Monday, May 21, 2018

Thoughts On The Democratic Primary Debate

I'm not a Democrat, but I find them to be incredibly frustrating at times. To me, if the Democrats can't claw back something on the state level here in Iowa (not to mention nationally) this cycle, then the future for the party looks bleak indeed. The actions of the legislature down in Des Moines only underlines the importance of the Democrats getting their act together for November- this session, kids, is why you don't give one party the keys to the whole damn place. If they can't get the Governorship, it'd be great to claw back at least a chamber of the legislature just to limit the damage at very least.

I want sensible governance. Keep the financial house in order. Keep the kids in school Monday-Friday and make sure no bridges fall down. Governance as political warfare? That I won't reward and that's exactly what the Republicans have delivered for the past two years. So, when I found the Democratic Primary Debate from Iowa Press online, I was all about sitting down and checking out these candidates to see if any of them is going to have a chance at winning. Here's what I came away with:

Glasson: the stuff that far left dreams are made of, she sounds great but has about as much chance of winning in November as a snowball has of surviving in the seventh circle of hell. If hell freezes over, then who the heck knows, but in a state like Iowa that loves their incumbents, I don't think hell is going to freeze over anytime soon. (Principles are nice things to have, but they don't matter that much if you don't win.)

Wilburn: solid and positive throughout the debate, the fact that he's a former Mayor of Iowa City will instantly make him persona non grata for a lot of people in the room. (If Glasson flying her Crimson Red Bernie Sanders flag is one way ticket to nowhere, being a former Mayor of the People's Republic of Johnson County I think is going to be too much of a hurdle for Wilburn to clear. Shouldn't be that way, but it seems like it is.) I'm honestly surprised Wilburn's campaign hasn't caught more fire though. He's not the most magnetic personality on the stage, but he's solid, has some interesting ideas and would be an interesting choice for Lt. Governor.

McGuire: A Doctor, she seems to be running for better health care and against the Medicare mess. But there doesn't appear much else there. A passionate advocate on those issues, she comes across as very one note. I don't know how far she's going to go (and looking at some Unofficial results from Statewide Conventions that Iowa Starting cooked up, it doesn't look she picked up many delegates either.)

Norris: The candidate I knew the least about turned out to be the most intriguing one on stage in many ways. He seems really passionate about building the Democratic base in rural Iowa and reaching out to rural voters- he talked about changing the culture of farming to make it more profitable and sustainable- which is an issue that should be at the center of any race for Governor in this state. If you're not serious about making agriculture better, then you're not serious about the future of this state. (Plus, he looks a lot like Norm McDonald.)

Boulton: poised and polished- perhaps a wee bit too much of the latter, he's young, energetic and provided a contrast to a lot of the candidates on stage. I get the feeling he's trying to thread the needle between Hubbell's 'bring the voters together', 'I can win in November' kind of candidate and Glasson's, 'I'm the real Progressive here' candidacy. It's a tricky balancing act, but I feel like he pulled it off.

Hubbell: Has the money (and took some heat for being the rich guy in the room) and he's been running ads consistently for a while now. I like that he's focused on the bigger picture: the utter fiscal mismanagement of the state, the wasteful tax giveaways and most importantly, winning in November.

I think it's going to come down to Hubbell and Boulton in the end and I'm honestly not sure who's going to win here. RCP has some polling that was done all the way back in January that has Hubbell and Boulton as the best candidates on paper trailing Reynolds by 5 points and 4 points respectively. McGuire, Glasson and Norris all trail by double digits. (This suggests that Hubbell has a good lead.) I have no idea who's going to win, but hopefully voters choose wisely. We'll see where everything is come the fall.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Netflix & Chill #44: Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets

Watched On: Amazon Prime
Released: 2017
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevinge, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Krus Wu, Rutger Hauer
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%

By the 28th Century, the International Space Station has grown so large that it's had to be moved out of Earth's orbit and into deep space. Once safety away from Earth, it just keeps right on growing and growing and growing until it becomes Space Station Alpha, home to thousands of civilizations and millions of inhabitants, both human and alien.

Special Agent Valerian (Dane DeHaan) wakes up from a a dream about the planet Mul, where the inhabitants live in a low technology paradise. The pearls they fish for contain enormous amounts of energy and small, lizard like creatures replicate more pearls. In his dream, he sees wreckage begin plummeting from the sky and then there's an apocalyptic explosion and just before it reaches the young princess, she sends out a telepathic signal- and then, Valerian wakes up.

He is pretty shaken by his dream and an analysis indicates that he may have received a signal from across time and space. He and Special Agent Laureline (Cara Delevigne) learn that there mission is to retrieve the last of the Mul converters (the lizard like, pearl making creatures from the planet Mul he saw in his dream). Before they arrive at their mission, Valerian asks Laureline to marry him, but she brushes him off. She thinks he's too afraid of commitment and has many affairs with their female colleagues.

They travel to the extra dimensional bazaar called Big Market ,where they secure the converter and Valerian steals one of the pearls on the sly. Together, he and Laureline learn the origins of the pearl and the converter: the planet Mul, destroyed thirty years ago.

Returning to Alpha, they learn from their superior, Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) that there is an infection at the center of the station and it's growing. The two agents are tasked to protect the Commander while they host an interstation summit to figure out what's behind it, but Laureline defies his wishes to retain control of the converter. The humanoids who had also tried to purchase the converter in the Big Market attack and kidnap the commander.. Valerian pursues the kidnappers but Laureline loses track of him at the edge of zone at the center of the station.

Eventually, they uncover the truth: the Commander was responsible for the destruction of the Planet Mul and covered it up. The surviving inhabitants hid themselves away on the station and learned the technology to rebuild their home- all they need is the pearl and the converter. Laureline and Valerian confront the commander about his role in the genocide and after a brief fire fight with the robot soldiers he programmed to do his bidding, the survivors of Mul escape to restore their home and Valerian and Laureline survive in a working ancient Apollo-style module where, while waiting for rescue, Laureline finally accepts his marriage proposal.

Overall: I'm not entirely sure how to feel about this movie. As a mildly bonkers space opera, it's a solid science fiction outing that's worth watching at least once if science fiction space opera is your jam. Rihanna is in this movie, so it's got that going for it. I haven't read the original source material, so I don't know how faithful an adaptation this is, but The Fifth Element blew me away. Valerian just sort of comes across as sort of 'meh.' It promises so much and fails to deliver. My Grade: ** out of ****

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Albums2010 #100: Blood Sugar Sex Magik

The Red Hot Chili Peppers were always on the radio when I was in junior high and high school. There's a small collection of bands that just sort of throw me back to the days of Q103 and RHCP are for sure one of those bands. But it wasn't I saw Anthony Kledis induct the Talking Heads into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that I really sat up and took notice. Not long after, I think I purchased this album and enjoyed the hell out of it. It might still be lurking in my basement right now.

Released in 1991, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was their fifth studio album, which seems slightly ridiculous to me. I always assumed they were firmly a product of the 1990s, but in fact, they made their debut all the way back in 1984, only a year after my birth. (Their self-titled debut apparently was credited as the 'first release from the funk metal genre' and has also been described as 'the little spark that ignited the rap rock revolution'. So Red Hot Chili Peppers begat the likes of Linkin Park? And maybe Gorillaz? I'm okay with that.)

The album itself marked a turning point for the Chili Peppers that seemed to mark a major breakout for them to widespread commercial and artistic success- and to be honest. for an album that was released nearly thirty years ago, it holds up incredibly well. It might be a wee bit too soon to carve it into the Mount Rushmore of essential albums of the 1990s, but seeing it end up on a list of albums that defined a decade in much the same way that Fleetwood Mac's Rumors defined the 70s would seem absolutely reasonable to me. It's that good from top to bottom.

I'm really trying to think about it, but I think the ultimate appeal of this album and ultimately the band has to be the infusion of funk they bring to the table. I've always enjoyed funk. Not in that, 'I have every obscure P-Funk and George Clinton album ever made' kind of way, but in, 'damn right I'll listen to this' and 'if I wasn't white and balding, I'd totally want George Clinton's hair.' If I could pinpoint the moment where I fell into funk, it would probably have to be the movie PCU- but either way, that enjoyment of funk lends itself well to this album. As progenitors of funk metal, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are masters of their craft- as demonstrated by tracks like 'Funky Monks', 'Suck My Kiss', 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik' and 'If You Have To Ask.'

