Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 March, 2011

Trailer for New Season of Doctor Who

What's with the sad clown looking like he's in an outtake from The Shining?

|| Palmer, 2:45 PM || link || (0) comments |

WI Film Fest 2011: 13 Assassins

My 2011 Wisconsin Film Festival began last night with Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins at the Orpheum.

The film is based on an episode of history and is a remake of a 1963 film of the same name. Not having seen the original, I'm not sure exactly how it differs but I'm guessing the original did not have such gory sound effects during its scenes of hara-kiri nor 45 minutes of total massacre replete with flaming cows.

It is 1844 and the era of feudal Japan is coming to a close. Peace has reigned for many years and the samurai have not seen combat for some time. They have been serving their lords in other, less bellicose ways. Against this backdrop the movie begins with one of Lord Doi's vassals, Mamiya, committing hara-kiri. We don't see the blade go in. Instead Miike keeps the camera on Mamiya's facial contortions while the soundtrack puts the slicing and gut wrenching on full volume. This act of desperation was prompted by Lord Naritsugu who has been made next in line for the Shogunate by his half-brother. Naritsugu is a sociopath who has been raping and killing his way to the top. Things will not be good for Japan should be become Shogun.

The current Shogun wishes to avoid anything public and so he directs Lord Doi to dispose of Naritsugu in a more clandestine way. Doi recruits Shinzaemon Shimada, a samurai of great experience, to undertake the mission. We watch as Shinzaemon recruits 11 others for the job and get to see Naritsugu's cruelty first hand. For instance, he raped the daughter-in-law of another lord and murdered the man's son. In a wonderfully disturbing scene, Doi brings in a kimono-clad woman. She cries as Doi tells Shimada of her fate at Lord Naritsugu's hands. Servants remove the kimono to reveal that her arms and legs are stubs. Shimada asks the woman what happened to her family but she doesn't respond. Doi tells him that Naritsugu cut out her tongue. Servants place paper before her and a paint brush in her mouth. She orally scrawls out "TOTAL MASSACRE" before letting out a blood-curdling scream.

Shinzaemon chooses to ambush Naritsugu at the town of Ochlai as the lord will be making a trek to visit his clan. Naritsugu has a samurai named Hanbei in his employ and he and Shinzaemon go back many years as they trained to become samurai together. And so Shinzaemon's plan becomes something of a game of cat and mouse with each of the aging samurai making their moves based on the knowledge of his old foe. The 12 assassins take a shortcut through the forest and stumble upon the thirteenth assassin in the guise of a crazy mountain man named Koyata.

The assassins turn the town into a trap for Hanbei and his lord who have called in reinforcements which bolster their numbers to 200 from the previous 70. As I said above, the 13 assassins take on these 200 troops over the course of 45 minutes. Ochlai has been booby-trapped with explosives, outfitted with these horizontal portcullises made of branches, and, generally speaking, turned into a labyrinth of death. If being separated by the gates and picked off with arrows from above wasn't bad enough, Hanbei's men also suffer the indignity of being trampled by flaming cows. For his last stand Shinzaemon throws in everything but the kitchen sink but he and his men eventually get down to business with their katanas.

Noticeably absent was CGI. OK, there may have been some slight alterations but I couldn't pick anything out. Miike seems to have gone completely the old fashioned route with real people acting out choreographed stunts. Also notable was that Miike and his editor Kenji Yamashita avoided the J.J. Abrams/Zack Snyder/Paul Greengrass method of over editing. I'd bet that even the action shots here last longer than the exposition shots in Star Trek, 300, or any of Greengrass' Bourne movies. What a relief to see a film that doesn't cut every second on the second. During the fight sequences you can actually see what people are doing. Not just the warriors in the foreground but also those behind them or on scaffolds above. You actually get a sense of where the characters are in the space of the town and in relation to one another.

Shinzaemon and Hanbei have it out in the end. Two old warriors giving their all for one last shot at glory. It reminded me of The Wild Bunch a bit. Hanbei sticks with tradition which dictates that a samurai obeys his lord above all else while Shinzaemon feels the winds of change and carves out his duties in relation to the good of the people.

Stop reading here if you're spoiler-averse because I'm going to lay one out, although it's fairly minor.

The crazy guy they met up with in the woods – Koyata – proves himself to be a good fighter, oddly enough, considering that his main role initially was to provide comic relief. At the end he meets up with Hanbei and Naritsugu. Koyata's monologue on the uselessness of samurai is rudely interrupted by Naritsugu's short sword which pierces his neck. I thought Koyata was done for but he reappears at the very end. I have this peculiar feeling I'm missing something by not being Japanese or not knowing Japanese legends. Was his character meant to be like that of a Japanese Loki? Or perhaps his reappearance was a hallucination.

|| Palmer, 2:27 PM || link || (1) comments |

29 March, 2011

Comiskey Park to Feature Midwest Craft Brews

The Cubs are switching back to Vienna Beef dogs and the White Sox are going with Midwest craft brews.

The park will change its Beers of the World locations to Midwest Brews, featuring craft beers from neighboring states.

No word on which, if any, Wisconsin beers will be sold but some will just have to be.
|| Palmer, 12:37 PM || link || (0) comments |

28 March, 2011

Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America by Stephen Bloom

Culture shock is at the root of Stephen Bloom's Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America. In 1993 Bloom, a journalist, and his family (wife Iris and son Mikey) packed up their belongings and made the move from San Francisco to Iowa City where he took up a teaching position at the U of I. Unsurprisingly, a small Iowa city held little in Jewish culture. But then Bloom heard about a large group of Lubavitcher Jews (ultra-orthodox) that had settled in Postville, a town of some 1,400 people about 100 miles from Iowa City. Bloom went there seeking the company of fellow Jews but ended up exploring a fractured corner of flyover country.

Aaron Rubashkin, Lubavitcher butcher in New York, bought a disused slaughterhouse just outside of Postville in 1987 and turned it into the largest such kosher meat plant in the whole of America. The economic prosperity it brought to the decaying Iowa town was enormous and heartily welcomed. However, the numerous Jews of an ultra-Orthodox sect were the diametric opposites of Postville's small town folk. At first it was just a matter of them dressing differently with the black woolen zizits, a variety of similarly colored hats, and long dresses. But, as the people of Postville were to find out, the Lubavitcher's religious beliefs threw small town hospitality out the window as the Jews wanted nothing to do with the Postvillians outside of commerce.

Bloom notes that Postville's inhabitants were largely of German extraction with Lutherans and Catholics making up the majority of them. They found the attempts of the Jews to haggle insulting and were offended at the way the Jews ignored them when they attempted a simple neighborly gesture such as saying hello when passing on the street. A whole litany of complaints arose which essentially boiled down to the newcomers not making any attempt to fit into their adopted community.

Bloom dives into the milieu headfirst. As a secular Jew he straddles the line drawn in Postville. It takes a while but eventually he is able to enter both camps and hear the many sides to the story. First we get multiple takes on the situation from the original Postvillians. At first there are minor complaints such as the Jews not caring for their lawns – something that was not an issue in New York City. But as Bloom gains the confidence of the people, or perhaps takes advantage of their ignorance, he hears more and more anti-Semitism. I say take advantage of their ignorance because it sure seemed like many in the town only knew Jews from the Lubavitchers and had no idea that the clean shaven guy with the curly hair and olive complexion could be Jewish. Bloom meets with some locals at a one of the cafes in town and eventually one man opines that Jews are out to fleece everyone. Later, a maintenance man by the name of Sonny describes the name-calling he received when word got around that he was working for the Jews by painting the slaughterhouse. People called him a "Jew lover" and asked how he could find it in himself to work for Jews. Cliff Olson was given the name "Jews' errand boy" because he acted as chauffeur for them, whisking people to and from the La Crosse airport. Curiously enough, Cliff's wife, Ida Mae took over his duties once to drive a Jewish woman to a mikveh here in Madison. (Lubavitcher women cannot be alone with men to whom they're not married.)

