Sunday, April 21, 2019

Netflix & Chill #61: Dune

Watched On: Amazon Prime
Released: 1984
Directed By: David Lynch
Starring: Francesca Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Silvana Mangano, Everett McGill, Kenneth McMillan, Jack Nance, Sian Phillips, Jurgen Prochnow, Paul Smith, Patrick Stewart, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow, alicia Roanne Witt, Sean Young
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Pick: Mine

Dune is one of those movies that always seems to be on the SyFy Channel, TNT or [Insert Cable Channel Here] late at night that I don't think I've ever sat through and watched from beginning to end all the way through. I've seen large chunks of it- enough that I might as well have seen it from beginning to end- but never all at the same time. So when it popped up on Amazon Prime and, being stuck at work on a gloriously sunny 4/20, I figured what better way to celebrate the unofficial holiday than by watching Dune? The spice, after all, must flow.

In the far distant future, the known universe is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (Jose Ferrer). His empire relies on the melange known as 'spice' which extends life and expands consciousness. Most importantly, however, it assists the Spacing Guild with folding space which allows for safe and instantaneous interstellar travel. At the start of the movie, they arrive to demand an explanation from the Emperor about a threat they have sensed to the spice trade. For his part, the Emperor reveals his secret plan to destroy House Atreides, which has grown in power throughout the Empire and has ousted House Harkonnen from control of the planet Arrakis, which produces the spice. Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow), his son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) and Lady Jessica, Paul's mother (Francesca Annis) arrive on the planet to take control. What they don't know is that the Emperor intends to have them ambushed and killed- the Spacing Guild is especially insistent that Paul be killed, fearing that he is the greatest threat of all.

The Emperor's plan is initiated with the help of a traitor within House Atreides and while Duke Leto and the traitor are left to due at the hands of the Harkonnens, Paul and Jessica flee into the deep desert where they are rescued and taken in by the Fremen warriors, native to Arrakis. Jessica becomes their Reverend Mother and Paul falls in love with Chani, a Fremen warrior he had seen in his visions (Sean Young). He takes on the name Muad'Dib and soon the Fremen realize that he is the leader that they have been waiting for. He trains the Fremen and teaches them to use weirding modules and begins an insurgency against the spice production on Arrakis. It takes two years, but Paul and Fremen effectively halt spice production on the planet. The Spacing Guild returns to the Emperor to demand an explanation for this halt and he promises to go and restore order himself. The Spacing Guild tells the Emperor that Paul might drink The Water of Life, which is a poison used by the Bene Geserit to induce their psychic abilities-- if he does so, they fear that he may be revealed as the Super Being the Kwisatz Haderach.

As the Emperor prepares to wipe out all life on Arrakis and ousts the Harkonnens from control of the planet, Paul and the Fremen launch their final offensive. He drinks the water of life, which gives him powerful psychic abilities and the ability to control the sandworms of Dune. The Fremen defeat the Emperor's forces and Paul kills the last of the Harkonnens and assumes control of the known universe, confirming his status as the Kwisatz Haderach by fulfilling the Fremen prophecy of making it rain on Arrakis,

Well, I don't know where to really begin with this. I've heard that the new version coming out in 2020 is going to be in two parts, which I think is the correct decision. If the 1984 version of the movie suffers from anything, it's probably ambition. Dune is a big, dense book and there's a ton and a half of world building and culture development and scene setting you need to establish before you really get to the meat and potatoes of the story. I think that's probably why it took me a couple of tries to really get into the book and finish the story. It's a big, epic classic of science fiction- so it's hardly surprising that this movie tries to be faithful to the book and almost succeeds- but doesn't quite make it.

The time probably doesn't help it hold up well either- which is why the prospect of a new version in 2020 should get you very excited. Special effects technology has advanced considerably since 1984- and what probably looked pretty good three decades ago looks clunky and somewhat cheesy by today's standards. One similarity between the 1984 version and the upcoming 2020 version is that the cast that was assembled in 1984 and the one that seems to be coming together for 2020 are fantastic. All kinds of people show up in Dune- Patrick Stewart, a very young Virginia Madsen, Sting, Brad Dourif, Max VonSydow. They really took a swing at doing this and doing this right. They had all the ability, the cast and everything you could want to really do the source material right- it just that their ambition falls a little bit short.

