Sunday, June 13, 2021

Music: Black Dog

As the world emerges from quarantine, musicians are taking stock of the strange, solitary year that just passed. "Black Dog" is an introspective track from one such up-and-coming artist, Arlo Parks:


The song comes from Parks's debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, and it's a straightforward-but-moving account of caring for someone with depression.  While that premise could have easily felt contrived, the neo-folk rhythms and insistent vocals give "Black Dog" the requisite emotional authenticity to, as the kids say, "hit hard."

Monday, May 31, 2021

Miscellany: Battle of the Pocket Trauma Kits

If you believe the news, there are almost 20 million people with a concealed carry permit in this country. However, I'll bet that very few of them carry medical gear, even though you are way more likely to need to stanch a wound in a victim than to create one in an assailant. Gunfights are rare - car crashes, sports accidents, and other occasions causing traumatic injury are not.

I have a full-on trauma kit at home, in my car, in my office, and when travelling, but I will cop to not lugging one around when I'm walking through Publix. For on-body carry, I make do with a CoTCCC-recommended tourniquet on the belt and an EDC trauma kit in the pocket. Here are the pros and cons of a couple that I've tried:


PHLster Pocket Emergency Wallet ($60, sleeve only for $20)

Contents: Compressed gauze, mini compression bandage, nitrile gloves, and a small WoundClot gauze pack


This is an elastic sleeve with two partitions (meant for medical stuff) and one small partition (for gloves). As packed from PHLster, it combines several practical bleeding control items in a package that will fit into a large pocket - think cargo pockets, jacket pockets, and some front pants pockets, but not your skinny jeans.

PROS: The sleeve keeps the items together in the pocket well and compresses them down to the narrowest possible size. The kit's contents are useful.

CONS: There's no way to attach the sleeve to a belt or other gear, and it's a pain to take items in and out of the sleeve. Somewhat expensive for what it is.


LTC EDC Pocket Trauma Kit ($75, pouch only for $35)

Contents: SWAT-T tourniquet, QuikClot dressing, nitrile gloves, and a "micro first aid kit" (with band-aids, wound closures, wipes, and antibiotic ointment)


Live the Creed created this pouch, which consists of two elastic-sleeved compartments in a folding wallet format with a hook-and-loop tab keeping it closed. 

The fully stocked kits were sold out, so I ordered just the pouch, and filled it with my own items for the test (a SWAT-T, Celox Rapid Z-fold gauze, and some nitrile gloves).

PROS: MOLLE compatible, so it can be mounted to a belt or bag easily. Pull tab and foldout design makes it easy to to access and use the kit's contents. A SWAT-T fits perfectly inside one of the compartments.

CONS: Compresses items less than the PHLster sleeve, so the package is slightly thicker overall and harder to get out of a pocket.  The compartments are narrower than the PHLster sleeve, so fewer items fit. Finally, the full stocked kit from LTC seems overpriced and contains items that belong in a first aid kit (e.g., band-aids), not a trauma kit.

Books: Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution

 


For this Memorial Day, I read Valiant Ambition, a nonfiction historical narrative about the Father of Our Country and the nation's most infamous traitor. The book is part two in a trilogy about the American Revolution written by Nathaniel Philbrick, and as you might expect, it's set in the middle part of the war, starting with the Battle of Long Island and ending with the discovery of Arnold's plan to surrender West Point to the British. That act, Philbrick argues, actually helped to unify a fractured country against a common enemy - our own worst instincts.

The book isn't just about Washington's maneuvering and Arnold's betrayal, though.  It also features some of the earliest Americans resting in honored glory: fallen soldiers at Ridgefield, Oriskany, and a hundred other mostly-forgotten battlefields throughout our land.  It's strange to think that Americans are shouting at each other over politics while standing on the same ground that other Americans died on to protect, long before there was even an "America." Perhaps books like Valiant Ambition will focus us on our common enemy once again.

Monday, May 24, 2021

TV: Disney+ Sports Dramedy Double Feature

The Disney+ streaming service is in a bit of a lull right now. WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier are over, Loki doesn't start until June 9, and the next season of The Mandalorian hasn't even been announced.

However, if you're a fan of kids sports movies, the kind where a ragtag bunch of misfits triumphs against overwhelming odds, Disney+ has you covered! The House of Mouse is airing two series that I'm enjoying more than I thought I would:

The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

I have vague memories of the original Mighty Ducks movies, mostly of Emilio Estevez mugging for the camera and a bunch of kids quacking on a hockey rink. The sequel/reboot TV series brings Estevez back with Lauren Graham, a new set of kids, and the Cobra Kai-like premise of the original Mighty Ducks team now being the bad guys - the elitist, bullying jocks who are playing sports for all the wrong reasons. It takes awhile for the underdog team on the show to gel into something more than a caricature, but the child actors do a good job. Game Changers pulls off that tough balancing act with kids' shows - it's lighthearted and predictable, without being bland:


