Monday, July 16, 2018

Sportsyball: Post World Cup Edition

World Cup: This was a fantastic World Cup. Probably the best I can recall since 1998, which is kind of appropriate since 1998 was the last time France won the whole damn thing. In general, I'm a fan of 'not the usual suspects' winning the whole thing. Italy being out helped that cause. Germany being decidedly non German and losing to both Mexico and South Korea and crashing out in the group stages. Brazil being good but not their usual level of good. Argentina continuing the waste the dwindling prime of Lionel Messi. By the time you got to the semifinals, you had two teams that people expected (France and Belgium) and two more teams that you probably didn't (Croatia and England.)

England was enjoyable to watch. Normally that shouldn't be a sentence that out of the ordinary to type, but England was enjoyable to watch. They had an identity. They had young guys and a refreshing paucity of egos. They were all about pushing forward and trying to score goals. Multiple goals! If there was a bus, England left it in the parking lot where it belonged and didn't just sit on a single goal lead! THEY WON A PENALTY SHOOTOUT! Normally, watching England is an incredibly frustrating experience- this year it was the polar opposite. The results were hard to argue with: England posted its best result since 1990.

As much as I was quietly rooting for Belgium to live up to their 'on paper' talent levels, France looked slightly sleepy at times in the group stages, but got rolling in the knockout stages. This Pavard goal should be preserved in amber for all time. Kylian Mbappe announced himself as the next great superstar of the sport and made this insanely beautiful pass (which Olivier Giroud promptly fucked up and didn't turn into a goal.) And sure enough, France got into the final and despite a valiant effort by Croatia to make it interesting and Pussy Riot to make it even more entertaining than it was, they won!

Qatar is going to be weird. It's going to be in the winter and there's the whole issue of slave labor being used to build stadiums. If I'm honest, I'm kind of looking more at 2026 when it comes to North America...  but before we even get to either 2022 or 2026, we've got to head back to France next year, for the Women's World Cup in 2019!

I hope England continues playing football exactly like this- only ever-so-slightly better! I hope the USMNT makes it to 2022! (I also hope the Dutch get there as well... I missed the Dutch this time around.) At the end of the day, this one was an amazing World Cup! Can't wait until the next one!

The B1G Numbers: A couple of interesting podcasts episodes- one of Hawkeye Nation and the other of their sister podcast Bigger Ten got the old wheels turning on a couple of interesting debates/discussions that Miller & Deace got into in these episodes. First question is probably the most thought-provoking one: Should Iowa be expecting more success given our revenue ranking?

We're 18th in the nation in revenue, but 54th in the standings of the Director's Cup which measures the success of schools across all sports overall. Now I can't say that as a fan I pay attention to or give a shit about the standings of the Director's Cup. It seems very 'inside baseball' to me, but as a measure of the overall success on the field, it seems to be a pretty good barometer. And there is a pretty hefty gap between where our revenue is and where the overall success on the 'field' is. In the podcast, the usual thesis was applied: outside of football and men's basketball the amount of give a damn that fans usually have drops off pretty severely. Sure, wrestling has their hardcore fans and women's basketball has a following and now that they're tasting some success so does Iowa baseball, but really it's the big two that drive fan interest and fan perception of what 'success is.'

Miller & Deace seemed to land on the opinion that football is pretty consistent and decent, but men's basketball is still off the pace set back in the Dr. Tom and Lute Olson eras (consistently upper tier of the B1G, making the tournament three out of every four years.) But where I think their thesis of the big two driving fan interest falls down some is with Iowa baseball.

Pre-Hellerball, if anyone gave a shit about Iowa baseball I never met them. Ever. I mean, I knew we had a baseball team and it played games and stuff, but was it relevant? Did people care? Not really-certainly not in the numbers that they do now. Which proves to me that the right AD (which I don't think Barta is) making the right investments and the right hires can generate interest and success. Iowa baseball proves that with our fanbase, 'if you build it, they will come.'

So, do I think Iowa should be expecting more success overall, given our revenue ranking? Yes, I do. There's no reason to me why we can't be more competitive across the board in all sports. I think women's basketball is probably the best kept secret on campus. I don't know why they can't get more butts in seats, but I think the Athletics Department should put it's shoulder onto the problem and see if they can get some more buzz around that program. Field Hockey, given it's record over the years should be the same way. You can argue that maybe we shouldn't care so much about 'non-revenue' sports, but a sport is a sport. If we're going to spend money on facilities and scholarships, as fans we should expect silverware in the trophy case. I know I sure do.

