic display I have ever seen. From the slow buildup over the past few years, accelerating this summer into yesterday's cataclysmic 5 hour collision, the tennis world and the way I watch sports will never be the same.
The spectacle was so huge, the competition so intense, the level of play so high, the ramifications so far reaching; it is going to take some time for everything to really sink in.
This was 5 sets of the most spectacular drama: jaw-dropping shotmaking, incredible speed, unbreakable fitness, opportunities missed, and in the end, immortality seized.
This is not just about Rafa winning Wimbledon for the first time or Federer losing another Grand Slam, this is about two men with the highest level of respect for each other putting everything on the line in fair competition. This is the closest our society will ever come to bloodsport, because neither of these men will ever fully regain all that they gave yesterday.
This was also one of the rare moments where sport became high art, because the exertions of both competitors under the most grueling conditions with so very much at stake was truly beautiful to behold. The surreal nature of the match's climax added the perfect accent, the sun setting in a clear sky, darkness rolling in. Transition.
And a transition is just what we saw. The passing of the torch, or trophy, as it were, as Federer turned over a title he had held for half a decade to a man who had proved himself worthy on every level.
It took every ounce of will, heart, fitness and talent from both men to get to that spot. There were 2 rain delays to work through. Each had to deal with tremendous opportunities wasted (Federer up 4-2 and serving in the second set, Rafa serving at 5-2 in the 4th set tiebreaker and double-faulting) They had to deliver their very best punches at the biggest moments, and take the hardest blows of the other.
Federer had to find a way to overcome the near-complete neutralizing of his backhand as an offensive weapon, and he rode a huge serve and the greatest forehand in the history of the game right to the precipice of victory. Ironically, it was the forehand that let him down in the final moment as he became Wimbledon runner-up for the first time.
For Rafa, it was steeling nerves that were clearly rubbed raw in the fourth set tiebreaker, and managing to grind through in the end. His unbelievable speed turned danger into offense again and again. From court positions that made me shudder, Nadal would blast crosscourt backhands and forehands down the line, would transition from defeat to victory.
They went back and forth, asking everything of themselves and their opponent, and we just had to hold on for the ride. My heart was pounding, my breathing was fast, I had to pee but I couldn't break away. I watched history write itself, I saw the stuff of books, of legends, of people saying "remember that final?" I was thousands of miles away from the action, yet felt privileged to be a part of it.
I held on with everyone else as these two slugged it out on equal footing, and saw that just as the victor was far from inevitable, so was the idea that the match might finish before sunset. There are no lights at Wimbledon, so the idea that we might have to wait until today for a finish became quite real.
With only moments to go before play would be suspended by darkness, Nadal cracked Federer's serve for only the 4th time, then took the match onto his own racket. As if to show us just how far he's come, that he deserved to be Wimbledon champ, Nadal served and volleyed at 0-15, then hit another volley winner at 15-all.
Rafa closed out his masterpiece 5 set triumph by dropping to the ground amidst the roaring crowd, then rose to meet the man he had vanquished at the net. The interaction there was telling, because both have the utmost appreciation and respect for what the other went through and was feeling.
For Rafa, he was higher than he has ever been, higher even than Spanish royalty, who had to reach up to shake his hand as he climbed through the stands. For Federer, the devastation and loss he felt was clear, as the same tears he shed last year in victory welled up again in defeat. As he spoke with John McEnroe, the interview had to be cut short as the emotion cut across his face.
When the two warriors met again to receive their trophies, their conduct towards each other, towards the fans, and the game itself left me feeling proud to be a tennis player and unending fan of these two men. They spoke respectfully of each other and still showed how much the moment meant to them in both victory and defeat.
As Federer and Nadal turned to face the crowd in the gathering darkness, we beheld the passing of the championship and saw this contest supersede anything that had come before. In the final transition, night became day as the lights from thousands of flashbulbs drenched the men in a molten, surreal glow. The perfect final touch; because suddenly, there were lights at Centre Court illuminating the greatest that sports can offer.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Wimbledon Approaches Its Zenith

