Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Upload Project #8: Mystery Basement CDs

Yes, The Upload Project is back- because apparently, all I did when I was in college was burn CDs. When we cleaned our crap out of the Parentals' Basement I found so many burnt CDs. The vast majority of which are untitled- and all of which are a total mystery to me. The CDs that I went through in round one were like a trip back to graduate school in Mankato. These CDs: they're a trip back to my undergraduate years, if not before that and it's... weird.

But anyway, the Mystery Basement CDs have begun. Enjoy, I guess?

CD #1, Untitled, with five repeats
The Clash- Revolution Rock
Kanye West- All Falls Down
Remy Zero- Save Me
311- Amber
James Brown- Sex Machine
All-American Rejects- Swing, Swing
Steve Miller Band- Jungle Love
The Cure- Labyrinth
Bloodhound Gang- Mope
Janet Jackson- Escapade
Peter Gabriel- Games Without Frontiers
Dire Straits- Water of Love
Bruce Springsteen- No Retreat, No Surrender
Duran Duran- (Reach Up For The) Sunrise
Rush- The Spirit of Radio
Faces- Ooh La La
Fleetwood Mac- Goodbye Baby

CD #2: 'Upbeat Stuff'
Either the car speakers are starting to go or the quality as degraded enough to give this CD horrible feedback.

CD #3: 'Something Old... Something New...' with eight repeats
Billy Squier- Everybody Wants You
Led Zeppelin- Four Sticks
Elton John- Bennie and The Jets
Yellowcard- Ocean Avenue
Joao Gilberto- Chega De Saudade
The Spinners- Rubberband Man
N.E.R.D- She Wants To Move
Udit Narayan and Abhijeet Bhattacharya- Chori Chori Hum Gori Se
Boney M- Rasputin
Franz Ferdinand- Take Me Out
Edith Piaf- La Vie En Rose
Carl Douglas- Kung Fu Fighting
Modest Mouse- Float On
Celia Cruz- Guantanamera
Vicki Lawrence- The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia
Scissor Sisters- Take Me Out

CD #4, Untitled, all repeats except four of 'em
Vanessa Carlton- White Houses
Keane- Somewhere Only We Know
Gary Jules- Mad World
Gavin DeGraw- I Don't Want To Be
U2- Vertigo
Gwen Stefani- What You Waiting For?
Kim Wilde- Kids In America
LINKIN PARK- Breaking The Habit
Elton John- Bennie and The Jets
Big & Rich- Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy
Mott The Hoople- All The Young Dudes
CSNY: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Kelly Clarkson- Break Away
Romeo Void- Never Say Never
Steriogram- Walkie Talkie Man

CD #5: 'Relax Mix- Fun Mix'

Scratched and skipped. No dice.

CD #6: 'Funk, Reggae & Electronica Dance Mix'
Skipped like crazy and I'm kind of bummed about this one because it was a good mix.

CD #7 and CD #8: identical copies of 'Prague Spring' which for some reason I couldn't upload
AC/DC- Highway To Hell
Barenaked Ladies- Thanks That Was Fun
Beck- Sexx Laws
Blur- Tender
The Cars- Since You're Gone
Coldplay- Spies
Depeche Mode- Master and Servant
Eddie Money- Take Me Home Tonight (Be My Baby)
Electric Light Orchestra- Mr. Blue Sky
Faces- Stay With me
Gavin DeGraw- Chariot
Hootie and The Blowfish- Not Even The Trees
Jennifer Lopez- Get Right
Jet- Cold Hard Bitch
Kanye West- Jesus Walks
The Killers- All These Things That i've Done
Seether w/Amy Lee- Broken
U2- City of Blinding Lights

CD #9 Untitled (This was a REALLY good random mix. Gonna keep this one.)
Enigma- Carly's Song
Rush- Time Stand Still
Bob Marley- Exodus
John Cougar Mellencamp- Cherry Bomb
The Smiths- Panic
The Clash- Rock The Casbah
The Cure- Never Enough
Green Day- Walking Contradiction
James Brown- Papa Don't Take No Mess
REM- Bad Day
Rolling Stones- Mother's Little Helper
Seal- Crazy
Talking Heads- Girl Friend Is Better
Traffic- John Barleycorn
UB40- Tell Me Is It True
Van Morrison- Sweet Thing
Warren Zevon- Play It All Night Long
Yes- Owner of A Lonely Heart

CD #10 Untitled with 8 repeats
Scandal- Warrior
The Donnas- Fall Behind Me
New Radicals- You Get What You Give
Alannah Myles- Black Velvet
Modest Mouse- Float On
Led Zeppelin- Four Sticks
Bananarama- Cruel Summer
Dire Straits- Lady Writer
Berlin- The Metro
The Knack- My Sharona
Billy Idol- White Wedding
Blondie- Call Me
Cheap Trick- Surrender
Chris Isaaks- Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing
Def Leppard- Pour Some Sugar On Me
The Hives- Hate To Say I Told You So
The Kinks- You Really Got Me
Nickelback- Someday

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Bond Issue Endorsement

Hey, we've got a Kindergartener now! So that means that when it comes to these off year school board and school bond elections, I kind of have to do my homework and give a shit a little more than I have in years past. (This isn't to say that I didn't care before, it's just that now, I've got some skin in the game, as it were...)

$191.5 million is on the line on September 12th and the yard sign derby (i.e. the totally unscientific survey of yard signs as I drive through where ever I'm driving) seems to be relatively evenly split. I see 'Yes' signs and I see 'No' signs. It's hard to tell where this is going to land- there are a number of fault lines worth exploring here and whichever combination of factors can come together to swing this thing one way or the other.

There's geography. The center of gravity of the district is shifting to the northwest as North Liberty, Coralville and Tiffin all drive population growth. There's people fighting for schools. The 'Save Hoover' crowd and the brigade of Hills Elementary supporters. There's fiscal conservatives who are dubious at the school district's master plan and how much money it's spending (along with a healthy sprinkling of anti-government libertarians and general townie contrarians). So, it's hard to get a sense of where this is going to land or what direction it's going to go.

The websites of the 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns are well-designed and chock full of facts, and make their cases, but here's the thing kids- as much as $191.5 million makes me queasy (especially since it seems like the School District just asked for some cash like, ten minutes ago), the 'No' campaign just didn't do it for me. Therefore, I'm voting YES on the School Bond issue and so should you.

The 'No' Camp threw a strike right from the get go. 'Current Plan Endangers Hills Elementary' oh, so we're leading with fear mongering right off the bat? The Hills Elementary Brigade will take to the barricades (and maybe with good reason) and fight the fight for their elementary no matter what- but honestly, it's a mystery to me why more people aren't living and moving to Hills- but they aren't. If that changes over the next 5-10 years, Hills Elementary will probably be fine. If not, it'll probably close.

