Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

28 January, 2013

We Don't Need Criminals' Friends Policing Them

Lanny Breuer, who had a starring role in Frontline's "The Untouchables", has resigned. As Chief of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division, Breuer explained to the camera his division's impotence when it comes to locking up the banksters. On camera he is also confronted with a speech he gave to the New York Bar Association in which he admitted to fretting over doing his fucking job, which consists of administering justice blindly. He worried about whether prosecuting banksters would have adverse effects on the companies for whom they worked.

Just as this was sinking in, I read that President Obama has nominated Mary Jo White to head the SEC. I didn't know who she was and then I read about her.

In his second inaugural address, Obama said, "Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play." OK, so far, so good. So why, then, did he nominate Mary Jo White?

Matt Taibbi has some dirt on White, namely that she pulled strings within the SEC to put the kibosh on an investigation of Morgan Stanely CEO John Mack when she was in private practice.

It didn't take long for Morgan Stanley to work its way up the SEC chain of command. Within three days, another of the firm's lawyers, Mary Jo White, was on the phone with the SEC's director of enforcement. In a shocking move that was later singled out by Senate investigators, the director actually appeared to reassure White, dismissing the case against Mack as "smoke" rather than "fire." White, incidentally, was herself the former U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York — one of the top cops on Wall Street . . .

Aguirre didn't stand a chance. A month after he complained to his supervisors that he was being blocked from interviewing Mack, he was summarily fired, without notice. The case against Mack was immediately dropped: all depositions canceled, no further subpoenas issued. "It all happened so fast, I needed a seat belt," recalls Aguirre, who had just received a stellar performance review from his bosses. The SEC eventually paid Aguirre a settlement of $755,000 for wrongful dismissal.

From what I've read, White proved herself tenacious and capable as a U.S. Attorney – she locked up at least one prominent mob figure – but here she's being asked to police her friends, friends who have proven themselves corrupt. And she has shown that she is willing to aid and abet their malfeasance.

I am reminded of something David Sirota wrote last week:

Four years into his presidency, Barack Obama’s political formula should be obvious. He gives fabulous speeches teeming with popular liberal ideas, often refuses to take the actions necessary to realize those ideas and then banks on most voters, activists, reporters and pundits never bothering to notice – or care about – his sleight of hand.

It seems like a majority of Lefties in this country have a nearly unlimited capacity to accept Barack Obama pissing on their backs and telling them it's raining. I won't be surprised at all if White gets the job.
|| Palmer, 6:02 AM || link || (0) comments |

25 January, 2013

Fortunes of War

Rick Rowley's new documentary, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival recently. It follows reporter Jeremy Scahill to Gardez, Afghanistan (and, it looks like, Yemen and Somalia) where he looks at Barack Obama's drone war and the handiwork of U.S. Special Forces there on the ground instead of from aerial cameras. Amy Goodman reports.

Scahill told me: “In Gardez, U.S. special operations forces had intelligence that a Taliban cell was having some sort of a meeting to prepare a suicide bomber. And they raid the house in the middle of the night, and they end up killing five people, including three women, two of whom were pregnant, and ... Mohammed Daoud, a senior Afghan police commander who had been trained by the U.S.”

Before leaving, Scahill and Rowley made copies of videos from the cellphones of survivors. One demonstrated that it was not a Taliban meeting, but a lively celebration of the birth of a child that the raid interrupted. Rowley described another video: “You can hear voices come over it, and they’re American-accented voices speaking about piecing together their version of the night’s killings, getting their story straight. You hear them trying to concoct a story about how this was something other than a massacre.”

Rowley and Scahill appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about their experiences and what they found.

Reading Goodman's column and hearing Rowley and Scahill talk, I was reminded of a couple excellent articles from TomDispatch.com. The first was written by Jonathan Schell and is a review of Nick Turse's new book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, in which it is demonstrated that the My Lai Massacre was anything but uncommon.

Turse offers a massacre at a village called Trieu Ai in October 1967 as a paradigm. A marine company suffered the loss of a man to a booby trap near the village, which had in fact had been mostly burned down by other American forces a few days earlier. Some villagers had, however, returned for their belongings. Now, the Marine company, enraged by its loss but unable to find the enemy, entered the village firing their M-16s, setting fire to any intact houses, and tossing grenades into bomb shelters.

A Marine marched a woman into a field and shot her. Another reported that there were children in the shelters that were being blown up. His superior replied, “Tough shit, they grow up to be VC [Vietcong].” Five or ten people rushed out of a shelter when a grenade was thrown into it. They were cut down in a hail of fire.

The savagery often extended to the utmost depravity: gratuitous torture, killing for target practice, slaughter of children and babies, gang rape. Consider the following all-too-typical actions of Company B, 1st Battalion, 35th infantry beginning in October 1967:

“The company stumbled upon an unarmed young boy. 'Someone caught him up on a hill, and they brought him down and the lieutenant asked who wanted to kill him...' medic Jamie Henry later told army investigators. A radioman and another medic volunteered for the job. The radioman... ’kicked the boy in the stomach and the medic took him around behind a rock and I heard one magazine go off complete on automatic...’

“A few days after this incident, members of that same unit brutalized an elderly man to the point of collapse and then threw him off a cliff without even knowing whether he was dead or alive...

“A couple of days after that, they used an unarmed man for target practice...

“And less than two weeks later, members of Company B reportedly killed five unarmed women...

