Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...
31 October, 2012
The Next Best Thing to Inviting Your Ancestors Over for Dinner
While we Earthmen may never invite our ancestors to dinner, Slate has a photo gallery called "Meet Your Hominid Ancestors" which is really neat. This is Australopithecus afarensis, not sure if it's Lucy or not.
Evolution hit a bum note somewhere along the way as life for parents of this species was remarkably easier: "Like chimpanzees, they had childhoods and adolescent periods of teenage angst that were brief compared with those of modern humans." I fail to see how several years of "You all hate me!" while sitting on the couch in front of the TV & computer and refusing to bathe is an evolutionary advantage. Perhaps beatings by parents increase genetic fitness.
In Business Madison reports that the development of the old Royster-Clark site is idling right now but that construction will get underway without too large a delay.
“The demolition is complete, all the contaminated materials have been moved off-site … in accordance with the DNR rules and regulations and the way it was planned,” said Dave Nelsen, who is overseeing development of the site as director of engineering and architecture for Ruedebusch. “So right now, we’re in kind of a little bit of a waiting mode. We’re taking test readings, we’re monitoring wells on-site to verify that the groundwater is getting better and improving, and that’s going to take several months to potentially a year. … But it’s anticipated that in a year we’ll likely know kind of where we’re at.”
Nelsen says that if all goes well, in the next two or three years people will begin to see some significant development on the site.
“We’re confident that the site will be cleaned up and ready to go, and from there it’s just going through the city processes, so I don’t see any large challenges,” said Nelsen. “Hopefully, the economy turns around and things start moving forward a lot quicker than they are right now, but other than that, it’s kind of just a normal process."
Good news. That site should have been developed long ago and it sounds like this project is being looked at as the first step in revitalizing that section of the Eastmorland neighborhood. Good news. (Maybe Cottage Grove Road can get some decent bus service after this project is done.)
The article also notes that the development "borrows heavily from the new urbanist models". If you watch the video about the project, you can get a glimpse of the vision for the site.
Aside from putting store fronts on the street instead of the parking lots, what's new urbanist about it? I don't really know much about new urbanism but, to my eyes, it looks like a slice of suburbia with a subdivision in back on a cul-de-sac and a huge chunk of area devoted to parking lots. It looks divorced from the surrounding area. People are going to drive to the place, park in back, shop, and then jump back in their car and drive away. I wonder how things would go if there were less parking lots in this plan but street parking available on Cottage Grove Road. This might provide incentive to get out of the development's bubble and explore other businesses in the area.
Regardless, it's nice to see at least some progress.
When Library Mall was given a make-over recently, several trees were taken out. When new pavement was laid, circles were left open in the sidewalk - presumably to plant new trees. I've been wondering when they (the city? UW? I think the area in front of the University Club is UW territory.) would plant saplings. Well, the answer came yesterday: never. Those holes were filled in with concrete yesterday.
That's a real bummer. College kids in 20 years would no doubt have appreciated the shade. What happened to the trees? Have they been permanently nixed or is that concrete going to be ripped up in the spring?
The Hideous Geometry of R'lyeh as Witnessed by Gustaf Johansen Explained
From io9: a mathematician named Benjamin K. Tippett from the University of New Brunswick has written a paper called "Possible Bubbles of Spacetime Curvature in the South Pacific" explaining the non-Euclidian geometry witnessed by Norwegian sailor Gustaf Johansen in H.P. Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu".
In 1928, the late Francis Wayland Thurston published a scandalous manuscript in purport of warning the world of a global conspiracy of occultists. Among the documents he gathered to support his thesis was the personal account of a sailor by the name of Gustaf Johansen, describing an encounter with an extraordinary island. Johansen’s descriptions of his adventures upon the island are fantastic, and are often considered the most enigmatic (and therefore the highlight) of Thurston’s collection of documents.
We contend that all of the credible phenomena which Johansen described may be explained as being the observable consequences of a localized bubble of spacetime curvature. Many of his most incomprehensible statements (involving the geometry of the architecture, and variability of the location of the horizon) can therefore be said to have a uniﬁed underlying cause.
We propose a simpliﬁed example of such a geometry, and show using numerical computation that Johansen’s descriptions were, for the most part, not simply the ravings of a lunatic. Rather, they are the nontechnical observations of an intelligent man who did not understand how to describe what he was seeing. Conversely, it seems to us improbable that Johansen should have unwittingly given such a precise description of the consequences of spacetime curvature, if the details of this story were merely the dregs of some half remembered fever dream.
We calculate the type of matter which would be required to generate such exotic spacetime curvature. Unfortunately, we determine that the required matter is quite unphysical, and possess a nature which is entirely alien to all of the experiences of human science. Indeed, any civilization with mastery over such matter would be able to construct warp drives, cloaking devices, and other exotic geometries required to conveniently travel through the cosmos.
After over three decades of service with the United Nations, working across the world on development and humanitarian assistance projects, in 1998 the UN Chief Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Denis Halliday turned in his resignation to the organisation. Upon spending years in Iraq and bearing witness to the results of the draconian sanctions regime which had turned a modern society into one of the most impoverished on the planet, Halliday wrote that he could no longer continue administering a programme which he said "satisfied the legal definition of genocide".
The piece goes on to note the devastation wrought on Iraq. The Iraqi currency, the dinar, collapsed and economic ruin for millions followed. Many children stopped going to school as they had to enter the labor force to help their families survive. An embargo on medical supplies demolished what was one of the best healthcare systems in the Middle East. Infant mortality increased more than fourfold and diseases like typhoid and malaria ran rampant. And so on.
Now America seems intent on laying waste to the citizens of Iran in the same manner.
Intensifying sanctions against the country have sent the Iran's rial into an unprecedented free-fall, causing it to plummet in value by 75 per cent since the start of the year; and, stunningly, almost 60 per cent in the past week alone.
Ordinary Iranians completely unconnected to the government have had their lives effectively ground to a halt as the sudden and unprecedented collapse of the financial system has rendered any meaningful form of commerce effectively impossible. In recent weeks, the price of staples such as rice and cooking oil have skyrocketed and once ubiquitous foods such as chicken have been rendered completely out of the reach of the average citizen.
