December 31, 2016

∴ Cirrus Vodka

Cirrus vodka 750ml

One bottle in a handful of potato vodkas that have slowly made their way into my collection is the Virginia-made Cirrus from Parched Group LLC, Richmond, Virginia. 80-proof, $27.99/750ml (Virginia ABC). It’s been all the rage among my friends this past year, so much so that one of them was kind enough to gift me this bottle. Thanks, Neal.

On the occasion of the final Friday of 2016 I retired to our bar to prepare my warm-weather end-of-week cocktail, the Vesper. It’s also my drink of choice for auditioning new gins and vodkas, and since I’d planned to give Cirrus a go I made an exception for the season.

Before beginning preparation, though, I poured a one-ounce shot for an unadulterated taste. This bottle had been resting in our basement beer fridge for a few months, so it was well-chilled.

While vodkas are regarded as “neutral” spirits, those that begin life as potatoes bear a noticeably earthy flavor. They are not neutral. For reference, try a sip or two of Boyd & Blair, from Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries, LLC. 80-proof, $35.39 (Virginia ABC), my go-to potato vodka. Close your eyes and you might imagine the scent of freshly tilled soil, or the taste of a moonshine let to rest for a few months in glass, in a root cellar. With that quality in mind, I expect a potato vodka to stand up in a Vesper, and not be overwhelmed by the gin.

For neutral flavor try most any grain vodka, or the corn-based, 6-time distilled Tito’s from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Austin, Texas. 80-proof, $21.99/750ml (Virginia ABC). Tito’s Handmade distills almost every bit of flavor out of the spirit leaving a very mild, ever-so-slightly sweet product. You’d never guess it emerged from the second run of the still differing in no way from a 100% corn whiskey.

The all-time winner for neutral vodkas, though, has to be Divine Clarity from Murlarkey Distilled Spirits LLC, Bristow, Virginia. 80-proof, $28.59/750ml (Virginia ABC). Murlarkey’s claim to fame on this spirit is their 16-place column still which, after filling, heating and observing the initial output runs pretty much on autopilot. In goes a fermented potato mash, out comes a spirit so devoid of unique flavor it could be used in anything requiring an alcohol boost. A recent distillery tour left me with this question: why use a more expensive potato-based process when you’re going to boil the living hell out of the product16 times? That much distilling leaves absolutely no flavor. None. Nothing can survive that.

Back to Cirrus’ audition. In a nut, Cirrus comes up a little short on flavor. As a potato vodka I’d rate it three stars out of five. It’s not a bad vodka - a vodka you might delight in if you’re not looking to challenge your taste buds much. Tito’s lovers may find Cirrus a nice change of pace. Anyone looking for an earthy, flavorful potato vodka will keep looking. I’d place Cirrus’ flavor somewhere between a top-shelf grain vodka and a top-notch potato vodka.

I’ll give Cirrus another rating, though, among all vodkas as a group. In that crowd it rates a solid four stars out of five, because we’re talking mildly flavorful vs. largely flavorless from most of the rest, including the usual top-shelf names.

Stirring an ounce of Cirrus with three ounces of Watershed Gin from Catoctin Creek Distilling Company LLC, Purcellville, Virginia, 80-proof, $34.29/750ml (Virginia ABC) and one-third ounce Cocchi Americano, an Italian aperitif wine, I strained the result into a chilled coupe and garnished with a wide, thin, twisted slice of lemon peel, which I first used to rim the glass. Here’s where Cirrus stands above many other vodkas. Its mildly earthy flavor adds complexity to the drink, without drowning Cocchi’s slightly bitter contribution. This cocktail variation provided an enjoyable repast for the end of the week, the month, and what has become a year to forget. A couple more Vespers and perhaps I could.

In summary, Cirrus proved a drinkable, if not remarkable vodka adding mild complexity to white liquor drinks. Vodka Martini fans should give it a try as an entrée to fuller flavored potato vodkas.

#cocktail #cirrus #vodka #mixology #watershed #gin #vesper #cocchi

December 30, 2016

Britain, Edging Toward Trump, Scolds Kerry Over Israel

The backlash from a conservative UK Prime Minister was predictable (Reuters):

Britain scolded U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for describing the Israeli government as the most right-wing in Israeli history, a move that aligns Prime Minister Theresa May more closely with President-elect Donald Trump.