Overall: Classic science fiction of the 1980s, Dune is a seriously credible attempt to adapt a classic of the genre that falls just sort of it's ambitions. The cast is great, the story works. The effects are a little dated- but it just doesn't quite work. And sort of ends up muddled in parts as a result. Still, My Grade: ** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, April 20, 2019

This Week In Vexillology #287

Our tour of the counties of England keeps on moving this week with England's smallest county: Rutland and the home county of Liverpool, Merseyside! Let's get to it!

Rutland is actually a pretty fascinating county- at it's greatest length, it's only 18 miles north to south and 17 miles east to west- and it's Latin motto leans into it's size: Multum in Parvo, 'much in little.' As an entity it dates back to Domesday Book-- the northwestern part, specifically, while the southeastern part is described as 'the wapentake of Wicelsea.' and it was first mentioned as a separate county in 1159 and called the 'Soke of Rutland' as late as the 14th Century. Rutland was it's own county all the way up to 1974, when it was integrated into Leicestershire. After another structural review of local government in England which was conducted in 1994, it made a triumphant return as a unitary authority in 1997.

Where is it? Well, if you head more or less direct north from London, you'll find it halfway between Leicester and Peterborough. Let's talk about their flag:
Registered with the Flag Institute in 2015, the banner of arms was originally granted to the county council in 1950 and returned in 1997 when the county made it's return as a unitary authority. The horseshoe has been a symbol of the town of Oakham, which is in the county, since William the Conquerer- when he gave a 125 square mile estate to Henry de Ferrers, whose name suggests a connection with iron-working or farriers. He had the privileges was the claim a horseshoe from any one notable who visited his estates and the a collection of horseshoes still hangs in Oakham Castle. The acorns represent the former forest that used to cover the county. It can also be interpreted as the being 'small and importance' and the oaks suggest a connection with Oakham. The green field stands for the county's agriculture and pastureland.

Next up, Merseyside. Where is it? Well, it's actually pretty easy to find-- Liverpool, home of The Beatles, right on the west coast of England, just around the corner from the northeast corner of Wales. It encompasses both sides of the River Mersey and comes up around the coast to include the towns of Formby and Southport.

It's flag is actually one of the most striking flags I think I've seen so far.
The waves represent the River Mersey, the six golden crowns stand for the six county boroughs- Birkenhead, Bootle, Liverpool, Southport, St. Helens and Wallasey- it's that simple. Simple is always best and the wavy lines of the river combined with the trio of golden castles for the six county boroughs are about as simple, clean and as striking as you can get.

So, that's Merseyside and Rutland! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Free Write Friday #10: Dragon's Eggs

"I don't need to tell you that the war isn't going well. The Elves have their golems in the north and the southern dwarves have those damned walking engines. In ten years, our empire will be going. So you get me those dragon eggs, captain. Or don't come back at all."

"Don't come back at all." Captain Vasili Borogov said in a mocking tone of voice. "Easy for him to say, he's not here."

Here, was balancing on the edge of an active volcano- well, not exactly active. There wasn't lava spewing out of the crater below. Poisonous gases and boiling hot rocks being flung into the air weren't pressing concerns- at least not yet. But it was hot. Really, uncomfortably hot. Borogov was dressed in thick leather from head to toe and metal plated armor to protect him from the heat- but in reality it was making him sweat profusely. It was, in short, awful. But it was, Borogov had to admit, somewhat necessary.

The General had been right. Granted, he had issued his order from a marble courtyard that was draped in soft curtains that swished as the warm wind had blown up from the Margolin Sea. It was beautiful. It was decadent. It was also exactly the kind of plumb assignment that had kept Borogov in the military for this long. Ten years of scraping and bowing and kissing ass and he had finally made Captain just as the long war against the elves and the dwarves had taken a turn for the worse.

They were holding their own right now, but they needed a tactical advantage of some kind- the golems were slow moving, but destructive. It took too much time and too many men to bring them down. The walking engines were even worse. The had been forced to give too much ground in the mountains of the south and were reduced to launching stinging raids on them as they advanced- trying to do what damage they could. The only advantage they had against the dwarves were that the walking engines were fiendishly difficult to produce. There were only four of them so far and they had managed to disable one in a fierce battle near Mount Tambora last month.

