Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Upload Project #3

CD #21, Untitled
Not a CD. More random pictures.

CD #22, Untitled (I'm sort of at a loss to explain this one. It's most of Back To Black with a random track by Elbow thrown in for good measure. Weird.)
Elbow- Forget Myself
Amy Winehouse-Rehab
Amy Winehouse-Tears Dry On Their Own
Amy Winehouse- Back To Black
Amy Winehouse- Addicted
Amy Winehouse- Just Friends
Amy Winehouse- Love Is A Losing Game
Amy Winehouse- Me and Mr. Jones
Amy Winehouse- You Know I'm No Good

CD #23, 'All Marley'
Get Up, Stand Up
How Many Times
Kinky Reggae
Could You Be Loved?
Kaya Now
Lively Up Yourself
Sun Is Shining
Is This Love
No Woman, No Cry
Three Little Birds
Buffalo Soldier
Stir It Up
One Love
I Shot The Sheriff
Wait in Vain
Redemption Song
Don't Rock My Boat

CD #24, Untitled, but with five repeats!
Kings of Leon- Use Somebody
Alien Ant Farm- Smooth Criminal
Rush- The Spirit of Radio
Paramore- That's What You Get
Jonas Brothers- Paranoid
Dire Straits- Lady Writer
Real McCoy- Run Away
Sara Barellies- Love Song
Kings of Leon- Black Thumbnail
Siouxsie and The Banshees- Hong Kong Garden
T.I.-Livin Your Life
Sugarland- All I Want To Do
Bruce Springsteen- 10th Avenue Freezeout
The Ting Tings- That's Not My Name
Jordin Sparks- One Step At A Time
The Clash- Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
The Killers- When You Were Young
Kings of Leon- Taper Jean Girl

CD #25, 'my attempt 4' with five repeats!
The Clash- Janie Jones
Kim Wilde- Kids In America
Dire Straits- Lady Writer
Rick Astley- Never Gonna Give You Up
Siouxsie and The Banshees- Cities In Dust
The Pink Spiders- Hey Hey Little Razorblade
Sublime-Scarlet Begonias
Led Zeppelin- Celebration Day
Pavement-Summer Babe
Rooney-When Did Your Heart Go Missing?
The Cure- Mint Car
Stone Temple Pilots- Vaseline
Feist- 1, 2, 3, 4
Panic! At the Disco- I Write Sins, Not Tragedies
Beck- E-Pro
Rolling Stones- Let's Spend The Night Together
The Killers- When You Were Young
Less Than Jake- The Science of Selling Yourself Short
Incubus-Wish You Were Here
Georgia Satellites- Keep Your Hands To Yourself

CD #26, Summer Mix: Funkengrooven
The Corrs- Summer Sunshine
Beyonce- Work It Out
Prince- Musicology
Coheed and Cambria- A Favor House Atlantic
Rob Zombie- Dragula
Avril Lavigne- Don't Tell Me
Led Zeppelin- Four Sticks
Yellowcard- Ocean Avenue
Gavin DeGraw- I Don't Wanna Be
Franz Ferdinand- Take Me Out
JoJo-Leave (Get Out)
Deftones- Change (In The House of Flies)
Lenny Kravitz-Where Are We Running
P-Funk- Give Up The Funk
Beyonce- Crazy In Love
Bananarama-Cruel Summer

CD #27, Ultimate Summer Mix Version 1.5, with six repeats!
Mungo Jerry- In The Summertime
The Bar-Kays- Soul Finger
Kevin Lyttle- Turn Me On
Franz Ferdinand- Take Me Out
Sean Kingston and Sasha- I'm Still In Love With You
Lenny Kravitz-Where Are We Running
Coheed and Cambria- A Favor House Atlantic
The Gap Band- You Dropped A Bomb On Me
Inner Circle-Sweat
The Corrs- Summer Sunshine
Katrina and The Waves- Walkin' On Sunshine
Jason Mraz-  Remedy
Musical Youth- Pass The Dutchie
War- Low Rider
Beenie Man- Feel It Boy
Yellowcard- Ocean Avenue
The Romantics- What I Like About You
Bananarama- Cruel Summer

CD #28, Untitled, with one repeat
The Allman Brothers Band- Jessica
Jason Aldean- Amarillo Sky
Martina McBride- That's How I Feel
Jack Johnson- Banana Pancakes
Led Zeppelin- The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair
The Corrs- Joy of Life/Trout In The Bath
Prince- Raspberry Beret
Devo- Whip It
Brad Paisley- Online
Depeche Mode- Enjoy The Silence
Gin Blossoms- Hey Jealousy
311- Amber
Dave Matthews Band- I Did It
KT Tunstall- Miniature Disasters
Richard Cheese- Closer
Skids- The Saints Are Coming
Incubus- 2nd Movement Of The Odyssey

CD #29, Scary, with four repeats
Prince- Let's Go Crazy
Rockapella- Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego
The Beatles- Hard Day's Night
Miley Cyrus- 7 Things
Sara Barellies- Love Song
The Donnas- Fall Behind Me
Elton John- Honky Cat
Paramore- That's What You Get
Genesis- Turn It On Again
Social Distortion- Mommy's Little Monster
Harvey Danger- Flagpole Sitta
Groove Armada- I See You Baby
Human League- Don't You Want Me Baby
Styx- Renegade
The Killers- Somebody Told Me
Less Than Jake- The Science Of Selling Yourself Short
The Pink Spiders- Hey Hey Little Razorblade
The Ramones- Rockaway Beach

CD #30, Untitled, with six repeats
The Fratellis- Chelsea Dagger
Cage The Elephant- Ain't No Rest For The Wicked
Lady Gaga/Beyonce- Telephone
Snoop Dogg- Ain't Nothin' But A G Thing
Ke$ha- Don't Stop
Elvis Costello- Pump It Up
Train- Hey Soul Sister
The Knack- My Sharona
The Clash- Pressure Drop
Jason Aldean- Amarillo Sky
Cobra Starship- Good Girls Gone Bad
The Black Crowes- Hard To Handle
Kriss Kross- Jump
Curtis Mayfield- Superfly
Siouxsie and The Banshees- Cities In Dust
The Dandy Warhols- We Used To Be Friends
Eve 6- Inside Out
Bananarama- Cruel Summer
Vampire Weekend- Ottoman
The Airborne Toxic Event- Sometime Around Midnight

Monday, January 30, 2017

Can We Talk About Immigration?

Editor's Note: This story is moving fast... the administration has backed down on the issue of Green Card holders- even backing off on the whole 'case by case' language that was so noxious over the weekend. It's also gratifying to stumble across articles like this. I'm going to leave the original post as it is though, the overall sentiments still seem real enough to me.

On the one hand, it shouldn't be surprising. Nativism, xenophobia, racism- whatever the hell you want to call it- the whole general mish-mash of anti-immigration and anti-immigrant sentiment is, sadly, a tradition as American as apple pie. A century ago, the Irish and the Italians and the Germans were spoke of in such terms. Now, in this century, it's the turn of the Muslims and the Mexicans. "We won't apologize for keeping America safe." Safe from what, though? Safe from whom? We still do business with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. We still send them money. Don't you dare talk to me about the threat of Islamic terrorism while still asking me to support aid and succor to two of the biggest exporters of chaos and jihadism. While this immigration mess was just beginning our government approved a half billion dollar sale to Saudi Arabia.

But green card holders are okay now. They weren't last night...  last night the ban- and yes, it is a ban. Not a pause, not a stay, not whatever semantical bullshit is the current flavor of the hour- included green card holders. Who have a legal right to be here to begin with. But now, 'they're going to be subject to additional levels of scrutiny.' Or let in on 'case by case basis.' What a fucking disgrace that is...  green card holders are legal, lawful residents of the United States and should be treated as such. Any scrutiny should have been done before they got their green card, not after.

Once, when I was a teenager, the Parentals sent us back from the UK early. Mom was staying later to visit family, so we kids were stuck on a plane and sent back. I didn't have my citizenship then, so while my siblings got to cruise through the 'easy, fast, 'Merican' line, I had to patiently wait my turn in the 'Non-'Merican' line. I handed my passport to a lady who looked like she had both her sense of humor and soul surgically removed when she had begun her job and she of course asked me the usual question: "What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?"

"Well, I live here!" I said with bright, teenaged enthusiasm.

"And how do you do that?"

"I, um, have a green card and stuff."

And that's when she flipped through my passport took a glance at my green card and said, "Well, this isn't valid."

