Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Upload Project #4

CD #31, Untitled with seven repeats from other CDs
Lyle Workman- Superwhat?
The Beatles- I Am The Walrus
Timbaland- The Way I Are
Sting and The Police- Message In A Bottle
Timbaland/Nelly Furtado- Promiscuous Girl
Aesop Rock- The Harbor Is Yours
The Strokes- Last Nite
Curtis Mayfield- Superfly
Nelly Furtado- Maneater
Genesis- Turn It On Again
Amy Winehouse- Rehab
Meredith Brooks- Bitch
Stevie Nicks- Edge of Seventeen
Black Crowes- Hard To Handle
The Clash- Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Emimen ft/Nate Dogg- Shake That
Muddy Waters- Champagne and Reefer
Vampire Weekend- A-Punk

CD #32, pretty much a repeat of CD #30 with a record 16 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
Spin Doctors-Jimmy Olsen's Blues
Train- Hey Soul Sister
Bloodhound Gang-Mope
The Clash-Pressure Drop
Jason Aldean- Amarillo Sky
Cobra Starship- Good Girls Gone Bad
The Black Crowes- Hard To Handle
Kriss Kross- Jump
Patti Smith- Summer Cannibals
Bananarama- Cruel Summer
Eve 6- Inside Out
The Airborne Toxic Event- Sometime Around Midnight
The Dandy Warhols- We Used To Be Friends
Vampire Weekend- Ottoman
Albert Hammond- It Never Rains In Southern California

Too scratched...  couldn't salvage any of it.

CD #34 Untitled, with three repeats. Even though I was convinced there were more.
Miley Cyrus- Can't Stop
Avicii- Wake Me Up
LCD Soundsystem- Movement
John Newman- Love Me Again
Robin Thicke- Blurred Lines
Miike Snow- Animal
Rush- Tom Sawyer
Empire Of The Sun- Walking On A Dream
Karmin- Acapella
Rooney-When Did Your Heart Go Missing?
M83- Midnight City
AC/DC- Thunderstruck
Rancid-Time Bomb
Tegan and Sara- Closer
The New Pornographers- Twin Cinema
Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis- Can't Hold Us
Daft Punk- Get Lucky
Florence + The Machine- Spectrum

CD #35, Untitled, with 3 repeats
The Crash Kings- Mountain Men
Enrique Iglesias- Baby I Like It
Florence + The Machine- Dog Days Are Over
NWA- Express Yourself
Marcy Playground- Sex and Candy
George Clinton- Stomp
The Hold Steady- Chips Ahoy
Sublime- Scarlet Begonias
Katy Perry- California Girls
Prince- Kiss
BOB/Haley Williams- Airplanes
Michael Buble- Just Haven't Met You Yet
James Brown- Papa's Got A Brand New Bag
Bob Dylan- Subterranean Homesick Blues
Parliament Funkadelic- Give Up The Funk
The Replacements- Can't Hardly Wait
Pink Floyd- Fearless
Owl City- Vanilla Twilight

CD #36, Omaha 2: Electric Boogaloo with 3 repeats
Lady Gaga- Nebraska
Bruce Springsteen- 10th Avenue Freezeout
Aquabats- Super Rad
Kanye West- Blood On The Leaves
Miley Cyrus- Wrecking Ball
Lorde- Royals
Katy Perry- Roar
Weezer- Undone
Aquabats- Red Sweater
Ylvis- Jan Engeland
Bruce Springsteen- Thunder Road
Head East- Never Been Any Reason
Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros- Johnny Appleseed
Lady Gaga- Applause
OK Go- This Too Shall Pass
Rolling Stones- Turd On The Run
Bob Seger- Hollywood Nights

CD #37, '4' with 11 repeats
Fleetwood Mac- Say You Will
Amadou and Miriam- Senegal Fast Food
Miley Cyrus- See You Again
Sara Bareillis- Love Song
The Killers- When You Were Young
The Pussycat Dolls- Beep
Rooney- When Did Your Heart Go Missing
Sublime- Scarlet Begonias
The Cure- Mint Car
Feist- 1, 2, 3, 4
Less Than Jake- The Science Of Selling Yourself Short
Mariah Carey- Touch My Body
The B-52s- Love Shack
Kid Rock- Wasting Time
Snow Patrol- It's Beginning To Get To Me
Amy Winehouse- Back To Black
Billy Idol- Mony Mony
Neil Diamond- Sweet Caroline
Siouxsie and The Banshees- Cities In Dust
Incubus- I Wish You Were Here

CD #38, Untitled, with 3 repeats
Fela Kuti- Zombie
Snow Patrol- Open Your Eyes
LCD Soundsystem- Get Innnocuous!
America- Ventura Highway
Katy Perry- Teenage Dream
UB40- Johnny Too Bad
NWA- Express Yourself
Cee-Lo- F**k You
Florence + The Machine- Dog Days Are Over
Jay Ferguson- Thunder Island
Linkin Park- Bleed It Out
Wishbone Ash- Warrior
Crash Kings- Mountain Men
Kings of Leon- Radioactive
Led Zeppelin- Ten Years Gone

CD #39, not a CD. Actually a DVD of some Torchwood eps

CD #40, Road Trip Omaha 3/10/12 with 3 repeats
Soul Coughing- Circles
Soul Coughing- Super Bon Bon
Counting Crows- Omaha
Counting Crows- Hanginaround
The Format- Dog Problems
The Format- The First Single
Beck- Sexx Laws
Beck- Loser
Katy Perry- Firework
Katy Perry- Last Friday Night
The Tossers- Siobhan
Dropkick Murphys- Rocky Road To Dublin
American Bang- Wild and Young
Wiz Khalifa- Young & Wild & Free
Foster The People- Call It What You Want
Foster The People- Don't Stop
Kings of Leon- Slow Night, So Long
Kings of Leon- Taper Jean Girl

Monday, February 27, 2017

Scholarship Shenanigans

So, after being subjected to $18 million in cuts for the fiscal year, the University of Iowa pulled some scholarships to save some cash- about $4 million or so over the long term. Parents and students predictably lost their minds- I can understand that. It's yanking the rug out from under a person- especially since they're expecting this money and maybe even relying on this money to help pay for their education. Their outrage, I have no problem with. Their expected class action lawsuit? Mazeltov, I hope you do well.

You know whose outrage I don't have time for? The State Legislature's. When Speaker Upmeyer has the nerve to rip the move as 'politics at its worst' well then, I have to call bullshit on that. Because all the Legislature has been doing for years now is cutting cutting cutting and oh my yes- did I mention, the cutting? At a certain point the cupboard is going to be bare and shitty decisions like this are going to be have to made. When you make it clear that higher education is not a priority for this state, you leave your Universities and their administrators with some truly shit decisions to make. You reap what you sew and in this case, the Legislature has been doing plenty of sewing.

(And after this little eruption of self-righteous indignation, what did we find out on Saturday? Oh that's right. Still more budget cuts.)

Part of the most frustrating part of living in America today is sorting through the change of bullshit that you have to deal with whenever power changes hands on the state or national level. We've lost our damn minds as a nation- we've settled for politics as a blood sport, which is both distinct from doing actual governing and does nothing to solve the problems of the nation. Power should not be a cudgel to club the opposition with and yet, that's what we find ourselves with.

This debate, however tiresome, is perfectly illustrated here- albeit on a smaller, more micro level than our national travails. As a state, we have to decide: what kind of government do we want? How big should it be? What all should it do? Unfortunately, that's not the conversation we're having. It's time to drown the government rat in Des Moines. Unfortunately, that does college students in Iowa no good at all- especially if they've just lost their scholarships.

