Thursday, April 27, 2017

Boozehound Unfiltered: 2 Gingers

We're back with some Irish whiskey- and to be honest, I can't remember why I purchased this particular bottle of whiskey, but there was a reason. I think perhaps it was for a recipe of some kind that I was working on, but it totally escapes me at the moment. (Or maybe it was just to have a bottle of Irish whiskey in the house for Saint Patrick's Day? Could it have been that simple.)

Anyway, for whatever the reason, I settled on 2 Gingers and it turned out to be a decent buy. I haven't really explored too much of Irish whiskey beyond the usual suspects of Jameson and Bushmills, so it was nice to break out and spread my wings a little bit and try something new.

So what's the deal with 2 Gingers? It's from Minnesota... yeah... that was kind of a puzzlement to me as well. But Minnesota bar owner and businessman Kieran Folliard was inspired by his fiery haired mother and aunt (Mary and Delia) to found 2 Gingers. So it claims Minnesota as it's home, but was founded by an Irish man and made in Ireland...  that's kind of cool, actually. I like that. A Midwest Irish Whiskey. I didn't know such a thing was possible, but I'm happy that I found this out. It gets even more interesting when you dig into the history behind the Kilbeggan Distillery.

Okay, this was confusing and took a little time to unpack, but here's the deal: 2 Gingers is actually brewed at the Cooley Distillery- Kilbeggan is produced their now as well- the original Kilbeggan Distillery is now a museum with a working distillery and restaurant- and the original has roots dating all the way back to 1757 and looks like a great place to visit. (The more Irish whiskey I drink, the more I'd like to go to Ireland. I mean other than the normal amount of wanting to go to Ireland.)

Color: Pale yellow/gold

Body: Nice and spicy- which is appropriate, given the name of the whiskey. There's honey and cinnamon with undertones of ginger- which again, also appropriate.

Palate: Sits easily on the tongue- it's not weak and watery but it's also not heavy and syrupy either. It's nice and balanced, The taste is spicy as well, but it's not harsh, it's not burning- it's just the right amount of goodness.

Finish: Warming but not harsh and goes down easy.

Overall: True story- this makes an excellent Irish Coffee and I can't wait to get my hands on some ginger beer and give it a go with that as well. It's not half-bad on the price either and to be honest I dig this. Would buy it again. *** out of ****

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Psephology Rocks: Oh, Snap

So, the build-up to the French Presidential election was sort of muted by the sudden announcement of a snap election for the UK to be held on June the 8th, British Prime Minister Theresa May is apparently seeking a wider mandate to handle Brexit- but before we get to that, let's talk France:

So, it's Macron vs. Le Pen for Round 2 of the election, set for May 7th and I find myself curiously unwilling to make a prediction on this election. It's probably going to be Macron. Probably. The French have a sensible tendency to close ranks against the National Front in second round elections at all levels of their Republic, so I don't see a good reason why that wouldn't happen again.

And yet...  the first round was kind of a train wreck and a half- Macron won with 24.01% of the vote, Le Pen following with 21.3% but after that you had Fillon at 20.01% and Melenchon with 19.58% right behind them. The top four candidates were pretty much in a photo finish here, with Macron taking it by a nose and the others coming to the line at about the same time. Macron's margin over Le Pen was less than 3% of the vote- Le Pen and Fillon were separated by 1.29% and Fillon and Melenchon were 0.42% apart. France, needless to say is a bit divided at the moment- at least if the First Round was anything to go by- but to be honest, if Le Pen was facing off against Fillon, I'd feel a lot better about calling this.

While Macron probably has the inside track, he's also a centrist and an independent candidate coming from the outside of the political system, there also seems to be a hint of "is this guy the real deal" hanging around him- by all account, he didn't look super great in the televised debates leading up to the First Round and while he'll probably benefit from Fillon, Melenchon and Hamon all calling for their voters to vote Macron, I'm not sure that's a sure thing or not. I'm not on the ground in France, so I can't say for sure, but the devil they know might be preferable to the devil they don't know- but election the National Front to the Presidency could understandably be a devil too far for a lot of voters.