Turns out that the INS never bothered to tell my parents that my picture needed to be updated when I turned 14. Obviously, she let me back into the country and I got my citizenship, but there was a moment of pants-shitting terror there that I was about to fall into the clutches of the byzantine labyrinth that is the utterly broken immigration system of the United States of America. I'm a straight, white, male- and while I was alone and probably fit the profile of a terrorist, that single instant was pretty fucking scary- and I'm a straight, while male. Now, imagine if you're poor, brown and trying to get to a place of what you think is relative safety. Imagine if you've already been in this country. You pay your taxes. You've jumped through a million fucking hoops and dotted every 'I' and crossed every 'T' and you have the green card and now someone's looking at it and saying, 'Well, you're from Syria. We can't let you in.'

Fuck that.

Ideology makes for terrible policy. No one pauses to consider the long-term ramifications of their actions any more. The Post 9-11 power grab the Executive Branch made probably made sense in the moment, but it begat governance by the pen under President Obama and President Trump. Congress has abdicated any attempt at being a check against an Executive run amuck. Until that problem is solved, we can expect things to continue as they are.

So no, I don't care that this list of countries was drawn up by President Obama. It's President Trump who's implementing this order- albeit in a totally awful way.

It's not like we haven't realized that the immigration system is broken. There's some truth to be found on all sides of the debate. Yes, tighter immigration controls leads to a tighter labor market which drives up wages for American workers. Yes, in a global economy, we need to be able to compete for the best and brightest from around the world to make our economy better. We should make legal immigration, fast, easy and cheap. In the age of UBER, passport control and screening shouldn't be as cumbersome as it is now. Walls are idiotic. Bans are even stupider.

As an immigrant, I have to stand up and say 'No.' This isn't the America I was raised in. This isn't the America I want my children to grow up in. We'll have to see how the bills shake out next month, but if there's money left over, I'm going to send some to the ACLU. If there's anything that nine days of a Trump Presidency have convinced me of, it's that protecting the civil liberties is going to be very important indeed.

There's that scene in Lethal Weapon 4 that springs to mind, when Murtaugh is looking at the boatload of Chinese refugees and the immigration guy is bitching about them all and he says, 'What happened to give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to be free?" And the immigration guy says, 'Now it reads 'No Vacancies.'

You never wanted to believe that, but now it's true. Now the sign really does read 'No Vacancies.'

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Netflix & Chill #4: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Watched On: Amazon Prime
Released: 2016
Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman
Prime Rating: 3.7 out of 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Pick: Mine

I remembered seeing a preview for this a few months back and it looked like a decent 'fish out of water' adventure/comedy that seemed like it was worth a peek. Tina Fey hits more than she misses, so I made the suggestion to the Missus, she agreed and we spooled it up on Amazon Prime, hopped into our warm, comfy bed and got to watching this bad boy.

Fey stars as Kim Baker, a behind the scenes journalist who is bored with her career, has a boyfriend who travels too much and is ready to make a change- so when the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan on a three month assignment to cover Operation Enduring Freedom comes up, Baker jumps at the chance.

She arrives in Afghanistan and gets swept into the low budget compound where the international journalists live- making friends with the BBC reporter, Tanya (Margot Robbie) and meets a lecherous Scottish journalist named Iain (Martin Freeman.) She has a rough start, but eventually finds her groove- getting soldiers to open up to her on camera and taking risks to capture combat incidents on video- the commander of the marines (Billy Bob Thornton) assumes that she's a nuisance. Months of her assignment turn into years and soon, she catches her boyfriend cheating on her and dumps him. She eventually starts a new relationship with Iain.

The place starts to get to her though and she becomes more and more reckless- turning the fact that she's in a society that places women in very restricted gender roles to her advantage- mining the Attorney General of Afghanistan (who's interested in her) for information and gaining access to women in the village and finding out the real reason why the well the Americans keep building is constantly being destroyed. (The movie handled that part of it beautifully- Kim follows a woman into a room full of other women all of whom begin to raise their veils and then the shot cuts away to Kim walking back to the jeep to tell the General what's she has learned. It was a subtle but an incredibly respectful nod to the strictures of that society- you never once see the faces of any of the women in the village.)

Kim ends up going back to New York to argue for more resources, only to find out that her network is hiring Tanya, her BBC friend to take over from her. Meanwhile, Iain is kidnapped for ransom researching a story he was going to bring her in on and Kim flies home to try and find him. Using her sources, she arranges a rescue and then finally leaves Afghanistan for good.

Overall: This was a solid, entertaining movie with an excellent cast and a great story to boot. Tina Fey continues to charm is pretty much whatever movie that she's in, Martin Freeman pours on charm of his own to match her and Margot Robbie, Alfred Molina- everyone just works in this movie. I enjoyed the heck out of it. Me: *** out of 5, The Missus: **** out of 5

Saturday, January 28, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #198

I have a problem. I've being doing this for pretty much 198 weeks now- which, holy shit, almost adds up to four years straight and finally...  finally, at long last, I think I'm starting to run out of flags. I'm working on something big for #200 a couple of weeks from now, but in the meantime, what are we going to do until then?

Well, on tap today, a nice trio of micronations!
First up, the Dominion of British West Florida! Yes, it's a thing... it's got it's own website, but basically this micronation was founded in 2005 to try and reassert British rights over the region and get Dominion status within the British Commonwealth within the United States (the website is sort of aiming for a similar status to that of Native American Reservations and other Tribal Nations?) I guess it's issued stamps, metal coins- issued in pre-decimalization pounds!

So what's the deal with this? The founders assert that the US annexation of the region was illegal because when King Charles IV of Spain was removed from office it invalidated the Treaty of Paris which is what gave the United States legal claim to annex the region in the first place- and the region then defaulted back to the United Kingdom. The kicker? This interpretation of events isn't supported by any mainstream historian.

Next up, Freetown Christiania!
This place is actually fascinating- an autonomous neighborhood of Christianshavn in Copenhagen, it's been around and kicking since 1971 when people moved into the site of an old military barracks and turned it into an anarchist commune of sorts that was sort of loosely tolerated by the local authorities until around 2004 or so when negotiations began to normalize the legal status of the community. Officially, it's classified as an anarchist community- but it's overall spirit draws from the hippie movement, the squatter movement, collectivism and anarchism. It's official mission statement:
The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the well-being of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted.
The flag is a red banner with three yellow discs which represents the dots of the 'i's in Christiania- they also stand for the 'o's in 'Love, Love, Love' which is their slogan. The colors were chosen by random chance- when the squatters took over the military base, they found a large amount of red and yellow paint. (Oh and if you're like that '7 Years' song or 'Mama Said' well, the lead sing of Lukas Graham was apparently born in Christiania.)

Finally, it's Liberland!
Founded in 2015 after a member of the Czech Parliament took advantage of a long simmer border dispute between Croatia and Serbia and found a little parcel of land unclaimed by both sides, Liberland is the world's newest micronation and it's off to kind of a rough start. I don't think anyone actually lives there yet, and despite it's libertarian creed (which is appealing.) It's got a website, a place to apply to be a citizen and...  literally no information about it's flag.

Seriously. Major fail, Liberland. There's nothing on it's Wikipedia page- and while yellow is the traditional color associated with libertarianism, I've got no idea what the heck is up with the shield in the middle. Don't get me wrong: it's a striking flag. I dig it. I'd just like to find out what it's all about. I did find a Podcast episode all about it over at Slate- and it turns out they had the full 4-11 on what this flag is all about, so h/t to Slate for that. Basically:

I guess they created their flag first and then went and found the territory. Okay. Cool.

The Shield breaks down like this: the blue is for the Danube River, the bird is for freedom, the tree for abundance and the sun for energy.

The Colors are pretty simple: yellow for capitalism and black for rebellion.

And that's the flag of Liberland- which REALLY should be explained on your official website, people. Come on now! (To be fair: it might be on there somewhere- but if it is, it wasn't obvious to the eye. And this is the sort of thing you shouldn't have to dig for IMHO.)

But there you have it- a trio of micronations! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Psephology Rocks: Les Regles du Jeu

noun1. the study of elections
In the wake of the elections last November, I was sort of casting about, looking for some outlet for my general sense of self-abnegation of despair at the state of our political system and that's when it came to me: I love elections. Even last November, Election Day was fun, right up until the end, that is. There's something wonderful and joyous about witnessing democracy in action- and that's when it struck me: there's got to be a better way to do this.