Not everyone in Postville held animosity toward the newcomers. Forest Kelly, a real estate broker, found that business was good. Not only did the Jews moving to Postville need homes, but established members often bought multiple houses. Glenda Bodensteiner of the local shoe store said that the Jews really pumped some much needed cash into her store. The manager of the local bank at which the Jews did business was similarly happy with his new clients. All of these people were given bad looks by their neighbors who questioned why they would do business with the Jews and each of them conceded that racism, ignorance, jealousy, etc. all play a role in the collective animosity towards the Jews. They were above all that, in a sense, and took the Lubavitchers for what they were. We'll do business with them and then we all go our separate ways. Still, I did get the feeling that, if these people weren't turning a profit because of the men with long beards and payots, they too would be rationing out the opprobrium. They seem content as long as the cash keeps flowing into their pockets, though they do raise the legitimate point that, had it not been for the Jews, Postville would be well on its way to oblivion.

The showdown would come with a referendum to be voted upon in which Postville would annex a large stretch of land that included the meat packing plant. This would mean the town would be able to tax the Jews and get some semblance of revenge for the way they've treated the Postvillians.

It would be a mistake to assume that the book is purely about the clash between the Teutonic old-timers and Semitic newcomers. That is the center of gravity here but Postville is also about Bloom trying to find a place in Iowa. He fits into neither side in Postville. There are parts where he describes the amazement of driving out in the country and the quaint (from a city slicker's perspective) parades of small towns. And then there's the "dark" side of Iowa where everyone basically assumes you to be a Christian of some type or other. Mikey's Cub Scout leader invokes Jesus and the Cedar Rapids Gazette plasters "He Has Risen" on the front page of their Easter paper. There's no Jewish food to be had except poor excuses for corned beef and bagels. Bloom feels compelled to engage his Jewishness as if it were a struggle against becoming homogenized in Christian Iowa and he also wants to impart his Jewish heritage to his son.

He finally gets his chance when he is invited to a Shabbos (Sabbath) dinner at the home of Lazar Kamzoil. Bloom brings Mikey along and they immediately find out that they must use their Hebrew names in Lazar's home. Moishe and Shlomo it is. Furthermore, they must also sear their yarmulkes at all times. Bloom does a good job to this gentile's mind of explaining Jewish culture, traditions, foods, etc. I think the really enjoyed much of his time with Lazar even he couldn't subscribe to many of the religious orthodoxies. Especially the food: gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, kugel. I got really hungry reading about the feast. He noted some gestures and sayings he witnessed in Lazar's home that his grandparents used when he was a boy.

But he was clearly repelled by some comments Lazar made. For instance, he referred to blacks as shvartzers or "niggers". He boasted about not paying his bills on time as a way of essentially just fucking with the people of Postville. It wasn't simply that the Lubavitchers wanted to remain separate, there were some who got pleasure in antagonizing their new neighbors.

As someone who moved from Chicago to rural Wisconsin I found myself nodding when reading passages where Bloom describes his own experiences regarding big city vs. small town. The latter are insular and most people in them are very suspicious of newcomers. I think Bloom went a little overboard in romanticizing small town life. It's not that his positive impressions of rural folk were wrong, but rather I think that he underemphasized the xenophobia. From my experience, it needn't be racism. My long hair was enough for people to ostracize, fear, and spread rumours about me.

As a gentile I couldn't relate to the Jew in a strange land theme. Still, I appreciated Bloom's explanations of a culture with which I am quite ignorant. While the Jew-Gentile dynamic is the focus of the book, I did feel a bit cheated that he didn't engage the other immigrants more. Eastern Europeans and Mexicans too were drawn to Postville. The $6/hour wasn't good pay for your average American but for these foreigners it was good enough and a place to start lives. I wish Bloom had explored Postville not just as a confluence of Jews from NYC coming to the Heartland, but also as a place where immigrants from another country are seeking out their fortunes. What happened in Postville was and is the future of America. Small town homogeneity is going the way of the dodo and I wish that Bloom had addressed some of the larger implications of what he was witnessing.

Sometime after this book was published a documentary about Postville was made called Postville: When Cultures Collide. It's a nice complement to the book and I'm posting part 1 below. It addresses the arrival of Mexicans which adds to the picture. Plus you get to see and hear some of the people in the book. My only criticism is that it downplays the animosity and basically writes most of it off as misunderstanding whereas Bloom tends to see more of it and of it being a more severe problem.

|| Palmer, 4:21 PM || link || (2) comments |

Anheuser-Busch Buys Out Goose Island

In recognition that the American craft beer market is doing well while sales of Budweiser swill are declining, AB has bought out Chicago craft brewer Goose Island.

Goose Island Beer Co., the Chicago-based brewing powerhouse, announced this morning that it will be taken over by Anheuser-Busch (A-B) for $38.8 million.

As part of the deal, A-B will also invest $1.3 million in the Fulton Street brewery to increase production capacity. Goose Island sold approximately 127,000 barrels of beer in 2010.

Brewmaster Greg Hall will be stepping down. Founder and president John Hall will stay on as CEO.

“Demand for our beers has grown beyond our capacity to serve our wholesale partners, retailers, and beer lovers,” Hall said in a statement. “This agreement helps us achieve our goals with an ideal partner who helped fuel our growth, appreciates our products and supports their success.”

As a fan of craft brews I hate to see Goose Island "sell out" to AB (a.k.a. - the enemy) but I don't doubt that it will mean good things for them. More capital to increase capacity will certainly complement the greater number of distribution channels they were able to get into when AB bought a minority share several years ago. Leinenkugel's sure seems to have benefited from being bought by Miller. Then again I suppose there are risks too. For example, would corporate higher ups put the kibosh on GI's more limited brews if they don't feel the profit margin is good enough? We'll just have to wait and see how things go.

Now, why is the Greg Hall stepping down? It seems like a good time be GI's brewmaster. Hell, maybe he just wants to try something new. I don't know. But it sure seems weird. Hopefully he wasn't pushed out.
|| Palmer, 12:15 PM || link || (0) comments |

Doctor Who: The Quantum Archangel by Craig Hinton

The Quantum Archangel is a sequel to the old Third Doctor episode The Time Monster. I hadn't watched that one in ages so reading the book was just like encountering the story anew. However, I have watched a good part of that story since finishing the book and it's easy to see that author Craig Hinton rehashed a lot of the plot elements from the teleplay for his own tale.

It begins with a lengthy prologue describing the travails of Prometheus, a Chronovore, and Elektra, an Eternal. The long and the short of it is that they have a child, Avatar, that is taken away from him by the Council of the Guardians. Prometheus' timeline is completely undone and Elektra watches in horror and her child is taken away from her and hidden away. So who are these characters?

The Quantum Archangel is a complicated story that unravels slowly. While Prometheus, Elektra, etc. are introduced to us right off the bat, it is only later that their identities make sense. Way back when the universe was created there were 11 dimensions. Five of them became the time and space with which we are familiar while the remaining six, a.k.a the Six-Fold Realm, became home to various groups of transcendental beings, the Chronovores and Eternals among them. (Hinton also invokes the Cthulhu pantheon again by mentioning Nyarlathotep. Apparently the Great Old Ones are also denizens of that realm.) The Ancient Convenant was established long ago to ensure that folks from our dimensions never crossed paths with those of the Six-Fold Realm. Another provision was that Chronovores and Eternals don’t go to the horizontal disco together. Prometheus and Elektra violated that bit of law and so they were punished.

It is important to note that the Chronovores eating time for supper and that the Guardians and other beings in the Six-Fold Realm make the Time Lords look like insects. In essence, they are gods and they can manipulate time and space with ease.

Whew! With the prologue done, we jump to The Master who is having a wee bit of trouble as his body is decaying and he's also on the run. And from there we finally meet up with the Sixth Doctor and Mel. Mel was never a favorite companion, although the Big Finish audio dramas have boosted my opinion of her greatly. Here she is seething with anger at The Doctor. They landed on the planet Maradnias and The Doctor attempted to end the civil war going on there but he miscalculated. He didn't think that one side would actually use their nukes. When they did, it left billions dead. The Doctor is mortified at what he helped come to fruition and Mel just can't forgive him. Finally his attempts at playing god ran afoul and she wants to go home. And so The Doctor drops her off on Earth in 2003. Mel tries to begin her life anew by getting in touch with old friends. She discovers that her pal Anjeliqua Whitefriar is now an evil marketing bitch, a long way from the liberal do-gooder Mel once knew. A couple of her other friends, Arlene Cole and Paul Kairos, are working on the TITAN array which would punch a hole into Calabi-Yau Space, known to more advanced races as the Six-Fold Realm.

