Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Is the Term "Socialism" Even Useful Anymore?

Conservatives (and way too many libertarians) refer to anything they don't like as "socialism," whether it even remotely resembles actual socialist doctrine or not.

Avowed socialists refer to anything that sounds like what they advocate, but turns into a totalitarian shit-show as having not been "real" socialism.

And many supposed, or even avowed, socialists in actual power oppose anything that sounds like what they claim to advocate, and actually works well, if it gets in the way of logrolling with allied constituencies. For example, their response to "gig economy" workers who actually own/control the means of production (the fundamental definition of socialism) is "shut up and get your ass back to the capitalist 'employee'/company 'union' plantation."

Potentially Useful

I think it may have been Justin O'Donnell who tweeted something about Cointree, a site that makes it easy for people to send you cryptocurrency -- you put in your wallet addresses and when people visit your profile they can get a QR code, clickable link for opening their native wallet, or just plain address. You can change your addresses at will, but the profile link always remains the same, which is nice.

I've set up a Cointree profile for Rational Review News Digest, since we're running our year-end fundraiser (see the web edition for a pinned post on that). I haven't hit the cryptocurrency angle during the fundraiser yet, but when I do I'll flog the Cointree link.

An aside: Yes, I'm behind on my "at least one post a day" goal for this month, although I remain ahead of it for the year. I've been unusually busy, although I don't know why. I don't feel like I'm really doing any more than usual; I just feel like everything's taking longer than it should. I go through phases like that.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Fairly Short and Hopefully Spoiler-Free Review: Dune


My disappointment isn't immeasurable, and my day is not ruined. Stunning cinematography, impressive effects, and a great score. But if you're looking for the story, this version of Dune isn't worth a 12-mile round-trip bicycle ride to see on the big screen. I'll be blunt: I caught myself checking the time. Twice.

Longer version:

David Lynch's 1984 version -- the initial theatrical cut, which I saw on opening night, before it was shortened to 90 minutes, as I saw it a month later -- is a superior rendering of the novel. Yes, it's got circa-1984 effects. Yes, it's got David Lynch weirdness built in (that's a feature, not a bug, at least when it comes to the portrayal of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, btw). But it tells the whole story, and does so comprehensibly, and does so reasonably faithfully, in (per Wikipedia) 137 minutes. I re-watched it last month, and while movies from the '80s tend not to age very well, it still works for me.

Denis Villeneuve's version runs 156 minutes, only covers the first half of the story, glosses over significant plot elements, key players (the Spacing Guild is barely mentioned, for example; the two mentats from the novel appear but there's no explanation of what the hell they are; etc.), and character motivations (Yueh gets the brief motivational explanation, nothing moving about it), presumably so that he can resolutely focus on lead character Paul Atreides.

I don't object to spending 156 minutes on the first half of the story.

I do object to boring me nearly to sleep by not making the characters and what happens to them seem worth caring about.

I don't think that any of the actors did a poor job. It felt more like most of them were given some lines and some marks to hit, then shoved into the background once they'd managed to shoehorn some bit of needed explanation into the plot. The real exception to that rule is Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, who is magnificent.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster also does a fine job as Liet-Kynes ... fine enough that I only grumbled to myself a little bit about the recent film-maker habit of changing up the sex/gender of well-known fictional characters for no apparent reason.

I'm sure I'll watch the movie again. Maybe even on the big screen, since my family wants to see it and my tickets are paid for by the month, not the movie. Perhaps on a second viewing I'll find more to like about it.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Fairly Short and Hopefully Spoiler-Free Review: Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings never crept onto my "must see on the big screen" list. In fact, it barely appeared my radar at all. I went and saw it yesterday for two reasons:

  1. Now that I'm paying $22.xx per month for "all you can eat movies" at Regal Cinemas, I'm by God going to get my money's worth, so I hopped on the electric bicycle and hit the theater early yesterday afternoon for a double feature; and
  2. Free Guy was no longer playing. That one wasn't on my "must see on the big screen list" either, but it was next on my "might as well watch a movie since I'm not paying by the ticket anymore" list. And dammit, I just missed it.
That said, I'm glad I sat down in a real movie theater for this one.

TL;DR: Captain Obvious notes that Marvel Comics Universe completionists don't get to miss this one, but it's also just a pretty fun flick to pass a couple of hours with whether you're big into the MCU or not. Also, I'm in love.

