Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 May, 2007

Chastity Dickums' Fine Pirate Booty

If I could only draw...

|| Palmer, 2:47 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Preview

Thanks to S.J. Barlament for pointing this out. A trailer for the new animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is now available. The series is scheduled to hit small screens next year.
|| Palmer, 2:40 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Aestival Brews

As spring winds down and summer approaches, we Wisconsonians can look forward to hot, humid days plagued by mosquitoes. But fret not! The brewers of Wisconsin shall provide liquid refreshment to quench your thirst and some social lubrication for those countless summer parties. To wit:



I'll start things off with Capital's Fest Beer. It is available now as I spied it at Star Liquor on Willy Street last weekend and will be through July. A lot of people I know turn to IPAs and pale ales for the warmer months. I often do so myself but Fest is a nice departure from this routine with its malty goodness.



Furthermore released its second seasonal this spring - Fatty Boombalatty, which is a Belgian-style ale. I've had it a few times now and I found it eminently drinkable. It has a nice estery aroma and the flavor is much lighter than a true Belgian but there's this great wheat-yeast combo going for it.

Down in New Glarus, brewmaster Dan Carey is giving us a couple fine seasonal brews that buck the IPA trend.



First off, Totally Naked, a lager, is returning. It is a light, crisp beer that is, to my palate, unremarkable. A thirst quencher for those hazy days of summer, to be sure, but I think it's aimed more at folks who turn to Miller or Bud when given the chance. The second beer is much more exciting - Hometown Blonde. I hope that this pilsner becomes a regular seasonal because I'd love to drink it again next year and the year after that and the year after that…Shit, this should become a year-round brew. It pours a deep amber. Tasting starts with a nice burst of yeast flavor and then a small army of hops comes rushing in. This is the beer I've been waiting for after Dan decommissioned Edel Pils. It's nice to see something that a bit on the back-to-basics side with microbrewers trying to outdo each other in making the bitterest IPA or aging everything in a bourbon barrel these days.



The folks at the Viking Brewing Co. currently offers their Lime Twist, a wheat beer with lime. I don't think I've ever had it. Since June begins tomorrow, I'll mention that it will see the coming of Queen Victoria's Secret, an IPA. I still have designs on visiting the brewery…



There is a lot of activity over at Tyranena. Their summer seasonal, Fargo Brothers Hefeweizen, is now available. In addition, the next installment of brewer Rob Larson's Brewers Gone Wild! series is released today – Stickin' It to the Man! Extra IPA. Check your store shelves. Also note that Larson brewed his first ever "interpretation of a Belgian-style Wit" just a couple days ago. He notes that he added his own "twist" to the style and that it should be ready in a couple weeks. Stay tuned.

The big news from Leinenkugel came this spring when they began distributing a new brew called Big Eddy Imperial IPA. Leinenkugel is basically a middle-of-the-road brewery. They generally brew beer that is much better than the flavored water made by its parent company but not really premium quality microbrew either. But the word on the street is that this stuff is the real deal and not some attempt to put a microbrew face to a semi-macrobrew. Seriously, I've read some rave reviews. It is available only on tap at a limited number of establishments. If you're in Madison, check at the following locations:

Genna’s
Wonder’s Pub
The Echo Tap
The Angelic
Great Dane (Hilldale Mall location)
The Ivory Room
Concourse Hotel
Edgewater Hotel
Paul’s Club

Please let me know of any sightings outside of this clutch of taverns. Big Eddy is supposedly the first of a series of such limited edition beers with the next rumored to be an Imperial stout.



It's been too long since I've stepped foot in the Ale Asylum, especially considering I live quite close to it. Their summer seasonals are Hatha-Weizen, a German wheat beer and Tripel Nova, a Belgian tripel. Hopefully they'll start bottling more of their beers soon. My friend Dogger is currently addicted to Ambergeddon and, with his fickle tastes, he'll need more variety by the time the solstice rolls around.

Over in Milwaukee at Lakefront Brewery, May's beer of the month is Lakefront Cherry Lager. Starting tomorrow, get your lips around one of their White Beers, a Belgian Wit.

Other beer notes around town:

Check out the newly revamped website for the Great Dane. The beer menu for each location (excepting the one out at the airport) is now posted separately.

Also check out the beer menu for J.T. Whitney's brewpub. I've never had anything there that's gotten me super-mega-maxi excited but I do appreciate that they seem to always have a Rauchbier on tap.

Has anyone been to the Granite City out by West Towne? With all the good local brew, it's been at the bottom of my to-try list for months now.

The Hinterland Brewery and Restaurant is going to open a brewpub in Milwaukee at 222 E. Erie St. It's slated to open by August.

Next up for me is a trek to Lake Mills for the 5th Annual Patricia's Crawfish Boil at the Tyranena Brewery on 14 June. I've gotta find something to cook and pass around that includes some of their beer.

A fellow Madisonian recently gave some summer microbrew recommendations and so will I.

New Glarus Hometown Blonde – I raved about it above and will again. This stuff is fantastic! No, it's not made by virgins with 40 kinds of hops found only in a small region of Luxembourg and water from Antarctic glaciers and aged in bourbon barrels made of wood from the Tree of Knowledge. Just a solid, great tasting beer.

Tyranena's Bitter Woman IPA – with the strong citrus flavors of the hop mix, this is the champagne of IPAs. 'Nuff said.

Founder's Red's Rye - I bought a bottle of this stuff last year at Steve's on University. A strong, yet somehow mellow hoppiness is complemented by a slight peppery taste.

Chicago may be populated with FIBs and Goose Island may have had a large chunk of its stock bought by Anheuser-Busch, but their Summertime and 312 Urban Wheat beers are both excellent. The former is a kölsch while the latter is, obviously, a wheat beer.

Mbege Ale and Shakapro Ale from Sprecher. I've had the latter and it was really good. I am not sure about the availability of these beers right now so keep your eyes peeled.

Lastly for beer, I want to try Samuel Adams' Summer Ale. It is made with Grains of Paradise, a spice often used in Medieval cooking.

Moving away from beer, another great summer drink is any of the melomels (mead made with fruit) from White Winter Winery. I can personally vouch for their high tastiness quotients.

Lastly, there's the summer staple, the gin and tonic.
|| Palmer, 2:32 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

Food Blogging in Madison

I am not sure what's on my social calendar this evening but, if I have the time, I'd like to check out the latest MadInteractive event:

MadInteractive 3rd Event Invitation

Madison Interactive, a group for people who work on public websites – both for work and for play – in the Madison area – is hosting its third free event. Whether you’re uploading articles to a local media website or just tending a personal blog, we want you to join us and share your experiences. And to make it all even more interesting, we’ll also be having a brief panel discussion with some local online folks who focus on writing about dining in Madison.

Panel Discussion Details:
MadInteractive Panel No. 3 - Food Blogging in Madison

Location:
The High Noon Saloon

Event Time/Date:
5 – 7pm on May 31, 2007

Panel Time:
5:30 to 6pm

Details:
(Panelists, please show up at 5:20 at the very latest.)

Topic: Food Blogging in Madison
The discussion will center around the various writers in town covering the food scene.

Moderators:
JM and Nichole of Eating in Madison A to Z

Panelists:

* Christopher Robin from Christopher Robin’s Fresh Foods

* Jonathan Hunter of Underground Food Collective

* Irene Cash of Madison Dining Online, Cuisine Capers

* Monnie Halberg of Nutritilicious

* Linda Falkenstein of thedailypage.com


I am not much of a food blogger but I still think it would be interesting. However, I will mention that my cubeb vinegar has finished steeping which means that I can now try to recreate some Medieval Polish recipes which require it. Stay tuned for notes on how the ham stewed with cucumbers recipe from the 14th century turns out.
|| Palmer, 9:52 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

26 May, 2007

Here Comes the Sun

After a weeks delay due the Eurovision contest, Doctor Who returned last weekend with "42". The title may or may not be a play on the TV show 24 or a reference to the answer to life, the universe, and everything.