The second question (from the Bigger Ten podcast) is an early preview of the Realignment Bingo that's a couple of years away from starting up again. If (or when- probably when) the B1G goes to sixteen, who do we take? Right now, M&D seemed to be of the opinion that it's the ACC who's on the backfoot. The Big 12 is within striking distance of the SEC in terms of dividends and the SEC is right up there with the B1G, but the ACC is lagging and they were late to the network game.

I think it's too early to get into the prognostication game just yet- but I do think if it all starts up again, Georgia Tech is getting an invite. I know we've been all about geography and maintaining a footprint so far, but I think demography is destiny and planting our flag in Atlanta is going give the B1G far more than any other school I can think of.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #262

It's Bastille Day, so where else are going to turn to but the country of France? Now, we've already looked at The Tricolor itself (and there's really not much more you can say about one of the most iconic flags in the human history- and yes, I'm comfortable putting it right up there with the most important of them) but France has plenty of regional flags that are worth taking a peek at as well and that's where we're going This Week In Vexillology... a delightful trio of French regional flags.

First up, is the flag of Brittany:
Brittany is the administrative region of France that juts out the most to the west...  if you can find Normandy on the map and move southwest, the peninsula you're going to hit is Brittany. The name of the region is derived from the settlers from Great Britain who fled the Anglo-Saxon invasions between the fifth and seventh centuries. As a result, it's maintained a lot of it's Celtic heritage, including a language (Breton) that has more in common with Welsh and Cornish than with French.

Plus: how cool is that flag? First created in 1923 by Morvan Marchal who drew inspiration from the flags of the United States and Greece, who were seen as symbols of liberty and democracy at the time. The nine horizontal stripes stand for the traditional dioceses of the duchy. The black stripes are for the French speaking dioceses of Dol, Nantes, Rennes, Saint-Malo and Saint-Brieuc and the white stripes are for the Breton speaking dioceses of Tregor, Leon, Cornouaille and Vannes. The symbols in the canton (which I guess are ermine?) recall the arms of the Duchy of Brittany.

Next up, Auvergne:
A former administrative region of France, it was merged with the neighboring region of Rhone-Alpes to become Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes in January of 2016. Where is it on the map? Well, find the southern city of Montpellier on the map (it's just west of Marseille) and head north until you hit Clermont-Ferrand. Then, you're in the heart of Auvergne.

Historically, this region is worth nothing because it was the home of Vercingetorix and his tribe, the Arverni, a powerful Gallic tribe that defeated Julius Cesar in 52 BC before eventually being defeated by the Romans. The flag itself is an armorial banner- the official designation is, "or a gonfanon gules ringed and edged vert." There doesn't appear to be an explanation of the arms, it's said to stand for the a banner used by Eustace III, the count of Auvergne when he seized Jerusalem in 1099.

Finally, the flag of Franche-Comte:
Let's start with the obvious: where the heck is it? Well, it's nestled right along the border with Switzerland- if you find Bern and head northeast until you get to Besancon, you've found the Franche-Comte. It got merged with Borgogne in January of 2016 to become Bourgogne-Franche-Comte. Literally the name means 'Free Country' and it's been around for centuries- either as part of the neighboring Kingdom or Duchy of Burgandy or as it's own entity.

Another banner taken from heraldry, it depicts: "on a field of azure seme with bars of gold, a crowned lion rampant with tongue and claws gules." (Whatever that means...  ugh, again, heraldry is something I'm going to have to sit down and learn I guess.) It's derived from a blazon that was created in the Middle Ages by Otto IV, the Count of Burgandy to replace the eagle, which was formerly the symbol of Burgandy. Otto wanted to change the symbol to reflect a closer relationship with the Kingdom of France.

And there you have it! Three flags of France for Bastille Day! Until next time, keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Virtue of Minding Your Own Business

Dad shaming is now a thing. I'm not sure why it's a thing, but I suppose if Mom-shaming is a thing, it would be inevitable that at some point, Dad-shaming would have to follow. Who is the unlucky Dad who is getting raked over the online coals of outrage? Justin Timberlake, of all people, who had the temerity, the nerve to post a perfectly lovely picture of his kiddo online. 

