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Good Old Fashioned Blog Post
johnny
bedsitter23
In the good old days of LiveJournal, way before Reddit and Facebook, we shared crazy local stories here. Of course, we had fark and digg, too, but it didn't beat a personal find.

In which case, I may have also blogged about this when it happened ten years ago, but it is time for the local Corpse Flower to bloom.

(From wikipedia)





Several news outlets have reported on it, but this should give you all you need to know.

A corpse flower is expected to bloom at any moment at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

The flower was expected to bloom Wednesday night, then again Thursday night, and now it could pop open at any time.

Horticulturists at the garden say the flower has begun “peeling” which is a good sign. The corpse flower gets its name from the odor it emits when it first blooms.

The flower only blooms once every three to five years.


The plant is native to Borneo and Sumatra, and wiki lists about 20 plants that are in various botanical centers in the US. This particular plant is the only one in the state of Iowa.

The last I knew, everyone was still waiting, and with what must be some kind of weird anticipation, the kind of morbid curiosity one gets with trying spoiled milk. A rare Garbage Pail Kids version of a Solar Eclipse or GG Allin flavored Halley's Comet.

Of course, as per usual, local media fills in some extra tidbits

For example, it does what it does as to protect itself from beetles who find it tasty, but are repelled from the smell. It has been nicknamed "Carrion My Wayward Son" via popular poll. It also can best be described as smelling like a decaying whale.

As an aside, I have been to the Botanical Center a couple of times (as documented here elsewhere) and the early Oughts it actually served as a home to punk bands. Des Moines has become a much friendlier live concert city, but this has only happened since I moved here. I saw a band that eventually spun into indie-rock faves Crocodiles play there for about 20 fans, mostly kids (and it was awesome).

The Corpse Flower (as all great internet age phenomena) has a live webcam, while we await the bloom, and lets you see it minus the smell. (Time lapsed video of previous blooming is also widely available)

(no subject)
johnny
bedsitter23
A Season for the Ages: How the 2016 Chicago Cubs Brought a World Series Championship to the North SideA Season for the Ages: How the 2016 Chicago Cubs Brought a World Series Championship to the North Side by Al Yellon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This won’t be the best book on the Cubs 2016 season, but it was the first. There’s a lot of low ratings for this one, but it’s understandable. This isn’t John Feinstein or Roger Kahn. Some one will write the definitive story of the 2016 Cubs. Maybe more than one (and given the historical context, maybe five or six, and a few players who were on that bench will likely write their story too). Still, Yellon got to the market first.

Which explains a lot- the spelling and grammar mistakes (not enough that I worry about them, but the criticism others pointed out is true enough) Also the weird ending which the books leaves off with the Cubs on their way to the World Series (not yet winning it). The first chapter does cover the aftermath of the World Series. Surely, this was an aftereffect of being the first book on the market.
One can understand hesitation. The bookcover is filled with quotes from the Cubs (and Cubs superfan Bill Murray) but none of those quotes are about the actual book itself. Still, Yellon isn’t quite a nobody. He runs Bleed Cubbie Blue, the SB Nation Cubs blog, which I reference a lot, and is a good source of Cubs information on a daily basis.

That also may be why people don’t like this book. The book is essentially written from the point of view of a “superfan”. Yellon went to Arizona to watch Spring Training, caught a few road games, and watches every home game in the Right Field bleachers. I am fine with this. It’s a personal perspective and he has plenty of trivia he throws in. Sure, I read Sports Headlines every day, but few people have the ability to spend the day following his team as well as journaling about it on a daily basis. It may not have the heavy perspective of a player or a journalist, but it’s still a fairly educated voice.

In which case, this book likely lifted a lot from Yellon’s daily blog writing, which I don’t fault at all, if that is what you are looking for. Yellon essentially walks us through if not every game the Cubs played, then pretty close to it, and certainly covers every series that they had.
The Cubs aren’t my favorite team, but living where their Triple-A team is located, I have become a fan and have seen most of these players play ball in person (Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, Edwards Jr, Baez, Almora and others). If your expectation is quite simply a light read that lets you relive the moments of the Cubs season, then you should be pretty pleased with this. (or at least I was).