Most frustrating of all: it doesn't have to be this way.

First of all, you have to acknowledge that without sustainable levels of support from the state, you're reducing your public universities to businesses. And to be fair, at this point, if you still think about the glory and honor of the noble pursuit of 'the life of the mind' in an Ivory Tower all covered in vines, you need to pull your head out of your ass. Higher education is an industry now and with state support hitting a 25 year low in 2005, (Kamanetz pg. 60) it's only becoming more so with every passing year. Tuition is going up up up and college are locked in amenities arms races to put butts in seats. College is slipping out of the grasp of young Americans with every passing year- working families have to sell their damn kidneys to afford it and even if young people (such as myself) take out loans, there's no guarantee that they'll find good enough jobs after graduation to pay them off quickly and even if they do, the burden sort of financial freezes them in place for up to a decade after graduation.

Second of all, let me say again: it doesn't have to be this way. In her excellent book DIY U, Anya Kamanetz cited what the University of Maryland system did. Not only did they start looking at ways to optimize their funding and streamline their operations, but they worked with their State Legislature to identify workforce and training needs for the state as a whole. The result was an over 30% increase in state revenues. (Kamanetz pg. 73) Kamanetz doesn't stop there with her examples of reform and outside the box thinking- her whole book is about that, but with budgets being, shall we say, not as generous as they were in times past, it's that kind of thinking that's called for. In business, life or industry, the one rule that I've found to be very, very true is a simple one: shit rolls downhill. Sooner or later, cuts imposed on the Universities from above will impact students and their ability to pay and attend college.

I get where the counter arguments come from: higher education is inefficient and wasteful- a luxury that I'm sure the bean counters and Republican legislators who view it as hostile to their party's values and beliefs- think that we can't afford. The problem is that we're rapidly approaching a decision point in the state's political discourse: do we still value education in Iowa? If, as I suspect and hope, the answer is yes, then it's incumbent upon both the Regents Institutions and the people in power to work together to find a new partnership to harness the resources of the three state schools to help fill needs for Iowa in the future. We're losing population with every decade that passes. The right investments now could pay dividends down the road.

But we need to decide that education is something we still value. We need to stop playing politics as a bloodsport and our leaders need to work together. Talk about an impossible dream.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Netflix & Chill #6: Moonrise Kingdom

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2012
Starring: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwatzman, Bob Balaban
Netflix Rating: *** out of ****
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Pick: Mine

I don't think I've come across a Wes Anderson movie that I haven't genuinely liked before and Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. Set in September of 1965 on an island called New Penzance off of the New England Coast, an orphan by the name of Sam Shakusky(Jared Gilman)is attending a Khaki Scout Summer Camp lead by Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton). Suzy Bishop(Kara Hayward) another 12 year old that lives on the island with her parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) along with her three younger brothers. She and Sam who are both outsiders and somewhat introverted met the previous year during a church performance of a play about Noah's Flood and have been pen pals ever since. As they write, their feelings for each other grow and so, at the start of the movie, they decided to run away together.

So Sam breaks out of his scout tent and Suzy runs away from home and they meet up and they hike off into the wilderness on the island with the goal of reaching a secluded cove where they can stay and live. Of course, by the time they get going both Scoutmaster Ward and Walt and Laura become aware that their respective children are gone and alert the authorities- name Captain Duffy Sharp of the Island Police (Bruce Willis).

The hunt for the two children begins and a group of Khaki Scouts catches up with Sam and Suzy in the woods- in the attempted capture, Suzy stabs a Khaki scout with some scissors and the Scout Camp's dog is shot and killed with an arrow. The scouts flee and Sam and Suzy reach the cove- which they name Moonrise Kingdom, get romantic, kiss and make out a little bit. Eventually the parents, scoutmaster and the police find them. Suzy's parents take her home and Sharp contacts Sam's foster parents who say they don't want him back, so they have to contact a woman by the name of Social Services (Tilda Swinton) who says Sam will have to go to a juvenile refuge and potentially have electroshock therapy.

Sam's fellow scout's decide to help Sam and Suzy after a change of heart and spring them and paddle to the nearby island of St. Jack Wood to seek out the help of an older scout by the name of Cousin Ben. He thinks getting Sam a berth aboard a crabbing boat is the answer, but Sam insists on getting married in a totally non-binding and not at all legal ceremony to Suzy. Of course- once again, the parents and police are looking for them- even more urgently now because of an incoming hurricane. And after a few more twists and turns everyone finds themselves back at the Church where Sam and Suzy first met and it is Captain Sharp who steps up and offers to be a foster parent for Sam so he can stay on the island and maintain contact with Suzy.

I was honestly a bit 'meh' about this movie while I was watching it, but by the end I think I was fully onboard. Yes, Anderson dabbles in the same whimsical, eccentric world building that marks all of his movies- so a viewer can be forgiven if they're left with the feeling that they've seen variations on this before. Despite that, Anderson can create charming and transporting worlds and Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. While I think this is meant to be more of a 'coming of age/love story' I was reminded more of books like Swallows & Amazons and pretty much anything by Enid Blyton- you know those adventure type stories for young people?

Here's the thing though: I want to see Anderson do something outside his comfort zone. Like I was seriously wonder while watching this what it would be like if he directed the next Alien movie. He has such an attention to detail and can create incredible worlds, but I feel like a left turn down crazy lane might do him some good. That's not to say he can't and shouldn't keep doing what he's doing- if there's one thing a Wes Anderson movie makes you want to do, it's go and watch like every other Wes Anderson movie you can- which is precisely what you'd want the audience to feel, really- always leave them wanting more.

Overall: Charming whimsical and enjoyable- Wes Anderson does it again with Moonrise Kingdom. I'm going to go with *** out of ****.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #202

Another 'Lost Weekend' In Vexillology is upon us! This time I'm heading back down to South America to a country whose history continues to intrigue me- the more I dig, the more fascinated I become. Yes, This Week In Vexillology it's the flag of Paraguay!

Here's the kicker, right off the bat: what do Paraguay and Oregon have in common? If you said their flags look different on either side, you'd be right. This is the front (obverse) of the Paraguayan flag:

And this is the reverse of the Paraguayan flag:

Before we get to the flag, we've got to break down Paraguay a little bit. The more I read about the place, the most interesting it becomes. For instance, it's first ruler, Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia wanted to build an utopian society based on Rousseau's Social Contract so he imposed a rigid isolation on Paraguay and things got weird after that. (His political police, apparently: Pyragues or, 'hairy feet', Spaniards were banned from marrying each other in 1814- and the list goes on from there.)  Paraguay has been involved in two wars- including Latin America's bloodiest, The War of The Triple Alliance and more recently, the Chaco War in the 1930s with Bolivia. 

It was after The War of The Triple Alliance that then US President Rutherford B. Hayes helped secure the independence of Paraguay- there's a town and I think a department named after him down there- which is I don't even know. The most utterly random thing, ever? I don't think most Americans could tell you much about President Hayes except that well, he was a President and will forevermore get mentioned along with George W. Bush and Donald Trump as people who won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote. But in Paraguay: he's kind of a big deal.

So Paraguay: it's interesting to say the least. Which brings us back around to it's flag- which is also interesting because, as you can see above, it's different on either side. Let's start with the points of commonality on either side of the flag. It was first adopted in 1842 and no surprise, the red-white-blue triband was inspired by the colors of the French flag- believed to signify independence and liberty. Which brings us to the emblems on the flag of Paraguay. The front features a gold star with a palm branch on the left and an olive branch on the right with the official name of the country (Republica del Paraguay) above. (Apologies on the image quality. The original size was not large and I wanted something larger to illustrate the difference in the branches.)

