Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bump,Set, Spike

Macy's new passion is volleyball. She's been playing for over a year now and this year is her first chance to play for her school. It's the first sport she's played that she enjoys practice, so, wow. Her team is undefeated so far (4-0).

Here are some photos of her in action this weekend at a tournament in Fargo--in which they won every match, so they're doing pretty well.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Consequences of a Living Wage

Despite my complete dearth of material, Rob Port, editor and owner of the website Say Anything, is allowing me to write a weekly column for his web site. Here's an excerpt:
Providing a “living wage” is all the rage these days. From fast food workers union organizers all the way down to that person on Facebook that posts pictures of Che Guevara on her timeline, the living wage is all the rage.

But what exactly is a living wage? Sure, I get that it means “earning enough to sustain yourself”. But what is it, really? CheLover69 will tell you it’s the key to ending poverty. Is it? I don’t think so. Let’s do a little thought exercise.

A cashier at McDonalds–I’ll call her Julia–makes the federal minimum wage. Julia didn’t go to college, has no career plans, and is content to work there. She has no husband and no children. Her only issue is that the federal minimum wage doesn’t pay the rent for her one bedroom apartment, her iPhone bill, her car payment, utilities, groceries, gas, and cable bill. So she agitates for a higher wage. Thousands join in with Julia and demand $15 an hour. McDonalds acquiesces and now we live in a world where Ronald McDonald pays every employee what they need to pay their bills. Julia now makes $15 an hour and she is happy.
Click here to continue reading...

You can read all my postings at Say Anything here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

DBR and the Horizon Middle School Orchestra

Macy and the rest of the Horizon Middle School orchestra performed at Fargo Assembly of God church last night, because apparently if you want enough room to seat all of grades 5-8 and their friends and family you have to use a church. (Seriously, if I attended  that church and they passed around the collection plate I would give my best watchoo talkin bout Willis look.)

The orchestra got to perform with a world-renowned composer and concert violinist, Daniel Bernard Roumain. It was a very cool performance, as DBR kept things moving and basically ad-libbed some great accompaniments to the songs (he only had about four hours across two days to work with the kids).

Macy is coming along with her violin playing, and it's reflected in the growing complexity of the pieces she's playing. Last night's selections were Double Trouble and the awesomely named Dragon Hunter.

I readily admit that I had trouble finding Macy during the first piece so if you don't recognize the people I zoom in on, that's okay; neither did I.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Thoroughly Amateurish Review of the Beefsteak Club

If you've ever read this blog you probably know about my passionate but depressingly short love affair with Norman's (aka Redford's). It was a beautiful steakhouse that served by far the best ribeye I have ever tasted. I dined at steakhouses in Boston and Minneapolis while Norman's was around and it wasn't close; Fargo was home to the better beef.

However, for all its excellence Norman's had one major flaw: location. Not in the sense that it was situated in a bad neighborhood or far off the beaten path. No, it sat on a major thoroughfare. The problem was the building. Before it became home to the Greatest Ribeye Ever I Et, it was a Bennigan's. Don't get me wrong; they did an amazing job renovating it. It was beautiful, comfortable and exuded "classy" out of its butt. But if you've ever been in a Bennigan's (or anywhere in its family tree: Chili's, TGI Fridays, Applebees, etc.) then you know how big those buildings are. Norman's was far too big to be able to get enough customers in the door. And let me tell you, it wasn't cheap. The menu was a la carte which, as you know, is French for "that costs extra". You easily spent $70 a person there. Now, that's not to say it wasn't worth it (did I mention how good it was?). However,in a smaller market like Fargo you have to think small when it comes to pricy cuisine. The best places in town are all orders of magnitude smaller than a Bennigan's. And with the exception of the Silver Moon Supper Club--which is now Mezzaluna, a very strong contender for "best restaurant in Fargo"--they're all still around. This is because you can get 50 or 60 Fargoans to come and pay $40 for a steak. You can't fill a Bennigan's on a nightly basis with those prices.