Longer version:

Yeah, it's MCU, and there are the inevitable hints (references to Thanos's making half the population disappear and the Avengers undoing that; brief appearances by Wong; and a fun call-back to Iron Man 3) as well as a post-credit scene to tie the film's kinda-sorta maguffin into the bigger picture.

I'm not a huge MCU aficionado. I mean, I've seen most of the films and enjoyed most of the ones I've seen, but I don't usually catch them on the big screen and enjoy some (Doctor Strange; Thor: Ragnarok) more than others (the Iron Man flicks, even though I love Robert Downey, Jr.), and as far as MCU goes, I'm just way more an X-Men type than an Avengers type.

But as MCU films go, this one's a reasonably solid entry. Great fight scenes, great effects, story line that's pure Disney (yes, Mom died and now the orphans have to fend for themselves in the big wide world), funny funniness. Obviously it's an Asian-themed, martial-arts-heavy deal, and that's all the plot I'm going to hand you. I don't expect to find myself lying awake at night pondering any heavy implications. It was just a good time.

One big reason for it being such a good time is a gal named Nora. She's attractive. She's funny. She's smart. I want to have her babies. And I'm ashamed to say that I've barely noticed, and paid absolutely no attention to, her before because who the hell stage-names herself after a brand of bottled water? I didn't even know she was in this movie, and I didn't know it was her until the end credits.

Side note: The second half of my double feature day was a second viewing of No Time to Die. At least as good the second time as the first.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

NFL Picks: My Decline Continues ...

Last week, I picked 8 of 16 NFL games correctly in FiveThirtyEight's NFL Forecasting Game. FiveThirtyEight's model also picked 8 of 16. But due to my "bet big" strategy, I under-performed the model, scoring -97.8 points to its -14.3. I was still out-performing the model long-term (127 points to its 58.9), but fell to 77th% percentile among players and 1,543rd place of 6,696 on the leaderboard.

This week, I picked 10 of 16 games correctly, and managed to get back into positive points territory. But FiveThirtyEight's model picked 11 of 16 games and, due to my "bet big" strategy racked up 96.7 points to my 24.6. The model is now ahead of me long-term, 155.6 points to 151.6 points, and I've fallen to 66th percentile and 2,385th place among 6,992 players.

My big point loss -- 75 points -- was giving the Chiefs 100% to beat the Bills (the model picked wrong, too, but only lost 11 points).

I also lost 37.4 points on two games, picking the Raiders to beat the Bears and the Panthers to beat the Eagles. FiveThirtyEight lost 24 points and 18.9 points respectively betting the same ways but with lower odds.

The games I got wrong that FiveThirtyEight got right: I picked the 49ers to beat the Cardinals (-3.1 points for me, 16 points for the model), and the Jaguars to beat the Titans (-3.1 points for me, 14.8 points for the model).

The only game I got right that the model got wrong was me betting on the Rams to beat the Seahawks. That gained me 14.1 points and lost the model 4.2 points.

Am I going to give up on my "bet big on games I'm pretty sure about or as required by the Chiefs religion" strategy? Nope. Not yet, anyway. Go big or go home, and I'm home anyway.

Monday, October 11, 2021

More on No Time to Die ... This Time with Significant Spoilers

Don't say I didn't warn you. If you read this post, there will be mentions of significant plot elements in No Time to Die that were left out of my Fairly Short and Hopefully Spoiler-Free Review. Proceed beyond the big font below only if you've already seen the film, or have already run into major spoilers elsewhere, or don't care about not being surprised when you do see it.


This post isn't so much about the movie alone as it is about why Daniel Craig is the greatest of the James Bonds. Not because he's the greatest actor to have played 007, although I think a fair case could be made for that claim, but because his turn in the role accomplishes some things plot-wise and writing-wise that previous iterations don't.

First, the five Craig movies in the Bond franchise present a coherent story arc from his ascent to "double 0" rank in MI-6 at the beginning of Casino Royale, complete with pre-MI-6 character back-story elements in e.g. Skyfall, to his -- spoiler #1 -- death. Yes, he dies a fiery death at the end of the fifth movie. But not before discovering that Blofeld is "the author of all his pain" and dismantling SPECTRE.

Second, the arc plays Craig as what Ian Fleming (in the novels) and M (in Casino Royale) call Bond: "A blunt instrument." He can pull off the suave/debonair thing like Connery or Brosnan. He can throw off a casual dry one-liner like Roger Moore. But mostly he does what Dalton wanted to do, which is play the character as a vicious killer working in a vicious environment for a vicious agency. A vicious killer who's aware of, and damaged by, the amorality of what he does.

