by wjw on May 26, 2020

Our stimulus check arrived— or rather not a check, but a debit card on the U.S. Treasury.  Apparently it’s legit.

I’m still working and my business hasn’t shut down, and Kathy is comfortably retired.  We’re not rich, but we’re doing well enough.  We don’t need the money and didn’t ask for it, and we’re self-isolating and lack for nothing but good company, and we’d rather the money went to someone to whom it would make a difference.

So we’ve decided to give the money away.

Most of the money will be going to Doctors Without Borders, which is fighting COVID all over the world (including this country), and to our local food bank, which provides food to those organizations who deliver it to the sick, disabled, housebound, and homeless.  Delivering food to the needy was always a good deed, but now tens of millions are unemployed and don’t know where their next meal is coming from, food prep and delivery has become dangerous work, and those involved are literally risking their lives.

Kathy’s donated some to a local artist’s collective so that they can keep their gallery open, and I’m looking at a couple artists’ and writers’ charities.   In a few days, our stimulus money will be stimulating elsewhere in the economy, and making the lives of others easier.

It seemed the least we could do.

PS: I’m not trying to shame anyone else into giving away their stimulus money.   If you need the money to survive, then by all means use it to survive.  That’s what it’s for.  But if you’re not desperate, by all means consider using it to help the desperate among us.



Idiot Box for the Isolated

by wjw on May 16, 2020

Here in my isolated rural paradise I’ve been watching a lot more video than I usually do, and— for some damn reason— doing a lot less reading.  The least I can do is share my online encounters.

Safe and The Stranger, both on Netflix.  Two of Harlan Coben’s thrillers (which I haven’t read) have been shifted from America to Britain, apparently without harm.  Safe’s plot revolves around the death of one teenager and the disappearance of another, taking place in a gated community which is supposed to be, well, safe.  The relentless father of the missing girl is played by Michael C. Hall, who played the serial killer Darkly Dreaming Dexter, and every time he got into a confrontation with someone, I kept thinking, “Do what he says, dude!  You don’t know who you’re dealing with!”  The Stranger likewise takes place in a small, intimate setting, an English village, where a young stranger (Hannah John-Kamen from Killjoys, equipped with a baseball cap and some eerie green contact lenses) starts revealing the town’s most intimate secrets.  Both series have very satisfying twisty plots and people who go missing, and both feature teenagers who are keeping secrets from the grownups, because that’s what teenagers do apparently.  Of the two, The Stranger is probably the more satisfying, with a terrific performance by Stephen Rae.

The Prisoner, the Sixties series on Amazon Prime.  No time like the present to review tips on surviving a technological panopticon!  Holds up surprisingly well, and manages to engage the viewer despite McGoohan’s character never letting you know what he’s feeling or thinking, because that kind of reveal is the equivalent of handing information to the enemy.

I keep picturing that somewhere there’s a proper British club inhabited exclusively by former Number Twos, none of whom understand the series finale.

Bosch, Season 6, on Amazon Prime.  Each series mashed two or three of Michael Connelly’s police procedurals together, which has the effect of making Harry Bosch as overworked as a real police detective. Season Six, just released, mashes with less success— the plot seems more scattered than unified, but excellent performances make it very watchable.

Extraction, on Netflix.  Those of the appropriate hormonal persuasion will be pleased to note that Chris Hemsworth is even more buff in this series than when he played Thor.  I think it’s self-defense, because Hemsworth spends the entire film in knockdown fistfights, dragging himself through sewers, or being thrown off rooftops.  If his soft tissues weren’t surrounded by a hundred pounds of solid muscle, he’d be dead.  The action scenes are completely insane— you see Hemsworth’s face as he goes off the rooftop, only to bound off an awning, hit another awning on a food truck, then flop off into the street.  The stunt doubles were underemployed on this one.

And the plot?  Well, the son of India’s foremost drug lord is kidnaped by a rival in Bangladesh, and white savior Hemsworth is hired to break him free.  Hemsworth has to do this pretty well by himself— you’d think the subcontinent’s foremost drug lord could afford a larger team.  It’s not plausible, but it’s fun for those who enjoy bucket loads of action.

Bordertown, a/k/a/ Sorjonen, Season 3, on Netflix.  Detective Kari Sorjonen is back in the third installment of this cerebral, depressing Nordic police procedural.  (I mean “depressing” in a good way.)  This time he’s up against a mastermind who’s basing his crimes on Sorjonen’s previous cases.  I haven’t got through the whole of the this series, but if you liked the first two, you’ll like this one.  (Here’s my take on the first season.)

When I encounter a fictional character like Sorjonen, who resides somewhere on the autistic spectrum, I have to wonder how he managed when he was just an ordinary cop.  His nonstandard mental focus makes him perfect for solving complex crimes, but how did he survive when his job was handing out parking tickets and hauling drunks off to jail?  And it’s not just him— can you imagine Monk as a beat cop?

Money Heist, seasons 3 and 4, on Netflix.  The first two seasons of this Spanish series, which covered one spectacular, elaborate crime in 22 episodes, were compulsively watchable— here’s my review— but now it seems two seasons isn’t enough for one crime anymore.  As I was watching the clock run out on Season 4, I kept wondering how the hell they were going to wrap it up by the last episode . . . and the answer is that they didn’t.  Our antiheroes will still be stuck inside the Bank of Spain at the beginning of Season 5, which they haven’t even started to film yet.  I guess I’ll tune in, but I’m beginning to wonder how long they can drag this out.

