Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Upload Project #10

CD #21 '0404 Mix' with 5 repeats (some of these made me recoil a little bit. Fat Joe? Pre-rehab Eminem? SMH. I had questionable taste in music back in the day.)
Janet Jackson- Just A Little While
Musical Youth- Pass The Dutchie
N.E.R.D- She Wants To Move
The Offspring- Hit That
Prince- 7
Crash Test Dummies- Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Fat Joe w/Ashanti- What's Luv
Traveling Wilburys- Handle With Care
Blondie- Call Me
The Cars- Moving In Stereo
The Gap Band- You Dropped A Bomb On Me
Kinky- Mas Y Mas
Eminem- Superman
The Hives- Hate To Say I Told You So
Red Hot Chili Peppers- Roller Coaster of Love

CD #22, Untitled. A mystery CD that was declared 'unreadable by this computer.'

CD #23 'Ultimate Summer Mix' with too many repeats to count. I'm feeling lazy.
Mungo Jerry- Summer Time
Inner Circle- Sweat
The Corrs- Summer Sunshine
Katrina and The Waves- Walking On Sunshine
Jason Mraz- The Remedy
Joe Walsh- Rocky Mountain Way
War- Low Rider

CD #24, School of Rock Mix
Cream- White Room
The Who- Magic Bus
Jimi Hendrix- Hey Joe
Janis Joplin- Me and Bobby McGree
Traffic- Dear Mr. Fantasy
Led Zeppelin- What Is And What Should Never Be
CCR- Down On The Corner
Aerosmith- Same Old Song and Dance
Sex Pistols- Anarchy For The UK
Ramones- Beat On The Brat
AC/DC- Back In Black
Bruce Springsteen- Born To Run
Red Hot Chili Peppers- Give It Away Now
Nirvana- Smells Like Teen Spirit
White Stripes- Seven Nation Army

CD #25, Cold and Lonely Days Mix (This one caused me a certain amount of trepidation, because I have no earthly idea what could be on here, but it was actually a pretty decent CD.)
The Cure- Boys Don't Cry
The Smiths- How Soon Is Now?
Three Dog Night- One
Nirvana- Heart Shaped Box
Warren Zevon- Poor Pitiful Me
Jimi Hendrix- Manic Depression
Johnny Cash- A Satisfied Mind
Santana- Samba Pa Ti
Pearl Jam- Black
Evanescene- Going Under
Counting Crows- Round Here
Sheryl Crow- Can't Cry Anymore
Alice In Chains- Man In The Box
Janis Joplin- Cry Baby
Fleetwood Mac- I'm So Afraid
Stone Temple Pilots- Big Empty
The Beatles- Eleanor Rigby
Oasis- Wonderwall

CD #26, Break Up Mix (Oh boy. Again, no idea who/what prompted this and was honestly expecting a lot more cringeworthy stuff.)
Fleetwood Mac- Go Your Own Way
No Doubt- Don't Speak
INXS- Need You Tonight
Janet Jackson- Miss You Much
Barenaked Ladies- Thanks That Was Fun
Stevie Nicks- Too Far From Texas
The Beatles- We Can Work It Out
Paul Simon- 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
Pink Floyd- In The Flesh?
Pink Floyd- The Thin Ice
Evanescene- My Immortal
The Smiths- Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
The Cure- Friday I'm In Love
Bruce Springsteen- Hungry Heart
Eurythmics- Here Comes The Rain Again
Bob Marley- No Woman, No Cry
Pearl Jam- Alive
Fleetwood Mac- Dreams

CD #27, Super Cyber Mix (buncha repeats, but this is what I got from it.)
Outkast- B.O.B
Mark Morrison- Return Of The Mack
Counting Crows- Accidentally In Love
Kinks- Destroyers
The Vapors- I'm Turning Japanese
Green Day- Longview
EMF- Unbelievable
Sweet- Ballroom Blitz
The Guess Who- No Sugar Tonight
Thin Lizzy- The Boys Are Back In Town

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Netflix & Chill #29: The Big Sick

Watched On: Redbox
Released: 2017
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Pick: Mine

I've been listening to various Nerdist podcasts on and off for a couple of years now, so both Kumail Nanjiani and his now wife, Emily V. Gordon and their story were somewhat familiar to me going into this movie and having heard both of them on a podcast here and there, I found them both to be funny, intelligent and engaging so I was all about tracking this movie down and watching it. (If for no other reason than to find out what the mysterious illness affecting Emily actually was- the podcasts/interviews I've listened to with them have made reference to it without actually coming out and saying what it is- at least, not that I can remember.)

So, the movie opens with Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a young Chicago comedian who performs at night and drives for Uber during the day. He was a one man show about his Pakistani background, but no faith in Islam, something that he hides from his very Muslim family. His immigrant parents are both trying to push the idea of an arranged marriage onto him and he politely plays along but has no interest in it whatsoever.

At a show one night, he gets heckled by Emily (Zoe Kazan) who is white and not Muslim. He approaches her after the show and their one night stand eventually develops into a relationship. Kumail doesn't tell his family about his relationship because he knows that they will disapprove, but eventually, Emily finds a box with pictures of all the women that his parents are trying to set him up with and when asked, Kumail admits he doesn't see a long term future with her due to his families expectations. Emily then breaks up with him.

Kumail then gets a call that Emily has fainted and in the hospital. A doctor then tells him that she has a serious lung infection and must be placed in a coma and intubation. He signs the permission form and ends up calling the parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano.) They know that Kumail and Emily have broken up and tell him that he's not needed, but he ends up sticking around anyway and the three become close as they try and figure out what's going on with Emily.

Kumail's parents visit his apartment, pissed off that he's not getting on board with their marriage plans and Kumail ends up telling them everything and he disowns them. When Emily's condition takes a turn for the worst, he also ends up bombing his audition for the Montreal Comedy Festival, telling the audience talking about his fears and distress at her situation.

But then- she wakes up! Turns out it was adult-onset Still's Disease, which is rare, but treatable. Emily, however, still doesn't want him back- either at the Hospital or later, when he asks her to take him back at her homecoming party. He then decides to move to New York City with two comedian friends of his. He tells his family about the plan and refuses to let them disown him. Emily finds a video of Kumail's audition failure and goes to visit him after his one-man show to thank him for all he did for her while she was in a coma.

Flash forward a month or two and Kumail gets heckled by someone at a performance in New York. He looks- and it turns out that it's Emily.

Overall: I loved this movie. It was sweet, romantic, funny and original. Didn't fall into any of the usual romantic comedy tropes- probably helped a lot by the fact that it was based on a true story. Holly Hunter is awesome and should be in all the things and Ray Romano is more than a match for her as Emily's Dad and turns in a great performance of his own. My Grade: **** out of ****, The Missus' Grade: *** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, October 28, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #235

Our tour of Germany comes to an end this week with the state of Mecklenberg-Vorpommern (or, as I'm going to refer to it as to avoid constantly misspelling 'Vorpommern', Mecklenberg-West Pomerania). Meck-Pomm rounds us out not only with an interesting flag, but because of the ancestral roots of The Missus' maiden name, 'Bandow'- wherever the first Bandows came from, they came from here, so I think it's nice to give the place a shout out!

The northeastern 'shoulder' of German, Meck-Pomm is the band that just keeps getting back together. They were apart, they merged after World War II, split again in 1952 and got back together once more after German unification in 1990. They are, if that's possible, kind of like the Alaska of Germany in that they're one of the larger states (6th biggest by area) but it's also the least densely populated state. A glance through their delightful Wikipage reveals it to be a scenic and beautiful place right along the Baltic Coast. And, random factoid: The University of Rostock (est 1419) and the University of Greifswald (est 1456) call the state home and are among the oldest universities in Europe.

So, let's talk about this flag:
When the band got back together in 1990, there were actually five different flag proposals put forward for the new state, but none were really liked by German vexillologists and if you go and look at them, you can sort of see why. (Proposals 1 and 2 aren't bad, but don't exactly make your socks go up and down either. Proposal 3 is just... weird. Like a picture in picture TV but in flag form. Proposal 4...  just no... the different widths of the stripes just mess with my head. Proposal 5 seems like a decent design but there needs to be fewer colors.) So, a member of the Meck-Pomm parliament by the name of Norbert Buske came up with the we see right here.

