Wednesday, March 21, 2018

When Is Manipulation, manipulation?

The Guardian's expose on the Cambridge Analytica scandal is both troubling and head-scratching all at the same time. Your initial reaction is, 'well, it wasn't me. I wasn't manipulated. I'm informed. They couldn't possibly have made me do what I didn't want to do, could they?' But then you step back and think about it a little bit and then you find yourself wondering: how vulnerable is the average person to manipulation online? Could it get you to change your vote? And if so...  is that cheating?

I took one class on political behavior as an undergraduate and now I wish that I had taken more, because it's fascinating and given the sheer size of the scandal about this data, it's incredibly relevant in our politics today. I think my political behavior professor lost me when he told us that there was a high correlation between how your parents vote and how you vote, to which I immediately thought: "Well, my Grandmother was a Tory council member in Leeds and my mother cast her first vote for the Communist Party just to annoy her and might be a secret radical socialist of some kind, while my father was a big supporter of unions and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament back in the 80s, came to America and somehow became a deep red Republican. So what the hell does that make me?"

Two decades ago, I think my professor's assertion would have held up just fine. The problem I think we have to confront is that the old framework for looking at politics has completely broken down. The Democratic Party's base used to be the blue collar, working class. But it also championed teacher's unions and access to affordable college for all, and as a result, over the years, that blue collar, working class base became more educated, more affluent, more urban and as a result, now the Democratic Party's base is more technocratic than anything else- which leaves openings for a politician like President Trump to go after those voters.

The collapse of media credibility in this country also doesn't help the cause either. At this point, if you turn on cable news, it doesn't matter which channel, what you're being spoon fed is probably garbage. It's just that everyone thinks they're entitled to their own facts and their own news that reinforces those facts, but the problem then becomes: how do you know what's true anymore? In the absence of 'reliable' mass media sources, people are going to go to the internet to get answers and anyone who has ever been on the internet will tell you that reliable sources are damn hard to find.

So, now Facebook stock is all aflutter and it might be in a wee bit of trouble. But here's the kicker, to me: all of this might lead to greater transparency on a variety of online fronts. And, to be honest, I think that's good. I'm a big believer in sunshine being the greatest disinfectant*, so it was heartening to see that the FEC was taking up the issue of online political ad transparency. But why stop there? Conservatives have been charging for months that they're being censored on a variety of social media platforms- but the question of who decides what's objectionable or not on these platforms seems to be the furthest thing from transparent. Companies should be required to tell consumers what they use your personal data for. They should be required to tell you the rules for their websites in a clear and transparent way: consumers should be able to know exactly what they're getting into when the sign up for a social media platform or use a search engine.

In general, the issue of online transparency isn't a huge deal breaker for me. I'm writing this on a blogging platform that's run by Google using Google Chrome as my browser and I'm probably going to get a Google Pixel here in a few weeks to replace my rapidly decaying Samsung Galaxy S5. As a consumer, I know Google and Facebook and Twitter are probably using my data somewhere in their systems. I know Google tweaks it's search engine results to tell me what I want to hear. I know all of this, but I also have the TOR Browser downloaded on my personal computer at home. I saw a random link on Twitter for a search engine called DuckDuckGo, checked it out and did a side by side search for the same thing with Google and it's not bullshit. You do get different results.

Right now, I take the path of least resistance for my online usage. Google is simple, because it's there. But the real key to ending this climate of #FakeNews that we live in isn't just greater transparency across the board. It's taking the time to educate yourself about the options available to you as a consumer. It's about trying search engines like DuckDuckGo. Or checking out platforms like It's about reading multiple sources from multiple points of view to get some inkling of what the hell is going on in this crazy world. This isn't Walter Cronkite's newsroom anymore, kids. You've got to inform yourselves.

*If we can't get money out of politics (it'd be nice, but let's be real about this) then every single donation from the single penny to the Federal maximum needs to have a name attached to it. Ditto with the 503c groups. No more of this 'Americans For Whatever' bullshit. Who are you people?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Boozehound Unfiltered: Four Roses Bourbon

Four Roses Bourbon was a Christmas present from my mother in law- it's just taken me a couple of months to finally get to giving it the review and tasting it deserves. Based out of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, it's been around since 1888 and in it's Spanish Mission style headquarters since 1910. (I took a peek at them on Google Street View and it does legit look like a beautiful distillery- makes me want go back to Kentucky and pay it a visit.)

