Sunday, October 14, 2018

Netflix & Chill #52: '89

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2017
Directed By: Dave Stewart
Featuring: George Graham, Tony Adams, Michael Thomas, Lee Dixon, Paul Merson, Alan Smith, Nigel Winterburn and Ian Wright
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% (Audience Score)
Pick: Mine

I hadn't discovered club soccer in 1989. Point of fact, I had barely discovered any kind of sports fandom at all. I was dimly aware of the NFL and the might and magic of Joe Montana, but it wasn't until the late 90s that I really began to pay attention to football and soccer. So I was only dimly aware (thanks to reading Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch more than anything else) of Arsenal's dramatic title win in 1989.

89 goes deeper into that magical season and assembles the legends from that Arsenal team to tell you all about it: Manager George Graham and players Tony Adams, Michael Thomas, Lee Dixon, Paul Merson, Alan Smith, Nigel Winterburn and Ian Wright tell the story of that season- their interviews and recollections intercut with footage of actual games, team meetings and team training sessions throughout the movie. If you're an Arsenal fan, it's like catnip going into it- and hell, even if you're a casual sports fan that enjoys a good sports documentary going into this movie, you're going to enjoy. It's a behind the scenes recollection of a season gone by- the game was different, the season was marked by the tragedy of Hillsborough- and all of this was before the Premier League even came into existence in 1992.

The tension of the documentary begins to rise the later in the season that it gets. Arsenal is close to catching mighty Liverpool and then weirdly, the stars align into something that's tailor made for the movies: it all comes down to the last game of the season when Arsenal was faced with the seemingly impossible task of going to Anfield and winning by two clear goals.

Right there is where the narrative should go completely off the rails. Liverpool at the time were running rampant throughout the First Division. The eighties had been their decade and they had shown no signs whatsoever of slowing down at any point in the season. It'd be the college football equivalent of, I don't know... beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the national title. Yeah, that'd be the closest thing I could think of. You might be Ohio State or Clemson, but you gotta go there. And you gotta beat them. Odds are going to be against you and the situation is grim.

Switching back to soccer, it's here that Manager George Graham made a tactical decision that most of his players found to be utterly crazy: he decided to travel up to Liverpool on the day of the game- trying to make sure his team didn't have too much time to think about the task at hand. It seemed crazy, but oddly enough, it actually worked.

The last portion of this documentary focuses on the game itself and the tension only rises as Arsenal gets one of the goals they need and then in injury time in dying seconds of the match on literally their last possible attack, they score the winning goal. It is quite literally like something out of a movie- it's that impossible. I mean, just look at this beautiful goal. It's amazing. The crazy part of all of this: none of it's fake. It's all real. And it's one of the most extraordinary moments in sports.

Overall: A must watch for any Arsenal fan, it's one of the best sports documentaries I've seen. If you like Arsenal, soccer or sports in general, you'll love this movie. My Grade: **** out of ****

Saturday, October 13, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #272

Our tour of the counties of England continues and we're creeping northward from Somerset and northeast from Dorset to take a look at the next two flags on deck: Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Since we're kind of moving into the less obvious parts of England (and because, honestly, I've never known the counties of England nearly as well as I should) we might as well talk about where Wiltshire and Gloucestershire actually are.

(If you're from the UK, you can skip the next two paragraphs, for obvious reasons.)

Wiltshire: find London on your old Google Maps, zoom in a bit until you see the town of Reading off to it's west. Just to the south of Reading you should see the M-4 Motorway, Follow it west until you get to Swindon and bam. You're in Wiltshire. (Chippenham, Malmesbury, Warminster, Salisbury, Amesbury and Marlborough all form a loose perimeter of the counties boundaries.

Gloucestershire: find Bristol on your old Google Map, zoom in a bit until you see the M-5 motorway and follow it north to (strangely enough) the city of Gloucester. Bam. You're in Gloucestershire. (Alternatively, you can also just input 'Wiltshire' and 'Gloucestershire' into Google Maps and figure out the same thing- but it's just not as much fun. Also, I've been to Gloucestershire. The Cotswolds are beautiful.)

