Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 October, 2010

Attack Ads, Circa 1800

|| Palmer, 10:25 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

28 October, 2010

Muskellunge Madness: Blood Hook

A fisherman driven to kill by rock'n'roll music? A movie shot in Hayward? It's Blood Hook!

|| Palmer, 12:47 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

26 October, 2010

Scanning For Thee But Not For Me

Last week, fellow Madisonian blogger Gregory Humphrey asked "Is Government 'Elitist'?". The answer must surely be yes. Just ask Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

She was at JFK Airport the day after Humphrey posed his question touting those new x-ray scanners that take photos of your naked body. Of course, she declined to lead the nation in being scanned.

Yet when it came to testing the devices - which produce chalky, naked X-ray images of passengers - she turned the floor over to some brave volunteers.

You see, actually being scanned by one is not something for elite Cabinet officials, it's for us plebs alone. Here's some great quotes from her:

"Those who read the images are not actually physically at the gate, so they cannot associate an image with an individual person at all," she said.

"And the machines are set so that no image is retained."


Right. Sure they don't retain any images. It's not like they've been retained before. Right?

For the last few years, federal agencies have defended body scanning by insisting that all images will be discarded as soon as they're viewed. The Transportation Security Administration claimed last summer, for instance, that "scanned images cannot be stored or recorded."

Now it turns out that some police agencies are storing the controversial images after all. The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse.


And it's not just in America. In the UK, the scanned images of Indian film star Shahrukh Khan were not only retained, but also printed and distributed. This of course came shortly after UK Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said that all such images were deleted immediately.

As the Wikileaks documents have reminded us, all you need to know about government is two words: "governments lie".
|| Palmer, 3:33 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Two Beers and a Gripe Chaser





The next entry in Capital's Capital Square Series – Tett Doppelbock – is to be released in mid-November last I heard.

I swung down to New Glarus over the weekend as I'd heard a couple weeks ago that they had a new R&D brew – Two Women Lager. Only available at the brewery, it appears that it came out in the spring. In addition to Two Women, the other R&D brew was a Belgian Pale Ale labeled "Golden Ale" which I have had already.

So here's my titular gripe: why are none of these beers advertised on the breweries' websites? I can kinda sorta maybe understand why New Glarus wouldn't advertise the R&D brews. Give visitors a special treat when they arrive. But perhaps letting people know, "Hey! You can only get this stuff at the brewery!" might be a good way to get more beer lovers to go there more often. But Capital doesn't have this option. The Tett Doppelbock, despite being a limited release, will be at stores. No brewery visit needed. If I go to a movie, I see trailers for films several months ahead of the release date and here we are 2-3 weeks before the beer's release yet I can find no publicity at the brewery's website. I mean, I don't need to know what your limited release for November is going to be in January, but it is October now. Why not start spreading the word and build a bit of excitement?
|| Palmer, 1:49 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

At Harold's Chicken Shack

I and the family went to the newly-opened Harold's Chicken Shack last night. My justification for eating out when we really should have eaten at home was to say that it was a prelude to our trek to Alabama next summer. As others have noted, there was no bulletproof glass at the counter as there is at some of the chain's other locations in Chicago. And now onto the food:

The Kid: shrimp dinner
The Dulcinea: catfish dinner
Ich: half chicken dinner – dark meat (In your face, Samara Kalk Derby!)

Dinners came with French fries, cole slaw, and two (2) slices of white bread. N.B. – the slaw comes in those little paper cups that usually accommodate condiments which means you bet about 1.5 tablespoons of the stuff.

The boy enjoyed the shrimp. Being 11 years old and having a hankering for fast food, he really didn't say much other than it tasted great.

The D loved her catfish. The corn meal breading was apparently very good.

My chicken was a surprise in two ways. Firstly, the pieces (2 thighs and 2 legs) were huge and obviously came from some animal given fowl steroids. I mean they were massive, bordering on the elephantine. The legs looked like they came from a turkey while the thighs were probably 5oz. Secondly and much to my disappointment, the coating was very bland. Everything else was fine – the meat was juicy, the coating nice'n'crispy – but it just tasted like fried flour. I didn't have to have 11 herbs and spices but a hefty dose of salt was needed at the very least while pepper would have been icing on the cake.

I presume the reason for this is that HCS assumes you're going to be putting sauce on it whether it be BBQ or hot sauce. Caveat eaters! I ordered both hot and BBQ on the side but the boy's and The D's meals came with hot sauce already applied while mine came with none. (The kid's fries had it as did The D's fish.) Presently, I am putting this down to the kid who took my order. Like any teenager, he was distracted while I felt that I was pretty clear in asking for all sauces to be on the side. This didn't ruin our meals (though the boy needed extra beverage to cool down his tongue) but my advice is to be extra-super thorough when ordering as to what sauces you want and how you want them applied or to be super clear that you don't want any sauce at all and instead ask for some after you get your food.

On the other hand, the rest of staff members I encountered were really friendly and helpful. Plus The D remarked that it was the most black people she'd been around in Madison for ages, which made me chuckle. Indeed, it's not often that I, a bohunk, find myself a racial minority here in Madison. I could have been forgiven for thinking I was in a large city. And let me say that the place was hoppin'. A TV was tuned to one of those cable music stations playing contemporary R&B or urban music or whatever you feel like calling it. A lot of the people there both behind and in front of the counter seemed to know each other and it gave the feeling of being a neighborhood event, of sorts. I noticed that the guy who was dredging and battering the chicken often made his way out of the kitchen to chat. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of the people there were originally from the south side of Chicago and were reveling in a bit of home. For having been open a mere two days, it already seemed to be a neighborhood institution.

Now all we need is to import a Wiener's Circle from Chicago to see how all the nice, polite, politically-correct Cheeseheads treat the staff.
|| Palmer, 12:42 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

25 October, 2010

A Distinguished Lecture (of Sorts) By Errol Morris



(Photo by Ben Pierson.)


After attending a lecture on Errol Morris Thursday afternoon, it was off to the Union that night to hear the man himself.

Morris was a lot taller than I thought he'd be and had this great big avuncular smile. He came onstage wearing a tan jacket which he never took off.

His "prepared" remarks were relatively few. In them he talked about how the UW made a difference is his life. He preceded explaining just how his time here made him into the man he by saying, "Maybe I'm still a ne'er do well" and noting that he had been rejected by every college that he applied to. His high school counselor then recommended applying to the UW as "they accept everybody". It proved fortuitous as Morris said that he was introduced to the things that preoccupy him today right here.

For starters, there was the TV commercial he shot for Parthenon Gyros, their first ever. Plainfield crazy man Ed Gein instilled in the young Morris an obsession with murder, the nature of crime, and the insanity plea. He did three interviews with the killer himself. Morris described the interviews as "deeply prurient". Morris said that he wrote the first climbing guide to Devil's Lake as well. Back on campus, two history professors – George Mosse and Harvey Goldberg proved to be great influences on the history major. Mosse was "incredibly perverse, sardonic, and pessimistic" and saw ideas as the mechanism of history while Goldberg was an impassioned advocate of ideas about right and wrong. Lastly there was the Wisconsin Historical Society who had a large collection of Warner Brothers/RKO films which the young Morris would watch.

