Saturday, May 31, 2008

Odesnik Watch Day 5

The trivia question asked in my post earlier has an answer below. The question again was, how many times have both Williams sisters lost on the same day at a Grand Slam?
As was posited yesterday, erstwhile American grinder Wayne Odesnik is out of the French Open, after getting crunched by Novak Djokovic. Not to worry, though, as Wayne Odesnik's name will hopefully pop again on your radar either at a tennis tournament or in a game of JUMBLE (I can get YON KIDS WEAN. I guess children in the distance are no longer suckling. Anyway, if you look at the time that this post goes up, you'll see why things are a bit strange)
Other French bits 'n pieces:
-4 Frenchmen advance
-Andy Murray is out (thank goodness, he's a pain)
-Bethanie Mattek learned how to dress, and got a set off Maria Sharapova
-Rafael Nadal is just killing everyone in his path
-Alize Cornet lost, but still looks like Cleopatra

Trivia answer: zero (I'm pretty sure)

Brachetto, Nice To Meet You!

So last night was dinner out, and did we hit the jackpot at a place called Whisknladle. I'll leave the food to your imagination and your ability to read menus, but since cocktails and mixology are part of the passions driving this blog, there are beverages to discuss.
First was the opening cocktail for each of us: Jess, being a fan of all things lavender, was all over the lavender cosmo. A beautiful presentation, with the infused vodka, cassis, and white cranberry juice all together in a fluted glass. To finish, a small measure of Chambord, which, being more dense than the other ingredients, sank to the bottom, leaving a faint purple comet trail through the drink.
The flavors mixed well, the vodka nicely showing through the other ingredients. There was quite a bit of sweetness, but stayed just inside of being cloying. Served ice-cold, this was really delicious, and absolutely gorgeous.
I went with the passionfruit sangria. So we're talking white wine sangria, passionfruit juice, ice. Should be all perfect, right? Probably, but the absolute genius of this drink was the addition of Maker's Mark bourbon. Over the top!
As I've come along in the cocktail world, it's been during the reign of clear spirits; gin and vodka primarily. These have been the alcohol base for many drinks that have been staples in college and beyond. In the midst of this KetelTanquerayBelvedereAbsolute craze, we've been neglecting bourbon, and whisky in general, and this is to our detriment.
Of course these spirits have a much more robust flavor profile than vodka and most gins, but that does not mean that they lack for versatility. Maker's Mark, for example (which happens to the choice of The Tipsy Historian) is a brilliant blend of sweet, smoke, and caramel that can accent or be the foundation of just about any drink.
Including sangria! Oh my, was that drink ever delicious!
Here's another fun drink, especially now that we're into summer
The Major Sunrise
1 and 1/2 oz Jack Daniels
1/2 oz grenadine
3 oz orange juice (fresh squeezed is ideal)
Pour Jack Daniels into highball, fill glass 2/3 with ice. Add orange juice and give quick stir. As drink is spinning, pour in grenadine. Spend a few seconds reflecting on how beautiful the bright red grenadine looks as it cascades through the whirling juice/Jack combo
Garnish with lime and enjoy.
Anyway, moving onto the rest of our beverages, Jess ordered the coconut margarita. I'm not a huge coconut fan, nor a fan of the salted rim, but this drink was just perfect. The coconut milk smoothed out the tequila perfected, and the salt was a unique spicy blend.
The highlight of our escapade, however, was what came after dessert. First off, it came compliments of the house, which was a very nice touch after a wonderful, long menu. Secondly, and best of all, it was a totally unique experience.
Friends, may I introduce you to Brachetto! Made from grapes from the Piedmont region of Italy, this digestif comes out of the bottle scarlet-red, ice cold, slightly frizzante (sparkling), and absolutely breathtaking! Apple, cherry, and berry, mixed with the fizzy texture. Unbelievably refreshing after a long meal and lovely to sip, especially because of its low alcohol content, this drink will definitely be a part of our bar, especially since it's on the shelves at Bevmo. This one is highly recommended, so try it out for yourself.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Breaking French Open News

OK, so if this post was on TV right now, you have to imagine intense bass-centric music, colorful graphics moving and twirling around your screen, and a severe-looking announcer telling you "We have breaking news..." because The Tipsy Historian has BREAKING NEWS!
Today at the French Open, Serena Williams lost her third round match to Katerina Srebotnik 6-4, 6-4. Williams had been many pundit's choice to win this Justine Henin-free event.
"So what, Tipsy Historian" you might be saying. "I already saw that news on"
Yeah, well, here's the (cue music, lights, and graphics) BREAKING NEWS! Venus Williams just lost as well, 7-5, 6-3. This news is so fresh, I don't even know the first name of the woman who beat her, so for now it's F. Panetta of Italy. This news is so brand-spanking new, Venus has barely made her way off the court. So hot I can barely touch my keyboard!
Stay tuned here for further bulletins, and talking heads discussing the potential names for the woman who beat Venus, because if it's Frank, Fred, or Fabricio (thanks, Jess), we've got a scandal on our hands!
Also, anyone know the last time both Williams sisters lost on the same day at a Grand Slam?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Odesnik Watch, Day 4

So this Grand Slam, because so many names are moving right through the draw and so many Americans are washing out in the standard fashion (nice work today James Blake, you lost to the 80th ranked player in the world), we're going to take at least this first week to follow players who go largely unsung.
On the men's side, it's Wayne Odesnik, he of the 4 hour three set first round match. He didn't have to wait long to play his second round match, and didn't have to play too long before he dispatched Taiwan's Hyung Taik-Lee to advance to the second round.
I'm not sure how much we'll have to say about him after tomorrow, except maybe some thoughts about getting to the airport on time, because he faces #3 seed Novak Djokovic. That's a tough road, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. Here's to The Big O pulling of the upset of the year tomorrow!
For the ladies, we must focus on Alize Cornet, who is the tournament's 19th seed and has a nose that is, well, Cleopatra-esque. Best of all, she's French, and any Gallic hope in the home tourney is a big deal. The whole country went ballistic when Yannick Noah won in 1983, so here's to a Frenchwoman pulling off the same feat 25 years later. She'll be in action tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Free French Open Viewing Online

Sorry, forgot to post this link...
The Tennis Channel is offering free live streaming coverage online of the French Open. Just go to and follow the link on the homepage.

