humor, life, Media, Movies, People, Pop Culture, reviews

The sham of asking for feedback on customer service and why companies should know no news is good news

From the desk of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

I called the cable company about a problem with my internet service.

A computer answered.

We are already off to a bad start.

The computer asked me to press numbers on my phone to direct me to the proper human who could help with the problem.

I used my smartphone, which really means I touched glass where a number appeared.

I found myself nostalgic for the old push-button phones from Northwestern Bell. Those phones couldn’t take a photo or play games, but they were well-built and heavy enough to be used as the murder weapon in a blunt-force trauma homicide.

Somehow the ability to push that button really hard made me feel better about these phone tree answering services.

The computer routed me to what it believed to be the appropriate place. I waited for a human to come on the line.

The computer asked a final question: “Would you consider taking a brief two-question survey after your call about your customer service experience? Press ‘1’ for ‘yes’ and ‘2’ for ‘no.’”

This is an odd time to ask this question. I hadn’t had a customer service experience yet and I was already being asked to rate it.

I declined the offer.

I always do.

Don’t put the responsibility of reviewing your employees’ performance off on me. I just want to get my Disney+ streaming the latest episode of “WandaVision” in HD.

I buy a lot of products from a large online retailer. They often send me emails asking me to review a product such as a book or toy.

This offends me.

I make my living as a writer. If you want me to sling sentences for your $1.7-trillion online retailer, pay me. I charge $1 per word.

I would also consider deep discounts.

I’m realistic. They aren’t going to pay me. I’ll be a good sport.

Here’s a review of every product I ever bought from them: “[Insert product name here] was probably fine or I returned it for a refund.”

Cut and paste as needed.

This obsession with rating and ranking knows no bounds. I watch a movie on Netflix, they want me to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Roger Ebert should sue. Of course, he’s dead. This probably keeps his litigation to a minimum.

EBay wants me to rate every transaction. The feedback system supposedly kept scofflaw sellers from ripping people off.

But everybody gets ripped off by somebody at some point on eBay. I’ve always gotten my money back.

Even if you want to give negative feedback, eBay makes you go through extra hoops to do it.

So why bother?

My feedback is I didn’t ask for a refund.

A favorite restaurant of mine offers discounts to frequent customers. They sent me an email asking me to rate my experience every time I used the card.

I blocked their email address.

I still eat at the place. That’s my feedback. I’m a repeat customer.

I understand that consumers want to have a say in how they are treated by the businesses with which they deal – especially the massive, monolithic and borderline oligarchic corporations that dominate modern consumer life.

But I believe most of the ways they gather feedback amounts to a wooden suggestions box on the breakroom wall with a slot for comment cards that fall right into a trash bin.

I struggle to believe that if I rate my customer service experience at the internet service provider poorly that this will lead to any meaningful change.

I don’t believe they record calls for quality and training purposes. I believe they record calls for evidentiary purposes in case of a lawsuit.

What ticks me off about the whole thing is I’m being asked for my opinion when I know damn well they don’t care and they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing.

My recourse is either to change where I buy things or accept a certain level of cruddy service.

Press “1” if you agree.

And if you disagree, just stop reading.

Daniel P. Finney saw a werewolf at Trader Joe’s. His hair was in a bun and he smelled of beard oil.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. And I got a nasty tax bill for daring to have health insurance while I was unemployed. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

comics, Pop Culture, TV

If you didn’t understand the first two episodes of ‘WandaVision,’ it’s OK. Those characters never make sense. Here’s why.

From the mind of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

Let’s be honest: The first two episodes of “WandaVision” make no damn sense.

The new Marvel TV series on Disney+ begins in black and white like an old episode of “Bewitched” with our heroes Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) apparently living a zany early 1960s sitcom lifestyle — complete with laugh track.

Vision supposedly died in “Avengers: Infinity War.” He died twice, actually. Wanda killed him once to save the universe. Thanos hit reset on the game and killed Vision to take the stone from his skull and snap half the universe out of existence.

The next time we saw Wanda, she used her powers of deus ex machina to put the smackdown on Thanos.

Thanos rolls his 1D20 and has his spaceship blow stuff up for a few minutes. After that, Wanda shares sniffles by a pond with Hawkeye over the dead, which included Vision.