Third, the arc develops him as a person vis a vis personal romance, as opposed to "hook up with the sex pots and after your spouse is poisoned in You Only Live Twice move right along in On Her Majesty's Secret Service." This Bond falls in love, then forswears that idea seemingly permanently when Vesper Lynd dies having apparently betrayed him, then finally tries love again with Madeleine Swann, thinks he's been betrayed again, goes off to sulk and not be a vicious killer anymore for five years, returns when SPECTRE seems to raise its ugly head again, discovers Swann didn't betray him and -- spoiler #2 -- that they have a four-year-old daughter, and sacrifices his life when he finds that he can never, ever touch Madeleine or Mathilde (the daughter) again without killing them.

Craig's turn as Bond tells a single story, albeit it one with numerous sub-plots and spread over five films, and it tells that story pretty well (yes, Quantum of Solace drags a bit). The rest of the franchise doesn't hang together that way at all. It doesn't really try to.

Craig's a fine actor, but there's a lot more than acting skill going on here. I think Dalton might have been able to do something similar if the franchise owners hadn't been so intent on trying to keep the Moore era going that they couldn't get their heads around the idea of a troubled, conflicted "blunt instrument" version of 007.

And that's all I have to say about that. For now. I expect to see the movie at least one more time on the big screen, so I may come back with more thoughts later.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

I'm Already Thinking About the Next Electric Bike

I've had the Nakto cargo bike for about a year, and frankly there was about a six-month period when I barely used it. But I'm back to using it again (about 40 miles this last week -- two trips to the movie theater, one to a medical appointment, etc.). And I'm already thinking about passing it on to my son (who recently got his first "cruiser" style non-electric bike and seems to like it) and upgrading. Not necessarily very soon, but someday.

I had some big plans for longer trips on the Nakto but haven't gotten around to them yet. So far, a round trip of 30 miles or so (human-powered as much as was comfortable at all to preserve battery life) has been my maximum, but I still want to go to Fort White and back to visit a friend and/or take in a music festival and/or camp (that would be about 80 miles round trip, and I'm assuming a battery recharge at the far end). That kind of thing.

My normal use of the bike is to travel to either Gainesville (five miles to the east) or Archer (five miles to the west), or distances short of that to the grocery store or whatever. If I'm going somewhere downtown in Gainesville, perhaps ten miles or so one-way. I've never run out of battery power, but then I've never tried to make an entire trip on battery power. My rough guess is that I could get 8-10 miles out of the battery maximum.

So let's call my normal range ten miles one-way, five if I am really lazy and just use the throttle.

I'd really like to get that range up to at least 25 miles one-way if I'm willing to do a bit of the work. The longer the better.

I'm seeing some e-bikes with "integrated batteries" inside the frame. I think that's a bad idea, assuming (as seems to be the case) that removing/replacing the battery would be a pain in the ass. I'd either have to bring the whole bike inside to recharge the battery, or run an extension cord out of the house. I couldn't just bring along a spare battery to swap in for long trips. And when the battery finally gives up the ghost, I'd probably have to have a shop install the new one. So, I want an externally mounted battery.

I'm currently running a 36-volt system with a 10 amp-hour battery and a 250-watt motor. I don't know that I want to go to a 48-volt system with a more powerful motor. I'm already 25 pounds lighter than when I got the Nakto, one of my goals is to never get any fatter again than I am now, and hopefully to lose at least another 20-25 pounds, and so far the Nakto -- which is a heavy bike -- has carried me and my gear with no problems.

What I want is a lighter bike with a removable a battery that stores more energy -- as many amp-hours as possible without being too bulky.

I'm thinking a 700c-wheel, 57cm "commuter" rather than 26-inch-wheel "cruiser" frame, with thinner tires. Not as comfortable, but I've done a 60-mile ride on a non-electric commuter/road frame and it was OK.

All things considered, I'd prefer a single-speed bicycle. I've been that way for a little while even with non-electric bikes. No derailleur system is just one thing less to go wrong. And with an electric bike, I can just use the throttle or assist on uphill grades instead of down-shifting to make pedaling easier, solving the only real down side of single speed on a non-electric bike.

I'm torn on the subject of brakes. The Nakto has plain vanilla bicycle pads on the front but disc brakes on the rear. I really like the way the disc brakes work and feel, but I'm not sure how hard they are to replace when they wear out. Old-style brakes are easy to mess with.