First up, the flag of Wiltshire:

First placed into usage in 2007, before being officially adopted in 2009, the flag of Wiltshire is a striking one- with alternating stripes of green and white symbolizing the grassy downs of the county and their chalk underlay. The colors stand for hope, joy and safety (green) or peace (white.) It's known as the Bustard Flag because of the bird on the center of the flag. It's been extinct in England since 1832, but there's currently efforts underway to reintroduce it and there's a small population going down near Salisbury. The bird is gold on a solid green circle to represent the open grassland of the county, the six green and white sections represent the stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury in the county as well as the six counties that surround it. (Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire.)

Next up, the flag of Gloucestershire:
Known as the Severn Cross, this flag was adopted in 2008 as the winning entry in a competition held by the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the county. There's really not a lot of this this flag, except that I'm honestly not sure about the color scheme. It seems almost faded somehow and I'm not especially sold on the combination of the colors either. It's more... 'eh, another cross?' But I'll give them some credit. The symbolism of the flag is nice and easy as well: the blue of the cross stands for the River Severn, green stands for the Golden Valley and the cream in the flag stands for the stone of the Cotswolds.

So there you have it, the flags of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying FREAK or otherwise!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Psephology Rocks: The Unexpected Upside of Getting Stabbed

So, Brazil voted in the first round of their Presidential elections this past Sunday and the results weren't exactly good news. (I mean, I suppose that depends on your point of view- some people might consider them to be very good news indeed- it's just that in general, I don't. I can understand why the results were the way they were, it doesn't mean I have to do a cartwheel and clap my hands about them either.) So what went down?

Hardline conservative candidate Jair Bolsonaro took 46.03% of the vote and his main opponent Fernando Hadded took 29.28 percent of the vote. They're now heading into a runoff set for October 28th. So why is Bolsonaro bad news? Well, John Oliver did a pretty good rundown on the guy on Last Week Tonight that's worth watching. Glen Greenwald over at The Intercept did an excellent run down as well. It's very, very easy to get caught up in comparisons with President Trump- calling the guy 'The Tropical Trump' or 'Trump of the Tropics' looks good on a cable new chyron, but it's not at all accurate. He's closer to Filipino President Rodrigo Duerte and his military background and apparent fondness for a military dictatorship that brutalized Brazil for two decades make him very worrying indeed.

While his racism, homophobia and misogyny are again, easy targets for cable news up in America- and are obviously deplorable, those aren't the factors driving his rise. As with President Trump, you can't rule the nasty motivational factors out of the equation, but as Greenwald points out in his piece- this is yet another failure of an Establishment that's all too eager to blame anyone but themselves- which, given the massive corruption scandal that's been unfolding down in Brazil, it's pretty easy to understand why folks down there aren't exactly warming to Establishment candidates at the moment. People want someone to burn it all down and Bolsonaro is apparently their guy.

Now, up here in the United States where we've been trucking along with our democracy for a couple of hundred years now* without any history of military intervention, a 'burn it all down' candidate might well offend the sensibilities of the Establishment and 'polite society' but down there in Brazil, where democracy has been a going concern for thirty three years, a 'burn it all down' kind of guy raises some serious concern that democracy can be put on a shelf and an authoritarian dictatorship can do the job better. That's not good news for the world's fourth largest democracy.

If there's one event that probably ended up helping Bolsonaro in a weird way, it was probably getting stabbed at the beginning of September. He was present for the first two presidential debates in August, but he's been absent for the five after that. (Also: holy shit that's a lot of debates.) The stabbing effectively kept him out of the debates and off the campaign trails, but you can bet that people were talking about it and there was plenty of media coverage of his recovery. Essentially, he earned a lot of media without a lot of the scrutiny- and also, denied himself opportunities to step on various landmines along the way. Turns out there's an unexpected upside to being stabbed, after all.

But here's the other thing: I haven't done the deepest of dives into the data, but I don't think the stabbing was the precipitating event that launch Bolsonaro on his upward trajectory: it was the absence of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva from the race. He was disqualified from running- and this poll tracker from Datafolha tells a two very different tales. Without Lula, you see Bolsonaro continue his upward trajectory in the polls- there's not even a real spike after he was stabbed in the beginning of September. With Lula, Bolsonaro tops out at 19% and doesn't get much higher than that.