Vision is back looking like a red-faced baboon in a green hoodie. Wanda is performing witchy tricks that would make Elizabeth Montgomery jealous in an effort to hide their collective weirdness from the nosy neighbor, oppressive boss and a collection of TV tropes so old you’d think you fell asleep during a MeTV marathon.

How did we get here? TBD.

Maybe there’s a clue in the title: “WandaVision,” like television.

There seems to be people trying to reach Wanda from the outside world. It blew up a radio at the neighborhood bully’s house.

The whole thing could be in Wanda’s head. That’s happened in the comics.

If it feels as if I’m not making things any clearer, that’s exactly right.

Wanda, known as the Scarlet Witch in comics, and Vision have some of the most complicated backstories in Marvel Comics history.

I tried to explain their comics’ origins to a non-comics friend and less than halfway through she said, “I’m to the point where all I can hear is angry bees buzzing in my head.”

The movie universe summed up Wanda and her dead brother, Pietro, as “He’s fast and she’s weird.”

Her powers are making red gooey things and doing whatever the writer needs in that scene.

The writer of “WandaVision” needed her to contour whole objects out of the air, teleport people into magic boxes and make lobster thermidor with copious amounts of levitation.

Vision can alter his density to make himself intangible or diamond-hard. He can shoot lasers out of the gem in his head. And he’s an android.

He’s technically a synthetic human, but let’s not get those Isaac Asimov “I, Robot” people into this.

The point is, Wanda and Vision have never made sense. Not in comics. Not in film. Not in this streaming show.

So just go with it. Right now, they’re doing schtick and it’s at least as amusing as an actual episode of “Bewitched.”

And Elizabeth Montgomery never looked as good as Elizabeth Olsen in a magician’s assistant costume.

Yeah, I know. I’m not supposed to say that.

Don’t tell me how to enjoy things.

And don’t try to figure out “WandaVision.”

Just watch. See what happens. But don’t expect it to ever make sense.

Daniel P. Finney followed his dream. Look where that got him.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Crime and Courts, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, mental health, News, People, Pop Culture, Taylor Swift

After the Capitol siege, I’ll believe anything

Well, we sure solved that one, didn’t we?

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

So, this is 2021.
One week of 52 in the books.
Do you really feel better off than you did eight days ago?
So far, 2021 feels like a tray of relishes and finger sandwiches left out in the office for a week. After what happened Wednesday in Washington, D.C., I’m open to the possibility that any news headline is real no matter how absurd.

DALLAS COUNTY, Iowa — A giant pit of fire opened near Adel on Thursday night. The gaping maw devoured land, buildings, humans, animals and vegetation as it drifted south-southwest, growing larger with each object consumed and leaving only a black void that witnesses said seemed to stare back.

Well, you know how unpredictable Iowa weather is.

MOUNT SAINT HELENS, Washington — Giant robots that transform into automobiles and aircraft are apparently doing battle around an offshore drilling facility here. The robot monstrosities seem impervious to their own weaponry, but the crossfire collapsed the drilling facility, pitching the human crew into the icy waters below. Despite an unprecedented hostile extraterrestrial incursion that destroyed millions in energy infrastructure, no local first responders, law enforcement nor state nor national law enforcement have as at yet to respond to the catastrophe.

This story is more than meets the eye.

TOKYO — A giant lizard similar to a muscular Tyrannosaurus Rex rose from the waters from the Sea of Japan and smashed its way through the streets as tens of thousands fled amid shrieks of terror. The beast’s breath appeared to be some sort of flame that leveled skyscrapers. Its footfalls rocked the city like an earthquake. A Japanese philosophy professor proffered the theory that the creature was Mother Nature’s revenge for humanity’s poor stewardship of the planet.

That was bound to happen.

WATCH HILL, Rhode Island — Top musical artists Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa and the Haley sisters merged into a single 50-foot woman at Swift’s mansion here. Their combined voice blasted a sonic cry so alluring and catchy it lured scores of ships to their doom on the rocky shoreline despite warnings from authorities of unsafe waters ahead.

Taylor Swift is always up to something.

