Sunday, January 31, 2016

January on Medium

I've been doing some blogging over on Medium for the past couple of months, so periodically, I'll be posting updates about what's up over there and what I've been doing and all that jazz. So far, I'm heading into Month #4 of a self-exploration about what I want and what I can do with myself when the less than family-friendly nature of my current job's schedule and demands gets to be too much:

Part One- The Necessity of Reinvention

Part Two: The Reinvention: Professional Options

Part Three: The Reinvention: Let's Get Practical

I also made a New Year's Resolution to try and get back to writing short stories and other short fiction, just to keep a content stream going while I finish up the sequel to The Prisoner and The Assassin and before I start churning out the book after that.  I'm kicking things off in January with an original story (all 7,500 words of it), please, take a read of:

That's Venus, Baby

Stay tuned for more updates and happenings on Medium!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #151

Quick, name a European country that was ruled as a theocracy for three centuries before being absorbed into a larger federation of countries under a monarchy and then under communism before voting to be let out of what was left of said federation in 2006!

If you guessed Montenegro, you're right! Which bring us to This Week In Vexillology- which, as you might have already guessed features the flag of none other than Montenegro itself!

Adopted on July 13th, 2004- which, yes, technically, it before they declared independence- but I think they were heading that way anyway and changing the flag was just one more nail in the coffin of what was left of Yugoslavia. But interestingly enough, the proportion of the flag (1:2) did not actually shift with the change. Even under communism and post-communist Yugoslavia, the Montenegrin flag was longer than it's counterparts. (Serbia's flag, for instance, has a more 'square' proportion of 2:3) While Montenegro used the usual pan-Slavic tricolor under Yugoslavia and then Serbia & Montenegro- the length and difference in size made it distinctive then and this change in flag makes it distinctive now.

I did some digging on Mr. Google, but couldn't find anything that I'd consider a reliable source to give me some clues on what the colors mean. (I might keep digging, so no worries) But we do know what the Coat of Arms mean:

The two headed eagle appears again- we saw it in Serbia and it shows up in Albania as well. Again, this symbol dates back to Byzantine and ultimately Roman rule- so it goes back centuries, but the Montenegrin coat of arms seems to have been influenced more by the Coat of Arms of the Russian Empire- the ruling dynasty when the Arms were adopted in their present (it was the House of Petrovic-Njegos and my apologies for the lack of appropriate accents/diacritical marks). The two heads of the eagle symbolize the divided authority between church and state- which is also why one eagle has a sceptre in one claw and a cruciger in the other. The lion in the center is probably the most interesting part of the whole darn thing-- it's either inspired by the Lion of Judah (another nod to the religious/theocratic nature of Montenegro's past) or it's taken from a similar motif from the arms of Venice, which controlled parts of Montenegro in the past.

And that's the flag of Montenegro, kids. Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Boozehound Unfiltered: Crested Ten

This month's edition of Boozehound Unfiltered comes courtesy of The Quiet Man, who's had a bottle of this stuff kicking around his basement for awhile now, courtesy of his neighbors, who brought it back from a trip to Ireland. He's not a whiskey drinker and neither are The Quiet Parents, so guess who got a bottle of whiskey? That's right...  this guy!

Crested Ten is my first foray into Irish Whiskey in awhile- and at first, I thought I was holding an Irish Single Malt, which would be rare enough to qualify as an amazing score of free whiskey, but further examination of the bottle revealed it to be a blend that's a part of the Jameson range. I took to the interwebs and educated myself a little more: it's not widely available outside of Ireland and enjoys and seems to be something of a highly regarded whiskey

It was launched in 1963 and the majority of the blend is 7-8 years old with the ratios breaking down as 60% pot still and 40% being grain. Wikipedia dropped this tip on me, courtesy of Jim Murray's A Taste of Irish Whiskey:
"Like all great Irish whiskeys, for the most satisfying results, this should not be sipped but taken by the mouthful and swallowed slowly."
Now I haven't drunk a lot of Irish whiskey (I think Crested Ten will mark my third foray into Irish Whiskey after some regular Jameson and a bottle of Bushmills) but this is information I can use, as I'd been approaching Irish whiskey in the same way I approached Scotch, which was to sip and enjoy. I also decided to alter my approach to these tastings as well- I did an initial sample to get some first impressions and then the next night I went a little more in-depth and you know, I was surprised at the result:

First Impressions: The body hit me almost immediately- this stuff smelled good and you could tell that it had been aged in sherry barrels, but it wore out it's welcome pretty quickly to be honest. It felt weak and watery instead of light and delicate and I was honestly a little disappointed by the end of it- but that was also before I found out you were supposed to drink the stuff by the mouthful instead of sip on it. That said, I went into round two feeling disappointed and wondering if this was going to be the first whiskey that would get a bad review from me.

Color: I get real tired of coming up with other words for 'golden' or 'honey' or 'amber' so I asked the Missus what she thought Crested Ten resembled when I held it up to the light. "Piss," she replied. "Or apple juice." I tended to lean toward a solid shade of goldenrod, myself- as it's not dark enough for either honey or amber, at least to me- but if you want a more blunt (and probably more accurate) definition of the color- 'piss' or 'apple juice' works.

Body: It's light and delicate- there are lots of floral notes and you can certainly tell that this was aged in sherry barrels. There's an undertone of spice there as well- I wanted to say cinnamon, but wasn't sure enough about that to commit to it.

Palate: That mouthful tip really helped- because if you do take it by the mouthful and swirl it around and chew on it a little bit, you get a much better impression of things. That less than impressive first sip? Redeemed! It does sit lightly on the tongue, but as you swirl it around, you can taste how smooth the texture is- it's almost buttery.

Finish: Probably my favorite part of the whole experience- there's a nice kick of spice and then very slow, gradual warming that's very pleasant indeed.

Overall: I'm going to shake up my grading criteria a little bit and switch over to letter grades. I think this will give me more flexibility and probably better reviews overall as, I admit, I like whiskey, so it's hard for me to find a whiskey that I think sucks out loud. Letter grading gives me more a spectrum to play with- so: After a rocky first impression, Crested Ten came into it's own on my second go-round. It's solid, drinkable and smooth on the tongue with one of those slow, smooth finishes that warm you up nice and slow. I have tasted whiskies that I like better than this though, so I'm going to hand down a solid, respectable B+

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bookshot #85: The Trip To Echo Spring

It's not often that opening lines of a book grab my attention so quickly, but this one did: "Here's a thing. Iowa City, 1973." The Trip To Echo Spring opens with an anecdote about John Cheever and Raymond Carver, both veterans of the Iowa's Writer's Workshop taking a trip in their Ford Falcon down to the state liquor store to buy some booze. Both were drinkers at the time, though and both wrestled with the demon of their alcoholism until they managed to break free, The other subjects of Olivia Laing's fascinating and complex book were not so lucky.

Seeking to explore the link between creativity and alcohol, Laing touches the lives of some of the titans of 20th Century American Literature: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver- all infamous drinkers- and tries to dig into the link between alcohol, their writing and the price they paid underneath their creativity.