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Book Review- Payoff by Dan Ariely
johnny
bedsitter23
Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations (Ted Books)Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


What motivates us? It’s a pretty good hook for a book. Ariely uses some experimental research to find these answers. It’s not money. In fact, monetary incentives can de-motivate us. For example, if you pay more for hard work on a Friday, people are only can work hard on Fridays ( Kind of like the Bed Bath and Beyond 20% coupon we’ve come to expect).
It is that personalization and recognition that is what make those connections. A handwritten note goes further than a $20 bill. Ultimately, Ariely argues that humans are driven by the need to leave a legacy- that what we do is important.

There are some interesting experiments he shares such as one where he wants to see if people continue to do a project, based on whether that project gets reviewed or shredded. It certainly is easier to do a job that no one ever looks at your output, but ultimately we find it is less satisfying.

This is a TED book, so it’s brief in the way a TED talk would be. There’s barely 100 pages and the author makes the least of those pages as possible. If this was a book I bought (as opposed to borrowed from the library), I would deduct a star for paying $16 for this.

Ariely is probably an interesting guy, but this book does little to display that. I have read other reviews, and suspect that is the nature of the TED books. Like hearing only a greatest hit compilation from a great album rock artist. I just don’t think it did him justice, as if you should come to this book already knowing his work and expertise.

Like nearly all business books, it can fall short in real world answers, but the goal is to facilitate discussions, and this gives enough in that category. I would not discount money as a motivation altogether, as certainly it does motivate certain individuals. Ariely brings up workers who have worked on a project for months to only find it closed for whatever reason, and there’s no closure for them. If the CEO could even have them present what they learned, would be some recognition. Still, the modern business world generally does not work that way. He does hit some important parts- how modern business has de-personalizes us. The impersonal cubicle which is increasingly smaller. Companies that put emphasis on titles and enforce that some people are ‘more important’ than others because of their level.

I also think the only real solution for managers is that we “frame” our jobs to show how important they are. Ariely uses the example of someone who hated his job of cleaning hospital waste, but found satisfaction when reminded that sterility in an environment where surgeries are performed is one of the most important things ever.

I think Ariely really missed the idea of “layoff” errr.. “restructure” culture. Certainly the last decade has reinforced the idea that companies have no loyalty to employees- an idea that grew in the 90s and 00s as companies took away retiree benefits and pensions, but has built more upon those post-recession experiences that have touched nearly everyone in some way.

I will take his conclusion that we want to be remembered when we are ultimately gone, and I think that is true regardless of religion (or lack of) and even if there are children to carry on. We are our passions and we want to be thought of as doing something important. Even if it is just writing a book review that three people will read, right? It certainly makes sense to me. Now, I have had some recent conversations about pursuing passions as a career, and starting to hear some strong arguments against that, but that’s fuel for a different book.




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Comic Review- The Defenders #1
johnny
bedsitter23
Defenders (2017-) #1Defenders (2017-) #1 by Brian Bendis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I haven’t picked up any first issues in awhile (sorry DC), but obviously couldn’t resist this one. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that this is going to be a Netflix series. I, at times, do live under said rock, so that was news to me. This teams up Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist. It is in theory, the perfect Bendis book. So why am I grading it so low?
I love Bendis, and this seems to be down his alley. These characters. That 70-ish noir feel. Great art by David Marquez. I usually love this stuff. For me, it fell a bit flat. As if this book could not be more Bendis-y, it became formulaic.

This book is tied to the Netflix series, so recent events in the Marvel universe between Jessica and Luke are brushed away. I don’t have a problem with that. I do love the characters and I do love the art. There’s just a lot going on in this first issue, but it moves too quickly, as if he can’t wait to get started. I didn’t really take much away from it, and I didn’t feel like there was much character building (sure it’s not really needed with these characters, but it would have made it a more enjoyable issue.)