He rounded out his speech by saying, "I've been very, very, very lucky" and with this he said that he'd rather take questions than attempt to speak on some predetermined topic.

Questions from the audience ended up being launching pads for Morris to tell stories and go on interesting tangents. Someone asked if he had any good stories about Morris' friend Werner Herzog. Before detailing how he and Herzog posed as doctors to interview mass murderer Ed Kemper in California, he noted that he met many of the New German Cinema directors at the Pacific Film Archive and Wim Wenders was the first person to see a rough cut of Gates of Heaven. Wenders remarked that it was a work of genius.

Another person asked if Morris had ever distorted the truth in any way to get a movie made. His answer is one that I wish more people understood – especially a certain Madison blogger who constantly longs for newspapers to undergo a atavistic transformation because they were "objective" back in the day. Morris said that the mere act of putting together a story means leaving stuff out and/or putting emphasis at one place or another. "Sometimes it becomes a Liberty Valence thing." Furthermore, he offered that people are reluctant to accept truth. For instance, it is commonly said that Morris got Randall Adams off of death row with his film The Thin Blue Line but, in fact, the movie ended up getting Adams out of a life sentence. Morris said that reporters didn't believe him when he would correct them.

There were lots of other great stories to be had as well from the set of his films. "The electric chair is a very scary thing" was how he introduced some tales from the making of Mr. Death. The crew were locked in a death chamber for filming and Morris said it was interesting to see who would sit on the chair and those who wouldn't. Morris wouldn't and neither would his cinematographer. However, the gaffer was happy to be strapped down and have his picture taken – for Christmas cards.

Morris described Fred Leuchter, the film's subject, as an "impossibly ridiculous character" but a very sweet guy. (He upgraded electric chairs for a living and got mixed up in Holocaust denial – all chronicled in the movie.) When the camera was off, Leuchter would chain smoke but, when it was time to shoot again, he'd snuff it out. When asked why he did this, he said "You've got to understand Errol, I'm a role model for children."
|| Palmer, 2:00 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Madison on Brewing TV

Brewing TV - Episode 22: Madison, WI from Brewing TV on Vimeo.

|| Palmer, 1:12 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

22 October, 2010

An Errol Morris Primer

Director Errol Morris is in town for a couple days to cap off a retrospective of his work and participate in a symposium about his work. Things kicked off yesterday afternoon with a lecture by film professor and UW alumnus Carl Plantinga called "Errol Morris and the Anosognosic's Guide to Documentary Film".

While Morris himself was not in attendance, many distinguished UW film professors were: J.J. Murphy, Kristen Thompson, David Bordwell, and Vance Kepley. I took Kepley's History of Documentary Film class.

Plantinga began by defining the big word,"anosognosis". It means being ignorant of your ignorance and he posited that Morris feels this is part of the human condition. With these prefatory remarks done, he got to the meat of his lecture which was divided into seven parts. I won't go over each one individually but will hit the highlights.

First is the claim that Morris is interested in what Plantinga called "mindscapes". Morris is interested in people; their beliefs, their motivations for their beliefs, and their obsessions. He wants to know how his subjects view the world. This was followed by a look at Morris' epistemological leanings. Far from being a post-modernist, he believes that objective truth exists but that it is not always easy to get at it though that shouldn't stop us from trying.

Plantinga also addressed the style of Morris' films. He uses his Interrotron, device that allows Morris and his subject to look directly at each other and the subject to look directly into the camera. Here the importance of the face was brought up. If Morris wants to get to know about the interior states of people, then his best bet is to look at people's faces because it is expressive of them. The interview is an important tool because it shows how things were said (vs. simply reading people's words) and it puts the interviewee into context. As an example, Plantinga showed a frame from Gates of Heaven (either that or Vernon, Florida) which showed a man behind his desk. You've got his nameplate, trophies he'd won, etc. We see him in his element.

This is relevant to a later section of the lecture that was entitled "The Five Hundred ton Fly On the Wall". We were told that Morris rejects the attempt of cinéma vérité to use unobtrusiveness as a means to guarantee truth. Whatever claims people like Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, etc. might have made in the 1960s about the effectiveness of their style in capturing "truth", I have to wonder just who among the cinéma vérité/direct cinema (I prefer the latter term when speaking about American directors) crowd today doesn't feel the presence of the camera has an impact. I don't have any quotes but I highly suspect we're at the point of recognizing that people comport themselves differently in front of a camera.

Plantinga said that direct cinema looks at "surface truths" and cannot approach people's interior states as Morris likes to do. I think this privileging of Morris' style is to sell direct cinema short. Go back to Plantinga's comments on the use of interview above. Firstly, there's nothing inherent in direct cinema that precludes close-ups and prevents using a subject's face to help determine interior states. Here's a couple frames form DC. First is from Robert Drew's Primary and the second from Frederick Wiseman's Hospital.







Direct cinema abandons the interview but, in return, we get to see not only the subject in context (remember the bit above about the guy behind his desk) but we also see people acting within their element. They are not just static figures behind a desk answering questions, they sit behind their desks, get up and walk around, interact with other people in the office, etc. Direct cinema has the virtue of letting subject be active whereas an interview is by necessity about having a passive subject. Morris' style and direct cinema are certainly different but I don't think this means that the latter is unable to ascertain interior states.

I'm not trying to put one style above the other but instead saying that they are simply different. They both have ways of getting at "truth" and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Despite my disagreement here, Plantinga's lecture was a great Errol Morris primer. He talked about the director's concerns and obsessions along with the stylistic trappings that he uses to pursue them.

It wasn't until the thing was over that I thought of a question to ask. The final question during the Q&A was about the music in Morris' films. It was a good question because Plantinga's talk was about Morris as an auteur and rightly so. But his films are collaborations. Others write the scores and I was keen on asking about Morris' choice of cinematographers.

How does he choose them and what do they bring to the table? Cinematographer Robert Richardson's prints are all over Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. You've got the different film stocks and the really bright floods in some shots. It seems like he had a lot of input. How does Richardson compare to Robert Chappell, the DP who has shot most of Morris' other films?

Morris addressed this a little bit in his speech at the Union, which I'll blather on about later.
|| Palmer, 12:11 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The Crocodile Tears of Tom Christensen

Tom Christensen, a resident of the Marquette Neighborhood and business owner (I think he owns the kitchen supply store on Willy Street and is also a realtor with an office on Willy) recently posted a nice bit of work up at the Marquette Neighborhood Association Yahoo Group regarding the Coop's decision to install a driveway on the Jenifer Street side of the building.

He begins by listing 20 grievances against the Coop regarding how they handled the whole thing. It's a bit like the Declaration of Independence. He describes his list as being "pretty factual". Not factual, just pretty factual. Anyway, he then proceeds to give his opinion.

In sum, all legitimate voices of the neighborhood have been ignored by the Coop. These voices apparently are not considered legitimate participants in this conversation. The only collective voices in favor of the permanent driveway are Coop Management and the Coop Board.

I love that. All "legitmate" voices have been ignored. By this he means those voices that agree with him. Thusly Marquette resident Bill Scanlon who is in favor of the driveway doesn't get to have a "legitimate" voice in the debate. I guess he and the others who expressed support at the MNA Yahoo Group just aren't somehow "collective" enough to pass muster for Mr. Christensen, a self-styled adjudicator on collectivity.