Basically, the flag is a merger of symbols and flags of both regions that made up the new state. The flag of Mecklenberg was a horizontal tricolor of blue-gold-red, while the Prussian Province of Pomerania had a bicolor of blue and white (which had been around since 1882.) The two symbols in the center reflect the merger as well- the bull's head is seen on the arms of Mecklenburg, while the red griffin hails from the arms of Pomerania. The actual arms of the state also include the eagle of Brandenburg, but don't get included on the flag.

I'm not sure why this flag gets the haterade flung at it from professional vexillologists. I think this is a perfect pleasant looking merger of the two states... I will agree that the yellow line running through the middle is a little distracting, but not ridiculously so. And it sure beats any of the original proposals floated in 1990.

And that's the end of our German tour... remember, until next time keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The City Council Endorsements

It's almost November and that means Election Day is right around the corner for local offices, including Iowa City's own City Council! To be honest, I haven't really been as plugged into this race as I have in years past. I've never been very impressed with our City Council and I'm still sort of mad at myself that I let the Charter Review process sort of slip by me without even going to a meeting. (Sidebar: I honestly don't know where we're gonna be ten years from now, but damn it, I want to go to a meeting about shit like this next time! Iowa City deserves a directly elected mayor and I hate that City Council Districts don't mean shit, because the entire city can vote on the District races as well. My District should have it's own representation voted on by my district, damn it!)

But here we are again for another election and I'm actually rather pleased to find our new house in the southern end of District B, which means that we've actually got some skin in the District B game for once. I did some digging on the Gazette to get some candidate profiles for Susan Mims and Angela Winnike, but Ryan Hall, Mazahir Salih and Kingsley Botchway all have websites that are worth going too as well. Local political blogger John Deeth also has a pretty good breakdown on the local council race and the prospects for a resurgence of the Old Townie Guard in 2019. (In general, I agree with a lot of what Deeth says about local politics especially- perhaps less so with his thoughts on national politics. I think he's entirely correct about his City Council forecast, it's just that my thoughts on the new progressive majority are what they usually are when we get progressiv-ish candidates: what are they going to actually do?)

So, to the Endorsements!

For The At-Large Seats:

Mazahir Salih gets my nod right off the bat- like many candidates running this time around, 'affordable housing' seems to be the new hot issue for local politics, which to me is the biggest, 'no duh' issue of all time. Housing in Iowa City is ridiculous and the Missus and I both have pretty good jobs. If we didn't, it'd be damn near impossible to afford to live here. We're fortunate in that regard, but a lot of the community isn't. I hope that this focus on affordable housing includes upping the city's housing authority to actually bring some landlords to heel so we don't end up with another Rose Oaks fiasco ever again. While I hated that poor people were essentially evicted because of shitty landlords that had run that complex into the ground, the City should have the authority to make sure complexes like that never get to the point where the only viable solution is to gut them and start over. (I honestly don't know where they have the authority to do that or not, they might already- but if they don't, they need it and if they do, they need to get after the problem a bit better than they have.)

Salih also identifies the need to upgrade and maybe even regionalize local public transportation, which I like and also supports vibrant neighborhoods and community engagement- like making sure interpreters/translators are available for folks that need them. (I did kind of raise an eyebrow at "We need a serious focus on racial justice in policing," partially because I know my Day Job is doubling down on community policing and engagement and it seems like ICPD is following a similar trajectory that should help in that regard and partially because it's Johnson County and well, you should expect candidates for local office to say things like this. Either way, my philosophy working in and around LE has always been: 'Never stop looking for ways to do your job better' so there's always work to be done.)

Kingsley Botchway gets the second nod for the At-Large Seats. He's an incumbent and running for re-election and in general I tend to be anti-incumbent, but he's also done a good job. (As in: he hasn't popped on my radar for supporting something I vehemently disagree with.) Botchway is also a fan of affordable housing- so that's a +1 in his favor. He wants 'smart growth' to "support our local, small business throughout Iowa City." He also wants to "become a leader in addressing mental health through training and providing adequate funding." (I'm not sure if this is just in general or aimed at law enforcement specifically, but if you don't know this, you should, but my Day Job and agencies across the county are doubling down on this as well. I think the goal is to have most every police officer trained in Crisis Intervention and there's a Mobile Crisis Team on call for mental health issues- one of the many reasons I'm proud to work at the ol'Day Job. There's always things we can do better, but there's plenty we're doing right.)

For District B:

This was a tough one to call. I like that there's a Student Government Liason on the City Council, but I also agree that the student community despite their transitory nature is a permanent part of our community and has been underrepresented on the Council itself for decades now. So I don't hate the idea of someone like Ryan Hall running for City Council. I was a fan (and probably voted for, but can't actually remember now) Raj Patel when he ran a few cycles back, but the problem students have in running for City Council is that they usually have about as much chance as Frosty The Snowman surviving a dip in a volcano. I feel like Hall's progressive credentials and unabashedly progressive platform will undoubtedly appeal to a large chunk of the electorate, but it's the lack of specifics that bothers me. 

For instance, his website, while very pretty is long on statements like this: "Ending policies and practices that segregate wealth and race in Iowa City" and "Opening City Hall to all people" and "Cooperation among generations." I find these statements frustrating and puzzling. City Hall, unless it's closed, is open to all people last I checked. (Don't believe me? Just go and walk in. See. Problem solved.) Cooperation among generations? A nice sentiment to be sure, but what does it mean? And the policies and practices that segregate wealth and race in Iowa City? What are they? What does that mean? To be fair to Hall, his Gazette profile has a lot more specifics, but it's... still not enough. And when the Daily Iowan throws down with a column like this*, maybe your student support isn't as deep as you think it is. (Though again, to be fair, the premise of the column is somewhat flawed. Hall does have an address listed in District B. Barely in District B, but in there nonetheless.)

Alas, for Hall, he didn't close the deal- at least with me. So, Susan Mims gets the nod for District B. She's been a solid presence on the Council for awhile now and again, like Mr. Botchway, she hasn't popped on my radar for supporting something I vehemently disagree with. Her Gazette Candidate profile hits all the high points in terms of supporting inclusive zoning, affordable housing, but it was what was buried at the bottom of the profile that caught my eye. She supports the creation of a Behavioral Access Center for individuals in crisis, which would add an option for officers dealing with these people- other than the jail or the Emergency Room. I had no idea such a notion was even on somebody's radar, but I'm all about it.

*The author of this column may not be H.L. Mencken, but as DI Columnists go, she's turning into a consistently interesting read whose opinions often 'zig' when you'd expect a typical DI Columnist to 'zag' as it were. If you're a regular DI reader (which admittedly, I am not) make sure you read her stuff- it's worth checking out.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Boozehound Unfiltered: With A Name Like Cockburns, It's Gotta Be Good

Boozehound this month is stepping away from whiskey to take a dip into the deep and wide ocean that is the Wonderful World of Port. This means, before we plunge into our review of Cockburn's Special Reserve we have to answer the most basic question of all: just what the hell is port anyway?

Well, at it's most basic: it's a fortified wine made with grapes from the Douro River Valley in Northern Portugal. It's a bit more complicated than that in terms of the varieties of port and different shades and the like, but that's essentially it in a sentence. The grapes from the Douro get made into wine and then, they add a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente. This has the effect of stopping the fermentation process and leaving residual sugar in the wine and in a nice twist also boosts the alcohol content on this delicious stuff, so it's good times all round!

The World of Port is a delicious and, if you have the benjamins to spend, expensive place to explore- and it's not really my forte, so I had to call some experts (The Parentals, specifically, my Mom) to get some more knowledge:

First up, "What's the best bottle of port you've ever had?"
1963. We have had Taylor's Dow, Croft and Fonseca of that year. They were all excellent, memorable ports but the Croft was the best. Vintage port represents the best produce of a single outstanding year- not all years produce a vintage port. They improve over decades!!!!
Can confirm. I can't remember which one of these I was allowed (emphasis on allowed) to sample, but it was delicious in the best sense of the world. Plus, the fun with vintage ports is the age of some of these bottles. It's kind of cool to think about drinking something that was bottled decades ago. The downside to vintage port is that you need money to really play the game.