Don’t be confused by the political rhetoric. Kerry, and President Obama, are correct. Israel, and PM May, are not. The core of the issue is buried two paragraphs down:

Amid one of the United States' sharpest confrontations with Israel since the 1956 Suez crisis, Kerry said in a speech that Israel jeopardizeds hopes of peace in the Middle East by building settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The truth is two-fold. First, Israeli settlers in the West Bank have been as big an impediment to the peace process as Palestinian (read: Hamas) suicide bombers, if not as massively violent, and second, the UK is toadying up to Donald Trump with this statement more than they are calling Secretary Kerry a liar.

Kerry is right, the settlers are part of the problem, and Israel has been unwilling or unable to do anything about moving them out for decades. The UK PM is the tail wagging the dog.

December 24, 2016

iOS 10.2 ate my Battery

I updated my iPhone to iOS version 10.2 this past week. While I usually hold off updating to newly released OS versions, a point release update is usually a safe move. Not this time!

My first clue came on my way to town later in the same day. I looked at the phone as I put it in my pocket and found the battery level down to 9% after little activity. 9%. I don’t normally hit that level until late in the evening, if then. This phone is only seven months old, after all.

I charged the phone in the car, reaching 40% by the time I arrived. That should have been enough for a three-mile walk and light texting. By the time I finished those activities, though, I was down to 19%. Shortly after I was into single digits. Clearly something was wrong.

A quick reboot and recharge brought the battery up into the sixties, but not long later the phone was back to single digits. That’s when I went looking online for other users having problems.

Google “iOS 10.2 battery” to see what I found. Short version: iOS 10.2 has a battery issue for some users. Unfortunately Apple has stopped code signing the last sub-version of iOS 10.1, so there’s no going back without restoring from backup.

So, two options: fall back to my latest nightly backup, or jump into the next beta release. The beta was mentioned online as improving the situation.

I don’t recommend beta software use for most users, but if you’re in the battery hole with 10.2’s problem, this update fixed it for me. Go here to sign up for the public beta. Accept the terms and install the beta tester profile, then reboot. On the phone go to Settings-General-Software Update. You’ll find 10.2.1 beta (or later by the time you read this) available for download. Do so, and reboot again.

Battery life is back to normal.

#iphone #ios #10.2 #battery #drain

December 23, 2016

Rogue One (no plot spoilers)

I saw the new Star Wars film last evening. More about its billing as “: A Star Wars Story” rather than simply Rogue One, later.

The film’s screenwriting is its strongest aspect, holding up well throughout. It incorporates cameos by a handful of original characters and fills in details not explained in the first three stories. This is an eminently watchable, moderately engrossing film. I recall just a couple of watch-checking moments.

Some movies are carried by star-power, others by effects. For this one it was story from start to finish. It played like a good book, read.

Fitting between the end of the third prequel and the original Star Wars film of 1977, Rogue One tells the tale of how the Death Star was conceived and how its plans wind up in Princess Leia’s hands. A CGI-assisted scene of a young Carrie Fisher holding the plans in her hands ends the film.

Rogue One falls down somewhat in the midst of its two-hour, fourteen-minute run time. In particular, the main battle scenes should have been compressed. It’s a minor quibble, as the scenery chewed by the characters here was spectacular. Let’s say knocking off fourteen minutes and bringing it in at a maximum two-hours would have improved the experience. I’ll blame the director, Gareth Edwards, for letting the writers go on a wee too long describing the action. His otherwise well-paced story lagged in the second act.

The film’s acting is debatable. Is it the writing, or the actors that make the atmosphere grim? Felicity Jones is convincing as Jyn Erso, if a little on the flat-affect side. Diego Luna is more convincing as the rebellion head of intelligence, Cassian Andor. These are the lead female and male actors. Of all the characters in the story, though, the most interesting and amusing might be the re-programmed Empire droid K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk. (Tudyk played Wash in the Firefly series and the follow-on film Serenity.) The character provides much-needed comedy relief in otherwise oppressive scenes. Chirrut Îmwe, played by Donnie Yen, is another. Yen is a martial artist, and his training is strongly reflected in the character’s battle scenes. That his character is also blind makes the scenes that much more engrossing. Unresolved is whether Îmwe is, indeed, a Jedi as speculated.

We’ve come to expect more swashbuckle from Star Wars films, though. There was little of that here. It’s a grim tale of resistance against an authoritarian government and that, perhaps, informed the actors’ portrayals. If you’re expecting the fun of, say, Star Wars: The Force Awakens you’ll be disappointed with Rogue One. Go into this film with no expectations and you’ll be rewarded.

