Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May On Medium

So, I'm getting back on the horse with my 'one piece of short fiction a month' goal and managed to shove this one over the finish line...  it was kind of a bugger, to be honest, but once I let the main character/narrator tell the story in her own voice instead of telling it for her, it felt complete.

The Missus thinks there's more there... and you know what? She might be right- but in the meantime, for your viewing and reading pleasure:

The Night Paul Bunyan Died

(I owe y'all two short stories...  will hopefully make up the deficit soon.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Boozehound Unfiltered: Laphroaig 10 Year Old

Back to Islay we go in this month's edition of Boozehound Unfiltered, this time to take a taste of a scotch that styles itself to 'the richest flavored Islay' of them all- yes, it's the Laphroaig 10 Year Old:

You know, I've had this stuff before and it didn't really stand out in my mind all that much, which is surprising, given how tasty I found it to be this time around. While Lagavulin might embrace the smokiness of the peat along with Ardbeg, I found Laphroaig to be a more complex dram than I was expecting. Yes, the ever present pete was evident, but it wasn't a slap in the face. It wasn't overwhelming either. It was, in fact, quite pleasant to drink.

Let's break down a toponym, shall we? There's some gaelic elements worth touching on: lag (hollow) breid (Norse: broad), vik (Norse: bay) which gets you something like 'Lag Bhrodhaig' or the Hollow of Broadbay. Another theory is that it could be related to a place name on the East Coast of Islay called Proaig (again: Broad Bay.)  Somehow, out of all of that, you get Laphroaig.(It's also the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales- apparently Prince Charles likes the 15 year old Laphroaig, which almost makes it worth tracking down a bottle.)

There's also this really cool Friends of Laphroaig Club, which can land you 1 square foot of land on Islay itself. (Might have to put this in the old rolodex for future reference/possible birthday/holiday gifts for various people as well.)

To the WHISKY!

Color: Pale yellow/honey colored

Body: It's light and floral...  maybe it's my nose and it's lack of refinement, but I kept wanting to say 'honey' but instead thought maybe, just maybe, hints of maybe something like citrus peel or a crisp, refreshing fruit- maybe melon? It's an Islay, so the peat is evident, but unlike say, Lagavulin or an Ardbeg, it doesn't punch you in the face. The peat seems somewhat restrained and imparts a spicy flavor instead of the overwhelming sensation of smoke.

Palate: It sits lightly on the tongue- not in a weak and watery way, but just nicely. The peat takes center stage here and spices things up nicely.

Finish: Not harsh- which is surprising for an Islay in many ways. The peat is there but the warming is gradual and pleasant.

Overall: After seeing this review on Master of Malt, I sort of second guessed my initial round of tasting notes for a minute or two, but then I well, third guessed myself because what if it's confirmation bias, you know? You read a description and then your mind starts hunting for it and then eventually agrees with it- which is what I sort of found myself doing when I did another tasting last night. Either way, as single malts go, this is a solid B+

Saturday, May 28, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #168

This Week In Vexillology, we're still hanging around Oceania and various parts down under- only this week, we're taking a peek at the flag one of the newest countries in the world: East Timor (or Timor-Leste, if you want to be Portuguese about it.)

This flag had to wait a long time before it's moment finally became 'official.' It was first adopted on November 28th, 1975* when independence from Portugal was declared- independence which lasted a whole nine days before Indonesia invaded and occupied the country. It took until May 19th, 2002 for independence to be won again and the Timorese didn't change their flag in the interim occupation- they raised the original one right back up there once they finally had their freedom.

The Indonesian invasion and occupation was brought on by what else? A fear of communism- with civil war threatening to break out between the two main political parties (FRETILIN and the UDT) Indonesia played the Cold War cards and invaded with predictably brutal results. Between 1974-1999 the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor cited at least 102,800 conflict related deaths. Of course, it being the Cold War, the United States supported the Indonesian invasion. The Santa Cruz Massacre of 1991 proved to be a major turning point for the Timorese cause and by 2002, independence was secured. Some instability followed in the first decade of independence, but the UN wrapped up it's peacekeeping mission in 2012.

Triangles play a big part in the design of the flag and they've got meanings as well: the black triangle represents "the obscurantism that needs to be over come" (and yes, I took that direct from the Wikipedia page because I think it's the most oddly specific definition of a design element I've come across to date. 'Obscurantism.'  I like that.) The red in flag represents the struggle for national liberation. The yellow triangle represents 'the traces of colonialism in East Timor's history.' (Again, straight from Wikipedia, because again, I like the level of detail here.) The star is the light that guides and is white to represent peace.

And that, ladies and gentlemen is the flag of East Timor.