"42" opens in the TARDIS as The Doctor puts the finishing touches on Martha's cell phone so she can call anyone anywhere – "universal roaming". Suddenly a distress signal is received and the TARDIS lands. Our heroes find themselves in the engine room of a ship and it's sweltering in there. They begin to make their way around but are confronted by three crew members immediately upon exiting the room. The ship belongs to McDonnell who informs them that the engines are dead and that the ship is spiraling towards a nearby sun. Impact is in 42 minutes.

The Doctor finds himself unable to rescue everyone in the TARDIS as the room it landed in has gotten up to 3000 degrees. Instead he gives the crew a pep talk and organizes them. Martha and one crew member go about opening the series of hatches that lead to the control room while the rest go to the engine room to assess the damage which turns out to be pretty bad. The engines have been sabotaged. A call from the medical room finds Korwin, McDonnell's husband, in a bad way. Rushing to aid, Korwin is found writhing in pain with his eyes clenched shut. "It's burning me!" he screams. He is sedated and Abi, the medic, goes about trying to find out what's wrong while the others head back to work on getting the ship running again.

A short time later, Abi gets on the comm to update everyone on Korwin's condition when she screams. Korwin has arisen. His closed eyes and calm demeanor belie his menacing intentions. Abi backs up against a wall as Korwin opens his eyes which now emit a bright, intense light. Satisfied, he dons a rather eerie looking helmet which has a sun visor. The Doctor and McDonnell rush to Abi's aid but it's too late. All that's left of the medic is her shadow burnt into the wall.

Meanwhile Martha and Riley are hard at work opening the doors by answering a series of questions which the crew set during a bout with John Barleycorn. One of the questions prompts Martha to use her newly-tweaked cell phone to call her mum to have her find the answer on the Internet.

McDonnell dismisses The Doctor's theory that Korwin has sabotaged the ship and is somehow able to vaporize people but she eventually comes around. Back in the engine room, Ashton is hard at work and he send Erina for some tools where she runs into Korwin and meets her doom.



Korwin then heads to the engine room where he finds Ashton. But instead of killing him, Korwin converts him by clutching the sides of his head. With two of these vaporizing zombies running around, things are looking bleak. Ashton stumbles upon Martha and Riley and they flee to an escape pod for refuge. Riley and Ashton now engage in a battle of computer skills as the former seeks to halt the ejection of the pod while the latter manipulates a touchpad in the corridor to launch it into the sun. Ashton eventually relents and puts his fist through the controls which once more activates the launch sequence. The Doctor arrives shortly after he's left only to witness the pod slowly drifting away from the ship with Martha banging on the window.



This scene is a bit of a featherweight version of the one in last season's finale where The Doctor screams as he loses Rose. The Dulcinea teared up as we watched it and, indeed, it was a very touching scene which was made all the more effective by the absence of incidental music. The Doctor's shouts of "I will save you!" are lost in the ominous silence of space as the pod slowly drifts towards oblivion.

The Doctor conceives a plan whereby he would reconfigure the magnetic pull off system to bring the pod back and he dons a familiar looking space suit that I'd swear we saw in "The Satan Pit" from last season. In the capsule Martha urges Riley to have faith in The Doctor. She calls her mum to speak with her one last time. Back on earth, Francine has company. As she speaks with her emotional daughter, a sinister woman is sitting in the background in front of a device of some kind, presumably recording or tracing the call.

The Doctor succeeds and, climbing back into the ship, he stands in awe of the threatening sun. Staring at it he has a Solaris moment and realizes that the star is alive. The pod docks and Martha and Riley are ecstatic to be alive. The Doctor, however, is on the floor in sheer agony with his eyes eerily clenched shut. McDonnell appears and The Doctor explains that the sun is alive and that, like Korwin, he too has become infected. We find out that McDonnell had illegally scooped matter from the star for fuel and that this injured the creature.

Martha takes The Doctor back to the medical room wherein lies a stasis chamber which he hopes can put the kibosh on the process which seeks to turn him into a vaporizing zombie. The freezing process goes well until Korwin discovers the power surge being sent to the stasis chamber and promptly cuts it off. This forces The Doctor to battle the force inside of him alone so he sends Martha off to the control room at the front of the ship to get the crew to jettison the fuel taken from the sun. McDonnell confronts what remains of her husband and confesses her sin of having taken fuel from the sun. Luring him into an airlock, she opens it and the couple are sucked into the vacuum of space.

Reaching the control room, Martha uses the comm to tell the crew to jettison the infected fuel. They manage to do so just as time runs out. The remaining fuel is enough to get the ship's course corrected and away from the star.

With the room holding the TARDIS back to normal temperatures, our travelers bid the remaining crew adieu. After they take off, The Doctor presents Martha with her very own key to TARDIS – she is now a more or less permanent member of the crew. Martha joyously phones her mother again. Francine notes that it's Election Day in England and invites her daughter 'round for tea that evening. Martha accepts the invitation and hangs up. Francine turns around and we see the sinister woman flanked by two men in suits. The woman takes the phone that Francine had been using and informs her that "Mr. Saxon will be very grateful".

When I began watching "42" the first thing that leapt to mind was how it reminded me of "The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit". In both cases, the TARDIS lands and becomes lost; the metallic, utilitarian rooms and corridors have a similar feel; and there's an infected crew member running around killing in both stories as well. At first I found this annoying but eventually got over it and just immersed myself in the story. With the timer here counting down until the moment of impact, "42" is played out more or less in real time just like the show 24. This worked to the episode's advantage. There are times when I feel that the new series' 45-minute format adversely affects the show by forcing revelations to come too soon. Some themes don't get enough play and suspense is sometimes sacrificed by the need to fit the story in an allotted time. The real time plot device mostly rids "42" of this problem and provides explanation for the barrage of action and paucity of elaboration.

But for all the plot devices, the true star here is Martha. We see a plethora of sides to her character in a short time. Her faith in The Doctor was demonstrated in the escape pod and her loyalty by her unwillingness to leave him as he struggled to fight the creature inside of him as he lay helplessly in the deactivated stasis chamber. But she's also a woman of action. Martha volunteers to help get the doors open at the beginning and makes the mad dash to the control room at the end. For his part, The Doctor seems to have turned a corner and come to some kind of peace over his loss of Rose by giving Martha a key to the TARDIS.

Getting back to Martha, I think she's finally started to differentiate herself from Rose. While they both have family issues, Martha seems less conflicted internally. After all, she's older than Rose and has shed all that teenage anxiety. While it's not that adults don't have anxieties of their own, Martha seems to have much more self-confidence. She seems to be traveling with The Doctor less to escape her family and more to experience adventure and to learn, to grow. Her family is more of an annoyance than something to escape from.

While I wouldn't label "42" as throwaway, I do think that, in retrospect, it draws a bit too much from previous episodes, especially "The Impossible Planet". But it does manage to further the Mr. Saxon story arc and, more importantly, it solidifies the relationship between Martha and The Doctor.

|| Palmer, 10:21 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

I Think He's Become One of the Hollow Men

After a rousing two-parter featuring the Daleks, "The Lazarus Experiment" is a bit anti-climactic.

The story opens with the TARDIS landing in Martha's apartment about 12 hours since they left. A tense goodbye is broken by the ringing of a phone. Martha neglects to pick it up but the answering machine blurts out her mother's voice saying that her sister, Tish, is on the tele. Turing on the idiot box, we see Tish standing with the elderly Professor Lazarus who proudly proclaims that he "will change what it means to be human". With that, The Doctor and Martha say their goodbyes and the TARDIS dematerializes only to return a few seconds later. Poking his head out the door he says, "No, I'm sorry, did he say he was going to change what it meant to be human?"



Meanwhile over at Lazarus Labs, Lazarus is chatting with Lady Thaw who is about his age. Much is riding on the experiment and the enigmatic Mr. Saxon will be watching as he is bankrolling the project. Tish comes into Lazarus' office and finds the old man to be flirtatious.

