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Go Kyrie! Go Cavs!

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Kyrie Irving with coach Byron Scott, December 11

[AP Photo, Carlos Osorio]

The Cavaliers (Cleveland’s NBA basketball team) opened their season tonight at home against Toronto. This means that Kyrie Irving, the first pick in last June’s NBA draft and my cousin (well, maybe not, but it’s fun to pretend), made his professional debut.

Three days after the draft, I wrote that “I’m not much for wearing official team clothing, but I see a Cleveland Cavalier jersey in my future.” If only I had remembered, as I surely would have if the NBA season weren’t delayed for two months, I would have put the jersey on my wish list for the holidays. But no matter, since the jersey wouldn’t have been available. According to the Cavalier online store, it still isn’t. I will be patient.

According to Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer,

The Kyrie Irving era got off to an inauspicious start Monday at The Q.
But to pin the Cavaliers’ 104-96 loss to the Toronto Raptors on a 19-year-old rookie point guard is roundly unfair, not to mention misleading. Especially on a night the club’s collective effort was bad enough to give it a running start on the No. 1 pick next season.

The Cavaliers defended poorly, shot worse and needed a strong effort from their second unit just to keep them in the game against one of the NBA’s bottom feeders.

Irving, the top selection in the June draft, managed just six points on 2-of-12 shooting and never found his rhythm before a sellout crowd of 20,562 fans. He spent a good portion of the second half on the bench as backup Ramon Sessions helped the Cavaliers stay close with a team-high 18 points and six assists.

“It’s disappointing,” said Irving, who played 26 minutes. “You want to play really well when the whole world is watching. It’s a learning process.”

The point is an unforgiving position for first-year players. Not only did Irving struggle at the offensive end, but he had difficulty keeping the Raptors’ Jose Calderon (15 points, 11 assists) in front of him.

How have other recent high-profile point guards fared in their NBA debuts?
According to Stats LLC, Washington’s John Wall had 14 points, Chicago’s Derrick Rose scored 11 points and New Orleans’ Chris Paul collected 13 points.

“He looked OK for what was like his fifth game in a year,” said coach Byron Scott, who named Irving his starter on Monday morning. “He had seven assists and one turnover. The only thing he didn’t do was shoot the ball well.”

I trust that by the time my jersey arrives, Kyrie will be playing better. We’ll put in a big order. I know Dad will enjoy his. (He doesn’t read Ron’s View, so don’t tell him. It will be a surprise.)

Categories: Clothing, Sports

Eskimo Perception

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m a huge fan of the Language Log blog and its co-founders, the linguists Mark Liberman at Penn and Geoff Pullum at Edinburgh. Pullum has spent two decades in fierce combat with the myth that Eskimos have twenty-three words (or is it two hundred? or two thousand?) for snow. (See his 1991 essay The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, which follows up on the 1986 work of Linda Martin.) I made brief reference to this in a post three Julys ago on linguistic fact checking, or the lack thereof.

Two Sunday nights ago, I was reading some of the next day’s NYT online when I clicked on the Monday book review and stumbled on the astonishing opening by Emma Brockes to her review of Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel:

“The Stranger’s Child,” Alan Hollinghurst’s fifth novel, opens on a scene in Harrow and Wealdstone, a suburb north of London chosen by the author to represent the middle ground, that is the space between the upper and lower orders — or rather, this being England in 1913, between the orders of lower upper middle and upper upper middle.

As Eskimos do with snow, the English see gradations of social inadequacy invisible to the rest of the world; Mr. Hollinghurst separates them with a very sharp knife.

Wow! Eskimos have not just a multitude of snow words, but also gradations of snow perceptiveness invisible to the rest of the world.

The thing about those words is, any language has every bit as large a snow vocabulary as the Eskimos. Slippery snow. Grainy snow. Powdery snow. Oh, those aren’t words? Okay, how about slippery-snow, grainy-snow, powdery-snow? The oft-repeated claim is inane. But read Pullum for that.

Speaking of which, I wasted no time sending the latest example of Eskimo snow inanity on to Professor Pullum. A day later, in his characteristic style, he pounced.

If Emma Brockes were one of the sharper knives in the journalistic cutlery drawer she might have avoided becoming the 4,285th writer since the 21st century began who has used in print some variant of the original snowclone. (I didn’t count to get that figure of 4,285, I just chose a number at random. Why the hell not? People make up the number of words for snow found in Eskimoan languages that they know absolutely nothing about. I might as well just make stuff up like everybody else.)

I notice that Brockes’ version of the familiar Eskimological claim deals in visual cognition rather than linguistics (though the two are closely intertwined). The usual citation of a surprisingly large (and randomly chosen) number of snow words is absent; instead she actually claims to know about Arctic nomads’ perceptions of gradations that non-Eskimos cannot see. Where does she get this fascinating fact about perceiving the imperceptible?

