Ripper Street – a show with potential that ultimately fails because it tries to be Game of Thrones

My Granddad was hugely into detective stories. I’m currently going through his combined anthology of Sherlock Holmes, more on that much later. He also enjoyed television mysteries as well. Perry Mason was perhaps his favorite. Yet as best as I can figure a good chunk of detective and crime fiction changed at the beginning of this century.

Let’s say my Granddad and I sat down to watch a new show Circa 2017. The protagonist is a guy we’ll call Smith. Smith solves crimes as a bitter disgruntled detective. He’s an alcoholic estranged from his wife and doesn’t always play by the book. Good so far, right? And so the usual stereotypes play out for the first few episodes. Then, in episode 5 Smith has a moral crisis based upon some situation. He’s forced to make a choice.

In 1988, Smith would choose the lesser of two evils and make a hard but ultimately moral decision. Then the episode would end with him getting tanked in a bar. In 2017, Smith would shoot somebody in the back of the head and dispose of the body. My Granddad would get up, turn off the television, and walk away never to return.

And thus do we get 2017’s version of television detective fiction in BBC’s Ripper Street. A show with limitless potential that ultimately descends into a nightmare of confusion, awfulness, and moral ambiguity that leaves you wanting to go hide under some coats with a flock of puppies.

This is all the more depressing because all the pieces for a superb piece of detective fiction are in place at the start of this show. Series lead Matthew Macfadyen, who the ladies will best remember as Keira Knightley’s Mr Darcy, is a cloth cut leading man late 19th Century thinking detective even down to the way he holds his lapels. Jerome Flynn, of Game of Thrones fame, is the brutal sergeant with the heart of gold. The unknown Adam Rothenberg is the rogue American doctor with a chip for life.

The three of them are put into a depiction of 19th Century London that’s both gorgeous and hard earned. Victorian Imperial Britain doesn’t look like much fun from the gutters of Whitechapel. Every detail of the set, the costumes, the music transports you to this age of humanity. And for a while this show works as a decent piece of detective fiction, if some of the plots are a bit far-fetched, and is a generally good watchable show. Not coincidently, season one has the highest ratings. Then things go downhill, both for the show and in ratings. Why?

Because this is a show run of 2012-2017, it’s important to remember what a successful television show thinks it must achieve. The legendary crime shows of our era are apparently Breaking Bad, or Narcos, or whatever similar program is out there. In other words, the focus is either on the criminals, or an anti-hero. I think this all began with the success of The Wire, an admittedly spectacular show which was one of the first to take a real long hard look at the reality of policing in the modern world.

But now things are in overdrive. Now it’s simply not good enough to run a standard piece of detective fiction. This is too soft, considered naïve, or not what the audience wants. The audience apparently wants Game of Thrones, a show where no character, no one is worthy of total admiration. Where there is no good or evil, just eternal grey. Where brutality reigns, and nobody’s hands are in any way clean.

Ripper Street avoids all of this in the first season or two, then it dramatically and noticeably turns. And thus we get what instead? Before we’re done Macfadyen’s reputable Inspector Reid commits two cold blooded murders and cheats on his mentally handicapped wife at least twice. Now here’s a protagonist you can root for!

Indeed, at one point or another every single major character in this series commits a murder. Several of them are accomplices to many other murders. It’s hard to tell who has a higher body count by the end of this series, the criminal underworld of London, or our supposed main characters.

If one goes by the theory that the intent of television is not to make you feel depressed or awful and is meant to entertain you or help you escape from the routine of a grinding life, then you generally need to imagine that some of the characters in a show you should root for. You want them to succeed, be happy, or at least find some measure of peace. Every single character in Ripper Street loses. Every single character is worse off at the end then they were at the beginning. There is no redemption, no answers, only chaos and despair.

This is very much in the vein of Game of Thrones. I no longer watch Game of Thrones but generally keep abreast of what happens in the show. And I’m always struck in discussions with friends or coworkers who still watch and who try to self-rationalize what they see on screen. They seem to think somehow that by the end of Game of Thrones it will all somehow all work out. They talk themselves into it. Almost as if they need it.

They typically will focus on Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen as an example of the good one, or the one to root for, or the one who by the end of the series will emerge with at least some sense of accomplishment. This is in fact a specific plot point brought up within the show itself, where Danny is there to break the cycle, to stop the chaos, to bring some sense of peace to an absolutely horrific world.

But I always ask my friends and coworkers why this must be so? Why must, or should, Game of Thrones end in such a way? Why can’t the white walkers just kill everybody in the last episode? Why can’t Daenerys end up on the throne atop a pile of murdered corpses? Why must there be any redemption or peace at all, when all that’s occurred thus far is chaos and has no meaning?