We then cut to later that evening with The Doctor and Martha all gussied up for the experiment and its attendant reception. Also attending are Martha's brother, Leo, and her mom, Francine, who lays out all her motherly suspicions. There are fans out there who didn't care to see Rose's family and feel similarly about Martha's kin. I don't mind it much and give the producers credit for giving background to the new companions and providing some of their motivations. Did we really need to have Martha's family be the vehicle for this? Maybe not, but I think it's great that both Rose and Martha get fleshed out instead of being simple props to receive information from The Doctor cum Irving the Explainer and to scream when imperiled.

Back at the reception, Lazarus enters the chamber of his contraption and it is activated. As the columns whirl around in bathed in bright light, the professor is being transformed by some kind of sonic bombardment as the audience is wowed. But something goes wrong and the machine threatens to overload but The Doctor saves the day. Lazarus steps out of the machine looking half his age. Ignoring one of The Doctor's patented you-don't-know-what-you're-messing-with admonishments, the professor schmoozes with the astonished crowd, even giving Tish's hand a gentlemanly kiss. His saliva, however, gives The Doctor a DNA sample which he tests. The results show that Lazarus' DNA has been sonically altered and is unstable. Worse is the fact that it's mutating.



Back in his office with Lady Thaw, the new young version of Lazarus rejects her desire to be the next person to undergo the process. When she threatens to approach Mr. Saxon, Lazarus transforms into a hideous monster that resembles a scorpion but has his face. Needless to say, Thaw meets her doom. Sporting a new suit, our mutant returns to the reception and lures Tish away. Poking their noses around, The Doctor and Martha find Lady Thaw's body which is a shriveled corpse of dust. Her energy has been sapped to feed Lazarus' frenzied mutation. They rush back downstairs to warn the others only to discover that Tish has accompanied Lazarus back upstairs.

The pair are on the roof overlooking Southwark Cathedral. Just as he readies his transformation so he can feed, The Doctor and Martha appear and snatch Tish from the immediate path of harm's way. A chase ensues which sees Lazarus as monster making his way to the main floor and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone. Martha sees her family to safety before returning to aid The Doctor. Outside, as Francine, Tish, and Leo debate the identity of The Doctor, a man approaches and whispers to Francine that there are things about our hero that she should know.

Back upstairs, The Doctor lures the Lazarus monster into a lab which is filled with gas normally reserved for bunsen burners and lets it rip. Unfortunately, the explosion doesn't kill the creature and this forces him and Martha to seek refuge in Lazarus' machine under the notion that Lazarus won't destroy his own creation. The compartment is meant for one person so it's a bit cramped with the two of them in there making for some fun, if rather subdued sexual tension. In his usual improbable way, The Doctor reverses the polarity of the machine so that the energy is projected outwards into the room rather than into the compartment. Exiting, they find the youthful Lazarus' body sprawled on the floor.

After an ambulance takes Lazarus' body away, Francine gives The Doctor the first degree and, after slapping him, issue a warning to stay away from her daughter. The Doctor's treatment at Francine's hands is disrupted when a crash is heard in the distance. Rushing to the scene, the ambulance is found with the paramedics having become victims of Lazarus. Rushing into Southwark Cathedral, they find him there in human form and he remarks that he took refuge there as a child during the Blitz. The Doctor replies that he too experienced those terrible days but Lazarus disbelieves him saying that he is much too young to have been alive in 1940. They argue about longevity/immortality and this harkens back to last season's "School Reunion" in which The Doctor called it a curse. Here The Doctor is speaking from experience. But being a dork, I have to admit that the first thing I thought of while watching this scene was the final scene of "The Five Doctors" when Borusa discovers that immortality is no blessing and to achieve it is to lose.

But Lazarus will hear none of it and proceeds to turn back into a monster. The Doctor hatches a plan which involves luring him up to the bell tower. They succeed as The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to give the church organ a turbo boost. The music is amplified by the conic bell tower and thusly affects creature's DNA. In pain, it falls to the floor below where Lazarus' body is found looking its correct age.

The scene shifts back to Martha's apartment where she gleefully rejoins the crew of the TARDIS. As it dematerializes, the phone rings and it's Francine once again. She warns Martha that The Doctor is dangerous and that this tidbit of info comes from Mr. Saxon himself.

When I said that "The Lazarus Experiment" was anti-climactic, I hope no one thought that I didn’t like it because I did. But the episode was average being another take on Frankenstein and using genetic manipulation again right after another story involving it. Although fun to watch, it felt like it was a retread of just too much familiar ground. The Dulcinea and I both like Martha quite a bit but I'm disappointed that she seems to be developing along lines too close to Rose. She has gained the courage to rush in where angels fear to tread when it comes to big bad monsters yet is still not wholly comfortable confronting her own mother. This perhaps mirrors Rose too much. At least Francine is quite a bit different from Jackie which changes the mother-daughter dynamic.

The mysterious Mr. Saxon is also mentioned a few times. A clue as to his identity can probably be found in The Doctor's comments comparing the effects of Lazarus' machine to Timelord regeneration. This certainly lends credence to the rumor that Saxon is The Master. And it makes me wish the episode were longer so more time could be given to the whole issue of longevity. Despite having explained himself at the end of "Gridlock", Martha still seems to view The Doctor with doe-eyed wonderment and I think she still lacks anything approaching a real comprehension of his situation. It isn't all going around saving people – there's still a big hole in his hearts. I don't say this meaning that this story was fatally flawed or anything like that. I say the above in the same spirit as horror movie fans yelling at the young woman on the screen not to go into a particular room. It's all part of the game of being a fan. Unlike the writers, I know neither the big climax ahead this season nor where the writers are taking Martha's character. So perhaps they're revealing things piecemeal for the season finale. And so my ranting is more about personal preference than any objective criticism of the narrative.

|| Palmer, 12:52 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

25 May, 2007

A Tangled Bank of Daleks

"Evolution of the Daleks" picks up where "Daleks in Manhattan" left off. Dalek Sec has transmogrified into a Dalek-human hybrid. The Doctor steps out from the crowd to confront it. Daleks Caan and Thay move to exterminate their race's archenemy but Sec stops them. Sec and The Doctor have one of those classic exchanges that the show has had throughout its history with The Doctor and the villain arguing over the morals of latter's grand plan. Our hero tells Sec that The Final Experiment has essentially been an exercise in futility before using his sonic screwdriver to cause a distraction allowing everyone to escape.



The Doctor and the latest batch of would-be hybrids make it back to the Hooverville in the dark of night. It isn't long before a sentry sees one of the pig-men and the whole camp is under attack. The pig-men are joined by Daleks Caan and Jast who have flown to the camp and they open fire. Solomon steps up and attempts to negotiate a peace. Watching from the Empire State Building, Sec witnesses as he is viciously exterminated. This scene too has been repeated in the show's history several times so one can't really be surprised at Solomon's death. However, I thought that maybe for just a moment the Daleks would just capture everyone but Daleks do what Daleks do.. That Sec had taken on some human qualities gave me a sense of false hope. Solomon's death provokes The Doctor to step forward and yell to Caan and Jast to kill him but to spare everyone else in the camp. Just as they ready themselves to finally do away with the Timelord that has pestered their race since its inception, Sec demands that they bring The Doctor back to the lab.

Once there, The Doctor lashes into Sec for all the killing that has taken place and the hybrid admits regret for the slaughter. Sec elaborates on his plan for hybridization which involves using a gamma strike from the sun (harnessed by the antenna atop the Empire State Building) to be used as the energy source for The Final Experiment which would create a race of Dalek-human hybrids that would combine the intelligence of the former and the emotions of the latter. In addition, the Dalek's naked spirit of aggression would become history.

As you can imagine, this plan doesn't go over too well with the rest of the Cult of Skaro. The Dalek Praetorian guard put the kibosh on the proceedings proclaiming that Sec is no longer a Dalek and take him and The Doctor hostage. They replace the hybrid gene solution formulated by Sec and replace it with one that retains all the nastiest traits of their vile race. In the chaos, The Doctor and Laszlo escape.