The back is the Seal of the Treasury which features a golden lion with a Phrygian Cap and the motto 'Paz Y Justicia' or, peace and justice.

Let's talk about the Phrygian Cap!

This damn cap pops up all over the place in the flags and coats of arms of Central and South America and the first time around with a lot of these flags I hadn't the faintest idea why. I chalked it up to one of those regional design similarities- like the green-yellow-red color scheme you see in a lot of the flags of Africa. Happily, thanks to the Revolutions Podcast some historical context is in order. You see, during the French Revolution the Liberty Cap emerged as a popular symbol of the Revolution and it spread- though the actual Wikipedia entry for the Phrygian cap mentions that this cap is often confused with the pileus, which was the felt cap of the freed slave of Ancient Rome. But either way- it blew up in the French Revolution. They were all about it- and, as extensive listening to the podcast is demonstrating, everything's connected somehow.

France's Revolution lead to Napoleon, who eventually invaded the Iberian Peninsula, threw governments of both Spain and Portugal into chaos and (though I'm not to that part in the latest round of podcasts) either helped break open the growing seeds of revolution or helped ferment them even further, I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, the French Revolution had a tremendous impact on the revolutionaries of Latin America as they fought for independence from Spain.

So, that's a deeper dive into the intriguing nation of Paraguay and it's flag. Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bookshot #94: Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Well, damn. This book was not at all what I was expecting and it was a hell of a hard slog to get through, but damn it, I got through it. Finally. "One of the most important and influential books written in the past half-century," the back of the book proclaims...  I guess if the person writing up the synopsis was a philosophy major that'd be about right. So:

The story of a motorcycle trip from Minnesota to the Pacific Northwest, the narrator (who turns out to be the author- but we don't know that initially) is travelling with his son, Chris and a couple of friends of theirs, John and Sylvia initially. As they travel along, the narrator interweaves the story of their journey with what he calls 'Chautauquas' delving into various aspects of philosophy which gradually reveal a past self of the narrator, whom he refers to as Phaedrus. Phaedrus taught creative and technical writing at a small college and became engrossed with the ideas of what makes good writing or 'quality' which he talks about a lot but doesn't actually get around to defining.

There's a sense of foreboding when the narrator is talking about Phaedrus- the reasons for which are unclear at first, until gradually we find out that Phaedrus went down the rabbit hole of his quest for 'quality' and how to define it which eventually drove him insane. He was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy which changed his personality to that of the narrator's.

The narrative portion of the book works quite well. There's a real sense of foreboding about Phaedrus which only grows as the narrator begins to realize that Phaedrus is starting to re-emerge and begins to despair as he feels like his sanity is slipping away once more. The relationship between father and son grows progressively more strained in parts- since the narrator worries that his son is beginning to show signs of the same mental illness he struggled with. How Phaedrus re-emerges and reconciles with the narrator's personality is handled beautifully by shifting use of fonts. The narrator's point of view is shown in one kind of font and Phaedrus' in another.

The philosophy part is where Pirsig starts to lose me. I think I sort of get what he's getting at- certainly, the points he made about the structure of society on the whole really resonated with me. Consider this:


Now that's some #DeepShit I can get behind, because he's absolutely right- we can't expect to truly change our government ever until we change ourselves. Gives new impetus to the whole, 'be the change you wish to see in the world' quote, doesn't it? This. This quote resonated with me as well. And that's pretty much how the whole philosophy portion of the book went. Certain things jumped out at me from time to time- Pirsig thinks a return to self-reliance is important- not because of the traditional calls for that return- namely, ideological calls to benefit the rich- in his words- but because self-reliance will make for happier individuals- it will help people to find quality.

This was not at all what I was expecting. Neither zen nor motorcycles play a large role in the book and philosophy tends to give me a headache- especially on the level that Pirsig is playing on. I haven't read Aristotle or Plate. I couldn't tell you the difference between a Sophist and a whatever the opposite of a Sophist is- perhaps a Stoic? All credit to Pirsig: when he says this is an inquiry into values, he is not messing around.

Overall: An interesting book...  it aims for the old American tradition embodied by folks like Thoreau and probably hits the mark, but to be honest, unless you have both a love of philosophy and some background in it, you're probably not going to get much from this book- other than a headache that is. I also wasn't crazy about the way Pirsig approached the mental illness described in this book. It was Phaedrus' quest for 'quality' that drove him insane. I'm not sure if that's more metaphor than fact- but if it's latter instead of the former that's...  uncomfortable. It's going to be a relief  to return this bad boy to the library. My Grade: ** out of ****.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Purge 3: Ideological Viewpoint Diversity

The headline from Iowa Starting Line was a little shriek-y and a little click bait-y: "Senator Mark Chelgren Aims To Purge Democrats From Iowa Universities" I literally laughed out loud. So, he wants to shut down Iowa's universities then- I mean, pretty much. I'm assuming if you get rid of the Democrats, there wouldn't be that many Republicans left- it's an idiotic idea. I didn't know legislation could be click bait as well, but hey, there it is.

Froth, fire and brimstone aside- if you step back and unpack the kernel of the idea a little bit, there might be something there worth discussing. But first, we have to knock off the obvious: this is a moronic piece of legislation. People with No Party registration (Independent, damn it! INDEPENDENT FOREVER!) are good to go- along with Republicans. Which begs the question: how do you prove that someone's registered the way they say they are? Say this goes through: there'd be a stampede of people who simply change their voter registration and leave it at that. Iowa's three public Universities would become hotbed of apparent Republicans- which makes the whole notion silly- and you'd think it couldn't get sillier, but then you see this:
"a person shall not be hired as a professor of instructor member of the faculty at such an institution if the person's political party affiliation on the date of hire would case the percentage of faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by ten percent the percentage of faculty belonging to the other political party."
Sweet Baby Cheez-Its, do what now? Okay (rolls up sleeves) tangent time:

[This is your obligatory reminder that America's two party system is antiquated, inadequate to the needs of our present society and does a massive disservice to our democracy, Yes, yes, yes, single-member districts and first past the post voting does tend to produce a lower number of parties, which combined with the collusion between the two parties to prevent meaningful alternatives from emerging makes us a de facto two party system. Except there's absolutely nothing say we have to be. We just choose to be. Because hard work and pushing on mountains sucks.]

Okay. I'm back. Now, as I said, this is a click bait bullshit piece of legislation that will probably not see the light of day by the end of the session,. As a law, it's totally unworkable- not because of the dubious legality of the concept, but because if you try and apply common sense and basic logistics to it, it collapses like the pile of bullshit the good Senator obviously intended it to be.

However, push aside all the bullshit- and there is plenty of it, there's a kernel here worth examining: should Universities do more to encourage ideological viewpoint diversity on their campuses?

In Conservative circles, this isn't a new idea. People have been calling for 'affirmative action' for Conservative college professors for years now- and leaving aside the sweet, sweet irony of Conservatives asking for 'affirmative action' for their professors- which everyone who is not a Conservative should savor and enjoy on a daily basis and mock them repeatedly for- especially when they call it 'affirmative action for Conservative college professors'

Here's the crazy thing though: they're not wrong. Viewpoint diversity is something that Universities should think about, because at their core, if their mission is educational, then you can teach nobody nothin' if everyone pretty much agrees with each other. New ideas are born out of the clash of old ideas and differing viewpoint- I read a really good book on the rise of the Conservative Movement whose name escapes me at the moment that looked at this very issue. In the 50s, Conservatism was more or less moribund as an ideology on the national stage. It took two decades of vicious intellectual battles and fights to forge a movement that triumphed in 1980 and- you can argue whether it was bad or good- whichever it is, it changed America.