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

*Let's talk about imperialism for a second. Look, there's no good justification for invading and occupying a ton of countries that weren't yours to begin with. The vomit inducing justifications like 'spreading Christianity'- which I guess worked in the case of East Timor as it, along with the Philippines are the only two Christian nations in the region0 or the White Man's Burden were perfectly normal at the time, but still...  if you're going to do it, then you have a responsibility to de-colonize in an orderly fashion. After the end of the fascist regime in the Carnation Revolution of 1974, Portugal pretty much said 'see ya!' and walked out the door. Transitional arrangements when compared with the other old European powers were nil and a bunch of countries have very fucked up histories because of the speed and haste of the decolonization. I'm not saying I blame Portugal entirely: their Fascist Dictator Salazar and his short-lived successor Marcelo Caetano had poured blood and money into trying to hold onto their colonies and was in large part overthrown by officers who had spent their careers fighting insurgencies in countries that just wanted them gone. But still...  you have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, a little less haste on the part of the Portuguese might have lead to some different outcomes for several countries. Including East Timor.

Friday, May 27, 2016

'Captain America: Civil War' --A Review

Well, this was a bit of a milestone movie for us, as I took Little Man along for this one and you know what? He actually did pretty well... granted, there were multiple trips to the bathroom and I did buy an extra bag of popcorn to tide him over through the end of the movie- but overall, he liked it. He thought 'it was really long' but liked seeing Spiderman. (No idea where he's picked up Spiderman from, but of all the superheroes out there, he seems to mention Spiderman the most.) He liked it! So there's that...

Thankfully, potty trips didn't seem to deprive me of too many important plot points and the overall movie was incredible. In fact, of all the Marvel 'movie trilogies' there have been so far, Captain America probably ranks as my favorite (at least for now)* and they've saved the best for last and then some.

The movie opens with Captain America and Iron Man in two very different places: Captain America is still leading the Avengers (Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Black Widow, War Machine) and they're in Nigeria, trying to capture Crossbones who's after a biological weapon. They manage to secure the biological weapon, but when Crossbones tries to blow himself up to take out Captain America, Scarlet Witch elevates him into the air a little too quickly and the resulting blast takes out a hefty chunk of a nearby building. (Which sucks, but given the alternative was blowing Captain America, herself, and a very crowded marketplace I think it was a 'six of one half a dozen of the other' type of thing.) It proves to be a bad deal though, since a delegation from the reclusive African nation of Wakanda are killed.

Iron Man is still adrift. Trying to wrestle with the consequences of his actions in the wake of creating Ultron (and wrecking a whole country in the process) he's confronted by a mother (Alfre Woodard) after an MIT symposium who tells him her son had been killed in Sokovia and wants to know who's going to avenge him...  that turns out to be a real punch in the gut for Iron Man, because when in the wake of the bombing in Nigeria, the nations of the world demand some rules for the Avengers and how they're used, Iron Man decides that he's onboard.  Captain America, however, is dubious and ultimately unwilling to sign the new 'Sokovia Accords.'

When the signing ceremony is disrupted by a bomb that kills the King of Wakanda and Captain America's old friend Bucky Barnes (The Winter Soldier) is implicated, the conflict springs to life, as Cap sets out to bring his friend in by himself and Iron Man and Company try to do things their way- and a new player T'Challa, the new King of Wakanda and now assuming the mantle of Black Panther (played to absolute perfection by Chadwick Boseman) sets his sights on tracking down the Winter Soldier as revenge for his father's death.

Captain America, convinced of Bucky's innocence goes underground and assembles his team. Iron Man, now prodded back into his suit at Cap's actions assembles his team (including Spiderman!) and the ultimate superhero showdown happens and it's amazing! But when Bucky and Cap escape to track down final proof of his innocence, the truth that the find may create a permanent rift between the two groups of heroes and the consequences of that remain to be seen.

(I think that's pretty spoiler-free, all in all, don't you?)

Anyway: where to begin with this movie? If Batman v Superman was also supposed to be an exploration of the consequences of Superman's fight with Zod at the end of Man of Steel (admittedly, I haven't seen it yet- but I've read enough reviews to glean that much) then Captain America: Civil War takes the exploration of the consequences of superheroics to a deeper and more satisfying level. This isn't just about the damage they leave in their wake. It's about the personal cost as well (with Scarlet Witch wrestling with her mistake at the start of the movie, the whole existence of Crossbones after Cap 'dropped a building on his face.' T'Challa's drive for revenge in the wake of the death of his father...) personal choices and consequences run throughout this movie- so it's a theme explored on both the micro and macro level which makes for an ultimately more satisfying narrative.

I have no earthly idea how the Russo Brothers (who directed this magnificent piece of cinema) managed to keep the insane number of superheroes straight and keep this thing from becoming an ugly trainwreck, but they did. There's balance here...  no superhero gets short changed or forgotten about (except possibly Vision, though he does rock some awesome sweaters) and can I just say how excited I am for the new Spiderman? Tom Holland seems like an actual high schooler and not a 30+ year old playing a high schooler and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May? It works for me. And Black Panther? So perfect... so pumped. Especially how nuanced his character arc in this movie turns out to be!

