The Booke Of Graham – Road Return

1.1 After a long day in the Big City, where he partook of various events known as “meetings”, Graham did pack his worldly goods and set out into the urban wilderness
1.2 And lo, it did come to pass that he arriveth by railed chariot at ye munificent construction of steel, cement and modern construction substances various, known to many as Chicago O’Hare Airport.
1.3 And he gazeth upon the sight with glorious thanks for his fortune, for from this point he planned to sit in the big whooshy winged bird and be transported unto his real home, there to be surrounded by all manner of favored pussycats
1.4 And he proceedeth to the place known as Departures, there to engage in a dialogue with a machine that resembleth a failed design for “Dr Who”, which proceedeth, after a small delay and the asking of several damnfool questions, to create a piece of parchment, upon which were written aviation commandments and authorizations various
1.5 And lo, Graham readeth the parchment and weepeth, for the engravement “TSA Pre” was not to be found
1.6 And he realizeth that he had been consigned to the pantheon of the great unwashed, the lesser masses of travelers
1.7 And so he entereth into the Valley Of The TSA with slight trepidation, for his command parchment sayeth that the Whooshy Winged Thingy awaiteth him in only 24 minutes
1.8 And he was confronted by an abundance of objects known as “queues”, adorned by all manner of tribal members, some focused, some confused, and some suffering from what was known throughout the land as Airport Brain Fade
1.9 Whereupon, after much deliberation and the weighing of matters, he selected the queue on the right, and entereth into the Long Valley Of the TSA, there to be bodily examined for the possible presence of objects of evil
1.10 Amidst much tumult and confusion, he noticeth that within his queue, there was a multitude from the tribe of Doofus, notorious practitioners of Airport Brain Fade
1.11 For the Doofi were milling about in great confusion, unable to determine what to do in the presence of the Lords of TSA
1.12 And Graham soon felt the hand of frustration upon his head, as the Doofi continued to move hither and thither, unable to determine their course of action
1.13 And he beginneth to suffer from that syndrome known to all as “weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth”, for the Doofi continued to clog up his bloody path
1.14 A young member of the tribe was unable to collapse his child chariot and asketh his wife “forsooth, how do I get this damn thing through this eye of a needle?”
1.15 And she respondeth “yeah verily thou art a fool of the highest order. Thou noticeth this lever?” And she presseth the lever and lo, the chariot did collapse.
1.16 And the Doofus did say unto his wife “yeah verily, why did I not know of this all powerful lever”. And his wife respondeth “because thou wilt not study the manual, you blithering waste of our deity’s natural resources”
1.17 And the queue did rejoice and cry out loud in pleasure, for they couldst see the end of their nightmare, and the beginning of the Feast At The Temples of Starbucks, McDonalds and Chilis
1.18 But, as the masses danced, the King of Doofus did take his place at the head of the line, where he showeth the multitudes that no matter how low the bar be set for intellect, there is always room for one of God’s children to lower said bar below the lowest imaginable place on the surface of the Earth
1.19 And while the King of Doofus did cause the object scanner to groan from overload of his worldly goods, and the body scanner to cry out in electronic anguish, the masses did consider how they might apply new forms of torture to his miserable, sorry ass, and thence unto his private parts
1.20 And Graham didst cry out inwardly “Yeah Verily, oh supposed omnipotent bearded white haired man who appeareth in that Gary Larson cartoon, please can thou press thy SMITE key? For I have a deserving subject for its use”
1.21 But his cries were in vain, as the King of Doofus did continue to demonstrate how low the bar could be lowered, lower than the deepest place in the World
1.22 But finally the King of Doofus was permitted to pass out of the Valley, and the Great Adventure of the Valley for Graham did culminate in the ritual known as the removal of the footwear, the presentment of vestments for examination, and the smelling of the body by another reject machine from 1950’s sci-fi
1.23 And the machines sayeth unto the Lords of TSA, “yeah, he shall pass”. And the Lords of TSA did allow Graham to leave the Valley of Torture, Doofi and Strange Machines
1.24 Whereupon he made haste unto the Whooshy Winged Thingy as it awaited for him, while wishing a short, miserable future upon persons numerous, but thanking his DNA for preventing him from saying Bad Things unto said persons and their tribal bretheren
1.25 For his delay in traversing the Valley and conversing with the Lords of TSA had rendered him unable to enjoy a long repast with fine comestibles. Verily he was condemned to only the snacks of the harried masses
1.26 Which he did consume in order to prevent an attack of what the books describe as “growlypuss” while making his way across the heavens on the Whooshy Winged Thingy, listening to his celestial orchestra of many and varied performances of musicians playing pieces known to the less educated masses as “weird shit”
1.27 And lo, he landeth at another edifice of construction materials known to all and sundry as “Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport”, there to be greeted by his favorite pussycat, and be transported to his pussycat haven by wheeled chariot
1.28 And he did complete the creation of artifacts known variously as “minutes”, “issues”, “risks”, “emails” and “expenses”, lest the corporate gods be displeased
1.29 Whereupon he did retire to his haven of peace and sleep, surrounded by pussycats various