The scenery, though largely matte- and CGI-based, is first-rate believable. One exception: the main battle scenes feature rebels storming a beach, D-Day style, with incongruous palm trees swaying in the breeze. Part Saving Private Ryan, part Apocalypse Now, the scenery actually distracted me from the action.

Aside from a brief bit of Darth Vader’s Theme as that character made his first appearance, the soundtrack was unremarkable.

Overall it was an enjoyable film, especially if you’re into the Star Wars universe and continuing saga.

One final point about the film’s naming convention. This film’s title revolves around the problem with numbering films, only to later realize there is missing story that needs telling (and selling). This story fits neatly between Anakin’s not-quite demise at the end of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and his full embodiment as Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. How to fit a name between “Episode III” and “Episode IV?” Along those lines Rogue One would be Star Wars: Episode 3.5 - Rogue One. The filmmaker resolves this by subtitling the new film “A Star Wars Story.”

I get it. It’s a story set in the Star Wars universe. It’s a clunky way to resolve the title of a story that fills in a crack, though less clunky than “Movie Title colon Episode Number dash Subtitle.” That scheme takes the prize for awkward titling, so much so that it was dispensed with for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. George Lucas was going for the serial nature of the pulp comic books of his youth. Better still that they drop the scheme altogether and just give us a title: Rogue One, full stop. The audience can figure out what the story is about.

#rogueone #starwars #lucasfilm

Donald J. Who?

Sure he’ll be president January 20, but if Barack Obama had pulled stunts like these eight years ago when he was president-elect, yet still a private citizen, there’d have been a loud noise from the political right who claim the mantle of conservative order (@realDonaldTrump):

Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!

I guess this is an example of what we’re to take seriously, but not literally. Is he trying to be the hero we deserve, but not the one we need right now? And why is the president-elect acting out a Dark Knight quote?

Putting aside the F-18’s lack of stealth and decades-old design, what are we talking about here? Money alone? Since when is that the criteria for national defense?

I don’t know what’s more frightening: Trump’s lack of subject knowledge, or his ignorance of presidential behavior. Words have consequences, just as elections do. The world is listening, Donald.

#trump #shyster #fraud #gop #politics

December 22, 2016

How to Turn Yourself Into a Pretzel, or, How Newt is Willing to Debase Himself for Donald

Vice this. Keep writing, Newt. Donald has you playing the fool for as long as you will:

I goofed. Draining the swamp is in, @realDonaldTrump is going to do it, and the alligators should be worried. #DTS http://bit.ly/2i5QMjZ 

If you’d like to watch. I actually felt a very slight twinge of embarrassment for Gingrich. I’m not a fan of his politics, but he’s a smart guy and (should be) better than this. Apparently not.

December 21, 2016

Trump Disclaims Campaign Promise to "Drain the Swamp"

Matt Shuham (TPM):

“I’m told he now just disclaims that. He now says it was cute, but he doesn't want to use it anymore,” Gingrich said, referring to the phrase. “I'd written what I thought was a very cute tweet about ‘the alligators are complaining,’ and somebody wrote back and said they were tired of hearing this stuff.”

Later, Gingrich added: “I personally, as a sense of humor, like the alligator and swamp language, and I think it vividly illustrates the problem, because all the people in this city who are the alligators are going to hate the swamp being drained. And there's going to be constant fighting over it. But, you know, he is my leader and if he decides to drop the swamp and the alligator I will drop the swamp and the alligator.”

Emphasis mine. Gingrich, a cynical inside operator with few scruples has no trouble with cognitive dissonance.

Coming so soon after re-assurance on this very issue (RedState):

Draining the swamp is an integral part of Trump’s Contract With the American Voter — his plan for the first hundred days of his presidency. The contract includes four items related to draining the swamp, or as Conway put it today, ending the corruption gravy train.

one can only advise that Trump’s supporters check the fine print on his “Contract With the American Voter.” It’s probably becoming yet another contract Trump welches on. His past is littered with contractors left without compensation. The election is his greatest deception to date.

There’s a word for people who believed anything Trump promised in his campaign. Sucker. For Trump himself, I prefer “shyster."

#trump #uselection #politics #trumplies #gop #gingrich #deceit

December 19, 2016

It's Over

The Electoral College has acted as expected, electing Donald Trump our next president of the United States.