“Unit members rattled off a litany of other brutal acts committed by the company... [including] a living woman who had an ear cut off while her baby was thrown to the ground and stomped on...”

The second article is by Turse himself and is entitled "So Many People Died: The American System of Suffering, 1965-2014". He writes:

For all the dissimilarities, botched analogies, and tortured comparisons, there has been one connecting thread in Washington’s foreign wars of the last half century that, in recent years at least, Americans have seldom found of the slightest interest: misery for local nationals. Civilian suffering is, in fact, the defining characteristic of modern war in general, even if only rarely discussed in the halls of power or the mainstream media.

Turse bookends his piece with the stories of Pham To and Pham Thang, Vietnamese men who survived America's incursion into his country.

As I was wrapping up my interview, Pham Thang asked me about the purpose of the last hour and a half of questions I’d asked him. Through my interpreter, I explained that most Americans knew next to nothing about Vietnamese suffering during the war and that most books written in my country on the war years ignored it. I wanted, I told him, to offer Americans the chance to hear about the experiences of ordinary Vietnamese for the first time.

“If the American people know about these incidents, if they learn about the wartime suffering of people in Vietnam, do you think they will sympathize?” he asked me.

Probably not many, unfortunately.

Most Americans are too busy dealing with the shock of Lance Armstrong's admission of having taken performance enhancing drugs or updating their Facebook page to recall Abeer Qasim Hamza, the 14 year-old Iraqi girl whose family was brutally murdered in the next room before some G.I.s gang raped her and then liberated her from what was surely the highest form of misery by putting a bullet in her head. I have to wonder how many Americans know that Robert Bales is on trial for a massacre that took place in Afghanistan less than a year ago when an American soldier slaughtered 16 civilians, nine of which were children, and wounded six more. The assailant even tried to burn some of the corpses.

You might think that I am being unfair because Americans can be and have been very empathetic towards non-Americans. We opened our wallets in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti a few years back, for example. But that was a natural disaster. When it's an American man-made disaster – one where Americans being paid by American tax dollars pulling triggers and pushing buttons on killing machines paid for with like money – well, those people in that other land just don't seem to matter as much. Our empathy finds itself restrained. There are no benefit concerts or telethons for the family of Abeer Qasim Hamza.
|| Palmer, 3:37 PM || link || (0) comments |

Flashback: The Drug War in Wisconsin

Radley Balko Raid of the Day today features Wisconsin. Unfortunately. The sad story of Scott Bryant, formerly of Dodge County before being given the Fred Hampton treatment by Wisconsin's finest.

Two weeks later, the same cops raided another home, again after claiming to have found marijuana residue in an outside trashcan. The second raid didn't produce a significant quantity drugs, either. But it did end with a tragedy.

Scott Bryant, 29, had a petty criminal history, but relatives said he had put all of that behind him after winning sole custody of his 8-year-old son Colten. It had been four years since his last arrest, and Bryant was working long hours as a tool and die maker to support his boy. He was also taking classes at a technical college, where faculty described him as "a straight-A student." Bryant's sister Shannon Halloff told the Wisconsin State Journal in 1995, "He's shown us the last few years what he's made of. He really turned his life around."

On the night of April 17th, Rohr, Neuman, Soblewski, and Hill gathered outside of Bryant's mobile home. Rohr would later say he knocked on the door before entering, but neighbors who were 100 feet from the trailer at the time said they heard no knock or announcement. Rohr kicked open the door, and he and Neuman went inside. Bryant was sleeping. Seconds later, Neuman shot Bryant flush in the chest. Bryant was unarmed. He died in his home as his son slept in the next room.

Neuman later told investigators he "couldn't remember" pulling the trigger. That was all he would say. Neuman was known in the department for making big drug busts that generated headlines. Sheriff Stephen Fitzgerald said the shooting was "tragic," and compared it to a hunting accident. The local district attorney determined that the shooting was "not in any way justified," put declined to press charges.
|| Palmer, 2:09 PM || link || (0) comments |

Pipeworks Alum to Open New Brewery

Cheeseheads may soon be able to grab some growlers on the drive down to GenCon.

Drew Fox has honed his skills at Chicago's Pipeworks Brewing Co. (I need to bust out that bottle of their blueberry Berliner Weisse) and is now looking to strike out on his own with 18th Street Brewery in Gary, Indiana. He's got a Kickstarter campaign going and the brews sound tasty.

Brotherhood of St.Citrus: Patersbier. Bright citrus flavor. Saaz, Belgian Abbey yeast.
5.5% abv.

Hottpocrisy: Spicy Imperial Stout. Ancho, sarsaparilla, Kent Golding. Aged on oak & fresh cherries.
12% abv.

Sinister: Imperial IPA. Hop Bomb! Columbus, Zythos, Chinook, Falconer's Flight. Dry hopped with the same.
10% abv

Bad Buddha: Amber Ale. Black peppercorn, piloncillo sugar, Cascade, scottish ale yeast.
7.5% abv.

VII: Black IPA. Rich, dark and aromatic. Columbus, Amarillo, and Simcoe.
8.0% abv.

Back Door Blonde: Blonde Ale. Juniper berries, jicama flower, Willamette.
7.0% abv.

West Indiana: Smoked Porter. Chocolate, Columbus, Mt. Hood, and aged on red oak.
6.0% abv.

