Monday, December 31, 2018

What the heck happened in 2018?



2018 is a year that I will be happy to see go. Unfortunately, I am not holding that much hope for 2019 given the current occupant of the White House and the Party of Stupid controlling the United States. So in terms of the nation and the world I am keeping the expectations extremely low. As I mentioned in "My Reading List for 2017," 2018 for me was summarized as follows:




I self-imposed a moratorium on reading, or paying attention to most media, dealing in politics, most current events, activism, social issues, and such. I felt I had to do it for the sake of my sanity, and I succeeded to an extent. In terms of reading, I managed to do so fairly well. On social media, given the constant bombardment of fuckery the Pendejo In Chief and the Party of Stupid, along with the Republican Lite Party, keep tossing out, that gets harder to ignore. So I will give myself  partial success on that. One things that helped was cutting out a lot of sources from my feeds. In 2019, I expect to be cutting out quite a few more. I pretty much did not give much of a fuck in 2018 when it comes the world out there, and I plan on giving even less of a fuck in 2019. I will add as a small note of light that things in the home front remained pretty stable. Some ups and downs, but overall things were good, and I am grateful for that.

In the end, part of looking back at 2018 and making this post is to look back at things I may have missed due to my moratorium. Also, I tend to miss a lot of current entertainment things since I've tended to favor watching older things on DVD or streaming rather than trying to set new habits with unknown (to me) shows, movies, so on. Way I see it, if something is good enough, it will likely make it to DVD or streaming eventually. If not, I can probably skip it. In addition, I've been reading a lot, which I will discuss in my end of year reading list and report.

So, let's see what the fuck happened in 2018:

The big news summaries

 Image result for big news site:.gov

A lot of stuff, mostly bad it seems, happened in 2018. Here are some of big news summaries.

2018 in Photos

 Image result for photography site:.gov

  •  A look at 2018 in photos via The Atlantic. Some reminders of stupid shit for 2018 here include: the false alert in Hawaii about a missile, Elon Musk's Tesla in space stunt (justify it however you want, it was a publicity stunt pure and simple), and the dumbass flat earther who put himself in a rocket to try to prove the Earth is flat (it is round). 
  • BuzzFeed has what they deem as the 48 most powerful photos of the year.

2018 was the Year of. . . 

  • Living Dangerously. Al Jazeera highlights a variety of "man made" disasters and atrocities.
  • Most Wetness. It is now the wettest on record for Washington, D.C. and other U.S. cities. Via NPR.
  • The Vaping Teen. NPR reports that teen vaping soared to record levels in 2018.
  • The Labor Strike, according to TruthOut.
  • The worst on record for gun violence in U.S. schools. Via The Guardian. Because America: Fuck Yea! Where they love their guns more than their children. 
  • Scary data breaches. Here are 21 of them via Business Insider. It does not matter how much good online hygiene you practice and how many precautions you take or think you take, odds are good your favorite online site or service got hacked in 2018, often due to total lack of security and responsibility on the part of those companies. 
  • Rage charity giving. After the 2016 elections, it seems a lot of people, especially progressives, gave a lot of money to charity in angry response to said elections. The trend has kept rising. Via Yes! Magazine.
  • Finally getting some new works out of copyright. Finally, this year, after 20 years due in large part to Sonny Bono's fuckery in Congress (may he rot in hell), we are getting some new works into the public domain. Report via NPR.

2018 in Films and Movies




As some of you may know, I do not go to movie theaters, and I rarely bother with the latest when it comes to movies. So for me, many movies on this list are ones I definitely missed, and I may or not look them up down the road.  Other films mentioned are ones that were either popular, so they get mentioned in every other end of year list, or ones that seem interesting but fell off the radar.

  • Best movie lists:
    • Here is GQ's list. From this list, I would love to watch Won't You Be My Neighbor? sometime; it is the documentary on the life and work of Mr. Rogers. 
    • BuzzFeed has their list of 11 for the year
    • The Atlantic offers their 17 best films for the year. 
    • The Houston Press has their list.
    • At VICE, Noel Ransome looks at the best movies he watched in 2018. From this list, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is the one I will be looking for. Marvel has rebooted/retconned/reconditioned Spider-Man in film more times that I can count, so by now if they announce yet another Spider-Man movie, I am leery. However, this particular movie, if the reviews are accurate, sounds like it could be fun. Anyone out there seen it? Feel free to comment and let me know how you liked it or not. 
      • Noel Ransome also presents the worst movies he watched in 2018. Based on what I see on the list, better him than you and me. On a serious note, you get a lot of "best of" lists in major media, but outside of YouTubers and some bloggers, not many "worse of", which I think can be a public service to tell you what to avoid. Among the worse? Apparently there was a remake of Death Wish starring Bruce Willis. I am sticking with Charles Bronson, thank you very much. 
  • Strangest films of the year via In These Times
  • Best documentaries:
    • Rolling Stone's documentaries list for 2018. Again, the Mr. Rogers documentary is mentioned here. As for the others, I had no idea until I saw the list, and tempted as I may be, I am probably skipping Monrovia, Indiana about yet another white safari into "Trump Country" to try to "understand" those assholes that inflicted the Pendejo In Chief and the Party of Stupid on the rest of the nation. Besides, I lived in Indiana long enough that I really do not feel a need to watch a documentary on some small Indiana town. 
    • The Advocate offers their 11 best LGBTQ documentaries of the year. They also argue that 2018 was best year ever for LGBTQ film and television.
  • A list of feminist films via Ms. Magazine
  • Best 13 horror films of 2018 via iHorror. From this list, Overlord sounds intriguing. Also, I keep hearing the remake of Suspiria is one to watch. Since I hear the 1977 original is pretty good, I may try to watch that first, then see the new one.