Back at the Empire State Building, Martha, Frank and Tallulah have gained entry and make their way to the top floor. They discover the blueprints and note the antenna changes. An elevator arrives carrying The Doctor and Laszlo. After being shown the designs, The Doctor heads up to the roof to dismantle the antenna while the others prepare for an elevator of pig-men to arrive any minute. Up top, The Doctor is able to remove one strip of the Dalekanium before he drops his sonic screwdriver. Meanwhile, Martha has created a large electric conductor from pipes which funnels a lightning strike at the elevator killing the pig-men as they arrive.

Below in the lab, an army of hybrids has awoken with Dalek Caan as their self-appointed leader. They arm themselves and head into the sewers. At the same time, The Doctor, Martha, Tallulah, Frank and Laszlo head back to the theatre. There, The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to emit a signal which would be picked up by the Daleks and, sure enough, the hybrid army appears along with Thay and Jast who have a chained Sec in tow. The Doctor reads them the riot act and, for the billionth time, the Daleks think they've finally defeated their mortal enemy. But Sec steps up to the plate and takes a laser bolt intended for The Doctor. He then reveals that he had hung onto the antenna during the lightning strike and that this infused freedom-loving DNA into the army of hybrids. Thay and Jast then open up on the supposedly inferior hybrids who return fire. The sheer volume of firepower overwhelms the pepper pots. Caan, however, has been observing and engages a destruct mechanism built into the hybrids, killing them all.

The Doctor returns to the lab and confronts Caan. Just as the Fourth Doctor was unable to commit genocide in "Genesis of the Daleks" by exterminating the nascent race, so too is his eleventh incarnation. He offers some compassion to Caan, the last Dalek, saying he doesn't want to be responsible for killing of the last of its race. But just as with last season's finale, the Dalek initates an "emergency temporal shift" and disappears.

As Martha and The Doctor prepare to leave, she asks if they'll ever seen Caan again and he replies, "Oh yes... one day".

When Terry Nation created the Daleks back in the 1960s, he infused his villains with a hefty dose of reality – the Nazis. And just as the Nazis are for us the ultimate in evil, the mere mention of which can arouse heated vitriol, the Daleks are for the same for Doctor Who. Thusly the most profound moral quandaries for The Doctor arise out of his confrontations with The Daleks. As I noted above, Tom Baker's Doctor had to wrestle with moral culpability in choosing whether or not to set off some explosives and deny life to the Daleks. Similarly, Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor is unable to kill their creator, Davros, in cold blood. The Daleks are basically amoral whereas The Doctor is, perhaps über-moral so one question that our hero has been unable to answer over the several hundred years of his life is whether or not amoral creatures should be treated in a morally good way.

The new series has benefited from the Doctor Who audio dramas greatly. I certainly don't want to minimize what Russell T. Davies and his crew have done with the series, but, when they decided to bring back The Doctor's pepper pot nemesis in "Dalek", they used the audio drama "Jubilee" as the basis of the story. Whether you consider the audio dramas to be canon or not, the fact remains that the folks at Big Finish have added layers of nuance to the Doctor Who world unthinkable in the classic series or, indeed, the new one. For instance, the character of Davros is really fleshed out in "The Juggernauts" and "Davros", which find the evil genius having bouts of (gasp!) introspection. Davies and the new series have emphasized the Dalek-human dichotomy by showing human DNA being infused with that of Daleks. This began with "Dalek" when some of Rose's DNA is absorbed by the captured Dalek. At the end of Christopher Eccelston's tenure as The Doctor, he confronts a vast Dalek army built from humans, although our best qualities were rooted out. And so the transmogrification/evolution of Sec in "Daleks in Manhattan" bridges these previous storylines. I would also point out that, while the classic series saw warring Dalek factions, I am pretty sure it was in the audio drama "The Mutant Phase" that we first hear of Dalek DNA mixing with that of another race.

Getting back to the episode at hand, I thought this two-part story was a hoot. The show doesn't portray America often so it was fun to have a story take place on these shores. And after all these years of seeing Daleks as ruthless robotic killers, it was genuinely weird seeing Sec and hearing him echo regret and admiration. I enjoyed how these elements of the story stand in stark contrast to the established traditions of the show. Watching these episodes made me wish that Christopher Eccelston had stuck around for a season or two more. His more, well, ruthless fuck-the-Daleks attitude was a welcome change from the classic series. One got the notion that he'd have little compunction about wiping them out once and for all. David Tennant's Doctor, however, gives a more traditional response to the Daleks and he sees in Sec a chance to rid the universe of the Dalek threat by working with instead of eliminating them.

While The Doctor has to choose whether to commit genocide or not, over on the other side of the aisle the Daleks are forced whether or not to commit what I believe to be their first act of mutiny on the show. Instead of being a unified front of murder and mayhem, internal squabbles arise and intra-clan conflict is an issue.

At the risk of sounding like one of those people who finds profundity and meaningful subtexts everywhere in popular culture, I do want to note that this story was really quite rich in circumstances in which people or characters have to decide on how to treat the "other". Aside from The Doctor vs. the Daleks and Sec vs. the rest of the clan, we see the wealthy build a skyscraper as the poor huddle in a Hooverville; Diagoras is white while Solomon is black; are the pig-men human enough to mourn their deaths? And what about Laszlo? He looks different but is still human on the inside. How should he be treated? I'm not saying that "Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks" is a grand morality play or anything but I appreciate how these situations out on the periphery of the story echo the central conflicts.

|| Palmer, 10:45 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Friday Skin

|| Palmer, 10:42 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

24 May, 2007

Sundance 608 Redux

J.J. Murphy has some more commentary on Sundance 608's pricing scheme. He says:

Some people have suggested that the added surcharge is a brilliant business strategy, but I now disagree, as evidenced by the negative publicity the policy is generating within the community.

My friend Buke mentioned on Tuesday something really obvious that I had overlooked. The theatre gets a relatively small percentage of the ticket price with the rest going back up the food chain to the distributor, etc. But, as he observed, a service fee is probably pure profit for Sundance.

If you go to Westgate and pay $8.75 for a ticket, Marcus keeps, let's say, 25%. (It's been so long since I've had any of Tino Balio's classes so I'm not really sure how much a theatre normally keeps.) That means they pocket about $2.19 a ticket. If the base ticket price at Sundance were the same, they'd pocket that $2.19 plus the fee. So, for one of those prime time weekend showings, they'll get $5.19 per ticket.

Will this scheme backfire by generating a groundswell of negative publicity?
|| Palmer, 8:16 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

We Sow the Seeds

It's that time of the year again - time to sow the seeds. Becca and Stevie have been working hard in the yard, especially Becca. She really busted her ass last weekend in the flower department. As far as the garden goes, the precious berries of straw are coming in slowly but surely.









Now, as for the flowers, I'm not really sure which flavors they are but they sure do look and smell very pretty.









This is all a bit ironic for me because my father was into macro photography of flowers and I never gave a rat's ass about it until recently. Now here I am with his camera doing what he loved. I certainly don't have his green thumb, however.

Hey Old Man! I hope all is well down there.
|| Palmer, 8:04 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

22 May, 2007

Beer Tycoon

Now here's a videogame for all us aspiring homebrewers - Beer Tycoon.

In Beer Tycoon you build, staff and manage your very own brewery. Invent new beer recipes from dozens of available ingredients, set them into production, create market leading brands and distribute them to your customers.

Starting with limited funds, build a micro-brewery and learn the craft of the brewer from the ground up in one of three European countries; Germany, the UK or Belgium. Eventually you'll be confident enough to run a high tech industrial scale brewery on a truly massive scale.


I can have my dream brewery nestled in Bavaria where I can brew my cubeb lager! I wonder if there are virutal blonde big-breasted servers...?

Some screenshots:



|| Palmer, 5:11 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

"If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox."

|| Palmer, 3:30 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Black Book (Zwartboek)

This past weekend, The Dulcinea and I made our first trek to the shiny new Sundance 608 for a showing of Paul Verhoeven's latest, Zwartboek (Black Book). Honestly, I was surprised that The Dulcinea wanted to see it considering that she abhors violence in stories, her affection for Dexter not withstanding.