Bzzzzz Keeper Ale: American Wheat. Locally sourced honey, fresh ginger and roasted Warrior.
6.0% abv

What does jicama flower taste like? Here's an interview with Fox. I like this guy. No TVs in the tap room - just a space for good beer and good conversation.

|| Palmer, 9:27 AM || link || (0) comments |

Aliens Games Have Come a Long Way

When I was kid, this game scared the crap out of me. The level where you hold off the aliens with the flamethrower (starts at 15:30 below) while someone cuts the door open - I think I nearly had several heart attacks playing it. The soundtrack has the heartbeat and the best alien sound money could guy in 1987 which made it all the more spooky.


|| Palmer, 8:35 AM || link || (0) comments |

24 January, 2013

Sam Adams Shows Some Lager Love, Rocky Gets Revenge on the Bitter Woman, and Vintage Fires Up the Lagering Tank

Samuel Adams may be a macro craft brewery but they brew some tasty beers. I've had a smattering of their limited release brews recently (Tasman Red, Norse Legend, Cinder Bock) and they were excellent. SA aren't afraid to let their barley pops sit in the cold for several weeks. Plus they are not afraid to tweak the stalwart lager. Coming to bottles soon (if not in stores already) are a blueberry flavored lager as well as an IPA - India Pale Lager.

As far as I know, these are new to the SA line-up and join other lager variations like the Winter Lager which is akin to a wit and Alpine Spring which they bill as a Helles-spring bock-Kellerbier hybrid kind of thing.

Closer to home, Tyranena reports that Rocky's Revenge, a bourbon barrel aged brown ale, has over taken Bitter Woman IPA as their best seller.

Basically since its debut over ten years ago, the Bitter Woman IPA has been, by far, our best selling beer. When giving a tour, many have heard me proclaim the Bitter Woman to be nearly 30% of our production... Well, somewhere in 2012, our dear old lady was shoved aside by a serpentine lake monster.... Mostly attributed to its growing popularity in Chicago, Minneapolis and Indiana markets, production of Rocky's Revenge has now officially surpassed Bitter Woman IPA to become our most produced and best-selling brand.

Even closer to home Vintage Brewing have announced a new beer on their Facebook page:

NEW BEER ALERT! It's mighty rare when our brewers commit the fermenting tank space to making true lagers...so it's with special pride we debut our 2013 "Snowflake" beer project: RYE BOCK! Full-bodied and richly malty, with just a shade of spicy rye character, and now on tap!

All of my bitching about lagers to Scott has finally paid off. I wonder if he had some rye left over from this year's batch of Tippy Toboggan.
|| Palmer, 12:45 PM || link || (0) comments |

23 January, 2013

How Banksters Avoided Prosecution

A Frontline episode called "The Untouchables" which investigates why no executives of financial institutions responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis have not been prosecuted. Gee, Wall Street gives millions of dollars to Obama and lo and behold he comes out and says they did nothing illegal and no one goes to jail. Go figure.

Watch The Untouchables on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

|| Palmer, 8:45 AM || link || (0) comments |

More Proof the Terrorists Have Won

Here's how you know the terrorists have won: when a school deems a suggestion by a kindergartener to have a soap bubble shootin' match with a friend as a "terrorist threat".

A 5-year-old girl was suspended from school earlier this week after she made what the school called a “terrorist threat.”

Her weapon of choice? A small, Hello Kitty automatic bubble blower.

The kindergartner, who attends Mount Carmel Area Elementary School in Pennsylvania, caught administrators’ attention after suggesting she and a classmate should shoot each other with bubbles.

“I think people know how harmless a bubble is. It doesn’t hurt,” said Robin Ficker, an attorney for the girl’s family. According to Ficker, the girl, whose identity has not been released, didn’t even have the bubble gun toy with her at school.

The kindergartner was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation during her 10-day suspension, which was later reduced to two days. The evaluation deemed the girl normal and not a threat to others, Ficker said.
|| Palmer, 7:52 AM || link || (0) comments |

22 January, 2013

I'm a liberal and take no pride in Barack Obama

Dave Cieslewicz's recent blog post at The Daily Page - "I'm a liberal and still proud that Barack Obama is my president" - makes him sound like the poster boy for Chris Hedges' dead liberal class.

He spends an inordinate amount of time praising Obama for just being a swell guy.

We have a thoughtful and very intelligent president who thinks before he speaks, and speaks in complete English sentences that form coherent thoughts... But Barack Obama is a good and decent and intelligent man, cool-headed in a crisis, a man who loves his country, and is guiding it as best he can in polarized times and in a complex world.

Being thoughtful, intelligent, cool-headed, and country-loving doesn't make you an effective president. One can find these characteristics in some of the worst despots in history. If you're flat ass broke and living on the streets, you could argue that Obama's thoughtfulness and intelligence aren't worth a shit; similarly, if you're a sheep farmer on the other side of the globe and a U.S. drone blows your family to bits, words like "good" and "decent" are not likely the terms you would use to describe Barack Obama. This is all hagiographic BS.

Cieslewicz admits that Obama is not perfect and he's right – presidents can never be everything we hope for. But when you can donate thousands of dollars to a candidate's campaign or your industry donates millions, that candidate is a little more perfect for you than he is for the average person out there.

He goes on to list the president's accomplishments:

We have a president who has carefully wound down two wars, improved health coverage for millions of Americans, guided the economy back towards sustained growth, moved along with the nation toward complete inclusion of gays and lesbians, saved the American auto companies and their jobs, and generally (with the big exception of climate change) done right by our environment.

Sure, most of our troops left Iraq, but Obama did his darnedest to keep them there and we haven't left Iraq. And we haven't left Afghanistan yet either.