On a quick look, I'm not seeing much that fits all those specs, especially in a sub-$1,000 price range. The sub-$1,000 candidates at Amazon all seem to want to give me 21-speed Shimano gear action.

The Co-op Cycles CTY e.21 at REI Co-Op (not an affiliate link) isn't terribly far off what I might like, but it's $2,000. And if I went insane and spent $2,000 on a bicycle, I'd think I should be getting exactly what I want.

So my long-term plan remains: Tear my old 57cm Trek down to the frame and re-build it exactly as I'd like it -- single speed, old-style brakes, etc. -- with an electric bike conversion kit in the mix. I paid $100 for the bike, used, and got a lot of miles out of it. I suspect that for less than $1,000 (including a second battery), I could turn it into something I'd find as satisfactory as a $5k high-end stock model.


Is DC Trying to Goad Beijing Into Invading Taiwan?

Ever since Barack Obama announced a "pivot to Asia," tensions between DC and Beijing have been steadily ratcheting up on various issues, ranging from plain vanilla trade wars, to "national security" theatrics around Chinese influence on tech and academia, to the status of various contested islands, to the status of Hong Kong, to the status of Taiwan.

I think there's a reasonable case to be made that the DC foreign policy establishment is showing by its actions that it wants these tensions to come to their big head with a Chinese invasion/annexation of Taiwan, rather than with just a less dramatic "new Cold War."

The big question, of course, would be "why?"

An obvious answer would be that the US military-industrial complex just really, really, really needs the US to be constantly at war, and the more expensive the war the better. China's the obvious gold standard on that count. The required mmo/bomb provisioning, base maintenance, etc. would probably make Iraq and Afghanistan look like small beans. No need to "win" anything, just keep big bucks flowing to "defense" contractors via the "defense" budget.

But what if it's more complicated than that? What if there are actual political goals involved beyond shoveling money into the maws of Boeing, Raytheon et al?

Hypothesis: Remember the 1980s, when the US goal was to turn Afghanistan into the Soviet Union's Vietnam? I think DC would like to turn Taiwan into China's Afghanistan -- a long, draining, violently opposed occupation that would keep the People's Liberation Army occupied, making it and the Chinese Communist Party look incompetent, and opening up a couple of very real foreign and domestic areas for exploitation by DC.

In terms of trade and economics, we've been hearing for years about how the world (especially the US) is "dangerously dependent" on China for the manufacture of high-tech equipment. Guess who else we're "dangerously dependent" on for chips? Yep, Taiwan.

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would probably seal the deal on calls for the US to be "chip independent" -- getting chip foundries back here.

One problem with that idea is that some of the components in our tech depend on rare earths and such. 

Those things tend to come from Africa.

And Beijing has been moving into and dominating the African sources of those things for years.

Did you notice that there were two US pivots as the war in Afghanistan drew down? One was toward Asia with e.g. the AUKUS submarine deal. But the other was re-booting and escalating the "war on terror" in Africa.

So, imagine something like this:

Beijing finally pulls the trigger on an invasion of Taiwan.

The US "defends Taiwan" mainly in the form of sinking some Chinese ships (slowing down Beijing's progress in building a competitive blue water navy) and perhaps bombing some mainland Chinese targets selected less for their military value than their economic value. Shenzhen, for example.

Then the US backs off for the most part -- except for "sanctioning," with military effect, Chinese vessels traveling between China and Africa -- and leans on African regimes to transfer those rare earth concessions from a China that can't use them, can't defend them, and has its hands full with Taiwan, to a US that can use them and can probably defend them.

And in the meantime, the US Navy probably lost a few vessels and aircraft, and went through a bunch of bombs and missiles, all of which will need replacement funding in future "defense" budgets, keeping the MIC's stomach full for the foreseeable future.

No, I'm not saying all that would work. I'm just saying I think it's what the US foreign policy establishment may have in mind.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Nice Yard Sale Score

Tamara wants to (re-)watch the previous Daniel Craig films in the James Bond franchise before seeing No Time to Die.

I found a DVD box set of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre at a yard sale this morning, in great shape, for two bucks.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Fairly Short and Hopefully Spoiler-Free Review: No Time to Die

No Time to Die was on my "should probably see on the big screen, but I'll live if I don't" list. Now that I've subscribed to Regal Cinemas' "all you can eat" plan, I'm making the most of it. Hopped on the bicycle this morning and rode the 5.9 miles to catch the 11am show. I'm glad I did.