Both finals are set, and both are packed with drama and anticipation. On the women's side, it's gonna be Williams vs Williams for the title tomorrow morning. They've met many times before in Grand Slam finals, six to be exact, and the only question before each match is will both women play their best tennis. I'm not implying they hold back when they play each other, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to compete against a sibling for such an important championship. It's always nice when the championship provides a fitting crown to a tournament packed full of incredible tennis, so I'm ready for a serious slugfest between the two most talented female tennis players in the world.
The men's side features a matchup that is more highly anticipated than any tennis matchup since the Borg-McEnroe battles 20+ years ago. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will do battle Sunday morning for the championship after both cruised through their semifinal match.
I like to think I have a good sense of history, and Sunday morning will be history unfolding before our very eyes. This summer of tennis will have books written about it as these two titans set a new standard for the game.
I'm looking forward to the competition, the skill, the energy, the moment. There is so much at stake for these two superstars and we as fans get to sit back and soak it up.

Happy Independence Day!

Here's to a happy and safe celebration for all of us on the anniversary of our independence!
Amidst your fun, fireworks, and barbeque, take a moment and read The Declaration of Independence again. No need to memorize or write a paper; just read it for your own satisfaction.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Why Gettysburg Still And Always Matters

The battlefield charge is a unique moment in military history; often tragic and bloody, these times when brave men rush into the face of enemy guns quickly become the stuff of myth and legend (the Charge of the Light Brigade, Henry V's "once more into the breach, dear friends) There is a long list of famous battlefield charges in military history, and 145 years ago, the American contribution was made on the field between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg.
After eyeing each other across No Man's Land all morning, and hunkering under a multi-hundred gun artillery barrage that could be heard for miles in every direction, the two armies again came to grips in a desperate and doomed assault forever known as Pickett's Charge.
After a day of tremendous victory, followed by a day of frustrated assaults on both Union flanks, General Robert E. Lee was anxious to thrust a large force against the Union center on the third day of fighting in an attempt to break their lines and drive the Army of the Potomac from the field. This massive task fell to three division from the Confederate I Corps and III Corps, none more famous than that of General George Pickett.
The task of these roughly 12,500 men was a tall one, as they would have to cross 3/4 of mile of open field, taking front and flank fire the whole way, then charge right into the muzzles of the Union troops at the center of the line, troops that were ready and waiting.
The Union commander, General George Meade, had been especially prescient the night before and, at the conclusion of a council of war on the night of July 2, he took Gen. John Gibbon aside. Gibbon's forces would be defending the central portion of the Union line the next morning, and Meade told him that his troops should make ready, as they would bear the brunt of the next day's Confederate assault. Low stone walls were fashioned, rifles were loaded and stacked in easy reach, and artillery was brought forward.
To Lee, this assault seemed the grand culmination of this tremendous battle, but to General James Longstreet, his chief advisor, it was clearly a disaster in the making. Lee would have none of it; however, and the assault went off as planned.
And, as expected, was crushed under the weight of Union metal and courage.
Of the roughly 12,500 men who rushed Cemetery Ridge, more than 50% were either killed, wounded, or captured in less than one hour of fighting. The attack did punch through the Union line in two places, most famously near the Copse of Trees, but both breaches were quickly sealed by reinforcements (including a regiment near and dear to my heart, the 20th Massachusetts).
As the Confederates straggled back to their lines, it was clear that a tremendous victory had been won by the Army of the Potomac, and Lee, desperate to rally his soldiers, was heard to tell several that "this was all my fault". When Lee came to General Pickett, who had survived the charge by hunkering down at the Codori Farm away from the frontline, and asked him to rally his division, Pickett reportedly replied "General Lee, I have no division."
The two armies would again stare at each other across a bloody field for more than a day. Then, on the 5th of July, 1863, General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia would retire the field and begin the long retreat back to Virginia.
For the Union army and the North, this was a huge victory, made even greater by the capture of Vicksburg by Union forces under General Ulysses Grant on the 4th of July. These two victories were monumental boosts to the North and equally shattering blows to the Confederacy.
In the final accounting, there were somewhere between 45-51,000 casualties in the three days of fighting at Gettysburg. This was a fight that forever seared itself into the national consciousness and remains of particular interest of both scholars and tourists alike.
For me, there are several reasons why Gettysburg is and will likely always be of particular interest. One is the idea of Gettysburg as myth and part of our collective memory. As an adjunct to my study of 19th century America as part of my history degree at UCLA, I also studied ancient Greek history, and there is a wonderful connection between the two through this battle.
Another reason is that this is the only battlefield I've visited, walked, and sifted between my fingers. It's one thing to read about a battle, it's something altogether different to stare at the landmarks and walk the ground. Poignant and heartwrenching hardly begin to describe it.
In my course of study at UCLA, I worked with an amazing professor, Dr. Joan Waugh, who taught 5 of my classes. As a senior, I was in a seminar called "The Soldier's Experience in the Civil War" and as a final project, each student was to study a certain regiment. I adopted the 20th Massachusetts, and several months and many tens of pages later, I had drafted my paper. This regiment, known as the Harvard Regiment, stood its ground during Pickett's Charge and helped win the day. There is an amazing monument to the Harvard Regiment on Cemetery Ridge just south of the Copse of Trees, and to stand there on a warm day and think about the men I had studied; what they believed, why they fought, how they suffered and died brought tears to my eyes.
The final reason is that The Jess came with me on that trip. We had only been dating for a few months, and the trip had been planned even before we met. I asked her if she wanted to come with, not sure what response to expect. Not only did she book a ticket, but she started pulling books off my shelves and reading about the battle in preparation. There are few people who know as much about General John Reynolds as my wife, and we had an amazing time sharing the experience together. I was blown away by her shared enthusiasm for something I was so passionate about.
Best of all, I realized during our trip to Gettysburg that I was in love with her.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