Cieslewicz conveniently didn't mention the perpetual war we are currently engaged in, what Tom Junod calls "The War that Obama Forgot".

In a speech delivered at Oxford, in England, Jeh Johnson, then the general counsel for the Department of Defense, stated unequivocally that “the United States government is in an armed conflict against Al Qaeda and associated forces, to which the laws of armed conflict apply.” He declared that “it is an unconventional war against an unconventional enemy,” but that “President Obama...has insisted that our efforts in pursuit of this enemy stay firmly rooted in conventional legal principles.” And he warned, at last, that “in the current conflict with Al Qaeda, I can offer no prediction about when this conflict will end, or whether we are, as Winston Churchill described it, near the ‘beginning of the end.’”

We've always been at war with Eastasia!

I sure hope the Affordable Care Act turns out OK. No doubt many will benefit from it. But what could have been had Obama not taken the single payer option off the table?

What does Cieslewicz mean with the comment about Obama having "guided the economy back towards sustained growth"? Heck, maybe he's right. But during his first term "Deep poverty reached its highest point on record" and in the afterglow of his victory in November of last year CBS noted "U.S. Poverty Rate Spikes". If the correlation between retail sales and employment continues, then the "jobs market is heading south" soon. The strength or weakness of the economy is due to many factors, many being out of the president's control. But if Cieslewicz wants to credit Obama with guiding the economy towards sustained growth, then Obama also deserves credit for guiding millions of Americans into poverty.

Obama should be commended for saying in his inaugural address "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," but this very day White House Press Secretary Jay Carney admonished the hopeful not to look to Obama for action because he "still thinks gay marriage is a state issue". Apparently Obama will talk the talk but not do much more than that.

As for the auto industry bailout, it sounds good but we taxpayers aren't off the hook. If you won't read the article for yourself then let me give you this quote: "In short, the bailout has merely kicked the GM can down the road and left taxpayers to pick up the tens of billions in bills."

From what I've read, Obama has a pretty good environmental record except for the really fucking big exception of climate change.

Our former mayor paraphrases MLK by writing, "the long arc of this administration is toward progress and toward justice." What progress and justice for whom? I found this statement distasteful. MLK chastized "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift" while Obama is keen on spending $1.2 trillion on "national security". As Glen Ford wrote in his piece "Don’t You Dare Conflate MLK and Obama":

Surely, the Dr. King who, in his 1967 “Where Do We Go from Here” speech called for a guaranteed annual income would never have abided Obama’s targeting of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the weeks before his 2009 inauguration. Forty-five years ago, King’s position was clear: “Our emphasis must be twofold: We must create full employment, or we must create incomes.” The very notion of a grand austerity bargain with the Right would have been anathema to MLK.

Contrast the perpetual war Obama champions with MLK's statement that the United States is "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" and one which extols "the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long". Now, I never met Dr. King and I've only read a couple of his speeches but I just don't see him lauding most of Barack Obama's foreign policy.

What would Dr. King say about the justice system that Obama's cronies, including Eric Holder, have created wherein we lock up people for drug possession and throw innocent people into Gitmo while the banksters roam free, absolved from helping to bring the world economy to its knees. Look at the HSBC settlement. A bank that laundered drug money and dealt with clients that had terrorist ties gets a slap on the wrist – a pittance of a fine. And those poor bank executives have to partially defer their bonuses.

So the executives who spent a decade laundering billions of dollars will have to partially defer their bonuses during the five-year deferred prosecution agreement? Are you fucking kidding me? That's the punishment? The government's negotiators couldn't hold firm on forcing HSBC officials to completely wait to receive their ill-gotten bonuses?

Wall Street executives are now basically above the law thanks, in large part, to Obama. This is the Obama administration's march toward justice? Instances of gross malfeasance on the part of bankers goes virtually unpunished and taxpayers bail the banks out. Perhaps this is what Cieslewicz meant by the president guiding us towards sustained economic growth. Add in telecoms receiving retroactive immunity for their crimes. Torture? Eric Holder refuses to hold anyone accountable. The War on Drugs which is decimating black communities around the country. Would Dr. King recognize a candidate who pledged the most transparent administration ever and then turns around only to maintain a secret kill list and assassinates American citizens without due process as someone who moves justice forward? Cieslewicz has the gall to see all of this (and more) and call it justice invoking Dr. King all the while?

Cieslewicz's post ends with him saying he's proud that Obama is his president. Pride is an interesting word because it is a selfish word. It's not the act of feeling good because you recognize the goodness in others; it's feeling good about oneself because you see yourself reflected in the actions of others. It's a narcissitic sense of satisfaction. This is perhaps the reason Cieslewicz called Obama intelligent twice. Instead of taking a long, hard look in the mirror and seeing the cruel “justice” meted out by our Hellfire missiles, the growing poverty and widening income gap, the new African front of Obama's perpetual war, &c., Cieslewicz looks to find what he wants to see.
|| Palmer, 9:22 PM || link || (0) comments |

Former L.A. Archbishop & Cronies Helped Paedophile Priests Escape Justic

I am shocked, SHOCKED! to read that Catholic officials in Los Angeles covered for paedophile priests.

Two Catholic Church officials in California plotted to conceal child molestation by priests from law enforcement as late as 1987, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday, citing newly released internal Church records.

The records show that Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, who is now retired, and his top adviser on child sex abuse cases, Monsignor Thomas Curry, worked with other Church officials in 1987 to send priests accused of abuse out of state to avoid prosecution, the newspaper said.