Second, on decanting (which is basically pouring all the port out into another jug/container):
I would decant any port as the air affects the taste. You could probably decant a young port a couple of hours before drinking, a vintage port needs to be decanted longer so I would decant in the morning if it's to be drunk at night. Decanting is an interesting thing, wines also benefit from being exposed to the air. Port should be drunk at room temp.
All right. So you can decant the regular stuff as well as the fancy vintage stuff...  good to know! And the difference between 'tawny' versus 'ruby' ports?
The difference is the amount of time they have spent in the cask. Tawny ports have maybe been in the wood casks ten or twenty years. The date on the bottle is when it is taken from the casks and put in the bottles. Vintage ports are bottled after a couple of years in the cask and they continue to age in the bottle. Vintage ports are bottled after a couple of years in the cask and they continue to age in the bottle. So ruby ports taste 'fresh', 'young'. Tawny ports are not as sweet as ruby ones.
So where does that leave us for our bottle of the month? Let's give it a taste and find out- before we dive into the tasting itself, though, a word on methodology: in general, I approached this tasting the same way I do whiskey sampling and tasting, which may not be the correct way to go about this at all, but it's worked well for me so far, let's talk about some Cockburns Special Reserve:

Color: Deep, rich, red... it's a ruby port, so I has a lovely color to it.

Nose: Deep, rich, dark fruits... black cherries, plums, I want to say raspberries as well- but that doesn't seem quite right. (I'm not up on my fruit terminology- are black raspberries even a thing?).

Body: It sits nicely on the tongue- but then again, I assume it's supposed to do that. Wine doesn't really have the same spectrum of viscosity that whiskey does. Also, dark chocolate would pair really, really well with this.

Overall: This warms you up nicely and it's a beautiful nightcap to end your day. 10/10 would drink again. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Netflix & Chill #28: Wonder Woman

Watched On: Redbox
Released: 2017
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Pick: Mine

I've been wanting to see Wonder Woman ever since it was in the theaters over the summer, so once I saw that it had arrived on Redbox, I snatched up immediately to see for myself if it was as good as advertised. Turns out, the hype is real, the movie is excellent and I'll go one step further: this might be the best DC Comics movie yet.

The movie opens in present-day Paris, where Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who works as an art restorer (which is a nice touch that I enjoyed) receives a photographic plate of herself and four men taken during World War I.  Looking at the photo, she remembers her past. She was raised on the hidden islands of Themyscira, home of the Amazons, who were created by Zeus to protect mankind. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) reveals the rest of their history- how Ares, son of Zeus, became jealous of humanity and tried to destroy it and when the gods attempted to stop him, he killed them all except Zeus, who wounded Ares* and forced his retreat. As a last weapon and protection against Ares, Zeus hides the Amazons and leaves them with a weapon, 'The Godkiller' to prepare them for the return of Ares.

Initially forbidding Diana to train as a warrior, Hippolyta eventually relents and lets her sister, Antiope (Robin Wright) to train Diana, but only if it's the more rigorous than that of any other warrior. In 1918, now grown into a young woman, the outside world finally intrudes upon the hidden island of the Amazons when an American pilot by the name of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on the island and Diana saves him. A German cruiser follows him in hot pursuit and the Amazons kill the crew, but at the cost of Antiope, who sacrifices herself to save Diana.

Under interrogation from the Lasso of Hestia, Steve reveals that a war is consuming the outside world and he had stolen the book of a chemist, Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya) who was working General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) to create a more deadly version of mustard gas to be released at the Western Front. Believing the war to be the work of Ares, Diana arms herself with the Lasso and the Godkiller sword and leaves the island with Steve to track down Ares.

They get Maru's notebook to the Supreme War Council, where Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) is trying to negotiate an armistice. Initially opposed to them trying to destroy the gas, Sir Patrick gives Steve enough money to put together a team and head over to Germany to find the gas and confront Maru and Luddendorf, which, of course, they do and Ares reveals himself in the process. The final confrontation comes at a high price for Diana though and back in the present, she emails Bruce Wayne to thank him for the picture and reaffirms her mission to protect the world.

I loved this movie. This was a Super Hero origin done perfectly. They didn't fling gobs of mythology at you. They didn't leave you hanging for a sequel to finish the story. This was the complete story of how Wonder Woman came to be Wonder Woman and they could not have done a better job telling it. I love, love, loved their choice of World War I for the period. I think the carnage and destruction of the First World War really brings home the idea that Ares was loose in the world in a way that no other conflict could have- plus, you don't often see portrayals of American soldiers in The Great War, so that was a nice change of pace as well.

The Amazons of Themyscira felt fully formed and three dimensional- they were no tropes or cliches at work here. They were strong women, fully capable of kicking ass and taking names, which is exactly how they should be!

Overall: The introduction of Wonder Woman was probably one of the best parts- if not the best part of Batman vs Superman- Gal Gadot continues to shine in the role in her first solo outing as Wonder Woman. I'm not a huge DC Comics person...  other than Smallville and Supergirl, I just can't seem to get into Superman on a movie level. Batman has had some good outings on the silver screen over the years but neither of the other 'big three' have hit their movie debuts as far out of the park as Wonder Woman did. Mission very much accomplished and bring on the next movie! My Grade: **** out of ****

*I was a major mythology nerd when I was a kid, so this portrayal of Ares sort of bugs me. Especially the fact that he kills all the other Gods. I never found Ares to be all that sympathetic in Greek myths as a kid, but he never struck me as that much of a villain either- the same way that Disney butchers their Hercules by making Hades into the bad guy. Of all the movies and television shows out there, oddly enough it's Kevin Sorbo and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys that probably come close to getting it right, making Hera the great (and somewhat justifiable, given her husband's infidelities) villain. Just a minor, minor nitpick.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #234

I was going to look at the flag of Hesse this week, but decided it was kind of boring (there are multiple red over white horizontal bicolors out there. Even if it's defaced with the Coat of Arms, it's still kind of 'meh') so switched it up to take a look at the flag of Saarland instead!


Right off the bat this proved to be an interesting choice, because outside of the city-states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg, Saarland is Germany's smallest state in both population and area. Historically, it's also something of an interesting anomaly, because prior to the aftermath of World War I, when it came into being as 'The Territory of the Saar Basin' it hadn't existed as an entity at all. Parts of it had been Bavarian, parts Prussian- but there had been no Saar before The League of Nations upped and created it.

The inhabitants voted (90.8% of them) to rejoined Germany in 1935, but post-World War II from 1947 until 1956, it was a French occupied territory distinct and separate from the rest of Germany. Between 1950 and 1956 it was a member of the Council of Europe and was actually offered independence in a 1955 referendum, but voters decided to rejoin West Germany instead and even then, they kept using their own currency for another three years. (The Saar franc).

Historically, their flag has undergone quite an evolution- starting as this, from 1919-1935:



And then after World War II, moving to this:


Before adopting it's current flag in 1957:  the Post-World War II flag has obvious connections to the flag of France, which had control over the place at the time. It's essentially the colors of the French flag split by a Scandanavian cross. The League of Nations era flag (1919-1935) is also interesting, because it bears a close resemblance to the current flag of Estonia- though the order of the colors is different and the Estonian shade of blue is decidedly lighter.

The current flag (seen above) is based on the flag of Germany, but defaced by the Coat of Arms of the Saarland- which, despite my lack of knowledge about heraldry (something I may want to remedy at some point) is actually pretty simple to break down. The first quarter of the shield (upper left) is the arms of Prince of Nassau-Saarbrucken, the second quarter (upper right) are the arts of the prince-elector and Archbishop of Trier, the third quarter (lower left) are the arms of the duchy of Lorraine and the final quarter (lower right) are the arms of the prince elector Palatinate. Together, they represent the four historical entities that had a chunk of Saarland back in the day.

And that's the unusual vexillological history of Germany's smallest state!

