Just Another Blog
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Another Book Review: Seabiscuit - An American Legend

I just noticed that I haven't told you all to read Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

I read this while on vacation, and the book is - hands down - one of my favorite books that I have ever read. While I consider myself a racing enthusiast, I think that most people would enjoy this book even if they have never been to a horse race.

Seabiscuit was a thoroughbred who raced between 1935 and 1940. He was owned by the man who built the Buick brand in the western United States largely as a result of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

I loved the book because it tells so many stories. There is the story of the four year-old old horse that seems already past his prime who rallies to greatness. There is the story of the jockey also past his prime who joins up with the horse with mutual dreams of greatness. There is the story of the mysterious trainer who may also be past his prime and who only longs to keep his horses happy and healthy. There is the story of the life of jockeys.

And, perhaps most interestingly, there is the story of the rise of popular culture in America. The late 1930's brought radio to average American household. In 1938 - as measured by column inches - Seabiscuit was the biggest story of the year; behind him were Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Adolf Hitler. But Seabiscuit was the story of the year. Of course, Seabiscuit could not have propelled himself through the airwaves of radio on his own. It took the larger-than-life personality of his owner, Charles Howard, to really make him a star. Charles Howard may well have been the first national media darling outside of Hollywood. He wrote the book on getting the media to eat out of your hand.

Superbowl sized crowds watched Seabiscuit's races long before there was a Superbowl. Throngs watched his workouts (when they could find him). Board games honored him. He graced the covers of nearly all the popular magazines of the day. In short, Seabiscuit was the first All-American hero. Baseball had its Ruth's and Gehrig's and Robinson's, but none of them brought the country together in the kind of frenzied excitement that Seabiscuit did.

Unfortunately, I have not heard good things about the movie. And, judging from the scope of the book, I can see why the movie would be disappointing. The book covers so many things: pop-culture, jockey culture, the horse, the owner, the trainer, the jockeys, the rivalry, horse psychology, the offspring, and on, and on. The movie surely had to ignore too many fascinating parts to be faithful to the book.

I know two other people who have read this book and given it reviews nearly as glowing as mine. My father points out the author's amazing ability to transform a two minute race into the most gripping of page-turning tales. Indeed, the head-to-head with War Admiral (who was the son of Man o' War who was Seabiscuit's grandfather (by way of Hard Tack)) was one of the most exciting tales I have ever read. Period.

Perhaps that's not surprising as the book reports that to this day the race is widely regarded as the greatest horse race ever run. Read the book and you will clearly understand why. I learned a lot too about the competitive nature of horses in the events and preparations that culminated in this greatest of all races.

With my heartiest of recommendations, I suggest that you read Seabiscuit.

Harry Potter Five

Well, I have made it about half-way through the fifth Harry Potter. Thus far it is everything that I had hoped. Ms. Rowling really does a fine job with building suspense through her plot-line and the use of foreshadowing. So far, I like the older, more confused, and more petulant Harry. It goes a long way to building credibility of a teenaged boy making his way through the educational system. I don't imagine it is easy to plan and write a series of novels that covers a boy's exploits between the ages of eleven and seventeen (or so). Ms. Rowling seems to be getting better and better at relating the exploits as she takes on this challenge.

I have said to a number of people that the first book in the series was my least favorite - though that is not to say that I did not enjoy that first book. Each book has gotten better and better even if it has taken more and more pages to tell the tale. In fact, I would say that as each boook has gotten longer and longer I have enjoyed more and more the storytelling.

I am over 400 pages into the latest book, and there has really been only one scene that would generate excitement and suspense in a movie (dementors in the alley). Still, I can feel that this book is building towards lots of very exciting things.

This is simply a great series. I read the Narnia Chronicles during my most recent spate of unemployment, but they just don't compare to the stories of JK Rowling. The Narnia series was packed full of Christian imagery and propaganda. Such storytelling - I am sure - will make the series a perennial favorite with the parents. But for sheer enjoyment and for storytelling, Harry Potter is the way to go.

Liquid Diet

I figured I would switch things up a bit and drink my dinner tonight. My sister is trying to watch Moulin Rouge though she keeps being interrupted by suitors and other callers. She recently enjoyed a show at the Moulin Rouge in or near Paris, and she thought that she ought to see the film which I had very much enjoyed.

The innuendo of the green fairy was my inspiration. I don't have any absinthe around the house, so I broke out the Chartreuse. (What? You don't keep Chartreuse as part of your home bar? You should. (I'll drink it if no one else does.)) Unfortunately, my Chartreuse was running low, so I have had to cut it with Grey Goose. Ahh, but isn't that vodka's job: to be tasteless, to let the other flavors shine through, and to maintain or augment the kick? Yes and indeed.