Maybe this is the shake-up so many have wanted for so long. I’ve no doubt he’ll shake things up, nor any doubt that unlike any president before him Donald Trump has only his own best interests at heart. Give me George W. Bush over this guy. And that’s saying a lot, because W's foray into Iraq was close to an impeachable offense.

If you supported Trump, congratulations. You got your man. And you own this. Generations hence may herald you. Until then the rest of us will hold you accountable as the full reality of your choice dawns upon you.

#trump #elections #uspolitics #president

How Republics End

Paul Krugman (The NYT):

One thing all of this makes clear is that the sickness of American politics didn’t begin with Donald Trump, any more than the sickness of the Roman Republic began with Caesar. The erosion of democratic foundations has been underway for decades, and there’s no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover.

But if there is any hope of redemption, it will have to begin with a clear recognition of how bad things are. American democracy is very much on the edge.

What was held out of sight is now, as in the state of North Carolina, overt. Democratic institutions are under direct assault. The office of Governor there has been stripped of many* of its state constitutional powers. There is nothing but a naked power grab to justify this.

What are you doing as our Rome burns?

* correction: several, and none obviously outside the bounds of the NC constitution. That recognized, the move to consolidate power within one party even as the electorate chose a different way smacks not of democracy, but second-rate dictatorship.

Hunker Down, and pay no Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

The man behind the curtain is the Electoral College, and you should pay it no mind, because it will only affirm today what was reported in the wee hours of November 9. There will be no change, no sudden submission to the public will, no more than there was in 2000.

Place no hope in the Electors growing a conscience and bolting their party-directed duties. Electors are, after all, party hacks appointed or elected by the two major parties to do one thing only: vote for their party’s nominated candidate who stood for election the previous November. The states where the GOP candidate won the majority of the popular vote will send only GOP Electors, and the same holds true for the sates where the Democratic candidate took the majority. Only Maine and Nebraska send a proportion of Electors equal to the popular vote ratio.

Only one Elector has publicly stated recently that he’ll decline to follow through and vote for his state’s majority pick. Politically, today was over even before it began.

December 18, 2016

I'll Bet You Never Thought About it This Way

Muslim registry, Jewish registry, immigrant registry, already imperfectly yet effectively in place.

I called it a cesspool. It’s worse than that (jwz):

But if you think that Facebook is not already a Muslim registry, you have really not been paying attention:

Facebook, of course, already asks for and retains sensitive information about the race, religion, and location of its users and allows advertisers to target narrow segments of people based on that personal information. Government officials here and abroad already use the social network to track activists and dissidents.

“We would never create a registry” sounds a little less convincing when phrased as “we would never run that particular SQL query on our existing database”, doesn’t it?

THINK. 

 

Interesting Observation

John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang):

Nixon was evil but he wasn’t ignorant.

W was ignorant but he wasn’t evil.

The incoming combo is #unpresidented

The Clearest Photograph of Mercury Ever Taken

Clearest photo of Mercury

This is beautiful.

December 17, 2016

A Blueprint for Activism

I’ve been teetering between anger and depression lately, because there’s no use in bargaining with the fact of a fascist-backed megalomaniac winning the US presidential election, and acceptance is just not in the cards for me. Then I stumbled upon a post by Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton) that encapsulated not only my anger:

It’s got to feel really great to know that even if only 25% of the country agrees with you, you still get to have your guy in the White House, and you make life miserable for the majority. Everyone gets a trophy, but your trophy is even bigger than the one that was earned by the actual winner. Congratulations!

and

It’s really easy for those of us who see through Trump, who care about the integrity of our elections, who believe scientists and experts on everything from climate change to public health policy, to feel despondent. I mean, I move through the stages of grief on a daily basis and today I’m clearly doing anger. I’m sure that the deplorables are loving that we feel this way, and why shouldn’t they? If something happened to make a neonazi unhappy, I’d feel pretty great about that.

but included a means of rebuttal and resistance, as well: this document, “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.”

If you are aggrieved by the November election results, insulted by what it means for our culture and republic, or flat-out can’t stomach the notion of a shyster inhabiting the Oval Office, read it. Re-post it. Act on it. The Tea Party was a small group of cranks, eventually funded by the Koch brothers, who changed the course of history. We can surely do no less.