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bookshot #101: Hyperion

I had no idea what to expect when I picked up Hyperion. I had seen Dan Simmons books before- with interesting titles like Illium and Olympos they had always vaguely intrigued me, but I had no idea what to expect when I actually sat down and cracked open one of his books. Put it this way, if you've ever had that dangerous, snobbish thought that 'science fiction isn't real literature' well, you need to go and read Hyperion. Because it's not just good science fiction, it's genre bending, excellent literature, packed full of references to religion, classic literature, poetry- so many it made my head spin at various points. When I finished this, I almost, almost ran to Wikipedia to spoil the sequel for myself, but I turned away. I made myself wait. Because as with all good literature and great books,  I can't wait to see what happens next.

In the far future of the 27th Century, humanity has spread across the galaxy with a core of worlds being connected through a 'farcaster' network which permits instantaneous travel and other worlds, not connected to the main 'World Web' being reachable by spaceships and thus subjecting travelers to time dilation or 'time debts' that are accrued using this slower method of travel. Higher technology of the 'Hegemony of Man' is run by the TechnoCore, a group of AIs that live apart from humanity and (it is revealed) have obsessions and agendas of their own. Outside of both the Hegemony and the TechnoCore, you have the Ousters space based 'barbarians' that live at the fringes of explored space and have, over the centuries gone to war with the Hegemony.

Now, the galaxy stands at the brink of war once more- this time, everyone seems to be converging on the mysterious world of Hyperion where the inexplicable Time Tombs (which are moving backwards in time) stand and where the mysterious Shrike lives. There's a whole cult/church following of the Shrike and pilgrims in groups of prime numbers set out to seek audiences with the Shrike and, tradition states all but one of the pilgrims are slaughtered and the remaining one is granted a wish.

Now, one final journey has been granted before the war begins and seven strangers are thrust together. To pass the time on their journey from their space ship to their meeting with the Shrike, they each tell their story and one by one each reveals their reason for coming back to Hyperion and what they hope to learn from the Shrike. After the tales are told, the book ends with the reaching the valley where the Shrike lives and heading down to find out what happens next.

(I really don't want to spoil any of the tales of the pilgrims themselves. Needless to say, they all bring a piece of the puzzle to the table that gets put together in a fantastic ending that leaves you ready to throw the book across the room in frustration because you want to know what happens next...)

Looking into this book a little more, you find that Chaucer's Cantebury Tales and the Decameron were influences on the structure of the book (both have different tales from multiple travelers/characters that interlock to tell a story) but while that deals with the structure, each tale of the pilgrim also occupies a different genre/style of writing that makes reading this book an amazing experience. The first tale, 'The Man Who Cried God' is about the Priest, Lenar Hoyt and his journey to help his mentor, Father Paul Dure- that one seems to going one way and then turned and heads in the direction of horror. 'The War Lovers' feels like military science fiction, 'The Poet's Tale' is more autobiographical, 'The Scholar's Tale' is the story of a family dealing with a devastating disease, 'The Long Goodbye' feels like a hard bitten noir detective novel and 'Remembering Siri' feels like a tragedy/romance. It's amazing how effortless the tone of each tale shifts as you move through the book and the various tragedies and loves of each character feel incredibly real, despite the fact that you only really get to know them for one portion of the book.

I have no idea what happens next... I've got a few books I've got to get through before I get back to the library again, but when I do, I hope it'll be to pick up the sequel to this book, The Fall of Hyperion.

Overall: Not at all what I was expecting, the writing is amazingly good, the story and characters are beautifully formed and written and this is epic literature in every sense of the word. Don't ever let anyone tell you that science fiction can't be real literature ever again, because Hyperion is all of that and more. **** out of ****

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Albums2010 #94: Singles

I remember seeing Future Islands perform on Letterman a couple of years back and thinking to myself, 'man, I should check these dudes out' and three years and one Men In Blazers Pod Special later, here we are, finally sitting down to check out their 2014 album, Singles.

The first thing that jumps out at you about Future Islands is the music itself. It feels like synthpop, but a Wikipedia dive into the band's page reveals that prefer to consider themselves post-wave, which combines "the romanticism of new wave with the power and drive of post-punk" which actually sums up their music nicely. It feels like new wave- the lyrics are often sad and tinged with melancholy, but it's not happy boppy 80s style music either- it's got an edge and drive to it that makes it stand out immediately. They cite (again from their wiki-page) New Order, Joy Division, Kim Seal, The Cure and Smashing Pumpkins as influences, all of which I can see, but curiously absent from the list is Depeche Mode, whose new wave darkness seems like a distant cousin to what Future Islands is putting down here.

The vocals of lead singer Samuel T. Herring also stand out. I've always been a sucker for unique and different voices- Kate Bush, Tom Waits and the like and Herring jumps onto that list with his voice which manages to soar and growl and sound utterly unique. (Contributing factor, again- another interesting tidbit mined from their wiki-page, Herring was diagnosed with Reinke's edema in 2014. Which I guess meant that he was no longer able to hit high notes as well as he once could)

But what about the album itself?

Well, the lead off single is 'Seasons (Waiting On You)' which is certainly the song of their that I knew the best and is a genuinely awesome song, but don't think that the rest of the album is somehow a let down. Immediately, the second track, 'Spirit' grabs you immediately and in general, the front half of the album is amazing. (Well, really the whole album is amazing, but the songs that seem to be sticking in my brain the most: 'Back In The Tall Grass', 'Doves' and 'Sun In The Morning.')

Clocking in at 42 minutes, it's length feels just about perfect. There's none of the quick succession you'd expect from a punk album, but there's also none of the slow ponderous conceptual nonsense you can find on a lot of progressive rock/concept albums out there either.

Would I buy this album? Now, that to me as interesting question about all of this. I think I would, but the reason I started this whole series, two blogs and seven years ago now was to explore the idea that we just don't sit down and listen to albums anymore. I think iTunes sort of broke the concept of an album, but services like Spotify are restoring it to some degree. Most of the music I review now (which again, I'm not that good at, I know) I listen to on Spotify, which I think gives you the ability to listen to one album of an artist and the freedom to explore their entire discography if you really want too.

Overall: Excellent album. Will listen to more Future Islands and 10/10 would buy this album. My Grade: **** out of ****

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Netflix & Chill #27: No Reservations

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2007
Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Clarkson, Bob Balaban
Rotten Tomatoes: 42%
Pick: Mine 

So, I watched Burnt last week and was sort of unimpressed with it but I kept seeing No Reservations float past me on the old Netflix app and I thought, why not give another food-based movie a go? So, we went old schoolish and fired it up.

Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as Kate Armstrong, the head chef of a trendy New York restaurant which Wikipedia informs is called 22 Bleecker Street and is in the West Village of New York. (Neither of which is all that relevant to the film itself, but Wikipedia thinks it is important.) Kate is driven, obsessed with making the most perfect food possible and runs her kitchen at a breakneck pace. She intimidates everyone around her, including her boss (Patricia Clarkson) who sends her to therapy (with her therapist, played by Bob Balaban.) Kate hates leaving the kitchen to take compliments, but is all too ready to leave the kitchen to deal with customers who insult her cooking.

All in all, she is very very good at her job, has a life she loves, all of which gets derailed her sister is killed in a car accident and her nine year old niece (Abigail Breslin) has to move in with her. Kate is devastated by her sister's death and is struggling to adjust with a nine year old in the house and to top it all off, her boss decided to hire a new sous chef, Nick (Aaron Eckhart) to help out while Kate is adjusting and getting her life back together.

Nick is the polar opposite of Kate. He loves food, he loves to listen to opera, he likes making people laugh and he is the kind of rising star that Kate immediately realizes could be running his own kitchen anywhere. Nick, however, insists that he wants to work with Kate because she's the best. A strange attraction grows between the two of them despite Kate's best efforts to resist it. They both love food and Nick develops a special bond with Zoe as well. All of it gets derailed when Kate's boss offers Nick her job and Kate's pride almost ruins everything until she realizes that she needs to overcome her pride and jump into something good with...  no reservations!

(See what I did there. You see it...  right?)

The movie ends with Nick and Kate happily in love and running their own bistro with Zoe.