While I'm not pursuing a serious academic career in political science, whether through default, by dumb luck or just out of sheer random chance, I fell into the field of Comparative Politics because it honestly interested me, so I'm going to combine the fun of participatory democracy with my background in Comparative Politics, to take a look at some of the elections on tap for this year. First up: France.

Before we can get into the fun and games currently going in France in the run up to their election in April, we've got to break down the rules of the game (or, if you want to be French about it, les regles du jeu) so we can understand what they've got going on and how it's different to what we've got going on over here.  So, from the top:

France is a Republic. We're on the Fifth Edition of the French Republic currently- and yes, they've got a President, a Senate and a National Assembly- so they've got the bicameral legislature and executive branch thing going on, same as we do.

Their President is term limited- but with a five year term instead of a four year term that can be renewed once- the office and how it's structured has evolved somewhat over the years.  It's been directed elected by the people since 1962 (before that, the position was elected by an Electoral College- see, we're not the only ones with one of them goofy things!) The term length was lowered to five years from seven in 2000 and term limits were adopted in 2008 (which I didn't know, actually.)

Here's the interesting thing about the French Presidential System: cohabitation! With the lowering of the term length to five years and with the elections for President and the National Assembly being so close together, the likelihood of it happening is lower than it used to be, but it can happen. What's cohabitation, you ask? Well, here's the kicker in France: the President has the power to choose the Prime Minister. Buuuuuuuut... the National Assembly has the power to dismiss the Prime Minister's government, which means that the President has to pick a Prime Minister who has the support of the majority of the assembly.

(In a sense, that whole arrangement is sort of monarchical in many ways. The Queen in the UK technically has the power to appoint the Prime Minister, but can't just pick a random back-bencher- she's got to pick someone who has the support of the House of Commons- which is usually the head of the majority party.)

Normally, that whole arrangement doesn't rock the boat all that much- the fun begins when the National Assembly is controlled by one party and the Presidency by another. (Sort of like the divided government thing that bedevils us over here from time to time.) In situations like that, the Prime Minister controls the legislative agenda on the domestic front, while the President's powers are limited to foreign policy and defense.

Step back for a second and think of how crazy that would be... President Obama and President Reagan would have had to find a Speaker of the House from the opposition party they could live with to essentially govern...  the possibility alone encourages coalition building and respect for the other side in many respects.

Bare bones established, how do their elections actually work? (Yes, France has a legislative election scheduled for later this year as well, but for the purposes of this piece, we're focusing on The Big Kahuna, the Presidency.) The lowdown:

Elections are held on Sundays.
Campaigns end at midnight, the Friday before the election.
On Election Day, no polls can be published, no electoral publications or broadcasts can be made.
No results made available until after the polls closed.
French Overseas Territories vote on the Saturday. (This was wisely implemented in the 2000s, because having both France and their Territories vote on the same day meant that French Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe knew the results- or at least had an idea before voting really got underway there, which depressed turnout.)

There's also- wait for it....  wait for it...  campaign finance limits!

Say whaaaaaaa?

Yes, that's right:  Spending is capped at 20 million euros but the government will pony up 50% of that if the candidate scores more than 5% in the polls. If it's less than 5%, they get a cool 8 million euros, 4 million of which they get in advance. Best part: NO POLITICAL ADS. But candidates get free air time and the whole kit and caboodle is run by an independent agency.

(That last paragraph? You guys.  You guys we should totally do that!)

The biggest and final piece of the puzzle concerns the election itself. France has a run off system, which means that if no one breaks 50% in the first round, the top two candidates move on to a second round of voting- this ensures that no matter the winner, they have to get the majority of the vote.

There's a lot I like here. I like the idea of a run off system. I like the idea of co-habitation. I like the idea of a government committed to ensuring the integrity of the democratic process by regulating how/when results are released and monitoring political content on television. I can't tell you how much I like the idea of no political ads. Next Month: we unveil the dramatis personae of the great French Election of 2017. By then the Socialists should know what they're doing (i.e. they should have a candidate by then) and my French lessons on Duolingo should be up to enough of a snuff so I can actually read some articles on Le Monde about who's who and whats what.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Burns Night

I always forget about Burns Night, which seems to be odd, given how much I love whiskey- and I almost forgot about it this year, but kept seeing Laphroig ads popping up in my Facebook feed so checked my calendar and here we are. I worked tonight, so I didn't have time to get a Burns Supper set up, but #SquadGoals, you know. One of these years I'll have one. Though granted, I haven't the faintest idea where one gets a haggis. Or bagpipes...  these things seem very involved.

True confession: I haven't read too much of the poems of Robert Burns- 'To A Mouse' in it's original Scottish brogue is probably my favorite. But since this night is all about poetry, I think I should go with the poem that's sort of been my obsession for the past year or so.

Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson was something I stumbled into when I finally finished by epic binge of Frasier. It was used to excellent effect in the series finale and I've read it multiple times since then. It's really stuck with me for some reason. I'm not a huge poetry fan. I don't like the lack of hard and fast rules about poetry- either everything means something else or nothing means everything. I don't know- in general, I don't know enough about poetry to really recognize good poetry consistently when I see it, but I know what I like and I dig this. The whole poem is a bit long to quote in full here, but the last few lines are pretty good:
 Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'We are not now that strength which in old daysMoved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;One equal tempter of heroic hearts,Made weak by time and fate, but strong in willTo strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I'll be honest: I've been running on fumes for most of the week now, so I'm not 100% sure I'm going to make it to the liquor cabinet tonight, but for some reason, I always find myself hungry when I get home, so I might take a wee tipple before I head upstairs to bed. But even if it's not tonight, I'm going to sit down with a good dram tomorrow for sure and raise a toast to Robbie Burns

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Netflix & Chill #3: Notting Hill

Watched On: Amazon Prime
Released: 1999
Starring: Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Rhys Ifans
Prime Rating: 4.75 out of 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Pick: Both of Us!

Ah, a heady trip back to the golden age of romantic comedies with an all time classic of the genre. Yes, Notting Hill, back in those glorious days of early Tony Blair-era Labour Party Britain, where you could actually conceive of both owning a house in London and operating a travel bookstore in one of it's most Bohemian neighborhoods.

Will Thacker is divorced, runs a travel bookstore in Notting Hill and lives with his Welsh roommate, Spike. His fairly ordinary life is turned upside down when Hollywood Superstar Anna Scott enters his shop looking for a book on Turkey. She leaves, but Will encounters her a few minutes later and manages to spill his drink all over her. Offering his nearby house for her to change in, Anna impulsively kisses him before leaving again.

She sends him a message a few days later to come see him and he does so but gets mistaken for a journalist from Horse & Hound- which I was tickled to find out was a real magazine and has to interview the rest of the cast of her new science fiction movie, which he hasn't actually seen. One thing leads to another and Anna ends up being his date for his sister's birthday party. They have a few dates but then Anna's movie star boyfriend shows up and things get awkward and Will breaks it off with her. Six months of fruitless dates in an attempt to get over her follow but, to no avail.

When an upset Anna shows back up on his doorstep in an attempt to lay low following a tabloid scandal, they end up spending the night together only to have Will's roommate Spike accidentally tip the tabloids off to her location and cause a bit of an affray- and this time, it's Anna who breaks things off.

More time passes (the whole 'Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone' montage)and eventually Anna comes back to London to make a Henry James film and Will visits her on set, but hears her make a 'oh he's nobody important' remark to her costar and he leaves...  Anna shows up one last time to confess her love, but Will turns her away, saying he couldn't possibly survive another break-up. He eventually realizes what an idiot he's been, runs over to her press conference and gives Horse & Hound the scoop of the year by apologizing to Anna and getting her to admit that she's going to stay in the UK indefinitely. They live happily ever, etc, etc.

True Story: I fell asleep for the last part of this movie- so I missed the whole 'I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy asking him to love her' bit, but woke up for the final dash across town- either way, it remains one of those movies that I can always sit down, watch and enjoy. This movie represents the 90s peak of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts' respective careers- that's not to say that both of them haven't done plenty of awesome things subsequently, but Notting Hill belongs in a rom-com Hall of Fame. it's one of the classics of the genre.

Overall: Can't go wrong with this movie. The cast, the script, the acting- it's all great. One of those movies that you find yourself sitting down and watching it when you come across it on your television. Me: **** .5 out of *****, The Missus: ****.5 out of ******

Saturday, January 21, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #197: The End of The Brown Flag Challenge

So last week, we reached the end of The Brown Flag Challenge, which means I've got to go through and declare a winner! We looked at a variety of flags from a variety of places and it was honestly kind of a tough decision- but, eventually, one flag stood tall above all the rest. So, without further ado, let's start the proceedings!

