Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Upload Project #6

CD #51, Untitled, all repeats except for
Jay Z & Alicia Keys- Empire State of Mind
Cake- Short Skirt Long Jacket
Van Morrison- Baby Please Don't Go
John Lennon- Stand By Me

CD #52, Untitled (pretty close to being an original CD! The Missus made this one, I'm pretty sure. 1 repeat.)
Beck- Loser
Bruce Springsteen- Born To Run
Fall Out Boy- The Take Over, The Break's Over
The Format-Let's Make This Moment A Crime
Green Day- Basket Case
Janis Joplin- Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)
Kaiser Chiefs- Ruby
Kanye West-Stronger
The Killers- Mr. Brightside
Jet- Cold Hard Bitch
OK Go- Do What You Want
Prince- Get Off
Jay Z and Rihanna- Umberella
Sex Pistols- Anarchy In The UK
Sublime- Santeria
U2-Angel Of Harlem
The Vapors- I'm Turning Japanese
Weezer- Undone (The Sweater Song)
White Stripes-Icky Thump

CD #53, Untitled, repeats except for:
Earth, Wind and Fire- September
Rolling Stones- All Down The Line
The Clash- White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)
Taylor Swift- Mine
Eric Clapton- Lay Down Sally
Jay-Z/Linkin Park- Numb/Encore
Jason Derulo- Ridin Solo
B.o.B- I've Got The Magic In Me
Bruno Mars- Just The Way You Are
La Roux- Bulletproof
Taio Cruz- I Came To Dance
Jay-Z- DOA

CD #54, A Compilation of The Clash- mainly from London Calling

CD #55, A Compilation of Sublime and Eric Clapton (an admittedly strange combination.)

CD #56, Another Compilation of The Clash

CD #57, '24-3'
This one didn't seem to have anything on it. Or if it did, it didn't want to recognize it.

CD #58, Untitled, repeats except for:
Pink- So What
Run-DMC- Tricky
Stereophonics- Jealousy
Iggy Pop- The Passenger
Lady Gaga- Bad Romance

CD #59, Untitled, repeats except for:
Moby- We Are All Made of Stars
Madonna- Give It 2 Me
Coldplay- Speed of Sound
Franz Ferdinand- Jaqueline
Billy Joel- You May Be Right
Collective Soul- Gel
Alanis Morissette- Crazy
TV On The Radio- Golden Age
Flogging Molly- Swagger
Dave Matthews Band- Stay (Wasting Time)

CD #60, A Compilation of Format and Say Anything

Saturday, April 29, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #211

It's another 'Lost Weekend' In Vexillology, but this time it's a particularly timely one- what with North Korea and South Korea in the news so much of late, I figured what better time to go back into the mists of cyberspace to take a look at not one, but both Koreas.  First up, South Korea:
The national flag and ensign of the Republic of Korea (South Korea's official name), it's been adopted a few times. January 27, 1883 it was adopted by the Korean Empire and then after Japanese Occupation and a couple of world wars it was adopted again with August 15th, 1948 upon the foundation of the Republic of Korea and an updated version was adopted in October 1997. What's the 4-1-1 on this flag? Well, the background is white, which is a traditional Korean color that represents peace and purity. The yin-yang in the center represents the balance of the universe. The blue half stands for the negative cosmic forces and the red for the opposing positive forces.

Where things get complicated are the trigrams surrounding the yin-yang at the center- they represent one of the four classical elements, as well as a whole buncha different stuff- so try and follow me on this:

Upper Left Trigram: 'geon', heaven (nature), spring (seasons), east (cardinal directions), humanity (four virtues), father (family), heaven (four elements), justice (meanings.)

Lower Left Trigam: 'ri', sun (nature), autumn (seasons), south (cardinal directions), justice (four virtues), daughter (family), fire (four elements), fruition (meanings.)

Upper Right Trigram: 'gam', moon (nature), winter (seasons), north (cardinal directions), intelligence (four virtues), son (family), water (four elements), wisdom (meanings.)

Lower Right Trigram: 'gon', earth (nature), summer (seasons), west (cardinal directions), courtesy (four virtues), mother (family), earth (four elements), vitality (meanings.)

