Snow Day

Snow days aren't really a thing anymore, are they? Back in days of yore, which for the purposes of this discussion are the 1980s and 1990s, bad weather would shut down the office and you would be completely unable to do anything in the way of work. No cell phones, no internet, no email, and no way for work to find you other than your land line (and you'd best have caller ID to screen your calls). 

Today, my fair city shut down over a thin sheen of ice over the roadways and I wasn't able to get to the office, but that hardly made a dent in the amount of work I did. No less than four hours of meetings on Hangouts, plus plenty of email-driven tasks. I might genuinely have worked more today than I would have in the office. Kind of takes the romance out of that thin sheen of ice over the roadways, doesn't it?

So, no real snow, but the icy bits are pretty and the ducks out back seem to to be fine with the chill in the air, so it was kind of fun, even if I wasn't properly playing hooky. We cooked, we watched some QI, Leicester scraped past Fleetwood Town to get into the 4th round of the FA Cup...all in all, a pretty good day.

On an unrelated note, I picked up volume 6 of Kieron Gillen's and Jamie McKelvie's The Wicked + The Divine. Once I recovered, I picked up volume 1 and re-read it, then realized I'd meant to read volume 2, and then, when it started to click, re-read volume 6 again. All I'll say is that they played it more honestly with regards to the big reveal than I thought the first time through. It works. It's mean, it's ugly, and now I really can't wait to see how it ends. Can't recommend it highly enough.

On the off chance that anyone reading this has read Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, ping me as I'm interested in hearing your take on it. I'm thinking it would have been a better book to take on vacation than to read from daily on the train to and from work. I just picked up Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker and I'm having the weirdest sense of deja vu reading the first couple of chapters. I would bet my life I've never read this book, but almost every word feels familiar. Unsettling. Anyway, he's a ridiculously gifted writer and I'm loving what I've read so far.

I guess I should probably hit the hay. In theory, public transit will be fully functional tomorrow even though there's been no real change in the conditions. We're not terribly good at winter weather down here. Anyway, I'll wager that the office will be semi-empty which is always nice. Sweet dreams.

-RK

 

Fever dreams

It turns out that the flu this year is nothing to (forgive me) sneeze at. While at work last Wednesday, I found myself unreasonably tired from walking up stairs. It came on so quickly from there that I was out of the door in fifteen minutes and home in bed in less than an hour. Bed is where I stayed for the next 48 hours. The next 24 or so were weird in that my body didn't have the energy to do anything but my brain lost its ability to sleep or do anything other than repeat weird loops over and over. 

Do not underestimate this particular strain of influenza. Today was the first day I felt any hunger and ate anything more than a few bites of bread. I didn't turn on my computer for three days. If you know me, you know how far down I had to be for this to be the case. My understanding is that if you see your doctor as soon as you're symptomatic, there's something they can do to lessen the blow. Otherwise, you're looking at over-the-counter symptom reducers. 

Side note: This is the second time I've had the flu in the last ten years. In both cases, I had a flu shot the previous fall. I'm still going to keep getting them, but they don't seem to be quite as efficacious as we've been told, huh?

It wasn't all bad, though. There were a few interesting things to come out of my week on my back:

1. The first solid food I ate was a batch of Popeye's new "Ghost Pepper" wings. They are damned good, albeit a questionable choice for "first solid food." They're nowhere near as spicy as the name suggests, but they're actually pretty hot, well beyond typical fast food empty promises. 

2. I got my primary Christmas present home and, wow, is it a doozy: A Korg Minilogue synthesizer! I'll write more about it when I've had more time to noodle with it, but it's just insanely powerful and intuitive to program.  I'm getting tingly just thinking about getting to play with it more tomorrow.

3. Watching a soccer match broadcast from a single camera at midfield is dizzying and weird. I can see how one might grow accustomed to it, but the angles were alien to me. It didn't help that the first time I turned on any entertainment, on Saturday morning, it was such a garbage match.

3a. I've been pulling for Fleetwood Town ever since they sold Jamie Vardy to Leicester. They've been rising up the ranks, slowly but surely, going from Conference football to nearly reaching the Championship last year. Getting to see the Cod Army out in force only endeared them to me further.

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4. QI is the perfect show to binge when you're camped out on the sofa and have no energy to do anything (including watch whatever is on the screen). 

And, that's about it. I'm going to try to work in the morning. We'll see how long that lasts.  Thank goodness for Nicole. She's done yeoman work taking care of me while she, too, has been afflicted by this crud. 

Goodnight all,

-RK

Hello 2018

Hi, and welcome to 2018. I have high hopes for 2018 (not to be confused with "high expectations," mind you). Last year set the bar pretty low, so I don't think it's unreasonable to think we'll see at least modest improvement. In case you missed it, here was my tweet summing up the previous year:

It seems appropriate that I can do my 2017 recap as a tweet. Married life was and remains amazing. I lost my father in January. The President is an ignorant bully who makes everything he touches terrible. I think that about covers it.

There were some other good things, of course. We discovered the joys of keeping garden snails as pets (documented here and here). We got to visit Marfa again. I read some quite a few good books. In fact, the last two were among the best all year. 

I'd never read any of Zadie Smith's fiction, but I enjoy her essays and her debut novel, White Teeth, got some pretty terrific reviews. I didn't know quite what to expect. Her style had been dubbed "hysterical realism," which has to be one of the least-helpful descriptions I've ever heard. As it turns out, the novel is a very funny tale of three(-ish) families in England and...I wont' try to describe it further, but I found her tangents and abrupt changes in perspective charming and entirely appropriate to the story-at-hand. I enjoyed it more than all but a handful of books I've read since I started reading during my commute.

Next, I picked up Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. I'd never read any Christie and figured this would be a good place to start. It wasn't for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone who's ever read it, but it was still a delight. Hercule Poirot is a delightful character and I'd probably enjoy reading "Agatha Christie's Poirot Does A Crossword Puzzle While He Works Out What His Neighbor Is Planning For His Garden This Spring." 