Honorable Mention: Michigan
Most state flags are pretty vanilla affairs- and too many fall into the dreaded 'Seal On A Bedsheet' trap, but Michigan was a pleasant surprise. In terms of the criteria of our challenge, it certainly delivered- the elk, the moose, the eagle all deliver on the brown. Plus, as all good Michiganders are probably aware, this state flag comes with it's own Pledge of Allegiance, namely:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of Michigan, and to the state for which it stands, two beautiful peninsulas, united by a bridge of steel, where equal opportunity and justice to all is our ideal.
Seriously, Michiganders- help me out. Is this an actual thing?

3rd Place: Prince Edward Island
Hey, it's Canada's 150th Birthday this year! And guess where Canada began? That's right- even though they didn't join right away, Prince Edward Island sneaks in for the Bronze Medal in our challenge. This flag isn't as busy as a lot of other provincial flags- so it gets points for being relatively simple- and the symbolism is not convoluted and pretty easy to grasp. Alas, Prince Edward Island didn't bring a whole lot of brown to the party.

Big historical points for being named after a pretty cool Edward and being the Cradle of Confederation- though it'd be interesting to consider what the world would have been like if Prince Edward Island's flirtation with the United States had lead to something more. Would it be called Prince Edward Island? The mind boggles.

2nd: California
Probably one of the coolest state flags out there, the flag of California sneaks in for a silver medal and 2nd in the challenge. During my usual dive into figuring out what's what with this flag, I stumbled across something that's worth investigating more- a significant gap between California's statehood (1848) and the adoption of it's flag (1911). Iowa's flag has a similar gap- so at some point, I'm going to have to sit down and do some homework on this issue. Did state flags all come in around the start of the 20th Century? Did some state adopt a flag right away when they achieved statehood? Inquiring minds want to know! And I'm going to find out.

Cali gets points for being an iconic design with historical significance, but apart from the bear, there's not a lot of brown here. Hence, the Silver Medal.

1st: Eastern Province, Sri Lanka
We spent way way too much time in Sri Lanka over the course of the BFC, but one flag took the cake. The Eastern Province of Sri Lanka is our winner and to be honest, it's not even that close in my book. There's tons of brown, brown, brown everywhere- and the design is clean and the symbolism easy- one circle for each district of the province. 

This is the brownest of all of our brown flags ad it looks cool as hell. The ultimate metric of our challenge: would I buy this flag? The answer for this flag is a resounding yes. It might be a little obscure, as flags go, but it looks cool as hell! 

Next week, we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming, but in the meantime, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, January 20, 2017

And So It Begins...

At this point, I'm just numb to it all. The broken, poisonous nature of our political discourse is rapidly becoming such that if a Democrat is in office, the Republicans lose their minds, splutter in rage and apoplexy and foam ferociously at their collective mouths, if the reverse is true, the parties switch positions and the endless turning of our political wheel of chaos continues. I see no way forward to break the logjam. I assume and expect that the news will be unbearable. There will be rending of garments, sack cloth, ashes and the like. Lamentations of the left will ring from coast and to every corner of the land.

None of it will matter. Democrats will foam and rage. Republicans will smugly remind them of their behavior was on the other foot and at noon today, Donald John Trump will become the 45th President of the United States of America.

I am but a spoke in a very large wheel, but as a citizen of this republic, I grade my Presidents harshly, because I assume, as President of the United States of America they should know what the fuck they are doing. In general, I take a utilitarian view of things when it comes to policy: what does the most practical good for the most people the fastest. For matters abroad, keeping the nation out of a war would be nice, however, if military force should have to be deployed, let it be done so judiciously and effectively- and we can't be afraid to use it if we say we will. No more red lines that end up meaning nothing and sewing more chaos than protection of our national interests.

What would I like to see from this incoming administration?

Big, bold radical change: this, I think we'll get. Whether or not it will be to our liking or the liking of many people is another question entirely, but we have problems that require solutions that cannot be bound into the old ways of thinking. No more business as usual.

Healthcare: Do something useful. Allowing Medicare to negotiate directly for the lowest possible drug prices. Buying insurance across state lines. Not screwing over everybody relying on the ACA. Health care portability? I don't know. But don't make a big mess worse, all right?

Student Loans: Don't screw me over- if you want to forgive a chunk of my loans, that'd be cool too. Just keep the Public Service Loan Forgiveness the way it is until I'm done doing my time to cash that in.

Marijuana: Decriminalize it on the Federal level and let the states sort it out.

Private Prisons: Invert the model and give companies incentives to keep people out of prison instead of putting them in there and we can talk, but... I'm still not crazy about the concept.

Education: We need radical solutions. I have my problems with Betsy DeVos but the fact is that we keep spending more and more money on public education and test scores keep trending downward and kids keep getting left behind. I'm not convinced the Right has the answer, but the Left's scream of 'MORE MONEY' doesn't seem to be working either.

I listened to an episode of the Tim Ferris show a few weeks back and one of his guests- who as a pretty successful dude said that he always looked for things that didn't make any sense and bet big- and used the success of our incoming President as a prime example. I don't think Trump is going to be star-spangled awesome. In fact, he could be absolutely dreadful. But the reality is that expectations are going to be tempered on the hard anvil of reality- at least somewhat. The Left might find itself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with the new President. The Right might find itself hating the new President.

The election of President Trump took the political apple cart and turned it into apple sauce. Friday at noon, it's not so much the beginning of the end, but, to paraphrase Churchill, it's the end of the beginning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Albums2010 #85: Out of Time

Whatever happened to R.E.M. anyway? That was the first question that came to mind after listening to this album the first time. A deep dive on Wikipedia revealed the somewhat dispiriting news that they had broken up in 2011- having been around and kicking it since they emerged from Athens, Georgia in 1980.

I do remember them breaking up- vaguely, in passing a few years ago, but then I sort of forgot about it- going back into Spotify and digging up Out of Time made me remember just how much they had been on the radio and just been part of the music of my childhood in many ways. I had a similar moment when I rediscovered the Stone Temple Pilots in college- the memories, the music- bands that float into your life and then back out of your life make you forget just how much you listened to them in the first place. R.E.M was one of those bands. (They're also one of those bands you wish would make a comeback too... in the dawn of the Age of Trump, they would surely have something to say.)

Out of Time might seem like a random choice, but it's not. I've got to give a shout-out to the always excellent 99% Invisible for this one, because this album is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Go listen to the episode to find out why.

Listening to the album- and I got all annoyed at stumbling across the 25th Anniversary Deluxe edition with extra tracks and out takes I didn't really care about, so I dug up the actual album instead- I was struck at how melancholy a lot of R.E.M's music actually is. With few exceptions ('Radio', 'Half A World Away') everything seems to be stuck in something of a minor key. (The track, 'Low' for instance, sounds like, well, Michael Stipe had a very bad day, put it that way- because he's "low, low, low...)

The two tracks I did recognize were, of course, 'Losing My Religion' and 'Shiny Happy People.' Even those don't escape the sort of melancholy air that hangs above the album. I did some digging on the interwebs and came up with this for 'Losing My Religion' which sort of changes the meaning of the song for me. If it is more about obsession and less about actual religion, that's...  interesting. I had always assumed that the song was literal in it's title- as the process of growing up and growing older usually involves at least one 'crisis of faith.'

The purported meaning of 'Shiny Happy People' especially given the album is only two years removed from Tiananmen Square completely changes the tone of that song as well. (FWIW: I have no idea how good a source Songfacts.com actually us, but hey, I'll take it. Until I find something better.)

Overall: Seems like every television show from your childhood is either being rebooted or revived on whatever platform you can think of, so isn't it about time for R.E.M. to get back together and make another album? Catch the national mood. Dish up some irony and melancholy for the people. Where have you gone Michael Stipe? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. *** out of ****. (I can appreciate the political significance of it's packaging, but as an album it's sort of 'meh.' Don't get me wrong- it's good, but it's not like 'holy shit I need to buy this right now' kind of good.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Squawk Box: Das Trekgold

So, last September marked the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek's debut on television. While another movie did come out last summer (Star Trek Beyond) and another television show is slowly making it's way toward reality (Star Trek: Discovery) the fact of the matter is that Paramount- in stark contrast to the celebrations put on by the BBC for Doctor Who- hasn't done a heck of a lot to mark the milestone. So I decided that if Paramount wasn't going to roll out the red carpet, I was going to roll up my sleeves and start a Star Trek Party of my own.