Here the story harkens back to The Time Monster. The Doctor detects the first run of the TITAN array and returns to Earth. He searches out Stuart Hyde, who was in the TV story, who tells him about TITAN and its designer, Paul Kairos. And of course The Master shows up as well in the guise of Branko Gospodar, a Hungarian investor. His plan is to use the TITAN array to grab some of the power of the Lux Aeterna, a realm where all 11 dimensions meet, to get a new body and kill off the Chronovores who are the ones chasing him. Things don't go as planned. Instead Anjeliqua becomes a human/Lux Aeterna hybrid – The Quantum Archangel - intent on making everything alright for everyone by manipulating time. And by everyone I mean everyone in the whole universe.

The problem is that, although The Quantum Archangel is extremely powerful, it doesn't quite have the knack for changing the timelines of everyone in the snap of a finger and it seeks out the Mad Mind of Beophemeral, the most powerful computer ever created to help out with calculating all the changes to the time line. But Bo is also a very dangerous computer. Craziness ensues.

I was surprised by just how quickly the ultimate in peril came out in the story. Usually in Doctor Who the build-up and emergence of the most dire situation ever encountered gets you through half or more than half of the story. Here you have The Quantum Archangel rearranging the time lines of the characters, eventually including The Doctor, Chronovores bursting into our Five-Fold Realm and feasting, The Master and The Doctor teaming up, and essentially the shit hitting the fan in the worst possible way and I look at the book and I've still got more than half of it yet to go.

But Hinton ably keeps things moving at a brisk pace and engaging as well. We get alternate timelines, narrow escapes, and a country ton of lore and backstory. Like it or not we learn about the whole underlying structure of the universe, the catastrophic Millennium War…Hinton really goes all out in explaining various bits of the Doctor Who universe. I do have to question one section of the book in which The Master flees from a flock of Chronovores. His TARDIS careers through various points of the universe and he launches some funky missiles. Although these are simply setbacks for the Chronovores and catching The Master is inevitable, I thought that the beings of the Six-Fold Realm were more powerful than to be thrown off by some measly missiles. This doesn't ruin the story by any stretch but it did seem rather odd to me.

The back of the book states that the story takes place between Colin Baker's final season, the stories collectively known as Trial of a Time Lord, and the first appearance of the Seventh Doctor in Time and the Rani. Hinton's portrait of The Doctor here is one of a Time Lord battling with himself. Looking back at the events on Maradnias, just how different is he from The Valeyard?
|| Palmer, 11:54 AM || link || (0) comments |

25 March, 2011

R.I.P. Richard Leacock

Direct cinema/cinema verite pioneer Richard Leacock passed away a couple days ago.

Leacock is perhaps best known for playing a pivotal role in producing 1960’s “Primary,” Robert Drew’s seminal portrait of John F. Kennedy during a Wisconsin primary election. Leacock helped conceive of an approach involving lightweight equipment, synchronous sound, and also closely advised on the editing process. He continued working with Drew on “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment” in 1963, and was also involved in several Pennebaker productions, such as “Don’t Look Now.” Leacock fine-tuned a direct sound technique that became a cornerstone of the cinema verité movement, which eventually found its way to television with the PBS series “An American Family.” The tradition continued more recently in 1990s-era reality television, particularly with early seasons of MTV’s “The Real World.”
|| Palmer, 12:09 PM || link || (0) comments |

23 March, 2011

The Race Is On

Yesterday both of Madison's mayoral candidates had columns in The Cap Times in which they explained why they thought they should be the city's executive. I've been undecided but now I think I'm going to vote for Paul Soglin.

Both he and Cieslewicz are very similar. It's not like one is a progressive and the other is a libertarian agonist. At worst, Madison will be decent hands. But Cieslewicz's handling of the Edgewater really turned me off. I don't think I've ever seen a city official spend so much time, energy, and political capital on a fucking hotel. His excoriation of the Landmark Commission at his blog was reprehensible. Still, he deserves credit for things such as transforming Halloween on State Street from pandemonium to a structured event.

Reading his column we find:

I worked to create the city’s first economic development plan in 30 years, which promotes clean, green industries and high-tech jobs.

Sure, high-tech and green jobs are great but his use of buzzwords here irks me. That, to me, really symbolizes Cieslewicz – always out for the big, high-profile, name brand things. How about just moving to create jobs whether they're in emerging industries or age-old blue collar trades? There's no shame in opening a good old fashioned widget factory.

One thing at Soglin wrote really appealed to me:

The single most important issue facing the city next to our financial solvency is the escalating poverty in our schools. Over half (51 percent) of children in our public schools come from homes below the poverty level; it was 32 percent just three years ago. We need to focus on six critical areas: housing, job training and education, child care, transportation, health care, and financial literacy.

His recognition that Madison has an underclass that doesn't buy lattes, shop at the Willy Street Co-op, and is just simply trying to get by is refreshing to hear and something that Cieslewicz seems not to share. Plus, the folks I know who live on the north side of town seem to agree that the city as a whole ignores them. One couple is seriously looking at leaving the north side for Sun Prairie. Soglin seems like he'd be more responsive to the needs of northsiders than Cieslewicz. Our current mayor loves to tout major civic projects but comes across as unwilling to address the nitty gritty problems facing our city.

I was rather surprised a few weeks ago to get a handbill asking me to vote for Twink Jan-McMahon to unseat my current alder Marsha Rummel. Rummel, to my mind, isn't a bad alder but I tend to think of her as being rather ineffectual. Her webpage lists her accomplishments as mostly being supporting this or advocating for that rather than leading the charge for some change or other. She "Expanded chicken-keeping ordinance to permit renters in 1-3 flats to raise chickens." Isn't' that just swell.

The websites of both candidates are littanies feel-good lefty buzzword crap. Chicken-keeping, a solar energy co-op, bicycles, tree inventories, rain gardens, blah blah blah. The next thing you know the League of Women Voters candidate guide will be listing their respective carbon footprints. Why can't everyone lead a pastoral existence became trees and flowers don't deliberately cool you out? Quality of life issues are important for alders – I get that – but tell me about what you can do for the families of kids at Marquette School who get free or reduced lunches besides making sure they have rain gardens.

But unless I can find a good reason not to, I'll be voting for Marsha Rummel. I really got rubbed the wrong way when I learned that Jan-McMahon was part of a group who want to close Eastwood Drive and turn it into a park. I'm sick of the Marquette Neighborhood Association and its Traffic Committee that feels their 'hood is just too good and exclusive for non-local traffic – that's for the little people, doncha know. Rummel may be in favor of the Eastwood Drive thing as well but she at least comes across as someone willing to hear all sides and weigh the interests of all parties.
|| Palmer, 1:22 PM || link || (2) comments |

22 March, 2011

Central Waters Brewing Company to Start Distribution in Chicagoland

According to Chicago's mega-liquor chain Binny's, Central Waters will start distribution down there anon.

Central Waters, another Midwest brewery that has so far eluded Chicago, is expected to debut at Binny's in the near future. We are expecting to see some of the Amherst, Wisconsin based brewery's beers later this month, but the timetable is still tentative at the moment. In our opinion, Central Waters crafts some of the best bourbon barrel aged beers and stouts out there. We can't wait to try some of their other stuff, as it is no doubt just as delicious.

Good on them. This shall give Jeff Glazer one less thing to bitch about.
|| Palmer, 10:47 AM || link || (0) comments |

Doctor Who: Synthespians™ by Craig Hinton

According to Wikipedia Craig Hinton taught mathematics and was an all-around sci-fi fan. He held the post of Coordinator for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society before becoming an author of Doctor Who novels. His general geekiness and fandom shone through well in Synthespians™ as the world of Doctor Who had a little bit of Cthulhu injected into it. More on that later.

Synthespians™ is again a Sixth Doctor book. After a bit of trouble traversing the Time Vortex, the TARDIS lands in what is ostensibly 1960s London. But the sky is wrong meaning that it is most definitely not Earth. The Doctor and Peri find a large wall separating the area in which they landed from the adjacent one. A section opens and a car comes buzzing through. Peri manages to slip through but The Doctor is too late. A very early separation of our heroes. The Doctor decides that a pub would be the best way to reconnoiter while Peri finds herself in 1980s Los Angeles.