Overall: By any stretch of the imagination, this had a very good chance of being a hot steaming mess. The fact that it wasn't and the fact that it was a genuinely good movie- even if, perhaps, it was a wee bit too long for a four year old, should tell you all you need to know. This was probably the best Marvel movie yet and it sets up so many exciting things to come. Marvel will, undoubtedly, continue to take my money for a years to come. **** out of ****

Monday, May 23, 2016

Time To Roll Up The Sleeves

I seem to be in a never ending quest to figure out 'what's next.' Make a plan, I keep telling myself. Think about it, figure out what to do next and then once you do that, just go out and do it. Five more years until loan forgiveness*, you can do this. It'll be worth it.

Problem is, that leaves me sitting on my ass and thinking about things instead of rolling up my sleeves and getting out there and actually doing things. Maybe that's been what I've been doing wrong all this time. I've always told myself that I hate people that expect 'the thing' just to knock on the door one day and introduce itself- you've got to actual be a little proactive about going out and finding 'the thing' whatever it is. Somewhere along the way, I forgot that and ended up breaking my own rule and became one of those people just expecting 'the thing' just to knock on the door one day and introduce itself.

Along the way, over the years, I've had push away from the job a bit and force myself to unplug. I got bad at that earlier in the year again and between the stress of moving, the stress of a staffing situation at work that is only now starting to ease ever so slightly, I sort of lost perspective and lost myself a little bit.**

I don't know what it is... could be the warmer weather. Could be the mountain of stress that was moving receding rapidly in the rearview mirror. But for the first time in a long time, I feel like myself again and I feel like I'm ready to embrace these words of wisdom from the late, great David Bowie:

I'm pretty sure I've said variations of something like this before. Along with the inevitable, 'but this time it'll be different, I swear' that usually follows in it's wake- but it's worth watching this video over and over again because it's so, so right: You have to work for yourself. You have to remember that no job is worth losing yourself or should ever be more important than your family.

The thing is, if I really put my mind to something, I'm sort of surprised as what I can accomplish. Before I got back on with the department, I spent 6 months working at a call center out in Coralville doing the most ethically compromised job I think I'll ever do: financial aid counseling for an online University. Month 6 was when you got your first raise and after about Month 2, I decided that I would be damned if I was going to be here long enough to get that raise- and it took a dollop of good luck, but I never actually worked their long enough to get that raise.

If I put my shoulder against the mountain, I can do a lot. (One of many things I seem to have forgotten over the years.) So, as summer rolls around, here's what I know:

1. This is my last stop in the Law Enforcement business.

2. I'm going to spend a couple of years taking a hard look at going to law school.

3. But since that costs money, I'm also going to work on actually using my degree. (Either through breaking into teaching somehow or getting off my ass and getting involved in politics to some degree, somehow. Still working on the how part of this.)

4. I'm going to keep writing. (There's at least two more books rattling around in my brain and the loose beginnings of a third.)

5. I'm going to launch a Podcast. (Hopefully by fall.)

6. I'm going to start brewing my own booze. (Either mead or beer or probably both.)

I'll be damned. After years of cogitating and pondering, I do believe that looks like a pretty solid plan. Now it's just time to roll up the sleeves and get to it- and more importantly, to see where it takes me and where I end up.

Let's get to work.

*Assuming, of course Our New Overlord In Chief President Trump doesn't scrap the program entirely.

**The Missus was quite helpful in pointing out that I had my head up my ass. Reason #1,432,094 that I love and adore her.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #167

This Week in Vexillology, we've moved from controversy to non-troversy in our tour of the Pacific and Oceania- yes, this week, it's the flag of Nauru!
Well, let's talk about Nauru. For a start, it's tiny. We're talking about the smallest state in the Pacific and third smallest in the world, behind only the Vatican and Monaco. It's got just over 10,000 people and has a unicameral 19-member Parliament headed by the Speaker, Ludwig Scotty and their President is Baron Waqa (I kept thinking: Baron Harkkonen from Dune? Where is House Waqa from?) Phosphate mining is a big deal there.

So naturally, (before we get to the meat and potatoes and talk about the flag) that got me wondering: how the hell does one get to Nauru? Well, if you can get yourself down under there's flights out of Brisbane. Not sure how much they cost, but it's possible. But then again apparently not many people actually go...

Originally grabbed by the Germans, Nauru passed into Australian control after World War I and became a League of Nations mandate with the UK and New Zealand as co-trustees. A similar arrangement continued after World War II, but in reality- Australia was running the show. It became self-governing in 1966 and fully independent in 1968.

The flag was adopted on January 31st, 1968 for state and civil usage. The narrow gold stripe on the flag represents the equator and the star represents the location of Nauru just below the equator. The separation of the flag into two parts recalls a local saga in which the first inhabitants were brought to Earth by two boulders.

