Saturday, December 31, 2016

Nunes vs. Rousey: I fail hard at the prediction game


I made myself go on the record in yesterday's blog entry about last night's UFC championship fights.

Wow, did I blow it.

I went with my heart in choosing Rousey to beat Nunes.  I argued that Nunes would not have the self-discipline to use the game plan she would need to beat Rousey.  Nunes didn't have the chance to display self-discipline.  From the moment she closed on Rousey, Nunes owned the ex-champion.  Rousey looked like she didn't know how to fight.  She made every mistake she made in the Holm loss, only faster, and Nunes hit harder.  Forty-eight seconds after the fight started, it was over, with a TKO-d Rousey looking utterly and totally disoriented.

At this point, Rousey has two reasonable choices:  retire, or seek a new camp with coaches good enough to rebuild her game.  I don't believe she will do the latter, so I  hope she does the former.

Rousey was a formidable athlete who helped make women's MMA what it is today, and she inspired joy and awe in millions of fans, including me.  The sport, though, has passed her by, and without new coaches, she will keep on losing against the top competitors.  I will always remember her string of victories with joy and respect and awe, but they are over.

In the other championship bout, challenger Cody Garbrandt did to champion Dominick Cruz what Cruz had done to every previous opponent:  made him look bad.  Garbrandt had the speed, cardio, footwork, and head motion to outwork Cruz where Cruz is strongest, and Garbrandt flat out hits harder.  He's the new boss at 135, and I look forward to him fighting T.J. Dillashaw, the logical next contender and a fighter who also won in convincing style tonight.

The card was mostly good, but these two fights definitely did not go as I expected and, in the case of Rousey, hoped.

I have huge respect for all the athletes involved.




Friday, December 30, 2016

Nunes vs. Rousey: my pick


For those who don't follow the UFC in particular or MMA in general, tonight is one of the more intriguing fight cards of the year, because it features the return, after more than a year away from the octagon, of Ronda Rousey, the former women's bantamweight champion.  Undefeated until she lost her belt to Holly Holm in November of 2015, Rousey was arguably the most popular figure in MMA and a fighter who a lot of people, including myself, thought would retire undefeated.  Instead, Holm perfectly executed a game plan that exposed flaws in Rousey's strategy and ultimately knocked out the former champ.

The big question tonight is, is Rousey back, or will the current champion, Amanda Nunes, capitalize on those same flaws and hand Rousey her second loss?

The oddsmakers slightly favor Rousey, but not by much.

In online articles, other MMA fighters and analysts seem to give Nunes the nod.

My head tells me Nunes.  My heart votes for Rousey, a character I've long liked.

To force myself to go on record with a pick, I'm writing and posting this entry before the fights start and saying that I'm going with my heart and picking Rousey.

I'll report back after the fights with what really happened.

My reasoning in this selection goes like this:  Nunes has the power and the skill and the coaches to execute the same type of game plan as Holm and beat Rousey.  What Nunes lacks, I believe, is the self-discipline that Holm possessed.  Nunes loves to charge ahead and whale at people.  I believe personality will win out over planning and Nunes will go straight at Rousey.  If she does, I think Rousey is likely to last long enough to get her hands and hips on Nunes, and at that point, I believe it'll be all Rousey.

So, I'm choosing Rousey to win.

Note that nowhere did I say I thought Rousey had improved her striking--attack and defense--because I don't believe she has.  She has the same bad coach as before, so I expect her to come in with no better striking than before.

We'll know in six or so hours.

While I'm in the prediction business, I'll say that I believe the other championship fight will go to the current champ, Dominick Cruz, over the undefeated contender, Cody Garbrandt.  Garbrandt has the power to knock out Cruz, but I don't believe he'll get to land any power shots on the elusive champ.

I'll let you know on this one, too.



Thursday, December 29, 2016

Passengers


Let's get one bias out of the way right now:  I would happily watch a movie in which Jennifer Lawrence sat and read the phone book.  For my taste, she's one of the most talented and appealing young actresses working today.

Add to that the fact that Passengers is an SF film, and I was always going to head to the cinema to catch it.  I also quite like Chris Pratt, so I was triply likely to see and like this one.

Indeed, I did enjoy it, troubling aspects and all.  If you've already read reviews of the film, you probably know its deeply disturbing part.  If not, you'll recognize it when it occurs, and I expect you will be very much troubled by it, as I was.  I'm also not at all sure that I buy Lawrence's character's acceptance of the troubling part.  (Avoiding spoilers is a pain.)

That said, I bought it enough, and enjoyed the rest of the movie enough, that I think it's worth your time and money.  I ended up quite happy to have seen Passengers but also disturbed by it.  






Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


is at once an entertaining ride, a nice verve into darkness for the franchise, and a perfect example of a maddening trend in modern movies.

Most of the film is a velocity exercise that rarely pauses, so if you're at all into the Star Wars universe, you're likely to have a good time with it.  An added bonus is the way it fills in some gaps in the previous films.  You can definitely just sit back and have a fun time with the basic plot and all the effects in this one.

I don't want to indulge in spoilers, so let me just say that, yes, the story does contain a few very dark elements, and I generally view that as a good thing.  When everyone is always going to be fine, dramatic tension is hard to maintain.

The trend that it embodies and that is driving me crazy is the need to continually add one more obstacle to the conclusion.  Beat one bad boss, and another enters.  Solve one problem, and another appears.  I understand and applaud this as a strategy for increasing dramatic tension, but more and more action films of the last several years have piled on so many barriers to success--as Rogue One does in spades--that I end up weary of them and just begging for the film to end.

Apropos of none of those key elements, I must also note that one ending shot, a CG rendering of a brief moment with a key character, simply creeped me out.  It was right in the uncanny valley for me, and I very much wish I'd not seen it.

Overall, though, I had a good ride with Rogue One and quite enjoyed the film.




Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Carrie Fisher, R.I.P.


Well, crap:  2016 claimed another one.  Actress, author, and a voice for the many who suffer mental health illnesses, Fisher became an unforgettable part of SF history with her role as Leia Organa in the first Star Wars trilogy.  She was much more than that single role, of course, but her performance as a character who transforms from princess to general and to senator made her a fixture in the SF firmament.

Her writing and her open discussions of her own struggles with mental-health issues were admirable and helped others be willing to discuss their troubles.

Though few are likely to mention it, I have to admit that I have also always adored her performance as the mystery hairdresser and former girlfriend of Jake in the original Blues Brothers movie.

Fisher died at 60, younger than I am now.  Her and other recent deaths point out how important it is to watch for signs of heart disease.

I am sad to see her go.




Monday, December 26, 2016

Moving away from socks


For most of my life, I have worn socks and sneakers of one sort or another.  Sneakers are generally efficient, useful shoes, ready to support you in normal day-to-day functions and game for running or other, more active endeavors.  Socks are important to stop the sneakers from rotting and because, well, my mother told me I had to wear socks.

Lately, though, I've found myself moving away from socks and from lacing up shoes.

It started with boat shoes while vacationing at the beach.  Once I found a comfy brand, I discovered the joy and efficiency of simply slipping on the shoes and being ready to go.  I wouldn't use them for exercising, but for most of what I do each day, they are great.  Over time, I started wearing them to work as well, because they pass general muster and are so efficient to use.