Mahony and Curry also tried to keep pedophile priests from confessing to therapists who would be obligated to report the crimes, the newspaper said, citing the records, which were released on Los Angeles Times' website.

|| Palmer, 1:27 PM || link || (0) comments |

Beware the Sundance Site

Sundance Cinemas' website is being flagged as a source of malware/viruses by Firefox.

Internet Explorer's SmartScreen filter, however, doesn't give any warning.
|| Palmer, 8:43 AM || link || (0) comments |

18 January, 2013

The Hobbit in Glorious 48 FPS

Before seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey I'd read mixed reviews and a lot of panning of Peter Jackson's decision to go High Frame Rate. Ergo I saw the 3D HFR version to judge for myself. I thoroughly enjoyed Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies and I expected to be entertained here.

The Hobbit was published in 1937 and is a tale for kids. It features the adventures of Bilbo Baggins who teams up with the King Thorin and his band of merry dwarves who are keen on getting back their treasure at Lonely Mountain which the dragon Smaug claimed in a rampage of death and destruction. Oh, and Gandalf is along to help too. I read the book back in 1985 and have very little recollection of the plot's details so I can't bore you here with a book vs. film smackdown.

Instead I will say that I was genuinely entertained by Jackson's take on the venerable story. Ian Holm reprises his role as Bilbo in his twilight years for the film's opening. Bilbo begins writing an account of his adventures for his nephew Frodo, who briefly appears here. Then the movie's prologue switches gears and gives us the backstory of how Smaug crushed the dwarven stronghold at Lonely Mountain, saw the dwarves driven before him, and then heard the lamentations of their women.

The story begins proper with the younger Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman, being approached by Gandalf to help Thorin on his quest, by taking on the mantle of "burglar". Bilbo refuses as he is very happy leading a quiet life of eating and contemplation in the Shire, thank you. Gandalf attempts to get Bilbo to reconsider by having Thorin and his gang show up at Bilbo's home for some merry making. Still, the hobbit is unmoved and it is only the next day that he changes his mind and is off on the adventure of a lifetime.

From here there is an encounter with trolls and a stop at Rivendell where Elrond uncovers more text on Gandalf's map and a council is held featuring Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman. The party wanders the Misty Mountains and, in avoiding the game of stone giants, end up in a goblin keep. Plus they encounter Radagast as played by Sylvester McCoy who was the star of Doctor Who in the late 80s.

Being a fan of McCoy's, I was keen to see what he brought to the film. It was an inspired bit of casting. Regardless of how Tolkien envisioned the brown wizard, McCoy plays him as a crazy wizard uncle with slightl manic tendencies who is completely preoccupied by nature in all its incarnations and has a sled drawn by rabbits. I have only one complaint about him. Radagast is Gandalf's equal; they are two of a handful of wizards sent to Earth by the demiurge to assist in the fight against Sauron. Having his hair full of bird shit seemed inappropriate to me. The guy is a very powerful being and that seemed like a puerile joke to appeal to children more than anything to me. But McCoy is a great actor and moves beyond this. His mood turns serious when confronting the evil in the forest and the presence of the Necromancer and he proves heroic when he tries to lure a band of orcs away from Bilbo and company.

The childish humor returns as our heroes escape from the goblin stronghold. The party falls down a shaft after having killed the goblin chieftain only to have the latter's corpse fall on top of them. While this no doubt appeals to 10-year olds, I found it overly cartoonish. I would also add that our heroes do a lot of falling down into deep caverns and emerge with nary a scratch. And then there are the trolls who sneeze into their dinner giving nary a thought. I can't recall how the trolls were characterized in the book but, again, just a little too far over on the childish side for me.

Despite these missteps, I simply had a good time at the cinema. Jackson's special effects crew again did a magnificent job bringing Middle Earth to life on the screen. The battles and chase scenes are exciting and the story is peppered with bits of comic relief, not all of it childish. The Hobbit is just a grand old adventure. I also must credit the filmmakers with a wonderful ability to shift from light-hearted moments to very serious ones seamlessly. I liked how the movie changed tone and did so in a way that felt natural. For example, Radagast is the absent-minded professor one minute and the next he is dealing with a pall being cast over the forest yet the change in tone doesn't feel abrupt or forced. And Gollum's appearance was most welcome. He is a great character who is pathetic and fear-inducing at the same time. The scene here is fantastic. It's slow moving in contrast to the battle raging above and the mixed emotions evoked for Gollum also contrast with the good and evil, black and white ethos of the story.

Lastly I want to say that the high frame rate was wonderful. I liked how the images were sharper and more realistic. Scenes with people running seemed like they were sped up at first but I got used to it. Personally, the HFR just felt like another visual style. Some movies desaturate colors to achieve a certain look or favor a particular color palette, for example. Film noir is characterized by the use of shadows. HFR is just another technique in a cinematographer's kit bag to achieve a distinct visual style. The 3D seemed to complement the heightened realism well.

Who, if anyone, will take up the HFR challenge next?
|| Palmer, 3:34 PM || link || (0) comments |

13 January, 2013

Cloud Atlas: The Movie

Having read David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas I was keen on seeing the film adaptation. The novel is fairly sizable and a relatively difficult read so I thought it would be interesting to see how it translated to the big screen. I must admit to some hesitation because, although I like Tom Tykwer, the Wachowskis give me pause as I think The Matrix films were just awful.