TL;DR: This is the best movie I've seen in years. Not just the best James Bond movie, the best movie period.

The writing is great. The music fits (theme by Billie Eilish; I'm not a big fan, but good job). The action and effects are superb. The acting is spot-on. The plot includes all the essential Bond elements -- fast cars, beautiful women, gee-whiz weapons/tech, a villain aspiring to world-endangering skulduggery,  double-dealing on all sides, you name it. And in keeping with the Daniel Craig era ethos, the characters and their relationships are more than just cardboard cutout scenery for the action. They're characters worth caring about.

Warning: You won't have to be a James Bond super-fan to enjoy No Time to Die, but you're going to have to know the basic lay of the land to get much out of it. That is, you're going to have to know what Bond does / is, remember who Vesper Lynd was, and recognize M, Q, Moneypenny, Blofeld, SPECTRE, Madeleine Swann, and probably Felix Leiter. Otherwise you'll be pretty lost. At the absolute very least, I suggest seeing Spectre,  if you haven't already, before going out for No Time to Die.

If I have any complaint about the movie at all, it's that Rami Malek seems somewhat under-utilized in his role as Lyutsifer Safin, the villain. He's utterly convincing, but I wish he'd had a more convincing  back-story / motivation, and more screen time to develop and explore his character's sad creepiness.

It's a minor complaint, and I see why we didn't get more of Malek -- at two hours and 43 minutes, No Time to Die is the longest movie in the Bond franchise. It's tight as a drum at that length. I don't recall the franchise ever offering any "director's cuts," but if they want to start this is a prime candidate.

If you watch movies, watch No Time to Die. If you watch movies at the theater, get out for this one. If you don't watch movies at the theater, reconsider (unlike most releases lately, it is not available to stream, other than in bootleg format).

A Bit of a Price Puzzle ...

It's been a while since I had to buy a car battery, so I hit a couple of sites to refresh myself on pricing. The low end looks like $50+, average $100-150. There are "performance/sports" batteries that go way higher, of course, but if you're driving a normal car you can probably find a battery for it for around $100.

But when I go looking for a 36-volt, 10 amp-hour electric bike battery of an older, popular model (it's referred to as "silverfish" for some reason), the bottom end looks to run around $200.

Right now the "official"/brand replacement for my Nakto bike's battery is $319.99 (plus $49 shipping) on Amazon. The bike (with one battery and charger) was only $650! I could get another brand of "silverfish" for $210 or so, but apparently the model does have variations so I'd have to either be careful in finding one that fits my battery receptacle/plugs, or be able and willing to modify the battery case (I'd rather not).

Granted, the lithium-ion technology is newer than the old lead/acid car battery technology, but it's not exactly new, and it's used in a lot of stuff.

Given the increasing popularity of electric bikes, and the popularity of the "silverfish" configuration in the "budget e-bike" niche, I'm surprised I'm not seeing lower prices. It looks like a market opportunity. These batteries do have to be periodically replaced, and a lot of people would presumably like an extra for a couple of good reasons:

  1. To extend the bike's range by carrying an extra; and/or
  2. To have one battery charging while the other is being used, so that there's not a 4-6 hour wait time between trips.

Do I need a second battery for my bike? Not really. But I'd like one.

I've milked a single battery for better than 30 miles by being willing to do some un-assisted pedaling (supposedly the range of the bike is about 20 miles, but that supposition seems to assume not just using battery power the whole time), and even on shorter trips I generally do a little leg work just because.

On the other hand, I suspect (I've never tested the suspicion) that if I wanted or needed to go somewhere using only battery power, I'd get about 10 miles out of a battery. And I'd like to be able to get 20. It's about 10 miles from my house to downtown Gainesville. One of these days I might be tired or nursing an injury, but still want to go into town and back.

Also, the original battery will eventually die, and it makes sense to have a second one on hand so that I'm not bikeless while waiting for a replacement to arrive.

Next time I ride the bike into town, I may stop at a couple of brick and mortar battery stores to see what their prices look like.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

I Have to Admit, That's Pretty Efficient Government Activity

Earlier today, I got an email asking me to confirm my intent to attend tonight's meeting of the Gainesville / Alachua County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, and offering three ways of doing so (phone, email, or online form). So I did (via the form).

Then, a few minutes ago, I got an email informing me the meeting has been canceled due to expected lack of quorum -- not enough members confirmed their attendance.

