Saturday, October 20, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #273

This Week in Vexillology, we're continuing our tour of the counties of England with our next two counties on deck: Hampshire (the OG version that New Hampsire wishes it was) and the Isle of Wight. In terms of how to find them, well this time it's actually pretty easy: find a map of England and look for Southampton on the south coast, kind of south/southwest of London. Just north of it you're find Winchester, which is the seat of Hampshire (and a former capitol of England, way way back in the day) and south of there you'll see a smaller island just off the coast. That's the Isle of Wight.

First up, Hampshire:
This is technically the flag of the Hampshire County Council and not the actual county itself- which means I think we've come to the first instance of a county not having a flag all to itself. This one was adopted on July 13th, 1992 after the county was granted a coat of arms to mark the 100th Anniversary of the county council which actually happened in 1989. It's a banner of arms, so the use of the Royal Crown required permission from the Queen and an official royal warrant was issued for it. The crown and rose motif has been associated with it since the 18th Century or so. (This website has some good information on the flag- and also an interesting variant proposal on the flag which replaces the Royal crown with a Saxon crown in a nod to Winchester's role as Alfred the Great's capitol in ancient times.)

There doesn't seem to be much more than that to the Hampshire County Council flag...

Next up, The Isle of Wight:
Adopted in January of 2009, the flag depicts the shape of the island hovering over the ocean waves. The indentation at the top of the diamond represents the River Medina, which is the largest river on the island. There are a couple of other flags of the Isle of Wight floating around out there- the county council flag features a representation of Carlsbrooke Castle surrounded by three gold anchors on a field of blue. Carlsbrooke Castle was the historic seat of the Governors of the Island and the blue field and the three gold anchor stand for the Island's status and maritime history. There's also a tricolor of green-white-green that Islanders have taken to calling The Rebel Green Flag out there as well. 

The Isle of Wight might rank up there with Wiltshire as the most striking flag I've seen so far- in fact, I might go so far as to say it's my new favorite of all the counties in England I've seen. (I even like the fact there's a 'Rebel Green' flag for ornery folks that don't like the official one to fly.)

So there you have it, Hampshire and The Isle of Wight. Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Free Write Friday #3: Hoosier Diner

You are lost in the back-roads of Indiana when you drive past a lonely diner. Inside you find it packed with people, all seemingly from different time periods. You quickly realize that this diner exists independent of time.

I was heading southwest from the amusingly named town of French Lick, winding my way through the back roads that crossed the forested hills of the Hoosier National Forest. I was hungry and was annoyed that I hadn't bothered to eat breakfast back at the motel. I had given it some serious thought, but after four days in a row of desultory and pathetic looking continental breakfasts, I had decided that I couldn't bear the thought of looking at a sad, pathetic cheese danish on a tiny, cheap plastic plate with the cheapest and most terrible coffee imaginable in a slightly dirty mug to drink. So, I left early and hit the road. This was, I thought at the time, a good plan. I had to make my rendezvous near Uniontown by sunset and my contact had been very clear: the boat wouldn't wait forever.

But here's the thing: driving always makes you hungry. Your mind can only take in so much scenery before you start trying to distract yourself from the hunger gnawing at your belly and despite the rolling hills and the wooded forest around me, I found myself thinking of the perfect hot breakfast. Eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast and really really good coffee. Man, I thought, hash browns would be so good right now- and then, just like that, almost in response to my musings, a sign appeared on the side of the road:

HOOSIER DINER, it read. 500 FEET AHEAD.

Weird, I thought, but I was hungry and I figured 'roadside diner' would have exactly the kind of breakfast I was looking for. Soon enough, it came into view and I slowed down and, flipping on my indicator, pulled into the gravel parking lot. The diner was set at the edge of a valley that ran back into the heart of the hills. It was early morning, so the valley was still full of mist that seemed to creep to the edge of the back of the parking lot of the diner. I didn't think anything of it as I pulled into a parking space and turned my car off. I stepped out of the car and, shutting the door behind me, headed toward the front entrance. As I walked past the windows to the front door, I saw that the place was absolutely packed, which should have alerted me to something unusual about the place, given how empty the parking lot was. I paid it no mind however and merely walked to the front door, opened it and stepped in.

