Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fidel Castro, 1926-2016

So he's finally dead.

I don't know where to begin with this post, because the reaction to Castro's death has devolved into predictable fault lines. People are roasting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's tribute? Condolence message? Colin Kaepernick stepped in it- yet again. (ESPN's Dan Lebetard actually had something interesting to say about it.) There's a range of reaction out there, but I suppose if I have to begin somewhere, it would probably be with my email address.

Many moons ago, in the distant past, I think I went with a Yahoo.com account that was something like boristhatr1983 or some such idiocy. I have no idea if the address still exists or not, but eventually I transitioned over to Hotmail, which I still have and went randomly with fidelmags1979, once again throwing two world leaders that had always fascinated me together with a random yet to well, get what you get. Fidel Castro has always fascinated me for some reason...  I don't know if it was the outlandish assassination attempts the CIA used to try and kill him. I don't know if it was just his sheer capacity for defiance and survival in the face of one of the world's two superpowers ninety miles to the north of him. I can't really place it- I have- or had, a biography on Castro by Tad Szluc kicking around someplace, but I can't seem to find it.

What strikes me though, is this: I think it's possible to recognize the impact that Castro had on 20th Century history without having any illusions about the kind of regime he ran. People seem to be under the impression that it's got to be one or the other- but it can be both. When the future historians sit down to right the history of the 20th Century, Castro will be right in there. Whether history will absolve him, as he predicted, is another question entirely, but what he did- whether you agree with it or not, shook his corner of the world in ways that are still being felt today. Until I got to college- other than finding out how Che Guevara bit the dust, I had no idea that Cuba was so active in exporting it's revolution- I didn't know Cuba had intervened militarily in Angola at all. It's dangerous to get into the prediction business, but I think if you look at the arc of Latin American history you could mark the argument that Castro might turn out to be the most significant historical figure in Latin America since maybe Simon Bolivar.

But let's not have any illusions about the guy either. He was a dictator- he may have been a charming and telegenic one, but he was a dictator and life isn't all that ticklish for people in Cuba, despite the attractive t-shirts they sell* and hipster hang-wringing over the need to visit to Cuba before 'it gets ruined.' You don't think it's a dictatorship? Talk to the Ladies In White. You think he's not a tyrant? I would refer you to the Mariel Boatlift, where he charmingly emptied his prisons and sent all the people therein to Florida. Because that's what good neighbors do. Did we mention the epidemic of blindness in the 90s that affected over 50,000 Cubans due to vitamin deficiencies? The LGBT community down there didn't have an easy time of it- and let's not even talk about racism in his socialist paradise either. Nothing to see here, after all.

He wanted to free Cuba from the influence of the United States. Well, Mission Accomplished. He outlasted ten US Presidents that would have happily seen him overthrown in some form or another- either through more overt means during the Cold War or through gradual economic means in recent decades. That's impressive.

But at the end of the day, he was a Dictator. He's now dead. I'm not going to be particularly upset by that fact.

I just hope that his death means that Cuba is one step closer to the end of their dictatorship.

*One of the delightful ironies of Castro and Che is that their image adorns t-shirts that are brought and sold in capitalist countries across the world. Unless you made that Che t-shirt yourself, you're missing the point of what they were about.

Monday, November 28, 2016

It's Here!

Well, I finally shoved the sequel to The Prisoner and The Assassin over the finish line. The Kindle Edition of The Arrows of Defiance is now available for purchase! (If you're kind enough to drop a couple of bucks on it, it'd be awesome if you could drop me a review too!) So I guess, instead of one of my periodic 'This Month On Medium' posts, this is sort of a 'This Month on Amazon' post. That said:

The Prisoner and The Assassin

The Arrows of Defiance

If you're nice enough to buy them, I really hope you enjoy them. I had a lot of fun writing them and I think I've learned a lot in the process but my philosophy on writing has always been a simple one: always get better. I've got a month or so to wrap up a print edition of The Arrows of Defiance (I want to get that done by Christmas- fingers crossed) and then it's off to 2017 to try and figure out how to take my writing to the next level. Right now, I don't know what that's going to entail. (I am going to try and get some of my short fiction published though, I know that much.)

I do, however, have a little taste of my next big project- (not the start of another series, thank goodness! This one will be stand alone!) tentatively titled: The Last President

