Last week The Cap Times carried an interesting article about R Place and the trials & tribulations of its owners. Someone fired a gun in the bar's parking lot on 10 October and this was the fifth weapons incident of 2009 for R Place. Owners Rick Flowers and Annie Weatherby-Flowers have been given a last chance by the city to discourage the violence surrounding their establishment. Personally, I will be surprised if R Place makes it until the end of the year and would be shocked if it's still up and running in 2011.
There are a lot of issues at play here including racism, crime, commerce, and culture. Flowers charges that "the issue is not really R Place" but with "the societal forces and city policies that put unreasonable demands on bars popular with the black community and set them up to fail." The author of the piece, Pat Schneider, notes, "A study by the city's Equal Opportunities Commission found what appeared to be a different standard for bars that cater to people of color compared to campus-area bars" and that "remarks by then-Alcohol License Review Committee head Tim Bruer supporting a supposed moratorium on liquor licenses in the "fragile neighborhoods" south of Wingra Creek." Flowers surely has a prima facie case of unequal treatment under the law.
Flowers also complains that he is being held responsible for the incidents despite the fact that most (all?) of them happened outside his establishment where he has little control.
Two of the gun incidents since May were armed hold-ups that according to "word on the street," were done by the same group that has pulled other hold-ups in the area over the past year, Flowers says. Police have not arrested anyone. The police department has tens of millions in its budget, "and they can't deal with these shooters. They come over here and I'm supposed to deal with it. They wouldn't ask that of white people," he says.
This brought to mind the situation over by Red Letter News several years ago where hookers and johns littered the area outside the store. RLN stayed open and the police conducted a sting operation to rid the area of prostitution. These two situations are not exactly the same but both have in common nefarious or dangerous activity outside an establishment which did not solicit it. In one case, the police took action while in Flowers' case, he is expected to be the police. Just as prostitution didn't end in the aftermath of the sting and instead moved elsewhere from the corner of Washington and North, gun violence won't end when R Place closes.
It will be a shame when R Place shuts its doors for the last time because, as the article notes, "Flowers, who is black, says he wishes white people would try to understand the significance of the fact that his bar is the only place in town that caters primarily to people of color." Although I haven't read all the comments, many of those I have were by people who don't appear to even have tried to understand the what Flowers spoke of.
I was reminded of this significance over the weekend when The Dulcinea told me about getting her nails done. (The Dulcinea is my bi-racial girlfriend, for non-regular readers.) She was given a manicure by a black woman and she told me that they had a good conversation which drifted from talking about raising sons to movies and other topics. The manicurist was about 10 years older than The D and had adult children. She moved to Madison from Chicago while The D was born and raised here. They were both looking forward to seeing Precious next month while the nail expert was fearful that Good Hair wouldn't play in Madison.
Now, two women of color chatting about movies with black stars and generally exploring their common ground may sound insignificant to you, but for The D, it wasn't. If you take the significance of that conversation and broaden it, deepen it, then I suspect you'll get at what Flowers meant.
Strictly from reading the articles, I feel that it's a shame that the city – in the form of the cops, Alcohol Policy Coordinator Katherine Plominski, and even the area's alderperson Julia Kerr – are basically abandoning Flowers. The cops have seemingly foisted the burden for policing those outside his bar on his shoulders. If some guy packing heat steps into Flowers' parking lot looking to settle a score or hold someone up, why is Flowers paying the penalty? Kerr takes the same line: "But I do hope they can turn it around and make a go of it." Does she really think that Flowers can single-handedly deter criminals? Is that what she expects of the citizens in her district? From reading Schneider's piece, it seems that no one representing city government is the least bit interested in helping Flowers out.
When the city puts the kibosh on R Place, not only will the assholes with guns just go shooting elsewhere, but the black community here will see yet another attempt at carving out their own social niche in Madison go the way of the dodo. And most of Madison won't even notice.
The author, a gentleman named Chris, compares to the two festivals and pronounces the former to be superior.
How much for this literary escape? $2 for parking. The event was free. And that’s what I love about the Wisconsin Book Festival. I’ve seen great authors and gotten introduced to some great regional literature. And it’s all free.
That’s in direct opposition to the other big annual arts festival in Madison, the Wisconsin Film Festival. I also enjoy the WFF, but the events charge. I know films are more expensive products and may have to charge to make up for the expense, but I don’t get that. The book festival brings the authors in front of you (unless they’re dead). I’ve never seen a filmmaker or actor (Though, I’m told a few are there.).
Read this line again: "I know films are more expensive products and may have to charge to make up for the expense, but I don’t get that." What part of "more expensive" is so elusive of comprehension, Mr. Chris? What a whiner. Sorry, Chief, but the world doesn't owe you free festivals.
Just because you've never seen a filmmaker or actor at the film festival doesn't mean that they don't appear. Here's my review of one such occasion and here's another.
But perhaps the most ridiculous claim is this:
A good portion of their programming this past year was foreign, and most of the films were at least imports into the Midwest. I’m not a big believer in bringing the world to someone’s doorstep. Travel costs have dropped thanks to the great recession, and people who want to see the world should do it first hand.
If you believe that this recession means that everyone is able to afford to take months off from work and travel the globe, then you are an idiot. Perhaps Chris is independently wealthy but many people aren't. Most of us can't throw the kids in cryogenic suspension for a few months as we trot the globe spending tens of thousands of dollars. Some of us have to work for a living, support children, and are finding our salaries being slashed and/or being forced to go on furloughs. Does he think the only thing the recession is affecting is the airline industry and that everyone else is enjoying the riches of Croesus? If experiencing something for yourself instead of via art is so important to Chris, then why his hard-on for the local and regional at the book festival? It's is a thousand times easier to experience these things for oneself considering their proximity so why is he choosing to experience regional art in a lecture hall when he can jump in a car or on a bus and go experience it for himself?
