Saturday, June 17, 2017

Summer Hiatus!

We're at the mid-point of the year, so I'm hanging it up for a couple of weeks to go on vacation with the fam and have a rest, relaxation and review of this crazy thing I've got going here to see if I can come up with ways to make it better.

Our regularly scheduled programming will resume July 1st!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Bookshot Bucket List #1: Iowa

I have a dream. Not a goal- because goals are dreams that you write down and actually do. But a dream. An idle dream that kicks around my brains now and again and sounds positively delightful. Someday, maybe, I'd like to open a bookstore.

But immediately reality kicks in. Half of all new businesses fail. Books are either a dying medium or doing just fine, depending on who you talk to. Plus, what the hell do I know about running a business? (Not much.) I'd need a space. I'd want to make it look good. I'd need to get books for my space. It's an idle dream, but I don't even know if it's possible or not.

About a month ago, I saw this Buzzfeed listicle float by me. Then, I saw this list go by me as well. And then it sort of all connected in my brain- what better way to figure out what's possible or what's not than by visiting the best independent bookstores in America? I've already started a semi tradition of buying at least one book from my excellent local independent bookstore, Prairie Lights for Independent Bookstore Day and this year was no exception:
Yep, Walkway by Cory Doctorow. I've got a couple of things to get out of my way before I get to it, but hopefully by the end of the summer I'll be cracking it open. I have no idea how long this particular challenge is going to take me, but I think it's important to find out if an idle dream can become an actual goal, so consider Prairie Lights crossed off the list. We'll see what other places I can get to when I can...

(I'm going to be using a combination of both lists and see how long it takes me to get to the end. Just for those of you keeping score at home.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #217: Flag Day Special!

It's Flag Day and you know what that means? Time for our salute to state flags to continue. We're dipping back into the Lost Archives a bit to put together a trifecta of flags that were lost in the mists of cyberspace. First up, we've got Tennessee!
 Adopted on April 17th, 1905 and designed by Colonel LeRoy Reeves, the flag of Tennessee really isn't all that bad when you look at it. It's not a 'Seal On A Bedsheet', it avoids the cardinal sign of being too busy and too cluttered and it is blessedly free of any obvious Confederate symbolism that seems to haunt the flags of the South. NAVA's 2001 survey ranks Tennessee 14th out of 72 flags they surveyed, which seems about right to me. It's not as iconic as Arizona, Texas, Colorado or New Mexico (the big four that always spring to minds) but it's solid, it's recognizable and it's kind of cool, to be honest.

The three stars in the center of the flag represent the three Grand Divisions of the state and the circle around them represents the unity of the three. The blue stripe at the edge of the flag was actually just a design consideration to keep too much red when it's hanging limp.

Next up, we've got the only non-rectangular state flag! Yes, it's Ohio and the Ohio Burgee:
Adopted on May 9th, 1902 and designed by John Eisenmann, there's an official salute to the flag ("I salute the flag of the state of Ohio and pledge to the Buckeye State respect and loyalty") and a specific seventeen step procedure to fold the flag. The three red and two white stripes stand for the roads and waterways of the state. The blue triangle stands for the hills and valleys. There are seventeen stars in the blue field- the thirteen grouped around the 'O' represent the original thirteen colonies, while the four at the apex of the triangle bring the total to 17, because Ohio was the 17th state admitted to the union.

I like the 'outside the box' aspect of this flag- NAVA's 2001 survey ranks Ohio's flag 15th out of 72 flags surveyed, which seems about right to me. Props to the Buckeye State for doing something a little different. I think it works really well for them...

Finally, we've got the flag of Hawaii:
We must be doing mid-majors for Flag Day this year, because's NAVA's survey ranks Hawaii 11th out of 72 surveyed which I feel is both kind of harsh and kind of get at the same time. For one, the Union Jack in the canton is sort of unoriginal from a design perspective. It does stand out in terms of state flags, but in the grand scheme of things sort of not so much.