Ripper Street ends this way. Inspector Reid himself is reduced in the final episode to admitting to his corrupt boss that there is only chaos. That he believes there is no meaning in his work. That all his efforts are/were pointless. That after decades as a policeman he has nothing to show for it but an empty street consumed by violence, murder, dead friends, and hopelessness. He ends the show alone in his office reviewing menial reports, alone, without purpose, without hope.  How uplifting!

I think my Grandfather would ask of such a show: What’s the point? What in the end is the point of Ripper Street? If you want to feel awful about life, about humanity, you can just read the news each morning. It’s right there in your face. To me, fiction’s purpose is to entertain, to give you an escape from the grind, and to explore some of the deeper themes of life on this floating rock. It’s there to give you some characters you can relate to, get to know, and ultimately to cheer for. You share their journey, learn with them, and learn about their life, and yours too.

But when Game of Thrones is your template, none of these things are evident. Ripper Street just leaves you a blank slate, without emotion, an emptiness. So I must ask: Is this the show’s point? Is this how they wanted the viewer to feel? Perhaps, and if so, the creators and writers achieved their goal. But why is this a valid goal for a detective fiction television series? Why is any of this necessary? What’s the point?

Does detective fiction need to be some kind of bubble wrapped clean shaven fairy tale where the protagonist is a constant paragon of virtue and can do no wrong? Of course not. This is a much more mature world and smarter television audience than 1988. But, I submit that what we have on today’s television has gone so far over the mark as to be just about unwatchable.

I don’t need my detective fiction to go so far over the edge of nihilism that we can’t even get a lead character who doesn’t commit murder. This says something about our culture, or at least about the state of television today. This is, to me, both a very sad state of affairs, and in the end, is just not very entertaining.

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Our heroes?

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they get away with it

Being rich and powerful must be sweet.  You can basically do whatever you want.  You can buy expensive cars or booze or giraffes.  Or I guess sexually harass whoever you want.  Now you might have been shocked by the idea that Harvey Weinstein could do so many horrible things to so many women for decades without getting exposed, but when you really think about it this is pretty straightforward.

Why didn’t at least one of his many victims (especially in this twisted age of social media) say even one or two things to someone that made this stick before last week.  Some of the most well known and powerful celebrity women and feminist advocates on the planet have now fingered this guy.  Why didn’t one of them tweet like three years ago, “Harvey Weinstein is a deviant sexual predator, he tried to rape me. #rape #yesallwomen”

Why?  Because Weinstein was powerful.  It’s as simple as that.  Weinstein was one of the top five guys in Hollywood.  He ended people’s careers in seconds.  It’s the way of things.  One of the themes I’ve noticed these last few days as women finally spoke out is their internal dialogue about what was going through their brains when Weinstein did his evil acts.

All these women in their own way mention some kind of cost / benefit analysis.  They’re in fear and protection mode as they try and escape the clutches of this shit creep.  But at the same time their brain is in fear mode about what Weinstein will do to them if they don’t give in.  This type of analysis is older than humanity itself.  It’s been playing out with evil rich and powerful men since before fire was invented.

We’d like to think in our super modern and connected culture that people can no longer get away with this.  But they still do, because it’s still human nature.  All the tweets in the world can’t change the human brain.

Regardless of what you think of Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy I think you can make a reasonable claim that if either of those guys worked at the Sizzler for minimum wage, that both of them would have done severe jail time and been disgraced.  Instead, they are both essentially American heroes.

I’m shocked that Dennis Hastert ever got caught for the horrible things he did to boys.  But if you’ll remember, Hastert wasn’t initially caught for sexual crimes.  They wrapped up Hastert for violating the government limit of how many $10K bank account withdrawals you can make without reporting it to the tax man.  Only later did the authorities realize what the money was for.  Otherwise Hastert would have gotten away with it.

I’m not sure what all this means, other than that as always humanity is on a perpetual quest to self improvement.  It also means you have to take a rather cynical view of what people say.  Especially if the person talking is rich and powerful.

Weinstein’s been a big time bankroller for women’s rights and so forth for decades.  And that whole time … , well, that’s also why they get away with it.  It’s the smokescreen to cover up who they really are.

Notice how Weinstein is already making the usual public relations statements about screwing up, learning, personal growth, etc.  He doesn’t seem to realize he’s truly done.  He still things he’s in control.  That’s how twisted his brain is.  He still thinks he can get away with it.  That’s the biggest thing to learn about this above all.

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Rich and powerful bad dude, rarely caught.

behold Itzpapalotltotec’s divine power

Belichick: “Yes Itzpapalotltotec. Yes! We shall decorate my basement with the blood of our foes. You shall have your fill. Praise!”  [draws ceremonial knife]

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“Yes, yes, praise your evil name!”

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“Yes, oh yes, I give thanks for your divine blessing.”

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“Yes, yes, please give me your powers!”