In addition, the idea that watching foreign films is simply about having the world "brought to your doorstep" is ridiculous. People watch foreign films for many of the same reasons they watch domestic films. For example, to enjoy a good story. Does Chris think all the foreign films at the festival are just the equivalent of National Geographic specials? Watching a film like Los cronocrímenes (Time Crimes) as I did a couple years ago at the fest can be no more an act of cultural anthropology than watching a Transformers movie.
Sure, viewers might be able to glean a bit about a foreign land from watching films produced abroad, but I'm sure most folks would love to be able to head to every country that has a film shown at the festival. This just isn't possible except in Chris' la-la land where people are able to discharge their responsibilities on a whim and can travel at will in a deep recession.
Clarence Kailin died a short time ago. He was a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and a tireless activist for peace and social justice. Since I am dating his granddaughter, I got to meet him on occasion but, unfortunately, never got to know him. So it goes, I guess. It's especially sad because I've been thinking about my own deceased relatives a lot lately. I guess The Dulcinea and I will both be commemorating El Día de los Muertos this year.
You can read about Clarence's war experiences and his anti-war activities in Long Shadows: Veterans' Paths to Peace or in what will no doubt be countless tributes in the coming weeks in local and national media. I, for one, won't be able to walk by the ALB memorial at James Madison Park in quite the same way again.
Ed Brayton has a post which highlights the need for the government to recognize gay marriage.
The couple, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, were getting ready to board a cruise in Miami with their adopted children when Lisa collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.
Janice then sat in the waiting room with their children, being refused any access to her partner and information on her condition for hours on end even after the hospital had the documents showing that she was designated as Lisa's healthcare surrogate to make medical decisions in such a situation. And a federal judge just dismissed her lawsuit against the hospital.
The court ruled, essentially, that the hospital had no legal duty to do anything more than they did, even if the hospital's own clearly stated rules say otherwise.
I feel terribly for Janice. It pains me to think of my father's death. He spent the last few moments of his life on the ground in a parking lot 1000+ miles away from his family. The last time we spoke on the phone did not go very well and two days later he was dead. I never got a chance to say goodbye or to say what I wanted to say to him. And here we have Janice who is just down the hall from her partner in life as she lies dying yet she is denied the chance to say her goodbyes. That must have been incredibly frustrating and maddening. The hospital administrator deserves a punch in the nose.
I even showed the Admitting clerk the children's birth certificates with both Lisa and my name on them... and said if you won't let me back, let her children be with her. I was told they were "too young". I thought how old do you need to be to say goodbye to your mother?
This is outrageous. I don't understand this attitude. Back in the day, the death of a family member was dealt with at home. There were no undertakers so it was the family that washed the body and got it ready for the wake. And it was the family that buried the body. Death wasn't outsourced and dealt with behind the closed doors of strangers. Yet somehow children managed to grow up and be normal, productive members of society.
Getting back to gay marriage, I found this video this morning. It shows a World War II veteran named Philip Spooner speaking out in favor of it before a legislative committee in Maine which is considering the issue on an upcoming ballot.
I’m here today because of a conversation I had last year when I was voting. A woman at my polling place asked me, “Do you believe in equality for gay and lesbian people?”
I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that; it made no sense to me.
Finally I asked her, “What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?”
Dead Snow is finally making its way to Madison. Well, sort of.
The Norwegian Nazi zombie flick will be playing this weekend at the Union on Friday and Saturday nights at 9:30. Unfortunately, it will be in the form of a projected DVD. I want my Nazi zombies on celluloid, dammit!
Also at the Union will be a midnight screening of A Clockwork Orange on Saturday night/Sunday morning. It too will be a projected DVD. :(
David Blaska, the local conservative victimologist, recently decried Rush Limbaugh's failed attempt to exercise his Yahweh-given right to own an NFL team, namely, the St. Louis Rams. You may recall that Limbaugh was recently booted from a group of investors led by businessman Dave Checketts who are seeking to buy the team. It was determined by this group of private businessmen that Limbaugh's presence was apparently not helping matters because of his "divisive" day job where he blathers and lies.
Because conservatives are victims of liberal conspiracies in the Blaska world, he can blame lefties for Limbaugh's ousting. Never mind that it was, in fact, private businessman Dave Checketts who gave him the boot. You know, a private citizen taking responsibility and doing it for himself. Why is Blaska not cheering the fact that government stayed out and allowed private individuals to settle the matter amongst themselves? By the way Blaska writes, you'd think Noam Chomsky had done the deed himself as he sat at his underwater headquarters petting a cat and ordering his minions around via a really big video screen.
Blaska goes on to list various liberals who are divisive like Keith Olbermann and Jimmy Carter. Of course, none of these people are involved in the private matter of trying to buy the St. Louis Rams. Blaska noted:
Imagine if the Right had tried to slam George Soros, bankroller of MoveOn.org (General Petraeus, don’t betray us!) from buying a sports team. For speaking his mind! Freedom of speech!
Well, the right may not have slammed him in quite the same way, but, unlike Limbaugh, Congress decided to chime in when Soros tried to purchase a baseball team.
"It's not necessarily smart business sense to have anybody who is so polarizing in the political world," Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) said. "That goes for anybody, but especially as it relates to Major League Baseball because it's one of the few businesses that get incredibly special treatment from Congress and the federal government."
