Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Colion Noir dissects a Joe Rogan discussion on guns

Good commentary from Mr. Noir:

Alistair Williams: national treasure

God bless the Brits who still fight for freedom of thought and expression in an increasingly Orwellian country. I've blogged about Alistair Williams before; here he is again, talking about all sorts of topics from train toilets to gender studies:

quickie gyros

Gyros! The only real culinary compromise, here, is that I got lazy and used tortillas instead of a more substantial flatbread like a pita or naan (which is my usual go-to bread when I make gyros). So in order to make the tortilla experience a bit more pita-like, I pan-fried the bread after lightly painting it with a mixture of butter, olive oil, salt, paprika, and powdered garlic. Keeping the skillet on low-ish heat, I let the tortillas sizzle on the painted side for 70 seconds, flipped the rounds over, then let them sizzle another 45 seconds before removing them and stacking them on a different plate. What follows are step-by-step images of the build.

Put down your tzatziki and feta first:

Layer on your olives and cukes:

Add your 'maters:

Pile on some lovely, lovely meat:

Add lettuce and enjoy:

The meat and the tzatziki were all mine; the veggies were courtesy of Mother Nature, and the tortillas were pre-made. I'm rather proud of the meat and the tzatziki; both came out amazingly well. Now that I have a new method for making the lamb loaf, I think I'll be sticking to that method from now on. It'll certainly save me a lot of money: beef, which I normally use when making gyros, is very expensive in Korea. By using panko instead of beef, I've ended up with a much stronger lamb flavor. There's no going back now.

I ate two gyros this evening. The tortillas made them very light. I'll be serving the rest for lunch at the office tomorrow. I think it's just going to be me and one other coworker eating all this bounty: she's not on any particular diet right now, unlike my two male coworkers.

Babish takes on tiramisu

Below, we have Andrew Rea from Binging with Babish making the tiramisu from the movie "Superbad." (For those who don't know the show, Binging with Babish is a YouTube channel on which Andrew Rea replicates food seen on TV and in the movies. When the TV/movie versions of the food end up being awful, Rea re-styles them his way, improving them and making them more plausibly edible. Generally, he succeeds. Sometimes, though, he crashes and burns, as he did with carbonara.)

I hope my buddy Charles weighs in on this video because, years ago when we first met, he gave a fairly enthusiastic explanation of what constitutes a good and proper tiramisu in terms of structure, composition, and consistency. Charles and I had gone to an Italian restaurant called Puccini, and I recall ordering the tiramisu for dessert. Puccini's tiramisu was light and delicate; inferior tiramisus tend to be, as Charles put it thirteen years ago, "sturdy." It's safe to say that Puccini spoiled me when it comes to tiramisu, and I don't think I've had one since 2006 that was anywhere near as good as the one I'd had that evening.

So the memory of that experience definitely biased me as I watched the Babish video. Rea's final product, perhaps because he was replicating something from a movie, ended up looking, rather disappointingly, like the "sturdy" tiramisu that Charles had warned about. You'll note that Rea is able to slice his tiramisu like a pie. To me, that's a bad sign. I also think that Rea may have made certain choices, during the making of his tiramisu, that I might not have made. But as I said, I'd like to get Charles's opinion on this matter since he's more passionate about this topic than I am. Here's the video:

Was denkst du, mein Freund?

Styx with election commentary

Part 1 of Styx predicting a Trump win in 2020:

Part 2:

Styx on the folly of Michael Bloomberg possibly entering the presidential race:

Tim Pool on yet more media lying

It's shameless, and it never ends: the media are constantly lying, and they don't seem to care whether they get caught. Unfortunately, half the country remains addicted to this bullshit and won't read around more widely than their limited ambit of biased news sources. I talked with a liberal-leaning friend just the other day about the way California's major cities are turning into cesspits of feces and syringes, even mentioning the phone apps that now allow you to avoid feces- and syringe-dense areas of places like San Francisco. This was all news to my friend, who had heard about none of this. Liberals: do yourselves a favor and step outside your tight little bubble. Tim Pool is a fantastic gateway drug in that respect: he's a liberal like you, but he's committed to telling the truth and counteracting the left's constant lies. Would he be doing the same if it were the right that was constantly lying? I think he absolutely would, but as he stresses, it's the left that currently has a problem with telling the truth.

And given that the media overwhelmingly lean left...

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Instapundit on the shithole-ification of US universities

Sorry, but I have to quote this Instapundit entry in its entirety:

PATHETIC, BUT SADLY UNSURPRISING, BECAUSE ELITE HIGHER EDUCATION SUCKS: The Daily Northwestern Apologizes to Students for Reporting News That Triggered Them. A rousing “fuck you” would have been better, but today’s students lack the courage to stand up to idiocy and bullying from their peers. “Activist” should be treated as a synonym for “bullying idiot,” because, well, it actually is a synonym for bullying idiot.

Plus: “The piece must be read in its entirety to be believed. It sounds like parody—something The Babylon Bee would make up for a fake article mocking progressive deference to the hypersensitive.” Well, the Bee has gone from a parody site to America’s newspaper of record — because leftist activists are such bullying idiots that they’re basically beyond parody.

Also: “Is this what students at the country’s most prestigious journalism school are learning these days? That self-censorship is the paper’s best practice if someone is offended by what’s happening in the world?” Yes. That’s exactly what they’re learning there.

Related: Student Government Votes to Support Activists Who Think The Harvard Crimson Shouldn’t Even Quote ICE in Stories. Remember, “activist” is basically a synonym for bullying idiots, and “student government” is basically a synonym for idiots.

—Glenn Reynolds

I'm telling you: if I lived in the States and had kids in this era, I'd be home-schooling them and advising them to avoid college. Go find a decent trade school, learn to code—do anything but fill your head with the bullshit they're shoveling in these bullshit factories. People the world over flock to US universities because they think they're getting the best possible education. That may have been true in a different time and a different universe, but US university "education" is little more than a shameless scam these days. Even the hard sciences are being eroded from within by the intellectual rot that had been, until recently, confined to the humanities. Just think back to physicist Matt Taylor, who in 2014 had wanted to report his findings about a probe landing on a comet, but who got raked over the coals by screechy feminists for wearing a politically incorrect shirt designed by a female friend. And you thought the conservatives and their science-denialism were bad? Liberal cancel culture says, "Hold my beer. Here's how you cock-block scientific achievements."

lamb of God

The story of the ground lamb continues.

I had bought a kilo of lamb qeema (mince; it's apparently an Indian word, not Arabic) from the foreign-food mart, which is run by people who vary in look and style from Middle Eastern to South Asian. They sell certain meats for surprisingly cheap, lamb included. Lamb qeema is readily available, and since I had bought about a kilo of it and had used only a fistful for my Crotch pie, I had a ton left. I also had plenty of leftover Middle Eastern-style oil/butter seasoning, so I dumped almost 1.5 cups of that into the lamb mince... which was, of course, way too much to dump in there. But I was ready for that contingency: I also poured in a pile of panko crumbs, then mixed everything together into one, big, happy loaf. I stuffed the loaf into a large Ziploc bag, re-molded it into a pillowy, gyro-friendly rectangle, let the meat sit in the fridge for 30-40 minutes to allow the panko to hydrate and to absorb oil, then transferred the Ziploc bag into my freezer.

When I got home from work after swinging by a grocery store to buy gyro materials (except for the flatbread—I'll be going cheap and buying tortillas in the morning), I took out the now-frozen lamb loaf and sliced the lamb into thin strips for the purpose of pan-frying. When I normally make gyro meat, I use a 50-50 combination of lamb and beef, so I knew that this would be a bit of a departure. Some purists might shake their fingers at me for using a bread filler in my meat, but that only means I'm doing Amurrican-style gyros, whose meat also often contains cereal fillers. Don't sweat it: gyros aren't haute cuisine.

And what a surprise when I started cooking the meat! I really liked the flavor: with no beef getting in the way, and with the panko actually gentling and smoothing out the taste and texture of the lamb, the meat's deliciousness blew me away. I think I might do this from now on, whenever I might make gyros next. I had thrown the panko into the lamb qeema on purpose, but I didn't have a clear idea of what that might do to the final product. All I can say is wow. That was a happy accident, and the lamb was celestial.