The well known tracks are like old friends to me...  weirdly enough, when I stumbled back onto the RHCP playlist on Spotify, I realized just how long it had been since I had listened to any of their music. I had sort of the same experience with Stone Temple Pilots. They were another band that seemed to stick in my head far more than Pearl Jam or Nirvana did- yet I just stopped listening to them for years and had the pleasure of rediscovering them all over again at some point post-college. Here, 'Under The Bridge' and 'Give It Away' are probably the tracks that resonate the most for me. But 'Breaking The Girl', 'Naked In The Rain' and 'The Power of Equality' also stand out for me.

Overall: This is one of the great albums of the 1990s and probably one of the best albums of the last 30 years. It holds up and delivers the good nearly thirty years after it's release and the week or so I spent exploring the outer limits of the discography of a band that resonated so much with my youth was one of the most enjoyable I've had in a long time. My Grade: **** out of ****

Friday, May 18, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #260

It's a special Friday edition of This Week In Vexillology and we're heading back into the Lost Archives of the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment to take a look once more at the flags of the two Guineas: Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

First up, we've got Guinea:
Adopted on November 10th, 1958 for national and civil usage Guinea followed Ghana (and I guess Ethiopia's lead) in using the pan-African colors of red,  yellow and green. The flag is modeled on the French Tricolor (since Guinea was a French Colony) and the colors are also taken from the RDA, the Rassemblement Democratique Africain, which was the dominant political movement at the time of independence. (Apparently Sekour Toure, the first President of Guinea was a close associate of Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana who's flag is remarkably similar to Guinea's.)

The color scheme is pretty simple: red symbolizes the sacrifice of the people, the yellow is for the sun and the riches of the earth and green is the country's vegetation. (The flag's wiki-page says red stands for the blood of martyrs who died from slavery and wars, so that's one alternate explanation.) If you think it looks pretty similar to a few other flags out there you're not wrong: reverse the colors (green-yellow-red) and you've got the flag of Mali. Add an 'R' and you've got the pre-2001 flag of Rwanda.

Next up, we've got Guinea-Bissau:
Right off the bat we've got an interesting little wrinkle: my reference book says that the flag was adopted for national and civil usage on September 24th, 1973 when the Portuguese territory achieved self-government. The flag's wiki-page dates the adopted from independence which was declared in 1974.

The pan-African colors are evident as is the influence of Ghana. Guinea-Bissau went a little further than it's next door neighbor and brought the black star along for the ride for it's flag. The colors (because apparently every country's independence movement used the same damn ones) are also taken from the flag of the Partido Africano para a Independencia da Guine e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) which is still a dominant party in the country today. (Weirdly: the flag of Cape Verde looks nothing like this. Which is kind of refreshing, really.)

The color scheme is once again, pretty simple: red is for the blood of martyrs/blood shed during the struggle for independence, green represents hope and the forests of the country and yellow stands for mineral wealth and the sun.

And those are the flags of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Look At The Whole Board

So, a recommendation for an episode of Pod Save The World floated past me on my Twitter feed and since it was about the Iran Deal (and President Trump's decision to withdraw from it), I thought I'd give it a listen and see what they had to say on the matter. It was... disappointing. Less an analysis on the pros and cons of the decision and more a twenty minute segment bemoaning the decision and rending their garments over the damage this disastrous decision is going to do to America's standing with our allies and in the world.

Now, don't get me wrong: all of that could be 100 percent true. Withdrawing from the Iran Deal could be a boneheaded, dumbass move that we could seriously regret at some point in the future. So their analysis isn't invalid, per say. It's just not the only school of thought out there. The whole time I'm listening to the episode, this clip from The West Wing kept running on a loop in my head. "Look at the whole board."

I'm not an expert on Iran and my analysis could be totally wrong here, but to me, Iran is something of a paper tiger. Or a volcano ready to explode. They've got one of the youngest countries in the region-as of 2012, half the population was under the age of 35- which at that time, meant that over half the population was born after the fall of the Shah and has absolutely no memory of that regime. What they do remember though is the Iran-Iraq War. They remember the 2009 Presidential Elections and the Green movement that followed. What they're unhappy about is an economy that even before we nixed the Iran deal wasn't doing all that great- which is part of what sparked the protests last year.

The Iranian Regime, meanwhile is fighting proxy wars against the Saudis in Yemen. They're hip deep in Syria and have been bankrolling Hezbollah in Lebanon for years now. All of these activities have accelerated post-2015, so the idea that Iran has overstretched itself is a valid one. With their economy- already rocky- now heading into potentially rockier territory withdrawing from the deal could force Iran to end their foreign adventures and come on home to fix things there. (And if they do that, then yes, the may well start trying to make nukes by the bucketload.) Or it has a real chance of accelerating their implosion.

War with Iran along the lines of what we did in Iraq would be a disaster beyond measure. The minute American troops cross the border, we've given the Islamic Republic a fifty year lease on life and complete retrenched their regime. (I also think we run this risk if we have to launch airstrikes against them as well.) What Iran has that Iraq lacked, however, is a vibrant civil society and the infrastructure of a democratic state. They have elections. Women can vote. Women can drive there. If the Iranian people want regime change, we should support their aspirations for self-determination. (Certainly more than the Obama Administration did in 2009.)

So yes, withdrawing from the Iran Deal could be a disaster. But if it forces Iran to end their involvement in various wars across the region, then that could ameliorate ongoing humanitarian disasters across the region, which would be a good thing. If it accelerates the Iranian Regime's implosion, then I'd call that a potential good thing.

It could also lead to war with Israel and an eruption of chaos the likes we haven't seen for decades. But decrying the decision to withdraw from the Deal solely because of the potential loss of standing with our allies isn't just a flawed analysis, it represents a failure to see the whole board.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Psephology Rocks: Four Elections You May Have Missed (And One You Didn't)

There have been plenty of elections since the last time I did a really deep dive into an election worth talking about- so many that I couldn't just pick one. Or if I did pick one, John Oliver would come along and do a far better job than I do and summing it all up. But the elections kept piling up and piling up and finally, it left with me no choice. Here are four elections you may have missed and one you (obviously) didn't:

1. Armenia: So, while the American media was obsessing over the President's lawyer, the porn star, his bowel movements and his latest Tweet, Armenia had a straight up people's revolution that got like zero coverage from any American news network that I could see.

So, what happened? Well, in March of 2018 members of the Republican Party of Armenia did not exclude the idea of nominating President Serzh Sargsyan for the post of Prime Minister. He for his part, had amended the constitution to abolish term limits which would have allowed him to continue in office for over a decade.

The Armenians didn't warm to the notion and took to the streets headed by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan, first rejecting the nomination of Sargsyan to continue as Prime Minister and then calling for his ouster altogether. Pashinyan insisted on the protests being non-violent and his tactic worked, as the movement spiraled outward to include all areas of society.  There was a lot of dancing as well, so really, instead of a Velvet Revolution, perhaps Armenia could be the world's first Dance, Dance Revolution? Ultimately it worked and Sargsyan resigned and Pashinyan became the new Prime Minister of Armenia.

The groundwork for this Revolution (or at least for Sargsyan's attempted power grab) was sparked by a December 2015 referendum which changed Armenia's form of government from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary republic. The Presidency is becoming a more ceremonial head of state and a lot of the governing powers are going to be vested in the Prime Minister. The President can't be a member of any political party and is going to be limited to one, seven year term. (Hence, Sargysan's attempt to become Prime Minister.)

2. Malaysia: Okay, so Malaysia just had kind of a big election which saw former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sweep back to power at the ripe old age of 92 to become the world's oldest elected leader. What's special about his comeback? Well, he ran under a new party banner the Pakatan Harapan which ousted the Barisan Nasional (the National Front) coalition that's ran the country since 1957. What's interesting about Malaysia? Well, it's a federal constitutional elective monarchy- it's modeled closer on a Westminter-style British parliamentary democracy, but with a twist. The head of state is a monarch, but it's an elected monarch chosen from the nine hereditary rulers of the Malaysian states that have them. (The other four states have Governors.)

3. UK Local Elections: There wasn't really much of a story to tell here. On the local level, everyone kind of held serve, but that that Conservatives limited so many of their expected losses was largely due to the collapse of UKIP's vote on the national level. Not sure what, if anything the tea leaves foretell off of these results.

4. Karnataka: do a Google search and keep half an eye on the election results as they roll in over the next couple of days. This sizable southern Indian state is largely considered a bellwether for national elections that are set for early next year. If the ruling BJP doesn't do well, then that could be bad news for India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If, on the other hand, they do, then it'll probably be seen as a good sign of the BJP's strength heading into the national polls next year. (Here's a good article from The Economist give you the 4-1-1 on why it all matters.)

