Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Good Job

The United States' men's national team has qualified, at the last possible opportunity, for the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They did it with some style, too, scoring three beautiful goals against Guatemala, after going behind early.

When Carlos Ruiz ran through for the only Guatemala score in the first few minutes, the commentators seemed to think that a long night was ahead for the US. I won't say I wasn't worried, but I did have some confidence that the defensive mess-up between Carlos Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron would prove to be a one-off thing. I remember just how easily the US defense used to panic, continually, under previous coaching regimes; and despite some so-so performances during this qualifying stage, I still have not seen a recurrence of the kind of desperate random defending that used to characterize our team whenever pressure came upon them suddenly, or lasted longer than the time it takes to take a single shot. 

My confidence was justified, and I feel oh, so self-important now for having had that much faith in these guys, and in the head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann. Yes, we still need to strengthen that defense; it'd be great if we could get a left back who can stay healthy, and the men who will represent us in Brazil (I'm pretty confident we'll get through the last stage; we only have to finish in the top three of six) need to play together as much as possible. Presumably it will be that same pairing of Bocanegra and Cameron.

Eddie Johnson
my choice for man of the match
(photo from IMSOccer News)
But the real story tonight was at the other end of the pitch, where Clint Dempsey scored a pair and Bocanegra his 14th national-team goal. If I were handing out the kinds of ratings that most soccer web sites use ... well, what the Hell, I will:

Tim Howard: 7 
   He wasn't challenged often, and was left badly exposed on Guatemala's one goal by bad play between our center backs, but he otherwise made the saves, including one very lucky and sharp foot-save after misjudging the shot.

Michael Parkhurst: 5

Carlos Bocanegra: 6
    Whose fault was that, when Ruiz broke through early to score? Either Bocanegra's or Cameron's, but the main point is that Bocanegra, the captain, put things right immediately, and it didn't happen again. From that point on, the center of our defense was solid, a consequence of his decisive leadership in the back (and this from someone who never thought much of him as a defender when Arena and Bradley were the team's coaches). He also scored a goal, to make up for the defensive error.

Michael Bradley: 6
     He's proving to be a real anchor in the midfield.

Steve Cherundolo: 6
     Hard to believe anyone can stick around at this level for so long, but he's just gotten better at that right fullback position.

Maurice Edu (in for ... I forget who, and the US Soccer game blogger forgot to make note of it; I think he came in around the 70th minute): 5 

Clint Dempsey: 8
     Needs to work on his acting skills if he's going to dive like he did near the end of the game. Kept him from being Man of the Match, in my estimation, and the card he deservedly got carries through to the next round. 

Herculez Gomez (65 minutes): 7

Joe Corona (in for Johnson in the 90th minute): not rated

Danny Williams: 5

Sacha Kljestan (in for Gomez in the 65th minute): 5

Eddie Johnson: 9
    He was the real star. He was the one providing the fuel for the offense, after having saved the team's bacon in its dismal Antiguan performance. 

Graham Zusi: 7

Geoff Cameron: 6 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Western Voyage of Discovery Under Way

White Sands National Monument
The first few days' worth of pictures from the Western Voyage of Discovery have been posted. Hard to believe we've done all this in only four days: Carlsbad Cavern, White Sands, El Camino Real International Heritage Center, the Very Large Array, La Ventana, El Malpais, El Morro and the Painted Desert. But we have, Rick and I, and we expect to have much, much more in the coming days.  Anyway, to take a look at the pics so far, click here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I Must've Been Watching Some Other Match

United States 1:0 Jamaica

Now that the United States' Men's National Team has ... ahem ... redeemed itself for the unanimated chukkering it got over the weekend in Kingston, the soccer pundits are indulging some primitive need to make the team seem as good as people think it should be. They rave about the performances in the exciting, scintillating re-match played in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday night.

I must have had some other soccer match on my television. What I saw was a United States team that could engage in sharp, crisp, and incisive passing as long as their opponent held back and didn't press. Jamaica held back and didn't press, so the US looked good from the start. They did manage to get behind the Jamaican defense three times, hitting the post each time. (Credit the Jamaican goalkeeper for his performance on at least one of those shots.)

But once the US scored in the 55th minute — from a fairly well-taken free kick by Herculez Gomez, which only went in because of a poor effort by that same Jamaican keeper — the Reggae Boyz started to play for a draw. (That, it would appear, had been their aim all along: the one point for a draw would have put them at the top of the group in this qualifying round.) They started pressing the US immediately, and our guys' passing immediately went to Hell. Where the game, until the US goal, was played entirely in Jamaica's half of the pitch, after we scored our guys were content to hunker down and defend, a disappointing strategy. The late stages, after the slim lead was taken, had the US team entirely on the back foot, and was played entirely in our half of the game.

Fortunately, our team's defensive capabilities have improved since Klinsmann took over as head coach, and while the back line that was available for this match were not (I pray) the strongest the team can put together, it was adequate for the task of defending against the 60th-ranked* Jamaica. 

Overall, it was a performance worthy of the national teams we could put on the field in the early '90s. The US national team of the present should be a regional powerhouse, a rival to the Mexican national team; it should not be struggling to overmaster such relative minnows as Jamaica. And the giddy sports columnists and commentators on television, in print, and on the Web, are doing the team and the sport no favours by talking about this slipshod half-assed performance as though it was all it could have been. Even with Donovan and Bradley and Holden out, and Dempsey so badly out of form, this was a poor, poor performance from the team.

* Don't take those rankings too seriously. As someone once famously said, they're more a guideline than a rule.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Progress Has a Seizure

So much for scanning in all my pre-digital pictures....

I bought an HP 3050A, a good deal, I thought, at $80. It faxes, copies, scans and prints, and can do it all wirelessly. This was a good selling point for me, because I have sufficient clutter around my computer already and was glad to be able to install this machine in the less frequented parts of the room.

Installation went with barely a hitch. The only hassle was that I had to disconnect everything from my computer and move it across the room so I could briefly connect it to the new machine, to transfer wireless information. You know, if HP would just use a regular old USB port for that connection, and told me where on my computer the needed info was, I could've just copied it onto a flash drive. But no, I had to install a battery (I normally leave it out, except when I travel), disconnect the primary printer, the speakers, the second monitor, the power cord and all the little gadgets and woo-ha things that are plugged into this computer (all the things that made me glad to be able to install the new machine across the room). Then I was able, after punching in a few bits of information, to scan photos on the new machine* and have them magically appear on this computer ... whence, the photos of Guanajuato posted the other day.