"Ah good sir," a booming bass voice echoed from the corner of the diner. "Welcome, you may seat yourself." I turned to see an old man with silver hair and a beard beaming at me from the corner where he was giving some customers their breakfast. "I shall be with you momentarily." Feeling a bit bemused at his formality, I found an empty table toward the far end of the diner and sat down. I grabbed a menu from where they were wedged in between the napkin holder and the ketchup and glanced over it. Sure enough, they had what I was looking for: "Hoosier Diner Breakfast," I said aloud. Eggs, sausage, hash browns, toast and coffee. Then I kept looking down the menu. Scrapple, hasty pudding and something called sofkee were all there along with an impressive selection of beers and ciders- though the cider was spelled 'cidre' and not the usual way. I opened it up and was surprised again: sapan, nokake, bird brain stew and something called akutaq were listed. Along with the traditional lunchtime sandwiches like the Reuben, the BLT and the Hoosier Trencher and the Belegde Broodje, whatever that was.

I looked around, somewhat confused as the man who had welcomed me came bustling over to my table. "Welcome good sir, my name is Benjamin Harrison and I am the owner and proprietor of this fine eating establishment, What may I get you today?"

"Benjamin Harrison," I asked. "Like the President?"

"No," he replied, a knowing smile on his face. "I was the President once upon a time. Until that bastard Cleveland beat me for re-election in 1892."

"That's not possible," I said. "It's not 1892. It's... 2018. You're...  well,  you're dead."

He sighed. "A long time ago, I would have agreed with you," he said. "I'm still not entirely sure how or why this place exists, but I do know that it exists outside of time. I thought I was on my deathbed you see and then suddenly... I was here."

"Does that mean I'm dead?" Looking around I could see that maybe he was right. There were a lot of different people crowded into the diner. There were Native Americans, tucking into bowls of what seemed like porridge. A man and a woman in colonial dress were eating what looked like a souffle. Harrison laughed. "Goodness know," he said. "People come and people go all the time." He pointed to the pictures behind the counter. "I've had all kinds of people come eat here. The funnyman, Red Skelton, Kurt Vonnegut, and hell, even Wendell Wilkie- in fact," Harrison pointed. "There is right over there." He raised his voice slightly. "How are you Wendell?"

"I'm on the wrong end of an electoral ass-kicking, Harrison," the man replied. "Roosevelt took thirty eight out of the forty eight states." He raised a stein of beer. "I managed to win good old Indiana though, bless her."

"You'll be wanting steak then?"

"You read my mind, Harrison."

"Coming up right up, Wendell," Harrison replied. "Right after I help this gentlemen."

"How is this possible?" I said again, knowing that I probably sounded incredibly stupid doing so.

"Never mind how it's possible," Harrison replied. "Just know that it is." He looked around and sighed. "I'll admit, I thought this was a bit of a step down from the Presidency and my law career, but after awhile, it began to grow on me. There's nothing quite like meeting people and feeding them and making sure they go on their way well fed and happy. It's almost relaxing after being President."

I wrestled with everything he had told me for an moment more and then shrugged my shoulders and just decided to go with it. Maybe I had gone off the road and I was actually dead. Maybe this was some kind of weird hallucination. Maybe I'd gone insane and just hadn't realized it yet. None of it really mattered, because when it came right down to it, I was still hungry.

"Is the food good?"

"You better believe it," Harrison replied.

"Well, in that case, I'll take The Hoosier Breakfast with rye toast and eggs sunny side up. And a pot of your best coffee."

Harrison scribbled it all down on his pad and then gave me a broad grin. "Coming right up!"

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Boozehound Unfiltered: Bushmills Red Bush

The other half of my birthday haul, Bushmills Red Bush was launched last year in the United States and has been a pretty constant presence on grocery and liquor store shelves ever since. It's aged in first fill bourbon barrels which helps add to the overall sweetness of the whiskey and (I'm just guessing here) probably has a lot to do with the beautiful amber/deep red color of the whiskey as well. (Their website has a pretty good ten minute video introducing Northern Ireland and it's food and whiskey scene.)

Located in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Bushmills has been around and kicking for four hundred years or so. The 1608 on the label of the brand refers to the date when a royal license was granted to allow for distillation in the area- but the company really got going in 1784. Throughout it's history there have been various periods of closure, but it's been continuously running now since 1885 when it was rebuilt after a fire.

Bushmills has more or less convinced me at this point: I need to get into more blended whiskies, especially from over in Scotland or Ireland. My experience so far has been nothing but good and while I can appreciate the complexities or strengths of single malts or bourbons, I think it's time to spread my wings a little bit. (After my experience with Roknar Rye earlier this year, I also want to try more rye!)

