Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

29 March, 2012

Achtung Madison Bicycle Supporters!

If you want to know how those wily Dutch got all those bike lanes, here's part of the answer: protests, an oil shortage, and more protests.

|| Palmer, 4:37 PM || link || (0) comments |

Some Accused Terrorists Are More Equal Than Others

Let's see here. If you're white and accused of terrorism, you get a trial where the government has to provide evidence and prove their case.

In a sharp rebuke, a federal judge today acquitted seven members of a Lenawee County militia group of plotting to overthrow the U.S. government with weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said federal prosecutors failed in five weeks of trial to prove that the Hutaree had a specific plan to kill a police officer and attack law enforcement personnel.

While the testimony showed that Hutaree leader David Stone Sr. “may have wanted to engage in a war with the federal government ... it is totally devoid of any agreement to do so between Stone and the other defendants,” Roberts said in a 28-page decision.

If you look like a Middle Easterner, however, you are just thrown into Gitmo and left to rot. No trial needed.

Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.
|| Palmer, 3:16 PM || link || (0) comments |

Hijab Becoming the Next Hoodie?

The sad story of Shaima Alawadi.

Shaima Alawadi’s family says they found the first note taped to the front door of their house on a quiet suburban street here. It said: “This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist,” according to her 15-year-old son, Mohammed.

Ms. Alawadi’s husband, Kassim Alhimidi, says he wanted to call the police. But his wife said no, insisting the note was only a child’s prank. Like many others in the neighborhood, the couple were immigrants from Iraq. In 17 years in the United States, they had been called terrorists before, he said.

But last Wednesday, Ms. Alawadi was found in the family’s dining room by her 17-year-daughter, lying unconscious in a puddle of blood with a severe head wound. Nearby lay another threatening note, similar to the one the family found a week earlier.

Ms. Alawadi, 32, died three days later. The police caution against jumping to conclusions, saying they are still trying to determine whether she was targeted because of her religion or ethnicity, calling that just one possibility.
|| Palmer, 2:57 PM || link || (0) comments |

28 March, 2012

Buses to Verona, Buses to Whitewater

With gas prices rising, I suppose it isn't too surprising to see that Madison Metro has started a new route that runs between Madison and the Epic campus in Verona. Until this week route 55 ran from the west transfer point to Verona but the new route 75 uses the Square as a terminus. My neighbor down the street is no doubt happy at this development.

On the other hand, I am surprised that the cities of Whitewater and Janesville along with Generac Power Systems are pushing for a commuter bus to run between those burgs.

Generac is apparently looking to hire several hundred people and Janesville has many unemployed folks so it looks to be a good match.

I expect press releases soon from Steve Nass and Glenn Grothman decrying socialism and accusing all parties involved of being anti-automobile and, thusly, against freedom.

|| Palmer, 4:19 PM || link || (0) comments |

Oh Kölsch, Kölsch! Wherefore Art Thou Kölsch?

The Dulcinea and I went to the Essen Haus for dinner last night. I saw that there was no Kölsch on tap and so asked if they had it in bottles. Nope. The gentlemen said that they had a hard time getting it. Cooper's Tavern had Reissdorf on tap back in the dim and distant past but, as far as I know, Reissdorf and Gaffel can be found in bottles at Steve's. I just find it very odd that a German restaurant has a problem getting its hands on a German bier that can be had just down University Avenue.

Elsewhere, 2011 was a good year for craft brewers. The State Journal has an article with the details. It also notes a couple breweries opening anon:

Pigeon River Brewing Co. in Marion is scheduled to open in May. One Barrel Brewing Co., 2001 Atwood Ave., is set to open in July.

But it missed one: 3 Sheep Brewing Company is preparing to open in Sheboygan. It will supply beer to Hop Haven, a bar and restaurant located in the same building as well as to Manitowoc and Milwaukee.
|| Palmer, 3:07 PM || link || (3) comments |

27 March, 2012

My New Favorite Artist

...is the Dutchman Marcel Ruijters. I love his medieval illumination meets R. Crumb style.

You've got Panotii, Blemmyai, and all manner of monstrous races. And vicious nuns too. What's not to like?

|| Palmer, 9:39 AM || link || (0) comments |

TV Shows in the Dark Ages

Fark had a contest called "TV Shows in the Dark Ages". Some pretty funny stuff.

|| Palmer, 9:33 AM || link || (0) comments |

23 March, 2012

Geraldo Rivera's Head as Empty as Al Capone's Vault

Geraldo Rivera has gone on TV and blamed Trayvon Martin's death on his hoodie. When did hoodie's become a gangware? I wear a hoodie and I bet that if it was my alabaster ass walking down that street, George Zimmerman wouldn't have looked at me twice.

"His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did."

What a jagoff.

Hey Geraldo, hoodies don't kill, people kill.

|| Palmer, 3:29 PM || link || (1) comments |

22 March, 2012

Tabletop - The New Show for Gamers

Felicia Day enlisted Wil Wheaton to make a show for her YouTube channel called Tabletop. Described as "Celebrity Poker meets Dinner for Five", it will feature celebrities sitting around playing tabletop games.

In season one of the show, we play games like Settlers of Catan, The Last Night on Earth, Munchkin, Small World, and Alhambra. Some of the players include Grant Imahara, Sean Plott (better known as Day[9]), Dodger Leigh, Ryan Higa, Beth Riesgraf, Phil Lamarr, Morgan Webb, Garfunkle and Oats, Veronica Belmont, and Colin Ferguson.

I know who Morgan Webb is but am not familiar with any of these other people. I can just imagine geeks around the world getting all excited about offering Ms. Webb and Ms. Day wood for sheep.

|| Palmer, 9:48 AM || link || (0) comments |

21 March, 2012

Chico & Rita

While I enjoyed Rango, it's too bad Chico & Rita didn't win as I, quite simply, had more fun watching it.

Chico & Rita begins with an old man, whom we discover is Chico, wandering home after a day of shining shoes. He enters his apartment and turns on the radio. Initially Chico isn't thrilled with what he hears so he turns the dial until he finds a station playing a certain song from his salad days. His mind wanders back...

The scene then changes to Havana in 1948. It is a bustling city full of tourists and locals alike enjoying the night life whose soundtrack is Afro-Cuban jazz. Chico is a suave young pianist who is looking to fulfill his musical dreams. He and his buddy Ramón are out on the town with a couple of American gals. On stage is a band led by Rita, a beautiful young woman with a fantastic, silky voice. Chico is smitten immediately and, as is the wont of young men, he pursues her. Rita is game but is going to make Chico work for his meal.

They end up spending the night together but Chico's girlfriend appears and throws a spanner in the works. The two ladies both storm out. But the seeds of love have been sown and Ramón convinces Rita to perform with Chico on a talent show where they do a lovely, slow rendition of "Bésame Mucho" which gets them first place. Things are looking bright when a talent scout approaches Rita but she refuses to sign on the dotted line unless Chico is part of the deal. But the green-eyed monster has taken hold of him. Drunk, he returns to Juana and Rita reluctantly decides to go solo in New York.

Chico and Ramón save their money and make their way there to seek her out as well as to start their own careers. The love between Chico and Rita endures but she is still angry and again he will have to work hard to get her. He does so but there are other forces at play. In Havana it was Chico's rakish habits which pushed Rita away. In New York it is her career and her ruthless manager which keep the two lovers apart.

This is all pretty standard love story stuff – boy gets girl, boy loses girl - but what sets Chico & Rita apart is the filmmakers' love for jazz, both Latin and American. There is music everywhere whether it be in a club or just Chico at the piano alone. In New York we run into Charlie Parker and Chano Pozo, among others. I'm not intimately familiar with Latin jazz so I had to look him up but Pozo is apparently one of the founding fathers of the genre. Tito Puente is featured in one scene while Chico goes off to Paris as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's band in another. All of the music and dancing is simply infectious.

Chico is the lead character here but Rita is the most well-developed and this surprised me. Although likeable enough, our piano player is really pretty single-minded. He wants Rita. To be sure, Rita wants him in return but she has a lot of other qualities. She wants a career and not just to be a wife. She is tough as we see when she stands up to Juana and even gets into fisticuffs with her. But she's also vulnerable as when she cries after seeing Chico return to his apartment in a drunken stupor with Juana. Rita is also a very sensual and sexual character. She wants to be chased by Chico but she's not afraid to show off her sexuality such as when she hoists her skirt a bit and dances. There's a lot of tension between strength and vulnerability in her.