The twelve points on the star represent the original twelve tribes of the island and the white of the star represents the phosphate mining which gave the island it's wealth. Unlike Tuvalu- there's been little to no controversy about about Nauru's flag. So remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cooking Around The World: Venezuela

So, awhile back the Missus and I started this tradition with Little Man, where he goes and gets the globe out, closes his eyes, we spin it and wherever his finger lands, that's the country we make a meal from one night a month, learn some basic facts about a country (I usually have an excuse to get online a buy a flag, which doesn't exactly displease me) and all in all, it's usually a lot of fun. This month, we tackled Venezuela!
On the menu: arepas! Okay- we made one big mistake with these guys right off the bat: we got the wrong flour! We kept seeing all these recipes say over and over again, 'masa harina is not the same thing as arepa flour' and 'arepa flour (precooked cornmeal)' so we went ahead and got cornmeal...  yeah.  Not the right thing to get. I dutifully mixed my two cups of cornmeal with some salt and added two cups of water only to end up with soup. Happily, we had a bread expert on board for the evening (the Madre) who saved us with some flour and we sort of kind of improvised our way to something between an arepa and a tortilla. Honestly, I want another crack at these bad boys, because I feel like we didn't do the arepa justice- but we kind of sort of arrived in the right area.

For the filling: La Reina Pepiada! Now this turned out beautifully- honestly, if you're looking for a halfway decent chicken salad recipe, I can recommend this. Totally delicious.

The side dish: caraotas negras! I want to make these again, because they were pretty damn delicious and as with the arepas that served as the main dish- I think I can do a little better next time as well.

We were going to do a dessert (this bad boy) but we ran out of time and decided to go with what we had and grab some non-dairy ice cream instead.

All in all: I'd go back to Venezuela again- and (in a somewhat impressive first) Little Man actually really liked his arepa and chicken filling. So I think we could give this a shot again pretty easily if we wanted too. After all, it's about getting him different food to try and expanding his (and our) horizons a little bit. (He even picked a country for next month- but you'll have to wait and see what it is!)

Which brings me to this month's SIDE TANGENT: I listened to WTF with Marc Maron on and off and a couple of episodes back he had Dan Pashman from the Sporkful back on and they got to chatting about the whole issue of cultural appropriation and food. 'Cultural appropriation' is a term that seems to be more and more 'in vogue' of late and it's one of those things that sort of makes you roll your eyes a little bit, but there's also some interesting notions to unpack there as well. How we perceive food and how food is presented to us are all part of the social construction of what we eat, after all- so for instance Pashman brought up the fact the noted chef Rick Bayless has a certain number of detractors out there because he's a white dude making a ton of money off of Mexican food and that sort of struck people as cultural appropriation because well, he's a white dude making a ton of money off of Mexican food.

I kind of sort of get that idea- but I also think there's a quantitative difference between someone like Bayless (who's been to Mexico, done his research, done his homework and is generally accepted to know what the fuck he is talking about with this stuff) making Mexican food and say someone like me, randomly opening up a Mexican restaurant and calling it 'Authentic Mexican Food.' It would be cultural appropriation if I did, less so if Bayless did it.

Then you've got to look at the notion of what happens to food that immigrants bring to this country. (Pashman actually moved into firmer ground here.) We pay more for Italian food because well, we have a different perception (at least now) of Italian immigrants than we did when we first got here. A generation from now, what will we pay for Mexican food? Or Chinese food? I think food evolves over time as immigrant communities grow and shift in whatever part of American you're in. I'm sure where there are more Indian-Americans, you'll get more Indian food and better varieties of it. Like wise, I'm sure you can find fantastic Mexican food or Chinese food in places where those immigrant communities have deep roots. Iowa, while it has a rich history, doesn't really have that. Unless you count Germans or Czechs.

Anyway- it's a fascinating discussion and you should go track it down and listen to it. It's worth it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

MLS Quest Round 2

I've been somewhat neglectful in my duties of late- we moved, right now we don't have cable (we might jump back aboard the Mediacom train, but we might also cut-the-cord once and for all and go the Sling route) so my chances to watch soccer have been somewhat limited of late. I snatched the closing minutes of Chelsea's win over Tottenham, but haven't been able to catch too much MLS action of late, but last Sunday I changed all that, catching the back half of Sporting KC vs Orlando City and a goodly chunk of the Portland Timbers vs NYCFC.

I looked through my list and made some cuts... this is what's left standing:

Western Conference:
FC Dallas
Sporting Kansas City
Colorado Rapids
Real Salt Lake

Eastern Conference:
Columbus Crew SC
Chicago Fire
Toronto FC
Montreal Impact

The teams in italics are ones that I want to actually see play- I keep hearing a lot of good things about Toronto FC and obviously, Montreal is worth talking about- not only because it would be an amazing city to visit, but you can't ignore Didier Drogba- even if he might not be there forever. Colorado is a place I just enjoy the hell out of and similarly, any excuse to visit the Beehive State is okay by me- so I've got to check out Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids.