Big Shot

John Stamos hit it real, real big with Full House, but his subsequent lead roles have been...hit-or-miss (Anyone remember Thieves?). In Big Shot, he submerges his Uncle Jesse charisma into the prickly-but-loveable Marvyn Korn, a Bobby Knight-esque champion coach who is kicked from NCAA men's hoops when he throws a chair at a ref. Korn finds himself taking a coaching job at an all-girl's high school with a motley crew of students, faculty, and parents. It's a sometimes-corny mix of the sensibilities of creators David E. Kelley (Boston Public), Dean Lorey, and Brad Garret, with sometimes-cringeworthy acting, but by gum, it works: 

Tech: Origin Neuron PC review - The Seven Year Itch

PC gamers like me are always on the upgrade treadmill. My 2014 Lenovo K450e desktop was fine for last-gen games, but getting long in the tooth for the ray-traced, PS5/Xbox Series X-level titles on the horizon. So it was time to get a new computer.

Complicating things this time was the COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide silicon chip shortage. Whereas in olden days I might have swapped out some parts (like when I jammed a new power supply and a GeForce GTX 970 into the cramped K450e case) or built a new PC from scratch, that all seemed impractical when I'd be paying north of $1,300 for the GPU alone. It also meant spending a lot of time ordering stuff online, putting it together, and troubleshooting problems.

So, I went with the expensive, lazy route - I bought a gaming desktop from Origin PC, a Miami-based custom PC maker owned by component maker Corsair:

I went with Origin since I've had good experiences with Corsair products in the past, and because they shipped fast (the computer shipped 10 days after my order, which is incredible in this strange time). It wasn't cheap - an eye-watering $2,700. But the system is equipped with an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X, a GeForce RTX 3070, and enough air and liquid cooling, RAM, and SSD hard drive space to support them. Recent games like Doom Eternal and Resident Evil Village run fast, even on max settings and 1440p, so much so that I had to get a new HP Omen 27" display to keep up.

Downsides? Well, aside from the exorbitant price, the small Corsair liquid cooler Origin uses seems pointless, and I could take or leave the glass door and RGB lighting. Still, if you need a gaming PC and you need one now, there are worse choices.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Movies: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba: Mugen Train


I'm a fan of the anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba, but I'll be the first to admit that it's pretty formulaic.  The series is about an earnest young swordsman who goes on a quest to slay the demons who killed his family, all the while learning attacks that he calls out in every battle.  Really, only two things separate Demon Slayer from other shōnen - the earnestness and empathy of its protagonist (who sheds a tear for many of the demons he kills), and the gorgeous stylized elemental sword attacks (which look like ukiyo-e paintings brought to life).

The movie version of Demon Slayer, subtitled "Mugen Train," is not a side story but merely another chapter in the series (albeit one that doesn't have much effect on the subsequent plot).  As such, it's totally inscrutable for people who haven't seen the first season of the anime; it feels like they jammed 5 or 6 episodes of the series together and called it a movie.  It's not even a particularly good portion to adapt into a movie - the train setting is claustrophobic and less cinematic than prior story arcs, which involved moody forests and dark mountains.

Still, the fighting and character animation is top-notch, and if you like the anime, you'll probably like the movie...if you can brave the hecklers.

Rating: 6/10

Food: Bourbon Tasting Review-o-rama

I'm not much of a drinker, but even I enjoyed sampling the small batch bourbon whiskeys put together by our managing partner:


The bourbon we tasted, from left to right:

1) Woodford Reserve Barrel Select ($60 / 1L) - A good, moderately priced bourbon to start off with, from a distillery so big I've actually seen billboards for it on I-95. Lots of butterscotch and honey notes.

2) Rowan's Creek Bourbon ($45 / 750 mL) - This batch was distilled, aged, and bottled by Willett Distillery. I thought it smelled like Coke, with a harsher, more alcoholic taste than the Woodford Reserve.

3) Gunnar's Wheated Bourbon ($30 / 750 mL) - This was the crowd favorite - "Santana Smooth" in my mind. It's got 34% wheat, as the label prominently advises. I thought it was delicious.


4) Bardstown Bourbon Fusion ($60 / 750 mL) - I liked this one, too, but it was thinner and less flavorful than the Gunnar's.

5) Old Whiskey River (???) - I bought this bottle years ago from...somewhere. There's a tie-in with Willie Nelson, but I'm not sure they sell this any more. It was smooth and sweet, and stronger than you think.

6) Wild Turkey Rare Breed ($48 / 750 mL) - This was by far the strongest bourbon in the bunch, topping 58% ABV. Maybe it's because I'm a novice, but it was hard to taste anything through the alcohol.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Books: Memoirs of Mastery Double Feature

I often read memoirs about accomplished people, regardless of their profession, because there is a certain joy in seeing someone overcome obstacles and train to do something well. The authors of today's two autobiographies have wildly different backgrounds, and yet are similar in many ways...