George Soros was apparently so divisive that Sweeney resorted to threats. Did any Congressional Democrats threaten the NFL if Limbaugh was allowed to become an owner? When a private individual boots Limbaugh, it's an outrage and the fault of liberals. But when a Republican Congressman threatens MLB over a liberal…? So was that OK, Mr. Blaska?
Yes, Mr. Garvery, Some People Are Just Plain Stupid
Ed Garvey has an opinion piece today up at The Capital Times. In his op-ed, he suggests that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman should step down.
How embarrassing for our state. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin is in turmoil because its newest member, Justice Michael Gableman, has a cloud over his head, but he won't offer an umbrella to his six colleagues and the six are split 3-3.
Garvey accuses Gableman of having found his own personal Willie Horton in the form of Reuben Lee Mitchell. Gableman's campaign ran ads last year suggesting that his opponent, Louis Butler Jr., who defended Mitchell on his appeal, found a loophole in the law to free his client who went on to commit further crimes. The problem was that Mitchell was not freed at that time because the state Supreme Court kept him in the pokey. It was only after Mitchell had been paroled that he committed his subsequent crimes. And so Gableman is more than likely guilty of lying by omission.
Gableman should recuse himself from criminal cases and if he won't, then the other members of the high court should take action. He should also recuse himself from cases involving WMC. To do otherwise undermines public confidence in the court. He should stop embarrassing Wisconsin and step aside.
One more thing. This state must begin funding Supreme Court races. The idea of lawyers and their clients giving large campaign contributions also undermines public confidence in our highest court. The public knows what is going on. We may be slow but we aren't stupid.
Garvey implies that the Gableman ad swayed voters – hence Butler's loss in the election last year. While this reflects poorly on Gableman, it surely reflects even worse on voters. I like how he felt compelled to include, "We may be slow but we aren't stupid", because that is exactly his implication. If people watched the ad and actually decided not to vote for Butler, then they're stupid. It didn't take a Bob Woodward to find out the actual events behind the ad and that Butler's actions did not, in fact, get Mitchell freed. And the state funding of Supreme Court races cannot cure stupidity.
Last week's hearing on a bill to raise the beer excise tax here in Wisconsin had generated a lot of discussion. The bill came into being in no small part because of attention generated by studies showing that we have more than our fair share of drunk drivers. Newspapers around the state ran multi-part stories about Wisconsin's "culture of alcohol". Here in Madison, the University of Wisconsin works to try and counter over-consumption and underage drinking by students.
Everyone agrees that drinking too much is bad, that driving while drunk is dangerous and potentially fatal, and that alcohol is a large part of socializing in Wisconsin. However, there is a lot of ambivalence about ol' John Barleycorn.
A couple weeks ago, there was what I think was a pre-Homecoming bash down on Library Mall. Walking towards State Street, I saw a van whose paint job was one big ad for Bacardi Limón. Was it pure happenstance that this boozemobile was there at the same time a campus shindig was ongoing? I sincerely doubt it. Go to the much heralded Union Terrace in the summer. There are multiple beer stands and posters proclaiming sponsorship of shows by beer companies.
Today the Chicago Sun-Times is running an AP story about how the Wisconsin Department of Tourism is promoting the state's microbreweries.
And so we have a situation where Dr. Bob Golden, the Dean of the Medical School, testifies in favor of the beer tax, while just down the street the Union serves beer, has events sponsored by breweries, and, in general, promotes a "culture of beer" of some ilk. Up at the Capitol Rep. Berceau and Senator Risser try to raise the tax to combat Wisconsin's "culture of alcohol" yet the folks at the Department of Tourism try to get people to plan their vacations around beer by providing itineraries for tours of the state's microbreweries.
Can we have it both ways? Can one hand work against a "culture of alcohol" while the other promotes what we might call a different "culture of alcohol"? How does all of this look to an outsider? Imagine you've just emerged from a Rawlsian veil of ignorance and consider Wisconsin. Would it make sense to you when you see all the efforts to combat drinking and then to look in the other direction and see that our baseball team is called the Brewers and that they play in a stadium named after one of the largest breweries in the world? Would it make sense to you when you see some members of state government attempting to combat consumption while others promoting it?
Much of the hype surrounding Paranormal Activity relates to the movie's microbudget of $15,000 or to its grassroots viral marketing campaign. But all of this ignores the fact that freshman director Oren Peli has come up with a genuine creepfest that is a load of fun.
Katie and Micah are a young couple living together in San Diego. Fate has endowed Katie with a case of extremely bad luck as she has been beset by a shadowy visitor in the night ever since she was eight years old when her family home mysteriously burned to the ground. The unwanted nocturnal guest has been away for a while but now has returned. Unexplained noises in the wee hours of the morning have prompted Micah into action. In this case he has bought a video camera to try and capture whatever it is spooking the house on tape or, rather, on his laptop's hard drive.
As with The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity is entirely made up of footage from a camcorder supposedly found in the aftermath of the events portrayed. Here, we see the couple's relationship play out during daylight hours while at night the camera is, thankfully, mounted on a tripod in their bedroom set to record the source of strange noises. Micah, a cocksure day trader, is skeptical of supernatural claims and likes to poke fun at Katie's increasing fear. But, as the days and nights wear on, it becomes apparent that her dread is quite justified.
Since the story is told solely by camcorder footage, we never get to know much about our protagonists aside from their occupations and brief bits of background. I personally found Micah to be incredibly annoying but Peli deserves credit for being able to transcend this and a lack of plot by ratcheting up the tension slowly and throwing in some horror movie clichés very effectively along the way. He uses a sort of minimalist approach whereby we essentially see the same scene repeated but with minor variations. At first there's just some unexplained noises. Then on another night the bedroom door mysteriously closes. Whatever it is that haunts their home gradually makes its presence known increasingly more dramatically.