NEW YORK, New York — A giant ape kidnapped a plumber’s girlfriend and climbed atop a construction site in downtown Manhattan on Friday. The plumber made multiple efforts to rescue his betrothed, scampering up ladders and using hammers to smash obstacles. However, the ape rolled flaming barrels down the inclined site structure that landed and crushed the skull of the plumber. The rescue attempt lasted less than a minute.

Those wild apes in New York have been a problem forever.

SOMEWHERE IN AMERICA — A broken-hearted man turned off the TV, picked up a novel and read until he fell asleep with his bedroom light on. A widowed woman watched the news late into the night, horrified by the country she’d known for 66 years and wondered if she ever really knew it all. A woman sat on a white couch and deleted videos of her estranged husband from her phone and tried to blunt the sadness of the world by preparing for an upcoming move. A woman left work early, walked her dog, ate a sensible salad and went to bed about 5 p.m. local time. She turned off her phone. An accountant traded jokes with his best friend about events too big for either of them to change. A man had the day off and went to the comic store to pick up his weekly books. A store manager asked him what he thought about all this as a newsman. The newsman paused. He said it was sad. He felt as if there wasn’t a single thing he could write or say or publish that would make anyone feel better. He said he was glad he had the day off. He paid for his books and went to the bar for a beer and cheeseburger.

Actually, that one surprises me.

Daniel P. Finney is just as sad and angry and depressed as many of you. He just doesn’t know what good it does to keep yelling at a wall of ignorance that shows no sign of buckling. So he’s not going to do it.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Movies, Music, Pop Culture

Thoughts on ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

Ma Rainey’s nephew has just gotten into a car accident driving his aunt and her girlfriend to a recording session in a scene early “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

The scene is set in 1927 Chicago. Rainey, played by the incomparable Viola Davis, is about to be hauled away by the police.

Rainey is indignant. Don’t they know she’s the star?

They don’t. Her white manager bribes the cops. She sees the money go from one white hand to another.

Ma Rainey has a lot of power for a Black woman in 1927 America. Her voice sells records and white men will cater to her to a point.

But to get out of going to jail for speaking her mind about a traffic mishap, she needs her freedom bought by a white man.

If the viewer hasn’t caught on by now, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is not a musical bio pic. This is a film about the blues in their truest sense — the oppression of Black and brown people.

She punishes these white men for the oppression and slights she’s endured. She shows up late. She demands her stuttering nephew deliver the intro to her song. She orders Cokes be brought in to combat the heat. She drinks those Cokes slowly while the white record men swear and complain.

Ma Rainey’s voice makes them money. And for as long as it does, they will put up with her. She knows this, hates this and revels in it at the same time.

The trumpet player Levee Green (the late Chadwick Boseman in his final performance) rages against anyone and everyone who doesn’t recognize his ascendancy to the greatest trumpeter of all time.

Levee is cocky and mocks the old ways of his fellow bandmates. He ignores the advice of wise pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman) and mocks the faith of trombone player Cutler (Colman Domingo).

Rage bursts from Levee in self-destructive explosions. He becomes obsessed with a locked door. He rams his body into it until he finally cracks through, revealing a space no bigger than a prison cell with the daylight far away — a symbol of how deep a hole the young Black man begins life and how each door broken through runs into another brick wall.

The story ends in tragedy and blood as so many do for Black Americans, then and now.

I would not go so far as to say I liked this movie, but I was absolutely impressed by it. I love the way playwright August Wilson uses language and builds tension with lines the way an orchestra reaches crescendo.

The reason I say I don’t like the movie is because it’s a sad story that makes a sadder statement about the plight of fellow humans that remains true today.

It’s hard to embrace such discomfort. But it’s a good idea that we do and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a worthy place to start.

Daniel P. Finney’s new off-off-off Broadway Play is called “Megatron: The Musical.”

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

comics, Iowa, Movies, People, Pop Culture, reviews

‘Wonder Woman 1984’ is the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen and you don’t have to wrap me in the lasso of truth to get me to say that

“Wonder Woman 1984” is the best superhero film I’ve ever seen. Call it hyperbole. Accuse me of recency bias.

But wrap the golden lasso of truth around my fist and I’ll swear the same: “WW84” is the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen.