2018 in Television

Image result for television site:.gov

Apparently, there was some stuff in television that some people claim was good. For the most part, I read about it here or there, enough to be informed but otherwise I did not care much (same as for films).  So while I was watching things like old reruns of Supermarket Sweep and the original Muppet Show, let's see what the "experts" say I should have been watching in 2018. By the way, if you check the "film and television" tag for this blog, you can find my "Media Notes" roundup posts to see what exactly I watch now and then.

  • Here is GQ's list. Then again, I question the definition of "best television" for a list that features Jersey Shore Family Reunion (or Jersey Shore anything for that matter) and Survivor (yes, apparently it is STILL on the air).
  • Here is the Houston Press's top ten shows of the year.
  • The Advocate has their best 15 LGBTQ shows.
  • Speaking of reality TV, Reality Blurred offers the best of reality TV of 2018.  That blog sums it up well: "For a genre that still is perceived as universal garbage—so much so that people now use different words to describe their reality TV shows, like 'docuseries' and even 'film'—and for which mediocrity is often enough to satisfy both networks and fans alike, reality TV is still thriving." It is crap for the most part no matter what they rename it, but apparently it does not take much to satisfy the U.S. television audience. The catch with this genre is that it combines relatively good things like National Geographic documentaries with trashy stuff like Big Brother (they are both "reality").

2018 in Music


This is an area that I definitely do not keep up with very much. So making note of these lists is as much reference to me as it may be of interest to my four readers and anyone else out there. Having said that, in this day and age where people just stream music or buy tracks they want online (or get them through less ethical means), I have to ask: does anybody still listen to a whole album of any kind of music?


2018 in Science

Image result for science site:.gov

This can include science, technology, and other research items.

  • Some striking survey findings in 2018 from Pew Research.
  • Vox offers 10 top science stories.
  • It was not all good news in science. The anti-science assholes and ignoramuses were out in force, including the anti-vax fuckbagels. Some of those fuckbagels even ran for office or peddled their dangerous influence from their political office. Meanwhile, thanks to their misguided and stubborn willful ignorance and selfishness, outbreaks of diseases we usually consider under control are making a comeback. The stupidity of the anti-vax movement even cost me an acquaintance or two online as basically there is no reasoning with people who are happy to let others die "as long as the government does not tell them what to do" or whatever other excuse they use. I say good riddance, and I hope in time the Cosmic Joker gives them what they truly deserve. Anyhow, you can read about the worst anti-science bovine caca of 2018 over at Mother Jones.

2018 in Trivia

Image result for trivia site:.gov

This is where I put those miscellaneous things that do not quite fit anywhere else. 

  • Via USA Today, a video of the juiciest celebrity feuds, whatever they were.  
  • The always popular listing of who died in 2018 (as of this article), via Kentucky.com. In my humble opinion, 2018's Grim Reaper took way too many good people and not enough assholes. However, among the assholes the Grim Reaper took in 2018 are George H.W. Bush, John McCain (he never fooled me with that "maverick" act. Sure, he was a military hero, but as a politician, his moral compass left much to be desired, and I will leave it there), Efrain Rios Montt (former Guatemalan dictator), and James "Whitey" Bulger. Among the good ones we lost are Aretha Franklin, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko (artist who among other things drew for Marvel works like Spider-Man), Harlan Ellison, and Anthony Bourdain. 
  • Harper's Bazaar has the 25 biggest fashion moments, again, whatever those were.  
  • For your amusement, Boing Boing presents a video of the best bloopers in news broadcasts for the year. 
  • Want to see how stupid Americans can be and despair? Jimmy Kimmel and his team go out in the street and get Americans to remember the best events of 2018. The issue? The events did NOT really happen. Via Rolling Stone.
  • Some pop culture stuff happened from fuckery in comics, like the Batman non-wedding, to some Star Trek show (streaming only if you pay, so I have no idea) to all sorts of things you might barely remember (probably because, despite some of them making a brief fuss, they are mostly niche things most people outside of the niche could not care less). Via IO9. I barely remember half of these.
  • COED has a look at the ten most googled women of the year.
  • Pornhub offers 2018 in Review, looking at things like trends in porn, tech, searches online, and other bits and pieces of data and trivia. This part of their site is relative safe to look over.
  • Hey Epiphora offers her best and worst sex toys (with some additional trivia. Warning: this site can be NSFW) for 2018.
  • Working Knowledge, the blog of Harvard Business School, presents their most popular stories and most popular research papers for 2018.
  • Tricycle, a magazine focusing on Buddhism, mindfulness, and similar topics, lists their best features of the year.
  • Here are 10 LIS stories that shaped 2018 via LIS News. I gotta have at least one library related item. 
  • And if you are not depressed enough by the news already in 2018, Nieman Labs takes a look ahead at 2019. Spoiler: it does NOT get better.
  • Finally, I wanted to share some of the work of the Rude Pundit, who often tells it like it is.
    •  He shares with us some of the things that eased his pain in 2018.
    • He also has a tradition I always enjoy seeing in the end of year: the haiku annual review, where his readers submit haikus remembering the year. Here is part one and part two for 2018. And here is part three.