This could have been a pretty dry multi-layered biography of multiple writers, but what makes it stand out is that Laing didn't just sit behind a desk and write about these guys- she actually visits some of the places that were critical and central in their lives to try and get a sense of these men and what drove their darker impulses and made them who they were. She starts in New York before heading to New Orleans by train- Key West, by air and then from New Orleans all the way out to Port Angeles in Washington again, by train. Essentially, it's both a serious exploration of the link between alcohol and creativity, a multi-subject biography that looks at the lives of multiple writers and a travelogue of sorts.  All combined into one book- when you write the basic concept out, it seems insane, but it works. The three basic themes that Laing is exploring balance against each other perfectly

I keep coming back to Cheever and Carver- the two writers she introduces us to at the start of the book. They both eventually conquer their demons and bought themselves a decade or so of peace at the end of their respective lives- but there's a weird contrast between the two men- Cheever wrestled with shame at his origins, while Carver's less than privileged origins were the source of his resentment against the family he acquired at a young age. There's a curious duality linking the two writer's in the narrative and you can see threads of that throughout- Berryman and Hemingway committed suicide. Fitzgerald and Williams wrestled with their success and depression and anxiety respectively.

The trauma of youth also unites them- Hemingway's father killed himself, Tennessee Williams was so consumed by his anxiety he fled his native St. Louis and actually changed his name to Tennessee, that's how much he hated and resented his child hood. Cheever's father (also an alcoholic) tried to drown himself- and Cheever remembered talking him out of it. Berryman's descent and struggle to stay sober was harrowing and ended up in his own suicide.

A lot of this book is depressing a lot of this book is fascinating, but to me the real strength of the book comes into play on Laing's final trip west to Port Angeles, where Raymond Carver spent the last years of his life after becoming sober and he managed it- even flourished after a fashion. The coda, the closing note of this long and melancholy book is a simple one: redemption and recovery are possible for everyone, even these titans of literature. It's an uplifting counterpoint to the gloom and melancholy that permeates a lot of the book.

Does Laing come away with definitive answers about 'the alcoholic writer', no and I think that's probably a smart decision. She and the reader do come away with a deeper understanding of the devastating role that alcohol played in the lives of these men and how it impacted their writing and creativity and that, I think makes this a book worth reading. Not just for fans of these authors or students of literature- but because their stories, when woven together make for an extraordinary story in and of itself.

Overall: I feel like I would have connected to this book more with a deeper knowledge of all the writers Laing discusses. I know who they all are, but I've only read Hemingway and Fitzgerald really- so I wasn't as familiar with the writing as Laing was. The descriptions of her journey were incredible and really transport the reader into her shoes, but parts of this book were a little bit of a struggle to get through. I think if you were well versed in all these writers it would be an easier and more enjoyable read, but if you only have a passing familiarity with most of them, you might have to lower your shoulder and push through a chapter here and there. So, I have to say: *** out of ****.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #150

This Week In Vexillology, we're moving just south from the Czech Republic to take a look at a flag that (surprisingly) has proven to be beyond the reach of my handy-dandy reference guide (which was published in 1997) and the Republic of Serbia adopted a new flag in 2010:

The flag of Serbia was adopted in it's present configuration on November 11th of 2010, which makes this flag pretty damn new, While the flag of the post-90s rump Yugoslavia that was made up of Serbia and Montenegro also featured a horizontal tricolor, the order of the colors was different- the last flag of the 'union' between the two countries was blue, white and red, while the Serbian Tricolor is red, blue and white. Either way, the explanation for the colors remains the same: they are 'pan-Slavic' colors. (I finally did some digging on that, by the way, because 'oh, they're pan-Slavic colors' gets to be an irritating explanation after awhile. What the hell does it even mean? Where did it come from? The TL;DR version: the flag and it's variations emerged after the Prague Slavic Congress of 1848, which was called to unite the Slavs to resist increasing German nationalism. The tricolor of red, blue and white was based on the Russia flag, which dated back to the 17th Century.  The Russians, however, got their flag from the Dutch, I guess. Long story short, they voted and these were the colors they liked.)

The Coat of Arms in the hoist of the flag aren't the full-blown version of the Coat of Arms of Serbia- they are, 'the lesser coat of arms' but no less significant in their meaning. The white, double-headed eagle is a symbol of Serbia that dates back as far as 1190- though its roots may go all the way back to Byzantium itself. The cross on the shield has been a symbol of Serbia since 1345- despite being a Republic, the crown of the former monarchy appears above the shield.

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What The Hell Is This About #1: Oregon Chuckleheads

Hey, A New Feature: Look, I'm not an investigative journalist...  I got a job, I got bills to pay- and in general, ain't nobody got time for such business. But now and again, stories will float past me on social media or on the internet that seem like they're worth a second look, because the 'mainstream media' is either studiously ignoring them or left and right wing outlets tell vastly different versions of events or in a lot of these cases or sometimes both. Either way, every now and again I want to do some digging, draw my own conclusions- and yes, form my own opinions, which y'all totally do not have to agree with one little bit, and find out- What The Hell Is This About?

We've all seen the hashtags (#YallQaeda, #VanillaISIS) and we've all chuckled in amusement at the way the internet expresses it's gleeful schaudenfreude at the bad logistical decisions made by these occupiers, but what the hell is this actually about?

I actually had a whole different post ready to go on this topic, but I pulled it and sort of had to reconstruct it on the fly after reading (and listening) to a few more things about the issue. This is what I came up with:

First, the conflict over land in the West is not a new phenomenon. Not by a long shot- this dates back before even the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 70s and 80s. Ranchers out west have it tough enough as it is just getting their basic job done and when some bureaucrat in Washington passes some rule that makes their lives harder they tend to get a little annoyed by that. It's a classic case of local vs state vs Federal vs Tribal control and the government hasn't always been that good about managing the tug-of-war. But initially I just sort of shrugged and said, 'well, just sell the damn land then' but what I didn't realize is that that has been tried before- apparently back in the 30s- the Feds tried to get this land to revert to local control and the states didn't bite, because it's well, arid range land and it's not exactly easy to make money on. (Just ask any rancher.) (This is an excellent podcast on the issue- and if you aren't listening to How Do We Fix It? in your regular podcast rotation, change that- stat!)

So my initial thought of a fire sale to pay down some of the national debt probably won't be as easy as I thought. Giving some back to indigenous people? That I think could be managed fairly easily- and probably should be done to be totally honest, but really the way forward on this issue is collaboration at all levels of government and balancing local interests with environmental ones to make sure that if you're going to screw people, you screw everyone fairly, equally and as little as possible. (I acknowledge that collaboration across multiple levels of government is something that the United States has really, really excelled at it (please note my sarcasm.)

Second, I think you need to draw a line between the Chuckleheads who are occupying the place and the locals whose prison sentences sparked the occupation to begin with. The Chuckleheads seem to have little to no local support- they're really smart and get arrested for driving Federal vehicles to the store. They say charming things like this and the Governor of Oregon has officially asked for the Feds to roust them out of there and end this business once and for all. (Whether they will or not, I don't know.)