Strike Two is their whole bogus ethnics complaint against Liberty High Principal Scott Kibby. I wasn't impressed and, as it turned out, neither was the State Ethics Board.

Strike Three is their fudging of the enrollment projections...  they're claiming that they don't add up, but the question then becomes, is it better to be over capacity or under capacity? If it's the former, then you're in the enviable position of having more space than you know what to do with. If you're under capacity then you're just going to have to go back to the well for another bond issue down the road anyway.

The Yes Camp (and the School District itself) hit me with a list of projects that this bond will cover and that's ultimately what did it for me. 20 projects in total- including a new North Liberty Elementary School (needed, I'd imagine), at least 7 music and art room additions at 7 different elementary schools as well as classroom additions at all the high schools and junior highs through 2024. None of these projects seem like a waste of money to me. And in the absence of a compelling argument from the No Camp, I'm going to invest in the future facilities of the district- and so should you. So remember to vote YES, September 12th.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Netflix & Chill #23: Cake

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2014
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Chris Messina
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Pick: The Missus'

The Missus and I managed to sit down and watch a movie together for the first time in what felt like a long time and after some searching and discussion, the Missus mentioned that she had always wanted to watch the Jennifer Aniston flick, Cake so we found it on Netflix and gave it a go.

The movie centers around Claire Bennett (Aniston) who, as the movie opens is struggling with chronic pain in the aftermath of a car accident that killed her son and imploded her marriage. When another woman, Nina (Kendrick) in her support group commits suicide, Claire develops a strange fixation on figuring out why she killed herself- since Nina had a husband and a son.

Claire is unpleasant to her housekeeper, Silvana (Barraza), sleeps with the gardener, gets herself kicked out of her support group and drinks too much and takes way too many pain pills. So many, in fact that she starts to hallucinate Nina, who talks to her and advises her and after awhile, haunts her and forces her to confront her own pain. After attempting to bluff her way into Nina's house- only to be called on her lies by Nina's husband, Roy, who has been told about her- she strikes up a strange friendship with Roy and his son. This friendship seems to draw Claire further out of her shell, but when the man responsible for her accident (William H. Macy) shows up to attempt to apologize, it sends her into a downward spiral, which culminates with her laying on the railroad tracks at the drive-in where she first went on a date with her husband, contemplating death. She decides, however, that she was a good mother and gets up instead.

She brings Roy and Casey a homemade birthday cake and a kite as an apology. She gets a picture of her son from her husband and then she hangs a set of wind chimes at her son's grave and then finally reaches a breakthrough of her own.

Jennifer Aniston was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Critic's Choice Movie Award for this movie and by rights she should have scored an Oscar nod for it as well- if not won at least one of the big awards because she is absolutely fantastic in this movie. Not only does she prove beyond a doubt that she can do drama with the best of them, but the way she portrays Claire and her chronic pain is incredible. Every move, every gasp, every expression- everything right down to the subtlest of expressions lets you know that she is living with incredible amounts of pain.

As a movie, I loved it. I thought Anna Kendrick would be in it more than she was, but I think it kept the movie nicely balanced at well. You could have made this into a dark comedy very very easily, but the focus is kept squarely on Claire and her journey and I think it's for the better, actually, because the journey the movie takes you on is one worth taking.

Overall: This movie was a pleasant surprise with an amazing cast and a stellar performance from Jennifer Aniston at the center of it all. ***** out of *****

Saturday, August 26, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #226

We're dipping back into the 'Lost Archives' for once again this week, this time zipping over to South Asia and one of my favorite flags, the flag of Sri Lanka:
Adopted on May 22nd, 1972 as the civil and state flag, it's known as- surprise, surprise- the Lion Flag, because, well, there's a big ass lion with a big-ass sword on it. The Lion and the sword stands for the bravery of the Sinhalese. The four Bo leaves in the corners that surround the lion stand for he four main concepts of Buddhism (Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha). The two stripes stand for the main minority groups- the saffron stripe stands for the Tamils, the green one for the Muslims. The maroon background stands for the majority Sinhalese. The gold border stands for the unity of Sri Lankans.

There's a lot of irony to be found in this flag, given what I know about the history of Sri Lanka. Honestly, the flag is sort of the ideal that should be striving for in many ways- given the fact that they're not even a decade clear of a very very long and bloody Civil War- a Sri Lanka that recognizes all it's ethnic group and protects their rights and traditions would be a good thing indeed.

However, a glance at history reveals that the symbolism has been around for a very long time indeed- the Lion symbol has been on flags in Sri Lanka going back all the way to the reign of Vijaya, who arrived on the island in 486 BC. The Lion Banner lasted until 1815 when the Kandyan Kingdom came to an end when King George III was proclaimed King of Ceylon.

(FYI: if you want to take a deep dive on the symbolism of this flag, check out the wiki-page of this flag and you too, can find out what the nose of the lion and the eight hairs on it's tail mean.)

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

Friday, August 25, 2017

Bookshot #99: Walkaway

This was an incredible, thought-provoking book that's an actual science fiction utopia as a posed to a dystopia and more importantly described a future which is both believable and plausible to imagine. Science fiction always works best for me when it deals in ideas and Cory Doctorow is putting himself right up besides Neal Stephenson and Kim Stanley Robinson as a writer of ideas worth reading and thinking about. 

Walkaway imagines a future where, thanks to 3D printing, technology exists that can provide anyone with just about any material need they can imagine- including food. Given that, it's not surprising that an increasing number of people are choosing to reject the society of jobs and money and just walk away from it all. After Hubert and Seth meet Natalie, the zillionaire's daughter at a 'communist party', a techno-rave up in an abandoned factory where the young and hip print their drugs and toys and dance the night away, they get the idea to walk away themselves after their party is raided by the police and their night goes terrible awry. Natalie wants to be done with her father. Hubert and Seth don't have much going on anyway, so...  they walk away.

They soon find the B & B, a walkaway lodge and meet Limpopo, who helps them adjust to the new rules of the walk away lifestyle- they have some initial bumps along the way but soon enough, they settle in. Natalie changes her name (and becomes Iceweasel) Hubert and Seth find love and meaning in their new world and settle down. 

The book then skips ahead a little bit and picks up with Iceweasel finding a campus of the Walkaway University which has been destroyed by forces unknown- the survivors had been expecting an attack of some kind and fled underground to a series of bunkers. She quickly discovers why they've been attacked- it turns out that these particular walkaway have figured out how to successfully scan brains and upload them to a simulated existence online. In other words: they've beaten death and the world of the ultra-rich knows it and they want the knowledge for themselves. The war to control the direction of the world itself is suddenly on- and Iceweasel finds herself back in the clutches of her rich father. Her friends work to free her even as the forces of the 'default' world get closer and closer and eventually Iceweasel walks away again, though her freedom comes at a price.