2018 in Fuckery

(Self explanatory) 

Image result for fuckery

  • The Advocate looks at the biggest bigoted homophobes and transphobes of the year. Naturally, Texas made the list thanks to their Party of Stupid branch. 
  • Amazon did quite a bit of fuckery in the 2018. Via Vox
  • The "year in civility" which is mostly what Right Wing Nut Jobs and the Pendejo In Chief whine about when someone calls them out on their bullshit. Civility in this context usually means the Republican Lite Party lacking a pair when they want to "find common ground" with the Pendejo In Chief, as Nancy Pelosi recently said (because finding common ground with a terrorist apparently is a thing). Story via In These Times.

I will take this moment now to wish you all, near and far, a Happy and Safe 2019. See you all next year.




Friday, December 28, 2018

Booknote: Psychic Tarot

Nancy Antenucci, with Melanie A. Howard, Psychic Tarot: Using Your Natural Psychic Abilities to Read the Cards. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2011.  ISBN: 978-0-7387-1975-7.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, divination, psychics, supernatural
Format: paperback
Source: I bought it at Half Price Books.


The book claims to offer "intuitive Tarot reading made simple." It has its strengths and weaknesses, and much of that depends on how much or not you believe in psychics and other "spiritual" things. If you have a fairly strong belief, then a lot of this book will resonate with you. If you are more skeptical or a nonbeliever, a lot of this book will sound like a lot of "woo." Still, for Tarot students, there are some good tidbits and exercises, but your mileage may vary.

The book is arranged into 20 chapters. The chapters are fairly short at about 6 to 12 pages each. The first six chapters cover Tarot and reading basics. From chapter 7, you start getting into concepts like energy, seeing the unseen (which includes things like ghosts and spirits),  the sight, and related principles. This is the part of the book that you may or not relate to depending on your beliefs or lack of beliefs. Still, wherever you stand, in chapters 7 to 18, the authors do lay it on a bit thick and even get away from Tarot. I found myself wondering if this book was about Tarot or just about psychics and the supernatural stuff with Tarot as a side note or afterthought. Then the last two chapters deal with boundaries, as in setting reading boundaries, and traits of a reader. The book also features two appendices. Appendix B, the Self-Study Guide, serves as a book summary as well as a checklist to study Tarot based on the book; this part does contain some useful exercises.

The strength of the book is in some of the practice exercises dealing with Tarot cards. Chapters 4, 5, and 6, which deal specifically  with  Tarot cards are probably the strongest parts of the book. The book loses strength and focus once the authors veer off into more "supernatural" topics that may or not be relevant. I'd say pick and choose the exercises that work for you and skip the rest.

Overall, the book was just OK. I'd consider it as optional; there are probably much better books on Tarot out there. For libraries, this can be optional if you are looking for Tarot books to add to the collections. As librarian, this  would not be a first nor a second choice for me. However, if books about psychics and spirits and popular in your library, this book would fit in for those readers.

2 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Booknote: LEGO Star Wars: The Dark Side

Daniel Lipkowitz, LEGO Star Wars: The Dark Side. New York: DK Publishing, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4654-1897-5.

Genre: art and photography
Subgenre: Star Wars, LEGO, toys, children and young adult, science fiction
Format: Hardcover coffee table book
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

The book is part of DK Publishing's series of LEGO Star Wars books. This book focuses on the Sith, the dark side of the Force characters. It gives a quick tour from the Sith Era to Return of the Jedi.

The book is arranged in short sections within three chapters (Republic Era, Clone Wars Era, and Empire Era). We get some text and some excellent photography in playful layouts This being a book for young readers, it also features some cute light humor. The photos feature sets, vehicles, and characters. You also get some diagrams, and a even a flowchart so you can see what kind of Jedi or Sith you might be.

On a side note, if you buy the book, it should come with a mini-figure. 

Overall, it is a cute book with fun for all ages. If you like LEGOs or Star Wars or both, this is a book for you. I really liked it.

4 out of 5 stars.

Holiday Post 2018: Books and Reading

Welcome to the third in my series of my 2018 holiday posts. Today we are looking at books and reading. This is where I share some book lists to give you ideas for gifts as well as for reading in 2019. This year I think pickings were a bit slim compared to previous years when it comes to good book lists. Still, I think we got a good sampling. I'll add some comments, and where I can, I will highlight books from these lists I may have read already.

A Christmas tree made out of books, because you know in some library somewhere there is one  of these.



Some general lists

A sampling of general lists from newspapers, magazines, websites, etc.


Specific Topics Lists

It seems there is a list for just about every other reader out there. Let's look at a few of them.


Graphic Novels and Comics


Food and drink


Bookish things and trivia

  • Via LitHub, the best book covers.  This is according to some book cover designers.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Holiday Post 2018: Gifts, Strange Things, and Other Shopping

Welcome to the second post in my series of holiday posts for 2018. Today we are looking at gifts, shopping, strange things, and other stuff. I've been doing this series for a few years now, and I am still amazed at some of the options I find for gifts. Do people really give some of the things I find out there? One has to wonder. Let's have a look.