Cloud Atlas in both its incarnations tells six stories. The first is of Adam Ewing and takes place in the 19th century as he sails from the Chatham Islands back to San Francisco. Robert Frobisher is the protagonist in the second. It takes place in the 1930s as the young man becomes the amanuensis to an aging composer. Next we shoot forward to the 1970s as Luisa Rey investigates a nuclear power plant and claims by whistleblowers that it's unsafe and was at risk of a meltdown. In the present day Timothy Cavendish is hoodwinked into checking himself into a nursing home by his own brother. The penultimate tale is of Sonmi~451, a clone who, like all her kind, performs menial labor in the Seoul of the distant future. Lastly we have the post-apocalyptic story of Zachry, who speaks in a broken English dialect, as he deals with the brutish Kona and helps the lovely Meronym who hails from a distant land. In the book, each story is bifurcated and presented in ascending then descending chronological order so it goes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The film intercuts amongst all the stories constantly.

Cloud Atlas is about the horrors we humans visit upon one another which is illustrated through time and space. Slavery is present in most of the stories, for example. Here various actors play multiple roles to illustrate continuity in humanity plus there is the comet-like birthmark which appears in the book. But it's also about working to let the better angels of our nature shine through and to build a better future through our good deeds.

Unfortunately the movie is a bit ham-fisted when it comes to all of this. The book demonstrated the continuity of human nature with the variety of times and settings of the story plus the birthmark, which is referenced but is not a major issue, and the fact that characters from the previous story are referenced in the succeeding one. Tykwer and the Wachowskis take this many steps further by having actors play multiple characters and it really felt like I was being hit over the head. Hugo Weaving is the baddie in each story and I can definitely see merit in having him reappear to perhaps emphasize the unchanging nature of evil or constant moral challenges it presents but having a dozen or more actors do the same was more novelty than anything.

In moving from page to screen things are going to get lost but, overall, the movie did a good job of retaining important elements. Some instances of cruelty were lost (that the Kona take Zachry's people as slaves was omitted as was the history of the Chathams involving the Maori committing genocide on the Moriori) and I remain ambivalent about that but it certainly doesn't diminish the film because it portrays plenty of evil. However, I do feel that Frobisher got short shrift here. His story and that of Timothy Cavendish expose human bondage on a more personal level. They don't involve one group of people enslaving or killing another group. These two stories are more intimate. Cavendish's provides some welcome comic relief which leaves Frobisher's to really bring the broad thematic concerns of the story as a whole down to an individual level. The movie just doesn't develop Frobisher enough and it wasn't able to endow the conflict between him and the composer Vyvyan Ayrs with an emotional impact. It merely skimmed the surface instead of portraying the Gordian knot that the pair had gotten themselves into.

These complaints are fairly minor in contrast to how the filmmakers changed the ending of the story for their version. The novel ends with Ewing vowing to become an abolitionist. The story has come full circle. It has shown that man's cruelty to man goes far back in time but this denouement also demonstrates that kindness and hope for a better future are just as old as the evils they seek to counter. It's a continuous struggle. On the other hand, the movie finishes with the aged Zachry having shacked up with Meronym and found peace. Black and white together in harmony. This felt like a tacked on happy ending and, frankly, I think it betrayed the rest of the film. It cheapened that which came before. The movie spends nearly three hours meditating on the struggle in each of us to be good to our fellow human beings and how the small triumphs of individuals can add up to an ocean of goodness and then we finish with Zachry and Meronym having found happiness, not by being part of a larger movement of change, but rather by fleeing the Kona – fleeing the struggle.

This is a real shame because I felt the film up to this point was very good on the whole and was a genuine exploration of a very deep and troubling part of our humanity and then it devolves into cheap sentimentality.

The ending aside, Cloud Atlas is a whole lot of food for thought wrapped up in great acting, seamless SFX, and some very clever make-up. Trying to pinpoint which actor is playing whom is really a red herring. While a lengthy film, Tykwer and the Wachowskis did a nice job of keeping the plots on course. Sure, I have my gripes, but the filmmakers deserve credit for having made an artful and, more importantly, a sincere film. The novel wasn't dumbed down in translation nor was it stripped down to a mere skeleton upon which cliched Hollywood sex and violence could be laid.
|| Palmer, 6:24 PM || link || (0) comments |

11 January, 2013

Fewer Charlatans on State Street

The humorously named forum topic "Psychic Gallery closed, who could have seen this coming?" has the good news. The Psychic Gallery is no more. CCAP shows that Janet Merino and husband Teddy Stevens were sued in small claims court and their business evicted. I have wondered how the joint managed to stay in business with a spot right off The Square that had limited hours and figured they must have been engaged in some nefarious activities.

Apparently Merino has returned to California. She must have left Madison in a hurry as the forum poster writes "The sign on the door says entry is forbidden, the business is considered abandoned, and the contents are being held by the property manager." Since Merino threatened to sue me, I am happy to see her business shuttered and her person out of Madison. Good riddance.
|| Palmer, 2:38 PM || link || (2) comments |

"Death of a Prisoner"

This is heart-wrenching and infuriating at the same time.

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif recently died in solitary confinement at Guantánamo at age 36, after nearly 11 years of imprisonment there, despite never having been charged with a crime. Last month his body was returned to his family in Yemen, but we are left with many unanswered questions about his imprisonment and death.

