Leviathan – the movie that makes you realize your life ain’t so bad

Movies can do many things to improve your quality of life. They can make you smile, entertain the hell out of you, make you laugh, scare you of the dark in a good way, and so on. They can also make you realize your life just ain’t that bad. Thus when you wake up in the morning after viewing such a movie you’re like, oh, well, at least I’m not those people.

This is Leviathan. It’s essentially an ancient tale. The weak have their land stolen by the powerful. And things go from there. It just happens to fascinate me because the tale is Russian, and is one of the better Russian movies of the post-Soviet realm. Please be sure to enjoy this kind of thing while you can. For one of two things will likely occur in the near future:

– Filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev will eventually give up his independent streak and be coopted (he’ll sell out) by the totalitarian state (for whatever reason) and become a tool of the system like other noted formerly awesome filmmakers such as Nikita Mikhalkov or Zhang Yimou.

or

– Vlad and his buddies will simply ban such films from being made.

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know what you are getting yourself into when the film’s money shot is a distraught child sitting next to a whale skeleton

Leviathan is set in modern Russia’s north. Not Siberia, but rather the Kola Peninsula. Specifically Murmansk Oblast, home to reindeer, discarded nuclear submarine hulks, fish processing infrastructure, and lots of other cold things. It’s a place that all things being equal, human beings probably have no business living there.

The first few minutes of the movie are nothing but nature shots as Zvyagintsev makes damn sure you realize this place is the end of the planet. Not a word of dialogue occurs until about five or ten minutes in as you the viewer are acclimated to a wasteland of concrete, rock, and snow. This tone remains throughout the entire film.

The protagonist is Kolya, a middle aged car mechanic, drunk, husband, hothead, father, and part time firearms enthusiast who is having his fairly decent sized home unjustly expropriated by the state for a fraction of its total value. He enlists the help of his friend and/or brother who’s a lawyer from Moscow. Also within the mix are Kolya’s second wife and son. Crucially, his son is by his first wife.

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As you can imagine in this kind of movie, everything goes swell. The local mayor is a paragon of decency, the courts do their job well, the cops can be counted upon to keep law and order justly, folks drink only in moderation, the local economy is humming along with glorious abandon, kids get along well with their parents and are otherwise well adjusted, and so on.

Bizarrely this wire brush beating of a flick was actually 1/3 funded by the Russian State, who apparently didn’t bother to read or approve the script. I’m rather shocked they let the film stand as is. I think the reasons are thus:

– Vlad is only pictured in the movie once, as a nondescript portrait in the local mayor’s office. He is otherwise not mentioned or discussed.

– Since all of the film’s arch-villains are all local politicians and authorities, it fits perfectly with the authoritarian propaganda narrative. As in, if folks view the Russian state as predatory and corrupt, it’s because the local authorities are to blame, not national level leadership. After all, it’s your local traffic cop bribing you on a Wednesday afternoon, not the Minister of Forestry. If only Vlad knew the truth, he’d clean up that local filth.

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fuck all four of these parasites

So Zvyagintsev got away with it, somehow. The result is a darkly haunting movie that deals with living under a predatory state that sees its citizens as nothing more than cash machines. But Zvyagintsev takes the story to another level by incorporating the deep flaws of average human beings that struggle because they’ve had all the powers of man and nature pinning their necks against bare rock for almost all their lives.

It this weird, twisted, screwed up world where lunatics are being voted into office by those who rightly feel the modern world has left them behind, it’s worth exploring a character study on how human beings who would otherwise be normal, can be turned into puddles of despair by their surroundings and the events that shape their lives. That is, no matter how squared away your life currently is, if you lived there too, maybe you’d be just like them. It’s a very cynical thought, but worth exploring.

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not the place to live

eclipse! eh, or not

This eclipse thing was apparently a big deal. Folks cashed in their retirement savings to fly to a city within the path of the total obscuration. Only to pray to their deity of choice that there weren’t thunderstorms.

I on the other hand had a plane to catch back home for work. So I assumed I’d be airborne when the eclipse actually occurred. We get aboard the aircraft and the stewardess goes through the typical excruciatingly long six minute United introduction which includes instructions on air travel, United ads, and directions on how to construct your own log cabin. After she’s done, the captain actually leaves the cockpit and stands in front of first class to address the whole plane.

