July 21-29, 2015

So yeah, this week in a nutshell: Cops kill unarmed civilians. White dudes with guns kill unarmed civilians. Midwestern dentist kills beloved lion. Only one of those things is remotely unusual, sadly.

Other than that: work. We go to corporate headquarters in 2 weeks for our big end-of-summer expo, so everything is kind of frantic right now.

As per usual, I will refer you to my Twitter  for the blow-by-blow of this week’s momentary diversions and microaggressions.

Thursday night we went to this after-hours thing at the Museum of Life and Science, which was billed “The Science of Sour” but was mostly kind of like a trade show for local pickle makers & other vendors of fermented stuff. Lotta little tables, a lot of long lines, too many people. Would have been cool enough except it cost $25. Had we been more in the mood, we could have had comprehensive access to all of the cool interactive museum displays, so next time, that’s what we’ll do.

Friday night M demanded that we watch Point Break (the 1991 original, not the 2015 remake). By now I have seen it at least 3 times, probably more. She believes it’s Keanu’s finest & most nuanced performance. I haven’t seen everything he’s been in, so I really couldn’t say.

I tried to claim that Point Break marked the beginning of the sharp decline in Kathryn Bigelow’s auteurist period. Last week we watched Blue Steel (OMG, I think I forgot to mention that), which is a huge mess, plot-wise, but it’s extraordinarily stylized and has all sorts of weird sexual politics fluttering under the surface. I can see a weird but distinct through line from Bigelow’s debut, The Loveless (one of my favorite movies EVAR) to Blue Steel, but it’s harder to trace it through to Point Break.

M says I’m crazy & that KB is all about intense homosocial bonding, which I guess is totally true, and which makes Blue Steel the anomaly.

Anyway. Apart from movie-watching we mostly read & eat. I started Sarah Jeong’s The Internet Of Garbage, and the new Ta-Nehisi Coates. I enjoy Jeong’s tweets, and she makes some important points in her book, but she kinda writes like the lawyer/journalist that she is. I may finish it at some point (it’s really short, after all) but not until I finish the Coates, which is devastating and brilliant and just utterly beautifully written. Heartbreaking.

Reading it, it’s hard to imagine that there are people in this country — a majority of white people even — who literally don’t get it, who are, as he puts it, in a beautiful dream that denies that the fundamental history of the United States is one of bloody oppression, raping, pillaging, and enslavement.

This is the sort of book that should be required reading in every book club in America. I don’t care if y’all mostly read romances. Or graphic novels. Bump this to the top of the list.

It’s also exactly the kind of book that colleges across America are going to put on their freshman reading lists, and cue the outraged speeches on the floor of the nation’s state legislatures in 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1. Good. The more debate, the better, although his points aren’t really open to debate.

July 21-29, 2015

July 4 – 11, 2015

The struggle to post more than once a week is real, I tell ya. Last Saturday (our nation’s birthday) I spent grappling with the Singular Endless Computing Project that is WXDU. But I also found time (as documented previously) to eat a hot dog & tater tots because America.

At nightfall we drove out to the boonies to wish Jenks & Elysse well on the occasion of their wedding. Useful tip: Every wedding party would be substantially improved by amateur backyard fireworks displays. Mark that down. A+++

I didn’t (and still haven’t) listen to any of the “Grateful Dead” farewell shows from Chicago. I never much cared for Bobby’s songs even when Jerry was alive, and I don’t really see the point of paying attention to the remnants of that band now that Jerry has been dead for 20 years.

(My curiosity has been piqued a little bit by Will Hermes’s coverage in Rolling Stone, and even moreso by Lee Ranaldo’s report from the front lines. NYCTaper has two of the three shows up for download, so maybe one day.)

Nevertheless, nostalgia & the zeitgeist demanded some Grateful Dead. I gave away my tape collection decades ago, but nowadays there’s the internet. I had a hankering for a good “Franklin’s Tower,” which is how, thanks to Google, I wound up at headyversion.com, a site where Deadheads attempt to settle the age-old debates over which shows featured the best versions of which songs via simple up-or-down vote.

Consensus suggested the October ’76 shows in Oakland, so it was off to archive.org. Be sure to scroll down & read the comments, as they are a remarkably accurate representation of any/all parking lot or dorm room Deadhead discussion.

My love/hate relationship with live Dead recordings goes back to high school, nearly 30 years, and all of those mixed feelings were brought into extra-sharp relief by this show, which features some exceptional highs scattered in amidst copious quantities of the wretchedness that every Dead hater loves to carp on.