He then laments:

I say we just failed at honoring many of the ideals and principals we otherwise think we embody.

Oh please. The only ideal that got trampled on here is the one that says that Tom Christensen should always get his way. Who the fuck made him ward boss?

That's what this whole thing is about. It's about whether a certain clique of Marquette residents get to bully the Coop. As Christensen wrote: "Shame on me for not being able to communicate so as to stop this travesty." Exactly. It isn't about process it's about the end goal of stopping the installation of the driveway. As a resident named Ana said: "The neighborhood associations do not speak as one voice."

At that same post, Fae Dremock wrote:

Its about whether neighborhood associations (MNS+A and SASY-NA are ignored. It's about whether a full neighborhood has its input and intentions to retain control of traffic ignored.

I just don't believe it. It's not about whether neighborhood associations get their say, it's about whether they get to dictate everything that happens in their neighborhood. If the Coop had bent over backwards and held 80 listening sessions and meetings with neighbors and still decided to build the driveway anyway, people like Christensen and Dremock would have the same gripe. "They didn't listen to us. They ignored us."

From what I can tell, the Coop has not ignored the input of the neighborhood; it has simply decided that its interests run contrary to those expressed by the Christensens and Dremocks of the area and there is a genuine disagreement about how to best handle the current and future traffic problems. And this leaves those who feel they have a right to lord over neighborhood businesses with nothing to do but heap their neighborly opprobrium onto the Coop.
|| Palmer, 8:27 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

21 October, 2010

Farewell Montgomery Brewpub, I Never Even Knew Ya

Next summer I'll be heading to Montgomery, AL for a reunion of The Dulcinea's family. I was poking around the tubes and discovered that the city has a brewpub only to find out a minute later that it had closed. I'm hoping they'll be able to restructure and reopen by the summer because Alabama isn't exactly known for its brewing prowess and I'd hate to bring my own beer. I suppose Budweiser, Abita, and Shiner will be common down there.

At least I won't be lacking for grub. I'm not sure if the reunion is going to be a multi-day thing or not. We're to be there for three days and I hope to sample some local BBQ and soul food. One of The D's aunts used to have a diner but has gotten out of the business. My plan to is have The D drop some hints about yanking her out of retirement and cooking up a big Southern breakfast - grits, red hots, ham, pancakes, bacon - the whole nine yards.

I've only ever driven through part of Alabama so it should be fun. My experience with the state is taking I-65 down to Birmingham and then heading west on I-59. Now I'll be able to spend some time there with a bunch of locals. The city is just a bit smaller than Madison and I'm sure there will be plenty of things related to Rosa Parks everywhere. Plus I will no doubt hear a lot of bitching about the city's use of back door eminent domain. The D's father was down there earlier this year and he said it has really unamused many people down there.
|| Palmer, 10:32 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

18 October, 2010

Willy Street Coop For Good Neighbor Award

Despite all the crap the Willy Street Coop is getting for its decision to install an egress onto Jenifer Street, I still want to nominate it for a Marquette Neighborhood Association Good Neighbor Award. OK, maybe a new driveway isn't the best idea but the people at the Coop are some of the most patient, understanding people around. If I had to deal with some doofus bitching that one of the Coop's exterior walls doesn't absorb enough heat, I'd be saying something other than "Thanks for the suggestion".

This month's customer comments in the Coop's newsletter has some doozies.

The outside western wall is painted a very light shade (white-off white-lt. grey) and in sunlight radiates heat and glare to people walking to the co-op from the neighborhood. Have you considered repainting that wall a cooler grey? It would cut the heat and glare to those who use the sidewalk.

It's just too hot walking in. Boo-hoo. Yes, let's paint the Coop a darker shade of pale so that it absorbs more heat and uses more energy and costs more money to cool.

The planters out front have sharp corners, which are really dangerous. Any toddler or young child could run their face right into those. They are a really unfriendly addition. Can you get someone to round the corners? Anyone could also bump into them with their leg. I would prefer they be removed. They are very bag feng shui. Doesn’t WSC have legal counsel—no good lawyer could possibly advise anything but removal of the planters and bongo drop box. You guys have made two very bad decisions in these planters and drop box. Please remove and make the coop entry safe and welcoming not a labyrinth of dangerous sharp corners!!

Stop the maiming! Bad feng shui! Holy crap - doesn't a virgin have to be sacrificed to appease the gods of round edges? If Princess Di were still alive she could drop that whole anti-landmine thing and get down to some serious business.

I appreciate your efforts with plants but I get weed seed poisoning from walking in tall grasses, and think that another type of plant would be more appropriate by the walk in front.

This is great. It's just too much effort to not walk in the grass. I feel bad for this person. First they have to endure the inhumane heat and glare from the wall and then, to add Pelion upon Ossa, there's the tall grass.

Reading the comments every month, I can only conclude that Willy Street Coop shoppers are the most beset upon people on the whole planet. They need their own charity.
|| Palmer, 4:23 PM || link || (7) comments | links to this post

17 October, 2010

New Indian Restaurant

A new Indian restaurant called Turmeric has opened up. It's at 6119 Odana Road. I see the Spice N Curry also has that address so it either moved or is closed. Other than doing North and South Indian cuisine, I don't know much else about it.

I grabbed a flyer at the BP on Willy Street that has a coupon for the dinner buffet for $4.99. Good through October.
|| Palmer, 6:17 AM || link || (3) comments | links to this post

15 October, 2010

New Films By Founding Fathers of Direct Cinema

Two major figures in the direct cinema movement have new films.

Firstly, D.A. Pennebaker's Kings of Pastry:



Next we have Robert Wiseman's Boxing Gym:

|| Palmer, 11:26 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Video About Passenger Rail in Wisconsin

This video was done by One Wisconsin and it's pretty interesting. While it mentions Tommy Thompson's support of passenger rail during his time as governor, it doesn't note that he now opposes it. However, the video does say that Scott Walker was for passenger rail before he was against it.

|| Palmer, 10:32 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

How A German Brewery Works c.1930

The opening gave me a flashback to the Dharma Initiative orientation films.

|| Palmer, 9:32 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

13 October, 2010

Catfish





I have to admit that I surprised myself by not seeking out the twist in the movie Catfish before seeing it. I will, however, probably spoil it in this post so, if you don’t want to know what the twist is, leave now.

Catfish is the Griffin and Sabine of the aughts of this new millennium. Nev Schulman is a young aspiring photographer in New York who gets lucky and has one of his photographs used by a newspaper. Out of the blue he receives a painting of that photo by Abby Pierce, an 8-year old art prodigy in Michigan. The pair become Facebook friends and soon Nev is introduced to Abby's mother Angela and her older sister Megan. More paintings of Nev's photos arrive at his house including one of Angela who is a beautiful woman. But it is Megan's Facebook photos that capture Nev's attention. She is 19 and gorgeous.