Last year, against my own previous judgment, I tried on a pair of Uggs and found that I loved them.  I had feared my feet would quickly grow too hot, but they don't.  I again reaped the time savings of not having to put on socks and lace up shoes, but this time in the colder months.  They also generally pass at work, though I wouldn't wear them--or boat shoes--to client sites or when we had client visitors.

I'm still going to wear sneakers--or dressy sneaker-like shoes--regularly, but my experiences with and time savings from boat shoes and Uggs are going to make them ever more frequent parts of my wardrobe.




Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas (to those who celebrate it)!


If you celebrate, either for religious or for secular reasons, this holiday, Merry Christmas!

If you don't, I hope you have a great day!

Either way, I'm planning to be offline.




Saturday, December 24, 2016

The acorn doesn't fall very far from the Christmas tree


I have a pretty sick sense of humor, though I do try to contain it here on the blog.  It's no surprise, then, that Scott's humor can turn rather odd.  Tonight, he showed me two gifts he had wrapped for me.

In the first, he was simply being silly.

Click an image to see a larger version.

No, for those wondering, "Scooter" is not a nickname of his; he was just having fun here.

On the second gift, he started out being too lazy to repeat the full first tag, and then the family sense of humor surfaced.


I laughed so hard when I saw this that I almost pulled a rib.

That's my boy.





Friday, December 23, 2016

Leonard Cohen, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, "Democracy," and these dark days


You can read a bit about its creation on Neil Gaiman's blog here and a different take on it at PEN America's site here.  You can watch it there, also, or you can check it out below.



When you're done, consider making a donation back on the PEN America page.

I know Neil Gaiman doesn't need my help in promoting anything, but I believe that these are dark days indeed, and this video shines as a bit of hopeful light in it.

Well done, Gaiman, Palmer, Cohen, and all who helped.




Thursday, December 22, 2016

I'm embarrassed to live in North Carolina


I've lived in North Carolina since 1978, and from the first time I saw the area to the present, I've loved the state.  From the mountains to the Piedmont to the beach, it's a large place full of beauty.

I am now, though, actively embarrassed at living here.

Our state government has become reprehensible, a Republican-led gang of elected thugs who have gerrymandered their way into increased power and then hurt citizens all over the state.  The most recent news stories--the last-minute sessions to emasculate our Governor-elect and the failure to repeal the awful HB2--have only served to underscore how bad our government has become.

I can hope only that enough of my fellow North Carolinians become equally disgusted by the actions of our state government that they start voting out the jerks currently in power.

Sadly, I don't expect that to happen, but it's the only hope on offer right now.




Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Dr. Holden will see you now


Holden rarely holds office hours, but when he does, oh, the lines that await him.

After all, if you had a problem, wouldn't you want the advice of this hound?

Click the image to see a larger version.

Calm, attentive, caring, and ready to hear whatever you have to say, he is the very model of a modern therapist dog.

He also excels at keeping secrets.  In all my years with H, I've never heard him reveal anything I've told in private.

You can't buy that level of endorsement.  You have to earn it.







Thanks to Rana for the photo.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What every well-dressed moviegoer is wearing this season


Oh, I am indeed a faithful follower of fashion.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Nothing says high fashion like sparkly ears and a three-year-old windbreaker.

Several folks who've seen this photo have debated whether this is my normal (a k a "I will kill you") or my mildly annoyed (a k a "I will kill you slowly"s) smile.  I think it correctly shows that I'm about as happy as a man with glittery ears can be.




Monday, December 19, 2016

How I came to own a $500 ukulele


I certainly didn't plan to do it.  I mean, who would?  No, several factors converged to lead me to this fateful purchase.

I'd been thinking for a while about making a donation to a charity as Christmas approaches.  I wanted to give more.

On the way to the Delta Rae concert, Kyle was opining that the most efficient way to help a food bank was to give it money to buy food.

Near the end of their show, the Delta Rae folks encouraged us to hit the merch table and noted that on that very table was a ukulele they had used in the show--one they had both used and signed.  All the money from whomever bought the instrument would go to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

I've long wanted to teach myself how to play a ukulele, though that desire had never reached a tipping point--until that night.

So, there I am, at the merch table, picking up a Christmas ornament, and suddenly I find that I'm telling the folks there that I'll buy that uke if I can do so quickly and leave, because the crowds were getting to me.

The merch team makes it happen.

People notice and applaud.  I try to hide and fail, so I just leave as quickly as I can, feeling a bit embarrassed.  I had imagined I could sneak out with no one noticing.

It didn't help, of course, that I was carrying a Delta Rae ukulele case.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Inside, sure enough, is one signed uke.


And that's how I came to own a $500 ukulele.







Sunday, December 18, 2016

Delta Rae and Penny & Sparrow put on an amazing show


Earlier tonight, I had the great pleasure of attending a wonderful concert at the Lincoln Theatre.  I was already a huge fan of Delta Rae, but I'd never heard of Penny & Sparrow.  I can now honestly say that if you get a chance to see either group, take it; you will be very happy you did.

Penny & Sparrow, the opener, is two guys from Austin, Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke.  Baxter sings, and Jahnke plays the guitar.  Their songs are frequently sad but always beautiful.  Both, but particularly Baxter, deliver absolutely hilarious deadpan bits between songs.  I intend to give both of their CDs a close listening.

If you read this blog, you've already heard me gush about Delta Rae.  Tonight's performance was an acoustic show that featured a mix of their classic songs, some holiday tunes, and a few tracks from their upcoming third album.

Click an image to see a larger version.

As this shot, courtesy of Gina, suggests, the six members of the band all contributed to almost every song, though the female singers dominated the lead vocals.

Tonight, Brittany Holljes did most of the between-song speaking, and she also sang lead on quite a few of the songs.  Gina caught her in one of the more intriguing poses, her hair blowing around courtesy of a discreetly placed fan.


From what I heard of the new album, I want it already.  I knew I'd love their classics, and I did, my eyes tearing up during "Dance In the Graveyards" as I once again thought of my mother.

If you don't know Delta Rae's music, do yourself a favor and pick up their CDs or buy them on iTunes or wherever, catch them live, and have a great time.




Saturday, December 17, 2016

Another Christmas classic: a special version of "Silver Bells"


I haven't mentioned this one in a few years, so I feel it's time to point you once again to this classic song.  The intro gives you all the background you need.

In case you're wondering, yes, this one is funny at times and both vile and funny at other times, so don't listen if you're seeking only happy Christmas sentiment.  (Do listen if your sense of humor is like mine and you want to laugh a lot.)



Enjoy.




Friday, December 16, 2016

A glimpse of the PT seasonal celebration crowd


We took this group photo at the party.  It's not everyone who was at the party--participation is entirely voluntary--and not all of our staff was able to make the party.  Each employee may bring one guest to the party, so it does include some guests.

Blow it up and go widescreen to be able to see it well.


If you can find me, you may notice that, with the encouragement of Mary, I am indeed doing the sorority squat.  Yes, I already knew how to do it.

No need to ask why.




Thursday, December 15, 2016

Cone Man auditioning


Cone Man wants to star in a nighttime, outdoor, dramatic version of the classic film, Taxi Driver.  Here, he's delivering the classic Travus Bickle line,

You talkin' to me?
Click the image to see a larger version.

If we proceed with the staging--and that is a very big if at this point--I think he gets the part.

