Saturday, August 27, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #179

The Olympics are over, so This Week In Vexillology, we're returning to our regularly scheduled programming with the flag of Armenia!
First of all, let's talk about the country itself. Armenia as a country is old, old, old- the Kingdom of Armenia was at it's height in the 1st Century BC. The Armenia Apostolic Church is recognized as the national church- the world's oldest. So as an idea, as a country, as a people, Armenia has been around for a long long time. Armenia spent centuries under the domination of various other powers in central Asia before being split between Russia, Persia and the Ottoman Empire. The current country is about 10% of what is considered 'historical Armenia' and their people fell victim to the Armenian Genocide before falling under Soviet Domination after a brief period of independence during the 1st Armenian Republic.

Getting back to independence wasn't easy. Glastnost and Perestroika brought demands for better environmental care for Armenia, because communists are, of course, all about the environment. There were also nasty tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia that continue today (see: Nagorno-Karabakh) that culminated in an out and out pogrom of Armenians living in Baku in 1990. (Oh and helping all of this was a 7.2 earthquake that hit in 1988.) Needless to say, Armenia wanted out and headed officially for the exits on August 23, 1990.

Armenia didn't waste time after declaring independence on August 23rd, 1990- they adopted their flag the very next day- a very nice horizontal tricolor of red, blue and orange, designed by Stepan Malkhasyants, per Wikipedia. Officially (as in, what's written down in the Constitution of Armenia) the red represents the Armenia highland, the Armenian people's continued struggle for survival, maintenance of the Christian faith and it's independence and freedom. The blue is for the will of the people of Armenia to live beneath peaceful skies and the orange is for the creative talent and hard-working nature of the Armenian people. Unofficially, there are simpler interpretations, like: red for the blood of the people killed in the Armenian Genocide, blue for the pure sky and orange for Armenia's courage.

So there you have it, the flag of Armenia! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Boozehound Unfiltered: Ron Burgandy Blended Scotch Whiskey

When I first heard of this, I was dubious. It seemed like a publicity stunt, to be honest. As this article from Forbes points out, foodstuffs that are marketed as tie-ins to movies tend not to be all that memorable- (the author of the article cites Ghostbusters Cereal as his exception to the rule, but I'd counter that with Ecto-Cooler) and he would be right. But here's the thing, whoever decided to do this actually put a little bit of thought into it, because at the end of the day as this review from Slate noted, this stuff? It's not terrible.

Its a blended scotch, not a single malt, so budget wise it's a lot more reachable than single malt, hovering around the $25-$30 buck mark at the store I snagged this at on our super fast visit up to The Cities last month. The blend is 60% malt and 40% grain and includes whiskies from Speyside, the Highlands and Islay.

But how is the whiskey itself? Let's check it out:

Color: Dark amber/honey

Body: Deep, rich and delicious, there's lots of dark fruits here. Figs, plums and raisins seem to be the most prominent.

Palate: If there's a weak point, it's probably here. It does sit lightly on the tongue and there's a nice touch of spice, and while vanilla and figs are prominent in the taste, it just doesn't work that well for me. It feels weak and watery when it should be smooth and robust. It's kind of a let-down given how good this stuff looks and how nice it smells.

Finish: Gradual but firm, the burn sort of sneaks up on your a bit, but it isn't harsh. So there's that anyway.

Overall: Ironically, it's the kind of hooch I can imagine a local television anchor actually drinking. It is genuinely not that bad. But the flip side of that: it's not that great either. A solid offering from Mr. Burgundy that's drinkable, this should make me sing, 'I love scotch, scotchy, scotchy scotch' but it doesn't quite get there. It smells great, but ends up as sort of a 'meh' experience. My Grade: C+

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

True Confessions: I Let My Kid Rig CandyLand

Look, good parenting means teaching your kids to follow the rules. I get that. It's about learning how to play fair and the art of winning and losing, but at some point along the way, after umpteen million games of CandyLand, I just stopped caring. I mean, it's CandyLand. It teaches kids colors and counting and how games work. If you're 4 years old, I get that it can seem pretty damn cool. 

But for an adult? It's awful. This is the Caillou of Board Games with it's obnoxious characters (Gramma Nut, Princess Lolly, Queen Frostine, Plumpy, and whatever the hell the rest are) and obnoxiously bright colors. There are literally no stakes. I mean, who gives a shit about getting to Candy Castle? What the hell is the point of the damn game?