Three Days on Clay...

...and very little to show for it. As is becoming an annoying feature of the two Grand Slams played on "the Continent", the early summer rain is the lead theme of the French Open thus far.
After three days of play, the 1st round is just over 1/2 completed. Tomorrow was supposed to kick off the 2nd round action, but instead, matches scheduled for yesterday with either be finished, or, in a few cases, begun.
These weather delays do two things that are profoundly detrimental to the tourney:
1. all the energy and momentum that comes with a Grand Slam kicking off gets sapped away. It's really annoying to sit down to a day of action and find matches being replayed or commentators babbling away.
2. the back-log of matches causes a terrific rush to get everything back on schedule. Unless bad weather persists, which it very well might, the tournament end-date remains the same. This means that matches get crammed together on back-to-back days. Everyone that followed Wimbledon last year remembers the crushing schedule to get the tourney finished on time. The Nadal-Djokovic semifinal ended with Djokovic defaulting in the 3rd set, and the next day in the final (which proved to be a classic), every commentator and writer espoused the view that playing on consecutive days may have cost Nadal the championship. The French is in a similar situation, and with matches lasting longer and taking a greater physical toll on players, this is shaping up to be a battle of attrition.
So what to do? Well, Wimbledon is putting a retractable roof over Centre Court, but it doesn't seem like Roland Garros has any such plans. So we're left with a two week tournament collapsing into 10 days, perhaps less.
There have been some interesting results, none better than American Wayne Odesnik's three set, 4 hour tie-breakerathon win over 29th seed Guillermo Canas. Odesnik only got into the tourney through the USTA's exchange program with the French equivalent, but took advantage of the opportunity. Not only did he take out a seeded, clay-court specialist, but did it in three tiebreakers. Best of all, he broke through a serious mental block that had been plaguing him in big matches. Just last month, he had multiple match points in Houston to advance to his first ATP tournament final, but coughed them up and lost in three sets. Not so against Canas, and the 23 year old got through with probably the biggest victory of his career.
His second round match against Taiwan's Hyung Taik Lee will, at the rate things are going, get started sometime in June.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Coffee Happenings (and Mishappenings)

In my first few months of roasting coffee, I was keeping the beans in the roaster for longer periods of time, getting well past 1st crack, the Maillard Reaction, and into (sometimes beyond) 2nd crack. This made for a lovely, dark roasted bean, but I began to find that the flavor profiles were quite similar: bold sweetness, minimal acidity, caramel/toffee flavors. While remarkable to drink, it was clear that I was tasting the features of a dark roast, and because the roast had gone for so long and much of the sugar had burned off, much of the innate uniqueness of the beans themselves had been roasted away.
Not to worry, because with the versatility provided by my roaster, and the ability to watch the roast process proceed second by second, sound by sound, and smell by smell, I've tried to shorten my subsequent roasts to stay more in the City Plus to Full City range, with a focus (using sense of hearing) on staying well away from 2nd crack.
Definitely now, as I've slurped through cups of Sulawesi Enrekang "Mount Alla" and Ethiopia Organic Dry-Process Golocha, the fantastic taste profiles unique to each selection come through. I can see how a wine taster trains their palate, because these coffees are incredibly variegated. There's chocolate and pepper in the Sulawesi, with a clean, short finish, and a fruity, acidic opening in the Ethiopia, and a long creamy finish.
Today's cup, roasted two days ago by my beloved Jess (in her first-ever roasting effort) was a true sparkler. She prepared a City Plus roast of Guatemala Antigua-Finca Retana Yellow Bourbon beans, and it's one of the nicest we've tried so far. Fruit up front, then brown caramel, then a long finish reminiscent of, as the name implies, bourbon. Just a triumph!
In the midst of all this deliciousness, I pulled off a fabulous blunder in the process of grinding my beans. So, as everyone knows, the beans go in the receptacle, then through the HOLE into the blades, then into the collector, then to the filter. So I put some beans into the receptacle and realized there wasn't enough. I didn't want a blend of beans, so I took off the receptacle to trade them out.
And forgot about the HOLE!
With a playful clattering, the beans tumbled out and proceeded to leap and bounce all over the kitchen. Seriously, all over the kitchen. After picking them up on an individual basis, I write this with a sore back and a clear reminder that coffee beans, like everything else in this world, are answerable to gravity.

