A blog for dum ideas that are too long to fit on my Facebook status

Archive for February, 2012

Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – The Square

Today’s entry comes by way of six degrees of separation, sort of.  Not Kevin Bacon style, but just sort of connecting the dots.  I was reading an article about Kathryn Bigelow‘s film about hunting Osama Bin Laden and saw that Nash Edgerton had joined the cast.  Who is Nash Edgerton?  Well, he’s the brother of Joel Edgerton who is also attached to the film and appeared in “Warrior” and “The Thing” over the past two years.  I had thought that he sort of appeared out of nowhere, but the article mentioned that the brothers had teamed up on the noir film, “The Square.”  It’s currently available on Netflix streaming and I recommend you watch it, RIGHT NOW.  Here’s why.

A great noir film actually has a lot in common with a great comedy.  They usually both involve a couple very much in love, who either has some sort of task to face.  In a comedy it could be something like meeting the parents.  In a noir, they are probably trying to rob one of their lovers and then the hell out of dodge.  That’s basically the premise for “The Square.”  And like any good comedy, we know that in a noir film, what can and will go wrong, does, usually because of some missteps, misunderstandings, and unintended consequences.  However, the difference is that in comedies, everything works out in the end and in noirs, everyone is usually dead in the end.

“The Square” follows something like this, involving lovers, money, death, and the attempts to deal with aftermath.  Like the cement that its title refers to, the film has a gritty tone, not just in content but in its film technique.  There is a dark tint to the film, its drab and there are few scenes involving vibrant colors.  It’s totally fitting to the style and the way the film unfolds.

The way in which everything comes together at the climax is so perfectly constructed and it fits everything that has come before it.  A great noir film has an ending which paints a picture of the inevitable and we know from all the exploration of character that this was the way it was meant to be.  I think I actually replayed the ending about three times when I watched it on Netflix.  If you’re in the mood for a great thriller, with few effects, that gets its thrills from subtle development and situations, watch this movie right now.


Beer #15 – Southern Tier Porter

I’ve mentioned before the fine selection of craft breweries that we’ve got here in New York State.  One of my favorites is Southern Tier.  They made a very solid double IPA and have some other good brews in their arsenal.  I was at the beer store the other day and was in a dark mood so I picked up several browns, porters, and dark lagers.  One of those was a dark and robust porter by Southern Tier.  Here it is everyone.

Another Wegman's picture!

Porter, Southern Tier Brewing Company
New York, United States of A
Robust Porter,5.8 % ABV

Aroma: Faint scents of hops, then earthy and roasty coffee malt notes.

Appearance: Very dark brown, small head of foam.

Flavor: Malts and slight citrus hops followed by a nice bitter coffee flavor with a semi-sweet finish.

Mouthfeel: Very full bodied, hint of graininess, thick character, almost like cocoa powder.

Overall: This is a pretty nice porter.  It has a decent hop profile, a unique mouthfeel and nice coffee notes.  A solid effort from Southern Tier.

Beer #14 – Full Sail Amber Ale

When I think of Oregon, I think of Oregon Trail, perhaps the best game ever.  I remember waiting in line in my elementary school classroom so I could add someone I hated as the last member of my wagon party and watch them die of dysentary.  Just kidding, I wasn’t that mean.  Maybe if they had had beer in the game, not everyone would’ve died of weird stuff, or they would’ve died happy.  Full Sail is an employee owned brewing company out of Hood River, Oregon.  It was started in 1987 and now has a workforce of 47 people, who all became owners in 1999.  They’ve been recognized as one of the best local businesses in Oregon and one of the most environmentally responsible American breweries.  So bravo to these guys.  Anyway, today I’m reviewing one of their flagships, their Amber Ale.

Amber Ale, Full Sail Brewing Company
Oregon, United States of A
American Amber Ale, 5.5% ABV

Aroma: Grassy hops, faint malt sweetness.

Appearance: Dark amber, small head of foam, exhibits nice lacing.  I wanted better retention but maybe it was my glass.

Flavor:  Decent malt flavor up front with a nice and complex sweet then citrusy and bitter finish.  Great finish on this beer.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, with nice carbonation.

Overall: Very nice Amber ale.  It’s got good balance between malts and hops, nice lacing and it’s not overly malty. Very nice example of the style.  I’d definitely drink this again.