Which brings us to Saturday night. Donna and I decided to have a date night so I made a reservation at The Beefsteak Club, the new steakhouse in town. As is the custom of my people we began the night elsewhere (in this case the Hotel Donaldson) with our d' owerder ouer d'ur appetizers and drinks (I had a lovely Manhattan while the lady enjoyed an espresso "martini"--I'd explain the quotes but that's a whole other thing and the internet is only so big.)

We arrived at the Beefsteak Club at 7:30. While the HoDo was rapidly filling up by 7:00, The BSC was nearly empty. There was no one at the bar and there were two tables seated. When I say there was no one at the bar, I mean that literally. There wasn't even a bartender. No hostess either. Not the best way to make an impression. I realized later that there was no hostess on duty--the only server was pulling double duty--and the bartender was also acting as an expediter/food deliverer. Usually when a restaurant only needs one server and doesn't see fit to have a hostess working it's because business is bad. I suspect this is the case at the BSC and I think I know why.

If it hadn't been for an article I read in the Forum, I wouldn't have known this place existed. 

I get the word of mouth thing, I really do. You think, if my food is good enough word will get around. In a lot of cases you'd probably be right. But it doesn't seem to be catching on at the BSC. This place is in sore need of an advertising budget. A 15 second TV commercial. A Sunday newspaper ad. People out on the streets handing out samples. Preferably all of these things. As a side note, I realize that this past Saturday was not nice weather-wise and that certainly depressed the turnout downtown. But like I said, the HoDo was filling up by the time we left to walk the half-a-block to the restaurant, so there were people out that night.

The building is nice, though it looks very different from the Italian joint that used to be there. I can't remember if it was called Stella's or Isabella's when I was last there. I know I only went there once because it was the worst experience I've ever had in a restaurant, and I've been to places that served hobo meat. I wish I had been blogging back then, because I'd have another page to link to. Oh well. Suffice to say, the BSC ownership have nothing to do with that atrocity so let's move on. The current facility is a little echo-y as there isn't a ton on the walls, and what's there doesn't do much to absorb sound. I'm a big fan of the minimalist aesthetic, so I'm okay with the decor. I just wish it was a little less like enjoying a meal in a canyon.

Next to the meal itself the service is the most important thing in a restaurant (and I don't just say that because I used to wait tables). Our service experience was actually quite nice. She brought us both water without being asked once it was clear that we were having cocktails and not soda (seriously, all you aspiring servers out there: if your table is drinking anything other than soda, BRING WATER). She was present but not hovering, which is a danger when you're not overly busy. She was pleasant and had an answer when we asked her what she liked on the menu. Her only mistake was asking me if I wanted steak sauce. I'm not in a Sizzler. My reply to her was a mock-horrified, "I hope not!" All in all a class act. I tipped the hell out of her.

The food was a mixed bag, however. As with Norman's, the menu is ala carte. Despite it's $61 price tag, I beat back visions of starving children in Alabama and ordered the ribeye. Donna had the more sensibly priced filet ($31 for a 10-ounce cut). We rounded it out with a four cheese pasta dish, mashed potatoes, assorted mushrooms (at the recommendation of the server) and a caesar salad. The salad was quite good, a little soggy but nothing to get upset about. Frankly, I think it must be hard to get that right because so many places screw it up royally. The mushrooms were delicious. I would love to tell you what all the varieties are but I didn't have any paper to write the names down and most of them were in Japanese. If you go there--when you go there--get them.

The pasta and potatoes were good, not great. Both were seriously under-salted. Of the two I think the pasta was better. You could get the cheesiness from it and the flavor was there just beneath the surface. It just needed a little salt to bring it out. The potatoes were frankly just mashed potatoes and while you may be thinking, "well, what did you expect", I can make a better version myself.

Price-wise however, the side items are very reasonably priced. Most of them are $4 (the pasta was $6) and easily serve two. This really encourages you to try a lot of different things. Next time I'll try the creamed spinach for sure.