Yes, I'm attempting to tackle the complete Star Trek Televisual Cycle-  the science fiction equivalent of The Ring Cycle (hence the title of my post- a rather weak paraphrasing of Part 1 of the Ring Cycle, Das Rheingold). Between six television shows, there are 725 episodes to tackle. This is where I stand:

Series Completed: 1, the Animated Series
Episodes Watched: 286
Progress: 39.44%

I've made my way through the entirety of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine before, but I had only passing familiarity with the remaining television shows before I started this- I did tackle Voyager a couple of years back, but had gotten through a few seasons of The Next Generation and an episode here and there from the Original Series and Enterprise. So here are my first impressions:

Star Trek: Enterprise
Ugh, that theme song. It's like one of those ear slugs from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, slowly burrowing it's way into your brain before you know, eating you from the inside or whatever the hell they did in the movie.

I'm kind of surprised by how well this works and by how good a lot of it can be. I think the Vulcans, as a species get the most character and cultural development in the history of Star Trek with this series. They're not perfect! They have flaws! They don't like the Andorians- a race which appears in the original Trek but few other places- and the Andorians don't like them just as much. The Romulans make an early- an menacing appearance, as do the Klingons, but there's also a sense that there's a ton of galaxy left to be explored at this point in the series canon- and had Enterprise played with that concept a little more- that there's more these folks don't know than they do know and they really are out there all alone, I think this might have gone on for longer than it did.

But, Enterprise's greatest strength- namely, an already established galaxy to play in- also proved to be it's biggest undoing, because that meant that boxes had to be checked. So we had to meet the Ferengi, even though that seems to be a contradiction from what's established in The Next Generation- and we had to go to Risa. They seem to have to do a lot of things because the other shows do it too, and it weighs this show down a bit- too much, as it would turn out.

The standout episode so far has to be 'Dear Doctor' and John Billingsley as Dr. Phlox is criminally underused in this series. He's awesome. 'Shockwave Part I' also marks the moment where I think this show really get itself going. We'll see what the rest of it brings. Highlights: 'Dear Doctor', 'The Andorian Incident', 'Shadows of P'Jem', 'Shockwave Part 1', 'Carbon Creek', 'The Catwalk'

Star Trek: The Original Series
The first season of The Original Series held up better than I expected. Yes, the effects are dated and the acting can involve a little bit of scenery chewing- but in it's first season, The Original Trek churned out some classics of the genre- including a two parter, 'The Menagerie' which dealt with the events of the first (unaired) pilot featuring a Captain Christopher Pike nicely. It brims with optimism and idealism for a vision of a better future and in general, I surprised myself by enjoying it far more than I thought I would.

'The Conscience of The King' probably is my favorite episode of the first season- using the Bard, it delves into historical memory, justice in a way that at the time was probably a deliberate echo of the whole rounding up of Nazis after World War II so they could face justice for their crimes. This episode mines territory in a beautifully written way that Trek doesn't come close to touching until Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Old favorites that remain awesome: 'Balance of Terror' and 'The City On The Edge of Forever.'_

Where it dates itself, however, is the casual sexism which jumps up and slaps you in the face in unexpected and unpleasant ways. If television can serve as a barometer of our cultural advancement, then we've come a long ass way, as 'The Enemy Within' proved. When Kirk is divided into a 'Good Kirk' and a 'Bad Kirk'  and 'Bad Kirk' sexual assaults poor Yeoman Rand it's sort of laughed off (after both Kirks are put back together) in a 'you know you kind of wanted it' moment that made me physically cringe. One season in and The Original Trek has some work to do when it comes to women on board the Starship Enterprise. (To be fair, women get to save the day and run the show- just not until 'The Lorelai Effect' in The Animated Series.)

My other 'lowlight' for this season is 'The Squire of Gothos.' Long held in canon to be the first appearance of a 'Q' it just sort of... sucks. Highlights: 'The Conscience of The King', 'Balance of Terror', 'The City On The Edge of Forever'

Star Trek: The Animated Series
You know, I'm sort of surprised that someone hasn't revived Star Trek in an animated form since The Animated Series had it's run. The medium allows the writers to do more and to do it credibly- with more 'alien' races and not just a parade of vaguely humanoid actors in ridiculous amounts of make-up. The overall tone of The Original Series carries forward into it's animated counterpart, albeit in a somewhat compressed form.

I feel like this works if you're trying to complete the full Star Trek Nibelungen and probably fit in quite well within it's era and to be sure, there's a certain nostalgic feel to the animation that's enjoyable. It's very old school 'Johnny Quest'- even the music has the feel. Having the voices of the majority of the original crew back makes sense- but there are also some interesting additions, like Lt. Arex that would have been interesting to see more of in subsequent movies and television shows.

You have to wonder if the success of shows like Clone Wars or Star Wars Rebels might inspire someone to revive the animated Trek universe, but so far I haven't heard anything. As an overlooked chapter of the Trek Cycle, it's decent enough- with highlights that could have been classic episodes of the original series, but it's misses are deep and somewhat inexplicable. Highlights: 'The Lorelai Effect', 'Yesteryear', 'The Counter-Clock Incident'

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Where to begin with The Next Generation? There's good, there's bad and there's excellent to be found here, but it's growing on me- slowly. This is probably the deepest dive I've ever taken on The Next Generation  The series premiere introduces us to Q with 'Encounter At Farpoint' but it's the death of Tasha Yar in 'Skin of Evil' that really stands out- marking the first time in Trek history that a character has been killed off and stayed dead- save for an alternate timeline appearance in the episode, 'Yesterday's Enterprise.'  The First Season ends with the return of the Romulans in 'The Neutral Zone', but it's the second season where things really get going.  Dr. Pulaski is a welcome addition to the crew- even if it's only for one season, but we get to meet The Borg in 'Q Who'.

The third season is when this show really begins to take off, however. 'The Defector', 'Yesterday's Enterprise', 'Sarek' all build to the best cliffhanger in Trek History: 'The Best of Both Worlds' It took me a little bit to get down with the adventures of Picard and Company and man, can Wesley Crusher be annoying sometimes, but by the end of the Third Season, I'm all in. Bring on the rest of TNG. Highlights: 'Up The Long Ladder', 'The Emissary', 'Peak Performance', 'Contagion', 'The Defector'

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Deep Space Nine remains my favorite Trek series and is probably one of the best science fiction shows out there- I'd put it up against any of the greats you can name me and the early seasons of DS9 start strong and don't let up. The first season episode, 'Duet' is a fantastic culmination of the themes justice in the wake of wartime atrocities that has to land on any list of all-time Trek episodes somewhere pretty damn close to the top. A nice three parter opens the 2nd Season with Frank Langella lending his excellent acting to the show as First Minister Jaro and by the end of the third season, The Dominion are firmly established as Trek's biggest, baddest villains since The Borg.

Deep Space Nine hits far more than it misses and the levels of morality and complexity and the depth of the themes that the show explores are a welcome departure from Trek's usual moral clarity. This show gets down and gets dirty and it gets gritty and it just kicks ass from start to finish. Honestly, if I could buy any Trek series in fancy boxed set blu-ray form, it would probably be this one. (I must have a thing for Space Stations, as I've already got a few seasons of Babylon Five lurking in the basement.) If I had to pick a 'lowlight' it would probably be, 'The Alternate' which was sort of... 'meh.' But, there are highlights a plenty. Highlights: 'Duet', 'The Homecoming', 'The Circle', 'The Siege', 'Blood Oath', 'Profit and Loss'

Star Trek: Voyager
I was sort of surprised how much I found myself liking Voyager the 2nd time around. What I noticed- especially in the early seasons is that it's very science-y- more so than a lot of the other Treks, there's a lot of scientific method, hypotheses testing and problem solving that's kind of cool, to be honest. A 2nd Season episode, 'Deadlock' references a Kent State University experiment that's got to be a real thing- though the Wikipedia page doesn't give any hints one way or the other about it.

Kate Mulgrew is excellent as Captain Janeway- and if there's a welcome tonic for the casual and cringe-worthy sexism that seems to pop up from time to time in the Original Trek- it's Captain Janeway. Voyager, for those keeping score at home more than passes the Bechdel Test. (For some reason I've got 'Prime Factors' listed as my 'Lowlight' from the first round of Voyager, and I'm not sure why. Must have rubbed me the wrong way or something.)