It feels, I hate to say “Bendis by the numbers”, and it suffers in the way I felt some of the recent Iron Man work did. I feel BMB needs to do a project that is a bit out of his normal comfort zone. It got me thinking about if Bendis would ever go to DC (surely, some day he will) and that would probably breathe some life into DC, and to him. OK, DC fans may shriek at that thought. Still, Bendis used to make killer #1 issues and they turned into pretty great series, and he still is very good, but there’s less and less of those great Bendis moments. If Bendis wasn’t writing Alias/Jinx/Powers for the 100th time, then we might get excited about him again.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sticking with this (issues 2 and 3 already out). Bendis is still one of the very best, and this is set up to be a good book. Also, the reviews I have read of Defenders #1 are mostly 4 and 5-star, so maybe it’s just me. We will see how this progresses.




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Book Review- The Maze Runner
johnny
bedsitter23
The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Maze Runner was one of the first books to capitalize on the success of dystopian YA fiction of the Hunger Games (it was written previous to that book). There are plenty of reviews and lots of criticism so let me say that if you haven't wrote a book read by millions, then you seem petty, bear that in mind. Still, here goes..

For the most part, I did like it. It's a killer hook. Teenage boys stranded on an island, and the only escape is a maze; but every night the maze changes and there is only so much time each night to figure it out and get back before the gate closes.

There is a lot of criticism of the main character Thomas. In stories like this, the usual criticism is that he is a Gary Stu- an idealized character with no personality and does the right things all the time. I generally didn't have a problem with Thomas. There were a few occasions where I didn't think he made logical moves and at certain times, he is not particularly sympathetic. I suspect though part is that the character has no memory, so it certainly limits some development.

What i wasn't crazy about was Dashner over explaining. Perhaps that is nature of YA books. Still, we should be able to draw from what the character says and does, what the character thinks and his motivations. It was annoying the way he over explained what Thomas was thinking every minute.

The book certainly draws from other sources, primarily Lord of the Flies, and one other dystopian classic I won't name. I won't fault this since it is a new twist and nothing is original anyway. The Grievers reminded me of a character from a Choose Your Own adventure book Dashner could have read when he was my age.

I was pretty fine with everything. A lot of people didn't like the forced slang, Dashners attempt at Droogspeak or other classic references. I thought it was ok.

There were a couple of times my suspension of disbelief worked overtime. There is an early clue to the finish that seemed a bit too obvious and can't believe no one picked up on it. There is also a big plot reveal that I had to work my mind overtime to come up with a reason why no one figured it out in the two years before Thomas came along. I can make up a justification.

All that said, the book kept me interested. It is a killer hook and the mystery kept me guessing. Some reviewers were not happy with the mystery's answer and also with how the mystery of the maze was revealed. I didn't have any problem with that. You don't like it? Write your own best seller.

Like I said, the ending was telegraphed a bit too much for my liking, but it did have a twist which made me interested in seeking the sequels.

Overall, I was happy with this books with minor moments discussed above. I am sure as a Young Adult, I would have loved it. As an experienced reader, it kept my attention, only barely went overlong and I was engaged throughout.



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Movie Review: Cars 3
johnny
bedsitter23
Cars was a franchise that was certainly going to be a license to print money. Kids love cars, and Disney even could throw together something like Planes and the masses would go.

The good thing about the animated film is that the characters don't get old. The first Cars film came out in 2006, and although it gets a new audience continuously, those who first watched it on the big screen are close to being able to drive themselves.

Meanwhile, real life disappoints. The most exciting athlete of my lifetime, Tiger Woods is not only struggling as an athlete, he's having enough time trying to hold his life together. Ryan Howard was a MVP baseball player and when the game changed with the infield shift, he could no longer perform. Stars like Derek Jeter, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning have retired recently, as they were aware of their diminishing abilities.

Which means Cars 3 is a bit "too real". Now, Lightning McQueen is the old guard, and he is being usurped by the new breed. Which of course, is weird. If the new cars are more aerodynamic and faster through science, maybe indeed, it is time to move on.