Along the way there are some moments common in the genre such as the tense scene investigating the attic and a psychic who, unable to help the couple, can only offer the best line in the movie, "I can't be in this room", before bolting out the front door.
Paranormal Activity is as frightening as it is because it keeps the door closed, so to speak, until the very end. No back story is developed for that which haunts Katie which in turn would lead to a solution. It remains unseen. Aside from one scene out on the patio, the action takes place within the house which lends an air of claustrophobia. The movie also makes great use of silence which only helps the tension build to almost unbearable heights. I would also argue that it utilizes the wide screen very well. As you can see above, the bedroom scenes place the open door which leads to the hallway and downstairs on the extreme left-hand side of the screen while Katie and Micah slumber on the right. I was kept on my toes as my eyes were forced to dart around the shots looking for any sign of something spooky happening.
I have a few gripes but most of them relate to light switches and how the camera is lugged from room to room in certain scenes. These are quite minor and my biggest complaint isn't about the movie per se but rather…POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD…
…that the big shock ending was given away in the trailer. WTF? Unfortunately this meant that, after Katie undergoes her transformation of sorts, I knew what the end was going to be like and merely had to wait for it to come. Who thought it would be a good idea to put the finale into the trailer?
The ending being shown in theatres was not the original. If you're curious as to how it originally concluded, check out this article at Rope of Silicon.
…END OF SPOILERS….
Overall, Peli has created a good gothic tale using well-worn yet highly effective techniques to install dread into the audience which makes for a thrilling hour and a half.
Due to a funding snafu, the festival is short and it may have to be canceled this year. From Catherine Kuzmicki of the Polish Student Association:
We are hoping to hold the Polish Film Festival November 20, 21, 22. To give you a general idea of what the film festival is about, I'd liked to talk about it. The Polish Film Festival is a free event which showcases the latest Polish films for the student body and great Madison community. It will take place on the evenings of November 20-22. Its purpose is to enhance the appreciation and understanding of the Polish culture and life through the showing of various Polish films. The audience for this event is everyone; a variety of films will be shown that may tailor to all types of people. All students are welcome to this event as well as anyone interested in learning more about the Polish heritage. To further enhance their experience, after the showing of the films, there will be discussion sessions that analyze the films motives and ideas. We hope that this will greater augment the audience’s knowledge. We believe that through the showing of these films we can create a social atmosphere where people feel comfortable to explore both Polish heritage and film styles. To ensure great quality we use Cinematheque to run our films.
If you are able to donate to the cause, please do. Contact Catherine at email@example.com for more information.
My freezer is pretty well full at this point after my friend Jason and I headed down to Chicago on one of our meat runs earlier this week. Here's the back of his truck stuffed with coolers full of tasty goodness.
However, we also made a trip to an Ethiopian store called Kukulu Market. I'd read about it and the tasty snack food chechebsa they have over at the Chicago Reader and just had to go. This is it:
It's flat bread fried in clarified butter seasoned with berbere and the stuff is just excellent. A bit on the spicy side too. I don't know squat about Ethiopian cooking so I decided it was time to try to make doro wot, an Ethiopian chicken stew that ranks as one of The Dulcinea's favorite foods of all eternity. If Buraka were to ever close or leave town, I think she'd be compelled to leave Madison.
The first photo shows the injera bread I bought. They had 3 or 4 different varieties. One of the rounds above is made with the traditional teff while the other is with another grain that I don't know the name of. Below that we have containers of spices. The red one on the right is berbere while the other escapes my mind. Truth be told, the gentleman behind the counter was incredibly helpful and willing to explain everything to us Cheeseheads. Unfortunately, I just can't remember everything he told us. Our first batches of Ethiopian stews may or may not be edible.
Another interesting item for sale at Kukulu was green Ethiopian coffee. I favor African coffees. I mean, coffee originated in Ethiopia so we're dealing with the ur-stuff here. According to the Internet sites I've read, roasting coffee isn't particularly difficult. It just takes a little patience and some good ventilation. Perhaps this weekend I'll give it a shot.
We hit the Lincoln Square area and found that Delicatessen Meyer had closed. In its place is a second location of Gene's Sausage Shop. Unfortunately, remodeling was still apace. Not sure when it is slated to open. Unlike our last meat run, however, the Paulina Market was open. Walking in you are nearly overcome with the sweet scent of pork a-smokin'. Their selection of smoked sausage is enormous. I bought more linguisa, a Portuguese cured sausage, than I probably should have. My shopping basket also held a smoked goose breast, some apple breakfast sausages, mettwurst, a small slab of hickory smoked bacon, and probably a few other things that I'll discover when I dig around my freezer.
At Eli's, I got a lingonberry cheesecake as well as a chocolate chip. They had these four or five inch chocolate volcano cakes on sale for $2 apiece and I couldn't resist.
For lunch, we stopped at Psistaria Greek Restaurant on Touhy Avenue which was conveniently located right across the street from New York Bagel and Bialy. Jason and I both went for the combination platter and I nearly had a lamb overload. The mousaka was fantastic with just the right amount of cinnamon. The platter also came with a dolma, a roasted chicken quarter, rice, and peas. Everything was just delicious. And they kept the basket of bread full. Oh, the avgolemono was also quite tasty.
One lowlight of the trip was that my favored store for Indian sweets on Devon Avenue is now a pizza joint.
I had my camera with me the whole time but completely forgot about it so we're stuck with photos taken at home. Here are a few more.