And that's pretty much the flag of South Korea- now, moving north, here's the flag of North Korea (official name: Democratic People's Republic of Korea)
Adopted on September 8th, 1948 (hey, that's exactly... 35 years before I was born. To the day. Weird.) the flag of North Korea is officially described in article 170 of Chapter VII of the Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The flag breaks down exactly like you'd expect it too: the red star is a universal symbol of communism and socialism  and stands for revolutionary traditions. The blue stripes are sovereignty, peace and friendship and the white stripes stand for purity.

That's a little bit vanilla, but the man himself Kim Il-Sung described it this way:
The red color of the flag symbolizes the anti-Japanese fervor, the red blood shed by the Korean patriots and the invincible might of our people firmly united to support the Republic. The white color symbolizes the one bloodline, one land, one language, one culture of our monoethnic country, which lived in purity. And blue stands for the gallant visage of our people, symbolizing the spirits of the Korean people fighting for world peace and progress.
(H/t to Wikipedia for this fine, fine quotation.) If revolutionary fervor and twisted ass backwards ideologies are your thing, then for sure for sure, Kim Il-Sung could turn a phrase. And I'll give 'em this: their flag is a hell of a lot easier to break down than South Korea's...

From a design standpoint, I can see the appeal of North Korea's flag. It's clean, it's simple, it knows what it's about- (revolution, socialism, etc), but South Korea focuses you right on the center of things with the yin-yang. The fact that they use a white background means that your eye is drawn to where the color is- and the trigrams arranged around the yin-yang only provide more of a central focus to the overall design which to me, makes South Korea the more interesting flag- especially once you get into the trigrams and their meanings.

But there you go- a timely look at the flags of both Koreas!

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Boozehound Unfiltered: 2 Gingers

We're back with some Irish whiskey- and to be honest, I can't remember why I purchased this particular bottle of whiskey, but there was a reason. I think perhaps it was for a recipe of some kind that I was working on, but it totally escapes me at the moment. (Or maybe it was just to have a bottle of Irish whiskey in the house for Saint Patrick's Day? Could it have been that simple.)

Anyway, for whatever the reason, I settled on 2 Gingers and it turned out to be a decent buy. I haven't really explored too much of Irish whiskey beyond the usual suspects of Jameson and Bushmills, so it was nice to break out and spread my wings a little bit and try something new.

So what's the deal with 2 Gingers? It's from Minnesota... yeah... that was kind of a puzzlement to me as well. But Minnesota bar owner and businessman Kieran Folliard was inspired by his fiery haired mother and aunt (Mary and Delia) to found 2 Gingers. So it claims Minnesota as it's home, but was founded by an Irish man and made in Ireland...  that's kind of cool, actually. I like that. A Midwest Irish Whiskey. I didn't know such a thing was possible, but I'm happy that I found this out. It gets even more interesting when you dig into the history behind the Kilbeggan Distillery.

Okay, this was confusing and took a little time to unpack, but here's the deal: 2 Gingers is actually brewed at the Cooley Distillery- Kilbeggan is produced their now as well- the original Kilbeggan Distillery is now a museum with a working distillery and restaurant- and the original has roots dating all the way back to 1757 and looks like a great place to visit. (The more Irish whiskey I drink, the more I'd like to go to Ireland. I mean other than the normal amount of wanting to go to Ireland.)

Color: Pale yellow/gold

Body: Nice and spicy- which is appropriate, given the name of the whiskey. There's honey and cinnamon with undertones of ginger- which again, also appropriate.

Palate: Sits easily on the tongue- it's not weak and watery but it's also not heavy and syrupy either. It's nice and balanced, The taste is spicy as well, but it's not harsh, it's not burning- it's just the right amount of goodness.

Finish: Warming but not harsh and goes down easy.

Overall: True story- this makes an excellent Irish Coffee and I can't wait to get my hands on some ginger beer and give it a go with that as well. It's not half-bad on the price either and to be honest I dig this. Would buy it again. *** out of ****

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Psephology Rocks: Oh, Snap

So, the build-up to the French Presidential election was sort of muted by the sudden announcement of a snap election for the UK to be held on June the 8th, British Prime Minister Theresa May is apparently seeking a wider mandate to handle Brexit- but before we get to that, let's talk France:

So, it's Macron vs. Le Pen for Round 2 of the election, set for May 7th and I find myself curiously unwilling to make a prediction on this election. It's probably going to be Macron. Probably. The French have a sensible tendency to close ranks against the National Front in second round elections at all levels of their Republic, so I don't see a good reason why that wouldn't happen again.

