Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Soul (a movie review post)


Pixar has not been my favorite production company of late. After spending more than a decade as Hollywood's golden child that could do no wrong, they ended that run with Toy Story 3. Their movies after that, with only a few exceptions, became formulaic and, well, boring. I've said previously that I believe that was due to the loss of John Lasseter as their creative guide. I still mostly stand by that. Since 2010, only three of their movies stand out as something more than ordinary. Two of those were by Pete Docter, this being one of them.

The first thing I'm going to say is how... wonderful... yes, wonderful, it is to have a movie "about" jazz that isn't made by fucking Damien Chazelle. There's nothing in this about how the white savior man is going to save jazz from... I don't know. It was never really clear what Chazelle thought he was saving jazz from. Itself, probably, since Chazelle seems to believe that jazz was made for the white man, and it can't be trusted in the hands of the people who invented it.

This movie isn't really about jazz and doesn't have a whole lot of jazz in it. Which is fine, because I'm not much of a jazz fan. I don't hate it or anything, but it's not something I'm just going to turn on if I feel like some music. In fact, the movie isn't about music at all. It's about dreams. Life dreams, not the ones you have when you're asleep and forget promptly when you wake up. Or, maybe, it's about inspiration. That's the word, or a word, they use in the movie. 

But that's not really right, either. The movie is about living your life and not just... drifting through it. It's about not letting fear get in the way of pursuing the things that spark you. From a casual distance, it's a beautiful movie. It has some endearing and some poignant moments.

It also has some issues, which I will try to point out without being spoilery.

Joe is a musician, a jazz musician. He's been chasing that lucky break all his life. His mother wants him to get a real job. A permanent one. Not that he doesn't work. He teaches music, but he's not, evidently, a permanent teacher or anything like that. The conflict at the opening of the movie is that he's been offered a permanent teaching position, and he's torn over whether to accept it or not because, for some reason, if he acceptd a position as a music teacher he'll have to, for whatever reason, no longer accept gigs playing in clubs and bars. Um... The dude's not married and has no kids. This is an artificial conflict. Do I give up on my dream of being a "musician" by taking the teaching job or not?

There is also the subtle implication that Joe has not been adequately pursuing his dream because he hasn't been successful at becoming a "musician." There are scenes of him doing other life stuff, like watching TV and doing laundry, which are there to suggest that these are times when Joe was failing to pursue his calling. What the fuck is that about? No one can spend 24/7 doing one thing and one thing only. That he has not "made it" is not because he has not adequately pursued his dream.

And there is the complete dismissal of the importance Joe has played in the lives of the students he's taught and their own inspiration toward music because of him. It's like those things, though important, do not actually matter because those things have come at the expense of Joe's own success. Or something like that.

Maybe I'm being too harsh, but I don't really think these are good messages to be handing out. Not that I think these are messages that are really intended, but the framework of the movie delivers them anyway. If you are not famous and "successful," you have failed your dream. You have failed to pursue it adequately. It's our cultural belief, and it's ingrained in the movie, which is too bad, because there could have been a deeper message.

All of which may sound like I didn't like the movie, which would be incorrect. It's one of the top three Pixar movies of the past decade, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It came close to bringing tears to my eyes. I would gladly watch it again. And I might, since it's streaming on Disney+. None of which changes the fact that I wish that Docter had gone just a little bit further with the movie and not relied so heavily on our societal views of achievement and success. It's a really good movie, just not a great one.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Monsters Without: Chapter 3.3

 [I strongly suggest that you go back and read the earlier parts if you haven't done that before.]

He jerked with surprise and looked around to find a tall, gangly kid looking over his shoulder. Gangly in the way that only too-tall white boys can be gangly, like their arms and legs are poorly attached with overly large joints. The boy was at least a foot taller than him, and he found himself looking up the kid’s nostrils rather than being able to see his face.

“Also, you don’t have enough money.” He said it matter-of-factly, in the same way you might say to someone, “This is my car.” Jeremiah wanted to say something sarcastic back, but his brain froze, and he just stared instead, though he did take a step away from the boy as he turned toward him, both so that he could actually see the kid’s face and because he was feeling crowded by the towering poles of arms and legs.