Black Book marks Verhoeven's return to his native Holland after a decade and a half of making films here in the States. His American output was heavily weighted towards (often satirical) sci-fi shoot-'em'-ups with RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers to his credit. He also reveled in matters sexual with Sharon Stone (and her vulva) in Basic Instinct and Showgirls, now a midnight movie staple. His final film made in the States was Hollow Man which was disappointing for fans as well as the director himself. Unable to get any new projects off the ground, he returned home.

Black Book is a companion piece of sorts to his 1977 film Soldaat van Oranje (Soldier of Orange). That movie concerned the Dutch experience of World War II through the eyes of a group of young men who go from being students to resistance fighters with the occupation of Holland by the Nazis. Black Book gives us a female protagonist and takes place in the last year or so of the war.



Black Book begins in October 1956 with a tourist bus stopping at an Israeli kibbutz. One woman takes a snap of a class which prompts the teacher to approach the woman and tell her that the school is off-limits for tourists. It turns out the two know one another from the days of the war in Holland. The teacher is Rachel and the tourist is her old friend Ronnie. Their brief reunion prompts Rachel to sit on shore and recall those fateful days.

Back in Holland in 1944 Rachel Stein is hiding from the Nazis. The Tsjempkema family has given her refuge but the kindness shown to Rachel is tempered a bit by the father's grim insistence that she learn the Bible and recite passages before dinner. This is the first time the anti-Semitism of the Dutch, ostensibly the good guys here, rears its ugly head. In addition, this scene begins to lead the viewer through a labyrinth of moral ambiguity. There are good guys and bad guys but they each share some qualities of their opposite.

Rachel's safe house is destroyed accidentally by an Allied plane which was indiscriminately dropping its payload in an effort to become lighter and escape a German plane that was in pursuit. This scene takes place on a lakeshore and Karl Walter Lindenlaub's cinematography here is quite beautiful. Kudos to Sundance 608 for having a screen large enough to accommodate the widescreen photography.

Helped by a young man named Rob, Rachel flees to the city in search of a lawyer named Mr. Smaal who has secretly been helping Jews flee from Holland. He sets up an escape for her, duly noting the details in a little black book which gives the film its title. Things are looking up for Rachel as she is reunited with her family and on a boat headed for southern Holland which is held by the Allies. Suddenly the small barge is set upon by a brilliant light. A German patrol ship is before them and opens fire. Rachel watches in horror as her family is brutally mowed down. The soundtrack during the slaughter was absolutely bracing. The machine guns were very, very loud and I noticed The Dulcinea out of the corner of my eye as she covered her mouth with her hands. Rachel's survival instincts eventually kick in and she dives into the water. She escapes and makes her way to the shore where she sees that the Germans have brought the barge. Like a pack of vultures, they are looting the corpses under the self-satisfied gaze of Günther Franken, pictured here.



Gerben Kuipers, a leader in the Dutch resistance, rescues Rachel and offers her refuge. With her family having been killed, she joins Kuipers' band of fighters. Her first mission is to accompany fellow resister Hans Akkermans on a train and smuggle guns and papers. On the journey, Rachel briefly encounters Ludwig Müntze, a high-ranking German officer who is also a bit of a philatelist. (Müntze is played by Sebastian Koch and The Dulicinea now swoons at the site of his Teutonic good looks.) Their meeting would prove fortuitous after Gerben's son, Tim, is captured when the produce truck used to smuggle weapons that he is in gets involved in an accident. This prompts the elder Kuipers to convince Rachel to infiltrate the Dutch SD headquarters and help free Tim from the Nazis. (The SD was the security service.) To do so, Rachel dyes her hair blonde and gives the same treatment to her pubes. With the appropriate costume, she changes adopts the name Ellis De Vries and moves ahead with her womanly wiles.

Rachel endears herself to Müntze by bringing him a gift of stamps. Not only does she become his paramour, but he also gives her a job as a typist. She meets Ronnie here who is in the same position as her but she labors for Franken. As Rachel's relationship with Müntze goes on, we learn that he isn't a typical Nazi bad guy. The character is rather sympathetic as we find out about the death of his family and that he has been in secret contact with the resistance trying to negotiate a small peace whereby the Dutch fighters stop killing the Germans and, in turn, the Germans stop retaliating by killing innocent civilians. Plus he susses out that Rachel is a Jew when he notices the dark roots of her hair yet he continues his involvement with her, lets her keep her job, and follows his affectionate feelings towards her.

As an aside, Carice van Houten, who plays Rachel, gives a fantastic performance. I loved how she changed her facial expressions when she was at the SD HQ or at a party. For her Nazi employers it was all smiles but, turning away so that only the audience can see, she flashed sullen expressions. van Houten is not just a pretty face. She did a great job of imbuing Rachel with strength, resourcefulness, and anger. Rumor has it that she's the next Bond girl.

Getting back to the situation at SD headquarters, Franken has nary a hint of conscience. He has been profiting from a little subterfuge on the side. He learns of the attempts to smuggle Jews to Allied territory and ambushes them for their possessions, making a tidy sum for himself. By portraying the foibles and moral imperfections of everyone, Verhoeven is able to make Franken even more evil, as if just being a Nazi and a murderer wasn't bad enough. He's crooked as well.



Anti-Semitism returns powerfully during a scene in which Gerben hatches a plot to free Tim. Rachel objects that this would detract from stopping Franken and his gang who are hyper-cruelly leading lambs to the slaughter. Gerben's impassioned retort intimates he feels that, not only is his son more important than strangers, but also that Dutch people have more worth than mere Jews. It is Rachel alone that seems to have any sense of moral clarity as she keeps a vigil in a wilderness of mirrors. The confusion and betrayal deepens when it becomes apparent that it's Mr. Smaal and his little black book which give Franken the information he needs to perpetrate his misdeeds.

At one point, Rachel angrily asks, "Will it never stop, then?!" The ultimate answer comes at the end of the film when she comes back to the present (of 1956) as she sits on the shore. Her husband and family greet her and they walk back to the kibbutz. Entering the gates, they are followed by Israeli security forces who are on high alert owing to the Suez Crisis. Perhaps some things never end.

Black Book is a thriller at heart with its tight, forceful story and suspenseful twists. But it also transcends mere entertainment by being laced with more than enough food for thought. Verhoeven finds a good middle ground with Black Book. He honed his narrative skills here in America and so the film is an engaging and entertaining story. But he also returned to his homeland and explored a part of its history here that he remembers from his youth as Verhoeven was 7 in 1944. Black Book is more personal than anything he's done in many years. The story is based on true events and characters are based on real people. Plus there really was a black book. Instead of a Dutchman chewing up American culture and spitting it back at us, here the director looks back at his youth and the people and events from his own country to illustrate something bigger for the viewer something to chew on as the credits roll. Good and bad, right and wrong – they're not clear cut absolutes here. Instead these notions are more like fluctuations in a continuum of human morality. War carves out an ethical terrain that's difficult to traverse and such circumstances bring out the best in some and the worst in others but, more importantly, it brings out all points in between in everyone.
|| Palmer, 3:02 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

20 May, 2007

I Lost My Sundance Virginity

My Sundance virginity was lost yesterday as The Dulcinea and I took in Paul Verhoeven's Zwartboek (Black Book). I've never exactly been a denizen of Hilldale Mall so I was a bit surprised to see how it has all come together. While no fan of malls am I, it must be said that Hilldale stands in contrast to other instances of urban blight in that the stores are packed together without vast stretches of parking lot between everything. It felt more like a cozy little town than a mall. We found the Sundance Cinema and a parking spot and headed inside. The first thing I thought of seeing the interior with my own eyes was of that Mexican resort in His Kind of Woman. I suppose they don't really have all that much in common architecturally but that's what popped into my head. If you've still not been, there are some photos of the interior accompanying this article at The Daily Page. Not horrible by any means but not really to my taste. (Although those chairs look big and comfy.) The profound lack of things film adorning the walls was a big disappointment. They went more for a Starbucks look than that of a cinema. Even Eastgate, with its horrid contemporary retrofit of an old movie palace, has posters of classic films on the walls while Hilldale Theatres had that old projector in the lobby to contrast with its rather ugly spartan lobby. It just seems odd to me that the ethos of the place has very little to do with cinema. Slap some movie posters up on the walls or some publicity stills of a director and his DP behind the camera. I don't go to the movies as a socialite wanting to be seen. Instead I go there to take in a film and attempt to get lost in the vast skein of cinema.