The local do support the ranchers whose prison sentences attracted the Chuckleheads to begin with though- this is the most complete story I've found, which yes, does come from The American Conservative- so there's an obvious ideological bent there-- but this article from The Washington Post seems to confirm the meat and potatoes of what this is about- basically that these two ranchers were charged with and served time for arson five years ago and now the Feds are throwing them back in the joint because they didn't think they had served enough time. That, to me, is a horse of an entirely different color and some serious bullshit. Can the government even do that? Just come back and be like 'whoa man, you were charged and did some time five years ago, but we didn't think it was enough, so we're going to charge you again and add on some more time. Just because we can.' That's a legitimate grievance right there. Worthy of protest? Sure. Worthy of armed occupation? Maybe not so much- especially since the threat of violence closed local schools for a week.

While Conservative outlets tend to paint more of a pro-local, pro-rancher picture of things, Progressive media seems to be rallying around the idea that it's Republican dislike of environmental regulation that is at the heart of the struggle. The Occupiers want unfettered access to public lands to over graze and eventually destroy them and the darned Federal Government is getting in the way. By letting Cliven Bundy get away with his standoff with the Feds in 2014, the government only encouraged the rise of these anti-government extremists (this round-up is chock-full of the usual unhelpful language that you'd expect) and really, the Oregon Occupiers should be focusing on the real enemy: Big Beef (as 4 companies slaughtered and packaged 82% of America's beef last year.)

There are some points raised by the Progressive media that are worthwhile. Yes, the beef monopoly is worth talking about. Yes, you can't just let cattle graze willy-nilly all over the damn place, otherwise you're going to cause long term environmental problems that do nobody any good. And yes, the Federal government's 'ignore him and he'll just go away' attitude about Cliven Bundy and his protest over grazing fees in 2014 probably lead to the Chuckleheads thinking this was their next big media blitz. But, as amusing as I find it to send these guys literal bags of dicks and sex toys, it's not that helpful in the big picture of things. Nor is the usual sermonizing about 'well when the Ferguson or Baltimore protestors rioted they get called thugs, etc etc' all that useful either. This is one case where the double standard- and yes it is a double standard- can be laid squarely at the feet of the media. Burning American cities? Race riots? That's a ratings bonanza. 12 dudes in the Middle of Nowhere, Oregon- not so much. Therefore, they're going to give much less of a shit about the story.

Am I particularly worried about this? No. Local support seems to be eroding fast and if these dudes didn't pack snacks, I'd imagine they're going to start getting hungry at some point. (Just for shits and giggles since the Chuckleheads seem to be part of the Bundy Bunch that were protesting grazing fees, I looked up what the grazing fees actually are. $1.69 per something called an Animal Unit Month. So there's that.)

In short, this seems to be the latest chapter in a very old problem. And if collaboration between all levels of government has broken down- then there's not a lot you can do except get back on the horse and try again, because this issue isn't going to go away any time soon.

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Vote Project: Two Weeks Out

There was a knock on my door a couple of nights ago at a strange hour. Turns out it was two AFSCME volunteers attempted to get me* to commit to caucusing for someone (they have endorsed Hillary) and potentially voting in the general election (which is 11, long, tortuous months away) and to my surprise, for the first time in my adult life, I honestly found myself faced with the prospect that there was absolutely no reason to vote.

After the Republican debate last Wednesday, the prospect of Trump is all to real. Bernie Sanders is coming up fast on Hillary in Iowa and while he says a lot of things I like, I'm dubious on a lot of stuff he says as well. I used to think that the prospect of a Bush vs Clinton rematch would be depressing enough, but no, now there's a chance of a real live Socialist versus a Lunatic, which seems to be even more depressing.

I want to feel the Bern. I really do but he's got a couple of things working against him (at least where I'm sitting.) First of all, Bernie doesn't work unless you vote straight ticket Democrat. Now, if he's running against Trump that could provoke enough of a swing against the Republicans to shift the margins in the House and Senate to do that, but if he's running against anyone else, I have no idea how those numbers play out. You want to feel the Bern? Great. You need a Democratic Congress and to pray that Trump is the nominee. And even then, getting that done is a long shot- but not, I admit, impossible to do.

Second, I go back and forth on the amount of stuff he's promising to do. I mean, the dude is essentially offering voters the moon on a string- and forgive my cynicism, but I have my doubts. Yes, it's good that he's showing how he's going to pay for it all, A+ for transparency, but what about the Unintended Consequences of it all? There's a fuckton of new taxes he's proposing on corporations and Wall Street that might be entirely warranted- but business exists to make money. Period. End of discussion. Progs/Lefties can preach about social responsibility and blah blah blah, but if you impose too many taxes on business they'll just fucking leave. I mean, look at the fast food industry: everyone is out there screaming for a $15/hour minimum wage and what are we hearing about now? Automated kiosks that allow for custom ordering.

(That said: I do think his infrastructure plans and paid family medical leave are worthwhile investments though- and roads and bridges are entirely in line with what I expect my taxes to pay for. The rest... I have my issues with.)

All of the Bernie Thunder could be a moot point though. Howard Dean was looking pretty sweet in 2004 and then ended up coming in 3rd in Iowa- and I'm honestly not sure how Bernie plays in places like South Carolina or Nevada. (I checked... not well.) Could be he takes Iowa, New Hampshire and not much more after that.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are the greatest slow-motion train wreck on the face of the planet right now. If they don't have a party enforcer (you know, an old dude with a vaguely menacing air that summons people to smoke-filled rooms to tell them what's what) they need to get one stat. (Maybe Dick Cheney is available?) Some of these chuckleheads need to drop out before people start voting, because right now, I think it's going to be a nailbiter in Iowa between Trump and Cruz and it's going to be all Trump in New Hampshire, because the more mainstream Republicans are crowding the field too much.

If Jeb! wanted to really do some good for his party, he'd drop out now and release his money and support to go elsewhere. (Huckabee, Santorum, Fiorina, Paul and Carson can all go as well.) But if the Republicans don't want Trump, they need to get their act together fast, because if the field remains this crowded, it's going to be Trump by default.

Third party options are looking a little brighter though: Gary Johnson is officially in, which means, if nothing else, there might be one guy on the ballot who's not a complete loon. Jim Webb is mulling an independent run- which may be harder to swing if Trump runs the table, because the voters he's aiming for are going to be Trump's bread and butter.

Two weeks out and there's not a lot of good news anywhere you look out there- just the looming melancholy despair of wishing you had better people to vote for.

*Sigh. Yes, fine, I admit it. I joined the Union at work. Why I did is somewhat complicated, but the TL;DR version is that I was persuaded that it could be a useful way to advocate for change within the room, so to speak. We'll see. I'm beginning to suspect this might be nothing more than an annoyance that pelts me with spam mail, knocks on my door and costs me forty bucks a month.

**Apparently this party exists and is out there... interesting article and it seems as if the Left took the lessons of Occupy and the Tea Party to heart and is getting down and funky in the trenches. Might not agree with their politics, but I agree with flogging the corporate parties with a stick whenever possible. Good for them.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Farewell To Anchor Christmas Ale

Christmas of 2015 breaks a streak for me that dates all the way back to 2009 or so- but after some reflection, I think it's time to retire it. Yes, I'm saying farewell to Anchor Christmas Ale- at least the part where I age and hoard bottles over the course of several years so I can compare and contrast tastes every Christmas. But it might be time to bid a fond farewell to Anchor Christmas Ale altogether too... I just don't know.