It really is getting mighty festive up in here.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Three views of a Christmas tree


This year's tree, debuting in its spot.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Now with lights, courtesy of a hardworking crew.


Despite the help of many, we did not hang all the ornaments, because we have a lot of them, but we did make a good start.


It's definitely getting festive up in here.







Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Appropriate sadness


Not that long ago, I was at a party, chatting with a group of folks, and the subject of our mothers came up.  I mentioned that mine had died some years back and that periodically I was still sad at the loss.  A therapist in the group offered to prescribe something that would help me stop feeling sad.

I hadn't said I was depressed, much less clinically depressed.  I'd said I was sad.

Since when did being sad become a bad thing?

Some sadness is, to me, entirely appropriate.  Feeling sad at the loss of my mother is, to me, part and parcel of honoring her and her memory.

I don't want to give up my sadness.  I don't want drugs to stop me from experiencing the full range of my feelings.

Please don't take any of this to mean that I'm saying that depression isn't real, or that drugs aren't important aids to many depressed folks.  I'm talking sadness, not depression.

I wandered yesterday across a picture of my mother, sitting in a chair in the living room of the house she and Lloyd shared, her head covered by a stubble of hair growing back after her most recent cycle of chemo.  I felt so much in the instant I saw that photo:  fondness, love, joy at her survival, loss at her death, sadness.

I want all of those feelings.  I want my heart to feel it's going to burst trying to contain all that I'm feeling.  I never want to give them up, even if sometimes some of them hurt me to the core of my soul.

So, I'm going to keep on feeling sad sometimes, and feeling happy, and feeling lost, confused, in love, in fear, all of it.  I want all of it.







Monday, December 12, 2016

So why am I posting a Christmas song?


I do actually like quite a lot of Christmas music, but that's not the reason I'm putting this song here for your enjoyment.

No, I'm doing this because the band singing this version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is Delta Rae, a group I love and that I'm going to see Sunday night in a sold-out acoustic show at the Lincoln.



Enjoy.




Sunday, December 11, 2016

In the great ham debate


on which side do you fall:  honey-baked, or country?

Though I see the appeal of both, and though I do from time to time crave a good piece of salty country ham, I am squarely on team honey-baked.  The mixture of the moist meat and the sweetness along the edges makes every bite delicious.

As winter comfort food, a plate of very basic macaroni and cheese and some honey-baked ham is hard to beat.




Saturday, December 10, 2016

Thank you to everyone at PT


I am very fortunate to enjoy the privilege of working with a tremendous group of people at Principled Technologies.  I truly believe we have an incredible team, and earlier tonight we gathered to enjoy a dinner together and celebrate the work we've done in 2016.

I am also lucky to have the best business partner a person could have, Bill Catchings.

Thank you, all, for making PT a great company and a great place to work.




Friday, December 9, 2016

It's Bad Santa time again


Yup, the Christmas season is upon us, so of course I had to hold my annual viewing of this holiday classic.  So you can enjoy it, too, here's just one of my favorite scenes.



Many years of therapy.



Thursday, December 8, 2016

John Glenn, R.I.P.


From when as a kid I read about John Glenn orbiting the Earth, I've wanted to do that, to see the whole planet from space.  I imagined what it must have been like to be the first to have that view.

Then, at 77 years old, he became the oldest human to go into space.

He accomplished a great deal more in his life, but those two achievements will, for me, always shine brightly.  

Glenn is now dead, but what he accomplished lives on in our memories.




Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Well, that's something good


Happy political news has been in scarce supply lately, so for those who don't follow North Carolina politics I am pleased to report that our reprehensible Governor, Pat McCrory, has finally conceded that he indeed lost the race he actually lost on election day.  The challenger, Roy Cooper, is now our Governor-elect.

This news is important not only because McCrory was a horrible Governor in general, but also because he was the public face of our terrible HB2 bill, about which many companies have rightly blasted North Carolina.

I'm not very optimistic that Cooper will be able to get our Republican-dominated legislature to repeal this heinous piece of legislation, but I will cling to the hope that the legislators will find the loss of revenue and public shaming enough reason to repeal the bill--and maybe use McCrory as their scapegoat on the way out.

Regardless, it's great to see McCrory leaving.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A valid question from Elvis Costello


I think it's worth considering, particularly these days.



I'm not saying this is enough in these dark days of Trump's America, but I do think it's something important.

Let's all be the strong, and let's all work to deserve being the trusted.




Monday, December 5, 2016

What to watch on December 30


The return of Ronda Rousey, of course.



I'll be watching.




Sunday, December 4, 2016

Home and exhausted


Neither less than four hours of sleep nor a snowstorm at O'Hare kept Kyle and me from making it home, so I'm happy to be back--and exhausted.

I'm going to do the minimum I must and then crash.  Sleep sounds so very good right now.




Saturday, December 3, 2016

Four hours in bed ate today's blog post


I had intended to write about the day, but when I realized I'd have only four hours in bed before I had to get up to head to the airport, I abandoned the blog and crashed.

Perhaps I will catch up Sunday, or perhaps I will fall asleep again.  Such are the mysteries of my life lately.




Friday, December 2, 2016

Cirque's Michael Jackson ONE brings the magic


For a long time, I wouldn't even consider going to this show.  As much as I've loved all the Cirque performances I've attended, and despite the fact that I liked a great deal of Jackson's music, I was so disturbed by the child molestation charges against Jackson that I avoided everything to do with him.  Finally, I decided on this trip to give it a try.

I am very glad I did.  The show is a magical piece, a loud, booming, tech-heavy tribute to Jackson's music that manages to end on an uplifting message.

In the usual Cirque style, it mixes music and various acrobatic performances.  It's by far the most tech-intensive of the shows, and at times it risks losing its hold on you when you realize that you're just watching a very big music video--but then the live action resumes, and all is well.

The show's title refers to the ending message, something we need more than ever in Trump's America:  that regardless of color or any other differences, we are all one.

To my surprise, I strongly recommend the show and look forward to seeing it again.

By the way, for those wanting more about our Vegas trip, between walking a great deal each day and keeping up with work, I'm having to write short entries so I can get enough sleep.  I'll try to provide more trip information in later entries.




Thursday, December 1, 2016

How Kyle and I ended up wet, sticky, and cold in Vegas


I assure you my intentions were good.

I've been in the splash zone at both O and La Reve and never really gotten wet, so I figured being up front at another Vegas play would be fine.  Consequently, when we decided to check out Evil Dead: The Musical--what's not to like about a musical version of a cult classic?--and the best tickets were for the "splatter zone," I chose them for us.

I should have paid more attention to the lines about "gallons of blood," but I assumed that referred to the show, not the audience.

Not long before showtime, a host led us to the front row, which was covered in plastic, and handed us white, logoed t-shirts, which he then insisted we wear.  Only we two and another guy were in the front.

As the show was about to begin, from way off to my left came a spray, presumably from a super-soaker of some sort, of red liquid with the consistency of Kool-Aid.  I was instantly wet.

From then on, the show consisted of moments of entertainment mixed with stretches of failed attempts on our part to avoid the jets of fake blood coming at us from the left and, in one case, from the stage.

We left the theater chilled to the bone, sticky, and soaked.  We took off the t-shirts but still had to walk through the cold night and then across much of the casino floor of our hotel to get to our room.