Zebulon Josiah Stanton or Zeb as he preferred to be called, groaned as someone nudged him back to consciousness, courtesy of a foot applied none-too-gently to the side of his ribs.  He opened his eyes and then immediately closed them again.  Bright.   Too bright, he thought.  What am I doing on the floor?  He coughed a few more times and tasted carpet.  He edged one eye open and saw the carpet was blue and then, like an avalanche, the events of the previous night came flooding back to him.
“Jesus, he’s a mess,” someone was saying above him.  “I thought you were going to watch him, Price.”
“I’m not his goddamn babysitter,” came the reply.
“We’ve got to get him cleaned up and downstairs.  The Speaker’s going to have our asses if he’s late.”
There was a sigh.  “Fine.   Together then?”
“On three.  One, two…  three…”
Zeb felt himself being heaved upward and then the pain became intense.  The hangover lodged in his brain like an icepick to the temporal lobe and his stomach felt like a dinghy caught in a hurricane.  What the hell did I do?  The thought ran through his brain- more to the point, what the hell did I drink?  He began to piece it together as he was dragged across the carpet, hanging limp between the two burly men, Secret Service Agents, he dimly noted like a bag of potatoes and into the hall beyond.
Whiskey.  He seemed to recall starting with whiskey, but it hadn’t ended there.   He had gone through the bourbon and then moved onto the scotch and then, oh God, he let out a juicy belch as they reached the bathroom and he was dumped unceremoniously onto the rug, that tastes like tequila.  Oh man, tequila?  He let out another juicy belch and felt his gorge rising even as he heard one of the two agents turning the shower on.  Vomit was advancing now, creeping upward in a rapid advance that he forced back down with a hard swallow.  Yeah, that’s tequila.  Then he felt himself being heaved upward.
“Grab ahold, sir,” one of the agents said and steadying himself, he did so.  “Now step in.” And he stepped into the shower and-
“Jeessssus, that’s cold!”  Clarity arrived in a blast of cold water as he remembered why he had been drinking so heavily last night and why the Agents had dragged him to the bathroom and put him in the shower to sober up.  He closed his eyes and felt the shock of the cold water spread through his system, nerves firing to life as his body moved into a state that could be considered presentable at least. Having woken up and he noticed the Agents had not bothered to take his clothes off, so he was standing barefoot, unshaven in an expensive suit in the middle of a cold shower.  “That’s enough cold water, I think,” he said aloud and adjusted the taps to warm up the temperature.  He glanced over at the Agents, wondering if there was a chance that he could get past them and out of the building somehow so he could escape his fate, but they had gone.  Probably guarding the door, he thought.  They had, at least, left him a fresh robe.
Feeling more human, he stripped off his clothes and showered, letting out the occasional belch that revealed the hellish mixture of alcohol he had ingested the night before, he cleaned himself and by the time he was done, he felt better.  Turning the shower off, he stepped out of the bath and, grabbing the robe, forced down more vomit that had a smoky taste that he couldn’t quite place his finger on.  Maybe the whiskey, he thought as, without a backward glance at the two agents, headed back to the bedroom, closed the door and he began digging in the closet and found himself a presentable suit and dressed himself.  
Re-emerging from the bedroom, some minutes later, he adjusted his tie and glanced at the two Agents, both of whom were waiting.  “Thank you, Agent Price and…  Agent Thompson is it?” The second Agent nodded.  “Shall we? I imagine they’ll be waiting.”  With that, he began to walk down the hallway to the stairs that lead down to the first floor, where they were waiting for him.
There was still time. He could run.  He might make it out of the building. He could find a transport and head south to Virginia or maybe the Oceanic Republics.  He could be a bartender and live on a beach somewhere and just be a normal, regular guy and have normal, regular problems and maybe even a normal, regular wife and a normal, regular kid too.   It was tempting.  It was oh so tempting…
He arrived on the first floor, the Agents on either side of him like a man walking to his execution.  Well that’s what it is, isn’t it?  That nasty little voice in the back of his head snickered.  A suicide mission.  A bug to be crushed under what’s coming.   The effects of the shower had faded and his nausea had returned and a tiny part of his mind kept poking him.  There had been something else.  He had started with whiskey and then tequila and then something else…
He stopped in the small room outside his destination and gathered himself.  This was it.  No going back once he was in the big round room. He tried to imagine himself being brave in the face of what was coming, but he knew himself too well for that.  He was resigned to his fate.  Manacled to his duty. And you’re too chicken-shit to walk away, the nasty little voice added.
“All right,” he sighed.  “Let’s get this over with.”  He opened the door and stepped into the room beyond.  The morning sunlight bathed the room in a soft glow and he tried not to make it obvious as he surveyed the room.  One of the most famous rooms in history, it had been designed to make foreign dignitaries and visitors feel intimidated and although it was shortly going to be his office, he could still feel the weight of the centuries pressing down on him.  Or maybe it was the hangover, he couldn’t be sure.
“You’re almost late.”  The Speaker of the House, Leo Yates was a short, rat-faced little man who was a consummate political operator of the highest order.  As such, Zeb didn’t trust the man one bit.  With him, were Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ellen Boateng-Miller and the familiar face of his father’s old chief of staff, Richard Ocampo.
“It’s not noon yet,” Zeb replied.  “Is that the desk?”
The trio in front of the desk parted so he could take a look at it.  “It’s a copy, of course,” Ocampo said.  “A perfect replica though.”
“Was it really made from the ship?”
“That’s what the history says,” Ocampo replied.  Yates cleared his throat, signalling his impatience.  “We should get on with this.”
“Very well,” Zeb sighed.  
“Madame Chief Justice,” Yates said. She stepped forward, holding a Bible in her hands.  “Place your right hand on the Bible and repeat after me.”  
Zeb did so.  No going back now.  Chicken-shit, the nasty little voice in his head said.
“I, Zebulon Josiah Stanton,” his nausea was rising and he felt himself start to sweat.  He was operating on automatic pilot now, just repeating everything he was being told, like the good little puppet he was about to become.  “Do solemnly swear, that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States,” His head hurt and he felt the full weight of it all crashing down on him. “And will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” a thousand years of history was going to come to an end.  Armies were sweeping across the Continent, sweeping aside the balkanized clusters of successor states that had once made up the United States of America. “So help me God.”  And they had nothing, no fighting force strong enough to stop them.   He was going to be the last one.  The Last President of the United States.
Yates left without a word and he heard the Chief Justice offer her quiet congratulations and felt himself shake her hand and then she too departed and he was left alone in the Oval Office with Ocampo.  
“I’d say congratulations, kid,” Ocampo said, “but--”
The nausea broke then and Zeb ran across the room to a small, elegant trash can that had been placed near the door and, falling to his knees began to vomit.  His stomach heaved again and again, the contents of the despair he had tried to drown the night before in alcohol spewing out into the light until he took a deep shuddering breath and stopped.  “Mezcal,” he rasped.
“What?” Ocampo asked.
“I’ve been trying to figure out what all I drank last night for the past hour,” Zeb replied, spitting some excess phlegm out of his mouth and into the trash can.  “I could taste the tequila and the whiskey but there was something else I couldn’t figure out and I guess its the mezcal.”
“How do you know?”
Zeb leaned over and looked down into the garbage can.  “Well, for starters I’m pretty sure I ate the worm.”

Saturday, November 19, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #191: Guam

The Brown Flag Challenge rolls right along this week with the flag of Guam:
I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that every one has heard of Guam and knows that it's an American Territory in the specific, but let's get more specific than that: just where the hell is Guam out there in the big wide blue ocean of the Pacific?  Well, it's here:
(My apologies for this map being a little small. I tried to set it as extra-large and it was too damn big, but I assume this is good enough for everyone to tell where Japan, Korea, China and the rest of Asia are in comparison to where Guam is. That little white smudge on the right side of the image? That's Hawaii.)

So what's up with Guam? Discovered by Magellan in 1521 but it wasn't officially claimed by Spain until 1565 and served as an important stopping point for the Spanish fleet on the route between Acapulco and Manila. After the defeat of Napoleon, many of Spain's colonies in the New World became independent, shifting Guam's allegiance from Mexico to the Philippines before being given to the United States after the Spanish-American War. They were invaded and occupied by the Japanese in World War II and 18,000 Japanese soldiers died trying to keep it. (Though props to this guy. He held out until January of 1972.)

They're US Citizens, but they can't vote in Presidential elections and have a non-voting delegate to Congress. (They do have delegates for the party primaries though, so that's something I guess?) But other than that, they've got a Governor, Lt. Governor and all the trimmings you'd expect to find in a regular old state!

Their flag was adopted on February 9th, 1948 and is a striking shade of dark blue with a red border. Their Coat of Arms is in the center- and here's the cool part- it's not your typical Coat of Arms. It's shaped like an almond! The boat depicted in the water is a proa, sailing in Agana Bay near the capital. The land form at the very back are the Punta Dos Amantes cliffs- which, along with the palm tree gives us the brown in the flag- and the shape, while almond, is actually meant to recall the shape of the slingshot stones used by the islanders' ancestors.

(Complementing the flag, the municipal flags for each of Guam's 19 villages/municipalities were also designed to represent as aspect of the culture of Guam- I didn't actually look any of them up, but I really like the idea of that. A sort of unified design plan.)

