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 *****