Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

29 February, 2012

Bully Stuck with R Rating

Since my youngest stepson is being bullied at school I was happy to hear about a new movie which looks at the problem - Bully.

Last I'd heard the filmmakers were appealing the decision by the MPAA to give it an R rating. Well, I now read that they lost that appeal.

Last week, the Motion Picture Association of America dealt the film a serious blow by upholding the film’s R rating, making the documentary less accessible to its target audience. For the MPAA, the problem with “Bully” stemmed from a scene in which a student was harassed and the f-word was said seven or eight times by various accosters.

You have got to be shittin' me. Kids can go see PG-13 Transformers movies which feature "fuck", "shit", "son of a bitch", "pussy", and "bitch ass", teases them with Megan Fox's panties, and are full of violence but to see real life reflected back at them from the silver screen, well, that calls for restrictions.

If the kids wants to see this, I will take him. The article notes that the "Cincinnati school district had arranged to bus over 40,000 students to see documentary, but will have to cancel the plans because of its rating." Too bad.

The MPAA sure has some screwed up criteria for rating movies.
|| Palmer, 2:52 PM || link || (2) comments |

My Netflix Demarche

Recently Salon asked "Is it OK to steal 'Downton Abbey'?" I was rather happy they did because I'd had more than one person recently tell me that they've been watching it and I walked away from those conversations wondering "What the hell is 'Downtown Abbey'?" Now I know.

The article says the show has a significant American following but the programme's second series wouldn't air here on PBS until late this month – a few months after it is shown in the UK. It presents a lot of anecdotes. There are frustrated viewers who don't want to wait and so download the show arguing that it's going to be on free TV anyway, so what's the hassle? Then there's one of the show's actors who expressed profound irritation at an American interviewer who admitted to downloading the show. “That’s really pissing me off. Shame on you. Be ashamed," he scolded. The PBS producer seemed sympathetic to frustrated American fans but she really made it sound as if it was out of her hands.

The point is that, in this day and age with satellites, the Internet, and the decline of delayed gratification, it seems inexcusable for producers and distributors of entertainment to stagger releases in different countries. U.S. fans of Downton Abbey who wait for the show to air here not only are left in the dust by the delay but also by the fact that they have access to commentary about the show as it airs in the U.K.

The comments section was interesting, for a short while, anyway. Fans justified their downloads by noting that there is not technological reason for making American fans wait and, furthermore, Doctor Who now airs the same day in the U.K. as in the States so the same kind of deal can be struck for their show. One commenter chided these folks by decrying their childishness. Delayed gratification is the mark of an adult and so whining about a four month delay and instead downloading is simply immature behavior.

This article came to mind in a recent bout of frustration with Netflix. We have the streaming service only. I wanted to watch some Scandinavian crime fiction and thought "How about the second season of Forbrydelsen?", the Danish TV show which was remade here in the States as The Killing and shown on AMC. Netflix had the American version listed as coming soon and today has the DVD's available but no streaming. As for the Danish show, it's never heard of it. Then I thought about Wallander. Not the BBC remake with Kenneth Branagh but the original Swedish films. Netflix had the remake available - on DVD only – and also had a listing for the Swedish series but it wasn't available in any way, shape, or form. (To its credit, Four Star Video has at least some of these for rent on what I presume are Region 2 DVDs. No Forbrydelsen, though.)

So, how about some Doctor Who? (Classic series, that is.) Well, of the 120-130 stories available, less than 20 could be streamed. Mostly 4th Doctor stuff. No Sixey, unfortunately. And only about half of the Key to Time series. Why so few? (Four Star is really weak in this department too.)

OK. I had just finished listening to a college lecture about The Crusades and thought that I'd watch Kingdom of Heaven. Nope. DVD only. This is not a foreign TV show, it's a big budget Hollywood movie yet I can't stream it.

If your business model and advertising are about the ability of the consumer to "instantly watch thousands of movies and TV episodes", it seems like you should have a big fucking library to choose from. It may be big now but it's not big enough. No wonder their stock value is dropping. They want their customers to move to the streaming service so they can ditch physical media yet the selection of the former is really spotty. Plus I've occasionally found myself at the mercy of Netflix's vagaries in other ways. For example, I read Smila's Sense of Snow and then streamed the movie just before the Netflix gods made it available on DVD only. Why is it "not available to watch instantly" when it used to be? If the movies I want to stream are can simply disappear in an instant, then your service declines in value for me.

I presume that the mercurial availability of various movies on Netflix is due to what that Salon article noted – producers, distributors, and exhibitionists not having their shit together. I recently discovered that Music Box Films will be distributing the Swedish Wallander shows come May. Perhaps this is why Netflix acknowledges that it exists but doesn't have it available. It was waiting for the issue of distribution rights to be settled. Hopefully I'll be able to stream it this spring.

Truth is though, Netflix does much right. I have watched 2033: Future Apocalypse which Four Star doesn't seem to have. And it was nice to be able to watch Severed Ways - The Norse Discovery of America on whim one night. My guess is that the company is, to one extent or another, at the mercy of distributors and, likely, others with a stake in the matter. If some company won't sign a contract with Netflix or if they want more than Netflix can pay, so it goes. If a company says Netflix can rent out the DVD but can't stream it, so it goes. I as a consumer am at the mercy of these big companies.

I was thinking that perhaps it's just my taste. But, when I look, I find out that the only Ridley Scott film available for streaming is Black Hawk Down. Orson Welles? Only The Third Man and Jane Eyre. Kubrick. Just two. Oliver Stone? Four but only 2 are narrative films. And World Trade Center used to be streamable but is no longer. Terry Gilliam? Time Bandits stands alone. And there's not one single David Lynch movie for me to stream.

It is great that Netflix offers the likes of The Saragossa Manuscript and Werckmeister harmóniák on DVD but, seriously, no Citizen Kane on streaming? No Dr. Strangelove? No JFK? No Blue Velvet?

What I find most frustrating is that Netflix does a horrible job of setting customer expectations. Why is Smila's Sense of Snow no longer available for streaming? I don't know and don't think Netflix has ever said. Will it be available again at some point in the future? Who knows? Why is a movie for rent as a DVD but not streamable? It seems to me that, if you want to stem the tide of illegal downloading, keeping customers in the dark and forcing them to suffer your capricious whims is not a great business model.

Did anyone drop a Netflix service when they split the DVD and streaming services? Anyone out there know of good Netflix alternatives?

ADDENDUM: Here's a list of movies and TV shows that went bye-bye today.
|| Palmer, 1:43 PM || link || (2) comments |

S.E.C. Chairwoman Needs to Bust Out the Great Books

That's Mary L. Schapiro. She's the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and this article is astounding. In it she defends the S.E.C.'s practice of slapping Wall Street firms on the wrist and absolving them of wrongdoing.

The chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission defended the agency’s record of settling fraud cases with Wall Street companies, saying on Wednesday that she believed the agency’s practices “clearly have deterrent value,” even though firms were often charged repeatedly for violating the same securities laws.

Mary L. Schapiro, the S.E.C. chairwoman, added that repeat offenders remained a problem because “people have short memories” on Wall Street. That forces the commission to bring many of the same types of cases “so that people don’t forget that they have these obligations and that somebody is watching and somebody is willing to hold them accountable.”

"Clearly have deterrent value" for whom?

According to a New York Times analysis of enforcement cases, nearly all of the biggest Wall Street firms have settled fraud cases by promising never to violate a law that they had already promised not to break, usually multiple times. In addition, the Times analysis showed, those settlements also repeatedly granted exemptions to the biggest Wall Street firms from punishments intended by Congress and regulators to act as a deterrent to multiple fraud violations.