Which brings us back around to Fernando Haddad and the very bad math:

Bolsonaro: 46.03%
Haddad: 29.28%
Gomes: 12.47%
Alckmin: 4.76%
Amoedo: 2.50%
Daciolo: 1.26%
Meirelles: 1.20%
Silva: 1.0%
Dias: 0.8%
Lucia: 0.05%
Eymael: 0.04%
Goulart: 0.03%

Haddad finished 16.75% back from Bolsonaro. That translates to roughly 17 million votes or so that he somehow needs to find in the next two weeks. It gets easier, because everybody else on that long-ass list right there is now out of the picture. If you add up everybody else's vote share and tack them you get 24.69% and if it all swings to Haddad it should put him over the top with 53.97%. (The vote share total for all the rest is about 26 million votes.) That's still a hell of a swing to count on- I'm not sure- because primarily I'm not in Brazil so I don't really have a good idea of what's going on 'on the ground' as it were- but I don't think you'll see what happened in France when the LePens got through to their respective seconds rounds happen here. I could be wrong- maybe everyone will close ranks against Bolsonaro and Haddad will wrap this up no problem. But I also think that if he is (as John Oliver seemed to indicate) running as a Diet Lula, as it were that might be a problem to an electorate pissed off about a massive corruption scandal, insanely high crime rates and coming off of the worst recession it's seen ever.

(But what the hell do I know? I'm not in Brazil.)

Here's the bad news in all of this: every time Brazil has gone to a runoff, whomever has won the first round ends up winning the second round and thus, the whole damn thing. Haddad's 16.75% gap after the first round isn't even the largest on record: that honor goes to Jose Serra in 2002, who finished 23.25% back from Lula da Silva after the first round of that election. 2006 and 2014 had the narrowest gaps, with 6.77% and 8.04% separating the top two candidates after the first round. But 2006 is kind of a red herring: Lula ended up blowing Alckmin out of the water in the second round, taking 60.83% of the vote compared to 39.17%. (That's right, Alckmin somehow managed to lose votes between the first and second rounds.)

So really, we have to look to 2014 if we want something to hang out hats on. The gap after the first round was 8.04% between then President Dilma Rousseff and Aecio Neves... it narrowed to 3.28% in the final results. Neves managed to pick up 16 million new votes between the first two rounds. It wasn't enough, because President Rousseff picked up 11 million votes of her own. (Neves is actually a pretty colorful character.)

In short, the patterns seen in Brazilian elections aren't good news for Haddad. Not only does he have to close the gap in two weeks, he's got to pass Bolsonaro. If he manages it, it'll be the first time in the history of Brazil's democracy that the candidate who lost in the first round came back to win in the second round. Candidates can lose votes between the first and second rounds- that's been done before, so there's always the hope that Bolsonaro proves to be his own worst enemy, but Haddad has a huge gap to close and not a lot of time to do it in.

I hope I'm wrong, but at this point it seems like Bolsonaro's to lose.

*Yes, our democracy started with a limited franchise and it's barely one hundred years into a dictionary definition of universal suffrage and really only five-six decades into real actual universal suffrage if you really want to get nitpicky about it. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Squawk Box: Fall Grab Bag

God Friended Me: I was a little dubious about this one, but after the first episode, I think I'm kind onboard with it. When Preacher's Kid turned outspoken Atheist Mile Finer (Brandon Michael Hall) gets 'friended' by God, it sort of turns his life upside down and it leads him to two other people John Dove and then Cara Bloom whose lives intersect with his own in unexpected and one might say miraculous ways. It's a concept that you sort of raise an eyebrow at when you see a preview for the show- you're not entirely sure if it's going to work, but surprisingly it does- remarkably well. I don't know if it's soon enough to dub it a 'Touched By An Angel for the 21st Century' but it could well head in the direction. It's more grounded, less treacle-y that Touched was, but seems like a show that will fit right in on CBS. It also starts poking around with the idea of faith in very interesting ways while also making a subtle but important point about social media: it doesn't have to be a dumpster fire and with a little divine help, you can actually do some good if you put your mind to it. I'll keep watching this one as well.

911: I was dubious about coming back to this show after last season. I can't think of many dispatchers that actually hopped on board with the show last season- it was... problematic to say the least, but somehow with Season 2, they've managed to find their feet right out of the gate. The introduction of Buck's sister who is looking for a fresh start and eventually winds up as a 911 Dispatcher is a brilliant hook, because it allows the viewer to see a character learning the ropes of the job. Buck has actually grown up a little bit and after a rough spurt of immaturity with the introduction of a new firefighter manages to make it through the first three episodes without being totally unbearable. Peter Krause and Angela Bassett seemed like a weird, almost forced couple at the end of last season in many ways- but they manage to find ways to make it work in the Season Premier and they've got good chemistry together so I'm honestly looking forward to this one going forward.