But that last fact makes Marine Le Pen's move a potentially shrewd and interesting one- she stepped down as head of her party to focus on being a Presidential Candidate only- I'm not sure if two weeks is long enough for her to cast a wider net in search of more voters- but while she's got to be doing the math and wondering where she's going to get the voters from, Macron seems to be asking the same questions as well. 

All the polls are indicating a 20 point, comfortable win for Macron. That might still happen, but I'm the guy who thought there was no way in hell Donald Trump could win the Presidency- even on Election Night. I would still bank on Macron, but do I think the margin is going to be a lot closer than 20 points. Maybe a lot closer than anyone imagines.

Moving across the Channel, let's dig into the surprise political announcement of the spring: Prime Minister Theresa May after months of insisting that she wouldn't call a snap election, went ahead and called a snap election, this time set for June 8th. It's hard to tell at this point if this was a good move on her part or not- the landscape seems to suggest that  it was, but proclamations of a Conservative avalanche are very, very early.

But, you can also see why they're riding high on a wave of optimism as well- with Labour in the weeds and openly admitting they're not trying to win the general election, it's easy to see why the Tories pulled the trigger on this election. If you're going to swing for the fences, swing for them. If you get a wider majority than what you've got, you have more wiggle room when it comes to Brexit- the risk, however would be a resurgence where you're not expecting of anti-Brexit seats which would put you in something of a bind. This would probably point to a LibDem resurgence- and considering the fact that they've got a grand total of 8 seats right now, it would have to be one hell of a resurgence.

The interesting places to watch are going to be Wales (where there is now talk of an electoral earthquake in the making with polls seeming to indicate that the Tories are on course for gains) and Scotland, where the Tories are eyeing up to ten seats and throwing SNP plans for a second referendum onto the back foot. I'm not sure about Wales- but if the Tories make even half their predicted gains at the expense of the SNP- it will be a body blow for demands for a second independence referendum.  

Of course, if you're not a Tory, then this is a grim, grim time for you. You can argue that whomever wins the election, it probably won't be you. But that's where Gordon Brown comes in... you see, back in March he gave a speech at the Festival of Ideas in Kirkcaldy, Fife (how cool is it that there's a Festival of Ideas? I want one of those here, damn it.) in which he laid out of a plan for a new form of federal home rule- essentially taking the powers that had been given to Brussels and handing them back not to London, but to the regions instead.

Whether you agree with Mr. Brown or not, this is the thing that I think the British 'Left' (or non-Tories) should be exploring more, not less. A lot of people seem to be okay with the idea of Scottish independence, because if you can't beat the Tories you may as well form your own little progressive Utopia, north of the border- right? But to me, that's the mainstream solution. It's the lazy solution. It's the solution that Americans bring up every time the Democrats piss away an election to an inexplicable Republican. (See: Calexit, etc.) The more radical solution would be remaking the entire British state from the ground up- modeling what a potential reformed EU could and should look like in a way that respects the self-determination of the people of the UK and the sovereignty of it's constituent parts.

I understand the appeal of Scottish independence- I do, but I also think that the SNP has failed to make the case with voters for obvious reasons. There's no guarantees on EU entry. There's no guarantees on currency. There's no guarantees on keeping Scotland together. There's no guarantees on North Sea oil being as bountiful as they think it's going to be. It's a big leap off of a very fucking high cliff- but I get it. But, the SNP should also be reading the tea leaves a bit better than this. Theresa May isn't wrong. Scotland deserves to see what Brexit looks like before you get to a second independence referendum. They have a right to see all the cards on the table. And if, after that, they still want out, then sure, why not. I wouldn't vote for it. I would, however, enthusiastically get behind anything that resembled what Gordon Brown was getting at. It would potentially solve the nagging Constitutional problem of the West Lothian question and give every one (Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland) potentially a better deal than they have now- and you wouldn't get the massive uncertainties an independent Scotland would have to face almost immediately. There's a reason Quebec isn't independent, y'all- Federalism is better.