Matt Taibbi has a couple blog posts about federal Judge Jed Rakoff putting the kibosh on a fraud settlement the S.E.C. was making with Citigroup.

Here, Citi similarly told investors a package of mortgages had been chosen independently, when in fact Citi itself had chosen the stuff and was betting against the whole pile.

Judge Rakoff balked at the settlement and particularly balked at the SEC’s decision to allow Citi off without any admission of wrongdoing. He also mocked the SEC’s decision to describe the crime as “negligence” instead of intentional fraud, taking the entirely rational position that there’s no way a bank making $160 million ripping off its customers can conceivably be described as an accident.

If you take Citi’s $160 million profit on the deal into consideration, what we’re talking about then is a $125 million fine for causing $700 million in damages. That, and no admission of wrongdoing.

Just imagine a mugger who steals $70 from some lady’s wallet being sentenced to walk free after paying back twelve bucks.

Going back to the S.E.C.'s excuses:

Ms. Schapiro said that she believed recidivism among Wall Street firms was so common “in part because these firms are enormous.”

Isn't there some pithy phrase about doing the same thing and expecting different results? Why are my taxes still paying this woman's salary? There's this wonderful American intellectual tradition called pragmatic liberalism. The foundations were laid by Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Former UW prof Charles W. Anderson is a proponent. Here's how Anderson introduced the concept to the class of his that I was in: If something doesn't work, do something different.

If slapping these enormous firms on the wrist doesn't deter illegal behavior, then try something different. Maybe if the consequences of repeatedly committing the same offense over and over after saying that they'd never do it again were enormous, then something might stick in the institutional memories of these big firms. Perhaps multi-billion dollar fines and/or hauling C.E.O.s out of their offices in handcuffs before TV cameras might help jog their collective memories.
|| Palmer, 11:08 AM || link || (0) comments |

27 February, 2012

Memorial Union to Remain Bus Terminal For Four More Years

Earlier this month I noticed several intercity buses parked in front of Memorial Union. I've not heard of any plans to construct a bus terminal and it appears that the Union will remain Madison's de facto terminal at least for the next few years.

Intercity buses will continue to pick up and offload passengers on Langdon Street for the next four years. However, the city is going to designate four bus stalls and then charge bus companies to use them to recoup lost parking meter fees. The bus lines have to opt into this plan so it's possible that one or more carriers will choose to find another location to service passengers.

I presume this is at least partly in response to the upcoming construction in the area. The Union is getting some remodeling done while work will be done on the utility tunnels that emanate from Science Hall. Concomitant to this the Historical Society's balustrade along Langdon will be repaired and an ADA-compliant entryway will also be installed at the same time.

But what happens after four years? Is the city actively engaged in planning for a bus terminal? Or looking at spreading out curbside loading points?

Tangentially, the BBC posted an article called "The American bus revival" yesterday about intercity buses rising from the ashes. Statements like this one make me doubt a bus terminal is in the works:

But the fact that they offer free wi-fi and pick up passengers on the kerbside - rather than bus terminals which are seen as dirty and intimidating - is also a factor, helping to make them popular with more affluent passengers and women travelling alone, according to the DePaul research.

The appeal of curbside pick-up and the likelihood that intercity passenger rail in Madison is dead for at least a generation greatly lessens the chances of some kind of intermodal station being built. The Union doesn't offer ticketing and isn't always open. I wonder if any other cities are faced with this situation.

Public transit planning consultant and blogger Jarrett Walker was quoted in the piece. He was here in Madison last year and I highly recommend his blog.
|| Palmer, 5:15 PM || link || (4) comments |

The Road Chosen

Since two-thirds of my household are struggling with math homework, I dared not let on the title while I was reading it. Luckily actual knowledge of mathematics beyond my ken was not required to enjoy this book. The penultimate 7th Doctor PDA, The Algebra of Ice promised the return of the Brigadier, presumably still reeling from the events of Battlefield.

The tale begins with the TARDIS going all funny. It brings The Doctor and Ace to various moments in time which don't quite go as the history books say they do. Edgar Allen Poe doesn't die in quite the same manner as he should, the fate of Pompeii becomes slightly altered, and a sign at a certain junkyard well-known to DW fans reads “I.M. Forman” instead of its familiar spelling with an E. The Doctor figures out that these blips in time somehow revolve around a young mathematics genius named Ethan Amberglass. Our intrepid investigators pay the recluse a visit only to find that he's mastered the crotchety thing and moved beyond it.

The Doctor heads over to UNIT where the Brigadier enlists his help with investigating an eldritch pattern in a field in Kent. No mere circle, the pattern consists of a series of geometric shapes and is encased in layer of super-cold ice, as if all the molecules of the ground had suffered a mighty blow at the hand of entropy and lost all energy. Also interested in this strange phenomenon is one Adrian Molecross, the publisher of a Fortean online magazine called Molecross's Miscellany of the Mysterious and Misunderstood.

Meanwhile another math genius, Pat Unwin, is in the employ of Sheridan Brett. Brett is a twisted, sadistic bastard with a preternatural affection for entropy. With a nihilistic temperament, Brett is keen on destroying the universe. This makes him a refreshing villain as he has no lust for power. A thirst for self-aggrandizement is replaced by a total indifference to, well, pretty much everything. He simply wants to bring an entropic end to life, the universe, and everything several billion years early. As Unwin says to Ethan at one point, ”I think entropy is the problem, don’t you? I mean, what’s the point of all the rest of it if we’re only going to end up cold toast?” The crop patterns are portals to another dimension and opening them would allow some being hell-bent on destruction through to our universe.

Rose also makes good on the potential of the books to give a more adult spin on DW with Brett. At one point he kidnaps Ethan and locks him in his basement. There Brett viciously tortures Ethan by stubbing cigarettes into his cheek, the sole of one of his feet, and other body parts. It's a brutal scene and much more shocking than the usual hooking up people to electrodes and giving them a shock routine that is familiar to DW viewers.

After reading Mike Tucker & Robert Perry's story arc wherein Ace matures and becomes more independent, I was wondering what Rose would do with the character. She portrays the companion in a way that is a mix of the brash teenager of the television show and the more adult figure that has been carved out by other authors of the series. For most of the book she is the companion that we know from TV. However, she is attracted to Ethan and they verbally spar with one another not unlike Walter and Hildy in His Girl Friday before consummating their brief relationship.

There's nothing new in Ace bestowing her carnal favors upon a strapping young lad. Instead it's The Doctor whose character is twisted in a new direction. In a moment of desperation, The Doctor tries to convince Ethan that his – Ethan's – death would put things right.

‘What are you trying to do – persuade me to kill myself and save you the trouble?’
‘It’s one life against the whole of existence.’
‘It’s my life, and I’m not going to do it.’
‘The universe!’ cried the Doctor, anguished.
‘You’re trying to take it off you – murder without murdering. You think I’m going to make it easy?'

It was a rather shocking scene for me as I'm used to The Doctor volunteering his own life to save everyone else only to have some other character step up and make the ultimate sacrifice. Here, not only is The Doctor pleading with someone else to die, it's also someone for whom Ace has feelings. But we do get a scene where a subsidiary character sacrifices himself: Molecross takes one for the team by stepping between Brett and the TARDIS' Artron Energy Capacitor. (I never knew the TARDIS had one of those.) I thought the scene with The Doctor trying to get Ethan to sacrifice himself made Molecross' death even more poignant. Molecross is dismissed by the Brigadier as a crank and is basically brushed off by The Doctor and Ethan. He comes across as being rather timid. While neither a natural born leader nor blessed with an abundance of confidence, he does thrust himself into the fray on more than one occasion. He is the perpetual underdog and you can't help but cheer for him.