The world is Reef Station One and it houses the television production facilities for the New Earth Republic. The NER is cutoff from the rest of the galaxy. Its inhabitants lead nice lives, never struggling to get by. With all needs taken care of people fill their lives with TV with 8,000-year old transmissions from Earth being hyper-trendy. The Doctor runs into Marcus Brooks, an actor who was written out of the newly-revived soap opera Executive Desires at the behest of Dominique Delacroix, a fellow star of the show who was highly unamused when Brooks was unresponsive to her moves on him. Peri meets up with Claudia Bruderbakker, daughter of wealthy industrialist Charles Bruderbakker and stepdaughter to Joan. Joan is simply a trophy wife concerned with nothing but her looks and material well-being. Needless to say, she and Claudia do not get along well at all.

At the center of Reef Station One is Walter J. Matheson III, another mega-rich businessman. He is out to take over Republica Communications and so makes its owner, August deValle, an offer he can't refuse. Aside from being the T. Boone Pickens of his time, Matheson is up to something else and that something else comes in the form of a purple sphere.

It eventually comes to light that Matheson is working with the Nestene Consciousness and that means Autons. There are some great chase sequences here where Peri, Claudia, and The Doctor do any and everything to avoid them. However, many on Reef Station One aren't so lucky and, in passages that would probably never make it to TV, the slaughter of people at the (ahem) hands of the Autons is pretty gruesome. Hinton adds a bit to Doctor Who lore by having the Nestene Consciousness be the offspring of Shub-Niggurath, a Lovecraftian Great Old One from the Cthulhu mythos. It's a subtle but fun reference that could only come from an übergeeky fan.

The social commentary is right up front here with the denizens of NER having little else to do but watch TV and mindlessly purchase all the material goods they can. This leads to the demise of many as there's little to be done to an electric toothbrush that is actually an Auton. Actually, the revolt of the household appliances bit was rather funny. Also funny was the scene where The Doctor meets Brooks. The actor describes his fate as handed to him by Ms. Delacroix as "Actually, that's not quite true. She just wanted me back for one act just so that I could die." The Doctor's reply was, "That sounds terribly unfair. I don't think I'd stand for that either." which is a reference to Colin Baker's circumstances after he was booted from the role.

Synthespians™ was a fun read even if it wallowed in the parody of soap opera conventions just a little bit too much. By far the biggest disappointment was the neither Brooks nor Claudia moved much beyond the realm of cardboard cut-outs. I wish that Hinton had developed them more. Claudia was basically and extra pair of hands and someone to keep Peri company while separated from The Doctor. Brooks has a much larger role to play in the grand scheme of things but he spends much of his time wandering or just hovering in the background.

On the other hand, Matheson is a pretty good villain. He's diabolical, crafty, likes to tell The Doctor what his plans are before doing away with the Time Lord, etc. In other words, he's all that we expect from a bad guy. While I wouldn't argue that his character is fully developed, I did appreciate that his motivations were not all that they appeared at first.
|| Palmer, 10:40 AM || link || (0) comments |

20 March, 2011

Doctor Who: Palace of the Red Sun by Christopher Bulis

Palace of the Red Sun was my second excursion into the BBC's Past Doctor Adventures which were published from 1997-2005 when the new series started. Being a big fan of the Sixth Doctor, my small collection of PDAs all feature the more strident incarnation of the Time Lord bedecked in his gaudy patchwork Edwardian coat.

Unlike Grave Matter, this story leaves the confines of Earth and it has five separate plot lines. First we are introduced to Glavis Judd, an interstellar dictator who likes to think of himself as being benevolent. However, his invasion of the planet Essleven suggests otherwise. The royal family there has escaped Judd's clutches by jumping into hyperspace but he vows that they will not escape his clutches for long.

Along for the ride with Judd quest is Dexel Dynes, an intrepid reporter who is following the conqueror on his ventures in pursuit of something else - big ratings. Dynes doesn't end up being a major player in the story but he does help link the various plotlines and gives author Christopher Bulis a chance to throw in some commentary on the media and cult of celebrity of 21st century Earth.

Meanwhile the TARDIS materializes in the midst of a lavish garden. The Doctor is unable to determine exactly where or when they are so he and Peri head out to investigate. Unsurprisingly, Peri ends up in a bit of peril. She falls into a pit chasing an oddly playful robot named Boots which prompts The Doctor to head back to the TARDIS to fetch some rope. When he returns to the hole, Peri is gone.

She has been captured by one of the robot gardeners and soon discovers that the mechanical caretakers have enslaved other humans who tend the gardens in as parts of chain gangs. The Doctor too runs into a gardener but finds that this particular one, Green-8, is developing sentience and questions his role of servitude.

Amidst the robots and spaceships, the final plot strand involves Princess Oralissa in an odd storyline that seems a medieval throwback. Her parents are looking to marry her off to either Prince Benedek or Duke Stephon, both of whom have come to meet their prospective wife and vie for her hand. For her part, Oralissa desires neither. Distraught, her mind turns to other things including the robot servants. She questions their origins but no one knows or seems to care.

Bulis does a fine job of weaving the various plotlines together and, to his credit, he does so at a slow pace. Nothing is revealed too early. We can see things encroaching but the exact nature of where they are and how they all fit together arent't given until the end of the book. Judd pounds the energy shield surrounding the planet where he thinks the Essleven royal family is holding out and the other characters see the explosions yet where are the Esslevens? We know that Oralissa and the action surrounding her takes place on the same world that the TARDIS landed on but that royal family surely isn't from Essleven. But who are they?

In addition to juggling five strands of story, Bulis throws in some interesting commentary along the way.

I mentioned the media above but there's also The Doctor trying to explain morality to the newly sentient Green-8. Sure, it's not a philosophy lesson and much of it is the sort of boilerplate ethics that has been heard in countless episodes of the TV show but there's a bit more of it and it goes a bit deeper than usual. First there is the issue of slavery as the robots have put any humans they capture plundering the gardens into indentured servitude. With The Doctor as mentor, the robot comes to the conclusion that that situation is wrong. Other moral quandaries come along too including how to treat one's enemies and how to puzzle through the lesser and greater evils. Again, there's no mistaking the dialogue here for Plato, but it outlines The Doctor's sense of right and wrong more deeply than anywhere else I've read.

Palace of the Red Sun perhaps would have benefited with being a bit lengthier. Bulis' flashbacks to Judd in his pre-dictator days seem superfluous. For the purposes of the story Judd simply needs to be a bastard and accounts of his formative years don't yield very much in the context of the story.

But this is a minor misstep because the real fun of the book comes in the anticipation of how the various storylines will finally come together.
|| Palmer, 7:03 PM || link || (0) comments |

18 March, 2011

Scott Walker Supports Recalls, Taking Our Government Back

|| Palmer, 1:59 PM || link || (1) comments |

The Eyes of Texas

Last weekend Prof. David Williamson interviewed me. He teaches sociology, especially the sociology of religion, at the University of North Texas, which is outside of Dallas, and he was in Madison interviewing godless heathens. Never let it be said that your humble narrator doesn't contribute to science.

When he arrived at my house he commented on the protests. He'd heard that there were estimates of 100,000 people up at the Square and told me that Texans were in a similar situation with their governor, Rick Perry. Indeed, there have been protests in Austin over cuts to public education. But what really struck me was what he said next: "You are on the news every night." Really? Longhorns are watching what we Cheeseheads are doing? Who'da thunk it?

Prof. Williamson told me multiple times "Texas is a very red state. Except Austin."

I revealed that my experience with Texas was limited to driving through Texarkana and asked him some questions about religious attitudes down there. It was surprising to hear that things have relaxed a bit. For instance, he said it is becoming less common for people to ask new folks in town what church they belong to right off the bat. Furthermore there is a bit less hostility towards Catholicism, at least less overt hostility. Prof. Williamson said that it is less common for students to challenge him in class when he refers to Catholicism as being a branch of Christianity.(?!)

Now I can look forward to the publication of the results of his interviews. One thing he and his team were looking at were the similarities and differences between atheists in the North vs. those in the South. Should be some interesting reading. His paper should be out this fall.
|| Palmer, 1:41 PM || link || (0) comments |

Blast From the Past: Garfield Goose And Friends

Some rare footage of Garfield Goose And Friends, a TV show produced by WGN in Chicago from the mid-1950s until 1976, has been found. I recall watching it as a kid. The host, Frazier Thomas, went on to Bozo's Circus and I remember watching him on that program very well.