You see, what started me on this little journey was finding out (from The Quiet Man, probably.) That Anchor switches up the recipe for its Christmas Ale every year and that people age bottles of if so they can go back and compare and contrast them every year. Now at the time (and yeah, I still am) I like Anchor's stuff. It's good, solid, hearty- probably a little higher in ABV than the average beer, so I dug it and figured why not. So, over the course of the next several Christmas's I grabbed sixers, I chilled them, drank them and saved a bottle for the next year so I could compare and contrast.

The problem became apparent though: the recipe doesn't really change all that much over time. Schell's Annual Snowstorm offering changed styles from year to year- while Anchor seems to be more intent on making subtle, incremental changes to their recipe. Some years, Anchor would taste more like a deep, mainstream winter beer and other years it would be more botanical- even piney, as if they had distilled a Christmas tree down to a beer and put it in the bottle. But was there a lot to compare and contrast? Maybe. I'm not really a hardcore beer guy- I'll drink it, but whiskey is more my speed and after six years, while I'll probably still grab a sixer if I can find it or if the mood strikes me, but I'll drink them all, not save them. Ageing this beer just takes up too much room in my fridge and the comparing and contrasting is getting far too subtle for my liking.

I tried to sit down and analyze a bottle of the 2014 and the best I could come up with was that it tasted vaguely of root beer or possibly Jaegermeister. There were definite botanical notes that weren't unpleasant but didn't exactly make my socks roll up and down either. I will give it some credit though: even two years later, there was still a distinctly festive feel to it- like you could imagine drinking this on a snowy winter night with hot buttered rum or mulled cider or some crap like that.

I sort of stopped trying on the rest of the bottles though. I think I randomly drank the 2nd 14er the next night and wrapped up the 3rd with an episode of Making A Murderer. I closed things out with the sole survivor of 2013 just last night, but then Little Dude start getting fussy, so I wisely decided to prep him for bed and shut things down for the night.

So, Adieu to Anchor Christmas Ale. Guess I'll have to find a new Christmas Tradition for next year...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #149

This Week In Vexillology, we're going to take a look at the flag of a country that came into being on January 1st, 1993, following one of the biggest and most amicable divorces in history- yes, it's one half of the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia- the Czech Republic!

While the Czech Republic has only been around since 1993 or so, they kept their existing flag in the 'divorce'* so this flag was actually adopted for national and civil usage on March 30, 1920. Originally a bi-color of white and red, recalling the colors of Bohemia, the blue triangle was added to distinguish the flag from that of Poland. (It also represents the state of Moravia.)

This whole divorce thing gets interesting when you do a little more digging on it- pace Wikipedia (The Font of All Knowledge), the notion of a Federal Czechoslovakia was a popular one on both sides- though many Slovak parties wanted a looser confederal arrangement and when Czech parties were elected that wanted a tighter federation instead of a looser one, that sort of forced the issue. But get this: in September of 1992 a poll had only 37% of Slovaks and 36% of Czechs favoring divorce. I guess my question would be then, why do it? Perhaps it was inevitable and it would be interesting to see the numbers now on whether or not both sides still think it was a good idea or not. However, I will say this for the notion: it sure beats doing it the way Yugoslavia did it a few years later and given the distinctions between Czechs and Slovaks, perhaps creating two homogeneous nations was a smart move in hindsight.

I think the Coat of Arms of the Czech Republic are also worth touching on because, well, look at this- they're pretty bad-ass looking. Representing the regions of the Czech Republic, they are in order from the top left- the red and white lion, which is the emblem of Bohemia, followed by the red and white eagle on a field of blue, which is taken from the arms of Moravia, then the black eagle on the yellow field represents Silesia and then they threw in Bohemia again just to fill out the shield.

(It's also worth noting that despite the Czech Republic's presence in the mid-eastern part of Europe my handy-dandy reference guide assures me that the red, white and blue have nothing whatsoever to do with pan-Slavic colors)

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

*Actually, I did a little more digging on this. Turns out the 'divorce' agreement permitted neither state to use existing symbols of Czechoslovakia, but the Czech Republic sort of said, 'meh' and did it anyway. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

'The Phantom Edit' --A Review

So, with all the Star Wars mania sweeping the land right now, I've been trying my best to avoid spoilers at all costs- so when I came across this interesting article on Slate about what various famous people/celebrities thought was the best order to watch the Star Wars movie in, I stumbled across something that I was sort of kind of tangentially aware of but had never bothered to track down.

Topher Grace (yes, of That 70s Show fame) apparently took the prequels and edited them together into one, coherent movie that is reportedly awesome. (Bobby Moynihan references this when asked about his preferred order- and recommends Star Wars Rebels... which I haven't seen, but I might pick Clone Wars back up here in the New Year, since I'm sort of in-between shows right now.) Now, I did some digging on the interwebs and YouTube and found this...  it's called The Phantom Edit and I have no idea if this is the Topher Grace Special Edition they were referring too- since apparently that cut is 85 minutes and this one clocks in at just over two hours, but I watched it... and you know what...  it sort of works.

Wisely dispensing with the vast majority of The Phantom Menace (we see Qui-Gon Jinn get killed and Obi-Wan take care of Darth Maul- and Qui-Gon makes Obi-Wan promise to protect the boy) it plunges instead into Attack of the Clones, keeping the focus on Anakin and Padme and managing something I didn't think was possible: it made their relationship seem...  realistic.  Maybe even, believable. It lacked some context- like how Anakin and Padme met, which could have been added in, I suppose. But there's no god-awful declaration of love on her part and when they kiss finally the tension between them seems real.

And as a result, Anakin's all-consuming fear of losing Padme, which proves to be key to his seduction to the Dark Side of the Force also seems a little less jarring. (The massacre of the Sand People to avenge his mother, however, still seems a little... well, psychotic?)

While the tight focus on Anakin and Padme helped bring the overall arc of the prequel trilogy more into focus (the decline, fall and turning of Anakin, etc) the laser beam focus on them made the rest of the story seem somewhat superfluous at times, confusing at other times. Part of that could be the edit, but part of that could be the source material as well- but either way, just a wee bit more context into how Anakin and Padme met and the chaotic times they are living in could have made a cohesive, competent edit into a genuinely good movie.

Perhaps that's the most interesting part of this whole exercise: what might have been. I'm not the world's biggest Star Wars fan, but I would say apart from the back half of Revenge of the Sith (which I found to be really good- apart from the whole, dying in childbirth, broken heart histrionics) the prequels were sort of... 'meh.' The novelty of having NEW STAR WARS sort of saved the first movie, but then the second movie was so bad and when we find out little tidbits like how Leonardo DiCaprio turned the role of Anakin down, then man oh man...  edits like these only serve to underline the gap between what was and what might have been. (The Clone Wars illustrates this as well beautifully... it's animated, but plays with some pretty heavy themes for an animated show and fills in the gap between Episodes 2 and 3 perfectly with quality story-telling- at least so far. I have a ways to go until the end.)