The problem we face today is that no intellectual refreshing seems to be occurring. Conservatism is in retreat in the face of populism- plus, on a bigger scale, there's a debate between 'drown the Government Rat' vs 'Provide Good, Efficient Government' that I think could break open in the next few years that should be interesting to watch. Progressive/Liberalism still seems to think that if they can get just one more shot at European style socialism, 'it'll work you guys, we swear!'

Then there's the economics..  the evils of global capitalism and all that. I don't think you can call what we have capitalism- it's capitalism in the same way that the Soviet had communism, which really is not at all. If anything we're closer to corporatism than anything else- but if state sponsored communism doesn't work (as the Soviets and to some degree the Chinese have proven) and if the intertwining of global capitalism and politics undermines democracy and society- does whateverthehellyouwanttocallwhatwevegotgoing work either? If neither of them work- if nothing does, how do we figure out what does?

The obvious place, to me, would be in our institutes of higher education. So yes, you should have a ton of different viewpoints. You should hire a ton of different viewpoints. That should be in your mission statement to get as many different ideas on your campus as possible, because new ideas are born out of the clash of old ideas. If your Universities aren't doing that (and I suspect that on this score, the good Senator might have firmer ground to stand on, because they're probably not doing that) then you should provide incentives (such as higher funding levels! Hey-o!) to get them moving in that direction.

This can be done- and would probably provide students with a better education as a result- or at minimum, teach them how to deal with people with opposing points of view better than we do now.* I'm just not sure it's something you can effectively legislate.

*Buckle Up, because it's time to talk about my day job: Free speech calls are some of the hardest and most annoying calls I have to deal with. Yes, the Preacher on campus waving around pictures of aborted fetuses or yelling about how Gays, Jews, etc are all going to hell is offensive. I get that. But unless he's blocking egress of a building- we're on a public campus and he's got a Constitutional right to be here. You have a Constitutional right to keep on walking... because there's nothing we can really do other than send officers to sort of hang out and look awkward about things. 

You would not believe- especially on the Free Speech calls- the pretzel knots people will twist themselves into trying to get these people kicked off of a public campus. People will lie their heads off if someone is waving a poster of something they don't agree with. But the last time this happened, the students got smart and launched a beautiful rainbow flag waving, chanting protest of their own. Right next to the Preacher. He, unsurprisingly, was undeterred- but it confirmed my belief that the answer to bad speech isn't stifling it. It's more speech.  That's education to me.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #201

You know, I promised you 'Lost Weekends In Vexillology' last week- I just didn't figure I'd be launching into them so soon. But what better follow-up to my Psephology post on the legislative elections Uttar Pradesh than going back in time- way back in time- to dig into my very own personal collection to take a look once more at the flag of India:
Before we get to the flag, I have to admit that this one is something of a head-scratcher. For as long as I've been keeping track of the flags I've looked at, India has always been on the list. It was an early acquisition for my personal collection and I've always thought I had knocked it off way early on in the process when I was going through some flags in my personal collection, but I could never find the original post. So it's something of a mystery- which, now, happily, we get to resolve.

Well, right away I realized I needed a new picture for this post. The Flag Code of India specifies that the saffron band of the tricolor be on the left when displayed vertically- so I had to fix that. Another fascinating thing I found out: the manufacturing process is regulated very tightly by the Bureau of Indian Standards who certifies every flag. Guess what? My particular flag- not so much. The guidelines cover "sizes, dye color, chromatic values, brightness, thread count and hemp cordage." (Wikipedia) Defects from the guidelines can result in fines or even jail terms... (New Flag Goal: get a BSI Certified flag of India!)

During the struggle for independence from Britain, it was Gandhi who recognized the need for a national flag- the initial design featured a spinning wheel on a red and green  banner (red for Hindus, green for Muslims.) He was aiming to have the flag ready by for the Congress session of 1921, but it didn't get done on time. Which turned out to be a good thing, because it gave Gandhi time to refine his original design, into this:

The white stripe was added to the flag to represent all other religions. Gandhi moved toward a more secular interpretation of the flag's colors by the end of the decade: "stating that red stood for the sacrifices of the people, white for purity, and green for hope." (Wikipedia)  However, another flag was gaining in popularity at the time as well- thanks to an incident in April of 1923 in Nagpur when the Swaraj flag was hoisted and a clash between Congressmen and the police resulted. That flag became the official flag of the Congress Party at it's 1931 meeting and it looks like this:   
You sort of see the path toward the current flag- at least from a design point of view. Gandhi's first 'draft' only had red and green for Hindus and Muslims- adding the white stripe for all other religions established the tricolor as the design. The spinning wheel was retained from the Gandhian flag to the Swaraj flag... the colors shifted slightly with this flag to avoid sectarian overtones. Saffron was chosen for courage and sacrifice, the white for peace and truth and green for faith and chivalry. When it came time for independence in 1947, the spinning wheel was dropped in favor of the Ashoka Chakra, representing the eternal wheel of law. As for the meaning, I'm going to let Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan- who was India's first Vice-President and it's second President speak for himself on this score:
Bhagwa or the saffron color denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the center is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to (the) soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends. The "Ashoka Chakra" in the center of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnatoin. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of peaceful change.
The flag's name is the Tiranga, or 'tricolor' and was adopted on July 22nd 1947. It was designed by Pingali Venkayya.

And that's the first of our 'Lost Weekends in Vexillology' in the books! I'm going to do some digging to see if I can find an actual BIS certified flag of India somewhere on the interwebs (and more importantly, see how much it costs) to try and get one, because that would be a bad-ass addition to my collection. 

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Psephology Rocks: Uttar Pradesh and Why You Should Care

(noun) 1. The study of elections.

Part of the joy of elections and my amateur study of them is stumbling across an election that you didn't even know was going on and realizing that it's kind of a big deal- so imagine my excitement when I realized that legislative elections in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh were underway!

Indian elections are probably my favorite things in the world...  their national elections are the largest exercises in mass democracy anywhere in the world and it takes them about a month to get all the voting done- Uttar Pradesh is it's largest state with a population of just under 200 million and it's legislative election kicked off on February 11th and it's going to last until March 8th. In a word: awesome.

(Parenthetical time: elections in India are pretty much ignored by the US media and that needs to change- a point that John Oliver made on his show a few years back. India is a large and growing economy and it's going to be very important in the 21st Century- so pay attention, damn it. Plus, there's this describing their very first elections, taken from Ramachandra Guha's excellent history of independent India, India After Gandhi: The History of The World's Largest Democracy- appropriately, the title of the chapter covering their first elections is appropriate- it's entitled: 'The Biggest Gamble In History.'
Some numbers will help us understand the scale of Sen's enterprise. At stake were 4,500 seats- about 500 for Parliament and the rest for the provincial assemblies. Some 224,000 polling booths were constructed and equipped with 2 million steel ballot boxes, require 8,200 tons of steel. To type d collate the electoral rolls by constituencies 16,500 clerks were appointed on six-month contracts. About 380,000 reams of paper were used for print the rolls. To supervise the voting, 56,000 presiding officers were chosen. They were aided by 280,000 "lesser" staff members; and 224,000 policemen were put on duty to stop violence and intimidation. 
The elections and the electorate were spread out over an area of more than 1 million square miles. The terrain was huge, diverse, and- for the project at hand- sometimes horrendously difficult. In remote hill villages, bridges had to be specially constructed across rivers; in small islands in the Indian Ocean, naval vessels were used to take the rolls to the booths.
At the time, the size of the Indian electorate was 176 million- 85% of which could not read or write. 389,916 phials indelible ink were used to avoid impersonation. Right now, the size of Uttar Pradesh's population alone is larger than the Indian national electorate in 1952.