While Ethan survives the final confrontation with those beings who seek to enter our universe, his body eventually gives out. The book's final chapter is a very touching farewell to him. The Doctor enters his mind and explains to him that he has a brain tumor and that he knew about it the whole time. Although it would prove fatal, the tumor also kept the aliens from possessing his mind. The Doctor also admits that his attempt to get Ethan to sacrifice himself was wrong both morally and practically as it was through Ethan that The Doctor figured out that the aliens had hacked into the TARDIS. He says, “I make terrible choices, and I can’t be sure of the ends. It’s the road I’ve chosen.” A wonderfully contrary statement to The Doctor we have gotten to know lo these many years.

My big gripe about this story is that the Brigadier is woefully underused. He adds a bit of color here and there and puts UNIT's resources at The Doctor's disposal but he was far from being an indispensable part of the story or even a major element. A beloved character gone to waste.

The Algebra of Ice is a very dark story. There's torture, the death of Molecross, and Ethan's fate to be in a coma until his body gives out. Plus The Doctor's intuition that Ethan's death would thwart the villains. Brett is a thoroughly repugnant sociopath while the aliens are only seen via a sort of virtual reality world and there we see one of them in the form of a snake. The enemy is defeated but not everyone lives happily ever after.
|| Palmer, 10:52 AM || link || (0) comments |

At Least He's Better Than Mr. Pink

What a douchbag. Some banker decided to demonstrate just how big of an asshole he is to a waitress in California.

An arrogant banker has done all in his power to enforce his position as the ‘one per cent,’ all the while reminding everyone else they’re not.

After dining on a meal at a boutique Newport Beach, California restaurant, the banker left only $1.33 on a $133.54 tab.

Adding insult to injury, he gave the server, Breanna, another tip: ‘Get a real job.’

The banker’s belligerent behaviour at True Food Kitchen was documented by his dining companion, who posted a photo of the receipt to Twitter, alerting Eater’s Receiprocity blog.

The post - and corresponding blog - was later deleted.

FutureExBanker, wrote in a now-deleted post: ‘I work in the corporate office of a major bank for a boss who represents everything wrong with the financial industry.’

The blogger said that his boss will tip exactly one per cent of the bill ‘every time he feels the server doesn’t sufficiently bow down to his Holiness.’

He didn't even have the courtesy to round up to $1.34. It'd be a real shame if this guy's name and face got around to other restaurants and there was some kind of accident where fecal matter ended up in his foie gras. Yeah, a real shame.

EDIT: Thankfully I discovered today (28 Feb) that this is hoax.
|| Palmer, 8:57 AM || link || (2) comments |

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

Those talons are just downright menacing. I feel badly for any small rodents scurrying about underneath the flight path of one of these creatures. Nature's very own drone.

|| Palmer, 8:39 AM || link || (0) comments |

17 February, 2012

About barley...

77 Square has an article today called "The demand for heritage grains explodes".

It's pretty interesting and I take it that any grain that isn't wheat is considered "heritage". I can personally vouch for the tastiness of the spelt flakes breakfast cereal at the Co-op but the piece's entry for barley is a bit odd.

Barley: Familiar to many, this is an unusually hardy ancient grain that's at least 4,000 years old. It's used in baked goods, soups and hot cereals.

First, is barley really a "heritage" grain? I mean, most Wisconsonians consume barley everyday. And what else is barley commonly used for besides, baked goods, soups, and hot cereals? How could a Wisconsin journalist neglect to mention that barley is familiar to many people because it is an ingredient in beer? Hello?! McFly!

Buckwheat. Mmmm...you don't need to grind it up. You do have to cook the groats for a long time, though. Very tasty stuff. Hey 77 Square - it's also a staple in Eastern Europe as well. We Slavs love the stuff.
|| Palmer, 11:38 AM || link || (2) comments |

Party With Pączki

Celebrate Fat Tuesday (Fat Thursday was yesterday) with pączki! Scott's Pastry Shoppe in Middleton carries them.

|| Palmer, 11:23 AM || link || (2) comments |

15 February, 2012

The Heartland Institute: Climate Change Denial & "Operation Angry Badger"

The Heartland Institute is a conservative think tank that promotes conservative causes, among them being climate change denialism. Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, has a post summarizing the leak of what is supposedly a cache of the HI's internal documents. (They can be found here.) One of them is the organization's "2012 Climate Strategy" which includes this line:

[Dr. Wojick's] effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.

"dissuading teachers from teaching science"?!

Read Plait's post. There are links to more discussion of the documents as well as his take on the HI's egregious hypocrisy regarding its views and the Climategate scandal that was nothing more than a tempest in a teapot.

I was poking through the fundraising plan document and found that HI, which is based in Chicago, is developing a stratagem for Wisconsin. It's called "Operation Angry Badger":

Wisconsin was the focus of national attention due to recall campaigns waged in 2011, and campaigns are taking place in 2012 against Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three Republican senators who voted for Act 10, the landmark collective bargaining reform legislation adopted in 2011. We have been following the Wisconsin debate closely, reporting on it in Budget & Tax News, commenting in op-eds and LTEs and on blogs, doing television and radio interviews, and sending research and commentary to elected officials in Wisconsin and nationally.

The recall elections of 2012 amount to a referenda on collective bargaining reform at the state level, making them of national interest. Successful recalls would be a major setback to the national effort to rein in public sector compensation and union power. Heartland is the largest and most influential national free-market think tank in the Midwest, so we are in the right place and with the right resources to help defend and secure Wisconsin’s recent gains.

We are contemplating five projects:
1. Recruit and promote superintendents who support Act 10
2. Explain the benefits of Act 10
3. Document the shortcomings of public schools in Wisconsin
4. Expose teacher pay in key districts
5. Create blogs that shadow small town newspaper coverage of the controversy

We anticipate that this project will cost about $612,000. Maureen Martin, Heartland’s legal counsel, with be the chief researcher and writer for this project. The anonymous donor has pledged $100,000 toward this project. We are circulating a proposal to other potential funders.

Beware any press releases bearing the name "Maureen Martin". I wonder if any shadow blogs have been created yet. Which of their propagandists have been out on radio and TV pushing their agenda? Surely Charlie Sykes knows. I can just hear David Blaska's blathering now, "I, for one, welcome our new FIB overlords." Bears fans 4 Walker!

The HI is also looking to fund their Center for Transforming Education. Presumably the Center wants to transform science education so that, you know, science isn't actually taught in the brave new world of public schools gone for-profit. Will Allen Ruff be able to link Kaleem Caire to the Heartland Institute? Only The Shadow knows...
|| Palmer, 10:44 AM || link || (2) comments |

14 February, 2012

Scott Walker's Teleological Flip Flopping

Wisconsin is looking at a $140 million chunk of the $25 billion mortgage fraud settlement. Of that $140 million, $31.6 million will be going directly into state coffers. And of that $31.6 million, Governor Scott Walker is intending to use $25.6 million of it to close the state's budget deficit.

Per the structure of the payment plan set up in the mortgage settlement, each state government is to receive a direct portion of the money for the purpose of funding future law enforcement efforts, providing additional relief to borrowers, paying civil penalties, funding of foreclosure relief programs and to compensate the state for its losses from the crisis.