Memorial Day Thoughts

Today is our opportunity to take a moment and think about the staggering expenditures of blood, energy, and treasure that serve as the foundation for the lives we have. Certainly, in time of war such a day is all the more poignant; however, as a society, we seem to have gotten away from what Memorial Day represents. Now, the focus is on barbeque, vacations, and beer in the sun, with a large helping of public indifference and rejection mixed in, but in 1865, the concept was profoundly different.
The Civil War had finally come to an end in early May, 1865, and the newly reunited country was left to survey the damage: cities burned, people displaced, infrastructure destroyed. More difficult to come to grips with was the shattering butcher's bill: millions wounded or ill, and over 660,000 dead. Adjusted for today's population, that would mean over 5 million dead today.
One response to that massive effusion of blood was a grassroots memorialization effort throughout the country. There are records of flowers being placed on mass graves, songs being written, and the setting aside of an entire day to commemorate those who had died. Though President Johnson declared that Waterloo, NY was the birthplace of Memorial Day, these early efforts first coalesced into a "Decoration Day" which, according to Prof. David Blight of Yale University, was started by newly freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865. The site was a racetrack which had served as a Confederate prison camp and evolved into a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died in custody. The now-free men and women exhumed the dead soldiers and reburied them in individual graves. Each grave was decorated with flowers, and an archway was placed at the cemetary entrance declaring the spot a Union cemetary, which was a particularly gutsy thing to do in the cradle of the Confederacy.
Over the next few years, there was a groundswell of energy around rememberance of the casualties of war, until General John Logan, commanding officer of the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a "memorial day" on May 5, 1868. This proclamation was first observed on May 30th, 1868, when , in the tradition of the ancient Greeks, flowers were placed on the Union and Confederate graves at the newly established Arlington National Cemetery (which, notably, had previously been the homestead of General Robert E. Lee).
Now established, Memorial Day became entrenched over the next few decades, and has also evolved away from its traditions of actual reflection and rumination over war and what it does to our country, into a more sanitized, easy to swallow, meat and beer fest filled with political sloganeering and vast public cynicism.
In the midst of our current celebration, it is not only important to remember what our fighting men and women have given us, but what we as a society can establish and vigorously support for their benefit. First is the Veteran's Administration, established by President Lincoln to support and care for "those who have borne the battle". To this end, there is a grassroots effort coming out of Detroit called "Project Salute".
Next is the GI Bill, roundly acclaimed as a brilliant investment in the future of our army and those who serve, which, tragically, is being disputed. The NY Times presents a brief discussion on this latter issue, and as we enjoy our day, add a few minutes to your reflection time to read this article.
Not sure how to end this post, because "Happy Memorial Day" always seems like a conflicted statement. I'll leave you with this thought: perhaps a goal for all of us could be to change the way we think about this day, and with the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War only 7 years away, we could focus on reclaiming some of the perspective and focus of our forebearers when they reflected on war and our soldiers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

French Open 2008

Hours away, just hours away now. The French Open 2008 is about to get rolling.
The draws are out, the seeds are unveiled. The wags and experts are postulating and promulgating their picks, favorites, and upset specials.
Everyone is gearing up for a Grand Slam that has an unbelievable energy and anticipation around it, and two burning questions powering it.
On the men's side, all eyes are upon top seed Roger Federer and defending champ Rafael Nadal. All eyes are still burning with images of their classic final in Hamburg last week. All ears are buzzing with talk about Federer losing a step. All minds are boggled by Nadal 100 wins in 101 matches on clay.
All hopes are for a Federer-Nadal final two weeks from tomorrow. That match is what we want, that level of greatness on that stage. Beyond that, who cares what happens?
For the ladies, there is a void at the top that must be filled. The surprise retirement of world number one and defending champion Justine Henin has left the opportunity of a lifetime for whichever woman has the mettle to grab it. Will it be Maria Sharapova and her balky shoulder? Can Ana Ivanovic or Jelena Jankovic overcome their perpetual Grand Slam yips and finally break through? Is it Serena Willams' time to reclaim the #1 ranking she surrendered when her commitment wavered?
Oh yes, there is a great deal riding on this tournament. There are legacies, promises, reputations in the balance.
For those of us ready to soak up this drama, there will be a huge quantity of this event on television. There will be plenty of posts here on tourney happenings, interesting links, and my thoughts. So without further ado (and to borrow from The Chairman on "Iron Chef America")...ALLEZ TENNIS!

Whither Jason Taylor?

Thus far, the overhauling of the Miami Dolphins has been comprehensive in both philosophy and personnel. Gone is the old team leadership from the field (Zach Thomas), to the sideline (Cam Cameron) to the front office (just about everyone with a suit on). The Parcells/Ireland/Sparano era has arrived to fill the void with vigor and a clear plan. The first draft since 1983 when Dan Marino came to the franchise was just completed, and clearly holds the keys to the Fins resuscitation. There's a new candor in press conferences, and clearly a new level of accountability on and off the field. All the fundamentals for a successful turnaround.
Except for one thing: Jason Taylor.
The All-Pro, game-changing, face-of-the-franchise defensive end just announced, after a failed trade attempt during the draft, a snub by his new team VP, and his turn in the limelight on Dancing With The Stars, that he has no intention of attending any required team activities including training camp.
Now the Dolphins find themselves in an impossible position at the worst possible time: they must cut bait with a player who, though likely to enter the Hall of Fame as a Dolphin, clearly wants nothing to do with the franchise, and they must find a way to get some sort of value for him. This is a team trying to build some forward momentum, and can't afford to get bogged down in this sort of drama. However, they can't just cut the guy or sue him when he doesn't fulfill his contract, or else they risk looking like the days of gratuitous personnel mismanagement have not stopped, but have carried on in lock-step with the past.
I've always been a big Jason Taylor fan, he's always been a class act on and off the field; however, I can't support the way he's pushing the franchise. Clearly there has been some sort of communication breakdown between player and team, no one wants to explain what happened, and now no one wants to take responsibility.
In the eyes of the Tipsy Historian, Taylor's integrity as an athlete is hanging in the balance; if he wants to pursue a career in Hollywood, as he stated this week, he should retire and move on. If he wants to play football, he should shut up and commit to playing, thus giving the Fins some wiggle room to trade him to a contender, which no fan, including me, would begrudge him.
The Dolphins have got to continue to build on the positive energy that's building in Miami, and they've got to close the book on the Taylor era, and do it quickly. Stay magnanimous, stay focused, be up front with both Taylor and the public, then move on. The future is waiting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Civil War and Lost Cause Mythology

