Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Women Warriors of the Kurdish Peshmerga

They are as eager to fight ISIS as their male counterparts. I did not know this:
The Kurdish Peshmerga’s battle against Islamic extremists is drawing hundreds of female volunteers and persecuted minorities, many of whom are being trained by a unit in Dohuk. 
“It’s my duty to defend my country,” said Sashida Sadiq, a police commander from Dohuk. The 27-year old was one of 20 women selected for military service among the 2,800 people who tried to enlist in Dohuk.  
Although Sadiq’s role is primarily administrative and logistic, she is prepared to fight the Islamic State (IS/formerly ISIS) and many are proud of her service. Sadiq is single but maintained that even if she had a husband and children “I would fight. The situation is too bad.” 
“I’m not afraid of fighting IS,” she said. “My being a women makes no difference. The Peshmerga will be stronger than IS once we get better weapons. I am eager to use those against them.”  
In Sulaimania, the Peshmerga has five female reservist battalions, and many of the soldiers are married with children. They have been called to serve since the battle against IS began in June.  
In addition, female fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) have joined the war effort and make up 30 to 40 percent of the militias’ fighters.

"No Longer Even 'Leading From Behind'"

The ongoing mess in Libya.

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: WHAT?

Sanrio just made a bombshell of an announcement.  So ... basically I've been living under a delusion for my entire life.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Fun Video: Foo Fighters and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The rather whimsical effort to raise awareness of and research funding for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) has produced some very watchable videos on its way to raising some $15 million so far, but I think the Foo Fighters' spoof of a classic horror flick is my favorite.  Well done, people.

Carrie On.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nerd Journal: Doppelgänger Alert

Quite by accident I stumbled across another Mad Minerva here.  Now according to the lore of the doppelgänger, she and I must never, ever meet in person!

The Great Chinese Exodus

"Should I stay or should I go?"

Quote of the Day: "Unprecedented Disarray"

Hope and change. Well, change, anyway:
If anything, the international situation Obama faced when he assumed the presidency was, in many respects, relatively auspicious. Despite the financial crisis and the recession that followed, never since John F. Kennedy has an American president assumed high office with so much global goodwill. The war in Iraq, which had done so much to bedevil Bush’s presidency, had been won thanks to a military strategy Obama had, as a senator, flatly opposed. For the war in Afghanistan, there was broad bipartisan support for large troop increases. Not even six months into his presidency, Obama was handed a potential strategic game changer when a stolen election in Iran led to a massive popular uprising that, had it succeeded, could have simultaneously ended the Islamic Republic and resolved the nuclear crisis. He was handed another would-be game changer in early 2011, when the initially peaceful uprising in Syria offered an opportunity, at relatively little cost to the U.S., to depose an anti-American dictator and sever the main link between Iran and its terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.

Incredibly, Obama squandered every single one of these opportunities. 
Squandered or, in some cases, "threw away with both hands."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Movie Reviews: 3 More Grades

This flick based on Steve Moore's comic book treatment of the ancient myth stars none other than the Rock himself, the amazingly buff Dwayne Johnson, as the titular hero.  The flick really should have had more humor and campy fun, especially since the Rock has so much personal charisma.  If you want to humanize Herc, then humanize Herc: sometimes humor does a better job than only rehashing a tragic past. The movie does have a few other things going for it, including the always watchable Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell as two of Herc's comrades in arms (these two, by the way, deserve far more attention than they've gotten lately in their careers).  The storyline doesn't involve Herc's canonical Twelve Labors per se, but I found the departure rather refreshing, along with its take on the power of storytelling.  Yes, it's a bit revisionist, but here's still plenty of action, though we soon find that we don't need monsters to fight when certain men are just as bad.  Overall: Is the flick just a little ridiculous?  Wouldn't you kind of be disappointed if it weren't?  It's also more entertaining than it has the right to be.  (Oh, and it runs absolute circles around The Legend of Hercules from earlier this year, a laughably awful flick that was an object lesson in how not to do a Hercules movie ... or any movie.)  Grade: B.

The Hundred-Foot Journey
British national treasure Helen Mirren is back as Madame Mallory, the frosty owner of a Michelin-starred classical French haute cuisine restaurant who does not take kindly to an Indian eatery opening up across the street.  In all honesty, I liked Jon Favreau's wonderful Chef better as a story about food and humanity (besides, I'm more a food truck girl than a Michelin foodie, and anyway - sorry - I don't much like Indian food), but The Hundred-Foot Journey is still an engagingly good time at the theatre that will make you hungry.  The culture clash plot is a little familiar and cliched, but there's a redeeming amount of heart, humor, and actual character development (not to mention tons of scrumptious-looking slo-mo food porn).  Mirren is charming, Manash Dayal is emphathetic as Hassan, the young aspiring cook across the way, and established character actor Om Puri is his occasionally frustrating father.   Charlotte Le Bon is Marguerite, a sous-chef in Mallory's restaurant who is the obligatory love interest for Hassan, but the relationship only got interesting for me when they become rivals in the kitchen.  In the end, though, Mirren and Puri basically own the movie; there were moments when I forgot about Hassan and Marguerite entirely.  Grade: B.