145 Years Ago In The Valley Of Death

Today marks the 145th anniversary of the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Throughout the day there was vicious fighting all along the famous Union "fishhook" line, running from Culp's Hill down to Little Round Top and the base of Big Round Top. The carnage along the line was so intense and so chaotic that reasonable estimates of casualties in places like the Wheatfield, the Slaughter Pen, and the Valley of Death are impossible to calculate and only final tallies of total casualties for the battle are possible.
The Confederate army surged against the Union lines in famous fighting at Cemetery and Culp's Hill on the northern part of the field, but the Army of the Potomac stubbornly held its position, even as the fighting carried on into the darkness. On the southern and central sectors, other famous names were born amidst the savage fighting at Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and along the Emmitsburg Road.
This battle was tremendously complex, with thousands of men crisscrossing along miles of territory. Of these countless legions, some names would join the pantheon of famous American warriors: Chamberlain, Crawford, Hancock, Vincent, Warren, Hood, Oates. These men are forever emblazoned into our history not only for their individual acts, but as representatives of the efforts of the thousands that they led in battle.
At the end of the day, the two armies stared at each other across a No Man's Land strewn with casualties. It is hard to picture virgin American farmland covered with blood and gore like something out of the D-Day scene in "Saving Private Ryan", but on this field, like thousands of others on hundreds of days during the Civil War, that was the reality.
The battle was not yet decided, and it would be left to a third day of fighting to decide this contest.

Andy Murray Nickname Contest

With regards to our contest to assign the best nickname possible to this guy...

-enter as many times as you like
-I will post entries as they come in (keep it relatively clean, if you please)
-the winner will receive a bag of fresh-roasted coffee from the Tipsy Historian
-for more material/inspiration regarding our target, er, subject, click here

Wimbledon Semifinal Roster Almost Complete (This Post With Bonus Feature!)