Another skip- this time fourteen years in the future and the world is heading even more in the direction of the walk aways. The default world of the super rich is becoming more and more isolated and when Iceweasel and her wife, Gretyl find out that a friend they long thought dead (they've got her sim running their house) is actually alive, they head back to where it all began for one final confrontation with the forces of the 'default' world and once that's done- the world will be forever changed.

One final epilogue and another jump forward and Iceweasel is waking up after years of slumber- she 'deadheaded' herself because of a cancer attacking her liver. Turns out in the intervening years, they've not only figured out how to grow new bodies, but they've mastered downloading mind scans back into bodies as well. The walk aways have finally won, they've beaten default, they've beaten death and the future looks very bright indeed.

This was a fascinating book to read with real implications for the coming decades ahead of us. Technology is on the cusp of bringing major changes to the world we know today- the foundations of what we consider society today may not survive automation and a world where jobs are scarce because technology allows you to print and make whatever you may need yourself- and if that happens, then why bother even having a job? While I'm not sold on the idea of beating death just yet- the technology behind brain scanning is advancing quickly, so the ability to upload yourself could become a reality. What that means for humanity- are you really yourself if you've uploaded a copy of your brain scan into a machine- is something that Doctorow explores in great and fascinating detail.

Overall: This is a fascinating look at a science fiction utopia that's both believable and plausible. The ideas that they explore here, we're going to have to tackle in the future whether we want too or not. Thought-provoking, entertaining as hell and an important work of science fiction that I think will stand along side such classics as Snow Crash and Neuromancer soon than you would think. **** out of ****

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cloudy, But An Eclipse Nonetheless

I took Sunday and Monday off sometime in January. I had a crazy notion to throw the kids in the car, drive to Omaha, crash with the in-laws for a night (on Sunday) and then Monday, drive a little further and put ourselves smack dab into the path of totality for the eclipse.

It didn't work out that way, of course. The Missus couldn't get the day off (the first day of school is Wednesday, and since the Elder Spawn is starting Kindergarten that's considerably more important than a mad drive halfway into Nebraska for a solar eclipse.) And then the fact began to loom in my head that it would be a lot of driving with a 5 year old and an almost 2 year- by myself. Then stories about traffic began to leak... it was going to be a gridlock! And did I really want to drive all that way for 2 minutes of totality the kids might, maybe, go 'oh cool' at and then want to go home?

I decided no. We were set to see 92% of the eclipse. I could get the Younger Spawn down for a nap, that way I wouldn't have to worry about him tearing off his eclipse glasses and burning holes in his eyeballs. It seemed like a good solid plan... except when we woke up on Monday morning, it was raining.

The rain stopped soon enough and by 10 am we were getting tantalizing little peaks at shards of blue sky. But by eleven thirty, it seemed like we were destined to be clouded out. So we had lunch, I got Younger Spawn down for a nap and the Elder Spawn and I headed outside for our usual game of pick-up soccer. (Spoiler Alert: I'm bad at soccer and he's legit good...)

The weird thing is that you could tell that something was up. The air was still. The bugs were going like mad- not cicadas and not loudly, mind you- but you could tell the bugs were in 'night mode.' Whether it was psycho-somatic suggestion or some deep primal instinct worked into human DNA, you could feel that something was happening. It was the oddest thing, but strangely peaceful at the same time.

Even better? The clouds cooperated enough to let the sunshine in for awhile. I didn't have any special camera equipment- so actual photos of the eclipse were next to impossible to get- but we had our glasses and could get a really good look at it until the clouds moved back in again and made it harder to see. We played soccer and then wrapped up just in time for the peak of the eclipse. Then, the brightness of the sun thinned the clouds out a little more and we got really, really good looks at the peak. It was the first time since 1994 or so (I was in 5th grade) that I had seen a solar eclipse of any kind and although we weren't in the path of totality, 92% is a hell of a lot better than looking through the hole punches of my lunch ticket at the sidewalk at the back of my elementary school.

The best part? It's on 7 years until the next one and 28 years until the one after that. I've got my eyes on Carbondale, Illinois for 2024. The kids all be older and it's on a Monday, so we can make a long weekend of it. And if that one doesn't pan out for whatever reason, then 2045 it is! One of these times I'm going to get us smack dab into the path of totality. #LifeGoals.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #225

I'm dipping back into the archives this week for another 'Lost Week In Vexillology' this time featuring the last flag of Central America on my list- last, but very much not least, we've got the flag of Belize.
A relatively new flag, as flags go, the flag of Belize was adopted on September 21st, 1981 which was the country's very first independence day. From 1870 all the way up through 1981, the country was a British colony known as British Honduras.  It features the Coat of Arms at the center and the colors blue and red.

We'll get to the Coat of Arms in a second, but let's deal with the colors first. Belize (like the Seychelles and Panama and a few other countries out there I can't remember) struck a political compromise with their two main political parties at independence. The People's United Party (PUP) had colors of blue and white- which were originally proposed for the flag, but surprise surprise, the United Democratic Party wasn't about that had the colors of red and white. So, how do you get to a compromise? You add some red stripes at the bottom and the top and then you have combinations of both red and white and blue and white in the flag. Everybody's happy.

Let's break down the Coat of Arms. The fifty leaves that circle it represent the year 1950, which is when the PUP first came to power. Within the circle, you find a mahogany tree that stands behind the shield. On the shield you've got the tools of a wood cutter in the upper sections and a ship in the lower one- this is to symbolize the importance of the mahogany tree to the economy of Belize back in the 18th and 19th Century. The shield is supported by a Mestizo and an African who have an axe (to cut down the mahogany trees) and an oar (to represent ship building). Belize is one of the few countries in the world to feature people as a major design element of their flag. The motto underneath it all: 'Sub Umbra Floreo' or, 'Under the shade I flourish.'

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Time To Take Our History Back

I've never lived in the South- but I've been to the South and while up here in Iowa and I'm sure a lot of northern states, the Civil War seems like a subject confined to history books, in the South, it's not. It's alive down there and it can sneak up on you in unexpected ways.

The first time I ever saw the Stars and Bars- the actual Confederate flag and not this dishrag- was in downtown San Antonio of all places, flying over a super old looking hotel. I had to do a double take at first...  was that? It was. Holy shit. It actually was. I didn't get it. I didn't understand it- especially in Texas, which seems to have a separate subtext entirely, namely: 'we were our own country once- piss us off, we could easily be so again.'

Then there was one of our trips to Atlanta. We met up with some friends of the Parentals. The Dad was a tropical disease specialist so they were doing a stint down at Emory and working with the CDC. We ate Cuban food at this nice little place somewhere in suburban Atlanta and then kind of walked around the district, which seemed pleasant, vaguely hip, fun and then we turned a corner and ran smack dab into a Confederate memorial of some kind. I couldn't tell you what it was.