But it wasn't to last. Twenty pictures into the next set — pictures from the PCB Tour, a mid-'80s trip around Europe with some friends that we titled Deadly Poison On The Road — my old Netgear router hiccoughed. I had to re-boot the router. Not a big deal: it happens now and then, and my phone and my computer always just pick up the renewed signal and sign themselves back in.

But not this cheap-o HP machine. I eventually got it re-connected to the internet, but while my computer could find the new printer, the new printer could not locate the computer. Everything checked out fine, but it was always unable to locate the computer. I went to the HP Scan-Doctor, or whatever they call their Help system, and it was no use. I spent all of Saturday and Sunday, off and on, trying to get the new machine to work. By midnight on Sunday, I had decided I had done everything their website could suggest, and had seen then same instructions over and over and over.

Of course, some of those instructions were especially irritating: the ones that tell you to press nonexistent buttons, the ones that instruct you to selection unavailable options from the menus.... But mainly what frustrates me is the idea that these machines should all be a part of this plug-and-play world. I should be able to plug in my new wireless printer, type in a few numbers, and have it spring to life with no more fuss than I go through in trying to sync my MP-3 player.

But no, it isn't that simple; technology has had a seizure, hit a brick wall, run off the road. It is so far from being that simple that today I took the machine back, and I am once again without a scanner, so there will be no more old pics posting.

I know you're all broken up over that, but try to keep hold of yourselves.

* I wouldn't want to give the impression that it worked correctly; each time I hit "scan," the machine would whir and flash its little progress light, then announce "activation lost," and tell me to re-establish a connection. I soon learned to ignore this, and after a pause the scan would take place and the file would appear on my computer. Each one took about 75 seconds, which I thought was a long time. But what do I know?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The March of Progress

The bell tower on the Basilica in Guanajuato
I got a scanner the other day, and set it up yesterday, so now I can scan in my old pictures. And when I'm done, and have no further use for a scanner, I'll have a back-up printer. And, I suppose, a copy machine, though the ink for that machine is really way too expensive for regular use. (It'll probably all dry up in the cartridges before I use any of it anyway.)

But I've scanned in the first batch of photos, from a 1998 trip to Guanajuato, Mexico, for the Cervantino Arts Festival.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Mountains From Molehills

The Football Association, the organization that oversees soccer in England, has a knack for creating big issues out of trivialities. Often, this stems from a misplaced desire to cater, no matter the cost, to every politically correct theory ever advanced by any addle-pated social thinker with a podium; hoping, in this way, to deflect all criticism of what was once a rough game played by tough factory workers, but which they wish to have seem a genteel give-and-take between two groups of sartorially challenged debate teams. The FA is eager to appear the moral guardian of all good things, and its dedication, for example, to stamping out what passes for racism in Britain is second to none. Consider, for example, its decision to charge Rio Ferdinand, of Manchester United, with racism for his participation in this exchange on Twitter:

Unnamed interlocutor: "Looks like Ashley Cole [who plays for Man United's arch-rival Chelsea] is going to be their choc ice. Then again, he's always been a sell-out. Shame on him."

Ferdinand: ""I hear you fella! Choc ice is classic! hahahahahahha!!"

(In racial terms, "Choc ice" is to the English what "Oreo" is to Americans.)

(Even worse, but beside the point here, is that the local police are prosecuting Ferdinand for a criminal violation for that tweet. When did England give up being a free country? And are these pro soccer players so delicate that words like this can be so offensive as to warrant the expenditure of public moneys on the ponderous activity of the police?)

But this week comes another example of the FA's unsurpassed capacity to make something controversial out of something ordinary and unremarkable.

In an exciting match on Saturday between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, two teams that are very close competitors, the match officials made what seemed to many to be a wrong call, in favour of Tottenham and detrimental to Newcastle. Alan Pardew, the manager (head coach) of Newcastle, was standing on the sideline, watching, and he was quite naturally agitated by what he saw. He turned and said something to someone behind him, then immediately turned the other way to say something to the linesman (or referee's assistant to the politically correct). The linesman, it turns out, was standing just a couple feet away, looking down the line, and Pardew reached over, shouted "Hey" (or maybe "Oy!" --- he is English, after all) and starts to comment excitedly about the call.

This is no push. This is a tap on the shoulder. An excited tap, yes, but still no more. The linesman was slightly unbalanced by the contact, not because it was violent or even hard, but because he was in an odd position already, leaning well forward to see past someone farther down the sideline.

Well, of course the game had to come to a complete halt while the referee came over and sent Pardew to the stands for this trivial incident, and now the FA has announced misconduct charges over the incident.

Why is it that highly-paid administrators such as the FA has are so completely unable to exercise any sort of reasonable discretion? I understand the perceived need to protect soccer officials from violent attacks by team managers (and everyone else), but I would have thought that these mature individuals would be able to distinguish a tap on the shoulder from a violent shove.

Friday, July 27, 2012

14 Down, 36 to Go

Last Sunday, Wisconsin became the 14th state in which I've been to all the counties.
I also finished travelling through Michigan's Upper Peninsula on this last trip, and went up to International Falls and Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, going through all the remaining counties above Minneapolis/St. Paul; and a drive west from a little theater in Landsboro got me the one remaining county in southeastern Minnesota. But I still have 15 counties in that state to go to, and most of the northern half of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. 

Still, even though I can be pretty sure I'll never actually go to all the counties in the country (I still have about 650 to go, out of about 3,100), I have to admit it feels good to finish another state; especially one so far from home.

As for what I saw on this trip, well, not a whole lot: it was a pretty laid-back trip. My favourite memories are:

(1) watching a bald eagle circling over the Great Sand Bay near Eagle River, Michigan; 

(2) watching a distant freighter sail slowly into a stunning sunset behind our rental cabin at Eagle Harbor, also in Michigan; 

(3) watching The 39 Steps, a hilarious comedy expertly staged in that small playhouse in Landsboro, Minnesota; 

(4) riding a slow boat up the Wisconsin River through the Dells; and 

(5) sitting on my friend's front porch, listening to birds sing; there are so many more songbirds in western Wisconsin than in south Texas!