I lapsed into a bit of a Twitter reverie:

My friend Bo stepped in & summed it up remarkably well:

I kept listening, though. Some things just get so baked into your brain that there’s no point in struggling against them.

In other news: Confederate flags are coming down all over parts of the South, going up in 10x strength all over other parts of the South. Harper Lee’s pre-Mockingbird debut novel, in which an older Atticus Finch turns out to be a reactionary racist, is finally published.

I haven’t read it, and I’m not going to read it (hell, as far as I can recall, I haven’t even read To Kill a Mockingbird), but it’s remarkably topical, if the reviews are to be believed. Near as I can tell, it’s all about how Atticus was fine with loving people of all races back in the 30s, when “everyone knew their places,” but by the mid-late 50s, he’d been spurred by the rise of the Civil Rights movement and the NAACP to choose sides. And as a white man in Alabama, he chose the only side that represented the preservation of the status quo & his own self-interest.

Today all the news is about the internecine battle between the pragmatist racists who want to take down the rebel flag to get themselves out of the spotlight & back into the comfortable shadows, and the absolutist racists who want to fly it from every pickup truck and public building in the land.

Sunday night we watched that soccer game, along with everyone else in the world. It was fun, although I was a little bit grossed out by all the cheering & “U S A !” chants from other people in the bar where we were watching. Soccer is supposed to be the sport of underdogs and weirdos, the sport that’s mocked & ignored by the “U S A !” contingent.

Plus it was embarrassing because the first half-hour of the game itself was embarrassing. I mean, I don’t know how else it could have been played, but it seemed untoward to keep racking up the points against a team who so clearly hadn’t bothered to actually show up, mentally.

There was a ton of great playing to watch, though. I just felt bad for Japan & thus was disinclined to jump up & applaud when we kept scoring ludicrous points against them.

This week I blazed through the new Charlie Stross Laundry Files novel, the Annihilation Score. Like all of the books in that series, it was pretty good. Unlike all of the books in that series, it was narrated by Mo O’brien (Bob Howard’s wife) rather than Bob. This was a welcome change, although Stross kinda struggled throughout the first half of the book to establish a voice for Mo that was substantially different from Bob’s.

Honestly, the whole series has kind of meandered slowly downhill since the Atrocity Archives, so I tackle each new book with diminished expectations. But I still read them — and enjoy them in the moment.

Last night we went to see Amy, the documentary about the decline & fall of Amy Winehouse. It was extraordinarily unpleasant to sit through, inasmuch as it kind of replicated the conditions under which she fell victim & eventually succumbed to drug addiction, alcoholism & bulimia. Lots of focus on her dysfunctional relationships & her struggles with celebrity; less & less attention paid to her art the longer the movie went on. It is in many ways as exploitative as the tabloid coverage that surrounded her when she was alive.

The filmmakers clearly intentionally used large amounts of footage of Amy entering & leaving buildings & cars under a barrage of flashbulbs & clacking shutters — it became a recurring motif throughout the second half of the movie. It was at times unbearable to watch — literally. Not the spectacle of Amy being besieged, but the actual flashing & clattering & yelling. In that sense, it was hugely effective as a device, but horrible to endure.

(I found myself thinking a lot about paparazzi, and about how digital photography has totally transformed that experience. Nobody was bothering to select angles or frame shots — they were just holding the shutter release down & shoving their cameras in her face. Were it me, I think I would devote a hefty percentage of my income to paying big burly dudes to grab & smash cameras, and settle the resulting lawsuits.)

Ultimately, I don’t think the movie did Amy justice as an artist at all, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t already familiar with her work. But it’s a grim depiction of the life & death of a modern supercelebrity.



July 4 – 11, 2015

June 27 – July 3, 2015

OMG, the movie Spy. It’s brilliant. It’s being neglected (by the press? by a studio that ran trailers before it was released but gave up on advertising it after its opening weekend?) but that’s OK, it’s the kind of thing that’s best enjoyed on the basis of fuzzy word-of-mouth recommendation anyway.

SO: Go see it. It’s badass and funny and Melissa McCarthy navigates the minefield of smooth + sexy + powerful + also self-doubty + sometimes clumsy + fainty at the sight of blood. She’s the action hero *and* the comic relief rolled in to one. She is a Movie Star, and writer/director Paul Feig is her #1 fan & her partner in crime.

Future references for this week: SCOTUS legalized marriage equality nationwide. Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole in Columbia, SC. Everyone stopped airing reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard.

Tuesday we ate at Bar Virgile with our friend M, and then hung around the house playing Fluxx, which is such an anti-game, inasmuch as it violently discourages any sort of strategizing, and infuriates rules people.

