Saturday, November 20, 2010

Beer in China

In my previous post, I discussed my recent trip to the People's Republic of China. As promised, the topic of this post will be the beer that I consumed while on my trip. Unfortunately, most Asian brews seem to be standard American-style mass-produced lagers. I only had one Chinese beer, and that was the ubiquitous Tsingtao. To me, it seemed no different than a Bud Light or a Miller Lite. I also had pints of two other Asian beers that were of similar quality. The first was Tiger beer from Singapore. The second was San Miguel from the Philippines. Neither was particularly memorable.

While I was in Shanghai, I stayed at the SwissĂ´tel Grand Shanghai. The hotel is in the Jing'an District which is one of the more Western-oriented areas of Shanghai. Therefore, I was able to enjoy several European beers during my stay. The first was a draft of Kilkenny at Malone's American Cafe which is just down the street from the hotel. Kilkenny is an Irish cream ale. It is sort of a cross between stablemates Guinness and Smithwick's. The taste is Irish red with the creaminess of an Irish stout. I really enjoyed Kilkenny, but it does not yet have much of a foothold here in the US. The next draft was also at Malone's, but it was not a beer. Strongbow is a cider produced by English cider maker Bulmers. I honestly did not know was I was getting when I ordered the drink, but I was pleasantly surprised with the cider that I received.

Finally, I had two beers from Erdinger Weissbräu in the steakhouse inside my hotel. Erdinger is a German brewery. I had a bottle of their weissbier and a bottle of their dunkel. The weissbier is an hefeweizen, and the fact that I enjoyed it should be no surprise given my preference for style. The dunkel is actually a weissbier dunkel (or dunkelweizen) which is basically a dark wheat beer with a maltier taste. I think I enjoyed the darker beer even more than the lighter version.

Incidiently, Erdinger checks the letter 'E' off the list for my self-assigned task of consuming a beer from a brewery for each letter of the alphabet. However, I think the large brewing companies makes covering the entire alphabet a bit ridiculous. It is often difficult to decide exactly what to label the brewer for a particular beer. For example, the letter 'I' is covered on the Beer List by Boddingtons Pub Ale which was originally brewed by Strangeways Brewery which was sold to Whitbread Beer Company which was acquired by Interbrew which was included in a merger to become InBev, and is now part of corporate giant AB InBev. None of which is relevant to the beers I drank in China.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Where in the World is Jim?

This is another post that has been a long time in the making. I was recently in China for a three-week business trip. I spent the first week in Shanghai, the next week in Beijing, and the third week back in Shanghai. For those of you following along at home, that means I spent four straight weekends traveling. My trip started early one Saturday morning with a two-hour flight on United Airlines from RDU to Chicago's O'Hare International. The 14-hour flight from Chicago took an arctic route to Shanghai Pudong International. The next Sunday, I flew Shanghai Airlines from Hongqiao International to Beijing Capital Airport. The Sunday after that, I flew Air China from Beijing back to Shanghai Hongqiao. The flights between Shanghai and Beijing were around two hours each. The following Saturday, I left Shanghai Pudong for the trip back to Chicago and then on to Raleigh. Grand totals over the three weeks include four legs, six flights, five airports (RDU, ORD, PVG, SHA, and PEK), three airlines (UA, FM, CA, all Star Alliance members), around 36 hours in the air, and 16,750 frequent flier miles.

During my trip, I found out interestingly enough that the PRC blocks access to Blogger. That gives me a good excuse for not posting for several weeks, although three weeks of seemingly endless meetings are a much better excuse. I know now that Blogger allows posting via email which circumvents the block in China. However, I would have had to have set that up beforehand if I had known. It is still a good thing to remember for any future trips to the People's Republic.

I am not one to take pictures, so there will not be a slide show accompanying this post. I do not own a camera, nor did I take the opportunity to purchase one while I was in China. While in Beijing, I got one day to play tourist. I stayed at the Loong Palace Hotel which is on the outskirts of in Beijing. I booked a tour with an English-speaking guide through the hotel concierge. The first stop on the tour was one of the Ming Tombs. There are several different tombs around Beijing. The particular one we visited was Chang Ling. The tour did not include the underground tomb itself but the outlying buildings and structures.

After our visit to the tomb, we stopped by a government-sponsored jade "museum" which was really more of a giant store that offered a variety of jade jewelry, statues and other objects plus other goods including paintings, silk, and Chinese fans. While there, we had a traditional Chinese meal which involves a round table with a Lazy Susan in the middle containing many different dishes. I had a few such meals while I was in China. You either get use to people grabbing food with their chopsticks as the dishes go by or you go hungry.

After lunch, our bus made its way to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. The Great Wall is as impressive as advertised. It is also very crowded. The Great Wall stretches through hills and mountains. At Badaling, cable cars go about halfway up the side of the hill. After the ride in the cable car, the rest of the way is on foot. The tour guide described the journey to the top as heroic, although she passed on the chance to be heroic that day. Stairs of various heights and depths, inclines of various angles, and a mass of people made getting to the top and back down interesting to say the least. However, the trip was definitely worth the view.

As one would expect, the topic of my next post will be the beer that I had during my stay in China.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Defense of the BCS

This post is particularly in response to yesterday's Tuesday Morning Quarterback (TMQ) by Gregg Easterbrook but also covers arguments made by many other people. TMQ articles are posted on every Tuesday during the NFL season with additional appearances throughout the year. In his articles, Easterbrook covers certain topics on a regular basis including repeated complaints against the Bowl Championship Series or BCS. The BCS is used to decide the champion for college's football top level (Division I FCS). Easterbrook, like many other people, see several shortcoming with the system.