Now, on to the steaks. It would be very difficult for me to say that a place has better steaks than Norman's. However, in this case I don't have to. My ribeye was not as good as the best Norman's used to produce. That is not a slight, though, as the beef was delicious. I mean, really, really good. It was not, however, $61 good. $45 good? Absolutely. $50 good? Yeah, I could see that. Not more than that though. I have no idea what the margin is on that ribeye, but if there's any room to cut it, they should consider it. I do want to emphasize that it was a great steak though. Best in town, frankly, now that Norman's is gone. Tender, cooked perfectly. I realized after a few bites that I was using my butter knife to cut it. I'm not joking. Great marbling. Beautiful cut. It's just not worth $61 (to me anyway).

Luckily I can heartily endorse the filet. It was fantastic. Juicy and tender, ever-so-slightly undercooked for Donna's taste, at least in the center (she ordered medium-rare), but that's the part I taste-tested anyway (I go for rare, baby). Great flavor, beautifully presented. When I go back (and I will) that's what I'll have.

For desert we had a piece of cheesecake the size of Jupiter. Seriously, other, smaller deserts were orbiting this thing. Occasionally a parfait would collide with a streudel and rain sweetness down onto the table. A pecan pie was red-shifted. Okay, I'll stop now. But it was big. Really big. Frankly it was too big. It could easily serve three and probably four people. It was good however, and the presentation was simple but elegant. The blueberries and strawberries however, while visually pleasing, weren't really very appetizing. I'm sure that's because they aren't in season. It might be a good idea to just use whatever fruit is ripest rather than forcing the berries. I'd rather have an out-of-place kiwi or something than unripe and tasteless strawberries.

It's obvious that the chef is still tinkering with some of his dishes as he came to our table after the desert plates were cleared to ask us for feedback. We talked about the need for salt in some of the side dishes and he seemed receptive. We did make an effort to stress to him that we enjoyed the meal and would be back. There's room for improvement in some of the dishes but nothing that can't be fixed easily.

So all in all The Beefsteak Club is a mixed experience, but all the pieces are there for it to become great. The service was good (if a little thin) the food was uneven (ranging from great to middling), but the potential is there; they get the big things right and the little things are all easily fixable. I'll be going back and you should try it too. If it does manage to rise up to the level of a Norman's (and it's not that far away), we need to make sure we don't lose it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Margarita Blogging the NFC Playoffs: 2013 Edition

As threatened promised, I am going to liveblog the playoff game between the Falcons and Seahawks. As has been the case the last few seasons, the Falcons are in the position of both having no chance against their opponent and being labelled chokers when they are upset.

I often think that the life of a sports journalist must be one of the easiest vocations in the world. You get to say contradictory things and rewrite history at a whim. For example, when talking about the 2012 edition of the Atlanta Falcons, nearly every sports pundit outside of Jimmy Johnson (and he's probably just hopped up on Cialis or whatever) spent nearly each week applying the following formula:

1. Declaring  that the Falcons are finally going to be tested against an opponent, giving them their chance to legitimize their lofty record.

2. Picking Atlanta to lose.

3. Deciding that--after Atlanta beat them handlily--the opponent isn't really that great.

4. Proposing to Peyton Manning.

This was the pattern against San Diego (and it turns out the Chargers had just decided to suck all season instead of just the first half), Denver, Philadelphia (Andy Reid cannot be defeated after a bye week!), Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and the Giants. Atlanta killed all of those teams (including Denver--seriously, they dominated that game top to bottom except for a nine minute stretch across the 3rd and 4th quarters). The Giants game was so bad that everyone retroactively declared that New York had always been at war with Oceania.

So, I fully  expect that either Atlanta will win today, at which point sports pundits all over the globe will claim that Seattle never had a football team at all or Seattle will win and the Falcons will become "chokers" again for being upset by a team that is universally acclaimed as better in every phase of the game.

Either way I will be drunk on margaritas.


11:42: I just had text conversation with my brother:

Him: here we go.
Me: i'm already drinking and blogging.
Him: i've been drinking since 11:00. tough matchup for us but i have faith.
Me: if we had faith we wouldn't need to drink.

11:51: Nervously reminding Donna that she has five minutes to finish up whatever quest she is on in Skyrim.

11:55: My first "offical" sip of margarita.