That was also the trip we went to Stone Mountain. Don't even get me started on Stone Mountain... I have no idea why that thing hasn't been chiseled away decades ago. It's like a weird, Confederate Mount Rushmore and it's...  uncomfortable. (Even more so when you find out that the Klan launched it's revival at Stone Mountain back in the day.) The whole experience didn't compute in my brain... it was like a gigantic Confederate Mount Rushmore. All the flags of the Confederate States, complete with dates of secession and dates they were re-admitted to the union. It's like stepping into an alternate version of history where what actually happened didn't happen at all. (Once you're done with the weird fantasy land at the bottom of the mountain you can walk up the thing itself and see Atlanta in the distance. Then the thought occurs to you that Sherman would have burned his way through most of the horizon in his march to the sea. And you still wonder why any of it is still here.)

History, they say is written by the victors. Except in America's case, it wasn't somehow. It almost was, but then Reconstruction ended and somehow all the important stuff- like the war being about the right to keep slaves and oh, the fact that the Confederacy lost got swept under the rug. It wasn't about the slavery. It was about 'state's rights' and other things that were distinctly not slavery. And gradually, over the decades, our history was rewritten by the losers.

Every street name, every elementary school, every statue should be taken down. You know that scene in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade when he's fighting on the ship about the Cross of Coronado and he yells, "It belongs in a museum!" So do every last one of those monuments.

That simple sentence should have been the principled position of every American, left or right, Democrat or Republican for years, if not decades now. The fact that it hasn't been says a lot about the state of our political discourse today. Where was everyone on these monuments five years ago? Ten, even? I see a lot of people announcing that 'it's time to pick a side' after what happened last weekend in Virginia. Now it's time to pick a side. Now? Shouldn't it be pretty obvious what side to be on, a century and a half after the Civil War ended?

We won. It's time to stop letting the losers write our history.

I originally wanted to write this post because Iowa kept getting named checked in articles about the number of Confederate memorials that exist in the country. There is a Civil War monument down in rural Davis County. It remembers the Bloomfield Raid, when Confederate forces, dressed in Union uniforms crossed the border. It was the furthest north Confederate forces of any kind ever got. Doesn't seem to be on the same level as a statue of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis or god forbid, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Monuments and markers like that. A marker to state, clearly and simply: this was the farthest north they ever got. I'm okay with that.

Weirdly enough, in the years after the Civil War when the first monuments and markers started to go up, it was the north that accounted for the majority of them. When we went to Shiloh, the battlefield park was full of them. I wanted to go somewhere for the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War because I thought it would be both cool and important to see some history. I had to do some research though, because my initial instinct was to go to Gettysburg, but I figured everyone would want to do that. Turns out that no Iowans fought at Gettysburg, but plenty of them fought and laid down their lives for the Union at Shiloh. They held the Hornet's Nest and saw fierce fighting along The Sunken Road. The picture above is the Iowa Memorial you will find there. At it's base, the inscription reads:
"This monument is erected by the state of Iowa in commemoration of the loyalty, patriotism and bravery of her sons who on this battlefield of Shiloh on the 6th and 7th days of April ADMCCLXII fought to perpetuate the sacred union."

This is the history that should be remembered.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Boozehound Unfiltered: Yipee Ki-Yay

My Dad took a business trip to Utah a few months back and stayed in Park City at a very expansive and nice looking hotel (the perks of his job, I guess) but he also brought back a couple of bottles from Utah's only distillery, High West Whiskey and I was lucky enough to get to try some of this stuff a couple of weekends back and it a delight. I don't have much experience tasting blended whiskies, but however many they mixed together and aged to make this stuff, but they got it absolutely right.

Digging into the distillery itself reveals a fascinating story. High West is Utah's first legal distillery since 1870- writing a new chapter in Utah's distilling history. (I know: the words 'Utah' and 'whiskey' don't exactly seem like they should mix, but go figure.)

There's a lot to like about this stuff. It's a blend of rye whiskies- the exact ratio, High West keeps secret, but in terms of percentages they list one with 95% rye and 5% barley and another with a split of 53% rye, 37% corn and and 10% barley- the ages on the blend range from 2 to 16 years. How did they age it? Well they used barrels originally used to age wine and if their website is anything to go by it seems like vermouth and syrah were both involved. But what did it produce? Let's find out:

Color: Very dark- almost amber in hue.

Nose: This was the hardest to pin down for me- there's something sweet that's immediately obvious- it came close to reminding of Jack Daniels in a lot of ways, but there's notes of maple and honey here as well. 

Body: Balanced! It sits nicely on the tongue- it's not to weak and watery, but it's not syrupy either. The spice is immediate but balanced as well. Like a firework it sort of bursts across the tongue.

Finish: Nice and balanced as well- it warms gradually but it's not harsh at all.

Overall: Well, I want to go to Park City and check this place out- that's for sure. And a more thorough exploration of their range seems to be in order- this was sweet, smooth delicious stuff and went down quite nicely. **** out of ****

Monday, August 14, 2017

Norks and Nazis

So.

In the past week, the President has tried to out crazy North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Un and there was a straight up Nazi riot in Charlottesville, Virginia where three people died. This is not the 2017 I was expecting and it sure as shit isn't the future that I want for my children. I was hoping, hoping that maybe, maaaaaaaaybe that I could get through the majority of my life without having to worry about a straight up nuclear exchange. Guess that's out the window now. Ditto with Nazis. Haven't we had this argument? Can't we consign fascism to the dustbin of history where it belongs along with all the other shitty, terrible -isms that infect our daily lives?

Let's deal with the Norks first: Am I worried about war with North Korea? Yes and no. In the short to medium term, unless Kim Jong-Un says, 'fuck it, let's do this thing' and starts something, I doubt that we'll launch a preemptive strike. The status quo is what China wants to maintain and they've said that if the Norks start something, they're on their own. I don't think we want to start anything in the short to medium term either. A war on the Korean Peninsula would be rough stuff- most of the defense and strategic summaries I've read from people who know more about this stuff than I do seem to be of the mind that a war over there could be won, but the initial few days would be rough rough stuff indeed until Allied air power comes to bear and starts degrading Nork capabilities. 

The long term is where I sort of bite my nails a bit. I don't think it's in our national interests to let North Korea develop a nuclear weapon capable of striking the US Mainland. I think unless some serious diplomacy gets a breakthrough, I think we will be forced to act militarily to prevent that and I'm not sure how the Chinese will feel about that. Could be they're fed up with Pyongyang and make a lot of angry noise and do not much else. Could be they intervene themselves to preserve the status quo. Either way, I think this is coming to a head in the next two to eight years anyway and I don't know a Presidential candidate of either party that would think it's a good idea to let North Korea have nukes that can hit the US mainland. 

