Blasphemy Number 1!

It’s been a while since I last posted anything and, as you’ll see, there are a lot of new posts today. I hope that this isn’t a trend, that I can update the blog just a bit more regularly, but life often gets in the way. I’ll do what I can.

The NFL season is already almost half over and the battle for the championship of the NFL-Idaho fantasy football league is in ernest. I currently hold the number one ranking in the league, but it has been a difficult struggle. My stars haven’t produced as they often have in the past. Peyton Manning started the season a little slow, but is fortunately now on fire. The same is true of Larry Johnson. He really hasn’t played like last season, though the last two games have seen him return to form. I’ve had two important injuries to Shaun Alexander, my star RB, and Larry Fitzgerald. Though, in Larry’s case, I’m not sure I would get much from him anyways because of the inept Cardinal offense.

I have had some good fortune though. Even when I’ve not performed as well as hoped, my opponent for the week has typically been even worse, giving me a 8-0 head-to-head record. And, while Juggernuts has scored more points overall, I’ve still got a better overall record than he does. But, he is right behind me, ready to take the lead at any moment.

I’ve also had some pleasant surprises in Drew Brees, the Minnesota Defense (excluding last week’s horrid performance), and Darrel Jackson. But, that’s been countered by Chad Johnson’s disappointing year.

Overall, though, I’m sitting pretty. I think there are trades afoot to try to overcome my first place ranking. We’ll see if the enemy is successful.

The Texian Iliad

My reading has really taken a hit these days. It is taking me much longer to get through books as I’ve just got so many other things I’m doing. The last book I read was The Texian Iliad. I had picked it up during my visit to San Antonio and the Alamo in March. So, you can see how long it’s taken me to get through it.

That isn’t any kind of criticism of the book itself, though. I found the book very interesting and readable. My father-in-law, visiting for a weekend, got through the book during his visit. So, it is a highly engaging book.

It is a history of the Texas revolution against Mexico. It starts of with the initial confrontation, building up to the battle of the Alamo, and ending with the defeat of Santa Ana. The book is well written and gives a lot of insight into the people behind the war.

I’m always amazed when I read books on the history of war by just how much luck is involved. In this particular case, it seems that the initial skirmishes were nothing more than one shot and a flesh wound. This eventually escallated to the Alamo. And it seems that, much of the time, the Texans were victorious in spite of the incompetence of their commanders and government. But, on the other hand, if the Mexicans had just had a competent general of their own, they probably would have easily crushed the rebellion.

There were two things I found very interesting. First, the number of Basque names that popped up. Many of the leaders especially on the Mexican side had Basque ancestry.

Second, I found it very interesting how the war started and built up. It seems that a lot of the tensions that led to the war were the result of what would today be called illegal immigrants. But these immigrants were from the US, coming into what was then Mexican soil and settling the land without permission from the Mexican government. It seems inconceivable today that such a thing would be tolerated much less lead to a war of independence that was successful. It seems particularly ironic to me that much of the complaints against illegal immigration from Mexico are focused in areas like Texas which owe their current existence to equivalent forces.

Overall, I learned a great deal from this book. Each chapter begins with a small vignette about the different types of people involved in the war. I actually found these a little distracting, as they interrupted the flow of the history. However, they are easily skipped for future reading. My father-in-law found them really interesting, so I think it depends on personality how well they are received.

I really enjoyed learning about the different leaders involved and their personalities. Famous men such as Bowie, Houston, Austin, and Boone are described, their contributions to the war detailed. Again, it is amazing that the Texans won in spite of the personal conflicts between these leaders.

Overall, this was an excellent book. It delves into the actions behind the Texan war of independence, detailing the battles and the strategy behind them. It also describes the people responsible for the war, both the heroes and the villains. I highly recommend it.

The Drowsy Chaperone

My wife, Lisa, has a cousin, Janet, who is an actor in Toronto.  When she and her now husband Bob got married, their friends wrote them a play as a gift.  They performed it locally in Toronto where it was discovered by some producer in LA (I believe).  They tweaked it some and it eventually landed on Broadway, where it is now called The Drowsy Chaperone.  It has been very successful, having been nominated for 13 Tony awards this year, winning something like 5.  Lisa was very keen on seeing the show while it was still on Broadway, so we took a weekend in October to fly to New York to see the show.

I’ve never been to New York before, beyond just a brief layover in the airport.  We stayed in Manhattan, which was pretty damn nice.  Our hotel was on 52nd street and we were within walking distance of Madison.  We wandered through the stores and shops during much of our free time.  We visited Rockefeller Plaza, where they shoot the Today Show, I believe.  We also visited the MOMA and the Met.  We didn’t have nearly enough time to really see either and will have to go back.  At the Met, especially, there were a number of exhibits that I wanted to see, but didn’t get a chance.  I also wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, but we ran out of time.