The 'dispatch' aspect of it is still somewhat lacking. I'd like to see more of Jennifer Love Hewitt doing the actual job and fielding the calls. Her trainer made me cringe so so bad, because in real life, there's no way you'd be cutting trainees loose on their first day because you've had an earthquake. (The 'listen to a call', 'learn a call' and 'do a call' training method isn't horrible, but the way it's portrayed in the show is so so so so bad.) It's a nitpick, I know. But it's also a good sign, because if a dispatcher can nitpick about training methods, it's probably like a nurse or doctor watching a medical show. And that is great news. I'm kind of pumped about this. Will keep watching.

Murphy Brown: I wish the original run of Murphy Brown would show up somewhere online. Like Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime- I know it'll probably be consigned to CBS All Access (gross), but I'd like to actually sit down and watch the original run. I didn't realize how much it intersected with real politics (like she called out Dan Qualye on the show and then she interviewed other single parents to underline the point. That's really powerful, incredible stuff.) I think it's tip-toeing around something really great- but unfortunately, President Trump keeps getting in the way. The fact that her son (played by Jake McDorman) is also a journalist- but at a rival conservative news network is a concept I hope they keep playing with- but there's also other stuff they could explore as well! When Murphy sneaks into the White House Press briefing in a weird fit of maternal jealousy after her son gets an invite to the press briefing and she doesn't to try and ask a question, she ends up hectoring Sarah Huckabee Sanders and lecturing her about the many faults of the Trump administration- not actually asking a question and not letting her son ask his planned question about the high cost of pharmaceuticals. He rightfully calls her on it and in doing so, sets an interesting theme of what journalism should look like and how it can be effective in today's media environment. If they can get away from ranting about Trump and start mining some of that territory, they could get some of the old magic back and then some. (Also: Hillary Clinton had a cameo in the first episode that people online absolutely hated. It was a little forced in parts, as 'celebrity' cameos often are, but I found it to be self-deprecating, self-aware and it got a chuckle out of me.)

New Amsterdam: a new medical show on NBC, this one offers a different twist on the usual fare: rugged and unshaven white guy (Ryan Eggold) takes over as Medical Director of New York's oldest hospital with an insane mission that's sure to end well for all involved: changing the system. ("Before you can heal patients, heal the system!" "It's the show everyone in America needs to see!") The hint of breathless platitudes hanging over this show almost almost make you want to roll your eyes and change the channel, but damn, once you watch the pilot you're kind of sucked into it whether you like it or not. If this wasn't based off a true story, the idea of a rugged and unshaven white guy coming to save the system would strike me as incredibly lazy writing, but Doctor Who alum Freema Agyeman is also onboard as an oncologist (which proves to be important, given the unexpected twist at the end of the first episode) and she instantly elevates any show she's in. TL;DR: watch this for Freeman Agyeman. If you've got a black, cynical heart about the world, prepare for some eye rolls here and there. But it's decent so far.

Honorable Mentions: The Gifted (X-Men on TV only without, you know, the actual X-Men), I Feel Bad (any sitcom that can make me laugh out loud multiple times in an episode is worth watching), and Manifest (pilot was intriguing, but the 'big mystery' hook feels a little too much like Lost for my liking. Worth a peek though.)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #271

Our tour of the counties of England continues this week, with the next two counties on deck: Dorset and Somerset. I've spent time in both, but my grandparents used to live down in Dorset, so I've spent more time down there than in Somerset. I'll be honest: I miss England a lot, but Dorset especially. It truly is one of the most beautiful parts of England. Hopefully we can get back over there one of these years.* (I actually tried hunting through my Facebook pictures to see if I had a good one from vacation back in the day, but alas. I don't.)

Anyway, let's talk about the flag of Dorset:
The flag was adopted in 2008 (when apparently, a lot of counties down south got into the flag business) and is know as St. Wite's Cross or The Dorset Cross. The red and white in the flag were taken from the Arms of Dorset, which features three red lions on a field of white. The gold in the flag is the interesting choice here for a variety of reasons: the supporters of the arms are two golden dragons. Wessex, the ancient Anglo-Saxon Kingdom which occupied much of present-day Dorset used a golden dragon as it's emblem. Dorset grows the unfortunately named rapeseed, which covers the county in fields of yellow- along with their wheat and barley. Bournemouth and Weymouth bring sandy beaches to the party. Golden Cap is the highest point on the Jurassic Coast (I'm pretty damn sure I've climbed up the cap and it's beautiful. Or whatever hill I climbed up was beautiful, anyways.) Gold Hill is a famous street in Shaftesbury. The Dorset militia and regiment used the color gold, red and green.