5. 'Merica!: This is pretty much all you need to know about the various state primaries that sprinkled early May. Just this.

(This guy lost, thankfully.) Were there any tea leaves worth talking about in this round of primaries? Not really. Except, I think that the media's obsession with impeachment and the Mueller investigation is crowding out any Democratic attempts to craft a cohesive message for the voters. I have no idea how much if anything can be read into generic Congressional ballots, but the Democratic advantage is down to 1.5% now. Doesn't bode well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Stop The World, I Want To Get Off

We're apparently all a little more anxious these days. That was a comforting article to read, because the world has seemed a dark and grim place indeed of late. I try to be as aware as possible of my own mental health and general well being and have been generally fortunate in that so far, I've had one serious bout of bad depression and that was toward the end of my undergraduate years.

But this... oh man. Suddenly, I just felt emotionally raw for some reason and I couldn't put my finger on why. Attempting to apply rationality to this stuff is always tricky, but I wanted too, because when you really step back and look at your situation, you tend to find that you don't have a lot to complain about in the grand scheme of things. And really, I don't. The vast majority of the world's population would probably trade places with me without hesitation. I have my health. I have a job. I have an amazing wife and three beautiful children. Could things be better? Sure. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the areas of my life that could use some improvement weren't really the underlying cause of all of this.

Don't get me wrong: the ol'student loans have been feeling especially oppressive of late. I'm holding out hope for a Public Service Loan Forgiveness that probably won't be there when my ten years is up. (I'm hopeful, but also expecting to be bent over and screwed.) But they've always been feeling oppressive. They've always sucked. They've always been a chain around my neck. The suckage where they are concerned is far from new.

So what is it then? I really think that I'm just sort of exhausted by the world in general. Since the election of the President, the news has gone to shit in a handbasket. I don't care what your ideological leanings are: if you can't acknowledge that the news these days is absolutely terrible then you're not paying attention. What's worse is that everything has to be dialed up to eleven. If someone's not screaming about the President's latest Tweet or bowel movement or whatever he said today, then they're screaming about something else. And months and months of being screamed at is bound to finally start to eat at your soul a little bit.

To think I was ready to make this post about Iowa's shiny new abortion law, as well. Though that didn't help my general feeling of malaise and darkness either. So many people my age seemed to be ready to give up on this state, shake the dust from their feet and move elsewhere. Part of me is sad about that but part of me also thinks it might be a rational response.

What am I going to do about it all? Here's my notions:

First, I'm going to kick some social media off of my phone. It's an incredible feeling knowing that you can hold the sum total of human knowledge in the palm of your hand. It gets real old when you develop a habit of grabbing your phone every five minutes to breathlessly check to see who said what on whatever social media platform. I want to get back into Duolingo. I want to stop saying, 'hey, I should learn how to code' and actually do it. If I'm going to have the sum total of human knowledge in my hand, I want to use it to improve myself and not as a useless time waster or a distraction.

Second, it occurs to me that in the great hamster wheel of life, either you turn the wheel or the wheel turns you and lately it seems to be latter far more than the former. While my job is stimulating enough, there's very little point to it if it doesn't allow you to carve out some time to enjoy life a little bit. I have no idea what that looks like, but I want to take this summer to try and find out.

Third, all these internet distractions are keeping me from focusing my creativity on where I want it to be: my writing. That has to change as well. (I've got 1/3 to a 1/2 of the next book done and I want to try and get it written and wrapped up by the fall. Which is an ambitious goal, but one I want to achieve!)

In short, it's time for a mental health break from the world for awhile. Not because I don't care, but because it's start to make me miserable a little bit and I have few, if any reasons to be miserable in this life of mine.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Squawk Box: Lost In Space

Netflix actually didn't hype their reboot of Lost In Space nearly as much as they hyped Altered Carbon, but there was enough in terms of teasers and trailers out there to get me interested enough to check it out and wow! I'm going to make an exceedingly bold statement, but hear me out: the potential for this show is very high indeed...  I would go so far as to say that if it fulfills it's potential, it may well end up being a better show than The Expanse (or even it's Netflix counterpart Altered Carbon.)

Lost In Space immediately distinguishes itself from it's big screen counterpart by flinging you into the middle of the action. It doesn't waste an episode mucking about starting the mission, instead, you open with the family strapped in and suited up as the Jupiter 2 is heading down toward a planet of unknown origins, about to crash. Crash, they do, onto a glacier bed where it begins to sink. They evacuate some supplies, but when the eldest Robinson child, Judy (Taylor Russell) goes back to try and get some more, she ends up getting trapped in the ice.

While the family bands together to figure out how to get Judy out of the ice, we find our more about the family. Mom is Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker) who is the mission commander for their Jupiter and an aerospace engineer who is all set to start a new and better life with her family on Alpha Centauri. She's married to John Robinson (Toby Stephens) a former Navy SEAL and biological father to Will and Penny and stepdad to Judy, Maureen's child from her first marriage. There's a tense and interesting dynamic between the two of them from the get go, as we find out the two are separated and were heading for  a divorce before the family jumped aboard the Resolute (the colony mother ship) and headed to Alpha Centauri.

While trying to get Judy out of the ice, Will (Maxwell Jenkins) tells his Dad that the white fire they saw coming from the mountain was probably magnesium, which would be hot enough to free Judy from the ice, so the two set off to find some. Of course, they do, but Will get separated from his Dad and meets the Robot (Brian Steele), an alien mechanoid that bonds with him. 

The show then introduces Don West (Ignacio Serricchio) and Dr. Smith (Parker Posey) who crash land on another part of the planet. Dr. Smith, who is actually a stowaway/conperson named June Harris, who steals the identity of the actual Dr. Smith (played by Bill Mumy, the original Will Robinson from the 1960s Lost In Space, which I thought I was a nice touch) and together they band together to survive. (Though Smith ditches West at the first opportunity to get rescued by the Robinsons.) 

In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I'll go ahead and short cut to the end: after finding the other survivors, the Robinson and company end up having to figure out how to get off the planet because it's about to get fried by a black hole. Unfortunately, there are eels that eating the fuel and the truth about Dr. Smith is eventually revealed along with the alien robot and why it attacked the colony mothership to begin with. (Turns out that humanity done stole some fancy technology that didn't belong to them- though that's a plot threat left dangling for a presumed season 2.) 

The family dynamics that the Robinsons have are just about perfect. Will carries a lot of the show on his shoulders and does so with ease and maturity far beyond what you'd expect from an actor of his age.  Penny (Mina Sundwall) also has her moments, trying to be a normal kid and attempting a teenage romance with a fellow survivor Vijay (Ajay Friese). I've seen a lot of complaints here and there online about Dr. Smith. It's an interesting direction for the character to take compared to Gary Oldman's scheming spy in the movie, but I think it works. I think if anyone other that Parker Posey was playing the role, that might be a different story. However, I think Posey walks the fine line between cheese and a good performance and seems to have an instinct to know how to say 'when' to stop the parmesan. (Weirdly, a lot of people complain about her character's motivations as well: seems pretty obvious from the get go: survival is her main motivation.)

The cliffhanger of the first (of what I hope will be many seasons) sets up the Robinson Family and company for some very interesting adventures indeed. If there's a fault to this show, it's that it does take a few episodes to get going, but once it does, it starts moving down the tracks with impressive speed and purpose. 

Overall: A brilliant update of the 60s classic, Lost In Space establishes a strong foundation for future success with a family that feels like a regular every day family struggling in extraordinary circumstances. I hope this show gets another season, because I really want to see where they go with this. My Grade: **** out of ****

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Netflix & Chill #43: Lost In Space

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 1998
Starring: Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jack Johnson, Jared Harris
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%
Pick: Mine

I rewatched this in stages while I was watching the Netflix reboot of the television show, partly because I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast and partially because I honestly remembered not hating this movie. Having watched it again, I can confirm two things: this movie was not that great and it was very, very late 90s.

Basically: it's the year 2058 and Earth will be uninhabitable in twenty years due to the lack of fossil fuels and the ozone layer evaporating. (Ah, the ozone layer and peak oil... the overused movie maguffins of the 1990s.) But, happily, humanity has a plan. Led by Professor John Robinson (William Hurt), they're going to travel to the newly discovered inhabitable planet of Alpha Prime, construct a hyper gateway there to link up with the one that's being built on Earth as the movie opens and then humanity will be able to colonize the new planet in the blink of an eye. Of course, there are terrorists of the Global Sedition that oppose the construction of the hyper gate and attempt to destroy it.