The pilot starts strong and the long journey home is more entertaining than I remember it from the first time around. Honestly, right now I'd slot in Voyager as number two behind Deep Space Nine in terms of my personal favorite Trek flavors. Highlights: 'Caretaker', 'State of Flux', 'Threshold', 'Alliances', 'Investigations'

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Netflix & Chill #2: Save The Date

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2012
Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber
Netflix Rating: 2/5
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 45%
Pick: The Missus'

Next up was Save The Date. In an effort to make up for my darker than expected pick with Filth, I (wisely) deferred to the Missus for Round 2 and after some browsing on Netflix she came up with Save The Date. It looked good, so we watched it.

Sarah and Beth are sisters who are in relationships with Andrew and Kevin who are both in the same bend. Beth is engaged to Andrew and making plans for their wedding, while Sarah, an artist who manages a bookstore, reluctantly moves in with Kevin despite her ambivalence about taking their relationship to the next level.

Kevin, for his part, is planning to propose and initially plans to do it onstage at their next show before Andrew thinks he talks him out of it. Well, guess what? When the performance in question rolls around- Sarah is approached by Jonathan, who has a crush on her and hangs around her bookstore- but he backs off when she reveals that she's living with Kevin, who is her boyfriend. Kevin, who has had a few beers (always a good idea before proposing) and is having a really awesome show decides to go ahead and propose before their band heads out on tour, despite Andrew attempting to wave him off. (Andrew had let the fact that Kevin had a ring ready to go slip to Beth, who tells Andrew to talk Kevin out of it because Sarah, her sister, will freak out if Kevin proposes.) And guess what? Sarah totally freaks out when Kevin proposes. She moves out. They break up.

Beth, in the meantime gets all wedding crazy and obsessive, which causes friction with both her fiance Andrew and sister Sarah. Sarah, for her part has started a new relationship with Jonathan, the dude who the crush on her who hangs around her bookstore. One thing leads to another and Sarah soon finds out that she's pregnant! She pulls away from everyone, including Jonathan, freaking out and trying to figure out what to do- but eventually has to tell Beth, who, in the midst of being wedding crazy takes it as an attempt to ruin her wedding.

Sarah first solo show of her artwork gets everything boiling over. Beth doesn't show up, which makes Andrew mad at her. Kevin shows up at Sarah's apartment and wants to date her again, but she tells him she's pregnant and it isn't is. Kevin then goes and beats up Jonathan at the aquarium the next day. Andrew and Beth meet at the synagogue and agree to postpone their wedding. Sarah almost gets an abortion but decides not to and then goes home to find Jonathan waiting for her and she kisses him, sits him down and says, "Jonathan-" and then we never get to find out what the hell she tells him because that's when the movie ends!

There are a few movies that sort of fall into this 'indie-rom-com, vaguely sepia toned.' I don't know if I'd call them an oeuvre or a category, but they are kind of look and feel the same. Movies like Drinking Buddies, The Overnight- maybe even In A World, though that has less of the rom-com thing going on- but Save The Date would fit right in with them. This was a good movie. It wasn't the greatest movie I've ever seen and it felt curiously underdone in parts. (Timothy Busfield was also in this movie for like a second. Which seems like a waste of Timothy Busfield.) The Netflix summary also makes much of the fact that Sarah is the manager of a bookstore, but it's the fact that she's an artist that seems to be more important in the actual movie itself.

Overall: This was a good, solid movie with great actors that everyone should recognize from someplace or another. If you're looking for something to watch on Netflix, this wouldn't be a bad choice at all. Me: *** out of *****, The Missus: *** 1/2 out of *****

Saturday, January 14, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #196: The Queen's Personal Barbidian Flag

So, we've finally come to the end of the Brown Flag Challenge- last, but not at least, we're heading down to the Caribbean for a peek at a very exclusive flag indeed, the Personal Barbidian Flag of Queen Elizabeth II. Get a load of this:
Approved for use in the 1970s, this flag is only used by the Queen in very limited circumstances- when she's in Barbados or attending an event abroad in her role as the head of state of Barbados. Her representative, the Governor-General of Barbados as his own flag.

I really dig this flag, actually. It's simple, striking and it's kind of got a Cthulu/Octopi thing going on with the bearded fig tree in the center of the flag. The other royal standards (Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the UK) are more armorial- if that's the right word- heraldric? They're more old school- but Barbados breaks the mold quite nicely. As I mentioned already, the center of the flag features a bearded fig tree- a symbol of the island of Barbados. The national flowers are in the corners of the yellow field- they're actually called 'The Pride of Barbados' flowers, which is on point. The blue disc of the letter 'E' crowned by a garland of the gold roses in the center- it's taken from Queen's Personal Flag.

I think this is a great way to end our Brown Flag Challenge. The brown in the flag- obviously, is from the roots of the bearded fig. It's got a striking and unusual design- it's outside the box for the Royal Standards, which is cool. Plus, I like how exclusive it is. The Queen only uses this flag when she's in Barbados or doing something in her role as Queen of Barbados- so this isn't a flag you see every day.

Next week, I'll declare a winner of the Brown Flag Challenge (and award silver and bronze medals well) so until them, remember to keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, January 13, 2017

January On Medium

This month's new short fiction has been rolling around in my head since the summer. It was part of a writing prompt we did at the Weekend Workshop I attended at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, which went a little something like this:

Saturn, planet of melancholy
A great place for
Trends of contemporary living
Titan spins in its orbit
Like a blooming hosta
Moving out
To feel dampness
Carrying with ease
Images of loved ones
In empy vessels
On Titan, we
dwindling bison
rainbow trout
wedged in the narrow pass
So frightened
At first, to be so far from the sun
Reaching through the firs
Itself, like carved stone
While Saturn, planet of melancholy
spins like a 
silken dress

(There's a few notes in the margins:


northern feel

great thick trees
climbing thru the

And there's a reference to Billy Collins- Poet- forgetfullness-aimless love. No idea what that means. But this page of scribbled chicken scratch and a piss poor attempt at poetry- which is totally not my thing, by the way- eventually rattled around my brain enough and produced this:

Illumination On Titan

I haven't really take a good look at it yet, but I like to think that this one is a distance cousin to That's Venus, Baby which I wrote last year. I've been reading what I came up with last year and I'm actually surprised at how decent some of these pieces are. I've got three more on deck, so maybe when all is said and done I can start putting some of these out there to places and see if I can get one published.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Well, NEC Nijmegen appears to be solid mid-table contenders this deep into the season. They're at 12th currently which seems to be about where they've been for most of the season. Since last we checked in, however (December 5th) they've done okay for themselves- beating Den Haag 3-0 and scraping out to a 2-2 draw with Excelsior. Then Christmas happened...  things don't pick back up for NEC until January 15th- but they've got Willem II and Roda coming up before Feyenoord and Go Ahead Eagles to start off February.

Willem II should be a decent match. They're sitting at 11th in the table right now- and if NEC wants to move up in the table, a win here would probably help. Roda and Go Ahead Eagles are at the bottom of the table, so good results there should help the cause- but they can't afford to drop points either. Feyenoord...   woof. Well, they're at the top of the table with 42 points. NEC is in 12th with 19 points. Fingers crossed for an upset here, but I'm not optimistic.

The Chinese Super League
Can we talk about the Chinese Super League for a second? They went and brought Oscar from Chelsea for a ludicrous amount of money and I think it's time we took a deep dive. A little digging on the Interwebs reveals that China (no surprise) has a similar soccer pyramid to pretty much every country with the exception of the United States. They've got the China Amateur Football League, China League Two, China League One and then the Chinese Super League at the top of the heap. Sixteen teams in the top division, currently Guangzhou Evergrande FC is on top with 64 points.

So where the hell did the Chinese Super League come from? All of a sudden China is spending money like a drunken sailor and you have to wonder if MLS might be looking over it's shoulder a bit. Well...  China has it's eyes on a future World Cup bid- that combined with a President who is a huge fan of football seems to have driven a massive investment in creating the domestic infrastructure to make a run at future bids. With China having a surplus of large companies with money to spend, they're pouring money into their domestic league.

As a result, they've been able to post transfer fees big enough to pull legitimate European stars away from their leagues and into theirs- something MLS hasn't been able to say. We'll have to see how the next few years develop, but I think if China continues their upward trajectory at some point MLS is going to have to revisit the whole promotion-relegation debate. I think they're getting to a point with their infrastructure that they could potentially get there, but I don't know. Maybe that helps, maybe it doesn't. It's crazy to watch though.