So we kidnap this guy, throw him in Gitmo until he dies without ever charging him with a crime, and then wait until his body has decomposed significantly before sending his remains back to his family. When I was a kid, this is the kind of stuff the Soviet Union did and Americans pointed this out to differentiate ourselves from them. Now that difference is getting more and more blurry with Gitmo becoming our very own gulag.

|| Palmer, 1:35 PM || link || (0) comments |

Christian Homophobe Douchebag Busted for Making Child Porn

Lisa Biron is a homophobic Christian lawyer who did pro bono work for the Alliance Defense Fund, a group that Right Wing Watch says wants to expose the "homosexual agenda", amongst other stupidities. Well, her agenda was recently exposed and now she's going to jail for producing child pornography.

A Manchester lawyer has been found guilty of exploiting a 14-year-old girl to produce child pornography, The Associated Press reported. Lisa Biron, 43, was accused of videotaping the girl having sex with two men. Biron faced eight federal indictments on charges of child sexual exploitation, transporting a child across state lines to produce child pornography and possession of child pornography, and was convicted on all of them after the jury deliberated for less than an hour.

But wait! It gets worse. The AP reports that the girl in question is Biron's own daughter.

As jurors watched recordings of various sexual encounters, the defendant averted her eyes from the laptop screen in front of her and dropped her head into one hand.

The final video, prosecutors said, depicted the defendant having oral sex with her daughter.

At least someone had a conscience in all of this:

Brandon Ore, of Lebanon, testified he met the mother and daughter after responding to a personals ad placed by “two girls, 18 and 33, looking to party.” He ultimately moved in with them in July 2012, and said it was weeks later that he learned they were mother and daughter, and that the girl was 14.

He moved out two months later and turned himself in to police, triggering the lawyer’s arrest.

I can't imagine the cognitive dissonance in this woman's head from, on one hand working against equal rights for the LGBT community and then turning around and having sex with her own daughter. And she's a Christian to boot. So much for that moral compass that religion is supposed to provide.
|| Palmer, 10:34 AM || link || (0) comments |

Sad Stores from the War on Drugs

Radley Balko has a couple disturbing stories from the front lines of our national disgrace, The War on Drugs. The first of these at least didn't result in anyone's death.

A man says Vernal police disrupted an intimate moment of mourning with his deceased wife of 58 years when they searched his house for her prescription medication without a warrant within minutes of her death.

Barbara Alice Mahaffey died of colon cancer in her bedroom last May. Ben D. Mahaffey, 80, said he was distraught and trying to make sure his wife's body would be taken to the funeral home with dignity, when he says officers insisted he help them look for the drugs.

Barbara Mahaffey died at 12:35 a.m. with Mahaffey, a Navy medic in the Korean War, and his friend, an EMT, at her side. In addition to police, a mortician and a hospice worker arrived at the home about 12:45 a.m., Mahaffey said. He said he doesn't know how police came to be there.

"I was indignant to think you can't even have a private moment. All these people were there and they're not concerned about her or me. They're concerned about the damn drugs. Isn't that something?" Mahaffey said.

Mahaffey said he was treated as if he were going to sell the painkillers, which included OxyContin, oxycodone and morphine, on the street.

Just a few minutes after his wife dies, police walk into his house uninvited assuming all the while that he has been transformed into a drug dealer. Way to serve the public. You can bet your sweet ass that if Mahaffey was a cop, the simple courtesy of not raiding his house for drugs would certainly have been extended to him.

Here's a TV news story about the incident and the resulting lawsuit.

The second incident is much more disturbing and claimed another victim in our War on Drugs.

The victim in this case is Jamie Lynn Russell.

Her death came just hours after she went to the hospital seeking help for severe abdominal pain.

“Jamie was seeking help; she was in extreme pain,” family friend Kemper Kimberlin said.

Hospital staff reported Jamie wouldn’t cooperate, in too much pain to even lie down, so employees asked a Pauls Valley police officer to assist.

Unfortunately, when police found two prescription pills that didn’t belong to Jamie, police took her to jail for drug possession.

That’s where Jamie sat for less than two hours before being found unresponsive.

“There is nothing my staff in the jail could’ve done differently,” Garvin County sheriff Larry Rhodes said.

Sheriff Rhodes points out the hospital staff authorized Jamie’s release to their custody.

“She had a medical release from the hospital stating that she was fit for incarceration,” Rhodes said.

The state medical examiner’s office confirms Jamie died from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, where an embryo implants outside the uterus.

Two pills in pocket cost this woman her life. Confined to a cage in extreme agony to die. Seems like both the police and hospital staff are to blame here. Why would a doctor give the OK to haul a woman off to jail who was in such pain that she couldn't even lie down and why would a police officer want to do so? Why not wait until an obviously serious medical condition is brought under control first? That sheriff sounds like a real douchebag. Your staff could have sought out medical treatment - what the hell is this guy talking about? Too bad the reporter had no interest in challenging all the stupidity on display here. He should have asked the sheriff why a woman in such pain was brought to the jail and left alone. A camera should have been shoved in front of the doctor who allowed the woman to be carted off or, at least, a hospital administrator to answer for such incredibly poor judgment.

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

09 January, 2013

A Beer for Winter, A Beer for Summer

Here's a winter brew to keep your eyes peeled for when you're in Chicago.

Go the the brewery's website and look at the stuff. It just radiates tastiness.