The origins of the brand are somewhat disputed. There's some mention made of Rufus M. Rose, who according to some, founded the brand in 1888, like named after him, his brother and their two sons, but the current brand makes no reference to him. Instead, the label tells the story of Paul Jones, Jr. who became smitten with a beautiful Southern belle and sent a proposal to her. She replied that if her answer were yes, she would wear a corsage of roses to an upcoming grand ball. And she showed up, with a corsage of four roses, which gave Mr. Jones the inspiration for the name. No idea which origin story is the correct one, but they're both interesting.

It's had a bit of an interesting journey as a product itself, however. It was purchased by Seagram in 1943 and was a top selling brand of bourbon in the United States for a three-decade period stretching from the 30s to the 50s. After the 50s, for reasons passing understanding, Seagram discontinued the sale of the product in the US, focusing instead of blended whiskey- it wasn't available as straight bourbon in the United States again for nearly four decades until the brand ownership shifted again in 2002, when it Seagram was purchased by Vivendi, who sold it to Diageo, who turned around and sold it to Kirin, which has managed it since and has kept it as a straight bourbon whiskey, much to everyone's delight and relief.

That's Four Roses Bourbon in a nutshell. Let's taste some, shall we?

First Impressions: Initially, it seemed pretty 'meh' to me. I wanted to take my time with this one though. I used it in a mixer. Had a few wee drams throughout the week before I sat down and did my tasting, but my overall reaction was: I've tasted better bourbons than this.

Color: Pale yellow, straw

Body: The aroma on this is hard to unpack. There's a sweetness that's immediately obvious to the nose, but there's a crisp feel to it that puts me in mind of apples and honey. (Interestingly, I handed my glass to the Missus and this point and she declared it 'the best whiskey that she'd ever smelled' and that it 'smelled like an old car.' But she also agreed with me about the apples, saying it was 'fruity but not citrusy.') Orchard fruits are prominent here.

Palate: This is going to sound crazy, but when I took the first sip, I immediately thought 'man, that tastes like bananas.' (Just a hint of them.) The viscosity on this is perfect... it's not heavy or syrupy but it's not weak or watery either. It manages a full, complex body while being nicely balanced on your tongue, It's impressive.

Overall: Versatile and more complex than I originally thought, Four Roses Bourbon makes for a delightful bourbon experience. Listed at $26.57 on The Whisky Exchange, it's easy on the budget as well (I'd put this one as a comfortable and proud resident of the 'middle shelf' of your local grocery/liquor store.) My Grade: B+

Saturday, March 17, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #252

It seems only appropriate that we somehow find ourselves in the Irish province of Leinster on St. Patrick's Day itself. Why, you ask? Well, its flag is, perhaps, the most obviously Irish of the four provinces of Ireland:
A symbol of Ireland since the 17th Century, the harp on a green field was the flag of Owen Roe O'Neil, who entered the Spanish service in 1601 and rose to prominence, returning to Ireland in 1642 to assist the Irish Confederation. Which brings us to the next obvious question: what the heck is the Irish Confederation? Well, while England was busy having its civil war, the Catholic nobles, clergy and military leaders go together and formed a Confederation and established self-rule while England was busy chopping off the head of Charles the First and being all puritan and Cromwellian about it, they set about setting up a government (which did swear allegiance to Charles the First, but that's neither here nor there) and for eleven years or so, they ran Ireland.

Where Leinster comes into all of this is the location of the Irish Confederation, which based itself in Kilkenny, 'the principal city of Leinster without the Pale.'* And that really is the long and short of how Leinster got it's flag. The current present day province started out as three ancient Irish Kingdoms of Mide, Osraige and Leinser, but after the 12th Century Invasion of the Normans (when the Pale first sort of appeared) and by then Mide and Leinster had sort of merged into one.

The present day province has a population of 2,630,720 which makes it the most populous province of the four and it's made up of the present day counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly,Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow. As to where it is in the grand scheme of Ireland, well, it's the green part of the map of Ireland you see to the right of this sentence.