We have a pink towel from trying to wash the still-pink clothing we were wearing.

We both think the show was reasonably entertaining, but neither of us can be sure, because we spent so much of it trying in vain to avoid getting wetter, stickier, and colder.

Good intentions are no match for a determined splatter zone team.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Our not-so-crazy first night in Vegas


So what kind of Vegas party animals are Kyle and I?

Well, on our first night in Sin City, we walked more than a mile each way to go from our hotel to dinner and back, ate two small plates each at a decent Italian place (Lago), enjoyed small cups of gelato at our favorite gelateria in the Bellagio, and watched the last episode of The Ultimate Fighter in our room.

Oh, yeah:  we talked, I worked, and we read.

What wild and crazy guys we are!




Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I'm heading to Vegas in the morning


and I am still way behind and haven't packed, so I best get to it.  In the meantime, enjoy this lovely version of the Cohen classic, which has been on my mind since I first saw it a couple of weeks ago.  If you haven't watched or heard it yet, it's a treat.  If you have, let it play just to take in the song.



Enjoy.





Monday, November 28, 2016

Catch Arrival before it gets away


Arrival has been in local theaters for a bit now, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it soon vanish from our screens.  Don't let that happen without seeing it.  A thoughtful, moving SF film is all too rare, and Arrival is that and more.

The movie of course draws much of its strength from Ted Chiang's compelling original story, "Story of Your Life."  It brings the tale to life with a good adaptation and excellent performances from its leads, particularly Amy Adams, who delivers her best turn ever.

If you don't know anything about the story, don't feel that you need to read it in advance; just go catch the movie.  Then, to reward Chiang, buy a book that contains the story.

I'm glad I was able to catch this one, and I encourage you to do the same.




Sunday, November 27, 2016

Moana is a delight you should not miss


A lot of folks have praised Moana for its interesting cultural background and for its strong feminist message, and the movie deserves all of that praise.  It also deserves accolades for its stars, its imagery, its music, and its animation.  What's most important about Moana, though, is that it's an hour and forty three minutes of delight.

If you don't know the plot, don't bother investing time in reading reviews; you won't need them.  The film stands beautifully alone, and it will win you over in no time.

I could go on and on with praise, but rather than tell you anything more about it, let me say simply that this is a movie you should not miss.  As a bonus, you can take anyone of any age to it, and they will almost certainly have a good time, too.

Check it out.




Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saint Jacques is no longer a top Raleigh restaurant


When Lil and Lori Lacassagne owned Raleigh's Saint Jacques French Cuisine, our group were regulars.  We loved the food and the people, and we ate there multiple times each year, certainly at least once per season.  A while back, Lil and Lori sold the place so they could focus all of their efforts on the Burke Manor Inn, and we hadn't returned to Saint Jacques since then.  We'd been a little afraid of what we'd find, and we'd also felt a bit disloyal to Lil and Lori, but, hey, their place is a long drive away, and we love supporting good Raleigh restaurants.  So, off we went to Saint Jacques for dinner.

I am sad to report that this former mainstay of ours has slid rather precipitously.

The service was so notably weak that I'm going to lead with it.  The servers frequently looked confused, and we sat for long periods, both initially and between courses, unattended.  The dining room was nowhere near full, but the service team--and, to be fair to them, the kitchen--seemed utterly unable to keep up.

I'd cut the place a lot of slack, though, if that was its only problem.  The food, after all, is the true star.

Unfortunately, every single dish I tasted, as well as almost all the dishes of the others in the group, was significantly worse than it had been before.  All of my dishes erred unpleasantly toward the sweet.  The onion soup, a basic French dish, lacked richness and flavor but tasted sweet.  The breads were okay but not as good as what you'd get at Whole Foods.  The goat cheese and duck appetizer proved to be a salad with two pieces of wilted bread sporting smears of goat cheese and a few thin and fairly tasteless duck slices sitting atop a mound of over-dressed greens.  The filet mignon with foie entree, at $42 rather pricey by local standards, was a bland piece of chewy meat with a tiny spread of foie atop it, an overly sweet reduction, and three tiny half-fingerling potato bits.

I was hoping desserts would be the saviors of the meal, and indeed the pastry in my profiteroles was promising, but the dish failed under the weight of utterly tasteless white ice cream.  The chocolate mousse was a more than passable chocolate pudding, but it was too simple to deserve the name mousse.

Saint Jacques was once a top-drawer restaurant where I could bring people from any city and expect they would have a good meal.  What we experienced was B- by Raleigh standards--at best, the kind of meal that makes you feel you paid too much for weak food and don't need to return.

I'm going to need to read a lot of positive reviews before I'll go back, and I can no longer recommend it at all.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Bad Santa 2


is not a very good movie.  In fact, by pretty much any reasonable standards, it's a fairly bad movie, a crass recycling of its predecessor that offers few surprises in the course of a journey into the very depths of foul language and awful behavior.

It is thus with considerable apologies that I must confess that I laughed my ass off through most of the movie and left convinced that I would watch it again someday.

Maybe it was the fact that Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, and Brett Kelly were back doing the sorts of things their characters do.  Maybe it was my infatuation with Christina Hendricks, who remains breathtakingly beautiful and sexy.  Maybe it was Kathy Bates' astonishingly sick performance as Billy Bob's mom.

Or maybe my sense of humor is even sicker than I thought.

I don't care.  I had a grand hour and a half watching this film.

If you think your sense of humor might be as wicked as mine, give it a shot.  Otherwise, don't go unless you're prepared to be appalled.

Me, I'm already looking forward to buying the Blu-ray version and hoping for extended scenes.




Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!


If you celebrate this holiday, I hope your day is good and you have the time to think a bit about all the people and things for which you are thankful.  If you want to be with family and/or friends, I hope you are, and if you want to be alone, I hope you are.  If you aren't in the company you wish, I hope it goes well.

I am thankful for all that I have, but most of all for the people in my life, both friends and family near to me, and those more distant, even those, like many readers of my book, whom I have not yet had the pleasure to meet.

Happy Thanksgiving!




Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Thanksgiving confession


I love canned cranberry sauce.  Sometimes, they call it jellied cranberry sauce, sometimes it has other names, but regardless of the name, I like it.

You know the stuff I'm talking about:  it plops out of the can onto a plate and sits there, quivering invitingly at you.  It's clearly nothing natural, and it almost certainly contains enormously more sugar than anyone needs with cranberries, but I've had it since I was a kid, and I genuinely enjoy it.

Some people get fancy and slice it before serving it, but I prefer to begin the meal with the whole loaf just sitting on a plate, being its bad jellied self.  I don't need the first slice; any slice will do.  I enjoy both eating it and looking at it.

I suspect this post could cost me any foodie membership cards I might have now or want in the future, but I won't deny my love of this strange canned concoction.



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Trump quote of the day


from the quote-rich New York Times story, is this one:

The president can’t have a conflict of interest.
Yup, that's a promising start.

I wonder if visiting foreign dignitaries will get coupon books good for discounts on stays at Trump hotels and bargains on Trump steaks--when you buy them in quantity.

Oh, yeah, it's going to be a long four years.






Monday, November 21, 2016

It's gonna be a long four years


So we're gonna need all the Ramones we can get.  Might as well start here.



