Levain Bakery doesn't serve "cookies." No, that would be too simple... trite, even. Instead, they sell loaf-sized emulsions of chocolate, butter, and joy. With their crunchy, golden exteriors and unbelievably dense, doughy interiors, sinking your teeth into one of these will make your eyes roll right past the bliss point as you instinctively reach out for the nearest insulin syringe. For anyone attempting to adhere to a diet, going to Levain Bakery is the "cheat day" equivalent of committing adultery multiple times, abandoning your family, and refusing to pay child support. Highly recommended.
My family and I rented a boat on Lake Washington for a few hours. Our primary goal was to find Bill Gates' house and point at it. Unfortunately, we did not find his house before returning the boat to the boat rental place. Such is life.
Over the course of my life, it seems like I have already absorbed half of Dirty Harry through cultural osmosis. Harry Callahan's proto-Batman snarl, penchant for snappy one liners, and inclination to barrel past the rules to get the job done has been reflected in the myriad cop dramas that have followed it. There is a lot of stuff in this movie that feels cheesy when viewed today, including the often overbearing soundtrack, but I definitely had a great time watching it.
The half of Dirty Harry that I was unaware of before watching it was how transparently and stridently political it is. Seriously, this felt like an extended Nixon campaign commercial. The villain is an outlandishly cartoonish hippie that cackles and sneers while kidnapping women, hijacking school buses, and sniping targets from afar. Seemingly every government official exists to apathetically stand in Callahan's way by giving in to all of the villain's demands and providing him legal cover at every turn. Nothing says nefarious liberal agenda quite like civil liberties and the rule of law.
As someone that is already subscribed to around a dozen political podcasts, I figured, hey, why not try to squeeze in some more? The Stranger is home to sex advice columnist Dan Savage, and on his highly entertaining podcast Savage Lovecast, he'll frequently start things off with self-described "political rants." They tend to be concise, cathartic, preach-to-the-choir moments that resonate with those that already share his political opinions and probably cause those that don't to roll their eyes. Falling into the first camp most of the time, I was interested to see what a podcast with him that's more focused on politics would be like.
After sampling the three most recent episodes, my partially informed hot take on Blabbermouth is... that it is mostly a bunch of hot takes. With episode titles like "What the Hell Is Wrong with Donald Trump, and How Is It He's Getting Worse," this podcast fills up much of its running time by having the exasperated hosts react angrily to the latest headlines by calling Donald Trump stupid, a liar, a bigot, etc., and then musing on what Democrats should be doing regarding messaging and protest tactics. Because they all agree with each other most of the time, there isn't much for them to debate, and they're also not in the business of doing the sort of policy deep dives that can be found on podcasts like The Weeds. One discussion regarding changes that were made to the LGBTQ flag in Philadelphia did stand out for being more nuanced than others.
More than anything else, Blabbermouth reminds me of the sorts of quick, casual political conversations that I'll have with like-minded friends at bars. They're usually fun, we'll hurl invectives at the politicians that we hate (because hey, they're the worst), but our minds are already made up on most things and we're probably not going to learn a lot.
Authenticity in the context of commercial goods and services has always been a strange concept to me. Is something better if it's "authentic?" If authenticity becomes the focal point of how something is marketed and sold, what are the implications of that? This idea surfaces frequently with food and travel, where people (including myself at times, admittedly) will go out of their way to try to find the real version of a certain dish or a city. As savvy business people catch on to this, the future version of touristy t-shirt shops in Times Square could be an ever increasing amount of new restaurants trying to out hole-in-the-wall each other.
One review of Margo Price's Midwest Farmer's Daughter that I encountered argues that the album is pushing so hard to be authentic that it can come across as forced. While I don't agree with that, it's certainly the case that Price goes full "outlaw country" here with some hard-edged, highly personal stories. The subject matter runs the gamut from alcohol abuse, weekend stays in prison, and not putting up with her exes' shit anymore; at one point, she sings "I'll be desperate and depressed until I die."