The Nazi Riot in Virginia... I don't even know where to begin with this. Three people died. The President's abject failure to condemn the white nationalist marchers was beyond disgusting. While I wasn't Charlottesville and I will concede that maybe, maybe we haven't been given a full picture of what actually happened, it sure as hell looks like the Nazis showed up armed and ready to rumble. This wasn't a peaceful protest. They were spoiling for a fight and they got one. So, let's clear a few things up:

1. Fuck fascism. (And all the other -isms, for that matter. But, this weekend- especially fascism.)

2. Anyone who flies a Confederate flag isn't a good American. The Confederacy lost. The streets should be renamed, the statues torn down, Stone Mountain dynamited to rubble. You people fucking lost. Americans laid down their lives to make sure they lost and anyone who tries to convince that it's flag or any of it's symbol should be used to celebrate 'our heritage' can fuck right off. I went to Shiloh for the 150th Anniversary of the battle and they had a grand illumination, with a candle lit for every fallen soldier- it stretched all over the damn park. One of the many things that still burns me about Steve King is his insistence on keeping a Confederate flag on his damn desk when so many Iowans died fighting the Confederacy- nowhere more so than at Shiloh. There's a beautiful memorial to them down there. Anyone in Iowa who thinks the Confederate flag is something to celebrate should take a trip down there and look at it.

3. Statistically, in a nation of 300 million people I honestly don't think that there are that many of these Nazi scumbags in America. What this weekend made clear, however, is that President Trump's failure to clearly and openly condemn them and their ideology is sure as shit emboldening them.

4. Violence is bad. It was bad at Berkeley when those idiots tore up their own campus of the Milo Speech. It was even worse here where people actually died. And yes, as Ferguson proved there's a difference in the way people get treated when they protest in this country. It's not wrong to point that out.

5. Do you remember how the right collectively lost it's mind when President Obama refused to condemn radical Islamic terrorism? Because I sure as shit do. So I don't want to hear another goddamn word about it after this weekend.

6. I am both appalled and amused that we now live in a world where Tiki Brand has to put out a statement condemning the use of their torches by Nazis. (Oh and the delicious irony of them using Tiki torches, which are Polynesian in origin.)

7. Naming and shaming these people I am 100% fine with. If you're going to march for what you believe in, then you shouldn't be afraid of the consequences. Like you losing your job. Or people finding out that you're a Nazi. The flip side of that, of course, is that when AntiFa/Anarchist types start throwing bricks through windows, I'm fine with the same thing happening to them. Public shaming all round!

8. 50% of the country doesn't bother to vote most of the time which makes me wonder what's going to happen when that 50% gets tired of the extreme ends of what amounts to 26% of the electorate running the show and decides to do something about it. Our political discourse is poison. The internet is an open sewer after tragedies like this. Congress can't legislate it's way out of a wet paper bag and there is a great, big, silent majority out there. What happens when they get tired of the hyper-partisan rancor? Because a true political independent with a relatively sensible platform who just wants to get things done and help some people out...  right now, that sounds batshit crazy. But if we keep doing this to the country, then who knows. Each side is now convinced the other is out to get them. What does 'victory' even look like in our ongoing culture wars? I'm not sure I want to know.

9. The right wing counter narrative is already emerging today: where were the police? Did the Democratic mayor order the police to stand down in order to blame the ensuing violence on President Trump? I think it's a good question to ask, but given how armed a lot of the Nazis were, I can understand the impulse to contain and restrain instead of obstruct and separating the protestors, especially from the point of view of officer safety- though admittedly, I haven't had need to learn about riot tactics thus far in my job. That said, there's a whiff of: 'oh this is a grand liberal conspiracy and really this is all their fault' which is bullshit. Nazis rioted in an American city. Blaming the police or looking for leftist/liberal conspiracies under the bed should in no way shape or form excuse an administration that is actively emboldening white nationalism by it's silence.

10. Ditto with the "this is what identity politics looks like" narrative that's coming from the right as well. Yes, broadly speaking 'the left' should have a message that cuts across race, gender and class to win elections and trying to assemble a political coalition like Voltron- one giant robot cat at a time lead to white people sort of kind of voting in a block as well. However- once more with feeling: 'oh this is a grand liberal conspiracy and really this is all their fault' is a bullshit rationalization for this. Nazis rioted in an American city. There's no excuse for that.

In general, this was not a good week for America. It's Monday, people. Lets do better this week.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #224

Oh man, I'm really digging now. I went through the wiki-page on the flags of secessionist and autonomy movements and that's one hell of a rabbit hole to get lost down- but after some scrolling and some thought, I decided to settle on taking a peek at the flag of Tibet- the one used by the official government in exile based in Dharamsala, India. Here it is:
This flag just past the 100 year mark- it was adopted 101 years ago by the 13th Dalai Lama (the current Dalai Lama is number 14) in 1916 and has been banned by the Communist Chinese authorities in the Tibet Autonomous Region since 1959. If you like symbolism, well you've come to the right place, because this flag is chock full of it.

The yellow border/adornment stands for the teachings of the Buddha ("which are like pure refined gold and unbounded in space and time, are flourishing and spreading." ) The white triangle that dominates the bottom of the flag stands for a magnificent snow clad mountain, which represents the Nation of Tibet. The six red bands across the blue dark sky stand for the original six tribes of the Tibetan nation. The combination of the blue and red bands stands for "the unceasing enactment of the various deeds of protection of the spiritual teachings and secular life by the black and guardian protector deities with which Tibet has been connected since time immemorial."

At the tip of triangle, the Sun with its rays represent "the equal enjoyment protector deities with which Tibet has been connected since times immemorial." The snow lions on the slopes of the mountain standing for the accomplishment of a unified spiritual and secular life. The three colored jewel held aloft stands for the reverence held by the people of Tibet for the three gems, "the object of refugee Buddha, Dharma and Sangha." The jewel held between the lions stands for the "people's guarding and cherishing the self discipline of correct ethical behavior, principally representing and spreading the ten exalted virtues and 16 human modes conducts."

I did a little more than my usual dig on this flag, because the Wiki-page had a good description of the history and the design process, but not so much with the symbolism, but happily Flagspot.net had exactly what I was looking for- huge h/t to them for the info on this post.

I love this flag. I wish I had it in the collection, because honestly, I think it's the perfect balance of symbolism and good design- it's busy, but not too busy and use of the white triangle to represent the snow clad mountain focuses the design on the center of the flag and the sun, the red and blue bands do the same as well. It's focused, it's packed with symbolism and it's striking. What more could you ask for in a flag? I know that there are some pickier vexillologists out there that would argue it has too many colors and is too busy, but I disagree- this is the kind of flag that I would love to add to my collection.

It's also the kind of flag that makes me wonder about what to do with my collection and the future of this little venture over the long term... I'd like to figure out something to do with my collection other than have it sit in a tote down in my basement, but I have a decent amount of flags so space to hang them is going to be hard to come by. It's something I'll have to ponder in the months ahead...

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sportsyball!