Adopted on December 29th, 1845, the eight stripes on the flag stand for the eight major islands in Hawaii. The origin story of the flag itself varies a little, but King Kamehameha I was presented with a Red British Ensign given to him by Captain George Vancouver as a token of friendship with King George the III. After seeing it flown in various places, advisers suggested to the King that perhaps he should lower it avoid being seen as an ally of the British in any international conflicts. Similarly, during the War of 1812, an American flag was raised to placate American interests but was lowered again when British officer objected to it. Balanced between both American and British interests at the time, the story (if true) goes a long way to explaining how Hawaii ended up with such a hybrid of the two nation's flags.

All in all though, I think it's pretty cool.

There you have it! Our Flag Day Special! #TWIV will be back July 1st with a Special Canada Day Edition and then be back in it's usual time slot on Saturdays for the rest of July!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Psephology Rocks: "And That's Why You Never Call A Snap Election..."

Before we start, a moment of schaudenfreude: hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Okay, now that's out of the way, let's get down to Brass Tacks. As I'm sure you and the rest of the world have already realized, the election that Prime Minister Theresa May was under no obligation whatsoever to call and yet inexplicably did in an attempt to "strengthen her mandate" ahead of Brexit negotiations didn't go the way she wanted too, like, at all. Instead of increasing her majority- she lost her majority and is having to cuddle up to the British equivalent of the Republican Party of [Insert State South of the Mason-Dixon Line Here] just to cling, by the skin of her teeth to power.

Snap elections and minority governments have this tendency not to really work all that well, if at all. I'd be banking on another election- maybe this year, more likely next year- but soon. It really does depend on how the next few weeks shake out.

I think what was probably the most interesting thing about this election was that it was such a bundle of contradictions all over the place. Looking at the results, you have to wonder how it all ended up in such a muddle. The Conservatives increased their vote share and won the most votes, but managed to lose seats. UKIP, having, well, kipped out of the EU didn't really find much of a reason to exist and/or connect with voters so it's share of the vote crashed hard, but didn't produce uniform results across the country. I saw swings to the Conservatives in some seats in the Northeast, but those produced Labour wins- but I also saw a lot of working class (presumably 'Leave') voters seeming to flip back to Labour as well.

It's not as if voters sent a clear message about Brexit either. The Liberal Democrats, who have been the most solidly pro-European party in the wake of Brexit and who were calling for any Brexit deal to be put to the voters (I'm pretty sure) and/or having another referendum on the issue altogether had something of a mixed night. They clawed their way back into double digits in terms of seats and Vince Cable recovered his Twickenham seat while their leader Tim Farron retained his, but former Deputy PM Nick Clegg lost his seat in Sheffield. Their overall vote share is down 0.5% on the election- and they've been the loudest and most vocal 'Remain' party in the wake of the Brexit Mess. Don't know if British voters aren't interesting in rehashing the whole debate or what. (I might do a deep dive into the date to see if they were running ahead of Labour and behind the Tories in some places...)

North of the border, it felt like a totally different election. Ruth Davidson made the SNP's demand for a second independence referendum post-Brexit, the central issue of the campaign and voters seemed to agree with her. The Conservatives picked up 12 seats, which in Scotland is ludicrous. (But then, reading this, maybe not.) The SNP's vote share dropped by 13 percentage points and even Labour and the Lib Dems showed signs of life, picking up six and three seats respectively from the SNP. But it was the Conservatives who really had a good night- taking down SNP's Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson and former SNP Leader and First Minister Alex Salmond. (I haven't the faintest idea what these means for Scottish politics, except that, I'm guessing they really don't want another independence referendum at the moment?)