(of course, being in America, I like the sound of Federalism, but hey, I make no apologies- and we could do with a little more of it over here on certain issues. #justsaying.)

With Round 2 in France coming up fast and the election in the UK just getting going, we've got busy months ahead of us! But, you know me- I love a good election!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Netflix & Chill #12: Kubo and The Two Strings

Watched On: Redbox (literally the day before it hit Netflix. Grrrrr...)
Released: 2016
Starring: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Matthew McConaughey
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Pick: Mine 

This was the second time that I had tried to watch this movie and happily, this was the successful time- freakishly, despite a time lapse of some months (this movie proved to be too scary for Little Man- or more precisely, the freaky underwater scenes with the gigantic eyeballs were a bridge too far for him) the DVD player new exactly where we had left off in the movie, which...  disturbed me a little bit. (How did it know? Wasn't like it was the same DVD- had to be a different DVD from a different Redbox and all that jazz.  Technology, man. It's alive and it's going to kill us all someday.)

But anyway: Kubo and the Two Strings is the story of Kubo, a one-eyed young boy who cares for his  mother in a cave atop a mountain next to a village. Every day, he goes down to the village to tell stories with the use of his shamisen that can magically manipulate origami- but his mother warns him not to stay out after dark or her Sisters and the Moon King, his grandfather will come to take his remaining eye. (They took his left one as a baby.) One day, Kubo learns of a festival with a ceremony where family members communicate with their deceased loved ones- he tries to speak to his father, Hanzo who is buried at the local cemetery but leaves when his father does not respond- but stays out after sundown. His mother arrives to fend off her sisters, but tells him to find his father's magic armor before sending him away and charging into one last battle to save him.

When Kubo wakes up, he meets Monkey- the little wooden charm that his mother had given him who has come to life to serve as his protector. An origami version of his father, Hanzo helps to lead them to Beetle, who is a samurai who has been turned into a weird human/Beetle hybrid and knew Kubo's father who joins their quest to find the magic armor. First, they have to go to the Hall of Bones and find the 'sword unbreakable' which they do, defeating a giant skeleton in the process. Then, they sail across the Long Lake in an origami boat and dive to it's depths through the Garden of Eyes to get the 'breastplate impenetrable' (this is the part where Little Man made me stop the movie). After they cross the lake, the go to Hanzo's old fortress to find the Helmet- the last piece of the puzzle only to find that Kubo's aunts waiting- it's a trap. Beetle is killed and Monkey sacrifices herself to get Kubo away to safely and the origami Hanzo tells Kubo that the helmet is the bell in his old village and retrieving that, prepares for one final encounter with his grandfather, the Moon King.

My general benchmark for kids films is a simple one: do they entertain me as much as they entertain my children? In the case of Kubo and the Two Strings that answer is a resounding 'yes' and it's helped by the fact that this is the most beautiful stop-motion animated film I think I've ever seen in my life. Gumby? Wallace and Gromit? Chicken Run? They've got nothing on Kubo...  Kubo takes the medium to an entirely new level and were it not for strong competition from Zootopia and Moana for the Best Animated Oscar (both Zootopia and Moana are amazing films in their own right- this was a very good year for animated films) Kubo would have been, in my mind, a total shoe in for the top prize.

Overall: This is an amazing movie that's beautiful to look at and incredibly entertaining. Although Little Man wasn't a fan, it would not surprise me if this movie ends up on our shelf and in our DVD collection at some point in the future. ***** out of *****