The effects of months of steadily tightening sanctions have also begun to take their toll on the Iranian healthcare system; and as in any case of warfare, economic or otherwise, it is the poorest citizens who have borne the brunt of the suffering. Iranian doctors have already begun to report shortages in essential medicines such as those used for cancer, heart and multiple sclerosis patients, and the situation is forecasted to get worse as financial sanctions make the purchasing pharmaceuticals from abroad an effective impossibility.
In the disbelieving words of one Iranian woman, a mother to 12-year-old boy with haemophilia who is now facing the amputation of his left leg and whose life doctors' say is threatened by continuous nosebleeds due to an acute national shortage of anti-clotting drugs, regarding sanctions: "no human beings can be so brutal to patients".
As Barack Obama has been fond of saying, oh yes we can! Obama boasted in one of the presidential debates, "We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles." Of course, there's no mention of 12-year olds having their limbs amputated because of those sanctions or of any suffering on the part of ordinary Iranians. Whenever the crash of 2008 is described here in the U.S., our media note the effect it had on ordinary Americans – losing jobs, drowning in debt, and so on – but we dare not do the same thing when we and our allies intentionally set out to destroy another country's economy. Hussain notes, "Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), the goal of the sanctions should explicitly be to 'take the food out of the mouths of the [Iranian] citizens'." He also quotes Democrat Brad Sherman: "House Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA), has said 'Critics of sanctions argue that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.'"
Yes, because sanctions really did the trick in Iraq. When I read about a crippled economy and hyperinflation I think about the Weimar Republic. If you were an Iranian and you hear Barack Obama bragging about the misery being imposed upon your country (by the United States and Europe) and you hear American congressmen advocating for food to be taken from you and your family, for you and your family to be hurt, how would you feel? How would it feel to hear those words coming from the leaders of a country that helped overthrow a democratically elected government in your country and supported a country that invaded yours?
It seems like most Americans, even those of the bleeding heart liberal variety, have no interest in the implications of our foreign policy in Iran (nor probably in our foreign policy at all). How many of us actually know much of anything about Iran beyond its status as part of George Bush II's Axis of Evil?
Take a look at thesepictures of Iran and Iranians. If they were shown to you out of the blue and asked where they were taken, would Iran ever come to mind?
With all the hoopla surrounding Ahmadinejad's comment supposedly saying that Israel should be wiped off the map and anti-semitism generally, Jews have a guaranteed seat in the Iranian Parliament. And, if this video is anything to go by, Jews are not exactly a persecuted minority. One Iranian Jew says that "Iran has the greatest population of Jews in the Middle East after Israel."
Take a listen to the wonderful BBC radio documentary Through Persian Eyes. Read a book like Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes to get an idea of the history of relationship between the West and the Middle East and between the United States and Iran. Looking back at history, try to view the situation from an Iranian point of view. The Iranian people showed great sympathy for Americans in the wake of 9/11 and then their country was labeled part of the "Axis of Evil" and now they are suffering because of sanctions and being threatened. (Obama: "As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.") You can't blame them for wanting nuclear weapons. (Then again, we've been crying wolf over the prospect of Iran having such things since Jimmy Carter was president.) I would sure as hell want one. Israel has nukes. The U.S. invaded Iraq on its western border and Afghanistan on its eastern one. There are drones aplenty, the U.S. is leading an armada to the Persian Gulf, and it has been soliciting England for permission to use airbases in the UK and in UK territories in its standoff with Iran. The United States and Israel wage cyber-warfare against Iran. And the U.S. sells billions of dollars worth of advanced armaments to Saudi Arabia, a country hostile to Iran. Who is the aggressor here?
None of this is to say that I think the Iranian government is composed of saints. But maybe, just maybe we could try to understand a little about Iran and their perspective before accepting the apocalyptic proclamations of politicians, all of the demonizing, the sanctions and their attendant misery, and bombing the place.
We've all seen the interviews with the dipshits that make up the Teabagger consortium so here's some Obama supporters making themselves look stupid. The policies at issue here are mainly civil rights ones.
An interesting commentary. I appreciated how he notes that people tend to say that voting for a losing candidate is a wasted vote only when that vote didn't go to a Democrat or Republican. Nobody claims that voting for Michael Dukakis or Al Gore is a wasted vote despite their losses.
It was an overcast and rainy October afternoon – perfect for a trek to Chicago to see WildClaw's latest production, The Life of Death. The play is an adaptation of a Clive Barker short story and the move from the page to the stage was done by one of the troupe's founding members, Charley Sherman.
The story takes place in contemporary London where the latest iteration of Jack the Ripper is on the loose. We meet Elaine Rider, a young woman who has survived a brush with death in the operating theatre where doctors performed a hysterectomy. Out of the hospital she struggles in her quest to get her life back to normal. She is beset by torpor, barely eating and lethargic. Elaine rejects her boyfriend and is despondent that she is unable to give life. She is just plain seems lost.
One day at a cafe Elaine notices some smoke out the window. The waitress tells her that a nearby church is being demolished and that some of the debris is being burned. She wanders over to the site where she meets Kavanagh, a kindly older gentleman who watches the demolition work. Kavanagh explains that work is being slowed by a crypt there which the crews are waiting to open. Both Elaine and Kavanagh have a weird affection for the church. The former seems entranced by it while the latter has what is perhaps an unhealthy interest in them and their attendant crypts.
Curiosity eventually gets the better of Elaine and she investigates the crypt herself. It is littered with bodies and they don't appear to be vintage corpses either. Indeed, the body of a pregnant woman looks like it came right out of one of Elaine's frightful dreams.
The experience brings about remarkable changes in Elaine. She lets her hair down and recommences her social life. Her appetite returns. Something about seeing or being in that crypt amongst all the death has revivified her. This contrasts with Elaine's friends and co-workers who begin to fall ill. Coughs start to produce blood and soon enough lesions appear on skin. In addition to the changes in Elaine and the mysterious illness, Kavanagh takes a turn towards the creepier. In the first act he comes across as an eccentric individual with a fascination with the morbid but he becomes a bit more threatening.