So what did it taste like? Here's what I came up with for tasting notes:

Color: appropriately enough, it's amber in color, almost dark red. 

Nose: There's smokey aspect to it's that's hard to pin down- maybe brown sugar, but I'm not sure what it is. Weirdly, I also get a hint of bananas popping out here and there. Bananas and brown sugar with a little bit of a sweet smoke- like a cigar or pipe smoke.

Body: It's light- it sits so lightly on the tongue, it almost feels watery. There's a rush of the initial sweetness followed by spice- I want to say cinnamon here, but I can't pin it down.

Finish: It has a beautiful smooth finish. The warmth is gradual and then increases in intensity.

Overall: It's smooth, it's drinkable. I could drink this straight, on the rocks or use it as a mixer. Excellent, beautiful stuff from Bushmills. My Grade: **** out of ****

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Modest Proposal: Fixing The Senate

In the wake of the Kavanaugh Confirmation, my there were a couple of days in early October where I tripped and fell down a Twitter hole of complaints and/or evidence about 'unfair' the Senate actually is. Why, people were asking, should a state like Maine or North Dakota or Nebraska have just as much power as a big, important (and usually 'blue' state) like California or New York? It isn't fair, seemed to be the overall complaint. It's not democratic!

First of all, I have very little sympathy for complaints about the Senate- especially from the Left. The Democrats decided to 'reform' the filibuster to benefit them when they were in the majority, apparently thinking that they would stay in the majority in perpetuity, which obviously, didn't happen. Their strategic mistake then (and it ranks as probably the most idiotic thing seen in the Senate since Senator Brooks went after Senator Sumner with his damn cane) was assuming that, once back in power, the Republicans would continue to pretend that the Senate was nothing more than a genteel country club where there were rules and standards and norms. Well, apparently Cocaine Mitch has had enough of your shit and wasn't going to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules anymore and Democrats want to whine about it. You messed with the filibuster and just thought, what? The Republicans wouldn't? Come on now, y'all.*

Second of all, such complaints forget a few things about the Senate- namely the 17th Amendment. Before the 17th Amendment, which was only ratified in 1913, Senators weren't directly elected by the people, they were elected by the state legislatures. The Senate (in my admittedly limited understanding) was seen as a 'House of the States' while The House was a 'House of the People.' The Senate's original purpose (again, in my admittedly limited understanding) was to be a check against majoritarianism and give the individual states a voice and a stake in the Federal Government. So the 'undemocratic' aspects of the Senate have only been somewhat magnified since the introduction of direct elections for Senators little over a century ago.

So what do I want to do about it? Well, the complainers aren't wrong. The Senate could be better and oddly enough it was the German Bundesrat that sort of pointed me toward what I wanted to propose. (I spent sometime messing around with the Penrose Method and voting weights, but I fucked something up and the math didn't work out for me.) I was thinking about en bloc voting, but thought that would be too complicated- especially if your state had a mess of divided government. So I settled on a combination: the degressive proportionality of the German Bundesrat, combined with the popular elections we currently have. Does it make the Senate bigger? Unfortunately, yes it does. But I also think it makes it better and more important, more representative. Here's where I ended up:

1. I took roughly the same allocations that Germany has for seats. States with more than 7 million people get six seats apiece (2 elected by popular vote, 4 by state legislatures.) States with more than 2 million inhabitants gets four seats apiece (2 elected by popular vote, 4 by state legislatures). States with less than 2 million people get three seats apiece (2 elected by popular vote, 1 appointed by their governor.) Territories/States with less than a million people get 1 seat apiece, elected by popular vote. (Yes, in my timeline, our Territories get full voting rights, because there's no good reason for them not to have some meaningful representation.)

2. If your state legislature is controlled by the same party, then it's pretty easy. But if you have a split legislature, then you've got to appoint an even number of candidates from either party. So, if you have four 'state' seats, then it'd be two Republican and two Democratic seats. If you have two state seats, one from each party. In a non-first-past the post system, this rule would probably fall apart fairly quickly once you start adding more than two parties to the mix. If you only get one extra seat or have one chamber (Nebraska, I'm looking at you) then your Governor gets to pick and I'm assuming most of them will follow party lines when they do so- which may not be true. (Alaska has an independent Governor, but I included him and the other two independents under the Democratic tally since Sen. Sanders and Sen. King usually caucus with Democrats and Alaska's Governor joined forces with the Democratic candidate following the Republican Primary to run.)