And I’ve seen most of them, even “The Adventures of Pluto Nash.”

I admit to being biased in favor of Wonder Woman, a character who first caught my interest when the 1970s show starring Lynda Carter played in reruns at the childcare I periodically attended in order to get what the guidance counselors said was “much-needed socialization with peers.”

I read her comic books written by George Pérez, perhaps my favorite graphic artist, as a boy. I felt slight trepidation buying a comic about a female hero, but nobody said anything – especially not my dad, so I assumed it was OK.

It’s good for a boy to root for a girl. That’s the message I took from my dad not being unnerved by the title in my collection of books bought at Montross Pharmacy. A boy needs that kind of reinforcement from his father.

But this Wonder Woman, as played by Gal Gadot and rendered by director Patty Jenkins, is the best I’ve ever seen the character. It improves on the terrific original from 2017.

“WW84” is a movie about wishes. Jenkins tells the story loud, bold and colorful, but at its heart, this is a children’s story. Wishes can be sweet whispers into Santa Claus’ ear for a new toy or they can be desperate pleas by the jealous and embittered. Wishes can break your heart as easily as they slake your desire.

Wonder Woman, who is called only Diana in these films, reunites with long-dead lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in a lovely, tragic way. Scheming businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal of “The Mandalorian” fame) tries to rule the world by preying on the weaknesses of others.

Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is a bright-but-overlooked scientist who struggles with toxic male aggression and her own insecurities. She sees Diana’s poise and grace and covets it. She uses magic to gain Wonder Woman’s powers but skips the steps of practice that earns poise. This ends badly.

“WW84” is imperfect in spots. There’s a silly, “She’s All That” quality in attempting to make Wiig seem dumpy and ignorable, but even beautiful people are treated poorly and feel badly about themselves.

And her ultimate form as the monster Cheetah only reinforces the lessons the horrific uncanny valley of “Cats” taught us in 2019 – you just can’t CGI a person into a cat. It will always be too silly.

There are obvious present-day political allegories in the movie, right down to Maxwell Lord’s uncontrollable hair. And the way both Diana and Barbara must brush off unwanted attention feels like an “I see you” moment for the #metoo movement.

But I choose not to mingle with the angels and devils in political statements no matter how important or well-intentioned.

Instead, I look at the film as a whole and see a lot of joy. Most of the movie takes place in the bright, beautiful daylight. The Fourth of July fireworks scene is very sweet.

There is plenty of action and battle, but the day is not won by Diana punching the last monster to dust. Instead, her victory is convincing humanity to give up their greed, to let loose their pettiness and forgive themselves and everyone else – embrace life and love.

The moment is beautiful, complex and powerful – and for me, quite personal.

I mention my father’s support of me as I read comic books and watched sci-fi shows while his other sons excelled in Boy Scouts, hunting and fishing. I did not have such a close relationship with my mother, whose undiagnosed mental illness and prescription drug addictions made her cruel and erratic.

Many paragraphs will be stacked about how important it is for girls to see a hero like Wonder Woman on screen, to believe in.

But as someone who has carried the scars of a bad relationship with his mother well into middle age, I argue that “WW84” is something that’s very good for little boys – and grown men – to believe in, too.

Daniel P. Finney is fighting for your rights in his satin tights.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Movies, Pop Culture, TV

Don’t think too hard about that Luke Skywalker cameo in ‘The Mandalorian’ finale

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

“THE MANDALORIAN” SEASON 2 FINALE

A familiar starfighter streaks across the docks in the Imperial Cruiser.

The grizzled Rebel trooper Cara Dune sneers, “One X-Wing? Great. We’re saved.”

But the viewer knows better. This is “Star Wars,” or more precisely “The Mandalorian,” the latest and best thing to happen to “Star Wars” in a very long time. “Star Wars” began 43 years ago as a story about one guy, his spaceship and a leap of faith against a moon-sized Goliath.

A lot more “Star Wars” stories have been told since then. Some good. One great. Most terrible. A few unforgivably horrible. Of course, that depends on a certain point of view.

Mine is that “Star Wars” should be and needs to be simple. Good guys and bad guys. Wizards with laser swords and a religion that allows for forgiveness and redemption of even its most fallen knights.