It's amazing how different this program is in contrast to childrens shows today. The camera isn't in constant motion, shots last more than two seconds, and there's no CGI.

|| Palmer, 12:48 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Sounds of Silence at Imperial Garden

Last night I was A) at Best Buy east to pick up the kid's laptop which had had some work done it and B) jonesing for some Chinese food. Earlier in the day I had read a blog post by University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne wherein he took a visiting scholar to a Chinese restaurant and the photos made me drool. And so it was off to Imperial Garden.

Now, I'm not going to say that IG makes the best Chinese food nor the most authentic but it's always been serviceable and it was right there on our route home. The thing I noticed right away after being seated was just how quiet it was. There were a few people near us and we could hear them but what was really noticeable was that the Musak was turned down low. This is in direct opposition to the other restaurants I've been to lately. Indeed, probably most joints I've eaten at in the last several years. When did it become standard operating practice for dining establishments to crank music up so as to turn their dining rooms into gastronomic raves?

It's been a couple years since a visit to Qdoba on State Street really got the volume of music into my craw. On that visit the music was so loud I couldn't hear the guy behind the counter asking what I wanted on my burrito. More recently, a trek to The Great Dane at Hilldale for lunch was nearly spoiled by the incessant pummeling I took of Top 40 songs from the 1980s. I liked neither Flock of Seagulls nor Huey Lewis and the News in the 1980s when I was growing up and I don't like them now. So dear Great Dane at Hilldale manager, do you think your clientele like this music or was it blaring for the amusement of your staff who, if memory serves, weren't born when these songs were released and perhaps find them full of retro goodness?

My first experience of the Capital Tap Haus was similar. It was a weeknight and the place was packed. With so many people there, it was bound to be noisy. I accept that. But did you have to have loud crappy music playing on top of all the chattering? I almost had to yell across the table at my companion to be heard which was especially disappointing since he lives out of town and I hadn't seen him in years.

Contrariwise, I loved Imperial Garden. I loved not having music assault my ears as I lapped up my hot and sour soup. It needed a bit more sour for my taste but I was able to enjoy it without having to hear the fucking Ghostbusters theme song which made it worth every penny of the $1.99 I paid for it. I loved not having to repeat myself or say "What?" to The Dulcinea as we chatted because some synth drum pads or AutoTuned nabob got in the way.

So thank you, thank you Imperial Garden.
|| Palmer, 12:16 PM || link || (0) comments |

15 March, 2011

Tom Baker To Do Doctor Who Audio Dramas

Tom Baker has signed on with Big Finish to do Doctor Who audio dramas. This should be fun!

We’re delighted to announce that Tom Baker will be playing the Fourth Doctor in a number of audio adventures for Big Finish, to be released from the beginning of 2012. Storylines and scripts are already at an advanced stage, and we plan to start recording early in the summer.

The first season of six single-disc releases will begin in January 2012, with a second season of seven single-disc releases to follow at a date to be confirmed. There will also be a five-disc box set entitled Doctor Who: The Lost Stories – The Fourth Doctor Box Set... The producers across the Fourth Doctor adventures are Nicholas Briggs and David Richardson.
|| Palmer, 3:22 PM || link || (0) comments |

Caveat Artisan Dildo Buyers

Ladies, take care when buying that hand-crafted, locally-sourced dildo on Etsy. That knowledge might become public.

The controversy began last week when Etsy flipped the switch on People Search as part of its effort to make Etsy feel more like a social network. Now, when users run a search for a person's full name, that user's account will show up in the search results, even if that person is only a buyer.

The problem is that, aside from a thread in Etsy's forums (which is almost entirely used by sellers, not buyers), Etsy has not notified users of the change in privacy settings or policy.

Even if users haven't entered their full names, their profiles are still searchable by username. Even better, people's Etsy profiles and their purchase histories (via the feedback they leave) are beginning to show up under Google results for their names.

Why does this matter? Not everyone wants their purchases to be made public—and some purchases are definitely more private than others. "I just found a woman who's Etsy profile comes up on Google as the 5th link. I was expecting 6 or 7 pages down, but it's on the very first page, right after her online resumes," wrote one concerned user on the Penny Arcade forums. "She signed up a year ago, under the old privacy policy, and hasn't logged in since 2010. And now I know what dildo she uses. Right down to the curvature and coloring."

A different user added later on in the thread, "Found an XXL glass dildo with veins and swirled gold coloring (beautiful piece really) and checked to see if anyone favorited it. Someone did. She also favorited some cosplay cat eat hats [sic] and a bell collar/necklace thing. Then I found her on Facebook."

After you make your anonymous purchase, don't forget the Cthulhu Dildo Cozy.
|| Palmer, 12:44 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Virtue of Standing Up For Yourself

Up at Salon.com Mary Elizabeth Williams writes about this video:

A thin 13-year old kid is picking on Casey, a 16-year old who is "overweight". It's another act in the long schoolyard drama of picking on the fat kid. Casey takes some shit and a few punches before finally having enough whereupon, to paraphrase H. L. Mencken, he spat upon his hands, hoisted the black flag, and began slitting throats. The bully then gets body slammed onto the concrete and at this point his smack talking comes to an end.

Williams points out some denizens of the Net who are championing Casey as an anti-bullying hero. But she is more circumspect and sees a situation where everyone loses.

But life, especially adolescence, doesn't give satisfying, "Karate Kid" style happy endings. The "little twerp" has had his name and whereabouts revealed multiple times on Facebook and elsewhere. And however despicable his actions toward Heynes may have been, there's zero satisfaction in considering that a 13-year-old is now finding himself the target of harassment, threats, and potentially worse. Frankly, if you truly enjoy watching a scrawny 13-year-old boy getting thrown on the pavement like a rag doll, that 13-year-old bully isn't the only cruel one. And there's no satisfaction whatsoever in wondering what kind of retribution potentially awaits Casey Heynes in the schoolyard. That other kid in the video, the one the girl told to back off? At the end of the clip, he's walking around her right down the same corridor, hot on Casey's heels.

Perhaps it's a glass half-empty vs. half-full thing. Williams sees a 13-year old getting body slammed while I see a fat kid standing up for himself. But we're both only seeing a 40 second clip and don't nothing else about these kids or what happened prior to and after the events that were recorded. Still, I think Williams views this whole thing as children being stupid and needing non-violent conflict resolution classes. To my mind, this incident is surely kids being kids but it's also an analogue to the adult world in that Casey seems to have learned a valuable lesson which eludes Williams. Depending on one's view, this isn't simply about a schoolyard square go, it's about standing up for oneself generally.

I've wondered on occasion what I would say if either of The Dulcinea's kids came to me for advice because they were being bullied at school. While I wouldn't tell them that violence should be their first and only option, I would tell them that, if all other avenues of defusing the situation fail, stick up for yourself and start swinging. If either of my stepkids find themselves being bullied and school officials are unwilling or unable to help, I would tell them that giving their best shot at beating the crap out of the bully is OK and that I would stick up for them. Hell, I'd buy a steak for a black eye.

Standing up for yourself is a good lesson for kids to learn because, generally speaking, out here in the adult world, if you won't do it, no one else will. And I don't mean simply throwing punches but standing up to be counted more generally. It's about asserting your own will instead of letting others walk over you and being at their mercy. Sometimes you can pick your own fights but at other times they are picked for you and I'd offer that virtue lies with standing up for yourself instead of always turning the other cheek.
|| Palmer, 12:29 PM || link || (0) comments |

A Motherf***ing Penguin on a Motherf***ing Plane

|| Palmer, 11:36 AM || link || (0) comments |

Forget Disneyland, I Want To Go To Bierwelt

Someday I'll take the family on a vacation to Bierwelt - Beerworld. It's this weird Antoni Gaudi-inspired beer garden at the Kuchlbauer brewery in Abensberg, Germany. Animatronic gnomes!

|| Palmer, 10:06 AM || link || (0) comments |

14 March, 2011

The Death of the German Brewery Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

A couple weeks ago Slate published Christian DeBenedetti's "Brauereisterben" or "brewery death". It's an interesting piece that begins with a country ton of bad news.

According to German federal statistics released in late January, German brewing has dropped to less than 100 million hectoliters of production for the first time since reunification in 1990. (That's less than half of the United States' annual output.) The same study revealed that consumption dropped almost 3 percent last year alone, to 101.8 liters per person per year, and that it's down about one-third overall since the previous generation. The number of breweries in the country has also dropped—by about half over the last few decades to around 1,300.