I Want You to Think About This

An op-ed in the New York Times expressed as I could not the depth of our failure in this past November’s election, the result of which was nothing short of the moral equivalent of child abuse. We have, collectively, strangled the baby in the crib.

My press, my opinion. Write something you believe in response. Make it worthy of someone else’s time, as this op-ed author did. And don’t waste your effort doing it on Facebook, because nobody’s reading that cesspool, anyway.

December 16, 2016

When are you Going to get Angry?

A four-point challenge by John Podesta, past chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign for president of the US. The crux (The NYT):

Comparing the FBI’s massive response to the overblown email scandal with the seemingly lackadaisical response to the very real Russian plot to subvert a national election shows that something is deeply broken at the FBI.

There’s not only something very wrong at the FBI. There’s something very wrong with Americans’ acquiescence in the face of outright tampering in our election. Regardless of who you supported in the November election it should infuriate that a former agent of the Cold War KGB, now installed as “leader” of the largest of the former Soviet Union’s republics, evidently worked to orchestrate the very outcome we have.

∴ I Dumped Yahoo Today

I’ve had a Yahoo account since forever. At points I was using it for successive fantasy football leagues,  but mostly it was an early stop on the way to finding something else. I can’t say I ever hung out there. The emergence of Google fairly well killed its usefulness for me; for most, I imagine. Yahoo’s aggregated content was always a collection of things I could better find on other sites, or more recently on an iPhone app.

This week’s revelation of a billion accounts hacked in 2013 tops their previous report of a half-billion hacked a year later. We’re only finding out about it now because Yahoo lacks the data integrity, security, and continual penetration testing required by major online players. They weren’t even aware they’d been breached until recently. Even then, reports indicate their resistance to the news.

Sure, I changed my password when early word broke. I enabled two-factor authentication, too, as I’ve done on every other service where I could, and so should you. What didn’t happen after the breach makes those efforts pointless in the case of Yahoo.

Think about it: one billion accounts. At the time the hack occurred, that was one-sixth the world’s total population. Not the internet-using population, but everyone. To have been penetrated to that degree is bad enough. To have resisted acknowledging it is unforgivable.

At what point did my data become public knowledge? If I’d actually used my Yahoo email account for anything, how much of my private conversations became fodder for the dark web’s data mining efforts? What did they glean, and how has it affected me and those with whom I communicate? I can’t know that, because it all happened an eon ago in internet time. Who knows what I said or did back then?

Here’s what happened when a security firm, having acquired what was being hawked on the dark web, approached the company (The NYT):

InfoArmor did not go to Yahoo directly, Mr. Komarov said, because the internet giant was dismissive of the security firm when approached by an intermediary. He also said he did not trust Yahoo to thoroughly investigate the breach since it could threaten the sale to Verizon.

The value of their users as product did not justify the cost of revealing the breach, it would seem.

I suspect this latest bit of news will lead to Yahoo’s end. Verizon is looking to get into the content business, rather than being relegated to the role to which they’re best suited: provider of dumb pipes in the internet’s plumbing. How much liability is Verizon assuming with their prospective purchase, though? Unlike Google or Apple or Microsoft, who have yet to suffer a major breach, Yahoo just isn’t very good at data security. How much value does the one billion-strong user base represent? Are these current users, or are they one-time users with zombie accounts lying dormant?

Yahoo’s been irrelevant for a long while, Marissa Mayer’s efforts notwithstanding. That they simply can’t be trusted to keep their users (it’s a free service, so users are rightly labeled “products”) safe from, or at least aware of private data loss is the final straw. Yahoo needs to go away. They’ve already been replaced. Here’s how you can take care of yourself.

I can vote my dissatisfaction with dollars by spending them elsewhere, but when I’m on a free service and relegated to the role of eyeballs-on-advertisers the only thing I hold sway over is my attention. I’ve not been present on Yahoo for a while, and with the click of a mouse and deletion of my account I never again will be. I wonder where else my data is leaking?

Facebook, I’m looking at you. Maybe you’re next.

December 4, 2016

∴ Silent Night

2 parts Rittenhouse rye whiskey

½ part ancho chili liqueur

½ part dark cherry syrup or Cherry Heering, to taste

2 dashes chocolate mole bitters

 

stir, serve up in a chilled, absinthe-rinsed coupe.

Mahogany in color, cinnamon on the nose (alchemy, I guess), sweet & anise on the palate, mild ancho burn all the way down. Let’s call it “Silent Night.”

You’re welcome.