The Robinson Family are heading to Alpha Prime first to start the colonization and with them, they'll have their hotshot new pilot, Major Don West (Matt LeBlanc) flying them there. They'll also have a stowaway, after the villainous Doctor Smith (Gary Oldman) who's been sabotaging the mission for Global Sedition for sometime, gets betrayed and left for dead onboard. Smith initially planned on repgramming the robot to kill the family and destroy the ship 16 hours into the mission, but when he wakes up to find himself onboard, he manages to stop it, but not before the robot sends the Jupiter 2 spiralling into the sun. With no other choice, they make a blind jump into hyperspace.

They find themselves in orbit of an unknown planet with an unknown ship above it. They board the ship to find out what's going on and figure out that it's an Earth ship sent to find them and that somehow, they've traveled through time. Further revelations reveal that the ship is empty and full of spiders and a random, color changing space monkey who takes a shine to Matt LeBlanc, Heather Graham and then Lacey Chabert. When the spiders attack, they flee and end up crashing on the planet, but not before one of the spiders takes a nibble off of Dr. Smith.

Once on the planet, they figure out that there's a strange time distortion that's causing the planet to shake apart and said time distortion is the key to get them off the planet before it shakes to pieces. So, John Robinson and Don West set out to investigate and because kids are kids and evil saboteurs are evil saboteurs, Dr. Smith and Will follow them. The origin of the time shenanigans are revealed, there's a touching realization about the important of being present in the lives of your children for Professor Robinson and oh yes, Dr. Smith meets his future self who turns out to be a giant mutant spider and after some technobabble and maguffination, everyone gets back to the ship and then, they have to figure out how to get off the planet.

This leads to the one part of this movie I remember the best. The end... when William Hurt turns to Matt LeBlanc and rasps out, 'Go... through it.' And then they go through the planet to get out the other side and jump into hyperspace, presumably to their destination, though they don't actually establish that.

Overall: This movie has not aged all that well. It's a delightfully retro late 90s blast from the past that is... generally okay. Matt LeBlanc is at his best when flirting with Heather Graham, but awfully wooden when being a military hotshot pilot. (I feel like that role was sort of written all wrong. You can be Ice Man or Maverick. You can't really be both and I feel like they tried to make Don West into both.). Mimi Rogers and William Hurt have decent chemistry, but nothing that really makes you pay attention. I totally forgot Heather Graham was in this movie and Gary Oldman manages to make something out of every role he's in. Other than that, it's kind of badly aged cheese. My Grade: ** out of ****

Saturday, May 5, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #259: Cafe Com Leite

This Week In Vexillology, we're dipping back into our Lost Archives (courtesy of The Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment) and heading back down to South America to take a look at a couple of Brazil's most dominant states, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. The subtitle of this post refers to the system of patronage and 'rule of the colonels' that dominated Brazil's Old Republic. The first Presidents of the Republic were from Sao Paulo but afterwards, the two states traded the Presidency right up until the 1930 Revolution which ushered in Brazil's Estado Novo under Getulio Vargas broke the old system's grip on power. (Cafe = coffee, which was the dominant industry in Sao Paulo, Leite = milk, the dairy industry which was dominant in Minas Gerais)

First up, the state of Sao Paulo:

This flag was designed by Julio Ribeiro in 1888 and it was originally intended for the entire country, but became a de facto symbol of the state after the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932. It wasn't officially adopted until November 27, 1946 after states and municipalities were given the right to create their own symbols under the Federal Constitution.

The thirteen stripes alternating between black and white represent the days and nights that the bandeirantes fought for the good of the state. Here's the thing though: I'm not sure what fight they're referring too. The 1932 revolution lasted a few months and the dissolution of the Empire and change to a Republic was less of a popular revolt than more of a coup d'etat.

The canton has a red rectangle on the upper left corner, representing the blood shed for the state. The white circle has an outline of the country in blue, the color of strength. A yellow star is in each corner of the rectangle and stands for the Southern Cross. The combination of red-black-white is meant to represent the three constituent races of Brazil: amerindians, blacks and whites.

Next up, the state of Minas Gerais:

The flag of Minas Gerais seems a little boring, but when you dig into it, you realize that there's a lot of history behind it. The words: 'Libertas Quae Sera Tamen' is the state motto, which is taken from the Latin and means, 'Freedom, albeit late.' It recalls the Inconfidencia Mineira, which was a failed conspiracy that happened in the state around 1789, which the goal of freedom from Portugal and creating a Republic with democratic elections. The flag the conspirators proposed for their new Republic was almost identical to the current flag of Minas Gerais except the triangle in the center- which was green. The triangle itself was equilateral triangle that was inspired by the Holy Trinity. 

And that's our shot of cafe com leite... remember, until next time, keep flying those flags, FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Peanut Butter Cups, Ranked

Truly, one of the greatest confectionery wonders of the modern age is the combination of chocolate and peanut butter. The ideal combination of these two ingredients, is, of course, to be found in the peanut butter cup. If you think it's a matter of taste, well then consider the fact that Reese's Peanut Butter cups are the number one selling candy in the United States of America right now. What's fascinating about the peanut butter cup is that it seems almost destined to have come to pass.

Milk chocolate in liquid form emerged in the 1830s in Saxony and morphed into bar form by 1875 when Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle developed the first solid milk chocolate bar in Switzerland. The use and cultivation of peanuts dates back to the Aztecs and Incas, but it wasn't until Marcellus Gilmore Edison came along and obtained a patent for it that the modern form of peanut butter began to kick around. (To be filed under, 'Today I Learned', apparently George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter. I think I also thought that Carver Hawkeye Arena was named after him for awhile when I was a kid, which goes to show what I know!)

All of which brings us back around to the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Founded by a foreman of the Milton Hershey Company, H.B. Reese in 1923, there were originally multiple lines of candy in the company, but once Mr. Reese realized that his peanut butter cups were selling like hot cakes, he discontinued everything else to focus on the awesomeness of the peanut butter cup.

He left the company to his sons, who brought it back home to the Hershey Company in 1963 in a stock-for-stock merger. Let this quote blow your mind for a second:
In 2017 after 54 years of stock splits the Reese brothers' original 666,316 shares of Hershey common stock represented 16 million Hershey shared valued at over $1.8 billion that paid annual cash dividends of $42 million. 
People love peanut butter cups. And looking at their list of current products, there's so many to choose from. Which begs the question: which ones are the best? Here's what I came up with:

1. Reese's Miniatures: the ideal size of cup. Not too small (like the minis) and not too big (like the regular or BIG cups.

2. Reese's Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Cups: y'all, these are good. And it's a good thing they don't come in big-ass bags, because I would eat the whole damn bag.

3.  Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups: a wild card, TJ's peanut butter is silky smooth and the perfect combination with their dark chocolate.

4. Reese's Crunchy Cooke Cup: I put this over the piece's cup, just because I like the texture. It's nice to get a little bit of crunch in your cup sometimes.

5. Reese's Pieces Cup: different texture, so it's good, but not quite as good as the crunchy cookie cup.

6. Reese's Dark: good, but not nearly as good as Trader Joe's version.

7. Reese's White: I'm eating some white miniatures at the moment and I'm still not sure how to feel about them. I don't think that white chocolate and peanut butter balance each other out well enough. 

8. Reese's Eggs/Trees/Holiday Shapes: they're always good, but you can't beat the miniatures or the regular varieties of cups.

9. Any and all BIG Cups: Proof that you can have too much of a good thing.

10. Reese's Minis: easy to eat by the bagful, they're just not well balanced enough. You need a good solid chocolate to peanut butter ratio to really enjoy a peanut butter cup and the Minis don't quite get there. 

This is by no means a definitive ranking and doesn't include the actual pieces, because well, they're peanut butter flavored M&M's. But in general: a. miniatures are the ideal size, ratio of chocolate to peanut butter, b. Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate cups are the only dark chocolate cups and c. peanut butter cups are the best.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Bookshot #108: Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

I think I first heard this book mentioned on a Tim Ferris podcast- specifically, the interview he did with Mr. Money Moustache (whose blog/site is fairly fascinating as well.) But, given the fact that I've always had sort of a itch to learn more about city and urban planning, it seemed like an interesting enough topic that I snagged the book on Kindle a few months back and slowly and steadily made my way through it, becoming more and more fascinated about the topic as I did so.