I'm currently studying the Lost Cause mythology that surrounds America's general understanding and interpretation of the Civil War, and the more I get into it, the more I realize just how pervasive, misleading, and influential it is! The Civil War is a clear exception to the rule that the victors get to write the history, for this movement that arose from early-Reconstructionist Southern thought has taken the foreground in current Civil War memory. From our history books in primary school, to Ken Burns' "Civil War" documentary, the mythologies that make up the Lost Cause are everywhere. And be assured, they are myths, pure perversion of fact.
Over time, CW scholarship has gone through many phases, and the current focus, based upon books and articles being published and info in the blogosphere, seems to be on reviewing primary data to help define, explain, and debunk the interpretations of the war that make up the Lost Cause mythology. As I study the recent work by Gallagher, Nolan, and Foster, I realize that, even though my undergraduate degree was primarily focused on Civil War study, a significant proportion of what I learned and how I interpreted events and people was through the prism that Lost Cause mythology established. I'm sure this is the same for all of us, because we never learned about Civil War mythology as myth, we were taught it is as fact.
For example, what battle leaps into your mind as the most important battle of the war? Who is the first general that you think of when I say "name a Civil War general"? What were the primary causes of the Civil War?
All of these are pivotal and major points in CW education, and all are taught, in large part, based upon the Lost Cause mythology...
Most important battle: bet you thought of Gettysburg
CW general: dollars to donuts Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson came to mind
Primary causes: you probably remember teachers, professors, and textbooks bloviating about states rights, secession, even Northern aggression, with maybe some discussion of slavery thrown in.
Why do we think this way, almost universally, when there are thousands of primary documents (ie firsthand accounts of events written during or just after an event by participants) that clearly describe people very differently, events with varying levels of importance, basically a different war. And why is CW scholarship now finally heading in a new direction? Because the Civil War still resonates more strongly in the way we think, act, and treat each other as Americans than any other event, and much of the resonance, especially today, is based upon myth.
Recall during the 2000 presidential election, one of the pivotal issues before Bush and Gore was whether it was permissible for the Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars, to be flown above the capital building in Charleston, South Carolina. The fact that this flag which, rest assured, flew over a movement based purely on the need to protect and enforce the right to own slaves, could reach the level of presidential discourse, shows how much influence this mythology has, even today.
So, what I propose to undertake on this blog is an effort to do the following: give background into the Lost Cause movement and why it started in the first place, then look at how it blossomed and propogated from purely revisionist history into the common interpretation, and how it still affects and influences us today. Along the way, I will certainly bring up the primary foundations/myths and give the evidence to the contrary.
Please follow along, because this will be an truly fascinating and enlightening journey!

Comment Moderation

Sorry I had to enable this feature, but I was starting to get junk comments plugging various gambling websites. I had hoped that requiring letters to be typed in would prevent this, but nope. Anyway, the process is still the same, but now the comments get emailed to me before they get officially posted. Please keep up the comments, absolutely love them!

Daily Bruin Coverage of Women's Tennis

Here is a link to the article in today's Daily Bruin about the NCAA champion women's tennis team. Two reasons for this: there's a nice photo gallery, and I'll always have an allegiance to the Bruin since I worked there for 3 1/2 years while an undergrad (I think I still have the record for most total stories published, 400 something). Anyway, enjoy, it's a really solid article and great pics.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Make That 102 National Championships!

The UCLA Women's tennis team just dispatched Cal 4-0 in the championship to claim the NCAA title. This is team championship #102 for UCLA, and the first for the women's tennis team. Big congrats to coach Stella Sampras and her crew! The match just ended, so I'll addend a link to a recap tomorrow.

Monday, May 19, 2008

But the UCLA Women's Tennis Team...

is in the NCAA finals tomorrow against Cal. Neither team has ever won a women's tennis title, but that's about to change. The last two of UCLA's 101 NCAA championships (yes, that's one hundred and one championships! Suck it, USC!) have been won by the women's water polo team, here's hoping the tennis team can pick up the mantle. Stay tuned, will get back at you tomorrow with results. Or you can follow along yourself.

Tennis Gambling Investigation Report Released

A study of the integrity of professional tennis launched in the wake of last year's betting and match fixing scandals was completed, and the report was just released. This article includes both a nice summary of what precipitated the investigation, the findings and recommendations of the investigators, and of course, spin.
As it is a competition between two individuals answerable only to their own conscience, a tennis match is unfortunately subject to all manner of manipulations. In this era of corrupt NBA referees, rampant performance-enhancing drugs, and illegal inducements to collegiate athletes, tennis unfortunately has the dark cloud of match fixing to deal with.
Gambling and sports are intimately and irreversibly intertwined and tennis is no different. When you take a sport that can turn on a single point out of hundreds in a match, and that a point could be manipulated so that no one would ever know or prove it, one can easily see how there could be a huge problem with the very integrity of the sport.
The findings of this report will do little to quench worries about the possible damaging of our sport's integrity, and we can only hope that a comprehensive effort is made to not only implement the findings of the report, but also to educate players and vigorously prosecute violators. If not, and if a larger match-fixing scandal should ever surface, the sport will be forever, and perhaps irrevocably damaged.


As a Jewish person who has both visited Israel and has family living there, Thomas Friedman's column yesterday really struck a chord, especially his statement about what Israel needs from America.

Bruins Out

UCLA fell to Texas 4-2 today at the NCAA Men's Tennis Championships. A disappointment, but certainly not for a team that coach Billy Martin said he was afraid might be the worst he's had in his tenure. Lots of good young players returning next year, including Holden Seguso. Seguso was also featured in a fantastic movie called "Unstrung". Produced by former world #1 Jim Courier, it focused on several American juniors on their way to the USTA championships at Kalamazoo. Sam Querrey and Donald Young are two others prominently presented in the movie, which is a fascinating look at the rigors of junior tennis both physically and emotionally. When the movie was finished, I was thanking my lucky stars (yet again) that I decided early on that my future would be determined by using my brain, not my racket.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

UCLA Tennis, Live Online!