That's a hachapuri from the Georgian bakery. It's a puffed pastry dough concoction filled 3(?) kinds of cheese. I also bought some pelmeni there which we had for dinner last night. I think they put just the right amount of pepper into the beef/pork combo filling.
Those are rugula, a Jewish sweet. I went with raspberry & cheese and chocolate chip. New York Bagel and Bialy is open 24/7/365 so I can run down there any time when I have an onion bialy itch that needs to be scratched.
Above is the Polish version of Playboy that we bought for our co-worker. I read the articles on the drive home. (Ahem.)
2) Someone in the Madison area must learn how to bake a decent loaf of light rye bread. I couldn't bake my way out of a paper bag and shouldn't have to drive to Chicago to get a good loaf of the stuff. I generally shop at the east side Woodman's and occasionally at Jenifer Street Market and have yet to find one. Silly Yak make a decent dark eye, I give them that. But most folks need to understand that rye bread doesn't necessarily mean pumpernickel. Can anyone suggest some good stuff around here?
3) I forgot to buy Gonnella bread for the Italian beef. D'oh!
Martin Scorsese's latest film, a thriller called Shutter Island, is due in February. Robert Richardson, one of my favorite cinematographers, lensed it. There are now a couple trailers floating about. Here's one of them.
The Wisconsin Historical Society has an exhibit celebrating the centennial of August Derleth's birth, he being a native of Sauk City. I know Derleth primarily as a horror writer and friend of H.P. Lovecraft but, as the displays down on State Street show, he was a very versatile writer who authored works in a variety of styles.
Here's the final installment of his Sac Prairie Saga, a series of ten novels.
Among the other genres Derleth wrote are poetry, detective stories, sci-fi, and historical non-fiction. The exhibit has an example of the last one in the form of The Milwaukee Road: Its First 100 Years, published in 1948.
I had no idea that that Derleth collected comics and comic books. He also collaborated with cartoonist Clare V. "Dwig" Dwiggins and produced a children's story called Oswald the Owl in 1945.
As I said above, I know Derleth mainly via his friendship with H.P. Lovecraft and Arkham House Publishers. With Halloween on the horizon, there was no shortage of items showcasing Derleth's horror writing and Arkham's output.
There is also an eldritch letter that Lovecraft wrote to Derleth in 1926.
I am trying to get my brother and friends in Chicago who are Derleth/Lovecraft fans into a bidding war for these items. I figure I can pull off a nice Mission Impossible heist to obtain the books, etc. Unfortunately, my brother is claiming some kind of fraternal privilege and tells me I ought to give him the stuff for free.
If you go, be sure to grab a free copy of Derleth's "The Slayer and the Slain" from the September 1949 issue of Weird Tales wherein you can be chilled by the ghastly secrets of the violent past which dwell in the files of the Wisconsin Historical Society itself...
There is something quite fun about corrupting other people's children. The Dulcinea's youngest son is now 10, which is a fine age to begin a campaign of turning him into a nerd, geek, and/or dork. He likes Doctor Who and has taken to a bit of progressive rock already, so I'm off to a good start. Last night we played a game of Ticket to Ride and thusly he is becoming inculcated with the virtues of board gaming.
Since he also likes playing games on the Wii, I think I'll try to nudge him towards Dungeons & Dragons by getting him Medieval Games which will be released on the 20th of this month. Indeed, I may even join in on the fun myself as it looks quite amusing.
Mayan Indian Elder to White New Agers: Get Over This 2012 Business
There are those among us that have been infected by this odd notion that, because the ancient Mayan calendar say some nebulous something about the year 2012, the world will undergo a paradigm shift, end, or some other gobbledygook.
The H2G2 Trilogy Gets Sixth Book (And More Douglas Adams News)
The sixth and latest installment of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy comes out on Monday - And Another Thing.
Irish author Eoin Colfer, was given permission to pen another book by Douglas Adams' widow, Jane Belson.
"It's like Monty Python meets Mel Brooks - in space," says Colfer, describing Adams's style. "That's what I try to do, though my book is probably more on the Mel Brooks side."
Fans of the Hitchhiker's Guide series - also known as H2G2 - will rejoice that most familiar elements are intact: There are witty Guide entries, the Vogons and their awful poetry, the Infinite Improbability Drive and, of course, Arthur Dent and his companions Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox.
Ambivalence marks my feelings here. On the one hand, it's not written by the man himself and this is tampering. But on the other, Terry Jones novelized Starship Titanic and it was fine. He took DNA's material and made it his own. Colfer may well have produced a nice tribute to DNA and an entertaining read to boot. In the end, I think H2G2 fans will be better off if he didn't try to do a forgery of Adams' style and instead wrote in his own voice but in the same ballpark as DNA.
In other Douglas Adams news, the BBC has been airing Last Chance to See, a TV series based on the book and radio series that DNA did with Mark Carwardine back in 1990. (And a multimedia CD-ROM in the early 90s as well.) It was a look at various animals that were on the verge of extinction.
Here, DNA's friend Stephen Fry gets the nod and joins Carwardine in search of endangered species. Some of them were featured in the original incarnations of LCtS while others are new. It's a six-part series and that final episode airs next week. I've grabbed the first five eps in HD but haven't watched any of them yet. Any readers watched it?
On Monday The Dulcinea and I headed to Chicago for Deathscribe 2009, The Second Annual International Festival of Radio Horror Plays.
The Music Box Theatre filled with people ready to get their, um, fill of horror goodness. Inside the stage was adorned with microphones while a live band rehearsed in front of it. As we stood outside in the lobby, one of the foley artists walked by with what looked to be a family-sized 3-pack of celery stalks. Somebody's bones were going to be broken.
