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Unwinding my Spindle
So much culture, so little time
“It’s been a long time; we shouldn’t have left you without a dope beat to step to,” -Aaliyah
After your long Comstockian drought, I’m finally back to rehydrate the masses after some great time off.
When I take vacation, I try to do two things: maximize family time and smash a keg amount of culture into my shot-glass brain. I am proud to say that both were a rousing success.
During my week and a half off, I read almost no news and focused on “touching grass,” if you will. It’s not like a Pope died, right? I mean, what could I have possibly missed?
At any rate, I thought I would share some of the fantastic, average, and crappy stuff I consumed while I was away.
Murder Mystery Games
On my first day on vacation, I went to Barnes & Noble to restock my reading collection. My wife knows when I tell her I am going to the bookstore, she should check in to see if I am coming home for dinner because I tend to wander around for hours on end. After picking up a couple of books (some tomes, others more pamphlets, a couple of which I discuss below), I wandered over to the game section.
An important note here is that my family is obsessed with mysteries and games of all sorts. If there is a mystery TV series, we’re probably watched it at least once (the BBC Poirot series being our favorite), and we have so many games we may qualify to be on the show Hoarders.
While there, I found a series produced by University Games called Murder Mystery Party Case Files. You probably think these are like the old-school murder mystery dinners where you have a bunch of your friends come over dressed up as a character. These are not those. These are MUCH better.
The gist is that within each game, you are given a police file that contains somewhere between 25-40 pieces of evidence…police interviews, newspaper articles, crime scene photos, etc., and you need to figure out who did it. That’s it. It took my family around 3-4 hours to identify our perpetrator. What makes the game hyper-realistic is that at the end, there is no definitive answer…you are simply making your best guess based on the evidence and how you interpret it.
We enjoyed the first one so much that I went back and bought the other five, which the store still had (on 50% off day after Christmas, so double win there).
If you’re into this type of thing, it is a great way to spend a few hours on a shitty day.
You can find the games on University Games website here.
For the cynical in my audience (and I know there are some of you), this is not a paid spot, just a big fan.
On the aforementioned visit to Barnes & Nobles, I picked up a newly released book on Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy by William Inboden called The Peacemaker. The history goes into great detail outlining Reagan’s foreign policy perspective, both the good and the bad, his team, which helped him execute it, and the Housewives of Pennsylvania Avenue drama which unfolded behind the scenes.
Topically, the book seems dry, but the writing is fantastic and eminently readable.
It takes you through Reagan’s challenging first few years in office when his approval rating was hovering around the mid-30s and was seemingly going to be another in the recent long line of one-term Presidents, the occasionally vicious in-fighting among many of his ego-driven cabinet members who felt they knew better than anyone, including Reagan himself, through when all the chess pieces on the board were in place, and he was able to push the Soviet Union over the edge.
What comes through is a man whose understanding of human nature rivaled any of the great philosophers, though likely at a more visceral level, and when presented with “facts” about the strength of the Soviets, knew his convictions were right. Reagan knew that humans yearned to be free, to provide for their families, pray to their God, and make their own way in life. And no society which tried to douse those flames could out-compete a society that fanned them.
There are far too many great stories to recount in the book, but I will share one which comes at the end.
In the waning months of his Presidency, Reagan visited Moscow and addressed the students at Moscow State University, where during his hour-long speech, he said:
People do not make wars; governments do. And no mother would ever willingly sacrifice her sons for territorial gain, for economic advantage, for idealology. A people free to choose will always choose peace. Americans seek always to make friends of old antagonists. After a colonial revolution with Britan, we have cemented for all ages the ties of kinship between our nations…We fought two world wars in my lifetime against Germany, and one with Japan, but now the Federal Republic of Germany and Japan are two of our closest allies and friends.
In response to that speech, a young student named Svetlana Savranskaya reminisced, “For those of us in the audience…the Cold War ended on May 31, 1988. For us, the graduating class, it was a kind of commencement address, and we understood that the smiling man who spoke about things close to our heart, like human rights, would not push the button.”
There is something here for everyone. If you know the era well, you’ll find the inside-baseball fascinating. If you’re someone who wants to start their education on how the Soviet Union was defeated, this is an excellent profile of the man who brought that about.
Bonus Fact: Of all the G7 countries, the only leader Reagan hated was Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau’s father…a good judge of character as always. One more reason to like Ronnie.
The Disappearance of Josef Mengele
Josef Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death, was a Nazi “doctor” at Auschwitz death camp in World War II, who performed horrific experiments on Jews in the camp. These “experiments” (though simply calling them torture would also be a fair assessment) were done in the name of eugenics to purify the Aryan race. His focus was primarily on people with unique genetics, such as twins, dwarfs, and pregnant women.
After the war, he escaped to South America, settling first in Peron’s Argentina, then moving on to other countries when he believed he was on the verge of being apprehended. Regretfully, he was never brought to justice.
However, Mengele was a prolific journaler, and those journals were found posthumously. Olivier Guez took those journals, along with independent research and interviews, and wrote a historical fiction of Mengele’s life in South America called, The Disappearance of Josef Mengele.
The novel is, in part, infuriating (both because he got away and because for several years in the German area of Buenos Aires, where many ex-Nazis lived, he led a happy, middle-class life), frustrating (the Israeli government was close to his capture, but didn’t realize it, and gave it up because of other priorities), and to a much lesser degree, satisfying (the last several decades of his life were misery due to his paranoia of capture and his essential enslavement to a couple who he moves in with, and learns of his true identity).
It’s a decent read to help understand the psychology of one of the most odious characters to have ever walked the planet.
The Banshees of Inisherin
In this dark comedy, which takes place on the fictional island of Inisherin, we follow the dissolution of a long-time friendship between Padraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson).
In the name of brevity and to not give anything away, this is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. Colin Farrell is simply outstanding as this simple, understated character, and the soundtrack to the film is sublime.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
If The Banshees of Inisherin lived in the part of movie town with the cathedral ceilings, cooper gutters, and ornate trim, this next movie lives in the slum, with a flooded basement, black mold growing in the attic, and grass that hasn’t been cut since LBJ was in office.
What makes a bad movie worth watching (a la Mystery Science Theatre 3000) is that, despite being seriously flawed, they also don’t take themselves seriously. They are essentially in on the joke. This movie is not one of those.
It’s hard to describe how much this movie sucked. It seems interesting for the first hour, but the plot twist is so poorly thought through that no one involved in the movie’s making should ever be allowed to do anything more than get coffee for people on a film set as long as they live…and even that may be too good of a punishment.
I won’t spoil it for you in case you are interested in wasting two hours of your life, but I can only say, save yourself…you’ve been warned.
I won’t even grace this trash by spending 30 seconds to find a picture of it.
I know I’m a little late to the game here, but Fauda is a Netflix action series that follows a special Israeli anti-terrorist team (I assume part of Shin-Bet, but they don’t make that clear). I only made it through the first two of the three seasons, so there may be some gaps here, but I get the gist at this point.
It is good, not great. Some of the action sequences are incredibly intense, but there are a lot of plot holes (such as the main character is constantly going off the reservation and doing his own thing…you’d think at some point his superiors would stop being surprised). The acting sometimes sounds cheesy, but I can’t fairly judge it because the Hebrew is overdubbed with English, and the Arabic is subtitled, so you can’t pick up on the subtleties.
If you like action shows, there are worse things to watch.
The last thing I watched was the show Atlanta, which was so intriguing, with so many layers of complexity, that I will dedicate an entire column to it sometime in the next week or two.
Anyway, that’s how I spent my time off. Did any of you read, watch, or play anything interesting?
Let me know in the comments.