So yeah, at a certain point, I stopped giving a shit. I know, I know. That makes me a bad parent, but it was also kind of amusing to watch Little Man figure out how to count cards so he got the orange one right off the bat and could take the Rainbow Bridge and get ahead. Then he moved up a notch and starting shuffling the deck himself, so he could put Queen Frostine in 'just the right place' so he could get a big jump on plodding old me way at the back. We don't have the new, fancy version with the spinner, so we're stuck with cards. He learned the recognize which of the cards was Plumpy (the guy way at the beginning of the board that will really screw you if you're on the verge of finding the Candy Mountain. Or the Candy Castle. Or whatever it is.) and freak out and try and obfuscate and switch cards.

I'm not completely useless. If he gets a card he doesn't want (though I noticed that Plumpy and the other disadvantageous cards have gone missing. Imagine that) he's gotta keep it and deal with the prospect that he might not win. 

You know what we need to get? Chutes and Ladders- and I know the modern version of Chutes and Ladders isn't much better than CandyLand, but my Grandma had an old school version of Snakes and Ladders. It was ancient- I don't know how ancient it was, but if she had found it in a bazaar shipped in from British India, before it well, became just India, it wouldn't have surprised me. She brought it with her every time she came to visit. And if you think getting Mr. Plumpy in CandyLand is a bad break, then you didn't know snakes like these. I remember there was one big long bugger that was at like space 98 on the board. Hit that and you went all the way back down to like space number 2. It was vicious. And it was fun.

Of course, in today's world, you can't get Snakes and Ladders. You have to get Chutes and Ladders. Slides and Ladders. Something ubiquitous and non-threatening and ladders. No, screw that. We need to get metal about this. SNAKES AND LADDERS, bitches. That's the game we need. There's a great quote from Terry Pratchett that I always think about when I think about Grandma and her old Snakes and Ladders board.
"Gods prefer simple, vicious games, where you Do Not Achieve Transcendence but Go Straight To Oblivion'; a key to the understanding all religion is that a god's idea of amusement is Snakes and Ladders with greased rungs."
Little Man's got a birthday coming up. I think I we need to make this happen.

So, yeah. I let Little Man rig CandyLand. I'm lazy, because he's four and CandyLand is relatively low-stakes in the grand scheme of things. When you're 4, you need your illusions. The rest of the world lies ahead of you and shit gets harder from here. CandyLand works when you're 4. But he's heading into preschool in about a week and that means it's time for Chutes- or, if I can find it somewhere online, Snakes and Ladders.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Squawk Box: Games of the XXXI Olympiad

I don't know why an American television network can't seem to figure out how to do decent Olympic coverage, but they can't. NBC's coverage has been universally panned as riddled with unnecessary tape delays, commercials, fluff and human interest stories instead of sports and an intense focus on all things Team USA related at the expense of the larger story going on at the games themselves. (Though I'm willing to give them some leeway on that last score. This is America, after all, so in competitions like these, it's generally Team USA and 'all them other people from the funny foreign places.')

But in general, it sort of sucks. Why did I spend so much of prime time watching swimming, swimming, swimming and nothing but swimming? Why did gymnastics wait until an ungodly late hour of the night to even begin? I don't care about Michael Phelps vs Ryan Lochte! At this point, their whole rivalry is a horse that NBC has beaten to death years ago. From across the pond, the Telegraph has a particularly scathing review that's worth reading, but buried deep in the article is this god-awful section:
John Miller, NBC Olympics chief marketing officer, claimed a month before the Olympics that women were more interested in 'the journey' of each competitor than the sport itself.
"The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans," he said.
"More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they're less interested in the result and more interested in the journey.
"It's sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one."
 Oh, so that's why their coverage sucks out loud. They're pandering to some sexist notion of what women actually want...  ugh. (That's not the worst of the sexism, by the way. More fun gems await you in that Telegraph article, but hey, there's this too! Yay!)

Call me crazy, but the whole point of the Olympics is the actual damn sport. I don't care about the fluff and the human interest pieces- now, do you want to have a special hour on like Sunday nights or late nights devoted to 'THE JOURNEY' or whatever NBC execs think the ladies want to hear about, then go for it. But in today's world, there's is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for not showing every single bit of these games LIVE. Especially since Rio is like an hour ahead of Eastern Time. (Then, your primetime coverage can be all the exciting highlights/medal finals that people missed at work, if they aren't watching live.)

But the whole excess fluff, not enough sport problem has been around since I was in high school. In fact, I think I gave what was supposed to be a five minute speech on a topic of my choosing about how much the media coverage sucked, but no one stopped me, so my speech ended up being thirteen minutes or so- and that was in the 9th Grade.