Nev and Megan begin an Internet relationship which struck a chord in Nev's brother Ariel and their friend Henry. They decide to make a documentary about Nev's long-distance lust. Megan's sultry voice lures Nev like a siren song and she posts MP3s of songs she performed for him. Their chat sessions are steamy and they chat on the phone to work over plans to meet in person. Megan's shows artistic promise in her music but she also lives a very different life from Nev. Rural Michigan and New York are two very different places. Nev seems enthralled with her life on a farm where she raises horses and bakes pies.

But then things begin to not add up. Abby is mysteriously never around for Nev to chat with and Megan's song are revealed to actually be by others. Just who are the Pierces? Nev, Ariel, and Harry travel to Colorado to photograph a dance troup in action and, on the way back, they decide to head to Ishpeming (Yes, the Pierces are Yoopers, doncha know) to find out once and for all what Nev has gotten himself into.

They roll into town around 2:30AM and stop by Megan's horse ranch only to find no horses and the postcards Nev sent her still in the mailbox with "Return to Sender" stamped on them. After a night's sleep, the trio head to Angela's house to confront her and get some answers. And they get them. (Spoilers ahead.)

The revelation is that there is an Abby but she is no art prodigy. Instead all of the paintings of Nev's photographs were done by Angela, who turns out to be nothing like the painting Nev received. She is at the cusp of middle age and isn't a size 0 as the painting portrayed. She is married to Vince and Abby is their daughter. However, they also live with Vince's two adult sons from his previous marriage who are mentally retarded. But, perhaps worst of all, there is no Megan. The whole thing was a ruse.

It was an interesting confrontation. City slickers and small town folk; a young man just starting out in life pursuing his dreams and a middle-aged woman who harbors some regrets at never having chased after hers. Nev's anger is tempered by the fact that he was taken in by someone with no malicious intent. Angela is pitiful in her own way but also comes across as being a very strong individual, especially when contrasted with Nev. It's not that the protagonist is weak but he's a young bachelor looking to sow his oats while Angela is older with many more responsibilities, more scars, and has made sacrifices in her life in addition to commitments. She has an air of desperation for having concocted a complex online set of personas but, for me, Nev is just as desperate. He's young; he wants to get laid and will do whatever it takes even if the woman offering carnal favors is over 1,000 miles away.

I'm not sure what Catfish has to say as far as being a cautionary tale about social networking and the anonymity of the Internet. Sure there's Facebook and MP3s but otherwise this is a very universal tale that, with a few tweaks, could just as easily apply to the days before the Net. Desperation, confronting aging and assessing one's life, and simply reaching out to other human beings for attention and comfort aren't unique to our time. And I think on those terms Catfish works.

|| Palmer, 4:50 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Bungle In the Jungle: House of Cards by William D. Cohan





I am looking forward to the release of Inside Job so that I can get a better grasp on the financial meltdown of 2008. My first attempt at understanding it was to read William D. Cohan's House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street. Cohan worked on Wall Street for many years before turning journalist and he brings his insider's knowledge to bear (ahem) on the subject at hand: the fall and decline of Bear Stearns.

The first part of the book is some masterful story-telling which depicts the last 10 days of Bear Stearns' existence. Despite knowing how it all turned out, Cohan does a great job of taking something I would ostensibly find boring – Wall Street wheeling and dealing – and making it into an epic tragedy. Rumors ran rampant on the Street and people started pulling their money out of BS and no amount of spin could staunch the bleeding. Like I said above, I knew the end result yet I still found myself enthralled and wondering, for example, if the Feds would open a lending window in time to save the company.

You'd think that every moment of the lives of those involved was videotaped for those 10 days because the level of detail here is amazing. He doesn't just say that a meeting was held with these parties and this came out of it. Cohan quotes participants, tells you what time they left the office and went home to bed, and then gives you the time when they were woken up by phone calls in the wee hours of the morning.

While it might seem like overkill, it all makes sense in the second part of the book. With the trainwreck over, Cohan argues that the corporate culture there is what led to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. He takes the reader back to the founding of Bear Stearns in 1923 and slowly weaves a history of the company stopping along the way to pay particular attention to three men who led the company over the years: Cy Lewis, Alan Greenberg, and Jerry Coyne. Lewis ran the company from 1949 until 1978 when Greenberg took over the reins. He, in turn, was succeeded by Cayne.

Unsurprisingly, all of these men were headstrong and had forceful personalities. And they all contributed to a culture where greed became the overriding concern. It's not that greed is unknown elsewhere on Wall Street but BS' pursuit of profit was particularly cold and opportunistic. Managing partners made a percentage of profits while others down the line made commissions. Clients were often seen as dimwits to be taken advantage of for the firm's gain. Again, I'm not a Wall Street insider and presume that this was how all such firms played the game but Cohan paints a picture of BS as being outside the norm. One example to illustrate this was when BS refused to help bailout Long-Term Capital Management in 1998. LTCM was a hedge fund and in ran into big trouble that year. Many in the industry saw systemic problems were the firm allowed to crash. And so the government got together with the biggest banks to try and orchestrate an "orderly liquidation" of LTCM instead of just having it flop and take everyone with it. At the end of the day everyone except BS banded together for the common good.

As Cohan's company history winds its way towards 2008, it becomes clear what took BS down. It was a hedge fund the equity of which mostly consisted of sub-prime mortgages. Essentially, the fund kept hemorrhaging money and BS' standing kept falling until no one would lend to them. Cayne comes off poorly here as it happened under his watch. He was largely unaware of what was happening and, according to many, wouldn't have understood the complicated financial instruments anyway. Cohan portrays the CEOs as not caring a whole lot where the profits come from as long as they keep coming in. They have their kingdoms and seek to stay in power until they are deposed by praetorian guards of executive management with the position given to whomever is willing to draw first blood.

It is a chilling thought that Bear Stearns was a microcosm of the larger world of finance and perhaps American business more generally.

If you're a layreader like myself, you might have some trouble keeping up with all the financial jargon. I think that Cohan does a good job of explaining things but he doesn't get down to a For Dummies level. He certainly presented enough information for me to understand why, say, certain financial instruments were "toxic" and why things went to shit for Bear Stearns but I still don't understand hedge funds at a granular level or how a company like Bear Stearns can survive by having employees line-up enough credit first thing in the morning for the company's quotidian business. While I don't blame Cohan for my ignorance, it would surely behoove me to read more to get a grasp on the larger picture of Wall Street. That Bear Stearns was gobbled up by JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers went out of business aren't events that happened in a vacuum. Cohan makes clear that that the financial world is a tangled web where companies' fortunes are inexorably intertwined with those of other companies. It's not his fault that I don't understand just how interconnected banks are but I do blame him for making me want to learn more.
|| Palmer, 1:42 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

New Brewery, Ale Asylum Moving & Other Brewing News





I had no idea until today that the Chameleon Brewing Company was open for business in suburban Milwaukee. It's an offshoot of Sprecher. The site says: "Chameleon beers are light in body, yet full of complex flavors and aromas." I guess Sprecher was just looking for a different marketing ploy.

They have 3 beers at the moment: Hop on Top, an APA, Fire Light which is an American Pale Lager, and lastly Witty, a Witbier with a unique set of spices including Grains of Paradise.

The brews seem to be available mostly in and around Milwaukee with the only Madison-area purveyor listed being the Sentry at Hilldale.