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“Yes, yes, your darkness knows no boundaries!”

we set off on our great adventure to discover the truth of Alexander

Late last summer, the haze still hung heavy over the alleyways of Istanbul. It was shortly after the most recent coup against the Sultan. The oppressive humidity matched the overbearing nature with which the Sultan’s men patrolled the streets. Fear hung heavy as teachers, professors, writers, and many others were wrapped up in the Sultan’s timed overreactions.

I found myself weary after arriving on the Express and eagerly sought refuge in a small but busy pub recommended by a friend. The journey on the Express was rather tiresome. I was constantly hassled by a Serb (or possibly a closet Moldovan) named Nikolai who was a far less interesting man than he thought.

Most seats in Zeki’s were taken, but I found enough open space at the bar. Smoke, conversation, Istanbul surrounded the place. It was good to be back on the road. It warmed me even before my first sip. But my first drink of scotch proved to be a poor choice. Even the most delicious of beverages can be drilled through by the worst of heat. At the barkeep’s recommendation, I switched to the raki, an inferior liquid but much preferable given the weather. Even the hint of ice, normally hated, was more than welcome to me.

“Good enough?” said the barkeep.

“Quite,” I replied, hoisting the glass toward him, “And your place I take it?”

He nodded, “Indeed, for many years now. May I ask how you found it back here, foreigner that you are.” “A friend,” I replied scantly.

“Ah,” Zeki scanned his establishment, “But what brings you to this city of life in these dark times?”

“Are these really dark times?” I asked.

“What? Oh,” he chuckled deeply, “No, no not really. What’s another coup?”

I smiled, looking down at my drink, “Just another day.”

He swiped his finger through the air, “Precisely!” He shrugged, “And after all, life doesn’t change, not even here.”

“No?”

“No, no, the Sultan shall be the Sultan, whoever that is, and life goes on. After all, the Sultan’s men do not change.”

“No?”

“They are the same, whoever they are,” he shrugged, “ I pay my bribes, the protection if offered, life goes on,” he said as if discussing why summers were considered hot. “But you Sir, you are here…”

I sipped deeply, “I seek Alexander.”

“Oh,” Zeki laughed heartedly, as if I’d just stated I intended to find The Prophet himself, “Well then, here he is, here he is, Sir.” Zeki mockingly pointed to a crusted framed picture, one of many, that adorned the wall atop the bar. And indeed, there among the many of history’s great faces was the greatest general himself. And off Zeki was, to another customer down the bar.

“Alexander’s dead,” from nowhere offered the man next to me. A man I’d not noticed thus far, so unassuming he was. He was far older than I, and also not a local. He slumped deeply at the bar, tired, his eyes closed, but not drunk, not wholly yet anyways.

“Yes,” I cautiously offered, “very much dead. But I seek the truth of him.” “Yeah, why, where?”

Not knowing this man, or his motives, I sought to learn more about him before ever speaking further. “And you Sir, I cannot place your accent for certain, though I can guess.” Without a shadow of guile the man gave himself forth, to a total stranger as I, “I’m Cornish.”

“Oh,” I said, shaking my head in pity and disgust, “I am sorry.”

He shrugged, resigned. And without any hesitation, he opened his life to me. “If you’re going after Alexander I’ll go too.”

So taken aback I was by his statement that I was dumbfounded. Seeking refuge in my glass, I found it empty. And so to pass the thought, I simply asked, “And your name?” “George,” he flatly stated.

“And where from George?”

“Cornwall…”

“No, no,…”

“Ah, Afghanistan,” he said, “a terrible place, and one that was equally as kind to Alexander as it was to me.”

And thus it all began to add up for me fairly quickly. The broken demeanor, the drinks, the resignation, and then, the pistol, carefully and professionally concealed within his clothing. The long look in his eyes, the old, but still strong frame of this man of the people of the English sea. I could use him, why not. Clearly here was a man in need of purpose. And men in need of purpose are the most useful of men.

“Not to Afghanistan, not yet, but certainly, if you need something to do, I’d welcome such a man as you.”

He nodded, slowly, pleased, grunted, and briefly hoisted his glass to me, emptied it, and motioned to Zeki for another. And another found him, and I as well.

“I hear all in my bar,” said Zeki to me as he poured.

“As any good bar should,” I responded.

“Our part of the world is generally unkind, especially to two foreign, eh, men, such as yourself,” Zeki capped the bottle with force.

I nodded, not knowing why.

Zeki leaned against the rail, his ear halfheartedly to mine. He drew incompressible designs on the bar’s surface, “Help, help is always helpful to those who need help.” I said nothing.

“A man on his travels in this part of the world needs friends, friends not in the fray,” Zeki spoke relatively softly, “I could perhaps…”

“I know you not.”

“Oh,” he smiled in a way that cleared my throat, “but even your presence here came at the recommendation of a, friend, yes?” Zeki scanned his pub briefly, “And in the end, I know who you are. And you shall thus see that I know your Guests, and have done business with them in the past. And yet,” he leaned back, proudly, “I have not presented you to the Sultan’s men. Though this would benefit me greatly.”