Amercan Handegg News
Well, that Bowl Game didn't quite go the way I wanted it too. I think CJ Beathard getting hurt trying to get the ball over the goal line and then not getting pulled from the game (I understand why, but it still might have made a difference. Or at least a closer score.) That makes six bowl losses in a row for Iowa. Where do we have problems, you say? Well, on the offensive side of the ball! Imagine that! Imagine my shock! It would be nice- nay, it would be great to have a change at Offensive Coordinator in the off season. Do I think we'll get one? Well, I didn't think we would, but apparently I was wrong. Greg Davis officially retired and the general consensus is that Brian Ferentz is the expected heir apparent. But we'll see.

The good news is that we're keeping a lot of solid pieces from this year. The bad news is that the schedule gets harder. Let's take a look, shall we?

vs Wyoming: No Idea. Will tell us a lot about what kind of season we're going to have
at Iowa State: No Idea. See above and we're in Ames for Year 2 of the Matt Campbell era.
vs North Texas: W.  God, I hope so.
vs Penn State: L, because Penn State looked fast and scary despite pissing the Rose Bowl away.
at Sparty: W, I'm going to go with a W because Sparty was less than good this year.
vs Illinois: W, because we're at home.
at Northwestern: W, because if we're going to have a middling season the least we can do is beat NW
vs Minnesota: W, I had no idea they ended their season 9-4. Could be a tight one.
vs Ohio State: L, because it's Ohio State.
at Wisconsin: L because, it's in Madison
vs Purdue: W because it's Purdue
at Nebraska: No idea.

I think we make a Bowl next season. Probably not the Outback Bowl and hopefully one we can actually, you know, win- but I'm feeling a 7-5 season more than an 8-4 or 9-3 season. But we'll see.

Late Breaking Sportsyball
So, FIFA is expanding the World Cup to 48 teams in 2026. A lot of people view this as a greedy, money grubbing sort of move, but this is a pretty good defense of the idea I think. (In general, I'm indifferent- if it makes the event more global than it is now, then great. The bigger issue is the fact that both Russia and Qatar are hosting the next two World Cups under dodgy circumstances.)

Public money for an MLS Stadium in St. Louis seems to be a no-go at least for now, which is good. In general, I'm against this whole 'public money for stadiums' bullshit. It's socialism for billionaires.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Year The Light Turned On

I was technically alive when the Cold War ended, but I was young enough that I didn't real grasp the full ramifications of what the hell was happening until much later. The Fall of the Berlin Wall is something I've seen so much on television that I'm not sure if I can remember seeing it live or just remember the replays.

What I do remember, however, is how different the map became. I recently stumbled across National Geographic's excellent cartography blog, All Over The Map and immediately fell in love. (Ditto for Atlas Obscura! Awesome website1) I've always loved maps.  I could sit and pour over an atlas for days. The Times Atlas of European History that's somewhere in the Parentals' basement is dogeared and page worn because I'd spend hours with that too- watch the rise and fall of nations evolve over the page.

In short, I dig maps. Hand me a globe and I'll spin it around and around and around until I can tell you  how old it is.

So while commentators were spinning out pieces marking the 25th Anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union in late December, I wanted to wait until after the New Year- not just because I was on a break for the holidays, but because it was 1992 when I really began to wake up to the world around me. I began learning all the new capitals and the countries. I remember the Olympics in Albertville, watching Linford Christie win the Gold for Great Britain in Barcelona sitting in my Grandma's living room in her old house on St. Michael's Road in Leeds. Hurricane Andrew was a major deal. The Los Angeles Riots. I proudly cast my vote for Ross Perot in my very first, entirely fake election in 4th Grade. (Thus beginning my streak of political independence that I'm proud to continue until this day.) Yugoslavia began it's long break-up and it's bloody civil war. Czechoslovakia got divorced.

1992 was the year the light switch turned on for me. It was the year I began to realize just how big the world was.

It's been 25 years since the Soviet Union ceased to exist. In many ways, we live still live in the rubble of it's collapse. The international order had been defined by the conflict between the United States and the USSR for so long it was a shock wave probably on the magnitude of Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo in terms of what it did to the established international order. So many of the problems and resentments that the United States faces today are remnants of the Cold War. The fact that we have so many nuclear weapons still left and the ability to incinerate the planet and wipe out civilization is proof that even 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we still haven't really let go of the Cold War. The fact that our military-industrial establishment so eagerly embraced terrorism as the 'new enemy' and speak in terms of a 'generational struggle' in the never-ending War on Terror just hammers the point home all the more. Never mind the Russians and what they've gone through. We still haven't figured out how to function in a post-Cold War, post-Soviet world.

Do I think the world is more dangerous now? You look around at the chaos today and you'd think that it must be more dangerous- but in fact, it's the opposite. I take some comfort in the fact that my kids (I hope) won't have to grow up with duck and cover drills at school. They won't have to live in the shadow of nuclear apocalypse. (Again, I hope. I really, really hope that's the case.) Twenty five years after the Soviet Union fell and I think the world is a better place. But I also think that the arc of history is long and we don't really know what kind of world we have yet. Maybe in another twenty five years or another fifty years after that it might make more sense. We might be able to see the outlines of what emerged from the end of the Cold War with more clarity than we can now. All I know right now is that it feels and seems to be a better world. That's not to say we cannot and should not do better for this world of ours, but for right now, I'll take it.

It seems incredible that's it's already been a quarter century since the Soviet Union fell, but then again, on a historical scale, America is a relatively young country. We think in the immediate, not the long term. Our historical memory is short- all this printer ink people spent on trying to dissect whether or not the Iraq War was a good or bad thing probably wasted their time. In fifty years it'll either the smartest thing we ever did or the dumbest thing we ever did. There won't be any in between.

But it's a New Year. A time for renewal and change. Twenty five years ago, my eyes opened to the size and scope of a world that suddenly became very very big. The possibilities seemed endless and nothing was out of reach. Hopefully by the end of this year I can feel that way again.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Netflix & Chill #1: Filth

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2014
Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots and Jim Broadbent
Netflix Rating: 2/5
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 64%
Pick: Mine

A New Year brought with it a new work schedule which means that I have every Thursday and Friday off now- which gives the Missus and I an entire night to you know, actually see each other and maybe talk to each other and drink a glass of wine- and yeah, sit on our couch and spin up the old Netflix and have a couch-movie date together. So, a new feature for the blog was born: Netflix & Chill, the chronicles of the (hopefully) enjoyable movie dates we have on our couch every week.

First up, was Filth. I had seen previews for Filth and it looked like a delightfully raunchy film from the creator of Trainspotting. It looked twisted, fun- maybe a dark comedy you could get behind? Plus, it had James McAvoy and that's usually a pretty safe bet for a halfway decent movie.

Yeah, oops. The key words in that last paragraph were 'from the creator of Trainspotting.' Which featured a creepy dead baby crawling on the ceiling tormenting Ewan McGregor. This should have been my first clue- because, while Filth was a decent enough movie, it took a sharp left turn down crazy lane and got dark- darker than I was expecting, to be honest.

Filth is the story of Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson who's a cop in Edinburgh who's main goal in life is to secure a promotion to Detective Inspector- and to do so, he's willing to engage in and indulge in pretty much every conniving, foul, filthy scheme he can think of to sow discord among his fellow Detectives in an attempt to make himself the 'obvious' choice for promotion. He likes drugs, booze, sex- he bullys and takes advantage of a mild-manner bespectacled accountant, Clifford Blades who is a member of his Masonic Lodge- he also prank calls Mrs. Blades, Bunty and asks for phone sex.

After a Japanese student is murdered, Bruce's path to promotion seems open as he's handed the case. As he gets deeper and deeper into the case (this is where things start to get a little dark) it becomes increasingly clear that he's losing his grip on reality and hallucinating more and more. It's eventually revealed in one of the hallucinations that he's on medication for bipolar disorder, wracked with guilt over an accident that lead to the death of his younger brother during his childhood. We also figure out that his wife, Carole had left him for another man and isn't letting him see his daughter, Stacey.

The left turn down crazy lane comes late in the movie (I won't spoil it) but it wasn't what I was expecting at all. In short, though, Bruce is captured by the gang responsible for the murder and badly beaten- but he does kill the murderer by throwing him out of a window. It all comes unraveled for Bruce after that. He misses out on the promotion. He gets demoted to Constable. He puts his uniform on, sends a taped message of himself apologizing to Clifford and prepares to hang himself.  As he's up on the chair and about to tip it over, there's a knock on the door- it's Mary, a woman whose husband he tried and failed to save earlier in the movie- with her son knocking on his door. He then breaks the fourth wall, says his catchphrase, 'Same rules apply' and then the chair breaks under him and the movie's over.