Reality TV

None of the links in this post are work safe. All of the puns in this post are bad.

Outside of football and hockey, I'm not a big fan of reality TV. I'll take 24 or one of the cop shows over Survivor and American Idol. Now, however, there's a reality show that I just might be interested in.
Jewel DeNyle, being one of adult entertainment's most famous, creative and forward thinking adult stars today, or possibly ever, created the "Porn Star Idol" concept several months ago.

The idea is simply this: Take men and women, ages 18 and up, who have never performed in an adult movie. Then, pit them against one another in sexual events in which they will be graded by celebrity judges. The process of elimination will leave only one male and one female contestant to be the new "Porn Star Idols". The winners receive $2500.00 in cash and a six picture contract with Platinum X Pictures.

This is an opportunity worth competing for. Platinum X is a new company in the world of adult entertainment but they are stacked with some of the best talent in the industry. They are putting out some world class stuff and are enroute to being a major player in the adult video market. Winners will be afforded the chance to work with and under the direction of huge stars like Michael Stefano, Brandon Iron, Manuel Ferrera, Steve Holmes and even the vaunted Jewel DeNyle herself. The six picture contract with Platinum X could easily catapult a new actor/actress into being a name known around the world.
Well, I don't really want to work under Messieurs Stefano, Ferrera, or Holmes, but I would be willing to take direction.

Man this is going to be huge. I wonder if I'd be able to, err, pull it off in a room full of people. There are more pictures than I'm comfortable admitting floating around of me naked, but none of them were taken under - shall we say - proper conditions. Of course still pictures are vastly different than the hard work that is required of video stars.

I've read elsewhere that the industry is being revolutionzed by Viagra which has made it more and more accessible to the heretofore amateur. Of course for you ladies, all it has ever required is a good set of lungs and a willingness to use and display them.

Mike's Apartment and Bang Bus have made internet porn stars out of lots of folks, but this is a movie deal. I'll bet every member of the past two American Idols who didn't end up with a record contract will be shooting for this opportunity. The porn-to-legitimate-film-star move has been pulled off numerous times in the past - perhaps most notably by Sly Stallone, the Italian Stallion. So, if you want to be a movie star, this is probably as good an opening as any.

This reminds me of one of my all time favorite lines from Married with Children. Jefferson, with a wistful look in his eye, says to Al (something along the lines of), "All I ever wanted from life was to get a motorcycle, drive cross-country to California, and become a porn star."

You may (read as: should) submit your application here.

Anyone want to rehearse with me?

Thursday, June 19, 2003
Quitting Smoking

Vince is quitting smoking. He has a post up about how hard it is and how things are going after week 1. I started to leave a comment over there but A) it started to drag out, and B) I thought it might possibly be a new way af looking at things if you are a smoker.

Not smoking is easy.

Really, it is.

Except for the cravings.

Those are hard. Really hard!

But if you can get past the craving you're fine.

I just kept telling myself, "It'll pass. It'll pass."

And eventually it would pass. At first it took ten or fifteen minutes, and the cravings would come back often. But the length and intensity of the cravings started to wane fairly quickly. And later, the cravings came less often.

It's four and a half years later for me, and the cravings still come every once in a while. But you get used to delaying the gratification of the cigarette, and pretty soon you're disgusted by the thought of the physical craving.

And then you're a non-smoker.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Good Sunday

Last Sunday was good too. Hung out with the Meases and the llamas, alpacas, yaks, goats, sheep, and other wool producing critters. Vince has the write-up here.

Good Saturday

I came home from work sick yesterday. I thought I had a nasty case of food poisoning, but that's not really relevant. Before I went to bed I jumped on Amazon after checking my email. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still had time to order Harry Potter 5 for opening day. So Saturday afternoon will be spent anxiously awaiting the mailman. Not so much because I can't wait to tear into the book, but rather because I know if I'm not available, the post office will make it a big pain for me to actually lay my hands on the piece of mail that doesn't fit into my little box.

Then this evening I was cruising the Westword wondering if there was anything interesting going on in the near future. I was pleasantly surprised to find Jets to Brazil playing at the Bluebird Saturday evening. I've been listening to Four Cornered Night a ton lately and am really looking forward to seeing them live. I just hope there's none of this American-dominance-is-wrong bullshit. I hope too that the girl from work who seems to share at least a somewhat similar taste in music wants to go. But that may be a lot to hope for on top of a good book and a good show.