As I review the list of intended uses, I simply don’t see paying down state budget shortfalls as meeting the purposes and intents of the agreement.

What happened to Walker's reforms as laid out on his campaign website?

If taxpayer revenue is collected for a specific purpose such as building and maintaining roads, it should be used for that purpose and that purpose only.

Hey, Walker - the extrinsic finality of that money will be exhibited when it is used for its intended purposes and those purposes only, i.e. - foreclosure relief programs and whatnot. I guess reforms are only good in theory. When it's politically expedient, then they go out the window.

Walker likes to say he eliminated the state's deficit and is running commercials saying as much yet we're looking at a $143 million shortfall. It all depends on what accounting method you use and Walker likes to use both.
|| Palmer, 5:15 PM || link || (0) comments |

Bust Out That Stange

Point has a new spring seasonal - Three Kings Ale.

It's a Kölsch style ale which I gather was released earlier this month. I haven't had it so I'm not sure if it's top-fermented and lagered like a Kölsch should be or if they just use the requisite yeast. It features Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Northern Brewer hops. Anyone know what hops are used in Cologne by Reissdorf, Gaffel, Sunner, etc.?

Point is doing well for themselves. Their sales have increased and last year they built a new warehouse and added brewing capacity. The fully armed and operational brewhouse can now brew 100,000 barrels annually.
|| Palmer, 6:37 AM || link || (2) comments |

12 February, 2012

Attack of the 50 Foot Ace

Mike Tucker and Robert Perry wrap up their story arc about the foretelling of Ace's death with Loving the Alien and they do so with reunions with friends and foes, Cyber gorillas, and giant ants. Even the state I call home, Wisconsin, gets mentioned. The Doctor is being held in a hospital and he asks the American soldier guarding him where he's from originally and the man replies, “Wisconsin, why?”

The year is 1959 and journalist Rita Hawks is covering a rocket launch in England. The Waverider, an experimental space plane, will be piloted by Thomas Kneale into orbit briefly and then returned to Earth. American president Eisenhower is supportive of the English effort to go into space, although perhaps a bit jealous that the Yanks didn't get there first. Backup pilot Davey O'Brien watches the progress of the flight from mission control at Winnerton Manor along with the top brass – both English and American - and reporters. Then something goes wrong. The reporters are hurried out of the room as technicians try to assess the situation and make corrections. An explosion rocks Waverider and sends it hurtling back to the Earth. However, contact is reestablished with the pilot: “Captain O’Brien here, sir. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

Into this weird alternate reality come The Doctor and Ace. The Time Lord knows that this time and place in history is the key to stopping Ace's untimely death that was foretold in that perverted This Is Your Life show in Prime Time. Mel's death in Heritage only strengthened The Doctor's resolve to make sure Ace does not die a young woman. He performs an autopsy on Ace's body which reveals a tattoo saying “Ace and Jimmy, 1959”, that her last meal was a toffee apple, and that she'd had sex just prior to having a bullet put into her cranium. And, oddly, her exhumed body still bore a tag from St. Thomas' Hospital.

While Ace ventures off on her own, The Doctor investigates the hospital where he discovers Davey O'Brien's doppelgänger. He is expecting someone named Dumont-Smith who is a lawyer. It's off to Dumont-Smith's office where The Doctor runs into McBride, the private dick we encountered in Illegal Alien who is also inquisitive about D-S. They run into another friend from Illegal Alien, Inspector Mullen, who is on bomb disposal duty. The reunion takes a turn for the worse when giant ants burst forth setting off the explosives leaving Mullen sans legs.

Ace meets up with a strapping young lad ominously named Jimmy who works and, curiously enough, lives at the London Zoo. She is smitten and is happy bestow her favor upon him. The tension is ratcheted up slowly as first her hunger is satiated with a toffee apple and then later star-crossed lovers decide to get tattoos. When all proves not well between Ace and her beau, McBride comes to the rescue. McBride finds Ace locked in Jimmy's room at the zoo but his derring do gets the kibosh put on it and he finds himself in a darkened cage. In this, one of the more effective scenes in the book, he notices sparks casting a glow from the ceiling which reveal shadowy, ill-defined animal movements. Finally he discovers that he is locked in with a variety of apes that have been retrofitted with Cyber technology and that run on static electricity. They have these long poles attached to their bodies which touch the power source on the ceiling just like bumper cars. I found this scene to be very creepy.

Unfortunately for Ace, she too has her own reunion with a character from Illegal Alien – George Limb. This doesn't work out too well as it is he who kills Ace. It was rather odd reading the death of one of my favorite companions, especially in a way that wasn't heroic. She doesn't sacrifice herself in the line of duty to stop a phalanx of Daleks; she was the victim of a rather banal incarnation of evil.

Limb survived his trip in the Cybermen's time machine at the end of Illegal Alien and has been meddling with the web of time. Concomitant to his travels, the Cybermen trapped in hibernation at the end of the same novel are rediscovered by English authorities and the technology exploited. Although Limb's ability to navigate time is limited to about a decade from the early 1950s to the early 1960s, he gets enough glimpses of the fates of his future selves to worry. He decides to start selling Cyber technology to the Russians in an effort to cause a nuclear war and avoid his fate of becoming “augmented” with Cyber parts. Seeing Ace at the zoo, however, gave him another idea. He kills her in order to send a message to The Doctor. Limb's hope is that, once the Time Lord discovers Ace's demise, he would make his way that point in time where Limb could find him and enlist his help in changing his destiny.

It certainly worked but Limb's flirtations with time travel also cause rifts in the time-space continuum. Some of the alternate, parallel universes begin to intersect, hence the other Waverider with O'Brien as pilot, the giant ants, and other intrusions.

Tucker and Perry weave a wonderful story and create a lot of tension as the tale builds to a climax. Unfortunately the payoff just isn't there. At some point, Limb realizes that he can't escape, can't undo what he's done and kills himself. Mirabile dictu, all the damage done to the web of time which The Doctor spent so much time decrying is magically undone. If things were so dire, how did the death of Limb in one time line correct all the problems? There's still the other George Limbs in the alternate universes.

And what about Ace? Well, an Ace from one of the alternate time lines wherein everyone and everything is very large – hence those ants – makes her way into the primary/main time line where the story started. Very lucky. This 50 Foot Ace gradually and inexplicably shrinks down to “normal” size making her a suitable companion for The Doctor once again. So, not only was Ace, out of billions of people in that alternate universe, lucky enough to encounter a bridge between the universes, she automagically resizes to fit her new surroundings. Sounds like rather a lot of copping out instead of having to really deal with her death in a complex, nuanced way.

For all the worrying, all the mood swings, and all the depression The Doctor had on display over the past few books in this story arc, he sure takes Ace's death well. Almost in stride. He is all worried in Prime Time and feels compelled to dig up her grave. While on Heritage he is completely preoccupied by Ace's impending fate that he is totally listless and refuses to get involved, refuses to right wrongs. Here is determined to save Ace to the point where he is deliberately messing with the web of time. With all of the desperation and concern that he showed over the past few books, why does Ace's death seem to have so little impact on him? He is sorrowful and downs a few drinks but then it's back to business as usual. Yeah, he is angry with Limb but I never got the sense that, had the fate of our reality not been at stake, The Doctor's wrath would have been unleashed and he'd have opened a can of Gallifreyan whoop ass on George.