“Freshman, huh?” This, he said as a question, though it was clear he was stating a fact and not asking. The boys face was bony, too, as if he had over-sized joints in his cheeks, too -- not just his jawbones -- to match his elbows. The kid brushed his shaggy brown hair away from his brown eyes and added, “You’re very talkative.”

Jeremiah looked back down into his palm, which was still out with the three quarters in it, then looked back up and said, “I’m sorry. I just…” He trailed off as he shoved the quarters into his pocket.

The tall boy squinted at him, “Are you from out of state? What’s your name…?”

“Out of state?” The question confused Jeremiah. “No… Why would you think that?”

“You don’t really seem to know what you’re doing.”

“Well… I am a freshman.”

“Fair, but you seem a little more lost than most freshmen.” The kid gave him what felt like a piercing stare, “What did you say your name is?”

He suddenly felt uneasy, as if he were being interrogated, and felt like he shouldn’t tell the boy his name. In his head, he knew he was being paranoid and there was no good reason not to tell the kid, but his emotions were telling him to be paranoid. His experience told him that, mostly, you couldn’t trust people. “I didn’t say what my name is…”

The older boy gave his eyes a half roll and rattled his head slightly, just enough to convey exasperation without looking it. “Look, kid, I’m just trying to help you out. Most of us have been out of sorts at some point, and…,” he paused and dug around in his pocket, “…I just didn’t want you to feel like you didn’t have any friends. Or couldn’t have any friends.” He held out his clenched hand.

Jeremiah felt bad about being so suspicious, but he wasn’t used to people being nice to him, not without any reason, at any rate. Forcing himself to hold out his hand, the boy dropped two $1 bills into his hand. Jeremiah stared at the money a moment then said, “You don’t have to…”

“I know I don’t have to, but you seem like you need a friend or, at least, someone to help you out, and I’m just going to buy sodas with it, so I don’t really need it.”

The next bus pulled up, and the boy moved toward the door along with the new crowd of kids who had shown up while they were talking. Jeremiah hurried to catch up so as not to get left behind again. He fed the money into the machine at the top of the stairs and automatically looked to see where the tall kid had gone, which was toward the back of the bus, already joking and talking with some other guys, so Jeremiah dropped into the seat by the window behind the bus driver, usually the last seat anyone wanted to take, though he didn’t know that.

Staring vaguely out the window, he didn’t even glance over when someone sat down next to him, then the bus pulled away.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Swept Clean (pictures I like)


You might think that this is just a picture of the beach, but you'd be wrong.
If you look closely, you can see the lighter streaks of sand in the picture. That is actually sand that is blowing in the wind. Long streaks of it that came up to around our (my wife and I) knees. It was really cool to watch and made an... interesting... noise.
Life on the windy shores of California.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Cocktail Sundays: Hondo Ohnaka's Asteroid Belt


The most difficult thing I've dealt with so far in cocktail exploration is cherries. Or, I should say, cherry-flavored drinks. I don't like them. They never taste quite right.

Part of this problem is with me, except that I don't think it's just me as my wife acknowledges having the same problem. The problem is that we grew up with cherry flavored... everything. Okay, not everything. But, you know, cherry-flavored medicine, cherry-flavored cough drops (okay, sure, it's sort of medicine, but it's also mostly candy), and, most of all, cherry Life Savers. All of these things have the same chemical cherry flavor, which is completely unrelated to how actual cherries taste. It took me a long time to like real cherries at all because, to me, they didn't taste like cherry oughta taste. There's a conflict between reality, expectation, and, then, what the drinks have tasted like, which weren't like reality or the built-in expectation of artificial cherry flavor.

We got some Luxardo maraschino liqueur, but... I guess it's fine on its own if you just want a taste, but the flavor isn't like cherries or artificial cherry flavoring. And I've never liked maraschino cherries, so I don't even know if that's comparable. It also hasn't worked for me in any cocktails we've added it to to boost the cherry flavor.

At this point, I'm just going to toss in here that I don't really know why I got so invested in making a cherry drink other than that it became some kind of weird challenge.

Here is what has worked: We got some Amarena Fabbri cherries, initially, because we needed the syrup for something. These cherries are amazing! And the syrup is delicious. Actually, this stuff is perfect on vanilla ice cream, not that that is what I've been using them for. They never last that long. We also got some Heering cherry liqueur, which was my last ditch effort at making a worthwhile cherry cocktail. The Heering is much better than the Luxardo, but it still didn't do the trick. I decided that cherry cocktails had defeated me.