Racism is also a theme in the film although perhaps not a major one. It's more of a thing that drives the fate of our lovers as opposed to a thematic element that gets developed. Chano Pozo mentions his treatment in the American South to Chico and Ramón when they're out riding in his car. But for Rita it is a more personal thing. Although her star is rising, she feels the sting of racism in social situations and realizes that, no matter how much audiences love her singing, most white people just can't fully accept a woman of color. Rather than suffer in silence, Rita destroys her career when she gives a monologue at a concert on the racism she's experienced.

All of this is why I was disappointed in the ending of the movie. After her career is over, she resigns herself to a life of obscurity as a housekeeper in Las Vegas where she waits 47 years for Chico's return. It may sound romantic but, after the strength and determination she showed in getting her lover as well as in leaving her homeland to become a star, her capitulation just seemed like a cheap ploy on the writers' part for a reunion between her and Chico. There was all this music and dancing and passion in the movie until the end and then everyone quits the game and goes home. That just didn't sit right with me.

I really enjoyed the animation. I presume it was rotoscoped with footage of live actors painted over. Nothing is static with this technique. Even a hand on a shoulder quivers a bit from frame to frame. This just adds a certain energy that I like. Plus the direction was great. Camera angles were varied and there was a fair amount of camera movement, especially crane shots. One shot had the camera start high above the street and then move down and close in on a window where Rita's manager and Ramón are plotting against Chico. It reminded me of Citizen Kane. (Did Goodfellas have a similar shot?) Chase scenes had vehicles move towards the camera. Basically any and everything was done to give the animated setting 3D space.

Aside from the shift in character for the ending, Chico & Rita was a lot of fun. It's a wonderful blend of music, dancing, and color along with a charming love story. It was really nice to see an animated feature for adults instead of one for kids with in-jokes to amuse parents in the audience.

|| Palmer, 4:28 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Istanbul Irregular

Since I've been listening to a lecture about the history of Byzantium I thought it only fitting to read Jason Goodwin's The Janissary Tree which takes place in Istanbul in the year 1836. Goodwin studied Byzantine history and has written non-fiction on the subject and so I figured that some of this would figure in his fictional work.

The Janissary Tree features Yashim, an investigator who also happens to be a eunuch. Our hero is favored by the imperial court in more ways than one. To begin with, he is in the confidence of the sultan, Mahmut II. Not having gonads means that he can access the royal harem. Furthermore he is friends with the sultan's mother who lends him French novels. These connections are immensely helpful but he lives out amongst the proles and has as friends an assortment of people outside the royal realm.

Yashim is called to investigate a trio of crimes: two murders and a theft. One of the sultan's concubines met her end the night she was to have her first carnal encounter with Mahmut. The other death was of a soldier in the New Guard, the new military service established to replace the Janissaries who were a bit like the Praetorian Guard of Rome. And like their forebears in Western Europe, the Janissaries accumulated power and took it upon themselves to determine the ruler of the Ottoman Empire. But in 1826 the sultan had had enough and dealt with them in what became known as the Auspicious Event wherein thousands of them were killed with the rest dispersed. The final crime that Yahsim is charged with solving is the theft of Mahmut II's mother's jewels.

The body of the soldier was found in a large cauldron. A visit to the master of the Soup Maker's Guild reveals that one of their cauldrons has gone missing and that the master is a former Janissary. Another solider turns up dead and Yashim is left with no doubt that the Janissaries were not destroyed 10 years ago. Instead they went into hiding to plot their next move and the time has come for their plan to come to fruition. There is a special urgency to solving these murders as in 10 days the sultan will announce a new edict which will begin the process of modernizing the empire and catching up to the Europeans.

Yashim's investigation takes him to various corners of Istanbul including the palace, the Russian embassy, baths, a bazaar, etc. Goodwin does a good job of bringing the 19th century city to life. There are the horrid smells of the tannery and the aromas from the food stalls. Ascending a fire tower affords a view of virtually the entire city. The book throws in a few historical asides as well such as an explanation of the Auspicious Event and the tale of how the city fell to the Ottomans. In one chapter Yashim arranges for the Russian ambassador's young wife, Eugenia, to visit the harem where she meets the concubines and indulges in a bath with some of them. This was a rather sensual interlude that, much to my surprise, didn't stick out like a sore thumb.

As for our investigator, he is something of a mysterious character. He is in the sultan's good graces and is friends with his wife. Yet he is also friends with Preen, a fellow eunuch and köçek dancer which makes her (she dresses as a woman) a practitioner of the, shall we say, vulgar arts. Yashim also counts the Polish ambassador, Palewski, as a confidante. A man with a title but he is really down and out. A man without a country who is basically kept and provided for by the sultan. And he likes his vodka. Our hero is equally comfortable with high and low culture and people from both sides of the tracks.

While we learn a fair amount about the company Yashim keeps, we never find out much about his past or his present station in life, for that matter. How did he get to know these people? From where does he derive his income? The reader is left in the dark on these matters. I personally didn't find these unanswered questions a bother and they may answered in the book's sequels.

One thing we do know about Yashim is that he likes to cook. Goodwin tells us that "he'd grown disgusted with his own efforts to achieve a cruder sensual gratification and resigned himself to more stylized pleasures." He then proceeds to tell us of how Yashim prepares rice with "a handful of currants and another of pine nuts, a lump of sugar, and a big pinch of salt." These little asides about food, descriptions of clothing, and other things are why I found Eugenia's excursion in the harem to be agreeable. Goodwin appeals to our imaginations to arouse our senses. This is a very sensual book in its own way.

While I enjoyed the historical setting, found Yashim to be an intriguing protagonist, and appreciated the sensuality, there was just something about The Janissary Tree that didn't cut the mustard. It is by no means a bad book but I finished it feeling unsatisfied for reasons I can't quite pin down. Was there action? Yes. The scene at the tannery where an assassin is hiding out in the drains below was a lot of fun. Was the mystery interesting? Yes. All three crimes proved to spring from the same plot. So what was it? The best I can come up with was that the sleuthing itself just wasn't all that to my liking. Much of the time Yashim's investigation seems to be less about shedding light on the crimes and more about introducing the people in his life and getting to know them. I liked it when Goodwin would go off on tangents such as when he explained köçek dancing but I felt that much of the middle of the book simply lacks sleuthing. Too few clues are uncovered and so the picture of the truth remains bare until the end instead of it being gradually filled in.

I suppose that solving a mystery in a measured way isn't always necessary but I would at least expect thematic development in return. There's a modicum of that here but I'd like more. Modernizing the empire is the fulcrum for events here yet Goodwin doesn't go into it far enough. It's a springboard for giving the reader history but I wish there was more follow-up on the effects it might have had and perhaps a discussion of how societies and their traditions change.

As it is, I'll probably read the next book in the series, The Snake Stone, but I'm in no hurry.

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20 March, 2012

My House Smells Like Garlic

When the gates of sleep were thrown wide open this morning I smelled garlic. Just like when I laid me down to sleep last night. That's because pork machaca has been in the slow cooker since yesterday evening. Mmm...Now I'm salivating.

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|| Palmer, 5:56 AM || link || (2) comments |

19 March, 2012

500 Fairy Tales Unearthed in Germany

A stash of previously unknown fairy tales collected in the 19th century have recently been uncovered.

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

No collection of fine Teutonic fairy tales is complete without some ultra-violence.

For example, there is the tale of a maiden who escapes a witch by transforming herself into a pond. The witch then lies on her stomach and drinks all the water, swallowing the young girl, who uses a knife to cut her way out of the witch.

You can read one of the tales, "The Turnip Princess", here.

("King Golden Hair")

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|| Palmer, 12:40 PM || link || (6) comments |

A Taste of the Middle East

"How do you find three men in a decaying, medieval, mist-benighted city of two million people?
You don't even try.
You cook."

A couple weeks ago I started reading The Janissary Tree, a murder mystery which takes place in Istanbul in 1836. In turn I started thinking about Middle Eastern food. I bought the ingredients and The Dulcinea did the cooking. It all turned out very well to my palate.

First we had bamia which is a stew with meat – beef, in this case – and okra. Spices in the dish are cumin, coriander, and allspice.

I have to wonder if folks in the Middle East treat it like gumbo: is it bamia if it doesn't have okra?

The next meal was chicken schwarma. Extra cardamom was added and I really liked how the flavor was at the fore. Goes well with yoghurt.