Shopping Tips and Advice

  •  Via USA.gov, some advice on keeping your credit or debit card safe when you go shopping online. Personally, I am one of those folks who, for the little online shopping I do, I use a prepaid gift card with a low balance. That way, if it got hacked, it would be annoying but it would not be a disaster. 
  • Wallet Hacks has some posts that may be of interest: 
    • Maybe you feel moved to give to charity, but you are a little short on cash. I get it. The economy is bad and all. However, maybe one of the "6 Ways to Give to Charity Without Donating Money" can work for you.
    • You are shopping online. You may shopping online a lot. So shipping may be a concern. Or you perhaps you are sending things to relatives and  friends. Again, the cost of shipping may be a concern. Here is a comparison between the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx to help you decide what may work best for you. 
    • And with all that  online ordering come the packages. Keeping them from getting stolen is a concern, so here are tips to prevent your package from being stolen over the holidays by some low life thieving asshole. Seriously, as far as I am concerned, porch pirates are among the lowest of the low scum. 
  •  Still want to shop online,  but it bothers you that you use Amazon to do it? Via Yes! Magazine, here are some gift buying alternatives to Amazon that even support communities of color.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a list of gifts that you should seriously NOT buy


Some General Gift Lists

  •  Budget tight? Wallet Hacks has a list of 50 items under $25.The list is mixed. There are some nice things, and a few things that I think are questionable. Your mileage may vary.
  • GPO (Government Printing Office) has some gift guides for different folks: 
  • Harper's Bazaar has a list (slideshow, so apologies) of 43 things to give to friends. This is one of the usual expensive and somewhat obscure things that I honestly question how many people give any of these as gifts. Among the items I wonder about: 
    • A Morse code cuff. It is a bracelet where you can engrave your friend's initials in Morse code. Does anyone even know what the fuck is Morse code anymore, aside from former Boy Scouts and maybe old school military people? 
    • A $299 instant camera. I am guessing this is for that one hipster friend.
    • A $300 or so industrial logo belt. I have no idea what the appeal of this is.
    • $125 color-block leather-twill belt bag, a.k.a. a fanny pack. Really? A fancy fanny pack, or as we used to call them in Spanish, "una huevera." (Find one of your friends fluent in Spanish to translate that for you if need be).
    • $297 sweater. Seriously?
    • $95 wool beret. I shit you not. Now you can look like some pretentious French mime.
  •  Apparently, some people feel a need to buy gifts for their coworkers. I can't imagine why, but hey, you do you. If you are one of those people, and you need an idea or two, Inc. has you covered with their 20 best office Christmas gifts for coworkers. "Surprise" and "delight" are not concepts that  come to mind from this list for me. Also some of these seem way too fancy for coworkers. 

Bookish, Stationery, and Related


Specific niches and categories

These are some specific lists for some very specific folks.

  •  For pop culture fans, Washington Blade has a gift guide.
  • For women: 
    • Harper's Bazaar has a list of 13 best subscription boxes for her.
    • Ms. Magazine has their feminist holiday gift guide. While I do not think feminist items are just for women, this list is pretty much mainly geared to women. 
    • And guys, if value your life, you may want to NOT give these bad gifts to your lady. Via New Statesman. Now, your mileage may vary on this. For example, their number four item is any unicorn-related. That may not work for the woman in your life, but I can tell you it would definitely work for the Better Half. She can never have enough unicorns and unicorn related items in her life. For example, for 2017 Christmas, I got her The Oracle of the Unicorns, and she was happy. Again, small secret to a good marriage is knowing what your mate likes. She likes unicorns? Well, unicorn calendar, unicorn oracle cards, unicorn figurines, etc. Not all at once. You space that stuff out.
  • For men via GQ
    •  The best stuff of 2018. I always find lists for guys like this amusing because I honestly wonder what gene am I missing as a guy that I just do not care for most items on manly lists like this one. I do not need $160 sneakers, a $445 mood lighting lamp, nor a $700 shag blanket. But if you have a manly guy in your life, hey, this may work for you. 
    • List of ten classic colognes. "Classic" here can be relative. Some of the colognes on GQ's lists are a bit too fancy for me. Once a cologne hits $100 or more, that is out of my range. Personally I am a bit more of old school drugstore cologne kind of guy such as these listed at Maxim or these listed at Art of Manliness. Part of the reason I have fond memories of drug store colognes is that my grandmother often got one or another of those for me as holidays gift when I was a teenager. 
  •  For LGBT folks. Via Washington Blade, a holiday gift list from LGBT manufacturers
  • A Buddhist gift guide via Tricyle.
  • Gifts for the 80s kid in your life, via BuzzFeed
  • Via Quartz, some gift ideas for the traveler
  • Above the Law has you covered with gift ideas for lawyers
  • Gift ideas that are ethical and eco-friendly via Good.Is.
  • For that someone who is just obsessed over the British Royals, via Harper's Bazaar.
  • For your pothead friends, or you know, cannabis user, via Rolling Stone.
  • For classic movie posters fans, via Dangerous Minds.

Alcohol and Spirits



Calendars

I am always looking for some quirky or curious calendar to put in my office and in my workstation at home. If you like calendars, here are some ideas of possible gifts.


Tarot, Divination, and Other Magical Things

The Fool-0, from the Legacy of the Divine Tarot Deck by Ciro Marchetti

Some of my close friends know that I recently began to study Tarot and oracle cards. I also have a few pagan friends in my life, so this may be of interest for them too. Thus this year I decided to include some of that in my holiday posts. If you want to give a deck as a gift or some other divination and magic-related gift, here are some ideas.