Sometimes knowing a man takes a lifetime. Sometimes you never actually know a man. Sometimes you have to take risks on men. Sometimes they take risks on you. And yet besides all this, I found not the need, but the desire to take a risk upon this Zeki. Here was a man, indeed recommended by my friend, but for what, a drink, or a chance? And here was this Zeki, self-assured, honest, even reckless to having met me a few minutes ago had yet already chanced to inform me that he had the Sultan’s men in his pay. That he thought nothing of the Sultan’s rule itself. Yes, yes why not risk this man, why not risk it when I had nothing else on offer. After all, even Alexander himself knew the importance of never venturing into the darkness without securing one’s rear area and homefront.

“And for you, so what?” I asked cautiously.

“Nothing,” he leaned back, “Not yet. But write to me,” he said, “when it is my time, you will know, and you will answer.”

Always the risk, but I nodded, once, hoping one day, I did not regret it. I could sense George’s uneasiness. He was back against his stool, one hand now always free. But it was my decision. Not George’s. And if George was to journey with me, he should understand this.

“But in the meantime,” Zeki held out his palm to behind me, “help, help for the two foreign dogs.” Behind us stepped forth two men. My attention first turned to the larger man, cloaked, and certainly a predator. “Mut,” (he pronounced it ‘moot’) Zeki named him, “And at your service. The finest of Oran’s backstreets.”

Mut fit his name’s spelling if not pronunciation well. His face and body, Berber, Arab, even if (dare I never have mentioned to him) perhaps a touch of Algérie in his complexion.

When confronted with an attack dog, directness is either the worst or best of options. I chanced best, simply stating, “And what is your talent, Sir.”

Mut opened his cloak, and contained therein was as throng of blades, edged weapons, decorated, sharp, beautiful. He closed his cloak. Joined his hands before him, and said nothing.

I chuckled, “Okay, you’ll do.” Surprisingly, George nodded, though I was unsure what George saw in this man that did not take his thoughts back to similar men he had undoubtedly met, and met sportingly or not, in Afghanistan.

The second man quickly stepped forward without giving Zeki an chance to introduce him. He thrust his small delicate hand forward to I, then to George, shaking with a brisk but firm strength, “Stelios, at your service,” he offered with a smile. “My talent? Quite simply,” he grunted softly, “is to relieve others of their possessions by my actions.” He clicked his heals. George shook his head in repulsion.

There could not have been a more Greek looking man on all the Earth. Short, solidly built, but with a deep refinement. His lengthy curled air, oiled, hung over a suit, tie, and shoes that if I had been told cost more than everything in this bar combined, would not have surprised me. But what use to us was he? Was there any meaningful nature behind the immaculate man? With such men, there is always an easy way to find out.

Off in one of the darker corners of the bar, sat a janissary and a few companions. Out of uniform, poorly armed, and looking deject, I could only assume they were now unemployed, perhaps even unemployed recently having found themselves on the wrong side of the coup. Now here, to drink their way to a future that was never coming. To the one closest to me I motioned with the greatest of care to Stelios, “I don’t like your kind, but see that man, go bring me one of his pistols.” Without waiting for a response, I returned to my drink.

Without offering a response, Stelios was off. It took him some time, but eventually I noticed he had found his way to the janissary’s table. And they talked, and talked, Stelios pulled up a chair, and he talked more. Mut became bored, sat down next to George, and drank, and drank again. After a good long while, I sighed, remarking wryly to George, “Theft is always far more boring in reality than in fiction.”

“Quite,” said George, deadpan.

So it went for a long, long time. Zeki was engrossed in conversation with men at the other end of the bar. The light outside began to fade. And perhaps, just perhaps the heat began to fade too. And I chanced a glance over my shoulder, and the janissary and his friends were gone and so was Stelios. Either Stelios had followed them out, or had given up and fled in shame. Either way, I cared not. I hated thieves anyways.

I grunted, sipped again, and then my eyes darted left, and next to me was Stelios. Shocked, I nearly reached within my coat, but before I could he planted before me with a delighted flourish a silver pistol of the janissary. He laughed out loud, took my glass, and finished my drink, his pristine teeth gleamed with the liquor’s remains and pride. “Oh,” he quipped, “and this too.” And he did plop atop the pistol my pocketwatch. George cackled with a partially inebriated humor. I looked down mournfully at my chest, and smiled without teeth.

“Okay,” I nodded slowly, “you’ll do.” And I clapped Stelios on the shoulder and guided him to the stool next to mine. And thus the four of us we drank for a while, as we resolved to depart on our adventure in the morning. For the night was ending, and when one starts to drink raki in Istanbul, one does not stop while the night is young.