I'll be off next week for Thanksgiving and to hopefully give myself a chance to heave my book out in into the world, but remember, until next time, keep your flag flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Coming Soon!

Hi, Gang:

I wanted to this done much, much earlier in the year than I did, but it seems appropriate that it's finally get heaved over the finish line about three years after I launched The Prisoner and The Assassin out into the world for everyone to read.

Part of me is relieved. Sequels are hard, man. I had to keep so many things straight and consistent- which I probably failed at (there's going to be at least one thing in there that I messed up.) There's the pressure of expectations- you're aiming for The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back when you're talking about sequels- that's the gold standard. If you're lucky you'll get halfway there- I like to think I did.

The Arrows of Defiance comes from a speech that Chelsea gives in Chapter Four (it's one of two speeches that survived the editing and revising process more or less intact, which is kind of amazing.) It's a good speech, so I won't spoil it for you. I keep trying to find some sort of emotion to attach to the end of this story, but I can't. The weird part about writing both Prisoner and Arrows has been that it's Part II of the story of these characters- or possibly Part III, I haven't decided yet. The fact that it came out of me that way is something I can't explain, but at some point down the road, I'll have to complete the story of all of these characters and tell the rest of the tale. But it won't be for awhile yet.

A word on the cover: I know every indie author, would-be author, marketing professional who happens to read this book is going to insist that I need a better cover for this book. For now, I'm going to disagree with that. I mean, I get where they're coming from, but here's the deal: when I flung Prisoner out there into the world, I made my own cover because I didn't know any better- and didn't have any money to spend on getting a professional designed cover done. It was a little too abstract (the blue star in the cover refers to the flag of the Free Territories, something that I think only I know and any readers probably don't) leaving people with the impression that perhaps, Prisoner is a Dallas Cowboys themed thriller of some kind.

When it came time to get a cover together for Arrows, that presented me with a dilemma. My philosophy on this whole writing journey has been a simple one: always do it better. So I wanted to make a better cover, but couldn't exactly go from something I made myself to a slick, professional cover. After many, many long discussions with the Missus, she set to work and produced the bad boy you see above. I think it's an improvement on Prisoner's cover and fits Arrows quite nicely.

(And yes, I know there are plenty of website where you can get free e-book covers and the like. I've seen them, perused them and haven't found any that satisfied me.)

As always, I have a few people to thank. First and foremost is my wife (and cover artist) Allison, who after nearly ten years putting up with me, still seems to want to keep me around. She's still the best friend a guy could ask for and the love of my (crazy, hectic, slightly insane at times) life. My Editor is the always excellent Mr. Casey Wagner, who helped me polish up this book until it (hopefully) shines. My kids, Austin and Kelvin help keep me grounded and remind me every day of what is really important- which usually isn't whatever it is I'm stressing about at that moment in time. There are also too many friends and family to thank here who have offered a word of encouragement, praise or have just simply purchased my writing and read it. To all these people and anyone I've missed, I can only say 'THANK YOU!'

(Oh, due to popular demand, I've also included maps for the e-book version...  here's the Northern Free Territories and the Southern Free Territories for your perusal. There: as promised, maps!)

As you can see above I've left you a little taste of the cover... I'll have the official announcement after the Thanksgiving holidays, but if you lurk on Amazon next week, you might be the first to snag it.

thanks
Tom

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Let's Talk About 'Mockingbird'

I've been an avid listener of 'Jay and Miles X-Plain The X-Men' for awhile now, so when, about a month or so ago, I saw them Tweet something with the hashtag #StandWithChelseaCain attached to it, I got curious. I clicked on the link, did some reading and found out what it was all about and as usual, the big old 'DOES NOT COMPUTE' error message flashed in my brain.

Basically, Cain, who did an run as the writer for a Mockingbird solo series got chased off of Twitter after Mockingbird was cancelled- she had the temerity to call for Marvel to 'make room for more titles by women about women kicking ass.' The segment of the internet you'd expect to lose it's mind promptly lost it's damn mind after some ugly, online harassment, she deleted her Twitter account.

I've been sort of tip-toeing around the edge of the whole debate over toxic fan culture for awhile now. I've done plenty of reading about the Hugo Awards Mess, Gamergate and the like. I've seen cover controversies (like Spider-Woman) float by on Facebook, the whole 'Thor, a woman? (gasp, clutches pearls)' thing, but I've never really take a deep dive into any of it. Partially because I don't really think I have anything useful to add to the debate- I'm a straight white dude. There are too many straight white dudes out there blathering about these topics. Why do you need to hear from me about it?

Plus, there's the other thing. I don't really feel like I fully belong in some of these sub-cultures/fandoms. I never played video games as a kid. I'm not a gamer. I read plenty of science fiction, but I don't go to cons, I don't read scifi exclusively and I've only in the past couple of years started doing a serious deep dive into comics. I really felt like I didn't have the street cred to do this, so to speak.

But something about this particular controversy bugged me. It bugged me about the whole 'Thor, a woman? (gasps, clutches pearls)' thing too.* It just didn't make sense at all. If you don't like a comic, don't read it. If you don't like a video game, don't play it. If you don't like a television show, don't watch it. Are you seeing a pattern emerging here? Because I am. There should be room in these genres/fandoms for everyone and yes that might mean women have agency and are well-written for once instead of being eye candy. That's what you get when you expand the tent, as it were. Except that you don't have everyone inside the tent pissing out. You've got people inside the tent pissing on the people trying to get into the tent and that just isn't right.

No one should ever be hounded off of any social media platform for doing something they love.** So this one bugged me enough that I wanted to actually run down this book and find out what all the fuss is about- partially because I thought it'd be great to support both the title and author and partially because, well, I wanted to find out what was behind this.

I still don't understand why people are assholes, because this is an incredibly good book. I may not have the greatest understanding of the medium yet, but this was smart, funny, well-written, with a heavy dose of ass-kicking that made the character practically jump right off of the page and smack you in the face. This is a Bobbi Morse I would pay to see more of- and hopefully I get a chance too. Even as Fraction's run on Hawkeye brought that character to life in such a vivid way, Chelsea Cain's run on Mockingbird, brief though it was, took a character that had never had a solo title in her 'life' and gave it one hell of a launch. It's a damn shame this got cancelled, because there's real potential and promise here.

TL;DR- This is an awesome, smart, funny, well-written book. I think there's a Volume 2 scheduled to drop in April. Damn straight I'll be grabbing that at some point. But if you like smart, funny, well-written books- this will work for you. Internet trolls and awful sexist douchebags remain just that.

*So did not get the controversy here. Thor's power is derived from the hammer, which says nothing about 'MEN ONLY' just that whoever is righteous and true enough to etc, etc, etc. Doesn't preclude a woman in any way shape or form.

**Unless, of course you love killing puppies, people or other bad things. Don't do that.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Albums2010 #84: High Times

I feel like this might be cheating ever-so-slightly, but I also don't care. Technically, when I started this whole 'listen to 100 albums' thing about six years ago now, I wanted to listen to albums and sort of excluded Greatest Hits/Singles/Compilation albums, but for this one I made an exception.

Jamiroquai is one of those bands that I sort of run into from time to time and I usually like what I hear. Of course, everyone remembers the trippy video for 'Virtual Insanity'- but I also had 'Cosmic Girl' in my rotation, but a few weekends back I learned that the Napoleon Dynamite dance sequence is actually another Jamiroquai song, 'Canned Heat'. So having learned that and, looking around for an album to listen too, I decided to take a deep dive into the music of Jamiroquai and listen to High Times, their Singles Collection which covers 1992-2006.

First of all, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Jamiroquai is a band and not a person. They're fronted by their lead singer Jay Kay and Wikipedia describes them as a "British funk and acid jazz band." I have no earthly idea what acid jazz is (I've tried to dig on some Miles Davis and I just...  I can't. I can't get into it. I'm not sure why. I feel like there is something slightly wrong with me) but if that's what Jamiroquai is, I'm down.

At 19 tracks, High Times feels fairly comprehensive, but doing some digging it seems like it's more a Greatest Hits compilation instead of a Singles compilation- and sure enough, Wikipedia confirms that- pointing out that there are multiple singles that have been left out of this CD.

The tracks I know are here and well represented, but it's the ones that I hadn't heard before that stand out. 'Deeper Underground' is a striking departure from the funk/jazz/soul/R&B feel of the entire album- it's darker and grittier...  funky, but nasty. I dug it. 'Little L' and 'Love Foolosophy' are nice funky tracks that seemed to stick in my head a little more than the others. There really wasn't a dud on this album and to be honest, I'd happily throw this album on again and again. It's funky, it's smooth, it's right in my wheelhouse.

Overall: funky, smooth and excellent, taking a deep dive into the music of Jamiroquai was a ride worth taking. I honestly loved every track on this album and I think I'm honestly going to save it as it's own playlist in my Spotify library. It's that good. I don't know what got me into funk/R&B or whatever you want to call it, but Jamiroquai has found a place in my rotation. Probably on a permanent basis.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #190: North Western Province, Sri Lanka

The Brown Flag Challenge is getting to the deep cuts of the program this week- heading all the way to Sri Lanka to take a look at the flag of the North West Province:
Well, the immediate challenge of breaking down this flag became clear to me immediately. In terms of symbolism, the Wikipedia page provided more of a description. A little more digging revealed that all the provincial flags are based on Ancient Sinhalese Flags- but no more than that. An interesting little tidbit on the CRW Flags website reveals that apparently, the provincial flags are straight up not used. But that's also as of the year 2000, so I'm not sure how much I trust that.

I found a similar looking image on this site over here, but irritatingly, despite the numerous descriptions for the flags below it, they don't have anything for the one right at the top. The closest ancient flag I could find was the flag of the Kingdom of Sitawaka- which has a few similarities but isn't an exact match either. Sitawaka was a fairly short lived Kingdom- but there's no references to a bull in either it's predecessor (the Kingdom of Kotte) it's successor, The Kingdom of Kandy.

So, this is something of a historical mystery at this point- but I haven't exactly done a deep dive into Sri Lankan History either. All I can tell you is that the flag was adopted for the North Western Province in 1987 and that it looks like what you see above.

The North Western Province seems pretty decent though. It's got a load of coconut plantations and it's capital, Kurungela provided me with some tantalizing hints that we could get to the bottom of this- but to no avail. The city itself rose to prominence as a royal capital in the 13th Century when someone jacked a sacred tooth from the Yapahuwa Kingdom and took it to India for a bit. It was brought back and the king that brought it back ruled from Kurungela and Kings of Sri Lanka ruled from there until about 1335 or so. Alas, neither the references to the Yapahuwa Kingdom or the Kingdom of Jaffna gave me any more leads on what the heck this flag means. 

So yeah, there's the flag of the North Western Province of Sri Lanka. I actually like it- it's striking, it's brown... it works. Now if I could just figure out what the hell it means!

Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sportsyball! (MLS Playoffs Edition)

MLS Quest
Okay...  I listened to this excellent interview with FC Dallas Manager Oscar Pareja and you should too if you love soccer, because FC Dallas is impressive as hell. But it also forced me to get serious about this whole #MLSQuest thing. So, hang on to your butts- because I've got a Final Four:

FC Dallas: because I really like the whole #BuscaLaForma thing they've got going on. Fostering homegrown talent is going to be especially important not just for the future of MLS, but US Soccer as a whole. I really, really like this.

Sporting KC: Geographic proximity + what I'm told is a vibrant fan culture keeps Sporting in the mix. Goal for next year: maybe go to a game?

Toronto FC: Were flat out fun to watch in the conference semis.

Minnesota United: They're the Loons! Of course they're still in the mix.

Adopt-A-Team
Well, they're slipping. Currently 12th in the Eredivise, they've had a 'meh' month- but I think there's some hope on the horizon- perhaps. They're out of the KNVB Cup, so it's all Eredivise from here on out I think. Since October 7th- the last edition of Sportsyball!, They've had a middling run of games:

L to Feyenoord
D to Vitesse
D to FC Utrecht
D to Groningen

The loss to Feyenoord isn't exactly unexpected- they're setting the pace for the league right now with 29 points- three clear of Ajax and four clear of PSV Eindhoven- but the run of draws to their mid-table competition is sort of worrying. They need to win a few here and there to get back unto the upper half of the table. Coming down the pipe they've got Ajax, Twente and Heracles on deck to get them through the month of November. They need a full three points from at least one (probably Heracles) and should hopefully force a draw at Twente or get very very lucky vs Ajax.

Long season ahead! Hopefully Month #3 is kinder than Month #2 will be!

Go NEC Go!

American Handegg News
Help me, I'm scurrrrrrrred. So scurrrrrred...  yeah, the Penn State game did not go Iowa's way. Not even a little bit. Not even at all. Michigan lurks and I'm frightened. I straight up don't want to watch the game tomorrow because unless Greg Davis somehow turns into an offensive genius overnight, I don't think it'll be pretty.

I'm not sure what the hell went wrong this season, but something did. Three games left for Iowa- vs Michigan, at Illinois and vs Nebraska. If we're very, very, very lucky, we'll win one of those games and make a sub-par bowl game. If we're very, very, very lucky. More likely scenario is that Michigan destroys us, we limp into Champaign and Illinois beats us and an angry, vengeful Nebraska beats us to close out the season. I'm thinking 5-7. 6-6 if we're very very lucky. 8-4 if the Apocalypse is well and truly nigh.

Here's the thing... Kirk Ferentz has produced moments and seasons of sublime glory for the Iowa Hawkeyes, but he's also conservative as hell and tends to only get those moments and seasons of sublime glory when absolutely everything falls his way- which is about once every six years or so it seems (2002, 2009, 2012). The stadium and facility upgrades during his tenure are going to be a key part of his legacy, but you have to wonder: who comes after Ferentz?

In terms of a broad historical sweep of the program- Hayden Fry made it relevant, made it serious and made it a program. Ferentz upgraded all the stuff and had seasons of brilliance that if not matched the heights of Fry, then even surpassed them in many ways. So who comes next? Whenever that moment comes it's going to be the most crucial hire that any AD has made at Iowa in decades. At this point, I'm just going to accept what comes every football season and think about that. Because that's when things will get really really interesting.

But what the hell, let's look ahead to 2017, shall we?

vs Wyoming: W. If we can't beat Wyoming, we got issues.
at Iowa State: W, Iowa State looked woeful this year.
vs North Texas: W, see Wyoming above.
vs Penn State: ?, especially given last night.
at Sparty: ?, because we're at East Lansing and even though they're down this year it won't be for long
vs Illinois: W, because we're at home.
at Northwestern: W. had best be a W. Will probably be an L because Northwestern
vs Minnesota: W, but a challenging one.
vs Ohio State: L
at Wisconsin: L
vs Purdue: W, because Purdue.
at Nebraska: ?

So I can realistically see a road to 7-5 next year, but all that could change if this year marks the end of the Greg Davis Experiment. If we're breaking in a new Offensive Coordinator then who knows where we're going to be.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After

Appropriately, I woke up with a vicious migraine, so I did as little as possible for most of the morning in an ultimately successful attempt to make it go away- or at least beat it back enough to do things like eat food and take medicine.

This all seems like some sort of crazy fever dream. I keep looking at numbers and being flabbergasted at what I'm finding...  this was a huge (or dare I say it: 'yuuuuuuge') miss for pundits, pollsters- pretty much everyone. The Markets, thankfully seem to have recovered some ground, but they had a bad reaction to all of this because the Lumpen Commentariat, as it were, was banking on a Clinton Victory. It was pretty much in the bag- it was going to be close, but her ground game was better than his and though it was going to be a long night, Clinton would grind out a victory. Hell, even Trump people were saying early on that they thought it would take a miracle for him to win, well, guess what? They were wrong. Every one was wrong. The only question I'm sort of struggling with at this point is to why everyone was so wrong.

Something went very wrong last night, and as tempting as it might be to rail against Jill Stein (and her whopping 1.1% of the vote) or Gary Johnson (and his 3.3% of the vote) the exit poll data tells a different- and if you're a Democrat- deeply disturbing story of where it might have gone off track. Reaching across the Pond, the Telegraph includes handy arrows in their breakdown comparing 2012 to 2016. (CNN has the full rundown here.)

The rural vote and the Hispanic vote blow my mind a little bit. Rural America broke big for Trump- who took a 50% number in 2012 and turned it into 62%. The Hispanic Vote was even more dispiriting- Clinton lost ground there, dropping from 71% to 65%, while Trump actually improved on Mittens' performance going from 27% to 29%. Chew on that last sentence and tell me if it makes a lick of sense to you. Donald J. Trump did better than Mitt Romney with Hispanics? What in the ever-loving hell is going on here? The big number that blew my mind is white women: 53% of white women backed Trump.

I think the Coalition the Democrats thought they had didn't show up last night. I'm sure statisticians and political scientists are going to be pouring over the data to figure out why for years. But what I keep going back too is something I thought in the early summer- namely that it really wouldn't take much for Trump to win. All he had to do was win every state Romney won in 2012. Mission accomplished (they're still figuring out Arizona I guess, but hell, throw it in there.) Once you do that, what do you need to get to 270? You need to flip three, maybe four states. 2 out of 3 of the Rust Belt plus Florida will get you pretty close to the mark. Trump flipped all three of the Rust Belt and Florida. (I thought he'd get Ohio for sure, but Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were shockers. All had voted Democratic for about 30 years. MI and PA lasted voted Republican in 1988. WI was even longer: 1984.) I thought that it might be just that easy... sit in the Rust Belt and talk about NAFTA, trade, where all the jobs had gone. But then he started in on shitting on Gold Star families, and a dozen other trainwrecks in August and was awful in the debates and I thought there was no way, no way people would go for that. Again, I was wrong.

So now what?

I want President-Elect Trump and the Republican Party to prove me wrong. (I don't think they're going too, but hey, what can you do?) I want the frothy bouquet of racism, hatred and misogyny that featured too prominently for my liking to be repudiated and consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs. I want a President who's going to work hard to be a leader for all Americans and focus on economic growth, prosperity and jobs and stay the hell out of my marriage and my bedroom- and everyone else's marriage and bedroom as well. (I really, really, really would like to be proven wrong.)

I'd like the Democrats to take a deep breath, recognize the scope of the problem (Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece worth reading) and maybe do something about it (I find myself agreeing with Michael Moore for the first time in a decade or so.)

There are some flickers of hope to cling too: marijuana won big last night with California, Massachusetts and Nevada legalizing for recreational use and a few more states approving medical marijuana. Sensible drug policy and (I hope) and end to the War on Drugs is creeping closer.

Not many people were paying attention to it, but Maine passed ranked-choice voting for their state last night. Every one should go and learn and then we should all do it. (Or at the very least, live up to the idea that states should be laboratories of democracy. The better way we all hope for is out there. We just need to go get it.)

Women of color had an excellent night- Minnesota elected the first Somali-American state legislator in the country.

I didn't watch Hillary Clinton's concession speech, but I've read enough of it to get a sense of what a gracious, dignified and yes, I'll say it, Presidential speech it was. It is a damn shame she lost last night- as much as we have no idea what we're getting in Donald J. Trump for President, I think it was impossible for anyone to know who the real Hillary Clinton actually was. There's been a wall of white noise and bullshit built up around her for decades now- some of it might be true, none of it might be true- I don't think anyone can say for sure either way. Having her as President might have let her shatter that last glass ceiling and knock down that wall of white noise and bullshit that she's handled with class and grace and dignity for decades now. That's a loss for the whole country.

I don't have daughters- yet, but I have nieces and I hope they can realize that this is possible for them now. It looks like Hillary Clinton is going to win the popular vote. (Seriously: can we please abolish the Electoral College now? Can we all agree that it's moronic?) It can be done. This will happen. That ceiling will come down. It's just a question of when.

It was mid-afternoon, before I was a fully functional human again, thanks to my migraine. Little Man dragged me outside to play soccer and I was kicking the ball around, watching the sun sink on the horizon and for a moment I could almost feel the Earth move beneath me. Eppur si muove...  and yet it moves. The Earth still turns. The sun still rises. We're all still here. We can make this better- and oddly enough, I think we'll be okay, even if it doesn't feel like it right now. I remember back in the early 2000s, when Bush The Younger was in charge, Mississippi had a referendum on one of those horrible fetal personhood laws, that would criminalize miscarriages or some other god-awful thing. I remember thinking shit, man, that's gonna pass there- because Mississippi. But it didn't. The voters of this country might occasionally and inexplicable do batshit insane things, but they have limits. They can only go so far. I have a feeling our limits might be tested these next four years.

But I believe in America. We'll pass the test.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election Day 2016 Live

00:02
As I was leaving work, I got to see the first vote drop for this Election- and it was awesome. In New Hampshire, communities with less than a hundred people can open their polls and cast their votes at Midnight- and they kicked things off with the usual trio of Dixville Notch, Hart's Location and Millsfield. Hillary Clinton took the first two towns and Trump took the third. After all the dust had settled in the midnight voting, Donald Trump had a seven-vote lead.

Just a fair warning to everyone: this is going to get nerdy. If you don't want to see me get my nerd on, try a different blog, because to me, Elections are beautiful things. Yes, the candidates were underwhelming or just plain awful this time around. Yes, we're all praying for this to be over quickly and painlessly, because hey- this is America. We like our Elections to be long, painful root canals that last months and months. But the process is the amazing thing to me. Democracy isn't pretty- as Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government- except for all the others." but it's an incredible privilege that people in this country have fought and died to secure and not every country in the world even has.

I think, if I ever get my act together and go get that PhD, it'll probably be in psephology.

I'm going to bed- but I might be too excited to sleep. This is like Christmas Eve for me- and the air smells like freedom and participatory democracy! It's official Election Day and in case you haven't noticed- I am PUMPED.

But, if you're suffering from Election Exhaustion, take heart in this mellow jam from The Doors. The end is (hopefully) here.

07:00
POLLS ARE OPEN IN THE CENTRAL TIME ZONE!  Go vote, people!

09:07
Let's take care of some housekeeping first, shall we? I'm here on the blog, on Facebook, on Twitter @litcityblues and on Snapchat at tnixon1983. Follow along for the shenanigans all day!

That said, let's talk Live Blogs:

Slate is doing something really interesting along with Vice and something called Votecastr this year- I guess they're going to be making projections in real time instead of just sitting on it until the polls close like the networks usually do. I'm not honestly sure how to feel about this- projections one way or the other could potentially impact turnout out west, but, let's also consider this is the first time they've done this and I have no idea what it's going to be like.

For non-frothy, non-tin foil hat center-right commentary, PJ Media has an all day drunk-blog going down. They're usually pretty amusing and intelligent if the left wing is not your thing.

If stats are your thing, FiveThirtyEight has a live blog going too- it'll be interesting to see how their model holds up once the dust has settled.

09:37
Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight have their models projecting the win for Clinton- and by a significant margin, 323-215. So if they're right, the map is going to shake out something like this:

Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

So, something is going to have to go very sideways for the polling model to be wrong, but hey, it's 2016, man- so we can't rule that out. Which brings us to #TeamChaos.

#TeamChaos would shake out something like this:

Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com
Looking at this, I'm not sure I buy it- Trump would have to flip Pennsylvania and Florida and McMullin would have to take Utah. While I think there's still an outside chance that McMullin could take the Beehive State I just don't see Trump flipping both PA and FL. I could see him doing one or the other, but not both.

However, the fun would just be getting started if #TeamChaos does go down. In this scenario, the election would go to Congress. The Senate would take the top two electoral vote getters (Kaine and Pence) and pick the Vice-President. That should be easy peasey lemon squeezy- the House is where it would crazy. Each state delegation gets one vote, so the magic number is 26 and I have no idea how messy that would be in the current political climate- but the kicker is that if the House can't get someone to the magic number by Inauguration Day then the Vice-President would become President.

Alas, I don't think #TeamChaos will come to pass. But it's out there- and hey man, this is 2016. Anything can happen.

11:33
So this is what Slate's been banging on about in the lead up to Election Day. They're monitoring turnout as it comes in LIVE. Consider my NERD ALERT set to Condition Red. This is awesome.

16:47
Getting closer to go time here and I'm hearing some chatter about Michigan possibly being in play- but there's also a fishbowl problem at work here that's worth touching on. A few weeks ago, I read an article that said that this election was closing a lot like 2012- and even then, there was fishbowling going on. No, I don't mean bowling with fish- I mean the two sides of the political spectrum living in alternate dimensions from the rest of us. Don't believe me? Compare and contrast Drudge and the HuffPost right now. You'd think that Trump was on the verge of an upset according to Drudge and Hillary is ready to go, per HuffPost.

Tomorrow, someone's going to be wrong. But for right now, the fishbowling is annoying because it makes it almost impossible to get a clear picture of what's going on. I still think it's going to be Hillary. The only question is by how much.

18:04
First beer of the night and the first calls of the night. (My television network of choice is the redoubtable CNN.) Kentucky, Indiana to Trump (no surprise) and Vermont to Hillary. (Also, no surprise.)

21:47
Nail biting time now...  I knew it was going to be close, but god damn. Too effing close! I did not think Michigan or Wisconsin would be in play as much as they are. I assumed Florida would be a shit show, but I also assumed that Clinton would pull it out as well. New Hampshire, too? This is bananas. And this is our map as of right now:

Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com
Right now... Wisconsin/Michigan and North Carolina/Florida- she needs one of each pairing to get where she needs to go. It's still possible, but...  eeeeesh. I shouldn't be looking at Canadian Real Estate right now.

22:13
North Carolina's gone. West Coast is in and the Electoral Vote looks a little better, but Michigan and Wisconsin... WTF IS GOING ON THERE.

22:40
#TeamChaos is back in the picture, oddly enough. Assuming things keep going like they're going- and the votes come in from Nashua to turn New Hampshire blue- if Michigan goes blue and Trump takes Wisconsin we could, theoretically end up with an electoral college tie. And haven't heard a like about Utah either.

23:07
Just saw Trump pulled ahead in Pennsylvania. And the fact that Ron Johnson held his Senate seat in Wisconsin probably doesn't bode well for Democratic chances there. This is done. Wow. Did not see this coming. But, I'm going to watch the end of X-Men Apocalypse and go to bed.

Flip Your Ballot and Vote YES for Measure C

I'm already on the record as endorsing and planning to vote YES on Measure C, but the recent eruption of opposition from the local political establishment has annoyed me enough that I want to weigh in again. If you haven't voted already (if you have, I sure hope you voted yes) then tomorrow when you go to the polls, I urge you to flip your ballot and vote YES for Measure C.

The local establishment doesn't like change and it sure doesn't like potential challenges to the status quo. Here's the problem I have with both of those arguments: they're completely and utterly bogus.

The opposition seems to be under the impression that the voters (those poor, poor voters) would be flooded with so many ballot initiatives they wouldn't know what to do with themselves. They think it'll decrease participation in local elections, not increase. They worry that 'the students won't understand what they're signing' when the hordes of radicals begin petitioning the city for who knows what.

But consider the recent history- I guess there was an initiative that set up the Citizen's Police Review Board. But the big ones that spring to mind are 21-Only and 21-Only: The Wrath of Bar and of course, the First Avenue Extension Shenanigans.  I can think of three- a grand total of three, maybe four since I've been alive- and in all three cases, the local establishment eventually had their way anyway, so the idea that we're going to be California all of a sudden is absurd. 

In short, the Hardcore Townies are clutching their pearls. 

But here's the other kicker: this measure doesn't cover charter revisions, it doesn't cover the City Budget or Zoning Laws- it doesn't threaten in any way to replace the local structure of City Governance with direct democracy/ballot initiatives. What it does do is give citizens another way to participate in local government as well as bring the City's own rules for initiatives in line with what's written in the Iowa Code. 

I'm not immune to the argument that the real problem is lack of voter turnout for local elections- or maintaining interest enough to shepherd these initiatives onto the ballot and over the finish line to actually make sure they win. I just don't see how voting down Measure C solves either of these problems. In a fast-moving, tech savvy society today, people want options on how they participate in the process. This, Measure C would deliver. But if Iowa City is as progressive as it claims to be, then why close the door to a Measure that would bring the current charter in line with existing state code while increasing the potential for participation all at the same time?

Doesn't seem very progressive to me. So tomorrow- flip your ballot and vote YES for Measure C.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

'Star Trek Beyond' --A Review

I'm not a Trek Purist by any stretch of the imagination- I loved the first Star Trek reboot/AbramsTrek/Kelvin Timeline movie- I loved how they tied the new timeline in with the old and the destruction of Vulcan was a brilliant move that demonstrated that while they wanted to honor the series, they weren't going to let themselves be bogged down in the decades of canon that came before them. And the sense of scale was perfect! For the first time, the Enterprise felt like a starship- a really big one and everything look amazing and really really cool.

I had a lot of hope and a lot of optimism after the first movie. It felt fresh, exciting, even new- just the injection a lagging franchise needed, right? Then came Star Trek Into Darkness...  ugh. Talking about pissing away your advantages. You can't divorce yourself from decades of canon only to cook up a contemporary half-baked remake of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan which is universally acclaimed to be one of the best Star Trek movies ever made. 

Happily, Star Trek Beyond rights the ship and then some. 

The movie opens with the ship and crew three years into their five year mission and the Enterprise is arriving at Starbase Yorktown for rest, relaxation and resupply. Kirk (Chris Pine) is trying to find some meaning in the continued exploration of deep space. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) end their relationship. Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) dies. Scotty (Simon Pegg) keeps things running and Sulu (John Cho) reunites with his husband and family. Kirk, it turns out has applied for position of Vice Admiral, trying to break out of his rut (or whatever he's in) but before he can proceed further, he and the Enterprise get dispatched on a rescue mission.

An escape pod emerges from a nearby uncharted nebula and the survivor asks for help- but it turns out that the rescue mission is actually an ambush and the Enterprise is swarmed and destroyed, the crew forced to abandon ship on the planet below. Kirk, Chekov, Spock and Bones and Scotty remain free, but Uhura, Sulu and the rest of the crew are captured by Krall (Idris Elba), who attacked the Enterprise. Uhura and Sulu soon figure out the plan. Krall is after an ancient weapon called the Abronath, which the Enterprise has (but figured was an ancient doodad of some kind)- once he has it, he's planning on attacking Yorktown, destroying all life onboard and then using it's advanced technology to attack the Federation.

Kirk and Company soon figure this out as well- thanks to Scotty finding an ally in Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a captive who escaped from Krall and is using what turns out to be a long lost Federation ship as a home. Soon enough Kirk and Company launch a plan to free the crew and escape using the ship so they can go and stop Krall- who has figured out how to use the bio-weapon and is heading toward Yorktown to attack and wipe out the inhabitants. Kirk and Company destroy Krall's swarm of ships and chase Krall down into Yorktown- finding out the truth behind his identity and stopping him from activating the bio-weapon just in time.

After the dust settles, Kirk decides he doesn't want to be an Admiral anymore, Spock and Uhura get back together, everyone has a birthday party for the Captain and they watch as the Enterprise-A is constructed before heading out on their next mission.

Okay! The Trek Train is back on the tracks and I am back on board. This movie was fun. Everyone had their moments in the sun, the actors look like they're having fun- there are some especially poignant moments with the loss of Leonard Nimoy (explained in the movie with the Death of Ambassador Spock) and the scenes with Chekov (Anton Yelchin, who died a month before the movie came out.) Everything works- I feel like it teeters a bit on the edge of being almost cartoonish and too colorful at times, but it doesn't fall over that particular cliff, which is admirable. The sense of scale and wonder and the vastness of space (and the ships/starbases) remains something that the AbramsTrek Universe absolutely nails on the head. (The warp effects are actually pretty cool in this one too...  don't think they had those in the last movie.)

If I have a quibble with this movie, it's a tiny one. Star Trek sets the universe up. Star Trek Into Darkness is a remake of Wrath of Khan, Star Trek Beyond sees the first Enterprise destroyed and they've already revealed that the next movie is going to involve time travel. (Please, no whales.) I'm assuming then the 5th one will be about meeting God and the 6th one will be about Kirk retiring already? Wait, what?

Look, I get it- you want to draw some parallels with the original movies. Fine. Great. But why do you need too? This proves that you can write an original, fun, Star Trek movie without all those hang-ups.

Overall: Would not buy Star Trek Into Darkness. Star Trek Beyond on the other hand, will be on my Christmas Amazon Wishlist. I'm excited to see where they go next with the franchise. *** out of ****.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #189: Cocos (Keeling) Islands

We're digging deeper in Week 3 of the Brown Flag Challenge, this time heading all the way down to the southern hemisphere to a couple of islands just southwest of Java and surprisingly far to the northwest of Western Australia. Yes, we're talking about one of Australia's External Territories, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
Well, here's the kicker right off the bat: the population of the islands is 596 as of July of 2014. Which...  hmmm, brings up a question. Is this the smallest population of any territory to have it's own flag? I might have to do some digging on that score, because now I'm interested to find out.

Second, let's talk about the whole (name) thing they've got going on here. Per Our Font Of All Knowledge, Wikipedia, the islands have had a complicated naming history. They've been called the Cocos Islands from 1622, the Keeling Islands from 1703, the Cocos-Keeling Islands (1805) and the Keeling-Cocos Islands (from the 19th Century.) I have no earthly idea how they settled on parentheses to settle this, but they did. The Cocos half of the name refers to the plethora of coconut trees on the islands, while Keeling is for a Mr. William Keeling who was the first European to catch sight of them.

So, in the immortal words of Paul Harvey: "Now you know...  the rest of the story."

The flag was first created in 2003 and adopted on April 6th, 2004. It's green, with a palm tree on a gold disc in the canton (the trunk of the tree is where we get our brown from.) The Southern Cross is in the fly and is an obvious reference to their home country, Australia (as well as the Southern Hemisphere). The crescent stands for Islam which is the religion of the Cocos Malays who make up the majority of the population. The green and yellow are Australia's national colors.

And that's the flag of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Squawk Box: Adam Ruins Everything

This show is my spirit animal. No, seriously. I kept seeing this pop up in my Facebook feed and I attempted to find it online somewhere, only to be told I had to download the TruTV app to get my fill of it. This, I did and I binged and it was amaaaaaaaaazing. This is what a reality show should be- hell, I'm starting to think that this is what the news should be. The episode on immigration and on voting should be required viewing for anyone and everyone planning to vote next week.

But, before I get to that, let's talk about the show itself. Basically, comedian Adam Conover shows up to tell people the truth about any given topic. Cars, Voting, Immigration, Nutrition, take your pick. Basically, he spends a half-hour raining down an annoying parade of facts about any given topic on unsuspecting players in his little game- but in a humorous and entertaining way. But here's the hook: he shows his work. You don't have to take his word for it at all, because not only do little citations pop up on the screen as you go through the show, but there's also a complete source listing for each and every episode on the website for you to peruse.

In short, it's informative, funny, and fascinating to watch. I love it.

Random things I've learned from this show:
-Listerine is kind of a scam. Used to be an all purpose cleaner./floor cleaner and when they tried to market it as a mouthwash, they ran into an obvious flaw in that people didn't really appreciate being told that they had bad breath, so what did they do? Invented halitosis so they could sell it as a preventative to stop that awful condition they made up to help market their product from causing bad breath.

-Cars are kind of dodgy as well. From dealership cartels (protected by politicians who are all too eager to take the sales tax revenues from car sales) to the history of how they sort of took over the roads (displacing street cars, spreading fear of being hit and killed by their new fangled inventions around) they sort of seem like a big scam.

-The voting episode was excellent! And I was incredibly pleased to note that this show isn't afraid to spank both parties when it comes to the issue of gerrymandering. It was great!

There's a lot more (obviously) to talk about and/or ruin. The whole episode on giving was somewhat eye-opening (especially his deconstruction of canned food drives and why they are, in fact, bad, because they don't produce useful food for food banks since people tend to donate the stuff that's been gathering dust in their cupboards.) since his conclusion was that if you really want to help, give money, but bringing a community together is good too.

It's really odd than in the television landscape of today that a show lodged deep in the bowels of cable (on TruTV, no less) could take the blindingly simple idea of informing the viewers about any given topic they want to talk about and make it work so well. Damn, man, I wish the news would work this way. You could even leave in the comedy. I'd watch the shit out of a news network that did that. A show that isn't running it's facts through a million different filters. A show that doesn't ask you to take it's word for it- it cites it's own damn sources on the screen.  It's a sad reflection on the times that we live in that I find this show so refreshing. It shouldn't be this refreshing. It shouldn't feel like a breath of fresh air. This should be everywhere.

But hey, every avalanche starts with a single snowflake, right?

Overall: One of the best damn things I've had the pleasure to randomly stumble across in a very very long time. It's short (30 minutes) and hits that sweet spot of being smart, funny and it even insists that you not believe it by giving you a list of all their sources. If you're flipping your channels and come across this show- stop and watch it. I guarantee you're going to learn something. **** out of ****

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Again

This is the worst part of the job. You wake up, roll over, check your phone like you always do- one of those ingrained habits of modern life that have dug into your brain and muscle memory. There, all over your social media are profile pictures, badges crossed in blue, state outlines crossed in blue. Your heart sinks and you scroll through to find out what happened. Two officers gunned down in Des Moines overnight, sitting in their cars.

Whenever I had to change the Department's Facebook page after one of these tragedies, I always used to take some comfort from the fact that I could count on both hands the number of times I've had to do it over the years. Hating it, wishing there was more than just words you could say, support you could offer. But now I seem to be running out of digits.

This is the worst part of the job.

My thoughts and prayers are with the friends, family and colleagues of the fallen officers of the Des Moines Police Department and the Urbandale Police Department today.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

25

I was in third grade when it happened. I didn't really understand it then. Jagged flashes of memory jump out at me. The newspapers the next day. Talking about it in class. A neighborhood girl, scared and crying because they hadn't heard from her Dad. Someone called my mom and told her to try and call my Dad, because there was a shooting on campus.

I feel like it faded from the collective memory a bit as I got older. This was the mid-90s and a parade of horrors dominated the headlines. Columbine. Paducah. Jonesboro. It was a strange time to be in high school and I think it marked our generation in a way. I know technically we're all millennials, but as September the 11th marked the kids in high school just after we left, Columbine shattered our innocence- though, really, our innocence was shattered years before on that November day. It was a strange thing to contemplate. The mass shootings were seemingly everywhere and people would always try and comfort themselves by saying, "Well, it would never happen here." Only you couldn't do that here, because it would always be on the edge of your brain, ready to remind you: "Oh yeah. It did."

When I was in college, every year there would be a wreath outside Van Allen Hall along Iowa Avenue. Most of the students passed it without giving it a second glance. There was no sign. No note. Just a wreath. Maybe some knew what it was for, but most didn't. I feel like it's different now, maybe people remember a little more or maybe it's just imagination. I'd like to think they do though.

The place where I work and what I do gives the day added weight and meaning. Those Dispatchers had to send their officers, unarmed, into the face of danger. I can't imagine doing that.

The officers I work with now, man, there are days... oh there are days, when they drive me completely out of my damn mind. But every day when I get to work, sit down, log in and start my shift I try my best to give them my best. I'm not always successful, but I try. Because I know one day, the phone might ring and I might have to send them into the face of danger. And even though they make me crazy sometimes, I know for a fact that when that call comes, every last one of them wouldn't walk. They would run.

There aren't many left in the Department who were there that day, but there are a few. There probably aren't that many out there in the University who were there that day, but I know there are a few. Tomorrow, they'll remember. Like they do every year.

It's been 25 years. I feel old.