He basically says all will be well, both he and the copilot have eclipse glasses (which he shows us), and that the aircraft is rated as “100% capable of solar eclipse flight”. This got many chuckles from the passengers who weren’t mind melded with their smartphones. I didn’t laugh though, because I know what solar flares can do (in theory) to a fly-by-wire aircraft. Can a solar eclipse enhance a solar flare? I have no idea. But I had a lot of beer and coffee in the 12 hours prior to this flight, so in that psyche anything is possible. Even elves. So many elves in the forest. Run!

So based on my understanding of how the eclipse was supposed to play out, and the pilot’s comments, you would think the eclipse would have happened while we were aloft, right? Nope. First off, I was right side center seat. The guy on the window was a 300 pound former NFL headhunter with a Kansas City barbeque shirt. He played freecell for a half hour then fell asleep. All without ever opening his window shade. So I kind of had to peer around other windows. Did the sun darken? Eh, maybe, I wasn’t sure. But by the time I’d landed on the east coast I’d concluded that the eclipse was over. I was ready to get on with my day.

Then they’ve got CNN [sigh] on at the baggage claim and it shows the eclipse just beginning in Oregon. So I’m wondering if I traveled back in time or what. Nope, no eclipse while in flight. It seems the United pilot executed the verbal equivalent of a placebo. I wonder if the United corporate hacks told him to do it? Either way, it was entirely unnecessary because nothing actually happened while we were in the air.

So I get my car back from the haunted, overpriced airport parking garage and go pick up the dogs. Every once and a while I glance up at the sky to see if the sun has changed. Yes, I broke the dreaded rules. I looked at the bare sun with mine own eyes. Because nobody ever does this at the beach or on a regular basis. But the nannies of modern society would have you believe up to yesterday, that if you looked at the eclipse with bare eyes for three seconds your eyes would burst into flames and three kittens you did not know would die horribly.

Anyways, eventually I got home with the dogs and began to unpack, occasionally looking outside. Nothing ever happened. Did it get a little darker out? Maybe, or was that because of the scattered clouds? Who knows? I’m out there to get the mail and my neighbor Jimmy (who’s a little slow, but is a real nice guy) is like, “Hey [insert degenerate blog author name here], where is the eclipse?”

I told him I had no idea, that it was a bust, and that I’d given up. And so it was. I had 80-85% obscuration of the sun where I live, or so the Internets told me. But without eclipse glasses the sun is too bright to be able to see much of it at all. Go get eclipse glasses? Eh, maybe. But what’s the fun of looking at this through special darkened glasses. I might as well observe astronomy through a telescope with a lens made of aluminum foil.

Oh well, what a waste, whatever. I’ve developed one very specific conclusion from my only eclipse experience. It’s either total eclipse or bust. Anything less than 100% is like drinking non-alcoholic beer or driving below the speed limit. I have no idea when the next American solar eclipse is. Maybe I’ll be a bleached skeleton before it occurs? But if it does, and I care enough, I’d rather fly somewhere to see 100%. And pray to my deity of choice that there weren’t thunderstorms.

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Yep, didn’t see that.

San Diego – Cuyamaca Rancho Park

On travel for work?  Got that rare day off?  Get outside, run.  Run away before they change their minds.  They know where you live, it’s how they pay you.  Run!

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Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, about a hour or so east of San Diego depending on whether you exceed the posted speed limit.  The park itself is massive and you could spend weeks there without seeing it all.  I had a day.

I did no research other than just to drive to the park.  The state highway snakes through it and you can get off at various campgrounds, trails, etc.

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Stonewall Peak.  One of the greatest feelings on the planet is to see a mountain and you’re like, “I want to climb that.”  So you do.  A campground sits at the base, you can park there for ten bucks or so with the park rangers.  It’s two miles up and two miles down.  It’s not too difficult if you regularly hike.  I did some other shorter hikes off the highway, but this was the longest and best part.

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The climb for the most part is a series of switchback trails carved into the side of the mountain.