I'm not sure I knew this, but apparently this is a remake of a German film called Mostly Martha, which I'm now curious about- I haven't done any digging yet to see if it's available on any streaming platforms, but if it is, you can be sure you'll see a review of it right here. As a movie, No Reservations comes up short. As a romantic comedy goes, it's not bad. It's a flavor of romantic comedy you've seen before and you can more or less predict how it's all going to work in the end. The food scenes are excellent, but the plot could use some work. Overall, I think if you like romantic comedies and haven't seen this one yet, then give it a watch. You'll be entertained enough- but as 'food movies' go, No Reservations comes up short. My Grade: ** out of ****

Saturday, October 14, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #233

Our tour of Germany continues this week and we're moving to the other end of the size spectrum by taking a look at the flag of Germany's smallest state- The Free Hanseatic City of Bremen.


So before we plunge into what's up with this cool looking flag, we've got to take a slight historical detour to talk about the Hanseatic League, since it's sort of relevant here. Basically, the Hanseatic League sort of emerged as a commercial and defensive confederation of Northern German cities in the 1100s and rose to be the chief commercial power in the Baltic for nearly three centuries before declining in the middle 1400s and petering out by 1669, when only nine members attended the last formal meeting of the League. Three cities remained as members until it's final demise in 1862 and those are the three cities that retain 'Hanseatic City' in their official titles: Lubeck, Hamburg and of course, Bremen.

The League has modern legacies in the German airline Lufthansa, F.C. Hansa Rostock and the Hansa Brewery in Bergen among many. Lubeck also gets big ups for resfusing let Hitler speak there during his 1932 election campaign. He ended up speaking in some place called Bad Schwartau on the outskirts of Lubeck and apparently afterward only ever referred to the Lubeck as "the small city close to Bad Schwartau."

Today, the state of Bremen consists of the city of Bremen and about forty minutes down the river Weser, the city of Bremerhaven- so it's technically two separate enclaves.

But finally, finally, we can talk about the flag of Bremen! There's not much I can find on the specific meaning of the flag- except that it's known as the Speckflagge, or the Bacon Flag. (Coolest. Flag. Ever.) It's got eight equal horizontal stripes of red alternating with white and it's checked at the hoist. There's a couple of other versions as well. The Staatsflagge has eight instead of twelve stripes as is defaced with the Coat of Arms of Bremen. The Dienstflagge der bremischen schiffahrt it's used on state buildings for shipping and navigation as well as the jack on Bremen's ships.

I don't know if or when I'll ever get over to Germany, but I think just the sheer amount of history as well as the geographical uniqueness of the area puts Bremen high on my list of places to visit when I do. Plus, it's the Bacon Flag! It can't get any better than that.

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Sportsyball!

Adopt-A-Team: Maybe I should stop following teams around...  it's too early to tell, but I either suck at picking teams at random or I just seem to select teams doomed to mid-table obscurity. But it's early in the season, so there's still time for Defensa Y Justicia to make some noise, but so far...  it's been kind of a rough start:

L to Temperley (Copa Argentina)
D with Gimnasia
W over Estudiantes
L to Union
L to Colon
D with Huracan
L to River Plate (Copa Argentina)

Not a rousing start to the season so far! 2 draws, 1 win and 2 losses. I did do a little more digging on my team though and found out that the club has been around since 1935- but in kind of a bummer bit of news, there's nothing out there about how the club got it's name. The colors of green and yellow were the colors of the bus line 'El Halcon', which belonged to a former club president- it's also where they get their nick name of 'The Hawks' or 'El Halcones' which is kind of cool I guess.

Black Tuesday: For the first time since 1986, the US Men's National Team failed to qualify for the World Cup. The post-mortems have been coming down all week, but I don't know what's worse. The fact that the Men's Team put itself in this position and thus was forced into a 'win or die' situation heading into the Hex that was just begging for a slip-up given their maddeningly inconsistent play during qualification. The game against Panama put us into a simple position. Win and you're in. Tie and you might be okay. But for cryin' out loud, don't lose...  and yet, that's exactly what we did against Trinidad and Tobago. Fair play to them. I didn't even watch the damn game, because Trinidad and Tobago were at the bottom of the group and after the victory over Panama, I figured there's no way, no way, that we would lose. Until we did.

So, we put ourselves in this situation. That was bad enough. The salt in the wound is this bullshit: the ball didn't fucking go in! HOW IS THERE NOT GOAL LINE TECHNOLOGY ALL OVER THE WORLD IN EVERY GAME? This also more or less sums it up.

I don't know how Bruce Arena still has a job. When England lost to Iceland in the Euros, Roy Hodgson had the decency to quit almost before they had even walked off the damn field. Arena should have resigned last night. Sunil Gulati, President of US Soccer? He's done bunches for the game, but he's gotta go too. We're not Germany. We're not Brazil. We're not Argentina. We're not England. We're not asking to WIN the World Cup every four years... but qualifying in our region should not be a difficult bar to clear. It's not an unreasonable ask, given the level of talent and the sheer number of athletes in this country. And if you can't get it done, then you gotta go.

I have no idea how I'm going to channel this depression into something useful, but I might officially join the American Outlaws. That seems like a decent idea to look into.

MLS Quest: I remain a terrible excuse for an MLS Fan... I will attempt to do better heading into the playoffs, but my tally is at:

FC Dallas
Minnesota United

Shout-out to the Missus, who liked the looks of these two teams the best. I'm going to consult the Elder Spawn to see which one he likes best and I think that might do it. (You'll find out soooooon!) In the meantime, in the wake of the USMNT crashing out of the World Cup, finding an MLS Team and making a concerted effort to care about the domestic league seems more important than ever.

COYG: Oddly enough, the ship has tentatively righted itself since the disaster at Liverpool. Since then, Arsenal's fortunes have looked like this:

W vs Bournemouth
W vs FC Koln
D vs Chelsea
W vs Doncaster
W vs West Brom
W vs Bate Borisov
W vs Brighton

I'll take it. They're currently sitting in 5th in the table, lurking behind Chelsea on goal differential. I'm sure that I should just enjoy this good feeling while it lasts, but I'm pleasantly surprised. Weirdly, I think the tactical challenge of balancing multiple competitions is actually bringing out the best in Wenger and Company so far. There's pitfalls ahead: Ozil and Sanchez are probably gone and for free as well, the ownership is still dreadful, while a draw against Chelsea is always nice, results against the top 4 are going to make or break the season. If they can start snatching a victory or two against the big boys, I'll move from 'tenatively righted' to 'cautious optimstic.' Until then, Come On You Gunners!!!!!

Hawkeye Football: So, we're 4-2 which is nothing to sneeze at, given we had a new starting quarterback heading into the season and lots of question marks all over the place. Despite the frustrations of the Michigan State loss, I don't think water is coming over the sides. The outlines of a really interesting offense are all there, it's just the execution is lacking. Stanley has the arm to toss balls down the field with accuracy and his misses so far seem to be a combination of overthrows and our receivers not catching them. One of these games, he's going to connect and that will be an interesting game indeed.

Our defense has been a pleasant surprise so far this season and their performance against Penn State was nothing short of legendary. I was honestly chewing my nails expecting them to get gassed by the end of that game, but in a weird twist, it seemed to be Penn State's offense that gassed out a little bit until that final drive put a dagger in our hearts. Here's how I see it the rest of the way:

at Northwestern: W
vs Minnesota, W
vs Ohio State L
at Wisconsin L
vs Purdue W
at Nebraska W

I guess this means I have them going 8-4 and heading to a decent bowl game. But I can also see 6-6 and 7-5 easily enough as well. (Northwestern on the road worries me, but it's the one victory I demand for my Christmas letter!) If this is a typical Ferentz era team and it starts to peak once we get into November, then I could see them snatching either a victory against Wisconsin or Ohio State but I could also see them losing both of those. Ohio State seems to be finding it's footing and looking more Ohio State-like after  a sleepy start versus Indiana and a loss against Oklahoma. Wisconsin is always tough on the road. Of course, if we beat one or both of those two, I can see us losing to Purdue as well. Just because that would be a very Iowa thing to do.