Oh and I suppose we should add a link to St. Wite, who's a female Saint from Dorset. (Apparently she was thought to have been martyred by the Danes back in the 9th Century.)

Next up, the flag of Somerset:
Ah, Somerset... home of Glastonbury and drenched with Arthurian legends and mythology. If you ever go to Glastonbury and see the Tor, you could believe that in ancient times it really was the home of the Isle of Avalon- and there's a little bit of Grail Lore at play as well with the Glastonbury Thorn. It should come as no surprise that the flag of Somerset has connections to the old legends as well.  The arms of Somerset feature a red wyvern holding a mace, supported by two deer. And the flag of the county takes the Red Wyvern and puts it on the field of gold without the mace. There's complicated heraldry at work here: the official arms aren't available for sale, so they couldn't bring the mace along for the ride, but it's also an important enough symbol for the county that if they slapped it on a flag without a mace, they'd be okay.

The crest of the Red Wyvern was mentioned in the book "The Once and Future King" by TH White- Arthur wears it during the first joust between him and Lancelot. The flag was officially adopted in 2013.

And there you have it: the flags of Dorset and Somerset! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

*I miss the landscape of England. It's so green and beautiful and in my brain, for whatever reason almost instantly recognizable. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Free Write Friday #2: Finding Earth

A team of archaeologists, 15,000 years in humanity's future, equipped with the latest tech and brightest minds, set out on a quest to prove the myth of their origin-- Earth.

The ship unfolded into normal space and came to a stop. It was a small ship, a research vessel that it's owner had named Howard Carter? Tut Tut. It had three decks, one for cargo, one for living quarters and a small but functional galley and a third deck which was the main command deck and research library.

"Where are we?" The Captain was a Vegan named Frontel Jenkins, who had degrees in Xenobiology and Interior Design from the University of Vega Minor. They weren't quite sure how they had ended up as Captain of this particular madcap quest, but there they were. Being all captain like and hoping their blue skin and gills made them appear suitable imposing, as Jenkins assumed all captains should be like.

"Three parsecs away from Proxima Centauri," Achebe replied. She and Nkrumah were the navigators and cartographers from New Deneb. Shelby Fewkes was from Altair. Chen-Lu was from Procyon. They were a small crew- only six of them, but they were well funded- at least for now, but their backer was getting impatient and was starting to demand results. Results that, so far, they had been unable to provide him.

"Have we been here before?" Jenkins asked.

"Negative," Shelby responded. "We're down in the western spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Haven't been in this part of the 'verse at all yet."

"All right," Jenkins said. "Let's start scanning and cross check historical records and get to know where we are."

"Aye, Captain" they all replied.

The team began to scan the area, checking to see what they could find. It had been six years since they had set out on their journey and now their backer- the Altairian Trillionaire, Quinqua Chesko was getting impatient. Their mission had been a simple one: to find, once and for all, the mythical planet of humanity's origins: Earth.

Of all the crew, maybe Shelby was the only true believer in the stories of old Earth. Jenkins wasn't quite sure what xenobiology was going to do to help them find their destination and was really onboard to coordinate the team and fill out their payroll every month. Achebe and Nkrumah knew enough about the historical records to be convinced that there had been a single point of origin for humanity, but had to find evidence enough that it was the legendary planet named Earth. Chen-Lu didn't say much- but that wasn't exactly new. In the six years since they had been on this journey, Chen-Lu had maybe said a dozen or so sentences.

"All right people, what are we getting?"

"Next system over is an m-type system, ten planets. Four inner planets, an asteroid belt and six outer planets," Nkrumah said. "I'm reading four gas giants, including one extremely large one with an extensive moon system."

"Anything from the historical record?"

"A little bit," Achebe admitted. "I'm reading a lot of material from the Third Imperium that used to rule this area of the galaxy. They always claimed to be the one true humans."

"Anything further back than that?"

"I found a reference to that fragment the Altairians claim is from an old Earth probe. Something called a 'naza'?" Shelby said.

"I'm seeing those as well," Achebe said.

"So is this worth investigating?" Jenkins asked them all.