"Hands of Time," the album's opener, serves as a condensed autobiography, running through several painful moments in her life and juxtaposing those with her humble aspirations. It's a beautiful song, with grand sense of scope and some great string instrumentation. Another standout for me is "This Town Gets Around," which directly confronts the seedier side of the music business. Generally speaking, however, I didn't find a lot in this album that stuck with me, outside of Price's voice and perspective. With a few exceptions, the music backing her up felt a little simplistic, causing some of the songs to feel a bit same-y for my tastes. She's clearly talented, though, and for what it's worth, I can't say that she isn't authentic.
" I didn't ask for respect (uh). All I care 'bout is my check (who)." - Lil Yachty
Lil Yachty, also known as "Lil Boat," is a bubblegum trap artist who isn't known for his lyrical prowess. In the wake of a recent quarrel with Joe "can't be happy every day" Budden, Yachty has also become an antagonist of sorts for those that revere older hip-hop artists. Taking it as a given that Yachty is just trying to have a good time and isn't concerned with dazzling wordplay, I decided to examine his recent album Teenage Emotions through a uniquely rigorous critical lens: "Catchy or Nah." Below, I go through each song in the album to see if they're catchy or nah.
· Like A Star: Nah. I don’t like the way he says “star.”
· DN Freestyle: Nah. Notable quote: “Just looked up in the mirror and I’m getting fat, fuck, it’s time to practice.”
· Peek A Boo: Catchy. Deeply silly chorus, but catchy. Good beat.
· Dirty Mouth: Nah. Notable quote: “I don’t care about respect. I all care about is my checks.”
· Harley: Nah, this is terrible. At least there’s a Stephen Colbert shoutout?
· All Around Me: Catchy. Reminds me of Fetty Wop.
· Say My Name: Nah. Feels like filler.
· All You Had To Say: Nah. A little mopey.
· Better: Catchy. Gives an insight into what Lil’ Yachty would be like as a motivational speaker.
· Forever Young: Nah. I sort of forgot what the song was about seconds after it ended.
· Lady In Yellow: Nah. What does “we zoning” mean?
· Moments in Time: Nah. Almost lulled me to sleep.
· Otha Shit: Nah. Just an interlude.
· X Men: Nah, but the pickup after in energy is appreciated.
· Bring It Back: Catchy, with a surprise saxophone appearance! Would be a good fit for the soundtrack for an unnecessary but probably inevitable reboot of The Breakfast Club.
· Running With A Ghost: Nah. The guest singer was pretty good, though.
· FYI (Know Now): Nah. The word “yah” appears a lot.
· Priorities: Kind of. The chorus feels like a parody of what parents worry about their kids listening to as they grow up.
· No More: Nah. The Singapore stuff is memorably weird.
· Made Of Glass: Nah. There’s plenty of other people out there, Lil’ Yachty. Don’t give up!
· Momma: Catchy. Strong opening and very heartfelt.
Given all of this, Teenage Emotions gets a “Nah” overall, but I actually liked parts of it more than I thought I would. Put out a shorter, less messy album with more songs like “Bring it Back” and I’d probably be interested.
Alright, let's cut to the chase: the best thing about this game is its stag beetle transit system. Seriously, look at that shit. That's cool as hell.
In addition to being a game with sick stag beetles, Hollow Knight is also a sprawling adventure that takes place within the decrepit remnants of bug kingdom. The game's muted color palette, lack of clear directions on how to proceed, and punishing level of difficulty contribute to an oppressive atmosphere that permeates the world's maze-like structure.
At times, Hollow Knight can feel needlessly frustrating, with some design decisions resulting in tedium instead of a genuine sense of challenge (needing to spend a talent point to fully utilize the game's map is silly). More often than not, however, the challenges are of the tough-but-fair variety, and even the smallest victories can feel triumphant. The game's slow pacing withholds instant gratification and demands patience, but hey, I have a lot of free time at the moment, so I'm willing to make the investment here.
And the stag beetles!
Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King is the most creative and memorable stand-up special that I've seen in years. With the aid of an elaborate, dynamic backdrop that punctuates his narrative with TED Talk-esque visuals, Hasan weaves together several deeply personal stories of his experience growing up as a second-generation American. Minhaj's delivery is fast-paced and confident, and nearly all of his jokes landed for me (including his assertion that he was "very emo" as a teenager, like "a little Drake"), but what stood out the most was his willingness to explore painful moments in his childhood related to the racism he and his family experienced and a sense that he didn't fully belong. It's not an exaggeration to say that I was on the verge of tears a couple of times while watching this. Highly, highly recommended.
Rapping well is difficult. Creating an interesting, well-structured story is difficult. Taking random suggestions from a crowd and then being funny on the spot is difficult. Doing all of this together, at the same time? It's probably really fucking easy, and I don't see how anyone could possibly mess it up.
Unsurprisingly, there were some rough spots in last night's improvised hip-hop hero's journey tale of an aggrieved Best Buy employee with the central through line of "something falling down" (per an audience suggestion). Despite having some solid DJs on hand, including an impressive beatboxer, it's clear that rap doesn't fall within the performers' areas of expertise. Think "yo my name is ____ and I'm here to say" kinds of lines.
To their credit, the show still managed to be pretty entertaining overall. I particularly enjoyed the second act, where the performers began to break the fourth wall more frequently and imbue their characters with some unique quirks. A running gag that developed around the Best Buy manager's muscle atrophy was great. The general concept behind this show is a great idea, and I'd love to see what a group of veteran freestyle rappers could do with it.
Finally, something with zombies in it! Train to Busan was quite the sensation overseas last year, with more than 10 million admissions in South Korea alone. Having consciously avoided all things zombie in recent months due to an acute case of shambling corpse fatigue, I was curious to see if this movie would offer a fresh take on it all. Despite leaning heavily on genre tropes - you can suss out who the protagonists will be and roughly which order they will die seconds after they're introduced - Train to Busan won me over with its cheesy melodrama and clever applications of its setting.
Seriously, there are a lot of train-specific plot points that play out here, including the incredibly silly logic that zombies (who are are capable of sprinting, leaping, and crashing through windows) are unable to open doors. It's also fun to see characters give expository speeches to each other in the confines of the train car bathrooms. If watching a muscular man body slamming a zombie against a train car's ceiling sounds like fun to you, check this out. Just be prepared for a significant amount of its running time to be dedicated to the emotional hook of "this guy wants to spend more time with his daughter now and not do work stuff as often, because zombies" being played completely straight.
If you're looking for some breezy summer reading, may I recommend this 300+ page political science tome about the failings of traditional theories of democracy? Democracy for Realists is dense, with footnotes and citations aplenty, but its indictment of common understandings of how democracy works is clear and persuasive.
The authors argue that there is very little evidence that shows voters have logical, or even consistent, ideologies or policy preferences that are reflected in their voting behavior. Additionally, while there is some correlation between how politicians perform (ex: how the economy is doing) and how subsequent elections play out, voters are also prone to attributing bizarre, unrelated events to politics. One funny example of this that they cite is Woodrow Wilson losing his home state in his second presidential election, in part, due to shark attacks that took place there during his first term. Ultimately, they conclude that most people's politics and resulting votes are rooted in their different social identities and sense of allegiance to a party more than anything else.
My analysis: this all a total bummer, but it makes sense! The argument put forward here seems incredibly important, as it pushes back against some types of political reforms (like putting legislation up to ballot initiatives) that are advanced under the notion of putting "more democracy" into place in order to solve society's ills. It also serves as a much needed reminder that I have my own personal biases and blinders that probably prevent me from looking at policy issues objectively.
Lorde - for anyone that hasn't listened to any popular music in the last decade, please note that the "e" is silent - has returned with some highly self-aware, coming-of-age, post-break-up bangers. Instead of pulling a Katy Perry and using her music to announce her wokeness and take on the world's major issues, Lorde focused on exploring the titular melodrama that's inherent to becoming an adult and going through a lot of major life changes. The production is consistently great and Lorde's witty lyrics lend the album a distinct sense of personality (an aside about the back of the Louvre is particularly memorable). Sober II (Melodrama) is my personal highlight for having both an incredible beat drop halfway through and what's my now my favorite use of the word "woah" in a song.