The main argument that people have with major college football is that it needs to have a playoff. I find that argument to be moot since the BCS decides a champion via a two-team playoff in the form of a single championship game. In reality, there are two separate issues that people have with the BCS. One is how the teams are selected. The second is that the number of team qualifying for the playoffs should be expanded.

In regards to the first concern, the focus of the complaints varies. Some people complain about the human voters in the two polls that make up the selection formula. Others complain about the computer rankings. In my opinion, the criteria for selecting team is less important than ensuring that criteria is applied consistently. In that regard, I do not understand how the BCS system is worse than the backroom selection committees that decide the playoff teams for other college sports. What exactly is the criteria used by those committees for selecting teams? At least, most professional sports have defined methodologies for selecting playoff teams, but the criteria used often seems arbitrary. A perfect example is the system for breaking ties used by the NFL. What is meant by "Strength of victory" and why is it more important than "Strength of schedule"?

Increasing number of playoff teams, in my opinion, is simply a method of reducing the force of complaints from the excluded teams by expanding the number of teams with such complaints. Currently, two teams qualify for the championship game, and there are usually one or two teams with valid complaints for being left out. If it was decided that every conference champion qualified for a championship playoff, then every conference runner-up (if not third and fourth place teams) would complain about being excluded from the playoffs. The main reason for the expansion of the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 1975 was to include teams that were not conference championship. The men's basketball tournament has expanded seven times since. Yet, every year there are still teams with complaints about being left out.

Above all, I do not think that there is any practical reason why a playoff is better than any other method for selecting a sports champion. This is admittedly a ridiculously rhetorical argument, but voting is considered the best method for selecting political leaders as opposed to say fighting it out on the battlefield. However, sports champions must be settled on the playing field in order to be considered legitimate. Why is that so? Why is voting for the best team not considered optimal? Or why not simply select the team with the best regular season record and break any ties using NFL-style tiebreakers?

There are valid arguments against using playoffs to decide champions. Playoff games add more potential opportunities for atheletes to be hurt. There are a fewer number playoffs games which take away from the value of the larger body of regular season games. Also, the standard complaint that the BCS is all about money is disingeneous. It is ridiclous to think that methods used by other leagues to select champions place a higher value on the purity of the sport over maximizing revenue. The ever expanding playoffs in other sports that continue to add more teams and more games are always first about generating more money and less about ensuring a true champion is crowned.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Modest Proposal, Part IV

After several months, I am returning to my quite immodest proposal concerning the National Football League. I have three previous posts on this topic. The first post proposed eliminating the two legacy conferences. The second part covered realigning the divisions and handling the relocation of teams. In the third part, I discussed changes to the postseason. Why am I returning to this topic now? At the end of the third post, I promised an "innovative approach to the Pro Bowl". Unfortunately, my basic approach was recently co-opted by the National Hockey League for its All-Star Game starting this season. Some people are already proposing this format be extended to other leagues including the NFL.

6. Pro Bowl

One problem with my proposal to eliminate the AFC and NFC is the makeup of the rosters for the Pro Bowl, the NFL's annual all-star game. Each NFL season, the best players from the two conferences are selected to play in the Pro Bowl. Without conferences, a new process would be needed for picking the players for the game. In the NHL's new process, two captains will first be selected, one for each team. Those two captains will then pick the other players for their team.

My thought for the Pro Bowl is very similar in that there would be a televised draft for the game. Instead of the rosters being selected by two players designated as captains, I would suggest that the coaches for the two teams do the drafting. I have three suggestions for which coaches should be selected. One suggestion would be to follow the current process of selecting the coaches from the teams that lose the two semifinal games, but that would not be possible due to timing. Coaches from teams that lost earlier in the postseason tournament would have to be used as was done this year. Another idea would be to use coaches from the college ranks, perhaps the two coaches from that season's BCS National Championship Game. This would be similar to coaches from the NFL coaching teams of college players in all-star games such as the Senior Bowl.

A third idea would be to use previous NFL head coaches that are currently not coaching in the league. Many former head coaches, including several Super Bowl winners, are currently working for television networks. Perhaps the two Pro Bowl coaches could be selected from the network that has the broadcast rights for that year's Pro Bowl and/or Super Bowl. This season, FOX Sports has the broadcast rights for both the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl XLV. FOX's lineup of former coaches include Super Bowl winners Brian Billick and Jimmy Johnson. CBS has the broadcast rights to the 2012 Pro Bowl, and the CBS roster includes Super Bowl winner Bill Cowher. NBC has the rights to Super Bowl XLVI, and the NBC lineup includes Super Bowl winner Tony Dungy. ESPN has previously broadcast Pro Bowls and has "Iron Mike" Ditka and Jon Gruden.

The highlight of this Pro Bowl proposal would not be the game itself but the selection of the team rosters. This televised event would be the ultimate fantasy draft. Of course, the NHL has this idea covered as well. The list of potential players for the Pro Bowl would be available a few weeks prior to the draft to give the coaches time to plan. Last year, the Pro Bowl was played the week prior to the Super Bowl and did not include players from the two Super Bowl teams. Assuming that schedule is to continue, the list of available players would not be finalized until after the two Super Bowl teams are decided. Therefore, the Pro Bowl team rosters could not be set until the conclusion of the two semifinal playoff games. As previously stated, it would impossible for the losing coaches from the semifinal games to participate since the draft would probably have to start immediately following those games. To give the two teams another day to prepare, I would also suggest moving the game to Monday night.

In the next post on my NFL proposal, I will discuss how my changes would affect the contracts the league has with the television networks.