It goes on to list various reasons for this. The German beer industry blames the low birth rate. There are simply less customers. On the other hand, statistics show that German youth go for "mixed and energy drinks like Bacardi's Rigo and Austria's amped-up export, Red Bull, whose sales surged 18 percent in Germany during 2009". And of course the Reinheitsgebot comes in for a thrashing as it, or rather its reputation, limits what brewers brew and what German drinkers perceive to be beer worth drinking, i.e. – pils, pils, and more pils.

Comparing Germany and America with regards to beer is tricky. OK, so the Germans produce less than half of what we do. But that's misleading because Germany has a bit more than a quarter of our population. (Roughly 311,000,000 to 82,000,000.) DeBenedietti also says that Berlin had "some 700 breweries in the early 19th century" when Ron Pattinson's European Beer Guide says that "82 breweries operated in Berlin in 1800 and 42 by 1816". Were observers decrying the decline of the German beer industry in 1816 and citing a nearly 50% decline in the number of breweries in Berlin as proof?

To me the situation over there seems to have a bit in common with the beer scene here. Craft beer nerds like to use blinders and view everything from a craft perspective. The latest statistics I could find show that overall beer sales in America are going down. The past 2 or 3 years they've gone down 2.5% per annum or thereabouts. And craft beers account for well below 10% of all beer sold both in volume and by dollars. Yet beer nerds like to emphasize that the craft segment is growing at a pretty healthy clip.

A lot of this comes down to which numbers you want to emphasize. Step back and look at America. We have 1 brewery for roughly every 183,000 people. Overall sales are trending downwards at a pace of 2.5% or so per year. Germany has 1 brewery for every 63,000 people give or take and its beer consumption slipped by 3% last year. To me, Germany comes out pretty well here yet the consensus is that it is in a tailspin while America is the world's beer leader. Again, it comes down to emphasis. The American craft market is doing really well but how helpful is it to compare that to the performance of the German equivalents of Bud and Miller?

While I'm not trying to say that the German beer industry isn't in trouble, I'm just not sure that DeBenedetti does a good job of explaining why it is so because he looks at Germany as a whole and compares it to a very small segment of the American beer industry which is doing well. I found an interesting comment over at the Beer Advocate forums about this issue by someone from Germany (Regensburg?) who says:

The only breweries that have closed around here in the past years are those where either the brewer reached retirement age and he couldn't find someone to take over the business or where the brewer went bankrupt because he couldn't afford the many upgrades required by European Union law.

All this stuff about the Reinheitsgebot and tied houses misses the point, it's been like that for centuries after all. In Germany there is no beer nerd scene. People won't pay more than 2.50 EUR for 0.5 Liters in a pub and the overwhelming consensus is that Belgian beer should only be sold with a Death Head Warning sticker.

Pretty much everyone over there seems to be stuck in a rut – brewers and consumers alike. Brewers aren't innovating and consumers aren't making much of a demand that they do so. And there's the aspect of everyone being hamstrung by the Reinheitsgebot tradition. At least that's what I get from all this. But just as the craft beer segment in America bucks the overall trend here of declining beer sales, I am unclear whether something similar holds true in Germany. Yes, I get the overall picture but are there any bright spots?

And it isn't just Germany. Belgium's beer culture is being "threatened", according to homebrewing godfather Charlie Papazian while James Watt of Scotland's BrewDog brewery recently said "The UK brewing scene really bored us. Everything is constrained by tradition and anything interesting is strangled by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which is almost single-handedly responsible for holding back innovation in British brewing. The beer culture we grew up with is stuffy, boring and mundane, with most UK brewers making similar boring 4 percent bitters all using the same malt and hops."

Yet there's hope. The final part of DeBenedetti's piece notes some positive developments in Germany.

Starting in 2007, Oliver (an American brewer)began collaborating with German brew master Hans-Peter Drexler of Schneider (a famous Reinheitsgebot-loyal Bavarian brewery that opened in 1872) on a pair of brews, including a strong German weizenbock dry-hopped with American flowers. The beer was highly rated, especially in the United States, and the reception in Germany was more or less kind, though the brew wasn't made widely available…Drexler and Oliver's second joint effort (a hefeweizen, or traditional Bavarian unfiltered wheat beer) was also dry-hopped with local German Saphir hops from Kelheim post-fermentation, imparting floral and citrusy aromas and flavors practically alien to local palates.

Even without American assistance, Germans are pushing the hops envelope. Wernecker Bierbrauerei in Werneck, Germany (some 40 miles West of Bamberg), released Hopfen-Fluch in 2010, a hoppy, American-style riff on the IPA (India pale ale). Wernecker brewery claims it has doubled in size over the last decade or so, and that sales accelerated 20 percent in 2007, bucking the bleak national trends.

Hopfen-Fluch and the Oliver-Schneider collaboration beers would likely pass muster under the Reinheitsgebot, but change could come with or without the purity business in tow. In Bamberg, Weyermann Malting supplies specialty roasted grains in 80 varieties for the global craft-brewing industry. The company's small, pilot brewery has turned out cherry and pumpkin ales (definitely not Reinheitsgebot-approved) as well as barley wines (strong English ales) and even "imperial" American-style ales (which might pass inspections, if they existed, depending on carbonation and clarifying methods), all with the intention of "showing the world, and German brewers, what is possible," says Sabine Weyermann, spokesperson for the 130-year-old family-held firm.

Gasthaus-Brauerei Braustelle in Cologne, a nano-brewery that opened in 2002, is also defying national and local traditions with increasing chutzpah: braumeister Peter Esser's latest beers include a dunkel (dark) seasoned with rosemary, an American-style IPA (called Fritz IPA), a 5.8 percent ale infused with hibiscus flowers (Pink Panther) and what's thought to be the first American-style imperial stout ever brewed in Germany (Freigeist Caulfield).

It took a while before significant numbers of American beer drinkers started quaffing IPAs and barrel-aged stouts so it's only fair to assume that German drinkers will take time to accommodate very hoppy brews and those that are not Reinheitsgebot-compliant.
|| Palmer, 1:58 PM || link || (0) comments |

11 March, 2011

Hiawatha Doing Well and Suggestions For Madison Metro

While Gov. Walker's union busting is front and center these days, I was reminded today of how he 86'd making Madison a terminus on Amtrak's Hiawatha line. According to the Wisconsin DoT, the Hiawatha did very well last year with nearly 793,000 riders, a nearly 7% increase over 2009. Perhaps my stepkids will see the day when Wisconsin gets high-speed rail.

To see what we're going to miss, here's a video a 14-year old kid took of his trip from Chicago to Milwaukee on the Hiawatha.

Republicans here in Wisconsin are going after RTAs and the budget bill would eliminate lots of funding for Madison Metro so I've been thinking about what the future of bus service here in Madison holds. I stumbled on this article about how the buses in Seoul are being painted to reflect where they go.

Blue buses travel long distances on major arterial roads, serving more than 2 districts, and run in median bus lanes when they get close to the centre of the city (this video shows a blue bus entering a separated median lane). Green buses operate as feeder buses to the 8 lines on the subway system and are run by private companies. Red buses are express routes with limited stops connecting major suburban towns to the central city. And yellow buses are circular routes that travel between the major destinations in the central city.

This got me thinking about Madison's buses. No, I don't think a color-coding scheme would be appropriate here but the article also mentions a couple other bits that were interesting.

But the addition of a route numbering system that actually has explicit meaning is something every transit system should adopt. First they divided Seoul into 8 numbered zones, starting at 0 in the downtown core and giving the surrounding zones numbers 1 through 7.

Then they used these zones as part of the route numbers. Blue buses have three-digit route numbers. The first number indicates the origin zone and the second number the destination zone, with the last number the bus ID number. So if you encounter bus #048, for example, you know it travels from downtown (zone 0) to zone 4. Red buses put a 9 in front to indicate that these are suburban routes, while yellow buses have only two numbers, since they stay within the same zone.

Is there a method to the madness of Metro's system of assigning numbers to bus routes? If there is, it must be something like north to south routes are multiples of a prime number or something like that. Well, I do see at least some. Routes in the 80s are campus circulators while those in the 70s go to Middleton. Some other numbers more or less cluster around a transfer point as a terminus. But if you look at a ride guide, well over half the pages are devoted to routes 1-39. Can a numbering system be put in place which gives the rider some idea of where the bus goes?