Brace yourselves.  Turn up the music loud.  Get ready to fight what's wrong.

It's really gonna be a long four years.




Sunday, November 20, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them


was a delight from start to finish, a lovely bit of fantasy in a season that can use all the fun and fantasy we can muster.

The movie blends two plots--bad things happening in last-century magical New York, and a magician visiting the city with a bag full of fantastic creatures--to solid effect, with the threads inevitably and appropriately intertwining at the end.  The leads turn in solid performances, though I must admit that from time to time Eddie Redmayne's mush-mouthed delivery did frustrate me.

Like most films these days, Fantastic Beasts does not hold up well to critical analysis after the fact.  In particular, the magic community is both dramatically more powerful than the rest of the human world and also suffering under a highly questionable form of government and system of justice.  (Saying more would require spoilers, so I'll leave it at that; you'll know what I mean if you see the film.)

Though it certainly helps to know about the Harry Potter universe, that knowledge isn't really necessary to enjoy the film.  You can trust to the opening minutes to outline the setup, and from there, it's a new ride even for Potter fans.

If you want a fun couple of hours in the theater, definitely check out Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.



Saturday, November 19, 2016

We need to make it harder to get into Panciuto


As I've written here many times, I love Panciuto.  The blend of Italian and southern American cuisines that chef/proprietor Aaron Vandemark produces is consistently fantastic, so rich and delicious that I can never finish all I order.  He's been getting his ingredients locally throughout the restaurant's existence, and he's a great member of his community.  On a brisk fall night like tonight, sitting inside the cozy restaurant is a genuine treat.

There's really only one problem:  it's too easy to get a reservation.

Panciuto deserves to be thronged, so busy that they raise prices and still people are on waiting lists, so busy that I have trouble getting a table all of the many times I want to eat there.  I should have to beg to get in, and even then they should have to turn me away often.

Panciuto also deserves recognition as consistently delivering amazing, handmade pasta, something other places are starting to claim but which has been true there from the start.

Spread the word, and then go eat at Panciuto.  Tell your friends to do the same.

Make it hard for me to get to eat at my favorite local restaurant.




Friday, November 18, 2016

A delicious dilemma


I'm currently reading the latest Barry Eisler novel, Livia Lone.  When I checked my mail today, I found waiting for me two books from the UK:  the new Jack Reacher novel, Night School, from Lee Child, and the newest entry in the Rivers of London series, The Hanging Tree, from Ben Aaronovitch.

This is the sort of delicious dilemma that every avid reader enjoys.  Which book do I read next?  Which one thus has to wait?

I love having that choice.

The real problem, of course, is that I have stacks and stacks of great book candidates, and never enough time to read them all.

That is just a bigger version of the same problem, and I feel lucky to have it.



Thursday, November 17, 2016

Heading home in the morning


This two-week work trip has been good, and I've enjoyed many excellent meetings and conversations with friends and clients, but I have to say that I am glad to be flying home tomorrow morning.

The only bad part of the return trip is that it starts so early, but so it goes.

The past two weeks have been difficult for the obvious reason, but I'm getting used to the new reality and starting to plan all the ways that I have to up my personal game in the face of our new political scene.

No matter how Trump and his team behave, the rest of us owe it to each other and to our country to try to be even better people, to take care of all of our fellow citizens, and to reject indifference and hate in favor of love.



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Love is love


Now more than ever, we're going to need to keep remembering this basic truth.

Maybe this song will help.



When people are lucky enough to love one another, feel happy for them, and let them enjoy that love.  Don't try to tell them their love is wrong.

More generally, now more than ever, we need love.  Call me an old hippy, but we could use a whole lot less hate and a whole lot more love.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I mistakenly read some political news today


and of course couldn't avoid Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist.  If you've missed this little jewel, check out this New York Times opinion piece on it.

Rather than think more about this topic, I'm going to look forward to diving into magic with this movie this weekend.



The world of fantasy is looking better and better.



Monday, November 14, 2016

Today's spam


wanted me to protect my floors, get a college degree, date Russian single women, and learn to code.

I was impressed by how constructive it all was.

Of course, when you start taking life advice from your email spam, something is terribly wrong.

Fortunately, I am not at that point...at least, not yet.




Sunday, November 13, 2016

Am I in Austin now?


Heck, yeah, I am, as this amazing feast from Cooper's BBQ clearly shows.


Yes, there was a little Amy's ice cream afterward.  Just a little.

No, I did not eat all of that; this was an order for two.

Yes, it was every bit as delicious as it looks.



Saturday, November 12, 2016

Check out the upcoming Luc Besson film


Luc Besson is back in the director's chair and is also one of the writers, so you know I'm not going to miss Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets when it appears next summer.  Check it out.



If Besson can deliver anything near the quality of The Fifth Element, I will be psyched!



Friday, November 11, 2016

On this Veterans' Day


take a moment and thank someone who served in our armed forces.  Maybe think also about the system of government we enjoy and what protecting that system has cost many vets.

Then take a deep breath and remind yourself that the system is strong and robust, stronger and more robust than any one person.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Leonard Cohen, R.I.P.


Well, this week delivered another fine blow:  Leonard Cohen is dead.  He was 82, so he had a reasonably long life, but I have to tell you that from where I stand right now, that's just not enough years--not for him, not for me, not for anyone.

At the risk of repeating everyone else, I'm putting here a relatively recent performance of his brilliant song, "Hallelujah."



Damn, another legend passes.  2016 has been brutal for musicians.

Their work stands, though they are gone.

This song will always touch me.

We will not see Leonard Cohen's like again soon.





Wednesday, November 9, 2016

It's going to take me some time


to get over my embarrassment and outrage at being a member of the group--white men--that more than any other went for Trump in this election.  I don't care if you are dissatisfied with business as usual, or you want more opportunities, or you dislike the current administration; there's simply no acceptable excuse for voting for a racist, sexist candidate.

I did not vote for Trump, and I am sad and pissed that I am a member of a group that overwhelmingly did.



Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The greatest lesson I learned from this election


I'm writing this a bit after eleven p.m. here in Portland, Oregon, so it's after two a.m. back home.  As of this moment, though no news agency (to my knowledge) has yet called the election, it looks extremely likely that Trump will be the next President of the United States.

I am beyond sad and angry at that thought.

I am also amazed.  This election has taught me that a great many of my fellow Americans, apparently the majority of them, think so differently from the way I do that I do not understand them at all.  I suppose I would be wise to remember this fact going forward.

That lesson will be true even if Clinton squeaks out a victory.

For now, I'm going to work a bit more, check the election news once more, and then crash.

Should the trend continue and Trump win, I hope I will be able to be as gracious a loser as I would have asked Trump's supporters to be.




Monday, November 7, 2016

Two bits of (almost entirely non-partisan) election-day advice


You're probably tired of me writing about the election, but it's mighty damn important, so I'm going to do one last pre-election post.  I want to share two thoughts.

First, vote.  Yes, I'm clearly arguing for and voted for Hillary Clinton (that was the end of the partisan bit), but no matter whom you choose, I want you to vote.  And not just for President, either; no, I want you to vote for all the offices up for election.  Do a little research--voting guides of all persuasions are readily available online--and then vote.  I'd like this--and every--election to represent the will of the people.