Loving the Alien is a classic DW romp. It has a great central mystery and there's a lot of fun and suspense to be had as characters from Illegal Alien are reintroduced and weird events flow from the intersection of universes that are meant to be parallel. Plus all of reality is at stake. But there were just too many dei ex machinae and I felt emotionally let down by the resolution of Ace's storyline. These books have done a lot to demonstrate that The Doctor may look human but is an alien. However, you can't spend books with The Doctor displaying a very human concern and being sad and then have him basically brush Ace's death off as yet another simple turn of the world. If The Doctor's view of life is that the incarnation of an individual from any old parallel universe is as good as the next, then why all the previous fuss?

Fun story but unsatisfying resolution to Ace's fate.
|| Palmer, 9:30 PM || link || (0) comments |

A Not Terribly Dangerous Method

In the opening of A Dangerous Method a horse-drawn carriage speeds down a road. The agonized face of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is seen through the windows as she thrashes about. Arriving at its destination, the carriage door opens and Spielrein is taken away by some nice young men in clean white coats. She is given a room and met by Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) who will be her therapist, aiming to cure the fits of hysteria which plague her. Jung is calm and measured, almost to the point of being stoic, and he treats his patient pleasantly. He explains that his therapy will involve talking to her as he sits behind her and she tries to avoid looking at him. It's the latest cure for mental maladies devised by the sage in Vienna, Sigmund Freud.

With Jung in the background asking questions, Sabina writhes in her chair as she does her level best to answer them. This scene is the closest the film gets to the David Cronenberg of yore with his desire to distort, augment, and pick apart the human body. Knightley contorts her exceedingly bony body with her lower jaw looking like it is about to become unhinged. Sabina admits that, as a girl, she became sexually aroused when spanked by her father.

The movie flash forwards a couple years and Sabina has made significant progress. Her bouts of hysteria have stopped and Jung encourages her to pursue her dream of a career in psychanalysis. Jung is introduced to Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and the two quickly become friends, bonding over the meaning of dreams and the various conflicts of the id, ego, and superego. In addition to befriending the great Freud, Jung has remained a friend and mentor to Sabina with a sexual attraction bubbling just beneath the surface. Otto Gross then enters the picture. (A fantastic and too fleeting role for Vincent Cassell.) A former protégé of Freud, Gross discusses his views with Jung which involve a total disrespect for monogamy and the mantra "Repress nothing."

This sets Jung off on a new course. He is married but embarks on an affair with Sabina. His interests also collide with Freud's. An atheist, Freud held fast to science while Jung harbored pseudo-religious beliefs such as that there no meaningless coincidences – synchronicity. The two have their legendary falling out and Jung is no longer able to continue his affair.

A Dangerous Method was based on play which explains the focus remains on just three characters. There are some great scenes but Cronenberg is never able to integrate them into the larger story very well. For instance, early on Jung enlists Sabina as an assistant in a word association experiment. The subject is Jung's wife, Emma. He uses a rather weird device which I presume measured the conductivity of her hands – like a primitive polygraph machine. A coil is wound up and other devices are calibrated, Emma's hands are placed on gold pads, and a switch is thrown which presumably gets the juice flowing. Emma is in foreground on the far left side of the frame while Jung is sitting with his back to the camera on the right. In front of him sits Sabina who adjusts some part of the device. Jung says a word and Emma tells him the first thing that comes to her mind. It's a wonderful scene that bounces back and forth between the Jung's faces with pregnant pauses where Emma is slow to devise an answer.

Unfortunately the script has Sabina give her assessment of the experiment – the Jung's marriage is not in great shape – instead of leaving the audience to cull this from the facial expressions, pauses, and answers. I wish the script had found another way of letting us know that Carl and Emma's marriage is having troubles and that Sabina was aware of this. As it is, it felt insulting to have it spelled out for me in big letters. Furthermore, Emma is a peripheral character and this wonderful scene seems wasted on someone who has a very small role throughout the rest of the film.

I was also disappointed by the spanking scenes. Part of Jung and Sabina's relationship involves him administering some good slaps across her bum. There are a couple brief shots of this but their subversive and erotic potential is squandered. These scenes tell us very little beyond the fact that they are having a fling with a modicum of BDSM involved. I didn't feel they shed much light on Sabina or Jung. Did they intend to tell me she was sexually liberated? Was I supposed to infer that Jung was a top? I just was not able to relate the spanking to much of the characters' actions or dialogue outside of the bedroom.

Similarly, the film didn't develop the relationship between Freud and Jung enough. When they do part ways, it doesn't seem all that tragic to me. Freud is avuncular and friendly but he also views Jung as being inferior. I get the ideas that drove a wedge between the two men but the emotional break was paltry. I think the film needed to be longer so that Jung's relationships with both Sabina and Freud got more time to develop.

Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky is a long-time associate of Cronenberg's and there's some great photography here. The early part of the movie is dominated by scenes having Jung and Sabina's faces both facing the camera. This type of framing contrasts with the shot-reverse-shot scheme for most scenes where Jung is talking to Emma. Seeing both Jung and Sabina's faces at the same time hints at their budding attraction but this framing device is basically dropped after their affection they have for one another is known.

While certainly not a bad film, I thought that A Dangerous Method lacked a visceral punch. For a story about the potency of sex and love, both the characters and the power of erotic desire all felt like they were dealt with at arm's length.

|| Palmer, 6:03 AM || link || (0) comments |

10 February, 2012

Madison, Meet Frankfurt

Back in October my mother, one of my cousins, and his wife were in town. We were walking down State Street when we ran into a guy making molds of the terra cotta facade of the Castle & Doyle building. My cousin is a docent at the Chicago Architecture Foundation so he asked the guy why he was making those molds. He replied that the building was to be torn down and the facade to be reconstructed. The look on my cousin's face said it all. He didn't have to say, "What a shame. It's such a beautiful building."

I explained to him the plan for the 100 block of State Street devised by Jerome Frautschi and his wife Pleasant Rowland which involves tearing down historic buildings not only State Street but also the north side of the 100 block of West Mifflin.

I thought of this incident when I read how Frankfurt has decided to go about reconstructing the Altstadt or Old Town. The Old Town is the old city center and was the downtown, essentially, for a long time starting in the 8th century.

The approximately 7,000-square-metre area in the heart of Frankfurt's old town will now be reconstructed on the basis of the original blueprints of the quarter. Once completed, it will comprise nearly 30 townhouses, eight of which being exact replicas of their historical predecessors...Various historical eras and styles are on display here, the reconstructed walls and bronze sculptures representing Roman times, the High Middle Ages and the typical design of the imperial palaces of the time.

In an effort to recreate a typically vivacious urban quarter, the buildings to be developed will feature residential space on the upper floors and shops, pubs, offices and restaurants on the ground floor. The design of the buildings, meanwhile, will resemble the style of the original constructions.

After a municipal jury had recommended a more modern development of the area in 2005, Frankfurt's citizenry raised its collective voice, demanding reconstruction of the site according to its former historical style.

It'd be nice if Madison had such an attitude for the Square and its immediate environs, including State Street. Frankfurt is a modern global city with plenty of skyscrapers yet the citizens there have decided that a certain area will have a very different look, one that preserves part of the city's long history. Here, the intersection of Mifflin and Fairchild Streets is poised to lose all historic character. In addition to the Overture Center, we're going to have the Central Library redux:

If Frautschi and Rowland get their way, there will also be this:

I would rather look at rusted fire escapes from the Overture Center lobby than that.

The last corner is slated to be home to a new joint museum for the Historical Society and Department of Veterans. (And because museums here apparently aren't important enough to have a building dedicated to them, there will also be office space for rent and retail space as well.) While there is no design yet, I'll bet a dollar to a doughnut that it's going to be a glass monstrosity like its neighbors on the adjacent corners.