Some final thoughts in no particular order:

1. Democrats need to take a breath before getting all excited over these Jeremy Corbyn pieces popping up over here, while there's an argument to be made that it's time to put the full Bernie to the country and see what voters think, the larger (and more effective) argument is that when you're running against someone who's going to make it all about them (as May did with her 'strong and stable leadership') then get a really good platform and run on that instead. Tell the voters what you want to do and how you're going to do it (and pay for it) and voters will respond. They did in the UK, they will here. At the very least, stop letting the media define your party message and quit trying to out Trump Trump. That ain't gonna happen, which means you need to prove that your policies and ideas are better than his. (This piece more of less says that. And I agree.)

2. An Sign of the Apocalypse To Come: Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. (No, seriously... I'm sure the knives are out already and Tory leadership contests make what Brutus did to Caeser on the Senate floor look like a tickling match.) If they avoid a leadership knife fight, it'll be a miracle- just don't bank on BoJo being the first one to make a move this time. (In public, thus far, BoJo is backing the Prime Minister- and in private he seems to be keeping his powder dry for now. Reading the tea leaves, I'd say there's a reason Michael Gove is back in the Cabinet- probably to send a message to BoJo to behave. We'll see if it works, but I'd still bank on a leadership change within a year.)

3. I think... think Hard Brexit is probably off the table.

4. Theresa May ran a terrible campaign and she thoroughly deserved this result. It was also somewhat grimly ironic that in the wake of two terrorist attacks the right wing British media (well, the Telegraph, anyway) was awash with stories about Corbyn and his 'terrorist sympathies' to try and paper over the fact that as Home Secretary, May had been slashing police budgets and numbers and telling them to do more with less. Given a choice between the Minister cutting police all over the place or the guy who says the (questionable) things you'd expect a militant hard leftist to say, voters apparently felt they should go with the guy who wanted more police, not less. Oops.

5. Modern technology is amazing. I watched election returns LIVE direct from the Beeb on Twitter of all things all the way over in America. This was a glorious, glorious mess of an election and I loved watching every minute of it. (Especially Mr. Fishfinger and Lord Buckethead)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Netflix & Chill #16: War Machine

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2017
Starring: Brad Pitt, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Alan Ruck, Tilda Swinton, Ben Kingsley
Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
Pick: Mine

I had been seeing previews for this movie here and there for awhile, so when it dropped on Netflix I decided to give it a whirl and was pleasantly surprised and somewhat sobered at the result. Based on The Operators, by Michael Hastings, War Machine is the story of General Glen McMahon (who is based on General Stanley McChrystal) who is brought in to bring a resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan, With him, comes a motley crew of aide-de-camps and deputies ranging from a civil media adviser (Topher Grace), to the Director of Intelligence, loosely based on Mike Flynn (Anthony Michael Hall) and a few others.

They arrive in Afghanistan and immediately realize that they're stuck in a stalemate. The General soon casts his eyes on Helmand Province as a target for a surge of counterinsurgency operations designed to drive out the the Taliban and stabilize the country once and for all. Immediately, he runs into resistance- Washington doesn't like the idea. The Afghani Government is unhelpful (with President Hamid Karzai rather randomly, but excellently played by Ben Kingsley) but that does not deter McMahon one bit. He wrangles some face time with the President, lets slip to a reporter that he's spoken to the President maybe once since he's been in Afghanistan and suddenly his plan for more troops is approved.

Enter the Rolling Stone reporter. Accompanying Team McMahon on their trip to Europe to drum up more soldiers from their reluctant coalition partners, Mr. Rolling Stone acts as the narrator of the entire movie. Team McMahon wrangles the troops, has a good time on the way- despite Tilda Swinton popping up as a German politician asking bluntly what on Earth they trying to do in Afghanistan in the first place- and heads back to Afghanistan to initiate his grand plan.