Overall: an interesting thought exercise, I found the whole Padme-Anakin relationship to be entirely palatable with this edit and while cutting the fat of intricacies and Sith and Jedi and intergalactic politics made things a little jarring now and again, the overall end product was more focused and cohesive than the actual prequels themselves. I'd say ** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie, 1947-2016

The Missus had to be up anyway, but it was just light when I woke up yesterday morning. Still dark. Still fighting for covers with Little Man, who had crawled into our bed at some point. The warmth was tempting, but Little Dude was fussy and wanted some breakfast before the Missus headed out to her morning class, so I passed him over and laid back down, trying to get warm again. Out of habit, I grabbed my phone and the Missus grabbed hers and we scanned Facebook, her trying to wake up, me trying to chase down sleep again, the only light in the bedroom from our phones, illuminating our faces and that, that is when I saw the news that David Bowie had died.

Immediately, Starman started playing in my head. Then, Oh, You Pretty Things and I know the old Spotify Playlist would be getting a workout. The last time I think I can remember being that bummed out and genuinely sad that a musician had died was when I was a freshmen in college and George Harrison passed. I had that '1' album that the Beatles had released and I remember just sitting on the floor of my dorm room, in the dark, listening to it- which felt like an odd parallel for some reason. Though this time I wasn't going to start jamming out to Bowie with both Little Man and Little Dude still asleep.

Then, I began racking my brain, trying to remember the exact moment that I had become aware of the immortal genius of David Bowie. I couldn't find it... could be one of those vacations in the late 90s when my Uncle came out loaded down with mixtapes (still on cassette of course) and drove us all mad with the most sadistic clue in the history of 'I Spy' that lasted from Utah, all the way through Wyoming, Nebraska and into our driveway at home. Could be senior year of high school. I seem to recall finding Springsteen that year and quoting it in a letter I wrote to my journalism advisor. He, I think, responded with Bowie. I felt like I had a CD* at some point that had most of the classics on it. I remember days and weeks, listening to tracks like Young Americans and Life On Mars. Then I realized that like Ziggy Stardust, I didn't need to remember the exact moment he showed- it was like he was there all along.

True confession though: I don't think I've ever sat down and listened to one of his albums- which I'm going to need to remedy. I think I just float through Bowie songs individually or in a group or in a play list I've made myself. Little supernovas in my brain: the first time you heard Under Pressure (and totally stopped believing Vanilla Ice's bullshit explanation of how the hook for Ice, Ice Baby was really different from Under Pressure.) The opening of 'The Breakfast Club'- which doesn't even have a single one of Bowie's songs on the soundtrack, but uses that line from Changes in the opening shot that was just... perfect. There's no other word for it. Dead Man Walking from the soundtrack of 'The Saint' (which was a legit good movie- though I feel like Roger Moore should have had a cameo somewhere in it.) Mott The Hoople's All The Young Dudes (which for some reason I've always thought was an early Bowie track, but was in fact, just written by him- at least according to Wikipedia.)

His acting wasn't bad either. His appearance in 'Zoolander' was brilliant, but it was his turn as Pontius Pilate in 'The Last Temptation of Christ' that really blew my mind. (And while it didn't really click with me the way it did a lot of people, who can also forget The Goblin King in 'The Labyrinth'.)

I don't know. Everyone thinks they're immortal until they're not- and while people seemed amazed that a guy like Lemmy lasted as long as he did and assume that people like Keith Richards and Ozzy are well nigh immortal- because if something hasn't killed them by now, what can? Bowie felt different. There was a touch of immortality about him and I think people generally did assume that he would be here forever- not because of a lifestyle of sex and drugs and rock and roll, but because a talent so unique and original, so willing and able to evolve over the years and embrace change seems to be destined for immortality- and really, Bowie is. If civilization lasts a few more centuries (a debatable prospect to be sure), I expect that the music of David Robert Jones will be amongst the few from the 20th Century to stand the test of time.

He will be missed.

*I really wish I knew where that CD was. The Jean Genie, Rebel, Rebel, Suffragette City, Blue Jean, China Girl, Fame, Golden Years and I don't know how many others. It was the perfect Bowie mix.

Hospital Morning

"Is that the cafeteria?"

I was sitting down in a waiting area that, I had just realized, seemed far bigger than it actually was thanks to one wall being a giant facade of mirrors. I had just stopped at the Java House to grab a coffee and something to eat, as my CT Scan had taken about three minutes and my next appointment wasn't for another hour. I shook my head. "No, that's further down that way-" I pointed over my shoulder and back toward the Java House.

"Thanks, man." And then he was gone and I pulled my headphones on and hit play on the last ten minutes or so of the first episode of Serial. (I was starting with Season 1, just to see what I had missed.) I chewed thoughtfully on my almond croissant, sipped at my latte (which was, I think, sugar cookie flavored) and reflected on the general weirdness of the hospital.

It was a strange place. A city within a city within a city, like the center of one of those Russian nesting dolls, if you really got down to it- a huge chunk of the University's western campus that cast a shadow (along with the Athletics Department) over the rest of the University, operating within the city at large. As I saw people streaming by me- maroon colored scrubs, grey scrubs, green scrubs, patients, family members, I idly wondered how many people worked in the hospital at any given moment- I had to imagine it would be the equivalent to a medium sized town.

In general, it wasn't my favorite place to be. A lot of people have a general dislike of hospitals and it wasn't that. Sick people don't freak me out and if you have something (like I did) that you want to try and nail down and probably fix, hospitals might be the only place you have to go. No, it was this Hospital that I found to be irritating. It just sat there, a gargantuan mega-city of medical prowess, an island unto itself. It didn't have play well with others. It ran itself and didn't really care all that much if the way it did business got stained your front lawn purple.

On an impulse, I finished my croissant and hopped on the elevator all the way up to the 8th Floor. There, I wandered through the Medical Museum. (Which I had always secretly wanted to visit- it was like the hidden museum on campus. You had the Old Capitol, the Museum of Natural History, the Art Museum and then the Medical Museum.) It... was interesting. I was sort of short on time, so I took a glance through a couple of galleries- saw an iron lung and old school wheelchair but missed the weighted speculum that had so horrified The Missus, apparently. What did catch my eye, as I was leaving to head down to the ENT clinic, however, were the aerial photographs of the west campus over the decades.

The biggest one was probably the most astonishing one. Only two dorms on the West Side- (no Rienow, no Slater and Quad still had four sides instead of three) nothing where I was standing actually existed yet- it was just an empty field and that had been as little as five decades ago. The amount of constant growth and change in the complex was amazing.

My second appointment was a good news/bad news kind of thing. (I should divert a second here: I had gone through the kerfuffle of getting a CT to have my sinuses checked to see if I was a good candidate for a rotor-rooter job on them. I get pressure headaches and winter months seem to be an interminably long sinus infection instead of the a season of joy and happiness, etc etc. TL;DR the majority of my phlegm seems to drain down my throat instead out of my damn nose and I wanted to find out why.) Turns out, I have large frontal sinuses- which will not be a surprise to anyone who has ever seen the size of my head. But they were relatively free of crud. As were all the other sinuses we checked but it turns out, my nasal passages, while not deviated, were fairly dark and twisty- so any swelling or irritation would block them very easily.