Apparently, from credulous acceptance of an urban myth that goes back to the writings of an amateur linguist, Benjamin Lee Whorf.

Pullum goes on at length, all worth reading, concluding with a blast at the NYT.

A casual unsupported assertion about Inuit people perceiving distinctions to the rest of us are blind? That won’t cause any trouble at the New York Times (which has published several different figures for the number of snow words in “Eskimo”, and has ignored the letters of correction that have been sent). Don’t worry about it: it’s only language and cognition we’re talking about — just make stuff up.

I’ll say this, though. We Pacific Northwesterners perceive gradations of gray invisible to the rest of you. Dark? Rain? Give us more, so we can make our perceptive skills still more powerful.

Categories: Journalism, Language, Stupidity

Rover’s Again

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Last Sunday, I promised a report on our lunch two days earlier at Rover’s. Here it is.

Rover’s, as I have mentioned on many an occasion, is the fine French restaurant just a mile from our house. It serves lunch on Fridays only. We last had one of their Friday lunches three months ago to celebrate Russ’s birthday. I was otherwise engaged for the following eleven Fridays, but not last Friday. Hence, off we went — Gail, Joel, and me — to celebrate the end of the fall semester (for Joel) and fall quarter (for me, except for grading).

We sat in our favorite location, a corner four-top. Gail ordered a glass of their sparkling rosé, as she typically does and I followed suit. We were uncertain what fish “loup de mer” (“sea wolf”) was, and learned it’s sea bass. After a little more study and reflection, we were ready to order. (You can see the lunch menu here. It changes regularly, especially in the small details of accompaniments, but it looks pretty much like our menu a week ago.)

To start, Joel and I had the spiced carrot potage with sage crème while Gail took the seared scallop with squash, mushrooms, and seafood nage. I love Rover’s soups. Last week was no different. Gail’s dish looked beautiful. She reported that indeed it was.

For the main dish, we went our separate ways. I took the loop de mer, accompanied by quinoa, baby spinach, and … well, the menu says lemon grass sauce or, but that’s not how I remember it. The fish was sliced thin and lightly grilled. Perfect. The quinoa was flavorful, the spinach a delight. Gail had Pacific sole with Parisian cheese dumplings, leeks, and sherry vinegar. Boy it looked good. Joel got a taste of her cheese dumplings, which she raved about. And Joel had the roasted guinea fowl, served with black lentil, Brussels sprout, and thyme sauce, another winner.

I had been in touch earlier this month with Rover’s events person about a possible special dinner there next year. We agreed to chat further on our visit, and she appeared as we awaited dessert. Talk turned to wine options, leading to an impromptu wine tasting hosted by Rover’s wine manager, Scot. We tasted a white wine, then some reds: first a Bordeaux, then a California wine, then back to France for a wine from the Rhone.

Somewhere along the way, dessert arrived. We all chose the clafoutis. It is served as two pieces, a larger one topped with kumquat compote and a smaller one with chantilly crème. And it’s superb. As were the wines, though Gail was less a fan of the Bordeaux than I was. Two hours after arrival, we headed out, sated and happy.

Once again, my Fridays will be tied up for a while. But Rover’s does serve dinner. And there’s that event we were discussing. We’ll be back before the next open lunch date.

Categories: Restaurants

Hold the Pesto

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

[From The Wall Street Journal]

One of these days the WSJ will finally stop arriving at our door.* Two months have passed since we stopped paying for it. But as long as it shows up, I’ll keep reading the great fluff features, such as yesterday’s on casual dining restaurants.

Regular Ron’s View readers know I have an unending fascination with Olive Garden. I’m determined to understand why people love it. My interest is more conceptual than experiential. Years can go by between field investigations. (Though see here for a report on our last field trip.) Thus, when new research appears on their business model and offerings, I devour it. I dream of dropping by Olive Garden’s research and development center, the Culinary Institute of Tuscany, next time we’re in the neighborhood. And I always ask Gail to unmute the TV or avoid the skip button on the remote when an Olive Garden ad appears.

What a joy, then, to discover yesterday’s WSJ article, with its review of the pressures on our national casual-dining chains to upgrade their offerings while maintaining their appeal to a broad demographic, and its focus on Olive Garden as the prime example. Let me highlight one revealing line:

“We don’t use the word authentic,” to describe the Olive Garden experience, [Olive Garden president John] Caron says. The chain prefers “Italian inspired.”