Knowing Iowa, I'm sure there are going to be maddening losses, agonizingly close wins and a sweet, sweet victory or two down the stretch. I would say that it would be a huge (yuuuuuuuge) disappointment not to get to 6 wins and a Bowl Game of some variety, but based on what we've seen so far, I think this team has more than 6 wins in it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tom Petty, 1950-2017

I've been trying to put together some words about the passing of Tom Petty for about a week now, but haven't really been able to find anything all that profound, except to say this:

It was late in elementary school, early in junior high when I began to discover music on my own. Prior to that, I had sort of been at the mercy of the musical tastes of my parents, a strange mix of Jethro Tull, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, UB40, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and lots and lots of opera. But my first explorations: Q103. That was the radio station. Open House Party with John Garabitien was my Saturday night. August and Everything After by the Counting Crows was the first album I purchased- and you know it really makes me feel old to admit this, but it was a cassette purchased from Sam Goody in Sycamore Mall.

So when I heard about the death of Tom Petty, it only reminded me that there are a short list of bands and artists from my youth whose music will always, always resonate with me and Tom Petty ranks high on the list.

The song that I keep coming back to is 'Mary Jane's Last Dance.' I was young enough that the potential references to marijuana probably went straight over my head, but it was the imagery of the lyrics that sort of lodges in my brain a little bit. I mean, consider this: "There's pigeons down in Market Square//she's standing in her underwear//looking down from a hotel room//nightfall will be coming soon." What is that, four lines of song? It's not much, but in 22 words, Petty paints a picture so perfect you can see it in your mind's eye. There are writers, published ones, who would kill to be able to have that facility with the language. (This tribute from Slate hails Petty as one of the great 'first line' writers in rock n'roll history and given the examples they cite, it's hard to disagree.)

When Q103 went country one particularly traumatic morning, I sort of ignored music for a few years but jumped back into it when the constant parade of bubble gum pop and bad rap music began to fade toward the end of high school and my early years and stumbled back into Tom Petty once again- I had a Greatest Hit album at one point- no idea where it is now, but when I had my strange Stevie Nicks phase I found songs like 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around' and 'Don't Come Around Here No More.' I found the Traveling Wilburys randomly in my mother's compact disc and found the wonderment of the coolest supergroup I had never heard of.

I remember that one episode of 'King of the Hill' when Peggy's parachute failed to open and she plummets to Earth to the music of 'Free Fallin' and of course, his random cameo in 'The Postman' was probably the best thing about that movie apart from the cinematography. (I had never seen this SNL sketch, but it's pretty good.)

It was a bummer of a week last week, made worse by the passing of one of the rock n'roll icons of my youth. It makes me especially thankful for the opportunity to see U2 live and in person over the summer, but also makes me wonder who else I should try and get to see before they get taken off this mortal coil far too soon. Tom Petty, David Bowie and Prince were all on that list. Now all we have left is the music- which with tributes like these, is probably the best legacy we can ask for.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Columbus Day Is Not A Real Holiday

I sense a disturbance in the Force. It's coming... articles are starting to bubble up. You see them here and there- whispers and accusations. The War On Holidays is about to open up a new front- the War on Columbus Day is almost here.*

Let's get one thing out of the way, right up front: Columbus Day is not a real holiday. It's a bullshit holiday. I never got a day off school for Columbus Day. I never get holiday pay for Columbus Day. All I know is that it's a day where you can get appliances for cheap and the mail doesn't come. And let's be clear: why are we celebrating Columbus anyway? For a start, he was a terrible, terrible human being- people always trot out this excellent edition of The Oatmeal which points that out- and for two, he didn't actually discover 'the new world'**. Leif Erikson did that.

Which brings around to the meaning of this bullshit holiday to begin with. If, it's about celebrating the discovery of the Americas by Europeans, then we've been doing it wrong all this time, because, well, Leif Erikson did that and he already has a day. (Hey, by the way, Happy Leif Erikson Day, everyone!) If it's about some bullshit civilizing European culture-Judeo-Christian nonsense, then that's a bullshit reason to have a holiday and Columbus is a bullshit guy to have a holiday for. Bartolome de Las Casas is a far more worthy representative and a far more worthwhile guy to have a holiday for if that's what you're about.

Am I down with replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day? Absolutely! Columbus was a. a horrible human being and b. didn't actually discover America to begin with plus, if you take into account all the horrible shit that happened to the indigenous populations of America once the white Europeans showed up- the smallpox, the conquest, the genocide, the forced resettlement, the broken treaties, the reservations, I think they deserve at least one day, don't you? I think perhaps a day is the least (and I do mean 'least') we can do. If we're serious about it though, then, let's make it a Federal Holiday. Let's let the kids off school (weirdly, I think the Elder Spawn actually gets it off this year as a 'fall break') and give me some sweet, sweet holiday pay. Make it a real holiday. None of this bullshit 'let's go buy a cheap fridge' type of a holiday stuff any more.

Columbus? Meh. He'll be fine. If for no other reason that they can make the words 'blue', 'ocean' and '1492' all rhyme with his name.

*Okay, long tangent time: Bill O'Reilly and his fucking War On Christmas raises my blood pressure each and every fucking year and I know, I just know, there's going to be a raft of articles about how Columbus Day is important to our American heritage and it's just another sign of the evil liberal SJW agenda to destroy all things great and good about 'Mericuh. And only the Conservative media could make an issue out of a holiday that nobody really gives a shit about, but there you go. 

And don't even get me started on the Christmas bullshit. America was founded by people fleeing religious persecution who wanted the freedom to worship as they please, but GOD FORBID you say 'HAPPY HOLIDAYS' to some uptight Christian who'll faint and scream about persecution- as if we feed Christians to fucking lions in this country. Here's my thing though- the joy of America, the beauty of America is the ecumenism of our religious beliefs. If I meet you walking down the street, I'm not going to assume that you're Christian. There's a good chance you are, but there's an equally good chance that you're not. You might not celebrate Christmas at all, but in the spirit of wishing you warm greetings for the Year's End, I will say 'Happy Holidays' just to cover all my bases. It's not anti-Christian. It's not politically correct. It's the American thing to do.

**'The new world' is such a loaded term. It's not like this was a totally new place Europeans just 'found' it was here the whole time. With people and cultures and languages and cities and traditions... it wasn't 'new.' It just, well, was... and some Europeans found it. They found what was already here all along. Really when you think about it that way, it's not that big of a deal.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Netflix & Chill #26: Burnt

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2015
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Alicia Vikander, Omar Sy, Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Pick: Mine

Bradley Cooper stars as Adam Jones, a hot shot chef who was on the verge of getting his Third Michelin Star in one of the best restaurants in Paris before drug use and his insane quest for perfection caused him to implode in spectacular fashion, taking down his restaurant and his career and the careers of quite a few of his friends along the way, He disappeared, sobered up and sentenced himself to exile in New Orleans shucking one million oysters. That done, he heads back to London to get back in the game, open a new restaurant and get the third Michelin star.

Getting the band back together proves to be more difficult than Adam anticipates. The former maitre d of Jean Luc's restaurant (Daniel Bruhl) hasn't forgiven him and kicks him out of his family's hotel. A former sous chef from his old restaurant, Michel (Omar Sy) reveals that a drunk and drugged out Adam, jealous that Michel had opened his own restaurant, called the health inspector and released rats into his restaurant. An old friend, Conti seems to be more welcoming, but his talented sous-chef Helene (Sienna Miller) thinks he's conceited and old-fashioned. Max (Riccardo Scamarcio) is easier to get on board- but only once he's released from prison. A chef on the rise, David (Sam Keely) gives Adam a place to crash- but despite all that, his past haunts him as the drug dealers he owes money to show up, looking to collect.

Eventually, after convincing a food critic to come to Tony's restaurant to review his cooking, Tony and his father agree to renovate their existing hotel restaurant to give Adam a new restaurant to launch. The launch, however, does not go well and Helene ends up quitting, only to be drawn back by Tony who offers her more money and some insight into Adam's behavior. Tony and his father, looking to protect their investment also require that Adam do drug tests weekly and go to a therapist (Emma Thompson) and gradually, Adam begins to open up a little bit.

When they think that the Michelin inspectors are in town, Adam goes all out to prepare the perfect dish only to find out that that Michel has sabotaged him in revenge for what Adam did to his restaurant. Breaking down, Adam seems to be ready to jump off of Waterloo Bridge and shows up at the restaurant of his rival, Reece (Matthew Rhys) where he causes a commotion before attempting to suffocate himself with a plastic bag. Reece, despite the unfriendly relationship between the two, gets the bag off his head and comforts him, admitting the next morning that Adam is a better chef than he is, but that he needs Adam's cooking to keep pushing him to do better.