Charles Montgomery opens the book looking at the transformation of Bogota under forwarded thinking Mayors that wanted to shake up the image of a city battered by Colombia's long struggle against the drug cartels and by the exploding number of cars that were choking the streets of Bogota. People weren't happy and so they began to experiment with different ideas to change the architecture and design of their city, including the fantastically successful Ciclovia, where the people of Bogota turned their streets back over to the people. Montgomery uses the experience of Bogota to dive deeper into his thesis: the design of cities and the cities we live in have more to do with our own personal happiness than we think they do.

Montgomery's case is a persuasive one. He looks at a commuter suburb in California and examines the commute times and the lack of connection that results from America's pervasive suburban sprawl. McMansions in suburbs combined with long commute times mean that people spend all their time in cars and their weekends at home and lack a cohesive connection to the community in which they live. People don't talk to their neighbors. People don't know their neighbors. Lots of these suburban towns lack coherent identities because they're just places where people sleep, in many ways. All of these factors combine to the inescapable conclusion: the design of the cities we live in are making us unhappy.

The question for Montgomery then becomes: what can you do about it? How can we change the cities we live in? What have people actually done? That last question to me was probably the most fascinating aspect of this book over all. Montgomery delves into stories of the initiatives that cities have explored to change their design, ranging from Copenhagen turning the Stroget into a car free pedestrian zone, to a neighborhood in Portland who turned the intersection of SE Sherrett Street and SE 9th Avenue into a meeting place/focal point for their neighborhood by coming together to paint the intersection. Both of these examples you can find for yourself using either Google Maps or Google Street View, which is probably what made me enjoy this book so much. Montgomery's message isn't abstract: you can see it for yourselves.

The solutions are out there, but it's the battle to implement them that illustrates the scale of the problem facing the folks that are trying retrofit their way out of sprawl: the city code. This was probably the craziest part of the book to me...  it's not that cities don't want better design and it's not that people don't want better cities, it's that you can just start building the city you want. In many, if not most cases in America, it's the code that governs the city development that's the stumbling block to creating a better city, so the dreams of many an urban retrofitter are tempered by the fight to open up the city code from (in many cases) the monolithic, one size fits all, fill in the blanks kind of a Bible that many cities use to a code that allows cities to develop the diverse infrastructure that both cities and people need to maximize their own happiness.

Overall: I loved this book. I've sort of developed a fascination with the concept and power of design in general and this book scratched all the right itches for me. I'm scratching my head trying to think of the weak spots and maybe, maybe the one that comes to mind is Montgomery's insistence on pointing out how some of these ideas will impact the issue of climate change if implemented. While the intersection of urban design and climate change isn't something he makes a focal point of the book (and it's not something that bothered me particularly) but I know it's probably enough in this day and age to make some readers dismiss the entire book out of hand. Personally, I think that'd be sad, because whether you live in a big city or a small city, we all deserve to have better, happier cities to live in. **** out of *****

Saturday, April 28, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #258

I dug deep in the old flag reference guide this week, but I thought outside the box and I came up with a gem of a flag, so this week in vexillology, we're heading over to the Netherlands to take a look at the flag of Flevoland:
On the face of it, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal, right? It's a pretty basic flag. Three colors, green, blue and a nice little squiggle of yellow in the middle and a lily in the upper canton. But what makes the flag of Flevoland cool isn't the flag, it's the place itself.  The 12th and last province of the Netherlands it was incorporated in 1986, but what's crazy about it is that the land that makes up the province was only reclaimed in the 50s and 60s from where the Zuiderzee was.

Think about that for a second: a century ago, Flevoland didn't exist.

After decades of work, we ended up with this:
The current province of Flevoland has a population of just over 400,000. It's capital is Lelystad and it's largest city is Almere. The eastern and southern parts of the provinces only have peripheral lakes between them, which makes them the largest artificial island in the world. There's a saying: "God created man, but the Dutch created Holland." Flevoland is a perfect example of that.

The flag was adopted on January 9th, 1986 and is intended to recall how the province was reclaimed from the IJsselmeer. The blue represents the water, the green the land. The squiggle in the middle? It stands for the transformation of the sea into the land. The color yellow stands for the unfortunately named rapeseed, which was planted to stabilize the land. The lily is a pun commemorates Cornelis Lely, who designed the original polders that made up the province. He is also remembered in the name of the capitol of Lelystad. 

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

(The linguistic nerd in me can't help but love the name. It's original name was derived for a Roman name of a lake in much the same area, the Lacus Flavo. The 'flavo' means 'flow', so there's a distant cognate similarity between that and the Spanish verb for 'to flow', 'fluir.' In French, la flotte means 'float', in Portuguese, 'flow' is 'fluxo', Italian it's 'flusso'. For some reason my brain keeps going back to the Spanish word for rain, though, 'lluvia.')

Friday, April 27, 2018

Kidlit: Let's Talk About George's Marvelous Medicine

The Elder Spawn and I are continuing to make our way through the collected works of Roald Dahl. We've gone through both Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator. We've hit up some works of his that I wasn't as familiar with: The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me and Esio Trot (which the Beeb did a film adaptation of with some serious star power- Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench- which kind of shocked me, because it's a short short book, but they managed it.)

Then we got to George's Marvelous Medicine.

Y'all. We should probably talk about this book a little bit. In a world where even Peter Rabbit can cause people to lose their damn minds, I will be shocked indeed if we ever seen so much as a television adaptation of George's Marvelous Medicine. It is, in the parlance of our contemporary vocabulary, somewhat problematic.

The kicker is, if you check out the wikipage for the book, it wasn't intended as such. Instead, it was a tribute to the hard work of the medical profession.
Being a medical expert was one of what Dahl called his "dreams of glory: he had huge respect for doctors and particularly those who pioneered new treatments. He dedicated the book to 'doctors everywhere.'
Given that little bit of knowledge, the book looks a hell of a lot different. Reading it, I was sort of raising my eyebrows internally as I read it. It starts nicely enough. George is left home alone with his Grandma while his parents are out running errands. She needs her medicine every day at 11am and George, tired of her being a nasty old woman decided to brew up his own medicine hoping that it'll make her into a nicer person.

So far, so good.

Then, George starts to brew his medicine. (This is where it gets dubious.) He goes around the house and starts to collect ingredients, which include: deodorant, shampoo, floor polish, horseradish, gun, engine oil, anti-freeze and a lot of other ingredients too numerous to mention. At this point, I'm thinking: "Holy shit, he's going to straight up murder his Grandma." and "This book must give people who work at Poison Control nightmares." (Roald Dahl taking a sharp left turn into some seriously messed up darkness, y'all.)

George does some kind of weird trance like incantation and the medicine gets magical and therefore not poisonous though, but he figures out real quick that his medicine has some unusual side effects. His Grandma grows as tall as the house, busting through the roof. Her personality, however, remains as charming as ever. George's parents are less than thrilled to return home to this situation, but his Dad is all about making the farm animals bigger so they can get more meat, eggs, etc to sell.

Grandma, however, is still in the house and wants out and reluctantly, Dad gets a crane to remove her and tries to recreate George's medicine so they can have ALL THE GIANT ANIMALS, but instead, they end up creating a medicine that does the opposite and shrinks the animals. Grandma (who is still a crab-ass) is tired of sleeping in the barn and being gigantic, starts yelling about it and grabs the shrinky medicine and downs it. She then shrinks down to nothing and disappears.

George is horrified. His Mom is upset. His Dad is happy, because she was a crab-ass. And finally Mom even admits that her own Mother was a crab-ass and is all like 'NBD'. And that's the end of the book...

So: George makes a horrific poisonous concoction of literally every single household item that has a warning label on it and it doesn't kill his Grandma and when he tries to reproduce it, it shrinks her into nothingness, essentially killing her. And everyone is okay with that.

In all fairness to Dahl, there is a disclaimer warning at the start of the book telling kids in no uncertain terms to 'Not try this at home' but...  man, that ending is dark. Dark in a way that I forgot children's books could be sometimes. That's not to say it's a book to be avoided, by any stretch of the imagination. It's just...  questionable is all. The Elder Spawn and I will have done the complete works of Roald Dahl before long and this is the first book of his that's made me sort of pause.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Some Sprinklings of Good Ideas

There was a Vox article that was making the rounds on the Conservative blogosphere the other day that was getting the usual amounts of derision for being hysterical about President Trump, so I got curious and went to the source. And while the derision was somewhat well deserved, because yes, there is the usual sackcloth and ashes routine evident in the early 'graphs, but by the middle of the article, things start to get interesting.