The final meal in the trio was falafel and tabouleh. Rather typical Madison hippie food but very tasty. Loved the fresh parsley.

Although I finished The Janissary Tree, I've started another book that takes place in Istanbul so our next culinary diversion will have to wait until I am done reading this story and find one that takes place in another part of the world. I recently bought a book by Victor Pelevin so maybe Russian food will be next. (*Ralph Wiggum voice*: chicken necks?) Or perhaps I can pick up something by Jorge Luis Borges as Argentinian food sounds good although I know nothing about it.

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|| Palmer, 10:27 AM || link || (0) comments |

Why the Mortgage Settlement Sucks

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|| Palmer, 10:02 AM || link || (0) comments |

It Puts the Kölsch in the Stange

My stangen arrived on Friday so now I can drink Kölsches from the proper vessel. And this weekend I did: Wavehopper and Reissdorf.

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15 March, 2012

Leinenkugel's: IIPA and Trend Starter

The next installment in Leine's Big Eddy series will be an Imperial IPA:

Speaking of Leine's, it seems that their Summer Shandy has spawned a trend.

Breweries are looking for ways to curb receding market share to wine and spirits with new products geared toward those that don’t like the taste of beer. For those that do and drink craft beer on a casual basis, Shandy might appeal. Casual craft beer drinkers and drinkers that cling to flagships (and safe seasonals) still drive more volume in the category than those who experiment. Though breweries are increasing activity with barrels and so on, that fringe crowd is massive and can’t be ignored. Shandy offers a trade-up opportunity for those danging between premiums like Bud Light and crafts, and can work as a gateway to trials of other brands in the portfolio.

Sam Adams, Anheuser-Busch, Labatt, Harp, and Saranac all have shandies on tap for the summer.

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|| Palmer, 3:46 PM || link || (0) comments |

Daleks at the Tesco

I listened to Big Finish's The Curse of Davros over the weekend and it was great. The best line was said by a Dalek at a grocery store:

"We have brought the human captives to the area designated ‘Deli Counter!’"

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"Give Me Lager or Give Me Death!"

From our neighbors to the south at Metropolitan Brewing.

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New Proselytizer in Library Mall

A new proselytizer has set up shop in Library Mall. This is one of the disadvantages of the warm weather arriving so early. I was hoping to have another month or before Christians took it upon themselves to threaten everyone with eternal damnation.

This new guy is pretty young and reminds me of Sam Kinison with his raspy voice and his single mode of addressing the crowd: shouting at the top of his lungs.

"God knows every grain of saaaaaaaaaand!"


|| Palmer, 12:43 PM || link || (2) comments |

The Most Accursed Chocolate. Ever.

Forget chocolate bunnies, get one these hideous chocolate Cthulhus!

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Ugandans Watch Kony2012 Video

It does not go over well. One guy says that, instead of seeing themselves reflected in to the video, it's all white men.

|| Palmer, 9:42 AM || link || (0) comments |

14 March, 2012

Cold Comfort in the Battle Against the Vampire Squids

The vile filth coming out of Wall Street lately has my mind reeling. Both in the sheer amount of it and in the utter depravity that falls under the aegis of banking and investment. Today Greg Smith became the former executive director and head of Goldman Sachs' United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He explained his departure in the New York Times, of all places. He seems to be the lone big wig in the industry to have tired of the drive for short-term profits and the exaltation of greed as a cardinal virtue. Smith laments how the ethos of Goldman Sachs has deteriorated from serving the customer to screwing the customer.

I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them.

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

Matt Taibbi's take on Smith's jeremiad just made it more depressing. According to him, no regulations, no lawsuits, and no Occupy protests could ever change what he calls the "screw-your-clients, screw-everybody, grab-what-you-can culture of the modern financial services industry". Instead, he says, "Real change was always going to have to come from within Wall Street itself." If true, then millions of people and their families are at the mercy of Wall Street even more so than they are now. Hell, billions. It means that We the People are powerless. It means that we live in a plutocracy and, if we are lucky, we may be the beneficiaries of a little noblesse oblige. If we're lucky.

I don't know what effect Smith's resignation will have. Maybe his former employer will take heed and change. Then again, maybe it won't. Perhaps other Wall Street firms will act on his admonition but, then again, maybe not. There are a lot of angry guys out there who are pissed because they're doing dishes by hand and Goddess knows we can't have investment banker types doing that. It's why Rome fell. (Where's Madge when you need her?) So, short of nuking Wall Street from orbit, there's not much we can do.

And what have they been up to? With the Attorney General foreclosure settlement terms having been made public as well as at least some of the results of the HUD Inspector General's investigation, we now know more of just what those pecunious gundyguts have done, continue to do, and will be able to do in the future.

Let's start with how "the mortgage settlement lets banks systematically overcharge you and wrongly take your home. According to Abigail Field, there is a threshold for error in loans so any fuck-ups on the part of the banks up to that threshold don't count and don't have to be reported. Furthermore only "reportable" errors get tallied.

Imagine your household income is $80,000. Imagine that at $80k the bank’s formula says you get a modification and thus you can keep your house. But the bank doesn’t use $80k in its math; it uses $77,000. So the computer rejects you, and you lose your home to foreclosure. Does law enforcement care about the bankers wrecking-your-life error? No, because the $3,000 error, while enough to deny you the mod, isn’t 5% of your income. So the error was too small to count.

It’s not enough for the B.O.B.s to make such a big mistake when they rejected you for a mod and foreclosed that the error is “reportable”. They have to make 5 reportable errors in every hundred files reviewed before they get in trouble! Since the B.O.B.s
(Bailed Out Bankers)are dealing with millions of people seeking mods, that’s a lot of A-OK big mistakes–50,000 for every million mod applications.

She notes many more ways banks can screw over customers before suggesting that "maybe we should start asking if the banks as too big to be competent." The lesson here is that banks can overcharge and illegally foreclose on homes up to a certain point before our government will do anything about it.

Isaac Gradman, a lawyer, reviewed the settlement. He notes that it lays out the misconduct of the banks: providing false or misleading information to borrowers, overcharging borrowers and investors for services of dubious value, lying to borrowers about the reasons for denying their loan mods, signing affidavits without personal knowledge and under false identities, and so on. Yet banks don't have to admit guilt.

It also looks like very few homeowners will receive relief out of the $17 billion dedicated to that cause:

The first problem is that, as the Wall Street Journal recently noted, the actual amount of loan forgiveness isn’t large relative to the problem of underwater debt. The WSJ attributes to Ted Gayer, co-director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution, the estimate that the settlement’s complex set of requirements mean that about 500,000 borrowers, or 5% of those who are underwater, may be eligible for help.

He also mentioned how banks can get credit towards that $17 billion by modifying loans and a potentially unintended consequence.

It would be one thing if banks shared in the cost of modifying a loan in securitization, and the credit was proportionate to the cost they paid. But aside from transaction costs, banks absorb not one cent of a reduction of principal or interest on a loan held by investors. Thus, by giving banks the opportunity to pay their settlement amount with investors’ money, regulators may be encouraging banks to modify twice as many loans, but they are also encouraging banks to impose the costs of those loan mods on the investors who had absolutely nothing to do with these servicing atrocities. (Emphasis his.)

Matt Stoller reports that Wells Fargo continues to robosign. And worse:

But I think the most interesting parts of the document release were the HUD Inspector General reports on the five banks and the DOJ complaint. What these prove is what we’ve always known – the law enforcement community knew exactly what these banks were doing. DOJ simply chose not to prosecute.

I guess Eric Holder was too busy figuring out how Obama and the Cigarette Smoking man from X-Files chatting in a dark room counts as due process.

Stoller also says that "Bank of America would not comply with subpoenas."

Indeed, David Doyen wrote a post called ”Obstruction of Justice a Feature of Bank Interaction with Foreclosure Fraud Investigators” in which he details some of the ways the banks impeded the HUD investigation. He notes like Stoller that the DOJ sat on info of crimes and preferred, in his words, “to use it to negotiate a settlement than in a criminal inquiry.”

Wasn't it Obama who said, “What Wall Street did was immoral, but it wasn’t illegal”?

Dayen points out this doozy from the investigation:

We reviewed 36 affidavits for foreclosures in judicial States to determine whether the amounts of borrowers’ indebtedness were supported. Chase was unable to provide documentation for the amounts of borrowers’ indebtedness listed on the affidavits for all except four. When we reviewed the four affidavits, three were inaccurate. Specifically, the amounts of the borrowers’ late charges and accumulated interest did not reconcile with the information in Chase’s mortgage servicing system.