Some adult and sexy gift ideas

This is the NSFW part of the post. If this is not your cup of tea, feel free to move along. If you happen to enjoy sex, toys, and erotica, check these out.


Miscellaneous

Finally I have one or two things that fall a bit under the "WTF" category




Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Holiday Post 2018: Traditions, Manners, and Other Miscellany

Welcome to the first of my 2018 Holiday Posts. The academic semester ended for us on Friday, December 14, but I still have to work one more week until Friday, December 21. Meanwhile, the holidays are upon us, and I enjoy taking some time to share a few things to keep my four readers amused during the holiday season. So, let's begin looking at holiday traditions, manners, and other miscellaneous things.

Train and Christmas tree. Image from US Botanical Garden


Trivia

 Let's start with some factoids, figures, and curious things about the holidays. 

  • This year holiday sales are expected to top over $1 trillion. Story via Quartz. Yes, that is trillion with  a "t". Because the economy may be bad, but people somehow find money, or credit, to keep spending more and more during the holiday season. By the way, a lot of that will be online shopping. 
  • The annual War on Christmas will be in full swing. Via Juanita Jean's.
  • Meanwhile, in New Zealand, even the children laugh at Americans this holiday season. Follow the link to see the video and post to find out why they laugh. Via Juanita Jean's.
  • Iceland's holiday tradition of giving books is one reason I would love to move there. Via Inc., though this tradition often gets highlighted during this time of year in various places. So, how it goes: "On Christmas Eve, friends and families exchange books -- then spend the evening together curled up reading their new treasure," he writes. "Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I think you'd agree that sounds pretty great." It does sound great. 
  • Once again, PNC Bank has their Christmas Price Index, based on the items from the song "12 Days of Christmas." Their website has added some additional things for educators related to the topic too. In addition, National Geographic also has some ideas for teachers based on the CPI. 

The Tree, Decorations, and Other Objects

  •  Maybe this year you want to do something different with  the Christmas tree. How about a whiskey themed Christmas tree? Via Flaviar.
  • If you prefer a book theme for your Christmas tree, here are some book ornament ideas. Via Book Riot
  • Then again, you may be at the point where you want to do the least effort for your Christmas decorations or just do not give shit, like these folks. Via Cheezburger.
  • If you just plain do not give a hoot or just prefer to be rude, here are some examples of rude tree ornaments. Via Sad and Useless
    • And to further amuse you, some retail fails when it comes to trying to cash in on the holidays.
  • Every Christmas you find some people who need to really, really show off their Christmas lights and make a spectacle of it. This year we got a light display timed to the "Baby Shark" song. Via USA Today, which includes video.


Food and drink 

  • Candy? Let's have a look at some of the horrific candy flavors we are getting in 2018. Via USA Today. I honestly do not understand the appeal of "weird" candy flavors like rotisserie chicken, Mac N' Cheese, and pickle. Hey, if the companies are making them, it's probably because they think someone out there will buy them. 
  • Eating healthy during the holidays can be a challenge. The U.S. Government, via their Government Book Talk blog, has some resources for healthy eating that may be helpful. 
  • A suggestion that being aware of food waste may help you appreciate that  holiday meal better. Via The Conversation
  • You may need a drink or two to deal with certain family relatives. Or perhaps you just want to have a nice cocktail to celebrate what is good in the holidays. Here then are some ideas for fall and winter cocktails via Drinkhacker.

Wellness/Advice/Tips

You can tell we are living in the Hard Times. As I was compiling stories and links for this post, I found a lot of articles on things like how to minimize holiday drama and how to deal with family and coworkers you probably do not want to deal with but are forced to deal. So in order to help folks out there who may need a few tips for surviving the holidays, these links are for you. 

  •  Via Inc., here are some tips on how to avoid boring holiday conversations and some conversation starters. Personally, I favor the strategy of avoiding the workplace holiday party altogether. But if that is not an option for you, this may help you at least pretend that you are being polite. Also, the conversation prompts do have the bonus of being pretty secular and neutral on politics. 
  • Barbara Pachter on her blog offers "7 Ways to Avoid Arguments During the Holiday Season." Again, I favor the avoidance tactic. Do not invite into your home people you know will stir shit up nor go into their homes. But if you must be in close contact with someone who just cannot shut up and has to cause an argument, these tips may help you cope or stay out of the line of fire.  Ms. Pachter's first tip is a common one in many of the survival guides I have seen, and it is an important one to help your peace of mind: "Accept what you can influence and what you can’t." I would add to that a piece of advice my mother often gave me: rub on some olive oil, and let  it slide. It means that many things are not worth it so learn to let them go.
  • This I found a bit amusing: a guide to surviving the holidays with Tarot. It combines things like giving a Tarot deck as a gift to having small Tarot themed elements in your parties. Via Psychic Talk
  • Inspirational author Colette Baron-Reid also offers her ten tips to dial down drama over the holidays. One of her tips is also to accept what you cannot change. Being a more spiritual person, she may bit more charitable than I might be. 
  • Been estranged from a family member for  a while? Some long lost member of the family wants to return to the fold? Via The Conversation, here are some ideas on how to handle it.  
  • Via Wise Bread, how to minimize financial stress during the holidays
  • Coming Out Tarot offers "The Easy Queer Holiday Survival Guide You Need."


Miscellaneous 

Finally, here are a couple of things that do not fall into the categories above.