The article offers this example of Italian inspired:

Chefs at Olive Garden headquarters reverse-engineer menu items from real Italian dishes. A current seasonal dish, baked pasta romana—a mix of lasagna pasta, rich cheese sauce, spinach and either a beef or chicken topping—started as a fresh-torn pasta dish with olive oil, garlic and herbs eaten by company chefs on a trip to Northern Italy.

Chefs found the dish “really rustic, but still kind of normal,” the magic formula Olive Garden chefs often look for, says Marie Grimm, director of culinary development for Olive Garden. In restaurant tests, the company tried a chicken version with roasted tomato sauce, but diners didn’t find it “cravable,” says Ms. Grimm. The restaurant switched to a cheese sauce.

That “fresh-torn pasta dish with olive oil, garlic and herbs” sounds enticing, doesn’t it? But, if I went to a high-end Italian restaurant and saw that on the menu, would I choose it or would I search lower down the menu in hope of finding a dish of lasagna pasta, cheese sauce, spinach, and beef? Am I a member of the Olive Garden demographic? I don’t know.

I do know I like my pesto. Yet, earlier in the article we learn that “for chains that aim to entice almost every demographic group through their doors, there are limits. In several years of tests, Olive Garden diners often deemed pesto too oily, bitter or green.” I fear that I’m trapped between demographic groups, condemned never to find my proper home.

Read the entire article, check out the accompanying video, and study the graphic, which I’ve copied above.

*As a reminder of my desire to bar the WSJ from our house, see today’s opinion piece on Ron Paul by editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz, in which she feels free to describe him as “a leading spokesman for, and recycler of, the long and familiar litany of charges that point to the United States as a leading agent of evil and injustice, the militarist victimizer of millions who want only to live in peace.” And that’s only the beginning of her unsubstantiated hatchet job. Boy oh boy. I have written often of my affection for the WSJ’s Saturday arts and culture sections. The TV reviews, courtesy of Ms. Rabinowitz? Not so much.

Categories: Business, Restaurants

Change We Can Believe In?

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

I couldn’t resist this one, courtesy of the Kim Jong Il T-shirts website. (Hat tip: Jim Fallows.) Thirty percent of the purchase price goes to NK News, a North Korea news aggregator and information center.

I suppose the image speaks for itself, so I’ll say no more, other than to suggest that you visit the T-shirt site to see their other offerings.

Categories: Clothing, Politics

Posts to Come

December 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve fallen a bit behind. Sorry about that. I gave a final exam Wednesday morning. After writing two posts that evening, I have stopped posting on the general principle that if I have time to post, I should be using that time to grade instead. And until this afternoon I hadn’t been grading either. Hence, no posts.

Now that I’ve done half my grading, I am putting the rest aside for tomorrow, freeing up posting time. But not posting energy. I’ll content myself with a partial list of coming attractions.

1. A description of a week-old language log post by Geoff Pullum with a scathing attack on a piece in the NYT. I happened to be the language log correspondent who passed the NYT article on to him (and was duly credited). Thus, it seems appropriate to bring the item to your attention.

2. Yet another Rover’s lunch report. Or maybe I should let this topic go, having written several times about lunches at Rover’s. Rover’s serves lunch on Fridays only and I’m usually not free for lunch on Fridays, so we don’t get there too often. The last time was in September, the Friday before classes started, when we joined Russ. With Joel home and no free Friday in the upcoming months, we went while we could.

3. Sebastian Rotella’s novel Triple Crossing (with the moronic subtitle “A Novel”). I’m about 290 pages into it. Another 110 to go, and another reason not to blog. I have recently written about several other books. My starting this might suggest I’ve finished them. Not yet. I put them aside temporarily.

4. Change You Can Believe In. Time for another installment. In this one, Obama continues to trample on civil rights by signing into law the right to detain US citizens indefinitely. Gotta love the guy. We voted for change; we got it.

I had imagined that the holiday break would provide me with the leisure to turn to some long-deferred (and not particularly urgent) topics. However, I’m not seeing a lot of leisure on the horizon. It would be good to knock off a few old items, such as assorted golf posts. I know golf isn’t what brings people in the Ron’s View door. That’s one reason those posts don’t get written. First up: my primer on how to be a golf fan. Soon, perhaps.

But now, back to Triple Crossing. And tomorrow, grading.

Categories: Life

Porter Creek Vineyards

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Today we received a shipment of six wines from Porter Creek Vineyards in Healdsburg, Califoirnia. You may recall that we took a trip to Healdsburg in October 2008, staying in the intimate Hotel Les Mars, dining on our final evening at their extraordinary restaurant Cyrus, and devoting a day each to the Dry Creek, Russian River, and Alexander valleys. On Russian River day (described here in the third week of Ron’s View’s existence), we started and ended with winery visits, adding a drive to the ocean and lunch in Jenner in between.