The play picks up a lot of momentum at this point as people die and many questions arise. Is Kavanagh the serial killer that's on the loose? What is this disease ravaging the community? Is it really bubonic plague? Why are Elaine and Kavanagh unaffected by it? To its credit, the play didn't come out and give a lot of answers so you have to puzzle some things out for yourself.
Casey Cunningham played Elaine and was a delight as the show's emotional core. I feel she did a nice job of eliciting the audience's empathy in the first act when Elaine was bogged down in melancholy. She exaggerated some things for effect but never went overboard. In the second act Cunningham again excels. This time it's moving from a sexy, confident woman to one wracked by guilt for having introduced the plague to her friends and also a woman who is convinced that Death is stalking her. These are really three separate characters and Cunningham handled them all well. Steve Herson was Kavanagh and he too put in a wonderful performance. The guy can adjust the level of creepiness in his performance at the microscopic level so you could never really tell if he was evil or just odd until it counted. This ratcheted up the tension perfectly.
My crush on Michaela Petro, who plays Elaine's friend and co-worker Hermione, continues as does my man crush on Brian Amidei. Although each plays very different roles and have very different appearances, they both are commanding presences on the stage.
Speaking of the stage, I should also say that the set and staging was great. The set was gothic faux stone with bits on the sides of the stage opening up for the crypt scene. A projection screen was hanging in back which allowed for newscasts to be shown on it as well as visualizations of Elaine's dreams. There was some clever staging such as that for scenes on the Tube where the actors assembled in the center of the stage and the lights went down except for a couple directly over their heads which isolated them. Another highlight was the scene at a night club where time seems to slow down as Elaine sees the Grim Reaper. The sound crew was great too with subtle, eerie drones adding atmosphere as well as helping to create the subjective, dream-like world in the night club where everyone except Elaine is moving in slow motion.
Never having read the source material, I cannot say how closely WildClaw adhered to it. But, as it stands, I really enjoyed The Life of Death. It had horror but some emotional depth as well. Plus it played with the audience's expectations and wisely left some questions unanswered.
Meanwhile in the Crimea: The Life of Insects by Victor Pelevin
By the time I found myself in the middle of the second chapter of Victor Pelevin's The Life of Insects I knew I was in over my head. It's a fairly short book and the writing style is easy-going but I know much too little about Russia – its history and specifically what it was like in the aftermath of Communism's fall. It was originally published in 1994 and I assume that it comments upon life in Russia at that time.
The book starts at an old resort hotel "which seemed to have turned its back to the sea at the bidding of some crazed fairy-tale conjuror." Two Russian men, Arnold and Arthur, meet up with an American named Sam Sacker who is in the country to do business. After a short chat they are off and by that I mean they have metamorphosed into mosquitos and have flown away. Sam "cut a fine figure alongside the two simple Russian insects." They stop to allow Sam to sample the blood of a man who's sleeping only to discover that the guy apparently ran out of vodka and drank cologne instead. This throws Sam for a loop.
This first chapter didn't perplex me too much although I suspect I missed something. Communism has collapsed, and American capitalists are moving in. After decades of oppression and a command economy that has collapsed, Russians don't have all the fancy trappings enjoyed by Americans as they're moving towards a market economy. And alcoholism is a problem in Russia as it has been for centuries. When there's no vodka, some people turn to whatever alcoholic liquid is available.
The chapter ends with the men strolling the boardwalk as a man and his son emerge from the fog. And it is about them that the next chapter is concerned. (With one exception, all chapters are linked this way.) Here the story takes on a more philosophical bent with a father dung beetle teaching his son about dung. The elder beetle teaches the boy about his Ai, a blue-brown sphere that he is only learning to see. "Everything around you becomes dung once you have an Ai," the father says. "And then you'll have the whole world in your hands. And you'll push it along in front of you." I'm not sure if this story is about personal enlightenment or about Russians moving forward, both their lives and that of their country. Perhaps it's about all these things.
In other chapters we follow a fly named Marina who scavenges for food at a market afterhours and digs a burrow. We also meet Natasha who has a fling with Sam and we find out that she is Marina's daughter but that she is estranged from her mother. One of the more humorous chapters features Maxim and Nikita both of whom like to indulge in marijuana. Nikita explains that there are hemp bugs in the leaves and pulls out a magnifying glass to show Maxim. As the pair wander discussing theatre, specifically Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, they become paranoid and begin to fear that the police are going to show up so they seek refuge in a pipe. Soon a very strong wind is whipped up along with intense heat. It turns out that they themselves are in a joint.
The chapters with Mitya and Dima are probably the most philosophical. A translator's note tells us that both names are diminutive forms of the name Dmitry and so I had to wonder if both characters are really the same person. The pair are flying towards two lights on the horizon when they disappear. Mitya opines that perhaps the lights weren't real and Dima retorts, "And maybe we weren't real." Another chapter featuring them is concerned with darkness and meeting one's corpse which (I think) turns out to be a metaphor for self-understanding. Mitya does his imitation of Orpheus and emerges to find that Dima is gone but discovers himself in a mirror.
So, while I feel like I picked up on certain things such as the Russian love for the drink and food shortages, there's no doubt that most of the satire was lost on me here. I wonder if The Cherry Orchard is significant. Do Maxim and Nikita represent a lefty/artistic class in Russia? Does Natasha's estrangement from her mother represent a particular division in Russian society – a generational conflict? When I think of Russia I think of a country with one foot in the West and the other in the East. I think of claims of Moscow as being the Third Rome and of a people for whom freedom is either incredibly fragile or incredibly elusive. Russia seems to alternate between some semblance of democracy and autocratic rule. Pelevin seems to have mostly to have avoided these kinds of long views and concentrated on the immediate post-Soviet era. I think I would have benefitted from some annotations or at least some introductory remarks.