  • Like Christmas movies?  That Artsy Reader Girl offers her list of her favorite ten Christmas movies. Maybe one of these will work for you.
  • Want more Christmas movies? Turns out there is a website that keeps track of what is on television when  it comes to Christmas movies and specials. It's Christmas TV Schedule.
  • One of the things I did during 2018 is watch a few more movies, especially some that are a bit out  of the way so to speak. I have been watching horror films a bit more. So, if you like horror films, and you like them with a Christmas theme, here are a couple of options for ideas on what to watch: 
  • Want a little more adult entertainment in your Christmas movies? XCritic has a small list of 13 Christmas-themed porn films (yea, play on the 12 Days of Christmas plus one). (Warning: the link is very NSFW, so skip if not your thing but check it out otherwise).
    • And if the adult movies get you in the mood, Em and Lo have some suggestions for "the 12 Moves of Christmas" so you can get moving and frisky.
  • Are you in college, and for some reason you cannot or will not go home for the holidays? If you are stuck in college, well, here are some small ideas via COED on how to celebrate if you are staying on  campus. 
  • Maybe in the midst of all the fuss of the holidays you want to take some quiet time. Via Pen Company, here are some journaling prompts you can try out. I may try out some myself.




Friday, December 14, 2018

Booknote: 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die

Loren Rhoads, 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal, 2017.   ISBN: 978-0-316-43843-8.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: travel, funerary rites, cemeteries, reference
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library


This is one of those books in the ever going series of X number of things to do before you die. I never thought of cemeteries as places to visit other than for funerals, but this book may change my mind. Many cemeteries are historical landmarks for various reasons, and many are open to the public. If you want to do some different sightseeing, this book may help.

The book is simply arranged. It has a short introduction and then the 199 entries. Entries are arranged geographically. The United States is divided by regions, and then you go by continents and world regions. For each cemetery entry you get the name of the cemetery, an address, and a website if available. You also get a few paragraphs describing the cemetery and/or why it is significant. The book also features photos. Each entry gets at least one photograph. The photos are mostly on the small side and can vary from antique to modern photos.

Overall the book is interesting to look over. It's not really a book to read cover to cover but rather a book to browse. The text is fairly basic and dry, almost like a reference book. Still, if you are looking for something different to do, this book offers some ideas.

In the end, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.


Booknote: Star Wars: Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens, Volume 1

Landry Q. Walker and Tyler Scarlet (illustrator), Star Wars: Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens, Volume 1. Los Angeles, CA: Disney/Lucasfilm Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-148474141-2.

Genre: science fiction
Subgenre: young adult, Star Wars
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library 


This is another of the many short story anthologies available where they take minor characters and give them a story. The results on these anthologies are often mixed. This anthology is part of Disney's new efforts on the Star Wars franchise. It is a good but not great nice read. The stories in this collection for young adults take place around the time of The Force Awakens.

The book contains six stories. Personally, I enjoyed "A recipe for death" quite a bit. Star Wars books often adapt pop culture ideas to a Star Wars twist. This story is basically a version of cooking competition shows with a murder mystery tossed in. In the story, the cook of Maz Kanata's castle finds his sous chef dead. He holds a cooking competition, ostensibly to find  replacement but it is really to find the culprit. It is an interesting concept and, like other good murder mysteries, it has an unexpected twist at the end.

The other story that caught my eye was "The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku." In a remote world, an old Republic-era wrecked cruiser sends out a signal. Pirates decode the signal, and they realize it may contain a lost treasure belonging to Count Dooku. The race is on as pirate groups, including the Crimson Corsair and his gang, race through a hostile desert to try to get it first. The story was a bit too long at times, but it is interesting overall. No one really knows what the treasure is right away, so when it is revealed, there is a certain satisfaction.

In the end, I liked this book. Though it is labeled for young adults, I think adults can enjoy it as well. If you like exploring small, far corners of that galaxy far, far away, this may be for you.

3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Booknote: The Tarot Spellcaster

Terry  Donaldson, The Tarot Spellcaster: over 40 spells to enhance your life with  the power of Tarot magic. Hauppauge, NY : Barron's, 2001. ISBN: 0-7641-5402-8. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: magic, spells, Tarot, divination
Format: hardcover
Source: I own this one. Bought at Half Price Books. 

This is a book for folks who use or would like to use Tarot cards for casting spells. I got the book out of curiosity, but it was the excellent photography that drew me in.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Tarot magic. This includes topics such as History of Tarot, Practice of Magic, and Preparing for Spellcasting. Topics are discussed briefly, just enough to give  you a start. 
  • The Major Arcana.  You get a spell for each Major Arcana card.  
  • Combining the cards. These are spells that combine several Tarot cards, using cards from the Major and Minor Arcanas. 

Each spell includes magical intention, magical working, and what  you will need, in other words, what the spell is for, how to carry it out, and  the ingredients and supplies you will need. Ingredients listed vary from easy to find items to items you may need a specialist source (be it an esoteric shop, a botanica, or online ordering).  However, I am sure the creative and/or budget-minded spellcaster can substitute an ingredient here or there and maintain the spell.

As I mentioned, the excellent photography drew me in. Every page is illustrated. In addition to photos, the book also includes some helpful charts and tables for reference. As for the text, it is accessible. Spells' instructions are relatively easy to follow so you can concentrate on what you are doing. As  I said, I do not practice magic (at least not at this point in time), but the book still provides some good reflection questions and ways to study the cards.