After every trip, I go through a phase where I think I never want to be away from home again. This usually lasts a couple of months, and then I start planning some other trip. The only thing I have planned so far is a trip to Hawaii in August 2013 with the Once-a-Year Bowling League, and a trip across Canada in 2015 for the Women's World Cup. In between, I may go to Alaska. And I keep saying I'm going to go to New Orleans, but I don't know when. Other trips around the country depend largely on finding someone to go along with me. Anyone interested?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Casper & Runyon's Nook
492 South Hamline Avenue
St. Paul, Minnesota
(at Randolph Avenue)

Step inside this solidly traditional tavern, and you are immediately taken by the atmosphere, which combines neighbourhood watering-hole feel with trendy hot-spot burble. You want to be there. So does everyone else, and so there's a waiting list at lunchtime. All the barstools are occupied, and the tables that line the wall along the side street seem to have permanent residents. A table at the Nook, it appears, is equivalent to a good parking place on the street in Manhattan: once you get it, you don't give it up lightly.

There is another, smaller, dining room, downstairs. After a wait of about ten minutes, with a TSA-imposed deadline to meet, we decided to try the lower level. Down the stairs, past the eight bowling lanes (how retro!), past the bowling-alley bar to some formica tables with metal chairs ... a full-service dining room, as advertised, but utterly, utterly devoid of the charming character infusing the upstairs room. It put me in mind of trickle-down economic theory. Well, at least the food's the same.

After reading some of the enthusiastic reviews this place has garnered from locals, I fully expected to merely be adding my feeble voice to a chorus of praise. To that extent, though, I was disappointed. Only the atmosphere upstairs, it turns out, is exceptional; the food we had, and the service we received, were not entirely without redeeming qualities, but on balance, they were merely acceptable.

My choice, from the interesting* selection of burgers and sandwiches, was the Paul Molitor, a hamburger stuffed with pepper-Jack cheese. Mr Molitor, it seems, attended the big unfortunately-named Catholic high school across the street before going on to greater fame in the larger world. My friend Brian ordered the bacon-cheeseburger. We both chose regular fries.

After a few minutes of idle conversation, during which we took in the sad ambience** of the downstairs dining area, I noticed a television at the far end of the bar, and remembered that the United States was playing France in women's Olympic soccer. I asked that the game be put on, and it was in the 68th minute when the barman found the channel. I can't fault the Nook for the horrible reception on that cable channel, except to note that the barman said, in passing, "I need to call the cable company," indicating that there may have been a problem let slide. My point, though, is that, by the time our food arrived in the dumbwaiter, the game was over; meaning that our wait after ordering was at least 22 minutes, plus the chat-time, plus any stoppage time, plus enough time for the broadcast to go to commercial, come back, and show the highlights of the 4:2 USA victory. The orders placed by the party of eight that was seated behind us took even longer, although they had ordered before us. Even admitting the popularity of the restaurant, that is too long a time to wait. (I may have taken a more accommodating view had our food been more carefully prepared.) 

The menu touts the Nook as "the little place with the big burgers." I have no complaints about the size of the burgers: they are normal-sized in a supersized era. Still, the blurb on the menu led me to expect something more than what we got, and while we were both satisfied with the portions, we couldn't help feeling just a little mis-led. Maybe the slogan is a quaint relic of a charming time when ordinary hamburgers were an ounce of meat on a three-inch bun. 

When the waitress delivered our meals, she warned me that the cheese inside my burger was very hot, and recommended that I eat the fries first. I asked her for a knife, thinking to cut the sandwich in half to help the cooling along, as I was running short on time. She said she'd bring that right away. I ate most of my fries and, thinking it had been long enough for the cheese to cool, gave up waiting for the knife. The first couple of bites of the burger had no cheese in them; the next had just a slight taste of cheese, cool enough to be eaten without harm. Encouraged, I took another bite, and was rewarded with a gusher of molten cheese that poured out of the burger and into the paper-lined serving basket. I got just enough on my chin to know I had narrowly escaped a trip to the E.R. Wish I'd held out for that knife.

The burger itself, lethal heat aside, was reasonably good at first. The sandwich was un-dressed except for a few slices of pickle and the grilled onions I'd ordered it with. The meat was reasonably good quality, not particularly lean; the pepper-Jack cheese was unexpectedly mild, but built to a satisfying piquancy before I was done. Unfortunately, when I reached the last few bites of the burger, I noticed a certain toughness, and on inspection found that one part of one side had been seriously overcooked. If I'd started eating on that side, I'd have probably sent the thing back, despite the length of time I'd waited.

The fries were done well: they were hand cut, with good texture and flavour, and cooked the proper amount of time in good oil. 

The prices at the Nook are about right for what you get; though if the burgers had been as outsized as I'd been expecting, I probably would have had to raise that rating a notch, even though additional quantity of food would have been excessive.

* The jejeune humour attached to the signature Nookie burger, evident on t-shirts and wall signs, may help make discipline at the high school across the street problematic. But I'm sure, from my own blessedly brief experience with parochial education, that it's nothing they can't handle. I'm having some trouble, myself, restraining the impulse to indulge in some crude jokes on that point.

** I suspect that, when bowling is going on, the place has exactly the atmosphere one would expect in a bowling-alley restaurant. All things considered, I doubt that would have been a significant improvement for lunch.
Casper & Runyon's Nook on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Please Leave Your Shotgun At the Door

311 Main Avenue, South
Park Rapids, Minnesota

Park Rapids is a small western-Minnesota town that seems to be trying to position itself as a sort of flatlands Aspen: a year-round resort town, with attractions for the rod-and-gun set in summer, and the snowmobile crowd in winter. (Skiing, other than the cross-country version, is pretty well out of the question.) In aid of that aura, the new Italian place in town is trying to go a little upscale. There are some kinks to work out, but it's promising none the less.