But here's the reality that seems to be emerging: I want some vague geographic proximity, but a lack thereof isn't a deal breaker either. I'd like to be able to actually go see a game or two, you know? (But, on the other hand- further away means the possibility for exotic environs as well.)

But there's also Minnesota United to consider... they're inching toward a stadium deal for their move up to MLS, but- and this is going to sound kind of weird: they've got a really cool logo. And they're the Loons, which is kind of cool too. There is something to the notion of jumping aboard at the ground floor...


Monday, May 16, 2016

Lost Keys, #DadFail

We've been pretty lucky so far with Little Man and the stuff that's really important to him, One of our first trips with him was to Des Moines and we almost forgot his blue blanket- but a quick call to the hotel bailed us out and we managed to pick it up. There was that time I left his cowboy boots in the seat of one of the race car grocery carts at Hy-Vee and had to frantically drive back to the parking lot- only to amazingly find that the boots were still there and the cart hadn't moved an inch. There was those frantic few hours when Baby Bear was missing, whereabouts unknown until we figured out that Little Man had stashed him in the cupboard under the sink in the bathroom.

But, our luck ran out, finally, with his keys.

Ever since we moved into the new house, he had been missing those keys. And when I finally found them in a box downstairs and surprised him with them the next morning, he was so happy- like the ridiculous, unadulterated joy that only kids have. He had 'missed his keys so much' and immediately, he wanted to go Tot Time with them.

Now, Tot Time had been a semi-regular tradition at the Old Place. We were right across from Mercer Park and it was a cheap and easy way for him to get his yayas out for a few hours and stretch his legs and his imagination a bit. (He conceived of some astonishingly detailed restaurants at Tot Time. Usually called 'Blue Car' or 'Blue Car Restaurant' and serving ice cream, macaroni and cheese, soup. He would make me sit down and cook it up for me too. Occasionally running out to get extra ingredients from Hy-Vee of course.) One of the things he loved to do was ride the cars or the big wheels- and while the big wheels he went bananas on, joining the Easy Rider-ish gang of slightly older kids who would race around the gym like speed demons, whenever he hopped in a car, he would want keys. Usually mine.

And I'd let him have mine, but I'd always want to keep a very close eye on them, because being 3 or 4, he could get distracted pretty easily and then he'd leave the keys, my keys- in the 'ignition' and I'd have to rush over and retrieve them before they got lost- or worst, snatched up by another random tot for purposes unknown.

So, the days when he had those old keys with him were good days. I didn't have to worry about my keys. His keys had a lanyard and could live around his neck- except for when he went in the bouncy house- because that was asking for trouble. (There were also the occasional moments when some enterprising tot would unplug the bouncy house and then the gym would echo with screams or terror and confusion as the castle began to deflate and parents would rush over en masse to plug it back in, save their spawn or yell at the one that unplugged it.)

Point is, he loved those keys. And he wanted to go to Tot Time with them, so having slept late and missed his Ninja Class (yes, you read that correctly. Just go with it, though) we decided to go to Tot Time. We arrived at about 10:45, were waved in and he went ahead and did his thing. Little Dude and I strolled around in the stroller. Little Man would 'play the policeman game' and pull us over occasionally and then it was all done. He skidded and nearly flipped his big wheel parking it- which is the last time I remember seeing the keys around his neck.

Then we left. We had to run up to the School District Offices* to drop off one final piece of paperwork for preschool registration and as we were heading back out to the car, I realized that he didn't have the keys around his neck.

I got him back in the car and did some discreet checking- since while I had noticed the keys were missing, he hadn't and the last thing I wanted was a sad, freaking out 4 year old. I couldn't find them anywhere in the car so that meant we had to roll the dice and see if someone had turned them in back at Mercer Park. Staff was excellent, checked high and low with no dice.

They took my contact information, so there's still some hope- but in the meantime, the keys are gone. So I had a sad 4 year old my hands. And I did my best to explain that sometimes things just get lost, but ever since, maybe once or twice a day, he'll come up to up my, shake his head and ask me in that sad little tone of his "Daddy, where are my keys? I miss my keys?"

*If you want a sad look at the state of modern journalism, consider the fact that the local school district now resides where the local newspaper used to. They've moved to a lonely second floor somewhere downtown.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #166

So, This Week In Vexillology, we're still in the South Pacific and looking at the flag of the pleasingly-named nation of Tuvalu. (Seriously, it really is an awesome name. Just rolls right off the tongue. Tuuuuuuuvalu.  Tuvalu!)

Adopted on April 11th, 1997 for national usage, the flag of Tuvalu reflects it's status as a former British Colony with the Union Jack present in the upper left canton- however, unlike a lot of other former British colonies, the field of the flag is sky blue instead of a more conventional, dare I say, British blue.