What a find, what a find, what a find! So I'm perusing the Internet sports world, finding some excellent tennis blogs, and reading other people's opinions on today's match, when I remember that the NCAA Men's Tennis Championships are coming down the stretch. So I decide to take a look and see if I can find out how my beloved UCLA Bruins are doing.
For those who don't know, I spent the bulk of my undergraduate time as a Bruin working as a sportwriter for the Daily Bruin, covering men's soccer and men's tennis for two years, then covering men's basketball. I also had a weekly column. Anyway, loved the job and, in getting to know the players and coach Billy Martin quite well, it certainly gave me a lifelong affinity for the Bruin tennis team.
So imagine my joy to see that the Bruins are in the quarterfinals against the hated Trojans! Then, imagine my excitement to find out that these matches are being streamed live, for free online. All you have to do is click here, and scroll down to find men's tennis quarterfinals.
Having done that, I proceeded to find the UCLA-USC match happening live with score streaming. So I clicked on court one, because the overall score was UCLA 3, USC 2, the first team to four match wins advancing, and the match on court one was in a tiebreaker, with UCLA's Holden Seguso having taken the first set.
You probably can't imagine my happiness when the screen (finally) picked up the action just as the UCLA players ran onto the court in celebration of their victory, and I got to watch it live! I haven't seen them play live since my senior year in 1998, so this was a brilliant way to find them again. The semis are tomorrow against Texas, probably won't be able to watch that, but if the Bruins advance, I'll definitely be watching (and posting) about the final. As always and faithfully, Go Bruins!

Instant Classic

Rafa and Roger. World number 1 versus world number 2. Three hours. Three sets. Championship on the line. Huge leads and thrilling comebacks. Injury timeouts and huge momentum swings. Magical points and staggering misses. Tiebreakers and breaks of serve. SlidingdirtyspeedygutsyheroicCLASSIC. And after all this drama, a winner and a loser.
What a match!
This morning's Hamburg final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is sure to go down in the annals of their rivalry as one of the greatest matches they've played against each other (and that's saying something, read: last year's Wimbledon final.) This match had everything that draws people to sports and competition, and for me to try to capture all of the subtexts in this event would be futile. If you enjoy sports, think to yourself why, and I promise you, this match had that quality.
I've written a huge blob of words and haven't even told you who won, because, frankly, it doesn't matter. Nadal remains the greatest clay-courter of his era, Federer has begun laying to rest concerns about his pending fall from grace (think Mark Twain and his "reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated"). Both are men of stout hearts, tremendous character and mental toughness, and are at the top of their games.
Now, with the French Open one week away, we can salivate at the possibility of these two squaring off again in the final. Say what you will about the Masters Series events, it's the Grand Slams that make a tennis player truly immortal. And these two in the final, putting on a show like today, is what the sporting world needs to see and needs to appreciate.
Why do I say needs to see? Well, I can promise you that only a handful of Americans with a combination of a Tennis Channel subscription and DVR technology actually watched the match. Does this take anything away from the greatness of the match? Of course not. Does it mean that tennis missed out on the energy burst that an invigorated American tennis viewing public would give the game? Absolutely!
In the midst of the basketball playoffs and early-season basebal, tennis must find a way out of the periphery of the American sporting life and find a way to use battles between these two titans as the springboard. Both tennis fans and the game will be better off.
Oh yeah, Nadal won, 7-5, 6-7, 6-3.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Blogging the Civil War

The loyal reader of this blog has probably been following along, waiting for something, anything that has to do with the Civil War. It's quite strange for me because the Civil War is a consuming interest of mine. I love reading about it, studying it, and discussing it with similarly interested folks. I figured when I started this blog, my thoughts on the war itself, books I'm reading, and experiences I've had chatting with friends, online, or at the San Diego Civil War Roundtable would come issuing forth.
This hasn't been the case, and I think it's because I'm still trying to define a niche for myself in how I read and interpret the war. The last few years have been spent in active study of campaign histories, primarily in the Eastern Theater. Now I'm transitioning into two very different subjects: about how the war is thought of in contemporary culture focusing on the effect of the Lost Cause mythology and political and social trends in America in the years between the Mexican-American War of 1848 and the start of the Civil War.
I promise you, dear reader, that we will have ample opportunity to get into this subject, it's just ripening away in my mind. I've also got a short story in the works that should be fun. In the meantime, there's just that much more time for tennis, mixology, and coffee roasting!

The Clay Master

The clay-court season is in full swing (for the novitiate, the tennis year is roughly divided into a hardcourt session, then clay, then grass, then back to hard courts) and the reigning king of the red gook is rising above the proletariat yet again. He's the young, handsome, dashing Spaniard with the playful broken English and penchant for picking his underwear out of his butt between points. He's the three-time defending French Open champ. He's ranked number two in the world.
He's Rafael Nadal, back up to his usual tricks while basically playing in the mud.
After winning the first two main clay court tourneys of the season, he spent this morning bashing Novak Djokovic around the court in the semifinal of the Hamburg Open, and in doing so, demonstrated why he has likely already displaced the likes of Bjorn Borg as the greatest clay-courter of all time.
Nadal on clay echoes the same level of dominance of Federer the Great on hard and grass courts, and his performance against Djokovic, ranked third in the world and having an amazing season of his own, puts it into specific relief. In the eyes of the Tipsy Historian, there are two fundamental buttresses underlying this greatness: his unbelievable power and aggression, and his unflappable consistency.
Clay court tennis is the ultimate test of tennis skill on many levels. Because the surface is granular and, well, clay, it plays very slowly, meaning that pace generated by the racket head in a swing is absorbed by the court itself. This gives the opponent more opportunity to track down a heavy ball. This makes for long points and tremendous amounts of running, thus putting one's fitness through the wringer.
It also usually nullifies the weapons that set the top players apart, read: Pete Sampras' serve (he never got past the quarters at the French). Those who usually do well on clay are players who grow up playing on the surface, and the fact that Americans rarely play on clay growing up and frankly suck on the surface at the professional level proves this point.
I say usually because Nadal's incredible power breaks through the limitations that clay uses to lock up the games of lesser lights. The guy moves across the court like butter on a hot skillet, and assaults the ball as if it said something about his mamma.
He imparts an unprecedented amount of spin, pace, and energy into the ball off both the forehand and backhand, and his left arm (he's a southpaw) bears mute testimony to this.
Seriously, the dude looks like someone glued He-Man's arm onto an otherwise quite respectably muscled body. And the movement of the ball on the other side of the court is the consequence. Nadal can absolutely dissect a court with his power and spin, putting the ball shoulder-high, making it hard for anyone to keep up.
So there's the power and aggression, but, hey, people get sets off him, right? Federer took him to 5 sets at Roland Garros last year, so he must be flawed, right?
Wrong, because he backs up this brute force with unbelievable consistency, basically the guy doesn't miss. He's like a seasoned basketball team that doesn't commit turnovers or stupid fouls; he doesn't give anything away.
Don't believe me? Today at Hamburg he went three sets with Novak Djokovic. In the first set, which he won 7-5, he committed 9 unforced errors. In the second set, which he lost 6-2, he committed 8 (Djokovic, to his credit, raised his game a notch) In the third and deciding set, Nadal only committed six unforced errors. SIX! And that was when it really counted. Guess what, he won the third set 6-2.
It's that magical combination of power and consistency that puts him at the top of the clay court game. He'll outhit you if it takes him all afternoon, and tomorrow, he puts it on the line against Federer the Great in the final. Oh yes, the DVR is set, and I'll get back at you tomorrow.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More Friedman