The dining room's look and feel illustrates the difficulties, with its uneasy blend of rusticity and elegance. There are, I know, ways to combine those two themes, often involving expensive furnishings modelled on rural European styles, but the up-country Nordic look doesn't quite manage it. The lighting is tricky in this space, because of large windows overlooking the street, only partially subdued by draperies. Christmas lights, white around the edge and coloured down the middle of the ceiling, lend some atmosphere if one doesn't look too closely; tea lights on the tables give a hint of romance, and wall sconces on a dimmer switch complete the arrangement, but require monitoring as the outside light changes. Some of the tables have unwieldy braces occupying the space normally meant for knees, which makes sitting at them a challenge for all but the smallest people: those who can sit comfortably in the back seat of a Karmann Ghia or Jaguar convertible. The chairs are stunningly heavy, and really too large for the tables; they make it impossible to get oneself positioned at table with any kind of grace; though, once you've managed to get yourself in, it might amuse you to watch others trying to accomplish the same jerky motions without upsetting the table. Just remember: you'll still have to back yourself out of your place before leaving, so you'll want to not laugh out loud.

The service is so-so. Most of the staff are as new as the restaurant, and have apparently been told that good waiters at upscale restaurants have to be supercilious enough to say things like "Monsieur has just ordered a broiled tractor" without any evident humour. They'll get over that, and by that time they will probably have learned enough about the restaurant's menu and style to be knowledgeable and helpful. For now, though, they're just obsequious, uneasy and pretentious, but competent enough in the actual chore of waiting at table.

What does that mean?
Both our meals started with house salads, fresh and interesting, with a single crouton large enough to use by hand, obviating the need for bread with the course. The house dressing, a slightly sweet oil and vinegar, was excellent. My main dish was lasagna, baked in an individual high-sided square dish. This made for an unusually large serving, and a pleasant crustiness to the cheese around the edges; but the height of the dish's sides made it a little difficult to get at the contents, and the small elegance of the method could not counter the innate dryness of the food itself. While the seasonings were good, even very good, the overarching characteristic of the meal was that dryness.

With my friend's meal, the opposite was the case. His sausage manicotti was surprisingly oily. It, too, came as a large serving in an individual baking dish, this one low-sided and oval, so it was much easier to eat than the lasagna. It was served extremely hot, and because of the thick layer of cheese (which I hesitate to criticize; it is, after all, cheese) it took a long time to cool enough to avoid burning. On that dish, too, the seasoning was excellent, particularly that contained in the Italian sausage; and once it had sat long enough to be edible, it proved to be the more enjoyable of the two dishes.

The prices at Necce were very good, even by my South-Texas standards. Given the ambitions of the restaurant, they were a pleasant surprise, and left me with a favourable opinion of the entire experience.
Necce Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Definitely A Place To Go Back To

Shady Grove
N6240 State Highway 65
Ellsworth, Wisconsin
(fire up your navigation software; it's not close to anything)

What does that mean?
It would be untrue to say that I keep going back to western Wisconsin just to eat at Shady Grove. Why, there has been at least one visit to the area where I didn't eat there at all. (They were closed when I went.)

The prices at Shady Grove (or Chez d'Grove, as the francophones in the area like to call it) are about what you'd expect for haute cuisine. The difference between this place, and many other upscale places, is that, at Shady Grove, you actually get haute cuisine. Hell, even their cheese curds are the best you will ever have. (And yes, it is possible to have cheese curds be haute cuisine: anything done perfectly can be haute cuisine, possibly excepting liver and black-eyed peas.)

The service can be iffy. This place gets so very busy that it's hard for the staff to keep up. It's not a big place, and if a party of ten drops in unexpectedly (as happened on the occasion of my latest visit), it can throw everything off, especially since the atmosphere in the dining room is so welcoming that people tend not to leave when they finish eating. The man next to me while I waited at the bar was miffed because his 8.00 reservation had passed away into dust and, forty minutes later, there was still one other customer ahead of him. But I think he got over it by the time he left. I don't bother with reservations myself; I enjoy the time at the bar, however long it is; and they have those cheese curds.... But despite the crowd, the staff remain pleasingly upbeat, and they work hard to get everything done. I would not argue with anyone who said they deserve another chili pepper on that line.

I started with onion soup. Real onion soup, in a deep crock filled with rich broth, and topped with a thick layer of good cheese over French bread. An inspired creation, magnificently re-created. I followed this up with a duck breast that was easily better than any duck breast has a right to be. It was tender, with crispy skin, and, remarkably, not the least bit greasy. It's been several days now, so I don't recall what was in the dark, delicious sauce that topped the dish, but I do remember the exquisite flavour and texture of the dish, as well as of the sweet-potato purée that accompanied it. Now I guess I'll have to go back, and next time take notes. Well, it's worth the trip.
Shady Grove on Urbanspoon

Worst Breakfast For A While

The Chocolate Moose
U.S. Highway 53 South
International Falls, Minnesota
(at County Road 7, near the airport)

When we came across this place while looking for a place to eat at seven in the morning in a town that apparently doesn't open until much later, we thought we had scored. The outside presents a nice, new, clean look, sort of like a rustic Perkins, or a sophisticated Cracker Barrel. Inside, though it's smaller than either of those chains' locations, we felt the same kind of welcome family-style warmth.

When we saw the menu, we felt reassured. The usual foods were offered, with a minimum of too-cute names, and with prices just as we expected. The service, too, was just as it should have been: polite, reasonably efficient, competent.

What does that mean?
The food was less satisfying.

I opted for the sausage and cheese omelet. No effort was made in the kitchen to get those eggs to do anything but lie there. What I was served was not an omelet, but bits of sausage wrapped in, effectively, a flimsy egg tortilla, formed into a rectangle just the right size for a couple of slices of pasteurized processed cheese food to adorn. The large plate was kept from appearing vacant by a bushel of potatoes denominated as "home fries." They were, in fact, frozen chunks of potato, the size and shape of large dice, cut by some distant machine before being bagged; then thrown into a mess of hot grease just long enough to melt the ice crystals inside. Only the pancakes I'd chosen as a bread were at all enjoyable: they would have earned an average rating.

My friend's "breakfast sandwich" was worse. The same kind of scrambled egg, reminiscent of the sort one gets at Subway these days, folded around a slice of ... well, let's call it cheese, and served with a sausage pattie on what the menu and the waitress called a croissant. Real croissants, it seems, have yet to make an appearance this far north. This was something that looked like two heels from a loaf of white bread, glued together by that stuff that was not cheese.