What was wrong with this picture? Well, his son has long hair.

Yeah, that's right. People got all butt hurt and bent out of shape because the kid has long hair.  It's the usual reasons ("boys shouldn't have long hair!" "he looks like a girl!") you are probably thinking and it's incredibly disheartening really, because he seems like a happy enough kid and both Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel seem like doting parents who really love the little dude, but the more I read about it and the more I heard about it, the angrier I got. Why do people care? Why do people feel this constant need to offer their opinion and shit all over random pictures of joy on the internet? Why can't people mind their own fucking business for once?

Look, I've got a kiddo with long hair. Not as long as Timberlake's kiddo, but pretty long. We could cut it. People kind of intimate that we should cut it now and again, but both Grandmas love his long hair and he's got kind of a large noggin (so do I, it's a family thing) so we don't want to make his head look any larger than it already is unless we absolutely have too. As it is, having some long hair on his head makes it look pretty damn proportional, so it works for me.

And- and here's the most important point to me, he's pretty happy about it. 

That should be the end of the discussion to me. Does the kid look happy? If he does, then shut your mouth. Justin Timberlake doesn't comment on photos of your kid and judge your kid, does he? (I mean, he might, I don't know... but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing he would do.) Then why oh why oh why, would you think it would be okay for you to do the same thing?

("Well, he's a celebrity and he's putting himself out there for the world to see, he should expect that!") Yeah, I don't need to see your ill-thought out internet meme all over my Facebook wall or the umpteenth ad for whatever multi-level marketing scheme your pushing on all your friends either, but do you see me shitting all over your hopes and dreams? No. I have better things to do with my life and more to the point...  it's none of my fucking business.

Parent shaming makes me absolutely insane. It's a hard enough job as it is without internet randos who know nothing about you offering their unasked for opinions on a variety of topics- but when you want to share a moment of joy, because given how messed up the world is, the more moments of joy we share with each other, the better of we all might be- when you decide to squat and take a dump all over that? Not cool. If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all- and mind your own damn business.

Basically, if you abuse or molest your child and if you don't vaccinate your child because of some dumb shit you read on the internet, or do some other thing to actively harm your child, I will judge the ever loving shit out of you, because you deserve it. But that's about it. I don't care how long your kid's hair is. I don't care what they wear. I don't care what they eat. None of that is my business, so I'm not gonna say a damn thing about it.

People always seem to be wringing their hands and bemoaning the state of discourse and culture these days, but to me, if we as a nation, collectively came together and decided to mind our own damn business, so much would improve almost instantly. #PermitPattys? Gone. Shitty snide comments on the internet? Gone. Kindness? Would rise. Moments of joy and amazement that make the internet so worthwhile might actually be able to break through the noxious clouds of negative for once and shine through more brightly.

There's a virtue to minding your own business that we should seek to rediscover. At the very least, parents should do each other a solid and just be nice. Especially where kiddos are concerned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Road Blog: I-29

When I drive, I tend to get really quiet and sort of lose myself in the landscape around me for long periods of time. It drives The Missus (and a few other people down the years who have driven with me) a little nuts, because I don't really talk. I mean, I can talk and I do talk, because being silent is boring and sort of impolite when you've got someone sitting next to you, but my default state when I'm driving is usually silence, because I'm just taking it all in.

Roads and driving long distances have been a part of my summer routine ever since I was a kid. We'd be rousted out of bed at about 3 AM and my mother would take the first leg of the driving, taking us across Iowa in the pre-dawn darkness until we would arrive in Omaha where we'd stop for breakfast. I have vivid memories of the road: catching sight of the Rocky Mountains for the first time, coming through the mountains at night and seeing the lights of Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and San Francisco emerging out of nowhere, coming over the crest of that hill near Burnsville and seeing the Twin Cities across the wide open valley in the distance.

For all that people complain about car culture, it's still the easiest way to see this amazing country of ours.

Vacation this year was a modest, if hectic affair. The baby is still too little to go anywhere a long way a way and we went to Omaha to pick up  my nieces to bring them along for the ride. We went over to Des Moines and up I-35 to Minneapolis for the first leg of our journey, but out return journey took us through Worthington and down to Sioux City and then back down to Omaha on I-29.