And as often happens, but so rarely turns out to be the case, I felt myself being watched. And I wondered if this adventure was doomed to fail before its start. But I appraised Zeki, who was still involved in boisterous conversation down the bar. Mut and George were trying out their French, George by far the poorer of the exchange. Stelios was buried in a newspaper. I glanced about, subtly as possible, to see if only I could perceive the danger.

It took time, far too much time, blame the raki, to notice her. Off to the other corner, by the open bay window which led toward the busy alley. She was there alone, at the smallest of the window’s tables. I didn’t know her, I hadn’t seen her, but I instantly knew that she knew whatever I knew. It was written through the glean in her deep dark eyes. Without thinking, without fear, I rose from my stool and began to walk toward her. Was she a threat? Figure it out, immediately.

Yet as a approached her more and more I began to appreciate the inherent raw beauty that she was. And I began to unconsciously feel myself standing straighter, less drunk than I might have been, and intended to approach her with the greatest class possible. A threat she might have been, I was still a man, much to my detriment if she meant to end our adventure before it’s birth.

And in this state did I thus collide with a small dog that was darting across the floor. And thus did I partially tumble to the floor, only bracing myself on an occupied chair. Pulling myself up, I endeavored to appear the classy subject of a cruel joke played by the sharpest & wittiest of men, and not the victim of a scampering four pound nonsentient canine.

If I failed she did not show it. I sat down slowly, her eyes never moving from me at any point. Not alcohol for her, but coffee, Turkish black, black as her hair. The steam from the mug rose above to her face which gave her an ethereal quality which matched her beauty. Surely here was a face that matched the goddesses that Alexander would have sacrificed to. She drank her steaming coffee, not with delicacy, but with long deep sips like a barbarian Northman.

And thus with this thought on my mind, did she simply state, with the most delicate of slurs, “Alexander.” No lies, no lack of understanding, but I could say nothing. I knew not which way to respond, damned the raki and the heat which had taken all cunning from my brain. Or was it the way she looked, that I didn’t care to joust. Not at all. “I’ll go,” she stated flatly.

“Why?” I stated without resistance and even a slight desperation, “what are your talents?”

She smiled deeply, and I partially melted even more in the heat, “Many.”

I shrugged, she could have stolen one of my eyes if she’d wanted, I would not have cared, “Certainly.”

She smiled, even deeper, but perhaps, less genuinely as she hummed, “I might betray you.”

Ever the fool that I was, and beyond care, I blurted out, “Not if I betray you first.”

She cackled, rose swiftly, drained her coffee, slapped her palm on the table, “I am Alianna of Provence. And we, we shall find Alexander.” And before I was ably out of my chair she was already passed me, and at the bar. And Zeki was pouring more drinks. And I slugged over, smiling, suppressing all fear, and replacing it with optimism. Too much risk? For certain. But for the moment, I truly didn’t care.

And thus it began, this great adventure, as we set off to discover the truth of Alexander. I, the degenerate, George the Soldier, Mut of Oran, Stelios the Thief, and Alianna of Provence. And there Zeki, Zeki of Zeki’s.

And with the great Alexándrou Anábasis, the finest of all the works ever written about Alexander as our guide, did we thus begin. But not yet, for there was more raki, and Zeki was not charging, not yet anyways. And we drank until the day was gone, and even the streets of Istanbul began to cool down, a very long time.

Join us!

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we don’t delve into the mind of a madman while we help you plan your child’s upcoming birthday party

If you pulled six screaming children and two single supermodels from a burning car tonight while your own clothes were on fire, you’d still be less famous than the twisted scum that murdered more than 60 people yesterday.  This is what he wanted.  He wanted fame.  And yet folks are all about it.  He’s got that fame.  He wins.

Folks are all into getting inside the brain of this piece of filth.  What was his motive?  His reasons?  But if you remember back in 2015 when the psychotic German pilot also committed an act of mass murder via his airplane?  I wrote this.  I stand by every word I said.

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What was his motive?  Who cares.  He was evil.  That’s all that matters.  Fuck him.

But hey, just relax folks.  It’s all good.  You should just relax, because you have no choice.  No matter how you feel about guns or gun control or politics?  Your opinions, desires, etc, are all irrelevant.  You can either hide under a pile of coats or just live your life and hope you don’t get struck by lightening.

No politician or leader anywhere from either dysfunctional political party has any idea how to stop any of this from happening again.

If you are anti-gun:  Well, there are hundreds-of-millions of firearms on America’s streets today.  Even if you ban every gun purchase from tomorrow morning it won’t change anything.  Even the most fervent anti-gun types aren’t preaching confiscation as that’s too extreme.

If you are pro-gun: Well, I guess we are at the point where you need your own personal main battle tank.  For even if you were in Vegas carrying your own slung assault rifle at the concert, you were still out-gunned and out-positioned before the first shot was fired.

It might take half-a-century for America to come to grips with all this gun stuff, one way or the other.  In the meantime, you’re just a potential victim on your stroll through the park on a sunny day.