I think that if the need for breakfast in International Falls ever presents itself again, I may want to quickly learn some hunting and trapping skills.
Chocolate Moose Restaurant Co on Urbanspoon

Dinner in the Far North

Spot on 53
1801 2nd Avenue, East
International Falls, Minnesota
(U.S. 53, south of 17th Street)

Even at the height of the summer tourist season, the choices available to the would-be diner in International Falls on a Monday night are limited. We almost passed this place by, because from the outside it looked for all the world like a dive. Stepping inside, we were not immediately reassured, as the dining room was dark. There were, though, some respectable-looking people at tables in the bar, so we joined them in what proved to be a comfortable, well-lit and well-decorated room, with a quiet murmur of conversation providing the background.

What does that mean?
Monday nights are pasta nights at the Spot: of the six pasta dishes selling for fourteen to eighteen dollars on the regular menu, four are available on an all-you-can-eat basis, for eleven dollars; and patrons can mix and match. One of the four offerings was unavailable, a pasta dish made with butternut squash. Since it was so early in the evening when we arrived, I have to  think they didn't get their squash shipment in. But that wasn't a problem, since the other three choices were all higher on my list of preferences anyway. My friend chose the white wine chicken over penne; I picked a tomato-based sauce (I forget what it was called) with chicken, over capellini.

If I were only rating the place on the white wine pasta, I'd have to give it a higher rating by half a chili pepper. That dish was superior, with a discernible wine flavour in a smooth cream sauce that was neither too thin nor too thick. The strips of chicken breast were obviously out of a bag, no doubt delivered frozen, but otherwise the dish was well-made and thoroughly enjoyable.

But the other dish was ordinary in every way. The angel hair pasta was overcooked and the same frozen chicken strips were used; but worse, the sauce was both watery and bland. When it came time to re-up, I asked for a half-order of the white wine chicken pasta.

Both dishes were served with breadsticks that varied from warm and soft to stale and hard.
Spot on 53 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Charming Kitsch in Stanley, Wisconsin

Alberta May's
225 East 4th Avenue
Stanley, Wisconsin

Well, this is just weird.

We came upon this restaurant thanks to one of those blue freeway signs. You exit Highway 29, head into town four blocks past the railroad, and turn right. Three blocks down, on the left, is a building that looks like an apartment building; it's actually a former hospital, and now is an assisted living center. You think surely there's not a restaurant in such a place, but there's the sign, hanging on the brick wall, and another over the door, so you park and go inside. You find yourself in a large, under-furnished lobby, with a hallway going off to the left and a small office on the right, and, ahead of you, the entrance to Alberta May's. Skeptical, you enter, and despite all the signage, you are surprised and relieved to find yourself in an actual restaurant.

If you can get over the worry that you'll be dining on hospital food, you'll find the experience of dining at Alberta May's a pleasant enough one. We were there around eleven in the morning, and opted for breakfast dishes: a dumpling omelet for me, a three-meat omelet for my friend. The omelets at Alberta Mays are made with two eggs, not the three that has become the industry standard around the country. I found that two are more than sufficient. The third egg maybe adds a little thickness to the envelope that surrounds the filling, but that isn't, strictly speaking, necessary for the enclosure, and I can do without the extra calories and cholesteral it also adds.

What's that mean?
The dumplings were outstanding. It's hard to grasp that I could feel so warmly toward fried chunks of mashed potatoes and flour, but there was just something so wholesomely familiar about them. The phrase, "Like Mom used to make" comes to mind, though my own mother never made a dumpling in her life, I don't think. Still, it's what we Americans think of as Home Cookin', and rightly so. The eggs were fluffy enough, and the cheese on top was a tasteful sprinkling of Cheddar (surely Wisconsin Cheddar), not the slathering that some restaurants feel compelled to impose. The mushrooms inside were sautéed in a little butter, and the seasoning, mainly dill, was deft.

The three-meat omelet was equally well-made, and if bacon, ham and sausage are not to my own liking, it's no reflection on the skill of the cook. The bacon, at least, was nicely crisp and crumbled; the ham and sausage could have been of a better quality without upsetting me, but they, too, were well-prepared.

The service was a down-home as the menu, and by the time we ordered we'd been made to feel welcome, as much a part of the Stanley scene as any of the oddly-dressed teenagers who flittered through the lobby outside. (I think maybe they were putting on some kind of show for the old folks.) The small restaurant offers an even smaller bakery and gift shop, which just adds to the charming kitsch of the place.
Alberta May's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Place for Aging Hippies

Burger Moe's
242 7th Street West
St. Paul, Minnesota
(between Kellogg Boulevard & Grand Avenue)

This was a random stop for us, just a place along the route we took from the Minneapolis airport, heading to Wisconsin. Turned out to be a good choice. It's a good-sized place indoors, with a substantial bar area and several smaller rooms devoted to dining; but at this magnificent time of year, the gorgeous patio on the side and back of the building was the only area in demand.

It's a very attractive area, with colourful umbrellas decorated with various exotic beer logos (Burger Moe's has something like 60 brands on tap), plus the giddy explosion of  flowers that defines this part of the country. But the most remarkable thing about Burger Moe's was the crowd of customers who appeared, all at once.

We were in our seats in the nearly-vacant patio about 3.30pm, perusing the menu of fried appetizers and burgers, when the waitress said, "You know about our special, don't you?" No, we said; we didn't. Turns out that, on Mondays, all their burgers are $5 from 4pm. They have a tremendous selection of burgers, too, well beyond your standard variety of cheeses and peppers. I was tempted by the coconut burger, but figured that, all things being equal, the best bet would be to partake of the Kobe. After all, how often can you get a half-pound Kobe beef hamburger for only five bucks?

To kill the half-hour we had to wait for the special to kick in, we ordered an appetizer of cheese curds to tide us over. These local favourites are the layer skimmed off the top as cheese is made in the thousands of dairies around Wisconsin and Minnesota. They squeak. The flavour is sort of like a light version of cheese, Cheddar in this case, and they are eaten plain or fried. At Burger Moe's (as at many places in the area) they're coated in a beer batter for frying, and come out light and puffy and slightly sweet, nothing like the odious fried cheese sticks ubiquitous at chain restaurants across the country.

On an impulse, I ordered a peanut-butter-and-jelly milkshake, which came at the same time as the cheese curds. Probably not something I would make a habit of ordering, but it had piqued my curiosity, now satisfied. It did genuinely taste like peanut butter and jelly; it was thick and rich and oh, so sweet: too sweet, in fact, and between that and the cheese curds, it's no surprise that I wasn't able to finish my burger.