Ah... but then I devised Hondo Ohnaka's Space Punch, which is not cherry, but, on a lark (because I wanted to add some cherries to my drink, I decided to try a cherry variation. And, wow!, am I glad I did! Not only is this drink possibly better than the space punch, but, with it, I conquered the cherry cocktail. Or, at least, a cherry cocktail, which is good enough for me.

So after probably too much explanation (but I needed to build some suspense, right?)...
Wait, does this make me like one of those cooking bloggers who writes 10,000 words before telling you that it should only take you three minutes to sauté some onions? Hint: it takes much longer than three minutes to sauté onions.

Here's the recipe:
1oz lemon juice
1oz cinnamon syrup (you can also use demerara syrup, depending on the flavor you want)
1/2oz Curacao
1/4oz Tawny port (regular port will also work and provides a deeper red color to the drink)
1/2oz Velvet Falernum
1/4oz Heering cherry liqueur
1/2oz Licor 43
1/4oz allspice liqueur
2oz rum
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 Amarena Fabbri cherries

Add ice or however you want to chill the drink.

I've been making this with Mount Gay's Eclipse rum, but I think I also want to try it with a darker rum, maybe their Black Barrel. Once I pick up a new bottle of it.

Just to be clear, the cherries are the asteroids.

Friday, December 18, 2020

We Are Not Amazon and Living Up To Unreasonable Expectations

I have a lot of collectibles. A garage full, in fact, which is something I've mentioned in the past. In an effort to divest myself of said collectibles, I've been selling things on eBay. This is mostly fine other than the part where it's really slow.
And the part where I sometimes have to actually deal with people.
People who are mostly trying to convince me that my prices are too high.

For instance, because this is a fun one:
I've been selling some cards from the Harry Potter tcg recently. I listed this card:

The Ginny holofoil card is very hard to find and expensive. Expensive to the point that I haven't seen any sell for less than $100, so I had it listed at, anyone?, $100. I had a string of people message me that they would offer me something less than that. Like the guy who offered me $30 and, then, argued with me about it when I said "no thanks," finally went all the way up to $40, then argued with me some more when I said "no thanks" to that one, too. The card sold for $120.

Don't get all excited for me about all the money I'm making, because those kinds of things are few and far between. Mostly, I'm selling things at about the $3-10.00 level.

The other thing I have to deal with a lot is people complaining about the cost of shipping, which is the actual thing I want to talk about.
And before I go on, sure, shipping and shipping charges suck. I get it. I do everything I can, personally, to order from places that offer free shipping or to order enough to meet the minimums for free shipping. The big companies that can offer that kind of thing are just that: big companies, big enough to make deals with the USPS to cut their shipping costs so that they can afford it. Even eBay has a deal with USPS to cut their sellers' shipping costs if we run our shipping through eBay, and that has to be good for eBay because I'm sure their discount is greater than what they pass on to us, which means they're making money from both ends of that deal.

Even with that, eBay pushes (and pushes and pushes) its sellers to offer free shipping. I'm sure that's something that totally works for some sellers, but it doesn't work for someone like me who, say, sells a trading card for $2.99 (or, even, a comic book, for $4.99) and, then, has to pay $2.80 to ship it. That's with the eBay discount and is just the cost of the actual shipping. The envelopes cost another $1.00, so I'm spending close to $4.00 for each item I ship, but I only charge $3.50 for shipping. Don't worry, I may be losing money on every sale, but I make it up in volume.

Which brings me back to my previous statement about how shipping sucks, because the buyer is paying $3.50 in shipping for a $3.00 card, something which I personally wouldn't do.

And it gets even worse when you have to deal with international shipping. I just went through a huge ordeal over the cost of shipping with a guy in France. Seriously, huge ordeal. The guy took all kinds of penalties from eBay for not paying for his auction wins on time because he was haggling with me over the cost of shipping. For a week.