UK Question #2 – Why do you play a 5 day cricket match that can end in a draw?

I was first asked this question 30 years ago by a group of US students on a Summer trip around Europe. I was a cricket umpire in the UK for several years, so I know a fair amount about the game and its history.
The reasons for the acceptance of draws in extended-duration cricket are bound up with the origins of cricket as a game. Cricket as an organized game originated in order to occupy people on Sundays in English towns. According to the Church you were not allowed to work. However, at some point, the church decided that playing sports was OK. So….one of the games that sprung up to pass the time was cricket. This is why, to this day, most Test Matches start at 11.30 am, and complete at 6.30pm for a day’s play. 11.30 was the time at which churchgoers left church after the morning service, and 6.30 pm was the time for Evensong. When you watch an all day cricket match, you are watching, to some extent, a fossilized replay of Sunday in an English town or village.
As for the ideas of winners and losers….the game was originally a time-filler, not a means of keeping score, so who won or lost was relatively unimportant. What is still known as Test Match cricket, where a game lasts for 5 days, still has provision for a draw. Also note that this parallels the game of chess, where a lot of matches end in draws, albeit via a slightly different process. In Test Match cricket a draw occurs when time runs out without one team having a decisive advantage, whereas in chess the players agree on a draw because they both can see that neither of them can gain an advantage.
Having said that, teams take winning VERY seriously. The longest-standing Test Match series of note, the Ashes series between England and Australia, is one of the most keenly-contested series in the world. If England loses, national angst and hand-wringing occurs, and Australians the world over lift their beers in celebration of walloping the “whingeing Poms”. If Australia loses, a LOT of beer is drunk in Australia as they agonize, and England has an attack of quiet, understated satisfaction.
I should note that today, most of the cricket matches played at the top level of the game, especially between countries, are played with a rule system that assures a winner. 20/20, which is now the most popular form of mass market cricket, particularly in India, has rules that guarantee a winner.


The strange implied arc of human achievement

I have been musing on a tendency that is highly pronounced in the USA, but which also exists in other places. It is the process by which we assign descriptions, greetings and modes of addressing to people based on what we perceive to be their peak of achievement. It is like we treat lives as akin to a parabola – an arc of rising achievement, a peak, followed by a decline, presumably ending when the casket is shut.
In the USA, it manifests itself in odd ways. Like the requirement that ex-Presidents continue to be addressed as “Mr. President” 30 years after they left office. Or calling your former high school coach “Coach Smith” 30 years after he stopped coaching. Or calling a retired General “General” 30 years after he served.
I used to think that this was peculiar to the USA, but no, it happens elsewhere, albeit in a slightly different way. I read an interview with George Harrison in the 1990s where he pointed out that he had really only spent 7 years in the Beatles, and had been an ex-Beatle for over 20 years, yet many people still asked him questions as if being in the Beatles had been the only thing that ever happened in his life. I read it in obituaries for sports stars, where, in some cases, it reads like the rest of their life after they retired hardly even existed.
It may be the case, of course, that for some people, there is a genuine peak in their life, after which time they may literally retire and not do a damn thing. However, most humans are not wired like that, especially perennial high achievers. I think as a society we need to stop addressing and defining people entirely by their past achievements, and engage them more on the basis of what they are doing in the here and now.