What didn't suck? Streaming. It sucks that it takes a cable subscription to get at the full range of streaming options, but holy cow, was it nice to just pick a sport I wanted to watch and just watch it without incessant commercials and god awful commentary. Plus, it meant that I could catch sports and events that would never in a million years see the light of day on prime time coverage.

In today's world, there's just little to no excuse for being so bad at this. There's little to no excuse for not actually showing the games live- or, more to the point, showing all the medals being awarded. That should be the goal. And while NBC is paying out the behind for the rights to the Olympics, they're undoubtedly making money hand over fist. Or someone is, and if it's enough money, they don't have to care about how they do this.

But, watch the streaming model. Cable ain't going to be around forever and I can envision a day where NBC pops up and says, 'hey, want to watch it all? 20 bucks gets you full access- with or without a cable subscription.' I'd happily pay for the privilege to watch what I want, when I want to watch it- without inane commentary and all the excess annoying things that go along with it.

(Slate had an interesting interview with Dwight Stones that's worth a listen. Needless to say. he's not a fan of NBC's Track and Field coverage.)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #178

This Week In Vexillology, we're wrapping up our little trip down NGO Lane with the final NGO of our trio, the flag of the United Nations:
Adopted on December 7, 1946 the flag is pretty basic. A white UN Emblem, surrounded by two olive branches on a blue background. But if you dig a little deeper, you actually find out that there's a little bit more to it than that. The olive branches are simple: they're a symbol for peace. The world map? All the people and countries of the world.

But, if you dig into the Wiki-Page, you find that there are some interesting design choices and elements here. For a start, the color blue was meant to be the opposite of red, which people associate with war. While the projection is basically a projection of the world as seen from the North Pole, the original design- way back in 1945- chopped off bits of Argentina at the Southern Hemisphere, since Argentina was not planned to be an original member of the United Nations. They changed that, and shifted the view so that no one country was in prominence.

The final placing of the projection was shifted still further, with the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line forming the vertical diameter- this also moved North America away from the center of the emblem.

Is it one of the dreaded 'seals on a bedsheet'? Pretty much, but the political debate over the placement of the projection of the world map is kind of interesting. How relevant is the United Nations in the 21st Century? To be honest, I'm not actually sure any more. I feel like back in the 90s, we did a hell of a lot more with the United Nations than we do now. But I might be wrong...  they're working on getting a new Secretary-General I thought, but we'll see how that goes as well.

Until next time, keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, August 19, 2016

They're Scared Because They're Calling Everyone Else Crazy

Ugh, this meme*:

First of all, it's wrong. At least when it comes to Johnson. Seriously, go look at his website and see for yourself. And lo and behold nowhere do the words, 'I WANT TO OUTLAW SCHOOLS' actually appear. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Does the government waste our money? Yes. Should we abolish the Federal Department of Education? It's not the worst idea in the world, but it's hardly a radical idea either. Pretty much every Republican Presidential Candidate since I've been alive have wanted to do the exact same thing.

Is it fair to Jill Stein? Debatable. She hasn't exactly helped herself this time out, but her platform remains solid- and more to the point, especially when it comes to political reform, comprehensive and ambitious. She's raising issues that need to be talked about.

Look, I get the arguments against third parties, I do. I get that any sustained, long term success is going to involve building a solid infrastructure on the local, then state, then national level and then going from there. I also think that the Greens and the Libertarians are too wedged into their little corners of the political spectrum to ever be a serious threat to either of the mainstream parties. Plus, our system doesn't allow for large numbers of parties, but one, even two smaller parties with actual representation on any level in a sustained way would force coalition building onto a political establishment that gets too much joy out of finger pointing and accusations of obfuscation.

I've been listening to both of Dan Carlin's Podcasts for awhile (Common Sense and Hardcore History, both of which are excellent if you're in the market for a podcast) and he pointed out something that resonated with me. When the Establishment is under threat- and 'establishment' in this case, refers to the mainstream wings of both parties, that together really aren't that far apart on the issues when you get down the brass tacks- then the challenges to their dominance are usually referred to as 'crazy' or some kind of 'threat' to the status quo.

It's not new, as Carlin pointed out. LBJ had his infamous Daisy Girl ad. Richard Nixon ran as a law and order candidate portraying George McGovern as crazy. Ronald Reagan was going to kill us all because, well he was crazy. It's a classic formula: when the Establishment is scared, they'll call everyone else crazy. Shut up, they'll tell you. Get in line. Suck it up and vote for the our guy.

Do I know who I'm going to vote for yet? Nope. But when I see memes like this one, it both pisses me off and makes me happy all at the same time. The Establishment is scared- and if they're not scared, they're uncomfortable. And you know what?

I'm okay with that.

*Reading the comments on the Facebook post that came with it, I was somewhat heartened to see a whole bunch of people pointing out what bullshit descriptions of Stein and Johnson these are. Good. Maybe it'll piss people off enough to vote for them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Big 12 Expansion: Too Little, Too Late?

The Expansion Carousel is turning at an ever-increasing pace. The Big 12 is reportedly meeting with up to 17 schools and has a timeline that seems to be hovering sometime in the end of September for a potential decision on expansion candidates, but wrinkles have emerged that are worth talking about- because there are any number of reasons to believe that this round of expansion will probably be the last before the inevitable emergence of four, sixteen team super conferences. The question is, will there be a Big 12 Conference left when we get to that point?

But let's talk about the wrinkles...

First up, BYU: they were seen as the best candidate for membership in the Big 12, but then their honor code became an issue. Being a religious institution, they're not down with LGBT folks, which sports fans and football coaches might not care all that much about, but college presidents for sure do. I'm not saying that they're totally out of the picture- because of the available schools, they've got the strongest national brand and profile, which should satisfy the Big 12's network partners, but this complicates things. Potentially to a deal-breaking point. So put a question mark on BYU.

This leaves Houston and Cincy as obvious candidates if the Big 12 wants to get back to actually having twelve members. (If 14 is the number and BYU proves to be too much of a political liability for the college presidents, then Colorado State or Boise State probably moves to the forefront of the western options. I'd say some combination of ECU, UCF or USF could be possible for the east.) But playing the guessing game brings us to our second wrinkle:

Does any of this even matter? 

No, seriously. There's a serious argument to be made that the Big 12 is about five years behind the curve here. ESPN is bleeding money and subscribers. Fox Sports 1 isn't bleeding money, but it isn't exactly in bringing in the big bucks either. There are reasons to believe that the traditional cable model is breaking down. Somewhere, someone is going to figure out how to stream live sports the same way Netflix did for movies and Hulu did for television. I don't know if it'll look like Netflix or Hulu- I think that's too simplistic in many ways, but they'll figure out how to cut cable out of the picture.  And then what?* (There's a very good reason that the conference's TV partners are reportedly unhappy.)

If this expansion was driven by media markets and cable deals and we're in the twilight of cable as we know it, then what else do you  need to expand for other than to grab cash and money for when the next earthquake hits and the super conferences everyone is convinced will happen emerge. The other conferences already have the cash flow in place. The SEC, the Big 10, hell, even the ACC have stability and cash flow- stupid amounts of money almost. They're in a position to leverage that into whatever comes next. The Big 12, with no network and no good options doesn't have that. 

A lot of punditry is just people talking out of their asses. I get that, but when people present argument much like the one I made in the previous paragraph- it's convincing. One last round of expansion, grab as much cash as you can and when the grant of rights is up, everyone head for the door. 

Predicting the eventual demise of the Big 12 could be foolish. I could be wrong about all of this. It could be that some magical candidates emerge and everything stabilizes. Maybe cable figures out a solution to the cord cutting problem and we'll all by happy with our networks and everything will remain as it is now, more or less. But, let's say the Big 12 breaks up. Who goes where? The ACC, SEC, Big 10 and Pac-12 are all at 14 teams. So they'll be looking to add two more apiece. Rough thoughts/predictions:

Oklahoma goes one way, Texas goes another.

Texas won't follow A&M into the SEC.

You'd think that Iowa State should be nervous, but it's got an academic profile that could keep it a seat if and when the music stops.

Politics is an interesting factor in all of this. If the Kansas schools and the Oklahoma schools are a package deal, where do they go?

I feel like weirdly, TCU would fit in the SEC, but Baylor would fit in the Pac-12.

Where do Texas Tech and West Virginia land? Or do they?

All of this is predicated on the notion that this latest round of expansion won't be enough to hold the Big 12 together. It may work. The emphasis there is on the word 'may.' It could be that some expansion will convince the Big 12 that it's better to hang together instead of hanging separately. If the cable model collapses in on itself over the next five to ten years, they might come out looking lean, mean and smarter than the rest. Or, they could wait until their grant of rights expires and then head for the exits.  Either way asking if it's too little too late could be an important question to consider in this latest round of conference expansion.

*The Quiet Man mentioned that baseball is moving toward every team having their own network. So you'd pony up the cash to get all the games for your team... the Dodgers are dipping their toes in this pool.  I hate this notion. As much as I like the Twins, I'm not paying for a whole network of their games. I suppose something like this is inevitable, but I think it alienates casual fans. You've got to be all in with this model and that's a gamble. If it works, then great. If not then I don't know what that does to a sports bottom line.