So, dragons. The nested far out in the Great Western Sea, so one airship (the Phoenix) and one crew (there were ten of them-  four men,  two women, a couple of half-elves and one of the western dwarves and him) later they had taken to the skies, riding the warm winds of the Margolin Sea across to the great grasslands and high over the great twin coastal cities of Felun and Markab and out over the Great Western Sea. They had skirted the southern end of a typhoon that looked to be heading for the Elvish coast and then they had seen the rocky peaks of the Dragon Islands emerging ahead of them.

The ground lurched under Borogov's feet and he swore loudly as he struggled to keep his footing. "Earthquake!" Came the shout from above.

"Thanks!" He roared back. He fell to his hands and knees and held on for dear life for a moment as he hoped no rocks had been shaken loose from above him. When the shaking subsided, he waited for a moment to make sure that it had stopped fully, then he pushed himself upward and began to run awkwardly toward his quarry. There were eight of them in a nest about thirty yards away from him, their metallic shells shining in a kaleidoscope of colors. He had wanted to take his time and be somewhat careful, in case the mother dragon returned from hunting or woke from slumber, but the sudden earthquake made it impossible now. Speed was his friend- if there were aftershocks- or worse still, if the volcano actually began to erupt then his mission was doomed anyway.

He covered the ground quickly and, with a glance around to make sure the mother dragon wasn't around, took the satchel from off his shoulder and opened it, using his gloved hands to place the eggs inside the satchel, one at a time. They were heavy and they were warm- almost hot. But nothing happened, so Borogov kept working. Finally, he reached the eighth egg and placed it in the satchel and, closing it, he made sure the buckles on the satchel were fully secured and then, more carefully now, he slung across his back and stood up.

Unfortunately, as he stood up, an ear splitting roar filled the air and, by the urgent shouts from above him, Borogov realized that the dragon had returned. He began to run as fast as he could for the rope ladder he had descended from, feeling the flap of the dragons wings and feeling the earth shake as the dragons paws crashed into the lip of the crater. As the dragon got closer, the rope ladder seemed to be an impossibly long way away but when he felt the dragon suck the air in, preparing to blast him with fire, he found a burst of speed he didn't know he had and closed the distance to the ladder and flung himself onto it, screaming, "Go! Go! Go!"

His crew didn't hesitate. He felt the engines of the Phoenix roar to life as she pulled sharply away from the lip of the crater and Borogov saw the ground below him drop away. There was a sudden blast of heat from behind him as the mother dragon's fire blasted where he had been just a moment before. He climbed as fast as he could, feeling the rope ladder rise as well and, glancing over his shoulder, he saw that the mother dragon had taken flight and was in pursuit. "Load all cannons and fire!" He roared up at the ship and a moment later, the first concussive thumps of the cannons of the Phoenix echoed through the sky.

Finally up to the ship, the two halflings, Dravon and Lurtan pulled him up through the porthole and out onto the deck. Borogov took the satchel off and thrust it at them. "Get the eggs below! Now!" The two of them nodded and moved off toward the door that lead to the lower decks.

Borogov stood and strode over to where the first mate, Valentina, a one eyed mercenary with a braid that went all the way down to the small of her back stood clinging to the wheel.

"What's our situation?"

"Not good," Valentina replied. "We're being chased."

"I saw," Borogov said. "Bring us about and then charge her."

"What?"

"I want to send a cannon ball straight down her throat."

"And if that doesn't work?"

"Well... then, we die," Borogov said. "But it's gonna work!" He said, seeing the expression on her face.

"It better," Valentina replied. "You owe me forty ducats for that barrel of wine you made me buy back in Markab."

"It'll work!" Borogov said. "Hard about!" Valentina began to turn the wheel and the Phoenix responded, turning directly into the dragon's oncoming path.

"When she opens her mouth, fire everything directly at her!" Borogov roared to the crew. They all nodded. The Phoenix and the dragon got closer. Closer. Closer. And then the mother dragon began to open her mouth and Borogov roared "FIRE!"

Four cannonballs didn't miss. Valentina swung them up and over the dragon as it fell, mortally wounded the the sea below. A great cheer went up from the crew and Borogov grabbed the railing, sagging in relief. They had the eggs. The war was sure to be all but won.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nine Years

I've always been a little reluctant to talk about 'The Day Job' because I never wanted this blog and my writing to be about that. I like using the blog and what I write as an outlet and as something to feed my soul and my passion for writing a little bit. I've let 'The Day Job' really eat large chunks of my life at various points over the past nine years and it's taken me a long time to figure out how to fully leave work at work and focus on the rest of my amazing life when I'm not at work.