And yet...  the first round was kind of a train wreck and a half- Macron won with 24.01% of the vote, Le Pen following with 21.3% but after that you had Fillon at 20.01% and Melenchon with 19.58% right behind them. The top four candidates were pretty much in a photo finish here, with Macron taking it by a nose and the others coming to the line at about the same time. Macron's margin over Le Pen was less than 3% of the vote- Le Pen and Fillon were separated by 1.29% and Fillon and Melenchon were 0.42% apart. France, needless to say is a bit divided at the moment- at least if the First Round was anything to go by- but to be honest, if Le Pen was facing off against Fillon, I'd feel a lot better about calling this.

While Macron probably has the inside track, he's also a centrist and an independent candidate coming from the outside of the political system, there also seems to be a hint of "is this guy the real deal" hanging around him- by all account, he didn't look super great in the televised debates leading up to the First Round and while he'll probably benefit from Fillon, Melenchon and Hamon all calling for their voters to vote Macron, I'm not sure that's a sure thing or not. I'm not on the ground in France, so I can't say for sure, but the devil they know might be preferable to the devil they don't know- but election the National Front to the Presidency could understandably be a devil too far for a lot of voters.

But that last fact makes Marine Le Pen's move a potentially shrewd and interesting one- she stepped down as head of her party to focus on being a Presidential Candidate only- I'm not sure if two weeks is long enough for her to cast a wider net in search of more voters- but while she's got to be doing the math and wondering where she's going to get the voters from, Macron seems to be asking the same questions as well. 

All the polls are indicating a 20 point, comfortable win for Macron. That might still happen, but I'm the guy who thought there was no way in hell Donald Trump could win the Presidency- even on Election Night. I would still bank on Macron, but do I think the margin is going to be a lot closer than 20 points. Maybe a lot closer than anyone imagines.

Moving across the Channel, let's dig into the surprise political announcement of the spring: Prime Minister Theresa May after months of insisting that she wouldn't call a snap election, went ahead and called a snap election, this time set for June 8th. It's hard to tell at this point if this was a good move on her part or not- the landscape seems to suggest that  it was, but proclamations of a Conservative avalanche are very, very early.

But, you can also see why they're riding high on a wave of optimism as well- with Labour in the weeds and openly admitting they're not trying to win the general election, it's easy to see why the Tories pulled the trigger on this election. If you're going to swing for the fences, swing for them. If you get a wider majority than what you've got, you have more wiggle room when it comes to Brexit- the risk, however would be a resurgence where you're not expecting of anti-Brexit seats which would put you in something of a bind. This would probably point to a LibDem resurgence- and considering the fact that they've got a grand total of 8 seats right now, it would have to be one hell of a resurgence.

The interesting places to watch are going to be Wales (where there is now talk of an electoral earthquake in the making with polls seeming to indicate that the Tories are on course for gains) and Scotland, where the Tories are eyeing up to ten seats and throwing SNP plans for a second referendum onto the back foot. I'm not sure about Wales- but if the Tories make even half their predicted gains at the expense of the SNP- it will be a body blow for demands for a second independence referendum.  

Of course, if you're not a Tory, then this is a grim, grim time for you. You can argue that whomever wins the election, it probably won't be you. But that's where Gordon Brown comes in... you see, back in March he gave a speech at the Festival of Ideas in Kirkcaldy, Fife (how cool is it that there's a Festival of Ideas? I want one of those here, damn it.) in which he laid out of a plan for a new form of federal home rule- essentially taking the powers that had been given to Brussels and handing them back not to London, but to the regions instead.