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After a while you get the creepy idea that this place burned in the past.  Turns out I was right.

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In 2003 a lost hiker lit a signal fire in Cuyamaca Rancho and started one of the largest wildfires in California history, which is saying something.  Nearly the entire park burned including just about every long growth tree.

Once upon a time, the firefighters of the American West were dedicated to putting out every fire no matter how natural, no matter where it was.  This was a mistake.  It allowed decades worth of growth to accumulate into the forests.  Nature needs fire.

A forest of the West needs to burn as part of the natural progression of its ecosystem.  It cleans out brush, certain species of plant need the flames to reproduce, etc, etc.  By putting out every fire folks got in the way of this.

So when Cuyamaca Rancho burned for the first time in like five decades.  It burned hot and massive.  If you have a wildfire once every ten years or so, the ecosystem can recover.  That’s the way it’s meant to be.

But it seems when it burns once in a century, that the system can’t recover.  They’ve waited for Cuyamaca Rancho to regrow for these near 15 years and it’s become clear that some species aren’t coming back.  They were wiped out by the intensity of the flames.  So the park service has begun replanting by hand instead.

When you hear people talk about allowing natural wildfires pay attention.  This stuff is important.  It’s also why some folks who build brand new swanky houses up in the forests and then demand the state protect them are in many cases actually doing their surrounding forests genuine harm.

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Stonewall Peak and the nearby abandoned mine were named after Jackson by former Confederate veterans who’d come out West after the war.  What a tale some of those lives must have been.

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Immune to fire.

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At the summit.  The folks who put this up here were the real deal.  They got to the top before proper trails, before online park maps, and so on.

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Just one hill among many.  So much else to see.

Stone Liberty Station – the descent into another dimension

After all these years of searching I finally did it.  I met an alien.  Whilst seated at the bar (one that you could argue might be in the top ten in the country) a middle aged white guy walks up and orders a white wine.  Alien.

I don’t know what planet this thing hails from, or what they look like when not in disguise, but clearly this alien doesn’t understand that when you’re at Stone Liberty Station you drink really tasty beer.  It’s inhuman to order wine.

Or, maybe this older chap is so confident in his ways & his preferences for life, that he just doesn’t care.  Dude knows what he wants.  Period.  Like if you were so comfortable with who you were that you walked into a vegan restaurant and demanded pork without shame.  In a way, it’s kind of admirable.  But, he should have still ordered beer.

But wait, there’s more!  For reference, I was seated at the closest seat in the corner.

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After the alien departed, two guys (a Cali Korean and Cali Chicano) and a gal (Cali Pilipino) [God Bless America] took up the area to the right without actually sitting down.  Somebody had left an empty beer glass and a partially full glass of rosé.  While continuing to order more beers, the Chicano began to dare the Korean to drink the rest of the rosé.  This went on for about twelve minutes.  I kept waiting for things to escalate, for table dagger fingers to appear, but sadly this didn’t occur.

Off to the left another pair of Southern California template bros were activity hitting upon a gal clearly wearing a wedding ring visible to the whole planet.  She did her best to not look uncomfortable and smiled a lot, but this continued until the husband showed up.  It probably helped that her husband looked like the guy who dead lifts kegs for Stone in the back.  The difference in audible volume of voice for these two guys pre and post husband appearance was stereotypically comical.

Back to my right our Korean friend had decided to take the dare and began sipping the rosé.  Our Chicano chap began aggressively texting with another guy not present with happiness and made a repeated comment along the lines of, “I love ‘Rique man, I love him, I love that bro!”  At which point his girlfriend accused him of being a homosexual.

Other bar regulars begin to discuss a forthcoming special event where Wil Wheaton and two other men I’ve never heard of are famous for an annual stout that’s brewed, then debuted during some kind of video game symposium they hold inside the bar [furrows brow] and folks drink the beer, but play games, but there’s some kind of limit on time or whatever.

In other news, Wil Wheaton did not turn out to be a coked out sex fiend and is in fact a normal person.  The Traveler probably got his head right during their dimensional journey so Wheaton didn’t get child actor syndrome.