Today, we did something that I hope will be the start of a tradition: We went to an old school arcade. I was triumphant, setting the high score on the Phoenix game as well as the Cyclone pinball machine. The old football game with the track balls and the x and o figures for the players was a bit of a bust, but it was just as painful as I remembered. To commemorate Texas' new open carry law for swords, Nicole won enough tickets on the claw machine and skee ball go get me a nifty scimitar and eye patch (I assume we already have open carry on eye patches). 

Above: Not a very good game

Above: Not a very good game

Turning in a bit early tonight on account of the fact that I'm absolutely knackered. Here's hoping you and yours have a lovely year and that you're safe and warm tonight.

-RK

I finally figured out what was wrong with Pacific Rim (the least-crucial post of 2017)

I know Pacific Rim wasn't a great film, but it was a great idea for a film and it had great parts. It's been frustrating me for four years now and now I think I know why it was so frustrating.

Last week, I watched my favorite part of Pacific Rim, the battle in and near Hong Kong between the four mechs....er, "jaegers" and the kaiju. That sent me down the rabbit hole of reading up on all of the jaegers in the lore that didn't make the film. There were, apparently, other jaegers that were going to be in the movie but had to be cut because director Guillermo del Toro felt there was already too much backstory. That's when it hit me.

The problem with Pacific Rim is that the film we got was the third movie of the trilogy. 

Bear with me on this: Pacific Rim is the story of the conclusion of the decades-long war between humanity and giant monsters from...well, let's call it "the deep." The majority of this war is shown to the audience in flashbacks or plain old voice over exposition. Not only is this awkward, it also forces the films to spend an inordinate amount of time on world building instead of fulfilling its promise of wall-to-wall robot versus monster action. The film had some really great parts, but it never got rolling until way too late.

It didn't have to be this way. The basis for full films is in the backstory. The first is the story of the first appearance of the kaiju. Humanity throws their military might against the huge monsters, fighting heroically but ultimately unsuccessfully against an enemy the likes of which we've never seen. As a last throw of the dice, we build a giant freaking robot and, after several setbacks and against all odds, the newly-christened "jaeger" beats back the menace. Humanity has a, ahem, new hope and the jaeger program is born.

The second film shows the rise of the jaegers to the height of their glory. The pilots are rock stars, heroes, and almost gods. Basking in the glory of easy early successes, no one wants to acknowledge that the monsters are getting tougher and appearing more frequently. Soon, the victories aren't coming so easily and the losses are starting to mount. When an entire city is destroyed due to over-confidence on the part of a jaegar pilot, public opinion turns against the program.  Humanity is on the back foot and the fateful (and ill-advised) decision is made to abandon the jaegers and entrust our fate to enormous sea walls.

Now, we have Pacific Rim as the third film. This solves so many problems. When Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha take the field against a kaiju, the audience knows these jaegers as legendary veterans who've won battle after battle. Now there's no need to spend a third of the film on the backstories of the eventual pilots of Gipsy Danger. Now there's time to have more robot vs. monster fights, with higher stakes since we're invested in the participants. It works so much better.

I know this is the mootest of moot points, but it's been bugging me for a long time. This makes sense, right? Anyway, here's the first part of the Hong Kong fight. It still makes sad to see the Russians get it this way:

 

-RK

 

Learning to cope in the new dystopia

I've opened my laptop every day with the intent of writing something here, and then I've closed it again after staring at the screen for a number of minutes. These days are seriously taking a toll on me. 

I've always said that the real danger in Washington wasn't the President, but rather what Congress could do with the spotlight permanently affixed on the shit show that is the current administration. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: The tax bill! While it's hard to judge exactly what's in it on account of the fact that it was still being written moments before the vote and no one had a chance to read it before they cast their vote. Based on what little we know, it looks as bad as anything I've seen.

It's a tax hike on the lower and middle classes and a big cut for the wealthy. That in and of itself is not damning. If the taxes on the wealthy are too high, you'll get high interest rates and a lack of investment. Of course, that's not the case now. Companies are not merely flush with cash; credit is cheap and readily available as well. Thus, lowering taxes is NOT going to result in an influx of investment. Many larger companies have indicated they'll just put the tax cuts in investors' pockets  which is exactly what one would expect.

Of course, they didn't stop at tax cuts. They put in an end to the individual mandate of Obamacare, which will cost an estimated 10 million Americans their health insurance. In an attempt to make abortion illegal (via a tax bill, mind you), they defined "life" as beginning prior to pregnancy. They added tax deductions for private education and removed deductions for state and local taxes (which fund public education). Oh, and let's not forget that deduction for private jet owners. It will increase the deficit by over 1 trillion dollars, which, one presumes, will be the excuse for cutting public services in the future. It's a piece of shit bill.

That alone is enough to make me feel like we (meaning people with values similar to mine) lost, and lost big. If this thing passes in its current form, the damage will be significant and could take a generation to repair. The Senate Republicans flat-out said that, if they didn't pass this bill, their big donors would cut them off. That's indication enough who they're working for, and if you're not a big Republican donor, you're going to be worse off than you are now.

I don't mean to imply that this is the only bad thing the government is doing. The cascade of awful news is just overwhelming. We're giving public lands (meaning "yours and mine") to energy companies. We're making it harder to report sexual harrassment in schools. We're trying to kick trans folks out of the military. We're still talking about that border wall for some reason.  We're about to elect a man who preys on children to the U.S. Senate, with the endorsement of the President. We're provoking additional violence in the Middle East. We're kneecapping the internet as an open channel for communication. We're allowing the police to murder black people without repurcussion because they feel threatened by the fact that they're black.

And, for some reason, the President is holding rallies for himself, like this is a normal thing.