That particular route I had traveled once before, but going the other way. I left from a family Easter gathering in Omaha to go north to Mankato to turn in my thesis and get my master's degree over the finish line. I-29 was dead and empty and so I drove faster than I should and promptly got a speeding ticket just south of Sioux City. Going the other way was more of a leisurely affair.

I-29, though: it's 750 miles and runs from the Canadian border all the way down through the eastern edge of the Dakotas and the western edge of Iowa and Missouri to Kansas City. There was a campaign by residents of the states further south of Kansas City (Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana) wanted to extended it further south to New Orleans and portions of that were completed- but make up Interstate 49 instead. Interestingly, the Fargo to Canada chunk of the freeway was originally designated as Interstate 31. No freeway was planned south of there, but eventually, they connected I-29 from Sioux Falls to Fargo and just named the whole damn thing Interstate 29. (If you're into minor bits of historical detail: I-29 runs through the Platte Purchase in Missouri, which wasn't originally part of Missouri.)

The first portion of the drive wasn't on I-29 though. We followed Highway 60 south from Worthington and across the border. Past Sibley (which didn't smell that bad, actually) and Hawkeye Point (which I was always strangely obsessed with as a kid- I'd always love finding the highest point marker for each state in our Rand McNally atlas and I'd never thought I'd have any reason to go near Hawkeye Point- until I met the Missus who lived maybe five miles away from it.) and through Sheldon and Alton until it's terminus at LeMars.

We had a pit stop at LeMars for ice cream (because it's kind of obligatory, really) and then continued south of Highway 75, which swung around Sioux City through rolling green hills that reminded me a lot of the way we approached San Francisco* before connecting with I-29.

I don't know enough about the topography of the place to say for sure, but if I had to guess, the relative isolation of the interstate is probably due to it's proximity to the Missouri River. Looking on the map, 29 to the east and Highway 75 to the west seem to former boundaries for an insanely wide flood plain and there's not a lot of habitation in between them. The further south you get, the emptier it feels and off the the east you see the long line of the Loess Hills that creep closer and then get further away and then come very close indeed before retreating somewhat to the east again.

I can't remember where exactly you can first catch sight of downtown Omaha. I want to say it was somewhere around Missouri Valley, but it may have been closer to Loveland or even Honey Creek, but it was insanely far away, a lonely glimpse of a far distant tower. It was very close to the river at this point, so the land was flat, farm fields and rivers that were carefully bordered by high, engineered banks, presumably to contain them.

There was also this clump of trees that were completely bare of any branches or greenery, almost as if they were in a swamp or just dying slowly. You could imagine people working and living their whole lives in those fields, toiling in the shadow of that faraway glimpse of the towers of the city far away. (It's the kind of post-apocalyptic spark that sort of embeds in my mind and invariably finds it's way into my writing.)

Approaching Omaha from the north was strangely beautiful and remarkably easy to accomplish- though that might be down to it being a Sunday rather than any other day of the week. Soon enough, it was over with though. I cut over on I-480 through downtown Omaha to meet up with Interstate 80 out on the other side and soon enough, we had reached our destination.

*I have this memory of driving through these hills covered in golden grass and wondering where the hell the city was, because we were getting closer and closer and closer and there was no sign or indication of a city anywhere. We just drove over a hill and it was kind of... there. Vegas is much the same way, depending on how you approach. There's just miles and miles of desert and then, suddenly... Vegas. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Netflix & Chill #45: Spider-Man Homecoming

Watched On: DVD (Redbox)
Released: 2017
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Pick: Mine

I've been waiting to see this movie for a very long time and I'll just get it out of the way right at the top of the review: I absolutely loved this movie. Instead of yet another origin story, we get a Spider-Man movie. No, 'with great power comes great responsibility' no inevitable romance with Mary Jane Watson. So much baggage that seemed to have weighed down this franchise is jettisoned and what results is probably the best Spider-Man movie to date.

The movie opens immediately in the aftermath of the Battle of New York, which took place in the first Avengers movie. A local salvage contractor, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is eager to bring in his crew to start cleaning up the Chitauri technology and repairing the damage, but the government has other ideas. Anne Marie Hoag (Tyne Daly) head of the newly formed Department of Damage Control (a partnership between Tony Stark and the Federal Government) informs Toomes that they're taking over the salvage effort. Toomes, facing financial ruin, persuades his employees to keep the technology they've already salvaged and starts to construct advanced weapons to sell.

Flash forward to eight years later and Peter Parker is just settling back into life in Queens after the events of Captain America: Civil War. He quit the school's academic decathalon team to focus on his crime-fighting as Spider-Man. After Tony Stark deems that he's not ready to be a full member of the Avengers, Peter is eager to prove his worth to Stark. When he witnesses an ATM heist using advanced weaponry, he intervenes and returns to his apartment, only to find his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) waiting for him.

Attempting to find the owners of the advanced weapons, Peter is warned off by Stark, but continues his research, eventually tracking one of the criminals to outside of Washington D.C. He rejoins the Academic Decathalon Team to go to the National Finals in D.C. and uses that opportunity to sneak out and attempt to stop another weapons heist. He fails and ends up being locked into a DoDC facility for the night. He figures out that the power core he and Ned retrieve turns into an explosive when exposed to radiation and races to the Washington Monument to save his friends from certain disaster when it explodes and threatens to send their elevator plunging to destruction.

Getting a tip from local criminal Aaron Davis (Donald Glover) Peter then tracks the criminals to the Staten Island Ferry and intervenes- but it all goes wrong and Stark (as Iron Man) has to intervene to help Peter save the day. He grounds Peter and take back the suit as a result.

Peter goes back to being a normal high school kid and asks his crush, Liz to go to the homecoming dance with him. When he picks up Liz, he figures out that the man behind the advanced weapon trading, Toomes, is actually Liz's father. Toomes, for his part, deduces that Peter is actually Spider-Man. Peter then deduces that Toomes is going to hijack a shipment leaving from Avengers tower. He intervenes once more and saves the day in his home made spider suit, capturing Toomes and the cargo and earning an offer from Stark to join the Avengers. He turns Stark down, for now, anyway and return to his apartment to find his new suit waiting for him. Just as he finished putting it on- Aunt May walks in.

Overall: As I said at the top: I absolutely loved this movie. None of the movies have ever really been able to portray Peter Parker as an honest to goodness high schooler but this one manages it and then some. Tom Holland is just about perfect for this role and his fellow high schoolers feel like high schoolers and not 20 and 30 somethings playing high schoolers. As the Vulture, Michael Keaton is excellent portraying a villain that's actually pretty complex and in a strange way, sympathetic. But what I love the most about this film is that it all springs from the events of the first Avengers movie. The exploration of consequences is an interesting theme that the MCU has played with before (the Sokovia Accords and the aftermath of Age of Ultron) but it's one that resonates here. My Grade: **** out of ****

Saturday, July 7, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #261

We're back! After a much-needed hiatus in June, it's time to hit the ground running with our usual 4th of July Special. As you're reading this, we should be either in the Medium White North or passing through it's neighbor to the southwest, South Dakota. (I don't think we've locked in our final itinerary yet, but we're close. It may or may not include a stop in Sioux Falls.) I did some checking of the archives and it turns out that in the distant past, I knocked off Minnesota in another 4th of July Special, so I can't really do that. (Though adding a flag of Minnesota and a bottle of good Minnesota whiskey are on my wish list for vacation.)

But, let's get to South Dakota:
Right off the bat: Sigh. Another Seal On A Bedsheet. Someday, states are going to start getting better about their flag designs and hopefully we'll see a reversal of this trend, but I'll give South Dakota this: it's not a boring Seal On A Bedsheet. The color is unusual enough that it stands out and the sunburst around the seal makes it interesting to look at. As a Seal On A Bedsheet goes, it's a step above the rest.

The current configuration of the flag was adopted in 1992, which makes it relatively new as state flags go. Before 1992, the inscription below the seal read 'The Sunshine State' and before 1963, the seal was actually a full on sun. But, I guess South Dakota realized that Kansas was 'The Sunshine State' and wanted to stand out a little more and while many states have sunshine, there's only one state with Mount Rushmore.

The seal is a little hard to see, but it's got a pretty comprehensive wiki-page. The outer ring has 'State of South Dakota' written at the top and 'Great 1889 Seal' written at the bottom. It was actually designed when the state was still a territory in 1885 and then adopted when it became a state in 1889. The inner circle has the state motto 'Under God The People Rule' (which is actually kind of a cool motto, the more I think about it.) And a picture that features hills, a river with a boat, a farmer, mine and cattle, which are meant to stand for the commerce, agriculture, industry and natural resources in the state.

(There was a proposal in 2012 to change the flag, but it fell short. The pitch and design are found here and I would be all about it if South Dakota went with this design. It looks pretty cool.)

And that's South Dakota! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Squawk Box: Troy, Longmire and Babylon 5

Editor's Note: I'm changing up the format of Squawk Box a bit because I feel like it's getting way too long and way too disorganized and I want to streamline it a bit.

Nerd Watch: Troy, Fall of A City. Y'all. I cannot begin to tell you how much I love The Illiad. When I was a kid, Greek mythology was my jam and The Illiad was the toast on which I smeared it on. I've read a variety of translations multiple time and I have been waiting and hoping for a really good adaptation of The Illiad for most of my life. The movie Troy was disappointing enough that when I saw Troy: Fall of A City appear on Netflix and gave it a try, I was somewhat apprehensive, but by the end of episode one I was all in. This. Was. Incredible.

The show opens with the birth of Paris (Louis Hunter), whose birth is perceived as a curse, thanks to black blood and a vision by a very young Cassandra (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) of the destruction of the city. King Priam (David Threlfall) and Queen Hecuba (Frances O'Connor) on the advice of their seers abandon the baby, but he's found by a shepherd and raised in the hills near the city. When grown, Paris- unaware of his true origins is confronted by the Zeus (Hakeem Kau-Kazim), Hera (Inge Beckmann), Athenta (Shamilla Miller) and Aphrodite (Lex King). The Goddesses wish to know which of them is the most beautiful and Paris chooses Aphrodite. This pisses off both Athena and Hera, but Aphrodite rewards Paris by promising him riches and the most beautiful woman in the world.

In short order, Paris finds out he's a Prince, is welcomed back by his family and is sent to Sparta to do a trade deal with King Menelaus (Jonas Armstrong). Instead of doing that, however, he falls for Helen (Bella Dayne) and the two run back to Troy, which begins the whole tragic saga.

The story that unfolds is familiar and yet drenched with an impending sense of tragedy. Agamemnon (Johnny Harris) joins with his brother Menelaus to launch a thousand ships and an army to go get Helen back. Artemis (Thando Hopa) demands a sacrifice for favorable winds, so he's forced to sacrifice his daughter to get them there, at an act which haunts him for the rest of the series. (And, presumably, incurs the wrath of his wife, Clytemnestra, which leads to another unfortunate ending which we don't get to see on camera.)

The Greeks arrive and I found myself anticipating, wondering if they were going to get the story right and every single time, they didn't disappoint. Achilles (David Gyasi) is humiliated with the loss of Briseis and refuses to fight. Patroclus takes up his armor and his killed by Hector. Hector, in turns, is killed by a vengeful Achilles. The horse! They do the horse thing! And it works! David Gyasi is so good as Achilles...  he's a more introspective Achilles looking for a pure and honorable fight and wrestling with the pressure of being 'the perfect warrior.' Hector (Tom Weston-Jones) is somewhat less charismatic than I feel Hector should be, but it's a solid performance. Hector comes across as an honorable man, who loves his wife, Andromache (Chloe Pirrie) and his son, little Astanyx. Joseph Mawle is incredible as Odysseus, the brains behind the operation, who doesn't really want to be there and is a secretly (I think) honorable man. (Oh man, the scene at the end where he has to throw the baby off the wall... so brutal. So, so brutal.)

TL;DR: If you've been waiting for an excellent adaptation of The Illiad, then you've got it right here with Troy: Fall of A City. I don't know if this is a one time mini-series or not (I'm hoping not), because they leave both interesting possibilities to explore The Odyssey (though how you can beat the Armand Asante adaptation of that, I don't know... I still remember him shooting that arrow through the axe handles) or The Aenead. My Grade: **** out of ****


New Watch: Longmire. Anyone who's flipped through A&E anytime in the past five years has probably seen some kind of advertisement for this show- even though A&E decided not to renew it after the third season and Netflix picked it up for the subsequent three and now has all of them available for streaming. A modern Western crime drama, Longmire is based off the 'Walt Longmire Mysteries' written by Craig Johnson and is centered around Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) who is the sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming. He's assisted by his Deputies Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), 'The Ferg' (Adam Bartley) and Moretti (Katee Sackhoff). His daughter, Cady (Cassidy Freeman) is a local lawyer and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) help him investigate many crimes in and around his jurisdiction.

As a contemporary western, this show works. Robert Taylor imbues Walt with a certain amount of gravitas and just enough anachronistic tendencies (he refuses to own a cell phone, for example) to make you think that the character would fit into the old west and be just fine. The proximity of the fictional Absaroka County to a Cheyenne Reservation allows the show to explore issues of Native American life today-- and to give the show full credit, that's something that, if handled incorrectly, could go very wrong in multiple ways, but they approach those explorations carefully and respectfully enough to do it right.

As a crime drama, this works really well. Crime dramas usually make me yawn, but the setting and the characters in Longmire are compelling enough that I stuck around and once this show had it's claws into me, I couldn't stop watching. It falls down a little bit here and there, though: a Sheriff and three deputies for an entire county? (It's actually not that much of a stretch. Niobara County which is the least populated county in Wyoming has a Sheriff, an under-sheriff and two deputies.) None of them carry portable radios and they never seem to wait for back-up even in situations and they don't seem to have a 911 PSAP anywhere in their fictional county, they have Ruby the Secretary instead. (That last one is a long standing complaint of mine- cops in these crime dramas always seem to know where to go without needing a Dispatcher, which just aint't true- though shows like 9-1-1 don't exactly help resolve my irritation.)

TL;DR: If you like a good western and a good crime drama, you can't go wrong with Longmire. My Grade: *** out of ****


Nostalgia Watch: Babylon 5. I've watched Babylon 5 before and own about three seasons on DVD, but when it came back to streaming (this time on Amazon Prime), I fell down the rabbit hole almost immediately. Even if science fiction is not your jam, you have to admire the ambition and epic scope of the show and the impact it had on the television landscape of today. The big serialized story arcs of Game of Thrones and Lost? That kind of serialized story telling was pioneered on this show, which was conceived as a 'five part novel for television.' So the arc for all the characters? It was all pre-planned. Going back through and watching it again, you can see the seeds of character development be planted and start to grow over whole seasons of television, which makes the payoff, when it comes, all that much more satisfying.

Set ten years after the end of a devastating war between the Earth and Minbari, Babylon 5 is a space station in neutral territory where the various species in the galaxy can come and trade and negotiate their differences (it's sort of like a League of Nations with a council and everything.) A dark new power is returning however and the protagonists have to fight against it. There's so much to like about this show: the characters had 'exit clauses' written into their characters in case an actor wished to leave the show (Michael O'Hare departed as the lead after one season to seek treatment for mental illness and returned to close his characters arc out in the third season, is a good example of this.) I love the blend of fantasy elements with traditional science fiction, though sometimes, the parallels with Lord of the Rings get a little direct (the Rangers, the 'shadows', Zha'hadum) for my liking.

But where Star Trek took a more utopian view of the future, Babylon 5 recognizes that humanity's flaws and foibles probably won't evaporate anytime soon. In stark contrast to the secular humanist worldview of Trek, as an example, religion is alive and well in the B5 universe- both human and alien varieties, while it may seem like a relatively small aspect of the overall show, it's little touches like these that make the overall Universe feel richer, more complete and more realistic.

Each of the characters has an arc that ebbs and flows over the course of the show, but I've got to give a shout out to the Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) and the Narn Ambassador G'kar (Andreas Katsulas). Both their characters and their arcs are probably some of the best in science fiction, if not in television itself. Exploring themes of power and what you'd sacrifice for it (Londo) and issues of genocide, occupation and oppression (G'Kar), the two characters simultaneously hate each other and respect each other at the same time. It's fascinating, it's complex, it's incredibly well written and it's one of my favorite parts of the show.

TL;DR: Great science fiction and surprisingly important television, given how popular the serialized format it pioneered became, check this out for a messier, more complex and more richly imagined universe than Star Trek (I hate to say it, but in many ways it's true) and the characters and the writing are all delicious and satisfying. One of my all time favorites. My Grade: **** out of ****