Modern “Star Wars” isn’t much for that. The sequel trilogy to the original films delighted in turning heroes into losers.

Han Solo and Leia had a kid. The kid broke bad. So, naturally, Leia went back to her military career and Han went into exotic animal trading.

And then there’s Luke Skywalker, the hero of the original trilogy who grows from callow farm boy to galactic redeemer. What of him? Well, Luke felt bad about Han and Leia’s son going Dollar Store Darth Vader under his care, so he split and set up on a mountain to drink green milk from the teat of a space camel.

So, now, comes the season finale of “The Mandalorian.” The series takes place between the events of “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens.” This was an imaginary space once thought to be rife with potential. Sci-fi author Timothy Zahn wrote three terrific books in the 1990s that people thought might well have served as sequels to the original trilogy.

But that was before “The Last Jedi,” when Luke tossed his old lightsaber over his shoulder and turned his back on the Jedi-wannabe woman whose quest is to save the galaxy — the kind of thing Luke cared about — for life as a mope.

Dare we dream that the lone X-Wing carries the Luke of yore, the hero who redeemed his fallen father, who saved the galaxy?

The stakes are dire as that X-Wing lands.

The Mandalorian, once a gruff, no-nonsense bounty hunter, is trying to place Grogu, the Force-sensitive child who looks like Yoda, with the Jedi. He makes friends with a collection of sketchy people who fight hard and end up doing good, sometimes in spite of their own intentions. Even Boba Fett shows up to do a solid by Grogu and the Mandalorian.

They’re tough fighters, all of them. But they’re outmatched by some kind of super-robot stormtroopers. The Mandalorian took one out. It nearly killed him. Now there’s a squadron and they’re all coming for our heroes.

A cloaked figure streaks down the hallways of the Imperial ship. Grogu’s ears stiffen. His eyes widen. He reaches for a black-and-white monitor that shows the cloaked figure slicing through the droid troopers with ease.

Then we see the cloaked figure. Not in full form, at least not at first. His boots and the green glow of his lightsaber. The shine of his silver belt buckle. And the moves, the violent, deadly ballet of the Jedi. The 8-year-old in me screams, “It’s him! It’s him! It’s Luke Skywalker and he’s going to save the day!”

And he does. He trashes the robot troopers like squeezing aluminum beer cans.

This is the Luke Skywalker fans from a certain point of view always wanted to see: Strong, confident, fast and skilled. We got a taste of it during the battle on Jabba the Hutt’s skiff. We saw some of it in the duel with his father, Darth Vader, on the Death Star II.

But this was the Luke we dreamed about when we played with action figures on the shag carpets of our childhood homes. He was the hero.

The scene lasts only a few minutes, but it does for Luke Skywalker what the 2 minutes of “Rogue One” did for Darth Vader: It reminds us of how strong these characters were, how certain of purpose, how cool.

The cast of “Mandalorian” have proven themselves to be well-hardened warriors. But this Skywalker — this Jedi — is something different, something greater altogether. And we see it in the way these hard-core fighters react. They’re good. But nobody is that good. A Jedi, the Jedi, is the best.

Is the CGI recreation of Mark Hamill perfect? Of course not.

But this is all pretend. The Grogu puppet still looks like a puppet whenever somebody is handing him to someone else.

Those of us from a certain point of view got almost exactly what we wanted. Luke takes young Grogu after an emotional goodbye with the Mandalorian. Roll credits.

Wipe away the tears.

Close your eyes.

Enjoy the moment.

But don’t think.

Thinking leads to remembering that the dark pit of a thing, “The Last Jedi,” still exists. That the Luke Skywalker we just saw trash the Empire’s biggest baddies is on his way to one day pondering the murder of his own nephew, getting all his little Padawans killed and living off green milk on a rock planet.

That still happens. That’s canon.

The creators of “The Mandalorian” gave us a respite from that with this glimpse of Luke we thought would be lost forever. It doesn’t remove the stain on those characters put there by the hack writing of talented people who choked when they got their chance at “Star Wars.”

But it helps.

Enjoy the Luke Skywalker cameo. Love it. Rewatch it often.