Real life doesn't quite work like that either. Certainly, NASCAR is based on tradition. The most popular driver is the son of a legend, while some of the best racers of the present day don't often get as much respect, simply because they are not named Petty, Waltrip or Earnhardt.

There of course is no bigger sports movie trope than Rocky, and this movie owes a debt to that. Armie Hammer's Jackson Storm is Apollo Creed. The plot is rich in Rocky 3, science and "performance" versus going back to the basics.

One watches Cars 3 and thinks that maybe there is space for stock cars on the big screen, yet as this plot isn't much different than "Days of Thunder", maybe there isn't a lot left to be said.

Cars 3 is certainly a fine movie for what it . The kids will love it because cars, but it generally doesn't go overlong. Cars is generally not held in the same regard as some similar films (as say, Toy Story). This won't change that, but you know that going in, and it's a sequel to boot. It's certainly fine by those standards though. Just sad to see Lightning McQueen hitting his twilight.

Book Review- Almost President by Scott Farris
johnny
bedsitter23
Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the NationAlmost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation by Scott Farris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is one of those books that immediately I can't resist. I was a tad worried that only a year after both CNN and PBS did excellent video series on past elections and candidates, as well as some of my recent reading list, there might not be a whole lot left to learn.

I needn't worry though since Farris does a particularly good job in relaying these stories. I suspect Farris knew about the most famous book of this kind (and his notes pages do admit his awareness) Irving Stone's 1943 book, They Also Ran, and likely because of that (and probably commercial pressures) focuses a lot on modern losing candidates. Farris's intent is to cover the candidates that lost that he thought had the biggest effect in American history.

The book starts with a great chapter on concession speeches. This, he argues, is the fabric of America. Even if you disagree with Al Gore (or if you're old enough and still haven't gotten over Samuel Tilden) and think he conceded too easy; by doing so, he helped move the country in a healing way. Even in the modern divisiveness of McCain conceding to Obama. It rings particularly true post 2016 when some might have liked to seen more fight in Hillary, or one suspects if Trump had not ascended into the White house, would he have moved forward with concession or tore at old wounds and argued that he should be President- a move which clearly would be damaging.

He also points out that as far as the popular vote goes, landslides are rare. There are only four elections in the post-Federalist era that one candidate received 60% of the vote (Harding over Cox, FDR over Landon, LBJ over McGovern, Nixon over McGovern)

Farris's picks are

Henry Clay- Clay is a great American in a time of mediocre Presidents. Unfortunately, the Whigs tended to be the minority party, so the only times they were able to get enough votes to win was when they nominated ex-war heroes. Farris argues that though Andrew Jackson is the father of the modern Democratic party, that it is Clay whose views are more aligned with the liberals of today. Farris treats Clay as a bit of a Bill Clinton figure. Loved by his party, hated by the opposition, and a bit of a lovable rogue.

Stephen Douglas- Douglas did try to keep the union together despite the country tearing apart in Civil war. Republicans wanted everyone to follow in step and silence dissent. Douglas may have saved his party, offering a differing voice and criticism that likely helped the country. It also kept the Democrat party strong enough to at least give Grant a strong challenge, win state and local elections and return to the White House in 20 years. (Douglas of course is on the wrong side of slavery, and Farris discusses that difficult topic as well)

William Jennings Bryan- Bryan is strongly associated with the Scopes Monkey Trial, but Farris argues that he wasn't anti-science. Instead, in those times, people were arguing that Darwinism and more accurately through Social Darwinsim and Eugenics that there was not a humanistic need to help those who were in need. Bryan strongly believed in government assistance and safety net.

Al Smith- Smith was the first Catholic Presidential candidate in a country that discriminated against Catholics, and a group whose main involvement in politicswas as boogeyman for groups like the Know Nothings and the KKK. Smith got stomped but Catholics entered the mainstream, which was helped by Hollywood in the 30s and 40s and priests as portrayed by Bing Crosby and Spencer Tracy.

Tom Dewey- Dewey, like Smith was governor of New York and has a fascinating bio. Dewey ran strong against FDR in 1944 and as you know was expected to win in 48. Farris picks Dewey as the GOP leader who set the precedent (that even know is still strongly adhered to except in rare cases) that the GOP was not going to attempt to repeal Medicare or Social Security.