I'm wiped out. I'm just buried underneath all of the horrible things we're doing to try to turn the clock back on every hard-fought gain we've seen over the last...well, my lifetime at least. I didn't even mention the fact that they're talking about allowing business owners to claim some of their employees' tips as their own. That's huge, but there's just so much and I can't keep up or prioritize because it's starting to break me. 


Unfortunately, curling into a ball and turning off all media for the next couple of years isn't an option and wouldn't help if it were. Onward and upward. Shit's broken and it's not going to fix itself. Honestly, I'm probably not going to fix it, but at least I'm going to have to support those that are while I'm learning to live in the new dystopia. 

Which is all a (very) long way of saying that I'm going to be making an effort to put something in this space on a regular basis. That's the point of that new "top 5 lists" thing at the top, to give me a place to write something easy and tiny when I'm too knackered to make a proper post.

That's all the venting for today. Cheers.

-RK

Barreling through the holidays

This was one of the nicest turkeys days I've ever had, in no small part due to the lack of turkey on the menu. Nicole and I holed up by ourselves and it turns out that we do a pretty fine job working in the kitchen together. I made a beef roast and baked yet more bread and she took care of the green bean casserole, asparagus, and mashed potatoes, gravy, and some seriously evil chocolate-y desserts. For the first time in memory, everything worked. There were no duds and, while there were leftovers, they weren't left over very long and not a bite went to waste.

Then, by some miracle, the house was transformed that very night into a winter wonderland, festooned with tinsel and garland and a tree and stockings and...you get the idea. By "miracle" I mean, of course, Nicole. I think, hoping I don't jinx it, that we are well-prepared for the coming month and we're going to enjoy it. This isn't usually my favorite time of the year but I feel up to it. I normally tend towards melancholy during the winter, but there's no reason not to push back against that tendency.

One thing that helps is that, while my plate seems pretty fully, it's full largely of things I've chosen to heap on to it. That makes a big difference. It's the time-based obligations of the holidays that get under my skin, but when I'm actually looking forward to most of what's on the calendar this time around. I'd like to think it's a matter of "gaining wisdom," but I suspect it has more to do with my partner than any special insights I've acquired.

Even the cards and the shopping feel less stressful this year (he says haven't not actually completely either). My mother's going to be coming down here to visit, and she's easy to buy for. Nicole has broadly hinted as to what she would like to see under the tree. It all feels relatively more doable than in most years. 

While I'm almost 100% certain that this sort of thing has been happening for my entire life (and longer), the days feel shorter than I can ever remember them feeling. It's weird, but six in the evening seems a great deal like ten and I don't recall that being the case. I don't even have a good theory as to why this should be the case, but the case it most certainly is. 

Oh! This is wholly unrelated to the holidays, but I don't want to forget to mention it. I'm currently reading Zadie Smith's White Teeth and, while it's not a quick read, it's delightful. I'm not sure what I expected, but "fun" wasn't it. I've only read her non-fiction which is careful and precise and scholarly even when discussing non-scholarly subjects. White Teeth is, at least thus far, a blast, full of dry wit and touchingly unfortunate characters. 

There. That should about do it for tonight. Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving.

-RK

 

A very Austin weekend

Active weekends feel like longer weekends, don't they? We thought it would be fun (and cheap) to get out and about and do some things we've been meaning to do for a while now. We kept busy enough that, driving home tonight, I found myself trying to remember what day we'd gone to Epoch for coffee. Turns out it the answer was "today." Either we had a nice, full weekend or I'm just getting old. Or both. Probably both.

Saturday morning, we hit up the poetically-name Lower Bull Creek Greenbelt Trail. It's not far from our home, five, maybe ten minutes, but it feels like we've left the city entirely when we're hiking by the waterfalls. It's not a difficult hike like some of the other trails off of 360, but it's quite beautiful and easily accessible. Well worth the visit if you want to see some nature without having to leave town.

Looking down the waterfall from the header image.

Looking down the waterfall from the header image.

 

Saturday night, we checked out the Creekshow at Waller Creek. It was a lovely use off the space along Waller Creek, and judging by the attendance, it was wildly popular. I didn't take any pictures, but I'm sure you can find some if you're interested.

It felt a little off to me, though. I work a block from Waller Creek and I spend a lot of time in that area. The creek splits the distance between the homeless shelter and the police station. During every other week, the vibe is very different. Austin has a large homeless population and the area around Waller Creek is a popular place for people who don't have any place to live. None of this was in evidence during the Creekshow, which was very much by design.

The Creekshow is sponsored by the Waller Creek Conservancy. Here's how they describe their purpose. 

The mission of Creek Show is to surprise and delight the community while also creating awareness about the importance of Waller Creek's transformation for Austin's social, cultural, and ecological future.

If this means "It's time for Austin to get serious about helping the homeless," then great. But it's about spending moving to develop the area and kick out the people who already have nowhere to go, then I'm less excited about it. I hate to sound so negative; it was a neat show, but knowing what that area really looks like gave the event a weird vibe.

Today was special. Today was checked out the new Austin Central Library. I'd heard it was amazing, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw. It's flat-out stunning. It has a huge atrium with an Escher-eque array of staircases which is every bit as vertigo-inducing as it sounds. There are two large event areas, a museum, a gift shop, computer catalogs everywhere, plenty of computers for people to use, include laptops that can be "checked out" for use in one of the many reading/working areas, small meeting rooms, porches, and even the top-floor garden. Check out some of the photos here.

Oh, and there were books, too. A great lot of books, which is what you'd expect (although the fiction selection was curiously thin). But...the focus seemed to be on ways to put all manner of information in the hands of people who want it as opposed to being just about the books. I love books, and I prefer to do my reading on paper, but I'm not religious about it. The library seems to have been born of an effort to provide well-rounded information services to the community as opposed to just catering to bookworms like me.