Saturday, April 22, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #210

So, on this date in the year 1500 or so, a Portuguese fleet saw this:
Obviously, they weren't on land when they saw it- they were at see, but this is Monte Pascoal which is on the Northeast Coast of Brazil in state of Bahia- and is believed to be the first chunk of Brazil ever seen by Europeans- which is why today is Discovery Day down in Brazil and why This Week In Vexillology, we're dipping back into Brazilian State Flags to take a look at the flag of Bahia:
Adopted on June 11th, 1960 as the state flag, it's influences spring from what this website calls 'a synthesis of libertarian ideals' which seems pretty close to the mark. The colors recall the 1798 Revolt of the Alfaiates- which was a slave rebellion that engulfed the region which was separatist and looking to free slaves and all the other classes that were oppressed or discriminated by the colonial society in the state. The triangle recalls another great revolt from the decade prior- the Inconfidencia Mineria of 1789. That conspiracy seems far less radical and far more elitist in many ways that the Revolt of Alfaiates- and at least- from what I can glean from the wiki-page, it seemed to be a lot more incoherent that it's northeastern counterpart of the next decade. Some people were monarchists, others Republicans, others wanted abolition of slavery, some didn't...  but it's also the conspiracy that you probably hear the most about if you're looking at the history of Brazil from an Anglo/North American perspective.

The overall structure of the flag might be looking familiar to a lot of Americans- and there's a reason for that- the red and white stripes and blue canton were taken from the American flag- since our own Revolution of 1776 had a major impact on the politics of the region as well.

This is an interesting flag...  in general I think the states of Brazil are probably better flags than say, the state of the United States- but looking all of them, the red-white-blue color combination seems pretty unique- with only Amazonas and Para using just those same colors. The American influence of canton with star and alternating stripes of color is more commonplace- with Goias, Maranhao, Piaui, Sergipe and Sao Paulo all employing a similar design.

So, Happy Discovery Day, Brazil! And remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Albums2010 #88: A Picture of Nectar

So, true confession time: I had never listened to a single Phish album before I listened to this one. I don't know what it was- whether it was the fact that Dave Matthews was more radio friendly and I never listened to alternative college radio back in the day so Phish was just one of those bands I just assumed was tasty and delicious like the ice cream and never actually sat down and listened to them. But I decided that no survey of music or albums or whatever the hell this thing I've been trying to do for seven years now is would be complete without listening to one Phish album, so one Google search for 'where should I start with Phish' and one Reddit thread later, I found myself listening to A Picture of Nectar, which, I was surprise to learn was their first major studio release.

(Wiki-Tangent: they've been kicking since December 1983, three months after I was born. And in a weird twist of something- fate, perhaps? My family would begin our long, strange American odyssey the next year just 90 miles away in Hanover, New Hampshire.)

First impressions: well, it's... good. It's not, 'where has this been all my life good' but it's good. I dig it. I can see why so many people gravitated to Phish from bands like the Grateful Dead-(though actually, upon further reflection, I hear more Santana in this album than the 'Dead) very much a jam band, sounds- there's elements of all kinds of music at play here- from rock n'roll to jazz and jazz fusion and genres and sub-genres I haven't even heard of, much less explored in any meaningful way. 'Poor Heart' is the first track that really sort of changes things up in the album- going from a jam band to sort of an old school, bluegrass kind of sound. Then things get a little jazzier with 'Stash'- the next track is a Dizzy Gillespie cover ('Manteca').

I also dig the Latin flavor on this album- there's more and more Santana flavor to it the deeper you get. So while 'Guelah Papyrus' was more of a jam/jazz track, 'Magilla' seems to serve as a nice instrumental bridge to 'The Landlady' which turns into a jam, but not after some nice Latin beats. (And by the way: if it sounds like I'm talking out of my ass about this stuff, it's because I am. Once I hit #100 on this ludicrous adventure, I'm tapping out and leaving music commentary to the experts, because I am not it.)

'Glide' sort of jumped out at me late in the album. It's got a nice beat. I dig it. 'Tweezer' on the other hand lost me a little bit- I mean, I get it, they're a jam band, so jams are to be expected, but there's such a thing as a wee bit much of a good thing and after awhile this just sort of faded into randomized noise and I just lost interest. 'The Mango Song' was pretty good and didn't meander as much as 'Tweezer' did. 'Chalkdust Torture' changes things up again with more of a rock beat. If there's a jam/instrumental track that I like the best on this entire album, it's probably the last one, 'Tweezer-Reprise' which is one hell of a culmination of a wild, crazy trip of an album.

Overall: First Phish was a good Phish experience. I loved how eclectic this album managed to be and while some of the jams lost me a little bit, others kept me fully engaged and on board. Will I try more Phish in the future? I think there's a pretty good chance of that. *** out of ****.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Oh, the Facepalms..."