Search engine quiz: what seemingly innocuous phrase in this post is most likely to bring me some crazy hits?

American Income Life Sucks

It's pretty rare for any of my readers to leave me comments. It's even more rare that someone sends me an email in regards to a post I have published. But my detailed take-down of American Income Life has generated more interest. I consistently get Google hits for AIL scam, AIL insurance fraud, and other similar queries. What I've most enjoyed though is the fact that I have now received three different emails from people in all parts of the country thanking me for the heads-up. I've also found two different discussion boards that quoted my original post in its entirety as well as a couple others that linked back to me. This blog may not make much of a difference, but it has at least kept a few people from making a mistake that I came very close to making.

About the Job

I noticed that I haven't mentioned my new job. I guess I should do that. I signed a pretty comprehensive non-compete and non-disclosure contract, and I don't really understand how enforceable or legal or relevant it is so I may have to be fairly vague at points and hold back on some of the more interesting details.

I'm working for a company called Omni Financial. The company specializes in helping (generally small) businesses (and sometimes individuals) deal with tax liabilities. We negotiate with federal and state taxing authorities to try and find a resolution to tax problems. The company specializes in 940 unemployment taxes and 941 withholding taxes but also deals with the (sometimes) associated 1040 and 1120 and 6672 taxes. Essentially, we find clients with large liabilities and try to work with the IRS and/or the relevant state to find a way to satisfy the liability in such a way that is beneficial to both the taxpayer and the government.

It is striking to me how many companies out there owe large sums of money to the IRS. Most of the files that I have worked on so far have had six-digit debts. For every penny these people don't pay, honest, hard-working schmucks like you and me have to make up the difference. Still, if some 70 year-old dentist owes the IRS $300,000, we are all better off if he can pay $60,000 than nothing at all.

And that's pretty much what I'm learning to do. We start by assessing the situation and getting a complete picture of the full extent of the liability. Then we examine the taxpayer's ability to pay by going through their financial information and history. Finally, we try to come up with a solution that is in the best interest of all involved parties. We essentially preform an audit on our clients so that the IRS doesn't have to. Note, we don't work with clients who are being audited; we work with clients who are in the collection division of the IRS.

There are some things that I don't like about the company, but my main complaint is the money. For the frontline workers just starting out - like myself - they barely pay a living wage. But there are lots of good things too. For example, beginning today, I can wear shorts and tevas for the rest of the summer. I get an hour lunch every day which I am actually encouraged to take. (A big perk after working at Merrill Lynch where managers were made to feel like real slackers if they took any breaks at all during their 10+ hour days.) Overtime is generally discouraged. I have a simply amazing view of the flat irons and the front range from our headquarters in Interlocken. I work with some pretty bright folks and with some pretty folks.

I think my longer term goals for my career involve more people and process management than I will have an opportunity for here, but for now, it's a job. I am learning a lot about how the IRS works and, more importantly, about how to run your own business. There's a lot of opportunity to make big money just a little way down the road. And, who knows, maybe at some point I'll get a chance to try to implement some of the many ideas that I already have about how to improve work flow processes and how to increase employee job satisfaction and retention rates (which, quite frankly, are atrocious). For now, I'm out of the unemployment line even if I am terribly worried that I'll never get ahead financially.

I've Been Working

That's about the best excuse I can come up with for why I haven't been blogging. I figure I'm out of the house for about ten and a half hours a day for work including the commute. I need at least seven and a half hours of sleep. That only leaves me six hours to do everything else.

Ok, so everything else is pretty much reading the news on the internet, sharing music with friends over the internet, looking for porn on the internet, and ... Nope. That's about it.

I've actually been trying to do some reading over the past couple of days and to send out a few overdue emails. That's of little consolation to the other three of you who read this and didn't get emails; I understand. I guess maybe that's why I decided to throw some stuff up here tonight.

I notice a funny thing about reading. I feel like when I read, I am more inspired to write and that I actually write better - in a more-coherent-on-the-first-try kind of way - when I've been reading. Maybe that's an obvious connection, but it's not one that I really noticed until just recently.

Maybe you all should send me gift certificates to Amazon so that I will read more and write more. I promise I won't spend the money on music!

Monday, June 09, 2003
Last Minute Prediction

I'm sticking with my prediction that the Devil's win this one. I'm going to guess 2-1 in 2OT. I hope I'm right as that would make for a heck of a game. It all comes down to goaltending - unless it doesn't, but I think it will once again. And even though I'm picking the Devils, I would not be upset to see the likes of Giguere and Kariya with their names inscribed upon the Grail.