Another interesting beer-related development is that the Great Dane is moving towards opening another outpost on the far east side of Madison. Beer would not be brewed on the premises but instead imported from the Great Dane at Hilldale.

The article notes that, owing to the 2007 Brewpub Tourism Development Act, the Great Dane would be able to open only one more location after this one.

A 2007 state law allows breweries making less than 10,000 barrels of beer a year to have up to six bar locations. Butler said the next and final addition won’t come for a few years but would likely be in the Milwaukee area.

It's a shame that Butler, et al are essentially one step away from their company not being able to grow any longer. The irony is that they initiated the process to get that bill passed, although, once the distributors heard about it, they went out and got it amended to their liking.

Speaking of distributors, O'so up in Plover had a spat with one of it distributors and, starting 1 September, their beer stopped being distributed in several counties including the one in which the brewery resides, Portage.

Furthermore is releasing their new IPA Hopperbolic next month and the Madison Beer Review has a listing of release parties.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lastly, I read today that Ale Asylum is looking for new digs. Their lease expires in 2012 just like the Mayan calendar and they need more room. If they don't stay on the north side, I have some friends that are going to be mighty disappointed.
|| Palmer, 8:27 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

08 October, 2010

Medieval Manuscripts Coming to Madison





There's no need to worry about Brother Malachia barring entry into the scriptorium because the books will be at the Chazen.

Starting on 18 December there will be an exhibit there called "Hidden Treasures: Illuminated Manuscripts from Midwestern Collections". This should be a really neat. Just don't expect any books by Aristotle on comedy.
|| Palmer, 11:59 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Sampling Some Suds at Vintage

Before heading to the cinema last night, The Dulcinea and I stopped in at the Vintage Brewing Company for dinner. I hadn't planned to do much in the way of beer drinking as I was driving and didn't want to be getting up to use the head during the movie. The D got a pint of Rye of the Tiger (why so many beers are named after crappy songs is beyond me), an amber ale, but I made sure to take a sip or two. It has very little in the way of hops and instead the crisp rye flavor shone through. This was a really nice quaffable brew.

Scottie, the brewmaster, sat at our table after he had turned the lights out in the brewing room. We suddenly found ourselves with a sample of Tabula Rasa, a Belgian-style single and Alpentraum, a smoked Weizenbock. I was very pleased to see the latter as I'd just written about weissbiers. The stuff was really tasty. It was a fairly hefty weiss with a hint of smoke. (Personally, I wish it'd had a smidge more smokiness to it.) Scottie said that it was his attempt to brew something in the ballpark of Schlenkera's Rauchbier Weizen which he'd had at the brewery when he was in Germany. It was a nice variation on a theme and not an attempt at an extreme beer.

We also learned that Vintage just landed another account to carry their beer. They only have a handful but the latest is here in Madison. Apparently the Eldorado Grill will soon be pouring one of Scottie's brews, though I cannot recall which one. He expressed surprise that, when people express a desire to carry one of his beers, they don't go for the obvious but rather the more eclectic. Someone opted for the Alpentraum, for instance. Good for them.

Before I stop blathering, let me mention the food. I've been impressed with the food at the Vintage. The D really like her fish tacos while I thought the fried chicken was quite tasty. Plus I give the Vintage high marks for making their own hot sauce. I had the Hoodoo Voodoo for the first time. Not particularly hot but a great simple flavor.
|| Palmer, 10:38 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

07 October, 2010

Gnu Atheists Not So Horrible After All

Criticism of the Gnu Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, et al) for supposedly being strident and shrill is easy to come by. "You'll only hurt your own cause with your trenchant polemics!" the critics cry. For these people, which includes believers and non-believers alike, the non-religious just don't understand religion and/or Richard Dawkins is just a big meanie.

Well, apparently Dawkins really isn't just an ignorant brute after all. The son of Catholic biochemist and "Intelligent Design" proponent Michael Behe has gone public with his atheism and he gives Dawkins some credit.

The first book I read against religion was Dawkins' "The God Delusion". While I didn't (and still don't) agree with everything he said, I tried to empty my mind of assumptions and reformed opinions as much as possible. I read through the whole book in two days, and the result was quite shocking to me. It was like taking off rose-colored glasses for the first time. I realized how questionable religion might sound to some who had not grown up around it. And that was the foundation of my change- it took quite a while to accept, I'd say about six months, but the more I read, the more I realized that religion's claims were simply unfounded.