But hey, we at TAP are here to help.  So we created this handy diagram to help you intellectually plan how your kid’s birthday party should play out.  Please bear with us as we explain in detail how this is going to work:

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1) Family Picnic Area: Where you, your kids, friends, their kids, and other happy people eat a tasty home cooked potluck meal.

2) Emergency Dugout: When the shooting starts, this pre-dug four foot trench will serve as the bailout point for all individuals.  You’ll need to run drills at the start of the party with all participants.  It’s best to get in the face of the kids during these drills to ensure they know you mean business and you can properly simulate the stress and terror they’ll endure once the first person is struck by gunfire.

3) Bathrooms: You’ll need more than one bathroom, because all those kiddies will need lots of relief time after drinking that tasty sugary party punch.

4) Sandbag Bunker Sentries: You need to make friends with some folks who are heavily armed in their own right.  Become friends with cops, current or former military members, or former unemployed African mercenaries.  If you can’t become friends, you can hire a moonlight off duty police officer.  They set up shop in overwatch behind the sandbags and are thus in a position to immediately return sustained and disciplined fire against any threat.

5) Face Painting Booth: The little ones sure do love the colors and designs that expert painters apply to their faces.  I’m told boys want to be Groot and the girls a happy butterfly.

6) Counter Sniper Position: As we’ve seen demonstrated in Vegas and the south of France, the nutcases and terrorists are becoming ever more sophisticated in their attack methods.  Not even solid Bunker Sentry positions are enough to protect you.  You’ll also need to hire a trained sniper wielding a large frame rifle capable of disabling shooters at extreme distances, or disabling vehicles up to the size of a small delivery van or truck that’s being used to run over people en masse.

7) Baby Animal Petting Zoo: Nothing says fun like petting a baby lemur that’s half asleep.  Oh man, look at how closed the baby lemur’s eyes are.  He’s barely half awake even when you pet him.  Cute little dude.

8) Prepositioned Mass Casualty Aid Station: Let’s face it, even the best of well laid wartime plans go wrong.  You could have your fighting positions manned by Rambo and John McClain, but casualties are still going to occur.  So you’ll need an aid station on site that can treat the wounded while the police take 27 minutes to clear the shooter(s) and the medevac helicopter(s) can arrive.  It’s best to man this point with an experienced mass trauma surgeon.  Again, make friends with one if you can to keep your costs down.  Otherwise hire one off duty on a moonlight gig.

9) Clown Show: [insert joke here]

Enjoy the party!

Wrigley Field – temple of the baseball gods

Most of the time work can force you to do unpleasant things.  Sometimes work can force you to do awesome things.  And so I found myself directed to Wrigley Field for some work team building thing while on travel to my remote location.

I’ve only ever been to one ballpark and that’s my home team.  Wrigley was number two.  I had no skin in the game but my remote colleagues from Chicago were mostly Cubs fan.

The Reds beat the Cubs though which bummed them immensely.  Though the Cubs won the division again this year, so we’ll see if they can mount a repeat.  I don’t think so, but we shall see.

Wrigley is an interesting place.  It’s kind of a dump, but I love that about it.  It’s a wonderful place that it’s still in the old neighborhood and isn’t a super faceless corporate behemoth of a stadium.  I hope they never replace it.

But, the Toyota logo is on the classic Wrigley sign.  And there’s construction across the street from the stadium that will likely house luxury apartments and such.  So not even Wrigley can escape the Giant Octopus.

Still, it was a good time, and there’s so much history in the stadium you can feel it.  Oh man, think of the near one hundred years of games in that stadium.  Entire generations of fans.  All without a pennant.  Now they have one again.  Will they have two, we shall see.

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Update:

I realized after writing this, the folly of one of my above rants against the Giant Octopus.  For you see, Wrigley’s name in itself is the tool of said Giant Octopus.  Wrigley bought the name rights to the stadium long before this was even a common sports thing.  The field itself was wrapped up in corporate sponsorship almost from the beginning.

However, we, and I mean I too, don’t tend to think of it this way.  Wrigley is just called Wrigley and we don’t tend to think of the connection to the chewing gum.  It’s weird like that.  If you walked up to me and said “Wrigley” I’d automatically assume you meant the ball field and not the gum.

 

 

The Arcturus Sicilian Burger Spectacular! (with chips!)

I think I’ve discovered that naming a recipe is far harder than writing one. I don’t know why, but I’m pretty sure I can blame myself [aggressively points at self in mirror]. I’ll generate these wild ideas in my brain and they’ll become food and I’ll get all the way to the end and I have no idea what to name the dish.

So I make this awesome burger and chips with a rough Italian take and the best I can come up with is to call the thing an Italian burger. But everybody’s already done that, right? There’s got to be like 67 online recipes called Italian burger. Boring. And in any case, most of the Mediterranean blood flowing through my veins is Sicilian.