Next, consider picking up a little safety cake.  The idea behind safety cake, a concept my family has embraced for some time now (and just possibly invented), is that when you're worried about a momentous event, you pick up (or bake) some delicious cake.  If the event goes the way you want, you celebrate with...cake!  If the event goes against your wishes, you console yourself with...cake!  Either way, you have cake.

With any luck at all, in 30 hours or less we will know the election results--and we'll all be celebrating or consoling ourselves with delicious safety cake.




Sunday, November 6, 2016

Doctor Strange


Let's start with the bottom line:  I very much enjoyed this movie, and I definitely recommend it.  It provides everything you hope for in a Marvel superhero movie, including more humor than I had expected.  Benedict Cumberbatch turns in as strong a performance as you would hope, never breaking character and always burning with his usual intensity.  All of the other leads--Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel MacAdams, and Tilda Swinton--also deliver good performances.

I never looked away, I was never bored, and I had a good time.  You can't ask for much more than that.

Having said that, the film has one big structural flaw:  it rushes to its ending and in the process skips what should have been a significant amount of improvement in the powers and character of Stephen Strange.  I don't want to spoil any of the plot, so I'll say only that from the first encounter between Strange and the antagonist, the film moves too swiftly and skips parts I would very much like to have seen.  It feels almost as if the first cut ran two and a half hours, so someone said, "Hey, this is a minor character, so trim back to two hours."  If that longer version exists, I'd really like to see it.

If you're a fan of the Marvel superhero films, or if you just want a fun movie with a lot of action and special effects, go see Doctor Strange.




Saturday, November 5, 2016

The overdue North Carolina State Fair food report


Going to the North Carolina State Fair each year is a long-time family tradition.  For most of that time, a key goal of the trip has been to try as many of the new and unusual foods as possible.  The challenge was always that eating more than a couple of them was both a challenge and a way to gain a ton of weight in a hurry.  A few years back, I devised a strategy for tasting the weird foods and not gaining weight, too:  eating only one (or at most two) bites of each.  To make this plan work, you need either to be willing to throw out a lot of food or to have a group willing to join you in the quest for strange delights.

Fortunately, our State Fair group is willing to help me.

We always enter from the same gate, so I began with my traditional first food:  a pretzel dog.

Click an image to see a larger version.

It was as warm, greasy, and delicious as always.

Sarah begins her feasting with a butter-and-salt pretzel from the same vendor, and she is always willing to let me have a bite.


Umm, good.

Scott opted to start with a blooming onion, and he also let me try a piece.


Greasy and hot and tasty, oh yeah.

Another early dish was the fried cheese.


Hot and gooey and tasty, it was everything fried cheese should be.

Up to this point, we had been following tradition and eating dishes that, while definitely bad for you, were not really Fair food.

The fried Oreos, covered in powdered sugar, took us squarely into the land of unusual foods.


Though you're bound to wear the sugar if you try these, they are surprisingly good little rascals, with the strong Oreo flavor complemented by the dough and sugar.

Continuing in the vein of things you shouldn't eat more than once a year--and maybe not then--we went for the Krispy Kreme donut bacon cheese burger.


This fat and sugar bomb is tastier than you would expect--though I knew that before my first bite, because I've tried it before.

Next up was one of the few fails of the Fair foods:  the fried Klondike bar.


Now, I like fried things (as you can tell), and I like a good Klondike bar from time to time, but this one didn't work because the bar turned completely to liquid before you could take a bite.  Klondike bars are rarely frozen hard, but you might have to do just that to make this dish work.

This next one was just too sweet for me, but it worked for some:  a Reese's peanut butter cup and something else (I think; I can't recall for sure) deep-fried and covered with sugar.


To be fair, those who enjoy peanut butter with their sweets did seem to like it.

After all of that sweet, a salty ham biscuit from one of the Methodist food halls was just the ticket.


Hey, wait, is that a juggling Elvis on a unicycle?


Duh.  What else would it be?

Returning to food and sticking with savories, the sausage baguette was yummy and provided just the right amount of spice to warm your mouth without making you hurt.


Don't believe in artisanal baked whoopie pies?


Come to the Fair.  They exist, and they are amazingly delicious.

Is that a bear chilling in a huge tire swing?


Again, duh, of course it is, though for all his size he is hard to spot in this photo.  Watching him climb into the swing and steady it was a treat in itself.

Back on the midway, hot mini sugar donuts are a staple our group cannot resist.


Damn, that is a big watermelon!


That is also a freaky pumpkin.


I don't know what one would do with such a thing that it would be worth $900, but I'd love to know the story of anyone who bought it.

This cow, who was chilling while staring into a fan, his ears blown back and his eyes nearly shut, proved to be a surprise star of that part of the Fair.


Like a dog hanging his head out a car window, this cow was extremely cute.

We had to search high and low to find the deep-fried Cubano, but when we did,


it was delicious.

No trip to the State Fair can be complete without a simple cheese dog.


Sometime in the course of the night, we sampled some delicious N.C. State ice cream, but I forgot to take a photo of it.

In a final Fair tradition, Sarah, and now Ben and others, rode the swings.


My fear of heights, better in recent years but still present, made me happy to watch everyone's stuff from the ground.

We walked for four hours, and I ate almost nothing before the Fair, so the morning after tasting all of this, I weighed exactly what I had the previous day.  I thus declare victory for this year's State Fair trip!




Friday, November 4, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge


is a powerful, moving film that I quite enjoyed.  It's also one of the most brutal war movies I've seen, with long stretches of action that give us a sense of how brutal the action on Okinawa must have been for the men there.  Don't go to this one if you are at all squeamish.

Director Mel Gibson does a generally strong job, though at times his obsessions take the movie over the top.  The ending scene, which I won't spoil, is the worst example of this behavior.  Even with the indulgences, though, Gibson remains a strong director (despite his many other flaws; we don't have to like an artist to appreciate their work).

Andrew Garfield does a fine job in the leading role, and all of the supporting actors are equally strong.

If you don't know the story, don't look into it; just go see the film if you at all like war movies.  Letting this one work on you is the best way to experience it.

This one deserves its strong critical and audience ratings.  Check it out.




Thursday, November 3, 2016

Another PT person doing good in the world


Earlier this year, Jen took her sabbatical and helped feed local children.  Check out this video to see her story.



I am proud to be her colleague and to get to work with so many great, caring folks.



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Don't take any election as being a done deal. Vote.


You can't go far on the Internet without running into someone's election predictions.  Many of those predictions disagree.  Even those that strongly favor one candidate or the other have to admit that it's possible the race could go either way.

So do your part:  vote.

I want you to vote for Hillary Clinton if for no other reason than to keep Trump out of office.  (I actually believe Clinton will be a solid President, but you don't need to share that opinion to vote for her.  All you have to do is agree that Trump would be a bad President.)  Even if you want Trump, though, I want you to vote.  I want every eligible voter to vote.  Voting is a privilege and a responsibility that we should take seriously.

Vote.  Please.



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The movie I must see this weekend


is, of course, Doctor Strange.



He was never among the Marvel superstars, but I always enjoyed the comics about him.  I'm quite looking forward to it.



Monday, October 31, 2016

I voted. You should, too.


Today, because I will be on the road next Tuesday, I voted early.


I'm always happy and excited to vote, because I consider it to be one of the greatest gifts and privileges that I enjoy as a citizen of the U.S.