WildClaw Theatre, the folks behind Deathscribe, put out the call for submissions months ago and the five finalists were to have their plays performed Monday night. They were:
Bags of Blood Written by Daniel Caffrey, directed by Don Hall
The Most Beautiful Woman in the World Written by Clint Sheffer, directed by Cecilie Keenan
The Dust Gods of Dr. Gaul Written by Jude Mire, directed by Robert Breuler
The Skinny Man Written by Scott T. Barsotti, directed by Katie McLean
Remembrance Written by Chris Hainsworth, directed by Nic Dimond
As we took our seats, the band was playing a jazzy tune that wasn't far from the work of Angelo Badalamenti and so the night began with a David Lynch-like vibe. I went out for a smoke and ran into a bunch of my dorky gaming friends. It was hardly surprising to see these H.P. Lovecraft fans in attendance.
The show started a bit late but the emcee eventually got things going. First up was "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World". It took place in the 1910s. A doctor falls in love with a prostitute who is plagued by a very persistent madam who is reluctant to let her go. To free the woman from her bonds, the doctor performs some cosmetic surgery so that the woman can escape. Things go well until the couple believes they are being followed by the madam. Let's just say the woman takes her love of surgery a bit too far and ends up turning things inside out.
"Bags of Blood" followed. It brought some humor to the proceedings as two Floridian women in the present day sit on a porch and gripe about their kids. Mosquitoes are swarming and a truck which is to spray insecticide is nearing the neighborhood. The title refers to the human characters here who become the victims of some rather large blood suckers.
"The Dust Gods of Dr. Gaul" combined humor with a very Lovecraftian scenario. Again, one of the characters was a doctor. He is traveling with his wife to Africa to assist a friend of his who is also a doctor. The doc already in Africa is formulating a vaccine to help the natives who suffer from a dreadful disease. He describes the disease to his friend and shows him the vaccine under the microscope. This is followed by a dire warning. "It doesn't affect foreigners. I recommend you not take the vaccine. Don't take the vaccine." The vaccine turns out to be microscopic minions of a mad deity (Cthulhu?). He's infecting the locals to ensure the deity rises from its sleep. The end scene is classic with a crazed orgy of a ceremony bringing the god back to life and the doctor giving his best demonic laugh.
Outside during the intermission which followed, my friend Don, an experienced Call of Cthulhu RPG GM, noted that this play "…was something Tony (another CoC GM) and I would pull out of our asses for the Cthulhu Masters Tournament at GenCon."
One of the neat things about the festival was that, in addition to some music, there were radio "commercials" between the plays. For instance, three vampires shilled for the Four Moon Tavern while a couple English dandies and a zombie did the same for Deleece Restaurant, another sponsor of the fest. Our emcee thanked the horror/sci-fi memorabilia shop called Horrorbles out in Berwyn, a suburb of Chicago. Every time he mentioned Berwyn, those of old enough to remember the Son of Svengoolie repeated "Berwyn!" right back at him.
With the intermission over, the festival continued with "Remembrance". It had a novel way of telling its story, namely, via a series of audio diary entries from a doctor (I sense a pattern here) who discovered a way to treat Alzheimer's disease. As in Star Trek, the entries are dated. They begin with the doc noting the cure and how it regenerates the tissue in the brain. A kindly couple are introduced, with the wife suffering from the disease. The cure works – only too well. She recovers her memories only to relive the experiences all over again. For example, she gets angry at her husband for forgetting Valentine's Day – 1963. The woman continues to regress when it is discovered that her body is also reliving her past. When she recalls breaking a bone as a child, the same bone mysteriously breaks in the present. However, the worst news was that the "cure" has mutated and gone airborne.
Scott T. Barsotti, author of a previous WildClaw production, The Revenants closed out the night with his vaguely Blair Witchy "The Skinny Man". A seemingly abandoned house is the source of late night screams and a couple police officers investigate. They creep around the basement until a wall proves to have a space behind it. The wall is torn down to reveal a room with a bed in it. But the bed happens to be occupied by a very hungry guy. Let me tell ya, the foley artist did a lot of celery and lettuce crunching for this one.
An elite panel of judges did their thing and awarded the Bloody Axe to Chris Hainsworth for "Remembrance". Quite well-deserved.
Before the night was over, it was announced that WildClaw's next production would be William Peter Blatty's sequel to The Exoricst, Legion. Look for this play to open in March.
Recently, Wisconsin State Journal reporter George Hesselberg, or someone doing a good job of posing as him, left a comment at my blog. It went "Most days, to tell the truth, we [old media] couldn't conspire to start a wastebasket fire." To be honest, such admissions of incompetence don't exactly inspire much faith in my local news organizations within me. And there are days when I'd take it even further – some days they couldn't conspire to do any actual reporting. I mean, take a look at the #1 most important story that readers need to know about today:
To quote Palmer in The Thing as Norris' head sprouts legs and makes a dash, you gotta be fucking kidding.
Secretly cheering for Brent Favre in tonight's Packers vs Viqueens game is the big story? Why is this fluff not in, say, the sports section where it belongs? Ooh! And then there's the story about students in Verona doing yoga. How many years of journalism school and months of investigation did it take to write that one? And why is this story so incredibly important anyway?
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been busting its balls exposing fraud in the Wisconsin Shares program. Why are the combined resources of the two papers here in Madison unable to do anything similar? I mean, the Capitol is their backyard.
Is there really nothing going on in state or local government that is more important than an opinion poll? Or are Brent Favre and the Packers just so fucking important that their every move must grace the front page?
Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is the literary equivalent of Pink Floyd's The Wall - it is just incredibly depressing. And I'm only a bit less than halfway through it.
Published in 1970, the book is, as its subtitle notes, "An Indian history of the American West". Reading it has been the fulfillment of a promise I made decades ago. I remember a copy sitting on my father's bookshelf as a child and was always fascinated by the photo of the Indian on the cover. I vowed to read the book someday and that someday arrived about a week ago.
There's no mystery nor any suspense to be had as we know how the story ends – the American Indians are nearly wiped out and left to lives on reservations where they were all but stripped of their native culture. One need only read a couple chapters to get the gist of Brown's tale. The Indians are living their lives and then white men come and take their land to mine for gold, build railroad tracks, etc. It doesn't matter why they came because the encounters generally end the same way. Pale faces make a treaty and then turn around and break it. They try to corral the Indians into reservations which are tucked neatly out of the way of mineral rich areas. Friction leads to resentment, resentment leads to conflict, and conflict leads to the slaughter of the Indians with little mercy shown to even those still in the womb.
Brown writes from the Indians' point of view. This not only counters the chronicles of this period which had, until this time, had been written from the point of view of pale faces, but is also an attempt to ensure maximum sympathy for the Indians on the part of the reader. And so the names of white men are usually given as they were referred to by the natives. E.g. – an officer with a long black beard is called something like "Black Whiskers" and the President is referred to as "The Great Father". Time gets a similar treatment. Instead of saying that some event occurred in June, it is noted that it happened in the "Strawberry Moon". Trains are called "Iron Horses" and so on. This shift in perspective doesn't take long to get used to as it doesn't take much to figure out most references. Those that are perhaps a bit more obscure to us urban pale faces are explained. (We presumably know that strawberries ripen in June but most of us don't know when ponies shed.)
Although the first chapter notes the earliest arrivals of Europeans on these shores, the focus is on the period of 1860-1890, the height and end of what we call the Indian Wars. And so the reader is plopped down in media res of a centuries long conflict. What we get here is the worst of the worst and I'm left wanting to know more about what happened prior to 1860. This isn't a criticism of the book, really, as it's not an exhaustive account of the relations between white and Indians. I think it's also worth noting that Brown glosses over inter-tribal conflicts. They're noted in passing but are quickly put aside as the tribes join forces against their common enemy. The effect is two-fold. On one hand, the Indians are cast in an overly romanticized light. On the other, the focus is put squarely upon the savagery of the whites.
Textual criticisms and observations aside, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee has spawned an interest in me to learn more about Native Americans. As Brown notes in his introduction, his history is a good starting point for trying to understand the status of Indians in America today, whether it be 1970 or 2009. Here in Wisconsin, I suspect most non-Indians tend to think of casinos and reservations where poverty and alcoholism are rampant when the subject of Native Americans is brought up. And this is despite the fact that many place names throughout the state are derived from Indian words and that "Wisconsin has more reservations than any other state east of the Mississippi". Perceptions, however, vary. If you live up north, you are in much closer proximity to reservations than we here in Madison are. And this will certainly affect how you view Indians, for better or for worse.
Madison's American Indian population is quite small – around 1,000 or so – which probably accounts for the paucity of their representation in Madison's cultural milieu. Outside of the DeJope bingo hall, you really have to look for the presence of Native Americans or, at least, know what you're looking for to recognize it when you see it.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was published at a time when many minorities were vocal in their insistence that they be recognized. The plight of American Indians was thrust into the national consciousness. But, as with most things, the gravity of our history was gobbled up by pop culture and turned into an anti-littering commercial. However, life is cyclical. At some point someone or some event will bring the American Indian back into the spotlight. And I'm sure people will look to Dee Brown's book to gain understanding.
If you are a fan of audio dramas, do yourself a favor by listening to Cold Blood, written by Simon Bovey. It scared the crap out of me on a few consecutive nights as I listened to it while in bed.
It features the crew of an Antarctic research station in the year 2014. At this time the continent is dotted with many similar research stations as well as at least one oil drilling rig. In addition to an increased human presence, the Antarctic is cold. Really, really cold. The sound of the howling wind, the descriptions of how quickly frostbite creeps in, etc. conspired to make this listener very chilly indeed.
The play begins with Anaya, a relative newbie, caught outside in whiteout conditions. She nearly dies as she's unable to find her way back to the station even though she is only about 30' away from it. After the first few minutes of chills, the thrills then kick in. Things are going well at the station when a static-filled SOS call is received from another research facility nearby. "Nearby" is relative and in this case means about 60 miles. Soon enough there's a loud, ominous knock at the door.
Bowers, seemingly the lone survivor from the other station has made the long, brutal trek to our heroes' door. He is an acquaintance of Taft, the station's grizzled veteran and captain. The visitor describes gunshots and a fire at his facility which motivated him to flee in a snowcat. However, the vehicle had to be abandoned 20 miles away. How did Bowers manage to walk that far without showing any effects of the cold?
Aside from a couple overly long monologues by the villain, Cold Blood was excellent. It is comprised of five 30-minute episodes and, after the introductory scenes, it's all mystery and suspense. I highly recommend it and also highly recommend you listen to it in the summer when it's 80 degrees outside.
With the news that Chicago has been eliminated from the race to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, comes the mourning here in Madison. Jesse Russell expressed his disappointment at Dane 101 while David Medaris did the same at The Daily Page.
Personally, I think Chicago dodged a bullet here but wouldn't have complained if it did get the bid and this helped our fair city getting an intercity rail stop.