"Yes." They all turned slightly in surprise, for it was Chen-Lu who had spoken.

"Chen-Lu, are you sure?"

"Yes," he said it again. "This is the place."

Jenkins gave him a long look before shrugging. "Well, I guess if Chen-Lu is onboard, then we go in. Shelby, set course for the center of the system."

"Aye, Captain."

They pushed the power to the engines and turned the ship toward the heart of the unknown system. A silence fell among them then, as their instruments began to pick up the faint signs of a long since vanished civilization of some kind. The closer they got to the center of the system, the more signs they saw. There were ruins, a gate of some kind in orbit of the largest gas giant. Achebe thought that it was one of the great engines designed to stellarize a gas giant to turn it into a star.

The asteroid belt was spookier still, with broken open, hollowed out asteroids clearly showing the remnants of human habitation. It felt like a graveyard and none of them were talking now. Shelby was just steering them deeper and deeper into the system. None of them wanted to embrace the possibility that this was the place. No one wanted to believe that their quest was over. No one wanted to believe, until they emerged out of the asteroid belt and passed the red planet.

Nkrumah gasped. "Those are cities."

"Any signs of habitation?"

"Negative," Shelby replied. "Scans show no signs of life."

"Mars," Chen-Lu intoned. "The red planet of legend."

"Keep going," Jenkins ordered. "Get us to the next planet."

They all felt the engines kick as Shelby increased the power. The excitement in the air was palpable now They all knew the legends. They all knew the myths. They all knew that if the red planet was the fourth planet of the system then it would stand to reason that the third planet should be blue. If the legends were true that is.

"Captain," Shelby said. "We're now entering orbit of the third planet."

"On screen," Jenkins said and the viewer clicked on. No one spoke. It was beautiful. Blue, green, flecked with white clouds. Chen-Lu spoke once more. "There it is. Earth."

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Earhole #2: Star Trek, Unsolved Art Heists and Mexican Revolutions

I was trying to remember how long it had been since I had done one of these posts and to my shock, I realized that the last one was sometime over the summer- and we're officially into a new season now, so I figured why not take the first week of October to update everyone on what's in my Podcast feed at the moment. There's a lot to be excited about if you're into podcasts... Dan Carlin has a new Hardcore History series going and did an addendum show on the sinking of the USS Indianapolis that's worth your time. Season 3 of Serial is underway. Tim Ferris has had a couple of interviews that are worth a listen as well: Doris Kearns Goodwin, the historian and Hamilton Morris of Viceland's Hamilton's Pharmacopeia. But if you want to know my top three at the moment, here they are:

Star Trek The Next Conversation: A must listen for any serious fan of Star Trek, this show also takes a critical if humorous look at every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Hosted by podcast savant Matt Mira and his co-pilot Andrew Secunda, both of whom write for The Goldbergs at the moment, their love of Trek collides with their knowledge of how television is actually produced in interesting and insightful ways. I'm barely a year off of completing the grand Star Trek Cycle (I watched every. single. Star Trek show.) and these guys make me want to jump back in and start all over again.

They've got a Patreon, an Instagram, Twitter and a Facebook group that's insanely active with followers of the show- so if you're willing to plonk down some cash on the Patreon, you can get access to bonus content- if you're not willing to do that, then they've got an extensive social media platform you can hop onboard. More importantly though: they've just gotten into Season 4, so now they're getting into TNG at it's best. (As every true Trekker knows, this show didn't get good until Season 3.) So if you want a Star Trek podcast, there's no better time to jump aboard than right now.

Last Seen: This one was a recent recommendation from a Facebook friend, and I'm only one episode in, but man oh man, I am all in on this one and you should be as well. Exploring the largest unsolved art heist in US history, a team from the Boston Globe is digging into the infamous 1990 heist at the Isabella Stuart Gardiner Museum, which saw thirteen paintings- including Rembrandt's The Storm on the Sea of Galilee vanish in one night- they have yet to be recovered.

I had heard of this art heist- you don't spend five years as an undergraduate working in an Art Museum and not pick up a nugget or two about art heists, but knew absolutely nothing about it and the news that the thieves disguised themselves as cops and spent nearly an hour and a half inside the Museum was sort of a stunning revelation to me. I have no idea where this one is going to go, but if you love art, heists or just a good unsolved mystery get this one in your podcast feed pronto.