Adopt-A-Team:
Well, after doing some consulting with Mr. Google and finding this article, I had my foursome for this season: The Ukrainian Premier League, Liga MX, Brasileirao and the Argentine Primera Division. (True story: I was surprised at how high the UPL was ranked in that article...  might just plan on doing them next season.) But anyway, after some random shuffling and slips of paper, I ended up with:

Argentine Primera Division!

And a visit to a random number generator with a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 28 got me number 9, which for right now anyway is Defensa y Justicia, so welcome aboard, boys! I'll be following your progress throughout the season and wish you a better fate than NEC Nijmegen who I followed around last season- they were relegated!

MLS Quest
You've heard me say it before and I'll say it again: I need to watch more MLS in the back half of the season! We'll see if I can make good on it, but for now, we've got the following teams in the race for my allegiance:

FC Dallas
Sporting KC
Minnesota United

and a late entry, the Chicago Fire. I was never really into the Fire as an option because honestly, Chicago isn't my favorite city to travel too- but when the Missus and I were in Chicago for our U2 concert in June I realized that Toyota Park is actually relatively easy to get to from Iowa City and I can do so without tolls.

In more specific MLS related news- Deadspin ran this article that piqued my interest a bit. Is MLS A Ponzi Scheme? I think it's a question worth asking because MLS's Expansion-pa-looza can't continue forever and while soccer appears to be increasing in popularity, it's still easier to find Premier League games on the television than MLS games a lot of weekends- but that fact runs up against the imminent shift in the television landscape. Nobody knows what it's going to look like post-cable-- which is why I think that expansion will probably get to 28 teams or so in the next few years and then I think promotion/relegation will become a reality- hopefully with the USL and NASL forming the lower two divisions. I want to do some more reading about this issue, because there's a lot I don't know- but given the fact that MLS has gone through contraction before, I think fans of our domestic league should be at least aware of the potential road ahead.

Come On You Gunners!
Alexander Lacazette. Sead Kolasinac. Giroud, Sanchez and Ozil are all still here. The transfer window isn't closed yet and Arsenal has collected the Community Shield, Emirates Cup (in a weird way by goal differential) and the International Champions Cup. I'm not really sure what to make of the preseason, but I'm optimistic. I caught a good chunk of the Community Shield match vs  Chelsea and even without Sanchez and Ozil on the pitch, Arsenal looked good. They've got momentum going into the season, that much is certain. What they can do once they get there- especially with the Europa League usually meaning greater travel time- is anybody's guess. But they've got the big mo!

Hawkeye Football Predictions:
Yes, football of all kinds is almost back in action and college football is soon to be among us and looking at the schedule for Iowa this year, I'm honestly not sure what to expect and I don't think anyone else does either. I think most predictions seem to have us around 6-7 wins which seems like a safe prediction to me, but not necessarily an accurate one. The schedule sort of works against us this year in many ways, but Iowa has this tendency of doing better- sometimes much better- than expected when there are precisely zero expectations on their backs going into the season. I think people are sort of banking on a mid-range bowl game and not much else, but I don't know.  Let's look at it:

Wyoming: W (but a test right out of the gate for Iowa. Wyoming were legit good in the MWC last year and if Iowa loses this, I think that 6-7 win range could be more like 4-6.)
@ Iowa State: L (ISU got beaten down here last year. I feel like they'll be ready for this one.)
North Texas: W (well, shit. We better win this one.)
Penn State: L (Barkley and their offense is just scary fast. Not traditionally Iowa's strength)
@ Michigan State: W (East Lansing is always tough, but Sparty was a mess last year.)
Illinois: W (Lovie Smith still a year or two away)
@ Northwestern: L (As much as I hate to say this... and I really HATE to say it.)
Minnesota: W (PJ Fleck is inheriting a program in decent shape, but we'll see.)
Ohio State: L (Though to be fair, we're about due for a once a decade victory over the Bucks)
@ Wisconsin: W (It's in Madison though, so it could either way.)
Purdue: W (I think Purdue made a good hire, but he's a year or two away as well.)
@ Nebraska: W (Could go either way here, but it depends on Nebraska's season. If it's a good one, they win. If it's been bad, they don't.)

I have them going 8-4, weirdly enough. But I can easily see how people are predicting them lower... the non-conference run matters a lot this year I think because it's going to set the tone for the rest of the season. Assuming we can get out of our non-con run at 3-0 (which is a big assumption this year) then I feel pretty good about this prediction.

I think we could beat ISU*. I've been reading a lot of buzz about their incoming class and I think in his second year, we're going to get a better sense of what Matt Campbell's about (other than cheating at golf.) They'll play up for this game and I think Iowa will as well, so whichever way it goes, I think it'll be an entertaining edition this year.

I feel like between Penn State, Ohio State and Northwestern we'll beat at least one of those teams. If we're better than expected, it could- could be two. But all three? That's a stretch even for me. If we've been waiting for a shot at Penn State and we're 3-0 coming into conference play for a night game at Kinnick I could see that. We got absolutely smoked by them the last time they were here so at the very least I'm hoping for a more respectable result. We're away at Northwestern, who always give us fits but we get Ohio State here and if we're good and they're good, it should be another night game which is always an intangible. Of the three, we'll win at least one game that we have no business winning. It's the Iowa way.

(Of course the Iowa way also includes losing at least one game we have no business losing: Purdue, Illinois...  I'm lookin' at you.)

In the end though, I have absolutely no idea what to expect this season. Gonna be interesting to watch.

*Went to a wedding in Ames last weekend and saw Jack Trice Stadium for the first time. I really feel that with facilities as nice looking as those, ISU should be better at football than it is and that got me thinking: what would it take for ISU to win the Big 12? (Other than 'an act of God') It's an interesting thought experiment to consider. Especially if we beat them early in the season only to have them go on a tear.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Let's Talk About The Writer's Workshop

So, the Writer's Workshop has had an age discrimination claim filed against it by a rejected applicant and I'm just not sure how to feel about it. In fact, I have a very conflicted relationship (in my head, anyway) with the Writer's Workshop as a whole. Not because I wouldn't jump at the chance to be a part of that- because hell, who wouldn't? But because it makes my semi-responsible adult brain itch uncomfortably at the idea of paying a lot of money for something that I can do for free.

Don't get me wrong: I get it. You get access to world class facilities, instructors and you get your work critiqued by other amazing writer's and learn how to be a better writer and usually go on to do great and awesome things. It's a hell of an opportunity and if you get it, you'd be dumb as a box of rocks not to take it. But at the same time, I think it's either a young person's game (if you get in, you're making a huge down payment on your future potential) or a late career kind of game (you've paid your bills, your kids are grown and almost out of the house and you want to finally pursue your passion kind of thing.) So in that sense, I think this complainant might maybe- maaaaaybe have a little bit of a point.