This picture pretty much sums up this past week quite nicely and while last Monday we had something of a mixed bag of not-quite-Facepalms to talk about, today, we're all Facepalms.

First up, Arsenal FC, who shat the bed in spectacular fashion against Crystal Palace. Palace fans serenaded manager Arsene Wenger thusly. Now anyone who's ever watched a soccer match will know that you can get a basic idea of what people are singing usually. Usually. In this case, you can understand each and every single fucking word. It's dispiriting when my team is having something of a dumpster fire of a season and that players like Alexis and Ozil will probably be running screaming at the earliest opportunity. Fans of other teams seem to be having a lot more fun that Arsenal is this season- and whether it's the dressing room culture or falling out of the Top 4, which seems inevitable now, change is coming. It's just a matter of when it comes, now, I think- and in what manner. I'd prefer Wenger to announce his retirement and let them get on with things, but who knows. All I know is that Saint Totteringham's Day will be bleak indeed this year and that sucks.

On balance, I'd give this a full five Facepalms. It's a tire fire. It makes me not miss having NBC Sports on my Direct TV. Come on you Gunners- get a new manager!

Second, we've got the news that Wal-Mart is planning to fly drones around in their stores to assist you with shopping. Sweet Baby Cheez-Its, why? WHY? Better idea: have more than two checkout lanes open at any one time.* Accomplish that and you can move onto bigger, better ideas like good wages for your employees and non-shit benefits for them as well- or maybe a company wide goal of not having any employees on food stamps. That'd be good for an obscenely large and wealthy corporation to do. JFC. Flying drones around to assist you in shopping... silliest damn thing I've ever heard. One Facepalm for this. It's a moronic idea and I don't want to give it more Facepalms because it just doesn't deserve more than one, damn it.

Third, we've got the whole United Airlines mess. Never mind the horror of the dude get the shit kicked out of him and forcibly dragged off of the plane. Never mind the scummy revelations about the dude's past that conveniently emerged in the wake of the incident in some truly disgusting attempts at damage control on the part of the company. And let me be clear: I don't give a damn if the dude was Buffalo Bill from Silence of The Lambs, complete with the human skin suit and the basket with the lotion in it. Unless there was a warrant for his arrest or some specific behavior that warranted his removal from the plane, nobody deserves to be treated like that- especially if they've paid for the fucking ticket. If you have a staffing issue, then guess what, you Gluttonous, Shit-Eating Excuse for an Airline, that's your problem. It shouldn't be your customers. (And it's like 300 miles between Chicago and Louisville. Stick your people in a damn car and have them drive, ffs.)

Glorious karma seems to be rained down on United as a result of this, though. Their stock tanked. Kimmel took them to the woodshed for fun. But you know what I keep thinking about it? Anti-trust laws. Let's break up some airlines- because obviously the lack of consumer choice we have in this country means that between the TSA and their gropings/strip searches and airlines that treat us all like cattle, flying can well, suck big donkey balls. If the Republicans and/or Democratic Party could detach themselves from what I'm sure is a big, juicy delicious teat of corporate money of a variety of different shades and do something about this, that would be lovely. But I'm not holding my breath. Another Three Facepalms and a Middle Finger for this one. Because fuck these guys, #BoycottUnited.

Fourth, Sean Spicer. That really should be all I have to say, but instead, he said this:
You had someone who was as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons.
He said a bunch of other stuff too that was equally as moronic. First rule of finding yourself in a hole, good buddy? Quit digging. When even Alex Jones is all like, "Dude, that's fucked up." You've probably strayed a little far off the path. The fact that this fuck-up came during Passover just added fuel to the fire.(Do I think he's going to be fired? One would hope that gross incompetence is grounds for termination, but this is Washington D.C. we're talking about. If they start firing people for being incompetent fuck-ups, there won't be much of a government left.)