The show itself was amazing.  Bob, Lisa’s cousin by married, was the star of the show.  He did a fantastic job as “man in chair”.  The show itself is about a Broadway star, named Janet Van De Graaff after Lisa’s cousin, and her giving up the fame of  Broadway to marry Bob Martin.  There are the usually gaffs and confusions that threaten to derail the marriage.  But, the real story is the nostalgia for a simpler time, when Broadway musicals were light hearted.  It was a very funny show and well worth the effort of going.

After the show, we got to go backstage and meet Bob.  He was very kind and gracious, especially considering he had never met Lisa before.  But, we all hit it off well.

We had some amazing meals, especially on the night after the show.  We ate at a French place near our hotel.  It was very decadent.  I had, if I remember right, beef medallions.  They were excellent.  The whole meal was great.  It was especially nice to have dressed up and done the whole Broadway experience.

For anyone visiting NY, I highly recommend checking out The Drowsy Chaperone.  It was one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time.

European Tour Part 1: Germany

In September, I had to go to Europe for work to attend the Multiscale Modeling of Materials conference in Freiburg, Germany. Freiburg is in the southwest corner of Germany, near the border with both France and Switzerland. The conference was held in the University. It was my first trip to Germany and it was very interesting. Freiburg, I don’t believe, is very representative of Germany. It wasn’t damage as much during the two wars and so still has some of the old Europe feel to it. Many of the streets are cobblestone, and there is a little ditch that runs along them, creating a little stream that runs through the city.

The Freiburg cathedral was amazing, one of the most ornate cathedrals I’ve visited. It was covered with gargoyles, which was both very interesting and, from the churches I’ve seen, fairly unique. The cathedral was also covered in various carvings. Some looked intentional, but others looked like graffiti, though they weren’t people’s names, but seemed to be diagrams of some sort. In the mornings, the locals set up a farmers’ market around the cathedral, which was very nice.

The conference itself was great. It was one of the best ones I’ve been to, as there was a lot of content that was interesting and useful to me. The conference organizers took us on an excursion to some local vineyards. We tasted some German wines, which were good. I’m no wine connoisseur, but I enjoyed the wines. We then visited another city which had another cathedral, though it was no where near as ornate as Freiburg’s. It did have some interesting frescos depicting heaven and hell that were uncovered during a restoration.

After finishing the conference, I was to meet with some collaboraters in England the following week. I took advantage of the free weekend to visit my family in Euskadi.

European Tour Part 2: Euskadi

After finishing up in Germany, I took a couple of days to visit Euskadi to see my dad’s family. It was only a couple of days, but any chance I can get to visit Euskadi is always worth it. As I flew in, I had a wonderful view of the Basque coast. The picture is of the coast around Donostia, the city I lived in when I studied Basque and Spanish. My cousin Ander picked me up from the airport and took me to the town of my dad, Munitibar.
Almost immediately upon landing, I met up with a good friend, Jon, and he took me to the fiesta in Aulesti. Aulesti is a small town near Munitibar, but I understand that its fiesta is quite well known, especially for the region. My dad remembers walking to the fiesta from Munitibar. I must be a lazy American, since I couldn’t imagine walking through the mountains from Munitibar to Aulesti. One thing that has changed since the time of my dad is the music. The headlining act at the fiesta was Gatibu, who are a hard rock band. In the Basque Country, music comes in typically two flavors: folk or hard rock/heavy metal. Gatibu was very good, especially live. I need to try to find a CD of theirs to check them out more.

We were in Aulesti until 4 AM. If you haven’t been to a Basque fiesta, you typically hop from bar to bar, getting a little bit of beer (called a zurito) or a little bit of wine. Just enough to wet your whistle, before moving on to the next bar. And you do this all night. The plaza of Aulesti was full of people, hopping bars and listening to the music. I ran into my cousin Amaia there as well. I can’t imagine living in the town during the fiesta; it would be impossible to sleep, the music was so loud!

I spent Saturday relaxing before continuing on the fiesta at Aulesti on Sunday. The flavor was completely different on Sunday. We drove to Aulesti and then hiked up to a little valley at the foot of a hermitage. There, a couple of bars were set up and people mingled and drank. There was a little dancing and an irintzi contest. There was also a small demonstration. It seems that the main political point made these days in the demonstrations is to get Basque prisoners closer to home so that their families can more easily visit them. I think that was the point of the demonstration. It was a very calm event, with people just gathering and waving their ikurrinas.

After Aulesti, it was time to visit with family and then head on to the next stop: England.

Blah, blah, blah… I've got the blahs.

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