Revolutions: Mike Duncan did an amazing job with The History of Rome and followed it up with his Revolutions podcast which is now in it's ninth 'season'. I cannot, cannot, cannot recommend this one to people enough. He's looked at The English Revolution, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, the Wars of Independence in South America, The Revolution of 1830, the Revolutionary Year of 1848, The Paris Commune and now he's just getting into the meat and potatoes of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

In general, our educational system does a dubious job teaching history as it is. But they also leave most Americans with an incredibly poor understanding about the history and politics of our immediate neighbor to the south (and the north as well.) Duncan's latest revolution, the Mexican Revolution is offering (so far) a fascinating look into the history of Mexico, what drove it's political evolution and development with a few historical ironies thrown in for good measure. (Porfirio Diaz running for President on the platform of 'no re-election' springs to mind, despite it being his most lasting legacy in Mexican politics.) The Mexican Revolution defined the politics south of the border for nearly a century in large ways and small. If you've always wanted to know about the country right next door, this is the podcast for you.

This is what I'm listening to at the moment... have a suggestion or two? Leave them in the comments below!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Bookshot #112: 12 Rules For Life

I fell down a rabbit hole of his YouTube videos and I've listened to a few episodes of his podcast and the odd interview here and there, so it only seemed logical that I should track down Jordan B. Peterson's book, 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos and see what all the fuss is about. I'm not really sure how to quantify this book in many ways. There are elements that make it feel like a 'self-help' book (which would make this the first self-help book I've ever read), there are elements that delve deeply into evolutionary psychology and there are elements that represent a profound critique of many elements of the cultural orthodoxies of today.

The original idea for this book was a Quora post by Professor Peterson in 2012. His simple answer turned out to be so popular he expanded each of the rules into it's own chapter in the book. I suppose the obvious starting point would be to list the rules themselves:
1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday not to who someone else is today.
5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient.)
8. Tell the truth- or, at least, don't lie.
9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't.
10. Be precise in your speech.
11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
On the face of it, a lot of these seems to be pretty self-evident, common sense kind of rules. But that's the crazy part about the world we're living in today: all of these things apparently need to be said and when they are said, they resonate with an audience that is growing in number. It's almost as if this cultural moment we're living, we're all looking for someone to sit us down and give it to us straight, like a good spoonful of medicine that might taste nasty, but will ultimately be good for us.

I guess if I'm going to be so bold as to try and boil this book down to a single, overarching theme, it might be this: We're all flawed, quite probably in ways we don't want to admit, so why do we obsess about fixing the world when we can't fix ourselves? Rule 6 probably delves into this notion the most, but really, the other rules more or less branch off of this theme. Want to project confidence? Stand up straight with your shoulders back. (Rule 1). Want to learn how to value yourself so you can create a life that's meaningful? Try rules 2, 3 and 7. Want a simple and easy philosophy on how to improve yourself? Try rules, 4, 8, 9 and 10. Wanting basic advice on how to be a better parent and raise better kids? Try rules 5 and 11. Want to appreciate the good moments in life, because they can be few and far between sometimes? Try rule 12.  There's a little something for everyone in this book, but all of it goes back to that core seed at the center of it all: we can't fix the world around us until we've done the hard and necessary task of looking inside ourselves to correct our own flaws.

Promoting and encouraging the idea of serious self-examination is something that I can get behind. The clamor and noise around Petersen and his book, I'm not sure I can. Do I think this is an interesting and important critique of our current culture? I do. Do I think it's a PHENOMENON and LIFE CHANGING and starting a MOVEMENT of some kind? I'm not convinced. It's very worth reading and Petersen is interesting enough that I would encourage people to listen to his podcast and watch his YouTube videos to really get a sense of who he is and how he thinks. I haven't seen many criticisms of him that I found to be all that salient or effective- and a lot of the times, that goes back to his 10th rule, be precise in your speech. When you find an attack or criticism against him and go back to the original clip, you find how easily his words have been twisted into something else entirely.

I don't know what Peterson represents yet. The growth of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web seems encouraging people to engage with ideas and criticisms in a much more serious way than they have ever before. I don't know what it might turn into or what's going to happen with it, but serious, deep discussions on any number of important ideas in society can only be a good thing.

Overall: This is a thorough, though-provoking and important book to read. You can learn a lot, if you're after knowledge. You can absorb a lot, if you want to engage with critiques of our civil discourse today. And it can help you a lot if you're looking for help. My Grade: ***** out of *****