However, you don't need to be accepted into the Writer's Workshop to be a writer. And really that is what bugs me about this complaint. That it sort of implies that you need this validation to be considered a writer, which is complete bullshit.

Here's my writing philosophy: I want people to enjoy reading what I write. I'm not chasing the Great American Novel. I'm not after high literature or the Man Booker Prize or anything like that. I want people to enjoy the books I write. I want people like them- maybe leave a review or two on Amazon for 'em and suggest 'em to their friends. I want to tell a good story more than anything else. That's what I shoot for- I get that some people will probably dig what I write more than others. I get that some people will hate what I write. And all of that is fine! If you don't like my stuff, then don't read it...  I'm cool with that. But at the heart of why I write is that I want to create characters and stories that people will enjoy reading.

If I aim for that and somehow end up with the Great American Novel or a New York Times bestseller or the Man Booker Prize or hell, even something good enough to get into the Writer's Workshop, that will be a very nice bonus. But it's not what I'm aiming at.

And if I have a mild complaint about the Writer's Workshop it's probably that- they are aiming for literature. Which is totally fine, but I don't want to be the next Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace, left to torture English majors and poor sadists like myself (Gravity's Rainbow is in my cue... it'll be take 3- or maybe 4 at trying to crack the damn thing and get through out). No, I want to be somebody's beach read. If I'm a good enough beach read to get into something like The Writer's Workshop someday, I'll be very very happy.

But until then, I'll just keep writing. Because at the end of the day, you don't need to get into a place like The Writer's Workshop to be a writer. Just sit down and do it every day. (Check.) Read everything you can get your hands on. (Check.) And if you're lucky, you'll create something that people love and if you're even luckier, the ideas will keep coming and the characters will spring to life on the page in front of you and the stories will keep getting better as you go.

You don't need something like The Writer's Workshop to be a writer. You don't even need it to be a good writer. If you really want to be a writer, get a pen, some paper, sit down and start.

It's that simple.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Albums2010 #92: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

So, let's talk about Phoenix and their 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The crazy thing is that despite having never listened to a single Phoenix album in my life, I had probably heard about a third of the songs on this album. I'm not entirely sure whether it's the band or the album, but this is one of those albums where you listen to it and you're immediately like, 'oh yeah, this song.' (Though in this case it was followed by 'I've heard this one before somewhere as well.'

I've come to accept that I'm never going to be one of those music people that lives on the cutting edge of the 'scene' and can write with expert poise and relative ease about albums both large and small, but for me, this album was sort of a revelation in many ways. Reading about the band, it seems my recognition of much of it's contents makes a certain amount of sense: According to that ever present Font of All Knowledge, Wikipedia, Phoenix had three studio albums before this one dropped and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix marked their mainstream American breakthrough- where they went from being one of those bands that your cool friend who knows all about music likes to listen to, to a band that rubes like me actually have heard of and enjoyed.

The fact that they're French sort of makes sense. The only word that I can think of to describe the entirety of this album is 'cool.' But not 'cool' in the sort of sunglasses and 'trying to hard' way that's so common over here- there's a sort of distant relationship to Daft Punk and their overall sense of style that I think is hard to put a finger on, but still present here. This album is cool in a very Gallic, chill way- similar to what Daft Punk brings to the party.

It's a compact experience, this album- clocking in at just over half an hour, it goes quick. It opens with 'Lisztomania' which is a term coined by German writer Heinrich Heine to describe the massive public response to Franz Liszt and his piano performances- but it's also featured on the soundtrack to Mozart In The Jungle, which is a show that I need to get caught up on!

It's quickly followed by '1901' and 'Fences' (both of which I've heard in one place or another over the years- whether it's a television show soundtrack, movie or just as music on the radio) before launching into 'Love Like A Sunset Parts I and II' The back half of the album starts off with 'Lasso' which is probably the hardest driving song of the album- which is actually a nice change of pace from the relatively chill vibes of the first half. 'Rome' follows that, then 'Countdown', 'Girlfriend' and 'Armistice' round out the album.

Overall: I really liked this album... it was laid back, chill and an awesome ride. Like Future Islands, I think Phoenix is a band that I'm going to have to listen too more often. **** out of ****

Saturday, August 5, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #223

Well, August 1st was Swiss National Day, so that got me thinking- Switzerland has a pretty basic flag as flag's go. It's square, red and has a white cross on it. So, why not go deeper into Switzerland and take a look at some of the flags of the Cantons of Switzerland? And if we're going to do that, we might as well start with the trio of cantons that started it all: Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden.

How old is Switzerland? Well, prepare to have you socks knocked off because the first Federal Charter of Switzerland was signed in 1291...  that's right, Switzerland has been around in one form or another since 1291 and they've been kicking ass, taking names and being neutral more or less ever since. So let's look at the founding three cantons, starting with the flag of Uri:

First of all: where the heck is Uri? Well, it's in Central Switzerland- if you find Zurich and go south you'll hit it eventually- or, (more helpfully) if you find Lucerne and follow the lake around it's far eastern bend to the town of Altdorf, you've found what you're looking for. The bull's head has been used as a symbol of the canton for centuries and its believed to have crept into the heraldry due to the etymology associating the name of the canton with the extinct aurochs. By the 14th Century, the symbol had become a banner. (According to Wikipedia, six cantonal banners from the Old Confederacy period are preserved in Altdorf from battles ranging from 1315 to 1512.)

Next up, we've got Schwyz:

Where is the Canton of Schwyz? Well if you've found the Canton of Uri, well, head north from Altdorf and you're where you need to be. Sandwiched between Lake Lucerne and Lake Zurich, Schwyz  is where they make Swiss Army Knives and gives Switzerland it's standard German name of die Schwiez. Also, the Swiss Federal Charter is on display in the town of Schwyz itself.

The flag of Schwyz is actually fairly modern- the current definitions and proportions of the cross were only set in 1963- but the color red has been associated with the flag for a long time indeed. They used to use a solid red war flag (the Blutbanner) from 1240 and from the 14th Century a depiction of the crucifixion appeared on the flag- an addition that Pope Sixtus IV confirmed in 1480.

The final member of the founding triumverate of Switzerland was the Canton of Unterwalden who seems to have a very complicated flag indeed, mainly because there seems to be some argument between two halves of the Canton over what kind of a flag to have. Originally, it was a simple red over white banner, but the two halves of the canton (Obwalden and Nidwalden) had separate flags and coats of arms that sort of complicated things. Obwalden had a red and white banner with a key that was half white and half red, while Nidwalden had a red banner with a white key on it. They came up with the eminently practical solution of smashing them together and got this:

To be perfectly honest with you guys, I'm not sold on the image quality of this, but this is what Wikipedia hath given me so, who the heck am I to argue?