I could talk to a sinus surgeon if I wanted to, but nasal sprays and sinus rinsing is going to be the best way forward for now. Nasal sprays.., I hate nasal sprays. All they've ever managed to convince me of is that I would be a terrible cocaine addict. Can't stand the sensation and all they do is make me sneeze- not over time, of course, but incessantly and immediately, thus, negating all the good they allegedly do. Sinus rinses, despite the fact that I find the bottle to be more palatable and effective than the cumbersome Neti-Pot, will always make me ever-so-slightly twitchy and paranoid thanks to stories about brain eating bacteria.

But, CT scans do not lie. And at least I left knowing that it wasn't my sinuses, but my twisty, bendy nasal passages that were to blame. Maybe I'd need a nose job at some point, but for now it didn't really make a lick of sense to me- a fact confirmed by the Doctor. Rinse, spray and repeat- that was my fate and my solution- at least for now. So, I made my way back into the M.C. Escher hell that is Ramp IV (not one ramp, but in fact, three that have all joined together somehow) and found my car, headed for the exit, showed the cashier my validated parking which meant that my trip only cost me $3.

And that was my Hospital morning...

Saturday, January 9, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #148

Continuing with our run of countries that emerged as nations in January, This Week In Vexillology, we head over to the Pacific Ocean to take a look at the flag of Nauru:

In terms of area, Nauru is one of the smallest states in the South Pacific and the third smallest by area in the world- it's had a strange existence, from a political point of view- it became a League of Nations mandate jointly administered by the UK, Australia and New Zealand with a brief period of occupation by the Japanese in World War II. Afterward, the mandate fell to the United Nations, again, keep the three government structure, though I guess that was more of a formality than anything else and in practice, Australia ran the place.

Phosphate was the island's primary export that made it a lot of money in the 70s, but once the supplies were exhausted, life got a little complicated. (Environmental damage was extreme and the reinvention of an entire economy is always complicated.)

But the flag! The flag was adopted on January 31st, 1968 for National and Civil usage. The blue in the flag represents the island's blue skies and the Pacific Ocean. The star has twelve points and each point represents one of the twelve original tribes of Nauru and the gold line is symbolic of the equator. The placement of the star is representative of Nauru's location just south of the equator and it's color- white- represents the phosphate which was one of the island's chief exports. The division of the flag into two equal parts recalls the saga in which the first inhabitants were brought to earth from two boulders.

So, there you have it- the flag of Nauru! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Squawk Box: Man In The High Castle/Jessica Jones

I spent the back half of November and early December consuming the two shows I was most looking forward to- Marvel's Jessica Jones and Amazon's The Man In The High Castle- both of which more than lived up to their respective hype and both of which did what you want great television shows to do: they stuck with you, long after you finished watching them.

Set in an alternate universe where the Allies lost World War II, The Man In The High Castle begins in an America divided between the Japanese (the west coast) and the Germans (the east coast/Midwest) with a neutral zone (the Rocky Mountains, more or less in the middle.) When Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) is given a mysterious film by her sister who is then shot by the Japanese authorities, she soon discovers that the films are produced by the mysterious Man In The High Castle and show different versions of reality than the one they're in. Wanting to find the truth behind the films, Juliana heads to the neutral zone, taking over her sister's mission for the 'resistance' only to run into Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), who is also trying to find out who is behind the films, while attempting to infiltrate the resistance- only he's doing it for the Nazis instead.

Meanwhile, Juliana's boyfriend Frank (Rupert Evans) gets brought in for questioning about Juliana's location and his past is used against him in the most awful way possible- seeking revenge, he secures a gun and is about to assassinate the Crown Prince of Japan when someone else does instead- leaving Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and his high-ranking Nazi friend Rudolph Wegener (Carsten Norgaard) racing to prevent war between the two superpowers. By the end of the first season, conspiracies will have been unearthed, answers will have been found and one character is a step closer to unearthing the real identity of The Man In The High Castle.

I will admit this: the middle few episodes do drag on a little bit- but it's the subtle touches that really creep you out and haunt you. Like when one character asks what's floating in the air and the other replies that it's 'Tuesday, when they burn the cripples and the infirm at the hospital.' Or how everything seems serene and suburban except all the dudes in Nazi regalia greeting each other with friendly 'Sieg Heils!' The world that this show inhabits is chilling, not just because it's so well-created, down to the smallest of details, but because it's believable. If they're going to run into a problem, I think it will be how to bring the story to a resolution- which obviously depends on how many seasons they end up getting, but having read the book, I can tell you it's not a happy fun smiley ending. In fact, it's downright melancholy- which hasn't stopped some television shows, I know- but at the same time, it will be interesting to see how they square that particular circle when they come to it.

Jessica Jones on the other hand, grabs you and doesn't let go. The second of Marvel's television shows to drop on Netflix, Jessica Jones jumps right in and introduces us to the mess of a titular protagonist (played by Krysten Ritter) who is a Private Investigator in Hell's Kitchen, drinks too much, lives like a slob and is trying her best to piece her life back together after a hideous trauma at the hands of a man named Kilgrave, (played brilliantly by David Tennant) who has the ability to control minds. Jessica broke free from his control, but remains terrified of falling back under his influence again.

Taking a case of a missing girl by the name of Hope Schlottman, Jessica tracks her down only to realize that Kilgrave has returned- apparently from the dead and despite her best efforts, Jessica can't get Hope and her family away in time. She is about to run, but decides to take down Kilgrave once and for all instead and soon finds out that the cost of doing so is higher than she might have expected.

I don't even know where to start with how awesome this was... whether it's Tennant, who just oozes evil and amorality for most of the thirteen episodes until you find out why he is the way he is and then it just gets downright uncomfortable for a second, or Ritter, who wraps up her character's trauma and PTSD in self-medication, bursts of violence and sarcasm and lashing out against her friends and just stares through your television screen at you sometimes, that's how haunted she feels. This is a television show that could never, ever, ever happen on a television network- maybe on cable, but even that's a stretch. This show shows no fear in tackling issues of rape, assault and PTSD head on and it absolutely crackles with power sometimes.

As usual with Marvel properties, the other joy of Jessica Jones was watching plot threads and characters be introduced that you know will become significant down the road. Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Joe Simpson (soon to be the super villain Nuke, I'm guessing), Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) all- if the show stays pretty close to it's source material, which it seemed to do- have bigger things ahead of them and Luke Cage is getting his own show. Rosario Dawson returns as Claire Temple, the Night Nurse which ties the show back to Daredevil and keeps planting the seeds and threads, which are supposed to eventually culminate in a Defenders mini-series.

My Verdict:
Man In The High Castle- *** out of ****, it had a strong first season and sets up some interesting things for it's second season, but I don't know how long the concept and premise are going to carry them- but I'll keep watching as long as they keep making them.

Jessica Jones- **** out of ****, Marvel follows up Daredevil with a worthy successor...  I want to see more of Jessica Jones and can't wait for the next show up (which I think is Luke Cage and then Iron Fist?)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

On The Move

So: this is happening...

The Missus and I have been prepping for today for about a month now. We've looked at houses, come close to pulling the trigger on building a new house (and still might) and we might have found our next house- assuming it's still there when we get an offer on this one and possibilities seem to be blossoming like rain everywhere we look.