Gone With the Mind: My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist by Mark Leyner
The first thing that came to mind when thinking about how to describe My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist is that it's nonsense in the same way as Jethro Tull's "Mother Goose". While Ian Anderson playfully sang "Then the chicken-fancier came to play --with his long red beard -- and his sister's weird - she drives a lorry", Mark Leyner writes sentences such as these:
Suddenly, the swinging doors burst open and a mesomorphic cyborg walks in and whips out a 35-lb. phallus made of corrosion-resistant nickel-base alloy and he begins to stroke it sullenly, his eyes half shut. It's got a metal-oxide membrane for absolute submicron filtration of petrochemical fluids. It can ejaculate herbicides, sulfuric acid, tar glue, you name it. At the end of the bar, a woman whose album-length poem about temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) had won a Grammy for best spoken word recording is gently slowly rubbing copper hexaflouroacetylacetone into her clitoris as she watches the hunk with the non-Euclidian features shoot a glob of dehydrogenated ethylbenzene 3,900 miles towards the Arctic archipelago, eventually raining down upon a fjord on Baffin Bay.
There are 17 chapters of this kind of stuff with some of them lacking punctuation. The book was published in 1990 although parts of it were seen earlier in various magazines and anthologies dating back to 1984. This is the era which saw the rise of MTV and CNN along with all the attendant doomsayers decrying the erosion of the attention span. My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist is something like a literary equivalent of a music video with its rapid-fire descriptions of events and people that are loosely connected, at best. Plus there are the obligatory pop culture references. Here we get the movie Yentl, director John Landis, and singer Dionne Warwick, amongst others.
If you're looking for plot, look elsewhere. The titular cousin appears a couple times as does a monorail but there's not much here to tie things together. There is no protagonist-antagonist relationship and events jump around so much that there is no time to setup a narrative. Most of the story, such as it is, is told in the first person by a nebulous and morphing narrator. One page the tale is seemingly told by a woman who describes getting pregnant but a page later the person references a boyhood friend.
Despite being essentially gibberish, there were times that I chuckled to myself. For example, in one chapter the narrator notes that he/she enrolled at the Wilford Academy of Beauty whose principals are "Teamwork; Positive Attitude; Hair That's Swinging and Bouncy, Not Plastered or Pinned Down; and Hair That's Clean, Shiny, and Well-Nourished." Attendees went on "tactical missions" with packs loaded with "poncho, mess kit, C rations, canteen, first-aid kit, compass, lean-to, entrenching tool, rinse, conditioner, setting lotion, two brushes (natural bristle and nylon), two sets of rollers (sponge and electric), barrettes, bobby pins, plastic-coated rubber bands, and a standard-issue 1,500-watt blow dryer." There is also some interesting wordplay such as when the narrator describes a series of statements by other people with "she said sullenly" several times before the last one which gets "she said suddenly".
However clever and interesting My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist is stylistically, I just couldn't appreciate it. If there had been a narrative thread to ground the proceedings or if perhaps the events didn't go off on tangents so quickly, I might have enjoyed it. Hell, one chapter would have been alright. But 150 pages was trying. There were funny parts but not enough of them to capture my attention or interest.
Chicago architecture writer and photographer Lee Bey recently was on Chicago Public Radio discussing Brutalist architecture. The focus is on Chicago but much of the commentary is applicable to Madison as everyone loves to hate the UW's Mosse Humanities building.
Bey notes the name "Brutalism" comes from a French term - beton brut - which means "raw concrete". And I here I thought it was because the buildings all look cold and brutal. He also says that the style is modernist but also tended to include plazas and gathering spots which offset the right angles and narrow windows. Humanities is a good example of this. The Humanities building is also proof of his statement that Brutalism became the architecture of schools and universities.
I've been doing some travel for work lately and have gotten to see some of the autumnal sights around southern Wisconsin.
Yesterday I took Horace Greeley's advice and went west.
The wind farm at Montfort.
Heading into the Mississippi River valley.
Hawks were flying over the bluffs by the river. Just beautiful. It was so calm and peaceful watching them fly in circles over the treetops and occasionally lunge at one another. One of them hovered perfectly still over an outcrop for several seconds. Show off.
I ended up going home with this:
Homemade sorghum syrup. I now have enough to tide me over for months, if not years. Anyone care to share some recipes that use it?
Madison Polish Film Festival Releases (Tentative) Schedule
The 22nd Annual Polish Film Festival here in Madison will be held 16-18 November with all films screened at the Marquee in Union South. The organizers from the UW Polish Student Association have released a tentative schedule. It looks interesting but I was hoping that The Hourglass Sanatorium would play here as it will be shown as part of the Polish Film Festival in America in Chicago next month. Perhaps a trek south is in order.
Nov 16 Fri 7 pm 80 MILLION / 80 MILIONÓW dir. W. Krzystek 2011, 102'
…an action feature film based on a true story, set in Wroclaw just a few days before the imposing of martial law in December 1981. Four young activists of “Solidarity” movement plot to with-draw all the funds from Union's account in National Bank of Poland before the communist regime freezes it. But how do you transfer and where do you hide 80 million zlotych in cash? Allied with Catholic Church officials and local money dealers, young heroes begin the race to outwit Security Service officers and their leader, arrogant and despotic captain Sobczyk. Waldemar Krzystek's film captures a period from Polish communist history in an original, satirical and universal way. The movie is this year’s Polish entry to the Academy Award in a foreign language category.
Nov 17 Sat 1 pm ROSE / RÓŻA dir: Wojtek Smarzowski 2011, 94’
won the Grand Prix. “In the years following the Second World War, the indigenous inhabitants of the Mazurian lakes District became second class citizens to the new authorities. Through the eyes of a Polish Army officer, we follow the struggles of a nation doomed to annihilation by two competing nationalisms. It would seem that these hard times would leave no room for love, but love comes, and brings hope.” It is the story of the Mazurians, German-speaking Lutherans, who lived in East Prussia until the Potsdam Conference, when that borderland became part of Poland. Poles were resettled in the area, and Mazurians had to go through "national verification" to prove their ethnicity.