Will you look at that. Richard Dawkins - the biologist who has 18/00 stridency and a +4 shrill bonus - managed to appeal some someone's reason, managed to get someone with an open mind to contemplate their beliefs in a critical manner.

~~~~~~~~~~

Along these same lines, three cheers to Nate Phelps, the estranged son of loony toon Fred Phelps. He's out there speaking against the abuses of his father and in support of gay people.

|| Palmer, 2:08 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

"Anyone who's prepared to kill for a book interests me."

Doctor Who is cool. The Name of the Rose is cool. So this just has to be great.

'Anyone who's prepared to kill for a book interests me.'

Ireland, 1006. Strange things have been happening at the isolated Abbey of Kells: disembodied voices, unexplained disappearances, sudden death. The monks whisper of imps and demons. Could the Lord of the Dead himself be stalking these hallowed cloisters?

The Doctor and his companion find themselves in the midst of a medieval mystery. At its heart is a book: perhaps the most important book in the world. The Great Gospel of Columkille. The Liber Columbae.




|| Palmer, 2:04 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The Deadline For the Headline Is the Breadline





My last stop at the Wisconsin Book Festival this year was to see Robert McChesney and John Nichols talk about the impending death of journalism and offer up a solution which is to be found in their book The Death and Life of American Journalism. Nichols was delayed because his flight was running late and so McChesney took the stage alone and was introduced by Norm Stockwell of WORT.

The first half of the talk was about how bad things have become in American journalism. Journalists are a dying breed, we were told. Furthermore, the Internet just wasn't picking up the slack and providing the quality reporting that we once had. (Bill Lueders was in the front row at this talk and I think he really ate all this up.)

Nichols finally showed up and launched into his flag-waving routine. His notion was that the United States was founded on the principle that we'd struggle towards democracy as time went on. Not everyone had the right to vote and some people were but 3/5 of a person but it was a start. Information needed to spread in order to fan the flames of democracy. Only armed with information could people rule themselves.

He got fairly animated when noting that cable talk shows employ no reporters and that we are getting rid of journalists at an unprecedented rate. The statistics from a Pew study formed the final part of his argument. It examined Baltimore media and concluded that 96% of news stories had their genesis in old media. His urgency and intensity returned when noted that 86% of stories were power speaking to people. (No doubt press releases and the statements of political officials dominate.)

At this point McChesney took over by saying that this problem is quite solvable but that we're blinded by the idea that the government shouldn't be involved in subsidizing the news. He said that it was imperative that we stop thinking of the media as being a commercial enterprise because, he maintained, it was a public good. In a disappointing analogy, he said that while neither he nor Nichols will ever set foot in a national park again, they are in favor of supporting them in all their public goodness. (Disappointing because they see so little value in the parks, that is.)

The Founding Fathers are invoked again as he explained how they subsidized journalism in the nascent republic by having the Post Office distribute newspapers at a dramatically reduced rate. McChesney bolstered his case by pointing to The Economist's Democracy Index which showed that the "most democratic" states are also the ones that have the largest media subsidies. Other rankings show that the freest news media belong to those countries that subsidize them. Indeed, subsidized journalists tend to be more adversarial. I believe these bastions of freedom and adversarial journalism are in Scandinavia and Northern Europe.

One statistic that raised my eyebrows was that those countries with the most subsidized journalism were also among those who opted out of the "coalition of the willing" with regards to Iraq. OK, fine. But why did they opt out? McChesney came across as a snake oil salesman here. World peace – just add subsidized journalism. Could there have been any other factors involved? Economic? Or perhaps memories of destruction of the 20th century? I thought this statistic was just too simple.

Another thing which irked me was the selective quoting of the Founding Fathers. That's dangerous business because they were not all of one mind. Sure, they were all white men but, for example, Jefferson and Hamilton were not exactly two peas in a pod. Did anyone vote against the Postal Act of 1792? If so, what were their reasons? Beware of Lefties who quote only Madison and Jefferson.

While I admit that I am not intimately familiar with the early history of our nation's postal service, I do think that there is a difference between subsidizing journalism by making distribution hyper-cheap and subsidizing the enterprise by paying the rent on newsrooms and journalist's salaries. Still, I take McChesney's point that 18th century postal rates for newspapers stands as a counter to the notion that government subsidization of journalism is foreign to this country.

There wasn't much time for audience Q&A but Isthmus' Bill Lueders managed to slip his question in. He asked Nichols to address Madison media. Specifically, he said that The Cap Times and WSJ had shed lots of staff yet the reporting has seemingly gotten better. TCT has fewer articles but the ones they do have are more in-depth. Aren't Madison newspapers making lemonade of very high quality? Nichols response was that, while some good work is being done now, essentially the quantity of yore is still to be missed. He made a good point which was that our courts get little to no coverage. Furthermore country governments are frustrated by the lack of coverage they get.

Lueders added that, while the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel doesn't have the largest presence at the Capitol, they are doing a great job. Nichols' rebuke was that things were better when there were more reporters covering state government. You had some great reporters, some mediocre ones, and some poor ones. And this kind of blanket coverage exceeds the lemonade being made by the papers today.

Despite some skepticism, I am interesting in reading the book where the case is, no doubt, laid out more fully. Nichols left the audience with a somber thought: "The old media system is crashing into the wall. It's done."

For another take on the lecture, read what Christie Taylor wrote over at Dane 101.
|| Palmer, 12:20 PM || link || (3) comments | links to this post

Revelation

During a recent jaunt to the west side, it finally dawned on The Dulcinea (and, subsequently, me) what the name of Silly Yak Bakery means.

In fact, I went to their website for the first time ever today and now I understand. I had no idea they specialized in gluten-free bread. Hell, I've spoken with the owner before and never knew it.

Harumph.
|| Palmer, 10:22 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

06 October, 2010

Why Is Russ Feingold Stumping In Library Mall Right Now?

Has he given up on the rural/working class vote? Feingold doesn't need to follow up on Obama's visit; he needs to get people in Wild Rose, Stanley, Eau Claire, and Ashland to vote for him. He's already got Madison's vote.
|| Palmer, 3:15 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

South of the Border





Oliver Stone's South of the Border is at once interesting & thought-provoking and frustrating. It profiles the leaders of various Central and South American countries and Cuba too: Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Lula da Silva (Brazil), Cristina Kirchner (Argentina), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), and Raúl Castro (Cuba). Stone acts as the movie's narrator and is the interviewer as well.

It's not the first time the director has delved into the area. Earlier this decade he profiled Fidel Castro in two separate movies - Comandante and Looking for Fidel - and his debut was Salvador, about the death squads in El Salvador. Niether Comandante nor Looking for Fidel got much distribution, here in the States, anyway. And so it was good to see that his latest effort did. (Plus many thanks to the Orpheum for screening it.)

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez gets the most screentime of anyone here but this is perhaps deservedly so. At the beginning Stone gives us various clips from American TV showing how the man is demonized by our media. Commentators on Fox and CNN blather seemingly endlessly, interjecting enough hyperbole to give on the impression that the Venezuelan president has "666" tattooed on his scalp. Following this comes a brief statement about the role of the IMF in subjugating the countries of South America to U.S. interests.

After all this prefatory material, the profile of Chávez begins. We learn a little bit about his childhood and how he went into the military only to lead an unsuccessful coup against the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992. But in 1998 he made the comeback of the decade when he was elected president. Much of movie consists of Stone sitting with the leaders and asking questions via an interpreter. There's plenty of that with Chávez but they also drive around and end up at the site of the president's childhood home where he rides a bicycle which falls apart beneath him.

For his part, and this is the frustrating part, Stone throws fat pitches at him giving Chávez the chance to really direct the discussion and put himself in only the best light. He loves to align himself with Simón Bolívar, for instance. Stone asked him what it felt like being a hostage when he was the target of a coup and of others very generic things like "How does it feel to be out from beneath the boots of the IMF?". These did very little to illuminate the subject and the position of their respective countries.