The push into Helmand Province does not go well. Despite the promises of schools and good jobs, the locals make it clear that they know the Americans and their coalition partners are eventually going to leave and when they do, things will be worse for them- that seems to shake McMahon up a bit and maybe make him realize that this is more futile than he thought- but really, it's the publication of the Rolling Stone article that seals his fate. He flies back to Washington, alone, to be fired and replaced by the next general up. Bob. (Rather randomly played by Russell Crowe- and believed to be based on General David Petraeus.)

Amusing, darkly comic and sobering all at the same time, War Machine asks some serious questions about why we're in Afghanistan, what we've been doing there and what, if anything we hope to accomplish there. It's pretty clear that the movie thinks it's somewhat of a hopeless case and that's where it really sobers you up. We're still there, spending time, energy and money and lives doing what, exactly? What's the best outcome? How can we extricate ourselves from a country that's chewed up and spat out empires with ease over the centuries? I don't know, but I sure hope someone can figure it out.

As a movie it all felt a little random... Tilda Swinton and Ben Kingsley are some serious actors and they're given not much of anything to do. Anthony Michael Hall was unrecognizable (and actually, pretty damn good in his role.) It wasn't a bad movie, but given the subject matter, it could have been a lot better- especially with the star power it assembled. My Grade: ** out of *****

Saturday, June 10, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #216

I'm getting tired of filling in my Lost Weekends In Vexillology (plus, I did Argentina and Uruguay and few weeks back and totally forgot about this important debate going on in Argentina between sky blue and ultramarine) so I had to do some thinking, before it finally hit me! It's Pride Month! So, whipped out my Wikipedia and discovered that not only does the original Pride Flag have some solid symbolism behind it, but holy cow does the LGBTQ community have a lot of flags! So, in honor or Pride Month, let's take it from the top:
Surprise! The original Rainbow Flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 and it had eight stripes and not the usual six that's been popular since 1979. Hot pink was removed due to fabric unavailability at the time (which knocked it back down to seven stripes) and then Indigo and turquoise were combined and changed to royal blue, which is what gets us down to the six color version seen most often today. (Vertical hanging also played a role in dropping the number of stripes to an even number, because the central stripe would often be obscured by a post.)

Each stripe/color combo has a meaning: Hot pink stands for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic/art, indigo for serenity and violet for spirit. What I don't know is if the meanings shifted as the flag was modified...  can't seem to find any info on that for whatever reason. I'm assuming with hot pink gone, then sex is out. But do turquoise and indigo combine for a royal blue stripe of magic/art/serenity?

But wait, there's more! Here's the Bisexual Pride Flag:
Designed in 1998 to by Michael Page to give the bisexual community it's own symbol, the colors are described as pink, lavender and blue- pink being for attraction to the same sex, blue being for attraction to the opposite sex and lavender being for attraction to both.

Not attracted to anyone and proud of it? There's an Asexual Pride Flag:
(Can't find the meaning of the colors. Sorry. I'll keep looking though.)

Transgender? There's a flag for that:
Created by Monica Helms in 1999, the light blue stripes are the color for baby boys, the pink for baby girls, the white stands for intersex, neutral or undefined gender. The nice thing about this design is that it's correct no matter how you fly it.

Pansexual? There's a flag for that:
The pink stripe stands for women, the blue for men and the yellow for non-binary genders.

Intersex? There's a flag for- well, you get the idea:
Created by the Organization Intersex International Australia in July of 2013, the goal of creating a flag for this community was to create a flag that is "not derivative, but is yet firmly grounded in its meaning." They were aiming for a symbol without pink and blue gendered colors- yellow and purple are described as hermaphrodite colors.

There are more, oh so many more Pride Flags out there- but I feel like this is a good sample. To those that celebrate, Happy Pride Month! And for everyone else, Flag Day is right around the corner (a special, Wednesday edition of This Week In Vexillology) and then we head into a two week Summer Hiatus.