A 97.22% fuck up rate. And we bailed these douchbags out?

Lastly, American Banker began a multi-part series on Tuesday delving into how the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is investigating JP Morgan Chase for issues in their credit card unit. The first part of the series is here and you can read blog posts about it from Matt Taibbi, Yves Smith, and David Dayen.

The upshot is thus. A whistleblower named Linda Almonte came forth accusing JP Morgan Chase of

1. Chase Bank sold to third party debt buyers hundreds of millions of dollars worth of credit card accounts. . .when in fact Chase Bank executives knew that many of those accounts had incorrect and overstated balances.

2. Chase Bank executives routinely destroyed information and communications from consumers rather than incorporate that information into the consumer’s credit card file, including bankruptcy notices, powers of attorney, notice of cancellation of auto-pay, proof of payments and letters from debt settlement companies.

3. Chase Bank executives mass-executed thousands of affidavits in support of Chase Banks collection efforts and those Chase Bank executives did not have personal knowledge of the facts set forth in the affidavits.

After a couple years or so it appears a regulatory agency is finally looking into the matter and, furthermore, it seems that these practices continue.

What chance do lower and middle class people have if Wall Street entities can basically make shit up and pass it off on someone else for a profit and only get a slap on the wrist from the Feds? We are fucked six ways til Sunday and sitting around hoping for more Greg Smiths to have an effect is the coldest of comforts.

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|| Palmer, 7:54 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Ladies Just Don't Get No Respect

Considering that Julaine Appling and her ilk scored a victory yesterday when the Assembly passed a bill "that would ban abortion coverage from policies obtained through a health insurance exchange to be set up under the federal health care reform law".

But I suppose it could be worse. Take Kansas where legislators want to excuse doctors who refuse to tell women that their foetuses will be born with congenital birth defects.

This Get Out of Jail Free For Being an Asshole card is tucked away in in what is apparently called the No Taxpayer Money for Abortions Act. So taxpayer money can't be spent on abortions but can be spent on dropping bombs on children. I get it. Wait, no I don't.

Now I read that Arizona not only wants to make sure that employers of all stripes can deny insurance coverage for birth control to employees but is also looking to give employers the right to fire women who use birth control.

Arizona legislators know that whether or not her insurance covers it, a woman may get the prescription she needs to prevent an unintended pregnancy. They want to give her boss the right to control that too. The bill they are pushing would not only allow employers to take the insurance coverage away, but it would also make it easier for an employer who finds out that his employee uses birth control to fire her.

Apparently only women get to have this hanging over their heads. The article isn't totally clear on this point but I'm thinking that men who have a condom fall out of their pocket (unused, that is) in front of their bosses don't have to worry.

It can't be long before some state mandates that women view their foetus via an IMAX 3D camera used intravaginally before obtaining an abortion. And no taxpayer money for the camera either.


|| Palmer, 2:15 PM || link || (0) comments |

Twitter: Now With More Gay Bashing

That Jonathan Franzen cat may be onto something when it comes to Twitter.

He may think Twitter merely "unspeakably irritating" but "100 Real Tweets from Homophobes Who Would Murder Their Gay Child" is just heinous. Nazi comparisons seem pretty apt here.

What the fuck does "mi ahh fi" mean? "Sleep in the oven". Nice. Do you think Storm Jones hangs out at Stormfront much? Here's another classic: "#ToMyUnbornChild if your a girl i will drown you in the bathtub, and if your a guy and your turn into a faggot ill kill you" Jeez. It's not enough to want to kill your gay son but you also can't stand the thought of having a daughter regardless if she turns out to be a breeder or not. Didn't mommy show you enough attention when you were little?

And, hey you knuckle-dragging half-literate fucks, learn contractions! "Your" is a possessive pronoun while "you're" = "you are". Get it? The apostrophe takes the place of the "a" and a space.

How many of these people are Christians, do you suppose?


|| Palmer, 12:57 PM || link || (6) comments |

Stem the Tide

OK all you market-loving libertarians. If the market is so great as to be worshiped because it allows rational actors to fulfill their needs and desires, why is there a black market for Tide laundry detergent? Not Wisk, not All but Tide?

Law enforcement officials across the country are puzzled over a crime wave targeting an unlikely item: Tide laundry detergent.

Theft of Tide detergent has become so rampant that authorities from New York to Oregon are keeping tabs on the soap spree, and some cities are setting up special task forces to stop it. And retailers like CVS are taking special security precautions to lock down the liquid.


He and other law enforcement officials across the country say Tide theft is connected to the drug trade. In fact, a recent drug sting turned up more Tide that cocaine.

“We sent in an informant to buy drugs. The dealer said, ‘I don’t have drugs, but I could sell you 15 bottles of Tide,’ ” Sprague told The Daily. “Upstairs in the drug dealer’s bedroom was about 14 bottles of Tide laundry soap. We think [users] are trading it for drugs.”

Maybe Tide should be banned. That way no one can steal it from stores.


|| Palmer, 12:38 PM || link || (2) comments |

"something's neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so"

Errol Morris is apparently making what promises to be a sequel of sorts to The Fog of War - a movie about Donald Rumsfeld.

“Errol has the magic of getting people to talk about everything,” says one studio chief who knows Morris well. “And they’ll sit until things go wrong.”

I wonder what lines by T.S. Eliot Rumsfeld will quote. "We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men," perhaps?

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|| Palmer, 11:50 AM || link || (0) comments |

13 March, 2012

Wisconsin Craft Brewers in Competition?

The State Journal recently published an article called "Wisconsin a hotbed for craft brewing". It was nice to see Tanner Brethorst and his soon to open Port Huron Brewing Co. in the Dells get some press along with other various craft brewers.

What caught my eye was this:

“We’re not going after each other. It’s about chipping away at that other 92 percent,” Brethorst said while seated in his still-unfinished tasting room. “I really don’t care how many breweries start up.”

I read this just after reading this Tweet at the Beer Wars Twitter feed. It gives the following statistics: "From 2009 to 2011, there are 22% more breweries, 25% more packages and only 3.6% more shelf space."

So while I can understand that the craft brewers in Wisconsin aren't intentionally going out to lure customers away from each other, there is a finite amount of shelf space. So I can see one craft brew pushing out another. I don't know that this has ever happened here in Wisconsin but it seems possible and more likely as more craft breweries start up.
|| Palmer, 2:12 PM || link || (0) comments |

12 March, 2012

Gluttony at Czerwone Jabłuszko

The Dulcinea and I ate well in Chicago. Breakfast was at Tuxpan where we had lunch back in the fall. This time they had a large glass crock of escabeche. I noticed white blotches in it and found that they were cauliflower and onion. Holy crap did that look good.

Before heading home, we had dinner at Czerwone Jabłuszko (Red Apple).

It's an all-you-can-eat Polish buffet and I feared that I would lapse into a food coma while driving home on the Interstate. Since I am writing this, you know I avoided that fate.

The front of the house staff were all Polish women but luckily everyone seemed to be bilingual which was a big plus since the only Polish I know is "Tak" and "Dziekuje". The waitstaff were dressed in what looked like faux Polish peasant dresses.

They bill their coffee as the best in town. It wasn't all that but was certainly better than at most buffets. The waitress started us off with a choice of soup: chicken noodle or mushroom. I went with the former and The D with the latter. I was impressed. The broth wasn't made from prison base and had a goodly amount of kluski floating in it. The report on the mushroom soup was that it was mediocre. Tasted like canned mushrooms.

While other buffets have more square feet of buffet than Czerwone Jabłuszko, they made good use of the more than adequate space they had. Pierogi, blintzes, goblaki, roast chicken quarters, fried chicken, whole roasted turkey(?) you slice yourself, a ham for your slicing pleasure, and roast duck. Boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato pancakes. Beef rolls, schnitzel, lamb, kielbasa...and so on. Here's my first plate:

That's meat pierogi, a potato pancake, beef tongue in horseradish sauce, sauerkraut, and a boiled potato. The tongue was very tender. The sauce could have used a bit more horseradish for my taste but I love the stuff. Unfortunately they only had 2 kinds of pierogi available, meat and strawberry. But I guess I can't complain since it's been a long time since I've had decent pierogi.