Next we encountered the much-maligned ticket prices which can read about here. I cannot recall how much the service charge was for our 3:30 showing but the tickets were quite a bit more than what I'd have paid at Westgate. The Sundance folks alone must be left to defend their pricing scheme but I will say that I feel confident that more obscure or esoteric foreign & art films will now make their way to Madison in a more timely manner and it's cheaper for me to go to Sundance than it is for me to drive to Chicago's Music Box Theatre or Gene Siskel Film Center. I look forward to reading reviews by New York critics and not having to pin my hopes (which were all-too often in vain) that the film would be shown here in a few months.

Next stop was the concession stand. I had eaten lunch prior to coming to the theatre so I was just looking for liquid refreshment. I noticed all manner of bottled water and various fancy organic snacks for the more culinary discerning moviegoer. But there was also the traditional popcorn and soda. I must give kudos for the fact that there was Sprecher soda available. Having decided to eschew local coffee roasters, they at least found some way to include Wisconsin comestibles. When they feature a full cheese tasting menu, then I'll be impressed. I got the largest cup of Coke they offered which cost $3.69. Seemed a bit on the cheap side to me.

Cola in hand, we made our way down the tree-lined hallway to our theatre. Sitting down, we found that it still had that smell - that new vinyl smell. Stadium seating is always a big plus and the chairs themselves were quite comfortable. And being six-foot-two, the extra leg room gets high marks in my book. There was a claymation short in media res but a problem with the sound meant that it was silent. So it goes. I wish they'd advertise when the pre-show shorts begin because I'd like to catch them. It's too bad that they're relegated to merely being a distraction to fill the screen while people find their seats instead of being shown as they should be – with the lights down after the previews and before the main attraction. An usher greeted us before the show began and said he was happy to take questions or accommodate us in any way he could. The gentleman took his leave and the curtains pulled back further to reveal a goodly sized screen which was the right size for viewing a film like Black Book with its 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I'll review the film later but must say that the absence of those annoying fucking Pepsi commercials was well worth whatever service fee I paid.

As cinema experiences go, Sundance offers a very good one. I'd still like to see more film-related bric-a-brac scattered about, though. I wish they'd promote cinema instead of some kind of Sundance lifestyle. All griping aside, the joint has only been open for little more than a week so there's plenty of tweaking to be done. Regardless of anything else, the cinema's merit will be determined by the films it shows.

Madison's cinema scene is as good as it has been in ages. We've got an IMAX, the UltraScreen at Point and now – what? – 11 or 12 commercial screens showing foreign, art, and independent films? How many does Milwaukee have? Throw in the offerings at the UW and the rooftop screenings at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and you've got film scene that belies our city's relatively small population. While Madison has not gone back to its halcyon days of the early 1970s when there were on the order of 22 film societies on campus, the situation for cinephiles is better now than it has been in a long, long time.

EDIT: I found blog post by UW film prof J.J. Murphy about Sundance. I never had any classes with him so I'm glad to see he now has a blog. He offers his own take and quotes someone with whom I did have classes - Prof. Jim Kreul (although he wasn't a prof back then). I was mulling over the notion that "most people (other than cinephiles) don’t go to the movies anymore". I touched on this notion with regards to Madison previously so I won't revisit my thoughts here. But I do want to mention the 15 April 2007 episode of Media Matters with former UW prof Bob McChesney. He interviewed Benjamin Barber who is out promoting his latest book Consumed:
How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole
. Kreul and Murhphy's comments reminded me of what Barber said about the infantilization of adults regarding film:

[in]2004 - and this is replicated every year - top grossing films worldwide amongst all populations, all tickets sold, adults, old people, young people, teens and so on: Shrek 2, Spider Man 2, the Harry Potter film of that year, and The Incredibles. Four nice films made for teenagers that in fact dominated global markets in every country in the world. For that to happen, adults have to acquire the tastes of teenagers...

Barber's assertion runs counter to that of Kreul & Murphy. The former says that the tastes in film of adults have been modified by marketing to resemble that of teenagers so they eschew "adult fare" in favor of the ilk he mentions. The latter pair assert that adults just don't go to the movies much anymore. Which is it? I honestly don't know that it's necessarily either one or the other rather than a combination of the two. I mean, Spider Man 3 has broken box office records. Is it merely teens getting money from their parents or are the parents going as well? In addition, kid's movies these days contain lots of jokes and references that go way over the heads of the children in the audience. I saw a commercial for Shrek 3 which had a couple guys stumbling out of a carriage followed by billows of smoke. That reference to Fast Times at Ridgemont High is meant for little Johnny's parents, not Johnny himself.

Reading Professor Murphy's comments, I thought about something else regarding Sundance Cinemas. In addition to promoting a Starbucks-like experience over a cinema experience, the theatre did precious little to promote upcoming films. It gave good reasons to head upstairs for a steak dinner but precious little to convince folks to return in the coming weeks for a film that might appeal to them. They need to build some anticipation of what is coming soon by means outside of trailers. It's almost as if the films are tangential to the "scene" or "community" that Sundance seeks to build. Adults will go to adult fare with enough hype and word of mouth. Lots of adults went to see Fahrenheit 9/11, for instance. The novelty of the Sundance Cinemas will eventually wear off so they've got to convince people to come back for the films and not just a bar or bistro.
|| Palmer, 9:29 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

15 May, 2007

Not Everyone Is a Professor of Theology

Lately I have been listening to the audiobook of Christopher Hitchens' latest screed God Is Not Great. Concomitant to this I've been reading reviews of the book and I've noticed a pattern in many of them. Often times the reviewers will note that Hitchens' jeremiad contains no new arguments. A rather typical example is given by Preston Jones at Christianity Today. Here he notes the paucity of new arguments not once, but twice. Firstly he says, "But if Hitchens had anything new and persuasive to tell us, I would say so." A couple paragraphs later he reiterates, "There's no question that Hitchens makes some points well, even if the points have been made by myriad others." There is certainly nothing wrong with this observation prima facie. After all, it's a legitimate statement about the book. However, the fact that Jones made it again is notable. It is also notable that this same observation made by others in different forms. Take as an example the review by Jeffrey Robbins over at The Huffington Post where he posits:

After all, is anyone really surprised to learn that the historic faiths are guilty of self-contradictions, that religious fanatics are prone to violence, and that all religions have a human origin? There was a time when these observations were truly radical and provocative. But between then and now a gulf of religious scholarship and critique have transpired, heightening our awareness and forcing any religious devotee not only to learn the truths of his or her tradition, but also to rethink the nature of religious truth.

Doesn't this come across as being incredibly solipsistic? What Mr. Robbins means is that he is not surprised by any of these things and that he is already familiar with the arguments that Hitchens puts forth. But not everyone is an assistant professor of religion and philosophy. Our public schools lack comparative religion and religious criticism courses so many people would be surprised to hear what Mr. Hitchens has to say. Indeed, we teach geography and science in our schools yet, as my peripatetic friend Dan can attest to, there are Americans who think Wisconsin is a Canadian province those who fail to grasp the elementary concepts behind the changing of the seasons. Would Mr. Robbins really be surprised that there are people ignorant of the observations he mentions? Since such criticisms are not taught in schools, each generation must become aware of them. The knowledge that the historic faiths are guilty of self-contradictions, for instance, is not innate. One must learn this, one must have it demonstrated.