Nov 17 Sat 3 pm Elles dir: Małgorzata Szumowska 2012, 95'
Anne (Juliette Binoche) is not only a mother and wife struggling with her domestic priorities, but a writer for ‘Elle’ magazine that is struggling to understand the subjects of her unfinished article – the young and beautiful girls that have opted for prostitution in order to maintain survival. Flipping through recordings and flashbacks of her interviews, Anne is forced to acknowledge her own emotions and womanhood. Viewers also come to see the forbidden and seductive nature of the girls who, in their innocent appearances, carry shadows of the taboo lifestyle. In the process of it all, the two girls stray away from remaining as subjects in Anne’s article and instead, shine as reflectors of Anne’s own desires.
Sun Nov 18 1 pm The Courage / Wymyk dir: Greg Zgliński 2011 , 85’
Brothers Alfred (Robert Wieckiewicz, Best Actor winner)
and Jurek witness a helpless girl being mugged on a suburban train. Jurek stands up for her, while Alfred holds back. He later tries to cover up the truth at all costs…
Sun Nov 18 3 pm My Name is Ki / Ki dir: Leszek Dawid 2011 93’
Ki is a portrait of a young mother who doesn't want to be perceived as a stereotypical lonely, anguished woman. She tries to lead a colorful, fast and intense life. Only when she meets Miko and starts a difficult relationship, she learns how to love and take responsibility for herself and her son
Amtrak recently announced that the railroad broke their all-time annual ridership record for the ninth time in 10 years in fiscal year 2012, carrying 31.2 million passengers, surpassing the previous record, set last year, by one million trips. More people rode Amtrak trains in July 2012 than during any other month in the company's history.
Aside from increasing ridership, the average on-time performance of Amtrak trains also reached a new, all-time high.
Furthermore, Amtrak has made all of this progress while requesting less operating support from Congress each year. Amtrak is requesting 44% less federal funding for rail operations than it did in 2004 and now says that it covers 85% of its costs using ticket revenue.
Both routes which serve Wisconsin, Hiawatha and Empire Builder, saw ridership gains. Thanks to Governor Walker Madison has no prospects for rail service. Instead I 90/39 and I 94 will be widened to the tune of around $1 billion and $1.9 billion, respectively. We have millions to sink into new roads and the added maintenance costs but not trains. Plus the CEO of Talgo, the company hired to build and maintain the rail stock to have been used for the new service to Madison, said, “They should be careful of doing business here because Gov Walker does not keep his word. It’s like we’re talking about a Third World country, where people don’t have respect for their contracts.” That's not a reputation that Wisconsin wants to have.
What can I say about Crash by J.G. Ballard? Where to begin?
This 1973 novel is about a group of Londoners who gain sexual pleasure in car crashes and the punishment they give to the human body. James Ballard is a TV producer and one day is involved in an auto accident. He loses control with his car skidding into the other lane and crashing into that of the Remingtons. Mr. Remington is killed while his wife, Helen, survives with mostly minor injuries. While recovering from his own rather serious wounds, Ballard realizes that the crash let loose his "obsession with the sexual possibilities of everything around" him. From his bed he ponders the curve of his wife Catherine's thighs, casts eyes at the nurses, and imagines their thoughts as they look at Mrs. Ballard. He also feels an erotic attachment to Helen - "...almost as if I unconsciously wished to re-conceive her dead husband in her womb."
One day after leaving the hospital, Ballard is cruising around with his mistress Renata. They pull over to fool around. Well, he does, anyway, as Renata is too busy thumbing the pages of a magazine for photographic evidence of human misery. Ballard finds himself preoccupied with her thighs and the wetness between her legs when a car approaches theirs and flashes its headlights at them. A man steps out and begins taking photographs. This is Ballard's introduction to Vaughn.
Vaughn is also obsessed with the erotic potential of car crashes and the destruction they impose upon the human body. He is the ringleader of a small cadre of similarly inclined people which includes Seagrave, a stunt driver, and Gabrielle, a woman whose fetish for automotive destruction has left her wearing a myriad of braces. James, Catherine, and Helen fall into this group.
The book is narrated in the first person by Ballard and mainly concerns their relationship. Vaughn has a masterplan in which he dies in a head-on collision with a car containing Elizabeth Taylor. Ballard is producing a TV commercial in which she has a part and Seagrave is doing the stunt driving as her character and it occurs to Ballard that Vaughn is basically using everyone around him to bring his plan to fruition. For Vaughn, his death via car crash would basically ring in erotic apotheosis. At first Ballard is in awe of Vaughn but he finds that he is unable to commit himself as deeply as his mentor. Vaughn wants to use Ballard out of selfishness but he resists.
Crash is unusual, if not downright disturbing. The sexuality of the characters is mediated through the car as well as its attendant crashes. Things go from comparisons of a woman's anatomy to the design of a car to intimacy taking on an extra special patina when done in a car by people who can caress the marks left by the dashboard on someone's chest to the inability to be sexually around outside of a car. This hyperbolic progression comments on one's humanity being lost via a dependence on technology with the ultimate outcome being death as both Seagrave and Vaughn go out in a blaze of auto-erotic glory and the book ends with Ballard having taken their place and begun plotting a crash of his own. In addition to actions taken by the characters, the dehumanizing potential of technology is emphasized by Ballard's narration. It seems like every non-organic thing is made of chromium, adorned with chromium, or meant to work with something involving chromium in some way while people are often reduced to their orifices and mucus membranes.
Ballard seems to be saying that once you concede your humanity to technology, you're dead. Once technology becomes an end in itself instead of a means, eros is displaced by thanatos.
There were times when I reading the book that I was reminded of the days when I spent time hanging out with some members of Madison's kink community. The gatherings at Seagrave's home was reminiscent of some of the get-togethers I attended. On the minus side, just as the characters in the book found themselves in orbit around Vaughn, it seemed like many people were in the same position with regards to a particular figure in the Madison kink scene. On the plus side, the Madison kinksters I knew had a wonderful attitude towards sex. It was about pleasure, bonding with fellow humans, learning about oneself, breaking down stereotypes, etc. There are moments in Crash that are similar, where I wanted to praise its portrayal of sexuality as being positive, complex, and more like a spectrum than a set of fixed points, but they are offset by things going too far.