And it's scary as hell and a little sad as well. Both of us have had wavering moments where we're not sure we actually want to sell this house at all. This was our first house. We put a lot of love into this house. Little Man (Kid #1) and Little Dude (Kid #2) came home to this house. We've had holidays in this house, nieces came to visit this house, parties with friends, nights spent talking around the fire or sitting on our excellent porch (I'm going to miss that porch) out front enjoying the view across the street and the empty field where the glorious vista of Proctor and Gamble loomed on the horizon. (OK: that last part is a little much, it's not exactly a mountain vista, but damn it, it was our vista.)

But it's time. And full credit to our realtor for telling us to declutter- I realized after my hour or so of melancholy that between us, we had shipped half our stuff out already and the place looked amazing. Amazing enough that I think both of us have wobbled a bit on selling it at all- but once we add that stuff back in, our pressing need for more space is going to become quickly apparent. So, as many memories that we've had in this house, it's time to graduate to space we can grow into and really raise a family in.

We've already got a showing schedule for tomorrow, believe it or not- whether anything will come of that or not, I don't know- but it's finally here. The day has arrived. The next step in the crazy, amazing adventure that is our life is finally underway.

(By the way- natives of Johnson County are probably fully aware of this, but we were idly dreaming and looking at houses in locations that will remain undisclosed since nothing will probably come of this particular idle dream- and DAMN can you get a lot of house for a lot less money than you can here. I mean, we could get everything we want for under 200k easy pretty much anywhere else- and not half-assed houses either. Like nice, almost new houses that would be at the tippy-top of our budget round these parts. Jesus, I loathe Iowa City's housing market. It's completely fucked compared to the rest of the state and makes locations that will remain undisclosed look tempting enough to actually consider, you know.)

Obviously, I'll let y'all know when we find the next Casa de Tomali- but in the meantime, it's officially up and out there- so if you know people who are looking for an amazing starter home let them know.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


Written On December 6th, 2015

The length of the average human arm is 25 inches. That's how close we were last night- that second effort, that last gasp, that last heave over the end zone to break the plane and score the touchdown... I had been worried since halftime about the offense's lack of ability to move the ball- but they got lucky once with a deep ball to break the deadlock and ever since then, Michigan State had been controlling the ball, moving it effectively- gashing us with runs and forcing their way down the field.

We were close, we were agonizingly close. That 4th and 1 that just made it. Then, inches away- first down, second down, third down... and finally that last gasp effort broke us. Agony. Excruciating, beautiful agony as it slipped away. 27 seconds left and 25 inches, the length of the average human arm. That's how close Iowa came- to a Big Ten Championship and a shot at a national title.

If you're going to lose, there are few ways more painful to lose. I saw a few comparison to the Alabama-LSU national title game floating around out there- but I don't think that's quite right. I found that tedious, this was riveting. Granted, I may have some obvious biases due to the teams, but seriously...  this was a chess match that came down to the last piece on the board. You can't say we didn't leave it all out there on the field, because we did.

But what a glorious consolation prize- the Rose Bowl. I think if you would have taken a poll before last night's game about whether or not Iowa Fandom preferred a shot at the title and getting into the playoff or a trip to the Rose Bowl to face whomever, I think the vote would have been closer than you would think. This is a really, really big deal to a lot of Iowa fans. Tickets on StubHub- the cheap ones, mind you, are hovering around $600 and I'm willing to bet bank accounts around the state are being emptied and plans are being made.

Last time we were in the Rose Bowl, I was 7. I didn't understand much about football at the time, but I understood that it was a big deal. Legendary. The myth. The weight of the game- whatever the hell it was, it was a really, really big deal. I remember we lost- and I remember enjoying the beat down we gave Washington in the 1995 Sun Bowl quite a bit as a result. But since then, it remained elusive. In '02, we were denied due to the order that the bowls picked. In '09, we went down in overtime to Ohio State and they took the Big Ten title and the trip to the Rose Bowl.

It's been a long quarter-century and it's amazing that we're going back. You don't see them all that often anymore, but every once in awhile, I'll be driving around town and catch a glimpse of the old familiar rose with the message: 'WE SHALL RETURN'.  It took longer than anyone anticipated but Iowa is on it's way to Pasadena. And it's so, so awesome.

Written On January 3rd, 2016

Well...  that sucked. Iowa got stomped hard by Stanford* two days ago in the Rose Bowl and everything old was new again, because the last time we were in the Rose Bowl, Washington put up 46 points on us and Stanford** pretty much punched us in the throat immediately and never really let up. Things go a little better in the second half and Iowa clawed back a little bit to make it hurt a little less, but man...  that sucked. It sucked because this team was better than that. It sucked because it exposed the fact that for all it's power, the one thing Iowa's defense lacked was some serious speed and it sucked because these moments don't happen all that often for Iowa and if (and I really hope we don't) we have to wait twenty five more years to get back to a Rose Bowl, I have to wonder if there will still be bowl games for us to go to.

Iowa's window was narrow when it came to stopping McCaffrey- if you didn't get him at the line of scrimmage in the first few seconds and let him break that first tackle, he was going to turn the jets on and make you eat it. And eat it Iowa did. Hard. I know everyone always complains about the Big Ten's supposedly 'weak' non-conference schedule and there's been talking of trying to change that with scheduling more Power Five opponents in the non-conference- so here's my modest proposal: let's set something up with the Pac-12. We don't have to be suicidal and take a run at UCLA or USC or Stanford, even, but let's play Colorado. Or Washington State. Or Oregon State. Let's schedule some home and home series against them and get some experience playing in the Pacific Time Zone, because if you look at our history- we're sort of terrible once we get west of the Rockies.

In terms of Bowl games- 2010's win against Missouri in the Insight Bowl was our first 'western' Bowl will since the 1987 Holiday Bowl versus Wyoming. (We tied BYU in the Holiday Bowl in 1991.) While I know nothing about recruiting and can't really assess how much the speed deficit on display two days ago is a long term problem- I feel like the time zone issue is a simpler one to potential solve. Your program sucks west of the Rockies? Play there more than once or twice in a decade and they might get used to it. Or maybe they won't, who knows. (Maybe the time zone has nothing to do with it at all.) But if we want to get back to and win a Rose Bowl someday, it might help to play our most likely opponents once in awhile.

But there's the real rub. Will it be another 25 years? God, I hope not- because even on television, the place looks like a damn temple to the sport. But you have to wonder about the effect that the College Football Playoffs are going to have on games like this. Are there too many bowls? Yes. No 5-7 team should be in a bowl and if that means that aren't enough teams and too many bowls, maybe have fewer bowls? I think, eventually, what you will see is an 8 team playoff and maybe half the bowls we have now- perhaps eventually around a dozen or so of the most prominent bowls that have been around for awhile. (I myself, did not know that there had been 57 Liberty Bowls, but there you go.) I don't think you'll ever get rid of them entirely though- there's too much money in them (too much corruption in others). My wish would be that eventually the Rose Bowl just gets back to the way it used to be: Big Ten versus Pac-12, their champions preferably- but if they're busy in the playoffs, then the best available team each conference has.