When one thinks about Amsterdam, the next thing that comes to mind is surely florescent light. If not, just go along with this for a second, okay? I'm trying to start a blog post here... sheesh.
Anyways, Electric Ladyland exudes quirky charm, both from the exhibits themselves and the eccentric owner. Nick, who provided the guided tour of everything in his pitch-black basement, had assembled a musical backdrop consisting of 5-second sound clips from Jimi Hendrix songs, The Beatles, and "Indian music," noting that the short length of each clip was intentional in order to avoid having to pay any royalties. Most of his sentences end with a comma and the word "man." He also went on at some length about how Brooklyn, his prior home, was ruined by an influx of "yuppies."
He is truly, deeply knowledgeable about fluorescent light, however, and the collection that he's put together is pretty impressive. In addition to an eye-catching sculpture that shows off a beautiful array of colors when bathed in ultraviolet light - which he cleverly encourages people to take pictures of themselves in front of, presumably for marketing purposes - there is also an assortment of ordinary objects, including some passports and driver's licences, that have features which are hidden under normal lighting conditions. With a relatively low ticket price and a lack of an hours-long line that you may encounter elsewhere (*cough, Van Gogh museum, cough*), this was a great way to spend some time on a rainy afternoon.
At the risk of damning the Flying Pig with faint praise, my initial impression upon check-in was that it seemed less shitty than other hostels that I’ve stayed at. Sure, the bathrooms had only the slimmest possible allotment of leg room between the doors and the toilets, but at least they had mirrors! The bedrooms were small and the lockboxes let out a wince-inducing screech whenever they’re opened, but at least they had coat hangers! The WIFI was very slow, but at least I could log in!
To be fair, when you opt into the hostel experience, you’re not expecting luxury. The goal is to pay a very small amount of money to have a (barely) acceptable place to sleep at night and an opportunity to meet fellow travelers. I spent a good chunk of my first night in Amsterdam just hanging out at the bar and lounge downstairs, and it was a lot of fun. The drinks were cheap and plentiful, a billiards table was there to give me a chance to embarrass myself, and somewhat randomly, there was even an in-house DJ there that evening. If you come here with realistic expectations, you’ll have a great time.
Smart business-y types have figured out that there’s some money to be made off of Edinburgh’s architectural splendor, resulting in the vibrant local business of charging people to walk around castles that other people already built hundreds of years ago. Normally, I’m too self-righteous and full of myself to wait in lengthy lines to pay a lot of money to then go walk around something and point at it, but hey, Edinburgh Castle looked really cool, so I gave it a shot.
The requisite tours and exhibits seemed a little underwhelming here. After a lengthy, winding walking tour through the history of the castle's "crown jewels," which resolves a "where did these valuable artifacts end up" mystery with an anti-climatic "at the end of this tour, apparently," I decided to stay outside and just wander around the castle's outer walls. It was pretty satisfying to peek through the small cannon windows and see some views of Edinburgh's skyline, at least. Recommendation: skip the ticket line and admire this from afar.
Downtown Edinburgh is so visually striking that it’s almost annoying. At the very least, the city’s good looks – with a black, gothic aesthetic interwoven throughout old, stone edifices – made me rather annoying to be around. “Hey look at that building everyone! It looks great! And look at THAT one! Why aren’t you looking at it enough? Damnit, I said look!” And so it went.
Nestled in one of the many beautiful alleyways in the heart of the old downtown area is The Devil’s Advocate. The cheekily* named bar has a quiet, classy atmosphere in its interior, dimly lit and not getting in the way of its surrounding. I was on such a city aesthetics high that evening would have been enjoyable even if the staff had told me “sorry, we ran out of all of the food and drinks and stuff,” but in a stroke of good luck, they still had that stuff. And that stuff was very good.