We've done three out of four provinces of Ireland so far, which just leaves Ulster left to go.

In the meantime, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise and make sure you enjoy St. Patrick's Day- but just not too much.

*Next obvious question: what's the Pale? Well, it's an area of Ireland centered around Dublin that was under the direct control of the English Kings and Queens from the late Middle Ages onward. It's also the origin of the expression 'beyond the pale' because the original word 'pale' derives from the Latin 'palus' which means stake- specifically one used to support a fence, the meaning of which sort of moved from a literal fence to more of a settlement boundary once you stepped up in scale, which brings us back around to that expression: 'beyond the pale.'

Friday, March 16, 2018

Short Fiction Friday: The Door

The initial seed for this story came courtesy of a one volume history of the Ottoman Empire that I devoured late last year. (Well, not really devoured. More like enjoyed a seven course meal at a relatively sedate pace with plenty of breaks in between.) In the midst of making my way through this, I read an account of a Sultan who came to power and locked his brother away, but the world turned and times changed and then suddenly he was being overthrown and executed and they needed a new Sultan.

Except, when they went to knock on the door where his brother was being kept, he didn't believe them. He absolutely refused to believe them, thinking that he was going to be taken away and executed (which was a perfectly reasonable fear in those days, Sultans weren't exactly crazy about leaving potential rivals to their thrones out there) and they had to actually come in and drag him out and take him away to be crowned.

The idea sort of flowed from there and eventually became, "The Door"

(You can either click on the link above, or here's the full link: )

Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sportsyball: Bracketology Edition

Bracketology: Yes, it's time for the annual exercise in futility that is filling out a bracket in the month of March. It's strange, the amount of happiness that can be derived from filling out a simple bracket and making your picks- knowing, nay expecting that many of them will be wrong and your bracket will lie in ruins before the end of the first weekend. This was my first year actually looking at ESPN's little team vs team comparisons which helped me make a pick here or there. So, without further ado- let's get down to it with the South Region:

Creighton over Kansas State (could go either way, but I have peeps in Omaha, so solidarity!)
Kentucky over Davidson (so tempted to go the other way here, b/c I am no Calipari fan, but just can't do it.)
Arizona over Buffalo (every tournament needs a villain, why not Zona?)
Loyola-Chicago over Miami (my upset special of the South)
Tennessee over Wright State
Nevada over Texas
Cincy over Georgia State

UVA gets past Creighton
Zona over Kentucky in the Battle of the Wildcats
Tennessee over Loyola
Cincy over Nevada

Which sets up UVA versus Tennessee in the regional final, with UVA going to the Final Four.

The East Region:

Nova over Radford
VaTech over Bama
West Va over Murray State
Wichita State over Marshall (but I'm unsure about this one)
St. Bonaventure over Florida (Bonnies for the Upset!)
Texas Tech over SFA
Butler over Arkansas
Purdue over CSU Fullerton

Nova over VaTech
Wichita State over WestVa
St. Bonaventure over Texas Tech (Cinderella, because why not?_
Purdue over Butler

Which sets up Villanova versus Purdue in the regional final, with Purdue going to the Final Four.

The West Region:
Xavier over the Play-In Game Winner
Mizzou over FSU
OSU over South Dakota State (so tempting to go the other way here. This one might burn me.)
Gonzaga over UNCG (gotta go with my 'Zags)
Houston over SDSU
Michigan over Montana
Providence over TAMU
UNC over Lipscomb

Xavier gets past Mizzou
Gonzaga gets past OSU
Michigan gets past Houston
UNC gets past Providence

Which sets up Michigan versus Xavier in the regional final, with Xavier going to the Final Four.

The Midwest Region:
Kansas over Penn
NC State over Seton Hall
Clemson over New Mexico State
Auburn over Charleston
TCU over Play-In Winner
Michigan State over Bucknell
Oklahoma over URI
Duke over Iona (but I do think it would be hilarious if this was the 15-2 upset)

Kansas over NC State
Auburn over Clemson
Sparty over TCU
Oklahoma over Duke (Trae Young is apparently good? and I hate Duke.)