Just don’t think about how it fits into the “Star Wars” story as a whole.

Because then it will really piss you off.

From a certain point of view.

Daniel P. Finney lost the green lightsaber for his “Return of the Jedi” Luke Skywalker action figure and had to replace it with a translucent green cocktail sword. It still killed stormtroopers, but they weren’t confirmed kills because it was not an official Lucasfilm-licensed lightsaber.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

humor, Movies, Pop Culture, TV

Why watching Stormtroopers die is wonderful

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONLY: An under-appreciated joy of watching “The Mandalorian” is watching the wholesale slaughter of Stormtroopers. They are easily the worst army ever assembled in fiction. They are not good at anything, especially shooting people at point-blank range. They look good. If you lived in a universe where there were no “Star Wars” and a bunch of dudes showed up in white armor and helmets with laser guns, that would be terrifying. But thankfully we live in a world with “Star Wars.” The very first time we met these guys, all the way back in 1977, they were banging their heads against bulkheads and tripping over themselves chasing down four Rebels. In the ensuing 43 years, the Empire has failed to improve their training programs. Designers have given them cooler-looking armor over the years, which has boosted action figure diversity. This has not, in any way, improved the armor’s defensive capabilities. On a recent episode of “The Mandalorian,” Boba Fett smashed through Stormtrooper armor with a pointy metal shaft. It’s no wonder the Ewoks wiped them out on Endor with sticks and rocks. Disposable soldiers are a longtime trope in movies and television. In “Star Trek,” they’re called redshirts, because crew members of the original series whose names weren’t in the opening credits and wore a red shirt were likely to be shot, evaporated or turned into a salt block and crushed under the boot of a menacing evil alien scientist. Stormtroopers have perfected disposability to the point that their very appearance means most of them are going to die. Maybe one of them will get a Wilhelm scream, but mostly they just fall over and clatter to the ground like plastic cups knocked off a sheet of plywood at a raucous game of beer pong. The best part of watching Stormtroopers get slaughtered is that you don’t have to feel guilty about it. It’s bloodless revenge on the musclemen of a dictatorial authority and clear Nazi allegory. Plus, when the troopers are dead, you can recycle their armor to make great instruments for a “Stomp!” set. Stormtroopers! Long may they live … so that they will die for our pleasure.

Daniel P. Finney played Little League so no one would know what a nerd he was. The ploy failed.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Music, News, Pop Culture, Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift just keeps on giving and God bless her for it

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONLY: I am very tired. My knees hurt. I have convalesced at home since February. That’s when I got pneumonia. I’m sure I put on a pound or 10. I’m getting used to moving around on a daily basis, but the restroom at the new office is on the other side of the building. My doctor gave me a water pill. That’s putting some mileage on joints not up to code. But none of this matters. Why? Because Taylor Swift is releasing a new album at 11 p.m. Central tonight. This comes five months after arguably the best album of her career, “folklore.” I will be listening. Of course I will be listening. And that will make everything OK. Taylor Swift was born on Dec. 13, 1989. I believe that she got a lot of those “this is for your birthday and Christmas” gifts. So she just keeps making albums so that none of her fans ever have to suffer that fate.

Daniel P. Finney wants you to know he had a wonderful time ruining everything.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Movies, News, People, politics, Pop Culture

HOT SHEET: Joyful Saturdays for Hawkeyes, Cyclones; ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ is a great movie; The taking of Baby Yoda

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: Saturday proved to be about as pleasant a day as one can expect to coerce from early December. Both Iowa and Iowa State won their respective football games. The temperature reached 47 degrees, allowing for walks, pick-up basketball or naps based on personal preference. It should come as no surprise to regular readers that the ol’ Paragraph Stacker chose naps.

ITEM TWO: I usually remain neutral in the rivalry between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones with a slight shade to black and gold because of my late father’s loyalty. But this season’s Cyclones can count me as a fair-weather fan. I’ve often joked that Iowa City is the statewide distributor of arrogance and Ames is the statewide distributor of insecurity. This year’s Cyclones, however, earned their swagger. They’re on the way to the Big 12 Championship for the first time and ranked No. 9 in the nation. They no longer feel like a team that barely wins six games. They’re a legitimate contender for one of the top teams in the land. I tip my Drake Bulldogs cap to you, Cyclones. Long may your run be.