But wouldn’t you know that there’s also about 37 recipes online called Sicilian burger. So what I need to do is meditate another name for my tasty burger and, no, wait, you know what, whatever, who cares, let’s go!

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The Arcturus Sicilian Burger Spectacular! (with chips!)

 

the burger

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

salt & pepper

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

8 burger buns

 

the spread

1/2 cup mayo

1 Tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp dried basil

 

the relish

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

2 jalapenos, diced

1/4 cup sun dried tomato, minced

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

3 portabella mushroom caps, diced

3 roma tomatoes, diced

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried rosemary

1 tsp cayenne

1 cup white wine

1 bag fresh spinach

1 pack fresh basil

 

the chips

3 large russet potatoes

1 to 2 quarts frying oil

salt & pepper

1 Tbsp smoked paprika

1 Tbsp crushed red pepper

1 Tbsp dried basil

 

making the burgers:

In a large bowl combine the beef and pork, dust with salt & pepper, shape into 8 patties, then refrigerate. Remove from the fridge about a half-hour before cooking to allow them to come to room temperature.

In a small food processor or blender combine the mayo, vinegar, and spices and blend, then refrigerate.

Heat the olive oil in a large steel skillet over medium heat, add the shallots and cook until browned. Add the jalapeno and cook until browned. Add the sun dried tomato and cook until everything just begins to stick to the pan. Add the balsamic vinegar and deglaze.

Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Then add the thyme, rosemary, and cayenne. Cook, stirring every once and a while until everything begins to stick to the pan. Add the wine and deglaze.

Stir in the spinach and basil, lower the heat a bit, and cook until the relish slowly approaches a final slurry-like consistency. You don’t want it too dry, but not too wet, it should stick together. Remove the relish from the skillet and set aside, keep it warm.

In a nonstick skillet, heat the butter over high heat, add the burger patties, cooking 4 of them at a time. Brown the patties on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip them, top with mozzarella cheese, cover the skillet with aluminum foil, and cook for about 3 more minutes for medium rare, longer if you desire.

Toast your burger buns, add the cooked burger patty with the mozzarella, top with the relish and the spread. Serve immediately.

 

making the chips:

Slice the potatoes into thin discs using a fine knife or optimally a mandolin on the thinnest setting. Wash the potato wafers in a large colander with water, shake loose as much water as you can when finished.

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat your fry oil of choice to 350 degrees. Monitor the temperature using a kitchen thermometer and maintain 350 degrees throughout frying.

In batches, fry the potatoes until they are at least light brown, or darker brown if you desire. Using a slotted spoon or similar tool remove the potatoes from the fry oil and set to dry on plates with paper towels.

When finished frying them all, add the chips to a large bowl. Toss them with salt & pepper and the spices until the chips are coated throughout. Serve them immediately with the burgers.

 

Let’s begin!

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To me, all beef burgers are boring.  Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but they’re so inferior to the mixed bag.  I go 50 / 50 with ground beef and ground pork.  The pork gives the burgers a better taste and keeps them moist and juicy.  Get ground beef that’s 80 / 20 fat ratio.  Don’t go buying that 90 / 10 or 95 / 5 crap.

80 / 20!  You only live once, so go all the way!  And I hear tell from Jesus himself from his castle in Hawaii that those who buy 90 / 10 or 95 / 5 ground beef worship the dark lord.  And you don’t worship the dark lord, do you?

When mixing the beef and pork with the salt & pepper do not overly squeeze the meat while combining.  You want air in there.  I typically shape the meat into 8 patties but if you want massive burgers go with 4 patties.  Or you can go to 12 or even 16 patties for small sliders.  Make the burger size you love.

This burger’s theme is indeed Sicilian or Italian or Mediterranean or whatever.  I channeled the ghost of Caesar himself but he got mad because he didn’t know why I was asking him about burgers.  So I use with fresh mozzarella cheese sliced from the ball.  But, you can use any cheese you want.  It’ll all taste great, but white cheeses will taste best.

Pick your burger bun of choice.  Buy good bread or cheap bread, just make sure to toast it, and it’ll all work great.  I think I got cheap potato roll buns, fine.  It’s all good!

The spread mayo is easy, just blend it all up.  If you don’t want to dance with sherry vinegar then use red wine vinegar.  But if you can, find and use sherry vinegar.  I’ve kind of become obsessed with sherry vinegar as an ingredient.  I’ve even found a way to incorporate it into Mexican dishes.  It’s so freaking awesome.  It gives forth a haughty laugh at the boringness of red wine vinegar.

You must, must refrigerate the mayo after blending so it can firm up into a spread.  Please kindly don’t skip this step or do it at the last moment or it’ll deconstruct when you put it on your hot burger and turn nasty.  Leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

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The star of this lunatic dish is the relish.  It will take some time to make, but trust me, oh dear it is great when you’re finished.  You’re essentially making this in phases.