Their elections are the largest exercises in mass democracy in human history. Each and every national election in Indian should be a headline grabbing event- and no joke, I would love, love, love to get a grant large enough just to go spend a month there and watch their elections up close. If there's one thing that could prod me into rolling up my sleeves and getting a PhD, it's India and it's democracy- it's Constitution especially bears further study, as Guha's book calls it the most significant political document since the American Constitution.

It's a nation of over a billion people that has a democracy that is vibrant and fascinating and while perhaps, not perfect- it had a brief hiccup in the late 70s during Indira Gandhi's 'Emergency' period- it still stands today. And to me, that's awesome.)

Anyway- so Uttar Pradesh- why should you care? Well, I don't know if it's a bellwether state every time around, but The Economist seems to think that it's going to be a good indication of how the next national election- scheduled in 2019 might go. It's early days yet, but this is what I've dug up: there are some indications of worry for the BJP- but to the benefit of the Samajwadi-Congress alliance, which is bypassing the BSP (lead by former Chief Minister Mayawati- who is one of the most powerful women you've never heard of.) But then again, there's also this report which seems to indicate things are sunny and awesome for the BSP.

Who the hell knows how it's all going to end up? The election is a month long...  so, put a reminder on your Google calendar and when you see that random news article about the final results of the elections in Uttar Pradesh go by, click on it and read it. These elections and this part of the world is important, damn it. We should be paying attention.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wait, What?

So, I randomly saw a news article float by me this weekend about a ruling from the State Supreme Court. The last time I actually dug into a State Supreme Court decision was probably the Varnum decision which legalized marriage equality and usually it's a task I find myself loathe to do. I do it, because I figure if the media's going to spend terrabytes of data covering court decisions, I shouldn't have to take their word for it when I can get the actual decision complete and in full thanks to the magical powers of the internet. The problem I find is that I'm not a lawyer. I don't really speak legalese. I think I can do logic pretty well and have a rudimentary grasp of what the hell they're talking about most of the time, but this decision gave me a headache. A major headache. My brain hurts.

(Before I go further, a mild disclaimer: I'm going to be talking- or typing at least tangentially about my day job. Which doesn't happen on the blog all that often, so buckle up.)

So, let's talk about the Coleman decision, shall we?

Basically, an officer was checking plates for stolen vehicles and ran a plate belonging to a person who he knew had a suspended license. It was dark, so he couldn't tell who was driving the car, so he pulled it over. Instead of the female registered owner with a suspended license, he found a male subject who advised he borrowed the car from his sister and produced an Iowa ID. Officer ran it, found out said subject was barred and he was arrested.

Mr. Coleman (the male subject in question) appealed his conviction and found no joy in two lower courts before the State Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision saying:
"when the reason for a traffic stop is resolved and there is no other basis for reasonable suspicion, article 1, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution requires that the driver must be allowed to go his or her way without further ado."
Wait, What?

So if I'm getting this right. (Which, as I mentioned above, is a questionable assertion on my part.) The officer had probable cause to pull the car over because he was checking for the registered owner who was suspended. When he didn't find the registered owner, that (according to the State Supreme Court) should have been the end of that. Probable cause done. Traffic stop over.

For my sins, I slogged through this decision. Twice. And there's a lot I don't understand- the whole issue of issue preservation and error preservation seems to be a bridge too far with the legalese. (The dissent seems willing to dismiss Coleman's claim solely on this basis- he didn't ask for protections under the state constitution in his original claim, so why are the majority giving it to him?) It seems like a reasonable point to make, except neither Wikipedia nor Mr. Google seemed to be able to give me a simple dictionary definition on what the hell both the majority or the dissent seem to be getting at with the whole discussion... so I did what normal people do when confronted with technobabble and jargon they don't understand. I smiled, I nodded and I kept reading.

Color me surprised: I had no idea that traffic stops were so complicated from a legal point of view- I counted twenty-three cases cited by the majority in their argument. From my point of view, they're pretty ubiquitous. (I don't want to say 'routine' because from an officer's point of view, there's no such thing as a routine traffic stop.) Given the blizzard of case law they assembled, you're left the impression that a decision like this was coming- Mr. Coleman's case just happened to be Iowa's turn on this particular carousel.

Then, you get to the dissent. The dissent comes across as the more focused argument in many ways- sticking with the Rodriguez case cited from the Supreme Court and the Jackson case from the Iowa State Supreme Court. The resulting argument is cleaner and much less convoluted. If it were possible for me to view this from a purely objective position, free from any internal biases I might have, I could see the logic in what the dissenters are saying.

It's the intricacies of what makes this fascinating to read. No one is objecting to the stop- despite the majority's suggestion of racial profiling, no one is asserting that race played a part in the stop- except obliquely. At issue is whether or not asking for identification after the original reason for the stop has been resolved constitutes an unlawful extension of the stop and therefore a 4th Amendment violation. (I think?) You get the idea though- we're getting right down into the nitty gritty of this traffic stop. My original thought about all this was that if the impetus for the officer's actions was checking for stolen vehicles/wanted people by running plates, then surely upon finding someone who is not the registered owner behind the wheel, it would be reasonable for him to verify that person's identity. But that original impetus of the officer's actions has no bearing on the probable cause for the stop- so that was the end of my Matlock impression.

Given the fact that cases are cited in the decision that plainly show that states have a compelling interest in maintaining safe highways combined with the fact that the dissent points out that Iowa Code requires motorists to have a valid license and produce it upon demand of a peace officer makes this decision something of a head-scratcher. Plus, it raises all kind of safety issues. So if an officer makes a stop to check for a registered owner and find someone not the registered owner behind the wheel, then oh well. Bye now!

There's a lot about this I don't get- and I didn't hear anything about an appeal, which I'm guessing will probably happen at some point. In the meantime, I'm going to file this post under: "I Should Have Gone To Law School" and wait for the next interesting decision to be handed down.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Oh, What The Hell. Let's Abolish The State Senate!

You ever notice how politicians that talk about shrinking the size of state government or reducing the costs associated with state government never actually shrink state government? Yeah, me too. Do they, to paraphrase Grover Norquist, want government 'small enough so they can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub' or do they want lean and efficient government that actually works?

This is a growing problem for Conservatives. Their base hears all this talk about reducing the size of government, but government never actually shrinks. It just changes its priorities a little bit. It's the reason why Republicans are balking at repealing Obamacare- people are showing up at their townhalls and they're pissed off and they're scared because oh wait, despite the many flaws in the bill- and there are many, it actually does help some people. Thus, Republicans are confronting the uncomfortable truth:  voters actually do want some government. And they want it to do some things. All of which makes what happened in Des Moines last week all the more interesting, because it's obvious that State Republicans are convinced that voters want a state government small enough to drown in a bathtub which makes the changes to collective bargaining for public sector employees in the state are an obvious, immense risk for the State Republicans- because, after all, what if they're wrong?

(I have to agree with this piece in The Huffington Post, btw... this was not, 'Iowa Nice' at all. This was not even sensible politics. This was union busting, plain and simple- and to be honest, if I was a teacher's union, I'd be lawyering up and suing to get my right to strike back- because these changes stop short of repealing Chapter 20. So they'll reduce any meaningful seat at the table for teachers to nothing, but still keep it illegal for them to strike. But sure, tell me again how this was the fiscally responsible thing to do... this wasn't political at all.)