A Most Wanted Man
For being a movie about terrorism, surveillance, and intelligence gathering based on a John Le Carre novel, this thing moves more slowly than molasses on a winter day.  When the credits finally rolled, I said, "Is that it?!"  Other complaints: I absolutely could not take Rachel McAdams seriously in her role as a lawyer, and the movie wastes Daniel Brühl. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is always worth watching, but he looked terrible, and I couldn't tell if it was the character or the actor.  At least Willem Dafoe brings some spark and energy to this boring exercise as an impeccably dressed but corrupt German banker.  I honestly don't know why this flick is being as well reviewed as it is.  Maybe the whole thing was just too subtle and ambiguous for a yahoo like me, because I went home and watched Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit on DVD to get the international action thriller I hadn't gotten in the theatre.  As for A Most Wanted Man?  I appreciate the points it was trying to make about the gray areas of counterterrorism, but this dreary, soggy, tedious slog of a movie did not engage me personally; it didn't make me care about what happened next to anybody, and in movie narrative terms, that's unforgivable.  Grade: D.

Alas, Not A Real Show

Monday, August 11, 2014

Emus 1, Australian Army 0

Educate yourself about the Great Emu War of 1932.

Monday Therapy: Commuting In Finland

Mondays are awful, but at least your drive to work (probably) wasn't like this:

The purported translation of the ranting is here.  Lots of hilarious swearing as the frustrated folks in the car start losing their cool.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

MM in the Kitchen: Grilled Peaches

OK, technically I'm not in the kitchen per se ... but you really need to try grilling peaches.  You don't even need to follow this recipe.  At the end of your next cookout, just throw some (halved and pitted) peaches on the grill (use that residual heat) until they get those lovely grill marks, serve them with vanilla ice cream, and be hailed as a hero by your kith and kin.  Peaches not your thing?  Try grilling pineapple.  Aw yeah.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Nerd News: Student Athletes, Profit, and the NCAA

New ruling: the NCAA can't forbid student athletes from profiting.  Well, college sports have become a HUGE bazillion-dollar business ... a business that basically doesn't pay its talent on the field.

3 Definitions of the Obama Doctrine

Admittedly, this is a rather difficult endeavour because it's trying to do a definition by default given that the administration seems to have no coherent pro-active strategic vision.  "Leading from behind" does NOT count.  Anyway, what do you think of:

(1) Definition the First
The Obama Doctrine is to ignore problems until they metastasize into vast international crises, then react with an ineffective spasm of concern. In this, the President has been consistent, be it Libya, Egypt, Boko Haram or Ukraine. The truly serious situations get a Twitter hashtag.

(2) Definition the Second
Asked seven years ago if the need to stave off potential genocide might convince him to change his mind about a total and precipitous withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, then-candidate Obama replied that it would not. “Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done,” Obama said. 
This cynical avowal, I wrote at the time, was an indication of what might become the “Obama doctrine,” which I described thusly: “The United States will remain passive in the face of genocide.” Seven years later, I regret to say, my prediction stands up pretty well.

(3) Definition the Third (OK, not so much definition as observation)

Crazy For Kimchi: The Rise of Korean Food in the US

What's not to love?  One of my favorite dishes is bulgogi.  So good!

New Front-Runner For Stupidest Utterance of the Year

I had thought the "libertarians are power-hungry Communists" piece was pretty unassailable as the dumbest, most ludicrous piece of the year, but I think we have a new front-runner. Via Twitchy, I point you to this: "What ISIS gets wrong about the Caliphate."  Seriously?  A bunch of Western libs messing around on the Internet is going to "explain" to ISIS how they're doing it wrong?
As for the "article" itself, it's so badly written in terms of style (let's not even touch substance) that I laughed. Here's an example:
The present-day Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in declaring himself a caliph and his terrorist mini-state a caliphate, is communicating that he believes he is fighting on behalf of all Muslims worldwide (he does not count Shia Muslims in this, only Sunnis) and that he is the representative of God on earth. He is also sort of suggesting a desire to continue ISIS's advance until he has conquered all Muslim-majority lands, which is an aspiration that's hinted at frequently in jihadist maps of a unified Islamic empire ...
This is freshman-level writing.  At best.  

Blood Is Thicker Than Politics

A timely reminder that humanity should > politics.