My second plate:

The cucumber salad was great. Next to it is a sweet cabbage salad made with oranges. Underneath that cheese blintz is a three or four bean salad. The big hoolie is a breaded pork cutlet while the smaller lump was billed as "schnitzel". The cutlet wasn't seasoned very much so I gave it a good dollop of pepper and lots or lemon juice. On the other hand, the wienerschnitzel was very well seasoned. It had salt and pepper and probably garlic and another seasoning I couldn't identify although it was familiar.

The D loves beets and she had them fried and pickled. Here's a bit of the latter still left on one of her plates:

There's also a piece of fried fish as well as some cucumber and tomato salads.

While the buffet was heavy on the flesh and starch, the salad bar was no slouch. In addition to the ones above, there was potato salad, cole slaw, a creamy pasta salad, and more that I cannot recall. I didn't have a lettuce salad but there were plenty of vegetables to be had for one. But I suppose even the salad bar had to have meat as I spied something that looked like Leberkäse.

I wondered if Polish buffets had chocolate pudding from a #10 can like Chinese buffets do and I can report that they do. And there was a goodly selection of fruit as well. (Plus ambrosia.)

For dessert our waitress offered ice cream: vanilla or vanilla with a chocolate swirl. The D got the plain variety and she also grabbed a couple slices of cake. The ice cream was serviceable. I sampled the cheesecake and it was very good. Polish cheesecakes tend not to be slices of solid cheese but rather have it mixed into a batter. It's still very light with the creaminess of the cheese sitting side by side with the fluffiness of the cake.

Despite the odd misstep, the food was very good. I'd been hankering for Polish food and it was nice to be able to sample a bit of this and a slice of that instead of committing myself to a particular dish. It reminded me that I should cook with dill more often. I also appreciated that there wasn't much in the way of concessions to American food. All I can recall is a pan of BBQ ribs.

It is $14.99 for dinner on weekends and there is a full bar.
|| Palmer, 9:14 PM || link || (0) comments |

A Woman in Trouble - Kill Me by WildClaw Theater

The Dulcinea and I went to see WildClaw Theatre's Kill Me over the weekend. The play was written by Scott Barsotti who also wrote The Revenants which WildClaw performed a few years ago.

The play concerns Cam (Sasha Gioppo) who is involved in a car accident and is thrust into a coma. Upon waking she is seemingly fine but is plagued by dreams and becomes convinced that she is immortal. Multiple failed attempts at shedding her mortal coil only serve to reinforce her conviction that she cannot die.

Caught in the maelstrom are Cam's lover, Grace (ably played by understudy Carly Ciarrocchi) and her sister, Wendy (Casey Cunningham). Both are pushed to their own limits by their loved one's behavior. For her part, Grace is mostly uncomprehending. She wants to help but is impotent to do so. One of her more revealing lines comes when Cam is paranoid that someone is out to get her and Grace can only plead "No one is coming for you" seemingly oblivious to the double entendre.

Wendy is a psychologist by trade and approaches the subject of her sister's illness from a strictly medical perspective. For her, Cam is simply suffering from mental illness and needs treatment. As Cam's behavior progresses from bad to worse, Wendy realizes that neither she nor Grace can handle her sister and suggests she be put into a mental health treatment facility. This profoundly irritates Cam who dredges up memories from their childhood that pierce Wendy's clinical facade.

In addition to being about the relationships that these three women have, the play also addresses Cam's interior states and does so in a very novel way. The front of the stage was open with three bare bulbs hanging down interrogation room style and this is where Cam, Grace, and Wendy spent most of their time. At the back was what looked like an old dungeon wall. Leaning against it were the guts of a piano - a soundboard and the strings. The Greek may have had three Fates but Cam has four Miseries: Paranoia, Dread, Angst, and Despair. These four characters alternately lurk in the shadows and tread or slither about the stage where they cozy up to our protagonists so as to influence their behavior. In a wonderful bit of staging, they'd often times play their infernal symphony on those strings propped up against the wall. The Miseries' costumes are also notable with Pinhead being an influence for Despair and a sinister ebony jester's outfit for Paranoia.

The Dulcinea gave praise for how the Miseries were omnipresent even if on the periphery. She also appreciated that the protagonists were all women. Gioppo, Cunningham, and Ciarrocchi deserve a lot of credit for their rapid-fire dialogue which was perfectly in sync. Both of Barsotti's plays that WildClaw have done are on the intimate side. He emphasizes small groups of protagonists and confined bases whether it be a basement as in The Revenants or the nebulous yet claustrophobic arena where Cam, Grace, and Wendy spill out their passionate madness.

My only complaint is that there were a few too many times when flashbacks were given to us via dialogue instead of being acted out. One scene depicted an incident from Cam and Wendy's childhood. The latter is at the front of the stage on her knees crying with a light shining up from the floor like Genesis used during "Mama" when Phil Collins would do that demonic laugh while the former is on all fours behind her with a look of pure evil on her face. Kill Me could have used a couple more scenes like this. Seeing a character's face in the throes of agony here is more potent than having her recount an event with the cold, even tone of a psychologist.

Despite this, Kill Me was an intense and often times moving experience.
|| Palmer, 1:22 PM || link || (0) comments |

08 March, 2012

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed

Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo is one of the most difficult novels I've read in a long time. I suppose you can label it post-modern or avant-garde by virtue of his use of different typestyles to offset certain passages of text, the use of cardinal numbers instead of words (e.g. – "1" instead of "one"), footnotes, quotes from other texts, and even asides signed by the author himself. In addition to the mish-mash of stylistic elements, the book pulls in a lot of history and mythology making it a dense read despite being only about 220 pages long.

The story starts in New Orleans in the 1920s with the mayor enjoying a glass of bootleg gin along with the company of a floozy when he gets a call giving him some bad news. The city is ground zero for the Jes Grew plague in America. With this prelude over, the book then acts a bit like a movie with the copyright and title pages following.

What is "Jes Grew"? Well, it's black culture and cultural identity, generally. It manifests itself in jazz, blues, ragtime, &c. A page of quotes just before the dedication page explains the origin in a quote by James Weldon Johnson: "The earliest Ragtime songs, like Topsy, 'jes grew.'" People struck with Jes Grew dance, sing, speak in tongues, &c. They act like they're possessed. The most proximate patient zero of this plague is basically the collective population of Haiti and it spread to New Orleans, made its way to Chicago, and is now threatening to take over New York.

Directly at odds with Jes Grew are the Atonists, white folk who act as guardians of mores and propriety in the name of preserving their staid, puritan hegemony. Their "aesthetic is thin flat turgid dull grey bland like a yawn." (Reed doesn't go for serial commas.) And they are pissed. The higher ups enlist the Wallflower Order to stamp out Jes Grew. Leading the Wallflowers is Hierophant 1, i.e. – the Pope. Opposing them is PaPa LaBas. He is a Houngan Voodoo Priest who keeps the old ways alive from his Mumbo Jumbo Kathedral.

During the 1920s the United States occupied Haiti and this not only forms certain plot elements, but also stands as a good high-level summary of the conflict, of whites lording over blacks. Reed has a long digression late in the book in which he utilizes mythology to explain the background of Jes Grew. Back in ancient Egypt you had Osiris and Isis in conflict with Set. At this time Osiris demonstrated his dances which helped preserve the fecundity of the land and ensure healthy harvests to Thoth who captured them in The Book of Thoth. Osiris, Thoth, and their ilk were eventually banished leaving Set in charge. He established his own religion based around Aton, "the sun's flaming disc". The old ways of linking people to nature as set out in The Book of Thoth went underground and Christianity arose. Jes Grew needed the book lest it "be mistaken for entertainment". As Reed asks, what good is a liturgy without a text? (He references Helena Blavatsky in this section whom I read about recently.)

One Hinkle Von Vampton brought the book to the United States in the 1890s. Von Vampton is immortal and a Knights Templar. Although he and the KT were turned away and persecuted by the Church back in the dim and distant past, he fought Jes Grew then and continues his battle. He sets up the Benign Monster, a magazine, although populated by the writings of black authors, is actually a set-up. It's real purpose to devalue the Harlem Renaissance and halt the spread of Jes Grew into New York.

And so you have two sides, the pro-Jes Grew and the anti-Jes Grew, out looking for The Book of Thoth for their own purposes.