Oooh boy are the Williams sisters just making a mockery of Wimbledon or what? Both stormed into the semifinals of the singles draw yesterday and today, they joined forces to advance to the semis of the doubles as well. What makes this so special is that frequently when a player in the singles draw who even deigns to play doubles advances in singles, they will often default in doubles to conserve strength.
Evidently, Serena and Venus have strength to spare as they close in on what is looking inevitably like an all-Williams, all the time Wimbledon. They are really in rare air here, I don't believe that a doubles team (let alone a winning doubles team) has been made up of both singles finalists. History in the making, and we all know how I feel about history...
Speaking of history, Roger Federer made a bit more of that today by advancing to his 17th straight Grand Slam singles semifinal. To put this in perspective, this means he has gotten into the final weekend of every Slam for more than 4 solid years! Hard to think of a comparison, because there really isn't one..
In the other major news of the day, Captain Bicep himself, Andy Murray took on Rafael Nadal in another quarterfinal showdown. Would the newest Bowflex posterboy have the flex to down the man with battleaxe arms?
Murray spent the better part of the morning picking up shards of his ego as Nadal showed what true tennis muscle looks like in a short and sweet three set victory. Best part of the coverage of this drubbing? Turns out the grassy hillside upon which Wimbledon fans can watch matches on the big screen, previously known as "Henman Hill" in honor of Tim Henman is now known as "Murray's Mound" Anyway, I'm sure we'll be hearing more about the Scrawny Scot in a few months at the US Open. In the meanwhile, the Andy Murray nickname contest starts now, so submit your nickname and be recognized!

check out this fantastic link: tennis players dressed up as their favorite Olympic sport! I liked Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram from Israel as judo artists

Winning Hearts, Minds, and Palates, One Cup At A Time

One of the nicest offshoots of roasting coffee at home is giving fresh-roasted beans to friends and family. These are the people who have had to listen to me verbalize "how fantastic" and "so delicious" for months, and giving them a taste of what I've been blathering about is quite satisfying. The general response has been exceedingly positive, for the obvious reason that this stuff is fantastic, and am slowly setting up a little family tree of roasters.
One colleague at work is already roasting, one is going to buy a roaster. My sister and I are in the midst of establishing a nice little intra-state commerce of coffee beans for homemade apricot jam. The Jess, of course, is my mega-super sidekick in all this, with her primary responsibility being to brew my pre-night call cuppa.
It's the funniest thing, and part of what makes this hobby so fun; even though she uses the exact same beans and equipment as me, the cups she makes turn out with subtle but distinct differences from mine. She has even taken a turn at the roaster, with a magnificent outcome. Come to think of it, I need her to roast some more of that crazy Yellow Bourbon varietal tonight.
The best one-liner to come of my early efforts at conversion was with my mother in law. As I handed her a bag of fresh beans, I asked her "do you take your coffee...awesome?"
She replied yesterday that she does.
The next step in my development as a roaster is definitely going to be refining my roasting profiles. Thus far, I've used the presets on my iRoast 2 with good success, but want to move into the more advanced roasting where temperature and timing are more strictly controlled. To hear the ace roasters at Sweet Maria's tell it, each bean peaks with a specific roasting pattern of temperature and time. Now that the palate is getting a bit more refined, that's going to be the next frontier.
If anyone would like to get a sample of roasted beans, please let me know, and if you ever have questions about getting started, getting beans, etc, I would love to be of assistance.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

145 Years Ago In a Pennsylvania Crossroads Town...

...the Union and Confederate armies clashed in the first of three days of fighting that would become forever known as the Battle of Gettysburg. Over the course of the following decades, this battle has risen to mythic proportions in the minds of many Americans, standing alongside the great conflicts in world history.
This battle, which would prove to be the costliest three days in American history, started to the northwest of Gettysburg on the morning of July 1, 1863, then tore through the town itself, with the first day's fighting grinding to a halt south of town. On this day, names like Buford, Reynolds, Archer, Gordon, and Ewell, and places like McPherson's Ridge, Culp's Hill, Oak Hill, and Blocher's Knoll became forever part of American military lore. Please avail yourself of the wikipedia entry covering the battle; since today marks the anniversary of the first day of battle, just focus on the introduction and the description of the first day's fighting.