3. The final tally it all produced: 130 Republican Seats, 100 Democratic seats for a total of 230 seats.

Here's what it looks like in table form:
State
SEATS
PV
ST
GOP
DEM
California
6
2
4
6
Texas
6
2
4
6
Florida
6
1
1
4
5
1
New York
6
2
2
2
2
4
Pennsylvania
6
1
1
4
5
1
Illinois
6
2
4
6
Ohio
6
1
1
4
5
1
Georgia
6
2
4
6
North Carolina
6
2
4
6
Michigan
6
2
4
4
2
New Jersey
6
2
4
6
Virginia
6
2
2
2
2
4
Washington
6
2
4
6
Arizona
6
2
4
6
Massachusetts
6
2
4
6
Tennessee
6
2
4
6
Indiana
6
1
1
4
5
1
Missouri
6
1
1
4
5
1
Maryland
6
2
4
6
Wisconsin
4
1
1
2
3
1
Colorado
4
1
1
1
1
2
2
Minnesota
4
2
2
2
2
South Carolina
4
2
2
4
Alabama
4
1
1
2
3
1
Louisiana
4
2
2
4
Kentucky
4
2
2
4
Oregon
4
2
2
4
Oklahoma
4
2
2
4
Connecticut
4
2
2
4
Puerto Rico
1




1
Iowa
4
2
2
4
Utah
4
2
2
4
Arkansas
4
2
2
4
Nevada
4
1
1
2
1
3
Mississippi
4
2
2
4
Kansas
4
2
2
4
New Mexico
4
2
2
4
Nebraska
3
2
1
3
West Virginia
3
1
1
1
2
1
Idaho
3
2
1
3
Hawaii
3
2
1
3
New Hampshire
3
2
1
1
2
Maine
3
1
1
1
2
1
Rhode Island
3
2
1
3
Montana
3
1
1
1
1
2
Delaware
3
2
1
3
South Dakota
3
2
1
3
North Dakota
3
1
1
1
2
1
Alaska
3
2
1
2
1
DC
1


1

1
Vermont
3
1
1
1
1
2
Wyoming
3
2
1
3
Guam
1




1
US Virgin Islands
1




1
American Samoa
1




1
Northern Marianas
1




1
TOTAL
230
130
100

Is it perfect? No. It's got some flaws... and would probably prove unworkable fairly quickly if we moved off a First Past The Post system like we have at the moment. But, for right now it is better and more representative than the current status quo. Most of the reform plans for the Senate I've seen usually involve repealing the 17th Amendment and going back to States elected Senators-which I don't think a lot of people would be okay with in this day and age. But, I like the notion of restoring some of the Senate's original role as a 'House of The States' because it suddenly makes having active and vibrant party infrastructure in all fifty states kind of important. If you snag a Governorship or a chamber of your State Legislature, you get a Senate seat- or two! I think if there's a failure of the Democratic Party worth talking about- and in general of Progressive thought across the board, it's that there's a stunning lack of faith in states. Now, I get where that's coming from. States can institute Romneycare and legalize weed, but in our history states are also responsible for Jim Crow Laws. I get why people are leery and I'm not advocating for a return to the Articles of the Confederation or anything like that- but a lot of big, Progressive ideas are simply not going to work the way they want in a country as big and as diverse as this- making the states the laboratories of our democracy once more can only provide proof of concept to take some of these ideas to the national or Federal level. If you can sell a state on an idea and implement it successfully, you should be able to do much the same on the Federal level.

 In general, I'm not sure why we've collectively abandoned the idea that we can't do anything about the state of our politics and our government. They suck and they suck an awful lot of the time. But the beautiful thing about the Constitution is that we can amend it whenever we want. I don't think we should go on a binge of Constitutional rewriting, but we forget that we can in fact, change things. (The hard part is just persuading enough people to agree with it.) I think it'd be good to get back to that. I think it'd be good to make a better America instead of being exhausted by America. That may be sappy and idealistic, but nerding out over PoliSci things like this brings me a little bit of joy in the dumpster fire of our politics. So, don't just bitch about things. Write 'em up. Make a modest proposal or two.

*Complaints about the Supreme Court and what to do about it are an entirely different post.