Auburn beats Kansas (because Kansas always screws me somewhere and this year it's going to be against Auburn) and Michigan State gets past Oklahoma, which sets up Auburn and Sparty for the regional final with Sparty going to the Final Four.

Final Four: I have UVA vs Xavier and an all B1G match-up with Sparty vs. Purdue... I'm going with UVA vs Purdue in the Final and although I'd really like to think that Purdue can finally do it, I'm going with UVA here. I think they've been knocking on the door of a Final Four appearance for awhile now and I think this is the year they get it all done. As always, this Bracket will be a smoking ruin by Sunday, so I might as well enjoy it while I can.

Adopt-A-Team: Well, Defensa Y Justicia is turning into a solid mid-table performance so far this season, which makes me feel pretty good, especially given the fate of NEC Nijmegen last season. (Spoiler Alert: they were relegated.) Since we last checked in with them:

L to Argentinos Juniors
W over Chacharita Juniors
L to America de Cali (1st Round, Copa Sudamericana)
D to Tigre
W over Patronato
W over Atletico Tucuman
W over America de Cali (2nd Round, Copa Sudamericana- Defensa wins 3-1 on aggregate)
D to Belgrano

So, they're currently sitting at 12th in the table, which is pretty damn solid, all things considered. Down the stretch, they've got Talleres Cordoba  (2nd in the table, probably an L or a D), River Plate (17th in the table, should be a W on paper, but who knows), Boca Juniors (1st in the table, probable L), Racing Club (6th in the table, could be some points to be had here), Independiente (3rd in the table, probable L), Rosario Central (15th in the table, could go either way), Newell's (23rd, should be a W) and Arsenal Sarandi (dead last in the table, so should be a W.) They've got some tough tests ahead of them, but they've had a good run of form for a couple of months now, so who knows what their potential really is, but I feel pretty confident in saying that they're not going to be relegated this year.

Arsenal: Beat AC Milan in the First Leg, beat Watford 3-0 and got Peter Cech his 200th Clean Sheet and has the second leg against AC Milan tomorrow. They've got Stoke City, Southampton, Newcastle, West Ham, Manchester United, Burnley and Huddersfield down the stretch in the League, plus whatever the Europa League throws at them. (Assuming, of course, they get past AC Milan tomorrow.) Right now, Top 4 looks like a stretch, but it sure would be nice to take the maximum points possible off of their remaining 7 games and see where they end up. My expectations, however, remain delightfully low. In a perfect world: 21 points from 7 games and winning the Europa League followed by Arsene Wenger taking a bow and exiting stage left would be quite nice. None of that will happen, so I'll just enjoy the rest of the season free of worry.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Netflix & Chill #40: Lincoln

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2012
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones*
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Pick: Mine

This movie has been on my 'must-watch' list for quite a few years now, but for whatever reason I have never gotten around to it, so when it popped up on Netflix- I'm assuming as an President's Day gift, I loaded it up and plunged right in.

The movie opens in January of 1865 and President Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is expecting the Civil War to be over soon. Anticipating this and worried that his Emancipation Proclamation could be discarded by the courts after the war, he is adamant and determined to secure passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery before the end of the war when the returning Confederate States would presumably vote it down. He wants to eliminate any possibility that freed slaves could be re-enslaved.

However, the political atmosphere that confronts him is challenging. Radical Republicans worry that they cannot secure the support of western and border Republicans to pass. With multiple Democrats having lost their re-election bids in the fall of 1864, many urge the President to wait for the new Congress to be admitted, but the President will not bend: he wants the Amendment passed before the end of the war, which means they will need support from Democrats in Congress as well.

To shore up the support of the Republican Party, Lincoln must rely on Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) a founder of the Republican Party who is keen to end hostilities sooner rather than later, as victory for the Union seems highly likely but is not yet fully secured. In exchange for his support on the amendment, Blair wants Lincoln to allow him to immediately engage the Confederate government in peace negotiations- which Lincoln knows might cause him trouble with the Radical Republican faction in the party, but in order to secure the support of Blair and his faction he authorizes the mission.

Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William Seward (David Strathairn) work to secure Democratic votes- but are unwilling to go so far as to offer bribes, instead offering patronage instead. The debate on the amendment begins and at a crucial point in it, racial equality advocate Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) moderates his position, arguing that the Amendment represents only legal equality and not actual equality. When rumors of Confederate peace envoys (whom Lincoln has instructed be kept out of Washington) begin to circulate, many call to postpone the vote, but Lincoln's instructions allow him to inform Congress that there are no peace envoys in the city, which allows the vote to proceed and it passes by a two vote margin.

This allows Lincoln to meet with the Confederates and tell them that slavery cannot and will not be restored before the end of the war- as the Northern States will vote to ratify as well as reconstructed legislatures in the south- enough to secure approval of the Amendment. The writing is on the wall for the South soon thereafter and they surrender, ending the war.

The movie closes with Lincoln heading off to Ford's Theater, where he is assassinated. They show his death the next morning and close with him delivering his 2nd Inaugural address.

This was an incredible movie. I loved the choice to focus on one part of Lincoln's presidency rather than casting a wider net to try and capture the whole thing. So much went down in his life and career, so I think that focusing on just the 13th Amendment actually helped to capture the essence of the man more effectively than a more general biopic would have. Daniel Day-Lewis is just... well, he is Lincoln. Sally Field is great as Mary Todd Lincoln. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens- also excellent- in fact, there's really not a bad performance in this movie.

Even though you know that the 13th Amendment passes, the debate and the vote are awfully tense and nail biting. (And the rough and tumble nature of the debate in the House makes me wish we could import a little of that to the present day, instead of watching people drone on and on and on to a half empty chamber on C-SPAN.)

Overall: a beautiful historical moment with the right script and the right actor for the role of a lifetime. I think a lot about Bruno Ganz's performance as Hitler in Downfall- he seemed to inhabit the role and almost become the dude and Daniel Day-Lewis more than matches Ganz by becoming one of our greatest Presidents. My Grade: **** out of ****

*There are a TON of actors you will recognize in this movie. Just going through the IMDB full cast list, I find: John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Black Nelson, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Gloria Reuben, Jeremy Strong, Walton Goggins, David Oyelowo, Dane DeHaan, Dakin Matthews, Gregory Itzin, Adam Driver and S. Epatha Merkerson just to name the ones I recognized from either movies or television.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #251

We're continuing our journey through the flags of Ireland this week, heading south from Connacht to take a look at the flag of Munster:
That Kerrygold butter that everyone raves about? Well, it comes from Munster. Weirdly though, the cheese doesn't- which is kind of a bummer, because it would dovetail nicely with the whole 'awesome butter' thing that Kerry has going on. It consists of the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford- it's also the home of the Blarney Stone, Skellig Michael of The Last Jedi fame and of course, Jameson Whiskey and Waterford- so you can get the whiskey and the crystal glasses to drink it in. So Munster is apparently where all the fun stuff is. So that brings us back to our most pressing question of all: just where the heck is Munster? Well, our handy-dandy map of Ireland is back and ready to assist us.

The green part shaded in on the map down there on the southwest chunk of Ireland? That's Munster. (And thinking about it: I've probably flown over Munster at least once. I have a very vivid memory of flying over to the UK in 1992 on Air Canada, no less. We had awesome entertainment options and none of us really slept on the flight, but I remember, when the map finally showed us over Ireland, I peek out of the window and far below in the dim morning light I saw the craggy beginnings of the coast of Ireland and knew we were getting close to our destination.)

It's got an area of 9,527 square miles and a population of 1,280,020 with it's most populated city being Cork.

So let's get down to brass tacks and take a look at the flag of Munster...  it's a far cry from Connacht with it's bad ass mutant eagle, but the initial glance is pretty damn striking- though in a more understated way than Connacht's. Munster and it's three crowns have been showing up on flags and coats of arms for nearly four hundred years now. The three crowns were also seen on many flags and symbols of Ireland until the harp symbol became prominent on a more national level.

Here's the thing though: no one is quite sure about the meaning of the crowns on the flag- many have theorized that crowns stand for three of the medieval lordships in Munster: the O'Briens, the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds.

And that;s the flag of Munster! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!