Here's today's post in the NY Times from Tom Friedman...

Learning From A Maestra

You would probably never guess it, and both Jess and I were quite surprised when we found out, but one of the nation's premier mixologists is a 30 year old, ever-smiling, energy bomb named Ariana living right here in San Diego.
I've sampled refreshments at many different establishments in town and have found the range to be quite broad, from gutter water to the truly sublime. I've never had the opportunity to actually sit down with the bartender and chat about their craft in the moment...
Until now (or at least 6 days ago)
In the final phase of my 32nd birthday festivities, I arranged a Mixology class at a fantastic bar/restaurant in town called Modus. We had been there before, and the drinks were quite good, but Ariana, whose reputation got us there in the first place, was off that night.
A few days after my birthday; however, we were able to not only have drinks that she made, but enjoy cocktails that she first explained then brought us behind the bar to make ourselves!

What a blast! I have my bartending license, but had never been behind a bar like this, muddling limes, handling the soda gun, and working the shaker with my massive guns (HaHa)
We worked our way through several different potations, each one more interesting than the next. Captain Sizzle joined me behind the bar and the three of us went to work-actually Ariana broke down the theory, ratios, techniques, etc with the execution left to Sizzle and I.
The real breakthrough of the night came through the use of radishes. Normally this is one tuber I can't get far enough away from, but after a bit of muddling, some sugar and good booze, that previously noxious flavor became quite a standout! I don't want to publish the names and ingredients of the drinks, you'll need to go to Modus' website; these are her drinks, I'm not taking any credit.

As we all enjoyed the craftsmanship and subsequent fruits of our labor, Ariana delivered some high level theory our way; inventing new drinks, pairing various foods with cocktails, interesting under-the radar sips (I'm talking black walnut liqueur here, people), and why the Long Island Iced Tea is every bartenders' worst nightmare.

Just like anyone at the top of their game, Ariana is a font of information, and shares it with great enthusiasm. Make your way to Modus, my friends, our time there could not have been more interesting, exciting and delicious.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lovely Tennis Writing

I really am committed to presenting original prose on my blog, but there must be room to share pieces that fit into the overall theme of this space. I just found this missive by Michael Kimmelmann from the NY Times during the 2006 US Open (Sept 8th 2006, to be exact), and it helps expand on some of the themes I wrote about in my previous posting about tennis (though he's quite an exceptional writer and I'm basically working with crayons here). Activate your imagination and read on, but slowly, and allow yourself to be enthralled...
"So what is the art of tennis?
I bumped into the New York artist Holly Hughes at the Open. Many artists are obsessed with tennis. Holly, a painter, is one of them. She spent the day scouring the grounds, dashing between matches. She had that glazed look fans get here in the early rounds, the look of a glutton mid-banquet.
Tennis points, she said, are problem-solving equations for line drawings in space.
Translation: the beauty of the game is seeing, then trying to remember, the way a ball travels around the court during a point. Its path makes lines that arch, zig, move diagonally, straight, back and forth. The court is like a sheet of paper, with its own lines already drawn on it. Strategy entails mapping out and resolving combinations of lines — patterns — just as an artist maps a drawing.
Picture Federer. He hits a sliced serve to the deuce court. The ball makes a curving line down the middle that jogs at impact from left to right. His opponent’s return arches toward Federer’s backhand (the line now goes back, from right to left, but differently). Federer, charging the net, volleys cross court (left to right, again differently). Point Federer.
The fan’s pleasure comes in redrawing the lines as a memory. Every point, like every mark drawn on a page, is a little different. Topspin makes a line different from a slice. A smart, strategic, virtuosic player (Federer) conceives more varied and elegant points, whose resolution, like the resolution of a particularly complex drawing, can be profoundly satisfying.
This is why sitting at a certain height behind either baseline is better than sitting in the middle of the court or courtside. From the side, the game is a jumble of movements. From higher up and behind the baseline (where the television cameras like to be), the court is easier to read as a page, and the lines are clear to follow. Patterns present themselves.
Within sameness there can be endless variety. Artists have proved this over centuries. It’s the art of tennis, too — or part of the art, because there is beauty to the sound of the game and to its passage through time. Call it the music of the sport. Which is to say nothing of its drama, offcourt and on, or of the ballet of Federer’s footwork ..."
The complete article can be found by clicking here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Wonderful Paradox of Tennis