In the former category we have Ballard's feelings for Vaughn becoming sexual. It's a rare instance of attraction in the book that is about more than technology ruining eros. Sex can be part of a game about power and control and I interpreted this as being about the two men's power struggle and about Ballard's transformation. Having sex with Vaughn is like his final farewell. He's not going to be a pawn in the man's game. Instead it's almost an act of regicide. Ballard will take Vaughn's place.
On the other hand we have Seagrave who engages in low-grade sexual play with his young son. "Seagrave flicked at his son's miniscule penis." "...as Seagrave unbuttoned his shirt and placed the child's mouth on his nipple, squeezing the hard skin into the parody of a breast." I don't think that incest/paedophilia is really the issue here but rather this behavior signifies that Seagrave is past the point of no return – he's beyond help and totally consumed by his obsession. His death warrant has been signed.
Now I am going to have to watch David Cronenberg's film adaptation which I haven't watched in ages.
The big news for craft beer geeks in Madison and perhaps Wisconsin is that Kirby Nelson is to leave Capital to work at the new Wisconsin Brewing Company which is helmed by Carl Nolen, former president of Capital.
Wisconsin Brewing Co.'s $3.75 million facility in Verona is not only being built to make up to 300,000 barrels of beer a year, but its brewmaster is considered by many to be one of the deans of the craft brewing industry.
Kirby Nelson, the creative force behind award-winning beers at Capital Brewery in Middleton since 1987, has been named the brewmaster at Wisconsin Brewing. Nelson brings instant credibility and marketability to a company still more than six months away from selling its first glass of beer.
The brewery will have a capacity of 300,000 barrels per year from the get go?! That's double what was reported here. ("Nolen told the commission the brewery will be capable of producing 150,000 barrels a year and that the facility will have the company’s full brewing capacity available in its first phase.") Still, either number is very ambitious. If you take all the Spotted Cow, Hopalicious, Supper Club, and Sprecher Amber brewed last year, you'll probably get into the 150,000 barrel neighborhood. Perhaps they'll do some contract brewing. I learned the identity of one of the investors in the new brewery and was told this person is a fiscally conservative individual so I am under the impression that the business plan would have to be very sound to get their money involved.
So what are they going to brew? According to Nolen, they "are going to produce all different kinds of styles". Do the recipes for Capital's beers stay there or will Kirby be taking them along? How could he part with his beloved doppelbocks? A couple of my co-workers think Kirby is "selling out", i.e. - the new brewery will emphasize pale ales and Supper Club clones. How else are you going to keep all that shiny new brewing equipment from sitting idle? But there's also a quote in the article from Nolen in which he refers to his business plan by saying "It captures our (state's) heritage" and Wisconsin's brewing heritage is usually thought of as being lagers.
Conversely, what happens to Capital? "A nationwide search is under way to find Nelson's replacement, but in the meantime, Brian Destree, who has 10 years of brewing experience with Leinenkugel and Miller, will serve as acting brewmaster." Are they going to move away from lagers and towards ales?
It will be feel odd drinking a Capital knowing that Kirby didn't brew it since he is the image of the brewery to my mind. I recently visited a friend from college with whom I amassed a beer bottle collection and we dug out some old Capital bottles.
It's weird to think that I've been drinking Capital for over 20 years now. Kirby's were the first seasonals that I looked forward to on a regular basis - Oktoberfest and Mindblock, er, Maibock. His were also amongst the first craft beers I ever drank. Time marches on, I suppose.
Perhaps the most important question is who will be riding a dinosaur while throwing chub at revelers during a bockfest?
A sad and infuriating look at the NYPD's notorious "Stop and Frisk" policy. A retired cop says that it's all about the numbers and an active duty one tells how he resisted the policy mandating them but kowtowed to pressure.
Global Climate Change Puts New Glarus and Bell's Cherry Beers on Hiatus
First came the news that Bell's Cherry Stout was going on hiatus owing to a poor Michigan cherry crop and now comes news that New Glarus Belgian Red will also disappear temporarily because Wisconsin's cherry crops suffered the same fate.
In its place is a fruit ale called Serendipity. Damn global climate change.
Sprecher Goes Commando, Vaginal Yeast Doesn't Work on Carbs, &c
A couple new brews. We finally see South Shore's wet hopped entry promoting the Midwest Hops & Barley Co-op.
Along with Commando, Sprecher is bottling Czar Brew, a bourbon barrel aged Russian imperial stout. However, Czar Brew has been available previously but it's getting a new label. I presume this is the new design for their barrel aged beers.
If you check out Karben4 Brewing's Facebook page, you'll see that they've begun remodeling their new space, a.k.a. – the former Ale Asylum. That is, they've begun renovating the bar area. From what I hear, Joe Walts from AA is still brewing there as the new digs are behind schedule.
The Old Fashioned was named one of the best 12 bars for beer lovers by GQ magazine. I haven't been there to drink in ages. It's too crowded. Nobody goes there anymore.
So the Underground Food Collective is going to open a butcher shop on Willy Street. This is good news as the meats I've had of theirs have been tasty. But will there actually be a butcher on hand to answer questions and offer advice or will the place be staffed merely by clerks who can weigh, bag, and tag the meat?
And please, please, please - I'm begging you, UFC, - don't fill your display cases up with goofily flavored sausages like just about every meat shop in town does. I hope that when I walk in for the first time there won't be gyros brats, sun-dried tomato and jalapeno brats, mac & cheese pizza brats, etc.
This sounds pretty hoopy. It's a variety show called Odds N' Friends that is put on at Hungry Brain in Chicago. There's ventriloquism, video, and puppetry. The last show was a spoof of Total Recall.
Seen Monday night at Hungry Brain: a bare ass, a life-size Arnold Schwarzenegger puppet, and a video montage set to Drowning Pool's "Bodies" (in which "let the bodies hit the floor" loops endlessly). These elements were all part of Totally Recalled, a comedy show performed by Odds N’ Friends, the ever-changing collective of performance artists started by Aaron Maier, one of the founders of the website Everything Is Terrible!, and local puppeteer David Krofta.