On the one hand, I get it but, on the other hand...
Look, on the other hand, only so much of the shipping is under my control, and part of the problem this guy ran into is that I use eBay's Global Shipping Program for international orders so that I only have to mail the items to eBay and eBay takes care of the shipping charges with the buyer. And I guess that service isn't cheap? I don't really know, because I can't see what eBay charges, but the guy in France flipped out over what eBay was going to charge him, all of which could have been avoided if he'd listened to me before the auctions closed when I tried to tell him about how eBay would handle it. (He told me I didn't know what I was talking about, that shipping should be no more than x amount and he was sure eBay would handle it just fine. eBay wanted to charge him 30x, as I tried to warn him, and, well, I already said the rest. I spent a week of going around and around with the guy so that he could finally get what he paid for shipping down to only 2x.)

All of which goes to the point I want to make: I am not Amazon. Or Wal-Mart. Or... whatever big chain store you want to say. I can't get amazing shipping discounts from USPS, and I can't afford to pay for your shipping, especially when the shipping costs more than the item you're buying. Stop expecting that from me, other eBay sellers, or from any small, independent business trying to make some kind of profit. If you want free shipping, please, feel free to order what you need/want from Amazon or Wal-Mart or... oh! Amazon doesn't have this card that you want? They don't sell those kinds of things? Neither does Wal-Mart? oh... well, then, I see. Of course, of course, it should be up to me to provide you with the same service as Amazon... Amazon who doesn't have the product you want.

So there's your tradeoff. Pay the shipping or don't get the whatever it is that you want that Amazon doesn't carry or have in stock. Pay the shipping and don't fucking complain about it or try to convince me that I'm charging too much for it. You know how I know that I'm not charging too much for shipping? Because I take a loss on it from every order I ship. If you don't want to pay the shipping, don't buy it. To paraphrase the internet, "I am not the asshole here."

Monday, December 14, 2020

Seven Pillars of Wisdom (a book review post)


This book is not what I would call an easy read. It's full of unfamiliar people, difficult to pronounce names, and events that are not really remembered by anyone other than historians. I would say, on the other hand, that those things don't matter to any great extent. You don't actually need to have a greater understanding of whom most of the people are other than how they relate to Lawrence, especially since most of them only make very brief appearances in the narrative. The ones who hang around, you will come to know. There's no need to speak any of the difficult pronunciations, so they can just be glossed over. And the individual battles and meetings and whatnot can be experienced through Lawrence, so there's really no need to know the history of the Arab Revolt in any great detail, rather like knowing about each and every battle of the American Civil War is mostly superfluous information. Not to mention the fact that the continuity may not be actual. Lawrence admitted that when he had a conflict between his notes and his memory that he always sided with his memory. No, that doesn't make sense to me, but, then, I didn't write the book.

I do think most people will not be able to or want to try to dive into this book. I chose to because of... well, reasons which are unimportant to the book itself.

Let's talk about the title. I like the title. Or I did. Before I started reading the book, I liked the title, and I fully expected it to have some meaning within the context of the book, and I kept waiting for the meaning to be revealed. I'm going to throw in here that I took a long time to read this book. It's something that I read bits of between other books. Not because it wasn't good, just because it's dense and does go on in places, and I would need a break. So, as I neared the end of the book, I began to worry that there had been some explanation about the title somewhere in the beginning and that I had just forgotten what it was. When I say it took me a long time, I mean that I spent more than two years with this book in the background of other things I was reading.

When I did get all the way to the end, no meaning to the title, at least as far as I could remember, had been forthcoming. I was slightly annoyed by that and decided I needed to do some research into the matter. As it turns out, there is no explanation for the title at all other than that Lawrence liked it. It's from a verse in Proverbs and was meant as the title for a different book that Lawrence was writing, one where it would have made sense, since it was going to be about seven great cities in the Middle East. But World War I started and Lawrence wrote this book instead and just kept the same title. In that sense it's a bit like if Richard Adams had never written The Plague Dogs but had decided to use that as the title to Watership Down just because he liked it.

All of which is to say that I'm not in favor of the title. My personal philosophy is that the title should be related to the book or reveal something about the book, but this title does neither, which I find... well, for me, it's a ding against the book, even though it has nothing to do with the text of the book. I love Watership Down (you can find it listed on my Of Significance... page) but if it had been named Plague Dogs, I would have issues with it.

So that's a lot just about the title. heh
If the book has a flaw, it's the title.
Which is not say that it's a perfect book, but it's the title that's a real thorn for me.