While much of the Frautschi/Rowland plan is wonderful, I'm not keen on continuing to push for downtown Madison to resemble a suburban office park.

Regardless of how this particular plan pans out, I hope that this incident starts more conversation about downtown's historic buildings. As this Wisconsin State Journal article notes, the historic buildings on State Street that would be affected by the Frautschi and Rowland plan aren't in the greatest of shape:

For the most part, time has been unkind to the vacant commercial spaces and apartments on the historic 100 block of State Street, where W. Jerome Frautschi and his wife, Pleasant Rowland, have proposed a $10 million redevelopment.

A tour Monday of vacant spaces in six buildings revealed a mix of interior conditions ranging from usable to irreparable decay.

It's not time that has been unkind to the buildings, it's the owners. What's the point of a community's desire to keep historic buildings if the people who own them are content with letting them decay? If that handful of buildings on the 100 block of State Street range from usable to irreparable decay, then surely more farther down the street are in similar conditions. Just look at the Orpheum. A push is being made to relight the marquee but I don't believe there to be any such plan to replace the seats which predate the invention of the wheel, fix the areas of the walls and ceiling where plaster has fallen off, and so on. State Street is supposed to be the city's "premiere" shopping/arts/dining district with its historic charm yet parts of it are threatening to become the next wave of Ruin Porn a la Detroit.

I personally would like to see downtown retain what's left of its historic look and feel. But that means not only that we need to stop razing historic buildings, but also that they must be maintained instead of letting them rot.
|| Palmer, 11:08 AM || link || (0) comments |

09 February, 2012

New and Improved Security at State Office Buildings

So the state Department of Health Services building now has security guards forcing visitors to 1 West Wilson to "check in" before being allowed access to the public building.

It's all part of a security plan that's been in the works for two years, says Beth Kaplan, spokeswoman for the Department of Health Services. The Department of Health Services and Department of Administration building, she adds, are the "only two state agency buildings that still do not have this type of security plan in place."

Under the new restrictions, which are still being phased in, visitors need to check in with security guards before gaining access, and employees must wear newly issued security badges.

"only two state agency buildings that still do not have this type of security plan in place"?

You don't need to check in with a security guard at the Historical Society. You can just walk up and talk to someone about tax breaks for restoring your historic home or piss off an archaeologist by wanting to chat about pyramids in Rock Lake. The GEF 2** and GEF 3 buildings don't have guards. (GEF 1, if memory serves, introduced a security detail after 9/11 and kept it on after other agencies got rid of theirs.) What is this spokesperson talking about?

I suggest a flash mob at 1WW where everyone daubs some fake blood on their faces and approaches the security guards to inquire where they can find the contagious diseases department.

Bonus Conspiracy Theory: DHS, DOA, and DOJ have tunnels that go to the Capitol. Is this about making sure Walker and his benefactors can avoid the hoi polloi?

EDIT: **GEF 2 is apparently locked now. I haven't tried to get a parks sticker from the DNR lately but I guess you have to go through GEF 1' security to do so these days.
|| Palmer, 4:29 PM || link || (0) comments |

Iron Sky Has a Trailer

Nazis invade Earth from their swastika-shaped moonbase in spaceships shaped like zeppelins. To make matters worse, Sarah Palin is president.

|| Palmer, 3:51 PM || link || (0) comments |

Get Yer Amish Comestibles on Atwood Avenue

I saw a couple Amish folks today selling various food items over on Atwood Avenue today at the building on the 2700 block at Miller Avenue that seems to have a rotating cast of occupants. (Bongo used to be there and you can buy trees there at Christmastime.)

Anyone bought any comestibles there?
|| Palmer, 3:31 PM || link || (0) comments |

This Is What an Internet Troll Looks Like

A crew from the BBC show Panorama tracks down a troll.

I wonder if they've done a follow-up to find out how the asshole's community reacted to finding out that one of their own goes around leaving comments like "rot in piss you filthy nigger" on Facebook. What does offline opprobrium and shame do to trolls?
|| Palmer, 8:53 AM || link || (2) comments |

07 February, 2012

Between the Motion and the Act Falls the Shadow

Although not written by Mike Tucker and Robert Perry, Heritage was written to fit into their story arc involving The Doctor discovering that Ace's impending death, as shown in a scene in Prime Time, is true. Author Dale Smith has come up with a real slow-burner which is more about drought than running through corridors.

The book's title is also the name of a planet with an eponymous derelict mining town that never recovered from the discovery of how to make the mineral thydonium synthetically. On 6 August 6048 The Doctor and Ace take a shuttle to Heritage as The Doctor is keen on visiting some old friends, the Heyworths. They discover that the Heyworths are gone and that they're left in a dry, dusty town that is distinctly unwelcoming. Red sand blows everywhere and gets on and into everything. It seems that the only remnants of Heritage's previous life are the Fussies, the Roombas of the DW world, always running about sucking up the dust.

It isn't long after disembarking the shuttle that Sheriff – yes, no real name, just "Sheriff" – tells our heroes to leave. Of course they refuse and so Sheriff is forced to report the arrival of the strangers to the Noah Cross of Heritage, a man named Wakeling, who has a rather loud black bird at home as well as the equivalent of a young Evelyn Mulwray who, in this case, is named Sweetness.

While the planet is suffering a near permanent drought, so are the inhabitants. Most hide behind closed doors while the proprietor of the sole tavern, Cole, serves few customers. The townsfolk live in fear of the splenetic Bernard, a dolphin aided by a mechanical apparatus like we saw in Storm Harvest that allows him to walk, translates speech, and also has a couple six-shooters built-in. Bernard is Wakeling's heavy and he has his own underlings, Ed and Christa, a couple of young reprobates.

For his part, The Doctor is depressed. He carries the burden of knowing Ace's fate and has a distinct case of the mulligrubs. He sits listlessly at Cole's bar while Ace is eager to find out what happened to the Heyworths. Cole tells her that they might be able to get some horses from a man named Lee to go off in search of The Doctor's friends and so she leaves the gloomy Time Lord at the tavern. Ace finds Lee in a state of perdition having lost his love, Ryan. His horses have also disappeared. And so she sets off on foot to the mine where answers await her.

One neat thing about this story is that, excepting the epilogue, it all takes place in the span of one day. Kind of like a tense countdown to high noon in a Western. Chapters usually span about 20 minutes but some take up more time, some less. There is a modicum of action but it is much about the interior states of the characters. The Doctor languishes in his torpor, not wanting to get involved in Heritage's admittedly shady business; Cole laments the decay of the town; Lee dwells in heartbreak, agonizing over Ryan's disappearance and how the dream they once had was shattered; and so on. This is certainly one of the bleakest DW stories I've ever encountered.

The Doctor is finally shaken from his doldrums after learning that the Heyworths are dead. We discover that Mrs. Heyworth's maiden name was Bush, as in Melanie Bush. The former denizen of the TARDIS at some point got tired of running around with Sabalom Glitz and settled down on Heritage with her mister. The trouble started when Mel approached Wakeling, who reckoned himself a genius of genetics, about helping her and her husband conceive a child as she was afflicted with a malady that caused menopause to kick in early. Wakeling agreed but his hubris got the better of him and he simply cloned Mel instead of mixing gametes from her and Mr. Heyworth. An enraged Mel confronted the faux fertility doctor. Passions grew high and Wakeling accidentally killed her.