The nine stars in the flag represent the nine islands that make up Tuvalu- and here's the slightly cool thing. The arrangement on the flag is actually geographically correct- with the east being toward the top. There's also a little bit of a linguistic disconnect, as the name Tuvalu actually means 'eight together' but population pressures lead to the settlement of a ninth island- so they added a ninth star. (The islands are: Nukulaelae, Funafuti, Vaitupu, Niulakita, Nukufetau, Niutao, Nui, Nanumanga and Nanumea, just for your general knowledge and information! Impress your friends! Show off at parties, that kind of thing, etc, etc)

Originally part of a British dependency known as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, the two groups of islands voted to split in 1974- with the Ellice Islands becoming Tuvalu and the Gilbert Islands becoming the independent nation of Kiribati after independence. Obviously (again with the Union Jack) Tuvalu remains a Commonwealth realm and a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II being the current Queen of Tuvalu.

But wait, there's controversy!

In 1995, Tuvalu took a star away so they could solve that linguistic disconnect we talked about earlier and actually have the flag reflect the 'eight together' meaning of the name. People weren't crazy about that, so they replaced the flag with this one:

Well, if people weren't crazy about dropping the ninth star, people hated this one and it lasted little over a year- people felt that this flag was a move toward replacing the monarchy with a republic, so it lasted for 1996 and a wee chunk of 1997 before the original flag was restored- along with the ninth star

And that's the flag of Tuvalu!

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Squawk Box: Deutschland 83

You know, I'm not sure where I first heard about Deutschland 83. Could have been a random article on io9.com or Slate.com but man, am I glad I tracked this down on Hulu and watched it. Broadcast on the Sundance Channel over in the United States, Deutschland 83 is a German import that should rank right up there with The Bridge and The Killing as excellent pieces of television- even more so when you consider the fact that the show only has eight episodes to work with and a ton of story to tell.

Set in West Germany in 1983, Deutschland 83 opens with a young East German soldier by the name of Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) who gets sent undercover to West Germany to serve as an aide-de-camp to Major General Edel (Ulrich Noethen) who is a high ranking General in the Bundeswehr (West German Army.) He's given a new identity (Moritz Stamm) and a code name (Kolibri) and begins to pass information back to his handlers in East Germany. Initially, he's pretty reluctant: his mother, Ingrid (Carina Wiese) needs a kidney transplant and he's got a serious relationship going with his fiancee, Annett (Sonja Gerhardt) but his Statsi handlers, one of which includes his Aunt, Lenora (Maria Schrader) provide him with motivation: Mom goes to the top of the transplant list and his fiancee gets well taken care of.

Martin's first missions don't go so well: homesick, he calls his fiancee back home and almost gets caught by the sister of the General's wife. The fact that she's pretty drunk at the time sort of saves his ass. He breaks into a hotel room to steal a report from a NATO Analyst and gets the shit beaten out of him by an Asian female, whom I'm guessing is also a spy? He plants a bug in the NATO High Command, seducing a secretary to do so. (Plot Twist: doesn't end so well for the Secretary.) In short, he's a spy and does spy stuff- which would be relatively interesting in and of itself, but where the spy stuff goes down and when it goes down is what takes this show into another stratosphere of tense, twitchy and paranoid.

We tend to forget in these post-Cold War days that back in the day Germany sat, divided in two on the front lines of the Cold War itself. People tend to forget how close geography can be in Europe. Handy-dandy Google Maps will tell you it's about 372 miles between Berlin and Bonn- which is pretty close to the equivalent distance between Iowa City and Lincoln, Nebraska. Not- in the grand scheme of things all that far apart. And in 1983, East German paranoia was running particularly high. Everyone thought Reagan was a lunatic hell bent on nuclear war and the announcement of the deployment of Pershing II missiles to Europe didn't help ease tensions. But it's when NATO decides to hold an exercise called Able Archer that things really get bananas: East Germany and by extension, the Soviets become convinced that it's a cover to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against them. Martin, however, knows differently.

And it's here that Deutschland 83 really gets great. The build-up to the final few episodes as Martin first has to convince his handlers that Able Archer is just an exercise and then, in desperation, race home to do the same thing moves at a break neck pace and proves that even decades after the end of the Cold War, there's still more than enough life in the old 'twisty, tense, paranoid Cold War espionage' thriller genre.

Per the show's Wikipedia page, there's rumors of a second season, Deutschland 86 (set three years later) which would lead into a third season Deutschland 89. Really hoping that's true and not just wishful thinking on Wikipedia, because that would be a fascinating arc to explore. Not being German, I'm not sure how accurate the show's portrayal of 1980s Germany actually is- in terms of pop culture, cars, overall aesthetic and the like. But the events are real and the show is a fascinating exploration of a viewpoint of the Cold War that few Americans are used to seeing.

Overall: This was a taut, excellent, show that left me wanting more... can't ask for anything better than that, right?  **** out of ****

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A New Map For America

Is the concept of a 'state' in need of a reboot? Seems like proposals for reorganizing America are popping up more often and it's kind of thought-provoking in a way. Why not break free of these relatively artificial boundaries we've created for ourselves? Who says we need to have fifty states? Or even ninety-nine counties, like Iowa does?