But it has been weighing on me a little bit: this is year nine. I think after nine years, it's probably time to lean into 'The Day Job' a little bit and own it more than I have. Over the years, I think I've put a lot of pressure on myself to 'do more' and 'figure out the next thing' and 'the next big career move' but the more I think about it lately, the less I feel that impetus to figure out what's next and move along. I have an awesome job. There are peaks and there are valleys, like with everything in life, but of late, I have few complaints. Every day- and I do mean every day- is different. I don't know what's going to happen when the phone rings. (Though, at this point, sometimes I can make a fairly educated guess.) 

Over the years I've helped develop a multi-channel social media presence for our department. I've been afforded opportunities to attend training on multiple topics ranging from radiological alarms to Spanish for 911. I help coordinate and run the Departmental Awards Program. I data drag every month and keep various crime maps updated. When I feel like I've run out of opportunities to grow in this job, new ones always seem to spring up where I least expect them and it's really hard to complain about that.

I could be riding a cubicle somewhere. Or teaching. Or grinding out a Ph.D. Or doing anything else, but honestly, I can't think of any other job that would keep me as engaged and interested on a daily basis as this one. And, as a bonus, I get to help people every single day. Some times their problems are fairly mundane. Sometimes they really are having the worst day of their lives. But every day when I sit down behind the console and log into my CAD, I'm always thinking at the back of my mind about how I can do my job better today. 

The world of 911 Dispatching is bigger than people probably realize. There are individual agencies of all sizes you can find. There are Joint Centers that range from the medium-sized counties to big cities. My little corner of that world may not have the Domestics or the vehicle pursuits or the shootings or the exciting stuff you see on Live PD or COPS, but it's never boring and it'll surprise you from time to time- sometimes in good ways, sometimes in weird ways and sometimes in bad ways.

Nine years. It's National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week this week. I've seen nine of them come and go. But it's time to stop pretending that this is a stepping stone to something else. Without realizing it, I've found a career. I found my little corner and my perfect tribe. I don't know if I'd call it the greatest job in the world, but it's pretty damn good and I am fortunate indeed to have stumbled into it, seemingly the same way I always stumble into these things.

Not every 911 Dispatcher out there is fortunate enough to be appreciated the way we have been this week. It's simple enough to buy some food and say 'Thank You' once a year, but not everyone has great managers. Not everyone has a work environment that has good morale. To those fellow 911 Dispatchers, I see you. If no one else has said it, let me say it: Thank You. You're awesome at what you do, even if no one else wants to tell you that.

Nine years. I've never not been proud to be part of The Thin Gold Line, but it's time I start saying so out loud a little more.  I am a 911 Dispatcher and if you call me, I'm here to help.

Monday, April 15, 2019

On Faith and Politics

Look, it's ridiculously early yet. I'm not really expecting the race to really get down to brass tacks until fall at the earliest. There are more Democrats jumping into this race every day- so who knows how the race is going to go. Who knows who's actually going to win the Democratic nomination or much less with the election in November of next year.

It's ridiculously early yet.

That said, we gotta pause and talk about something that I never honestly expected to be talking about in this race- the odd, but important intersection of faith and politics that seems to have emerged in the race- mainly centered around the intriguing candidacy of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. To be clear: I have no idea whether or not Buttigieg is going to win this thing. He's raising money at a pretty brisk clip. He's got a lot of people interested. What that translates out to over the marathon length of the primary campaign and then the Presidential campaign I haven't the faintest idea. (Perhaps a sign that his opponents are taking him seriously, he's gotten the now expected attack piece already circulating out there.)

What sets him apart, at least so far in the campaign is his willingness to speak openly and honestly about his faith as a Christian.