Thursday we saw a pretty good baseball game between the US Collegiate National team and the Cuban National team. For reasons not entirely clear to me, the US team consists entirely of freshmen & sophomores. They beat Cuba 2-0. (They had apparently no-hit the Cubans the night before in Cary.) I felt kinda bad, but not as bad as I’ll feel a year from now when the entirety of Cuba looks like Myrtle Beach.

Friday night the Cubans came back & trounced the US 5-1. And two of them defected! (Before or after the game?)

Thursday night I took a turn at WXDU’s weekly metal show. Playlist here. A mix of some old faves, new faves, and stuff that’s currently on our playlist. We’ve been adding a lot more metal to our regular playlist, which is kind of amusing to me. I doubt that many of our DJs would seriously consider playing metal during their regular shifts — it can be hard to drop into the middle of a heterogeneous set. Harder to mix than country, rock-n-roll, various world musics — due, I suppose, in part to the fact that modern “extreme” metal is pretty far removed from the blues roots of so much of the rest of that music.

Anyway. It was fun, even if I did cop out & devote the last ~45 minutes to two songs from two of my favorite albums of the past 9 months, Yob’s Clearing the Path to Ascend, and Bell Witch’s Four Phantoms.

Last night we finally made it out to see Dope. Holy shit, what a great movie. Black teen geeks in Inglewood, trying to make it out of high school & their dead-end neighborhood alive & sane. It’s dirty and funny and intense, in more or less equal amounts. Parts of it are as improbable as Scott Pilgrim vs The World; parts of it are as real as anything Spike Lee or John Singleton ever did. It’s basically equal parts Boyz N the Hood and House Party. (Intentionally so — the main characters are obsessed with 90s hip-hop, and the director has explicitly stated that he was emulating the feel of those movies.)

So yeah, go see it. We saw it at Northgate at 7:50 on a Friday night with about 12 other people. Which is too bad, because the movie would benefit from a packed & rowdy house, and because I’ll be sad when Northgate finally closes down, which seems inevitable.

June 27 – July 3, 2015

June 13-21, 2015

Ugh, another long gap. Part of that time was spent migrating from tumblr to WordPress, but that’s not really a reasonable excuse.

Let’s see: Last Saturday . . . was kinda just a chore day. The only entertainment of note was going to Gocciolina for their 1-year anniversary party/cookout thing. Which was fun, but not as much fun as actually having dinner at Gocciolina. One of these days we’ll learn how to plan dinner more than 30 minutes in advance, and then we’ll be able to eat there again.

We finally dug into Inside Amy Schumer — jumped right in with Season Three, under the assumption that the magazine articles & whatnot are correct & that the latest season is the best. (And, having finished 3 & moved backwards into 2, I think that was a reasonable assumption.)

It’s uneven — any show of its kind probably would be — but the sheer brilliance of 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer should earn it some kind of permanent spot in the TV Comedy Hall of Fame. It’s utter genius. If you’re reading this & haven’t seen it, you can rent the episode for a couple of bucks on Amazon. Do it.

Or maybe watch 12 Angry Men and *then* do it.

I’m still working on reading Cadillac Desert. I paused it this week to take another stab at The Martian, which I had put down earlier because, honestly, it’s not that well-written. But last week I read this XKCD:

I have never seen a work of fiction so perfectly capture the out-of-nowhere shock of discovering that you've just bricked something important because you didn't pay enough attention to a loose wire.

Which is awesome, so I decided to give it another chance.

It’s close to exactly what that comic describes. The character development is so-so, some of the writing is kinda meh, but boy there’s a lot of carefully written narrative about engineering oneself out of an endless series of jams.

Anyway, life-wise, the week has been quiet — reading, surfing the web, etc. Being appalled at the news. The usual stuff. During the summer I’m in front of my computer less during the workday, which means I fall way behind on Twitter, far enough behind that I don’t even scroll back to try to catch up. It feels kinda weird.

Last night we drove down to Jordan Lake to look at stars through some moderately large telescopes, under the aegis of UNC’s Morehead Planetarium. It was cloudy earlier in the day, so much so that I was kind of gently agitating not to go, but M persisted and by the time we got down there, there were big patches of open sky.

So we stood in line for 15-20 minutes to look at Saturn through an ~8 inch telescope. It looked more or less just like this:

I try not to be a jaded 21st-century dude, and yeah, the awareness that the light hitting my eye had bounced off Saturn was cool. But still, come on. I have been totally spoiled by The Internet. Sigh.


June 13-21, 2015