In fact, if I couldn't afford a computer or an internet connection, and I lived next to a library like that, I think I'd get on just fine. Of course, this library is located in one of the most expensive areas to live in the entire city so the people who live nearby are the ones who least need those kind of services. Nonetheless, it's an incredibly impressive building. I'm making a note here: Huge success!

Before I go, though, I'd like to share this with you all. This weekend, we also added a third adult snail to our terrarium. Last month, we found a beautiful snail outside with the shiniest shell we'd ever seen. Looking more closely, we realized his shell was nearly transparent because he was so deprived of calcium and he'd had some breakage as well. We brought him and kept him in his own enclosure for a month while he recuperated and, yesterday, we introduced him to our other snails, Dazzle and McKenzie. Professor Dashiell Longfellow now has a home with us, and Nicole made this video to announce his arrival:

And now I am truly tired. My legs are sore, and I think it's more from the library stairs than the hike, and Nicole is asleep and I expect I will be too shortly.

Getting hygge with it

One wrinkle we've added to our home life of late is keeping the bedroom as peaceful and relaxing as possible. When I say "we," I mean it was Nicole's idea, but I've taken it up as well. Everything in its right place, bed made (and I am not a bed-maker by nature), candles, and just a general lack of clutter. I'm sore most of you are thinking something like "that's how my bedroom always looks," but please understand that this new to me, so bear with me on it.

With the change of environment comes a change in habit. Rather than staying in the living room until we're good and knackered, we're adjourning to the bedroom a little earlier so we can wind down and relax. It's all very comfortable and I find I'm sleeping better than I have in a good long time. The cats seem to like it, too. One or the other will usually be sleeping between our pillows and making my nose itchy. I would say "in a good way," but we all know there's no such thing as a good kind of itchy.

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My musical gear occupies one corner of the bedroom and the lack of clutter makes it a good deal more inviting and accessible to me. I'll probably never be good, but I have a lot of fun with it and that's more than enough to make it worthwhile. 

This week, i re-worked a section of a song I wrote in college, changing it from 13/8 to 3/4 (rhythm and I don't get along), moving it down a half-step to make it work with another bit I wound up discarding, and discovering and ultimately feeling pretty good about where it landed. 

I've never used a digital audio workstation before, but hey, it's not that hard to get a few basics down and start playing with it. Learning a new skill is wildly gratifying, even if it's a skill that I'll never use for anything other than playing around.

This messing around with the musical toys has also interfered a little with my other "job" and writing in this space, thus proving the "Fun distractions are more appealing than work" theorem. One of the many, many proofs, as it turns out.

Anyway, my larger point is that we (and again, by this I mean largely Nicole) have turned our little apartment into something that feels more like a resort, a little oasis of calm in what is an increasingly unquiet world. It sounds weird to make an effort to create calmness, but I'm awfully happy with the results. Now if I could just get Nicole to consult on our office space...

-RK

The election analysis nobody asked for

So, yesterday was a very bad day for Republicans. The Gods of Ironic Justice smote the party of Trump in an unusually decisive fashion for an odd-year election. This is all very good news. Republicans lost a lot of ground in some key states (Virginia, I'm looking at you...with admiration), and Medicaid expansion won in Maine over the protests of their quite incredibly racist governor.

The most obvious takeaway from this is that it's very difficult to win when your party holds the White House and the President's approval ratings are south of 40%. The President isn't the party, but he's the most visible symbol of what the party stands for. Despite what a few sad, misinformed souls have suggested, Ed Gillespie's loss can't be blamed on a failure to embrace the President. If anything, his determination to association himself with the White House likely cost him.

I suspect that the Republican party has reached the same conclusion. Unless the President turns it around, he'll be a millstone around the party's neck this time next year. If he fails to improve his popularity, is there anything else they can do? Well, duh, of course they can. They can remove him. He's done numerous things that would warrant removal if they were done by literally any other President. Leaving aside the still-to-be-concluded Mueller probe, he's actively solicited donations from foreign governments even after he was told to stop, he sent Congress a note saying that he had no intention of abiding by the emollients clause because that kind of reporting would be inconvenient, he's attempted to use the Justice Department to harass his political enemies...I could go on, but really, they only need one thing and he's given them a bucketful.

Why is he still around? He's useful. While he's in office holding the spotlight, there's no limit to the kind of chicanery a Republican Congress can achieve. Voter suppression, rolling back civil rights protections for everyone but white men, knocking down the barriers between church and state, and tax cuts for the super-wealthy? You'd best believe it! This is very likely a once in a lifetime opportunity for this kind of mischief and removing the President would bring it to a halt.

This does not mean I think the President will be impeached in the next six months. I think that the election results last night make it more likely. If Trump continues to embody the concept of "box office poison," then Republican legislators will have to make the call. If he continues to damage the party and puts the seats of career politicians at risk, he'll be gone by late spring. Principles are fine, but if a legislator has to choose between "enacting a wildly conservative agenda" and "keeping their job," you know what they're gonna choose.

-RK

Evidence of Autumn

Edit: Here's my Autumn 2017 playlist. Enjoy?

What kind of a mood am I in? I just spent half an hour playing one note on one of my old synthesizers. Just slowly, slooowly messing with the filter settings and letting the LFO sweep as gently as it could. Cross-modulation, ring modulation, de-tuning the oscillators..all the good stuff. The old synths have all kinds of knobs and sliders you can use to evolve the tone in a very immediate, tactile way, so you can get a huge variety of sound, even playing just one note. It was an E.


Nicole posted something on Facebook requesting 

Using gifs:. illustrate the meaningless void of existence. Explain death to a child. Caress the icy hand of nothing. Taste rot. Become agony.

For some reason, I had a stack of 'em queued up. Here are a couple I'm particularly well-pleased with:

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OK, so the second one isn't a .gif, but I stand by it nonetheless.


I've be diving into the last couple of Talk Talk albums lately (and, curiously enough, so has my brother-in-law). If you're anything like me, you remember Talk Talk largely as a new wave band that had a string of increasingly interesting hits ("Talk Talk," "It's My LIfe," and "Life's What You Make It") and then kind of dropped off the radar. 