As a satire, I thoroughly enjoyed Mumbo Jumbo. You've got some Dashiell Hammett thrown together with a mythological backstory which would make the writers of LOST proud, and some great, funny elements such as a group of men liberating non-European art from the Center of Art Detention, i.e. – art museums, and returning them to their native countries. As satire, it was fantastic stuff and ranks up there with similar works that I love such as Dr. Strangelove.

But I finished the book not quite knowing what Reed was saying. Did he really think that black culture was predicated on emotion and entwined with Nature while white culture was staid and artificial? In terms of his critique of how the white majority deals with blacks and black culture, I think I get it. White attitudes perceive black culture as lewd and unrestrained. It's "primitive". The book was written in the late 1960s and/or early 70s so is Reed promoting a kind of Black Nationalism? Is he trying to get all Marcus Garvey/Stokely Carmichael on our asses here?

My guess is that he is. Reed's critique doesn't seem to simply be one of America. He describes a prelapsarian paradise in ancient Egypt which permeated the globe. And then came along Set and Christianity. Humanity distanced itself from nature and thought itself above it. Slavery saw the white man not only subjugate the black man but also grind the culture of the slaves into the ground; white men assumed the burden of divorcing blacks from their native culture and traditions. The book talks about how Jes Grew's gleeful aspects were transmogrified into defects by Freud. Ecstasy became hysteria, for instance. Reed takes some swipes and capitalism such as when LaBas dismisses the Atonists as being another species - Home economicus - which lays down another critique: whites are individual while blacks are communal. There's just too much history involved for this to be a narrow attack. Reed's not lobbing guided missiles, he's dropping an atom bomb.

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|| Palmer, 2:07 PM || link || (4) comments |

My Get Out of Jail Free Card

If anyone at work complains today about their computers not working, I am just going to tell them there's nothing I can do because of these:

The Earth is being bombarded with plasma! It's like something out of a Roland Emmerich movie.

The biggest solar storm in five years is battering our planet right now, and may cause disruptions to satellites, power grids and communications networks over the next 24 hours, space weather experts say.

Two strong solar flares erupted from the surface of the sun late Tuesday (March 6), blasting a wave of plasma and charged particles toward Earth. After speeding through space at 4 million mph, this eruption of material — called a coronal mass ejection (CME) — should be hitting Earth now.

Even here down south we may get some nice auroras out of the deal. Keep any eye out tonight.
|| Palmer, 9:34 AM || link || (0) comments |

07 March, 2012

Justice in America

I saw this linked to over at Boing Boing's post about a great speech by Bryan Stevenson that he gave at TED about race and justice in this country.

|| Palmer, 2:11 PM || link || (2) comments |

05 March, 2012

It Takes a White Person

By now everyone knows that Rush Limbaugh spewed his venom at Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who testified before a House panel in favor of the government mandating that private insurance companies cover contraception. Limbaugh went on the air and after Fluke:

What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.


Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.

And so on.

All of this insulting invective got Limbaugh in trouble and he issued an apology, of sorts:

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

But this hasn't quelled the popular uproar nor stopped advertisers from withdrawing their support for his program. As of today, seven of them have chosen to put their money elsewhere.

Good on the people threatening to stop buying the products and services of companies who advertise on Limbaugh's program and good on the companies who have withdrawn their advertising. Limbaugh's presence on the airwaves puts the lie to the notion that the radio spectrum is owned by the public.

But I feel compelled to ask: WHAT TOOK YOU SO FUCKING LONG?!

Where was all the outrage when he told a black woman who had called his show “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back"? Or when he said, "Let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do — let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work"? You can find more of his racist comments here and here.

He goes on polluting the airwaves for years and years saying everything short of calling black people niggers and Latinos spicks yet it isn't until now that people really get angry. Apparently his stream of racist bloviating is tolerable but calling a young, attractive white woman a slut, well, that's just stepping over the line.

“Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons."

“The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.”

“They’re 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?”

Deriding people like this because of the amount of melanin in their skin: acceptable.

Calling this person a "slut": That means war!

Yeah, these are post-racial times alright.

ADDENDUM: I just found this statement from the CEO of Carbonite, a company that pulled its advertising from Limbaugh's show:

“No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency.

Get it? Calling a white woman a slut is beyond the bounds of decency. Saying "The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies" is not.
|| Palmer, 10:33 AM || link || (0) comments |

It's the Time of the Season for Drinking

Chris Lohring of Notch Brewing recently penned a screed decrying how seasonal beers are no longer seasonal. “Brewers have jumped an ENTIRE season ahead of when seasonal beers should be released,” he complains. The root of his dissatisfaction stems from a very practical problem.

I released my BSA Harvest in late September. You know, that time of September when Fall actually begins? Something about an equinox, I think. The BSA Harvest is a result of a program where Notch prepays a Western Massachusetts farmer for that year’s barley crop as in incentive, which in turn encourages local agriculture. The barley is harvested in August, malted a few weeks later, brewed in the beginning of September, and hits retail fresh on September 21st. A real harvest beer in the season we should drinking it.

And the response by an overwhelming percentage of retailers? They claim a September release is too late for a Fall beer, as they are making room for the Winter beers that will be in any day. This is the hand retail has been dealt, and it is certainly not their fault. So, a real Fall beer, the BSA Harvest, born of the change of the seasons that yields a barley harvest, is deemed too damn late.

The announcement that Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy would be released in February is the latest such absurdity I've noticed here in Wisconsin. (It was previously released in late March?! It's now two seasons early. And, if you read the article, it says that “shandy” is short for shandygaff “as it's called in England and Germany”. Really? I thought Germans called a mixture of beer and lemonade or soda a “radler”.) I became aware of the trend of seasonal brews appearing on store shelves before their traditional time mainly through seeing Capital's Oktoberfest earlier and earlier. I'd swear that at some point in the past it didn't leave the brewery until September but now you see it when it's still blazing hot outside in August and I fully expect it to be available for your 4th of July soiree within the next few years.

Lohring asks consumers to revolt by refraining from buying ostensibly seasonal brews out of season. Personally, I don't buy Oktoberfests until after Labor Day because it's too fucking hot in August to be drinking that style. I'm still quenching my thirst with Potosi's Steamboat Shandy. (Leine's shandy is for shite.) For me, the early arrival of seasonals isn't a burden. I don't suffer much loss and my well-being isn't really hurt by a summer brew hitting shelves while it's below freezing with snow on the ground, except for my sense that there are some traditions worth saving and adhering to. Perhaps the worst to come out of it is wanting to buy some Capital Oktoberfest but finding that Winter Skål has all the shelf space. Lohring, on the other hand, saw his business take a blow and presumably so too for one purveyor of local agriculture.

The thing is, I'm sure that most beer lovers who take offense at tradition being thrown to the wayside by the inanity of having Summer Shandy released in February have no qualms about eating out of season. Who among us only eats corn in August and refrains from apples until the autumn harvest?

Plus tradition is relative. I may look forward to heavier beers in September and October as the weather gets cooler but beer drinkers in the southern hemisphere are enjoying spring. Even here in the States, while I'm raking leaves in the October chill, it may still be in the 90s down in Tuscon. As far as beer goes, tradition comes from Northern Europe for the most part.

There's nothing objectively wrong with, say, drinking a pumpkin ale in July. I would wait until the autumn to drink one because I like to recognize the changing of the seasons and the traditions that go along with them. It's purely personal preference. I don't live in an agrarian society that throws big harvest festivals because we've spent the summer foraging for berries after we watched the last remaining vestiges of the previous year's bounty disappear. Those days are long gone for us and supermarket shelves are overflowing with foods of all kinds year round, something that our ancestors would have killed for. We have it good. Better than the vast majority of humanity had it through most of history.

I've read a few blog posts about this phenomenon but am still not sure why seasonals are so early these days. Lohring seems to point at Sam Adams and other large craft brewers. They started the trend to essentially get a jump on the competition who, in turn, followed their lead. How much of this is true, I don't know. Plus no one wants to have beer sitting around in a warehouse waiting for an arbitrary date to arrive whether it's the brewer or a wholesaler.

Other than seeing Capital's seasonals hitting the shelves earlier and earlier, it seems like New Glarus' beers always appear before they're supposed to. Their website may give a month but, from my glances at Woodman's shelves, their beers are available earlier. Cherry Stout was scheduled for March but was available in mid-February. Early but not hyper-early. I know it's not a seasonal but it's their most recent release. It just seems like when I get my expectations up for one of their beers and am eagerly awaiting the month of its release, I'll read a review of it by Robin Shepherd where he says that it's been out for a couple weeks already.