So I've fried up all the meat. In the morning, I'll crumble the feta, shred the lettuce, slice the 'maters, then take everything along with me to work—meat and tzatziki (also awesome) included—where I'll buy tortillas and have myself some dang gyros for lunch. I might even invite my coworkers to join me, although most of them are on various diets right now in an attempt to avoid liver and intestinal issues. Their loss if they say no.

Monday, November 11, 2019

"Midsommar": the Wisecrack exegesis

For those who read my review of "Midsommar" and/or saw the film, the following Wisecrack video, which analyzes the movie's symbolism and underlying philosophy, might be of interest:

The exegesis does confirm my feeling that a lot of the movie was randomly cobbled together; the video notes that the actual Midsommar festival has nothing to do with cliff-jumping elders, weird sex rituals, drug use, and human sacrifice. That said, the video defends the filmmakers' attempts to inject symbolic meaning into the proceedings, noting that the director, Ari Aster, "did his homework" when he researched Nordic culture, especially regarding the use of runes and their cosmic significance. Interesting spiel, in all.

Happy Veterans Day

Enough said.

hot choco

Two Lindt 70% cacao bars. About a cup of Nutella. 600 ml of heavy cream, plus maybe 500 ml of whole milk. Take the remaining 400 ml of heavy cream, add one heaping soup spoon each of turbinado and table sugar, then whip until you have whipped cream. Heat chocolate mixture in a bain-marie. Stir occasionally. Once the chocolate is very warm, ladle into a cup or mug of your choosing and add a dollop of whipped cream. Perfection.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

the "Scotch" pie experiment

You might want to read the Wikipedia entry on Scotch pie before you continue with this post. The humble Scotch pie (or just "pie" in Scotland) is a favorite of hungry folks everywhere—the pie is popular in Scots-influenced Canada—who want a rib-sticking bite to eat during the halftime break of a football match (i.e., a soccer game). Normally made as a squat cylinder with a high rim to allow one to pour in something liquidy like baked beans or gravy, the Scotch pie itself is fairly unprepossessing, being made of a tough-yet-crumbly, hot-water-and-lard crust filled with lamb mince that has been simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg or mace. The resultant pie, after it has cooled down, is reminiscent of a thick hamburger patty encased in a pie shell, at least in terms of texture. Even the Scots admit the pie can be somewhat dry, hence the need to pour something on top to provide a bit of moisture.

I can't rightly call what I did a Scotch pie. I violated too many of the parameters from the get-go, so maybe I should call my creation a "Crotch pie" or something.

First, as you see below, I used a small Korean naembi instead of a proper tin or ramekin to make the pie. The naembi interior's bottom is curved, not flat, so there's one violation already. Secondly, I used my idiot-proof pie dough instead of the recommended hot-water-and-lard dough because I happened to have some of my dough lying around. So there's another violation. Thirdly, I seasoned my lamb mince with my Middle Eastern formula: olive oil, melted butter, cayenne, salt, pepper, sugar, dried parsley, dried basil, cumin, turmeric, powdered garlic, and powdered onion. I massaged all of that savory goodness into the lamb, then stuffed the pie shell with it. Lamb has its own natural fat, so I knew there was a chance the pie might come out greasy, but I was less focused on greasiness than on flavor: I wanted to avoid eating a boring pie. Still, that's another violation.

I had enough dough to make the main crust plus the top crust:

I did my best to tuck the top crust into the pie so as to create a "crater" into which one could pour gravy or something else that is moist. Another violation: I fork-crimped the inner edge of the pie, and I used—sacré bleu!—mayonnaise instead of a milk wash to paint the top surface. I did, however, put in a regulation vent:

Below, you can see that the "crater" all but disappeared as the top crust puffed high. This was another violation: by insisting on using my idiot-proof pie-crust recipe, and by rolling the dough a bit too thickly, I was unable to create the hollowed-out shape so familiar to the Scots:

That said, I thought the pie looked awesome on its own terms. I popped it out, and you can see, in the next picture, that the rounded bottom curved up and away from the plate:

Once the pie was cool enough, I split it open for the all-important cross-section:

The pie tasted amazing—much like a gyro, but without all the veggies, tzatziki, and other gyro-related elements. The crust was indeed greasy; a Scotch pie should be easy to hold in one hand without there being too much grease. But you know what? I didn't care. The fat added all sorts of flavor that wouldn't have been there had I listened to the ghosts of old Scottish cooks, and the meat was juicy. My pie definitely wasn't a Scotch pie, but it was pretty damn good.

Larry Elder on Syria

There's a lot of confusion and hypocrisy regarding Syria. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the situation, but Larry Elder thinks he sees the inconsistencies pretty clearly. I'm not sure I completely agree with Elder's assessment, but I need to study the situation more before I can comment at least semi-intelligently on it.

the turkey search will continue

I had thought about going out to Garak Market in search of ground turkey, or perhaps paying the Majang Meat Market a visit, but I've decided to hold off for now and visit either or both of those places later, either during the week or next weekend. Rest assured: I'm going to come back to my place with some sort of bird flesh.

coming soon

Watch the blog for photos of my own version of Scotch pie.* I was surprised to discover that I had a pie-sized lump of dough sitting in the freezer; I'd forgotten about it. I'll be using that dough to make my pie, which will be filled, per the Scottish imperative, with lamb mince. But instead of seasoning the meat with salt, pepper, and either mace or nutmeg, I'll be using my blend of Middle Eastern herbs and spices and fats (olive oil and butter), which ought to make for a much tastier experience. Sorry, Scotland.

I had tried to make hot chocolate at work on Friday, but I somehow managed to do the unthinkable: I burned the mixture (despite a very low flame and constant stirring) and ruined a very expensive amount of high-end dark chocolate, heavy cream, and Nutella.** So I'll be making an "I'm sorry" batch here at home to take to work for my colleagues tomorrow. One colleague, who has been saying no to everything I've made recently, claims he dislikes chocolate, so fuck him. More for the rest of us!

*According to Wikipedia, the Scots simply call this a "pie."

**I can already hear some of you saying, "Did you use a double boiler?" No, I didn't. Why? Because I've made hot chocolate this exact way before, and I'd never had a problem until now. But today, I'm doing the bain-marie. It's the only way to be sure.

worth a read

Here are some articles I think you'll find to be worth a read:

Mr. Machiavelli Headed For Big Win in Britain

The above article is about Boris Johnson and whatever Brexit-related strategy he has. Johnson also has to maneuver in order to maintain his grip on the UK government. Excerpt:

The United Kingdom election on December 12 will be of great importance to the Western world. The departure of Britain from the European Union will be like the secession of California from the United States, or British Columbia from Canada[:] a serious blow.

The return of the United Kingdom to close cooperation with the United States and Canada would enable three of the G7 countries to join forces, with a combined GDP of more than twice China’s — substantially greater than the continuing EU and with a better economic growth rate.

Such a shift will provide, though leftist commentators (who abound in swarms of Old Testament plague-proportions all over the Western world) will studiously deny it, a reliable [public-policy] barometer pointing away from fetishistic globalism toward realism in alliances, capitalist economics, and Anglo-American values generally.

Then there's this bit of ridiculousness:

Nolte: Snopes Confirms Dems Tried to Impeach Every Elected GOP President Since Eisenhower
The fake, far-left fact check site Snopes accidentally confirmed that Democrats have sought to impeach every elected Republican president since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Naturally, while confirming this, the garbage fire of fake news that is Snopes rated what is “mostly true” as “mostly false.”

The claim is: “Have Democrats Tried to Impeach Every GOP President Since Ike?”
Read the rest.

And lastly, I was reminded by Dr. Vallicella that it's been thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. 1989 was an incredible year: Tiananmen Square happened, the Berlin Wall fell (and I visited the Wall with several classmates because I was living and studying in Switzerland at the time), and the Romanian government collapsed when Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were put up against a wall and shot on Christmas. I was in France, sitting down to Christmas dinner, when the news about the Ceausescus came over the TV, and we saw their bodies. Powerful events. It felt reassuring to be in a place as stable as France, among friends and family. I had a hard time then, and still do now, imagining what it must have been like to be a Romanian citizen in the midst of all that turmoil.