The story of their final album, Laughing Stock is interesting and way too long for me to recount, but if you're up for it, you can read it at The Quietus. It's a record I'd never listened to or thought much about until I saw it included on Fact magazine's list of the top 30 post-rock albums. I was a little surprised to see a Talk Talk record at #4 on the list in the same company as Mogwai, Sigur Ros, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. So, I had to check it out.

That's not the Talk Talk I remembered. As usual, late to the party, but that's ok. It's not a race.


I just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. It's a devastating book in that there is tremendous violence in it, but it's all very calm on it's surface. If I had to choose a single bucket for it, I'd probably go with science-fiction, of all things. It hits big themes, but the one I'm obviously fixating on right is the question of creating meaning or at least its appearance in a world that denies you any hope of achieving your creation.

It's a pretty heavy book. It's easy to read, a difficult one to put down, and I strongly recommend it.


All of this probably comes across as emo or depressing or something like that, but that's not it at all. It's the feeling that comes from looking at things through a microscope instead of a wide-angle lens. We have a single, small light on in the corner of the bedroom right now, plus several candles and the faint hint of spent pinon pine incense. Nicole's asleep next to me and it's all very quiet and calm and good. 

Tonight's going to be the first properly chilly night of the year and I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to turn out the light, blow out the candles, and burrow under a big, fuzzy blanket, kiss my wife on the cheek, crack the window just a little, and enjoy the cool, dry night air.

Goodnight,

-RK

 

One trip around the sun

That was quick. A year ago today, I was a demi-centenarian newlywed. Nicole and I have now been married for a full three hundred and sixty five days, the vast majority of which have been awfully nice. I'm looking forward to the next several dozen transits, too. My life is better than I ever hoped it would be, let alone expected, and she's biggest reason for that.

To celebrate, we performed the ancient ritual of karaoke the night before our anniversary. At this point, I should point out that singing in public is a perfect storm of anxiety for me. The only college course I failed was public speaking. And as for my ability to carry a tune, the response to my best efforts is usually something like "Aw, at least you tried. Although, while we're being honest, we'd really rather you didn't try, or at least, not while we're within earshot." I've had several sincere attempts at singing mistaken for exaggerated jokes. 

With that out of the way, it was a hoot. There were only four people in our room at The HIghball, which made for a very comfortable atmosphere. I set a personal record by singing three times (did I mention this is something that makes me nervous?). Nicole can really sing, and even though I know this now, I still get giddy watching her do it. My takes on They Might Be Giants ("Particle Man"), REM ("It's the End of the World as We Know It"), and Cameo ("Word Up") were less successful, but a lot of fun. Everyone had a great time, and nothing got broken, except the glass I knocked over playing air guitar to "Bohemian Rhapsody," but it's not a party until something gets broken. Usually by me.

For our actual, honest-to-goodness, anniversary, we hit up Garbo's for some lobster rolls because who doesn't love a lobster roll? They catered our wedding and, as I suspect is typical at these events, the bride and groom didn't really get to properly enjoy the food. We did today.

Seriously. These are good.

Seriously. These are good.

It's late now and tomorrow's a work day, so things have wound down now but in a comforting soft of way. Nicole's streaming Marfa public radio on her tablet, and we're just chilling by candlelight and looking forward to spending a lifetime together. 

-RK

Nigh-anniversary

Amidst all the chaos and horror of watching everything good your country has done over the last 50 years undone in a matter of months, we're rapidly approaching the first anniversary of our wedding and honeymoon. Even one year after the fact, there's enough good associated with those days to push aside the rest of the world and make me feel, if only for a short time, that everything right and good with the world makes it all worth it.

We're celebrating a little early on account of the fact that an opportunity too good to pass up landed in our lap. We're at the Hotel Havana in San Antonio, which is owned and operated by the same good folks who gave us El Cosmico out in Marfa. The term "curated" is overused (and most often, misused) these days, but when you stay at a place like this, the term makes all the sense in the world. Every detail is just so, creating an environment that is more comforting and relaxing than any of the luxury accommodations I've visited.

This probably isn't the place for everyone, but it fits the two of us like some cliched object which fits very well indeed. There's nothing gilded, no lacy linens, but it's old and quiet and comfortable and it has, quite ridiculously, two bathrooms. Rather than trying to describe the whole room, I'll just detail the main bathroom. There's a toilet to the side in it's one enclosure, a central area with a rug, a leather chair, and a stand-alone sink and mirror. In turquoise-tiled hutch behind there, there's an open shower area (no walls at all) and a large bathtub. Ridiculous, right? But it works. Best shower I've ever had, and damned if I can properly explain why.

Maybe this will explain it better

Maybe this will explain it better

It's not the sort of place you visit to sleep overnight and then move on. It's more of a retreat, a place to get away, than it is a hotel. That's what I've been trying to say. It makes me think of that marvelous era when writers and other bohemian types lived at hotels for long periods of time. That romantic notion of life appeals mightily staying at a joint like this.

It even has a proper desk? Not one of those glass-covered, overly busy monstrosities you get at "luxury" hotels.

It even has a proper desk? Not one of those glass-covered, overly busy monstrosities you get at "luxury" hotels.

Speaking of "romantic," this feels like a reprise of our honeymoon in the best possible sense. It's hasn't been an easy year in many other senses, but being with Nicole is the best thing that has ever happened to me (and this from someone whose life has been marked by more good fortune than I claim to deserve). She supports me through the bad stuff and, hell, she supports me through the good stuff which isn't something that should be taken for granted. She makes everything in my life better and I hope like hell I can continue to do the same for her.

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So yeah, I'd marry the hell out of her again.

I'll shut up now and just share some more images of this lovely place. If you're in central Texas and you're looking to get away from everything without going into the middle of nowhere, you could do a lot worse than Hotel Havana.