I don't really accept the initial premise of the article, namely that President Trump is the chief symptom of a system that's badly broken. The system has been broken long before that and the rot keeps spreading because no one really wants to have a national conversation and sit down and talk about it. The ideas that made me sit up and pay attention:

1. Eliminate midterm elections by having the House, Senate and president serve concurrent four year terms. Meh. I love the idea of extending the House term to four years though... I feel like two is just not long enough to really get anything done before you're worrying about re-election again. I wouldn't put all the elections in one year though. Leave them more or less where they are- which means 1/3 of the Senate would be up with the House some years and with the President other years, which I'd be okay with. Bonus Idea: Ditch term limits and impose a mandatory retirement age on Congress instead.

2. An explicit right to vote in the Constitution. Endorsed! I see the nugget of common sense in voter identification laws... if you need an ID to get into a bar or drive a car, then why not to vote? Do I think that voter fraud is as nearly widespread as some on the Right claim it is? No. Do I think voter ID requirements are being used as a political tool to repress the vote of the political opposition? Absolutely. If you're going to do it, then it needs to be free, universal and readily available to all citizens. (Don't tell me it can't be done: everyone manages to get their social security cards and the Selective Service finds your behind just fine when you turn 18.) If it can't meet that standard, then away with it! Bonus Idea: Election Day should be a National Holiday.

3. The Fair Representation Act: Here's the lowdown on this... in general, I'm less thrilled at the idea of pure proportional representation than a lot of people because it does make you lose that representative link to your specific district- or at the very least, it dilutes it a bit, which makes the concept a hard sell to people in single member district systems like ours. A mixed system would preserve those district links while allowing a some proportional representation to reflect voter preferences more accurately than they do now. Constitutionally, there's nothing standing in the way of this, but there is a law passed in 1967 that does mandate single member districts. The mandate was imposed for some very legitimate reasons at the time, but the decades that followed have seen a decline in the competitiveness of Congressional elections and more safe seats than contested ones. I think given the historical context of the mandate, undoing it would have to be done in a carefully proscribed manner, but for sure, more room for states to experiment is something I'm down with.

4. Allocating Electoral votes proportionally: This wouldn't have helped Mrs. Clinton win last November, but it's a twist on the Electoral College that I think is more likely to happen that outright abolition. For right now, it's bad for Democrats. It takes more votes from states they traditionally 'need' to win (California, Illinois, New York) and doesn't really take that many from the more traditional 'Red States' though it would make Texas worth a visit. It'll be a cold day in hell before either party puts 'building a better democracy' ahead of their own interests, but this would make a more representative, better system. Suddenly, every Congressional district in every state matters. Which would, at least, bring the Electoral College back into line (at least to me) with the Founder's original vision for it, which was to keep the small states from being drowned out by the big ones.  Democrats in Texas suddenly have a reason to vote in this system, so would Republicans in California. (Here's FiveThirtyEight's take on it, here's 270toWin's.)

The ideas that made me blanch a little bit:

1. Public financing for elections: ugh... I know this is a popular notion that gets floated, but I'm not for it. I don't think it's a panacea to the whole 'money in politics' problem we have and it's got the potential to be easily turned into a poll tax in the wrong hands. What I am in favor of? Transparency, transparency, transparency! Every donation, every ad, every PAC, every 501(c), we should all be able to know who is donating to which candidate or candidates and who is funding, founding, bankrolling every single dollar. If I'm forced to accept the odious notion that 'money is speech' then it occurs to me that speech should be open, public and everyone should get to hear it.

Peeps, ideas like these are what I look for in both parties and candidates I support. I don't know if I'll ever make a serious run for elected office, but if I do, expect ideas like these to show up somewhere in my platform. We need, need, need to be talking more about political reform in this country. We need Constitutional amendments. Real ones, that have a hope in hell of getting out to the states. We need a national conversation on how to make our democracy better, because if there's one thing that unites us in the exasperating times we live in, it's the notion that our system can be and should be better than it is.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Albums2010 Musings: On Pulitzers

So. Kendrick Lamar's album DAMN. won the Pulitzer Prize last week and there was the predictable out pouring of the usual mixture of 'yassssss' and 'why?' I was surprised because well, I didn't know there was a Pulitzer Prize for Music and because honestly, I hadn't realized that it had taken this long for a hip-hop album to win it.

Looking back at the Albums2010 archives, I was kind of surprised to see some hip-hop pop up here and there. In general, it's not really a genre I connect with, but in many ways, I treat it the same way as I do country. When I hear something I like, I like it. That's lead me to discover groups like Atmosphere, Eyedea, Talib Kweli and Hieroglyphics along the way, but I still wouldn't consider myself an expert enough to talk about hip-hop in any sensible way. I had looked at DAMN. before, toying with the idea of reviewing it, but it's an important album and I'm a white dude who's not that good at writing about music anyway, so I didn't want to attempt it and end up showing the world my ass in the process.

In the frothy wake of the hot takes following Mr. Lamar's win, this Slate article landed in front of me: 'Classical Music Needs Kendrick Lamar More Than It Needs The Pulitzer.' Now this perked me up a bit and having read the article, I spent the afternoon listening first to DAMN. and then to the Black Panther soundtrack, trying to figure out if there was anything to this assertion. And you know what? I think the article might have a point. DAMN. surprised me. It surprised me because of how intricate and detailed the craftsmanship was throughout the album. There's subtlety in the composition of the music and versatility in Lamar's lyrics that honestly made me stand up and pay attention at points. 

I liked listening to it as well...  that sort of kind of took me aback a little bit, because if I go into an album blind, having never even heard any of it before, normally it takes me a listen or two to really get into an album, you know? But as I was listening to it, I realized that it wasn't too loud or obnoxious, it had waves, you know- like the tide ebbing and flowing and managed to give off a really chill vibe without undermining the gravity of some of the topics that Lamar delves into on the album. 

When I followed that up with the Black Panther Soundtrack (I still haven't seen the movie yet... something I really need to fix at some point soonish) I got more of the same. The choices, the music, the craftsmanship...  I can see why the original article drew the line between Classical Music and hip-hop, because if Kendrick Lamar composed a symphony or a concierto, I would listen to it.

Here's the thing, though: if he does (and it'd be pretty cool if he did) we shouldn't be that surprised about it. After all, if hip-hop can take a doorstop of a biography about Alexander Hamilton and turn it into a musical that manages to entertain, inform and breathe new life into a figure of the American Revolution we tend to forget about, there's really not a lot it can't do it. 

Seriously though: Chernow's biography of Hamilton is 832 pages and just listening to the Hamilton Soundtrack (no, I haven't scored tickets to go and see the damn thing yet- another item amongst many that I'm planning on getting too) it's amazing how the medium can translate what to many would be dry and dusty history into something that's vibrant and alive. It's a stroke of absolute genius to imagine Cabinet Battles between the founding fathers as rap battles, but that's what Lin Manuel Miranda did and while that seems like an idea you'd see in a Schoolhouse Rock somewhere, in Hamilton, it actually works on a level you don't expect. (I loved every second of the Hamilton soundtrack and I can't wait to figure out when we can go and see it in person.)

The underlying point to all the hot takes is this: there's not a lot that hip-hop can't do, it seems. We shouldn't be surprised when an album like DAMN. wins the Pulitzer any more than we should be surprised that someone can take dry and dusty history and turn it into a hip-hop musical that's a smash success. A lot of the classical musical giants will endure for a very long time indeed, but the question we must confront today is this: what music from our century will endure for a very long time indeed? I don't think it matters what the genre is, people notice quality. They notice artistry. They notice craftsmanship. DAMN. has all of that and more- will Kendrick Lamar be in the same orbit as Mozart or Bizet two centuries from now? I don't know. But I wouldn't bet against it.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Netflix & Chill #42: Thor Ragnarok

Watched On: DVD
Released: 2017
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Pick: Mine

Thor: Ragnarok opens roughly two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron with Thor still searching for the Infinity Stones and trying to figure out what, if anything, is coming- because he's still convinced that something is. Haunted by visions of the climactic final battle of Ragnarok destroying Asgard, he is imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur in Muspelheim. Surtur reveals that Odin is no longer on Asgard and that Ragnarok is coming once Surtur unites his crown with the Eternal Flame that burns in the vault of Asgard. Thor, for his part, defeats Surtur and takes his crown, believing that he has prevented Ragnarok.