Basically: never compare Hitler to anything. Just don't put the fucker in a sentence and you should- should- be fine, But this is Sean Spicer we're talking about here- so I'm probably wrong. Four Facepalms out of Five for this, because if there's a way to fuck-up that's bigger than this, I have every confidence that Sean Spicer will find a way to do it.

Finally, the Filibuster. I have refrained from saying anything about the Nuclear Option being employed to force Neil Gorsuch's confirmation to SCOTUS through because well, arguments about SCOTUS are stupid. This whole mess- if you flip the parties around, it would still be the exact same argument. But the whole creation of the Reid Option was moronic and it's lamentable bit of leftist myopia I'd like to get rid of. You can make decisions when you're in the majority assuming that you're going to stay in the majority- you gotta think about when you're back in the minority and you've handed the other dudes a fully loaded gun to use- this time on you! That was what made the whole Reid Option thing stupider than stupid and I wasn't the least bit surprised when the GOP went ahead and used it with Gorsuch. But the myopia is apparently still out there, because, get a load of this.  Moronic! You start tossing this idea around and what's stopping the GOP from doing the exact same fucking thing. You want ten Conservative justices on the court for life? Wake up, idiots.

This wasn't quite as a moronic, but came close. No, you can't put the ketchup back in the bottle on this. What you might be able to do, is to force people to talk. None of this threat of a filibuster- no, make their asses hold the floor until they go down like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Strom Thurmond still holds the record for longest filibuster and it's about time some other Senator who's not, well, a product of a different time, let's say, breaks the record. And if you don't want to make 'em all talk, well then, shit. What good is a filibuster anyway? Three and a half Facepalms for this.

Happy Monday, everyone. The weekend is four days away.

*Weirdly, Target has almost the inverse problem of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has like two lanes open at any given time with lines ten miles long. Target has every lane open for the line ten miles long and it still takes forever.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Netflix & Chill #11: What Happened, Miss Simone?

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2015
Directed By: Liz Garbus
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Pick: Mine

I had seen trailers/ad floating around for this documentary for awhile now, but never got around to watching it until now. I first heard the music of Nina Simone when 'Sinnerman' was more or less engraved into the soundtrack of 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair (a legit good movie that I feel like I should go back and watch) and she got sampled on a Kanye track a few years later and then this documentary came out and I thought- you know what? I should probably sit down and find out who Miss Nina Simone was and what she was all about.

Turns out, she was about a lot. Growing up in poverty, she began training to be a classical pianist at a young age and began running into the blockades of segregation and racism almost immediately: she wasn't allowed to perform in certain venues or give recitals in others but kept at it before being discovered at a bar in Atlantic City where she was working and doing gigs to support her family. Before long, she had married her ex-cop manager, Andy and was exploding in popularity just in time for the Civil Rights Movement to reach it's peak.

Something that did strike me when watching this documentary was when Ilysah Shabaz (yes, Malcom X was her Simone's next door neighbor) talked about that moment in time and the profound impact it had on creative forces within the African-American community- it wasn't that artists and creators didn't think they had something to say, it's just that the moments and the times they were living in made them realize how important what they said actually was- so songs like 'Mississippi Goddam' and 'Young, Gifted and Black' became incredibly important to the African-American community during the years of the Civil Rights Struggle.

As the 60s wore on, Simone's marriage became increasingly strained as her politics became more radicalized and eventually, her behavior became erratic. After the death of Martin Luther King Jr, she emigrated to Liberia and eventually France, where her mental health suffered and she was almost broke and destitute before friends found her and got her the help she needed (she was eventually diagnosed as bi-polar.) She launched a come back and kept her career going all the way up to her eventual illness and death in 2003.

This was a really beautifully produced documentary about one of the titans of soul and blues, whose career and talents deserve a fresh look and fresh attention in the present day- but it's not just about the music- at least I didn't think so. It's a look back to an incredibly important moment in American history as seen through the eyes of the one of the greatest musical icons of in American history.

Overall, I don't know if I'd consider myself a big documentary guy- but if you enjoy a good documentary now and again, What Happened Miss Simone? is worth your time. If you're into documentaries and all that, then this is a must see doc. **** out of *****