UK Question #1 – Why do they serve warm beer?

10 Common questions from Americans about the UK
Over the last 30+ years, being a Brit now living in the USA (and, with effect from April 2010, a US Citizen), I have had to fend off lots of inquiring questions from Americans about why things are the way they are in the UK.
A quick observation before I begin. When comparing cultures, it is rather easy to get into the mindset that “my” culture is right, ergo, “their” culture must be defective and/or wrong. Sometimes this can be easily rationalized as true when looking at “big ticket” issues, and this is especially true when looking at past cultural behaviors and comparing them with behaviors in the same or similar societies today. However, quite often, at least for behaviors of less significance, there is a rational explanation for patterns of behavior in another culture. The behavior may not be entirely logical by the way, but it may be perfectly rational in the societal context in which it occurs.
So, let’s get started…

1. Why do you serve warm beer?
Let’s start with this one. An oldie but goodie.
What visitors refer to as “warm beer” is what is known in brewing parlance as “cask conditioned ale”. Cask conditioned ales are the original type of ales brewed since the start of the Middle Ages. Hops, barley mash and water are brewed in a vat, then allowed to cool and fermented for 6-10 days, then bottled or poured into wooden casks.
This type of beer is still “alive” in a bottle or a cask – it is still maturing slowly. Eventually, after a period of 10-15 days, it will over-mature and become undrinkable. Even a bottled variant has a relatively short shelf life.
For hundreds of years, this was the type of beer sold and consumed in the UK. This type of brewing works because of the moderate summer temperatures in the UK. It would never work (for example) in Texas. The beer would “run away” and over ferment in a day or two in the casks.
Pasteurised beers and lagers became more prevalent in the late 20th century. Those beers have a longer shelf life, since they are dead when bottled or poured into pressurized kegs. They are therefore easier to rack , distribute and store. Breweries transitioned to brewing those types of beers in the 1970’s in the UK, only to be forced to retreat in the 1980’s when consumers revolted and demanded older-style beers. The revival of craft brewing has also caused a return to the production of cask conditioned beers.
Now the answer: cask conditioned beers are served at room temperature for the same reason that most red wines are served at close to room temperature. They taste terrible when chilled. All of the subtle flavors vanish, to be replaced by..well, nothing. Chilled cask ales are insipid. As originally formulated, the entire life cycle of the beer’s fermentation distribution and consumption takes place at or close to room temperature, and the flavor of the resulting product is best appreciated at room temperature. Chilling cask ales flat out does not work.
If you want a cold beer, choose a lager-type pasteurized beer or one of the many cold-served craft beers.


Giedo Van Der Garde vs. Sauber – Part 6

Well, since my last post the soap opera has raced through at least two more episodes…

Episode 1 – Friday

A contempt of court hearing commences in Court 15 of the Victoria Supreme court building. Counsel for Van Der Garde alleges that the Sauber team, having cancelled Van Der Garde’s contract with the Contract Recognition Board in February, are refusing to re-activate it, despite being informed on March 2nd by the arbitrator that he still had a valid contract. Without a current contract, his application for a Superlicense cannot be completed. For this and other reasons, counsel begins to outline his contention that Sauber is committing contempt of court by preventing Van Der Garde from driving for the team at the race weekend. He outlines what will be their request that the court issue a draconian order for contempt, involving the sequestration of team assets, and the possible committal of Monisha Kaltenborn to jail.

While his lawyers continue the contempt of court hearing, Giedo van der Garde shows up at the racetrack in Melbourne to claim his seat. His paddock pass initially fails to work, but eventually he is let into the paddock. Then, with advisers and camera crews in tow, he arrives at the Sauber garage, He enters, and amidst conflicting reports as to whether he has a seat fitting scheduled, or whether a seat ftitting will even take place, he borrows the race suit of Marcus Ericsson, who is only fractionally shorter than him. The suit is quite clearly a tight fit, but Giedo parades around the paddock in it for a few minutes, before handing it back and resuming civilian garb.