Lawrence has some beautiful passages describing the desert. More than a few. He's actually quite eloquent. He also occasionally spends chapters philosophizing about war (and maybe various other things? I don't quite remember), and those are interesting. For a bit. He always goes on too long about any given point and repeats himself several times before finishing whatever it is he's talking about. Not enough so as to make it not worth reading, though. And the book is full of amusing stories of things that happened during the various campaigns.

Like the time, during a cavalry charge against the enemy, he shot his own camel in the back of the head and was catapulted over the camel into the midst of the oncoming enemy. He didn't realize until later what had happened, but it actually saved his life. Amusing after the fact, you know.

There are also some horrific events recounted.

For me, though, the thing that really makes the book worth the read is the turning point for Lawrence when he goes from being a naïve, young soldier who believed the British, his people, were going to do right by the Arabs and his realization that they were... not. His exploration of his existential crisis and subsequent depression is... well, I don't know how to describe it. His determination after that that the Arabs should end the war in a state of independence and self-governance was admirable, even if he was not able to help them achieve it. Colonialism had not, yet, run its course, not that it has, now, either, but at least it's not the operating paradigm anymore.

In the end, this is a book that I'm very glad I read; however, it's not the kind of book I would suggest to anyone. It's the kind of thing a person really needs to take an interest in before they can get through it.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Cocktail Sundays: Hondo Ohnaka's Space Punch


Before anyone says anything, yes, I have intended to do these cocktail things more frequently. The thing is is that I like to be able to do a whole photo thing of making the cocktail (like in the previous cocktail post), but it's winter so the lighting in my house is shit. No, wait, the lighting in my house is shit but, during the summer, enough light comes in through the skylight for me to be able to take pictures in my dim little cave. During the winter, though... well, it's dim in here all the time. Basically, I haven't been able to take photos, so I have been reluctant to do anymore cocktail posts.

But I have this new cocktail that I've come up with that I really like, so you're getting a picture of Hondo, since that's cocktail appropriate. I suppose you don't really need the pictures of me putting the drink together, anyway.

First, some background:
As I've mentioned, my wife got me this book, Smuggler's Cove, and we've been experimenting with the cocktails. It's been a lot of fun trying the different cocktails and inventing my own. Part one of this cocktail came from one called "Center of the Galaxy," which was inspired by the discovery that a primary chemical compound in the center of our galaxy has a raspberry flavor and the smell of rum. However, I didn't particularly care for the cocktail. Well, it's a fine cocktail; it's not like it was bad; it just didn't really do it for me.

Once we'd tried the "Center of the Galaxy," it just kind of sat around in the back of my head: you know, good concept, poor execution. Then I re-happened upon a cocktail called "Hondo Hattie's Jungle Punch," a cocktail appropriately created for Disney for some party or other related to their jungle ride. As a side note, Hattie's cocktail contains Velvet Falernum, an alcohol I don't really care for except in this particular drink.

I don't think I should need to go into any long explanation about what happened next. Let's just say it was clear to me that Ohnaka needed his own punch, being a space pirate and all -- and you know about pirates and rum -- and I set about to make it.

And I did, too!
I'm pretty sure my wife thought I was crazy through this whole process but, then, she doesn't understand Hondo Ohnaka, one of the best side characters in the Star Wars universe. The drink did take a lot of editing... um, wait... revisions...? Permutations!? I'm going to go with permutations. Here is what I settled on:

Hondo Ohnaka's Space Punch
1oz lemon juice
1oz cinnamon syrup
1/2oz curacao
1/4oz tawny port
1/2oz velvet falernum
1/4oz raspberry liqueur
1/2oz Licor 43
1/4oz allspice liqueur
2oz Eclipse (the rum)
2 dashes of angostura bitters

This is, actually, my favorite drink at the moment, not just some, "Yeah, this is okay," kind of thing. "Yeah, this is okay" drinks are fine and all of that. You have to have some of those just to mix it up some and to remind you why it is you like your favorite drinks. This one is well above that for me and is going to end up being something I keep the ingredients around for all the time.
Which is saying something because, as I stated, I don't care for Velvet Falernum, and I also don't like tawny port. Before I came up with this drink, I had planned to not buy those two things again. Further proof that sometimes things you don't like can work together to make something really good.
Now if my kids would just figure out that vinegar works the same way...