Each month, the group picks a theme and performs on the first Monday at Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont Ave. Monday’s 100-minute show, a reinterpretation of the 1990 cult classic film Total Recall (the remake is in theaters now), was the group’s most ambitious yet—featuring 27 contributing artists and including 30 scenes of live music, dancing, puppetry, and stand-up.
Here's an idea for the folks behind Dane 101's Board Game Night: Hnefetafl, an ancient game handed down to us by the Vikings. The event should probably be held in Stoughton and with mead served in Norse drinking horns.
I meant to read Koji Suzuki‘s Ring shortly after having seen Hideo Nakata’s film adaptation but never got around to it for one reason or another until recently. I read a recommendation somewhere that I cannot recall and found a copy shortly thereafter at a bookstore.
Unsurprisingly I found myself comparing the two works as I read although much of the movie was lost to my memory. Still, I was able to note some major differences.
The tale begins with 17 year-old Tomoko sitting at home alone doing typical teenage things - failing to study for a test, thinking about life after high school, and being mad at her parents. She senses things are not quite right but cannot quite figure it out. She becomes ever more tense and frightened until…
At the same time a young man on a motorcycle falls over at a stoplight manically grabbing at his helmet. A cab driver at the same intersection tries to help by calling for an ambulance but it’s too late.
Kazuyuki Asakawa is a reporter and one day he takes a cab driven by the same driver that witnessed the teenager die on the street and he hears the whole story. His interest is piqued as his neice, Tomoko, died at the same time he did. Asakawa digs deeper and finds that two other teenagers named Haruko and Takehiko also died on the same day and at the same time. The coroner determined the cause of death for all of them was spontaneous heart failure. Asakawa can’t believe that the time and cause of all their deaths could be coincidence.
Asakawa now throws himself into the investigation. He discovers that all four teens knew one another and that they had all stayed at a cabin at a resort called Pacific Island a week before their deaths. And so Asakawa rents that same cabin. His search there is coming up with nothing until he notices that the spine of the guestbook in the cabin has been broken and that the book doesn’t close quite right. He deduces that it was laid open with something on it, namely a videotape that the teens likely rented from the resort office. Asakawa heads over there and grabs the lone tape without a sleeve.
Bringing it back to the cabin, he puts it into the VCR and hits play. He is confronted by words that he can barely make out. “WATCH UNTIL THE END. YOU WILL BE EATEN BY THE LOST…” This warning is followed by a bizarre series of images which includes a mountain, a volcano erupting, an old woman speaking in a strange dialect, and a man having his shoulder gouged. The tapes ends with another warning that says the viewer will die in a week unless he or she follows “these directions exactly” at which point a commercial bursts onto the screen. Asakawa is so perturbed that he immediately rushes back to Tokyo.
Convinced that he has but a week to live, he enlists the help of his friend Ryuji. Ryuji is a strange one. He boasts that he’d like to watch the end of the world just for fun. Even more odd is that he admits to raping women and is seemingly proud of it. However, he is fearless and eagerly watches the tape and he is well-versed in the paranormal. This interest brings them to the archives of a Professor Miura, a physicist who was also preoccupied with the supernatural and had tested people by having them try to create an image on a piece of unexposed film using only supernatural means. Plowing through the archives, Asakawa and Ryuji become convinced that the tape contains the visions of a girl named Sadako Yamamura who died thirty years previously.
With time running out, our duo discover that the Pacific Island resort was built on the former site of a tuberculosis sanitarium and that Sadako’s father was a patient there. They track down a doctor who used to work at the sanitarium and he lays out Sadako’s sad history. Sadako was a stunningly beautiful young woman and he sexually assaulted her. The doctor discovered Sadako’s secret - she was a hermaphrodite. She uses her telepathy to tell him that she will kill him and so the doctor kills her before she can do him in. He disposes of her body by throwing it down a well.
Ryuji and Asakawa find the well - it’s directly under the cabin at the resort - and recover Sadako’s remains thinking that a proper burial would allow her spirit to rest and thusly end this nightmare. They are given to a family member of Sadako’s and they think that all is done. However, Ryuji dies a week after having viewed the tape. Asakawa becomes desperate as his wife and daughter have watched it and so he must quickly figure out how to defeat the curse. What he takes to be Ryuji’s spirit guides him to a book on viruses and Asakawa determines that, since he gave a copy to Ryuji and he is still alive, the curse is like a virus and needs to find a new host. Desperately he races a copy of the video over to his in-laws house.
This is the major difference between the novel and films. Instead of an emphasis on technology and having a girl crawl out of a television to kill viewers of the tape after a week, Suzuki makes the curse a more organic entity. The skeptical side of Asakawa at first thought that perhaps the teenagers’ death was caused by some unknown disease. After all, it did take medical researchers a while to figure out what AIDS was. Before Ryuji’s spirit lends assistance Asakawa contemplates the curse. A girl with psychic powers is raped by a doctor who is also the last known person in Japan to have had smallpox. Could there be a connection?
Presumably there is as the curse is essentially a virus. The book doesn’t come right out and say that Sadako used her powers to mutate and manipulate the smallpox but the intimation is there. Suzuki has written a couple sequels to Ring and so perhaps he explains the nature of this curse/virus. But, as far as the book at hand is concerned, I appreciate that he left its true nature unknown or at least ambiguous.
Another difference (at least as far as I can recall) is that the protagonists here are unlikable to varying degrees. Ryuji is cocky and, well, how much can one like a character that boasts of raping women? We eventually find out that the braggadocio is a front and the rapes are probably lies but this revelation comes very close to the end of the novel. Asakawa is less repellent but his failures aren’t masks. There is a scene where he, his wife, and his daughter visit his sister and brother-in-law ostensibly to console them for their loss of Tomoko. It is revealed that Asakawa is something of a hands-off kind of father and seems to rate his job higher than family. But after watching the tape, he transforms into a much more outwardly caring father and husband. He longs to spend more time with his family and thinks about whether his life insurance policy will be enough. As a character he changes and my view of him changed too. Contrast this with the movie where Asakawa is a single mom for whom it is difficult not to fee empathic towards.