Jean-Luc's daughter, Anne-Marie also shows up and ends up paying off Adam's debts to the drug dealers before giving him her father's knives. Adam begins to realize that he can't live his life alone- in the kitchen or outside of it and that he needs other people to help him in his quest for perfection. When the Michelin Inspectors finally do come to town (turns out the previous sighting was a false alarm) Adam and all the chefs work as a team to produce the best meal possible and finally, Adam gets his Third Star and some inner peace.

 Movies like this always make me think that I should have gone to culinary school while making me realize that I'm not arrogant or obsessed enough to really make it big in the world of cooking and this one was no exception. The food looked amazing. The kitchen scenes work. A lot of it works and works well, but at the end of the day the food and the kitchen seem to be where Adam finds redemption instead of Adam finding redemption in food and the kitchen and the overall movie seems somewhat underdone as a result. (It also commits the writer's original sin of telling and not showing us about the guy Adam used to be before his redemptive journey began. As a result, the story lacks...  context. Or it makes the characters feel flatter than they should be.)

Overall: It's not a bad movie and if you're bored and looking for something to watch on Netflix, you could make worse choices, but I've seen this story before and Chef does a better job telling it than this movie does. ** out of ****.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #232

We're starting our grand tour of German States with the perhaps (and I'm not German, so if you want to make a case for some other state, come at me, brah) the state that could be called the 'California' of Germany- that's right, we're starting in Bavaria:
So where is Bavaria?If you picture Germany in your head, the lower right hand quarter (more or less) is where you'll find Bavaria. It's capital is Munich, home of Oktoberfest- so it feels right to start here. In terms of area, it's the largest state in Germany, and slides in at number two in terms of population (behind North Rhine-Westphalia). Bavaria has been around for a very long time. As a Duchy, it goes all the way back to the year 555, became an integral part of the Holy Roman Empire and existed as an independent Kingdom from 1806 to 1918 when it then became a Republic.

Flag-wise, there are actually two official flags of Bavaria, the streifenflagge (a horizontal bicolor of white over blue) a.k.a. the boring one and this one, the rautenflagge, a.k.a. The Lozenge Flag (or the cool one).The exact shade of blue has never been officially codified. There's no hard or fast number on how many lozenges the flag needs to have, but there has to be at least 21 and the top right lozenge has to be white. In terms of meaning there's either two arguments: the lozenges are historical or they represent the lakes and rivers of Bavaria. (There's a pretty good reference to them in the state hymn/anthem of Bavaria, so of the two explanations I prefer this one.)

There's really not much more to the Bavarian flag than that, though I noticed in terms of titles, they're officially a 'Free State' which got me wondering about the difference between 'Free State' and just a regular state over in Germany- turns out, it's pretty much the same difference between being just a regular state over here versus a Commonwealth. (Like Virginia, Massachusetts and I think Pennsylvania?).

So, we're off on our German excursion! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Psephology Rocks: Oktoberfest Ist Here!

I missed the actual date for the German elections, but I still think the aftermath is worth talking about because I think the German system is probably one of the first mixed systems I've looked at while doing these posts. So, before we break down the results of the elections (which I'm sure everybody's seen by now: they voted way back on September 24th, so go figure) we should probably pop the hood and see how the magic happens in Germany.

From a structural point of view, Germany is a federal parliamentary republic- so it's got a bicameral legislature, a President for a head of state (largely ceremonial) and a Chancellor for a head of government (who actually runs things, usually the leader of the largest party in the Bundestag.) In that sense, it's really that different from a lot of other parliamentary democracies out there. But it's once you get into the nitty gritty of it all that interesting differences get teased out.

The upper house, the Bundesrat is actually kind of interesting to me. It's not elected by either the popular vote or the state parliaments, but are delegated by the respective state governments. Here's where it gets interesting: state delegations have to vote as a block- they can't split their votes- and, since state elections and national elections aren't coordinated in Germany, the make-up of the Bundesrat can shift at anytime. It gets even more complicated when you throw in the fact that unlike say the United States, there's more than two parties in Germany, so each state delegation has to represent the coalition in that state at that time. Allocation of the seats is done through something called degressive proportionality which gives smaller states an advantage, but not as much as say, giving each state an equal number of members like our Senate does. (States in the Bundesrat have a minimum of three votes, but a maximum of six.)

I think a Bundesrat model might be worth considering if the American political system was a little more robust and representative than it is now. For sure, any structural change to the Senate would require a Constitutional amendment, but I think if there is a serious push to repeal the 17th Amendment. (Serious as in people starting to vote to do that and not just dream about it) then I think it would be worth at least talking about. The problem becomes though that right now at least it would lock in GOP majorities in the Senate, though I do like the provisions of the German constitution that force abstentions on delegations in the Bundesrat who are split. (Either you have delegations of government parties, which vote with the government or opposition parties, which vote against, but if you've got a mix of both, you're 'neutral' which means you abstain.)

So let's get to the Bundesrag and it how it all works there. You've got 598 members (already I hear Americans recoiling in horror at increasing the size of the House of Representatives to that number) and they're elected by two votes. Yes, you read that right. Everybody gets two votes. (B-b-b-b-but voter fraud! Voter ID! Hacking!) 50% of the seats get elected from the 299 electoral districts of Germany- so you get a 'Budesperson' as it were. But then 50% of the vote is proportionally allocated to parties that get more than 5% of the vote. In another twist, there are 33 'balance' seats that can be added to tweak the make up of the Bundestag a little bit to ensure that the number of seats are as proportional as possible to the number of votes the party receives.

Again, if our political system was a little more robust and representative than it is now then I would be happy to endorse this model and then some. You keep your representation on a district level, but you also have an opportunity to vote for a different party if that represents your beliefs better or you want them to get seats? Sign me up. I don't think a purely proportional system is the way to go- it makes your representation too remote, but it also does reflect voter preferences better. This system that Germany has seems to me to be an ideal marriage of both. The Bundestag goes out of it's way to make sure it reflects the democratic preferences of it's people with the addition of the balance seats. The only downside I can see is that in the numerical increase in the number of politicians, but, you know- you win some, you lose some, right?

All of which brings us back around to the German Elections which went down on September 24th. As was widely expected, Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats won a fourth term in power. What wasn't expected was the historical slump experience by their coalition partners in the 'Grand Coalition' the Social Democrats, who lost 5% of their vote share to slump to their worst result since World War II. There had been some buzz around the SDP and their leader Martin Schulz earlier in the summer, but it came to naught and in a bad way with the SDP barely squeaking above 20% of the vote.

It wasn't all good news for Angela Merkel, however. The CDU/CSU lost 8% of their vote share from the previous election and far right populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) exceeded expectations to sweep into Bundestag seats with 13.2% of the vote. (FiveThirtyEight had some handy dandy charts break this down a little more, though I don't know if I'll go along with them in drawing parallels to the rise of President Trump and his voters. I feel like it's more symptomatic of widespread bubbling discontent with the EU and how it governs- though I could easily be wrong about that as well.)

So what now for a governing coalition? Well... the pro-business FDP have managed to re-emerge after a string of dismal results in various state elections and it's expected that they'll probably end up somewhere in the Coalition, but with the SDP tapping out of coalitions, the expected and interesting combination that's seen as likely is a 'Jamaica Coalition' between the CDU/CSU (black), FDP (yellow) and Greens (well, green). No one wants to play with the AfD so they're out and other than a continuation of the Grand Coalition, which the SDP doesn't want to do (at least for now) the only other option seems to be a Jamaica Coalition. Whether it can be hammered out or not remains to be seen...

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Squawk Box: Trekkerdamerung

Star Trek: Enterprise
This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think that Enterprise deserved at least one more season and it baffles me that the fourth season didn't get them at least 13 more episodes- hell, even a pick-up as a mid-season replacement would have been something that this show had earned at the very least. I get why they pulled the plug though- it took this show too long to find its footing and it spent three seasons getting lost in a lot of unnecessary muck and mire before putting together a remarkably solid, nay, even good 4th Season. That only makes the overall experience of the show that much more frustrating. This could have been really, really good- the threads were all there. They just didn't get it put together in time.