Thanks to multiple editorials in the Des Moines Register, steps are being taken to end access to cheap health care on the part of state legislators. That's good- but my next question is, why do part-time, citizen legislators need health insurance at all? Why should I have to pay for that? Don't they have jobs they do the rest of the year to give them benefits? (Do you know of any other part-time gig in the state that gets health insurance benefits? Unless you're working for a tech company that believes in things like yoga breaks, free shoes and meditation rooms- probably not.)

But then I thought to myself, why stop there? States are supposed to be laboratories of democracy after all. I think we're on the hook for a Republican form of government, but really, we can do whatever we want- that's what the whole 'we the people' thing is about, right? And that's when it hit me: the problem Iowa faces isn't that it has too many teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters or other public sector employees. It just has too many politicians! So if we're serious about controlling the cost of state government, what better way to do that than by abolishing the state senate.

"Aw, come on- stop with the crazy talk already," I hear you saying. But stay with me on this. Unicameralism isn't a totally alien concept in the United States- our next door neighbors in Nebraska do just fine with one chamber and- it's even better than that- their chamber is officially non-partisan! We could do away with all these labels and partisan rancor and elect a group of citizen legislators who are tasked with doing what's best for the people of Iowa- and, for sure, they wouldn't need things like per diems or health insurance, because, you know, they're citizen legislators. They have lives and jobs to go back to when they're not in session.

"But Nebraska has like no people in it!" Well, while that's true- we're getting closer to Nebraska with every passing census. We're at 3.1 million, they're at 1.8 million. At a certain point over the next couple of decades, we'll probably be pretty close in size. So the population can't be an issue.

"One chamber is just weird!" But I thought this was about controlling costs- think of the money the state will save! There's probably a little more to it than this, but, going with what I found on Ballotpedia, we've got 50 state senators all earning $25,000 a year for four years. That's $1,250,000 on salary alone in one year- we could save the state up to $5,000,000 over the course of a full four year term. And it gets better from there: you could save money on staff salaries, office space- we could turn their half of the Capitol building into something fun, that makes money- like a roller rink, or laser tag.

There's an emerging dilemma for Republicans nationwide- and of all the candidates in the 2016 race, only Carly Fiorina got close to breaking into the other half of the equation- she was the only candidate that talking about improving government and not just eliminating it. They can be the party that wants to drown the government rat or they can be the party that deliver smart, efficient and more importantly, good government to the voters. I think a lot of times, voters themselves are hamstrung by a certain lack of imagination when it comes to government. We, after all, are the people- our government can look however we want it too- and while the idea of switching to a unicameral legislature might seem a little extreme to a lot of people here in Iowa, I would argue if the State Republicans want to drown the government rat, they should roll up their sleeves and get on with it.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: true sacrifice starts at the top. By all means, drown the rat- but keep in mind that as you get older and as your kids get older, you're going to need people like qualified nurses and your kids are going to need qualified teachers and when all is said and done, ten, twenty years down the road when Iowa's population has cratered even more and young people continue to flee the state at the earliest opportunity- because after all, why stay in a state that's not willing to invest in you- then abolishing the state senate might not seem like that crazy a notion after all.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Netflix & Chill #5: Mr. Holmes

Watched On: Amazon Prime
Released: 2015
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney
Prime Rating: 4 out 5 stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Pick: Mine 

Oh, Mr. Holmes...  I'm honestly not sure how to feel about this movie. On the hand, it's a fascinating concept with an excellent cast. On the other hand, I don't think it quite really lived up to it's potential. Basically, in 1947,  Sherlock Holmes is 93, retired, living in the country in Sussex on a farmhouse where he keeps bees. He lives with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro and her son Roger.

As the movie opens Holmes is coming back from Japan, where he had gone to obtain the prickly ash plant, which, when converted into a jelly, he hopes he will improve his failing memory so he can recall the details of his final case- the real details, since he was somewhat unhappy with Dr. Watson's fictionalization of it, The Adventure of the Dove Grey Glove. He can't quite remember what happened with the case, but he knows that whatever happened, it caused him to retire from the detective business and move to the country.

The prickly ash begins to kick in and  Holmes begins piecing his last case together. Just after the end of the First World War and the departure of Doctor Watson from Baker Street, he is approached by a man named Thomas Kelmot who is struggling to understand why his wife Ann has changed so drastically after two miscarriages Holmes follows her through London and eventually deduces that Ann is buying two headstones for her lost children, one for herself and some poison she can commit suicide with. Confronted with that fact, she pours the poison out in front of Holmes and after asking if they could share the burden of loneliness together- Holmes declines and she leaves.

Another flashback emerges- this time of his recent trip to Japan, where he meets an admirer, Mr. Umezaki, who helps him find a prickly ash plant at Hiroshima. His father had abandoned him and his mother years ago- apparently writing a letter saying he was so impressed with the legendary Mr. Holmes that he had decided to stay in England forever. Holmes tells Umezaki that he had never met his father and his father probably wanted a new life for himself in England, which disappoints Umezaki.

Woven in between these flashbacks, we see Holmes' health beginning to deteriorate more and Mrs. Munro is starting consider other options for herself and her son- eventually accepting a job offer at a hotel in Portsmouth and planning to leave and take Roger with her. Roger, for his part is dissatisfied with his mother's lack of education and working class status and wants more for himself and this causes a great deal of tension between mother and son- which is exacerbated when they find Roger unconscious near the house a victim of multiple stings and he is rushed to the hospital.

Holmes stops a distraught Mrs. Munro from destroying the bees, realizing that Roger had discovered the wasps' nest that was killing the bees and, having attempted to drown it, was a victim of a wasp attack and not the bees. We also find out that after Mrs. Kelmot leaves, Holmes discovered that she had killed herself anyway by standing in front of a train. And Mr. Umezaki's father, it turned out, had gone to work for MI-6 in secret and had served the British Empire honorably for many years- which Holmes remembers and send in a letter to Mr. Umezaki.

As Roger recovers, Holmes reveals to Mrs. Munro that he his deeding her the house and the grounds after his death, encouraging her to stay instead of pursuing another job in Portsmouth. As the movie ends, Holmes is seen placing stones in a ring to remember to loved ones he has lost over the years.

I really really wanted to like this movie. I really did. The idea of Sherlock Holmes as a real person/detective- divorced from the fictionalized version and somewhat irritated by the attention is a fascinating idea. The idea of an old Holmes trying to piece together one last case before he dies? Equally awesome potential. But for whatever reason, this just didn't quite come together for me. Don't get me wrong: it's a good movie- Ian McKellen is excellent in whatever he does and his portrayal of both the aging Holmes and the Holmes of thirty years prior seen in the flashbacks is excellent. Laura Linney plays the part of Mrs. Munro well, but her working class accent seemed... inconsistent, which is surprising, but it bothered me. I wasn't really sure what she was going for with it.

Overall: I felt like I was expecting more than I got out of this movie, but maybe that was the point. Maybe aiming for 'the man beyond the myth' like the posters said produces something less dramatic and more mundane.  Me: *** out of 5, The Missus: needed sleep, which meant she probably made the better choice here.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

This Week in Vexillology #200: The Complete Archive

So, This Week In Vexillology began on October 9th, 2012 on a previous blog iteration of mine, Churchill's Cigar... this first list represent the my archives for that blog and lasts up until about May of 2014.