Overall: Man, did this get dark in a hurry. Not precisely what I was expecting- about halfway through, I told the Missus that I thought it seemed like a really good adaptation of a book- which makes me wonder if the book is either a. better or b. worth reading at all, given how much of a downer this movie turned out to be. But hey, on the plus side- fans of Harry Potter will recognize Shirley Henderson as Bunty Blades. Turns out Moaning Myrtle well, moans pretty well. Me: ** out of *****, The Missus: *** out of *****

Saturday, January 7, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #195: Prince Edward Island

We're back! It's 2017! It's a brand new year! And we're heading into the home stretch of The Brown Flag Challenge- and, believe it or not, we're back in North America, heading just across the border to Canada for the Flag of Prince Edward Island!
Adopted on March 24, 1964, the upper third of the flag features the English heraldic lion that's on the coat of arms of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (who the province is named after) and it appears on the arms of King Edward VII as well. The lower two thirds feature a small plot of grass which represents both Prince Edward Island and Great Britain- both of which are islands. The three small trees represent the three counties of the province (Prince, Queens and Kings) and the big oak tree stands for Great Britain. (The trunks of all the trees are where we get the brown for the purposes of our Brown Flag Challenge.) The whole tree set up is a nod to the motto of the province- Parva sub ingenti, 'the small under the protection of the great'

One of Canada's Maritime Provinces, Prince Edward Island is the smallest Canadian Province, but it's got a big place in the history of Canada, as the Charlottetown Conference, which began the process of creating Canada as we know it today, was held on the island in 1864. Prince Edward Island, however, wasn't hip to what they decided there and held of on joining the Confederation, remaining a colony of the United Kingdom instead.

Here's the crazy part of the story: they were trying to build a railway in the in the early 1870s and were getting frustrated with the British Colonial Office and so began negotiations with the United States. That's right. Prince Edward Island was looking at all it's options back in the day. Happily, the Canadian Prime Minister at the time wanted to both distract people from an ongoing bribery scandal and check the expansionist notions of the United States and negotiating a deal to bring Prince Edward Island aboard the Canadian Train, as it were, proved to be just what he was looking for.  Prince Edward Island joined up 1873!

So, let's back track a second and talk about the Prince Edward that PEI is named after. Officially, 'Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn' he was the fourth son and fifth child of King George III and- perhaps more importantly, the father of Queen Victoria. From a North American point of view, he's a pretty legit dude: he's was the first member of the Royal Family to actually live in North America for more than a visit/vacation. He was the first member of the Royal Family to visit the United States after independence and he was the first guy the use the term 'Canadian' to refer to both French and English settlers in Lower and Upper Canada.

From a Canadian point of view, therefore, sort of a big deal.

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Great Social Media Experiment

At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, I went ahead and began a little experiment for the New Year- I took Facebook and Twitter off of my phone. It's been four days and I think I'm adjusting well. The number of times I've idly flipped through my phone looking for Facebook or Twitter and then realizing, 'oh wait, I took those off of there' has diminished. That's not to say that I'm getting out of the social media game altogether- I still use Facebook. I still Snapchat and Instagram on occasion. I'm rocking the shit out of Pinterest. I tweet. But I decided that to start the New Year, I needed to put some distance between myself and the social media echo chamber.

The past two months have been getting increasingly unbearable- especially on Twitter, but somewhat on Facebook as well. I don't know if it's the results of the election that did it- though I suspect that played a significant part, but everything took a negative, snarky tone that felt increasingly toxic the closer I got to the holidays. I got tired of people whining about what Donald Trump did, said or Tweeted today. I got tired of right-wing agitators bloviating about SJWs. I got tired of being told that 'doing nothing is not an option' in a vaguely hectoring, condescending kind of way. No less an authority than Tom Wolfe said that "the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States, yet lands only in Europe."

I found myself exhausted by everything. A day couldn't go by without someone getting all butthurt and offended over some damn thing or another. People shrieking about fascism. Sermonizing on the great and glorious future that awaits us and/or our moral duty to resist our new fascist overlords. You can't expose yourself to that kind of toxicity every day without it eventually impacting the way you feel and your own mental health.

So, I needed space. People do 'Dry Januarys' people are now doing 'Sugarless Januarys.' I am going to try for a 'Limited Social Media Use January' which doesn't sound nearly as good as the first two.

You never realize just how much of a time suck social media can be until you limit yourself somewhat. My days have opened up. I find it easier to do things around the house- though trying to juggle three kids remains somewhat of a work in progress- though I'd like to think that I'm getting better every day at that.

Is it making me more productive? I'd like to think it is, but I can get derailed easily as well- as tonight is proving. I'm sort of spinning my wheels getting inside my head a little bit too much and then suddenly I'm not doing anything at all. But, there's still time left in the evening to salvage something. A short story I've been working on for awhile seems to have sprung to life and is heading for the finish line and despite a couple of days of setbacks at work, I'm rallying.

We'll see what the month ahead brings, but for now, I feel more present in my own life than I have in awhile. Immediate access to the echo chamber isn't something we need, it's something we want and it gets into your brain all too easily. Without knowing it, your phone can become an extension of your arm. Without knowing it, you can find yourself inside the pool constantly, being buffeted by the sound and the fury- all of it signifying next to nothing.

Yes, The Great Social Media Experiment is underway. January always feels like the longest month, so we'll have to see how long I last, but right now, four days in, taking a step back from the echo chamber feels like the right thing to do. It feels like the healthy thing to do. And if there's one thing I want to try and make happen this year, it's being healthier.

Will I continue the experiment beyond January? We'll have to see- I feel like right now I probably will, however, Just because of the amount of time that doing this has opened up for me. The older I get, the more precious time seems to become- so why waste any more of it than you have too?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Give Peace A Chance?

So, just before Christmas the United Nations passed a resolution rebuking Israel for it's continued settlement activity in The West Bank. The United States abstained. And everyone lost their damn minds shortly after the fact.

Look, it's no secret that the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process is going nowhere fast. The Israelis have made serious, concrete offers before and the Palestinians have walked away every time. They're out of Gaza, the Palestinians are divided between Hamas and Fatah, in short- why should Israel cut a deal? What possible reason do they have to come to the table?

They don't have a reason. Plus- surprise, surprise- it doesn't appear that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is the biggest fan of President Obama, so he was all too eager to take a steaming hot dump all over the move by the US to abstain from the resolution. He knows what administration he's got coming in next January and he has no reason to play nice anymore.

Our allies weren't exactly best pleased either. British Prime Minister Theresa May weighed in and 'rebuked' the US over their abstention on the resolution. Australia followed suit

In general, the whole thing seemed like a massive waste of time designed to do who knows what. The overall reactions seems to have been: 'Guys, that's not helpful.' So, not exactly a banner day for American diplomacy. If it was a gambit designed to break the stalemate it was poorly executed. 

So where does that leave the peace process? 

Well, it's worth noting that despite media protestations to the contrary, President Obama hasn't been all that harsh with Israel. Both Bush the Younger and Bush the Elder allowed similar resolutions critical of Israel to get through the UN. Bush the Elder actually used a hefty loan as leverage to force a freeze on settlement building in the West Bank- so I think acting like President Obama is some sort of traitor to Israel is sort of ridiculous. A Google Search and thirty minutes one the internet will demonstrate just how wrong that notion is. While there are many fair criticisms to be leveled at the Obama Administration (I'm avoiding mentioning the words 'red line' and 'Syria' in the same sentence here) I don't think this one is fair. The Peace Process is moribund. While a sloppy and ill-conceived attempt to break the log jam, with time running out on their term in office, it was a Hail Mary pass worth taking.

What happens now? Not much of anything, I think. There's growing talk that maybe the two-state solution is dead- and maybe a one-state solution could be the answer. That could actually be the way forward for the Palestinians. It puts Israel in an uncomfortable position, as demographically, there are more Palestinians than Israelis- so do you become a bi-national relatively stable, democratic state and worry about the demographics down the road? Or do you preserve the cultural identity of the Jewish state? Given that choice then perhaps the two-state solution will have a bit of life in it yet. 

I don't know how big of a priority reviving the Peace Process will be for the incoming Trump Administration I'm betting it's not going to be on the top of their list. It's a sort of a depressing way to start the year, but it's a long year and given how tumultuous the region can be, who knows what could happen. Maybe peace will get a chance after all.