Another neat thing they do with buses is this:

That sign on the side lists major destinations. I think this would be helpful. Many people ask if a bus goes to the Square or not and this would answer their question quickly. Does it go to East Towne Mall? Well, that would be right on the side of the bus for you to read as it approaches. And I'll repeat what I have written previously: Metro buses should have a map posted inside showing the entire route and listing major streets and destinations.

Speaking of bus numbers, why can't Madison Metro simplify things by not switching route numbers on weekends? Take bus number 3. On weekends it becomes 7. It runs essentially the same route so why confuse things with a different number?

A couple other gripes.

Last weekend I need to get from downtown to the High Noon Saloon so I needed a #6 bus. I was surprised to find that this route runs only once an hour on weekends. This is the only bus in the whole system that services the entirety of East Washington. At least during the week there are other buses that run between the Square and Milwaukee Street but on weekends the 6 is basically all you have. Why such poor frequency?

Lastly I'll say that I wish buses ran a bit later on Fridays and Saturdays. The Wisconsin Film Festival is coming up and I've got tickets for some shows that run late making it impossible or nearly so for me to catch a bus home afterwards. Part of the problem is that Metro considers Saturdays to be a lazy day when people don't do anything and so they pare services down. Now I can understand Sundays and holidays having pretty abbreviated service but why Saturday? Sure, you can adjust the schedule to reflect a lack of rush hours but it's a big shopping day and a day when lots of people go out for entertainment which includes staying out late. So why is it treated like a Sunday?

Of course, it's unlikely much is going to happen to bus service here in Madison for years besides fares increasing and service cuts. In the meantime, join the Madison Area Bus Advocates to prepare for a more public transit-friendly future.
|| Palmer, 3:32 PM || link || (0) comments |

So Long Dogfish Head

Dogfish Head have officially announced that they are pulling out of Wisconsin. From the company's blog:

The distributors in the states we are pulling distribution from (Tennessee, Indiana, Wisconsin and Rhode Island) have already been notified of our decision. If your favorite pubs and beer outlets are no longer able to obtain Dogfish products, we are sorry that we are no longer able to supply them. Thanks for understanding and we are hopeful for your ongoing support.

Fans will have to make a run to the border, I guess.
|| Palmer, 3:06 PM || link || (4) comments |

Beer: Excise Taxes, Expansion, and Boycotts

The U.S. Senate will be mulling over a bill to reduce the beer excise tax for craft brewers.

Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) today introduced legislation to reduce the beer excise tax for America’s small brewers.

Currently, a small brewer that produces less than two million barrels of beer per year is eligible to pay $7.00 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels produced each year. This legislation will reduce this rate to $3.50 per barrel, giving our nation’s smallest brewers approximately $19.9 million per year to expand and generate jobs. This change helps approximately 1,525 breweries nationwide.

Currently, once production exceeds 60,000 barrels, a small brewer must pay the same $18 per barrel excise tax rate that the largest brewer pays while producing more than 100 million barrels. This legislation will lower the tax rate to $16 per barrel on beer production above 60,000 barrels, up to two million barrels, providing small brewers with an additional $27.1 million per year that can be used to support significant long-term investments and create jobs by growing their businesses on a regional or national scale.

For now this is still just a bill but I can't imagine that the idea of lowering taxes would have a problem in the House. If it passes, would beer prices go down? I mean, when WI state Rep. Terese Burceau tried to raise the state beer excise tax, small brewers generally came out against it and, from my recollections, said that the cost increase would be passed onto consumers. Would the reverse hold as well?


Canning is the latest trend in craft beer and I now read that Sprecher is going that route in an interview with Jeff Hamilton, the company's president. I'm pretty agnostic on the issue at this point. Here's an overview of the benefits and problems of each packaging method. I only hope that craft brewers don't devolve into a stupid marketing war where they try to pawn off cans with mouths wider than normal as a reason to buy their product.
Other news is that they've increased lagering capacity and now offer beer-flavored potato chips. Does any other Wisconsin brewery sell food products made with their beer? Is there a New Glarus mustard, for instance? Also interesting was that the brewery's founder, Randy Sprecher, now lives in California part-time.

Are any of their seasonal sodas available here in Madison?


With all the protesting the past few weeks and now calls for boycotts of companies that contributed to Scott Walker's campaigns, I found this bit interesting.

The Midwest Beer Collective's 18 February news roundup had positive comments about the protesters. A commenter named "Jim Klisch" left the following comment:

Where is the money coming from to pay the state workers? It’s not like they are hurting. They will keep their jobs which is much better then[sic] the private sector. Stick to beer and leave your sophomoric politics out or yur blog.

Jim Klisch founded the Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee but I have no idea if it was he that actually left the comment. For fun, I looked to see if he had donated any money to Walker but found no evidence of that.

So, if you're a craft beer drinker and want to engage in boycotts of Walker supporters, would you consider boycotting Lakefront if you knew that this comment was from the company's founder?

And lastly, a big fuck you to the author of the member of the Midwest Beer Collective who wrote the new roundup mentioned above for writing "seriously, we get it Cap Brewery, you don’t like to make flavorful beer, but cans?"
|| Palmer, 11:04 AM || link || (0) comments |

09 March, 2011

Doctor Who: Grave Matter by Justin Richards

Despite having been a Doctor Who fan since the early 1980s, it was only recently that I read one of the DW novels from the time between the show going off the air in 1989 until its resurrection in 2005. During that time Virgin Publishing and then BBC Books published dozens of novels featuring all eight Doctors. I lost my virginity here to the BBC Past Doctor book Grave Matter, a Sixth Doctor story featuring Peri that takes place after the TV story "Vengeance on Varos".

The story begins with the eldritch thoughts of someone unknown. This person is locked away in a room but eventually finds a way to freedom. The cell is in a mansion and the escape is noticed by a butler who reports it to the lord and lady of the house.

We are then introduced to our heroes who land in a fog-shrouded area. They are on the island of Dorsill, just off the coast of England. Unable to see through the pea soup, Peri nearly walks off a cliff but is saved by a man in tattered clothing with missing fingers. He directs The Doctor and Peri to the village nearby. Upon entering, they encounter a funeral procession. Just as in Dungeons & Dragons information is to be found at the local pub. This scene is just like the one in An American Werewolf in London with the rustic locals wearily eyeing the strangers.

With no electricity and handmade clothing, The Doctor places their arrival somewhere in the Victorian era but clues betray that notion, including the village's latest addition, Dave Madsen, the local doctor who doesn't speak like a Victorian. But, unlike everyone else, he is friendly. The funeral was for Bill Neville who was part of the crew aboard a fishing boat that went under. His was the only body recovered. Eventually the pub's owner, Trefoil, opens up as well. He has a daughter, Liz, who is trading googly eyes with Madsen.

Indeed, we meet many of Dorsill's residents in the opening chapters of the book. In addition to those above, there's Mrs. Tattleshall, the village gossip hound, the mysterious Sir Edward, and Mike, Bill Neville's brother who is quite distraught and angry over his brother's death.

At one point Peri follows Sir Edward after he leaves the pub only to witness him chatting on a cell phone as he wanders down the lane. It isn't the Victorian era after all. Instead it is the 21st century. Dorsill was previously owned by a trust but was purchased by a former native named Christopher Sheldon who was thought to have missed out on his family's fortune. So where did the money come from? And where has he gone?

Without wanting to spoil too much, I will note that there is something afoot at the Sheldon manor – something which involves the dead coming back to life.

Grave Matter was a blast. I've read that many of the Virgin novels explore The Doctor's past and build up a lot of the mythology behind the character. This story as well as the other BBC Past Doctor novels I've read do very little of that kind of thing. Grave Matter took the tried and true DW formula and stretched it out a bit to make a novel but otherwise kept the show's conventions intact. Author Justin Richards does a lot of misdirection here which kept me guessing. For instance, was it the Victorian era with a mysterious anachronism or was it really the 21st century? A few characters are hiding something and Richards does a good job of letting the truth out and letting it out slowly so that one revelation doesn't everything and give the game away. You know that Peri is going to be in danger but by whom? Is it Mike and his strange animosity towards her? Or perhaps the real peril is from Sir Edward.

Richards kept me guessing and I liked that. I also enjoyed the mood he set. The islanders who revel in the old ways are largely cut off from the mainland and Dorsill is always covered in fog. The Doctor is his usual arrogant self while Peri is pretty much Peri although she does show a bit more initiative here than the character did on TV. One nice thing about the novel format is that it allowed Richards a bit more breathing room. There were no time constraints so events and storylines could unfold naturally instead of being hurried to fit a TV schedule. In addition the format gave room for more characters and that means more encounters which adds to the mystery as well as to the peril quotient for our heroes.