Thor returns to Asgard to find his brother Loki posing as Odin. Thor quickly unmasks Loki and forces him to help find Odin, whom Loki left on Earth. Returning to Earth, they find Odin (with an assist from Dr. Strange), but Odin has some bad news: he's dying and his death will allow Thor and Loki's sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett) to escape from the prison she has been sealed in. The fact that they have a sister is sort of news to Thor and Loki, but Odin explains that he had imprisoned her and written her out of history after he feared she had become too ambitious, too eager to conquer all the nine realms.

Odin dies and Hela is released. In short order, she's destroyed Mjolnir, thrown both Loki and Thor off of the Bifrost Bridge, returned to Asgard, killed the Warrior Three and was planning to rule Asgard and conquer the other Nine Realms via the Bifrost, but Heimdall had the good sense to steal the sword that controls the bridge and hides away with the rest of Asgard and it's citizens. Hela, while displeased by this, appoints Skurge (Karl Urban) as her executioner and starts searching for the sword.

Having been thrown out of the Bifrost, Thor crash lands on Sakaar, where is captured, subdued and taken to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) by 142 (Tessa Thompson) who Thor recognizes as one of the Valkyrior who were killed defending Asgard from Hela long ago. Forced to compete in the Grandmaster's gladiator tournament, Thor is surprised to find himself facing none other than Hulk. Eventually, he convinces Hulk and 142 to go and save Asgard with him and in the process of escaping, they free the other gladiators and start a revolution against the Grandmaster in the process.

They return to Asgard and face down Hela and her forces. Hulk takes on the giant wolf, Fenris, while Thor and 142 fight Hela's army of the dead. The gladiators from Sakaar show up to help evacuate Asgard's civilians, but Thor loses an eye and then receives a vision of Odin which tells him what he has to do. Realizing that Asgard's strength is in it's people, he has Loki unite Surtur's crown with the eternal flame, releasing the demon and unleashing Ragnarok which destroys Asgard and (seemingly) Hela along with it.

His people now homeless, Thor is crowned King and decides to head to Earth.

Overall: Thor is one of the best things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and this movie was just plain fun from start to finish. It's an absolute delight and draws on the best source material from the original comics. (No kidding: Jason Aronson's run on Thor is one I'm seriously considering collecting along with Walter Simonson's original one. Excellent, excellent comics.) I always love actors that just have fun with the role they're playing and Cate Blanchett looks like she is enjoying herself in every scene she's in. Jeff Goldblum is perfect as The Grandmaster. Tessa Thompson was awesome on Veronica Mars and continues being awesome here. It all works. I have no idea what the plan is for the MCU going forward, but if they want to do another trilogy of Thor movies, I'm down. My Grade: **** out of ****

Saturday, April 21, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #257

You know what I'm starting to realize? Canada has some really good flags. No, seriously. British Columbia is somewhere in my personal top ten list of all time favorite flags and a couple of provinces over, the more I look at the flag of Saskatchewan, the more I like it. Check this sucker out:
Adopted on September 22nd, 1969 after a province wide competition that brought in over four thousand entries, Mr. Anthony Drake of Hodgeville, Saskatchewan created the winning design. And to be honest, there's a lot to like about it. There's a minimal amount of colors (I know professional vexillologists out there get all up in arms about 'too many colors! there's too many colors!' but it doesn't necessarily bother me all that much.) and the design is minimal as well. A horizontal bicolor with two symbols on it makes this flag look pretty sharp.

Let's break it down.  The coat of arms was granted first as just a shield by King Edward VII in 1906, the rest was requested by the province for their Heritage Year in 1985 and granted by Queen Elizabeth II the following year in 1986. In a wise design move, they just put the shield on the actual flag, which dovetails nicely with the colors without the added business of the beaver, the lion, the deer and the motto mucking it up. The shield itself is a lion passant- usually, the default colors are gold with red tongues and claws, but interestingly enough, on a gold field, they're red with blue tongues and claws, which is far more noticeably on the actual coat of arms than the flag. (I think it's there, but you have to squint. A lot.) Below the lion, you've got three gold sheaves of wheat that represent the agriculture of the province and the heraldic sheaf of wheat has pretty much become a symbol of the province itself.

In the fly of the flag, you've got the western red lily, the floral emblem of the province. The upper green half of the flag represents the forests of the north, while the lower golden half represents the prairie wheat fields of the south of the province.

In general, I think this is a pretty cool flag, but it could have been cooler. In 1964, for the 60th Anniversary of the Province, another competition was held to design a flag for the occasion and Sister Imelda Burgart of St. Angela's Convent at Prelate was selected out of 241 entries and she came up with this:                                                                                                                                               
This flag was flown through the Centennial celebrations of 1967 and supporters were actually hoping it would become the actual flag of the province and it's easy to see why. The use of the shield and the horizontal bicolor remain, but the cool part to me is the stylized sheaf of wheat. I've got nothing against the western lily as it looks pretty cool as well, but the stylized wheat? Man, that's on another level. 

The symbolism is also pretty similar to the current flag. The red stands the fires that once ravaged the prairies, the green stands for agricultural cultivation and life, the gold stands for the wheat fields. 

Both of these flags are, in my book, pretty damn cool. Good job, Saskatchewan!

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Sportsyball: Wenger Finally Out

I woke up about two hours ago, sat up, rode that feeling of gathering consciousness as the blood in your body starts to rush downward with the forces of gravity, like a rain stick. Fighting through clouds of sleep, I grabbed the stack of clothes I had set aside the night before and staggered into the bathroom to take a shower. As is my usual, lamentable, habit, I glanced through Twitter quickly to make sure World War 3 hadn't started overnight while I slept. (You laugh, but when the Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami hit, I was asleep. That was a bit of jarring and sobering thing to wake up too.) But there it was: #MerciArsene, trending everywhere on the soccer Twitter.

The rumors that had been flying for weeks were apparently true. Arsene Wenger, who had been manager at Arsenal for 22 years, was retiring at the end of the season.

It's been two hours and I'm still honestly not sure how I feel about all of this. The narrative in the Arsenal commentariat seems to have shifted from, 'man, he's gotta go' to one of relief, gratitude, melancholy and sadness that a legend is heading for the exits. And I feel that's right, really. This is a manager who has given literally decades of his life to the club and however frustrated the fans might have been with him at times, myself included, 22 years at a club combined with all the titles and phenomenal achievements that come with it means that you deserve a send off worthy of the time you've put in there and I think he'll get that. (I just hope the results on the field can give it an added sweetness- seriously, people: we've gotten Peter Cech his 200th clean sheet- can we get some points away from the Emirates to end the season? I'm loathe to even mention the Europa League- really crossing all the digits for good results now though!)

I was 13 when Wenger's tenure with the club started and the more I think about that, the more this feels like one of those 'moments' that you get to cross of a list somewhere. The Cubs had never won the World Series. The Red Sox had never won the World Series. No one had won the Triple Crown since I had been alive. (Also: I had never seen the election of a Pope until I was 22 and there's always been a Queen of England.) Arsenal's only ever had one manager, to me.

My interest in Arsenal has waxed and waned over the years. I feel like I don't have the deep connection with the club that some people have and that's largely because for years, there really wasn't Premier League matches on regular television anywhere in the states. Sure, you could get them on channels like Fox Soccer Plus (I seem to remember watching what I feel like was an Aston Villa v Middlesborough match that might have featured Paul Gascoigne sometime in high school on really grainy, terrible, late 80s quality footage.) But Arsenal sort of became my teams largely because of Dennis Bergkamp doing things like this in the World Cup and the fact that when I was in high school, everybody loved Manchester United because of David Beckham and then when he moved to Real Madrid a good two-thirds of them became Real Madrid fans because of David Beckham and that irked me a little bit.

Arsenal were good at the time. Any Scousers in the extended family wouldn't disown me for liking them. (Unlike, say, a Manchester team... though I've never asked them about liking Everton. I wonder what response that would get.) So, they became my team. And for most of the rest of my high school career, my fandom consisted of checking the league tables on the BBC Sport website to see how they were doing. The arrival of the Premier League on American television was a game changer. My fandom was no longer an abstract thing. I could watch actual games. Live. In my living room. It was incredible and utterly inconceivable to think about when I was in high school.

Since then, it's sort of dawned on me that being an Arsenal fan is, in many ways, like following Iowa football. When they're good, they can be very good indeed. And when they're not they're...  not. And usually they have enough alleged talent on the field to make you absolutely incandescent with frustration when it's the latter and not the former at play in front of you.