11:57: I just came up with a positive in Atlant's favor: Keith Brooking doesn't play for us anymore.

11:58: Brian Billick just said that Pete Carroll knows that Atlanta is 13-7 in the Georgia Dome over the last five seasons. I'm not positive but I don't think that's correct.

12:00: Completely forgot that they show the national anthem part of games in the playoffs. Not a bad rendition... short and to the point. Mike Smith looks constipated.

12:04: Same feeling I always have before a playoff game kickoff... Hope slipping away.

1st Quarter

12:06: I see the Seahwks brought in an ex-Packer to kick. We're doomed.

12:07: Okay, Turner. You're only good for 40 yards a game. Don't use em all up at once.

12:07: That's better.

12:11: Roddy White just tied the Atlanta postseason record for career receptions with 23. how sad. I mean, good job.

12:13: We have already scored more points than we did in the 2011 playoffs. Baby steps. Nice play on that end zone pass on 3rd down by whatshisname.

12:15: Now we get to see if Mike Nolan has really been saving his crazy shifting defenses for the playoffs, or if he has contracted Brian Van Gorder Disease, in which you hallucinate that your vanilla 4-3 defense is doing really well. It also makes you go into prevent mode any time you have more than a 1 point lead in the second half.

12:19: And the answer on the first drive is: crazy shifting defense. I like that they do that on purpose, unlike previous years where they genuinely didn't know what to do.

12:21: Football 101: It's where the ball goes out of bounds on a punt, not where it lands. Okay, we got 3-and-out and we got great field position. Clearly we need to put the pedal to the metal. If we don't get a touchdown here we will lose this game. I'm completely serious.

12:25: And we're done. What the hell was that?

12:27: And upon further review Tony Gonzales stopped running. Not Ryan's fault, but why do these thing always seem to happen to us?

12:29: That exact play worked against the Saints. Let the back go untouched through the line, pick up ten yards and then, just as he's thinking, "wow, Atlanta really can't play the run", poke it out of his arm. That's coaching, people.

12:35: Apparently Julio Jones is wearing a Seahawks backpack to this game.

12:37: Some guy named Coffman just made a ridiculous catch at the goalline. I follow the Falcons religiously and I've never heard of this  guy.

12:38: And on the next play Tony Gonzales makes up for it with an acrobatic touchdown catch. Keep it up kid and someday you could grow up to be Kevin Coffman.

12:40: Matt Bryant has eaten his Wheaties today.

12:45: And now Dominique Franks has infected Harry Douglas. CATCH THE PUNT

12:47: Jaquizz Rodgers just ran through a safety, who is now dead. Add another 40+ yards onto it. Apparently Marshawn Lynch made a mistake publishing the beast mode codes on his Twitter feed. Good TV timeout to give the grounds crew time to bury that safety.

2nd Quarter

12:50: I like that they're taking shots downfield, but at some point White or Jones need to make a play.

12:56: Donna asked me how to spell "Jacquizz".

12:57: The entire line stood up at the same time. I'm going to blame that false start on the center.

1:00: Those "labels out" commercials kill me. It's like they don't realize that their team would already be up by four touchdowns if they weren't drinking Bud Light.

1:03: Seriously, Nolan needs to dial up some pressure on Wilson, knock him on his ass some. He's got way too much time to stand there looking posteresque.

1:06: Here's your chance to completely kill them. 4th down.

1:06: Sweet merciful crap. Weird that they ran it up the middle on 3rd and 4th and Lynch didn't get to touch it. Using your main back as a decoy is a sign of desperation, Pete Carroll. You do realize you're playing the Falcons? In the playoffs?

1:11: Finally, White makes a big play. 47-yard bomb. Now, I know you like to talk but refrain. No, I guess you can't do that can you. The game ain't over.

1:15: It looks like Burger King has given up. "We've tried chicken fingers, chicken tenders, and chicken fries. Screw it. Here's some chicken NUGGETS."

1:17: Don't go vanilla on defense now.