Wakeling promised the townsfolk that his research would yield fantastic results that would elevate Heritage and humanity and so they made a Faustian bargain. They let Wakeling escape justice in hope that their lives on a dusty backwater planet would be renewed by his discoveries. This reminded me of High Plains Drifter a bit insofar as having a whole complicit in the death of one of their own.

Heritage is the odd man out of the PDAs I've read. It sustains a gloomy mood, a feeling of emptiness, throughout. Most of the townspeople are wracked by guilt. They're like T.S. Eliot's hollow men. They eke out an existence in a dead land, their dried voices unable to conjure a word of courage nor a peep of regret. The Doctor is a confused mess, unsure what to do about Ace's fate. Ace, on the other hand, can only wonder what is wrong with her mentor. The spark has gone out of him as well as the desire to do good and champion the downtrodden. When she discovers that Mrs. Heyworth was Mel, she contemplates her relationship with The Doctor. He cannot always protect her and good does not always triumph. Ace matures here a bit. While her youth is keen on blowing stuff up with Nitro-9, she is beginning to see a bigger picture.

Select chapters are prefaced with quotes from various documents and books. There's a quote from Sweetness' autobiography and a blurb about Heritage from a text on colonization. The book's final chapter included a "fragment of a letter found buried in a desecrated grave" by a corporal from UNIT which expressed profound regret. Was it written by The Doctor after Ace's death?

Loving the Alien is next and it's written by Tucker and Perry. Presumably this story arc will come to a close.
|| Palmer, 3:47 PM || link || (0) comments |

05 February, 2012

Public Art Idea

I recently stumbled upon an article about these:

It's a brass diagram set into the sidewalk of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood instructing pedestrians on how to dance. (Is that the rumba?)

How about a set of these for Madison showing how to do our official state dance, the polka? And perhaps more demonstating other moves?
|| Palmer, 10:07 AM || link || (2) comments |

Larry Kaufman Clouds Rail Debate

The latest issue of Isthmus has a letter to the editor from Larry Kaufman in which he takes issue with Marc Eisen's "Gov. Walker's fateful decision on rail". Eisen laments Governor Walker's decision to reject federal money which would have extended Amtrak's Hiawatha line to Madison and paid for various maintenance work on the line generally.

Kaufman writes:

"The simple fact is that America once had an extensive commuter rail network but it was rendered obsolete by 20th-century technologies. For short trips, cars provide far more convenience and point-to-point connectivity than trains, and planes are much quicker (and cheaper) on long trips."

If Eisen was writing about intercity rail, why is Kaufman conflating it with commuter rail? Intercity rail is exactly what it says: rail between cities. Commuter rail, on the other hand, it rail connecting suburbs and outlying areas with urban cores. This isn't to say that people don't commute on the Hiawatha but, even as Kaufman concedes in his letter, the ultimate goal was to make Madison a stop on a lengthier route which would stretch at least from Chicago to Minneapolis.

This reminds me of the great victory that anti-rail activists scored when debating the federal grant. I have encountered many people - and not all of them were Walker-supporting Republicans - who reiterated the refrain that the money was to be used to introduce service between Madison and Milwaukee. This is misleading. The money would have extended the Hiawatha line to Madison meaning that the route would have run between Madison and Chicago. Yet I am convinced that many people didn't know this. I have encountered several people who thought that the service was strictly between Madison and Milwaukee. Even Mike Ivey, a business reporter for The Capital Time here in Madison got it wrong:

But that request came after Walker — following up on a campaign pledge — had already rejected $810 million the feds allocated last year to establish a Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line.

That $810 million dollars would NOT have established a Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line, it would have added a new stretch to the existing Hiawatha line and connected Madison to Chicago and points in between. To his credit, Mr. Kaufman gets it right in a comment on another piece by Eisen when he refers to the plan as "the Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison route".

Kaufman's letter is also flawed in another way. He says that rail was rendered obsolete by the plane and the car ("20th-century technolgies") and implies that rail is so 19th century. The problem is that the car is not a 20th century technology. Like the train, it was born in the 19th century. Furthermore, he neglects to mention a significant government intervention which led to the decline of rail, namely, the interstate system. Not only did it allow people to jump in their cars and go, but it also helped open the door for trucks to make significant inroads into long-haul freight transportation. Railroads lost a lot of business to trucks, not just cars. It was not simply the invisible hand of the free market via the march of technology which brought down passenger rail.

For all of Kaufman's bluster about the "basic facts" of the superiority of the car and plane, the Hiawatha broke its annual ridership record last year with the route providing 823,163 rides in 2011, a 4% increase over 2010. Indeed, Amtrak's fiscal year 2011 saw more people than ever ride its trains. Not only are more and more young adults choosing to forego getting their driver's license and getting a car, but apparently adults from previous generations are increasingly finding the train to be a superior alternative to driving.
|| Palmer, 9:52 AM || link || (0) comments |

03 February, 2012

I Think Madison Could Use a Bus Terminal

A short while ago I observed Langdon Street outside Memorial Union and the Red Gym. There were: 4 Badger Buses, 1 Lamers, and 1 Megabus. A Badger Bus stopped in the westbound lane to let passengers disembark and blocked traffic. Madison Metro lost curbside space.

Madison could perhaps use a little infrastructure boost here.
|| Palmer, 3:20 PM || link || (0) comments |

02 February, 2012

Wisconsin State Science Standards Suck

The Fordham Institute has released its annual State of State Science Standards 2012" and Wisconsin gets a big, fat F.

The report (PDF) begins:

Wisconsin’s science standards—unchanged since 1998, in spite of much earlier criticism, ours included—are simply worthless. No real content exists to evaluate. In lieu of content, the “authors” have passed the buck by merely citing unelaborated references to the now outdated National Science Education Standards (NSES). Rather than using the NSES as building blocks for a comprehensive set of science standards, however, Wisconsin has used them as an escape hatch to avoid hard work and careful thought.
|| Palmer, 11:47 AM || link || (0) comments |

01 February, 2012

Exit Sarah Jane?

I'm not sure where Bullet Time is supposed to fit chronologically in the Seventh Doctor's era but it feels like it comes late in his tenure. He is companionless. And he is weary. He explains his neglect of sleep, "I see the faces of every death I'm responsible for every time I sleep. Every enemy, every friend I've lost, every innocent I've failed to save. So I stopped sleeping." You can glean many elements of the New Series from the books of the Lost Years when the show was off the air. With Ace being who-knows-where, we instead are presented with the return of Sarah Jane Smith who is in the Orient plying her trade.

This book gets a lot of points from me simply for its setting. There are side trips to Thailand, Moscow, and the Persian Gulf but it is mostly set in Hong Kong in 1997 as the city prepares to lose its status as an English colony and return to Chinese hands. A nice change from earthly stories set in London and elsewhere in the British Isles. Given the setting, most characters aren't white. There's even a black American Agent thrown in which makes for a good mix.

Bullet Time reads like a spy thriller. It's fast paced with danger lurking around every corner. Sarah Jane recently published an article about the sex tourism industry in Thailand and didn't make any friends for having done so. She is kidnapped by unknown enemies along at the Bangkok airport along with that agent going incognito, Tom Ryder, who tried to intervene. The plan is for them to be thrown out of a helicopter over the ocean to their dooms. Ryder, however, is more than meets the eye as he grabs a couple parachutes and dives out after Sarah Jane. This reminded me of that scene from Moonraker where Bond and Jaws duel it out in midair.