Ruminations on tennis, starting with a bold statement: there is no more intense single competition between athletes in the world of sports. No coaching, no time limits, no quarter given or received. Conditioning must be optimal, equipment just right, gameplan tuned, and mentally you've got to be razor-sharp.
There is just nothing like it anywhere; two athletes pushing each other in every way imaginable, incorporating drama of the highest order, skill beyond parallel, and brute strength of will. Best of all, it's unbelievably fun, and has the adaptability to be enjoyed by anyone at any level.
In the center of all of this energy, there lies a paradox which gives tennis such an unbelievably addictive and motivating quality...
Only through strict adherence to structure, form, technique and discipline will tennis allow an outpouring of creativity, craftsmanship, and art. But without this rigid foundation, the creative process is thwarted and will remain untapped below the surface.
Disagree? Watch the masters of the game, Sharapova, Federer, Graf, Agassi, and try to find the flaws in their fundamentals as they work their magic. Of course they have preternatural gifts we can only dream of, but they also have impeccable footwork, first class fitness, and reliable shots, all of which only come through endless hours of practice and persistence.
One might think that this means that tennis can only be truly enjoyed when someone is at the highest levels, but quite the opposite is true! What this paradox distills down to is that whatever you put into your game, you get tenfold back; as you improve and expand your repertoire, you get to be evermore creative, innovative, and crafty with your game.
Tennis has been a huge part of my life since I was a little kid flailing around with my Prince Jr. From the start, the game jibed beautifully with my meticulous nature and desire for competition. It also gave me a creative outlet that was hard to find otherwise. I was never much for drawing, painting, or modeling on any consistent basis, though each had their crack. Looking back, as soon as I got serious about my tennis, my artistic jones was satified.
As I learned footwork and gained fitness, I could make my body get into any number of postures while on the full run. Footwork led to shoulder-turn, into backswing, which became weight transfer and hip rotation, thus generating racket head acceleration through the ball, and voila! another ball flew against the fence, or bounced into the next, or just casually missed my racket completely.
So things have changed a bit since those first wild cuts, and it's the endless repetition that makes the game so sweet. That dogma of body movements allows for spins (topspin, slice, flat), pace (heavy, slow), net clearance (high, low, down the line, crosscourt) and placements too numerous to count. As that central dogma is practiced, more of these intrinsic variables become accessible, and suddenly you realize "hey, I'm playing tennis here!"
Now, when I'm feeling creative, I can try putting more topspin and depth on a short ball, or pronate my wrist a bit more on my serve to see if I can kick my second serve up to someone's shoulder. I get to enjoy the same process of exploration as any painter or sculptor.
Given that my schedule is a bit erratic, I've recently splurged on a serious indulgence, I bought a tennis ball machine! Now I can get out and paint just about anytime I want, and when there's a photographer in the family, well...
It's all about footwork, footwork, footwork!
and watching the ball!
One of the best parts of the creative process of being a tennis player has got to be the facial expressions. Even though I've never watched myself play, I can only imagine some of the remarkable, plasticine poses my face twists into. If you look closely below, you'll see quite a nice example; notice how the left corner of my mouth seems to be chasing my racket during the followthrough on my backhand
Of course, that shot tore over the net and plowed into an unreachable corner of the opposite court, demonstrating once again that amidst great mutilation there can lie great beauty.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Roasting Coffee at Home - A Gustatory Triumph!

First off, an explanation from the Tipsy Historian; though there has been a spate of posts over the past week, close observation will show that there was an abrupt cessation of writing here in late January. Though life has undergone a dramatic change with some wild ups and downs, my wife and teammate Jess and I have continued to build our repertoire of hobbies, experiences, and activities. Many, if not all, fit within the purview of this blog, so with a three month gap in writing, you, dear reader, may rightfully assume that there is something of a backlog of things to write about.
This assumption would be correct, so I will immediately commence bringing you into the Tipsy Historian's world, for as my blog subtitle shows, much has gone on in the world of beverages, sports, and the always engaging and edifying study of the Civil War.
We begin, my friends, with a taste experience that has changed the way I experience and enjoy my only daily vice, coffee drinking. I do not have a coffee shop or special brew to refer you to, no, no. I want to take you back to what I now regard as the first principle of coffee.

Thou shalt roast thine own beans in the sanctity of thine own abode, and thou shalt eschew beans roasted in any other venue, save for the abode of thy friends and kinspeople.

Why should it be so? Because home coffee roasting brings a level of freshness, complexity, and sheer joy that cannot be captured in any other way of getting coffee. Coffee is at its peak 24-48 hours after it's roasted, and within a week of roasting, it has already undergone a marked decline. Beyond 10-14 days, you're wasting your money.
It all starts in Oakland, which is (I was surprised to learn) the biggest coffee importation point in the United States. Just near the port itself is a warehouse with a robust company called Sweet Maria's. From this company and its website springs all you need to know about this wonderful hobby. Before I provide the link, be warned it is very dense and not so easy to navigate, but your persistence will be amply rewarded. That said, here it is.
Now, how does this process work? Well the green beans come from Sweet Maria's and are stable in a ziplock bag for up to a year. They're also much cheaper than roasted coffee, coming in at about $4 per pound.
Not only that, but they have names like Brazilian Coromandel Fazenda Sao Joao, Peru FTO Cuzco Ccochapampa, and Ethiopia Dry-Process Golocha. Best yet, when you buy them, you can select organic and Free-Trade Certified beans.
Now, there is a tremendous amount of science behind this, which the website covers in tremendous detail. Though I have learned quite a bit about it...
...there is always more to be gleaned. Suffice it to say, "first crack" and second crack" are becoming a powerful part of my coffee lexicon.
The machine is the next part. Any hot air blowing device will work, and there is a huge market for old school popcorn poppers. I opted for a more professional choice, which was a great investment; the iRoast 2. This has made the process so quick and easy; from selecting my beans to everything cleaned up and put away is about 30 minutes. Can't beat it I tell you.
The roasting process itself is a total treat, with smells evolving rapidly, colors changing before your eyes, and sounds emanating from the beans as the heat and the sugars interact. Without stealing too much fun from those of you who are convinced you must go down this road, here is a picture of beans approaching 1st crack.
The best part of this machine is the ease of cleanup, as I mentioned, no more than a few minutes. Why? Well, all the stuff that flies off the beans as they roast, called the chaff, gets collected in an easy to clean receptacle at the top of the roaster. It's also pretty cool to look at...
Anyway, as the roast goes on, I usually water the plants, chat with Jess, or stand on the porch and watch birds. Most importantly, after 1st crack, my eyes turn to the roasting chamber, because there is a wide range of "doneness" in the roast once 1st crack is completed. Initially I liked it a bit darker, but find the lighter finishing points more interesting currently.