Hitchens' book might not resonate with Mr. Robbins right here and now but to say that everyone is as well-educated in such matters as he merely acts to inflate his own self-importance. Right now somewhere in this country there is someone coming to the realization that he or she has no faith in the supernatural. And some of these people will find themselves faithless without the benefit of having read Bertrand Russell, David Hume, Lucretius, etc. And right now a child is being born who will eventually undergo that same process and there will be a need for someone to take up the mantle for this latest generation.
|| Palmer, 2:56 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

Jerry Falwell: Goodbye and Good Riddance

I say to the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - I point my finger in your faces and say "you helped this happen."
|| Palmer, 1:30 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

14 May, 2007

Wisconsin's People on the Land

Yesterday The Dulcinea, her kids, and I went for a bit of Mother's Day music at the symphony. We arrived early to get some student discount seats and were left with some time to blow before the performance began. This gave us some time to check out the current exhibition at the James Watrous Gallery - "Wisconsin's People on the Land". It features the work of the following three artists.

David Lenz and his (mostly) photo-realistic paintings


Lenz's paintings (which you can see more of here) look like photographs until you move in close and witness the brushstrokes yourself. They portray a rural landscape with a traditional dairy farm belonging to Erv and Mercedes Wagner in Sauk County. The husband and wife are always in the foreground of the paintings with a field or lush valley behind them. And of course there are cows.

I wish I could recall the text accompanying Lenz's work but, alas, I cannot. I can, however, tell you what these paintings said to me. Firstly is the most obvious – rural Wisconsin is absolutely gorgeous. The renderings of the lush, verdant valleys are just incredibly beautiful. While we Cheeseheads may resent all the FIBs that clog the interstates during the summer, they at least have good taste. The second striking thing about the paintings was noticeable by its absence – kids. That it was just the Wagners, who look to be in their 60s, without anyone younger in these portraits spoke volumes to me. I kept asking myself, "Where are their children? Who will take over the farm when they can no longer work the land?" While I know neither the fate of that farm nor Lenz's intentions, I got the distinct impression that once, they retired, the farm was going to be history.

Madison photographer Tom Jones


Tom Jones is a fellow Madisonian and is of Ho-Chunk heritage. His photos capture his own family but also other members of the tribe. I recall photos of a man out picking tobacco and looking for herbs to use in traditional Native American medicine. In keeping with the theme of the exhibition, all the photos portrayed folks in relation to the land and so there were no glimpses of, say, a member of the tribe watching Oprah. Being about as pale as one can be and as about as far removed from Native American culture as I can be, these photos didn’t strike me close to home, as it were. It seems that the only time Native Americans are thought of here in Madison is when the Dejope bingo hall lobbies to become a full-fledged casino. The problem that I had was that, since I am so ignorant, my mind filled in all the blanks with bullshit.

If you're non-Native American and have little contact with such folk, what does that photo above draw into your mind? Did you have to fight off stereotypes of the American Indian as savage whether noble or not? Or perhaps that of a poor guy on the reservation drowning his sorrows with fire water? Personally, I found these photos to be a bit of a Rorschach test. I just couldn't take them for what they were and instead kept reading into them. Instead of a Freudian maze of genitalia and Oedipal complexes, I couldn't help but plugging the Noble Savage stereotype into my perceptions. We've gone from seeing Native Americans as savages to be killed by John Wayne to a more noble variation that lives in harmony with nature and sheds tears in PSAs. Whatever variety you choose, there's still this perception of them as being savages, of being "others". They live on reservations and we live in civil society.

I think it's because of these biases and stereotypes that I felt that the section with Jones' photos was incomplete. I kept wanting to see something more, some other aspect of Ho-Chunk life to complete the picture in my head so that I couldn't be accused of merely trafficking in stereotypes. But the exhibitions theme won out. As I moved on to the next set of photos, it was not how the Ho-Chunk lives in relation to the land that came most readily to my mind; instead it was my enormous ignorance.

Photographers Julie Shimon & John Lindemann from Manitowoc


Their photos were stark in their simplicity. These pictures featured dairy farmers who were much younger than the Wagners and many of them had non-traditional farms. If I recall correctly, the accompanying text mentioned the struggle to keep the farms competitive in the market. Simon and Lindemann's works were the last I looked at of the bunch. Curiously enough, I don't recall any of the photos actually portraying any of the farmers at work and I was a bit disappointed by this. I lived in rural Wisconsin for a bit over 3 years, though not on a farm. But many of my friends did live on farms and I got to help here and there. And so I lamented the lack of pictures showing just what milking cows three times a day, bailing hay, etc. is – back-breaking work. These people aren't just "on the land" – hell, we're all on the land – these people work the land. I just feel that showing farmers standing out in a field doesn't get across enough about their lives and their relation to the land. Heck, maybe the subjects of the photos I saw felt they were fine. But the farmers I've known felt that what they did was not only their vocation, but also their avocation and portraiture just isn't enough to convey that.

I walked out of the gallery thinking about those pictures hanging on the plain white walls. What would the well-heeled city slickers think of them? The grandeur of The Overture Center isn't exactly conducive to contemplating rural areas or the salt of the earth. Housed as they were in a building which bespeaks moneyed urban life, the exhibition stood out as sort of curiosity – a peek into another almost quaint world.

I once asked my friend Johnny, who is a Vietnam War vet, which Hollywood film best portrayed his experiences during the conflict. He mentioned Hamburger Hill and Platoon but he said there was one thing that no movie can ever capture – the smell. And the same goes for this exhibition. No matter how evocative those paintings and photographs were, they cannot convey the smell of a farm.

I don't mean to be overly-critical of the exhibition but I will say that, if you want to understand Wisconsin's people on the land, go live amongst them.
|| Palmer, 5:04 PM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

07 May, 2007

It Takes a Village

I have to wonder how this story would have played out had the video not been removed from YouTube.

A 17-year old girl named Du'a Khalil Aswad was stoned to death last month in Northern Iraq. While there are conflicting reports over many of the details, it seems clear that the girl, from an area populated by Yezidi (adherents of Yazidism, a minority religion) had a relationship with a Muslim boy/man. In a society where marrying outside of one's religion is blasphemy, you can imagine that this didn't go over well with her fellow Yezidi. She was given shelter by someone and it's reported that either A) the house was stormed and she was dragged out onto the street or B) her family mislead her into thinking that she had been forgiven and that it was safe to return home. Either way, she ended up like this:



The stoning, which purportedly lasted 30 minutes, was captured in-part by at least 1 cell phone and you can see the grisly footage yourself at this page at Wallyworld. Eight or nine barbaric fucks are generally thought to have done the deed while up to 1,000 others stood around watching and/or photographing it with a cell phone, including the police(!). At a couple points, someone in the crowd steps up to throw the girl's skirt back over her so that she is not exposed. As if the most horrific thing there was the sight of women's underwear.

Part of me wants to say that we should just nuke the area from orbit because it's the only way to be sure while another wants to rant about religion and patriarchy. But mostly I am just so incredibly appalled that I can't say too much at all.
|| Palmer, 12:57 PM || link || (3) comments | links to this post

Taunting French Dalek



Also check this out. It's the trailer for the second half of the current season. Will John Simm be the new Master?



|| Palmer, 6:06 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

05 May, 2007

Old Meanings Move in the Drift of Time

The Pope and I finally agree. Apparently he wants to bring back the Tridentine Mass. That means it's done in Latin. Now, I usually disagree with Herr Ratzinger and am absolutely repulsed by his role in sheltering pedophile priests, but I have a copy of Cattus Petasatus in my library. (i.e. - The Cat in the Hat) You see I am blessed by having had several years of Latin starting in the 4th grade. Ergo I'm all for the return of the Tridentine Mass.

The long-rumored document—said to take the form of a motu proprio, a personal initiative of the pope—would allow for broader use of the Tridentine, or, as it's commonly known, Latin Mass, by permitting any priest to celebrate it without first receiving permission from his bishop. The rite was the Catholic standard for nearly 400 years, from its codification in 1570 until the reforms of the 1960s that followed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council ushered in Masses in the local vernacular. The Latin Mass may no longer hold a place at the center of Catholic life, but some Catholics never stopped longing for its return.