Meanwhile, back in court, the contempt of court hearing enters a recess as the court demands information from the Sauber team (namely, a list of their assets) which can only be supplied by their team manager, who is busy due to…a practice for a race.

Back to the racetrack…the Sauber team does not run at all in Free Practice 1. The drivers get into the cars, and the engines are even briefly started, but nothing further happens, and after 30+ minutes the drivers get back out again, and it becomes apparent that Sauber will not run in this session.

Van Der Garde leaves the circuit, having ensured that he was present and available at the start of FP1 to take his rightful seat in a car.

Sauber does run in free Practice 2, their cars turning a wheel under power for the first time this weekend.

Meanwhile, back at court, the hearing re-commences, but is soon adjourned until Saturday morning, as it is announced by the judge that both parties have entered negotiations for an agreed settlement. The first sign of sanity breaking out?

Episode 2 – Saturday morning 

The hearing re-commences in court, but it is immediately announced that the parties have reached an agreement that means that Giedo van der Garde will not drive or attempt to drive for Sauber in Australia. The parties will continue to negotiate a full and final settlment after the Grand Prix weekend.

So…what does this all mean?

Firstly, contrary to some headlines, there has not been a settlement. All that has happened is that Sauber has, probably by making concessions, persuaded Giedo van der Garde to stop trying to drive for the team in Australia, and he and his lawyers have also withdrawn their application for an order of contempt in the Victoria courts. Van Der Garde still reserves the right to claim his seat in subsequent races (starting with the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2 weeks’ time) and, until there is a full settlement of the dispute over the contract, Sauber is still potentially subject to court orders and (if it fails to comply with them) contempt of court rulings.

The cynic in me says that Sauber, which until Friday morning was playing a game of careful, non-provocative non-compliance with the court order, may have been reminded by FOM that while publicity out of season is fine and dandy, an F1 race weekend is about the show on track, and courtroom soap operas undermine the show on track.

The realist in me concludes that (a) Giedo Van Der Garde and his advisors realized that there was little chance of him driving this weekend, mostly due to the Superlicense issue, and (b) Sauber realized that further non-compliance would inevitably result in an order of contempt, probably resulting in the sequestration of its on-track assets, which would prevent it from joining the FOM transport process to Malaysia. This would then require it to freight its equipment separately to Malaysia at great expense, requiring it to pay money up front that it may not have.

Hence the negotiation and announcement of what is merely a temporary truce. (Rumor in the sport is that Van Der Garde has been paid $3m by Sauber for breach of his contract to drive in Australia).

If common sense persists, we may get a full settlement before Malaysia, which will end the elaborate games of legal Whack-A-Mole that we have seen in Australia. However, if insufficient sense materializes, the process of Van Der Garde obtaining local court orders and then attempting to get into the car could continue. He certainly has the money to pursue this course of action, and he has an aribitration ruling, and Australian appeal court decisions in his favour. Sauber, on the other hand, will soon run out of options, to the point where its cars and equipment could end up impounded in a foreign country, which would effectively end its existence as an operating entity. Its sponsors right now are also probably yelling down phones “sort this damn mess out”.

The main impediments to a settlement, apart from possible intransigence by one or both parties, is that Sauber may not have the money in the short term to pay compensation to Van Der Garde for breach of contract. The team is, by all accounts, very short of cash. To be fair, they are not the only team rumoured to have cash flow issues. Lotus and Force India are also short of cash, to the extent that all three teams have been granted advances from FOM of their 2014 prize money payouts to help them in the short term.





The Texas 25% rule

When driving conditions are bad in Texas, the population of drivers can be divided into four categories:

25% of drivers drive as if it is a nice sunny day, and then some of them wonder why they just left the road, violated fundamental laws of physics etc.
25% of drivers set off at incredibly low speed, tiptoeing down the road with their nervous eyes darting around inside their head-on-a-swivel. They get in everybiody’s way and they are a menace because you don’t know what they are going to do next
25% of drivers adjust their driving to the conditions, and make it from point A to point B without getting in an accident or causing collateral damage
25% of drivers stay home

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