Adlai Stevenson- One person said this was the chapter where it was okay for an 'egghead' to be President. Adlai is where the Dems started to get painted with the brush of the intellectual elite and out of touch with the traditional blue collar crowd (though in fact, he was much less a Blue Blood than Ike and Nixon). After Adlai, the Dems have been the party of Tsongas and Hillary and even Obama was tagged with being 'too smart'.

Barry Goldwater- The 1964 election could have been very interesting. Goldwater had written a book that was hot, and President Kennedy had fumbled in his first couple of years. JFK and Goldwater were friends and pictured a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates across the country where they would argue their points intellectually. That did not happen, of course, and no one likely would have beat LBJ. Goldwater's legacy of course did live in, although Barry might not have always agreed with his predecessors.

George McGovern- Under McGovern, the Democrats put more than an inordinate amount of power first in hands of the people via caucuses, and then to groups like women and minorities. From a strictly numbers point of view, this was not a winning strategy in 1972. It however, was the campaign plan that got Obama elected.

Ross Perot- Perot is an interesting one. He for sure made a 3rd party movement viable. As this book was published, his legacy was questionable. While he had success, he was unable to keep the movement going without him- people like Pat Buchanan and Dick Lamm did not have his appeal. Farris also argues that Perot had middle of the road appeal, so he is not particularly analogous to the Tea Party. Reading this in hindsight, Perot clearly helped pave the way for Trump, who was able to take a lot of Perot's appeal and a country that desired a businessman not a politician.

Gore, Kerry, McCain- Farris clearly wanted to hedge his bets and he puts these three together. Too close in the rear view mirror to judge. Farris argues that these men changed the definition of the 'also ran' to what it used to be - the leader of the opposition, instead of what t became- a Mondale or Dukakis. Gore, of course for his activism. Kerry as Farris correctly predicted someone with Secretary of State aspirations. McCain as a voice of dissent during the Obama administration.

The best part of the book may be the end which has short bios of everybody who ever had a major party nomination and lost (and unlike Jefferson, Jackson, Nixon et al never won). That is pretty fascinating. A list of great mostly forgotten Americans like Horace Greeley and John Fremont and people even history fans tend to forget like Horatio Seymour and Charles Evans Hughes. Farris mentions that no one writes about the losers- even someone as great as Henry Clay. Even the lowest President gets more press. He points out for example, that no one has written a biography on Alton Parker (1904, lost to TR).

There was a lot about this book I liked and I learned a lot and specially liked the extra bio sketches. (As an FYI, I found this unbiased, but Farris did run for US Senate in Wyoming as a Democrat so that is where his heart lies)



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Movie Review from the Couch : Sing
johnny
bedsitter23
So after a couple of Disney movies, things swing over to Universal Studios which seems to have an edge on making kids movies for adults via Illumination studios.  A short history but one defined by the Despicable Me/Minions franchise and Secret Life of Pets.

Sing is pretty great.  There is quite simply something magical in animated animals with human characteristics, in this case, singing pop songs.  Everyone will surely know this film from the trailer preview with the bunnies singing "Baby Got Back" (or Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda).

Indeed, it's fairly inexplicable, but it is one of those things that makes kids laugh and adults smile.

Sing is a pretty basic plot.  The well-tread "We have one chance to make it against all odds" whose examples I cannot think off the top of my head- but certainly Fame and Rocky.

The leads aren't obvious, which is good.  Matthew McCounaghy as a lead is not distracting in a way that others might have been.  It follows across the board that the voice talent (from Reese Witherspoon to Scarlett Johanson on) work in a way that we focus on the character not the voice.  With the exception of Seth McFarland who trods out his Sinatra act one more time.

The pathos are actually pretty great, even with the familiar Rocky/Fame tropes.  Yes, the characters are animated, and they all fall pretty much into American Idol-ish stereotypes.  Yet, it warms the heart as the underdogs succeed.