There is a final phase of the roasting process that we must discuss before we get into what this stuff actually tastes like, and that is the roasting uniform. Any good activity has the appropriate apparel (check out my tennis gear in posts to come) and coffee roasting is no different. To that end, I give you The Espresso Monkey!
Now for the reason you've all kept reading this far; the taste. The best way to describe it is to think about profound tasting experiences you've had with wine, and how the sophisticated, complex bottle gives much to think about, as well as enjoy. A bottle of 2-buck Chuck will get the job done in a pinch, but there is another level to be achieved as well.
This process of roasting at home is that other level. These coffees are unbelievably interesting and absolutely delicious, with spices, chocolates, toffees, and fruits all there for the savoring. I invite you to look at the tasting notes at Sweet Maria's for the batch I've just finished drinking, and, even for a beginner, these flavor patterns just leap out at your taste buds.
This is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable hobbies out there, each day starts with not only a nice caffeine lift, but an intellectual stimulation that gets both the brain and palate ready to enjoy another day.

Friedman column

If it is alright with you, dear reader, I'd like to add to the palette of this blog by adding links to columns by Thomas Friedman as the appear in the New York Times. He is a writer who certainly captures a large expanse of my political and social opinions, and he is incredibly well-informed as well as a solid writer. Click here for today's column, and, as with all my posts, comments are always welcome.

How to Botch a Cocktail

There are few tools more powerful in human interaction than good communication. If we're able to openly answer questions, discuss hot-button issues, and explain what we're doing, then we can all make our way in the world smoothly and with much less tsuris.
The beloved wife and I were walking in La Jolla Cove a few weeks ago when we decided to head into a (seemingly) posh and refined spot for a lazy Saturday afternoon refreshment. At the start, things looked quite promising; well-appointed interior, comfy chairs, and an interesting and variegated cocktail menu.
We placed our order, Jess selecting the bartender's interpretation of the margarita, and I opted to try the lychee martini. The menu described a chilled drink made of fresh lychee juice and a brand of gin that I can no longer recall.
In due course the drinks came and, to her credit, our server told me that the bar was "out of lychee fruit for garnish, sorry about that." No problem, I assured her, as I was much more interested to explore the marriage of botanicals and exotic fruit in my glass. After our traditional toast (watch Jess and I carefully the next time our beverages arrive and we clink glasses) we sipped.
Well, instead of a complex mix of flavors and textures in my mouth, I got socked in the taste buds by the fire of pure gin. Even when chilled, straight gin packs a punch, especially if you're not expecting it. I looked at Jess with boggled eyes, who after being assured I was fine, started to laugh at the absurdity of what was happening.
I signaled for our server who came quickly to our table (and rightly so, as we were the only customers in the bar). I told her my concern that the bartender had sent me a glass of firewater instead of the drink I ordered. She promptly took it away to explore the issue further, only to return in just a few moments with this all-time classic...
"Yeah, so the bartender says we're out of lychee juice too. Sorry about that!"
OK, what the hell is this dude's thought process here!? I think the hamster must have been fatigued and the power supply dwindling when he decided to not tell us that my drink was not available, and to push right of a cliff by sending me straight gin instead.
That's just fantastic, and needless to say, Jess and I were reeling with laughter. Certainly no harm done aside from a few scalded taste buds but, bro, bartender to fellow bartender, throw me a freaking bone next time!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

32nd Birthday 2nd phase

At times of occasion I've historically been quite quick at getting fully spiffed up: shower, shave, lotion, toothbrush, get dressed, aftershave, door. Over the past few months; however, I've added a new ingredient to this little recipe, the ability to style my hair into a mohawk (or mini-mo, as Jess likes to call it). Needless to say, it took a bit longer to get sorted before my birthday dinner, but everything was in its proper place when we left the house.
A constant source of fun for Jess and I is to try and set up a birthday dinner for the other that is both a multi-sensory carnival and a complete surprise. Though San Diego is full of great restaurants, we both avidly browse foodie websites and discuss what we've found, thus making the element of surprise a tricky proposition.
Well, The Jess both picked a mind-blowing restaurant and kept a veil of secrecy over it that would have made the D-Day planners proud. We even got there early and Jess just drove right past it, pretending we were going somewhere entirely different, then doubled back. A brilliant tactician, that one.
The end-result of all this energy and excitement was a restaurant called Market. Anyway, if you've had a quick look at the cocktail list and restaurant menu, you'll understand how delicious food and drink was. We're trying to focus on eating locally grown or produced meat and veg, and that's what this place was all about. The Brandt Farms tenderloin was an absolute triumph, let me tell you!
I know you're wondering, how was dessert, for goodness sake WHAT WAS FOR DESSERT!!??
Well, we didn't eat dessert at the restaurant, because there was a final surprise for me; a Red Velvet layer cake with sliced strawberries in the center, a scratch-made creamcheese icing, and a strawberry glaze drizzled over the top. Best part, each element was hand-crafted by my lovely wife. There are no extant pictures of this masterpiece, but I assure you, it will live forever in the pantheon of great birthday cakes. And this day will be an exciting, loving place for my mind to go when things are tough.