My faith is something that I don't really talk about a lot. It's intensely personal and private to me. I do my best to be a good person and not to be an asshole to my fellow people, but I don't always succeed. I was baptized, raised and confirmed in the Catholic Church. I left when I realized that my attendance at church was driven more by habit than any meaningful desire to practice my beliefs. I was about to come back when the Church put it's temporal power over it's moral authority and shielded the Princes of the Church from any kind of accountability in the ongoing sex abuse scandal. I was married in a Methodist Church and we've wandered around for a bit before landing on a local community church that between our work schedules we're trying our best to attend. I'll be honest in saying that once the Catholic Church gets its claws into you, you're sort of stuck. I believe, but the ritual of it, the familiar patterns of going up and down and kneeling and praying are embedded into it, so I think I'll always feel slightly out of place in any other church. I'm fine with that though. That's my choice and, given the behavior of the Church over the past two decades, it's the correct choice to me.

I'm not an Evangelical Christian. I never will be. I have a massive amount of distrust for politicians of any stripe who claim to 'act on their faith' because inevitably, too many of them ignore the complete message of Jesus and focus on the parts that are the most political convenient to them. All politicians that talk about their faith do this to a certain degree- it's to be expected, honestly- which is what makes the attacks of Buttigieg all the more galling to me. To try and claim that 'he's not a real Christian' or he's 'just playing one on television' ignores the abject hypocrisy so many 'values voters' and so-called 'faith politicians' espouse. For too many 'values voters' and 'faith politicians', Christianity has been reduced to two issues: abortion and gay marriage. Which, if you're trying you're level best not to be a hypocrite, you can't ignore, but you also can't ignore the rest of the pie either, which is what a too many 'Christians' these days do. You can't rail against abortion and then want to build a wall and throw all the refugees out. You can't denounce gay marriage and then vote to shred whatever social safety net we have left that takes care of the poor. You can't denounce a once married, never divorced man for his sexuality when you wrap your arms around a thrice divorced President who's paid hush money to his mistresses on multiple occasions.

You want me to take you seriously as moral authorities? You have to practice what you preach-- all of it, not part of it. Not the parts that are politically convenient or get you the most votes. Be pro-life. Be for traditional marriage. But also be for compassionate immigration reform. Be for refugees. Be for programs that help the poor. Be for health care that doesn't bankrupt families. I might not agree with you on all the issues (I'm pro-choice and pro-gay marriage for instance) but I'd respect you for at least trying to be consistent with the message of Jesus. I'd respect you for trying to live out all of your faith and not just the parts of it you agree with.

A few years back, The Quiet Man and I took a trip down south to see the 150th Anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Shiloh. Going down various highways, I remember seeing multiple churches along the side of the road-- some of them larger than others. All of which had neatly trimmed lawns and next door, in a significantly nicer house with a nicer driveway and a nicer car parked out front, you'd see where the Pastor presumably lived. That kind of Christianity rubs me the wrong way. If your church is a former arena of the Houston Rockets, you're missing out on some key points of the message of Jesus. And I'm tired of those kind of Christians having a lock on talking about faith in the public sphere. Do I necessarily agree with Buttigieg on all the issues? No, I don't.* Does a strict and Conservative interpretation of Christian theology have a problem with his sexuality? It does. But as he points out, your quarrel shouldn't be with him, but with his creator.

If your response is that it's in the Bible, well then, I'd just say to you that the Bible says a lot of things that we don't actually do today. We don't stone adulterers to death for instance. We also aren't down with slavery or prostitution. If you focus on the micro aspects of Christianity, you miss the macro aspects of it way more than you should. I'm less concerned with your adherence to the footnotes and random sentences in the Bible and more concerned that you're trying to live out the message of Jesus as best you can in your daily life. So, good for Pete Buttigieg for talking about his faith. His faith strikes me as more genuinely and deeply felt than a lot of other politicians out there. And good for him for not counting out more Conservative religious voters as well. 

At the end of the day, sit back and think about this: A gay, married, Christian man just announced he was running for President. I'm glad I live in a country where that's a real thing. We were founded on the freedom to worship as we saw fit, so these debates about the authenticity of his faith are not only more than a little hypocritical, they run fundamentally counter to the founding bedrock of this nation.

*I'm not sold on abolishing the Electoral College- I think we should allocate EV's proportionally first and see what that does. I'm also not crazy about court-packing the Supreme Court. I'd prefer some democratic accountability and retention votes instead. Both of these things are also entirely dependent on getting a Constitutional Amendment out of Congress to the states for their consideration and the odds of that happening any time soon in the current climate are rather slim. But I think these are good issues to talk about and for sure, they're issues worth fixing- and that's the other thing we need to remember. You don't have to agree with a candidate on every single issue to support them.