I'm kind of disappointed that the meeting has been canceled -- this was my third scheduled meeting since being appointed to the board, and so far only one has taken place (I think the last cancellation probably had something to do with the "COVID-19 emergency" stuff the county's been pulling).

But it's pretty cool that I didn't end up taking a 20-mile round-trip bicycle ride during thunderstormy weather, only to find out at the far end of that trip that the activity I showed up for wasn't going to happen after all.

In my experience (which is mostly non-governmental), things get canceled for lack of quorum AFTER not enough people show up, not in advance on the basis of KNOWING not enough people are going to show up. This seems like an improvement.

The only down side is that the cancellation was close enough to the actual meeting time (two hours ahead) that any members of the public wishing to attend and/or comment might show up and be disappointed. And yes, members of the public DO show up and comment.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Well, for one thing, it's after noon.

But my Morning Brew coffee mug just arrived, so it would be a shame not to have coffee.

While I was drinking it, I noticed that I'm just two referrals away from getting a Morning Brew t-shirt.

I like t-shirts, and if you're reading this, you like reading. Match made in heaven!

Morning Brew is a free morning email newsletter that catches you up on big overnight business developments, the price of Bitcoin, etc., and throws in some fun stuff like quizzes and puzzles. Plus the ability to score swag by sending them subscribers. Click here to start getting it (and to help me get that t-shirt).

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

I'll Take "Things I Have to Shower After Doing" for $500, Alex

The "Fair" Tax is such a transparently scammy and dishonest proposal that it makes the most bizarre get rich quick schemes look like honest P&L statements from plodding, risk-averse firms that produce small but real returns.

It pretends a monthly cradle to grave welfare check for every man, woman, and child in the country is an "advance rebate," even though the check is not conditioned on any tax being paid at all.

It pretends that the IRS will be eliminated, when actually it will merely be re-named (there WILL be an agency to investigate evasion of the tax, cut the welfare checks, investigate welfare fraud, etc.).

It pretends to be 23% when it's actually 30% (its supporters calculate it "inclusively" so that they can pretend the tax is part of, rather than above and beyond, the actual price of the product -- a $1 item would cost $1.30).

Scam after scam after scam.

What I hate most about it is that when I have to debate it, I'm left with only two plausible conclusions about my opponents:

They're either the kind of people who look up when you tell them the word "gullible" is written on the ceiling, or the kind of people who have no problem lying about what they advocate to make it not sound as bad as it is.

And it makes me feel bad to know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that someone is one of those two things and have to try to to figure out which. 

Fairly Short and Hopefully Spoiler-Free Review: The Many Saints of Newark

I was never going to miss this film, but if I hadn't just bought the "all you can eat movies" plan from Regal Cinemas, I might have waited to stream it at home. Since I finally decided to pull the trigger on that plan, I also decided to bicycle down to my local theater and enjoy it in a reclining seat with snacks and about five other people scattered around the auditorium.

TL;DR: If you're a fan of The Sopranos, you probably have to see The Many Saints of Newark, and you're probably going to enjoy it. If you've never seen (or didn't like) The Sopranos, you're probably not going to really get what the big deal is and consider it, apart perhaps from Ray Liotta's strongest performance since Goodfellas, a mediocre gangster flick.

As evidence for the latter proposition, I offer you Eileen Jones's review at Jacobin. I think she under-rates Alessandro Nivola's turn as Dickie Moltisanti, but other than that she pretty much captures what it's probably like to be someone who's never seen the television show and gets dropped into the movie. I can't imagine anyone seeing the film first and then deciding "wow, I've really got to watch the show."

As it happens, I'm a fan of The Sopranos and I liked it. A lot.

What I liked about, a lot, it was not the story as such, which was just so-so, but (or lack of a better two words) the "character verisimilitude."

They're all there -- Billy Magnussen as Paulie Walnuts, John Magaro as Silvio Dante, Samson Moeakiola as Pussy (later Big Pussy) Bonpensiero, etc. -- and they all obviously went "method actor" on their roles, mastering the body language, speaking rhythms, and so forth of their TV show counterparts. You're going to know who you're seeing as soon as you see them.

The two standouts in that respect are Vera Farmiga as Livia Soprano (Tony Soprano's mother) and Corey Stoll as Corrado John "Junior" Soprano (Tony Soprano's uncle).