A Post About Rich, Skinny, White People Masturbating

*so you’re probably wondering what the hell the title of this post means.  You’re gonna have to read on to find out.  At least it got your attention

I came across the following article on The Atlantic‘s website about eating animals and wanted to share some of my ideas on the meat industry and the “ethics” of food.  To quickly rehash the argument put forth by James McWilliams, he argues that the factory farm industry is actually gaining an endorsement from the “humane” and “sustainable” meat movement because inherent in the movement is the fact that people want to eat meat and the factory farm industry will always be able to provide it more efficiently and for a lower price.  To quote him, he says:

So long as consumers continue to eat meat, eggs, and dairy — even if they are sourced from small farms practicing the highest welfare and safety standards — they’re providing, however implicitly, an endorsement of the products that big agriculture will always be able to produce more efficiently and cheaply.

As someone who recently bought chicken breast from the Honest Weight Co-op for $10 a pound, who knows that I can buy chicken at Price Chopper for about $3 -$5 a pound (according to this week’s ad) I agree with this last statement.  My purchase of meat acknowledges that.

Mr. McWilliams says as much in his article, so I guess we agree on this.  However, he finishes by saying:

We’ll never beat Big Ag at its own game. Those of us concerned with the myriad problems of industrial agriculture will make genuine progress toward creating agricultural systems that are ethical, ecologically sound, and supportive of human health only when we pursue alternatives that are truly alternative. The most immediate and direct way to take a step in this direction is to stop eating animals.

So according to McWilliams, the “alternative” to Big Ag, is NOT eating humane meat.   But does he explicitly say what the “truly alternative” alternative is (WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN?) or describe it in any way that makes sense?  No.  And I am so frustrated because I am truly at a loss to envision this “truly alternative” alternative.   Why?  Because here’s what it CAN’T be:

*a world in which no one eats meat, because that’s just fucking absurd, there are over 300,000,000 people in this country and there is a better chance of me growing to 7 feet tall before I die than this EVER happening
*a world in which there is NO factory farming and all local farms.  Because even places like the coop admit that they can’t stock only local meat because there simply would not be enough to meet demand (see, people WANT/LIKE to eat dead animals, plus, we all can’t afford $10 a lb chicken (let me state for the record that the chicken I am talking about was bought by my gf using a gift card, so it’s not like we really even paid for it)
*a world in which we all eat processed tofu that is engineered to taste like dead animals.  Because that really wouldn’t be ecologically sound or that supportive of human health considering what is added to tofu to make it taste/resemble real animal protein, plus these products are incredibly expensive

My point?  There is no other alternative.  This is the world we live in.  A world in which A LOT of people eat meat because there are so damn many of us and animal protein is a filling, healthy (let’s just agree that eating a piece of chicken won’t kill you and that eating a leaf of spinach won’t make you live forever), and CHEAP source of food.  It’s a world that has a mixture of factory and local farms because there are people who want cheap meat and there are people who can afford $10 a lb chicken.  A world in which people choose not to eat meat but then choose to eat products that TASTE like meat.

*speaking of meat, here is a great link where an editor from Serious Eats comments on the ease of meat, thus making my point that for most Americans who don’t have time or money, but have kids to feed, meat is the obvious choice.  The solution then is not less meat, but a change in social circumstance

So where does that leave the food movement?  Where does that leave Michael Pollan (a man who admits that when he gives talks on eating healthy he talks almost exclusively to people who don’t really need his advice) and Barbara Kingsolver (an author who had the luxury of raising her own food for a year and got a book deal out of it)?  A giant, rich, skinny, white person circle jerk.  That’s where.  It’s a world in which liberal haves (who are just as annoying as conservative haves) sit around and bond over causes that they have in common that they are fortunate enough to support.  It’s easy to pat yourself on the back because you shop at the co-op and it’s easy to write about your “perfect” agricultural world when your lifestyle allows you to essentially create a food bubble to surround yourself in.  But it’s all just masturbation.  These choices aren’t changing the social forces that created the “Big Ag” that you so despise and if McWilliams is right, then it’s only making “Big Ag” bigger.

Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t eat meat you should suddenly start.  I’m not saying that as a personal choice, the choice to not eat meat or eat “humane” meat is wrong.  Do what you wish, more power to you.  But PLEASE, PLEASE, can we stop pretending like this “food” movement is some sort of revolution that will change our society?  Stop with the books on how to eat in ways that will REALLY change the world.  Eat what you ant, but get rid of your bombastic dreams and rhetoric about its consequences.  Gay marriage didn’t kill the dinosaurs and the choices we make about what we eat won’t bring them back.

Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – Monsters

Monsters” is proof that in this day and age, you don’t need a big budget to make an effective creature movie.   Hell, it’s proof that you don’t even need a creative name.  I mean, “Monsters”?  What could be a more simple title than that?  But the real beauty of “Monsters”, and I do mean beauty, is the subtle way it handles its title characters.  Because “Monsters” is not really a movie about monsters per se, but rather a movie about two people trying to escape a world that is overrun by fear of monsters.  See the difference?

At its core, this film is a road movie, using classic conventions of an unlikely man and woman paired together for survival, who because of their intimacy and the situation, grow close and fall in love.  What makes it different from other films is the backdrop.  Here’s a brief plot summary.  Aliens fall to Earth between Mexico and United States aboard a NASA space probe.  Once they grow up, they are big and scary and the military decides to take action against them and essentially quarantine the area using soldiers and a giant wall.  A photojournalist named Andrew is hired by his boss to retrieve the boss’ daughter back to America, by going through the quarantine zone.  There you have the main characters, two people trying to travel through a zone populated by aliens.

For a film with that logline, it’s fairly realistic.  Helping it in that respect is that fact that it takes place on a small scale.  We simply are asked to care about these two people and watch them as they try and make it safely to the United States.  Because the film is so low budget, we don’t see a whole lot of other people, or action, and until the end, not a whole lot of the aliens.   However, almost all of the shots are location shots, which gives it a very real and intimate feel.

But that’s not to say the movie isn’t exciting and won’t please genre fans.  There are alien attacks, evidence of alien attacks (one of my favorite parts of disaster movies are the shots where you see the aftermath of destruction, here we get planes in trees), drawn out moments of suspense, and I really enjoyed the way the filmmakers used sound and glimpses of the aliens, to create a sense of dread on a budget of about $500,000.  Because of the film’s story, there is no need for huge set pieces of the world being destroyed.  In this story the aliens have arrived, we’ve dealt with them in way and they are almost just a fact of like (ala District 9).  So the story is more personal than any Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich film, and I think that’s what makes it so refreshing.  That tone of this film can really be summed up by the actions of the aliens in their final encounter with the humans.  It’s a well done scene that calls into question the title of the film as well as the actions of the beginning and end that make up the climax.  Could it all have been avoided with just a little understanding?  There are obvious parallels to immigration policies at work here, but I’ll let you form your own opinions.  For anyone looking for a sci-fi movie with some thought and real story telling effort, check this one out.

Beer #13 – Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager

I’ve never been to New Orleans, but it’s on my list of places to visit for a number of reasons.  High on that list is food and drink.  I’ve never had a beer from Louisiana before, but like many people, I was caught up in the post-Katrina love for New Orleans and I’m happy to support anything from that community.  So, I was in the search for some beer recently and came across a dark lager from the Dixie Brewing Company in New Orleans.  I love a flavorful lager and this one seemed quite promising.  So here it goes.

Blackened Voodoo Lager, Dixie Brewing Company
Louisiana, United States of A
Dark Lager/Schwarzbier, 5.0% ABV

Aroma: Crisp scent of sweet, deep malts and faint hop notes.

Appearance: Nice dark amber, very small head.

Flavor: Caramel malts, toasty finish with very light hoppy bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium,very smooth.  Low, but nice carbonation, I was surprised by how nicely it coated my mouth and how smooth its texture was.

Overall: This is a great lager.  Just enough flavor and complexity, surprising for a 5.0% beer.  Terrific session beer.

We’re All Going to Get Cancer and Die…according to EWG

A few months ago, I noticed a rash of Facebook postings about the Environmental Working Group‘s Skin Deep Comestic rating website.  The people posting (mostly female, and and mostly mothers, expecting mothers or hoping to someday be mothers) were FREAKING out over the information on this website and the threat that all these common products posed to their kids.  Now, let me first say that I completely understand a maternal/paternal instinct to protect your children from harm.  I get that.  Hell, I want to protect your children from harm and I don’t even know them.  BUT, after looking over this website, I’m convinced that it’s a load of crap and if you want to protect your kids from harm, your efforts are better spent elsewhere.

Okay, I'm spreading the word. This website SUCKS.