If you've already voted or intend to vote, thank you, and good on you.

If you're considering skipping the polls this year, please don't.  Please.  So many elections are critical this year, with the most critical of all being, of course, the contest for the presidency of our country.  If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I desperately want to keep Trump out of that office, which is one of the many reasons why I voted today for Hillary Clinton for President.

If you also want to keep Trump far, far away from control of our country, vote for Clinton.

If, like me, you want to get rid of our state's awful HB2 law, vote in a new governor and new legislators.

Even, though, if you oppose me on every issue, I want you to vote.  If I'm going to lose, I'd far rather it be to the will of the overwhelming majority of my fellow citizens than to the decisions of a minority of them.

Vote.




Sunday, October 30, 2016

Home


Columbus and the con were generally good, but after sleeping late and for a bunch of different reasons, we decided to head out.  A late lunch at North Market preceded a very long day of driving through rain, mountains, and a whole lot of night.

A key lesson from this trip is that when it comes to highway rest stops, the following is clearly true:

North Carolina >> Virginia >>> Ohio

Sorry, Ohio, but that's just how it is.



Saturday, October 29, 2016

A little of this, a little of that


The con began entirely too early for me today, because I was on a ten a.m. panel.  To my pleasant surprise, several dozen people joined us at that unreasonably early Saturday hour to discuss the use of the other in horror fiction.  The conversation stayed interesting, and everyone seemed happy to have attended the panel.

After some work and lunch, I spent time in the dealers' room and the art show but ultimately bought nothing.  I then did a reading, at which a half dozen folks, almost all of whom are friends, heard an unpublished mainstream story I have shared only one time before.

More work, some conversation, and then it was time for a World Fantasy Con tradition of mine:  dinner with a group of friends in publishing.

I spent time afterward listening to one panel and chatting with friends.

All in all, another very reasonable con day.




Friday, October 28, 2016

Giving Columbus its due


When I was growing up in Florida, I figured a good way to know which states were least desirable was to see how many of their license plates turned up in tourist-attraction parking lots.  If a lot of your people came to Florida, you probably didn't like it where you were--or so my reasoning went.  Based on that line of thinking, I grew up convinced that the least desirable states were New Jersey and Ohio.

Yes, my thinking was flawed, but I was a kid.

Having shared these thoughts with others over the years, I feel obliged to say that Columbus--or, more precisely, the small parts of it I've explored while here--is a pretty nice place.  The restaurants have been uniformly decent or better, the variety is wide, the ice cream (Jeni's) is (of course) extraordinary, and all in all it's been a fine place to visit.

I particularly like the North Market complex, which mixes food stalls with some specialized grocers and other vendors.  It's hip enough to have the hot chicken I mentioned in an earlier entry,

Click an image to see a larger version.

a nifty looking pretzel shop,


and a surprisingly good barbecue stall.


I had to sample all three key meats--brisket, sausage, and pork--and all three were pretty darn good.  I haven't had sausage or brisket as good in Raleigh.  In fact, both were up there with comparable offerings from low-end Austin barbecue joints.  (High-end barbecue places in Austin still rule.)

The people have been busy but friendly enough, the weather brisk but decent, and the place fun to walk.

I'm happy to have to revise my opinion of (at least this part of) Ohio.



Thursday, October 27, 2016

A solid con day


I slept later than usual, which was quite a treat.  After an hour-long work phone meeting and some email catch-up, I headed to North Market for lunch.

After surveying the many wonderful food stalls there, I stuck with my original intention and grabbed a plate from Hot Chicken Takeover.  I was curious to see what the hot chicken fuss was about.  Though this was only one sample, it was basically just fried chicken with spicy skin.  I enjoyed it, but it was in no way as exciting as some reports have made it sound.  Perhaps I need to try other places.

While wandering the shops there, I stopped and asked a florist for the identity of the strange green plant of my photo yesterday.  It was an Oscar, a member of the milkweed family.  Inside the green balls are black seeds, so it really is a sort of alien-looking pod flower.

After a tour of the art show and some more work, it was time for my first panel.  Titled "When to stop," it was all about how to decide when to stop a long-running series.  Of course, we inevitably ranged over all sorts of topics related to series fiction, but the panelists were all fun, intelligent, and entertaining.  They made my job as moderator rather easy.  The audience seemed interested and happy to have attended, and various folks asked interesting questions.

Next up was a dinner courtesy of my publisher, Baen Books.  Senior Editor (I think that's his title) Jim Minz was an entertaining and fun host--as always.  I enjoyed the meal and the company.

After some time talking with friends in the sort of perpetual bar party that is every WFC, I headed up to work and then to crash.

A solid day at a con.




Wednesday, October 26, 2016

When you think of me going to the World Fantasy Convention


in Columbus, Ohio, I know the first thought that springs to mind:  did I take any plant photos?

Thanks for asking.  I did indeed.  Two.

Outside the Subway where we stopped for lunch today stood this lovely tree.

Click an image to see a larger version.

I love the way the wind has stripped the leaves off most but not all of the sections of the tree.

Enjoying a small cup of ice cream at a Jeni's shop here, I couldn't help but notice this weird green plant in this jar of flowers.


I'm sorry to have to say it, but they do not look healthy, not at all.

Tomorrow, the con cranks up!



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Heading out to Columbus


I'm keeping this short because I have to head in the morning to Columbus, Ohio for the 2016 World Fantasy Convention.  I have to admit that I'm not looking forward to the nearly eight-hour drive, but most of the plane flights between here and there consume as much time as the drive, so driving it is.

I hope to write more later about what I'll be doing at the con, but the short form is that in addition to attending and talking with friends, I'm moderating one panel, participating in another, doing a reading, and holding down a chair during the Friday night mass autographing.

If you're also going to the con, come by and say hi.



Monday, October 24, 2016

Keeping Up with the Joneses


is a movie with moments that are so intensely awkward that they were almost physically painful to watch.  I wanted to like it, and I did like many parts of it, but in the end I wished I had waited to watch it at home, where I could pause it and escape the awkwardness from time to time.

The basic plot is obvious from the trailer, so I won't review it, but it is enough to serve as the foundation for a movie.  Jon Hamm turns in exactly the performance you'd expect and is plenty good enough.  Gal Gadot is coldly radiant, again exactly what you want from her character.  Isla Fisher is better than I expected, though she cannot carry off being as plain as the filmmakers seem to want us to think she is; she manages to look less than stunning only when she's next to Gadot.

The problems are Zach Galifianakis and the filmmakers' decision to make his character the most important one in the movie.  He turns in the most toned-down performance I've yet seen from him, but it's still too much.  The script is probably more to blame than he is, but in scene after scene he is the weakest and most awkward actor on screen.

If you're a Gal Gadot completist, or if you don't mind awkward humor, check out Keeping Up with the Joneses.  Otherwise, give it a pass.



Sunday, October 23, 2016

#HoldOnToTheLight - Please keep fighting


I'm writing this entry as part of the #HoldOnToTheLight blog campaign (more on it at the end of this post), but I've discussed this topic on multiple occasions in the blog, because it's important to me.

If you're one of the many people having trouble simply making it through the day, if the trauma you suffered darkens your days or your nights, if the bees in your head make every little thing a struggle, if after all of this you're considering giving up and killing yourself, I'd like to ask you to do something I have no right to ask.