#1: Uganda
#2: Angola
#3: Kazakhstan
#4: Mongolia
#5: PRC/Taiwan
#6: Bhutan
#7: Brazil
#8: Seychelles
#9: British Columbia
#10: Central African Republic
#11: Grenada
#12: Fiji
#13: Australia
#14: St. Kitts and Nevis
#15: Spain
#16: Vatican City
#17: Portugal
#18: Wales
#19: Cuba
#20: Ireland
#21: Cyprus
#22: Israel
#23: Albania
#24: Djibouti
#25: New Zealand
#26: Bosnia and Herzegovinia
#27: Mexico
#28: Greece
#29: Denmark
#30: South Africa
#31: Italy
#32: Botswana
Flag Day Special Edition
#33: Russia
#34: Tajikistan
#35: Nicaragua
#36: Maryland
#37: Croatia
#38: Guyana
#39: Ecuador
#40: Malaysia
#41: Palau
#42: Romania
#43: Burma
#44: Brunei
#45: Canada
#46: Bolivia
#47: United Kingdom
#48: Turkey
#49: Nepal
#50: The Netherlands
#51: Chile
Special #SideProject
#52: Sierra Leone
#53: Sweden
#54: Jamaica
#55: Tanzania
#56: Macedonia
#57: Kyrgyzstan
#58: Catalonia
#59: Nagorno-Karabakh
#60: Kurdistan
#61: State of Jefferson
#62: Zimbabwe
#63: Zambia
#64: The Gambia
#65: Peru
#66: Krasnodar Krai
#67: Tuva
#68: Chuvashia
#69: Adygea
#70: Finland
#71: Estonia
#72: Latvia
#73: Lithuania
#74: Ukraine
#75: Iraq
#76: Micronesia
#77: Kiribati
#78: England
#79: Morocco
#80: Arizona

May 10th of 2014, I began a year and half long stay on Wordpress at The Daily Quixotry, which no longer exists- it's vanished into the ether of cyberspace- the current blog, Lit City Blues began in January of 2016- it's archive is below:

#147: Haiti
#148: Nauru
#149: Czech Republic
#150: Serbia
#151: Montenegro
#152: Kosovo
#153: Moldova
#154: Transnistria
#155: Dominican Republic
#156: TED Talks on Vexillology
#157: Slovenia
#158: Slovakia
#159: Poland/Monaco/Indonesia
#160: Liechtenstein
#161: Austria
#162: Papua New Guinea
#163: Vanuatu
#164: Solomon Islands
#165: Tonga
#166: Tuvalu
#167: Nauru, again
#168: East Timor
#169: Trinidad and Tobago
#170: Saint Lucia
Flag Day Weekend Trifecta
#171: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
4th of July Special
#172: Barbados
#173: Dominica
#174: Uzbekistan
#175: Azerbaijan
#176: Olympic Flag
#177: NATO Flag
#178: United Nations
#179: Armenia
#180: Bangladesh
#181: Laos 
#182: Thailand
#183: Cambodia
#184: Vietnam
#185: Singapore
#186: the Philippines
#187: California
#188: The Pine Tree Flag
#189: Cocos (Keeling) Islands
#190: NW Province, Sri Lanka
#191: Guam
#192: Eastern Province, Sri Lanka
#193: Michigan
#194: Central Province, Sri Lanka
#195: Prince Edward Island
#196: The Queen's Personal Barbidian Flag
#197: End of The Brown Flag Challenge
#198: Micronations
#199: A Modest Proposal, Nebraska

So here we are at #200. I've got some lost Weeks In Vexillology to bring back, but I also want to get serious about trying my hand at flag design, expanding my collection and maybe joining an organization or two. Without meaning to, I think I've become a flag guy- so I think I'm going to embrace it, run with it and try and take #TWIV to the next level. Here's to 200 more!

Friday, February 10, 2017

February On Medium

So this month's short fiction on Medium is 'The Bridge':

This is my inspiration for the story... the Missus and I had an adventure day with the kids a few months back and drove up to Sutliff Bridge- it was an absolutely beautiful fall day and the story just flowed from there. I love Sutliff... it's all isolated and quiet and tucked away into the northwestern corner of the county. It made for a perfect setting...

I also remember reading a short story in high school, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge... that also seemed to be rolling around in my brain when I wrote this. So, I hope it helped me write a decent story.  Here's the official link:

Happy reading! And, as always, comments, questions and feedback are always welcome!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Albums2010 #86: None Shall Pass

I don't really listen to a lot of rap, which makes it hard for me to write credibly about it, I think- but the whole purpose of this mess of a project of mine was to listen to the albums that I dig and there is a flavor of underground/indie/non-mainstream rap that I really, really dig. Folks like Hieroglyphics and Atmosphere- and yes, Aesop Rock.

I'm pretty sure I remember reading a review of None Shall Pass in EW which really dug the track, 'The Harbor Is Yours' so I listened to it, thought it was amazing and immediately downloaded it. I think it provides the perfect snapshot into why I like this album. The lyrics are dense, intelligent and literate and that's awesome. 'The Harbor Is Yours' tells a complete story, start to finish in just under four minutes and it more than just captures your attention- it entertains you as well. And it rhymes! The hooks and lyrics get into your brain and that to me in probably the secret to success in rap and hip/hop...  if you can tell me a story, entertain me and turn a phrase that's going to stick in my head for days and weeks after the fact, then you're doing it right. ("Gathered himself she was ghost he down the rope ladder/to deck circled the vessel 360 swiftly/found nothing in the water but salt, piss and whiskey," Is a particular potent example of this, I think.

The density of the lyrics here is pretty much universal across the album- if you're still mad that Pluto lost it's status as a planet, then check out 'Bring Back Pluto' ("This is a corpus full of pills, trying tosit still and build/Cause eight planets bullied number nine until he fell.") It's also worth noting that your lyrics have to be dense where there's annotations in the azlyrics.com page asking for someone else to finish them out.

But while those two tracks highlight the lyrical talents on the album- and this is where I'm sure I'm going to sound like an idiot- but there's good musicality to this album as well. (Is that even the right word? Help me, I'm not a music journalist!) 'Catacomb Kids' is the highlight in that regard. The hooks/beats, whatever the technical term is just work really, really well- especially the refrain. ("I'm an activator/Made a fire, made a wheel, made a snack for later/Catacomb kids cuddle up and test the flavor.") '39 Thieves' is another track that stuck in my brain for exactly the same reason- it tells a story, the rhythm works and it's generally awesome.

This whole album is awesome. It's the sort of mellow, low groovy sound that I like in indie/underground rap and the density and complexity of the lyrics are probably the best I've come across so far in my admittedly limited experience of the genre. Like with country music, I don't like all rap, but when I find something I like, I like it a lot and Aesop Rock fits that definition to a 'T'.

Overall: If you like rap music that's a little off beat, with crazy awesome complex lyrics that tell incredibly stories while entertaining the snot out of you, then Aesop Rock and this album are worth checking out. Honestly, I'm a little bummed I missed out on going down to the Blue Moose to see him in person when he came through Iowa City last month- but I will say **** out of **** and I would for sure listen to more of his albums on Spotify again.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Down The Free Speech Rabbit Hole

So, late last week, Conservative new media darling/icon of the alt-right/professional Internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a speech at the University of California Berkeley. Which in and of itself is no big deal, I would have thought. Except that it turned out to be a gigantic deal with riot police, destruction of property and fires and stuff. Needless to say, Milo didn't get to give his speech and the kids at Berkeley fucked up a whole bunch of their campus because they were so upset about what he was going to say.