**Also, Dear God. If y'all think this is true then there's a problem here.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

This Week In Vexillology #286

Our tour of the counties of England is moving right along, because This Week In Vexillology, we've got the flags of Cheshire and Bedfordshire!

First up, Cheshire! We start with our usual question: where the heck is it? Well, find Liverpool, head south across the River Mersey and eventually you'll hit the city of Chester and find yourself smack dab in the middle of Cheshire. (For some reason, Google Maps doesn't want to give me a nice set of boundaries when I search for Cheshire, so unfortunately, no helpful link to the Googles.)

What's the deal with Cheshire? Well, it's a very agricultural county- hence, Cheshire cheese. But Harry Styles, Ian Curtis, John Mayall, Paula Radcliffe and George Mallory all hail from the county. So, let's take a peek at their flag:

Registered with the Flag Institute in 2013, it's based off a banner of arms of the former Cheshire County Council which was granted in May of 1938. (There was a big governmental reorganization of all the counties in 1974, which explains why there was such a burst of new flags in the early 2000s-- there were plenty of historic banners of arms out there, but none actually representing the new counties themselves- not that there were many new counties per say, just the boundaries shifted from old historic counties slightly.)

Anyway, the three sheaves of wheat and a golden blade on a blue background is considerably older than 1938. It's been associated with the Earldom of Chester since at least the 12th Century and has been officially used in the coat of arms since 1560. This is one of those flags that you almost wish had more of an explanation to it, but alas, it doesn't.

Next up, Bedfordshire! Anyone who has flown out of London for a cheap flight to obscure destinations in Europe might well know at least part of Bedfordshire thanks to Luton Airport which, along with the city of Luton is tucked away at the southern end of the county. What else do we know about Bedfordshire? Well, a lot of notable British companies, including Vauxhall Motors and Easy Jet- but I think it's probably the Bedfordshire clanger that we should celebrate the most, because it honestly sounds kind of good.

Here's their flag:
Okay, I really like this flag. It's unique, colorful and I like the shells! It's another one based on the banner of arms of the former county council that was granted by the College of Arms in 1951. The current design was adopted in September 2014 as the flag of the historic county with the support of the High Sheriff of the county. When you fly the flag, the top corner nearest the flagpole should be gold.

There's actually a lot to break down with this flag.. The yellow and red quadrants are taken from the arms of the Beauchamp Family, who were powerful in the county after the Norman conquest and build Bedford Castle. The blue and wavy white lines are for the Great Ouse River, which flows through the county- including the main county town of Bedford. The three shells on the field of black are taken from the coat of arms of the Dukes of Bedford.

And that's the flags of Bedfordshire and Cheshire! Until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Psephology Rocks: All Right, It's The Greatest Show On Earth

I haven't really been all that inspired to nerd out over an election for a few months now. I was toying with the idea of doing a deep dive on Israeli elections and how they work, but I figured the results would be too depressing to really get excited about (turns out, that assessment was right) but then a flurry of news hit: Algeria got rid of it's old President (a bigger deal than people think) and is getting a new President. Sudan is getting new military leaders and perhaps a new President. Israel had it's elections and The Greatest Show on Earth is getting underway as we speak as India starts it's amazing exercise in month long electioneering.

So, there's a lot of things to talk about all of a sudden, so I figured, why not hop back on the Psephology Train and here we are. Let's start with Israel and the nuts and bolts of how it all works.

Israel has always been kind of a fascinating country from a political science viewpoint: it's got a unicameral legislature- so the Knesset is a one stop shop for passing legislation- there's no upper chamber to worry about. It's only got 120 members, which seems like a low number for a national legislature until you look up Israel's population and realize that it's only got 8 million people in it, which puts it as about the same as Virginia- which has two chambers and 140 totals seats in their legislature- so it's not that crazy. It just seems low.

However, 120 wasn't just a random number they landed on. They took it from the 'Great Assembly' of Jewish tradition, which was an assembly of scribes, sages and prophets in Biblical times- and there were, of course, 120 of them. The Great Assembly wasn't elected and was a completely religious body, but it's a nice bit of- I don't want to say continuity because that's not quite right either- but it's a nice nod to tradition anyway.