What does that mean?
The great characteristic of Kobe beef is its tenderness. But when you grind it up for burgers, you pretty much lose that feature; it's not much different from plain ol' American beef. But you can still tell the difference; Kobe beef is, even ground, a little more tender than what we are used to, and has a slightly better taste, and is a little juicier. I'm not sure I'd think it were worth the $10.50 price tag it normally carries on Burger Moe's menu, but for five bucks, it's a steal, a fact not lost on the clientèle around us.

Because, at precisely 4pm, it seems a sluice gate opened somewhere, and fifty-something folks, the men with grey beards and pony tails, the women with sandals and faded jeans, began streaming into the patio from the street. They filled almost all the tables on the very large patio, and every one that I overheard, disdaining a menu consultation, ordered a Kobe beef burger. The kitchen may as well have not offered any other sandwich, and don't I feel validated.

I'm sure a younger crowd comes out later in the evening, after the early-bird special is over and the grandparents have gone back into hiding, but they don't know what they're missing. Five bucks, for a great burger (and it's even better, left over), with a good order of fries (regular or sweet-potato), is a real deal. An excellent deal.
Burger Moe's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hypothesis Proven True!

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
starring the voices of Hugh Grant
   Martin Freeman
   Imelda Staunton
   David Tennant
   Jeremy Piven
   Salma Hayek
   Lenny Henry
   Brian Blessed

Directed by Peter Lord

I've long had the theory that no movie is so bad that I would feel cheated after seeing it in a dollar cinema. Turns out I was right.

This claymation movie might be entertaining for little kids, and even some adults; my best friend thought it was hilarious. I thought it was silly, and no better; the jokes were predictable (though I did chuckle one time), and the 3-D* was irksome: the film was worth a dollar to see, though I do begrudge the theater that extra two bucks.

Well, at least now I know what Lenny Henry's been doing, since Chef! ended years ago.

* A propos of nothing, last night I was watching a Fourth of July fireworks display after the San Antonio Scorpions - F.C. Edmonton game at Heroes Stadium, and a kid behind me said, "Wow, Dad! It's like it's in 3-D!" 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Best of Its Kind, So Far

The Amazing Spider-Man

Starring Andrew Garfield
   Emma Stone
   Rhys Ifans
   Denis Leary
   Martin Sheen
   Sally Field

Directed by Marc Webb

What's amazing, in a way, is that the movie industry could re-tell the same story it told only ten years ago, in a pretty good movie with Toby Maguire in the title role, and do it with almost no real risk of failure. (I know: there are movies that lose money, probably most of them. Occasionally there is even a blockbuster that loses money, an Ishtar. But when you get right down to it, there are only two kinds of movies that lose money: bad movies, which is most of the losers, and good movies that are not widely promoted. And everyone in Hollywood knows this franchise is a cash cow; just the litigation shows that.)

What they've done is go back to square one, inventing a new back-story for the character of Peter Parker. This time, he's looking into a small mystery left by his late father, and gets bitten by a spider in a genetics lab. The super powers he acquires, combined with his own remarkable technical abilities, not to mention the ability to sew better than any other straight teen-aged boy, turn him into the hero of the film.

Most of the comic-book characters portrayed on screen these days seem to depend entirely on special effects for the entertainment values. Not so this Spider-Man film. There is actual craft evident throughout the film, and more-than-merely-capable performances from almost all the players, even in the small roles. Garfield is believable as the skinny high-school kid with hidden depth, and is still believable when he engages his dragons. Stone is believable as the brainy hot chick (a role that probably came somewhat naturally to her), and Martin Sheen absolutely becomes the principled father-figure, Uncle Ben. Rhys Ifans portrays the villian sympathetically, so we're not too disappointed when he survives the film to set up a sequel (after the credits start). And Denis Leary manages to hold his tongue just enough to keep the film's PG-13 rating, while still exuding his trademark bile until [Spoiler Alert] he finds salvation on his death bed.

The film is good enough, too, for us to overlook a few incongruities. Just how many shells can the police chief's shotgon hold? How did Spider-Man get his mask on, when he's hanging from the bridge with the kid with one hand and the rope with the other? How does Peter Parker manage to encounter only blond long-haired thieves? And what are all those crane operators doing at work at that hour of the night; aren't they Union?

In the end, though, it's the quality of the special effects that keeps us buying in to this film. They are mostly done seamlessly, except for one scene (about a second, maybe two, long) in a longer fight sequence that seemed somehow less-well-crafted. The detail in computer-generated images, of water, of reflections, of shadows, is still amazing to me and, I suspect, to many other viewers. When you pair that with a good story, well-told, we don't really care if we've heard other versions of it before.

Friday, June 29, 2012

It's Called Art.

From the New Yorker magazine, a concise explanation of why I have no interest in modern art:

In 2004, an installation by the Japanese
artist Noritoshi Hirakawa consisted of a
pretty and prim young woman sitting in
a chair, reading a Philip Pullman novel,
and next to her, on the floor, a little heap
of her excrement, which she renewed each

page 34, May 7, 2012.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Let's Go To The Mall Redux

OK, I'm more than a little older than the teeny-bopper crowd the recent inane hit, Call Me Maybe, is aimed at, but does anyone else see the similarity between that dopey song and the farcical "hit" by Robin Sparkles created for the story line of the TV program, How I Met Your Mother?
I mean, beyond the fact that both singers are Canadian.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

One Reason for One Republican to Vote for Obama

I first heard of the Dream Act a year or two ago, when our local throwaway weekly rag of an alternative newspaper — that word should probably be in quotes, but that's beside the point — ran a story about students at one of the local universities who were engaged in a hunger strike or some such protest because Congress had done nothing. (Quelle surprise.) I was largely unimpressed with the stories of the particular students, but it did seem to me that there was a certain injustice about deporting people who were brought to this country (illegally) as children and who had grown up here. This bill, a darling of the weepy left and yet another anathema to the growling right, had been oozing its way around Capitol Hill for some time, without getting much traction; hence the protests.