Much of Ring skews towards mystery but when Suzuki lays on the horror, things get really creepy. For instance, I read the scene where Asakawa watches the videotape at night with the family asleep. After finishing it, I set the book down, stood up, and looked around the dining room, Then I turned and looked at the TV half expecting some girl with filthy hair to crawl out of it. It was just spooky.
Whenever I watch or foreign film or read a book by a non-American author I ponder what elements are unique to the culture of the author. Here I am not sure what, if anything is reflective of something Japanese culture doesn’t share with ours. The role of technology? A stigma attached to rape? Hermaphroditism? More than once Sadako's beauty is mentioned and the doctor says that individuals with her condition are usually extremely good looking. Perhaps something from Japanese myth was referred to here and the reference went right over my head. The book doesn’t have any Japanese cultural references which will throw off American readers.
Having finished the book, I am keen on watching the movie again and reading the sequel.
Alexander Sparks Wants All His Garmonbozia: The Six Messiahs by Mark Frost
I finally scored a copy of Mark Frost's The Six Messiahs a few weeks ago. It's the sequel to The List of 7 which kicked major butt and so I was really looking forward to reading it.
It is now 10 years on from the events of The List of 7. Arthur Conan Doyle has moved on after having lost his friend Jack Sparks who tumbled down Reichenbach Falls along with his brother Alexander as the two fought the last battle in their fraternal war. It is 1894 and he has achieved great fame with his tales of Sherlock Holmes. Although he lost his paramour from the first book, the actress Eileen Temple, Doyle and is married to Louisa, although she is very ill. The story begins with our now-famous author preparing to board a ship bound for America to do a book tour with his brother Innes tagging along as his assistant.
But of course not all goes smoothly as one Rupert Zelig is murdered en route. Zelig along with Lionel Stern are accompanying an old Jewish Kabbalistic text known as the Gerona Zohar across the ocean. Two revelations follow. One is that this attempt follows in the footsteps of others which were more successful to steal various sacred texts. A Vulgate Bible was stolen from England and one of the passengers on the ship turns out to be Jack Sparks who is in pursuit of the thief.
Having survived the tumble at Reichenbach Falls, Jack has a scar on his face but is more or less intact – physically. Mentally, however, is a different story. Doyle is shocked to discover that his friend is alive but also deeply saddened that Sparks made no attempt to contact him. Jack survived the fall and then proceeded to spend a long time alone before beginning his trek back to civilization and it changed him. He has become distant and obdurate and nothing like the amiable, though flawed, James Bond-like hero of The List of 7.
Jack is in pursuit of that Vulgate Bible and we also learn that he has been having a certain dream over and over. It involves a dark tower built in the desert, tunnels in the ground, six figures who gather, and a black devil rising from the hole in the earth. But he is not alone. Others have also been having the same dream. Kanazuchi, a Buddhist monk from Japan has made his way to America in search of a holy text that was stolen from his temple. An American Indian woman named Walks Alone is slowly making her way west to the desert. Rabbit Jacob Stern leaves Chicago and follows Eileen Temple's theatre troop west. Lastly there's Peregrine Raipur, known as Presto, who has been blackmailed into searching out a stolen copy of the Upanishad.
All signs point to the enigmatic New City, Utah where the Reverend A. Glorious Day and his followers have built a town in the desert and have erected a tower built of black stone...
The Six Messiahs is much darker than The List of 7. It's the equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back in contrast to Star Wars. There's a pall hanging over the story and it starts at the beginning with Doyle's wife being seriously ill and continues with the new and unimproved Jack. This feeling is bolstered by the grotesque and some gore. Kanazuchi is a highly skilled fighter who, when his mission appears to be in jeopardy, is not afraid to wield his katana which he calls "Grass Cutter". This leads to more than one severed head. The leader of Miss Temple's theatre troupe has his curtain call transmogrified by Reverend Day and his telekinetic abilities into a perverse puppet show of torture and death. Walks Alone's journey brings her to Chicago where she stays for a while. She attracts a stalker named Dante Scruggs who is like a poor man's H.H. Holmes. He likes to cut his victims up. Perhaps with our fine reputation for perverted nutcases like Fred Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer, Frost decided to have Scruggs hail from Madison.
In addition to Scruggs, there are other even more peripheral characters that are sick in their own ways which add to the atmosphere. We have a posse of blood thirsty racist redneck yahoos in pursuit of Kanazuchi plus the mysterious blonde man who poses as a collector of rare books but is really a sadistic bastard.
Frost brings everyone together at New City for a final climactic showdown which, in keeping with the dark tone, involves the slaughter of many innocents. The villains in The List of 7 merely threatened the social order. Here humanity itself is imperiled with the rise of The Beast via an occult ceremony. The machinations of the villain here are somewhat Lovecraftian. We have the summoning of a creature, but there is a sense of existential dread to go with it wherein evil and good swap places and Armageddon becomes salvation.
Aside from the darker tone, The Six Messiahs also places a greater emphasis on relationships than did The List of 7. While this is not extremely prominent, the action slows down at points so that friendships and affections get their due. The feelings that Doyle and Miss Temple feel for one another get less of a workout here as they don't reunite until late in the book but they are still here. Instead a fair amount of time is spent with her getting to know Rabbi Stern and this is arguably a stand-in for her feelings towards Doyle. Jack and Alexander's relationship is very important here as is that of Jack and Doyle. The story here is a mystery thriller but Frost manages to deftly weave moments of introspection into it which add to the overall tone of the book.
Like its predecessor, The Six Messiahs was a very fun read. My only gripe is that Presto got lost in the mix. He is a likeable gent and reminiscent of the Jack Sparks we met in The List of 7 but, after we meet him properly and hear his story, he is seemingly always being sent off on some errand or another leaving the heavy lifting to others. This is too bad though perhaps understandable given that there are more good protagonists than villains. In any case, it doesn't detract from the fun.