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Isaac Sher
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Isaac's #Nerdy9th  Wrestling Primer, Part the Eighth:  Reality Creeps In.

Sorry for the delay since the last installment; it's been a hell of a week, but let's get right down to it.

As things stand right now, WWE is still unquestioned master of the pro wrestling world, and Wrestlemania is still the industry's "super bowl".  Over the last decade, John Cena rose through the ranks, slowly shedding his "white boy rapper" gimmick, and becoming the company's uber-dominant All-American Face -- a Hulk Hogan for the 21st century, if you will.  However, he's starting to slow down, and the WWE is clearly thinking hard about who is going to eventually replace him.  

Right now, the top two contenders are Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns.  It would've been top three, with CM Punk in the mix, but about a year ago, he apparently just got fed up with how he was being treated and quit very abruptly.  Fans would like nothing more than to see Punk return, and you still get "CM PUNK" chants from the arena crowds on a regular basis, but Punk's made it clear that at best, he needs a break from Pro Wrestling, and never wants to work for WWE again.  That being said, there have been more explosive real-life disputes between famous wrestlers and their companies that have eventually settled down, like with Bret Hart, so I wouldn't be shocked of Punk eventually made his way back.  Wrestling has a way of getting into people's blood, and even the most jaded fans and performers eventually turn up again.  

Of the two top guys left, Daniel Bryan is the clear choice of the fanbase.  He's brilliant in the ring, a seasoned veteran, seems more accessible and easier to identify with on account of being smaller than most wrestlers, and has nurtured a fantastic gimmick revolving around the "YES! Movement", where he's presented as the ultimate underdog, the little wrestler that could.

Unfortunately, Vince McMahon has a long-standing and well documented bias against smaller wrestlers, convinced that "big men" are the way to true mainstream fame.  Thus it became clear over the last year that Roman Reigns would be the company's first choice to become the new big hero.  Reigns is a staggeringly impressive physical specimen; he's tall, with long and muscular arms and legs, he's incredibly handsome, making the most of his rugged Samoan features, making him look like a cross between The Rock (who is his cousin) and Jason Momoa.  And he's great in the ring, but a little rough on the microphone.   The fans have made it clear that while they do like Reigns, they like Bryan more, and resent Reigns getting shoved down their throats, so where the WWE goes with this in the future is anyone's guess.

In the meantime, many hardcore wrestling fans are actually more interested in what's going on in the WWE's "farm league", the mini-fed known as NXT, based out of Full Sail University in Flordia.  The brainchild of Triple H, an Attitude-Era wrestler who ended up marrying McMahon's daughter and becoming one of the top men in the company boardroom (and still occasionally gets into the ring), NXT puts a greater emphasis on in-ring action over complex storylines (especially for women wrestlers), emphasizing wrestler's past work with other companies rather than pretending they've never been anything but under WWE contract, and being willing to experiment and take risks. 

This period in wrestling is referred to mostly as "The Reality Era", and is generally considered an upswing in quality overall.  The name comes from the fact that the WWE has gotten in on the Reality TV craze, not only in how some of its backstage segments are handled, but even having an actual reality show of their own, "Total Divas" -- and it's rumored that they'll be bringing back the "Tough Enough" competition show as well, that follows wanna-be wrestlers competing for a WWE contract.  The name also comes from the fact that the line between kayfabe and reality is exceptionally blurred these days, making the job of writing storylines for wrestling much more difficult than it's ever been, especially with the need to be able to change course on the fly if storylines don't go over as well as expected -- like the current Roman Reigns push.

There are other feds around, of course.  TNA is still limping around, although most of their best talent has jumped ship.  Ring of Honor is still out there, among a multitude of other small feds, and new ones are popping up all the time -- like Lucha Underground, produced by famed film director Robert Rodriguez, which meshes Hollywood-level production values with Mexican-style Lucha Libre wrestling, important many Lucha veterans and attracting a surprising number of former WWE wrestlers, like John Morrison, Alberto Del Rio, and even Matt Striker as their primary play-by-play announcer.  

Overall, the future of Professional Wrestling looks very bright.  It's anyone's guess as to where the Next Big Thing will come from -- if someone already working in the ring will suddenly capture the world's attention, or if some newcomer or new idea will rear its head.  
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I've been meaning to, but I never get around to it.  Got any specific suggestions as to shows or matches to look for?
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And for my second gaming-themed filk of the day, in honor of GenCon weekend -- "I Am A Dwarf", to the tune of "I'm On A Boat" by The Lonely Island.