There are certain fundamentals about the situation the bill addresses that I think need being addressed. What makes us Americans? It's not just being born here. The constitution provides that anyone who is born here is a citizen, but the universe of citizens is not quite coterminous with the universe of Americans. People who have been here from an early age, who have gone to our public schools and played on our playgrounds and sat in our movie theaters and walked on our sidewalks all their conscious lives are as American as me or anyone else; even if those schools were substandard, even if those playgrounds were dusty underfunded sorry imitations, even if those movies weren't in English, even if those sidewalks were dusty roadside tracks where sidewalks should have been. It is the long process of growing up in America that makes someone an American, and I think it is only right that those who have done that ought to be able to live here. Maybe not as citizens, but in some capacity.

President Obama has cut through the bull, and announced a change in policy by executive order: people who meet certain criteria will not be subject to deporation. They have to have been here before their 16th birthday; they have to have lived here continuously for at least 5 years; they have to be in school, or graduates of our high schools (or US military veterans with honourable discharges); they must not have a criminal record, and they can't be more than 29 years old.

Now, I will disagree with some of the details. For one thing, I'm not convinced that a person can really fully develop the American identity if they only start at the age of 15. I would have set the bar no later than 12 years of age. And I'm concerned that the requirement that they not have a criminal record could be too inflexibly interpreted. No one should be denied this kind of status just because they were, say, arrested for disturbing the peace at an Occupy protest, or getting in a fight or something. Our society lacks the political discernment it once had, and we now use our criminal courts to deal with everything from fights after school on up. When we no longer brand young men as child-sex offenders because they have indecent pictures of thier girlfriends on their smartphone, I'll be more comfortable with the criminal-record criteria in this executive order. (I would also want to be certain that, just because they get to stay, it doesn't mean their parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins get to stay, too.)

But I applaud Obama for having done something to rectify a fairly clear injustice. I agree with Mr Romney's lackluster, mealymouthed response ("this isn't the way to go about it"), but he knows damn well that the spineless hydra that Congress has become will never act without being forced.  If nothing else, Obama's bold and righteous act will have forced them to do their job in response.

Friday, June 15, 2012

More Pics from Chicago

From 2012 Chicago

The pictures from my last day in Chicago on this trip are up on my Picasa web albums. These are probably the last pictures from this trip, because somebody in Utah broke her leg, and I will have to let the dog out on Monday.

Trust me, it makes perfect sense.

What You Can Do In A Day

We had tickets to see a taping of Conan O'Brien's show at the Chicago Theater at 4.30 yesterday afternoon.

No, that's not exactly right: We had an email printout that would allow us to get tickets for the 4.30 taping.

No, no, no, I'm being imprecise. What we had was an email printout that would allow us to stand in a line that stretched from the Harold Washington Library, down the block, around the corner onto State Street, to pick up, starting at 9AM, ducats that would allow us to stand in line at the Chicago Theater until 3.30, when the doors opened, in the hopes of finding a seat on a first-come, first-served basis for a taping that would take place that afternoon.

Now, the Chicago Theater, with 3600 seats, is probably big enough to contain all the people in line yesterday morning. Probably, everyone in line yesterday morning got in line yesterday afternoon, and when the doors opened at 3.30, they probably all got in and got a seat. There were probably some empty seats left, way in the back.

But we're only here for a few days, and we didn't really want to devote an entire day to the Conan show. We took a Chicago Greeter tour instead, then went to a baseball game, then to the taping of a local radio show in Old Town ... a show that, coincidentally, had one of the same guests as that day's Conan show.

Conan O'Brien's giant head
link to the album of photos from Chicago

Thursday, June 14, 2012

On to the Second (Third) City

2012 Chicago

Shaking off the dust from the plains, I've headed into the fulcrum of the Midwest, Chicago.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A propos of Nothing

photo by Lasse Fuss; from Wikimedia Commons
I was reminded the other day of something that happened to me seven years ago, a small event that has always encapsulated the difference between American and European attitudes:

I booked a flight to Istanbul for a soccer match, flying American Airlines from my home in San Antonio to Chicago, then Lufthansa to Istanbul. When I got to Chicago, I asked where I went for the Lufthansa flight, and was told that "all international flights are out of Terminal 5." So I rode their little train over to Terminal 5, and walked back and forth looking for the Lufthansa desk, unsuccessfully. I asked someone there where it was, and was told that Lufthansa, unlike every other international carrier, had its desk in Terminal 1, at the other end of the airport. (I may have the terminal numbers wrong, but that's beside the point.) So I took the train to the other end of the airport, found the Lufthansa desk, stood in line a few minutes, then presented my travel papers to the Frau behind the counter. She looked at my reservation, then at the clock, and said it was too late: the plane left in 57 minutes, and I was required to be there an hour before. Arguing did no good, so I asked if she could re-book me on a later flight. She glanced at the computer, typed something, and announced "No, there is nothing. Nothing can be done." Then, when I complained, she suggested I go back to American Airlines, since they were the ones who made me late (by telling me to go to the other end of the airport).

photo by Arpingstone; from Wikimedia Commons
I did. I spoke to a clerk at the AA desk; she called her supervisor over. I told the supervisor the story, and she said, and I quote, "Well, let's just see what we can do." She played on her computer keyboard for maybe thirty seconds, then said, "I can get you a seat on the Lufthansa flight that leaves in three hours; it'll get you to Istanbul a couple of hours later than you were originally scheduled."

That, my friends, has ever since represented to me the difference between Americans (Let's see what we can do) and Europeans (Nothing can be done).

First Signs of Decay

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker survived his recall election, though his Radical-Republican party lost its majority in the legislature, I understand. He seems to have suddenly gotten some sense knocked into his head, calling a "brat summit" and inviting all the legislators over to eat and drink. Maybe something will come of it.

Meanwhile, I noticed on my brief visit to the state this week that the first effects of his strategy of giving to the rich and taking from the poor are becoming visible: a shocking number of animal carcasses along the highway, many of them obviously there long enough to decay. Maybe he should get his Girondin backers to put some of their billions into the state highway department's budget, so they can go scrape up the dead deer and dogs and raccoons that are rotting on the sides of the freeways.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Yard Art Gone Wild

Enchanted Highway
Regent-Gladstone Road, from Regent, North Dakota to Interstate 94, exit 72

What happens when somebody who knows how to weld runs out of room in his own yard? How about gigantic sculptures stretched out across 32 miles of high prairie?

Read more about it on the Roadside America web site.