Grave Matter is a good old gothic-y Doctor Who horror story in the vein of Horror of Fang Rock with a bit of The Curse of Fenric thrown in for good measure.
|| Palmer, 1:58 PM || link || (0) comments |

07 March, 2011

Walker Channels Yahweh

Matt Rothschild of The Progressive has a blog post which concerns a speech Scott Walker gave to the Christian Businessmen’s Committee here in Madison. In the talk our governor lays out how Yahweh pulls his strings.

Walker said that God has told him what to do every step of the way, including about what jobs to take, whom to marry, and when to run for governor.

When he had first met his wife, he said, “That night I heard Christ tell me, ‘This is the person you’re going to be with.’ ”

He said he was trusting and obeying God when he took a job at IBM and then at the Red Cross. ““Lord, if this is what you want, I’ll try it,” he said. It was all about “trust and obey.”

Oh great. We have an evangelical who has voices in his head telling him what to do for governor.

So what would Jesus do?

Well, it seems that he might do whatever Evangelicals don't do. A recent poll reveals:

White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one's money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation's poor -- especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of "socialism," even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training -- anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.

The recall can't start soon enough.
|| Palmer, 4:22 PM || link || (0) comments |

International Fest 2011

The 30th Annual International Festival was this past weekend at the Overture Center. It seemed to be well-attended to my mind. Usually the crowds thin out a bit as the afternoon goes on but crowds were pretty steady with many protestors carrying their signs with them.

The Swiss Alphorn Group from New Glarus started things off as they always do.

When they had finished, a woman came out onto the stage and greeted everyone. She began by thanking them for attending but quickly got caught up in the events up the street at the Capitol. The Wisconsin Arts Board is looking at major budget cuts under Gov. Walker's budget and the woman noted this and also that the International Festival is a free event due, in part, to funding from the WAB. While we were given no specifics on what the cuts might do to the festival, she implored everyone to go out and protest at some point during the day. At this point she got all fired up and her voice grew louder. Her message was that artists work and that they are not freeloaders. So go out and tell Walker that you appreciate the arts and what they bring into your lives.

An unexpected outburst but not at all surprising and one that got a thunderous round of applause.

When the festivities got going again, we were treated to the Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association doing a Chinese lion dance.

It's great how the lions fan out into the crowd nipping at the head of the occasional child.

Outside I caught a phalanx of protestors from the medical profession marching down State Street.

I tried to catch the Tania Tandias Flamenco dancers but the Playhouse was already full and they were only letting people in as others left. So I went to hear the Madison Männerchor, the oldest German singing organization in Wisconsin and the second oldest in the nation, doncha know.

Oddly enough, it was only when they had gotten about ¾ of the way through their performance that they finally did a drinking song.

After this I went to see the Taiwan Puppet Troupe. I saw them for the first time last year and wanted to catch their act again. Madison needs more puppets. I am jealous of Chicago when I go down to the Loop and see the Puppet Bike. Anyway, the Taiwan troupe do a couple tales from Taiwanese folklore and they're a hoot. Especially the tiger that eats the girl…

Here's Wojciech Czapliński of the Polish klezmer band KlezmaFour. He plays the clarinet and is the de facto band leader. He was at the table of the Polish Heritage Club hawking tickets for that night's concert at the High Noon Saloon and CDs.

KlezmaFour were to have local purveyors of klezmer Yid Vicious open for them and I caught a good chunk of their set. I spied Anna Purnell of Chick Singer and Reptile Palace Orchestra fame cutting a rug.

I took a break and caught a couple numbers by Charanga Agoza who put on a great Latin groove.

Then it was back upstairs to catch the guys in KlezmaFour do a number before Yid Vicious finished things off.

These guys were incredible. They got things moving and I saw Anna pull off her sweatshirt and hat and get down.

While I'd hoped to have more photos, my camera proved to be a pain. I couldn't get the flash to work for some reason and I suspect I have to get the timer thingy to stop flashing. Might be time to get a new camera. Either that or read the manual.

I would hate to see the International Fest go away. I'd be willing to pay a fee to get in but I'm not sure how charging would change the tenor of the thing. It would certainly throw off the informal nature of it where families can just walk in off the street to see what's happening without making a commitment. Even Adam Smith saw a role for government in providing public works so let's hope Walker's budget doesn't gut the state's commitment to the arts.

And where was the Indian fry bread this year?
|| Palmer, 4:06 PM || link || (0) comments |

"Please identify the one that is ausgezeichnet" - Werner Herzog on The Simpsons

I can't figure out how to imbed a clip instead of the whole episode so fast forward to 10:18.
|| Palmer, 2:23 PM || link || (0) comments |

04 March, 2011

Hitler Finds Out About Prank Call to Governor Walker

|| Palmer, 4:14 PM || link || (0) comments |

Dem. Representative Nick Milroy Gets Taken Down at Capitol

Unfortunately I can't get the embedding to work but you can watch law enforcement take down Rep. Nick Milroy as he tries to enter the Capitol to retrieve some items from his office here.
|| Palmer, 8:43 AM || link || (0) comments |

03 March, 2011

Why Dummies Want To Take Wisconsin

|| Palmer, 2:20 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Troll Hunters at Wisconsin Film Festival!

Uff da! The Troll Hunters, which I expressed an interest in here, will be shown on Friday night at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Should be fun. Look for your humble narrator and Jesse Russell at the screening.

I don't recognize many of the other films playing but I am glad to see that A Somewhat Gentle Man and Viva Riva! will be shown. Oh, and I have read about Mozart's Sister. And it's odd to see Marwencol returning after having screened at the Orpheum already. Perhaps it got lined up before that.

Lastly, there's an 80's horror series too. Lots of schlocky goodness.

ADDENDUM: Yes, Auruora will play just as I prognosticated.
|| Palmer, 10:33 AM || link || (0) comments |

02 March, 2011

Radio Free Albemuth Trailer

This looks like it could be good. Nice to see a PKD adaptation not starring Nicholas Cage.

Radio Free Albemuth movie trailer
Uploaded by blankytwo. - Classic TV and last night's shows, online.
|| Palmer, 9:33 AM || link || (0) comments |

01 March, 2011

Dinner With Basil, Sybil, and Manuel

If anyone wants to know what to get me for my birthday, then hire these folks for a party.

These are the actors from Australia's Interactive Theatre's Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience. For a fee they'll come to the restaurant of your choice and put on a show in the tradition of Fawlty Towers. Here's an account of their performance in Edinburgh.

If you ask for more salt, you will get a bundle of salt in paper (salt and pepper). Then Basil – whose manhandling of Manuel has won newspaper plaudits for the most convincing random comedy violence – stabs him with a fork, with much punning along "you fork me" lines. Manuel, asked to wait on the tables, stands in the centre of a set of diners and does his matador impression. Meanwhile, there is plenty of running through the restaurant when Manuel mishears the word "sapphire".

Sybil, amid ear-piercing shouts of "Ba-sil!" tells us that she brought back her shoes from Spain – and got a much better bargain than Basil, who brought back the hapless waiter.
|| Palmer, 11:15 AM || link || (0) comments |

Oldest Beer to Be Re-Brewed

Somebody get Ron Pattinson on the phone! Some beer recovered from a shipwreck dating back to the early 19th century has been recovered and it's in a lab being analyzed so some true beer geeks can replicate it.

In July 2010, a Baltic Sea shipwreck dated between 1800 to 1830 yielded many bottles of what is thought to be the world's oldest champagne.

Five of the bottles later proved to be the oldest drinkable beer yet found.

The local government of the Aland island chain where the wreck was found has now commissioned a scientific study to unpick the beer's original recipe.

The brew has already been sampled by four professional beer tasters.

"They said that it did taste very old, which is no surprise, with some burnt notes. But it was quite acidic - which could mean there's been some fermenting going on in the bottle and with time it's become acid," said Annika Wilhelmson of the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT).

VTT has now been commissioned to get to the bottom of the sunken beer's recipe.

"We're going to try to see if we can find any living yeast or other microbial cells, because that would be very interesting with respect to reproducing the beer," Dr Wilhelmson explained.
|| Palmer, 8:46 AM || link || (0) comments |