I'd like you to keep fighting.

I can't claim to understand what you're going through.  Each of us fights our own demons, and each battle is unique.

I can tell you, though, that I've been in my own dens of horrors, and that at one point I came close to killing myself.

I've written about that time in a few places, including in this blog and in my afterword to the Baen edition of The Man Who Sold the Moon.  Here's the short form.  I was eleven years old.  I was in a messed-up paramilitary youth group in which twice a week I was physically abused in more ways than I care to list--and when they weren't abusing me, they taught me things no child should learn.  I was also being beaten at least once daily at home, beaten by a woman who had been the victim of abuse and who knew how to beat you for a long time while leaving no visible marks.  (Large, flat surfaces are key; think shoes and frying pans and even spatulas, which sting after the first few whacks.)  I saw no end to this abuse, no way out except to grow older, and I wasn't sure I could take it anymore.

I ultimately decided not to kill myself and instead to stay alive so that one day I could stop the assholes who were hurting me each week and kill the woman who was beating me daily.  I took all of my anger and hurt and pain and turned this horrible rage into a glowing ball of power, a ball that I could hold onto when nothing else would work, that would get me through the cold, desperate nights of pain and powerlessness.

I never did stop those assholes.  I just quit the group when I could--though only after becoming its highest-ranking member.

I never did kill the woman.  I came closer than I should have, but I stopped myself, and she stopped beating me, my sister, and my brother.

I still have the ball of rage, though I like to think it's smaller now, much smaller, and I rely on it less and less.

A bad case of PTSD grabbed me and has never let go.

In the course of all of this, I gained a true and profound sorrow at the loss of each person who chooses suicide.  I respect their choice, but it saddens me.  I feel the loss.  I feel it like another beating, like when a DI ground my face into my own vomit.  I feel it as pain and powerlessness and rage at the world for the damage it does to us all.

Here's the thing:  if you kill yourself, you not only leave behind wreckage, you deprive yourself and the world of those good things, however few or many they may be, that you would have enjoyed and created.

Had I killed myself, I would have devastated at least my mother, sister, and brother.  If you read this blog, it's probably because you are a friend or someone who enjoys my fiction or my other writing (or maybe you're in both camps).  Had I killed myself, none of that would exist now.

I'm not vain enough to think that in the greater scheme of things I matter a lot, but in the here and now, in this life, I know I matter to some folks.

So do you.

Even if you don't think you matter to anyone, if I know you, you matter to me.  If I don't know you, feel free to email me (easy to do via my site), and then I'll know you, and you'll matter to me.

As I said at the start, even though I have no right to do so, I'm asking you to keep fighting.  Seek help--and don't be ashamed that you could use it.  Call on all the tricks you've used in the past.  Do not give up.

Keep fighting.  Please.




About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention, and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming, and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention, such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA), and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is fun but no more


As I've written earlier that I would, I had to catch this second film adaptation of the wonderful Jack Reacher novels from Lee Child.  I entered the theater vaguely aware of the bad reviews but fully prepared to love the movie.

I didn't.  I had fun and don't regret seeing it, but the film never fully clicked.

The individual parts generally worked.  The plot moved along quickly.  Tom Cruise handled the Reacher role reasonably well, speaking little and staying within character.  Cobie Smulders stole the show and should get more leading roles.  Danika Yarosh did well.

It just didn't quite come together the way I wanted it to.  I think the fault may have been the film's decision to make Reacher more human, less perfect, less effective.  Reacher isn't a conventional character.  He wins fights.  He kicks ass against overwhelming odds.  The movie should have let him be the character that Child writes.  Instead, they added vulnerabilities that did not, to my taste, help the movie.

Still, I had a fun time.  If you're looking for light action entertainment, check it out.


Friday, October 21, 2016

No wolverine movie has yet been all that I've wanted


but this trailer makes me hopeful for the next one.

(Warning:  It's a violent Red Band trailer.)



I love how ragged this Logan is.

Enjoy.



Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sarah and Ben on swings in the sky


Earlier tonight, a group of us went to the North Carolina State Fair for our annual visit to this rather amazing American and North Carolinian institution.  I must confess to loving it in all of its excess.

It's late, so I'll write my usual State Fair food sampling report another day.  Until then, this picture of Sarah and Ben on the swings ride--you might have to look closely to find them--will have to hold you.



If you're having trouble spotting them, click the image to see a larger version.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trump on the peaceful transition of power


From the debate earlier tonight:

Chris Wallace: But, sir, there is a tradition in this country, in fact, one of the prides of this country is the peaceful transition of power and no matter how hard fought a campaign is that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying you're necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you're not prepared now to commit to that principle?
Donald Trump: What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense, okay?
No, it's not okay.  It's really not.

Chris Wallace is a Fox News reporter, and even he was clearly incredulous at this declaration from Trump.

If you lose, you don't fight the election results; you concede and move on with your life.

At this point, Trump is so consistently outrageous that people joke about his behavior, shrug, and seem to accept it.  We should not.  We must not.

The only sure way to keep Trump from becoming the next President of the United States is by voting for Hillary Clinton.

I am voting for Hillary Clinton.

You should, too.



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Time to give Lee Child some money


If you're in the mood for fun entertainment you can't put down, plan to get a copy of Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel, Night School, on November 7.

While you're planning your amusements, you might as well schedule a trip to the theater this weekend to see the new Reacher movie, Never Go Back.

Yes, I'm doing both.

You can thank me later.



Monday, October 17, 2016

Holden at eight weeks


He was and remains the world's cutest dog.


That was 13 years and two months ago.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Oro satisfies and comforts


Eating at Oro is like settling into a comfortable table at a home where everyone's a really good cook and the meal is full of your comfort-food favorites.  Except the home is on a corner in busy downtown Raleigh, the room is elegant, and truffles were probably not a staple of the mac-and-cheese you grew up with.  On a cool fall night, Oro was a perfect place to be, and I suspect it will grow only more desirable as the days shorten and turn colder.

Our large group sampled quite a few of the dishes on offer, including the truffle mac & cheese, the grilled Caesar salad, the roasted corn risotto, the gnocchi with pesto cream sauce and pear slices, the New York strip, the braised beef short ribs, the pork belly tacos, and the grilled octopus.  (Hey, I said we ate quite a few!)

For most of us, there wasn't a bad bite in the meal.  A couple found the pork belly and pineapple salsa a bit too much, and a couple didn't try the octopus, but they were the outliers; most of us tried and liked everything.

Their truffle mac & cheese has headed the menu for a long time, and with cause:  it's a perfect rendering of a classic dish, and it has truffles.  What's not to like?  The pesto cream sauce was an unusual touch, and the gnocchi were on the heavy side, but I loved the dish.

The desserts were good but not, to my taste, up to the savories.  I don't think any will steer you wrong.  The headliner is their campfires, in which you roast your own marshmallows at your table.

Executive chef and owner Chris Hylton is not breaking new ground with his dishes--I would love to see him go wild with an outre tasting menu, just to experience his vision unrestrained by commercial requirements--but he and the team in the kitchen are doing all of the items on the menu with skill.  The result is high-end comfort food that lets you enjoy a wonderfully tasty and comforting meal.

I have now eaten at Oro on multiple occasions, and I have enjoyed every single meal.  I recommend it highly.


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