This same template is applied to the rest of the leaders profiled in the movie. Stone hangs out at a presidential residence and essentially lets his subjects talk about socialism, how their societies are changing for the better, etc. My guess is that Stone would justify his movie by saying that he's providing a counternarrative. The U.S. media either portrays these leaders as evil dictators or ignores them and so I think the view that the movie is about trying to swing the pendulum the other way has a point. But this is why I found South of the Border frustrating. It goes overboard and tries to make these people into saints. I don't want to diminish the positive things that these leaders have done for their countries but I really wanted a rounder view of them and their accomplishments.

But, taking what Stone gives us, there are still some interesting bits to be had. I found it very poignant when one person said of Evo Morales that it was the first time, even if only in a long time, that the Amerindians had a leader who looked like them. Indeed, having a dark-skinned leader is something new for we here in the States. The talk about the IMF was rather limited but there was one sequence when it was revealed that the organization didn't want these countries to pay off their debts. Instead, they wanted them under its thumb.

Whatever the movie's flaws, it certainly prompted a lot of questions from me and threw into sharp relief my incredible ignorance about the continent. I knew a fair amount about Hugo Chávez going in because he does get press here but I only knew the names of the other leaders. Their elections led to their names being mentioned but the major news media doesn't exactly say much else about them or give me any context.

Despite the many flaws here, South of the Border at least had the virtue of inspiring me to learn more about our neighbors to the south.

|| Palmer, 12:16 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

David Blaska's Doppelgänger Is In Memphis

He was so offended at a teenager's droopy britches that he shot the kid in the ass.

Police Sgt. Ron Perry says 45-year-old Kenneth E. Bonds saw two male teens walking along a street and yelled at them to pull up their pants.

Perry says they refused, the three began arguing and Bonds brandished a pistol.

The first shot missed. The teens fled, more rounds were fired and a 17-year-old was struck in the buttocks. He went to a hospital in non-critical condition.




|| Palmer, 8:45 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

05 October, 2010

Google Translate Adds Latin To Roster

Google Translate now allows people to translate to and from Latin. From the press release at Google Blog:

Ut munimenta linguarum convellamus et scientiam mundi patentem utilemque faciamus, instrumenta convertendi multarum nationum linguas creavimus. Hodie nuntiamus primum instrumentum convertendi linguam qua nulli nativi nunc utuntur: Latinam. Cum pauci cotidie Latine loquantur, quotannis amplius centum milia discipuli Americani Domesticam Latinam Probationem suscipiunt. Praeterea plures ex omnibus mundi populis Latinae student.



|| Palmer, 4:11 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Fire Up the Fryers!





According to a foron up at The Daily Page, westsiders will be getting a JJ's Fish and Chicken as well as an outpost of Harold's Chicken Shack, a Chicago-based chain.

I went to the JJ's on the east side over the weekend and sure enough, there was a coming soon sign saying that they will be opening over at 811 S. Gammon Road. It didn't give a date, though. I've found JJ's hit or miss. Namely, they never seem to have chicken breasts available for the chicken breast dinner. When it first happened, I let it go because I witnessed a woman bringing about 20 disposable chafing-dishes out to her car just as I arrived. But it's now happened again which makes me suspicious. On the other hand, they now serve Chicago-style Italian beef and it's good. Probably the best in town. The beef is seasoned well, the bread is right, and they don't attempt to put cheese on it. Could have used some more gravy, though.

I can't find anything on the Net about the Chicken Shack, however.

While I'm on the topic of food, has anyone ever ordered from the person who advertises "Delicious home made halal briyani available!!" over at the Madison Desi classifieds? Here's the catering menu:

VEGETABLE BRIYANI - $5/ORDER

CHICKEN BRIYANI - $7/ORDER

GOAT MEAT BRIYANI - $8/ORDER

BRINJAL SIDE DISH - $3/ORDER (could serve up to 3)

CHICKEN 65 - $5 (4 pieces)

All Briyani comes with onion raita and salad(optional).

Sounds good to me.
|| Palmer, 4:00 PM || link || (6) comments | links to this post

FlashForward by Robert J. Sawyer





A few weeks ago DVDs of the TV series FlashForward started appearing at our home courtesy of Netflix. The Dulcinea had taken it upon herself to watch it. I was mildly intrigued and watched most of the first episode and followed this up by viewing bits and pieces of a few others. At some point I noticed that the show was based upon a novel of the same name. I grew disenchanted with the TV version rather quickly but decided to investigate the novel.

Written by Robert J. Sawyer and published in 1999, the book tells how an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider causes humanity to black out for a couple minutes. The time is 2009 and Lloyd Simcoe is the lead physicist on the project but is ably helped by his fellow researcher Theo Procopides. Simcoe's fiancee Michiko is also on the team. As soon as the switch is thrown for the experiment to begin, everyone at CERN blacks out. Indeed, upon waking they learn that everyone on Earth had done so. For two minutes no recording devices worked and most of humanity had visions. Eventually it is determined that these visions were all of the same time – some 21 years in the future on an October day. Some people saw themselves in the future. For example, Lloyd sees an older version of himself married to a woman who was not Michiko. On the other hand, Theo saw nothing. Just blackness.

He becomes determined to figure out why he didn't have a vision. It is soon discovered that others saw newspaper headlines which carry stories saying that Theo was murdered. The young scientist then goes on a quest to find out the identity of his would-be murderer.

After humanity recovers from the disasters caused by the blackouts, people begin to contemplate whether their visions are fate or merely one potential version of the future. Is everything predestined or do we have freewill? The book delves into the inner lives of the main characters as they struggle with this issue. Lloyd becomes reluctant to marry Michiko which further compounds the immense sadness and problems introduced by the fact that Michiko's daughter by her first husband, Tamiko, was killed by a car which ran out of control when the driver blacked out. In addition to struggling with his own fate, Theo discovers on a trip home that his brother had a less than satisfactory vision of his own and he blames Theo.

When not dealing with their visions, the scientists at CERN apply their intellects at understanding what happened. Did the CERN experiment really cause it or was there another explanation? Eventually it is found that the last gasp of a distant supernova – a burst of neutrinos – passed through the Earth at the time of the experiment and that this caused people's consciousnesses to leap forward in time. While the personal lives of the characters discussed freewill, the scientific end delved into quantum theory. It is proposed that, with humanity unable to be an observer, all of reality became like Schrödinger's cat. Upon waking, the waveform collapsed and reality essentially picked up where it left off.

While FlashForward is what I would consider to be hard sci-fi, I don't think the quantum theorizing will completely befuddle most folks so don't let the spooky action scare you.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book. It had a very interesting premise and I enjoy the procedural aspects of sci-fi such as this. Someone comes up with a hypothesis and it gets batted around until more evidence comes along and you get another hypothesis, etc. Here, this approach allows heavy doses of freewill vs. fate and quantum physics to be injected into the story. But I was very surprised by the characters here.

With most of the sci-fi I enjoy, it's the setting. You've got an enigma or some emergency that provides the impetus for the story and the characters are, if not relegated to the background, then aren't exactly well-rounded believable ones. I mean, no one cares about the people in Rendezvous With Rama, they care about what's inside Rama and what its presence in our solar system means. The characters are disposable in some way or are cardboard cutouts. Often times their inner lives are awkward or irrelevant and a perfunctory love interest is thrown in. Not so much here.

I found Lloyd to be an interesting and rather three dimensional character. His struggles with his relationship with Michiko didn't feel forced or thrown in for the sake of simply having a love interest. They felt genuine. And so did his feeling towards his Tamiko. While he certainly registered the loss, the child's death didn't define him in the same way it did Michiko. Lloyd felt sadness but was arguably more concerned about the blackout and whether or not he's marriage material given his vision. These concerns lend a solipsistic lilt to the character which I appreciated instead of Lloyd being the perfect hero who is only concerned with others.

On the down side, I thought that Michiko did relatively little grieving. Furthermore, I just didn't buy it that she and Lloyd could traverse the aftermath of the blackout so easily to Tamiko's school. Indeed, humanity's recovery seemed artificially accelerated. Theo was also an interesting character but I think he got the short shrift here. His predicament of knowing the day of his death is fascinating enough but his search for answers falls short. I wish there had been more dead ends to bring out more in the character instead of simply elaborating only upon the significant finds. This telegraphed certain things which I found annoying.