This, naturally, has lead to the usual re-eruption of free speech vs. hate speech and blah blah blah blah blah...  this cartoon from XKCD is making the rounds again. And while XKCD has thrown down some good stuff over the years there's something not quite right about their take on free speech that's been bugging me all day- it's just not quite right. Not when applied to what happened at Berkeley. 

Don't get me wrong: there have been plenty of other instances where it fit better, but in general, it sums up a Progressive/Leftist view of Free Speech that should be concerning- namely, that people have the right to suppress speech they don't agree with- and say that it's okay to do that, because after all, it's not the government doing it, so it's just people letting you know what an asshole you are- it's essentially undermining the notion of a individual's right to free speech or free expression. In one sense, it's not wrong: you can't shout 'fire' in a crowded theater and not expect to have some consequences brought down on your head. So yes, exercising your right- as with every other right we have can carry a cost. But the somewhat insidious unspoken suggestion here is that if enough people think you're an asshole, they can prevent you from exercising your rights. Individuals can and must accept costs and responsibilities for exercising their rights. They should not have undue costs and burden imposed upon them by society at large. That, to me, is a square this position cannot circle.

More importantly, it takes a remarkably reactionary view about the rights enshrined in the Constitution...  but let's stick with the 'originalist' view of the First Amendment and accept the notion that it doesn't apply to individuals, it only protects individuals from the government, I, and every other American should have grave misgivings about that, but happily, the 9th Amendment seems to provide a counter-argument to that idea. Namely:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
In other words: just because the 1st Amendment doesn't explicitly extend to individuals doesn't mean that the right doesn't exist. For the record:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assembled, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
On the face of it, the XKCD position isn't wrong- at least from a 'plain text reading' of the amendment itself. But while if the amendment doesn't protect individuals from the consequences of being an asshole- it just prevents the government from imposing those consequences, it doesn't give people the right to shout assholes down and prevent them from being assholes either. (And the Tinker decision- which I think has been superseded somewhere along the way, seems to extend freedom of expression to individuals.)

Shit like this is why I think about going to law school, by the way. Because I'm pretty sure I've gotten some aspects of this wrong- dead wrong, probably. I just wish law school didn't cost so god damn much, because I could probably spend hours pouring over case law and learning all this shit. In fact, I'd probably want to focus on the 1st Amendment if I ever did that. (Which, I'm sure is probably not lucrative at all, because that's how my brain works. It never goes for the things that you know, make money.)

The answer to hate speech, bad speech, or speech you don't like isn't shouting down the other person. It's more speech. The savage irony of the aftermath of what happened at Berkeley isn't the fact that it happened at the birthplace of 'the Free Speech movement' but the fact that it represented a huge missed opportunity for the Left. Rioting and protesting can be expressive of a community's anger. In this case, it doesn't help the cause. How many people are going to buy Milo's book now? How many people are going to go to one of his speeches- not because they know a damn thing about him or what he stands for, but just because they want to see what all the fuss is about. Watch this interview Milo gave with Tucker Carlson after the riots. This isn't an ideologue or a frothing at the mouth crazy man here. This is a man who knows that he's already won and is going to bathe in obscene amounts of money as a result of the overreach of the idiotic and imbecilic left.

There are no justifications for this violence. Had someone at Berkeley been thinking, they would have organized a teach-in instead. The answer is never to shout down speech. It's to exercise your own right to speech. That's how this should work.

*FIRE had an op-ed which correctly and gently rebuked the President for his reaction to the protests- there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to Free Speech on campus.

**This is a refreshing Q & A I found...  political violence of the Left or the Right makes it harder for us to talk to each other and understand each other. We have to better for our fellow citizens,

Sunday, February 5, 2017


The old commandment, 'The personal is political' is getting really tiresome these days, because it's gone from 'okay then, sure' to a ticket to politicize every goddamn thing in the book. So, while Super Bowl commercials used to be the fun part of the game, where people would pick out the funny ones and the cool ones and the ones they were excited about and the cool movie previews and instead, maybe as a result of the dawning of Trump's America, we get ads full of controversy and social media fire and brimstone. (Though, the Pope- the actual Pope legit weighed on tonight's game. He didn't pick a winner though. I was really hoping for him to be all like 'Go Falcons!' at the end of that video.)

Let's start with 84 Lumber.

This was a gigantic middle finger to Trump, his wall and his immigration policies. If you're against all three of those things you're going to like this commercial. If you're in favor in all three of those things then you're going to hate this commercial.

I think I came down somewhere in the middle. While yes, I think it portrayed America as an inspirational and aspirational destination for people all over the world- the moment where they reach the wall and the little girl pulls out her ragged, homemade American flag was touching. Images like that should be celebrated as part of what makes America, America. Conservative Saint Reagan proclaimed America to be 'a shining city on the hill.' You can't blame the rest of the world for picking up on that.

What pissed me off about this ad was that it complete sanitized the actual experience that illegal immigrants going through trying to get into this country. I saw someone ranting on Facebook about exactly this point and they are 100% correct. Make a damn political statement, that's fine- but don't portray what is usually a harrowing, dangerous, exploitative journey as a modern day 'Wizard of Oz.'

The Audi Commercial is another one people (well, conservatives) are losing their minds over. I saw a huge piece somewhere absolutely ripping it apart- like to the point where I made a mental note to track this ad down and watch it to see what the fuss was about- and, naturally, now that I've actually done that, I can't find the piece that twigged me to it to begin with.

It felt like this commercial was anticipating a Clinton Presidency- which is fine and I understand the sentiment and it's hard for me, not having any daughters (at least not yet) to fully understand the perspective of the Dad in the commercial. I would say though that I would want to make sure that any future female progeny knows that there is nothing they can't do if they don't put their minds to it. I don't think I'd worry about it quite so much, if that makes sense? You're a Dad. It's your job to make sure your progeny knows these things.

The commercial itself felt a little heavy on class privilege though. Suburban yuppie white Dad who drives an Audi watches as his blonde, capable, kick-ass daughter demolishes a bunch of crude looking fat white boys and then goes home in fancy Audi. Doesn't exactly make me want to go out and buy Audi.

The Hyundai Commercial, however, did. Despite the fact that there's the whole 'paid Patriotism' thing going on with plenty of NFL teams that should be more troubling to people than it is and despite the fact that the whole genre of 'military family reunion' videos that makes everyone cry- Hyundais are legit quality cars. And not quite as 'high end, elitist' as Audi present themselves to be.

I sort of kind of paid attention to the first half of the game- but Lady Gaga absolutely destroyed the halftime show tonight. And she walked a tight rope between political statement and entertainment delicately and with grace. She made subtle, important points about diversity and tolerance she did so without once mentioning President Trump's name and did so in a way that the majority of reasonable people couldn't fail to agree with. The show itself was jam packed, epic and bananas-honestly, I would slot it right up there with Prince and Michael Jackson as one of the best halftime shows of all time. Certainly the best of the decade. Gaga did great...


You can't bitch about over politicization by dragging the over politicization back in the other direction- and this headline from Breitbart is from some other kind of dimension that I am unfamiliar with.

(The Mr. Clean ad was amusing enough, but I was always under the impression that he and the Brawny Guy had been a couple for awhile now. I mean, dude has frosted eyebrows and an earring and is wearing white before Labor Day. What more evidence do you need?)

The rest of the game? Very exciting...  just when you thought the Falcons were actually going to do this thing and take down the Pats, they came back into it, forced OT and then won the game. ALL HAS UNFOLDED AS I HAVE FORSEEN...  Could Tom Brady win five more rings? I don't know- but dude keeps rocking and rolling. I don't think he's done yet.