Any observant Cheeseheads out there that can testify as to how early other Wisconsin brewers put out their seasonals? Are Wisconsin brewers really bringing their seasonal beers out early because of Sam Adams?

I suppose the hope for us more tradition-minded drinkers is that the beers will come out earlier and earlier until they're finally being released when they had been in the past. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

A couple diversions:

First, I noticed that Notch brews session beers and session beers only. If you look at their brews, the biggest weighs in at only 4.5% ABV. From what I can tell, the brewery is doing well. Good on them for not jumping on the big beer bandwagon. In this day and age it seems like every beer is an imperial something or other and that 6% ABV is the low end of things. I wish more brewers would brew “true” session beers like Notch.

My guess is that it's harder to brew a tasty beer of 3.8% ABV than it is to brew one at 8%.

Lastly, I found this post by a gentleman named Jack Curtin on the whole issue of seasonal beers. He gives his opinion on the matter and closes by saying “For those of you who just want the next over-hopped, high alcohol, unbalanced mutation of a real IPA, none of this matters, of course. You gave up on beer a long time ago.” (Emphasis his.)


|| Palmer, 9:08 AM || link || (0) comments |

04 March, 2012

The Good Doyle Is in the Lodge

Sadly, it didn't occur to me immediately that the Mark Frost who wrote this book was the same Mark Frost that co-created Twin Peaks with David Lynch. Knowing this I wondered whether there would be any surreal scenes involving dwarfs, giants, owls, or creamed corn. While (spoiler!) there weren't, The List of 7 was a blast.

It's Christmas Day of 1884 and Arthur Conan Doyle is at home skeptically reading the theosophical treatise Isis Unveiled by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. The surgeon has more than a passing interest in the occult. Some is most certainly bunk, to his trained mind, but some may not be. The trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff. Suddenly he notices an envelope has been slipped under his door. It's an odd letter that implores him to attend a séance the following night. He recognizes the writing as being in the hand of a woman – a damsel in distress.

Intrigued, Doyle decides to attend but gets to the address early and positions himself across the street where he watches as the other attendees arrive. The Boxing Day extravaganza is to include two couples. The first is working class, a brawny man and his pregnant wife while the second arrive in a private carriage. Doyle determines that they are Lady Nicholson and her brother. His reconnoitering done, he approaches the door which he finds to be open, beckoning him inside.

The participants huddle around the table with the medium and the séance begins. A white mist materializes as does an image of a young boy which Lady Nicholson recognizes as her missing son. A fanfare trumpet then appears to the gasp of “The horn of Gabriel!” Doyle spies the filament which suspends the trumpet and, out of disgust, throws his chair at the “unearthly daguerreotype” which shatters and the wires stream down. Then all hell breaks loose as cloaked figures appear from the shadows and start slashing throats.

Things are looking mighty perilous for Doyle when he receives aid from an unknown figure who applies his derring do along with his muscle to defeat their pursuers. The anonymous man identifies himself as a professor at Cambridge. Back at home, Doyle discovers that his apartment has had some unwelcome visitors who have left it is total disarray and with a layer of what appears to be ectoplasmic slime. He then discovers that his upstairs neighbor has been murdered. To add Pelion upon Ossa, a woman was disemboweled nearby and, Doyle being a surgeon, is made a suspect. He goes on the lam and heads to Cambridge to seek out the professor.

After a close encounter with some stone gargoyles that mysteriously have life breathed into them, Doyle finds out that the man who saved his skin is actually Jack Sparks, a private investigator in the employ of the queen. Together they seek out Lady Nicholson's murderers and the fate of her son. Also on the job are Barry and Larry, two rogues that turned away from the dark side with Jack's help. What follows is a romp around England and eldritch encounters which lead to a list of seven names as well as a nefarious plot to commandeer the fate of England.

There are pleasures aplenty to be had in The List of 7, not the least of which is the story itself. Being a fan of Twin Peaks, this was hardly surprising. Frost deftly doles out clues which lead his protagonists into peril. The book captures an immersive feeling of Victoriana and Frost writes gripping action scenes that had me on the edge of my seat and were as good as anything Michael Bay have ever committed to film. Two really stand out for me.

The first involves our heroes paying a visit to Lord Nicholson under the guise of attending one of his grand galas. Frost lets on that something is amiss as their carriage goes down the lengthy lane from the main road to the mansion. It is lined with trees but, at one point, the sides of the road are bare with only fresh stumps to remind visitors of the arboreal splendor that once was. As they approach the mansion, they discover what happened when a wall surrounding the building comes into view. The barrier was hastily erected to keep something out. Or was it to keep something in? Someone had taken an ax to a section of it to allow entrance and so Doyle and Sparks investigate. The genius here is that, for most of this scene, little happens. It is eerily quiet and the estate seemingly lifeless. You know that the mysterious cloaked figures will come to try and put an end to Doyle and Sparks but when? The emptiness of the estate and the knowledge that a wall was built in a hurry ratchets up the tension until it's so thick you can cut it with the wrong side of a knife.

Another great scene involves the discovery of a tunnel beneath a publishing company. Doyle and Sparks are accompanied by Larry here and the companion descends into the dark first. (It was nice to read of someone investigating a dark passage with a candle instead of a 400 watt MagLite which everyone on TV and in the movies seems to have these days.) Traipsing around with only a candle is spooky enough but then the trio hears something or multiple somethings approaching. They find a door locked tight. Who or whatever gets closer and closer as Larry does his level best to pick the lock. They get through the door and lock it behind them whereupon they find themselves in a storage room of the British Museum. The creatures banging on the door are ancient Egyptian mummies which have been reanimated. Despite knowing that Doyle and company would escape, I was glued to the page scared witless.

Aside from the great fun of the game being afoot, it was also neat to read how Jack and his adventures with Doyle prefigure Sherlock Holmes. At the end of the book Doyle is sworn not to divulge what he and Jack did so he creates Holmes so that he can do so indirectly. There's a cocaine addiction, a nemesis – for Jack it's his brother Alexander, and even an incident at Reichenbach Falls. Bigger Holmes fans than me will surely pick up on other things.

Having finished the book I decided to see if any of the characters here other than Doyle were real. It turns out that Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was indeed a real person and Isis Unveiled a real book. It turns out that she rhapsodized about the existence of a White Lodge, which will be familiar to Twin Peaks fans. It would seem that Frost is responsible for much more of TP's mythology and weirdness than I had known.

While the first few chapters elucidate upon theosophy a bit, I wish that Frost had delved into it more. His look at the philosophical underpinnings of the subject quickly ends up being relegated to motive for the bad guys. It's enough to provide atmosphere and explanation but it would have been fun had the book kept running with it. One thing it would have done would have been to fill in more details of the age – an age when Darwin and many other scientists were unlocking the secrets of nature and soon a wave of technology based on the knowledge they uncovered would transform the world. Frost sets up tension between science and reason vs. nature and mystery both within Doyle himself and amongst various characters. It's an interesting subject and it would have been neat had Frost developed the theme further.

Despite this, readers are left with one helluva story.
|| Palmer, 8:10 PM || link || (2) comments |

02 March, 2012

1973 Oil Crisis

I saw earlier today that gas prices in Madison have reached $3.80/gallon and then stumbled upon some photos from the oil crisis of 1973. I remember the energy crisis of 1979 but was too young recall this stuff. Check the pictures out here.

|| Palmer, 10:38 AM || link || (0) comments |

01 March, 2012

The Atom Bomb Blues Blues

I hesitated briefly when it came to cracking the spine of Atom Bomb Blues because it is the last 7th Doctor PDA. Then I remembered that there were dozens of Virgin New Adventures so I have plenty of Seventh Doctor literary goodness ahead. It was written by Andrew Cartmel who was Doctor Who's script editor during Sylvester McCoy's tenure on the show and the namesake of the so-called "Cartmel Masterplan" which involved adding more mystery to the character of The Doctor and also making him a bit darker and more manipulative. Would Cartmel stick to the tried and true formula or would he give us a more enigmatic portrayal of the Time Lord we all know and love?

The story takes place in America in 1945 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory where J. Robert Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists are concocting the first atomic bomb. Cartmel threw me for a loop by beginning the story in media res with Ace seemingly under the influence of sodium pentothal and being interrogated by a psychologist named John Henbest and Major Rex Butler. After spouting some very odd tales, Ace is rescued by The Doctor.