Sawyer, as I learned at MadCon a couple weeks ago, is one of those sci-fi authors who loves to employ the infodump but here it works. He's got an interesting enough premise with good characters and that helps the reader plow through the infodumps without losing stride.

Overall FlashForward was a great read and will no doubt appeal to Michael Crichton fans. A bit like The Andromeda Strain but with more interesting character who actually get fleshed out.
|| Palmer, 3:11 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Weissbiers On the Move?

On a recent trip to Steve's Liquor (the one at University & Midvale), I was pleasantly surprised to find single half-liter bottles of Hacker-Pschorr Anno 1417 Kellerbier as well as singles of a brand of Kölsch that I cannot recall. (Probably either Sunner or Gaffel.) There were six-packs of lagers, dunkels, Oktoberfests, and many weissbiers but they don't represent all the styles of German bier. (They all seemed to be by the same 6 breweries too.) And so it was nice to see a couple of lesser-known styles represented at all.

It got me thinking: are weissbiers getting trendy, if only slightly? I'm not expecting them to match the IPA or abbey ale in popularity but it seems that they're creeping upwards on onwards. In Bavaria, weissbier now has a 36% market share, the largest of any style in the region. This may go a long way in explaining why there are so many weissbiers on store shelves here in Madison but people must be buying it.

Locally, Wisconsin brewers generally have a weissbier somewhere in their line-up. They don't garner a lot of attention but they are there year after year. Sprecher's Hefe Weiss is a year-round brew while Tyranena's Fargo Bros. Hefeweizen is available in May only. (And solely on draft now, unfortunately.) Sand Creek has Woody's Wheat and Central Waters brews Whitewater Weizen seasonally. South Shore brewed its Bavarian Wheat for its brewpub this past summer. Down in New Glarus, Dan Carey has pretty much had a weissbier available since the brewery started. Dancing Man Wheat is the latest from him. It's been brewed for the last few years and is slated to return in 2011.Capital brewed its Kloster Weizen for the first time in a while, although it was only available on tap. But brewmaster Kirby Nelson also brewed Weizen Doppelbock for his Capital Square series and it got great reviews. Lastly, I'll note that the shiny new Milwaukee Brewing Company released a Dunkel Weiss this past spring.

Further afield, Sierra Nevada added Kellerweis Hefeweizen to its year-round line-up last year. Samuel Adams has Dunkelweizen. And, Lord help us all, even Michelob has a weissbier – Dunkel Weisse. Plus I'm sure there are other breweries here in Wisconsin and elsewhere that have recently entered into the fray. (Any notable additions?)

I'm not expecting to see bourbon barrel-aged dunkelweisses on store shelves anytime soon nor extreme weissbiers that require a new scale to be created to measure esters.* (However, if anyone wants to try to create a Hefeweizen/kriek hybrid full of cherry and ester goodness, I volunteer to be a taste tester.) But it just seems like the weissbier has been able to carve out a slightly larger niche for itself as of late.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* I just know there is an ester measurement scale already but have no idea what it is. Do you use an esterometer?
|| Palmer, 12:23 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

04 October, 2010

Prognosticating With Erika and Bill at the Book Festival

Isthmus' Bill Lueders joined Erika Janik on Sunday at the Wisconsin Book Festival for a little dose of history. Janik was promoting her latest book A Short History of Wisconsin while Lueders was doing the same for his Watchdog: 25 Years of Muckraking and Rabblerousing.

Mayor Dave introduced them and the Janik gave her welcome. She described her book as "her interpretation" of Wisconsin history. Many people view Wisconsin as its tourist destinations like the Dells and House on the Rock and she said her book was, in part, a corrective to that impression as well as a way for Cheeseheads who just know very little about their state. Lueders then introduced his book. It's a collection of writing culled from throughout his career and from the many publications for which he has written. There are three sections or types of writing included: 1) opinion columns, 2) Investigative pieces, and 3) personal essays.

The pair then proceeded to alternate read selections from their books. Janik read about early European explorers, the original and high radical first draft of the state's constitution, hysteria surrounding World War I, Indian schools, and a section of the closing chapter. Lueders read some reflections on the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Sterling Hall, an opinion column written shortly after 9/11, a piece on the Wisconsin origins of open records laws, one on The Progressive magazine's 1979 fight to publish an article about hydrogen bombs, and lastly a web post written the night Obama was elected.

With the readings being done, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. Many were along the lines of "How did you get into X?" and "How did you research your book?" but there were three questions that I found particularly interesting.

The first was when Bill was asked how does he not become mean and cynical considering all the stuff he sees. He responded that he hasn't emerged unscathed. The Patty rape case was "emotionally destructive" to him and it corroded his psyche. He was intensely mad at the city and the DA for allowing what happened to unfold.

A gentleman who was not a native Wisconsonian and had lived here for only four years asked about his perceived schism between the college-educated and the non-college-educated. How do we right this? Erika explained about how this schism, as evidenced in the Madison vs. Milwaukee dichotomy, was very old. Bill offered that there has been tension between the northern and southern parts of the state throughout its history. No one really had an answer as to how to bring the sides together and reduce the tension. (Perhaps via art?) I don't have an answer either but I think that some of this tension has eased a bit as Milwaukee has reinvented itself amid the decline of its industrial base.

And lastly, not to toot my own horn, but I did request that the authors do a little prognostication. I asked Erika what challenges Wisconsin faces in the near future and Bill what challenges Madison faces in the near future. Erika responded that the state will have to address racial issues that haven't been fully resolved. Our Hispanic population is growing and there are still racial tensions with our relatively large Hmong population. Bill responded with "integration". Integration of all stripes – racial, class, conservative vs. liberal, urban vs. rural, etc.

They both hit on some good points, if being a little bit general. Race will surely be an issue. For instance, Hispanics are now a large presence on dairy farms here in Wisconsin. I'd be interested to know how these immigrants are being received up north where I used to live. When I moved there in 1987, blacks got plenty of stares at the mall and having long hair was unacceptable. (I know this as I had long hair.)

One issue not brought up, at least not specifically, was poverty. It's rising here in Madison and Milwaukee was recently revealed to be the 4th poorest city in the nation. This certainly doesn't bode well for us.

We'll just have to wait to see what the future holds.
|| Palmer, 4:31 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

It's the Marquette Neighborhood Association, Not Authority

It looks like the Willy Street Co-op is going to have its new driveway on Jenifer Street after all. "City staff had no authority to deny the Co-op’s request for the Jenifer Street driveway since it met all ordinance requirements."

However, this did not sit well with Fae Dremock of the Marquette Neighborhood Association.

The Coop is becoming nothing more than a Greenwash medium box store with big box dreams and big box arrogance.
The site is theirs, the land is theirs, and they apparently think-- and the city confirms--that they can go against the opposition of the neighborhood associations, the interest and safety of the neighbors in the immediate vicinity, and guidelines of the the
[sic] neighborhood traffic plans to do whatever they want that is not explicitly against ordinances.

I take her point because there was a lot of opposition to the plan but I think that it's also arrogant to imply that the Marquette Neighborhood Association is the ultimate authority here. The MNA is not the final authority on anything except internal MNA business. The tone here comes across as "How dare they cross the MNA!" as opposed to expressing regret or sadness at the notion that the Co-op is being a bad neighbor. The site belongs to the Co-op as does the land and it is acting within the bounds of the law and the laws are made by publicly elected officials whereas the MNA is a private organization. So why should it get to boss others around?
|| Palmer, 10:18 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Metro Morse Code

On the bus this morning there was some device churning out Morse code. Whatever it was kept repeating R-E-I. Is this indicative of service to a certain sporting goods store or who?
|| Palmer, 9:06 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

01 October, 2010

Anyone See Joshua Clover Last Night?

Did any readers go see Joshua Clover's presentation last night as part of the Wisconsin Book Festival? If so, can you read my post about it over at my music blog and tell me what I missed? I am flummoxed.
|| Palmer, 3:55 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post