Another thing I didn't know: Israel doesn't have a formal constitution. They've got the Basic Laws of Israel- but the Knesset can pass any law by a simple majority, including ones that might conflict with the Basic Laws of Israel. They've also got not statute which grants a power of judicial review to the judiciary which seems... unusual to me. (The Supreme Court of Israel has been asserting itself a little bit of late and doing that, but there's no formal law about it.)

What I do know about the Knesset is that there are a crazy number of parties in there: Likud, Blue and White, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Hadash-Ta'al, Labor, Yisrael Beitenu, United Right, Meretz, Kulanu, Ra-am-Balad, New Right- and those are just the ones listed on the Wikipedia page. With only 120 seats to go around, it's been Coalition building since the very beginning for Israeli- and no party or single faction has ever won 61 seats for a majority. (Closest was the 56 seats won by the Alignment- an admittedly cool sounding party name- in the 1969 Elections.)

Members are elected from a single nationwide district (so no Single Member District issues to deal with here) and they use the D'Hondt method of proportional representation with a 3.25% election threshold for parties to clear before they can get a seat in the Knesset.

So, what went down with this year's elections over there? Well, Israel is pretty much All Right now- as in, 'all the parties are on the right'. The Left has been pretty moribund in Israel for over a decade now and they didn't show any signs of life this time around either. The Labor Party which was a dominant force in Israeli politics for the first few decades of it's existence ended up with a grand total of six seats- which isn't great. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a record fifth term as Prime Minister- despite the possibility of corruption charges hanging above his head. Despite promises to start annexing parts of the West Bank. His Likud Party tied with the Blue and White Alliance of Benny Gantz- who admittedly gave Netanyahu a strong challenge- but Israeli politics is all about coalitions, so with an alliance of right-wing parties, Netanyahu ended up with 65 seats to the center left bloc's total of 55 seats. What does it mean for the peace process- or what's left of it? Probably nothing good. But we'll see.

Israel is all said and done, but India is just getting started.* With 900 million eligible voters, it takes a month to get done and one my all time political science nerd dreams is just to go over there and spend a month jetting around all over India just to watch it. Americans get really full of themselves about Star Spangled Awesome were allegedly are, but India's elections are damn near inspirational. 900 million people are gonna spend the next month voting. It really is the Greatest Show on Earth.

So how does it all work in India? Well, for the Lok Sabha, which is the lower house of India's Parliament has 545 members that are all elected using single member district, first past the post elections. So no proportional representation either... the upper house, the Rajya Sabha is indirectly elected by the members of the state and territorial legislatures. The President of India can appoint 12 members for contributions to art, literature, science and social services. The two houses are on equal footing legislatively despite the Lok Sabha having twice as many members- and the Lok Sabha can override the Rajya Sabha in areas of supply- which is admittedly an obscure parliamentary thing I haven't heard of, but TL;DR the upper house can't refuse to pass legislation to force the lower house to do something. (I think that's how it works?)

The elections are a whole other thing entirely: voter rolls have increased by 84.3 million since the last election, which  means that the largest ever election in the world. 15 million voters who are 18-19 years old get to cast their votes for the very first time. Counting the votes won't even start until 23rd of May- which is over a month away. (Glancing over the news- it seems like things went fairly well, despite some reported problems and sporadic violence. A lot of states in the northeast and the southeast/south central coast were up today. Parts of Bihar, Uttah Pradesh and West Bengal will be voting in all seven phases and it looks like Jammu and Kashmir is going to be split up as well.) 

I'll have to do some more reading and research to get a sense of how things are going to go. Regional parties are increasingly powerful players in India's elections, so the Congress Party might be able to stitch together enough of anti-Modi coalition to force the BJP out- that simultaneously gives them more options to build a coalition to oust Modi and makes it more of a challenge to hold a coalition together. I feel like (again: I need to read more) there are some issues that the voters aren't very happy with the BJP about, but Modi's government is coming off of a dust-up with Pakistan and looked pretty muscular and powerful doing it and Hindu nationalism is kind of the BJP's thing.

The biggest election in the world is happening right now. That's kind of awesome.

*Do I wish that America had a news network that gave a shit about any of this? I desperately do. CNN is continuing flog their increasingly dead Trump Trump Trump Russia Russia Russia Mueller Mueller Mueller bullshit and not actually paying attention to the goddamn news. Shit's going on out in the world, kids. If only people had news networks dedicated to bringing us that... oh, what's the word? Oh, that's right- the news.