Sing isn't wall to wall laughs, but it has funny moments, and it did keep my attention.  It generally succeeds and feels more "modern" than Disney in that it is certainly written with an adult audience in mind.  It could be funnier, sure, but generally is an enjoyable two hours in the way the Minions movies do.

On the Shelf 183: Mount Eerie
johnny
bedsitter23
Phil Elverum is one of my most favorite "discoveries" of the last 10 years. Specifically 2008's Lost Wisdom which introduced me to his band Mount Eerie and his previous project The Microphones.

Elverum is much loved by the indie elite, but it's a rare case where I am as much onboard. Elverum's trade is lo-fi music, and it is a genre of art that I usually am fanatical about or pass on.

There is a certain rock element that blends in from 90s influences like Erics Trip and Flying Saucer Attack which is what sets him apart for me.

The new album A Crow Looked at Me comes with much fanfare but a sad background- the passing of Phil's wife artist/musician Genevieve Castree last year at age 35. Genevive gave birth to the couple's son in 2015 and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly after.

Which makes this very much like Nick Cave's "Skeleton Tree" and other similar releases. This is the type of album Big Indie will fete at the end of the year, because they love this kind of story, but it's also a very difficult listen. It will undoubtedly have a cult following like records like Tim Buckley's "Greetings from LA".

Still, it is so raw that it's affecting. Cave's record is sad, but he still mixes his message with metaphor and poetry. On this record, Elverum's lyrics sound like a journal. He talks about throwing out his wife's toothbrush and clothes, and other daily activities that take a somber tone after the death of a loved one.

His music has always been similar to the sound critics call 'sadcore' or 'slowcore'- similar to Bill Callahan, Will Oldham, Iron and Wine, and others in that category, and that's on a good day. The album reminds me of Callahan's Smog records, but even on those very raw records, there is a hint of wit and humor.

There is no hint of irony or disguise in metaphor. It is to Elverum's credit, that he is a musical genius that indeed this is listenable at all. As raw as the emotion is (and sometimes bringing to mind Wilde's quote about bad poetry coming from genuine feeling), the feeling is genuine, but it's ultimately listenable.

That even means repeat listens, though I don't know how much of this record I would want to revisit. Even as sad records go, this is pretty desolate. Credit to Elverum to work through his pain through art, and his genius does shine through. This is great, but this is a tearjerker.




On the Shelf 182: Granddaddy
johnny
bedsitter23
Granddaddy possibly arrived at the wrong time in music. The industry was moving from CDs to MP3s, albums to singles, major labels to self released, and the end of a glory time for indie rock.

They did make enough effect on indie rock that they ultimately get their due. Indeed, even bands that arrived at the right time had to wait years like Jawbreaker before getting due recognition.

At this point, I doubt anyone but me remembers, but they arrived in that so important Kid A era and they were lumped in with bands like Elbow, Travis, Muse, Coldplay and many other bands that in hindsight weren't very similar at all. The band broke up in 2006, though Jason Lyttle has kept busy with solo work and projects like Admiral Radley and BNQT, as well as Jim Fairchild's All Smiles, so it has felt like they never completely went away.

It is exciting to see them back, though with some hesitation. For me, they reached their peak with The Sophtware Slump, and although all their albums are good, I doubt it can be replicated.

That said, their reunion record Last Place is welcome.

I am struck by how it sounds so effortlessly like the band's heyday. It's a knack that certain bands seem to hit. I am thinking mainly of Dinosaur Jr, and the Old 97s recently. Do they just go to the studio and it comes out? Is it Lyttle's unique voice and the Mercury Rev-style atmospheric guitars. Certainly not, or everyone would do it. If it was so easy, the Pixies and others would be able to just hit record. Indeed, if it was so easy Lyttle could do it himself(though his records have been pretty good)

So Last Place is deceptively easy sounding, but it wouldn't be so good if the band hadn't done something special. I compare it to Dinosaur Jr in terms that the past is so great, that it is seemingly impossible to put it into some historical artistic context, so all you can do is simply listen to the record over and over.





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