We first met Livia as a mentally and physically failing senior citizen, but still a powerful and domineering mother, in the show. Farmiga captures Nancy Marchand's take on Livia's essential personality, and rolls it back 30 years, absolutely perfectly. The hair on my neck stood up.

Stoll's take on Junior comes in a close second. He also had big shoes to fill. Dominic Chianese was pitch-perfect as the older Junior in the series: A wiseguy who thought he was smarter than he really was, and had a short and ill-considered fuse versus any perceived insult. Stoll rolls back the age without losing those essential characteristics, which turn out to have a larger effect on later events than we ever knew, or the feeling that we're seeing the same guy.

Liotta is a special case. His characters (yes, plural) don't show up in The Sopranos, but they go a long way toward making this movie worth the watch. Liotta plays Dickie Moltisanti's father, "Hollywood Dick" Moltisanti, and Hollywood Dick's imprisoned brother Salvatore ("Sally"). They're twins, but they're also very different people. And Liotta nails both of them.

Here's the thing:

As a stand-alone movie, I just don't think I'd be a fan if I hadn't seen the series. It's no Goodfellas or Godfather. If the cast had been available back then, most plot elements of this movie could have been fit into the series as flashback (especially, but not only, the fourth season episode "For All Debts Public and Private"), and the show would have been even better as a result.

But as a fan of the series, I enjoyed it, and hope David Chase and company choose to fill in the period between the prequel and the series with even more back story movie stuff.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

NFL Picks: Weekend Bloodbath!

After three straight weeks of picking 11 of 16 games correctly and remaining in the 97th percentile or above for players of FiveThirtyEight's NFL Forecasting Game, the bottom came out of my tub.

I only picked half the games -- 8 of 16 -- correctly. FiveThirtyEight's model also picked only 8 of 16 correctly.

But as I indicated I would do last week, I bet bigger than FiveThirtyEight did on the odds, with the result that I scored -97.8 points while FiveThirtyEight managed to come it at -14.3.

I'm still out-performing FiveThirtyEight's model overall (total score so far: Me, 127 points; FiveThirtyEight 58.9 points), but now I'm only ahead of 77% of players, falling from the top 100 to ranking 1,543rd of  6,696.

My religion (never bet against the Chiefs) and my scientific finding (think very carefully before betting against Tom Brady) stood me in good stead. I picked up 50 points on those two games, and another 25 points each on Green Bay to beat Pittsburgh and the Bills to beat the Texans.

But I lost nearly 150 points picking the Saints to beat the Giants, the Titans to beat the Jets, and the Falcons to beat The Team That Used To Be The Redskins. I also lost 37 points going against my gut and with FiveThirtyEight's model when I picked the Rams to beat the Cardinals (don't ask me why my gut told me Arizona would pull off that upset, but it did). And so on, and so forth.

I guess I have to redeem myself this coming weekend.

Monday, October 04, 2021

Fortuitous! Serendipitous! Movies!

I've been back and forth for months as to whether to join the Regal Unlimited program -- "all you can eat" movies for (with tax) $22.68 per month.

One of the early hangups was "will there be enough movies I want to see for it to be worth it?" That problems looks to be solved now that Hollywood is actually taking big films out of the can.

In fact, I nearly pulled the trigger just the other day when I realized that I'd want to see at least three films in October -- The Many Saints of Newark, No Time to Die, and Dune. That would be $37.50 plus tax in tickets alone, so a clear savings.

If I didn't buy the Unlimited plan, I'd probably only go out to see one of them (Dune -- it's on my "must see on the big screen" list) and end up waiting for the others to reach cheap streaming rental/purchase status (or to be included in one of the services I already pay for).

But then there's the other hangup: It's either "pay in advance for a year" (with a discount), or "commit to a year." What if I move, or the industry dies on the vine again due to some pandemic panic or whatever?

Then, an hour or so ago, I saw that they're running a promotion: "Try it for 90 days!" Not as nice as "month to month, cancel any time," but it works for my needs.

In addition to the three movies I'd like to see in October, I know of at least one in December (the new Matrix) flick that I am not going to miss on the big screen. So I'm up to $50 or so in tickets I'd like like to buy and $25 for tickets I'd buy no matter what, versus $68.04 for the Unlimited plan.

If I find two more movies to see in three months -- and there are several likely ones that I'd otherwise have just waited to stream but would enjoy on the big screen -- the plan will have "paid for itself."

Minimum commitment, maximum benefit. Damn right I snapped that deal up.