And if it's another twenty five years until we get back to the Rose Bowl, well, I'll be 57. My kids will be 30 and 26 respectively and I don't care if I have to sell a kidney. Next time, we're going. Because, well, if they're not making those bumper stickers again, they should be. I sort of want one for my car.

We shall return.

*Personally, I enjoy Stanford's band. Seems like a bunch of stoners sort of took over the marching band back in the day and that's been their aesthetic ever since. That said, if you're going to be dicks to your opponents, be accurate and factual dicks. Wisconsin is cows. Iowa does corn. And pigs. Not to mention the fact that the nation's largest agricultural state is...  California. 

**Ugh. That damn tweet from Carly Fiorina.  Just rep your alma mater, FFS. It's like Michelle Bachmann's jersey when she went to the Iowa-ISU game when she was (shudder) running for President. She even had a good excuse, being from Waterloo- she could have and should have (god, I hope whichever idiot staffer told her this jersey was a good idea got fired) repped her home town team of UNI. Same deal here. So you went to Stanford... rep your alma mater already. Don't get your pandering all over the Rose Bowl. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #147

I had been trying my best to be methodical last year with This Week In Vexillology- we knocked of Africa, Central America and South America and I was all ready to make my way through the rest of Europe when I decided to shake things up a bit by throwing down a curveball. This month, three out of our four flags belong to countries that declared or won their independence in January. First on deck, a country that established it's sovereignty on January 1st, 1804: The Republic of Haiti

As with most former French colonies, it's somewhat dispiriting to admit that the blue and the red in the flag were taken from the Tricolore-- however, there's a cool twist with the Haitian flag, because apparently during the rebellion against France in 1803, Jean-Jacques Dessalines* somewhat (I'd imagine) irritated with the French, tore up a Tricolore and then the blue and the red were just stitched back together to form the basis for the flag of Haiti. (Question: does this mean the Haitians are down with liberte and fraternite but not egalite? Or is that over thinking this?) 

An alternative flag of vertical black and red panels has also been used from time to time- most recently during the Duvalier Regime that ran from 1964-1986. (Both Papa and Baby Doc are worth a Wikipedia read if you know nothing about Haiti.)  The coat of arms appears on the flag for official and state purposes and the overall flag was adopted on May 18, 1803 for national and civil usage.

The Coat of Arms are kind of cool-- the palm tree in the middle represents independence (it's a royal palm- which I guess is significant? But hell, to me, a palm tree is a palm tree, right?) And on top of the palm tree- though it's kind of hard to see? That's right! Our old friend, the Cap of Liberty. There are various weapons arrayed at the base of the palm tree, which signify the people's willingness to defend their liberty and the national motto, 'L Union Fait La Force' or 'Union is Strength' runs along the bottom.)

So there you have it- we're starting off 2016 right with the flag of Haiti! Remember, until next time- keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

*OK- TL;DR on Haitian Independence: dude by the name of Toussaint L'Ouverture lead the most successful slave uprising since Spartacus to kick the French out of power, but was forced to resign by forces sent to restore order by Napoleon. He was deported to France and died in 1803 and that's where Jean-Jacques Dessalines took over and finished the job to get Haiti complete independence.

Friday, January 1, 2016

10 for 2016

Ah, a New Year with a fresh, new year scent all over it and that means another list of pointless resolutions, half of which I probably won't accomplish anyway. Thankfully, my list from last year has vanished into the ether of the internet in the transition to this, my latest and hopefully permanent resting place for my blogging, so I don't have to reflect on the failures of 2015- but... it's foolish, misplaced optimism on my part, since I probably think every new year feels like something good could happen, but I sort of want to jump up and down and insist that by golly, this time it's going to be different, this time, this year is going to be kick-ass!

But I know better. In reality, I'll probably greeting 2017 by looking back at this list and giving a hearty belly laugh at my foolish optimism- but you never know, right? This could actually be the year I fulfill some of my New Year's Resolutions. Here's the 2016 Edition:

1. Returning from last year- get that next tattoo: I've been sort of circling around this for awhile, but I've got an idea, I've got a design and I'm ready for a shot at tattoo redemption, as the last time around, it didn't go so well. (I sort of passed out and threw up a little- which beats passing out and pissing yourself I guess- but not by much.) I think the Missus might be getting that itch as well, so it's just a question of scraping up some dough and finding the time to do it.

2.  Run a 5k: You gotta start somewhere, right? And they have inflatable, color, laser glow-stick 5k type things out there these days and why the hell not? If having a four year old has taught me anything, it's that, when they really want you to do something, they can be almost Jillian Michaels-like in their intensity and huffing after the Kiddo when he's begging me to do sprints at 'BLAZING SPEED' isn't exactly fun and just underlines how out of shape I am. Time (and I know I say this every year) to do something about it.

3. Get the next book done and start working on the one after that: This is actually going to happen. I'm already digging into my 'next book' and I'm going to get the sequel to The Prisoner and The Assassin wrapped and pushed out into the world hopefully by early spring. (Knock on wood- but it comes out in 2016 for sure!)

4. Learn to code:  This will be interesting, but we'll see how it goes. I plan to start on Code Academy and see where it takes me-- if it's something I enjoy, it could potentially be a back pocket to other opportunities, career-wise, but it's a little too soon to make a call on that for sure.

5. Put my phone on a shelf somewhere when I'm at home: I'm really trying to make an effort at this, since I have my face in my phone too much as it is, but damn is it hard when Older Child wants to watch the same five episodes of Paw Patrol all the damn time and Younger Child just wants to eat and fall asleep in your arm. You sort of crave a moment of adult stimulation, even if it just a quick glance at your Twitter feed. This one is going to be haaaaaaaaard. But I'm finding when I spend less time looking at my phone and more time doing things with the Kiddo, the happier he tends to be. (Which makes sense.) So I gotta- if not break myself of this habit, at least get much better at it than I am now.

6. Lose 50 pounds: I'm sort of stuck between the 245-255 range of things these days. With great concentration and a modicum of effort I can get it down to 240, but I'd like to get it down further. My 'healthy weight, even though I think BMI is kind of dodgy and feel pretty okay with myself' is 180, which seems ridiculously skinny to me. But under 200 in a year? Seems reasonable.

7. Read more books! I've been bad about reading- or at least sporadic about it. I need to pick it back up again.

8. Team up with The Missus and figure out this whole 'making friends as adults' thing: I'm sort of convinced that there is a secret meeting that we missed out on somewhere, but between her schedule, my schedule and two kids, it's hard enough trying to hang out with the friends we do have, let alone making new ones- but people seem to do it somehow. God knows how.

9. Control my stress better: Yoga, meditation, exercise- I need something. I'll admit I wasn't perfect about it in times past, but I seem to be getting worse with the hurricane that is life. I need to find outlets for stress that work better than what I do now. Which is nothing.

10. Publish one piece of short fiction a month on Medium, just for the exposure: I've been working on a series for Medium (Parts One and Two here) and I really like it as a platform and if I have a writing goal for 2016, it's to get my short story game to where I think it should be- so, why not churn out some stories or resurrect old ones to put them out there for people to see.