1:20: I'm a little ashamed to admit that the first time I ever saw the 49'ers commercial where some guy is giving the pep talk to the team, I didn't realize that wasn't the real coach until Harbaugh showed up. Then I was like, "oh yeah, Jim Harbaugh is the coach of the 49er's." Not meant as a slight, I just completely forgot.

1:23: Vanilla, vanilla vanilla. When they do this I always assume that Mike Smith has made a call to tell Nolan what defense to call.

1:25: We dominate the whole game on defense, then go into this prevent crap. Damn you, Mike Smith. Damn you. Wanna bet that regardless of the score at halftime, we come out vanilla on defense in the second half?

1:28: I know I'm harping, but see, Mike Smith, what happens when you take a defense that is attacking, attacking, attacking and tell them to play off? They get confused.

1:30: 3rd down. Go after him.

1:30: See what happens when you attack on defense? Please learn this lesson before the second half Mike Smith. Let it sink in. See you after halftime.

3rd Quarter

1:44 Ah, the second half kickoff. Or as I like to call it, the calm before the Falcons blow a 20-point lead.

1:45 Brian Billick just claimed that the kids in the Punt Pass and Kick competition were better than the quarterbacks he had in Baltimore. Take that whoever use to quarterback the Ravens.

1:48: If you took that bet about the defense coming out vanilla, you owe. Pay up.

1:50: Okay, I guess rrreeeaaaalllllyyyy slow pressure is better than none.

1:52: No on on Seattle can catch the ball except Zach Miller. Let's not cover him. It's like Keith Brooking does still play in Atlanta.

1:52: Step one of Operation Blow 20-Point Lead: complete.

1:56: Now, for those of you who don't normally pay attention to the Falcons, this is where Mike Smith decides the time is right to run Turner up the middle over and over until we're 3-and-outed a few times and let the other team catch up.

2:01: And that's why Harry Douglas isn't a top-2 receiver on a team.

2:04: Tony Gonazales is a bad, bad man. I heard he used to be one of those circus guys who would take cannonballs in the gut. He got fired because he kept catching them.

2:07: That little shovel pass to Snelling is like finding a beer in the fridge back behind some lettuce; you forget it's there and then you look down in the playbook and go, "hey, a beer. I mean, that Snelling play!"

2:11: A 7+ minute 80-something yard drive that didn't end in a turnover or a field goal. We must get one of those a year, like a "you won 2nd place in a beauty contest" card. That was probably a pretty good place to use it.

2:13: Is Seattle's offensive line this good? We cannot get any pressure. We haven't even knocked him down much. Just once then need a safety blitz to blindside him and make him think about it. Or, you know, just keep not covering Zach Miller. Jesus.

2:15: Is it me or is this game going really fast? I mean, that's good and all for the Falcons at this point, but I've barely had drunk to get time.

4th Quarter


2:17: Really? I mean, it'd be cool as all hell if Macy was in the PP&K contest, but is the start of the 4th quarter really the time? I'd be all, "hey Macy, tell Chris Myers to hurry up. And bring me a beer on the way back." No really, those kids are great.

2:20: Apparently I'm not the only one drinking during the game. I'm seeing two of you, Brian Billick.

2:26: This is the drive that decides the game. The Falcons take 5 or 6 minutes off the clock and get anything, even a field goal, and I'll start to believe that it's possible they can win. Otherwise, I'm not stupid. I can recogize the universe maneuvering to rip my heart out when I see it.

2:28: If Michael Turner was "3 yards and a cloud of turf, if you will", we'd be okay with that. It's usually "0 yards and a thrown clipboard".

2:30: And here we go. Ryan just seems to have this blind spot some times, especially in the playoffs. I don't know what it is. Douglas looked wide open out of the snap for a short gain. Instead, let's throw it deep into double coverage. The really bad news is that this is the last pass Ryan will throw until we are losing with 1:30 to go. Mike Smith just called Dirk Koetter and said, "i want nothing but runs from here on out."

2:33: It's over. The Falcons could blow a 48 nothing lead in the 4th quarter. We are cursed, it seems.

2:34: Oh, hey look, there's still nobody responsible for covering Zach Miller.

