Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Most Chaotic Timeline

I had a terrifying thought the other day. What if everyone's a little bit right?

No, seriously, think about it. We are, if the media is to be believed, in 'the end stages of the Trump Presidency' (also media: no, we're not.) The right wing internet has been waiting patiently with baited breath for the Inspector General's report on what exactly went down with the FBI, DOJ and the 2016 election. Each side is convinced that there's 'something' there, where ever 'there' is, but what if both sides find what they're looking for?

Seriously: what if everyone's a little bit right?

I'm no longer buying the Trump/Russia thing. It's entirely possible that I'm wrong about this, but I feel like unless Mueller is playing three dimensional space checkers, that ship has kind of sailed. While the administration does inexplicable things like stepping back from fresh sanctions, it's also been risking World War 3 with Russia by pitching missiles into Syria. Been expelling Russian diplomats after the nerve agent scandal over in the UK. If, as has been suggested the Kremlin has 'something' on Trump, I have to believe that they would have used it by now, because this is not the relationship you'd expect with a guy who allegedly have by the short and curlies.

I think that's why we've seen a shift toward the lawyer and the Stormy Daniels mess. I think a few more people will go down for the Russia thing, maybe the lawyer will go down for this mess or some alleged misdeeds, but I don't think they'll get that smoking gun and even if they do, I'm not convinced it's going to matter. Until the President's popularity ratings start to crater with Republicans, I don't think he'll be in any danger- why? There's a risk that this investigation starts to look like a fishing expedition and if a narrative emerges that the Establishment is trying to take down the President by any means necessary then the 'douse it all in gasoline and light it on fire' voters that put the President where is aren't going to throw him overboard. If anything, they'll just cling to him harder.

I buy the whole 'election shenanigans/improprieties' thing a little more, but not by much. I think fever dreams of a deep state conspiracy will remain just that, fever dreams. But what I do think, is that there will be enough wrongdoing and impropriety found to justify the shrieks of 'perfidious Deep Statism' emanating from the right. Something weird went down with the whole Clinton Investigation- especially given the fact that then FBI Director James Comey took a mulligan on the whole damn thing not ten days before the election last November.

In short: I expect a whole bunch of people go to jail and a lot of shouting to ensue and unless there's something else. Which there might well be, I don't know. Everything I've just written and you just read could well be 100 percent wrong. I think if there's one thing about this current Presidency that I know for sure- other than mental exhaustion and constant exasperation with the state of the world in general, it's that it defies prediction.

Why do I keep writing about the unfolding trainwreck going on all around me? I don't really know. Partially because it's everywhere and you can't escape it and if it's everywhere and you can't escape it you may as well take the time to check in with your thinking from time to time and see how you really feel about it. The idea of everyone being right about everything- at least a little bit- amuses me somewhat. If people's heads are going to explode over every goddamn thing these days, we might as well have some fun with it and go full on Scanners right? Let's make everyone's head explode!

The idea might amuse me, but it also worries me a little as well. Assuming the #BlueWave isn't just a Twitter hashtag and it actually happens, the last thing I want is the Democratic Party launching an impeachment drive that will undoubtedly be seen as nakedly partisan. (And oh the sweet irony if they end up doing it over the Stormy Daniels matter... because lying about a beej under oath was none of our fucking business, but having an adult entertainer sign a non-disclosure agreement so you can get bent over and spanked with a copy of Forbes that has your face on the cover- that's a moral bridge too far. If that is what this impeachment ends up being about, then I give the fuck up- there's only so much hypocrisy I can take, after all. Keep Calm and Win Some Fucking Elections Already, Democrats. In the immortal words of Admiral Akbar, Impeachment: "It's a trap!")

Whatever happens, truly this is the most chaotic of timelines.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Albums2010: The Archives

This project began eight long years and two blogs ago with this post. I'm going to finish it out next month on May 19th, exactly eight years to the day after it began with the very last album on my list. Some were lost to the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment (that I really shouldn't have done to begin with and should have worked harder to archive all the stuff I wrote that year) but all in all, it's been one hell of a journey, I think.