--------------------

Ooooh, check it out!  four free tickets to GenCon!   I’ll take you...and you.... and... T-Pain.

(Shortayyyy) Accch Laddie!
Get your hammers ready they’re about to go down (shorty, yeah)
Everybody in the place hit that fuckin orc (shorty, yeah)
But stay on your motherfuckin toes
We runnin this, let's go

I am a dwarf (I am a dwarf)
I am a dwarf (I am a dwarf)
Everybody look at me cause I'm gaming as a dwarf (gaming as a dwarf)
I am a dwarf (I am a dwarf)
I am a dwarf
Take a good hard look I’m a motherfuckin dwarf (dwarf, yeah)

I am a dwarf motherfucker take a look at me
Deep mining in a cave on the mountains free
Bustin five heads, keeping orcs out of my turf 
You can't stop me motherfucker cause I am a dwarf

Roll the dice, trick (trick) I am a dwarf, bitch (bitch)
We drinking ale from a horn, cause it's so crisp (crisp)
I got my big axe, and my beard is floppy
I'm slayin’ dragons, you at Kinko's straight flippin copies

I'm ridin on a griffin, doin loops and shit
The griffin’s flyin, I’m askin are we there yet
But this ain't Goldshire, this is real as it gets
I am a dwarf motherfucker, don't you ever forget

I am a dwarf and, I drink beer fast and
I got a highlander themed paladin scotsman
I'm the king of a mine, I’m a dwarf like Thorin
If you're gaming with me, then you're sho' not snoring
{Get the fuck up, this dwarf is REAL!!!}

Fuck elves, I am a dwarf, motherfucker (motherfucker)
Fuck trees, I climb rocks, motherfucker (motherfucker)
I'm on a roll with my boys, motherfucker (yeah)
My mom’s basement makes noise, motherfucker

Hey ma, if you could see me now (see me now)
Arms spread wide on the table’s prow (tables prow)
Gonna get this dwarf to level 10 somehow (level 10 somehow)
Like Gary Gygax, anything is possible

[T-Pain]
Yeah, never thought I'd be like a dwarf
He’s a short blonde scottish dude (yeah)
Moradin~!! Look at me, oh (all dice on deck)
Never thought I'd see the day
When a lil’ dwarf comin my way
Believe me when I say, I killed a Pit Fiend...
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I wish I had more plusses to give.
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I'm watching ROKKA NO YUUSHA, where the premise is that seven destined heroes have gathered to defeat a demon lord, when the prophecy specifically states that the number of heroes will be six, which means that the most logical explanation for the situation being that one of these destined heroes is actually a traitor, working to sabotage the heroes.

I'm going to predict right now that it's the Princess, Saint of Blades. 
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I just think she was use to fighting humans, not monsters. The fact that she seems amateur when completely alone is what convinces me. She had no reason to act in that situation. They could've omitted that scene if they wanted her to have more mystery. I'm not saying your theory isn't valid though. She could also just been maintaining character in case someone showed up.

She left the kingdom "in secret" because they didn't want her to leave despite it being her "destiny". That's how I interpreted it. I'm fairly sure they knew she was a Saint and probable Flower that had a duty. Her body guard (can't remember his name) clearly doesn't want her fighting but understands that she's destined to fight. 
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I love this show SO MUCH.

The episode I've linked below is the season finale, which does a wonderful job of summing up the themes of the show.  And maybe it's because I'm a little sleep-deprived and off-kilter because of my illness, but I honestly teared up at the bit where everyone attending sees how much fun the fighters are having, and resolve to join in as well.  There's so much JOY in this episode that it makes me grin from ear to ear.
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Do you have even a passing interest in stage magic?  Card tricks?

You need to watch this bit right now.  It's only about ten minutes long.  It's Michael Vincent, one of my new favorite magicians, performing for Penn & Teller on their "Fool Us" special in the UK.  He's doing classic sleight of hand backed by FOUR DECADES of practice, and even if you know how sleight of hand works, you will still be awed by everything he does.

Just remove the spaces I've added to the URL below, and you're set to go.

ht  tps://youtu.   be/yFlkPaDo-ks
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I think I loved Vincent's patter almost as much as his sleight of hand.  So elegant, so friendly, so welcoming.  When he says the bit at the end about "I'd like to dedicate this last piece to all of you, my new friends", it felt wonderfully sincere.
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Our son Elijah has a Thing about "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood."  He's obsessed with it.