ITEM THREE: “Hillbilly Elegy” is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Professional critics don’t like it. The movie has a low 24% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Professional critics like to smell their own farts. Amy Adams is outstanding as Bev, a drug-addled, mentally ill mother in a story set in the hills of Kentucky and Ohio. Bev’s addictions threaten to derail the career of her son, J.D., who’s at a critical point at Yale Law School. Glenn Close plays a domestic battle-hardened maternal grandmother to J.D., who steps in to keep the boy away from drugs and crime. I cried several times watching this movie. Adams rendered Bev so well it evoked the best and worst of my own late mother, who struggled with opioid addiction and undiagnosed mental illness. Both Adams and Close deserve serious consideration for Academy Awards, as does the film. I don’t know why critics didn’t like it. I feel like if it was a story about someone in New York City or Los Angeles, the praise would be lavish. But since the story is set in the hills of Kentucky and Ohio, this is the place the media tends to ignore or broadly stereotype. I’m not from those places, but I saw a lot of people I know reflected in that film. Entertainment is split between the East and West coasts. This is a story from a place where the rest of us live. I am glad it was told. I hope people watch it.

ITEM FOUR: An October Hot Sheet noted a YouTube video by a group of scientists who created a cannon that fired a baseball more than 1,000 mph. The people behind the video call themselves SmarterEveryDay and they are back at the park shooting baseballs. The latest episode seeks to discover what it takes to catch a baseball fired faster than the speed of sound. The results: No one should ever squat behind the plate with a mitt with a ball going that fast.

ITEM FIVE: The latest episode of “The Mandalorian” did for “Star Wars” fan favorite character Boba Fett what the last 2 minutes of “Rogue One” did for Darth Vader. Children of my generation knew Boba Fett from two brief appearances on screen, first as the guy who tracked down Han Solo and crew in “The Empire Strikes Back.” He didn’t do anything spectacular, but he looked cool and we played with his action figure like he was one of the premium bad guys of all time. Boba Fett died sudden and silly in “Return of the Jedi,” which was fine because we were 8 years old and “Star Wars” was always for children. Still, that action figure was cool; purple in color with a jetpack, wrist rockets, a gladiator’s helmet and red missile we imagined he fired at his enemies. Writers added to Fett’s story over the years in prequel movies, comics, books and cartoons. But it wasn’t until “The Tragedy,” the sixth episode of the second season of “The Mandalorian,” that we finally saw a Boba Fett realized — and even exceeded — in the way the character played in our imaginations in countless battles against the forces of evil on the living room carpet. The only comparable moment in “Star Wars” lore came in 2016’s “Rogue One,” when a 2-minute cameo of Darth Vader bifurcating Rebel soldiers in an ultimately failed attempt to recover the Death Star plans brought the best on-screen moments for one of movies’ greatest villains. The good news is Boba Fett is honor-bound to the help Mandalorian recover the kidnapped Grogu, formerly known as Baby Yoda or the Child. That means more Boba Fett, which feels like Christmas.

ITEM SIX: The FX anthology series “Fargo” wrapped last Sunday. The cast put in a lot of admirable turns, especially by E’myri Crutchfield as a sharp-minded schoolgirl intimidated by no one, Chris Rock as head of the Black mob in Kansas City, and Jessie Buckley, a creepy nurse with a penchant for poisoning people. I never felt fully invested in this series and I’m not sure I can explain why. Perhaps because a piece of the “Fargo” story felt more like a traditional mob story, albeit with a rare look at Black organized crime. With the exception of Crutchfield’s character, the story lacked any strongly moral characters and I couldn’t root for Rock’s mob patriarch. Maybe the series just hit at the time of maximum pandemic-inspired anhedonia and the grim story just wasn’t the entertainment I needed.

ITEM SEVEN: “Bob’s Burgers” is always the entertainment I need.