One of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in, too.

One of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in, too.

Looking down from the bed area.

Looking down from the bed area.

Stairs. Oh so many stairs in this building.

Stairs. Oh so many stairs in this building.

Living area. Cute fridge, pity about the name.

Living area. Cute fridge, pity about the name.

-RK

 

 

 

When the drain on the battery exceeds the charge rate

I'm going through one of those spells where the weekends, the refueling times, aren't long or restful enough to top off the tank, meaning that each week, I'm dipping a little deeper into the reserve to get through it all. 

Which is to say, I don't have a great deal to report, at least, not a great deal that's terribly interesting. I got my blood work back from the lab and I'm surprisingly healthy in most respects, but my B12 level is low and my vitamin D level is...I'm trying to remember the exact words on the report. "Alarmingly low," I think, is what they were. Apparently, the best answer for this is to drink milk and eat a lot of fish. The more realistic response is to take supplements. 

I'm currently reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go which is both quite the page turner and absolutely nothing like I was expecting from the author of Remains of the Day. The trade paperback has one really annoying quirk, though. The typeface, which I've seen identified as Bembo Schoolbook, is unusually distracting. It's thinner than what I'm accustomed to reading and it bothers me more than it should. It's quite pretty; it's just not great for reading.

My fair burg finally got a Peruvian restaurant worth the name. If you're not familiar with Peruvian food, at least the versions of it that have made their way this far north, you'll be in for a treat. Imagine a delicious stir fry and then imagine serving it over hot french fries. That's the lomo saltado, which is probably the most obviously accessible dish, but any culture that comes up with that level of genius is going to produce some fine food. The place is called Lima Criollo, and it's inexpensive, the portions are generous, and it's as casual as you'd like. 

That's about it for now as we're getting into wee-hour territory here and I'm pretty sure that staying up late isn't going to do my energy levels any good. Good night, and take care.

-RK

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but mostly the latter

Is it just me, or have these last few weeks been the worst? I find myself listing the tragedies and obscene acts by politicians and celebrities just to keep myself from getting buried beneath the sheer awfulness.

  • Hurricane Maria leaves thousands of Americans without food, water, power and/or shelter in Puerto Rico. The White House complained that helping these people was going to mess up "our" budget and told the people that they were lucky they hadn't 
  • The funding for CHIP expired on 30 September.
  • The US votesd against a UN resolution condemning executing people for apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and same-sex relations.
  • The birth control coverage mandate has been removed.
  • The dreamer program (DACA) has been ended.
  • 59 people were murdered by one gunman in Las Vegas, leading to a massive surge in gun sales.
  • The justice department has filed opinions in court stating that businesses may fire employees for being gay.
  • The justice department has also determined that Title VII does not apply to trans people.
  • The House has banned abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • The President of the United States is spoiling for war against North Korea.
  • The administration is actively trying to undermine the ACA, limiting the registration period and declining to advertising the enrollment dates.

That's a hell of a list, and I'm certain I haven't remembered everything. That's the point though; there are so many terrible things happening (or, more accurately, being done) so quickly that it is difficult to focus and fight on all of these fronts. It's overwhelming to me, and I'm not even in the line of fire for most of these

Most of these acts target minorities. I don't see any way to look at this list and come to any other conclusion, and I started writing this before today's little PR stunt. In case you missed it, the President sent Vice President Pence to Indianapolis for the express purpose of walking out of a football game during the national anthem. They spend a reported quarter million dollars to have the Vice President protest against men who protest against race-based police brutality.

So, if it's wearing you down, I just wanted to let you know that it's getting to me to too. Honestly, I'd be worried about anyone who doesn't feel the weight of the events of the last few weeks. No matter how tempting it is, I implore you not to tune out for the sake of self-care. Doing that is a privilege possessed by people who aren't (currently) under threat. Stay alert, stay angry, and for fuck's sake, register to vote.

 

Various and sundry

Today was a nice day off before we do a little travelling this weekend. That didn't stop Nicole from treating me like today was a work day in that she prepared one hell of a dinner (and dessert) while I diddled around on my keyboards and watched impatiently as my fantasy baseball team limped over the finish line. It's been raining all day, which is nice, because it's still a novelty. Autumn comes late here, so we're just now starting to transition in double-digit high temperatures and clouds that arrive more purposefully than they have in four months.

I've been reading a book of short stories by Roberto Bolaño titled The Return. Bolaño was a Chilean poet and novelist who was completely off my radar until this book caught my eye. The cover blurbs were unusual. I didn't expect to see Mark Danielewski's name on the back cover, but that's the sort of thing that will make me think "Hmm, this might be worth a look." As it turns out, Bolaño's a hell of a writer. His dialogue has all the messiness of real conversations, even if I'm not always certain what the story is about. The tone brings to mind China Mieville, although the styles couldn't be more different. I'm enjoying what I'm reading and I'll likely be checking out one or more of his novels.

I've added a couple of new-ish bands to my rotation: The Horrors and No Devotion. I say "new-ish" because neither of them are truly new. The Horrors' fifth album just came out, and No Devotion are largely what emerged from the wreckage of Lostpropphets. They both are toting what I'd call a very late-80s sounds, not quite Joy Division, but close enough to be mistaken for it if you squint just right. 

I can't really think of any great movies I've seen lately, or even great television outside of "Rick and Morty" (I haven't seen any of this season of "Bojack Horseman" yet, but I expect it'll be strong). The hurricanes and the political mess have been sucking the air out of the room. All I have say about our President (at this time, at least) is that, if you want people to show respect for this country, maybe you should make it worth respecting.

That's about it for now. I'm in a lovely house with a wonderful wife, a cat sitting directly on my shoulder, a couple of beautiful snails, and with a delicious (and heart-healthy) dinner in my belly. Life is a lot better than I expected it to be. Nice surprise, that.