Among other things, they had a scotch cocktail that I actually liked, when scotch normally tastes likes gasoline and sadness to me. For another thing, the dishes themselves were very well thought out, with a many different strong flavors balancing each other out in a satisfying way. One dish included a roasted bird with crispy, fatty skin, a bed of quinoa, and little pomegranate seeds that popped with fruity flavor. It was a great meal overall, and I would definitely recommend this place to anyone visiting the city. Just don’t go with someone as annoying as me.
*Having spent some time in the UK, I am now obligated to use words like “cheeky.”
Nature! It's green, it's big, and young people can't seem to get enough of it. London has a lot of buildings, but it also has some nature between some of those buildings. One of London's nature units is called "Hyde Park" and I walked across its full length en route to another non-nature activity. It was very serene and stood out for being a place of relative quiet when compared to the rest of the city. Probably a great place to read a book or have a picnic or something. What is it that people do when they're visiting the nature, exactly?
London has a lot of great museums (with free admission) to peruse, with one of the most prominent being the Science Museum. When I visited it, there were several great exhibits to check out, including ones on flight, space, and "big data."
The big data one was particularly interesting due to the way in which it was framed. Instead of offering a simple story of "hey, we figured out how to do this stuff, good work, science people," the exhibit consistently presented the topic as a matter of public policy debate. I even received an opportunity to take a quiz to gauge the degree to which I'm comfortable with companies and governments having access to personal data. It turns out that I'm a mushy, middle-of-the-road boring guy that is interested in the potential benefits of collecting this data while still wanting various legal safeguards and privacy protections in place. Sounds about right.
There was also a neat IMAX film playing about robots. Simon Pegg narrated it, and there was a droll sense of humor throughout it that I could appreciate, including a strangely long sequence of robots dancing that was meant to explain how artificial intelligence works. The best part of the film by far, though, was the floating head that preceded the film and provided helpful advice on how to find the exits. I want him to do that before every movie that I watch.
It’s time for the main event: Saracens vs. Harlequins (or “Sarries vs. Quins,” for you real rugby heads out there). It’s safe to say that I know less than nothing about rugby, but hey, it’s the type of thing that someone visiting London should go check out, right? I’ve also enjoyed watching soccer games in the past, despite not knowing who any of the players are or what’s going on most of the time, because the energy from the crowd and the general spectacle of it all are fun to witness in their own right.
And lo, reader of this blog, was there spectacle to be found. Before the game began, dozens of youth rugby teams paraded around the perimeter of Wembley Stadium to the sound of rapturous applause. Multiple squadrons of hundreds of dancers of all ages then filed in, working through several synchronized routines, with a pop singer eventually arriving on the scene to perform an odd mix of original music and a Justin Bieber cover. To cap things off, a salvo of fireworks shot out into the sky, with the jumbo screen whipping the crowd into a frenzy by repeatedly flasshing “Wave your flags!” All of this was great!
When the actual rugby started up… well, I don’t know what was going on. It looked like they were throwing the ball backwards a bunch and kicking it every once in a while. “Scrums” are particularly baffling to watch from a distance, as it just looks like the two teams are standing around in a circle with their arms interlocked for a while. The local team won, though, which the crowd liked. Go Sarries!
In the wake of multiple drug-related deaths, Fabric has struggled to stay open over the years, and it was easy to see the effects of the heightened scrutiny that the club is currently operating under. The multi-stage security line includes facial scanners, plastic bowls to empty your belongings into, and full-body pat-down searches. It's not hyperbolic to say that it took longer to get into this club than it takes most people to get through airport security.
It would be a real shame if, even after implementing all of these measures, Fabric were to close, as it's really an impressive venue. In addition to having two separate dance floors with their own DJs and multiple bars and lounge areas, Fabric has some wonderful speakers and mesmerizing laser lights that pulsate throughout the night. Also, the ticket that I purchased covered eight hours of admission, running until 7:00 am, which is a great value. Some drunk person outside the venue shouted "Save Fabric!" while staggering by, and I can get on board with that.