We then jump back three days to when The Doctor and Ace first arrived at Los Alamos. The former is posing as the physicist John Smith while the latter is pretending to be Acacia, Smith's assistant. They are picked up at the side of the road by Butcher who is head of security at Los Alamos and here he is pretending to be your average joe chauffeur. Once his cover is blown, however, The Doctor talks about the wonderful crime novels that Butcher has written which include The Hawk of Gibraltar and Shadow Man which are a fun play on Dashiell Hammett.

Once at Los Alamos, The Doctor and Ace head over to the Oppenheimer residence where everyone is cocktailing and smoking cigarettes like there was no tomorrow. Here we are introduced to Ray "Cosmic Ray" Morita who dispatches with the Wagner and cranks up Duke Ellington instead. Morita is a jazz-loving proto-Beatnik who says things like "Forget it, man" and of Ace's misplaced wardrobe selection "Dig Annie Oakley!" He loves Ellington so much that it seems like he does precious little mathematics and instead listens to his records on his phonograph which utilizes cactus needles.

The Doctor informs Ace that something is wrong with Cosmic Ray. The real Morita was right-handed while the one at Los Alamos is left-handed. Plus this one is much too smart as the Morita that he knew was a high school teacher. Something is definitely amiss. The Oppenheimer's housemaid, Rosalita, makes a mean chili but it turns out that the batch she prepared for The Doctor and Ace was poisoned. And, since the poisoning plot was foiled, Rosalita instead tries to send our heroes to an early grave with a .38.

For some reason after Cartmel reveals that Rosalita is the would-be assassin, her story, her motivation, etc. just ends. I don't recall the book every explaining why Rosalita wanted to kill The Doctor or how Rosalita fitted into the larger conspiracy at play. You see, Morita is from another dimension, a parallel 1945 - the dimension from which Ace hails. He has teamed up with some baddies who look to take advantage of his mathematical genius. Morita devised quantum equations which allowed for travel between dimensions but, when put into play in a particle accelerator, they can bring about other particles which are "highly volatile". So, volatile, in fact, that they could, in Morita's words, "destroy the Earth baby." In a meta twist, Morita's equations would actually bring those doomsday particles into existence. I guess writing the equations is like observing and thusly collapsing a waveform.

The bad guy and gal – Imperial Lee and Lady Silk – heard about Morita's work and got him to ally himself with them. They are keen on altering the course of the Manhattan Project so that the whole universe is destroyed while Morita just wants to get a hold of Duke Ellington recordings from 1942-1944 when, in his dimension, there was a musician's strike and no studio recordings of Ellington from that time.

I give Atom Bomb Blues credit for being fun. Considering the story involves atom bombs, racism directed against people with epicanthic folds, and the destruction of the universe, Cartmel is surprisingly light-hearted. He gives us Cosmic Ray's Beatnik dialogue, the titles which parody Dashiell Hammett, and a really odd side trip involving The Doctor pretending to dose Butcher with peyote and then taking him for a ride in an alien spacecraft.

So, although fun, the story has its weaknesses. In addition, to the dead end that is Rosalita's story, the whole Beatnik thing seemed woefully out of place to me. I didn't hate it, but it did make me cringe occasionally. The bellicose nature of Oppenheimer's relationship with Edward Teller here is, as far as I know, true to life and I found myself wishing Cartmel had expanded upon that as well as the racism of the day which surely would have made life for Morita and the German scientists there less than perfect. I think I would have found this more interesting than having The Doctor and his alien friend Zorg screw around with Butcher.

Atom Bomb Blues also keeps the DW tradition going of portraying American poorly. All too often DW portrays Americans as being loud, brash, and single-minded. Here Butcher is a bit like Buck Turgidson from Dr. Strangelove. His character revolves around the premise that there are Jap traitors and spies everywhere. He was just too clichéd and caricatured for my taste.

And then there's the nerdy Professor Apple who develops a crush on Ace. On the one hand, The Doctor's translations of Apple's letters are amusing but it also comes off as a cheap attempt at some laughs by making fun of Apple, who is severely lacking in social skills. His pursuit of Ace is unnecessary for the plot to advance and just doesn't go anywhere or add much.

As for our heroes, they are basically the ones out of the TV show. The Doctor doesn't tell Ace that they're in an alternate dimension until late in the book but he's not really a manipulator here. As far as Ace goes, the emphasis here is on the fact that she is a teenager. Apple's crush is essentially "icky" to her; she whines that she is supposed to get to know Morita while The Doctor goes out on his own. She's not the more mature woman that some of the previous PDAs gave us.

Overall Atom Bomb Blues was a fun read but some things were just distractions. At the very end The Doctor spins the light-hearted tone around and laments how Edward Teller would go on to promote the production of more and more of the deadliest weapons mankind has ever invented. I appreciated the gesture but wish this recognition of the story's more serious elements got more play.

A rather anti-climactic end to the PDAs.
|| Palmer, 5:24 PM || link || (0) comments |

This Guy Needs Some Time in the Total Perspective Vortex

Poor Andrew Schiff. The director of communications and marketing at Euro Pacific Capital Inc. is finding that his $350,000 salary just isn't cutting it these days. Without his big bonuses, life is hard.

Paid a lower bonus, he said the $350,000 he earns, enough to put him in the country’s top 1 percent by income, doesn’t cover his family’s private-school tuition, a Kent, Connecticut, summer rental and the upgrade they would like from their 1,200-square- foot Brooklyn duplex.

“I can’t imagine what I’m going to do,” Schiff said. “I’m crammed into 1,200 square feet. I don’t have a dishwasher. We do all our dishes by hand.”

Woe betide the family that has to manually wash dishes! We don't have a dishwasher either so now I feel like I'm stuck in some Dickensian nightmare. He can't imagine what he's going to do? Well, maybe instead of paying $32,000 a year for your daughter's education you can send her to a $25,000 a year prep school and buy a dishwasher with the difference.

The article makes a point of showing that suffering because of loss of income is relative. An accountant is quoted as saying:

“If you’re making $50,000 and your salary gets down to $40,000 and you have to cut, it’s very severe to you,” Dlugash said. “But it’s no less severe to these other people with these big numbers.”

In other words, that losing income causes suffering is universal. OK. Schiff and the other 1%ers in the article definitely had their lifestyles altered because they didn't receive big bonuses. But is it really suffering?

The one rich person I've ever known in my life was a great uncle of mine. I don't know how many millions the guy had. But he didn't bitch when business was bad or an investment went south. In fact, none of my relatives of his generation complained about their lot in life and none of the others were rich. Would they have liked to have had more? Probably. But they all were happy with what they had even if it wasn't six figures.

This is because they had perspective that transcended a range of low six figures and high six figures. These people grew up during The Great Depression and were poor. Before that great uncle became wealthy, he grew up in a big family with parents who didn't speak English and a father who busted his ass in a coal mine for who knows how many hours every day. Then it was off to fight in World War II as a tailgunner on a B-17.

Even when things were on the glum side for my great uncle and his brothers and sisters, they could be worse. They still had indoor plumbing and electricity; there were no Jerries in Messerschmidts trying to kill them; there was food on the table, beer in a bottle, and cards for pinochle; the kids were in school; no one was slaving away in a coal mine; and everyone was in good health.

I don't want to romanticize the lives of my grandparents and great aunts/uncles but Schiff and the others like him in the article need to get a perspective that goes beyond a $350,000 lifestyle vs. a $1 million lifestyle or whatever they were leading prior to their bonuses being cut. This narrow view is demonstrated by M. Todd Henderson, a University of Chicago professor who got his fleeting moments of infamy by whining that he was "just getting by" with his $250,000+ a year salary. The article quotes him:

“Yes, terminal diseases are worse than getting the flu,” he said. “But you suffer when you get the flu.”

Having to squeak by on $250,000 or $350,000 is not equivalent to having the flu. It's like getting a paper cut. It's a paper cut because you're still enjoying the fruits of a First World lifestyle and, compared to the vast majority of humanity, you have the riches of Croesus. I don't think that the Hendersons or the Schiffs have to walk outside to a hole out in the street to take a dump. And I'll bet they're not getting by on gruel. Their faucets still give potable water.

Unfortunately I don't think any of these people will see just how incredibly good they have it.

Perhaps we need to throw a benefit concert for them.

|| Palmer, 10:26 AM || link || (0) comments |