-RK

RKQ&A 4

Since I follow The Onion's AV Club on Facebook, I see their Q&A feature pop up in my feed on a regular basis. They're the sort of writing prompts I can't resist and I'm not going to let the fact that I'm not technically (meaning "in any sense") in the AV Club prevent me from offering up my answers to their questions. 

This is the fourth one I've done. Here are the first, the second, and the third.


 

What pop culture you love is most difficult to explain?

I may get roasted for this, but Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch is a movie I just can't abandon to the people who (maybe correctly) bash it for its misogyny. Snyder is an ambitious visual director who struggles to get his point across clearly. In Sucker Punch, I see one of the most ambitious movies I've ever seen. He tries to one-up Brazil both in terms of depicting fantasies that intersect with reality and with his outrageous anachronistic set pieces. 

Maybe I was seeing things that weren't there, but I think his depictions of the women's fantasies were positive, both in intent and execution. I say "think" because I can understand arguments to the contrary. The film's point of view is too shifty for its own good. I'm not sure that Sucker Punch is really a good film, but it tries to be a great one, and I love it for that, even if it doesn't hit the bullseye. 

What pop culture did you eventually come around on?

When I was working for record stores, we used to take home promotional copies of records once we were done playing them in-store. In some cases, the record was never going to get any play and we just gave them away immediately. Since they were freebies, we often left with music we'd never heard of and weren't particularly invested in giving a long listen to. 

I brought home the promotional copy of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, which was a cassette, half-heartedly listened to it on my way home in the car, and immediately gave it to a friend who I thought might like that sort of thing. It turns out a crummy car stereo is the wrong way to listen to one of the most intricately-crafted guitar albums of all time. Who knew? Anyway, headphones turned me around on this one. The album sounds like being drunk at night on a merry-go-round in the absolute best way possible.

What’s your favorite comfort food? 

This is going to be the most pedestrian answer to this question you can imagine, but the honest answer is: Anything with chicken broth in it. Growing up, my mother would give me chicken soup and a salad for lunch when I was home sick from school. Ever since then, I've associated chicken broth with comfort. Chicken noodle soup, of course, but also chicken and dumplings, chicken ramen, chiken pho, and cream of chicken soup.

If I had to pick one, though, it would be what commonly passes for tortilla soup in these parts. The spices, the aroma of the cilantro, the cheese, and even the baby ear of corn, all spell "comfort" to me. If we're low on cash or just want something to warm our bones, Nicole cooks up a giant pot of her homemade tortilla soup using a whole chicken and we'll eat that for four or five nights in a row. I never get tired of it, and I'm always a little sad when we finally run out.

What’s your favorite pop culture about change?

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman reads like an anthology series made out of nesting dolls. There are stories within stories within stories. It's not until you get near the end, around "Brief Lives," that the pattern starts to emerge (of course, Delirium flat-out giving it away helps): The Sandman is about the Destruction brought on by change and the price of being unwilling to accept change.

I was about to write "The beauty of the series is in..." and I just can't narrow it down like the. There's beauty in the telling, in the sly way the overarching story unfolds, in the complimentary one-off stories, in the art, and in the way it ends the way it must end and still manages to surprise. Change is inevitable; how you react to it (or don't) determines its impact.

I like my art with a little shrapnel

"That's all I've tried to do — leave bits of shrapnel in them like I've had bits of shrapnel left in me from other films. We entertain as best we can, but we also try to reach people."

That's from a Gizmodo interview with Terry Gilliam that came out about when The Zero Theorem was released. It's not new, but it's really, really worth reading. Some people struggle to add anything of interest when discussing their art, but Gilliam is not on that list. 

I've seen Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem three or four times now and it's one of the stickiest movies I've ever seen. I mean this in the sense that I keep thinking about it, and about how bits of it connect to reality in weird and unexpected ways. Gilliam describes himself as a cartoonist, someone who's showing reality in a distorted way in order to make his point. He's also a poet, in that he uses visual metaphors that on the surface make no sense (try to describe Qohen's job to your friends and see how mad you sound), but which can be easily understood by watching his films. 

I love the idea of art leaving shrapnel in people. I get that, and he's a master of it. His Brazil was the first film I can remember that hit me that way. It was also the first film I remember having to see multiple times before I "got" it. 

It's not just Gilliam or even films that do this to me. The first time I read John Steinbeck's East of Eden, I wasn't able to sleep for a couple of days because it messed up my worldview so severely (and, just for the record, for the better). Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet lit up several of my blind spots, not the least of which was I had no idea hip hop could be that powerful. Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, especially volume three, still mess me up. Obviously, "Black Mirror" is designed specifically to be this kind of weaponized art, and it succeeds more often than not.

There are more, of course, but I didn't want to turn this into a "list post," I just wanted to share Mr. Gilliam's insights. Again, I can't recommend reading the whole interview strongly enough. 

-RK

In which I read The Thin Man and Ready Player One

I just reading a couple of books that came highly recommended. One was cleverly-plotted, full of witty dialogue, quick pacing, and well-drawn characters; the other was Ready Player One. 

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett isn't considered his best work and the ending is unsatisfactory, but it's such fun to read it doesn't really matter. Nick and Nora Charles banter is the sort of thing that could (and did) launch a series of films based on the characters and increasingly distanced from the source material. It's both light and literary, and there aren't many authors who can pull that one off.

The cover blurb, appropriately enough, is provided by Raymond Chandler "Hammett...wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before." I think that's exactly right. The dialogue sequences, with the light banter mixed in with some serious sleuthing, are peppered with side-glances and ambiguous but significant facial expressions. It's vivid without being verbose, which is one hell of a trick. 

The story itself is gripping enough, but the fun is in the telling. I still struggle with describing myself as a fan of detective fiction, but, having finally read Chandler and Hammett, I'm starting to come around. I know that's kind of like being a Bob Marley fan and saying you like reggae, but so be it. Hammett lives up to his reputation.