Anyway, that's the flag of Unterwalden and closes out the founding trio of the Swiss Confederacy. Happy Swiss National Day! (Belated, anyway) and remember until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

(Minor Tangent: Switzerland is on my list of countries to get back to, because it would be nice to visit my Godparents again- but also because having read Place De La Concorde Suisse and generally enjoying the shit out of the place, I'd like to see it again. Beautiful country.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Squawk Box: Riverdale

My dim and limited experience with Archie Comics had me thinking that they were mainly about wholesome teenaged hijinks that seemed somewhat out of place in the modern world today and Archie the lovable redhead who was torn between Betty (blonde) and Veronica (brunette) oh, and there was someone called Jughead involved.

Turns out, I could not have been more wrong. A quick perusal of the wiki-page for Archie comics reveals that there are mysteries and drama and weirdness and Josie and the Pussycats are somehow mixed up in all of this- so the somewhat jarring translation of Archie to the small screen actually has some basis in fact, even though Riverdale takes a bit of getting used too.

As school is starting after an eventful summer which included the death of Jason Blossom, high school quarterback, Archie Andrews has discovered his passion for music and (scandalously) his music teacher. He tells his next door neighbor Betty Cooper about the first part, (but not the second part) which turns out to be a remarkably tactful move on his part, since Betty has a major crush on him and as the series opens is working up the courage to tell him when rich girl Veronica shows up in town and catches Archie's eye.

Despite some early jealousy between Betty and Veronica that nearly derails their friendship, they are soon besties and that's when things get interesting: Jason Blossom's body, assumed lost, turns up in the river. And then the hunt for the murderer is on... soon enough Archie is wrestling with his forbidden love for his music teacher, torn between his newfound passion for music and football while all the while shadiness and secrets are being revealed all over the previously innocuous and relatively vanilla town of Riverdale.

The first episode (which we caught randomly in Colorado on vacation) intrigued me enough to give it a go and once you get past the first couple of episodes, the show really comes together and takes off. Once the mystery of who the hell killed Jason Blossom becomes the central question of the show, that's when things get enjoyable- coincidentally, that's also where Jughead sort of moves into a central role- as he's kind of on the sidelines for the first couple of episodes providing overly dramatic narration- and after that, it's just a fun, murdery, sex-drugs-lies romp- and what more can you ask for in a CW television show?

Fair warning, though- in the "Things That Will Make You Feel Old As Shit" category, first up: we've got Luke Perry as Archie's Dad. Yes, early to mid-90s children: Luke Perry has gone from teen hunk to teen parent and it's..  odd at first, but he's got wrinkles and gravitas and does good teenaged Dad. But, mild spoiler plot twist, who is Archie's estranged Mom? That's right- Molly Ringwald shows up in this! Plus, Skeet Ulrich is Jughead's Dad and he doesn't look like he's aged, like, at all. (Seriously: we don't see Veronica's Dad this season, but he's coming... soon and if he's not played by Judd Nelson, they've done something wrong. Very, very wrong.)

Overall: despite the somewhat jarring good looks and strange red hair of this particular version of Archie Andrews this turned into a lot of fun to watch. If you liked Veronica Mars, you'll love Riverdale. It's going to be interesting to see how they handle a full season of episodes instead of this shorter run of just 13 episodes- I think if they're smart, they'll have two sort of arcs over a season and maybe a larger season long mystery, but who knows! As long as they keep the fun murdery death hijinks coming, I'll be back for more! **** out of ****

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Let's Talk About The 17th Amendment

In the wake of the Senate's spectacular failure to pass Trumpcare or whatever the hell you want to call it these days*, there's been a minor internet bubble about repealing the 17th Amendment that I think is worth exploring for a second or two.

Now, the 17th Amendment if you're not up on your Constitutional Amendments is the one that established direct election of US Senators by the people and not by the state legislatures. There are some compelling reasons to consider the idea, but I'm just not necessarily convinced that's going to solve the underlying problems, which is the paralysis and the general uselessness of the Legislative Branch itself.

The original intent, if anyone can truly know that two centuries later seems to have been to give the states themselves more of a stake in the Federal government that they have now. Simply repealing the 17th Amendment would put the states back in the Senate as it were, but it's not that simple: in times past, the selection of senators took over state politics more or less. You paid attention and vote based on who your candidate was going to pick for Senator. (I'm not sure I agree with the Slate article's contention that state politics are too enmeshed with national politics as it is- it sure feels like that there are plenty of state issues to talk about here in Iowa, for example.)

Ditto with this article. I think the data's there to back up the overall assertion, but I think the conclusion isn't quite right either. In many ways I think the opposite is true- state politics are are more influential on national politics than the other way around. Consider the hole that the Democrats find themselves in- and make no mistake, it's quite the hole- a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Republicans are the dominant party on the state level. Their 'bench strength' is where a lot of their recent success has come from and you only have to look at the number of the Republicans candidates versus the number of Democratic candidates in the last election. The deeper your bench on the state level, the better your national prospects can be.

That outsized influence that state success has on national prospects though is probably where I get off the bus for repealing the 17th Amendment. I just don't think it'll do what they think it'll do. If anything, it'll make it worse. You think Senators elected by their state legislatures would have passed Trumpcare? I don't- especially given the number of Republican governors who took the Medicare expansion and fought against whatever hellish mess the Senate had cooked up in many cases. I also think- especially with the Republican Party, that states tend to swing further to the extremes in some cases than the nation itself. (Witness Kansas and their tax cut fiasco.) Translating that to a national policy perspective might be fitting a round peg in a square hole.

Washington is in chaos. You could argue that it's all part of the plan, but I don't buy that entirely.** I think that  returning to regular order seems like a good idea, but the problems are deeper than that. I'm just not sure that repealing the 17th Amendment is going to provoke Congress to you know, actually do anything.

Therein lies the problem. Congress hasn't actually been doing much of anything at all and it's sapping the strength of our democracy. It forces the Executive to keep grabbing power and governing by the pen but that too, has its drawbacks- what you do by the pen can be undone by the pen just as quickly which makes lasting governance hard to achieve.

So yeah, let's talk about the 17th Amendment. Let's keep talking about how to fix the problems in the Legislative Branch. I'm not convinced that repealing the 17th Amendment is going to help the problems, but sure, let's talk about it. Talking can't hurt.

*I don't really know enough about health care to write on it convincingly or well. I do know a little about politics though in my rough, amateur way and the verdict on this is easy- no one wants to own this issue. If they make it worse, they'll pay the political price for it. So inaction is easier than risking their jobs. Plus: after 8 years of bitching about Obamacare, the fact they didn't have something ready to go from Day 1 makes them looks equally as idiotic. 

**The more I think about it, the more I think the President is like the one person at the cocktail party that says the more inappropriate thing possible to try and ingratiate themselves with the crowd. Like nudging a bunch of Doctors and saying, "hey man, cut off the wrong foot lately?" The kernel of truth to that article is that the President does know how to play the media like a fiddle. Unfortunately, that's all he seems to know how to do some days.