ITEM NINE: The Chicago Bears led by double digits against the Detroit Lions. I was not to be fooled. The Lions had just four victories and had fired their head coach this week. I drew not a scintilla of hope. The Bears are losers. They lose in all the traditional ways. They lose in unusual ways. Sunday was the usual way, choking up a lead at the end of the game and then failing to mount anything resembling an offense, especially with less than 2 minutes remaining. I am not angry. The Bears have been losers most of my life. They won the Super Bowl when I was in fifth grade. I only follow them because of nostalgia for those lazy Sundays watching games with my dad. Dad died in 1988, which is about the last time I had any confidence in the Bears.

ITEM LAST: The new job starts Monday. It’s been a long time since I’ve done journalism and I’ve never done TV journalism. I know I have to shave and probably wear a belt. Oh, and I’ll put on deodorant. After that, I’m making things up as I go.

Daniel P. Finney is kind and rewinds.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, Pop Culture, TV

HOT SHEET: The eeriness of an empty Drake Knapp Center during the best game in Iowa

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: The Iowa Hawkeyes and Drake Bulldogs played a high-scoring women’s basketball game at the Knapp Center this week. One could hardly tell from driving past the Knapp Center. The lights were on. People were home. But don’t bother to knock. The doors are locked. The inability to watch a basketball game in person must rank low on the list of tragedies in this wretched pandemic. Still, it’s a stark reminder of how changed things are. This would have been one of the biggest crowds for a women’s game all year. Former Dowling Catholic High School star Caitlin Clark, a fast-blooming star for the Hawkeyes, probably could have filled a section by herself. The ties between Drake and Iowa are strong. Drake Coach Jennie Baranczyk played at Iowa for the Hawkeyes’ Coach Lisa Bluder. Bluder coached Drake for years alongside Drake superstars Jan Jensen and Jenni Fitzgerald. The trio have coached together for nearly 30 years. I’ve often said if you make a list of the best people in Iowa, you start at No. 4 because Bluder, Jensen and Fitzgerald are in a three-way tie for No. 1. The bright light remains on Bluder, Baranczyk and the women they coach. But they deserve the roars of the crowd too.

ITEM TWO: The ol’ Paragraph Stacker admits to some worry about his new job at WOI-DT. Not only have I never worked in TV, I spend a significant amount of my time looking for the remote to my own TV.

ITEM THREE: I finished my first full semester of graduate school Thursday night shortly before 8 o’clock. I would like to say I took to the truth of knowledge like a moth to the flame, but I won’t for two reasons. First, that’s a cliché and I hate clichés. Secondly, It was a long, trying semester. I made good marks and learned a lot, but the daily struggle of unemployment and the sundry worries that accompany said condition drained every last bit of energy out of me. I am glad for the break in schooling until February. I plan to continue and finish the degree. Teaching is something I want to do some day. I always secretly hoped I’d get Woodward’s old job at Drake. But for now, I’m still a newsman trying to get the paragraphs stacked.

ITEM FOUR: Another Carson Classic Zinger on PlutoTV: A 1986 episode ran long and they had to cut the appearance of the band Katrina and the Waves. As the credits rolled, Carson apologetically invited bandleader Katrina to come out and wave.

ITEM FIVE: Almost everything about unemployment stinks, but I admit I’m going to miss a few things, namely regular appointments with the rerun networks offered as over-the-air digital sub channels to local networks. I’ve become addicted to the Jack Webb classics “Emergency” — what I wouldn’t give for a Squad 51 firefighter helmet — and “Adam-12.” There’s “M*A*S*H” and “The Rifleman,” too. I don’t know why, but I would rather watch these commercial-supported reruns than the new stuff. I guess that’s a consequence of being a middle-aged man.

ITEM SIX: Congratulations to Des Moines East alumna and all-around great human, Megan Gogerty, currently of Iowa City, for being named local stand-up comedian of the year by Little Village, the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids culture mag. Megan was a classmate at East. I say nice things about her because I fear her intelligence and wit and don’t want her to unleash them upon me in a savage series of barbs that expose my insecurities and shallowness.

ITEM LAST: Oh, yeah, I’ll be missing one more thing about unemployment — naps. So I’m going to go take one. You should too. Unless your reading this while driving. Then you have other problems.

Daniel P. Finney had a red nightlight in the shape of a cow with googly eyes.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.