The Ranger Way, by Kris "Tanto" Paronto


The 2012 Benghazi attack will almost certainly be the lede in news stories when Kris Paronto dies, but his actions on that fateful night (and even the political fallout afterwards) are really only a small part of his life.  After all, Paronto would have never been in Libya if he hadn't first become a U.S. Army Ranger, gutting it through hellish physical and mental ordeals that make civilian life seem tame.  And he faced his share of personal troubles, including a failed marriage that almost led him to quit the Ranger Regiment forever.

The Ranger Way recounts those struggles, loosely connecting the battle to save the American diplomatic compound, the grueling Ranger training process, and experiences abroad as a CIA contractor.  As a self-help book, it's not terribly organized and perhaps a little pat (chapter titles include "Be Brave," "Be Confident," and "Have Faith"), but it's coming from someone who has been there and done that, so it's certainly worth a read.

Relentless, by John Tesh


If you're associating someone with words like "relentless," "purpose," "grit," and "faith," John Tesh might not immediately spring to mind, until you hear about his pitched battle with prostate cancer. Doctors gave him 18 months to live in 2015, but he endured, eventually travelling the country on a concert/book tour.  I saw him in concert back in 2020, right before the pandemic, and picked up his book, Relentless.

It's a pretty comprehensive autobiography, going back to Tesh disassembling a stereo at age 7 (an incident he also talked about in his stage show), progressing through his broadcast and music career (there's a whole chapter about "Roundball Rock"), and interweaving his trying cancer diagnosis and interludes about his Christian faith. If you're not a Tesh fan it probably won't work, but if you liked "Entertainment Tonight" in the '90s, the radio show "Intelligence for Your Life," or this Jason Sudeikis/Tim Robinson SNL skit, you'll probably dig it:



Sunday, April 04, 2021

Movies: 2021 Oscar Nominees Triple Feature

I've been watching the Academy Awards since high school drama class, and some years have better "Best Picture" nominees than others (in 1994, Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption were all nominated, and I'd argue all three movies have become classics). 

With all respect to the filmmakers, this year's slate isn't terribly impressive, perhaps because of the pandemic. I saw most of the nominees anyway, though, and here are my takes on three of the frontrunners:

Minari

Steven Yeun's career really took off after he left The Walking Dead10 years ago, he was slumming it with yours truly at a fan convention, now he's the first Asian-American to be nominated for "Best Actor" in Minari:


The film follows a family of Korean-Americans starting a farm in rural Arkansas. Yeun plays the patriarch Jacob, a headstrong man whose sometimes-unreasonable optimism about growing Korean produce reminds one of Jean de Florette. It's an okay movie with good acting, but there isn't much plot or tension.

Rating: 7/10


Nomadland

I like Frances McDormand's performances as much as the next guy, but even a two-time Oscar winner can't hold up Chloé Zhao's weightless drama, Nomadland:


The movie is a year in the life of a van-dwelling widow (McDormand) after the Great Recession and the death of her husband and her town. Zhao depicts some heartbreakingly gorgeous vistas of the Southwest and gets surprisingly good turns from famous van-dwellers playing themselves (Bob Wells actually has the most emotional scene in the movie). But there's no story here, and almost no conflict, so the 108 minute runtime feels like a slog.

Rating: 6/10


Promising Young Woman

At this point, the revenge thriller is an old genre (I Spit on Your Grave came out over 40 years ago), so it's disappointing that writer/director Emerald Fennel's Promising Young Woman misses the point of these films:


Yes, it's a revenge movie in the #MeToo era, and it's about as contrived and tedious as you might expect, with evil caricatures in place of characters. Now, to be clear, date rape is a despicable crime, rape victims shouldn't be "blamed" for being otherwise sexually active, and institutions have sometimes been complicit in aiding the perpetrators. But there's a difference between a movie and a message, and Carey Mulligan's protagonist is way too sterile and blameless in a genre that demands the audience not sympathize with the lead character too much. After all, is there a "good guy" in Death Wish?

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, March 20, 2021

TV: Community

It's been about a year since the COVID-19 shutdowns, and enough time has passed for everyone to reflect on the early days of the pandemic, when almost nothing was open and our lives seemed to be grinding to a halt. In that first month, I queued up Hulu and leaned hard on one particular show that I had never seen before - Community:


Created by Dan Harmon (who almost got himself cancelled due to his gross and unprofessional behavior towards a writer), the show focuses on a study group attending community college and their zany adventures. The rub here is that the group's misfit members have little in common and would have never met but for attending the same classes, which makes for fun personality clashes. Often entire episodes were turned over to parodies or pastiches of famous movie genres, such as the Apollo 13-esque "Basic Rocket Science":


Community was famously on the edge of cancellation for years, but eventually lasted six seasons and 110 episodes, almost fulfilling the slogan "six seasons and a movie" recited by one of the show's characters.  Well, there was never any movie, but there was a nostalgic Zoom table read a couple months into the pandemic that was almost as good: