Thursday, May 31, 2018

June Hiatus...

I'm going to recharge my creative batteries for a bit this month and step away from regular blogging. I might pop up here and there if the mood strikes me, but expect regular coverage to come back July 1st...

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sportsyball!

Adopt-A-Team: They survived! Defensa y Justicia managed a solid 9th place performance and didn't get relegated! My curse (if you could call it a curse since this is only year two) has been stopped in its tracks. We checked in with them last time on March 14th, wrapping up their season looked like this:

L to Talleres Cordoboa
L to River Plate
W over Boca Juniors
W over Racing Club
W over Independiente
W over Rosario Central
L to Newell's
W over Arsenal Sarandi
W over Mitre (Copa Argentina, 1st Round)

Out of the three losses down the stretch, only Newell's seems to be a bad one as they're  at the far end of the Superliga table- though three teams above the eventual relegation zone. Both Talleres Cordoba and River Plate finished ahead of Defensa y Justicia in the table and the win over Boca Juniors (eventual winners of the league, surprise surprise) is good. Not sure where I'm going next season yet, but stay tuned for the fall, because I'm sure it'll be just as fun!

Arsenal: It felt like it kind of came out of left field a little bit, as the Arsenal Commentariat seemed to be bracing themselves/convincing themselves that Mikel Arteta's arrival as head coach was imminent, but instead, they went with Unai Emery and the more I've heard about this guy and the more I've read about him, the more interested I am. Yes, he was ousted from PSG- but he also managed to win five trophies in two years and PSG is to France what Bayern Munich is to Germany: the only thing that matters is the Champions League. Everywhere else he's been he's produced solid improvements and won silverware,

In short, it feels like he's exactly what's needed. He's got a good infrastructure around him with Sven Mislintat as head of recruitment and Raul Sanllehi as head of Football Relations, which should allow him to focus on the football. (I guess he wowed the Arsenal board by going through player by player- reportedly all the way down the Academy Level guys and telling them what he would do to improve each player, which means at least he's got ideas on how he can make them better, right?) There's obviously a gap between his arrival and seeing what he can do on the field (because at this point, we just don't know yet) but  if there's one thing that's been frustrating about Arsenal, it's that on paper, they're far more talented than the results suggests. If Emery can find a way to close that gap, at minimum, it means a better finish than sixth for next season.

While I love that he's about challenging for titles, my gut instinct is that he may be a season or two away from making a serious run at the Premier League, but who knows. What I'd like for next season, in no particular order: 1. better away form, 2. top four finish, 3.finish ahead of Spurs in the table! (I want to celebrate St. Totteringham's Day, damn it) 4. win a trophy somewhere. All four of these might be a tall order, but shit, I'd take better away form than this season, because they were awesome at home and excrementally bad away.

TL;DR: New Coach, I'm excited.

Champions League: Liverpool lost. They lost 3-1 thanks to some goalkeeping errors and a shoulder injury to their superstar goal scorer Mo Salah. (The player in question who did the injuring, Sergio Ramos, is amusingly getting sued for one billion euros for potential damage to Egypt's World Cup hopes- despite the fact that it seems like Salah's injury is not as bad as they thought and his chances of making the World Cup seem to be decent.) Speaking of Ramos and goal keeping problems on Liverpool's part... perhaps a stray elbow might have rung Karius' bell a little bit?

This was the first Champions League final I actually kept half an eye on for a long ass time. I didn't actually get to see it, because we were out of town for the weekend, but I paid attention, because for the first time in what seemed like forever it wasn't Barcelona v Real Madrid. But that got me thinking: was Spain as dominant as I thought it was?

Turns out, I was wrong. Spain has had a nice streak going with five Champions League winners dating back to 2012-2013 (which was the Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund year, which was the last final I actually watched). But England had a six year streak back in the late 70s and early 80s (which featured Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa). The Netherlands had a four year streak back in the early 70s (Ajax and Feyenoord). Spain's recent run of dominance in the competition is their best result since it's inception, where they dominated competition from 1955-1960. Between 1990 and 2012, no country has put together a streak. Since I've been alive: England has won 5 times, Italy 8 times, Romania once, Portugal twice, Netherlands twice, Yugoslavia once, Spain 12 times, France once, Germany three times.

TL;DR: Spain's dominance, while boring is the exception, not the rule when it comes to the Champions League. It's more interesting than I thought.

MLS Quest/USMNT: At last tally, I seemed to be poised between FC Dallas and Minnesota United. That's sort of where things are still standing...  shamefully (yes, shamefully) I haven't managed to catch either US Open Cup or MLS regular season action yet. YET. The Season is still young, damn it.

Despite not having made the World Cup for 2018, the US Men's National Team actually had an interesting match against Bolivia, which they won 3-0 that saw some impressive debuts from the young guns of the team. But, they're also reportedly close to finalizing a deal with Earnie Stewart to be the first General Manager of the National Team. This is an interesting move on the part of USSF and depending on who you talk too, it's either a boneheaded move or a brilliant one- judging by the reaction on r/soccer, it's an either/or type of proposition here. I tend to fall into the latter camp rather than the former. Men In Blazers did a fascinating interview with him that's worth digging up if you want to know who the guy is and what he's about and while I don't know for sure, I tend to see some truth in the notion that he had success at AZ Alkmaar and NAC Breda because he had support and resources, while his perceived failure at the Philadelphia Union is allegedly down to his lack of support and resources.

In general, I think you can be good at your job in the world of soccer and if you're not in a situation where you have the resources to support you, the results might not be that great. I don't know yet if Earnie Stewart is the guy for the job, but for sure, the US could do a hell of a lot worse.

Other Sports: The NHL and NBA playoffs continue warping the space time continuum and plod along to their final destinations. (For serious now: hockey and basketball playoffs seem to last for years. I'd swear the Stanley Cup playoffs have been going on for as long as I've been alive, yet it's only been like two months.) For the hockey, alas, poor Winnipeg, so close to the promised land! (I'd say alas, poor Minnesota as well, but the Wild have this tendency to get me excited come playoff time and like a wet fart noise, disappear rapidly. I'm sort of torn between rooting for the Washington or Las Vegas here. I might settle on the former just to give Ovechkin his Cup.

The NBA meanwhile, sets up another Cavs v Warriors Final... I honestly don't have much of a dog in this fight. I tend to agree with the notion that the Celtics are going to be scary good next year and while the Warriors are the Warriors and it would not surprise me if they win this thing, the fact that LeBron James dragged the Cavaliers to the Finals to begin with gives me pause. If he has enough gas in the tank to do it again, anything is possible.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Thoughts On The Democratic Primary Debate

I'm not a Democrat, but I find them to be incredibly frustrating at times. To me, if the Democrats can't claw back something on the state level here in Iowa (not to mention nationally) this cycle, then the future for the party looks bleak indeed. The actions of the legislature down in Des Moines only underlines the importance of the Democrats getting their act together for November- this session, kids, is why you don't give one party the keys to the whole damn place. If they can't get the Governorship, it'd be great to claw back at least a chamber of the legislature just to limit the damage at very least.

I want sensible governance. Keep the financial house in order. Keep the kids in school Monday-Friday and make sure no bridges fall down. Governance as political warfare? That I won't reward and that's exactly what the Republicans have delivered for the past two years. So, when I found the Democratic Primary Debate from Iowa Press online, I was all about sitting down and checking out these candidates to see if any of them is going to have a chance at winning. Here's what I came away with:

Glasson: the stuff that far left dreams are made of, she sounds great but has about as much chance of winning in November as a snowball has of surviving in the seventh circle of hell. If hell freezes over, then who the heck knows, but in a state like Iowa that loves their incumbents, I don't think hell is going to freeze over anytime soon. (Principles are nice things to have, but they don't matter that much if you don't win.)

Wilburn: solid and positive throughout the debate, the fact that he's a former Mayor of Iowa City will instantly make him persona non grata for a lot of people in the room. (If Glasson flying her Crimson Red Bernie Sanders flag is one way ticket to nowhere, being a former Mayor of the People's Republic of Johnson County I think is going to be too much of a hurdle for Wilburn to clear. Shouldn't be that way, but it seems like it is.) I'm honestly surprised Wilburn's campaign hasn't caught more fire though. He's not the most magnetic personality on the stage, but he's solid, has some interesting ideas and would be an interesting choice for Lt. Governor.

McGuire: A Doctor, she seems to be running for better health care and against the Medicare mess. But there doesn't appear much else there. A passionate advocate on those issues, she comes across as very one note. I don't know how far she's going to go (and looking at some Unofficial results from Statewide Conventions that Iowa Starting cooked up, it doesn't look she picked up many delegates either.)

Norris: The candidate I knew the least about turned out to be the most intriguing one on stage in many ways. He seems really passionate about building the Democratic base in rural Iowa and reaching out to rural voters- he talked about changing the culture of farming to make it more profitable and sustainable- which is an issue that should be at the center of any race for Governor in this state. If you're not serious about making agriculture better, then you're not serious about the future of this state. (Plus, he looks a lot like Norm McDonald.)

Boulton: poised and polished- perhaps a wee bit too much of the latter, he's young, energetic and provided a contrast to a lot of the candidates on stage. I get the feeling he's trying to thread the needle between Hubbell's 'bring the voters together', 'I can win in November' kind of candidate and Glasson's, 'I'm the real Progressive here' candidacy. It's a tricky balancing act, but I feel like he pulled it off.

Hubbell: Has the money (and took some heat for being the rich guy in the room) and he's been running ads consistently for a while now. I like that he's focused on the bigger picture: the utter fiscal mismanagement of the state, the wasteful tax giveaways and most importantly, winning in November.

I think it's going to come down to Hubbell and Boulton in the end and I'm honestly not sure who's going to win here. RCP has some polling that was done all the way back in January that has Hubbell and Boulton as the best candidates on paper trailing Reynolds by 5 points and 4 points respectively. McGuire, Glasson and Norris all trail by double digits. (This suggests that Hubbell has a good lead.) I have no idea who's going to win, but hopefully voters choose wisely. We'll see where everything is come the fall.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Netflix & Chill #44: Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets

Watched On: Amazon Prime
Released: 2017
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevinge, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Krus Wu, Rutger Hauer
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%

By the 28th Century, the International Space Station has grown so large that it's had to be moved out of Earth's orbit and into deep space. Once safety away from Earth, it just keeps right on growing and growing and growing until it becomes Space Station Alpha, home to thousands of civilizations and millions of inhabitants, both human and alien.

Special Agent Valerian (Dane DeHaan) wakes up from a a dream about the planet Mul, where the inhabitants live in a low technology paradise. The pearls they fish for contain enormous amounts of energy and small, lizard like creatures replicate more pearls. In his dream, he sees wreckage begin plummeting from the sky and then there's an apocalyptic explosion and just before it reaches the young princess, she sends out a telepathic signal- and then, Valerian wakes up.

He is pretty shaken by his dream and an analysis indicates that he may have received a signal from across time and space. He and Special Agent Laureline (Cara Delevigne) learn that there mission is to retrieve the last of the Mul converters (the lizard like, pearl making creatures from the planet Mul he saw in his dream). Before they arrive at their mission, Valerian asks Laureline to marry him, but she brushes him off. She thinks he's too afraid of commitment and has many affairs with their female colleagues.

They travel to the extra dimensional bazaar called Big Market ,where they secure the converter and Valerian steals one of the pearls on the sly. Together, he and Laureline learn the origins of the pearl and the converter: the planet Mul, destroyed thirty years ago.

Returning to Alpha, they learn from their superior, Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) that there is an infection at the center of the station and it's growing. The two agents are tasked to protect the Commander while they host an interstation summit to figure out what's behind it, but Laureline defies his wishes to retain control of the converter. The humanoids who had also tried to purchase the converter in the Big Market attack and kidnap the commander.. Valerian pursues the kidnappers but Laureline loses track of him at the edge of zone at the center of the station.

Eventually, they uncover the truth: the Commander was responsible for the destruction of the Planet Mul and covered it up. The surviving inhabitants hid themselves away on the station and learned the technology to rebuild their home- all they need is the pearl and the converter. Laureline and Valerian confront the commander about his role in the genocide and after a brief fire fight with the robot soldiers he programmed to do his bidding, the survivors of Mul escape to restore their home and Valerian and Laureline survive in a working ancient Apollo-style module where, while waiting for rescue, Laureline finally accepts his marriage proposal.

Overall: I'm not entirely sure how to feel about this movie. As a mildly bonkers space opera, it's a solid science fiction outing that's worth watching at least once if science fiction space opera is your jam. Rihanna is in this movie, so it's got that going for it. I haven't read the original source material, so I don't know how faithful an adaptation this is, but The Fifth Element blew me away. Valerian just sort of comes across as sort of 'meh.' It promises so much and fails to deliver. My Grade: ** out of ****

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Albums2010 #100: Blood Sugar Sex Magik

The Red Hot Chili Peppers were always on the radio when I was in junior high and high school. There's a small collection of bands that just sort of throw me back to the days of Q103 and RHCP are for sure one of those bands. But it wasn't I saw Anthony Kledis induct the Talking Heads into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that I really sat up and took notice. Not long after, I think I purchased this album and enjoyed the hell out of it. It might still be lurking in my basement right now.

Released in 1991, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was their fifth studio album, which seems slightly ridiculous to me. I always assumed they were firmly a product of the 1990s, but in fact, they made their debut all the way back in 1984, only a year after my birth. (Their self-titled debut apparently was credited as the 'first release from the funk metal genre' and has also been described as 'the little spark that ignited the rap rock revolution'. So Red Hot Chili Peppers begat the likes of Linkin Park? And maybe Gorillaz? I'm okay with that.)

The album itself marked a turning point for the Chili Peppers that seemed to mark a major breakout for them to widespread commercial and artistic success- and to be honest. for an album that was released nearly thirty years ago, it holds up incredibly well. It might be a wee bit too soon to carve it into the Mount Rushmore of essential albums of the 1990s, but seeing it end up on a list of albums that defined a decade in much the same way that Fleetwood Mac's Rumors defined the 70s would seem absolutely reasonable to me. It's that good from top to bottom.

I'm really trying to think about it, but I think the ultimate appeal of this album and ultimately the band has to be the infusion of funk they bring to the table. I've always enjoyed funk. Not in that, 'I have every obscure P-Funk and George Clinton album ever made' kind of way, but in, 'damn right I'll listen to this' and 'if I wasn't white and balding, I'd totally want George Clinton's hair.' If I could pinpoint the moment where I fell into funk, it would probably have to be the movie PCU- but either way, that enjoyment of funk lends itself well to this album. As progenitors of funk metal, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are masters of their craft- as demonstrated by tracks like 'Funky Monks', 'Suck My Kiss', 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik' and 'If You Have To Ask.'

The well known tracks are like old friends to me...  weirdly enough, when I stumbled back onto the RHCP playlist on Spotify, I realized just how long it had been since I had listened to any of their music. I had sort of the same experience with Stone Temple Pilots. They were another band that seemed to stick in my head far more than Pearl Jam or Nirvana did- yet I just stopped listening to them for years and had the pleasure of rediscovering them all over again at some point post-college. Here, 'Under The Bridge' and 'Give It Away' are probably the tracks that resonate the most for me. But 'Breaking The Girl', 'Naked In The Rain' and 'The Power of Equality' also stand out for me.

Overall: This is one of the great albums of the 1990s and probably one of the best albums of the last 30 years. It holds up and delivers the good nearly thirty years after it's release and the week or so I spent exploring the outer limits of the discography of a band that resonated so much with my youth was one of the most enjoyable I've had in a long time. My Grade: **** out of ****

Friday, May 18, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #260

It's a special Friday edition of This Week In Vexillology and we're heading back into the Lost Archives of the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment to take a look once more at the flags of the two Guineas: Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

First up, we've got Guinea:
Adopted on November 10th, 1958 for national and civil usage Guinea followed Ghana (and I guess Ethiopia's lead) in using the pan-African colors of red,  yellow and green. The flag is modeled on the French Tricolor (since Guinea was a French Colony) and the colors are also taken from the RDA, the Rassemblement Democratique Africain, which was the dominant political movement at the time of independence. (Apparently Sekour Toure, the first President of Guinea was a close associate of Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana who's flag is remarkably similar to Guinea's.)

The color scheme is pretty simple: red symbolizes the sacrifice of the people, the yellow is for the sun and the riches of the earth and green is the country's vegetation. (The flag's wiki-page says red stands for the blood of martyrs who died from slavery and wars, so that's one alternate explanation.) If you think it looks pretty similar to a few other flags out there you're not wrong: reverse the colors (green-yellow-red) and you've got the flag of Mali. Add an 'R' and you've got the pre-2001 flag of Rwanda.

Next up, we've got Guinea-Bissau:
Right off the bat we've got an interesting little wrinkle: my reference book says that the flag was adopted for national and civil usage on September 24th, 1973 when the Portuguese territory achieved self-government. The flag's wiki-page dates the adopted from independence which was declared in 1974.

The pan-African colors are evident as is the influence of Ghana. Guinea-Bissau went a little further than it's next door neighbor and brought the black star along for the ride for it's flag. The colors (because apparently every country's independence movement used the same damn ones) are also taken from the flag of the Partido Africano para a Independencia da Guine e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) which is still a dominant party in the country today. (Weirdly: the flag of Cape Verde looks nothing like this. Which is kind of refreshing, really.)

The color scheme is once again, pretty simple: red is for the blood of martyrs/blood shed during the struggle for independence, green represents hope and the forests of the country and yellow stands for mineral wealth and the sun.

And those are the flags of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Look At The Whole Board



So, a recommendation for an episode of Pod Save The World floated past me on my Twitter feed and since it was about the Iran Deal (and President Trump's decision to withdraw from it), I thought I'd give it a listen and see what they had to say on the matter. It was... disappointing. Less an analysis on the pros and cons of the decision and more a twenty minute segment bemoaning the decision and rending their garments over the damage this disastrous decision is going to do to America's standing with our allies and in the world.

Now, don't get me wrong: all of that could be 100 percent true. Withdrawing from the Iran Deal could be a boneheaded, dumbass move that we could seriously regret at some point in the future. So their analysis isn't invalid, per say. It's just not the only school of thought out there. The whole time I'm listening to the episode, this clip from The West Wing kept running on a loop in my head. "Look at the whole board."

I'm not an expert on Iran and my analysis could be totally wrong here, but to me, Iran is something of a paper tiger. Or a volcano ready to explode. They've got one of the youngest countries in the region-as of 2012, half the population was under the age of 35- which at that time, meant that over half the population was born after the fall of the Shah and has absolutely no memory of that regime. What they do remember though is the Iran-Iraq War. They remember the 2009 Presidential Elections and the Green movement that followed. What they're unhappy about is an economy that even before we nixed the Iran deal wasn't doing all that great- which is part of what sparked the protests last year.

The Iranian Regime, meanwhile is fighting proxy wars against the Saudis in Yemen. They're hip deep in Syria and have been bankrolling Hezbollah in Lebanon for years now. All of these activities have accelerated post-2015, so the idea that Iran has overstretched itself is a valid one. With their economy- already rocky- now heading into potentially rockier territory withdrawing from the deal could force Iran to end their foreign adventures and come on home to fix things there. (And if they do that, then yes, the may well start trying to make nukes by the bucketload.) Or it has a real chance of accelerating their implosion.

War with Iran along the lines of what we did in Iraq would be a disaster beyond measure. The minute American troops cross the border, we've given the Islamic Republic a fifty year lease on life and complete retrenched their regime. (I also think we run this risk if we have to launch airstrikes against them as well.) What Iran has that Iraq lacked, however, is a vibrant civil society and the infrastructure of a democratic state. They have elections. Women can vote. Women can drive there. If the Iranian people want regime change, we should support their aspirations for self-determination. (Certainly more than the Obama Administration did in 2009.)

So yes, withdrawing from the Iran Deal could be a disaster. But if it forces Iran to end their involvement in various wars across the region, then that could ameliorate ongoing humanitarian disasters across the region, which would be a good thing. If it accelerates the Iranian Regime's implosion, then I'd call that a potential good thing.

It could also lead to war with Israel and an eruption of chaos the likes we haven't seen for decades. But decrying the decision to withdraw from the Deal solely because of the potential loss of standing with our allies isn't just a flawed analysis, it represents a failure to see the whole board.