Actually, I should be more precise.  He's obsessed with the Opening Credits of that show.    You can watch it here by removing the extra spaces I've added to this URL:   ht  tps://youtu.  be/tEypinvApHo   (I don't want to deal with YouTube comment boards today).  Elijah's largely indifferent to the show itself, which is actually quite cute and well-written -- he just wants to watch the opening.

There's something about this opening song and its visuals that HYPNOTISES Elijah.  Particularly the bit about a third of the way in, when the trolley enters the tunnel to the Land of Make Believe and gets the little sparkle effects going.  Elijah visibly shudders with joy at that bit, every time, as he watches over my shoulder on our iPad.

So the song lasts about a minute, and at the end of the minute, Elijah will demand to watch it again.  And again.  And again.  I'm sure he could keep going for an hour if you let him, maybe longer.  And if you cut him off from his video-drug of choice, he will throw a tantrum like you have never seen, and Elijah is not a tantrum-prone kid, quite the opposite.

Because of this, we have made a point of not playing that video in the house, for at least three or four months, because the tantrum fallout is just too intense.

Cue today's trip to Toys R Us.

We're in the DVD aisle, looking for more Elmo's World videos, Elijah's usual reliable go-to request for kidvid, when he spots the Daniel Tiger DVD cases.  He grabs my hand, puts it on one of the boxes.  Gretchen and I look at each other -- well, we're not in any rush, we'll let him look at the box for a bit.  A minute later, I reach out and gently put my hand on the disc.  "Okay, Eli -- let's put it back now, it's time to go."   I wasn't even halfway done before Eli swivels his hips forty-five degrees from his sitting position in the shopping cart, ripping my hand off the box as he hip-turns.  His eyes never left the box.  Gretchen damn near falls out giggling right there, and I have to fight to not do the same.

Another minute.  "Eli, really, we need to put it back."  I take hold of the box.  Eli's grip becomes like unto a thing of iron.  He is communing with his Tiger God.  He will NOT be interrupted.  I literally cannot pull the box from his grasp.  He glances up, and gives me a very brief look of intensity that Stanley Kubrick would have wanted to immortalize in film.

Defeated, I take a step back -- and Elijah reaches out and takes hold of Gretchen's hand.  Specifically, her pointer finger.  And he pulls her bemused hand... so that her finger touches Daniel Tiger's face.  Tap-tap-tap.   Eli's brow furrows.  Something isn't right.

It hits us.  Elijah thinks that the DVD box is another iPad, and if one of us touches it in the right spot, it'll start playing the video.  The staff of Toys R Us is treated to the sound of two parents whooping and giggling and damn near crying in a combination of amusement and adorb-feels for our son.

We relent.  It's only nine bucks, we'll buy the video for him.  It's been months, he's been patiently waiting, he NEEDS to see his Tiger.  He even starts saying aloud "Daniel" and "Tiger" as best he can, to hammer home that this is IMPORTANT to him.  And he still won't let it go, not even at the checkout line.  Thankfully, clerk doesn't even raise an eyebrow, he just grabs a portable scanner and walks over to ring it up in Eli's hands.  "Happens all the time here, it's totally cool," he says.  I resist the urge to shake his hand and honor him as a true man of compassion and understanding, and settle instead for being exceedingly polite instead of howlingly derisive when I decline his management-mandated offer of a four dollar warranty plan on a fifteen dollar Power Rangers sword that we're buying for my nephew's birthday party tomorrow, the original reason for the visit to the store in the first place.  But I digress.

We're in the car on the way home.  Eli is still clutching the DVD box and studying every detail with an intensity that makes you wonder if he's auditioning for Tom Hanks' role Da Vinci Code 2:  Steam-Powered Boogaloo.  Suddenly, halfway home, he drops it.  We're at a light, so I reach behind, pick it up, and offer it back to him.  He immediately drops it again, but pushes my hand to go get it again, so I pick it up, and hand it to Gretchen.  This satisfies our son.  She will be the Guardian of the Tiger, it seems, so that when he wakes up from his nap, she will present him with that which is rightly his:  A beautiful day in the Neighborhood.

Pray for our souls tonight, folks.
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Kind of a random question for history buffs.

I have always thought that skilled and intelligent military strategists are rather fascinating, and once in awhile, I learn about new ones, and my interest gets reignited a little bit further.  So I figured I'd see what else is out there, who else I might want to look up.