The whole idea of 'reorganizing government' at the structural, macro type of level instead of tinkering with laws and stuff really popped onto my radar in 2014 and Iowa's last gubernatorial race where a new political party called the New Independent Party Iowa proposed a radical reorganization of state government- the details of which are here, but the big kahuna: reducing 99 counties down to 9 regional centers (which includes 9 state universities...  not sure how that's going to work.)

Of course, if you love maps like I do, the idea isn't exactly new- Urban Planner Neil Freeman created this map, which shows what America would look like if all fifty states had an equal population- and you know what? It's not half bad- but would you need to shift the boundaries as populations shift and change? (Slate got a little ridiculous with the concept of dividing America, but the idea still has merit.)

Which brings us to the latest proposal to bubble up from the commentariat: A New Map For America, which ran in the New York Times Sunday Review a couple of weeks ago now... I'm not sure what to think about it. The political science part of my brain hates it: reorganization centered around urban corridors? The word 'emerging North American Union' appearing in the bottom half of the article- even in the most innocuous of ways? The tinfoil hats would be out, pitchforks brandished and the whole concept dead on arrival as it would tilt power toward the Blue States in a huge way.

But if you take politics out of the equation, a lot of the points the article makes are sensible- maybe even important. We do lag in infrastructure spending in this country and state boundaries can get in the way- maybe even slow things down. While in general, I don't think the government is all that good at spending my money, one of the things I am 100 percent okay with them spending money on is infrastructure. If you can't keep roads, bridges and rails intact, then what good are you? Spend the cash. Modernize the place a little bit- and trains- not, 70mph trains than you call 'high speed' but actual honest to god 200mph+ high speed trains are what this country desperately needs.

If I was the Feds, I'd throw money behind six decided high speed rail lines (Boston-Miami, Minneapolis-Houston, Seattle-San Diego and San Diego-Jacksonville, San Francisco-Washington and Seattle-Boston) and then work to provide incentives for states to partner with each other and private investors (if they want) to fill out the rest. (Not sure if my crazy notion is even feasible or makes that much sense- but what it would do is encourage states to engage in a little cross border cooperation if they wanted to grow off of the main infrastructure the Feds throw down.)

Whether you view ideas like these as exciting and feasible or just interesting thought exercises there is a fundamental element of truth contained in them: if our states were conceived as laboratories of democracy*, then why can't they be laboratories of economic innovation? Why can't states group together to create regional initiatives or hell, even regional councils? In an era where our politics are as polarized as even and the distance between the governed and their government seems to be growing larger, not smaller- encouraging regional cooperation could provide impetus for solutions that the Federal government seems unable to reach.

*The whole notion of states being 'laboratories of democracy' is one that would be great to see more widely embraced.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Asking The B1G Questions

So the Big Ten is getting a new television deal and Fox is reportedly set to pay a stupid amount of money for half the TIER I television rights with ESPN the most likely candidate to pick up the other half- now, over at Hawkeye Nation there was a fascinating podcast about this very thing that's worth a listen. So, here's the link, go listen and then let me know when you're done, all right?

OK- so you listened, right?  Good.  Let's talk about this:

I think the point that Deace keeps hammering on in the podcast is a good one. Demographically, the Big Ten is not in a good place- populations are shifting away from the Rust Belt that's traditionally been the Big Ten heartland and in terms of the conference's geographic footprint, the power is shifting south and east in a big way. (It could also be shifting west and south- but westward expansion unless Delaney blows up the Big 12 to get Texas and/or Oklahoma is a dim prospect in my book.) So, from that point of view, you need to do something- which makes further expansion not a possibility but an inevitability.

But the Big (or B1G as the case may be) question is this: are the Tier I rights for the Big Ten enough to turn FS1 into a serious competitor to ESPN? (The crux of Miller's argument was that yes, yes it does.) Delaney might be aiming five or ten years down the road when the current cable model has crumbled and things like a la carte or streaming become more viable. (And that's coming: if anyone like Netflix gets into the live sports game and figures out how to do that, it's game over for cable) but what if that time line is like two to four years? What if the bubble is bursting now?

The deal is for six years...  here's what I'd bet on if I was a betting man:

1. More expansion. I think the next round is going to break the geographic footprint- Miller and Deace make a persuasive case for Georgia Tech. I'm not sure about Texas, but if the B1G can get Texas, they'd be crazy not do that. (Other combinations: Virginia and UNC, Notre Dame and just about anyone. I think UCONN would be on a list somewhere too, just to lock down New England, but who knows.)

2. Preparations for a post-cable future: Deace wasn't wrong- the programming outside of live sports on the B1G Ten network sucks out loud. Which is stupid, because you have some of the best journalism programs in the country scattered throughout the conference and if you're thinking straight, you'd be using them as your farm team. Why do you need to attract top talent when you can develop it and push it upward- especially to Fox? They've already got some student productions of things like Water Polo floating around on the channel. Expand those and put them on a digital platform. No need to farm out the big sports just yet- but everything not on television should be made available on a streaming platform that's a. reliable and b. easy to use.