The EWG database has its own Facebook page, with 21,429 likes as I write this.  They are constantly posting updates with stories on which product now has carcinogens in it and what is dangerous.  Let me say that I have no doubt that there are products out there that contain ingredients that are REALLY bad for you.  Cigarettes come to mind because well, there is a lot of GREAT data out there on why they will kill you.  However, my beef with the EWG website is that it has a LOT of SHITTY data that basically tells you nothing at all.  Let’s explore with a little trip down logic lane.

Say I log into Facebook, everyone is FREAKING OUT over this site and all the crap in their products that is going to give everyone cancer and die.  Even people who are already dead.  This stuff will kill you, bring you back to life and then kill you again.  So I go to the website and since I’m concerned, I start to check out some of the products I use.  We’ll start with my cleanser, LAB Series for Men Multi Action Facewash.  I’d recommend right-clicking on that link so you can follow along.

Are you going to make my face fall off? Let's find out.

According to EWG, this product has a score of “3” and its health concern is “moderate.”  Okay…the site has a scale and it goes like this.  0-2 is low hazard (like splashing water on your face.  3-6 is moderate hazard (using my cleanser).  7-10 is high hazard (like using bleach on your face).  However, I’m making these comparisons up because EWG doesn’t really indicate what these scores mean.   0-10 is completely arbitrary and in terms of scales, I don’t even think that they put much though into it, as in, I don’t trust that a 6 score, is twice as hazardous as a 3 score.  It tells me NOTHING.

Oh, but maybe the “Health Concern” score will tell me something.  Apparently, the “Health Concern” for this product is also moderate.  What the hell does that mean?  Well, if you hold your cursor over the score, this gem of text comes up:

reflects combined hazards of all product ingredients.  actual health risks from product use, if any, will depend on the amounts of the ingredients absorbed into the body and individual vulnerability to health problems

So…again.  I’ve learned nothing from this site.  On a scale of 1-10, my product’s health risks (IF ANY) are equal to a 3, which is moderate.  Well, at least it’s not hazardous.  However, my biggest beef with this site is another scale called the “Data Score Key.”

As it’s name suggests, this indicates the amount of data that EWG uses to create their scores.  They word it as:

Data availability rating: the scope of ingredient safety data contained in Skin Deep®, and the number of studies available in the open scientific literature
The data for my product is “Limited” which on its face, doesn’t so bad.  Except, when you realize it’s a 5 point scale of: None, Limited, Fair, Good, Robust.  There are 3 HIGHER LEVEL scores than the one they gave my product.  It’s one better than none, meaning they could have found one SHITTY study and used it to create this score.  It would help MAYBE if they told you how many peer-reviewed studies they needed to go up each scale, but no.  We have no idea.
The site also has the feature where you can scroll though the ingredients in your product and see the what makes them so hazardous.  They also put the “Data” score for each ingredient.  Here’s how the score came out.
None: 4
Fair: 7
Limited: 13
Good: 0
Robust: 1
Want to know the secret ingredient that had the “Robust” score?  I’ll give you a hint, it’s composition is H2O.  That’s right, FUCKING WATER.
So what’s the point of all this.  Again, this is just another example of bad data masquerading as usable/important data.  This website has a flashy display and appears to have a lot of information.  I mean, there are color coded scales, 1-10 scores, really useful stuff!  Except, it’s not.  In fact, I think this website probably does more harm than good for the following reasons:
1) It’s based on minimal data.  When you don’t have “good” data for any ingredient in a product except water, then you don’t have good enough data to go making health concern claims.
2) The scales have no actual value.  There’s no indication as to what the actual level of risk is.  Is a little of a hazardous substance better than a lot of a moderate substance?  Who the hell knows.
3) It’s something that can easily be passed around on the Internet among people who think that there’s something useful here.

You sir, are a 6. You are more dangerous than a 5. Or a Camel Light. Who knows.

Again, I understand people want healthy kids.  I want my kids to be healthy to when they’re born and for the rest of their lives.  You want to know how to keep your kids healthy?  Stop looking at the EWG site and keep your kids away from smoke, make sure they get exercise, don’t let them drink soda, expose them to a little dirt, give them strong social supports and love them.  Don’t let some stupid website take advantage of your fears.  Not buying Johnson & Johnson isn’t going to prevent your kid from getting cancer.  But educating them about the dangers of smoking will probably help.