Looking back at my blogging history, I've begun feature after feature and just sort of forgotten about it after awhile- this has been one of the few that have stood the test of time and gone the distance with me. There were many times when it's felt like a chore- there were many times when I've wondered why I'm even bothering to do this at all, since music just isn't my thing and I can't really get beyond, 'this album is good/great/excellent or bad/meh/terrible' when I review them. But, I persevered... so without further ado, here are the archives of the Albums2010 Project:

#1: U2- The Joshua Tree
#2: Aerosmith- Big Ones
#3: Fleetwood Mac- Rumors
#4: Bob Marley and The Wailers: Legend
#5: The Clash- London Calling
#6: Jethro Tull- Minstrel In the Gallery
#7-#9: The Genesis Trifecta
#10: Wishbone Ash- Argus
#11: Green Day- Dookie
#12: Hootie & The Blowfish- Cracked Rear View
#13: Dave Matthews Band- Before These Crowded Streets
#14: Counting Crows- August and Everything After
#15: Garden State
#16: Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols
#17: The Cure- Disintegration
#18: Derek and The Dominos- The Layla Sessions
#19: Kings of Leon- Aha Shake Heartbreak
#20: Led Zeppelin- II
#21: Cream-Disraeli Gears
#22: Pink Floyd- Meddle
#23: Dire Straits- Brothers In Arms
#24: Coldplay- A Rush Of Blood To The Head
#25-#26: Abraxas and Supernatural
#27: Led Zeppelin- Zoso
#28: Days of The New
#29: Rancid- ...and out come the wolves
#30: Motorhead- Ace of Spades
#31: Bruce Springsteen- Darkness On The Edge of Town
#32: Rolling Stones- Exile On Main Street
#33: Tantric
#34: Gary Jules-Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets
#35: Snow Patrol- Final Straw
#36: N.W.A- Straight Outta Compton
#37: Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
#38: Mumford & Sons- Sigh No More
#39: Lady Gaga- Born This Way
#40-#41: She and Him Vols 1&2
#42: Amy Winehouse- Back To Black
#43: Dusty Springfield- Dusty In Memphis
#44:  Peter Tosh- Legalize It
#45: Hieroglyphics- 3rd Eye Vision
#46: Girl Talk- Feed The Animals
#47: Carole King- Tapestry
#48: Eyedea- By The Throat
#49: U2- Achtung Baby
#50-#56: The Quiet Man's Techno Extravaganza
#57: Foster The People- Torches
#58: fun.-Some Nights
#59: Florence + The Machine- Ceremonials
#60: Atmosphere- Seven's Travels
#61: Imagine Dragons- Night Visions
#62: Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
#63: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis- The Heist
#64: Gogol Bordello- Trans-Continental Hustle
#65: Tig Notaro- Live
#66: Cake- Comfort Eagle
#67: Abums2010 Revisited: Dookie Turns 20

#68-#80 were, alas, lost forever to the mists of time in the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment.

#81: Soundtrack to 'Brokedown Palace'
#82: Patti Smith- Horses
#83: Talking Heads- Remain In Light
#84: Jamiroquai- High Times
#85: R.E.M.- Out of Time
#86: Aesop Rock- None Shall Pass
#87: Stevie Nicks- Trouble In Shangri-La
#88: Phish- A Picture of Nectar
#89: Guardians of the Galaxy- Awesome Mix Vol. 2
#90: The Joshua Tree, Revisited
#91: The Beatles- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
#92: Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
#93: LCD Soundsystem- american dream
#94: Future Islands- Singles
#95: Portugal The Man- In The Mountain In The Cloud
#96: U2- Songs of Experience
#97: Lorde- Melodrama
#98: Ed Sheeran- Divide
#99: The New Pornographers- Twin Cinema

That's all of 'em. Looking at this list, I'm actually impressed at some of my choices. I totally forgot that I listened to #46, #48, and #65. I have no ideas on how to end this project... (I just listened to the entire Hamilton Soundtrack for the first time, which is now on repeat in my brain and I noticed in my review of #96, I said I'd back track to listen to U2's Song of Innocence, which I haven't done either.) So I have options- you're just going to have to wait to find out how this is going to come to an end.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #256

I really wanted to find the clip from that episode of The West Wing where White House Counsel Oliver Babish reveals he was planning on taking a vacation to Sarawak and the President promptly responds, 'Asia's best kept secret.' (It's Season 2, Episode 19 'Bad Moon Rising' if you want to watch it for yourselves. Just sort of imagine it instead of this paragraph, okay.)