If it were me, I would have made a rule from Episode 1: if they haven't met an alien in the Original Series, they can't appear on Enterprise. There were too many episodes in the first season that felt like they were checking off various 'fan service' things that were completely unnecessary and undermined the premise of the show. The introduction of the Andorians was brilliant. The conflict between the Andorians and the Vulcans should have been explored more. Ditto with the Tellarites. I felt like the Romulans should have been a bigger long term behind the scenes villain than they were.

While the Xindi arc was okay, it felt a little odd simply because the Xindi didn't exist in canon prior to this- ditto with the Suliban. And the Temporal Cold War silliness missed golden opportunities to crossover with Voyager (who also plays around with the Temporal Cold War/time agents kind of a deal.) Despite all the goodwill the 4th Season built up for me, the finale "These Are The Voyages..." was hot garbage and did the crew and this show a massive disservice. As a TNG episode, it's good. As a series finale and a goodbye to this show, it was a flaming dumpster fire. Not a good note to end on. (John Billingsley as Dr. Phlox is probably the MVP of this show for me personally. Ranks right up there with McCoy and the Doctor from Voyager as best doctors in Trek.)

Star Trek: The Original Series
Well, I did it. I finally watched the original 79 episodes and the 3rd Season was probably the hardest season of the three to get through. That's not to say that it didn't have it's moments... 'The Enterprise Incident' is a standout highlight of the early portion of the season, as is 'The Tholian Web' and 'For The World Is Hollow and I Have Touched The Sky.' There are some mid-range surprises as well with the meeting with Garth of Izar in 'Whom Gods Destroy' and 'The Lights of Zetar' also jumped out at me.

But you can tell that time is running out and the overall quality of the show takes a turn in the back third of the season. 'Turnabout Intruder' is an sudden abrupt ending that the series didn't deserve and didn't do anything particularly original with the old 'body-switching' trope- though it made noises in that direction talking about gender roles- but didn't do much more than that. 'The Way To Eden' is a good premise (the Enterprise is hijacked) weighed down by a commentary on the counterculture of the 60s that doesn't age well at all. And let us never speak of the 3rd season premiere, 'Spock's Brain' or at least do so at little as possible.

Overall I think every season had their standout episodes, but this season made me sit up and take notice the least. It was... okay, I guess. It had a moment or two here or there, but was very 'meh.' What I think I do appreciate about The Original Series is that it's aesthetic and tone and storytelling style is very evident in each of the six movies featuring the original cast. As a series, it provided a certain amount of context to the movies and gave me a greater appreciation of why the series has endured for as long as it has.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Okay, okay...  I get it now. I get why TNG is as loved and revered as it is. I took me awhile to really get into this show, but I think Season 7 is probably what sealed the deal for me. If ever there was a show that went out on a sublime, perfect high, it's probably this one.

The series finale, 'All Good Things' might be the best series finale of any of the Trek franchise- it ties everything back into such a beautiful bow. In terms of it's final season, it's generally very, very good- other than 'Masks' (which was...  odd, but not bad.) and 'Journey's End' (which was a weird-ass way to close out Wesley Crusher's character) there's not really episodes that I would consider to be 'duds'. I loved 'The Pegasus', 'Parallels', 'Lower Decks', 'Sub Rosa' and 'Genesis' probably the most. I liked the fact that Troi finally takes her bridge test to become a proper officer- which only underlines the fact that they could have done SO MUCH more with her character- but it's nice to see them doin' it right by Season 7. Ditto with Dr. Crusher in 'Sub Rosa'- which I've seen people rag on here and there on the Trek Subreddits, but I actually liked that shift in tone. A lot of the later shows play around and bend the genre a bit and TNG doesn't do that all that often, but when they do- shifting into a gothic horror/ghost story type of tone, the results are often very good indeed.

Honestly, I think I would buy TNG as well. For sure I'd get DS9 before any of the others, but I think I'd add TNG as well. (Oh, who am I kidding: I'd buy Voyager too.)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Deep Space Nine remains my favorite Trek. It goes deeper, darker and grittier than any other Trek series before or since and the 7th Season provides an especially satisfying conclusion to the series. I forgot just how great Nicole DeBoer is stepping into the role of Ezri Dax. That's gotta be a tall order for anyone, given Terry Farrell's tenure on the show- but in one season, she manages to make Ezri seem like a fully fledged character that's been on the station all along. Before the show launches into the final ten episode arc to end the show, the war dominates everything with Nog losing his leg and a new ally chipping in with the Dominion (the Breen) and throwing everything in the war up in the air once more.  In the meantime, Dukat gets a makeover, gets down and funky with Kai Winn and prepare for a Pah-Wraith- Prophet showdown that decides the fate of the Emissary once and for all.

How do I feel about the fate of Captain Sisko, Bajoran Space Jesus? I feel like there's more to the story and would love to see a television special, a movie, anything, finishing the tale of Captain Sisko once and for all. After all, he did promise that he would be back. In the meantime: Deep Space Nine remains awesome... honestly, if I was going to buy and own any Trek series top to bottom, it would probably be DS9 (I was on my way to doing just that back in my undergraduate days... Jesus, I used to have a lot of seasons of television on DVD. I shudder to think how many I had and then divested of over the years... (I legit miss Stargate Atlantis on DVD.)

Star Trek: Discovery
I had been dreading this show for about a year and a half now. Bryan Fuller left. There was delay after delay after delay. Reviews were embargoed which people took as another sign of an incoming trainwreck of a television show and you know what? Every bit of negative hype around this show turned out to be so, so, so, so unbelievably wrong.

The first two episodes were 100% the greatest series premiere in Trek. Hands down. Not even a contest. The scale was more epic and bigger than any previous Trek series. It looked fucking beautiful- the SFX are movie level on this. The actors clicked beautifully. Michelle Yeoh was excellent as Captain Georgiu. Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Burnham? I'm all in. I can't wait to see where this is going to go. Doug Jones as Science Officer Saru? I immediately loved his dynamic with Burnham right off the bat. (When Burnham's at his station he sort of reaches over her to take back his station- it's such a small moment, but worked so well!) The Klingons worried me in the run up to this, but you know what? I'm in. Star Trek up to now has rarely had aliens that felt really and truly alien and these Klingons do. It reveals a complexity to their political structure and culture that had yet to be revealed in canon. I also sort of see that they've got different looks/ridges as well which could also sort of solve some of the canon problems about the different looks they've had over the years as well.

We'll see how the next thirteen episodes go, but this is an incredibly ambitious, beautiful, intelligent, start to a brand new Trek that I am genuinely excited about.

Bonus Round:
Star Trek Generations: Better than I remember it and overall, not that bad as TNG-Trek movies go- but alas for loss of the Enterprise-D and it gets a bit... sloppy with all the Nexus business at the end. (Plus: uniforms are a weird mix of TNG and DS9 throughout.)

Star Trek IV The Voyage Home: Time travel hijinks + whales. Still probably one of the best TOS crew movies. (Plus, Spock's "Ah...  the giants." still cracks me up.) And 7th Heaven weirdness- Catharine Hicks shows up as Gillian whatsherface three movies after Stephen Collins showed up as Decker in TMP.

Star Trek Insurrection: Dare I say it, but this might be the best TNG Movie? Seriously. It had action, it had themes, it had depth, it had fun. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie.

Star Trek V The Final Frontier: Curiously, not nearly as bad as I remember it being. I think my perception of a lot of these movies has shifted the more of the original series that I've watched. You could see this one had its roots in the television show in many ways, despite taking a left turn and getting lost in the whole God mess.

Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country: probably the one I've watched the most and still great even after all these years. Nicholas Meyer should write all the Star Treks.

Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan: Still the best Trek movie.

Star Trek III The Search For Spock: More like Star Trek II Part II, but still good. Seriously... all of these movies are much better than I remember them being.

Star Trek The Motion Picture: probably the weakest one of the bunch, but is a fun super late 70s science fiction movie. I kind of dig it. Very Kubrick in a lot of ways.

Star Trek First Contact: The most memorable TNG Trek movie, it actual remains a solid entry in the franchise. I'd maybe put ahead of Insurrection. But not by much.

Star Trek Beyond: The best of the nu-Treks, it's just so much fun. Start to finish.