Ford vs. Ferrari.  Good race movie.  Evokes the era really well.  I don’t know how this ended up as an Oscar nominee, because it just isn’t that kind of film, but if you remember Carroll Shelby tearing up the track back in the day, you’ll enjoy this.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  Honestly, I liked this Tarentino film a lot more than I thought I would.  As the title should tell you, this is a fable— or, as we SF people might say, alternative history.  It’s too hard-edged to be a “love letter to old Hollywood,” as a great many have said, especially as much of the action has to do with despair and alcoholism.  The characters are involved in a kind of Brownian motion study, in which fictional characters bounce up against people like Sharon Tate or Bruce Lee, then bounce away again.  Robbie steals the best scene, in which Sharon Tate sneaks into the theater to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew, an awful Dean Martin vehicle.  I watched the whole movie dreading the final scene— because this is Tarentino, after all, and Sharon Tate and the Manson Family are in the cast— but fortunately the film is a fable, and the ending, while violent, feels justified, and even hopeful.  (There.  Was that vague enough for you?)

Messages From Elsewhere.  This limited AMC series was a passion project for creator/star Jason Segel, and also starts Richard E. Grant and Sally Field.  Segel plays a sad sack named Peter, who gets involved in what might be an Alternate Reality Game, or possibly a glimpse behind the curtain of reality, or possibly a hunt for a missing girl, or possibly a script written by Jason Segel.  Peter is partnered on his quest with Sally Field, Andre Benjamin, and trans actress Eve Lindley, who is also his love interest.  The series is charming and quirky and often beautiful, though I felt that the payoff at the end lacked a solid punch.  I follow something this involved for this many episodes, I want to feel like the ending socked me in the jaw.

If you get a chance to see this one, you really should.

Has anyone seen Tales From the Loop or Upload?  Ought I bother?


Mom’s Day

by wjw on May 9, 2020

A hundred years ago there used to be a musical genre about how much people loved their mothers, M.O.T.H.E.R. being one of the big hits.  There are still songs about moms, but they’re not regulars on the Hit Parade the way they used to be.

Here’s a song that’s only tangentially about mothers, but I couldn’t quite resist it.  Have a happy Day to all you mothers out there.


Lockdown Spirits

by wjw on May 8, 2020

gbdieApparently the spirits are as tired of the lockdown as everyone else, because they’ve been getting restless.  We’ve been having an outbreak of strange spectral noises.

For the last few weeks, I’ve heard mysterious knocking noises at night, between 11pm and midnight.  It doesn’t happen every night, but it happens enough to become a fairly regular occurrence.

At that hour I’m usually sitting in my easy chair working on my laptop, with my ear buds in as I listen to music, and then BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG, a sound like a wooden hammer hitting a wooden table.  It goes on for a few seconds before stopping, and it sounds as if it’s coming from the living room.

By the time I’ve got my ear buds out, my laptop off my lap, and my butt out of my easy chair and into the living room, whatever was causing the noise is gone.

Ghosts?  If so, they’re new to the neighborhood.  Raccoons?  Why those noises, and how do they make them?  The sound system shorting out?  Maybe, but why does it happen only at that time and then stop?

For a while, I thought it was the cat performing some kind of extreme scratching post technique, but the cat hasn’t been present at least the last couple times.

Maybe I need to devise some kind of occult ritual to cope with it.  Maybe I could light one of those sage smudge bundles and make a ritual procession through the house chanting, “SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU NOISY BASTARD.”

Think that would work?



by wjw on May 5, 2020


Happy Cinco de Mayo, everybody!  Welcome to my virtual matanza!

May 5 is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla in 1862, in which an inferior Mexican force defeated a French expeditionary army.  In Mexico the day is celebrated only in Puebla and environs, but it’s widely celebrated among Mexican-Americans in the States.

Some folks think this is the Mexican independence day, but it’s not.  That’s in September.

One way to celebrate while still maintaining your social distancing is to knock back a few brews and see Cinco de Mayo: La Batalla, a pretty fine Mexican film about the battle, available on Amazon Prime.  The film is a little overlong, but that just gives you time to drink a couple more beers.

I’m skipping the beer, but I’ll be enjoying some El Padrino añejo tequila later, so probably the celebration will continue well into Seis de Mayo.  Which has to be the anniversary of something, right?


Ma Solitude

May 1, 2020

I woke up with this song in my head this morning, and I decided that I’ve come to the pensive part of social isolation. This is songwriter Georges Moustaki accompanied by Pink Martini, and it fits my mood exactly.

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Kata in the Carport

April 30, 2020

It’s over six weeks since we locked ourselves away.  It’s been easier than I expected.  I’m used to working alone, for one thing. I’m trying to start the day with kata in the carport.  Then I have lunch and spend a couple hours playing Horizon: Zero Dawn.  I’m no longer clear what day of the week […]

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April 25, 2020

Since I’m hanging out at home hiding from the virus, I have very little to do, so I thought I might as well try to fulfill one of my longtime ambitions, which is to become a chainsaw artist! There’s no place that teaches this stuff, you just have to fire up your chainsaw and go […]

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I Cannot Avoid the Topic of Publishing

April 22, 2020

So the other night I dreamed that I worked on the staff of an established magazine called Huguenots Today, which was threatened by the publication of a newer, glitzier magazine called Huguenots Now!  That exclamation point was like a weapon brandished in our direction. Ad revenue fell.  There were lots of meetings, and an air of desperation.  Nobody […]

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Down Home

April 18, 2020

I don’t want to cause too many cases of resentful food envy here, but I’m kinda proud of this one.  What we have here is barbecue beef brisket, potato salad, and collard greens. The brisket was cooked sous vide for 72 hours at 155 degrees F, then spent two hours in the oven to give […]

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