2:38: Ryan's got the look. And by "the look", I mean he knows it's over.

2:40: Best play here is to throw it deep and let it get intercepted again.

2:41: I predict the final score will be 42-27, Seattle. Yes, I know there is only 7:00
minutes left.

2:43: I've always defended Matt Ryan against people who said he didn't have a strong arm or couldn't handle pressure. But I think this may be the game to end all that. He looks right now like he's petrified. You'd think with all the regular season comebacks he's had he'd be over it, but it seems like he can't handle playoff pressure.

2:45: 3rd and 10, pivotal point of the game. Seattle gets this first down. Book it.

2:46: Mike Smith apparently didn't get to poop at halftime either.

2:48: One thing I've always wondered about this whole player safety thing... why is it up to the league to be 100% responsible. There's a player's association. Couldn't all the teams get together and say, "no more chop blocks"?

2:50: I think Matt Ryan just peed a little.

2:52 Sorry, Atlanta. If NFL games were 48 minutes you'd be good enough.

2:53: I swear I just heard Mike Smith say, "let's let em get down the field then try to hold them to a field goal."

2:54: I'm not actually watching the game anymore. I mean, it's still on the TV and I can hear it, but I'm not watching it.

2:55: 2 minute warning. This is where Russell Wilson magically becomes Joe Montana, Brett Favre (without all the killer interceptions) and Tom Brady all rolled into one. It's only fair; this is Seattle's first chance to add to the Falcon's playoff woes, so they should probably do it in the most gut-wrenching way possible. Seriously: last year during the 24-2 Giants debacle I got tons of projects done. By halftime I had forgotten the Falcons even made the playoffs.

2:56: Brian Billick keeps saying "intermediate area". You know, if anyone on the Falcons staff would just turn on a TV they could probably make a killer defensive adjustment.

3:03: I may have to just stop watching the NFL. I'm not kidding. It's really takes a lot out of you to care so much about a team then watch them suck year after year. I've already taken this step with the Braves. I pay attention to them, but when they make the playoffs I only sort of pay attention. When they lose, I'm like, "eh." The Falcons for some reason I get excited about. This I think is the killer. Screw 'em. I'm going to go get really drunk and then wait for rugby season or something.

3:10: This changes nothing.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Fair Share" Tax Calculator

We always hear that the "rich" aren't paying their "fair share". This begs the question: what amount constitutes this fair share? This graphic should clear things up:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Music Diaries: Stage Fright

In September of 2011 I made a promise to the band that played my wedding. As the members are all Microsoft employees, it is a tradition that they play our annual Christmas party which is known as the Holiday Wine and Cheese. The name refers to the original party back in the days of DOS and 5¼ floppy disks when it was literally a wine and cheese shindig. These days it is of course a three day bacchanal resplendent in tales of our market exploits drenched in flagons of ale and the blood of our enemies. But I digress.

One of the cool things about the band is that they allow other musicians to come and rehearse new songs with them that they then play at the party. The promise I made to them last year was that I would be one of those guest musicians in 2012. Little did I know then that the earth would not be depopulated my Mayan gods by now, so it appears I have to honor my promise.

Since my motto is Cur deficiat semel cum multis faciam which means roughly, "why screw up once when you can screw up a bunch of times", I will be playing not one but three songs with the band next week.

The first of these is one of my favorite songs of all time and so I asked to play on it. Here is what it is supposed to sound like:
The 4:00 minute mark of that video is still one of the coolest things I've seen in a music video this side of Tool. The second song is one I suggested to the band:

That of course is Jack White fronting the Raconteurs. Awesome band, and unlike his old band The White Stripes, one that doesn't owe me a concert. Side note: the Stripes canceled a date in Fargo because Meg White had a bad case of can't play the drums anxiety. The group broke up before they could make the date up. If they ever play a reunion show, that show better be in Fargo, Jack White.
The last song in my trio is one that I was only asked to play on last week so I haven't had much time to prepare:


Now, for the bombshell you never saw coming: I'm actually playing the acoustic parts on this song. Mind. Blown. You're welcome.