Some strategists that I'm already intrigued by include:
- Zhuge Liang
- Belisarius
- Hannibal
- Napoleon
- Quintus Fabius Maximus
- Oda Nobunaga 
- Rommel
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Sir Basil Liddell Hart. He did early work on mechanized warfare possibilities, after World War I, and was a significant influence on guys in the German military who developed what we now call the Blitzkrieg. Guderian and Rommel both recommended him to their staffs, for instance. His compact book Strategy: The Indirect Approach is interesting reading.
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In honor of it being GenCon weekend, I feel an inkling to repost a couple of gaming-themed filks I wrote a few months back.  Here's the first one, "Gamers", set to the tune of "Royals" by Lorde:

-----------------

I’ve never seen a Dragon in the flesh
I cut my teeth on laser swords in the movies
And I’m so proud of my success,
On the tabletop, no mundane envy

And every game’s like gold coins, railguns, trippin’ through the trap room
Blood points, broadswords, trashin’ through to Mount Doom
We don’t care, we’re hunting Vampires in our dreams.
But everybody’s like, boardrooms, taxes, good grades on report cards,
raises, layoffs, groceries and a starbucks
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in the mundane fare

And we’ll always be gamers (gamers)
It’s good times with our buds
This kind of fun aint just for us,
We crave to share this kind of buzz,
Gonna play a Wizard (Wizard)
You can sit and play with me
And buddy we’ll roll, we’ll roll, we’ll roll, we’ll roll…
We’re gonna live that fantasy

My friends and I, we’ve cracked some codes
We solved a labyrinth, killed some orcs, with our party
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this
It’s relaxed and friendly

And every game’s like stargates, claymores, savin’ all of Tokyo
Cowboys, zombies, flyin’ round the whole globe
We don’t care, we’re storming battlements in our dreams
And maybe next time it’s goblins, werewolves, flyin’ giant robots
Ninjas, spaceships, rolling for the called shots
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your mundane fare

And we’ll always be gamers (gamers)
It’s good times with our buds
This kind of fun aint just for us,
We crave to share this kind of buzz,
Gonna play a Hero (Hero)
You can sit and play with me
And buddy we’ll roll, we’ll roll, we’ll roll, we’ll roll…
We’re gonna live that fantasy
Ooh ooh oh
It’s greater than we ever dreamed
And I’m in love with being free
Ooh ooh oh
Life is great without a care
We aren’t caught up in your mundane fare

And we’ll always be gamers (gamers)
It’s some fun with our buds
This kind of fun aint just for us,
We crave to share this kind of buzz,
Gonna play a Soldier (Soldier)
You can sit and play with me
And buddy we’ll roll, we’ll roll, we’ll roll, we’ll roll…
We’re gonna live that fantasy
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I'm making a call to my friends who are foodies in general, or are wise to the ways of Chinese Restaurants in particular.

Please suggest to me a REALLY good Chinese restaurant in Chicago.  I've eaten at Phoenix and Furama and Joy Yee's, all of which are awesome, and I'm looking to try something new.  If they have soup dumplings, this is a major plus.  If they have Peking Duck that doesn't require the sale of our firstborn son and is still very good, this is even more of a plus.  If they have traditional dishes that you don't usually see on your typical Chinese Delivery restaurant, and thus most Americans wouldn't even know to ask for, this is also a great plus.  Also, suggestions on traditional dishes to try in this vein are also very welcome.

Basically, I'm looking to expand my food horizons with Chinese cuisine, and I'm looking for guidance.  Any suggestions?
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I'm interested in any place that makes really great and spicy Mongolian Beef. 
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I'm watching the first episode of the second season of PENN & TELLER: FOOL US.

Amazingly, the networks in the UK did not renew this show for a second season, despite it being exceptionally popular and garnering very good ratings.  So a couple years later, the CW here in the states have financed a new version, still hosted by Penn & Teller and Jonathan Ross, but this time filmed in the Rio casino (P&T's home base) in Las Vegas.  Apparently, it's doing very well for the CW in that time slot.

However, one thing jumped out at me.  Penn looked so utterly different that I had to check to make sure it was actually him -- his shoulders were less broad, and his face was very, very different.  A little wikipedia search, and apparently he had some sort of major medical issue in late 2014 involving his blood pressure, and lost over 100 points over the next three and a half months.  Yeah, losing that much weight, that quickly -- that'll change the shape of a man's face alright.  I hope he's okay, though...
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We enjoy that show at our house. My wife thinks they are lying half the time when they say they know how a magician pulled off some trick. I tried to explain how obsessive those guys are at studying, collecting and preserving the history of magic and all of the various illusions, but I don't think she buys it.