Phase 1 is shallots, jalapenos, and sun dried tomatoes browned, sticking to the pan with a balsamic vinegar deglaze.

Phase 2 is mushrooms, tomatoes & paste, and spices, sticking to the pan with a white wine deglaze.

Phase 3 is a slow reduction into the relish / slurry with spinach and basil added for greenness, nutrition, and the necessary added final moisture.

I generally cook each stage to a very brown state.

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This adds flavor.  But, a lot of people don’t want to go with a lot of brown, they don’t like the bitter taste.  I totally get it, go with what level of brown you like.  Just keep in mind that whatever your final state is, the relish has to fit / sit on your burger.  If you make too much relish or you have a lot left over after topping your burgers it can become like a side salad or something.

While you’re slowly making the relish you can make your chips.

I’m just gonna go ahead and say this [sighs], I’m over fries [hates self].  I mean I love fries.  Who doesn’t love fries?  Nazis, and mythical Orc warriors.  But I’m kind of over fries.  I’ve eaten 73 different kinds of fries and they all blend together now.  Thin, large, light brown to dark brown, different toppings or no toppings, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.  It’s all the same to me in many ways.

I will always eat fries, but in the interest of variety it’s necessary to shake things up in life.  More and more places are thankfully offering homemade chips now.  So I decided to do the same.  Variety is awesome, it keeps you honest and open.

Go get a mandolin.  This tool is awesome.  You can slice up your potatoes in mere minutes.  And you can use the mandolin for so many vegetable needs later on.  Also make sure you have a deep fry kitchen thermometer.  Do not fry without this tool or you will fail.  The chips are very thin and consistent oil temperature is a must to get the right even brownness you need.

I fried using vegetable oil.  Lots of folks use peanut oil.  You can probably also use canola oil or corn oil too.  It’s up to you.  Just please, please be careful.  Frying at home is a mess and is inherently dangerous.  Never execute home frying operations without a plan to keep you from burning yourself, a means to cover the pot with a lid in an emergency, and a fire extinguisher.

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Fry in batches, do not crowd the pot.  You want the potatoes at least a little brown.  I find light brown to be the tastiest.  But you should shake it up.  Do some batches light brown, others medium brown, maybe one batch dark brown.  Again, variety.

Use the slotted spoon or equivalent to remove the chips from the hot oil.  Let as much oil drain off as practical via the spoon back into the pot.  The paper towels will help with this draining too.  You don’t want a final chip product swimming with any oil.

Let them dry out on the paper towels for a bit.  Then toss them with the spices in a large bowl.  If you don’t want to dance with smoked paprika use regular paprika.  But seriously, go get smoked paprika.

If you have leftover chips but them in an airtight container.  No need to refrigerate, but eat them within one week.  They’ll not have a long shelf life, they’re homemade.  If you eat them as leftovers and you might find they’ve turned soggy in the container?

If so, take a baking sheet, cover with aluminum foil, add the leftover chips, set your oven to 350 degrees, and bake the chips for about 3 minutes until they’re crispy again.  Do not preheat the oven first, I mean really turn the oven to 350, start, and immediately put the chips in.  They’re already cooked, this is just to get the crisp back.  Anything longer and they’ll burn.

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Oh my, I’m so fucking awesome.

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Keep the relish warm as you get towards completion, do not, do not let the relish get cold.

Get out a nonstick skillet for the burgers.  Some folks will say you need a stainless steel skillet to effectively brown the burgers.  They might be right, but to me homemade burgers with ground meats can get stuck and fall apart in a steel skillet far too easily.  Maybe that’s just my lack of skill?  Not sure, but this is how I do it.  Do it the way you prefer.

Medium rare timing will depend on your own experience with your skillet, range top, and other atmospheric conditions.  If you have a full moon out, add 13 seconds to each side.  For me, it’s 3 minutes a side over high heat gets me to medium rare.  Experiment to get to yours.  Cook longer if you like your burgers more well done.  Whatever you do, tend to trend towards the highest heat possible in your pan.  This will help with the delicious browning.

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Flip them, add the mozzarella slices, and tent the pan with foil so the cheese can melt as you cook the second side.  Sliced fresh mozzarella balls are not going to overly melt in only 3 minutes.  This is fine to me, see above, as I think it’s nice and creamy.  If you want it melted further just cook the burger a little longer with the foil on.  Or, like I said earlier you can pick another white cheese you like.  Or, you can always slice the mozzarella way thinner than I do.

Toast the buns, please.  This is an important step.  Non-toasted buns aren’t as delicious.  As soon as you’re ready, top the buns with the burgers, add the relish, and spread the mayo.  Chips on the side.  And you’re off to a delicious wonderland where meat and potatoes warm your stomach, brain, and soul.

Enjoy life!

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