When I'm in Chicago during the summer, I look for 5 Lizard but never seem to find it. Where is it hidden? For some reason the northwest side and the western/northwestern suburbs are completely bereft of the stuff. And so I'll try to find this:

This is the latest limited edition Tap X offering from G. Schneider & Sohn. The label says:

A summery sparkling wheat beer specialty with fruity notes. The special new hops aroma leaves a minty feeling on your palate. This hand crafted wheat beer pairs extremely well with light summery dishes, with fish and mild cheeses.

Now, these Tap X brews I can find easily enough in Chicago. (How is it that limited edition beers from Germany are simple to find in ChiTown while a beer brewed there on the south side eludes me?) I've got a bottle of Mein Nelson Sauvin and Mein Cuvée Barrique in my cellar.

I'd also like to stock up on Berliner Weissbiers from Chicago's Pipeworks Brewing for summer. They just came out with a cranberry version.


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

Doing My Part for the Economy

My old couch was falling apart so it was replaced with this puppy:

Apparently January is the month to buy furniture as the new models ship to stores in February. I took a wee nap on it last night and I can vouch for its high comfort rating. I'll be in the lap of luxury during my Doctor Who marathons.

While I didn't really make any New Year's resolutions, I did vow to rid myself of my cookware with its flaking Teflon. Here's my new Dutch oven with black eyed peas soaking for Hoppin' John.

Now where's a good place to buy anodized aluminum cookware?
|| Palmer, 3:59 PM || link || (0) comments |

Dane County: Wisconsin's Lynching Capital

I found this map made by the Tuskegee Institute showing lynchings in the United States between the years 1900-1931. Oddly enough, there was one in Dane County.

What a dubious distinction. One lynching in the whole state and it was here in Dane County. (Waukesha County didn't go all conservative until later in the century.) I wonder what the story behind it is. Looks like I shall have to investigate.

UPDATE: According to Michael J. Pfeiffer on page 17 of his book Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society 1847-1947 Dane County was framed. He notes, "The lynching displayed in Dane County, Wisconsin, erroneously represents an incident that occurred in Madison, West Virginia, rather than Madison, Wisconsin." This perhaps refers to Frank Brown, murdered on 4 February 1903.
|| Palmer, 2:14 PM || link || (0) comments |

08 January, 2013

Since When Is Madison Not Desirable for New Construction?

I didn't know it but Madison's reputation as being an undesirable place for new construction goes beyond southern Wisconsin.

I read the following in an article about a couple developers taking on Philadelphia's pugnacious trade unions:

A 2008 report by Econsult found it to be unprofitable to build in most of Philadelphia, ranking it below even Madison, Wisconsin, as a desirable place for new construction.

You wouldn't think Madison has such a lousy reputation from all the new buildings under construction, though. There's construction at Bassett and Johnson, apartments going up near Monona Bay, more going up on the 700 block of East Washington, the Edgewater is being remodeled, and the city is actively pursuing bids to develop the 800 block of East Washington and Union Corners. The UW is always building something. I've only lived here about 22 years yet the Square and its environs have been transformed. Pinkney Street and Doty was developed in the 90s. That high rise at Mifflin and Wisconsin. A convention center. Miffland is getting new apartments. That high rise on King Street and the sardine can on Wilson. Plus that one at the end of South Hamilton. The Red Hotel by Camp Randall. The Old Sauk Business Park and that area on the west side. When I worked there in the late 90s, it was some office buildings, a Denny's, and a McDonalds. Now look at it. Plus the interstate is no longer a border for development. Drive east on Cottage Grove Road and see all the new houses and malls. Take a gander at all the buildings between Madison and Sun Prairie. Reiner Road now has an overpass.

For being so undesirable, there's no shortage of building construction here in Madison nor has there been for at least a couple decades.
|| Palmer, 10:44 AM || link || (0) comments |

07 January, 2013

John Sayles Q&A

A nice Q&A with director John Sayles from the annual convention of the American Historical Association. I haven't watched the whole thing but it's interesting so far. Sayles studied psychology in college and his movies are psychological investigations, of sorts.

|| Palmer, 4:32 PM || link || (0) comments |

Richard Rowley on Dirty Wars

Director Richard Rowley chats up his movie Dirty Wars in preparation for its screening at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The movie follows journalist Jeremy Scahill around as he investigates our undeclared wars. Expect lots of drones and friendly dictators propped up with our tax money.

|| Palmer, 4:23 PM || link || (0) comments |

04 January, 2013

Is Madison a Hipster Destination?

The Cap Times' crime blotter notes a fight that broke out at the Plan B nightclub on New Year's Eve. Of the five people mentioned in the story, three of them are from out of town. Indeed, they are all from out of state - Freeport, IL, Belvidere, IL, and South Bend, IN.

In another incident that night, a young woman from Batavia, IL was arrested.

I didn't think that folks from the Chicago area visited Madison that much. Maybe it was just because it was New Year's.

Reading about these incidents I was reminded of a comment at this post up at The Urbanophile. The topic is Milwaukee's place in the Chicago mega-city. One person, whom I presume is from the Chicago area, left this:

Milwaukee is the new cool getaway city for the Chicago hipster kids. Lakefront brewery, the bars and clubs, summer fests are a big attraction. So has become Madison, Wi. It seems every weekend I hear about somebodies trip to Wisconsin for beer, cheese, sausage, farmers markets, fishing, skiing, or just a change of pace from Chicago.

I don't hang out at places that denizens of Wicker Park and Bucktown would likely make a trip for so I haven't noticed this. Have any Madison locals out there experienced a surfeit of Chicago hipsters enjoying our fair burg?
|| Palmer, 4:30 PM || link || (6) comments |