If we can plant our flag solidly in the south over the next six years and set ourselves up for whatever is coming after cable, the B1G will be sitting pretty heading into the future. The problem is that no one has figured out what the future of live sports is quite yet. But I'm willing to bet that whatever it is and whatever it's going to look like, it's on it's way.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #165

This Week In Vexillology, we're still in the South Pacific and this week, we're looking at a flag that can never be altered thanks to the constitution of it's nation- yes, it's the flag of the Kingdom of Tonga!

Adopted on November 4th, 1875 for national and civil usage, the flag of Tonga is heavy on religious symbolism. The red cross alludes to Christianity. Methodist missionaries arrived on the islands in the early 1800s and began converting the islanders to Christianity and in 1831, they succeeded in converting a Paramount Chief who would eventually become King George Tupou I in April 1845. Today, 97% of the population is Christian. The white in the flag symbolizes purity and the red evokes the sacrifice of the Blood of Christ shed during his crucifixion.

In 1875, the Kingdom of Tonga got a new constitution which codified the new flag design. Article 47 of their constitution states 'this flag can 'never be altered' and 'shall always be the flag of Tonga.'

So, if you're from Tonga and you don't like your flag all that much- guess what? You're sort of stuck with it.

You know, I try and find out interesting things about these countries that I know next to nothing about and I'm sort of coming up short with Tonga. It seems pretty interesting but happily, perhaps since it was known as The Friendly Islands after the cordial reception Captain James Cook was given on his first visit 1773, there's been little strife or bad news throughout it's history. The monarchy seems to have exercised a lot of power up until very recently- but now it seems to be more of a Constitutional monarchy thanks a vigorous pro-democracy movement.

So that's the flag of Tonga!

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Let's Talk About Leicester City

I assumed it would wait another week having checked the score at halftime. Tottenham was up 2-0 on Chelsea and given how Spurs have been playing of late, I assumed that was that. Glory delayed- but perhaps not denied. A little while later, I saw something float by me on Facebook about 'the entire country cheering that Chelsea goal' and quickly found NBC Sports to catch the final minute. Chelsea pulled out the 2-2 draw and the Premier League title belonged to Leicester.

(And boy did it get chippy at the end... Spurs, I think, felt the moment slipping away and got frustrated. Chelsea, well, Chelsea gonna Chelsea, I think people would say- I saw something on Twitter pointing out that it was very like Diego Costa to actually get injured and end up pointing to the wrong side of his face, but there you go.)

But Leicester: as a dutiful Arsenal fan, I think I'm obligated to express my relief that Tottenham didn't actually win the League- though without a shopping spree and something palpable changing this summer on the part of Arsenal,  I wouldn't count Tottenham out for next season. They're young, hungry and their speed (from what I've seen) is damn near terrifying. Next year could very well be their year. However, let that not diminish the glory of the Foxes.  Let's consider:

At the end of last season, Leicester barely staved off relegation. Their off-season was something of a dumpster fire and at the start of the season the odds were 5000-1 that they would win the title. (Lots of bookies were crying at the end of yesterday's game, I'm sure.) There's really no perfect parallel to US sports... maybe if that final shot had gone in for Butler it might be close. It would be a little like UCF (0-12 last season) running the table this season, crashing the playoff and beating Alabama in the Title Game. Hoosiers (with their basketball rings) comes closer- but that was a movie. The whole notion of Leicester City winning the title seemed ridiculous even in January, yet here we are.

Does this mean that the era of the Top Four (Chelsea, Arsenal, ManU, Man City) Dominance could be coming to a close? Maybe. Especially if you consider the insane amount of television money that's coming their way. The teams that survive this season stand to make even more money the next- the numbers quoted in the article linked would be the American equivalent of $218,089,500 for the top of the heap to $145,393,000 to the bottom. If you can stay up this year and aren't a complete fool with your money, suddenly mid-table clubs have some money to throw around.

You've already seen inklings of it this season: West Ham sit in 6th, Stoke City in 10th, Watford in 12th and even Bournemouth is clear of the drop zone (for now/probably) in 15th.  Crystal Palace fell off as the season progressed, but at the start of proceedings even they looked capable of putting a scare into a big dog now and again. While the big dogs probably will always be the big dogs at the top of the heap, I think what could develop over the next few seasons is a situation where someone else could elbow their way into the conversation now and again- and maybe even steal it out from under the big dogs altogether. Leicester wasn't supposed to do this. But in doing so, they've proved that it's possible to be done- and with truly stupid amounts of money flowing to all the clubs next season, the puppies will have the ability to make a run at the big dogs going forward- and perhaps even win.

But in the meantime: enjoy one of the greatest stories ever told in sports. This isn't a movie though. It's for real.