So remember, until next time- keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Albums2010 #90: The Joshua Tree, Revisited

Believe it or not, this whole project of mine began two blogs ago on the 1st of June with none other than The Joshua Tree, so it seems only appropriate to revisit the album that started it all, albeit with a slightly different experience this time around. Way way back in January, U2 announced they were launching a 30th Anniversary Tour for The Joshua Tree it seemed like destiny. I had stood in line for tickets with my mom for the first tour and now finally, I might have a chance to see them live. The time to fulfill my rock n'roll destiny was at hand, so the Missus and I snagged some tickets and made a plan for June. The Grandparents (her Mom and both of my parentals) helped wrangle the kiddos and my parentals (very generously) sprung for the hotel and away we went for a weekend in Chicago, culminating with U2, live at Soldier Field.

First: Soldier Field... I hadn't actually been back to Soldier Field since before it was all renovated and modernized and it was something of a struggle to remember what it had used to look like, back in the day. (My general impression was that, like the Metrodome it was showing it's age and kind of a well, dump in it's final, pre-reno years.) Spain vs Bolivia in the Group Stage of the 1994 World Cup was my first visit, this was my second and I was impressed with the renovation. They've done an excellent job preserving the architecture of the old stadium that gave it so much character while improving and modernizing where they needed to for the sake of the modern, commercial aspects of the game (i.e. luxury boxes, etc). I was impressed.

Second: the seats.  While the stadium was impressive, I didn't realize quite how high our seats actually were. At the top. The very top. Row 32. Which was admittedly nice, because there were no people behind- however it was a hike worthy of ascending Mount Everest in terms of the number of stairs you had to climb to get there and get down to things like a bathroom or food. However, the view provided some compensation. We could see the entire Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan and had a great view of the action itself on the field below.

Third: The Lumineers... they're on the radio and I've heard a few of their songs, but wow were they an excellent opening act. (Expect an album or two of theirs to show up in the next few editions of Albums2010 as we race toward our conclusion at #100.) There's something to be said for a band that uses a bunch of tambourines and a cello.

Fourth: the meat and potatoes itself! U2 didn't waste any time getting things going- they launched right into  a duo of tracks from War and one from The Unforgettable Fire (Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year's Day and Pride (In The Name of Love)) before getting into the main event: The Joshua Tree. The backdrop, which had seemed like a fairly pedestrian back drop up until that point, came alive as videography courtesy of the band's longtime collaborator Anton Corbijn came alive to bring the album to life right there on the field in front of us.

It's one thing to listen to an album on CD or whatever, but it's an entirely different experience to hear that album, live and in person, every song, in order. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before and I honestly don't think I'll ever see it again,. U2, for the record: is a really, really good band live. When they started in on 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' I think I said, 'Wow' out loud. I don't know if anyone heard me, but it was a spine tingling moment. Goosebumps. Absolute goosebumps. 

I love this album, so every song was amazing, but I think 'Bullet The Blue Sky' live...  holy shit. The Edge ate his Wheaties that night because god damn, the guitar on that. Face melting levels of amazing.

They stuck to business for the album portion of the proceedings with only one or two asides by Bono- the encore was where things got a little more political, but not a super annoying way. The overall message was one of love, peace, humanity. He went out of his way to say that everyone was welcome- left, right, no matter who you voted for, which was a genuine touch.

I think everyone has that one band that impacted them growing up- you know, the band or the artist that sticks with you over the years whether you know it or not. There's more than one band perhaps- I think, given the amount of Pink Floyd I listened to on family vacations as a kid, I'd probably have a similar reaction to seeing them live and in person, but man...  I didn't realize how much of the music of U2 has stuck with me over the years. I think a visit to their discography is probably in order, but The Joshua Tree remains one of my all time favorite albums ever. It started this crazy notion of mine off seven years ago and came back around almost at the end of the notion 

Seems fitting somehow.

(For the record: this dethroned Duran Duran in Rome as my all time favorite concert ever. Not that I have that many to choose from, mind you- but between us, the Missus and I seem to have a good track record of picking amazing concerts to go too.)