So, as you might have guessed that This Week in Vexillology, I went back to the source of my flag obsession for inspiration and we're going to take a look at the flag of the Malaysian State of Sarawak. Before we get to the flag, we should probably ask the obvious question: where the heck is it?

Sarawak is situated on the northern chunk of the Island of Borneo- it's the red part. That little grey divot in it right at the top next to the white chunk of land is Brunei. The white chunk of land at the top of Borneo is the Malaysian state of Sabah. It's got an interesting history. From 1841 to 1946 it was governed by the White Rajahs- descendants of a British soldier and adventurer Sir James Brooke, who founded the Kingdom of Sarawak. After World War II, it became a British Crown Colony until 1963 when it became one of the founding members of the Federation of Malaysia.

From 1963 on, it's flag had an interesting evolution. It started out with this:
This flag was the flag of the Old Kingdom of Sarawak from 1870-1946 and was brought back upon the foundation of Malaysia. The central portion of the flag (both sides of the cross and the crown in the middle) were kept as a shield in the usual British blue ensign for the flag of the Crown Colony. In 1973, they decided to update the flag to this:
This was called the Triskati and remained the state flag of Sarawak from 1988-1973. It's actually got some symbolism behind it, as the blue triangle represents the unity among the people of Sarawak, red stands for courage and perseverance and white for honesty and purity. But after the end of the Cold War, problems started to emerge, because it bore a passing resemblance to the flag of the Czech Republic.  For the 25th Anniversary of it's independence with the Federation, they adopted their current flag:
Going back to the same colors as the old Kingdom, the new flag retained many aspects of it's original symbolism but made some important changes to bring it into the modern era. The cross has been replaced with a diagonal band of red and black, which removes any overt references to Christianity. Weirdly, as of 2010 Christianity is the largest religion in the state (42.6%) with Islam just behind (32.2%). The state itself has no official religion, but the Federation does: it's Islam. So I have to wonder if the change was more a national political move than a local one, but who knows. The crown was also replaced with a nine pointed star- this was to remove any references to a sovereign monarchy. 

And that's the flag of Asia's best kept secret! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, April 13, 2018

I'm Not A Zoo Exhibit, I'm A Dad

"Americans Love Seeing Swedish Dads Out With Their Kids."

I suppose my first mistake was clicking on the article to begin with, but props to Slate for actually acknowledging that it's something of a problem. What, oh what, is the genesis of this article? Well, apparently when Americans go to Sweden they see Fathers out and about with strollers, watching their kids on the playground and just automatically assume that all those men must by nannies of some kind.

There's so much garbage being written out there about the state of masculinity today on both ends of the political spectrum that it's hard to find anything useful buried under the mountains of shit, so I suppose I should open with the obvious one. I'm not a Nanny. I'm not a baby-sitter. Those are, in fact, my children and yes, I am their father. I'm not some kind of exotic zoo exhibit you can gawk and reading this article honestly made my jaw drop. Do people really think this when they see Dads outside, you know, being parents? And more to the point, do other Dads not take their kids places?

I mean, I get it, to a degree. The logistics of loading up the kids and taking them anywhere is enough to give you pause, but that's not a gender-based issue. (Just ask any Mom who needs groceries.) I had all three of them with in Trader Joe's the other week and one was grumpy because he was 6, the other was grumpy because he had just woken up from a nap and the baby was getting hungry. It was like tight-rope walking over an active volcano in public, but they took turns melting down so we managed. When you need to pick up food so you can eat that night, needs must. You just do what you gotta do.

Same thing with playgrounds. During the summer if I'm off for the day, nine times out of ten we're going to get out of the house and go somewhere. Otherwise kids be climbing the walls and going crazy. If there's one thing I've discovered, it's that letting kids get their yayas out is usually (usually) the key to a better day for everybody concerned. 

In short, I do most of these things anyway. I mean, why wouldn't you? I think that's what confuses me the most about this article. Do I live in a country where it doesn't occur to Dads to be out in public by themselves with their kids? You kind of knew it was going to come back around to paid family leave, since we're talking about Sweden, but the article has a point there.

I work a weird job, schedule wise. It's not a Monday-Friday 8-5 kind of a gig- about which I am very thankful- but I suspect that despite this country's backwardness on the issue of paid family leave, that 'traditional' schedule for many jobs probably goes a long way to explaining the paucity of Dads out and bout with their kids. I suspect, but I don't know, that given the opportunity, more Dads would be all too happy to get out and about with the young 'uns. 

Pulling out for a second to take a big picture look at things, I'm increasingly convinced that we're living in a weird historical moment- and that's not just because of the current occupant of the White House, either. So many of our institutions and systems are anachronistic and sclerotic in many ways and so I feel like it's only a matter of time before the Monday-Friday 8-5 kind of gig becomes a relic of the past. (I'd also like to say that someday, maybe we'll joined the ranks of civilized countries and mandate some paid family leave, but who the hell am I kidding there?) If and when it does, maybe we'll see more Dads taking advantage of the time and getting out there more. I sure hope so.

I'm fortunate that I have a job that let's me take time with the kids and go places with them. It's sad to me that not every day has the opportunity to do so. But that being said: me lugging my kids around a grocery store and carting them off to a playground isn't some kind of weird cultural phenomenon that should generate clickbait for your website. It's me. Being a parent. Nothing more. If you want to start somewhere with this issue that doesn't involve Congress, how about this: let's normalize Dads being Dads. It'd be nice to go somewhere with the kids and not wonder if people are giving me side-eye and getting all gooey over the fact that I'm parenting my children.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Embracing The Flaws

There's really nothing more gratifying than reading something you've written and realizing to yourself, 'hey, this isn't half bad.' I'm currently in the long, gentle process of giving my first two books a polish and it's strange how at peace I am with them all. Normally, I tend to be my own worst critic. I think a lot of people work that way- and not just people who write, but of late, I think I've kind of been giving myself a little bit of a break with these first two books.

How did my writing process for these books work? I'm not entirely sure I could tell. It just sort came out of me in a rush and when it was done I realized several things. First was, 'holy shit, I've got a lot of words on my hands' and second was, 'there's got to be a book under here somewhere.' Turns out there was- it just wasn't the book I expected to write, because much in the same way that Star Wars worked, for some reason the best part of the mountain of words I had on my hands was the middle of the story.

So then I began sorting and shuffling and discarding and writing and re-writing plot points until finally I had something that seemed like a book in front of me. Then I wrote and re-wrote and revised some more and I had a slightly better book in front of me. And then I made some tweaks and polishes and shoved it over the finish line.

Is it perfect? No. But having done a pretty deep dive on the first book to see what I could clean up, I'm more than willing to embrace it's flaws. It's a little rough around the edges, but the me that wrote that book? I honestly think it was probably the best writing I could manage at that time in that moment. Maybe I rushed it over the finish line too fast... (that's been suggested to me before) but I write so much it's ridiculous and at the time it was incredibly important to finish something for once. I had momentum going with the first book. It was my, "I can do this" book.

And so, it became The Prisoner and The Assassin.

I wasn't done with the story yet, because, you see the advantage, weirdly enough of starting in the middle is that you know how the story of your characters is going to end and, more to the point, you know all the history that has come before. I think at some point in the process and I wish I could actually say when, because it's kind of important, the characters started to come alive for me. I think before that point, I could tell you a plot all day long, but I didn't have a good grasp on characters yet. I could tell you a story, but to me, the trick sort of became to bring the characters to life so they could tell the story. Once I figured that out, it became easier in a hurry.

I haven't done a deep dive on the sequel yet. (That's The Arrows of Defiance.) I'm planning on starting that here soon, but I did a quick read through of it the other day and was pleasantly surprised (yet again) by what I read. It wasn't bad. It wasn't bad at all. Most of the time when I dive back into totes of what I've written in the past and pick it up to read it, I cringe and want to burn what I find. It's a novel experience to be able to look back on your work in hindsight and realize that while it's a little rough around the edges, it's not bad at all.

Is it 'good enough'? (Because, in the words of Brian Grazer, 'good enough equals shitty') Again, my answer is no. It's the best writing I had in me at that time. Does it have flaws? Is it a little rough around the edges? Yes, it is. It suffers somewhat from being a sequel. (Which made writing it so much harder than it needed to be. Next book is totally unrelated to anything that's come before and will not have a sequel. Period!) But overall, I think the story is the story of my characters.

And that's really what makes me happy about giving these books a polish. I still love these characters. I still feel deeply invested in their story and the work that went into creating these books. (Spoiler Alert: but I know their story isn't finished yet. There's at least one, maybe two- hell maybe even three books lurking there. I just have to write a couple of more that aren't part of that story so I can come back to them with fresh eyes.) I want to get these books pushed out there a little further than they are. I'd like to get them slightly better covers so they look their Sunday best. Then, I want to sort of release them into the world and keep on writing.

They're not good enough.

They've got flaws.

But, they're a beginning. And I'm going to embrace that beginning, because in hindsight, they're not making me cringe. That means something.

Monday, April 9, 2018

In Defense of The EPB

You ever see those random articles on MSN and click on them? They're usually inoffensive, charming things like, 'BEST BURGER IN EVERY STATE' or 'The Best State Fairs According To The People That Go To Them.' If you're bored, you click on them, work your way through- or, if you're like me, check Iowa and then Minnesota and not much else- and then move on with your day. But one of these random MSN articles ticked me off a little bit ('The ugliest building in every US state, according to people who live there'), because not only did it label the English-Philosophy Building as an ugly building- but it labelled it 'The Ugliest Building In the State of Iowa.'

Whoa there, MSN. Them's fighting words, because I'm here to tell you: the EPB isn't even the ugliest building on the University of Iowa Campus, never mind in the whole damn state.

Before we get to why MSN is wrong and should just sit there in it's wrongness, we should also probably talk about the other buildings on the list, because while some of them are genuinely ugly, others really aren't that bad- so the methodology behind this list seems questionable at best. For instance, The Denver International Airport is Colorado's ugliest building? Come on now. The Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame? Any aesthetic ugliness of the building itself is automatically cancelled out by Touchdown Jesus. So the list itself is questionable and I think that's partially because judging architecture is kind of a subjective thing when you get right down to it. There are some truly hideous buildings on this list. But purpose also matters: government buildings aren't built to be aesthetically pleasing, so really, you shouldn't be expecting that when you go into one.

But the EPB: built in 1966, it is, as everyone who has even the slightest bit of knowledge about campus knows, infamously riot-proof. (Why riot proof? Well, there were a lot of riots back in the day.) Exactly how much of that statement is true, I don't know- I've been told the roof can handle a helicopter (presumably so faculty members could huddle together on the roof to be the last folks out ahead of the rampaging student radicals back in the day) and I've also been told there used to be a cafeteria in the basement. What I do know is that no windows above the basement open, the windows are narrow and sort of set back- presumably making them harder to smash- and the top floor, where all the offices are at can only be accessed by pretty narrow staircases and either end and the elevator, which I would guess makes it easier to block off/barricade.

So for a start: it's riot proof. Freaking riot proof! (And while this plaintive complaint to the Daily Iowan asserts, 'I have no reason to riot.' Recent experiences on campuses suggest that riots are still all too possible and it never hurts to be prepared.) The official University description of the building talks a lot about things like Modernist architecture and uses vaguely squirm inducing terms like 'rectilinear geometry', but really, the building was a product of it's times. Brutalism and modernism rubbed shoulders while the EPB was being built and while the idea that a lot of campus buildings from this era were design to thwart riot attempts might be a stretch, in the case of the EPB, it's not. (It's probably also worth noting that there's some pretty solid literary history tied up with the building- plus, why you gotta hate on a building that scores a reference in John Irving's The World According To Garp?)

Is it the most attractive building on campus? No it's not. But it lacks the dated concrete ugliness of buildings like Hardin, the age and rickety appearance of buildings like Med Labs or the inspired lunacy of places like Bowen Science. It's a perfectly adequate, entirely vanilla building- at least from the outside. The interior does leave something to be desired: it's hallways are dark, it's classrooms are fairly dated- but it's also the home of the English and Philosophy Departments, so I like to imagine a lot of salty, bitter inner darkness of the occupants that is reflected in the buildings interior.

Are there uglier buildings on campus? Hell yes there are! Hardin Library and it's brutalist concrete angles come to mind. Despite the Dental Science Building allegedly looking like a tooth of some kind, it's not the prettiest building either. But if you really want a strong contender for the ugliest building in the entire state of Iowa, then the Mustard Yellow Windowless Borg Cube of the Century Link Building is my nomination. What an eyesore!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Netflix & Chill #41: Coco

Watched On: DVD
Released: 2017
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Edward James Olmos
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Pick: Mine

The Elder Spawn had been requesting to see this for awhile and to be honest, both the Missus and I were game for seeing it as well. We were talking about possibly going to see it in the theaters last fall, but we never managed to get that set up, so when I discovered that the Grandparents had it on blu-ray in their extensive collection downstairs, I snagged it and we gave it a watch. Spoiler Alert: it's a Pixar movie, so as per usual, they don't miss a beat.

In the town of Santa Cecilia, Mexico, Imelda Rivera was a wife of a musician who left her and their 3 year old daughter Coco to pursue his dream of fame in the world of music. He never returned, abandoning the family, so Imelda banished all music from her life and opened a shoe-making business instead.

Nearly a century later, her great-great grandson Miguel is 12 years old and lives with Coco and his extended family. In secret, he dreams of becoming a musician like Ernesto de la Cruz, a famous musician from his great grandmother Coco's generation. One day, shortly before the day of the day, Miguel knocks the picture frame holding a photo of Coco with her parents off of the family ofrenda and, removing the photograph, discovers that his great-great grandfather (who's face, is, of course, torn out) is holding Ernesto's guitar. Assuming that Ernesto de la Cruz is his great-great grandfather, he decides to enter the local talent show for the dya of the Dead. He enters Ernesto's mausoleum and takes the guitar to use in the show, only to discover he has become invisible to everyone in the village.

Realizing that he has been cursed for stealing from the dead, Miguel and his dog Dante travel across the marigold bridge to the Land of the Dead to figure out what they have to do get home. Turns out, because he took his Great Grandmother Imelda's picture off of the ofrenda, she can't go visit the family for the Day of the Dead- and, since Miguel needs a blessing from a family member to return home, she agrees to give Miguel her blessing, but only if he gives up his musical dreams.

Refusing to do so, Miguel runs away in search of Ernesto de la Cruz, intending to get his blessing instead. Along the way, he meets a down on his luck skeleton named Hector, who is desperate to try and get back to his family and agrees to help Miguel if he will take his photo back to the land of the living before his daughter forgets him and he disappears entirely.

When Hector realizes that Miguel has relatives and that he can go back whenever he wants, he attempts to return Miguel to them, but Miguel runs away and infiltrates Ernesto's mansion instead, learning the truth: Ernesto murdered Hector when Hector was ready to return to his family and passed Hector's songs off as his own- which means that Hector is actually Miguel's great-grandfather. Eventually, Miguel escapes from Ernesto and together with his family gets the required blessing to head back to the land of the living, where he plays some of Hector's songs for Coco, which helps revitalize her memory of him and Hector's true legacy is revealed and Miguel gets to fulfill his musical dreams.

Overall: Look, it's a Pixar movie. It's beautiful, the music is incredible, it's a gorgeous celebration of family, love and the traditions and culture of Mexico. It tugs at your heart strings (and yes, I'm man enough to admit that 'Remember Me' got me a little misty eyed. Okay, a lot misty-eyed damn it) and is more than up to their usual standards of excellence. As with all kid movies, my standard of 'is it good' is a simple one: does it entertain your kids and you? In Coco's case, the answer is a resounding yes. My Grade: **** out of ****