Humans of Iraq: Popular Photo Blog Turns War Report

Humans of New York is now in Iraq.  If you're not reading it, you're missing out.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Retracing a Route from the Days of Genghis KHAAAAAAAAN

It's like an insane combination of the Pony Express, the rodeo, and the Iditarod.  Well, you only have 10 days to cover 600 miles of punishing Mongolian plain on horseback, so you better steppe on it!

Meet Viet Xuan Luong, the Army's First Vietnamese American General

He was promoted yesterday at Fort Hood.  Luong came to the States as a refugee with his family when he was 10.  Here's a bit of what he had to say:
"We are not American by birth but by choice; however, when it comes to defending our great nation and the constitution we won't take a backseat to anybody."

Headline of the Day: UK Law Enforcement Imitates Monty Python

"Village pub raided by police in hunt for Holy Grail."

2100-Year-Old Royal Tomb Discovered in China

Liu Fei must have looked snazzy in his jade burial suit.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Movie Review: "Guardians of the Galaxy"

Everything is Awesome!

It's only fair to quote Chris Pratt's first triumphant movie of 2014 to describe his second.  Besides being a bit of meta-review, it has the benefit of being absolutely true.  I have run out of superlatives to describe Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel's thrilling confection of a comic book space opera that seems completely improbable on paper but blooms into a giddy display of unmistakable movie magic on screen (plus $94 million on opening weekend ain't bad!).  

Guardians is not just two hours of action-comedy with a ragtag band of lovable misfits, an engaging retro-pop soundtrack, stunningly beautiful special effect spacescapes, and two of the best scene-stealing CGI characters ever created.  It's also a movie that recaptures the childlike, heart-pounding delight of seeing flicks like Star Wars or the even-numbered Star Treks or Raiders of the Lost Ark - movies that set your imagination on fire, filled your head with landscapes you'd never dreamed of before, and had you strutting out of the theatre thinking you were no longer plain old you, but Han Solo or Captain Kirk or Indiana Jones himself.  Guardians of the Galaxy is exactly that kind of movie.  I spent the entire time in the theatre sitting with a big silly grin on my face and feeling about 10 years old, and I can't wait to see this flick again ... and again ... and again.  

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Japan Gives Vietnam 6 Navy Ships

Japan and Vietnam cozy up against China? Who could blame them?  Don't take your eye off the South China Sea.

Movie Review: "Lucy" aka A Movie That Sucks Even More Than "Transformers: Age of Extinction" aka Please Go See "Guardians of the Galaxy" Instead

I thought Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most idiotically conceived, stupidly constructed movie of the summer, and I was so mad that I gave it an F-.

Well, I've changed my mind.  I've found a movie that's an even worse insult to anyone who (a) likes movies and (b) possesses even the most rudimentary education in science.  That movie is Luc Besson's Lucy.

The whole idea of writing a full review of this piece of dreck is so demoralizing that I'm just going to link to this magnificent takedown and leave it at that.

On a personal note: I had gone to see Lucy with a bunch of friends, and at one point I apparently shouted out loud, "THAT IS BULLSH*T!" at the screen, because my companions started hissing at me, "Shut up!" (Unrepentantly I gestured flamboyantly at the screen: "BUT IT IS BULLSH*T!")

Yeah, Lucy is that kind of movie.  At moments I heard other moviegoers laughing out loud, so at least it wasn't just me.

Oh, and the only "good" thing about this flick is that part of it is set in Taipei, and for a few moments I got to see shots of a city that I love.  Then, alas, it's back to the awful plot where Scarlett Johansson overdoses on drugs and starts to levitate. I swear I'm not making that up.

Back to the grading: Lucy gets the F-.  Transformers: Age of Extinction now gets an F+. Why?  Transformers was at least unabashedly cheesy with no pretension to being anything else.  Lucy adds insult to injury by not only mangling science and logic and plot but also purporting to make some kind of pseudo-metaphysical, philosophical point about human existence.  Gah!  I'm getting mad just thinking about the 8 bucks I spent on this crap!  At least it was an early showing with matinee pricing.

I did just also see the utterly glorious Guardians of the Galaxy, so I'm working on a real movie review for it.  (UPDATE: Here it is.)  Please, PLEASE, for your own sake, do not see Lucy.  Go see Guardians instead; it's the movie that (spoiler!) I'm going to crown as the Best Movie of Summer 2014.

UPDATE: The Cinema-Mad Sibling liked the movie better than I did, and though he didn't say so, I'm pretty sure his reasoning is "Scarlett Johansson is hot, and she shoots up a lot of Korean gangsters, lol."  OK, fine.  He also suggests that the ending of Lucy could be a segue into 2013's Her.  That statement by itself has more cleverness than the entirety of Lucy.