My own pictures of the sculptures don't really do them justice, especially in representing the sheer scale of these things; but here they are:

Geese in Flight

The approach-road to Geese In Flight

Deer Crossing

Locusts in the Grass

Fisherman's Dream
the central fish is 70 feet tall

Pheasants on the Prairie

Teddy Rides Again

The Tin Family

Gary Greff, who has put all this up over the past 22 years, has four more sculptures planned. The next will be The Spider and the Fly, giving me a reason to come back.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fine Desolation

Look up the word desolate and you are given a mental picture of the northwestern reach of South Dakota: barren; treeless; uninhabited; lonely. A few small towns dot the countryside — the town of Lemmon, population 1,227, brags about being the largest town for 90 miles in any direction. These communities cling to the lifelines of highway and railway, and in this late-spring season are both sadly isolated and cheerfully self-sufficient.

In between is desolation: stark, glorious, stunning desolation. Yet every inch of this rolling, hilly ground, cut with streams and lined with narrow dirt roads, is in use. Most of it is ranchland, looking prosperous this year; the rest is public land: national forest and national grassland, given over to recreation and the preservation of the way of life that has held sway in these parts since the aboriginal population was pushed out, killed off, or confined to reservations.

I took a drive through the two large northwestern counties of South Dakota. The photos I took are almost all of things in the towns: oddities, mostly, for there is little else worth taking pictures of. There are no glorious public buildings, no soaring towers or vast cathedrals, no tree-lined avenues stretching away to give a dramatic approach to some extravagant campus. But there is a low-keyed beauty in the towns, showing up in a rock wall, a classical arch, a collapsing abandoned farmhouse.

I've found that broad vistas and stark landscapes don't come out well on my cameras, so I seldom bother recording them any more. I generally have only my memories to rely on, though my new camera has a panorama capability that I find both useful and disappointing. Useful, because it can record the scene from the Hugh Glass Monument, near Shadehill Reservoir, disappointing because even this image doesn't do justice to the beauty of the place. Standing on that bluff, looking out across the land, I realize that I have heard more birdsong in two days in this place than in twenty-two years at home. The place is bursting with small, unseen life.

Along State Highway 20, just to the west of a tiny community called Reva, you cut through a narrow arm of Custer National Forest. Approaching along the arrow-straight road, you see strange-looking landscape from miles away, too far to tell what you're looking at. Only when you get close do you realize these are a low line of chalk-white hills, cut with ravines and capped with dark evergreen forest that cascades down the steep slashes in the hills. You rise up, and are in them, and then they are behind you: a single line of beauty stretched across the green, rolling hills.

Farther north, where South Dakota gives way to North Dakota, the industrial bubble of the oilpatch makes itself felt, but here is just the fringe of it. An occasional donkey well, pumping stolidly away, a few more trucks on the roads than might have been there just a few years ago. There is not, yet, enough of this activity to desecrate the land, and to the hardy people who live on these lonely ranches and in these small communities — Buffalo, Ludlow, Ralph — the coming of the oilpatch represents a chance at real wealth, not the destruction of a cherished way of life. I wish them luck, and think of South Louisiana, and East Texas, southern Wyoming and West Virginia, the places I'm most familiar with that hosted energy booms of one kind or another.

My silly objective, to visit every county in the country, is what brought me out to this corner of the Great American Desert. Having seen these two large counties, on a circuit of four hundred miles, I almost begin to think that my objective has some small worth after all.

If a Picture is Worth A Thousand Words ...

A first batch of 19 pics from my current backwater-wander are now posted on Picasa.

Click here
2012 Dakotas
to save yourself having to read 19,000 more words.
And consider how further blessed you'll be by each additional picture that goes up on the online album.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Better ... Much Better ... But Still Room for Improvement

The United States Men's National Team has just played a truly exciting, even scintillating match against Scotland, a team struggling to regain a position in the third tier of European international soccer. There will be plenty of commentary on the Web about the match itself, especially about Landon Donovan's magnificent hat trick and Michael Bradley's utterly astounding half-volley goal; and let's not overlook Jermaine Jones's difficult header off a cross from Donovan, to wrap up the scoring in a 5:1 win (the Scotland goal coming on an unavoidable own-goal in the 15th minute). So I won't say any more about that.

There are really only three comments I want to make, on subjects that, as a spectator, are important to me but that, I reckon, won't be much discussed in the talking-heads chat rooms:

1) What idiot decided to dress our team in red and white hoops? One reasonably intelligent observer called it the "Where's Waldo" kit, and he's right. But more important to the television audience, was it the same damned fool who decided that what those silly uniforms really need was silver numbers on a white background? Did no one give a thought to what they would look like on TV? The numbers are invisible.

2) I was again impressed at the composure of the US defense. This seems to have been the first thing Jurgen Klinsmann addressed after taking over the team, and it is already paying dividends. At no point during tonight's game did our guys look like six-year-olds playing kickball in front of the goal. Even when Scotland were menacing our goal (which, despite the score line, the did do from time to time), our back four kept their cool. There were no desperate slashes at the ball, which in the past have often been the source of opponents' goals. Carlos Bocanegra, in particular, has raised himself in my esteem after a few performances under Klinsmann's influence. (And it's great to see Oguchi Onyewu back from injury.)

Arlo White doing a Sounders match
3) Kudos to NBC Sports Network for raising the bar on soccer commentary in the USA. Arlo White, an Englishman who had been doing commentary for the Seattle Sounders, is a great improvement over the breathy bozos that broadcasters usually bring in for this sport. He was fairly low-key, in the English manner, which I appreciate after hearing so many American commentators punctuate every third word of every sentence with an exclamation point, and drag down every match with unimaginative co-optation of NFL jargon. Plus, White was generally good at telling us viewers who was on the ball ... especially important, since we couldn't see the numbers on the jerseys. Kyle Martino may not have been as incisive as some other US color-commentators in the sport, but he at least has the great virtue of not speaking simply to hear his own voice, like most people who grew up watching the NFL on TV: he seems to understand the difference between those broadcasts, and soccer broadcasts: an NFL game consists of nine minutes of action over the course of two and a half hours, so most of the time the commentators' choice is between drivel and dead air. 

That's all I have to say ... except: 

Picture credit: By Noelle Noble (Flickr: _DSC0221) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons