Friday, March 31, 2017

The Upload Project #5

CD #41: actually a burned CD with a comp question from my Master's Degree on it.

CD #42, 30 Mix- thought I was real close to having an 'original' but, no. 2 repeats.
Talking Heads- Girlfriend Is Better
The Black Keys- Lonely Boy
Robyn- Dancing On My Own
Los Colorados- I Like To Move It
Fleetwood Mac- Tusk
A Tribe Call Quest- Can I Kick It?
MGMT- Time To Pretend
Owl City- When Can I See You Again?
Beyonce- End of Time
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis- Thrift Shop
Pink- Walk of Shame
Stevie Nicks- Stand Back
Johnny Cash- Tennessee Stud
Flying Lizards- I Want Money
Pixies- Where Is My Mind?
The Lumineers- Ho Hey
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros- Redemption Song
Talking Heads- Crosseyed and Painless

CD #43, Untitled with 5 repeats
Bridgit Mendler- Hurricane
Pink- The Truth About Love
Coolio- Sumpin New
Pitbull- Give Me Everything
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis- Can't Hold Us
Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
Fleetwood Mac- Tusk
Harvey Danger- Flagpole Sitta
Scandal- Warrior
They Might Be Giants- Istanbul (Not Constantinople_
The White Stripes- Seven Nation Army
Paramore- Misery Business
Yellowcard- Ocean Avenue
Garth Brooks- Friends In Low Places
Flaming Lips- Bad Days
The Black Keys- Gold On The Ceiling
Augustana- Boston
Beastie Boys- Girls

CD #44, 'May' too scratched, wouldn't load

CD #45 'April Mix' with 5 repeats
America- Ventura Highway
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis- Can't Hold Us
Taylor Swift- 22
Icona Pop- I Don't Care
Hanson- Give A Little
The Shins- Caring Is Creepy
Foster The People- Pumped Up Kicks
Matisyahu- King Without A Crown
Coolio- Sumpin New
The Decemberists- July, July
Carrie Underwood- Blown Away
Iggy Pop- Lust For Life
The Clash- Rudie Can't Fail
Natasha Bedingfield- Unwritten
The Specials- Pressure Drop
New Order- Crystal
Alabama Shakes- Hold On
Joy Division- Love Will Tear Us Apart

CD #46, 'my attempt 3~' too scratched, wouldn't load

CD #47, pretty much the same as CD #38 except for:
Rascal Flatts- Bless The Broken Road
Sara Bareilles- King of Anything

CD #48, what the what? Another Liz Phair album. Exile In Guyville. I'm slightly baffled by this, because I know a lot of grad school has been hidden behind a blur of happy, booze tinged memories, but apparently I felt the urge to get not one, but two Liz Phair albums. Right on.

CD #49, 'MIX!' with 4 repeats
Madonna- Lucky Star
TV On The Radio- Dancing Choose
After The Fire- Der Kommissar
Depeche Mode- Precious
Easy Star All-Stars- Time
Foo Fighters- Everlong
Skeelo- I Wish
Britney Spears- Womanizer
Taylor Dayne- Tell It To My Heart
Dashboard Confessional- Stolen
Bob Marley- Get Up, Stand Up
Groove Armada- I See You Baby
Harvey Danger- Flagpole Sitta
Cat Stevens- Wild World
Sublime- Santeria
Counting Crows- Hanginaround
Grateful Dead- Friend of the Devil
Stone Temple Pilots- Plush

CD #50, Untitled but too scratched and damaged. Did Not load.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

File This Under "Things I Didn't Know"

So I recently stumbled across a fascinating article about a guy named Gregory Watson. And Mr. Watson way back in the day (1982) he write a paper about a Constitutional Amendment that had been proposed way back in 1789 by none other than James Madison itself. The nutshell: Congress can vote to give itself a raise, but that raise can't go into effect until after the next election, giving the voters a chance to weigh in.

Seems reasonable, right? (And if it seems familiar- there's a reason for that.) But Mr. Watson wrote a paper about it, turned it in, got a C, appealed the grade to his Professor, who left it as a C and then decided that he was going to roll up his sleeves and get that Amendment Ratified. And knock my ass down with a feather- that's exactly what he did.

You see, the Amendment didn't have a deadline. Nine states had said, "yes this seems like a good idea" back when it was first proposed, which left 29 states to get. 10 years after he wrote that paper and got a C, the 27th Amendment was ratified over two centuries after it had been proposed.

So how does this figure into the Equal Rights Amendment?

(Brief refresher: the ERA says this:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Got it? Good.)

File this under "Things I Didn't Know" but the ERA was first written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman and introduced to Congress for the first time 1923. It didn't break out of Congress until 1972. They set a deadline of March of 1979 to complete ratification and came up three states short. They extended the deadline to 1982, but it couldn't get over the hump.

You'd think it'd be done and dusted at that point, right? But you'd be wrong. Nevada just ratified the ERA... And this is where things get interesting...  since 1992 (when the Madison Amendment passed after 200 years) pro-ERA groups have been pursuing a three state strategy to get the Amendment over the finish line to 38 states. (Again: File this under "Things I Didn't Know" because this probably isn't news to anyone who's been interested in the ERA.)

Here's where it gets cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.... Article Five of the Constitution says nothing about deadlines. Congress has set deadlines on some Amendments and obviously, as the 27th Amendment proves, not on others. A new wrinkle for the ERA: five states rescinded their ratification of the Amendment. But the Constitution is also silent on whether or not Governors have any authority/say in the ratification process. It's also not clear about a state's authority to rescind a ratification of a proposed but not yet ratified adopted amendment.

So if the ERA can get passed by three more states...  it might be 28th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Or it might not. I don't know, but this...  three state strategy seems kind of legit to me. I'm not seeing anything that says it's not a viable strategy, put it that way.

Keep half an ear to the ground about this...  things like this moving through the states bubble up from time to time but then get subsumed back underground in the shouting matches of our national discourse. I'm sure there's a catch somewhere in this whole strategy. I'm sure there will be roadblocks and some law passed down from Congress about deadlines and how it's not actually valid. I'm sure there will be court cases upon court cases and so on and so forth. But even if this just ends up being symbolic, it'd be a pretty big fucking symbol if the ERA can get those last three states to 38.

Symbols are important.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Let's Talk 'Bout Some Maps...

This lovely map is our world as seen in the Gall-Peters Projection, which is different from this map, which is the Mercator Projection:
                   
Now, on the face of it- who cares, right? A map is a map is a map- except, when, of course it's not. School children for generations have probably become very used to seeing the bottom map. It makes both Russia and the United States seem large and important- and back further and further in the day it placed Europe (and more specifically, London, if you're an Anglophile) in a curiously central position. The top map? It's more accurate than the bottom one- and the big news last week is that Boston Public Schools are the first and so far largest public school sysem to officially switch to the Gall-Peters Projection

I wanted to dislike this, but ultimately, I can't. The Gall-Peters Projection is more accurate. It's not necessarily all that aesthetically pleasing- the northern longitudes gets a bit squished at the top. But I've also go some aesthetic issues with the Mercator Projection as well. Greenland (while full of ice) is not that freakin' big. Neither is Antarctica, which looks as though it must be populated by White Walkers who are going to swim up to the Tierra Del Fuego and turn us all into Snow Zombies or whatever the hell they are. Crazy Fact, but true: Africa is large. Like crazy large. And the Peters Projection reflects that perfectly.

Weirdly, Google Maps is still in Mercator. But apropos of nothing, I decided to see just how big Africa is. I wanted to know if you could drive from Cairo to Cape Town and this is what I got:


12,784 km which is 7,943 miles give or take a decimal point. This route takes you through Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Namibia and finally South Africa. Zoom out on your Google Maps and Africa doesn't look that big, It looks maybe about the size of North America. Just eye balling it. From Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Key West, Florida comes out to 5,492 miles which is still 2,400 miles shorter than our route through Africa. Going from Cairo to Cape Town is like driving from Prudhoe Bay to Key West and then hopping on a plane to Washington DC and driving to San Francisco. 

And while I'm a freak that likes to play with Google Maps to find out things like this, in an age of alternative facts and fake news, a decision like this is bound to attract controversy from somewhere. But the beautiful thing is that the internet has provided you with the tools to draw your own conclusions. Don't take my word for it. Go see for yourself. The numbers don't lie. The Peters Projection takes those numbers and projects them more accurately on the map. 

That alone makes switching from Mercator to Peters the correct decision. One can only hope that more districts follow in Boston's wake. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #206

So I'm bummed. I'm bummed because technically, Andorra isn't an enclave. It's landlocked. But it's sandwiched between both France and Spain and yes, it's on my list of 'Lost Weekends In Vexillology' so let's party on with the flag of Andorra and then we'll have some fun with enclaves. Here it is:
The current flag was adopted in 1971, the blue-yellow-red tricolor has a similar to design to the flag of Romania, Moldova and Chad- but in the case of Andorra, the design is impacted more by it's geography and history than anything else. The three bars of the tricolor are similar to the tricolor of France (the red and the blue, as well) but the yellow and red can be found on both the flags of Spain, Catalonia and the old county of Foix. Let's jam out about their Coat of Arms:

Like with the flag of Andorra the design of their Coat of Arms is impacted by both the countries history and it's geography. The top left quarter of the shield is the arms of the Bishop of Urgell- one of the two traditional co-princes of Andorra .The top right is the arms of the Count of Foix- another traditional co-prince of Andorra, currently represented by the President of France (for obvious reasons). The bottom left is the arms of Catalonia (geographical neighbor) and the bottom right is the arms of the Viscounts of Bearn- the historical feudal lords of the country. It's motto runs across the bottom- roughly translated: "Strength United Is Stronger."
                                  
And that's Andorra- not quite an enclave, but landlocked enough that I almost want to count it just for fun. Speaking of enclaves- there's like a whole science and hierarchy of enclaves that's fascinating. There's enclaves, exclaves, semi-enclaves, semi-exclaves, pene-enclaves (sounds dirty) and of course, we had one third order enclave until India and Bangladesh got together and hammered out their mess of a border and got rid of it. But no kidding: Dahala Khagrabari probably gave people fits trying to figure it otu for years. It was a piece of India within Bangladesh within India within Bangladesh.

Makes sense, right? Try this: there was an enclave of India within Bangladesh. Within that enclave was another enclave of Bangladesh. Inside that enclave was an enclave of India. (Better now- right?) There are a few other fascinating ones I came across: Nahwa is an enclave of the UAE within an enclave of Oman and the city of Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands bumps up against an enclave of Belgium.

Enclaves and exclaves are probably my favorite geographic phenomena- so I could do this all day. But Andorra is the best place to stop, probably- so remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise.

Friday, March 24, 2017

March On Medium

This month on Medium,we have a short story that was inspired by a now (very) long ago trip to the Mall of America, where the Missus was defeated by Thai Spicy Chicken noodles that were far too spicy for her liking and as I was patiently waiting and watching her struggle with the spice, I glanced down the far end of the food court and wondered, "what if someone randomly took a picture and ended up capturing the suspect in a terrorist attack on film without even meaning too?"

And with that simple sentence, the idea for "The Picture" was born and many months later, here it is:

The Picture

Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In Which I Attempt Economics (And Probably Fail)

In general, I'm wary of economics. Like healthcare, there's a ton of stuff I don't understand about the field and I get tired of struggling with my own ignorance. So, in what I imagine will be a futile and somewhat vainglorious attempt to unpack and educate myself on economics a bit, I want to compare and contrast two 'economic miracles.' Texas and Minnesota.

Minnesota is being mentioned in left-wing circles as an example of progressive governance done right. Governor Dayton reversed the trends of his Republican Predecessor and has raised taxes on the rich, increased public spending and created 'shared prosperity' for the people of Minnesota. And so far, it seems to have worked like gangbusters. Minnesota is doing quite well for itself, especially in contrast to the sea of red all around it. The question then is a simple one: is this sustainable?

Texas was another economic darling of the commentariat and it's experience suggests perhaps not. There are difference between the two though. Texas doubled down on the typical Conservative blueprint. It's doubled down on oil, slashed taxes, abolished the personal income tax and when oil was booming it did indeed look like hot shit, economically speaking. But then oil eased a bit and the bloom came off the rose somewhat.

So who's right, here? That much isn't clear...  Minnesota is doing well. The facts on that score are clear- but it's also in the middle of a small ocean of red states that are doubling down on tax cuts/cutting public spending and the usual Conservative touchstones. So a smart Governor might see this and decide to zig while everyone else around him zags and this could be what results. And that's what makes me somewhat leery about jumping aboard the "see, it works, you guys" type of a bandwagon. Illinois is a similarly blue state and is something of a dumpster fire. Yes, states like Kansas are in a bad way due to the continued fetishization of both tax cutting and an abiding faith in rich people to create enough prosperity to trickle down to the rest of us, but in the never ending war between these economic visions are there lessons we can learn? The real test is going to be if a 'Blue-ish' model makes a comeback in some neighboring states and how that might impact Minnesota over the long term. (Iowa's prognosis seems somewhat grim, as does Illinois. Not sure about Wisconsin's.)

It seems that politically, I have no home and therefore, economically I have no home either. I have no patience with video/rants like this which basically have an overwhelming naive belief in the cleansing power of rich people to create enough prosperity that it trickles down to the rest of the peasants. That shit doesn't work. But I'm not sure taxing the shit out of the rich works either...  and if you follow the progressive train of thought to it's logical conclusion, then we have to start talking about what the government can do versus what it shouldn't do. What works and what doesn't?

That is a conversation that I'm very much interested in. I think if I have a philosophy it's a vaguely utilitarian one at best- whatever does the most good for the most individual people (not special interests, not corporations, but real live 9-5 working people) then I'm down with that. Problem is that the majority of political discourse in this country isn't focused on finding solutions like that. In principle, I have no problem with someone popping the hood on the Federal government and asking simple, direct questions like, "Should the Federal Government be doing this? Could it be done better at a state or local level?" I think that's a sensible approach. But I also think the corollary to this- and a question the Left should be asking very loudly right now, is: "Do we really need an extra $54 billion in defense spending? Is the Pentagon operating at maximum fiscal efficiency? Has the Department of Homeland Security completed an audit? Oh hey, by the way, before we send Elmo to the chopping block, have we eliminated every drop of corporate welfare from the federal budget?"

What I like is a little bit of both, if I'm being honest. A vision of shared prosperity is better than trickle down nonsense, but at the same time if the government can get out of the way, it should. It just slows everything down. And with the size of cuts being proposed by the Trump Administration, it's no surprise that the howls of outrage often drown out simple truths about the level that these programs are going to be impacted.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why Do These People Get Paid?

Today's facepalm of the week is brought to you courtesy of Rep. Chip Baltimore of Boone, who has tabled a bill that would ban schools from offering extra credit for school supplies. Because with state revenues in the tank, this is what we should be worrying about right now. The money quote:
"But it's one small sign of how we are devaluing the educational process in this state and country."
Really.  That's how we're devaluing the educational process in America today? By offering extra credit for Kleenex? While I acknowledge the point that the practice does, in fact, divide families between those who can afford to purchase extra classroom supplies and those that can't, this is still a moronic stand to make.

Look, I'm no educational expert. I look at teaching now and again as a possible 'next career' but have yet to convince myself to pull the trigger on anything in that regard, but it doesn't take an expert to realize that our educational model is woefully inadequate to the needs of the 21st Century. The model needs to change (there's this great video from Sir Ken Robinson that illustrates why) and that's a big enough task to tackle as it is.

But then you get to the system we have. Which is underfunded and under attack, these days more from the Right than the Left. This isn't to excuse either side of the aisle from devaluing the educational process in the country. As a whole, we've got problems in our national culture that devalue the educational process. While we talk a lot (and shout) we don't listen. We're spoonfed garbage by the news media. The textbooks that our children are taught from have become part of the political battlegrounds being fought across the country. But getting extra credit for school supplies- we've gotta nip that shit in the bud right away.

Okay. Fine. Let's accept the premise of the bill and say that this is a "problem." I have further questions: is this a universal problem? Do the majority of school districts in the state offer extra credit for school supplies? If the answer to your question is 'no' and I expect it is, then you need to talk to your local school board and quit wasting the time of the state legislature with this nonsense. And how much extra credit are we talking about here? In my experience, extra credit consisted of like 1 or 2 points. Maybe 5 or 10*. But not enough to make a major impact on a student's grade. (Like, I suppose if you're at a B+ and right on the cusp of an A-, it could, theoretically, push you over the top. But how many students are going to be in that situation? If you go from an F to a D-, it hasn't done you much good, has it?)

So, a representative of a party that champion local control of schools has found a problem that doesn't appear to be universal in nature and wants to trample all over local control in some idiotic attempt to solve what he appears to perceive as a problem. Here's a notion, Rep. Baltimore- how about you ask yourself why teachers need to offer extra credit for school supplies in the first place? How about demonstrating that you value the educational process by funding our damn schools properly?

Legislative meddling and micromanaging of local politics. Between this and the minimum wage bill the State GOP is all about, it's almost as if the precious Conservative principle of local control doesn't mean much of anything at all. And this bill is nothing more than a grandstanding effort to preach about the perceived permissiveness of our national culture and in doing so, score cheap and easy points with his constituents. The problem isn't the two points of extra credit for a damn box of Kleenexes. It's that they have to offer the extra credit in the first place.

Remind me again: why the hell do these people get paid?**

*All right. I'll confess... once, on a geography map quiz in 7th Grade, our teacher offered one point of extra credit for any bodies of water we could name. I got 15 extra points and he stopped doing that.

**Second tangent and somewhat related to my question- some brilliant human has started a petition to strip Congress of their health benefits. I signed it and you should too.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Netflix & Chill #8: Table 19

Watched On: The Silver Screen!
Released: 2017
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant
Rotten Tomatoes: 19%
Pick: Both Of Us

I have no idea why critics are down on this movie so much, because both the Missus and I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. Anna Kendrick stars as Eloise McGarry who is invited to a wedding at sat at Table 19, the table in the furthest corner, full of people that the hosts had really hoped would not bother to attend. Eloise is angry because in coming to the wedding, she has to see her ex-boyfriend, Teddy again, who has recently dumped her for Nikki who took over Eloise's former position as Main of Honor in the wedding. As she's loitering outside the entrance to the reception hall, a tall, dark and handsome looking off-brand Hemsworth Brother (actually, he's not a Hemsworth Brother, but he looks like he could be one.) flirts mysteriously with her, but she blows him off and eventually meets the rest of her table.

Jerry and Bina are business associates and diner owners that vaguely know the father of the groom. Renzo vaguely knows the family and is skipping his Junior Prom because his Mom thinks that going to a wedding will get him laid. Jo Flanagan used to be the nanny of the bride and Walter (who, as it turns out, is doing time in a halfway house after committing an initially unspecified white collar crime) knows the bridge as well. They all sit around and commiserate while Eloise stews with anger at her ex, eventually storming out to confront him, which doesn't go well. She encounters The Off-Brand Hemsworth Brother again and they make out, before he mysteriously vanishes again. And she runs off to the bathroom to hide and Nanny Jo figures some shit out that at first made me all like, "Nah, she cray." But in fact, Nanny Jo gets it right and then...

Then the movie sort of turns left in way that you don't see coming. I'm not going to tell you what it is, because it'll totally spoil the movie, but it is a hard left turn and it's actually kind of refreshing. I guessed what the deal with The Off-Brand Hemsworth Brother was and in any other movie, that would have been the obvious direction to go. There would have been some comedic hijinks and some usual rom-com tropes and then that would have been the end of it. That movie, I could understand getting a critical drubbing. This movie avoids the tropes though and it works- because instead of plodding through the trappings of literally any other wedding comedy that you've ever seen, the occupants of table nineteen actually find out about each other and get to know each other and realize that they've all got problems and if they're going to be the table of unwanted misfits they might as well own it. That realization actually helps all of them to solve their problems and the movie ends happily. Not in the way you were expecting, mind you. But it's certainly a happy ending.

This movie got a bum rap from critics. The cast is good. Anna Kendrick can charm her way through anything. Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow really, really work as a couple- which is sort of surprising, but it's actually the best casting of the movie, I think. June Squibb does the Nanny thing well and Stephen Merchant is tall. And strange. But that works for him in this movie.  If I have one quibble with this movie it's that The Off-Brand Hemsworth Brother ends up being a gigantic red herring of a dangling plot thread, but at the same time, when the movie takes it's hard left turn, it doesn't really matter that much when it's all said and done. (Oh and hey: props to the wedding band in this movie. Excellent 80s covers.)

Overall: A pleasant surprise, I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. Don't believe the reviews. Its not half-bad... it's excellent!  Is it worth a trip to the movies for? Heck yes it is. Get popcorn as a large soda as well. My Grade: **** out of *****, The Missus' Grade: **** and a 1/2 out of *****

Saturday, March 18, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #205

We're back to another 'Lost Weekend In Vexillology' but I'm going to give myself a pass and say that since we did Lesotho last week, I figured why not follow up one enclave with another- so we're heading north to the Italian Peninsula to take a look at the flag of the Republic of San Marino.
San Marino has a long, long history that dates all the way back to the 3rd Century, when Marinus, a stonemason from a Roman colony near present-day Croatia helped to build the city walls of Rimini. He then went on to found an independent monastic community on Monte Titano in the year 301. So San Marino has a claim to be the oldest extant sovereign state in the world as well as the oldest Constitutional Republic.(It's Constitution is a series of six books written in Latin in the late 16th Century.) So, it's been around for awhile.

The current form of the flag was adopted on April 6th, 1862 and is a horizontal bicolor which features white and azure and has the Coat of Arms at the center. The white stands for peace and the azure for liberty. While the flag dates back to the 19th Century, the Coat of Arms dates back to the 14th Century. The crown on top of the arms is a symbol of sovereignty. The vegetation on either side of the arms is an oak and a laurel branch, which stand for the stability of the republic and the defense of liberty. The motto, 'LIBERTAS' is a pretty simple one- it's Latin for 'Freedom.' 

In the blue shield, we find three towers on top three mountains topped with a weather vane that is symbolized by a silver ostrich feather. The towers stand for the three citadels of San Marino (La Guaita, La Cesta and La Montale) and the hills stand for the three summits of Monte Titano. 

What else about San Marino? Well, it's got more vehicles than people- it's been run by Fascist parties (before and during World War II) and had the first democratic election Communist Government in the World (between 1945 and 1957).Weirdly, it's also not a member of the EU or in the Eurozone, but it uses the Euro as currency. So go figure.

And that's San Marino! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise! 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sportsyball! (Bracketology Edition)

MLS Quest

THIS IS THE YEAR GOD DAMN IT. We're getting this done and dusted and we've narrowed things down to a Top 4 of teams to focus on:

1. FC Dallas...  they're good right now, I like their Coaches philosophy and emphasis on player development. The Missus has cousins down in Texas, so there's a halfway decent chance I could get down there now and again to see a game. Their colors are red. Arsenal's colors are red. It's not a big leap, color-wise for me. Here's their season preview.

2. Sporting KC... there's a huge plus here for geographic proximity. Kansas City really isn't that far away from Iowa City in the grand scheme of things, so games are reachable. They've been pretty good and won the MLS Cup a couple of years back I believe, so they should be fun to watch and I keep seeing good things about their fan culture, which is also a bonus. (If I'm in, I want to be all in, you know?)

3. Toronto FC: A Yik-Yak recommendation from the void back when I had Yik-Yak and cared about Yik-Yak and had a mild amount of fun saying provocative things like, 'Bring back petticoats!' and 'What's with all the jorts?'* Toronto FC looked damn good last year and seemed to be a lot of fun to watch. However: I'm not in Canada. Odds of me being in Canada any time soon are slim to none, so chances of seeing a game: low to near zeros. But, they're newish and they're too good not to consider. So: here's their season preview.

4. Minnesota United: I know, I know, I'm kind of a Minnesota Homer already which makes me not want to like them, but at the same time, why not complete the quarter and like the Vikings, Twins, Wild and United? Unfortunately...  they're not off to the greatest of starts. A 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Portland could be forgiven for a new expansion side, but a 6-1 thumping by fellow newbies Atlanta United? Not so much. I love their colors. I love their culture. I love that they're the Loons, but... I'd like to see signs of a pulse before I sell my soul to another Minnesota team that sniffs/tastes glory but once in a generation, you know? Here's their season preview.

*I don't get the jorts thing. It's a weird fashion statement that I don't get. But they're back and when I asked the Yik-Yak void 'what's up with all the jorts?' I got my ass handed to me by some militant feminist who thought I was body shaming or something. I wasn't. I was genuinely curious why bad 80s fashion is suddenly trendy again.


Adopt-A-Team

When we last checked in with NEC Nijmegen it was January 11th. Now we're in March, so we've got a few results to look at- unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have done anything worthwhile for NEC because they're still sitting solidly at 12th Place. Which isn't bad, but it's not exactly good either...  let's see what's transpired since last we checked in:

W over Willem II
W over Roda
L to Feyenoord
L to Go Ahead Eagles
L to Zwolle
L to PSV Eindhoven
L to Sparta
W over Heracles
L to Den Haag

Ouch! Rough stuff for NEC...  the losses to PSV and Feyenoord (sitting at 3rd and 1st in the table) are probably to be expected. But ouch ouch ouch, the lossses to dead last (but interestingly named) Go Ahead Eagles and second from bottom Den Haag hurt. As do the losses to fellow mid-to-low table dwellers Zwolle and Sparta. But the schedule for the rest of March and going into early April does NEC no favors. On deck:

FC Utrecht (4th Place currently)
Vitesse (5th Place currently)
Groningen (11th Place, right above them)
Ajax (2nd Place currently)

Ick. Ick. Ick. If they're very very lucky, they could maybe get two out of the four. Groningen looks like the only probable win out of the bunch. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they'll go on a tear and prove me wrong. But I doubt it. Fingers crossed, NEC! You got this!

Bracketology

Yes, it's the most wonderful time of the year...  time to fill out the old bracket- which I'm doing mainly by feel because I haven't really watched any basketball to speak of this season, so I'm flying blind and by the seat of my pants like I always do. Let's go by region:

East:
'Nova and Wisconsin advance.
UVA and ETSU advance. (UNC Wilmington might screw me here- I've seen them here and there as a trendy upset pick, but I'm going with ETSU here.)
SMU and Baylor advance.
Marquette and Duke advance.

'Nova and UVA advance
SMU and Duke advance.

'Nova and Duke advance.

'Nova to the Final Four.

Midwest:
Kansas and Sparty advance.
Iowa State and Purdue advance.
URI and Oregon advance.
Oklahoma State and Louisville advance.

Kansas and Iowa State advance.
Oregon and Oklahoma State advance.

Oregon and Iowa State advance.

Oregon to the Final Four.

West:
I'm weirdly nervous about Gonzaga here vs SDSU. But, Gonzaga and Northwestern advance.
Notre Dame and WVU advance.
Xavier and FSU advance.
VCU and 'Zona advance.

Gonzaga and Notre Dame advance.
FSU and 'Zona advance.

Gonzaga and 'Zona advance.

Gonzaga to the Final Four.

South:
UNC and Seton Hall advance.
Minnesota and Butler advance. (I've seen people picking both MTSU and Winthrop as upsets here- which means, odds are, one of them is going to screw me.)
Cincinnati and UCLA advance.
Wichita State and Kentucky advance.

UNC and Butler advance.
UCLA and Wichita State advance.

UCLA and UNC advance.

And, I can't believe I'm saying this about a Steve Alford coached team, but UCLA to the Final Four.

Final Four:
Gonzaga over 'Nova
Oregon over UCLA

Gonzaga wins. Yes, I'm sticking with my longtime love affair with Gonzaga and riding it all the way to the bank this year. This will undoubtedly screw me at some point along the way, but damn it- I love my 'Zags. I'm not anywhere geographically close to Gonzaga and I love my 'Zags, damn it. So they're my team this year. As always, I hate Duke. I hope Grayson Allen trips over a towel and breaks both of his ankles.  I wouldn't mind either UNC or Arizona winning. I'd say the same about UCLA, but you know, Alford. I think Iowa State could go deeper than I have them going as well and Kansas has screwed me too many times to ever trust them again. So out they go in the Sweet 16. (Randomly: it wouldn't surprise me to see a deep Sparty Run either. March is where Izzo eats.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Psephology Rocks: The Grab Bag

I was going to take this edition of Psephology Rocks and focus on the upcoming French elections exclusively, but there's other things in the wind that are worth talking about. Namely, the ouster of the South Korean President (triggering an election to replace her within sixty days) and SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing that she's going for a second independence referendum- probably in 2018 or 2019. So, it's more of a grab-bag this month!

The French Election is looming next month, so we should probably break down a who's who of the candidates as it were. So far, tentatively, it seems to be coming down to The National Front's Marine Le Pen and independent candidate Emmanuel Macron- which a couple of months ago, I think it's safe to say that nobody would have expected. Instead, center-right candidate Francois Fillon who was widely expected to take down Le Pen in either the first or second round of the election has sort of well, imploded thanks to a scandal that seriously looking to have been broken by the French equivalent of either 'The Onion' or MAD Magazine- take your pick. His attempt at damage control did not go over well with voters and he's currently sitting in 3rd place.

Things aren't looking so hot for the main Socialist Candidate, Benoit Hamon either. He's drawn comparisons to both Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and looks to be about as useful as either man. He's currently sitting in fourth place and fending off a potential mutiny from fellow Socialists who can live with Macron but not Le Pen. The latest polls have quite a traffic jam up top with Le Pen garnering 27% of the vote,  Macron 25%, Fillon and Hamon are lurking at 17.5% and 14% respectively. Unless there's a massive shift in the next month or so (not out of the question given what this election has tossed up so far) I'd bank on Macron vs. Le Pen in the second round and then unless there's tea leaves being read wrong (which given Brexit, Trump, etc. is not out of the question) then Marine Le Pen turns into a pumpkin and Macron wins. But it ain't over until it's over- so keep an eye on this one.

South Korea is also heading for a new Presidential election after impeached President Park Guen-hye vacated the Presidential Palace after two days and returned home. (Technically, I think National Assembly did the impeaching, the Constitutional Court- who's decision came down late last week, voted to uphold their impeachment.) Three people were killed in protests over the weekend and Hwang Kyo-Ahn is serving as acting President until new elections are held. What took out President Park? The Beeb has a pretty decent round-up of the corruption scandal that lead to her downfall. It's worth a read. 

Speaking of the Beeb, it's been a busy few days in the UK as Scotland has pulled the starting gun on a second independence referendum. It probably won't be until 2018 or 2019 when voters have a better idea of what kind of a Brexit Deal they're going to get, but man oh man...  I don't know. I really just don't know. Part of me absolutely gets it: Scotland has long had it's own national and cultural identity- an independence referendum would only confirm what they've already felt for a long time. There's an old saying in American Politics: 'You campaign in poetry, govern in prose' and the poetry of nationalism is a seductive thing. The sentiment might be there. But the actual convincing case, still, to my mind, is not.

There's no guarantee Scotland gets all the North Sea oil. Or any of it, for that matter. But, let's say for the sake of argument, they get all of it. With American Shale production roiling the oil markets, it'd be a sucker's bet to bank on oil revenues to fund a social democratic paradise north of the border. There's still no answer on currency. I think it would be political suicide for any party south of the border to sign any agreement with the Scots to let them keep using the pound after an independence vote- I might be wrong on that, sitting as I do in America, but that's my read of it- and the EU has maintained their position that Scotland would have to apply like anyone else to join as a posed to be 'automatically in' as the SNP seems to dreamily suggest from time to time.

So: no currency, no EU guarantees, oil might help some, but there's no guarantee there either. If London gets a halfway decent Brexit Deal (which they might not, but easily could) then suddenly calling for a second referendum might look like a fool's errand on the part of the SNP. They're already two seats short of a majority at Holyrood and relying on the Greens for support.

All of this, mind you, with a year- maybe two, to get to an actual referendum being held at all. That's a long time, so we'll see how it all pans out, but I think at this point, one thing you can say for sure is that nobody knows what's going to happen next.

Monday, March 13, 2017

None Of This Is Sensible Governance

Time was, I could tolerate the Iowa flavor of Republicans They were tight with a buck, occasionally given to preachy moral lectures and insisted on debating bringing back the death penalty whenever they could, but they were, at their core, sensible. I think sensible politics is written into Iowa's DNA. At our core, we're all farmers. We want 'steady as she goes' not Conan the Barbarian I desperately want to believe that this state will only tolerate so much of the latter before yanking the politicians firmly back to the former and getting back to solid, sensible governance.

But none of this is sensible governance. Instead, we get this:


As attractive as this may be to many Republicans in the State, it's not sensible governance. It's not even good government. It's well, fucking insane is what it is. I mean, fine- the changes to the collective bargaining law were probably inevitable. They've got the trifecta. They've got the bad blood. Let's screw some Democratic constituencies. I'm not naive, that's just how politics works in this country these days. But they followed it up with a never ending parade of fucking awful. Let's review:

Not satisfied with gutting collective bargaining, Republicans went after worker's compensation claims as well. So if you get injured on the job, you get less money. Awesome!

The Grocers having waited 'their whole lives' for this moment are gunning hard for The Bottle Bill. So, YAY, litter!

And we're getting a Voter ID law passed. Because, you know, at this point why not? (I'm not against the notion in principle, but in practice, I very much am. In practice, it's been used to disenfranchise poor people and minorities and might as well be a poll tax or a literacy test at this rate.)

This gigantic birthday cake of suck needed some candles on top, so who steps up to the plate? Oh that's right, Iowa's 4th District Congressman Steve King. King, who is a massive embarrassment to this state and who makes me wish I had more of a British accent, so I could use the 'c-word' as a comma decided to tweet this:
Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.
The 'Wilders' King is referring to is, of course, right wing Dutch Politician Geert Wilders, who, despite recent attempts by American conservatives to normalize folks like him and Marine Le Pen is a far right xenophobe. I don't know what's going on with the Republican Party these days, but 'Far Right' in this country might seem like a 'pretty awesome person to hang out with' for a lot of Republicans, but in other countries, it's like a step and a half away from being David Fucking Duke. (Who, by the way, LOVED King's Tweet, because, of course he did.)

King did some lame-ass damage control and Iowa's GOP Leaders did their usual condemnation song and dance- though both Our Glorious and Eternal Governor The Moustache and His Chief Henchwoman weren't exactly blistering about their condemnations. It was more of a "well, what did you expect, he's batshit crazy" kind of a shrug of a condemnation. Despite the general awfulness of King's Tweet, that didn't stop various shitheels on the internet from attempting to mount a defense of him. Consider exhibit A:
The first is the most obvious: as racism. The ideas that babies from abroad cannot be civilized to Western values- that "somebody else's babies" are unfit for assimilation- is racist. if that's what King said and meant, he should immediately be censured by his Republican colleagues on the floor of Congress, and we should all pray that he loses his Congressional seat.
Had the writer stopped there, I would have been so fine with this article. But he didn't. There's nothing to be said after that paragraph right there. This was't about multiculturalism. This wasn't about assimilation. This was about non-whites being unworthy of assimilation into our country. King should be censured and good Republicans should stand up and drag his happy ass through primary after primary until they take him down. He's a disgrace to their party. Democrats should throw money into this seat until they can take him down. He's a disgrace to the Congress of the United States of America. And if that's wasn't enough, let me embed this tweet, because I'll be damned if I'm going to embed King's racist, white nationalistic drivel:
And he keeps that flag on his desk.

Look, I get that there's a slowdown in the farm economy right now that's impacting state revenues. I get that the days of wine and roses are probably over and we can't spend like drunken frat boys at Panama City on Spring Break right now. I get all that. And in general, I appreciate fiscal discipline in our politicians. I like that. But what I don't like is when that fiscal discipline benefits corporations and the rich over regular folks like me. People get screwed last, not first, in situations like this. But so far, there hasn't been much sign that State Republicans really care what people think.

And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Conservatives are right and this will put state finances in better shape for the long term. Maybe this is sensible governance and I'm just mad because it's probably going to screw me somehow and nobody likes to get screwed even a little bit by the government if they can possible avoid it. But then I look at the Medicare Privatization Debacle. And the Vet's Hiring Program that seems to be more style than actual substance and I realize that the track record of the Republicans in Des Moines is mixed at best.

None of this is sensible governance.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #204

This Week In Vexillology, I found an oversight! Somehow, despite having thought I had looked at every flag in Africa, I found that I had missed a country. And what better day to look at the flag of Lesotho than March 11th, Moshoeshoe Day!
Lesotho is located in southern Africa, more specifically, it's in South Africa. An enclave, it's one of three nations that's completely surrounded by another nation. (Italy gets the honor of enclaving the the other two: Vatican City and San Marino.) Swaziland comes close to be an enclave of South Africa as well, but it shares a border with Mozambique, so it's sort of exempted. I find the whole idea of an enclave to be fascinating, really- and there are whole lists about enclaves, exclaves and their kin on Wikipedia so it's a rabbit hole you can go deep on, but how does a nation state survive like this? Especially there?

Well it turns out that Moshoeshoe Day is Moshoeshoe Day for a reason- the first monarch of Lesotho Moshoeshoe I who proved to be a gifted leader at growing and, more importantly defending the growing Basuto Nation (Lesotho used to be known as Basutoland.) He was magnanimous toward beaten enemies and provided land and protection to various peoples and integrated refugees to grow his nation. He also got guns- which he turned out he was going to need. He tangled with the British and defeated them twice. He tangled with the Boers and lost a ton of territory and it turned out that deal making with the British was a canny move to make because an appeal to Queen Victoria to make Basutoland a protectorate came through and defined the borders of Basutoland and they've remained there ever since. Moshoeshoe Day commemorates the anniversary of his death. 

So let's talk about the flag! It's actually fairly new. It was adopted on October 4th, 2006. A horizontal triband, the blue in the flag represents sky or rain. Green is for prosperity and white represents peace. The design is "intended to reflect a nation that is both peaceful internally and with its neighbors." At the center of the white band is a black mokorotio, a Basotho hat. The hat appeared on this flag:
which was the flag of Lesotho from independence until a military coup in 1987. The mokorotio in this flag was white- but the blue and the green still represented the sky and rain and the land respectively. The red stripe- which hasn't re-appeared in any flag since independence stood for faith. Then it vanished and was replaced by this flag:
This is the flag of Lesotho that I'm more familiar with- and honestly, this is the flag I thought Lesotho was still flying- the mokorotio was replaced with a light brown traditional Basotho shield along with an assegai (lance) and a knobkierre (club). The white field did stand for peace and the blue for rain, but the meaning of the green shifted to prosperity. (This flag was adopted after a military coup, which might explain replacing the hat with more martial symbolism.)

Now, according to Wikipedia the hat on the current flag was originally brown, but was changed to black to represent Lesotho being "a black nation." 

Lesotho has had solid flags since independence- and I really like that there's always been some consistency in the symbolism throughout it's history. A lot of flags in Africa are heavily influenced by the pan-African combination of red-green-gold which doesn't create a lot of variety- but Lesotho bucks that trend nicely. The blue-white-green combination has been present throughout. And it's first flag is actually really interesting... the two short vertical bars and then the blue field with the mokorotio- that's works. It's second flag with the diagonal running from upper right to lower left is unique as well. 

Lesotho rocks this vexillology stuff. I dig it.

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

Boozehound Unfiltered: Basil Hayden's

It's taken me three months to do it, but finally, at long last, Boozehound Unfiltered is making a triumphant return to the blog- and this time, we're back with bourbon! Basil Hayden's is something I've had before- but I think it was one of those Boozehounds that got lost in cyberspace, because I can't find any record of reviewing it anywhere. A Valentine's Day present from the Missus (she got flowers and a nice Moscato, I got the man equivalent: bourbon) I was eager to get into it and see if it was as good as I remembered it being and happily, it was!

As with all these bourbons, Basil Hayden's got started in the late 1700s, emigrating along with other Catholics from Maryland to the west- according to the Wikipedia page, he helped found the first Catholic Church in Kentucky and his family roots can be traced back to the Norman Conquest in England- so this is a family with a rich and proud history.

(The company website tells as a slightly less detailed story- though Basil is, of course, a badass rule breaker for adding rye to his corn whiskey and blowing everyone's minds.)

This whiskey actually has a distant relative in Old Grand-Dad, whose label actually features a likeness of Basil Sr. (The Old Grand-Dad distillery was founded by Basil's grandson, Hayden.) So I guess I know where my next bourbon is going to come from- have to see if the Grandson is as good as his forebear.

Let's talk some bourbon, shall we?

Color: honey/marigold

Body: pleasant aroma...  spicy.  i want to say cinnamon and nutmeg? there's a fruit there too. melon? or possibly peach? (This link over here says peppermint, honey and tea, but I'm not sure about that. Peppermint is very obvious in the palate)

Palate: You get a rush of the fruit up front and then the spice creeps in- cinnamon is prominent- though peppermint is in there too. Viscosity is good. It's not weak or watery- it's not too heavy and syrupy either.

Finish: Is nice...  it's not harsh at all and if there is, it's brief enough not to both you in the slightest. This is an excellent finish.

Overall: This is an excellent bourbon...  and it's versatile as well. I've had this stuff mixed with Coke Zero and used it in a Whiskey Sour and drank is straight. It's been perfect every single time. To be honest, I think I need to drink more bourbons- because, well, it's delicious and I think it's always good to expand your boundaries a bit, but really, I think if someone asked me to recommend a good bourbon, it would be this one. **** out of **** (Would absolutely buy this again!)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Albums2010 #87: Trouble In Shangri-La

I don't know if it's something about approaching the middle of my third decade. Maybe it's the fact that I'm about a decade and a half removed from the start of my undergraduate experience and being younger, thinner, more irresponsible and more tolerant of hard liquor, but I'm starting to remember things that I thought had long since faded into the boozy shadows of my youth, One of which was my weird Stevie Nicks Period which started with Trouble In Shangri-La.

I've been racking my brain for weeks now, trying to remember how or why I decided to buy this album, but buy it I did and I listened to it all the damn time. Revisiting it was like stumbling across a really good book that you hadn't read in awhile and it belongs on a select few albums that I've listened to over the years where there's not a bad track anywhere on the album. Just hit play and go. Think it's just me that is all about this album? The commercial success says that other people agreed with me: in dropped in 2001- it was Stevie Nicks' first albums since 1994 and it got her back to the Top 5 for the first time since 1983. It went Gold in the first six weeks after it's release and had snuck over the 600K copies sold mark by 2011- and helped launch a successful tour. So this is a legit good album- or at the very least, people liked it.

Doing some digging on more background for this album and I found out several fascinating things: the slight patina of country throughout the album probably has a lot to do with Sheryl Crow- who helped out on the album and the most obviously 'country' song of the album, 'Too Far From Texas' was actually a duet with Natalie Maines from The Dixies Chicks, which explains why they showed up at some CMT Awards show to do a duet of 'Landslide.' But seriously though: I have no idea what Stevie Nicks is up to these days, but if she wanted to make a country album, she could make a kick-ass, chart topping one if she really wanted too, I think.

Several tracks that landed on this album have been kicking around since the 70s. ('Candlebright', 'Sorcerer' and 'Planets of the Universe') After her 1994 album was sort of received with a 'meh', she actually asked Tom Petty (a buddy of hers, apparently) for help recording a follow up album, but he told her to have more faith in her own abilities and that became 'That Made Me Stronger.' (It's actually kind of strange the meandering journey this album took from writing the tracks to actually becoming reality. 'Planets of the Universe' has been around since 1976. They finally got it right in 2001.)

I don't think I can pick a favorite track off of this album- they're all good. Stevie Nicks with an assist from Sheryl Crow would be excellent enough, but Natalie Maines shows up- Macy Grey lends backing vocals to 'Bombay Sapphires' and Sarah McLachlan helped out on 'Love Is' and provided the 'S' on the album cover. If I had to pick one, I'd go with 'Sorcerer'- but doesn't mean I don't like the other ones any less or any more.

Overall: Fleetwood Mac's Rumors has long been one of my favorite albums, so it's no surprise that I'd branch out and check out some of Stevie Nicks' solo stuff, but this album jumped into my life at a strange and distant point in the past that's hard to recall. It was my freshmen year in college- and this album will forever be drowned in nostalgia and memory for me. I was honestly surprised that I could find no evidence that I'd reviewed this album before. The fact that it's such a genuinely good album is only a delightful bonus. **** out of ****

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Don't Look At The Popcorn

I can't decide what's going on. In general, my first thought when getting on Twitter these days is, "Fuck me, what's he gone and done now?" I usually scroll three times, figure out what the President has said that has caused the Elitist Leftist Upper Crust/Progressives/Normal, Sane and Sensible People that long for a moderate, sensible President to lose their collective shit. Then, I do my level best to avoid the internet for the rest of the day.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: neither the media nor the opposition/Resistance or whatever the hell you want to call it, should swing at every pitch. (Come to think of it, neither should the President, but that's a different story.) Yet all the media is doing these days is swinging away at every single pitch and I think it's starting to do the more harm than good. I think, anyway. (Because I can't decide what's going on.) But consider this: while everyone is losing their shit over The President's latest Tweetstorm, what's he actually done?

An early budget report has the administration slashing funding for Great Lakes protection by 97%. 97%! It's getting huge coverage on the regional level, but nationally, people should be losing their goddamn minds about it. And in general, it gets mentioned, but what the President tweeted last night is infinitely more important.

I've decided that it's The Popcorn Effect. The President says something and the media loses it's shit and hey, presto- there's popcorn! And the media thinks that they're making the President look like a lunatic and to a large cohort of people who agree with the media and disagree with the President, that's what they want to agree with, but there's always a kernel of truth to everything that he says. Consider the Sweden thing. This is what the President said:
"You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden, They took in large numbers [of refugees from Muslim-majority countries]. They're having problems like they never thought possible."
Did he say there was a terrorist attack in Sweden the night before? Do the words 'terrorist attack' appear anywhere in the sentence? A reasonable person might infer that the President was referring to an attack or an incident of some kind- but the media actually reported it as fact. Hey, presto- there was popcorn! But what happened a few days later? Riots in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in the suburbs of Stockholm. And oh by the way, Sweden is bringing back the draft. Ostensibly because of Russia, but...  maybe for other reasons too. Now, what those two facts mean in the wake of the President's comments is an open question depending on who you talk too and for sure, it would be great if there were reporters in America that would actually you know, go to Sweden and write long, thoughtful pieces about the actual reality of the situation. Maybe it's all overblown right wing garbage. Maybe Sweden isn't assimilating immigrants as well as it should be. I don't know. But I would love to see an outfit somewhere go beyond the popcorn and start looking at the kernel because when all the popcorn is gone, the masses are left the impression that the President said something "true" and the media lied about it and they're not entirely wrong. But they're not entirely right either.*

It's the same thing with this wiretapping mess. We know that a FISA Request was made in June 2016 and was rejected. In October another request was made and this time approved. What it was supposed to cover, what it said or what exactly was done, we don't know. But that's the kernel. We find out what the request covered or didn't cover then we get to the bottom of this mess. Happily though, I checked The Intercept and found this.** Talk about cutting through the bullshit and getting right to the kernel of the matter.

I can't decide what's going on. Either the mainstream media/The Left/whomever is right and President Trump is crazy and possibly in bed with the Russians or more terrifyingly, President Trump knows exactly what he's doing and the media is just going to keep swinging like crazy at every pitch and looking increasingly frail, forlorn and idiotic as they do so and thoroughly undermining themselves as they do so.

But we can't control that- but what we can control is what and how we consume media. Don't just go to your usual haunts to get your news. Go everywhere, read everything-  be informed. (For instance, on the Sweden thing, this article seems to be more credible to me than this article about the Wiretapping Mess. Both are from center-right to right leaning sources, but The Weekly Standard seems more interested in the getting to the truth of the matter than the article from Front Page Mag on the Wiretaps does.) Point being: get to the kernel and draw your own conclusions. Just don't look at the popcorn.

*OK, I have to acknowledge: this reporting might be out there. I just might not have dug hard enough to find it- but for stuff like this, you shouldn't have to dig. That reporting- whether it exists or not, should be the story. Not the fluff and popcorn. 

**The Intercept should be on everyone's rolodex. Especially for stuff like this- they impressed the hell out of me during the initial round of Russian election tampering allegations by pointing out that anonymous sources were no substitute for actual evidence- and they're doing it again with this wiretapping business. The President can end all this whenever he wants. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Squawk Box: Die Trekure

The second round of the grand, Star Trek Cycle has arrived. I've made progress on all fronts, but Voyager lit a fire under my behind and I wrapped it up in short order with Deep Space Nine knocking on the door of the finish line next. (We're into Season 5 and heading for Season 6 and the Dominion War now...) The title of the post? Well, it's from the second opera of the Der Ring des Nibelungen, 'Die Walkure', hence, Die Trekure.

Let's take it from the top, shall we?

Star Trek: Ten episodes into Season 2 and one thing immediately stands out: they be brawlin' all over the place! From 'Amok Time' to 'Journey To Babel' there's always fisticuffs in damn near every episode. Chekov also appears, which is nice. But so far there's been a few 'meh' episodes- one inexplicable, 'what the hell am I watching?' episode ('Catspaw') and a handful of good ones. 'Mirror, Mirror' introduces us to the evil parallel universe (goatees are bad), 'Amok Time' shows us Vulcan for the first time. I'd say in the early going, 'The Doomsday Machine' and 'Metamorphosis' might be my favorites, but we've got a lot of Season 2 left.

Star Trek The Next Generation: The Next Generation continues to grow on me the more I watch of it, but I don't think it's as consistently good as DS9 or even Voyager are. Season 4 wrapped up 'The Best of Both Worlds' and dealt with the fallout in 'Family.' Wesley Crusher finally goes to the Academy and exits the show in 'Final Mission' and 'The Wounded' introduce us to the Cardassians- who evolve a bit before they get to Deep Space Nine. (Weirdly, 'The Host' also introduces the Trill- who also go through some evolution before we get to Deep Space Nine.) 'Reunion' provides a nice foreshadowing of the Klingon Upheaval/Civil War that ends the season in 'Redemption, Part I' but it's two episodes that really stand out: 'Identity Crisis' where LaForge turns into a cool looking UV alien and 'First Contact' which was probably the best episode of the season. We'll see what Season 5 brings, but I continue to move a little more slowly on TNG than I do on DS9.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: I'm heading into Season 5 for Deep Space Nine and I'm sure DS9 will be the next series off the board, but once I got through Season 4, it struck me: Season 4 is a really, really good season. In fact, reviewing the episodes- I don't think there's a bad/weak one in the bunch. The addition of Worf to the cast is a welcome shake-up in 'The Way Of The Warrior', 'The Visitor' should appear on any list of 'Best-Of Trek Episodes' somewhere near the top. If it doesn't, then it's a bad list. Seriously though: this was an incredibly well balanced season- there are good Ferengi episodes, good Bajoran episodes, good Bashir and good Odo episodes! Everyone gets great material to work with. We'll see how I feel at the end of my DS9 run, but I think Season 4 might be the best run of episodes of any Trek anywhere.

Star Trek Voyager: The next series off the board, I had intended to keep cycling through all the Treks more or less equally to spread out my viewing, but Voyager got it's claws on me and I just took off and ran through the rest of the series. I left off about halfway through Season 3 at 'Fair Trade' which is where Neelix reaches the end of his knowledge and Voyager really starts heading into the unknown. Early hints of the Borg follow the back half of the season- while 'Before and After' provides a new preview of 'Year of Hell' coming up in Season 4- it's 'Distant Origin' that was the highlight for me, with it's commentary on the theory of evolution- and plus, hey, we find out what happens to the dinosaurs, right?

Season 4 sees the departure of Kes (Jennifer Lien) in 'The Gift' which gets them ten years closer to home and the arrival of Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). Everyone talks about 'Year of Hell' as being one of Voyager's standout episodes and I agree that it is, but to me, it's the stand alone episodes that sneak up on you and surprise you that really resonate with me. 'Message In A Bottle' sees them finally get the word out that they're still alive and kicking. 'Scientific Method' is a brilliant episode where the crew are being used as guinea pigs in an experiment. 'The Omega Directive' feels like a throwback to The Original Series, almost- and 'Living Witness' is one of my favorite Voyager episodes ever.

Season 5 features both high points and low points: 'Night' might well by one of the strongest season premiers in the entire run of the series. 'Extreme Risk' and 'Latent Image' provide excellent character development for both B'Elanna Torres and The Doctor respectively. ('Timeless' is another one that stands out.) 'Dark Frontier' is an excellent mini-movie tangle with The Borg and of course, the lowlight on everyone's list 'Course: Oblivion' is in the back half of this season as well.

Season 6: 'Blink of an Eye' what a fantastic episode of science fiction this is. So much goes on in this episode and it's an amazing concept. I'm sort of 'meh' about the whole Equinox two parter because they take in all these extra crewmen and then they don't revisit it ever again. 'Good Shepherd' is another episode that I totally forgot about that was really, really good- and I like the whole Borg Children arc they played with. Even though Icheb is the only one who sticks around, it really helped Seven of Nine sort of grow as a character a bit more.

'Unimatrix Zero' is another interesting tangle with The Borg- and the 'Flesh and Blood' two parter brings back the Hirogen, who, I think in contrast to the Kazon could have developed into really iconic villains had they been introduced a season or two earlier. The marriage of Torres and Paris and her pregnancy get played with in a couple of episodes here, which breaks new ground for Trek, by having two members of the crew get married and have a baby- Worf and Dax were headed that way on Deep Space Nine of course and then, she got killed. The exit of Neelix from the ship is beautifully done in 'Homestead' and The Doctor gets one final adventure in 'Renaissance Man' before the last tangle with the Borg that finally gets Voyager home in 'Endgame.'

This was my second time watching Voyager from start to finish and the more I watch it, the more it seems to grow on me. Deep Space Nine probably remains my favorite of all the Treks, but Voyager is threatening to push it into second place. I like a lot of the writing on this show- I like how, especially in the early seasons, it's very science-y. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Voyager is the most science-y of all the Treks- there's always some problem they've all got to come together and solve or theory to test. If someone hasn't looked at how the scientific method is handled on this show and discussed, they should. That aspect of the show does fade a bit in later seasons, but I think the overall flavor of it is still there.

Would I buy this show on DVD? If they weren't all on Netflix, I absolutely would.

Enterprise: The back half of season two builds up to the Xindi attack on Earth in 'The Expanse.' While 'Carbon Creek' offered a different take on First Contact with the Vulcans, once again, Enterprise seems to be falling into a trap ordained by canon- namely that they encounter ever race every other series ever did, thus, we also have the stinker 'Regeneration' where, naturally, we must encounter The Borg. It's balanced out by episodes like 'Horizon' (character development for Travis) and 'First Flight' (some nice Archer backstory) but halfway through and I'm still not sure how to feel about Enterprise. Dr. Phlox is probably the most consistently excellent character in the show, but all I see everywhere is wasted potential. This show could have been much more. Maybe the next two seasons will prove me wrong- I hope so, but still. There's moment of excellence interspersed with a whole lot of 'meh' and some tired, tired old Trek.

We'll see what Seasons 3 and 4 bring.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Netflix & Chill #7: Spectre

Watched On: Amazon Prime
Released: 2015
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Monica Bellucci
Prime Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Pick: Mine

I'm still not sure how to feel about this movie. There was a lot about it that I couldn't stand but as a Bond movie, I felt like it was a solid outing that tied together an unusual four movie experiment for the franchise in a nice bow- it provides the perfect exit for Daniel Craig and sets up some interesting possibilities with the return of SPECTRE for subsequent movies.

So where do we find ourselves at the start of this movie? Well, there's a new M in charge and James Bond is using some vacation time in Mexico City just in time for the Day of the Dead. Of course, it's James Bond, so he can't just take a vacation, it turns out that he's on an unauthorized mission, killing three men plotting a terrorist attack on a stadium during Day of the Dead. He chases down their leader, Marco Sciarra and in the ensuing struggle, involving incredibly conspicuous explosions, fist fights in a helicopter that comes close to crashing into the crowd and then flies away and we get the theme song.

(Theme song: I couldn't tell you what this theme song is called- maybe it's 'The Writing On The Wall' but I honestly don't care, because it's fucking awful and it goes on and on and on and on forever. The credits make me long for the days of Maurice Binder and had me wondering when the Red Skull was going to show up, because they were very 'Hail Hydra!')

Back in London, the new M's has headaches a plenty. There's a new agency that's merging MI-5 and MI-6 headed by C (Andrew Scott) who thinks that the 00 program has outlived its usefulness and after their merger (which is days/hours away) then he's shutting them down. Bond and his little stunt in Mexico City only help his case and M suspends Bond from field duty. Bond seems unusually fine with this and it's not until after a visit with Q to get the usual gadgetry and a visit by Money Penny to his apartment that we learn that Bond had been sent a message by the previous M (Judi Dench) instructing him to track down Marco Sciarra and kill him.

On the trail of why exactly and who Sciarra is working for Bond (giving precisely zero fucks about being suspended from active duty, as usual) goes to Rome to attend his funeral to find out who the hell he's working for. Along the way, he legit seduces Sciarra's widow (Monica Belluci) with aplomb and vigor that is almost sociopathic- I mean, he admits to killing her husband and is all about seducing her anyway. Plus, is anyone else sick and tired of women in Bond movies sayings things like 'Don't go, James' and just dropping their panties at the drop of a hat? I mean I guess her husband was an assassin and all- so he might have been an asshole and she might be about rolling in the hay with the dude that killed her asshole husband, but JFC. It was a bit much even for a Bond movie.

After crashing a meeting of the mystery organization and learning it's leaders name, Franz Oberhauser, Bond is chased across the city and shenanigans ensue which eventually lead him to a dying Mr. White in Austria, who makes him promise to protect his daughter and tells Bond that she will lead him to L'Americain- whatever that is. So Bond goes to a clinic in the Alps (a nice Bondian call back to On Her Majesty's Secret Service) and meets Dr. Swann (Lea Seydoux) whom he has to get to safety after the bad guys catch up with them. They end up in Tangier, bound for a mysterious set of coordinates that seem to be in the middle of nowhere- so they hop on a train and head out there.

They finally find Spectre's headquarters, learn the master plan (they're behind C and his merger plan for MI's 5 and 6 and they've been staging terror attacks to push countries into joining their intelligence sharing network known as Nine Eyes) and they figure out who Oberhauser really is and his connection to Bond. His 'new' name is, of course, Ernst Stavro Bloefeld - but thanks to some shenanigans, Bond and Swann get away, blow up the place and leaving Bloefeld for dead, head back to London to shut it all down. Bloefeld isn't dead, of course, and there's one last round of shenanigans before Bond shoots down Bloefeld's helicopter, has the chance to shoot him, but doesn't- turns him over to M to be arrested and walks off into the sunset with Swann.

Overall: This was a decent, if unspectacular Bond movie. I felt 'meh' about it. It felt like a letdown after Skyfall. However, that said: Craig's arc of movies has taken the Bond franchise where it has never gone before- into a world of loosely connected/sequential movies and I think that's a good thing. I also like the quiet moments in this movie- the whole fight on the train sequence, which in any other Bond movie would have been full of dramatic music and variations on the Bond theme here was dead quiet until the climax. Like the only sound we got was the sounds of the fight itself, which was kind of cool.

The female characters with the possible exception of Money Penny all get short shrift here, which I hate. Bond has never been particularly 'good' when it came to women and seems especially retrograde in this movie. I mean, Dr. Swann having pronounced her hatred for Bond melts into his arms with an 'I love you' that was about as bad and inexplicable as Padme Amidala's confession in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones-  you just couldn't believe it. For real though: best female characters in Bond- Sophie Morceau as Elektra King in The World Is Not Enough and Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies. I'd have to go with ** 1/2 out of **** here. Not the best Bond movie I've ever seen by any stretch of the imagination.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #203

I wanted to break my streak of 'Lost Weekends in Vexillology' and was looking around to see if there were any countries who had won their independence in early March, but Wikipedia provided me with a better notion thanks to me finding out that the Windy City herself, yes, Chicago was incorporated on March 4th, 1837. Which means that Chicago is celebrating it's 180th Birthday today! (Crazy to think I'll be around to see Chicago's bicentennial- at least I hope I will be, anyway.) So, without further ado:


This is the flag of Chicago- and you know what? For a city, it's actually a surprisingly decent flag. Way back when, I came across a TED Talk about flags- which didn't exactly speak highly of either most state flags ('Seals On A Bed Sheet') or a lot of city flags, but happily, I don't think there's much to criticize Chicago for here. This is a nice flag... it's got a simple, clean design. It's not cluttered or full of unnecessary text and you could make an argument that this flag is fairly iconic. Show this to your average person in the street and there's a fairly decent chance that they're going to recognize it as the flag of Chicago. So this flag has a lot going for it!

Even better: there's a hefty amount of symbolism for us to break down with this flag. Designed by Wallace Rice and adopted in 1917 the flag features stripes of pale blue and white along with four six pointed stars (originally there were only two, but two more were added in 1933 and 1939 respectively.) Let's start with the stripes:

The white stripes represent from top to bottom, the north, west and south sides of the city. (Which actually sort of makes sense even proportionally, which is a nice touch.) The top blue stripe represents Lake Michigan and the North Branch of the Chicago River and the bottom blue stripe represents the South Branch of the Chicago River and 'the Great Canal' over the Chicago Portage.

The stars are where things get complicated. From left to right:

First star represents Fort Dearborn, added in 1939 and it's points represent: transportation, labor, commerce, finance, populousness and salubrity*

Second star is for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871- it's original to the 1917 design and it's point represent: religion, education, aesthetics, justice, beneficence and civil pride.

Third star is for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and is another original star from the 1917 design. It's six points stand for all the flags that have flown over Chicago: France (1693), Great Britain (1763), Virginia (1778), the Northwest Territory (1789), Indiana Territory (1802) and Illinois.

Fourth star was added in 1933 and represents the Century of Progress Exposition and it's points are for all the bragging rights: it's status as the 'Second City', Chicago's Latin motto, 'Urbs in horto' "City in a garden", Chicago's 'I will' motto, the Great Central Marketplace, Wonder City and Convention City. 

There's been talk over the years about adding a fifth star, but nothing concrete has ever really emerged as a good reason to add one yet. (Though the Cubs finally winning the World Series might prove to be a more persuasive argument now than it has in times past.) But there's a lot to like about this flag- it's got a ton of symbolism backed in there and looks great.

So that's Chicago- which I think might have the honor of being the first municipal flag I've ever looked at on the blog. How about that?

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Bookshot #95: The Martian Chronicles

This is one of those books that I've always wanted to read but have never been able to find until a random trip to the library last month. The Martian Chronicles has been cited so much in books that I've read that it seems insane that it's taken me this long to get to it, but there you go. It feels foundational, in a way, like Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or Frank Herbert's Dune or any of the Chronicles of Barsoom- real old school science fiction that if you're going to really get into science fiction, you've got to pick this book up at least once and read it.

A ghost of American Literature in 11th Grade also came back to haunt me with this book. We read Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson that year- one of the many books I need to revisit for my sins at some point, but at the time, I didn't understand it, didn't get it and generally speaking rolled my eyes at it. Imagine my surprise when Bradbury revealed in the introduction that the whole idea and structure for The Martian Chronicles was directly inspired by Winesburg, Ohio. (Which means, damn it, that I have to find Winesburg, Ohio and read it. And probably send an apology to my 11th Grade American Literature teacher.)

So what does that mean, for those who haven't read Winesburg, Ohio? Well, it means that The Martian Chronicles doesn't follow a traditional novel structure- it's not really a collection of short stories either- though some pieces in the book are probably long enough to qualify as short fiction. Instead, it's a journey stretching from 2030 to 2057 and telling the story of the multiple expeditions sent to colonize Mars- what they found there, how it changed the settlers and what they were trying to escape and why they all left to go back home. And, in a word, this book: amazing.

I don't even know where to begin with this, honestly- it grabs you from the first piece- 'Rocket Summer' and pretty much sweeps you away from there. The process of actually getting to Mars and staying there is a little trippy- but by a third of the way through the book, gems and sparks start jumping out at you. Pieces like 'The Green Morning' (about Benjamin Driscoll- Mars' Johnny Appleseed, planting trees wherever he goes) 'The Fire Balloons' tackles faith and space travel beautifully- as the first Reverends/Priests arrive on Mars. 'The Wilderness' is a haunting look at three of the first women to travel to Mars. (Bradbury takes colonization in a pretty old school- maybe even reactionary way- so the men go first and then send for the women- but if you can get past how dated that feels, it's a good piece.)

The book builds to an excellent climax- I'd be fascinated to figure out if 'Usher II' and it's references to a 'Fahrenheit 451' type of world the protagonist left behind on Earth inspired Fahrenheit 451 or if Bradbury was going to write it anyway (The Martian Chronicles was published in 1950, Fahrenheit 451 in 1953). 'The Luggage Store' and 'The Off Season' talk about the deteriorating situation back on Earth, which eventually turns into atomic war. ('The Off Season' is perfect. Just perfect.) After the war breaks out, every one goes home and the few stragglers left behind slip into isolation and despair- and everything they built on Mars begins to crumble- until the first survivors from Earth make it back by the end of the book. ('There Will Come Soft Rains' which manages to make you feel incredibly sad for an intelligent house and 'The Million Year Picnic' which is also incredibly melancholy but a perfect way to end this book.)

Overall: I added this book to my Amazon Wishlist. I had never read Ray Bradbury before this book- I've got Fahrenheit 451 to get through as well, but this is such a beautiful, melancholy, haunting and hopeful vision of Mars- I think time and advances in science probably make this seem a little dated in parts, but if you focus on the idea that it's a vision or a dream of Mars, that helps. But it's more than just the subject matter that works for me too- I've always been a sucker for good science fiction, but the writing is amazing as well. Bradbury isn't just satisfied to tell you stories about Mars- he can take you there. **** out of ****