There are times though when she does have a point. Sometimes, they don't give any indication or hint about how it's done. They just give a knowing smile and say, "Yeah, we know how to do that." I'm sure they're telling the truth, but it would be equally easy to lie.

I've also noticed that they seem to hand out more trophies since they've transitioned to the US.
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One of the strongest entries in the Summer 2015 Anime Season is "Gate: 自衛隊 彼の地にて、斯く戦えり", which roughly translates as "Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There!", although everyone basically just calls it GATE.

The premise is one of those gems where a very simple idea is explored and mined for all sorts of delicious ramifications:  What if a gateway to a swords-and-sorcery world opened up in the middle of downtown Tokyo?

When an army of fantasy-world soldiers and winged dragonmounts come pouring out the gate, it's certainly a shock at first, but they turn out to be little match for 21st century military tech, and it's not long before Japan not only repulses the invasion, but captures the apparently-permanent gate, and sets up a foothold fortress on the other side in the fantasy world.

The tricky part is that the entire planet now has Japan right in their crosshairs, because the idea of a whole new world there that's untouched by pollution or industrial exploitation has most of the world powers absolutely drooling with avarice.  America wants the natural resources, China wants to send half their population there to colonize it, and so on.  Not to mention all the byzantine politics taking place within the Empire in that fantasy world.

We see all this through Lieutenant Itami, a 30+ year old guy who's doing well for himself in the Japan Self Defense Forces, but is really only a career soldier because it helps him fund his anime and manga hobby, and there weren't any other jobs out there that he cared for.  The thing is, he's actually a very, very good soldier, and ends up being the Right Man In The Right Place on several occasions.  It's not just about him, though -- he's got a nice ensemble cast around him consisting of the members of his immediate squad, and of some of the refugees he's rescued from the fantasy world.  These include an Elf Princess suffering from PTSD after a dragon slaughtered her village and was rescued by the JSDF, an Apprentice Mage who immediately grasps the importance of learning everything possible about these new people helping out her and her people, and a Battle Priestess who identifies herself as the envoy of the God of Darkness, carries a huge battleaxe that might as well have LU BU APPROVES stamped on it, and dresses in a manner that we would identify as Gothic Lolita.

What impresses me the most about this show is the restraint it demonstrates.  Moments that would be easy to mine for fanservice are left tasteful and tame, and avoid any sort of exploitation.  Violence is harsh but never gratuitous or gore-pornish.  The storytelling is clear, the plot seems airtight so far, the characters are genuinely interesting, and the artwork and direction are absolutely solid. 

If you've ever wanted to see a squad of modern soldiers fend off a giant fire-breathing dragon, this is the show for you.  Check it out, it's absolutely worth your time.

#AYearOfAnime  
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I've been liking it so far. Having not seen the manga, I'm wondering how much they'll split the story between what's going on inside the fantasy area and what happens in Japan and the countries around it, because I suspect there will be lots of interesting stuff going on with Japan vs the world (maybe with the exception of the US, who I seem to recall were mentioned as helping Japan in episode 1 or 2.  
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Inspired by +N. Phillip Cole's descriptions of it, I checked out "Genesis of Aquarion" today, a giant robot anime that I had completely missed before.

This is pretty neat!  I do confess that I have a driving need to slap the ever-loving up-to-their-eyeballs BULLSHIT out of the "Prince" and "Princess" characters, but I suspect that's intentional on the director's part.  

To paraphrase:

"Okay, Prince -- thousands of innocent lives are at stake, so I want you to take your Giant Robot and execute Strategy Number 7 with it."

"I don't like Strategy Number 7.  It's not a very pretty strategy."

"Are you disobeying a direct order, Prince?"

"...Is that a bad thing?"

beat

I mean, if it was me, I'd have yanked the asshole right of his cockpit right then and there, uploaded Brazilian SoccerBro in his place, and then proceeded to ram a toenail clipper up Prince's nostrils until he got it through his head that having a strategy be "pretty" can take a freaking backseat when people's lives are on the line.  I mean, dear god...
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I kind of love the idea of a flighty prince whose only concern with battle is how it looks when he finally takes the field because he's been in war so long that he's shifted to entertain himself instead of actually succeeding in war. Like a less problematic version of Zhang He from the Dynasty Warriors series.
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