If you want the same deal, download the Regal app for your Android phone or iPhone (not referral links), then sign up. I'm not sure how long the deal will last, but it's a good idea to have the Regal app anyway if you watch movies at Regal Cinemas. Even without the Unlimited plan, you can buy your tickets online and wave your phone at the ticket checker instead of dealing with ticket windows or kiosks. And you rack up points that can be redeemed for concessions treats/discounts, free tickets, and swag.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

The Entertainment Industry Never Seems to Play it Very Straight with Asimov

I, Robot was a fun movie, but it wasn't really an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's work.

On the basis of watching the first episode*, I can at least report that Apple TV+'s Foundation seems to actually be an adaptation, but it throws in a bunch of elements that don't, to the best of my recollection, appear in the original novels and if there's a reason for those elements other than "we want to tell stories other than Asimov's," I can't tell what that reason might be.

Instead of an emperor, the Galactic Empire is ruled a rotating triumvirate of clones, "the genetic dynasty." There's always a young one, an adult one, and an old one.

Instead of being the uber-bureaucrat mayor of nuclear-powered Terminus City, in conflict with a publicly known Foundation Board of Trustees Salvor Hardin is apparently the "warden" of a hardscrabble planet with a population that stands in awe of, and may not approach, a monolith that's presumably the Time Vault (a central and known feature of publicly semi-understood work in the books).

I did like the first episode, but I was forlornly hoping for a more straight-line adaptation, even if such an adaptation would seem anachronistic given that Asimov was writing in the 1950s and it shows.

* I am not an Apple TV+ subscriber. I'm thinking I might become one, based in large part on Foundation. Fortunately, one can install the Apple TV+ app on Roku devices, and the service seems to allow non-payers to watch the first episodes of all or most of its series.

Friday, October 01, 2021

I'm Stuck ...

In various ways.

I got stuck this morning, at a lab.

My A1C is at 5.7. Which is exactly where it was three months ago.

That's not bad -- four years ago it was at 9.9, 18 months ago it was at 8.4, and IIRC, even six months ago it was at 7 or so. I am no longer diabetic (that's 6.5+), but still stuck at the bottom of the "pre-diabetic" range.

I'm also in my "weight rut." At my heaviest, I've hit about 250 pounds. When I start losing weight, I get stuck at 220-225 pounds and seem to not be able to break downward from that. I've been there for several months.

I have some theories about both sticking points.

One is that I no longer get much exercise in the summer. Back when I was an avid cyclist, I did, because the cycle movement kept a cooling "wind" on my body. Walking (or running, which I will try again if I can ever get below 200 pounds) in the summer in Florida sucks. As soon as you walk out the door, you're immediately soaked in sweat from the high humidity. It's just unpleasant and depressing. Now that it's starting to cool down, I plan to work on getting in a daily walk. Probably starting tomorrow morning.

Another is dietary.

I'm working toward becoming pretty much ovo-lacto-vegetarian, mainly because my wife is pretty much ovo-lacto-vegetarian and matching diet with her will create more opportunities to cook and eat together, find restaurants that sound good to both of us, etc. I've tried this before unsuccessfully, but now I'm taking a "lazier" approach. If I really happen to feel like eating something meaty, or if that's what's around the house, I just do it instead of agonizing about it. And after a few weeks, I'm now finding that when I get peckish think of food, I'm tending to think of non-meat food instead of immediately craving e.g. a burger.

The problem with that is that I've just never been big on green vegetables. When I'm not eating meat, I tend toward high-carb stuff like bread and pasta. Which is problematic for both weight and blood glucose. I certainly can't make myself eat a salad every day. That's what I've tried in the past, and after less than a week I'm just done with salad for a little while.

The solution, I guess, is to start working in a couple of salads a week at least. I'm also starting to dig egg rolls. They're not especially low-carb, but they have some green veggie (cabbage) in them, and the frozen ones come out pretty well in an air fryer. So I can satisfy my love for fried foods without drowning in oil, and get that green in. I don't know that I'll ever be able to make myself like peas and green beans, but I'm going to do some recipe research on that.

I think I can get un-stuck. And I'm glad to be stuck in a better position than usual.

Thanks For Asking! -- 10/01/21

Answers! Fresh, hot answers! Get yer answers here!

Ask me anything -- yes, anything -- in this post's comment thread, and I'll answer (in comments or linked elsewhere).

I must warn you, however: If I don't know the answer, I may just make something up.