But, if it takes a once-in-a-lifetime event like a deep recession or the chance to host the Olympics to get a train stop, then I don't think most Americans are particularly serious about rail.
Perhaps we should try giving all the high-speed rail funds to California to see if we can get create a poster child for the HSR cause.
So, when contractors are negligent and their digging destroys the root system of trees to the point where they have to be cut down, it's murder. But when we pull a head of lettuce out of the ground with malice and with forethought, it is just eating.
What makes this all the more grotesque is that in reply to a comment I made on his blog about how his support for the war in Afghanistan is also de facto an act of lending support to the deaths of innocent civilians, he pulled out a wonderful euphemism that Bush and his cronies would be proud of: he said that he was aware of the "realities" on the ground.
...is "reality on the ground" while this...
Am I alone in thinking that there is something very wrong when a perfectly intelligent and well-meaning person can reserve the harshest of words for instances where trees are cut down but resort to euphemism which marginalizes and minimizes the suffering of people who are caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and NATO forces?
I don't believe that Humphrey is a cold-hearted war-monger but, when he writes passionate encomia in the wake of Ted Kennedy's death and then turns around only to euphemize the suffering, death, and misery of Afghan civilians into an abstract oblivion, I can't help but believe that something has been misplaced, something has gone terribly awry.
It wasn't until recently that I realized just how pubically-challenged actresses are these days. First came news that Kate Winslet donned a merkin for The Reader. Then it was revealed that Sienna Miller, presumably also being paid a goodly sum, couldn't be bothered to temporarily sacrifice her landing strip for the part. This necessitated that a SFX wiz stare at her pudendum while digitally adding pubic hair to her for a few scenes.
The absurdity level has now reached new heights with the movie Birthday Suit wherein the nudity and graphic sexual content is done via green screen. You have to watch this video. The lead actor and actress wear Pantone green undergarments so that the breasts and genitalia of others can be edited in for all the naughty scenes. So, when they are schtupping in the movie, you'll actually be watching digital chimeras that are mostly Jason Lewis and Vinessa Shaw with the fun parts of their bodies belonging to the stunt doubles.
The director couldn't cast Chloë Sevigny or someone from Short Bus?
The Wisconsin State Journal has an article up about how the state is cutting funding for the Tobacco Quit Line.
In spite of soaring state cigarette taxes, the Quit Line's funding was slashed by two-thirds - from $3.7 million a year to $1.2 million - as part of the broad cuts implemented in the 2009-11 budget signed by Gov. Jim Doyle to help solve the state's massive deficit. Total funding for anti-tobacco programs was cut from $15.3 million a year to $6.9 million.
This should come as a surprise to no one as it is but a repeat of what Wisconsin did when it settled with the tobacco industry. It decided to forego the full amount over many years for a one-time payment that was much smaller. And precious little when towards anti-smoking campaigns. These days, the state is demonizing smokers and extracting more money from them via sales tax only to neglect anti-smoking efforts again.
And so, when Rep. Terese Berceau comes to you looking to increase the beer excise tax on the grounds that the money will be used to help mitigate the effects of overconsumption on our state, cast a very critical eye in her direction. Berceau may very well be earnest in her desire for the money raised by increasing the beer excise tax to go to the programs she says it will, but, in the end, politics will win out. The money will go where the people who hold the purse strings deem it politically expedient for it to go.
The past few days I've been watching Tony Robinson's Crime and Punishment. Robinson is known for having played Baldric in the Black Adder series but he does a lot of programming for Channel 4 with a focus on history.
Over the course of four episodes, Crime and Punishment examines the history of the laws of England, which is also, in large part, a history of our laws. I watched the third last night which chronicled, among other things, the execution of Charles I, the Glorious Revolution, and the English Bill of Rights, all of which helped cut the monarchy down to size and establish the notion that no one is above the law, not even the king.
How ironic then for me to read that blogger/political commentator Andrew Sullivan is above the law. Well, at least laws about possession of controlled substances.
While marijuana possession may have been decriminalized, Sullivan, who owns a home in Provincetown, made the mistake of being caught by a park ranger with a controlled substance on National Park Service lands, a federal misdemeanor.
The ranger issued Sullivan a citation, which required him either to appear in U.S. District Court or, in essence, pay a $125 fine.
But the U.S. Attorney’s Office sought to dismiss the case. Both the federal prosecutor and Sullivan’s attorney said it would have resulted in an “adverse effect” on an unspecified “immigration status” that Sullivan, a British citizen, is applying for.
How nice such a privilege would be to the 750,000+ people who were arrested last year for possession of dope. Presumably a rather large number of those folks were, unlike Sullivan, American citizens. But because they were not famous bloggers at The Atlantic, their government took a slightly less charitable view of their actions.
This situation made Judge Robert B. Collings highly unamused. He pointed out the inherent in equality of the situation.
Collings says he expressed his concern that “a dismissal would result in persons in similar situations being treated unequally before the law. … persons charged with the same offense on the Cape Cod National Seashore were routinely given violation notices, and if they did not agree to [pay the fine] were prosecuted by the United States Attorney … there was no apparent reason for treating Mr. Sullivan differently from other persons charged with the same offense.”
In fact, noted Collings, there were several other defendants appearing in court the same day who were charged with the same offense.
In his opinion, Collings wrote that the U.S. Attorney is “is not being faithful to a cardinal principle of our legal system, i.e., that all persons stand equal before the law and are to be treated equally in a court of justice once judicial processes are invoked. It is quite apparent that Mr. Sullivan is being treated differently from others who have been charged with the same crime in similar circumstances.”
I guess some people are just more equal than others.