Our first stop was Porter Creek. Les Mars has a wine expert who hosts tastings in a room just off the lobby before dinner each day. The previous evening, when we told him of our Russian River plans, he recommended a stop there. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

our hotel’s wine expert, Ron, explained last night, this is a low key place, with some pretty laid back people doing the wine pouring in a simple building. We parked just off the road in a small gravel lot, just past which was a house with a dog, and beyond that was a wooden shed, where our wine pourer awaited us, as did two more dogs, one young and destined to be big, the other immense. We had a great time there, trying several wines, listening to his explanation of the joy of smelling wine, and hearing his views on life and vineyards in general. They have a small amount of land just outside with Pinot Noir grapes, and he offered us three Pinot Noirs made from them. The difference in the three, he explained, is that the grapes for the reserve came from the vines on the upper part of the slope, the grapes for the cheapest Pinot were from the middle, and the grapes for the final bottle were from the bottom. (The final wine is generally only made available to restaurants, but for a short time each year regular people like us can taste and buy it. On the wall was a list of New York restaurants that have bought the wine.)

In March 2009, I wrote about Porter Creek again, prompted by an Eric Asimov article in the NYT on California Pinot Noirs in which he said:

For me, wine’s place is with food, and that’s why I had begun to despair of so many California pinot noirs. Their power and sense of sweetness were overwhelming at the table. But it turns out that more than a few California producers share my feeling, like Ehren Jordan of Failla and Thomas Brown of Rivers-Marie, Joe Davis of Arcadian and Alex Davis of Porter Creek. Almost to a person, they make no secret of being inspired by the wines of Burgundy.

Asimov quotes Alex Davis later in the article, as you can see in my 2009 post or the article itself.

We long ago drank the wine we bought on our visit to Porter Creek. Last month, I decided that Gail’s birthday provided a perfect opportunity to buy more. I went to the website and found that I could fax in a form to subscribe to their wine program. They have two options, under each of which you get six bottles of wine each April and another six each November.

Winemaker’s Selection Subscription
A tasting menu of our most current releases. An example shipment may include a bottle each of Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Carignane, Syrah and Zinfandel.

Pinot Noir Subscription
Shipment includes a selection of our most current Pinot Noir releases, including limited production single vineyard and reserve bottlings. An example shipment may include 2- Estate PN, 2- Fiona Hill PN, 1-Hillside PN and 1- Reserve PN.

Part of subscribing is that you get a 15% discount as a single subscriber and 20% as a double subscriber, with the discount applying to additional purchases as well.

I chose the Pinot subscription, sent the form, and awaited our November shipment. Alas, it never came. Gail was feeling that she hadn’t gotten a proper birthday present, so a week ago I called to ask if they had received our fax, and if we were too late for that November shipment. The answers were yes and yes. But Jonathan, whom I spoke to, said they could send a representative sample, with the subscription discount. Not a Pinot shipment, but a selection. I said sure.

What came today is exactly as advertised under the selection subscription: a “Fiona Hill Vineyard” Pinot Noir, an “Old Vines” Carignane, a “Timbervine Ranch” Syrah, a “Old Vine” Zinfandel, a George’s Hill Chardonnay, and a Timbervine Ranch Viognier. All are 2009 vintages, the current releases. The Carignane is from Mendocino County; the Zinfandel is listed as being from Sonoma County, the others more specifically from the Russian River Valley.

For dinner tonight, we took out pizzas from The Independent Pizzeria just down the street in Madison Park. It’s one of the many high-end pizza places that have opened in recent years in Seattle. Despite its proximity, we have eaten there only once. Their pizzas are small, thin-crusted, simple, and good. We ordered three: the Twin Peaks (tomato, fontina, crimini, sage), the Pepperoni (tomato, mozzarella, fiore di latte, pepperoni), and the Stevedore (tomato, provolone, Genoa salami of Applegate Farms, red onion, Mama Lil’s peppers). We added a mixed salad to complete the order, waited a half hour, drove down to pick it up, came home, and sat down to dinner.

With six bottles of Porter Creek on the counter, of course we had one. Gail selected the Syrah, which Porter Creek describes as follows:

Shows green olives and bacon on the nose structure and concentration. Co-fermented with 5% Viognier, which rounds out the mouth feel and adds an extra dimension to aromatics. A dramatic wine coming from a very steep hillside vineyard growing in a cooler region of Sonoma County.

I don’t know about the green olives and bacon. I do know that Gail chose well. With Joel home from North Carolina, the three of us had a superb meal, the wine being the best part.

We have more to look forward to. I’m guessing we’ll be putting in another Porter Creek order before the April Pinot shipment arrives.

Categories: Wine