A change has been needed for awhile now, in my opinion and while it's perhaps not leaving on the highest of high notes as Mr. Wenger might deserve, there's still an opportunity to send him on his way on a high note both on and off the pitch. Hopefully, that happens.

In the meantime, I suppose I should add my voice to the chorus: Merci, Arsene.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Most Chaotic Timeline

I had a terrifying thought the other day. What if everyone's a little bit right?

No, seriously, think about it. We are, if the media is to be believed, in 'the end stages of the Trump Presidency' (also media: no, we're not.) The right wing internet has been waiting patiently with baited breath for the Inspector General's report on what exactly went down with the FBI, DOJ and the 2016 election. Each side is convinced that there's 'something' there, where ever 'there' is, but what if both sides find what they're looking for?

Seriously: what if everyone's a little bit right?

I'm no longer buying the Trump/Russia thing. It's entirely possible that I'm wrong about this, but I feel like unless Mueller is playing three dimensional space checkers, that ship has kind of sailed. While the administration does inexplicable things like stepping back from fresh sanctions, it's also been risking World War 3 with Russia by pitching missiles into Syria. Been expelling Russian diplomats after the nerve agent scandal over in the UK. If, as has been suggested the Kremlin has 'something' on Trump, I have to believe that they would have used it by now, because this is not the relationship you'd expect with a guy who allegedly have by the short and curlies.

I think that's why we've seen a shift toward the lawyer and the Stormy Daniels mess. I think a few more people will go down for the Russia thing, maybe the lawyer will go down for this mess or some alleged misdeeds, but I don't think they'll get that smoking gun and even if they do, I'm not convinced it's going to matter. Until the President's popularity ratings start to crater with Republicans, I don't think he'll be in any danger- why? There's a risk that this investigation starts to look like a fishing expedition and if a narrative emerges that the Establishment is trying to take down the President by any means necessary then the 'douse it all in gasoline and light it on fire' voters that put the President where is aren't going to throw him overboard. If anything, they'll just cling to him harder.

I buy the whole 'election shenanigans/improprieties' thing a little more, but not by much. I think fever dreams of a deep state conspiracy will remain just that, fever dreams. But what I do think, is that there will be enough wrongdoing and impropriety found to justify the shrieks of 'perfidious Deep Statism' emanating from the right. Something weird went down with the whole Clinton Investigation- especially given the fact that then FBI Director James Comey took a mulligan on the whole damn thing not ten days before the election last November.

In short: I expect a whole bunch of people go to jail and a lot of shouting to ensue and unless there's something else. Which there might well be, I don't know. Everything I've just written and you just read could well be 100 percent wrong. I think if there's one thing about this current Presidency that I know for sure- other than mental exhaustion and constant exasperation with the state of the world in general, it's that it defies prediction.

Why do I keep writing about the unfolding trainwreck going on all around me? I don't really know. Partially because it's everywhere and you can't escape it and if it's everywhere and you can't escape it you may as well take the time to check in with your thinking from time to time and see how you really feel about it. The idea of everyone being right about everything- at least a little bit- amuses me somewhat. If people's heads are going to explode over every goddamn thing these days, we might as well have some fun with it and go full on Scanners right? Let's make everyone's head explode!

The idea might amuse me, but it also worries me a little as well. Assuming the #BlueWave isn't just a Twitter hashtag and it actually happens, the last thing I want is the Democratic Party launching an impeachment drive that will undoubtedly be seen as nakedly partisan. (And oh the sweet irony if they end up doing it over the Stormy Daniels matter... because lying about a beej under oath was none of our fucking business, but having an adult entertainer sign a non-disclosure agreement so you can get bent over and spanked with a copy of Forbes that has your face on the cover- that's a moral bridge too far. If that is what this impeachment ends up being about, then I give the fuck up- there's only so much hypocrisy I can take, after all. Keep Calm and Win Some Fucking Elections Already, Democrats. In the immortal words of Admiral Akbar, Impeachment: "It's a trap!")

Whatever happens, truly this is the most chaotic of timelines.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Albums2010: The Archives

This project began eight long years and two blogs ago with this post. I'm going to finish it out next month on May 19th, exactly eight years to the day after it began with the very last album on my list. Some were lost to the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment (that I really shouldn't have done to begin with and should have worked harder to archive all the stuff I wrote that year) but all in all, it's been one hell of a journey, I think.

Looking back at my blogging history, I've begun feature after feature and just sort of forgotten about it after awhile- this has been one of the few that have stood the test of time and gone the distance with me. There were many times when it's felt like a chore- there were many times when I've wondered why I'm even bothering to do this at all, since music just isn't my thing and I can't really get beyond, 'this album is good/great/excellent or bad/meh/terrible' when I review them. But, I persevered... so without further ado, here are the archives of the Albums2010 Project:

#1: U2- The Joshua Tree
#2: Aerosmith- Big Ones
#3: Fleetwood Mac- Rumors
#4: Bob Marley and The Wailers: Legend
#5: The Clash- London Calling
#6: Jethro Tull- Minstrel In the Gallery
#7-#9: The Genesis Trifecta
#10: Wishbone Ash- Argus
#11: Green Day- Dookie
#12: Hootie & The Blowfish- Cracked Rear View
#13: Dave Matthews Band- Before These Crowded Streets
#14: Counting Crows- August and Everything After
#15: Garden State
#16: Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols
#17: The Cure- Disintegration
#18: Derek and The Dominos- The Layla Sessions
#19: Kings of Leon- Aha Shake Heartbreak
#20: Led Zeppelin- II
#21: Cream-Disraeli Gears
#22: Pink Floyd- Meddle
#23: Dire Straits- Brothers In Arms
#24: Coldplay- A Rush Of Blood To The Head
#25-#26: Abraxas and Supernatural
#27: Led Zeppelin- Zoso
#28: Days of The New
#29: Rancid- ...and out come the wolves
#30: Motorhead- Ace of Spades
#31: Bruce Springsteen- Darkness On The Edge of Town
#32: Rolling Stones- Exile On Main Street
#33: Tantric
#34: Gary Jules-Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets
#35: Snow Patrol- Final Straw
#36: N.W.A- Straight Outta Compton
#37: Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
#38: Mumford & Sons- Sigh No More
#39: Lady Gaga- Born This Way
#40-#41: She and Him Vols 1&2
#42: Amy Winehouse- Back To Black
#43: Dusty Springfield- Dusty In Memphis
#44:  Peter Tosh- Legalize It
#45: Hieroglyphics- 3rd Eye Vision
#46: Girl Talk- Feed The Animals
#47: Carole King- Tapestry
#48: Eyedea- By The Throat
#49: U2- Achtung Baby
#50-#56: The Quiet Man's Techno Extravaganza
#57: Foster The People- Torches
#58: fun.-Some Nights
#59: Florence + The Machine- Ceremonials
#60: Atmosphere- Seven's Travels
#61: Imagine Dragons- Night Visions
#62: Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
#63: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis- The Heist
#64: Gogol Bordello- Trans-Continental Hustle
#65: Tig Notaro- Live
#66: Cake- Comfort Eagle
#67: Abums2010 Revisited: Dookie Turns 20

#68-#80 were, alas, lost forever to the mists of time in the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment.

#81: Soundtrack to 'Brokedown Palace'
#82: Patti Smith- Horses
#83: Talking Heads- Remain In Light
#84: Jamiroquai- High Times
#85: R.E.M.- Out of Time
#86: Aesop Rock- None Shall Pass
#87: Stevie Nicks- Trouble In Shangri-La
#88: Phish- A Picture of Nectar
#89: Guardians of the Galaxy- Awesome Mix Vol. 2
#90: The Joshua Tree, Revisited
#91: The Beatles- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
#92: Phoenix- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
#93: LCD Soundsystem- american dream
#94: Future Islands- Singles
#95: Portugal The Man- In The Mountain In The Cloud
#96: U2- Songs of Experience
#97: Lorde- Melodrama
#98: Ed Sheeran- Divide
#99: The New Pornographers- Twin Cinema

That's all of 'em. Looking at this list, I'm actually impressed at some of my choices. I totally forgot that I listened to #46, #48, and #65. I have no ideas on how to end this project... (I just listened to the entire Hamilton Soundtrack for the first time, which is now on repeat in my brain and I noticed in my review of #96, I said I'd back track to listen to U2's Song of Innocence, which I haven't done either.) So I have options- you're just going to have to wait to find out how this is going to come to an end.