I recall very well my Latin teacher (who was Jewish) from my freshman year of high school ranting and raving about how the venerable language was driven out of the Mass. Although this meant little to me at the time, I encountered an interview with Joseph Campbell many years later in which he talked about this issue. In addition to the use of vernacular, he noted the difference in how the priest worships. As Ratzinger once wrote:

"Less and less is God in the picture. … [T]he turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself."

In the Tridentine Mass, the priest has his back to the congregation, his head tilted upwards, and he worshiped along with his flock as opposed to looking down on them from on high. Not being one of them, I'm certainly content to let Catholics worship as they will. And what traditions to keep and which to abandon is for them to decide. But I'm all for the return of the Lingua Mater.

The author of the piece asks whether any priest could actually pull off one of these masses considering that Latin has been largely absent from Catholic schools and churches for decades. A good question. I'm sure that churches have a more pressing need to, say, have services in Spanish than to revisit its history. However, I think that Campbell's point and probably that of those in the Church seeking the Mass' return is that the reforms of the 1960s served to dislocate the Church from its roots. And, as this article in the Washington Post notes, this led to things such as "Pizza Masses" in which pizza pies replaced the communion wafer.

While I feel that the absurdity of religion generally can be summed up by this notion that pizza is transmogrified into the body of a deity, I am sympathetic to the issue of tradition here. I've always had a keen interest in how things came to be as they are. This is probably why I became enamored of James Burke's TV series Connections at a young age. Moving from the public to the personal, tradition first assumed a role of some importance in my life about 10 years ago but it became even more so after the death of my father three years ago. Perhaps that and the fact that I'm getting older. (But not old!) It is a great temptation to go living in the past but one must certainly avoid that. You have to live in the here and now but that doesn't mean that the past cannot inform your present. Everyone has to contend with the traditions that are handed down to them. When you're young, you have your whole life before you so there's little desire to look back and see where you came from. Getting older means that at some point you find yourself in that future that you formerly couldn't wait to arrive. Once you're there, you wanna know the path that led you to that point. Perhaps it's because death is just that much closer, but I think it's completely natural for people to want to connect with what came before them, to feel as if they're a part of a long chain that extends back through history.

This is illustrated well by my involvement in the Polish Heritage Club here in Madison. The membership is mostly middle-aged or older and at every event I attend, people of retirement age can often be heard giving the refrain of "This is what I did as a child" or "My grandmother taught me this". It is vitally important for many of these people to let us young folk know that we're the latest incarnations of an age-old identity and way of being. I think that it's all part of gnothi seauton - know thyself. We humans are probably the ultimate social creature and so it seems completely natural to me that we would want to not only feel a connection to others through space but also through time.

Of course not every tradition is able to be preserved or is worth preserving. Additionally, I'm not trying to argue that the modern Catholic mass is somehow flawed in the sense that it is an "improper" way to worship or that it is unable to fulfill whatever mental need people have which causes them to worship in the first place. But I think I can understand why the proponents of the Tridentine Mass feel as they do.

EDIT: I just e-mailed the Madison diocese to find out if any of the churches around here would offer a Latin mass if the Pope's wishes come to fruition. If so, my godless ass would be sorely tempted to take one in.
|| Palmer, 8:58 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

Friday Skin (On Saturday)

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04 May, 2007

Hitchens on Lou Dobbs

This is from last night.



"Religion ends and philosophy begins, just as alchemy ends and chemistry begins and astrology ends, and astronomy begins."
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03 May, 2007

Let's Hear It for the Google Homepage

From my friend Marv:

"The Google homepage has cut my productivity in half. They're great!"
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Happy National Masturbation Month!

May is National Masturbation Month. Well, according to some folks. Others say that 7 May is National Masturbation Day while others cite the first week of May as National Masturbation Week. And so I'm not quite sure what the deal is. Personally, I celebrate my masturbatory holidays 365 days a year or thereabouts but your mileage may differ.



Mark Twain once wrote of the practice:

"to the lonely it is company; to the forsaken it is a friend; to the aged and impotent it is a benefactor; they that are penniless are yet rich, in that they still have this majestic diversion."



For further exploration of this majestic diversion, lads should check out Jackin' World for more info while lasses should head to Clitical. Here in Madison, the friendly folks at A Woman's Touch would be more than happy to give you information as well as help you select the perfect toy(s) and accessories for either laying stomach pancakes or churning the butter.
|| Palmer, 6:19 AM || link || (3) comments | links to this post

02 May, 2007

Please Forgive Me Smoky Jon

Dear Smoky Jon,

I have sinned and am writing to beg for your forgiveness. You see, I ate at another barbecue joint this evening and I feel the need to repent. I transgressed partly from my own weakness and partly from being a victim of coycimstances. I was out on the west side because I had a meeting over on that side of town at 7. I had time to blow and then I felt the hunger pangs - I wanted BBQ. But you were over on the opposite end of town and I didn't want to drive there and then back. I didn't want to use the gas and emit more exhaust fumes than I had to. So I did it for the environment, I swear. My transgression was eating at a chain BBQ place which I shall not name. (But it's right by West Towne Mall.) I sat down and ordered as my tummy was making odd noises. When the food arrived, it looked alright, "looked" being the operative word here. The ribs were...they were dry and tough. Not like yours which are always tender and falling off the bone. Like you, they smoke their ribs. But unlike yours, their smoke flavor ran contrary to the flavor of the meat, not complementary to it. They had BBQ sauce at the table but the red stuff was horrible. It tasted like ketchup with corn syrup and Liquid Smoke added to it. Yours is so good with those finely diced bits of onion floating in a spicy sea of goodness. They were St. Louis style ribs and I know I should have been weary of food from the city which makes the crappiest beer ever known to man. To make matters worse, I asked for hot sauce and they gave me this supposedly hot habanero stuff but it turned out to be girlie hot sauce that barely registered on my tongue.

I see now that you are my BBQ shepherd and that I am a member of your flock that has strayed. But I have returned! Can you, in your amazing grace, forgive a wretch like me?

Your humble patron
|| Palmer, 7:39 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

On the Gramophone

By request this week at my podcast, it's the Psychedelic Warlords, Hawkwind.

|| Palmer, 7:32 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Fred & Wilma & Barney & Betty

Apparently our forebears back in the day were a kinky bunch. Or so says Timothy Taylor.

He may have come down from the trees, but prehistoric man did not stop swinging. New research into Stone Age humans has argued that, far from having intercourse simply to reproduce, they had sex for fun.

Practices ranging from bondage to group sex, transvestism and the use of sex toys were widespread in primitive societies as a way of building up cultural ties.


The article doesn't elaborate upon exactly how archaeologists have figured out that our distant ancestors engaged in bondage, unfortunately. There's a bit of the archaeological record I'd like to see.

How long can it be before Twisty takes Taylor to task for oppressing women by suggesting that bondage isn't merely a manifestation of the inherent violence of patriarchy?

|| Palmer, 1:09 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

On the Godless Front

Richard Dawkins recently released the video of the entire interview he did with the Bishop of Oxford for his The Root of All Evil?. They're buddies as Dawkins has "collaborated on several occasions to promote the proper teaching of science in UK classrooms" with the Bishop.



Also of note on the godless front is Christopher Hitchens who is out promoting his latest screed, God Is Not Great. Head to this site to watch him on a recent episode of The Daily Show. You can also watch Hitchens participate in a roundtable discussion about religion over at Book TV.

Jonathan Miller's BBC program, Brief History of Disbelief is finally making its way to American television. (I wrote about watching the first episode last fall.) You can find out more about the show's airing (mostly on PBS) by going to abriefhistoryofdisbelief.org. No news about whether the companion series, The Atheism Tapes, will be broadcast here as well.

I checked out The Science Network's webpage for the first time in a while and saw that there were several new interviews. I am especially keen on watching the conversation with neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran. I first encountered him by watching the Beyond Belief 2006 conference and found him to be an extraordinary speaker. Just fascinating. I'll have to read me some neuroscience.
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01 May, 2007

Help me Mr. McFeely, you're my only hope

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