It's interesting that it was 2 years ago today that the Devils lost to the Avs in game 7 of the finals. Irrelevant, sure, but still interesting.

Friday, June 06, 2003

I'll be honest; I have a hard time saying blog or talking about blogging in public. I am afraid that I'll sound like one of you geeks who is always talking about Star Trek or fantasy football. I project an awkward enough image as it is without people learning that I'm some big loser that sits in front of a computer on Friday nights for fun.

Liz had a couple of good rips on blogging the other night. The first one had something to do with the I'm Blogging This t-shirt that Vince had mentioned. It was amusing, but I forget the gist of it. The second zinger came after I commented that Thievery Corporation sounded like electronica for grown ups (specifically, I had been playing Paul Oakenfold's Brainbug Nightmare). "Blogging. It's like whining for grown ups," countered Liz.

She's right of course.

This whole little post came back to me after Treacher pointed out this Achewood cartoon. Treacher's own little cartoon-thingys like this one have been pretty funny too.

Thursday, June 05, 2003
New Home

Ok, I think I've got it. I should have posted the moved message before I did all of this, but I needed to sort it all out. I think it is now sorted. I had a little trouble with - surprise, surprise - the archives, but I think I tweaked them. Let me know if you notice anything weird happening. Thanks!

Bye Bye Blogspot

I'm not sure if I'm ready to leave Blogger for Moveable Type, but I figure I might as well post this stuff to my own domain. This is sort of a test to see that it publishes here and not there. Then I'll have to figure out how to update the message there to bring you all here. There may be more of these test posts coming soon.


Perhaps not surprisingly, Vince and I are 1 - 2 for the Google query Hickenlooper blog.

I went to the victory rally with Vince, spouse (his), and sister (mine). There was, of course, free beer. More than once I related my impression that the Denver mayoral race could and should be translated into an episode of The Simpsons:
It's the story of a skinny, geeky guy who gets into the beer business and has great success in a run-down part of town. The town so loves the beer that it builds its most prosperous neighborhood around his brew pub. Beer flows like water, and the man gets rich and starts to long for something greater. He decides to run for mayor of the town. Initially dismissed as nothing more than a brew man, the candidate hosts a number of election rallies and information sessions. At each he gives away free beer, and soon his popularity begins to swell. With each passing week, more events are organized and more beer is given away. The local papers - easily influenced by free flowing swill - declare the brew man a business man, and readily declare the free beer provider the best man for the job. The election runs its course and the brew man finds himself the next mayor of the town. To celebrate, he gives away free beer.
It would be a great episode. Moe or Duff Man could probably play John's part. Surely, it is a story for the ages, and in our time there is no surer honor than to be recognized by The Simpsons - just ask Brazil.

Monday, June 02, 2003
A Post

As you can surely tell from my lack of posting, I am again struggling mightily with whether or not to maintain this hobby. I was sure surprised to check my stats this evening and find a fair number of hits over the past two days although it appears that most of you are here looking for pictures of Aimee Deep.

I am returned from my marvelous vacation. While off on my sailing adventure, I kept a brief log to remind me of where we went and what we did and what I saw. Each day it seemed that my entries got a little longer. Soon I was basically writing a diary. I found myself inking thoughts that I would never share here on the blog. It started to become an interesting analysis - if not over analysis - of my thoughts.

And perhaps that is my problem / one of my problems. No thought or feeling is ever just there. I have to look back and examine it and wonder what in my background or upbringing caused or allowed me to think or feel such a thing. I could readily sense that my travel log was turning into some sort of diary of self-analysis or self-psychoanalysis. I found it to be rather cathartic to put into writing thoughts that I would not otherwise share here or with another person. It made me wonder whether a diary might be a more proper outlet for my writings and thoughts.

I started an anonymous blog a few months ago that I was going to try and write these sort of thoughts in, but I never quite got around to the actual writing. I know I should write more. I know that structured writing helps to organize my thoughts and helps to keep me sharp and analytical. Still, it's hard when there is no incentive other than seeing all the 1's and 0's come together with a title and time stamp. I still want to write, and I still want to keep this blog, but I also think I want to write or somehow share more personal things that I won't expose on the blog ( -- you know: hopes, fears, dreams, all that nonsense).

I'll figure out some compromise. But for now, I think you should go here to check out pictures of the young, bright, and beautiful Aimee Deep.