I'm late to the Ready Player One party, in no small part because it's a book so obviously aimed directly at me. I'd heard so much about it and about how I just had to get it that picking it up and reading it seemed kind of redundant. A cyberspace book with a lot of pop culture Easter eggs thrown in? That's my wheelhouse all right.

Having read it, I can see why it's such a polarizing book. It's a tween-ish hero story in 80s drag which makes it a very odd bird indeed. Are people may age, for whom the window dressing is suited, going to get into what is an extremely simplistic story, or are teens going to think that the 80s are just. that. cool?

The story itself is fine for what it is. It could just as easily be set in Camelot, or Sherwood Forest, or Azeroth, or any stock fantasy setting. It's extremely linear, with no real sense of menace and no real growth on the part of the main character other than an almost instant about face regarding the McGuffin. This happens, then this happens, then this happens, until you reach the end. 

Of course, the story isn't the secret sauce here, it's all of the extremely detailed references to my high school years. The lists of favorite movies, bands, video games, and TV shows take up pages and pages of the novel. It's not really an "Easter egg" if the author is showing each reference in your face and saying "Look at this! Isn't this cool?!?!" 

Reading it was slow going until I got about halfway through and I found myself just skimming the lists and details like "here is the hero played a perfect game of this video game," and "this character has memorized every single line of dialogue in this film, here, let me show you!" It skipped along briskly once I stopped paying attention to what it was that made this book special. Take that for what it's worth, I guess.

To sum up, I've just started reading The Maltese Falcon and don't plan on pick up Ernest Cline's follow up novel, T̶h̶e̶ ̶L̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶S̶t̶a̶r̶f̶i̶g̶h̶t̶e̶r̶  E̶n̶d̶e̶r̶'̶s̶ ̶G̶a̶m̶e̶ Armada.

Too much to do, not enough Ridley

I keep staring at this page, thinking "I really need to post," but my follow-through has been lacking. but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I've resigned from one of my three big responsibilities, probably later than I should have, but that will free up five to ten hours I found myself missing. The other side gig has settled into a nice rhythm that feels sustainable to me. The main job remains a little out of control, but that's the nature of the gig and it isn't likely to let up. 

I'll deal with that one later.

I've also made my doctor cross with me. My blood pressure isn't where it needs to be. We're not to the point of prescribing medication yet, but diet and lifestyle changes are in order and they need to be pretty draconian. Apparently, my 2-pots-of-coffee-a-day habit isn't what a doctor would call "smart." So, minimal caffeine and no foods/snacks/drinks with added sugar. Oh, and I get a neat blood pressure cuff too.

I knew things weren't quite right, so I can't say I'm surprised and, honestly? It could have been worse. Rather than complain about the fact I can't drink so much coffee, better to just put my head down and make sure I don't have to go on any meds. The one factor that worries me is that stress is a big player in the blood pressure concerns, so....how does one de-stress? Well, ditching one of my responsibilities is a good start. 

Cats, too. Cats relieve stress. Not this one, but in general.

Cats, too. Cats relieve stress. Not this one, but in general.

The stress is going to be the hard part. Both my wife and my boss have encouraged me to stop acting like the world will collapse if I don't get on it now now now. They're both pretty smart, so I'm going to try to take their advice to heart. Easier said than done, of course, but hey, I can turn off work notifications on my email! I can even not log in to my work email at night at all. What an idea! 

Writing here, too, is a way to slough off stress for me.  So, pretty soon, I'll be back to the writing about books that have already been reviewed a zillion times, shaking my tiny fist at politicians, answering questions that were meant for other people, and, during the best of times, travel adventures with Nicole.

Those are the best.

Those are the best.

Thanks for bearing with me on this one. 

-RK

If only it were just a racist in the White House

I've never seen it get this bad. Have you? Like I've said before, I vaguely remember Watergate, and this is nothing remotely like Watergate. At least Nixon was in control and the scope of his criminal activity was limited. Watergate was a trickle; this is a flood.

It'd be easier if Trump himself were the only problem. Removing him from office would solve the problem and everything would go back to something resembling normal. Unfortunately, his complete inability to lead and govern* has created a vacuum of power that has allowed other bad actors to operate unchecked and sometimes unnoticed because of all the noise the White House is generating.

One of the many, many things that bugs me about people who have "the answer" is that they will say "X is just a distraction from the big problem. While you're worrying about X, then Y is going unchecked!" First of all, by some strange coincidence, "X" is a social justice issue that doesn't directly affect this person, and "Y" is something that does. Every. damn. time.

And you know what? There are a LOT of legitimate, big problems that need to be addressed. We don't have the luxury of fighting this war on one front. The President is sympathetic to Nazis. Congress is trying to gut health care to give their donors tax breaks**. Many states have taken the emptiness of the office of the President as an opportunity to gut women's rights, LGBT rights, rights for people of color, as well as the programs that assist the poor of all demographics. The Russians have attempted to co-opt our elections for their own benefit, as well as to undermine NATO. The police are killing people of color without any apparent reason without any consequences. Oh, and dumbass is still rattling nuclear sabers.

My point is, don't tell me that the focus needs to be on one of these problems and the others will be addressed later. We don't have a single hole in the dam; we have a whole batch of them, and each of them will hurt and kill people. This ALL needs to be fixed, and saying we should only focus on your pet issue is not helpful and really patronizing.

-RK

 

 

* I understand that if he were even slightly effective as a leader, he would create a whole different and possibly worse set of problems, but at least the source of the trouble would have a single address.

** OK, I could do a whole post on this, but the real reason for the panicked rush to repeal Obamacare is a lot simpler and more evil than tax breaks. One of our two political parties has hitched their wagon to the premise that the government can't do anything right and everything should be privatized. A successful, popular health care program is a threat to their very existence in the same way social security is. That's why repeal-without-replace was on the table.