McIntee really went all out here and has thrown in everything but the kitchen sink. A couple hikers disappear in Cambodia after having backpacked out to an area reputed to be haunted and U.N.I.T. was following their every move. Sarah Jane makes her way to Hong Kong where she stops in at the Pimms Corporation for an interview. Head of security Tse Hung is a shady character while PR flack Yue Hwa seems much more amenable. Sarah Jane is escorted to see the big cheese and lo and behold, it is The Doctor sitting in the CEO chair. Of course, she doesn't recognize him as he is now in his seventh incarnation.

It turns out that Pimms is acting as a front for the Triad, a Chinese mafia family, and The Doctor is running drugs. Can this really be? A couple errand boys for the Triad go to exact punishment on one Ah Wing for his failure to pay his debts in a timely manner only to find a small pile of ashes where a body should be. This brings in the police in the form of Inspectors Katie Siao and Mark Sing.

Meanwhile the Russian submarine Zhukov detects a radioactive anomaly on the ocean floor and investigate. They find a deposit of a strange metal which is as light and flexible as plastic and also does not corrode. And, of course, there are aliens.

I this cloak and dagger fest McIntee deftly handles the numerous characters. One of those errand boys, Hong Yi Chung, gets a lot of type until his death while Inspector Siao's relationship with her partner is woven into the narrative fabric which features The Doctor pulling strings in the background as Sarah Jane tries to get to the bottom of things while U.N.I.T. does the same.

But very few people are who they seem. Just what is The Doctor doing heading a company that is running drugs? Has he really gone over to the dark side? Is Yue Hwa really as unassuming as he seems? Why does Inspector Sing always seem to get out of trouble with the internal affairs folks? Who is Chiu, the Chinese man with the purple eyes and blond hair? Is Tom Ryder actually with the DEA? There are a lot of assumed identities, double crosses, and people who keep secrets here.

This all supports what you can say is the story's main case of misidentity – how The Doctor is no longer the man, er, being, that Sarah Jane once knew. Here The Doctor isn't the shining beacon of goodness that she once knew. He is playing his cards close to his chest and manipulating those around him. In the New Series, The Doctor meets up with Sarah Jane again and it is used as a way to further the idea that The Doctor is a loner, that, ultimately, you can't really get close to him. A companion will age while The Doctor merely regenerates periodically. The Tenth Doctor is warm but distant. Bullet Time treads much this same path but the Time Lord is even more distant and a bit confrontational. He tells her, "Perhaps you never knew the Doctor. How can a member of one species really know how a member of another species mind works, or how they think or feel? You've no frame of reference: you can only make assumptions and have beliefs." Elsewhere he says, "I know you’ve missed a Doctor who’s long dead."

This is like the "darker" Doctor we met in the show's last season, the one who would make Ace confront her fears and her past on his terms and not hers, but exaggerated. Here The Doctor's affection for his companions as well as his motives are hidden. I can't really tell if The Doctor's comments and attitude here are simply a put-on in order to get Sarah Jane to exit the scene for her own safety or whether he has really undergone a sea change. Either way, he is no longer the hero she once knew.

One thing I didn't expect from the story was to read about Sarah Jane's death. She is shot in the line of duty when she takes herself out as a bargaining chip for Ryder to use against The Doctor. Heart monitors at the hospital flatline. Can she really be dead? The book has an epilogue in which she chats with The Doctor but it is unclear as to whether she really survived at the hands of a preternaturally gifted cardiac specialist or if her friend was simply trying to find a bit of solace within himself in the wake of her death.

Although McIntee was able to juggle numerous plot lines and character, he arguably neglected the main characters, Sarah Jane and The Doctor. Fans who want their DW stories to follow the pattern established by the TV show where it's mostly The Doctor and his companions with cutaways to the villains to establish what they're up to will be disappointed by Bullet Time. Here Sarah Jane and The Doctor are treated as first among equals. I didn't mind this approach considering all of the mysteries woven into the plot. Plus the story was simply fun and I found myself perfectly content with getting my doses of our heroes meted out as they were.

A wonderful, if melancholy, addition to the DW pantheon.
|| Palmer, 3:48 PM || link || (0) comments |

Brewing Gose: Sam Adams & Early Wisconsin Immigrants

This is interesting. Sam Adams now has a label for their Verloren Gose. ("Verloren" is German for "lost".) It is apparently set to be the next entry in their Single Batch series which comes in 22oz. bottles. It's not a popular style, as you can guess from the beer's name. I have had one German version - Leipziger Gose - and one domestic – from Gordon Biersch at the Great Taste of the Midwest in 2010.

Gose is an obsession with beer expert and blogger Ron Pattinson so, if you want to know all about Gose, check out his blog. Here his brief description:

Leipziger Gose is one of the world's most obscure beer styles, an isolated remainder of northern Germany's pre-lager traditions. About the only similar beer still brewed in Germany is Berliner Weisse, though Gose seems to have at least as much in common with sour Belgian wheat beers.

It's a pale, top-fermenting wheat beer, flavoured with coriander and salt. There's a hefty lactic acid content and was probably once spontaneously-fermented. A description in 1740 stated "Die Gose stellt sich selber ohne Zutuung Hefe oder Gest" ("Gose ferments itself without the addition of yeast"). I've always suspected some sort of link with the gueuze of Brussels, though not because of the similarity of the names. That, I'm sure is pure coincidence.

From what I can tell, German Gose bier is generally less than 5% ABV so it would seem that Sam Adams is following the American trend of bigger beers. Still, it's nice to see an American brewer brewing this style. Even better is that it is the country's largest craft brewer which means that it will get pretty wide distribution. Hopefully this can help dispel the myth that all German bier styles are lagers and that all German bier is either a pale or dark variation of that style.

I have wondered if any Wisconsin breweries have historically brewed Gose or other lesser-known German bier styles. The Reinheitsgebot was strictly a Bavarian law until 1871 which means that most of Wisconsin's earliest German immigrants, who came from Baden Württemberg, did not come from a beer culture laboring under the Reinheitsgebot laws. Shortly after the Civil War, northwestern Germany became the epicenter of emigration to America until around 1885. Again we have a wave of immigrants coming to Wisconsin from areas of Germany that were not covered by Reinheitsgebot. The last great wave of German immigration to Wisconsin lasted from roughly 1885 until the outbreak of World War I and it was people from northeastern Germany that dominated it. The Reinheitsgebot was in force during this time but it is likely that many of these immigrants were well-versed in the bier styles of northern Germany which were quickly dying out at this time.

On top of this, Köln (Cologne) had its own Reinheitsgebot for much of the 19th century which outlawed bottom-fermenting beer.

Jerry Apps' history of brewing in Wisconsin, Breweries of Wisconsin, basically said that German immigrants brewed lagers. (At least that's how I recall it. I don't have the book in front of me.) While I don't doubt that they did brew primarily lagers for one reason or another, some German immigrants from outside of Bavaria must surely have brewed an ale commercially at some point. Is it really true that immigrants from Köln who came from a brewing tradition where it was illegal to brew bottom-fermenting biers never brewed a Obergäriges Lagerbier? No one from Münster or Düsseldorf ever brewed the version of alt that was popular in their respective city? Not a single Gose, Broyhan, or Kirschbier? This just seems implausible to me.

Of course the brewing culture from which these immigrants hailed is surely not the only factor which determined what kind of beers they brewed. Availability of equipment, ingredients, and the local tastes also played a role. Still, I find it very difficult to believe that each and every German immigrant brewed lagers and only lagers.
|| Palmer, 9:05 AM || link || (2) comments |