Overall, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.


Media Notes: Roundup for November 2018

 These are the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during November 2018.


Movies and films (links to IMDB.com for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via TubiTv.com or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise):

  • Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger (2014. Documentary. True Crime).  A documentary that looks at the life and crimes of James "Whitey" Bulger, the notorious Boston mobster through his trial. The documentary also looks at the corruption of the federal government that allowed Bulger to commit his many crimes. Though the documentary tries to show both sides, the FBI and the government do not come out looking good here. There is plenty to point out they basically enabled Bulger so as to pursue their goal of bringing down the Italian Mafia. Overall, interesting to watch, brings forth some new ideas and insights. The film maker talked with prosecutors, defense, victims' families, and others involved. On a side note, many books and articles have been written on Bulger, including the book Black Mass, which I reviewed and was basis of a Hollywood film. Bulger was recently killed in prison early in November of 2018. Via TubiTv.
  • First Man on Mars (2015. Horror. Comedy. Science Fiction). Eli Cologne is one of those billionaires with too much money and not enough to do. So he finances a mission to Mars to become the first man there. Except something goes wrong, and he returns to Earth infected with some alien organism. His ship lands back on Earth after returning from Mars in the middle of a Louisiana bayou during Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Martine Munro and her bumbling team of scientists head out to find it while the local sheriff is also trying to find "the alien" before it kills again. This movie is a throwback to old, cheap, cheesy low budget B-movies of the 1970s including the bad dialogue, cheap special effects, terrible acting, cartoonish stereotypes, a bimbo or two, overly dramatic music, and overdone cheesy gore.  Add a bit of satire on our modern times, and you got this film. Kind of thing you watch at 3:00am in some obscure cable channel when you can't sleep. Via TubiTv.
  • Vampire Boys (2011. Horror. LGBT. Romance). Jasin is a vampire in modern day Los Angeles. He also has ancient lineage blood in him. He needs to find a mortal, "the one," to turn so he and his brood can survive and continue their eternal life. Jasin has his eyes on Tara.. Tara is open to the idea of being made a vampire, but then Jasin notices Caleb, and now Jasin needs to persuade Caleb to be turned. It's mostly a movie about pretty boy California vampires, who do go shirtless quite a bit. It does play a bit with some vampire myths. For example they can walk in the sun just fine and even tan (hey, they ARE California vampires). A little cheesy, but also cute at times. Horror is pretty minimal; it is more a mostly sweet romance. Plus, I did find interesting how it breaks or gets away from common vampire lore. And as the meme says, STILL better than Twilight. Via TubiTv.
  • Triad Election (2006. Crime. Drama. Thriller. Foreign/international). The movie description: "As election time nears, current Triad chairman Lok (Yam) faces competition from his godsons. At the same time, Jimmy (Koo) looks to increase his business relations with mainland China." Jimmy is the respectable godson, who has made a fortune and built his business selling pirated DVDs, including porn in mainland China. He has done well, and it looks like he wants to go more legitimate. Lok sees him as having a shot at winning the election. Jimmy does not want to run, but when he is arrested in China by a corrupt cop, he needs to run to preserve his business interests. Soon we learn Lok, against tradition, wants to stay in power for another term, and he will do anything. Jimmy, meanwhile, wants to get out of the mob, but due to Lok, he is now forced to run and make sure he wins, but at what price? Interesting film. It builds up nicely, and it has some good intrigue, plus a twist at the end that was quite good. Overall, a pretty good film. I would not call it a "thriller" per se, but it is a solid crime drama piece. Via TubiTv. 
  • Zodiac (2007. Crime. Drama. Mystery). An account of the Zodiac killer that terrorized California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Movie has a pretty good cast with Jake Gyllenhal (the newspaper cartoonist who also happens to be an avid reader and a bit of an amateur detective), Robert Downey, Jr (as the San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter working the story), and others. Some good performances, as we first see the story from the eyes of the reporters and the detectives working the case. Interesting look at the mystery of who was Zodiac and the times. Thing was Zodiac would kill, send letters, then go quiet, then reappear, making it harder for cops to track him down. Seeing this film, one is a bit amazed how they had to get things done without things like computers and cell phones like they do now. For instance, today, in the scene the cabbie was killed, someone likely would have filmed some of it on a cellphone. We get so see a TV with a game of Pong playing, which helps indicate the passage of time too. It's the little details that make this interesting to me, see how far things have come. Also, the film takes some interesting creative liberties. At one point, the detective is watching Dirty Harry of all things. Also, the thing about the stolen library books, I am not sure if it was true or not, but it does feel like Hollywood creativity (not unlike the library books records detail in the film Se7en, which is done by the same director here by the way). First half of the film is the investigation; second half is Graysmith working on his book, pursuing the case on his own, so on. The second half basically becomes the obsessive amateur forsaking all to find the truth, whatever it is, when everyone else has moved on. It starts interesting, but it does get tiring by the time you get to the end. Case was never solved, so the film offers the possibility that Graysmith presents based on his search. As Detective Toschi points out in the film, much of the evidence is circumstantial, but it does seem strong or at least possible. Film is based on the books by Robert Graysmith The Zodiac and The Zodiac Unmasked. Via TubiTV.
  • Mundo: From Altar Boy to Hitman (2018. True crime. Biography.). Movie based on the real life of Mexican mafia ("La eMe") hitman Ramon "Machine Gun Mundo" Mendoza.  Film starts with Mundo in prison, who is by now an undercover informant. How did he get to that point from being a prominent member of  La eMe to becoming an informant? The film then takes us through his story from his start on the streets, and we even get a small history lesson at the beginning. As Mundo describes, he was a product of the 1960s (Vietnam War, the Manson murders, by the way Charles Manson has a small appearance in the film, so on) he grew up in. There are a lot of interesting details as well. At one point for example, he is "volunteered" to be lobotomized (a pre-frontal lobotomy) while in prison, to cure his violent tendencies. This was more like torture while in prison, but it was a common practice in many prisons until courts shut it down. Mundo was spared from the procedure as a result. Eventually, Mundo finds religion, which leads him to retire from the streets, and after prison, to work for the government. Overall, the film pays attention to detail; it is well made, and it is interesting to watch. If the topic interests you, I'd recommend this film. It often gets compared to American Me, which is a fictionalized account of the Mexican Mafia, an account that drew the ire of La eMe even. From what I understand, you are better off watching Mundo if you want a good, authentic account. On a side note, not sure about the title, the "altar boy" part of the movie title since there is no reference to Catholicism in the film, and later in his life, the Christians that Mundo meets and help convert him are all Protestants (possibly Pentecostals, but I am not sure at this point). Mundo did write a book of his life too, Mexican Mafia: the Gang of Gangs. Via TubiTv.
  • Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985. Action. Adventure). Movie based on the series of books The Destroyer, started by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir; the book series started in 1971, and it has continued through today (by now, both creators are deceased, so other authors continue the series). This movie was meant to be the first of a movie franchise, but it did not succeed in that regard. I vaguely remember watching this back in the 1980s, so when I found it again decided to give it another chance. I can see why the franchise did not take off. This is a pretty slow film, but it does have its good moments and a bit of light humor. Best parts for me were the interactions between Remo and Master Chiun, master of the martial art Sinanju and a fan of American soap operas, who becomes Remo's trainer and father figure. Remo's mission this time is to stop a corrupt military contractor using his influence to sell subpar weapons to the army and government. Overall, as a I said, a bit slow, but the movie is not without its charm. Maybe with better stories, this could have made a decent television series. I liked it, but it was a light film that had potential but just did not get there. On a side note, Joel Gray, the actor who portrayed Master Chiun did earn a Golden Globe nomination for his role. By the way, the film does have a very good, catchy musical instrumental theme. On another side note, I recently found a copy of one of the early Destroyer series books, which I will review down the road after reading it, so stay tuned.Via TubiTv.
  • See No Evil (2006. Horror. Thriller). Four years ago, a couple of cops go on a call, and barely survive an encounter with a slasher. In present day, one of the cops who survived and wounded the slasher now works in corrections and leads a group of young delinquents on a cleaning detail of an old hotel due to be converted to a homeless shelter. Turns out the slasher already made the hotel his residence, and they now have to band together to survive.  The movie stars Glenn Jacobs, WWE's Kane, as the psychopathic slasher; in fact, the movie is made by WWE's film company in collaboration with Lionsgate.I went in with low expectations, and it turned out better than I expected. Sure, the teens are mostly stereotypes from any other horror film, but overall, the film moves at a good pace, good amount of scares, and makes for a decent B-movie horror film. Via TubiTv.
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018. Science Fiction. Adventure). I am not sure why so many people ragged on this movie. Compared to the poor quality of the new trilogy, this movie was light, entertaining, good story, and it did do enough to serve into the original continuity.  It had plenty for the old time fans and enough for new folks to find it accessible and entertaining. I liked it. The cast was pretty good too. To be honest, I am finding these standalone stories a lot better and enjoyable than the mess Disney is now creating with the third trilogy. Rogue One was quite entertaining too, albeit a bit darker but if you are familiar with the original trilogy story it fits in well. Anyhow, if you want a good Star Wars movie that is entertaining, this one is pretty good. DVD borrowed from Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library.


Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via YouTube, which, as noted before, I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes:

  • Lords of the Mafia (2000. Documentary. Crime. Mafia). A series that looks at different mafia families. It was hosted by Robert Stack, likely among the last things he did (he passed away in 2003).  Like other documentary series of this type, this relies on a combination of historical footage, experts providing details, and a recreation here or there (very minimal on that). Robert Stack provides narration. If you've seen him in Unsolved Mysteries, then you have an idea of the narrative style.
    • "The Lucchese Crime Family." Documentary was OK. I found particularly interesting the description of the days after Prohibition when they managed to gain control of a variety of industries, often through the unions, to make their money. Sure they controlled big unions like the Teamsters, but what I found interesting is how they also learned to control very small unions who did very specific things so they could still keep a stranglehold. For example, and I did not know this, there was a small union of plaster workers (they do the walls in buildings before they get painted). Most people did not know that union even existed. The Luccheses did, and with such control, it was another way to keep the money coming in and keep things in line. Sadly for them, the days of intelligent leaders passed, and they got new leadership that was more into violence and greed than smarts and good business. 
  • Supermarket Sweep (Game show. 1965-2003). I continue watching the 1990s run, with some 2000s, hosted by David Ruprecht, which ran on Lifetime Channel and later on Pax TV, on YouTube this month. See the June roundup post for more comment on this show. Watched 5 episodes.