Of to the right, our bros killed off the last of the rosé with other friends who had arrived by lying to them about whose said rosé it originally was.  Then they all left and I felt a great absence in my life as I was no longer entertained by casually observing other members of the human race who sat two feet away without acknowledging that I existed.

Luckily a family of Japanese took their place.  We had the Mom and Dad, their son, daughter, and their son’s wife or finance.  The son and wife spoke English, the rest of the family did not.  It was neat to hear solid Japanese again for the first time in a long time.  I’m reduced to near zero skills, so I caught only a word or two here and there.

The son was forced to simplify Stone’s extensive beer list by describing a number of beers as “IPA Gaijin”.  The Father understood the situation better and discussed a number of IPA Gaijin options for selection but ultimately he settled upon the Wheaton stout.

The bartender felt the need to card the young ones.  The son and wife have their Cali licenses.  The sister pulls out her Japanese passport.  The bartender is clearly put off balance because the whole darn thing is in Kanji.  He takes the passport, looks at it briefly, nods once, and hands it back to her without comment.  She gets beer, all without the bartender ever knowing they sell beer in vending machines in Japan.

Father tastes the Wheaton stout and suddenly realizes he’s got something high octane shit in his hands.  He asks his son, who clarifies that Wheaton’s Klingon brew cranks in at 13%.  Father grins, grunts, and growls with pleasure like Mifune over a good sake.  He then proceeds to truck said beer in only a few minutes.  Mother, sister, and wife all get beer flights.  They’re all still there when I leave.

Oh by the way, the food is pretty good.  The beer is astonishingly awesome.  At least a dozen drafts are brewed directly on site.  You are to be challenged to find a fresher sip with such variety.

Built from the remains a former Navy mess hall Stone’s turned it into a satellite station to hold events, beer different beers, and generally create something more than your typical restaurant, bar, or micro brewery.  I truly applaud them for doing something different, something unique that goes beyond the standard all too faceless Bar Americana #728b.

The descent into another dimension is entertaining, to see all the wide variety of humanity.  But really, the only reason to go to Stone Liberty Station is to drink incredible beer.  It’s more than enough.  Such good beer.

oh no, it’s happening again

Three years ago we wrote on this degenerate blog how too much recent travel had rotted our brains.  We’re there again.  I’ve seen mine own home for like 17 combined hours in the last three weeks.  My dogs are pissed.  So rather than write fresh lunacy, we decided the old post was still valid, verbatim.  It’s all still true.  PS, I still write some weird shit, but three years ago I apparently wrote some real weird shit.

 

Too much travel increases your desire to enslave the human race

When you’re hardly home at all, for months on end, you’re out of control. So we’ll get that control back. By taking away everybody else’s ability to control anything.

Home keeps us in check. We understand our surroundings and follow our routines. So when we can’t do that? It’s time to do everything we can to destroy everybody else’s routines.

Do you find this methodology confusing or bizarre? Well then, please e-mail me your contact information so we can place you at the top of our list.

We’re rather quiet lately as we’ve been on travel for work(s). For the last six months the ability to place the head on the same pillow for a complete week has not existed. It’s delightful to live out of a suitcase for weeks on end. It comes with the following delicious traits:

– Ponder all day what expensive dive you’ll eat at in the evening.

– Spend four dollars to wash your clothes in machines manufactured in Albania.

– Use towels that a lizard would discard as uncomfortable.

– Find new and inventive ways to hide your valuables from hotel staff or local degenerates who will cave in your rental car window, day or night.

– Consider homicide against your supervisor(s) who mercilessly task you with duties and responsibilities you are incapable of fulfilling while on the road.

So I’m going to solve all this with the assistance of my guests by using their brutal incoherent methods. We’ll twist the control back into my favor:

– Approach the local proprietor, demand food, refuse payment, and then throw rocks through his establishment’s windows.

– Drive to the hotel owner’s house, conduct laundry operations on site, and then break his or her appliances with a bat.

– While at said hotel overlord’s hovel, steal all towels.

– Leave expensive gold coins atop the rental car dashboard. When said local degenerates approach, fire marbles at them from a paintball marker.

– When back home, leave the airport, stop by the boss(es)’ house(s) and burn it to the ground. Dance giggling around the flaming building like a lunatic.