Dr. V linked to the following article about the collapse of communism in Europe:

The fall of the Berlin Wall on this day 30 years ago was the most spectacular moment of the end of the Cold War, but in fact only represented the mid-point in the “last sad chapter” of this bizarre story, as Ronald Reagan once put it. The occasion of remembering the last day of the Wall is a fitting time to recall the broader sweep of events that surrounded it.

The specter that haunted America’s containment policy during the Cold War was the “domino theory”—the idea that one nation after another would succumb to Communist aggression or revolution. In 1989[,] the domino theory came true in reverse—nearly the entire Communist world fell almost in the blink of an eye. In 1983[,] Leszek Kolakowski had written that “Certainly in Poland or Czechoslovakia (or in Hungary)[,] Communism would fall apart within days without the Soviet threat.” The Captive Nations of Eastern Europe decided to test to Gorbachev’s pronouncement, made late in 1988, that the Brezhnev Doctrine was well and truly over. The Communist regimes didn’t have a chance.

All of the above-linked articles are worth your time. Each takes only a few minutes to read through. I just wrote the following email to a former student of mine who still keeps in touch with me despite being busy as a college freshman:
I was just reminded that the Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago today. I feel old. I was living and studying in Switzerland at the time during my junior year in college. A week after the Wall fell, a group of us students took a train to Berlin to see the Wall for ourselves. It was an incredible sight: ordinary citizens were out there with sledgehammers, destroying parts of the Wall. Other people were spray-painting graffiti messages of hope and optimism. German-style mulled wine was being sold close to Brandenburg Gate. Groups of people were dancing in celebration. Our gang walked around West Berlin... then we got the crazy idea to go into East Berlin. We passed through the then-famous Checkpoint Charlie; we were forced to exchange all our money for East German Ostmarks, which were cheap pieces of paper that felt like Monopoly money. Ostmark coins felt cheap, too, being made of a light, flimsy metal. East Berlin was spacious and seemingly empty; a bookstore had bookshelves with nothing on them except for some little red books—probably communist or socialist propaganda. We ate at an East Berliner restaurant: stringy fish and puny potatoes in a runny cream sauce. Lame and sad, but educational. There were plenty of open concrete spaces with muscular sculptures in them, all in praise of the working man. The whole thing was depressingly bleak. I hear that that area is much more lively and economically healthy now, three decades later. Let that be a lesson to you: whatever leftist garbage they might be teaching you in college, always remember that central planning never works as an economic system. It only leads to starvation, oppression, and death. Look at the two Koreas, one robust and healthy thanks to capitalism, one dying and on life support, begging for food, fuel, and money from China. I feel a pang whenever I think of the utterly unnecessary misery of North Korean citizens. Anyway, Berlin was 30 years ago today. Wow.

"Toy Story 4": review

"Toy Story 4" is a 2019 Pixar animated movie directed by Josh Cooley. The filmmakers have given mixed messages as to whether this movie will, at long last, be the final installment in the series. Actor Tom Hanks, who voices perennial protagonist Woody the cowboy, claims this is the final film in the series, but he has been contradicted by producer Mark Nielsen, who did not rule out the possibility of yet another film. Aside from Hanks, the film features the voice talents of Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Annie Potts (Bo Peep), Tony Hale (Forky), Keegan-Michael Key (Ducky), Jordan Peele (Bunny), Madeleine McGraw (Bonnie), Christina Hendricks (Gabby Gabby), Keanu Reeves (Duke Caboom, a Canadian version of Evel Knievel), Ally Maki (Giggle McDimples, Bo Peep's plucky sidekick), Jay Hernandez (Bonnie's dad), Lori Alan (Bonnie's mom), and Joan Cusack (Jessie the cowgirl).

The story establishes that Woody, who used to be Andy's toy, gets donated along with the rest of the toys to Bonnie, a little girl who is more interested in playing with other toys than Woody. Woody tries to make the best of things, but he feels depressed by his diminished status, for every toy's dream is to be there for some child. Woody sneaks into Bonnie's backpack on the day she has to go to school for kindergarten orientation, and he helps Bonnie find some art supplies. Bonnie ends up cobbling together a makeshift toy that she names Forky, who is little more than a crudely assembled humanoid with a spork body, glued-on plastic googly-eyes, a rubber-band mouth, popsicle-stick feet, and a long pipe cleaner serving as hands and arms. Now officially a toy, Forky springs to life and becomes conscious, but because he is a toy made from garbage, he thinks of himself as essentially trash to be thrown away, so for him, the ultimate fulfillment isn't about making kids happy: it's about finding the nearest wastebasket and jumping into it. Woody understands that Forky is actually a toy, not trash, and that Forky's duty is now to keep Bonnie happy. Much of the movie is devoted to Woody's attempts to persuade Forky to remain with Bonnie; he eventually has a breakthrough moment in which Forky finally comes to understand where his true obligations lie.

But life is complicated. Woody also pines for Bo Peep, who was donated to another child years ago. Through a series of misadventures thanks to a family road trip in a rented RV, Woody finds himself in a town with an antique shop where, to his surprise and delight, Bo Peep's old lamp is shining. Woody and Forky sneak inside the shop. Instead of finding Bo Peep, though, the two encounter the creepy antique doll Gabby Gabby, whose voice box is broken, and who yearns to have a kid of her own. Gabby notices that Woody's voice box is perfectly good; she tells Woody she intends to take it. When Woody escapes the antique shop, Gabby kidnaps Forky in an attempt to lure Woody back in. Further complicating matters, Gabby has minions: a team of Howdy Doody-like puppets that are even creepier than Gabby is. The Howdys (at least one is named Benson) either stand guard or do Gabby's bidding.

While Woody is gone, Buzz Lightyear goes searching for his cowboy friend, but he ends up being intercepted at a nearby carnival and placed on the wall as a prize to be won at a target-shooting game. Also hanging on the wall are two plush dolls: Bunny and Ducky. Bunny is the smart one, and Ducky is something akin to the parrot on the pirate's shoulder. The three contrive to escape their situation and end up finding Woody, who has finally reunited with Bo Peep. Bo, it turns out, is a "lost toy" who drives a hollowed-out, skunk-shaped vehicle along with her sidekick Giggle McDimples and her three fused-together sheep—Billy, Goat, and Gruff. Bo, independent for several years now, revels in not having a kid to make happy. She cherishes her life of freedom and strongly hints that Woody might enjoy such a life, too. Woody manages to persuade Bo to help him rescue Forky from the clutches of Gabby, and Bunny and Ducky throw in with the group. Bo recruits the help of Duke Caboom, Canadian stuntman and motorcyclist, and a heist is hatched as the group prepares to lay siege to the antique shop to exfil Forky.

I won't spoil how this tangled mess all works out, except to say that the ending somehow manages to be fairly touching. And thanks to some smart writing, the story resolves one of the major conflicts in the film: Woody's deep conviction that a toy's duty is to make children happy, and Bo Peep's equally strong conviction that a life of freedom is a life worth living. The resolution of this seemingly intractable conflict is cleverly accomplished; if only all screenwriting were this smart. "Toy Story 4" is one long series of pleasant surprises for people who, like yours truly, were cynically expecting the fourth movie in what was supposed to be a trilogy to be little more than a cynical cash grab. The voice actors really do dig into their parts; the animators really do bring their "A" game; and as mentioned, the screenwriters really do give us a story that's full of humor, suspense, cleverness, and genuine heart.

Keanu Reeves, whom I've never associated with voice acting, does a hilarious job as Duke Caboom, a conflicted toy who got disowned by his kid when the kid discovered that the real Caboom toy couldn't perform the jumps shown in the TV commercials. Reeves also gets a moment, during an ending-credits scene, to utter his trademark "Whoa." Key and Peele, as Ducky and Bunny respectively, have the comic responsibility of playing plush animals who drop into Walter Mitty-esque fugues in which they fantasize about ultraviolence. Christina Hendricks turns out to be the perfect choice to voice Gabby Gabby, a mean doll who ultimately only wants what most toys want: a kid to be with.

"Toy Story 4" also contains the requisite humor and themes for adults. One toy remarks that "time is a flat circle," a line now made famous and meme-worthy* by Matthew McConaughey, who played the rebel-philosopher cop Rustin Cohle in the very adult Season 1 of "True Detective." The movie also takes a mature approach to conflict: Woody and Bo Peep have deep differences of opinion about what constitutes a good life, but the conflict isn't made out to be between characters who are obviously good and obviously bad. Woody and Bo Peep might love each other, but they're individuals who have spent a long time apart, and who have evolved, each according to his or her own experiences. One mature theme the movie ponders is whether two people who have grown so far apart can ever come back together again. It's the sort of question that might come up in the real world between two people who were married, then divorced, then reconciled. Can love bloom again in such circumstances?

But the movie also provides an even deeper philosophical wrinkle to ponder, something not covered in the three previous films: the idea that a toy might renounce its toy-ness and yearn for independence. Up to now, the mythology in the Toy Story movies has never seriously questioned the notion that toys feel the greatest fulfillment when they're making kids happy. Now along comes a much-more-self-empowered and very feminist Bo Peep (who was absent from "Toy Story 3"), and her message to the world is that it can actually be more fun not to be attached to a kid. Viewed through the lens of Eastern philosophy, the movie is talking about the shackles of dharma—one's nature, or one's role in the greater scheme of things. I wrote about dharma in my review of "Wreck-It Ralph" five years ago; it's strange and a bit spooky to see this cosmic theme coming up again, and in very similar circumstances. In "Wreck-It Ralph," it's video-game characters whose job is to serve humans by keeping to their assigned roles (bad guy, good guy) in arcade games; in "Toy Story 4," it's toys whose job is to serve humans by being a source of fun and comfort for children. Bo Peep is in rebellion against her socially mandated dharma, having discovered that her individual dharma transcends the child-pleasing demands normally placed on toys. By taking the mythology in this new direction, "Toy Story 4" leans more heavily into the magical-realism aspect of the franchise: toys have inner lives, minds of their own, and may even possess the will to break free of an assumed social contract. Does Bo Peep's departure from a traditional role signal the beginning of a wider rebellion among all of toydom? If so, the franchise's presumed fifth film might go in a very weird and sinister direction that, to be frank, I find hard to imagine.

But there I go again: overthinking. "Toy Story 4" is enjoyable on its own terms and without considering its more arcane implications. The story it tells is full is warmth and heart, and if it is, in fact, the actual end of this franchise, then I'd say the series will have ended on a good note, having avoided all the possible traps awaiting fourth movies that appear after solid trilogies. My hat is off to the director, the writers, and to all the voice actors, as well as to the hardworking animators who have brought yet another grandiose adventure to life. "Toy Story 4" is definitely worth a watch. Recommended.

*The absolute best example of the time/circle meme is here.


I've shaved off the beard and gotten a haircut, so I now look halfway civilized again:

And a more honest angle:

pic from a stroll at work

Fall colors are finally coming in:

"You've fixed the barn door after the horse has come home."

At long last, the correct tee design for my now-finished walk is available on Teespring. For those of you who had some sort of decision-making disorder and failed to order tees while I was on my walk, I now have a new, improved design that shows the correct section of the Saejae Trail in brown (you might call the color "orange" or "tawny brown" according to how you see it; it's a laurel/yanny thing). The travel dates for the walk have also been modified to reflect the extra day I took, and on the tee's back, the phrase "in 28 days" has been changed to "in 29 days" (24 days' walking, 5 days' resting).

Click the huge image below to be taken to, where you can order yourself and your loved ones as many tee shirts as you have mobile devices.

Thank you in advance for your belated purchase.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

today's agenda

Today's agenda is simple enough:

1. Get a haircut.
2. Go out to Itaewon, track down ground turkey, and buy it.
3. Write up the walk blog's epilogue post.
4. Upload the updated tee-shirt design, with dates and map corrected.
5. Write review of "Toy Story 4."

UPDATE: haircut was successful. Partial failure in Itaewon: I visited the two neighboring foreign-food marts in search of ground turkey, and I came away with ground lamb,* which I'll use tomorrow when I make my version of Scotch pie. I'll see, tomorrow, whether Garak Market has any turkey. If I can't find turkey anywhere, I'll default to chicken. Both food marts in Itaewon sell huge packs of raw chicken breast for very cheap, and I can use my food processor to grind the meat. One way or another, burdz will be on the menu, baby.

*I also came away with bleached almond flour from the second foreign-food mart. Finding that was a huge surprise. I have almond flour already, for keto recipes, but it's the coarse-ground kind, where they don't peel the almonds before grinding them. Bleached almond flour is, practically speaking, much better for keto recipes.

cool sculpture of the latest Terminator

Korean artist sculpts Arnold's latest, old-looking Terminator:

From what I've heard about how bad the newest Terminator film is, this sculpture video is probably far more entertaining than the movie. I admit I'm also fascinated by how this 3D printer works. (Read about types of 3D printers here.)

Friday, November 08, 2019

Colion Noir on the recent massacre in Mexico


Pragmatism forces me to admit what pride would want me to deny: as much as I love New Balance as a brand, my New Balance walking shoes were a big cause of the pain I suffered during this most recent trans-Korea walk. Armed, now, with the vocabulary of the "wide toe box," I can now scour the internet in search of shoes designed for people in my situation. And mirabile dictu, I've found many candidates, spanning many different brands (including my beloved New Balance). The only problem is that all of these walking/hiking shoes are priced in the $130-$140 range, which is twice as much as I've ever paid for a pair of shoes. Still, it might be worth it to buy an expensive pair: the Good Lord gave us only two feet, so it's up to us to maintain and nurture this gift. As much as I had groused about cutting off my pinky toes, I don't actually want to lose any toes: I'd much rather buy bigger, more comfortable shoes that don't painfully scrunch my digits like sardines.

I'll be starting up my walking regimen again next week; it's been a good two weeks of resting, and I'm itching to get out and walk again before I fatten up too extremely. In the meantime, I'll likely bite the bullet and buy myself a new pair of walking/hiking gunboats for my size 12EEEE feet. I've got my fingers crossed in the hopes that a new pair of shoes will go a long way to solving the toe-crunch problem. More news on this as it happens.

unnecessary commas

Saw this over at Instapundit:

But perhaps the one trait O’Rourke and Abrams have most in common, is how they are more interested in running for higher office [than in serving] their own communities. Their respective campaigns both failed, and as a rule of thumb, the two should try to win a state-wide election, before running in a national election.
Two of the four commas in the above blockquote are unnecessary. Which ones are unnecessary... and why?

It's time to get back to writing about commas. A quick review of what's already been written:*

Commas, Part 1
Commas, Part 2
Comma Usage: An Aside

*I've actually blogged a lot about commas, but these are only the most recent posts.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

the collapse of my home state

Thanks to the results of the recent special elections, my home state of Virginia has gone from reddish to purple to thoroughly blue.

Message from Virginia: Blue states emerge from expanding federal governments

My home county, Fairfax, is shithole-ifying as well (h/t to Bill Keezer):

Fairfax County, Virginia, Presents Dire Warning to America

Things are only going to get worse. I'm contemplating an eventual move back to the States, but if Virginia is going down the toilet (one article, which I now can't find, half-jokingly predicted that, twenty years from now, people will be fleeing Virginia in droves, the way they're currently fleeing California), maybe I will think about moving to Wyoming.

"Hobbs & Shaw": two-paragraph review

There's really no need to devote much space to a review of a piece of fluff like 2019's "Hobbs & Shaw," a spinoff of the Fast and Furious series of movies featuring latecomers Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw. The plot revolves around a deadly engineered virus called Snowflake, which MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby, a.k.a Tom Cruise's current girlfriend) has, in desperation, injected into herself in an effort to keep the pathogen away from Eteon, a globe-spanning organization intent on killing "weaker" humans and replacing them with technologically enhanced ones. Among the enhanced is Idris Elba's Brixton Lore, who had served with Shaw back in the old days, and whom Shaw had seemingly killed when Lore went rogue. Lore is now, as he terms himself, "black Superman" thanks to the enhancements he has received from Eteon, and he is leading the operation to recover the Snowflake virus from Hattie. Eteon controls the world's media, so along with making Hattie appear to have killed her fellow MI6 operatives, the organization turns Hobbs and Shaw into pariahs as well. With a bitter history going back to previous films, Hobbs and Shaw already hate the idea of working with each other, but because Hattie is Shaw's sister, and because Hobbs is slowly becoming sweet on Hattie, the three of them must learn how to work together to extract the as-yet-inactive virus from Hattie's body and get it locked down before Eteon can grab Hattie and take it from her by force.

This action-comedy is a throwback to the big, dumb action-comedies of the 1980s, like "Commando" and "Lethal Weapon," and even "Tango and Cash." The movie doesn't take itself even a bit seriously; the humor is cringe-inducing, yet hilarious precisely because it's so cringe-y. The major character beats are all predictable: of course Hobbs and Shaw will start off as rivals/enemies and end up friends (well, friends who rather cruelly prank each other*). The fight choreography is a major step backward from the super-vicious, krav-maga-style hand-to-hand combat that filmmakers favor these days, with Dwayne Johnson ungracefully fighting like a reborn Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jason Statham fighting as if he were in an old-school Hong Kong actioner. The vehicle-related action sequences that are the bread and butter of all the Fast and Furious movies are, as you might expect, cartoonishly oblivious to the workings of actual physics: just switch your brain off and enjoy the mayhem. Johnson and Statham radiate good bromantic chemistry, and despite how utterly stupid the movie was from the get-go, I had a big smile on my face even as early as the film's first ten minutes. Idris Elba as Brixton Lore—a supervillain in his own right as well as a pawn of Eteon—makes for an impressively capable bad guy, and I loved his character's enhanced motorcycle, which could act autonomously, and which reminded me of a faithful dog, nimbly following its master around. Director David Leitch also helmed "Deadpool 2"; he's a very competent action director and storyteller, although this movie doesn't really have much of a story to tell. There's a third-reel sequence that takes place in Samoa and gives Dwayne Johnson a chance to bare and flex his mighty chesticles while stamping out the Samoan version of a haka; the scene is corny and derivative, but it works within the silly context of the film. I do have to give the movie credit for defying one of my predictions: I was sure that Ryan Reynolds's character (Reynolds has a cameo along with Kevin Hart; both bring teh funneh) was going to turn out to be the Eteon bigwig. I was wrong, and that's a good thing. As long as you go into this film with an 80s-action mindset, you'll like almost everything about it. If, however, you're looking for a real story and for Daniel Day Lewis-level acting, give this one a pass.

*Shaw gives Hobbs a fake ID with the name Mike Oxmaul (say it out loud). Hobbs later returns the favor by calling the police on Shaw, but he deliberately misidentifies him as Hugh Janus (again, say it out loud, pronouncing "Janus" as "jey-niss").

sounds about right

Liberal college students can't name one Democratic accomplishment.

And since we're trafficking in ironies, how about "Gun-control Activist Shoots, Kills Her 3 Children and Herself"?

Put that one right up alongside such hypocrisy-laden gems as "Anti-gun Celebrity Travels with Armed Bodyguards." (I made the title up, but there are tons of articles decrying this very problem. Click the above link for one example of what I'm talking about.)

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Tim Pool regains his form

"I don't know if journalism will come back, but it's been gone a long time."
—Tim Pool

Alt-media commentators have been waiting eagerly for the latest revelation from Project Veritas, the investigative-news service run by James O'Keefe, whom alt sources hail as one of the few real journalists working today, and whom the left excoriates as a mere rightie troll who doctors his stories through cleverly edited video footage. Watch Pool's video on the Veritas release, which gets into how deep and wide the Jeffrey Epstein scandal actually extends:

Pool is right to excoriate ABC News for hypocritically talking about having journalistic "standards" when it so obviously runs baseless accusations against people like President Trump and Brett Kavanaugh. The mainstream media have no integrity. Fuck them all.

"Journalism is dead":

"The Farewell": review

2019's "The Farewell" is directed by Lulu Wang and stars Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, and Zhao Shuzhen. This is a family-oriented dramedy about a 30-year-old Chinese-American New Yorker named Billi Wang (Awkwafina) who has a close relationship with her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao). Nai Nai still lives in Changchung, China; she and Billi keep in touch by phone. Billi is an aspiring writer looking to receive a Guggenheim fellowship to fund her projects, but her general lack of success in life has made her a drag on her parents, father Haiyan (Ma) and mother Jian (Lin). Still unmarried, Billi is fulfilling neither the American dream nor the Chinese dream. Meanwhile, Nai Nai is scanned and diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, but it's her equally elderly sister who speaks with the doctors about the situation and keeps the truth from Nai Nai. Everyone else in the nuclear and extended family finds out, however, and Billi is especially distraught. Nai Nai apparently has only three months to live, so the family contrives a sham wedding involving Billi's cousin Hao Hao (Chen Han), who has been living in Japan with his Japanese girlfriend, Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara). Hao Hao and Aiko have been dating for only three months; announcing a wedding this suddenly will cause rumors to spread that Hao Hao must have gotten Aiko pregnant, even though nothing of the sort has happened. The wedding is nevertheless an excuse to get everyone together one last time with Nai Nai, who still remains blissfully in the dark about her terminal illness. Billi's parents, who have lived in America for decades, tell Billi she shouldn't come because Billi tends to wear her emotions on her sleeve, and her obvious sadness would tip Nai Nai off that something other than the supposed wedding was up. Nai Nai's American branch of the family flies to China without Billi, but Billi flies to China on her own, using up the last of her credit card to buy the plane ticket. While Billi is indeed having trouble hiding her sadness about Nai Nai's health, she is surprised to find out that her father, dealing with his own anticipatory grief, is edging closer to blurting out the medical truth to his mother.

Much of the movie revolves around the conflict in American and Chinese cultural values. Billi's parents arguably have an easier time of navigating this intercultural reality than does Billi herself: her parents are naturalized American, and somewhat Americanized after decades in the States, but they still feel their Chinese roots very deeply, whereas Billi is much more thoroughly American in character, which makes it impossible for her to understand how on earth an entire family can conspire to hide the dark and deadly truth from the one person in the world who is most entitled to hear it. This conflict plays out in the family dialogue we viewers are privy to as Billi butts heads with various Chinese relatives and with Nai Nai's young, handsome, English-speaking doctor. Nai Nai, for her part, forges ahead, taking charge of the wedding preparations despite a worsening cough and several visits to the hospital, where she is politely informed she has lingering pneumonia. As old as she is, she's delighted to see the whole family together again and is determined to take away only the positives from this event, despite the obvious petty conflicts flaring up among family members and the sad looks that those family members occasionally cast Nai Nai's way.

I'm trying very hard not to reveal any major spoilers, here, partly because I'd like you to see this movie for yourself, draw your own conclusions, and maybe share your insights with me. This is ostensibly a movie about death and dying, interwoven with themes of family and culture, and thanks to Lulu Wang's capable direction and the superb acting of the cast, the story resonates with deep and beautiful meaning. I confess that it coaxed a few manful tears out of me toward the very end... but the movie does something at the absolute final moment about which I have very, very mixed feelings, and I'm not sure whether to resent the film for cheapening everything that came before that moment, or to applaud the film for offering a conclusion that is surprisingly positive and uplifting for a story so shot through with sadness and the inevitability of cancer. I'm still wrestling with this problem a whole day later, and I suspect I'll be wrestling for a long time yet.

One major plus is that this film compares favorably to dramas like "The Joy Luck Club," a film based on a novel of the same name by Chinese-American writer (and fellow band mate along with Stephen King) Amy Tan. I think Tan is a fine writer, in terms of technique and talent. My problem with her is that she has too much of an ear for treacly sentimentality which, at least in the movie version of "The Joy Luck Club," translates into moments of overwrought melodrama worthy of the emotional nonsense you see every day in those goddamn shouty-weepy Korean soap operas. There were, I admit, parts of "Joy Luck" that made me cry: the entire subplot about mother Suyuan and daughter June moved me deeply. But much of the rest of that film struck me as overly operatic in terms of the emotional heights it was reaching for. "The Farewell" has a better script and a leaner plot devoid of the sentimental curlicues that turned "The Joy Luck Club" into such an exaggerated mess. Lulu Wang's film faces family issues squarely, and all without delving into magic, superstition, or unwontedly metaphysical questions about fate and reincarnation. "The Farewell" takes time to inject humor and silliness into the proceedings, but it does so tastefully, and in a way that visibly makes an effort to be fair in its treatment of, and love for, both Chinese and American culture and values. I appreciated that balance, as well as the directorial perceptivity that cultivated it.

The film resonated with me personally, too, for several reasons. One of the most obvious personal connections was that the story was about a loved one dying of cancer. Another was that the story involved a clash of East Asian and American cultural values. I've been there: I had a Korean aunt who, back in 1986, was dying of stomach cancer, and no one would tell her what was wrong with her. As a high-schooler back then, I was too young and stupid and unaware of how the world worked to raise my voice and demand that people tell my aunt the truth. Now, at 50, I wonder if I'm too steeped in East Asian culture even to fight the Asian omertà, should it happen among my Korean relatives again. My #3 Ajeossi, who died of liver cancer this past January, was readily made aware of his condition by his doctor, and #3 Ajumma told me, quite frankly, about his cancer when she saw me months later. I was still frustrated that she never bothered to text or call me about his worsening condition in the months after his diagnosis, but that's also a quirk of East Asian culture, apparently: Koreans, at least, seem to love to gather in groups and jabber-jabber-jabber about nothing, but the moment something important needs to be conveyed, no one will do it. Asian society as a whole often feels like the triumph of feelings over facts: Billi's family can't tell Nai Nai about her condition because the truth would wreck her emotionally. Billi's uncle sternly tells Billi that herein lies the fundamental difference between East and West: Westerners each view their individual lives as their own, whereas Easterners believe they are part of a communal, collective whole. Not telling Nai Nai about her terminal cancer is, according to Billi's uncle, a way for the family to bear the emotional burden that Nai Nai herself would otherwise bear. Does this make sense to you, or do you reject this argument out of hand? I don't blame you if you do; part of me rejects it as well. It's bullshit because I've been taught that truth trumps everything, including your delicate little feelings. Not so in Asia, where emotions rule. When my mother was dying of brain cancer, I shared her MRI images with her. I told her what the doctors had been telling me about her prognosis. I was utterly frank, utterly realistic. I had to deal with Mom's older sister, who was in a state of complete, irrational denial about the whole thing. "She's gonna live!" my aunt yelled early on. I think she resents me for my realism, and that's a cross I have to bear, however unjustified. I also had to deal with Mom's self-proclaimed best friend, who warned me never to appear sad or defeated in front of Mom because to do that would be to kill her. I thought Mom's "best friend" was a real fucking bitch, but Asians do often seem to prefer forced happiness and fingers-in-the-ears denial to the facing of actual reality. Even after my mother had passed away, one of my Korean buddies basically said, "Get on with your life!" There may have been a measure of truth in such advice, but when he said that, Mom had only recently died, and I found his exhortation to be emotionally retarded. I would never say such a thing to him were his parents to die.

My aunt, the one with the stomach cancer, sobbed miserably as our family was leaving to return to the States. She had no idea why she was in such pain, but when I reflect on that day, I think she realized, on some level, that she would never see us again, and this realization only added to her pain and misery. It was a terrible way for us to say goodbye. I barely knew this aunt, so I admit I was confused about why she was crying so hard. Only upon reflection later on did I realize my aunt had a sense of our family's history, a knowledge dating back to well before the Korean War. And there we were, the American branch of her family—my mom with her white American husband and her half-Korean kids, all happy and jokey and robust. For my aunt, this was a glimpse across the ocean, not to mention a glimpse of the future: everything was all right, and everything was going to be all right. Our departure was doubtless sad for her because that vision was now being taken away, and a bit like Moses being unable to enter the promised land, my aunt probably knew she wouldn't live to watch this part of her family's story unfold. As mammals, we are all blessed or cursed with the ability to sense our impending death; even if my aunt didn't know what specifically was wrong with her, she must have known something was dreadfully wrong.

When I first heard and read about "The Farewell," I told myself, going into this experience, that I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen: Nai Nai would die, but right before she did, she would confess to Billi that she had known all along about her own illness. This prediction was, for me, a sort of metric by which to gauge the quality of the story: if Nai Nai did indeed profess awareness of her condition, then I'd hate the film for falling so easily into cheap cliché—the wise old Asian woman who had outsmarted everyone all along, and who had had a perfect understanding of her own fate from the very beginning. Again, without spoiling things, I'm happy to report that the film neatly sidestepped my cynical prediction. That's the fortunate part. The unfortunate part is that, in sidestepping the cliché, the film did something else, to which I've already alluded, that has left me in a bit of internal turmoil because I honestly don't know how to process what I'm now coming to think of as the film's punchline. And in saying that, I may already have revealed too much.

That said, I recommend "The Farewell" because it's a well-written dramedy that faces a slew of major issues head-on: death, dying, love, family values, and cultural values. The actors are all excellent, even the ones in minor roles. Awkwafina, who plays Billi as slouchy and depressed, proves she has the acting chops to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the talented Tzi Ma, who plays her father here, but who is better known on American TV and in American cinema as your run-of-the-mill Chinese bad guy (cf. his role on "24"). Zhao Shuzhen hits all the right notes as Nai Nai, radiating maternal love and care, but never crossing the line into blubbering treacle. Diana Lin, as Billi's mother Jian, is something of an unsung hero; Lin plays Jian as tough, world-weary, and sometimes even resentful because Nai Nai was a stereotypically haughty and dissatisfied mother-in-law to her over the years. Even when Nai Nai is dying, Jian finds it hard to let go of years of bitterness and gall.

"The Farewell" is based on director Lulu Wang's personal life: her own grandmother had, in fact, been diagnosed with terminal cancer. While parts of the film have a slightly exaggerated, played-for-yuks feel, the story is well grounded in authentic emotion. Whatever you end up thinking of the movie's punchline, I think you'll be moved by "The Farewell"—both emotionally and intellectually. The film is a healthy mix of thought-provoking, humorous, inspiring, heartbreaking, and uplifting. Also: I hope I haven't given you the impression that you need to be ethnically Asian, or to have relatives with cancer, in order to appreciate this movie. Everything about it will be accessible to you, whatever walk of life you hail from. This is, as Mr. Spock might say, a very human film.

Kanye West, Antonia Okafor, and mental slavery

Good video:

is Tim Pool too optimistic?

Tim Pool seems to think that cancel culture is now in decline as even leftists, from Barack Obama on down, push back against the repressive nature of this humorless wave of political correctness. In a recent video, Pool cites the example of a Saturday Night Live comedian who made some off-color trans jokes, and who isn't backing down in the face of the "woke" outrage he's been inundated with:

I think Pool is being a bit too optimistic, here. It's similar to when I hear alt-media types like Styx crow about the imminent death of the mainstream media: I don't think the MSM will be dying anytime soon, if ever. Nor do I think the Democrats, as a party, are so lost that the party is going to collapse and re-form itself into something newer and better. Granted: it's possible that sudden collapses might happen in these areas of American political life, but I'm just not seeing the signs. And isn't Barack Obama one of the originators of cancel culture?

the Jangbogo Mart reconnoiter

I cabbed over to the Jangbogo Mart right after work, hoping that the mart wouldn't be closed this time. The entrance to the place, hidden inside the dark recesses of a building, had been locked last time, despite there being a light on inside the store. This time, too, the door was locked, but while I was standing outside the door, pondering my options, it suddenly popped open, and a store worker came out. I looked inside and saw the store was brightly lit and in full swing; I asked the staffer about the place's operating hours, and he said the mart was open until 11 p.m., and that I could go on inside.

Once I was inside, I realized that Naver's GPS navigation had led me to the store's back entrance, which is why the door had been locked both times. So this past Sunday, when I first tried to visit the place, the mart probably hadn't been closed. I did a slow tour of the place, walking like a ghost among the aisles, to see whether the legends were true: did Jangbogo Mart actually have any foreign goods? The only foreign thing I found, alas, was cilantro: the place was selling huge, lush bunches of it for only W2000 per bag. If I ever need to make a gallon of chimichurri, I now know where to go to get my cilantro hit.

But there was nothing else. The store sold Korean products in large packages, including some huge, wrapped-up bundles of ground pork (I plan to make my own maple-sage sausages for the Thanksgiving stuffing), but there weren't any whole turkeys, nor was there any ground turkey, which is what I actually need to make my turkey roulade. All in all, then, Jangbogo Mart turned out to be a bust. I'll have to go back to Itaewon's foreign-food markets to see about getting ground turkey, and I may have to hurry up because, with American Thanksgiving coming, all the local Yanks are going to want to buy up anything and everything that's turkey-themed. So many of the foreign-food markets that I used to like are now out of business; everything I like tends to disappear, which imparts something of a tragic undercurrent to my existence here in Seoul.

That said, hope springs eternal. I'll visit Itaewon, and I'll probably have good news to report when I do. No mortal man can keep me from my ground turkey.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

a Thanksgiving menu

Click here to see what's on tap for an upcoming Thanksgiving get-together.

Nats players piss off the left

Washington Nationals players Kurt Suzuki and Ryan Zimmerman don't care about your leftie feelings. Suzuki, when he visited the White House after the Nats won the World Series, wore a MAGA hat and got a hug from the president. Zimmerman, meanwhile, "thanked the president for 'keeping everyone here safe in our country and continuing to make America the greatest country to live in in the world.' Then, he presented Trump a number 45 Nationals jersey." To be fair, several Nationals refused to attend the White House event in protest of the current administration. Some no-shows said they had non-protest-related personal reasons for not attending, e.g., one of them (Javy Guerra) had to fly home to get married. But hats off to Suzuki and Zimmerman for not being intimidated by the idiotic cancel-culture mob.

And very belated congratulations to the newest World Series champions!

gone, gone, completely gone!

The beard is no more. Long live the double chin!

Expect pictures once I get a haircut to balance out the beard's removal. So as not to clog my bathroom sink, I shaved while standing over my kitchenette's sink. I never use shaving cream when shaving; normally, I just use bar soap, but in this case, I got all sudsy by using dishwashing liquid. I'd been worried that removing this much growth would take over an hour; in reality, the procedure took no longer than fifteen or twenty minutes. I'm grateful to have my face back again; that beard had been damn itchy. Every twitch of a facial muscle was a reminder of how hairy my face had become.

I've decided that, if I'm to do the Camino de Santiago with my buddy Mike when we turn 60, I'm going to follow Jesus' injunction against virtue-signaling. You'll recall that the Sermon on the Mount contains at least two examples of virtue-signaling that the faithful are not supposed to engage in: (1) praying in public (which, unfortunately, modern Christians do all the time, and loudly; Matt. 6:5), and (2) looking as if they're fasting while actually fasting (6:16). The idea, here, is that you don't wave your piety about in other people's faces. There's nothing humble or spiritually rewarding about that. So, with that in mind, if and when I do walk the Camino, I'll be shaving regularly. I'll save my "travel beard" for other, less sacred hikes.

(Of course, by announcing this on the blog, I'm violating Jesus' injunction...)

Monday, November 04, 2019

"Midsommar": review

Some years back, I went through a brief period during which I discovered and, with morbid and prurient curiosity, plowed through its files. In case you don't know what is, it's a website full of ghoulish photographs of actual violence and death—mainly death. Want to see what it's like in the immediate aftermath of a bloody car accident? They've got you covered. Want to see what happens when a rifle bullet takes off the top of someone's head? There's a photo in there somewhere. Want the bug-eyed faces of people who've been hanged? Yup. Murder victims? Check. Sawed-off limbs? Open wounds? Late-stage deadly disease? It's all there. The site is aptly named. I browsed this for a concentrated period of time, and these days, I wonder whether that experience affected me in some deep way. I've always had a high tolerance for gore, but strolling through the precincts of may have given me an overdose of the gross.

Whether my tour through that website inured me, or my native tolerance for the ghastly protected me, I was well prepared for some of the supposedly shocking scenes in 2019's "Midsommar," a folk-horror film directed by Ari Aster, who gave the world "Hereditary" (which I still haven't seen). The story mostly takes place in a commune in Sweden; the main focus is on the deteriorating romantic relationship between two American graduate students, and on the grad students' varying reactions to the cultic horrors they witness while at the commune. Just as Season 1 of "True Detective" might serve as a warning to stay away from Louisiana, "Midsommar" is the perfect warning for all Americans to stay the hell out of Sweden, lest you end up being turned into a blood eagle.

Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh, recently seen in "Fighting with My Family") is an emotional wreck. As the story begins, Dani has just received a disturbingly final-sounding text message from her bipolar sister Terri (Klaudia Csányi), and it turns out that Terri has killed both her parents and herself. Now the sole survivor of this family tragedy, Dani has no one to latch on to, least of all her increasingly distant boyfriend Christian (Jack Hughes), who has been wanting out of this relationship for a while. Christian and his circle of anthropology grad-student friends are planning to go to Sweden in a few weeks; Dani finds out about this only belatedly and gets upset that Christian never bothered to tell her about the trip. Christian reluctantly invites Dani along, and the group of Americans, led by Swede and fellow grad student Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), soon find themselves in the idyllic region of Hälsingland. Pelle tells everyone that he grew up in the commune they're visiting; everyone in the commune is like family to him, and he wants his American friends to feel welcome.

Things get strange when the group takes psilocybin and begins hallucinating things. Dani has flashes of her dead family members, and of grass seemingly growing out of her feet, as if the earth were claiming her; others in the group freak out about how it's 9 p.m. but still as bright as if it were late morning. Pelle gives his guests a tour of the commune and explains certain aspects of the culture. It turns out that Pelle's people believe that a human life follows the seasons in four eighteen-year segments: from birth to eighteen is the spring of youth; from eighteen to thirty-six is the summer of life, when a person is expected to be on a spiritual pilgrimage; from thirty-six to fifty-four, the autumn of one's existence is the time of labor; from fifty-four to seventy-two is the winter of life, when an elder is expected to be a mentor in the community. "What happens after seventy-two?" Dani asks. Pelle takes a finger and makes a slashing gesture across his throat. He smiles as if he's joking, but the viewer immediately knows this is a harbinger of things to come. And sure enough, on the first day of the commune's nine-day midsummer celebration—an event that occurs once every ninety years—the Americans are horrified when they witness an important ceremony: the ättestupa, in which two seventy-two-year-old members of the commune have one final, ceremonial meal, then throw themselves off a local cliff as a way of returning to the greater harmony of nature on their own terms, before age can rob them of their dignity. A British couple that is also visiting is aghast at what they've just seen: the old woman who throws herself off the cliff successfully smashes into the rock below and kills herself, but her male companion somehow lands feet-first, brutally shattering his legs—an event that leaves him screaming in agony. The commune is prepared for this eventuality, however: several members stride up to the screaming man and crush his skull with several blows from a huge wooden hammer. The British couple decides to leave; they've seen enough. As you might guess, this will be the last we ever see of the couple... at least until they reappear in, shall we say, greatly altered form by the end of the story.

The American grad students are in turmoil. For some, there is a definite desire to flee, but for others, like Josh (William Jackson Harper), this is the opportunity of a lifetime to study one culture's way of celebrating the midsummer days. Josh puts aside his revulsion and elects to keep digging to the extent allowed by the commune's elders. One by one, though, the Americans around Dani start to disappear; with each disappearance, some blithe, casual explanation is given ("Oh, we drove him to the local train station"). Pretty soon, it's just Dani and Christian, and Christian—who has long been drifting apart from Dani—gets seduced or hoodwinked into a sex ritual with one of the local girls, who has just come of breeding age. Dani, meanwhile, gets pulled into a dance contest to determine the commune's May Queen for that year; Dani wins, and this has dark implications for later in the story.

"Midsommar" is a slow burn of a film. It takes its time in building the world of the commune/cult, doing its best to leave the viewer with a sense of dawning horror. As in the recently reviewed "The Autopsy of Jane Doe," the characters realize they need to get the fuck out only when it's far too late to do so. Dani, for her part, gets sucked into the commune's weird customs and rituals, and it's up to the viewer to decide whether (1) she has finally found the emotional refuge she's been seeking since the deaths of her parents and depressed sister, or (2) she has finally gone over the cliff's edge into full-on insanity. (Perhaps she's done both.)

Beautifully photographed (the film was made in Hungary; Amazon Prime Video's trivia notes indicate that one of many cinematic "goofs" in the film is that shadow lengths don't match the stated time of day at several points because Hungary isn't far enough north to be at Scandinavian latitudes) and taking full advantage of lighting and landscape, "Midsommar" has a fairly simple plot that plays out with slow deliberateness. It's a bit boring and draggy in parts, but it weaves together an atmosphere of tension and dread that, while it didn't fully suck me in, did cause a twinge of uneasiness at times. There were no jump scares to speak of; any jump moments were telegraphed far in advance. If anything, I felt as if director Ari Aster were going for something like the dreadful reveals from 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs" (which also features a blood eagle, if I'm not mistaken). Moments of surreality punctuate the film; when Dani is declared the May Queen and given a crown of flowers to wear, we see the flowers on her head pulsating eerily, along with the plants adorning the furniture where she sits. The film succeeds at making the viewer feel as if his individuality were slowly seeping away—partly through the communal will of the villagers, and partly through the pernicious effects of the psychoactive plants used in the commune's various ceremonies.

The movie touches on some interesting issues, like that of cultural relativism. Just how open-minded can a researcher be when people are being fed hallucinogens, being lied to, and being murdered? How do you observe all of this with clinical neutrality, especially when there's a good chance that you're going to be the commune's next victim? "Midsommar" may also contain some intertextual commentary; reviewers far savvier than I am have noted the film's bald-faced similarities to "The Wicker Man" (from 1973, not the Nicolas Cage one from 2006), as well as to another film from the early 2000s titled "Midsummer" (English spelling this time), with a main character who is also named Christian. At the same time, the movie fails to transcend the conservative morality that pervades most horror films: in horror, the people who die generally have it coming because they've done something bad or something transgressive. Teens engaging in premarital sex get killed in slasher films; in "Midsommar," scholarly curiosity, which leads to the violation of a holy place, is also punishable by death: you can never get away with disrespecting the sacred. The movie also punishes boyfriends who are insensitive dicks to their traumatized and grieving girlfriends.

While the film's acting and cinematography are all top-notch, the one thing that truly bothered me had to do with one aspect of the world-building: the way the commune/cult kills people doesn't make much sense. Each person is killed in a different way, but despite the film's emphasis on the anthropological aspects of commune life, there's no attempt to tie the killings together through a unifying theology, cosmology, or ritual scheme. The murders seem sloppily random in technique: I've already mentioned the blood eagle, which befalls one of the earlier victims but isn't discovered until late in the story; another American is killed and skinned, with his killer wearing his skin, Leatherface-style. Yet another victim is killed and dismembered, his leg being planted upright in a garden; a different victim is killed in some mysterious way, and his major orifices are stuffed with tree branches and other plants. References are made throughout the film to the runic alphabet, but we viewers are never made privy as to the runes' deeper symbolic significance. I felt as if there were several missed opportunities to build out this world just a little bit more; the killings would have been much more horrifying had they fit together into some discernible pattern. Instead, the audience is left either to struggle with the meaning of each individual killing, or to lump everything together indiscriminately as examples of horrific violence from an unpredictable cult.

So "Midsommar" presents us with a mix of good and bad. If you're not tuned in to questions of ritual and ceremony and religious significance, then all you'll see, and recoil from, is the commune/cult's scary weirdness. If you're like me, and you want to know more about what's really making these people tick, cosmologically speaking, the film will be a big disappointment to you. As I wrote earlier, I didn't find the movie scary, and the gross parts weren't all that gross to me. The movie's acting, cinematography, and other technical aspects might make it worth your while, but the story strikes me as lacking substance. I saw some reviewers humorously refer to this film as "The Wizard of Oz for perverts" and "a breakup movie for the horror crowd," given how Dani and Christian's fraying relationship stands at the center of the plot. I can get the humor: there were definitely moments when I laughed out loud at the proceedings (Christian breaks away from the sex ritual and runs around naked for a bit; that was pretty funny) and couldn't take the movie seriously. But you, Dear Reader, might see something in "Midsommar" that I'm missing. Perhaps, unlike me, you're not inured to gory violence, and you'll be deeply affected by the sight of an old woman's cliff-smashed face—or lack thereof. All I can say is: your mileage may vary.

Larry Elder on Joe Biden calling Trump an idiot


Those rainbow-loving Dems, for all their professed adoration of racial diversity, seem to keep touting old white people as the leaders they most want to have. That, or the rank-and-file Dems need to recognize that, when it comes to election jiggering, their own party excels at loading the dice and thumbing the scales, often to their own detriment. The DNC fucked the popular Bernie Sanders in 2016, jiggering the race in favor of a different old white person: Hillary Clinton; they're doing it again during this campaign cycle, but with Joe Biden. And the regular Dems are letting it happen. Maybe some folks are more racist than they're letting on...? Maybe the Dems collectively want a good ol' boy or a good ol' girl in the White House...? That would certainly explain why Tulsi Gabbard isn't doing any better than she currently is.

breakfast pie, round 2

I made the breakfast pie again, doing some things a bit differently this time, such as making a less-ugly top crust and adding some leftover pancetta to the mix (I was low on chorizo, so I thought, Why not?). No quail eggs this time, and that proved to be just fine.

As you see below, I mixed the meat and 'shrooms up with the bean purée instead of pouring the purée over the mix like last time. This turned out to be a good call because I had decided to include whole beans with the purée, which may have impeded the purée's ability to flow downward and coat all of the pie's filling last time. Also visible: the buttered baking dish, the cherry tomatoes, and the pie dough:

A closer look at the filling:

The herbed dough being rolled out (ball of dough = top crust):

Placing the dough into the baking dish:

Tucking in the 'maters:

A cockeyed view of the pie and its filling:

A new and improved top crust for the pie:

I'd forgotten to take a shot of the pie after I'd brushed it with an egg wash and cut a vent into the top, so I took this belated shot while the pie was in the oven:

The pie came out pretty well, but a bit burned toward the back. This pie was stuffed to a fuller extent than the previous one, so the pie's top was closer to the oven's topside burners. I should have watched more carefully for this sort of problem:

Not one to hide from my mistakes, I'm taking a closer look at the burn here. It's not totally blackened, and the crust turned out to be perfectly edible:

Another successful removal of the pie after cooling:

Alas, a somewhat blurry cross-section:

And we end on a clearer-looking slice of pie:

I think I'm all breakfast-pie'd out at this point. As a novelty, it's a good thing to eat maybe once or twice within a 48-hour period, but I don't think I could eat this more frequently than that. I'd have an easier time eating the beef pie I'd made earlier, or the chicken pot pie I'd made even before that, back when I was familiarizing myself with pie dough.

I want to do some apple and pumpkin pies because, after all, 'tis the season. But I have one more savory pie I'd like to attempt: the much-beloved Scotch pie that all true Scotsmen eat during halftime at a football match (by which I mean a soccer game). Scotch pies are traditionally made with a hot-water-and-lard dough, but I'm going to stick to my current idiot-proof dough, which seems to be working out great for me. I might try to make a batch of Scotch pies in which half are done the "right" way (lamb/mutton + salt/pepper + nutmeg or mace), and half are done the Kevinistic way (ground lamb + Middle Eastern spices + olive oil/butter). I have a feeling I'm going to like my way better. One complaint I've heard and read about Scotch pies is that they're a bit dry; the interior is solid meat, after all, with barely anything added to it, and the pies are designed to have a shallow "crater" on top to allow for the pouring-on of baked beans, mashed potatoes, or something else to provide some moisture to the dining experience. I'd rather add my spiced Middle Eastern oil-plus-butter to the lamb mince to give the meat some juiciness and a spicy kick before we even bake the pie. My preference, anyway. (Should I add turmeric to the pie crust to give the pie that Jamaican beef patty look...? At some point, an angry Scot is going to yell that whatever Frankensteinian abomination I'm making is decidedly not a Scotch pie. I'll just have to yell back that the Scots lost their right to criticize anyone when they willingly dropped their independence to continue sucking on the teats of the UK and the EU. What happened to your fighting spirit, guys?