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“Good evening human scum. This is Captain Esh-Ala at the controls today. In accordance with the New Realm, please empty your valuables into the seat pocket. Depart the aircraft. Nobody is traveling anywhere, anymore. Please cooperate. We desire to keep liquidation to an absolute minimum.”

fake smoked salmon sandwich

Everything is apparently fake nowadays. The news is fake, science is fake, happy cat videos are faked, celebrity births are fake, and so on. So we decided to get in on the action, with this fake smoked salmon sandwich. It’s not actually smoked, but it’s ability to fill your body with delicious food will surely be the most realistic part of your day. So climb aboard our mystical journey, in a life where apparently nothing is more fake than the quest to determine your place in this currently destructive world. Wait, what? Let’s begin!

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fake smoked salmon sandwich

 

1 pound salmon filet

olive oil

salt & pepper

1 tsp Old Bay

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp crushed red pepper

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp capers

1 tbsp tightly packed fresh dill or 1/2 tbsp dried

fresh lime juice

onion, chopped

toasted bread, sliced

basil leaves, chopped

tomato, sliced

arugula leaves

 

preheat the oven to 350 degrees, brush the salmon filet with olive oil, dust with salt & pepper, and sprinkle with juice of 1/2 lime

in a small bowl mix Old Bay, smoked paprika, crushed red pepper and rub over the salmon

wrap the salmon in foil, place the foil in a roasting pan, and bake for 15 minutes

increase the oven heat to 450 degrees, unroll the foil to expose the salmon and bake for 5 more minutes

while baking the salmon, in a small bowl mix the mayo, capers, dill, 1/2 lime juice

in a small skillet add 1 tbsp olive oil, add chopped onion and cook to your desired brownness and caramelization

to make the sandwich, spread the mixed mayo on the bread, add cut salmon filets, top with onions, basil, tomato, and arugula

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After you’ve mixed up the spices, pat them into the salmon.  The oil and lime juice you’ve brushed it with will allow the grains of goodness to stick to the salmon flesh.  Smoked paprika is the top ingredient here.  I’ve used paprika since the beginning of my cooking journey but have only recently discovered smoked paprika.  It has so many delightful uses.

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After 15 minutes in the oven the salmon is mostly cooked, but we now open the foil to expose it to the increased heat.  This will allow your spice blend to brown considerably.  Note the difference visually, I assure you the taste difference is even better.

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Salmon is just about the most criminally easy thing to cook.  So quick to do, and yet so delicious.  I get the idea that salmon was one of those softballs God tossed to humanity after creation.  We basically got left with war, pestilence, turmoil, and an ingrained desire to destroy ourselves.  So God was like: oh, sorry, eh, uh, hmm, okay, here’s salmon.

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The mayo gets mixed up briefly with the capers, dill, and lime juice.  The onion is extra credit, you don’t need to do it if you don’t want.  The greens and tomato just get thrown right on there.  Use your bread of choice.  I went with sourdough, but any good bread will do.  Just flake the salmon to fit the size of the bread.

It’s a quick dish for a weeknight, that’s mostly healthy, and well worth your time.

Enjoy life.

the Giant Octopi are pleased

So I’m on a 737 full of live humans bound for Chicago Midway.  We’re all getting settled in for a quite brief flight of only two hours.  The flight attendant makes her usual announcements and then casually mentions that the aircraft wifi is not working.

About 1/3 of the plane gasps in frustration or offers a bunch of “ohh”s.  Kind of like if you’re at a hockey game, and the home team fires a shot that just misses and clangs off the pipe, and the whole hometown crowd yells “ohh”.  That’s what the plane sounded like.

I shook my head, and continued to read my paper magazine who’s design was originally modeled in 1632.  Apparently folks can’t do without access to the Internets for a whole two hours.  The Giant Octopi are pleased.  They’ve got humanity wrapped around their little finger.

At the time of this incident, Bezos, Zucky, and all the other Giant Octopi goons suddenly got the urge to smile.  They didn’t know why, but I did.

Gee wiz people, read a book, talk to somebody, stare at the back of the tray table and let your mind wander.  Anything at all will do.  But do please unplug from time to time.