Whether you agree with Mr. Brown or not, this is the thing that I think the British 'Left' (or non-Tories) should be exploring more, not less. A lot of people seem to be okay with the idea of Scottish independence, because if you can't beat the Tories you may as well form your own little progressive Utopia, north of the border- right? But to me, that's the mainstream solution. It's the lazy solution. It's the solution that Americans bring up every time the Democrats piss away an election to an inexplicable Republican. (See: Calexit, etc.) The more radical solution would be remaking the entire British state from the ground up- modeling what a potential reformed EU could and should look like in a way that respects the self-determination of the people of the UK and the sovereignty of it's constituent parts.

I understand the appeal of Scottish independence- I do, but I also think that the SNP has failed to make the case with voters for obvious reasons. There's no guarantees on EU entry. There's no guarantees on currency. There's no guarantees on keeping Scotland together. There's no guarantees on North Sea oil being as bountiful as they think it's going to be. It's a big leap off of a very fucking high cliff- but I get it. But, the SNP should also be reading the tea leaves a bit better than this. Theresa May isn't wrong. Scotland deserves to see what Brexit looks like before you get to a second independence referendum. They have a right to see all the cards on the table. And if, after that, they still want out, then sure, why not. I wouldn't vote for it. I would, however, enthusiastically get behind anything that resembled what Gordon Brown was getting at. It would potentially solve the nagging Constitutional problem of the West Lothian question and give every one (Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland) potentially a better deal than they have now- and you wouldn't get the massive uncertainties an independent Scotland would have to face almost immediately. There's a reason Quebec isn't independent, y'all- Federalism is better.

(of course, being in America, I like the sound of Federalism, but hey, I make no apologies- and we could do with a little more of it over here on certain issues. #justsaying.)

With Round 2 in France coming up fast and the election in the UK just getting going, we've got busy months ahead of us! But, you know me- I love a good election!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Netflix & Chill #12: Kubo and The Two Strings

Watched On: Redbox (literally the day before it hit Netflix. Grrrrr...)
Released: 2016
Starring: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Matthew McConaughey
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Pick: Mine 

This was the second time that I had tried to watch this movie and happily, this was the successful time- freakishly, despite a time lapse of some months (this movie proved to be too scary for Little Man- or more precisely, the freaky underwater scenes with the gigantic eyeballs were a bridge too far for him) the DVD player new exactly where we had left off in the movie, which...  disturbed me a little bit. (How did it know? Wasn't like it was the same DVD- had to be a different DVD from a different Redbox and all that jazz.  Technology, man. It's alive and it's going to kill us all someday.)

But anyway: Kubo and the Two Strings is the story of Kubo, a one-eyed young boy who cares for his  mother in a cave atop a mountain next to a village. Every day, he goes down to the village to tell stories with the use of his shamisen that can magically manipulate origami- but his mother warns him not to stay out after dark or her Sisters and the Moon King, his grandfather will come to take his remaining eye. (They took his left one as a baby.) One day, Kubo learns of a festival with a ceremony where family members communicate with their deceased loved ones- he tries to speak to his father, Hanzo who is buried at the local cemetery but leaves when his father does not respond- but stays out after sundown. His mother arrives to fend off her sisters, but tells him to find his father's magic armor before sending him away and charging into one last battle to save him.

When Kubo wakes up, he meets Monkey- the little wooden charm that his mother had given him who has come to life to serve as his protector. An origami version of his father, Hanzo helps to lead them to Beetle, who is a samurai who has been turned into a weird human/Beetle hybrid and knew Kubo's father who joins their quest to find the magic armor. First, they have to go to the Hall of Bones and find the 'sword unbreakable' which they do, defeating a giant skeleton in the process. Then, they sail across the Long Lake in an origami boat and dive to it's depths through the Garden of Eyes to get the 'breastplate impenetrable' (this is the part where Little Man made me stop the movie). After they cross the lake, the go to Hanzo's old fortress to find the Helmet- the last piece of the puzzle only to find that Kubo's aunts waiting- it's a trap. Beetle is killed and Monkey sacrifices herself to get Kubo away to safely and the origami Hanzo tells Kubo that the helmet is the bell in his old village and retrieving that, prepares for one final encounter with his grandfather, the Moon King.

My general benchmark for kids films is a simple one: do they entertain me as much as they entertain my children? In the case of Kubo and the Two Strings that answer is a resounding 'yes' and it's helped by the fact that this is the most beautiful stop-motion animated film I think I've ever seen in my life. Gumby? Wallace and Gromit? Chicken Run? They've got nothing on Kubo...  Kubo takes the medium to an entirely new level and were it not for strong competition from Zootopia and Moana for the Best Animated Oscar (both Zootopia and Moana are amazing films in their own right- this was a very good year for animated films) Kubo would have been, in my mind, a total shoe in for the top prize.

Overall: This is an amazing movie that's beautiful to look at and incredibly entertaining. Although Little Man wasn't a fan, it would not surprise me if this movie ends up on our shelf and in our DVD collection at some point in the future. ***** out of *****

Saturday, April 22, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #210

So, on this date in the year 1500 or so, a Portuguese fleet saw this:
Obviously, they weren't on land when they saw it- they were at see, but this is Monte Pascoal which is on the Northeast Coast of Brazil in state of Bahia- and is believed to be the first chunk of Brazil ever seen by Europeans- which is why today is Discovery Day down in Brazil and why This Week In Vexillology, we're dipping back into Brazilian State Flags to take a look at the flag of Bahia:
Adopted on June 11th, 1960 as the state flag, it's influences spring from what this website calls 'a synthesis of libertarian ideals' which seems pretty close to the mark. The colors recall the 1798 Revolt of the Alfaiates- which was a slave rebellion that engulfed the region which was separatist and looking to free slaves and all the other classes that were oppressed or discriminated by the colonial society in the state. The triangle recalls another great revolt from the decade prior- the Inconfidencia Mineria of 1789. That conspiracy seems far less radical and far more elitist in many ways that the Revolt of Alfaiates- and at least- from what I can glean from the wiki-page, it seemed to be a lot more incoherent that it's northeastern counterpart of the next decade. Some people were monarchists, others Republicans, others wanted abolition of slavery, some didn't...  but it's also the conspiracy that you probably hear the most about if you're looking at the history of Brazil from an Anglo/North American perspective.

The overall structure of the flag might be looking familiar to a lot of Americans- and there's a reason for that- the red and white stripes and blue canton were taken from the American flag- since our own Revolution of 1776 had a major impact on the politics of the region as well.

This is an interesting flag...  in general I think the states of Brazil are probably better flags than say, the state of the United States- but looking all of them, the red-white-blue color combination seems pretty unique- with only Amazonas and Para using just those same colors. The American influence of canton with star and alternating stripes of color is more commonplace- with Goias, Maranhao, Piaui, Sergipe and Sao Paulo all employing a similar design.

So, Happy Discovery Day, Brazil! And remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Albums2010 #88: A Picture of Nectar

So, true confession time: I had never listened to a single Phish album before I listened to this one. I don't know what it was- whether it was the fact that Dave Matthews was more radio friendly and I never listened to alternative college radio back in the day so Phish was just one of those bands I just assumed was tasty and delicious like the ice cream and never actually sat down and listened to them. But I decided that no survey of music or albums or whatever the hell this thing I've been trying to do for seven years now is would be complete without listening to one Phish album, so one Google search for 'where should I start with Phish' and one Reddit thread later, I found myself listening to A Picture of Nectar, which, I was surprise to learn was their first major studio release.

(Wiki-Tangent: they've been kicking since December 1983, three months after I was born. And in a weird twist of something- fate, perhaps? My family would begin our long, strange American odyssey the next year just 90 miles away in Hanover, New Hampshire.)

First impressions: well, it's... good. It's not, 'where has this been all my life good' but it's good. I dig it. I can see why so many people gravitated to Phish from bands like the Grateful Dead-(though actually, upon further reflection, I hear more Santana in this album than the 'Dead) very much a jam band, sounds- there's elements of all kinds of music at play here- from rock n'roll to jazz and jazz fusion and genres and sub-genres I haven't even heard of, much less explored in any meaningful way. 'Poor Heart' is the first track that really sort of changes things up in the album- going from a jam band to sort of an old school, bluegrass kind of sound. Then things get a little jazzier with 'Stash'- the next track is a Dizzy Gillespie cover ('Manteca').

I also dig the Latin flavor on this album- there's more and more Santana flavor to it the deeper you get. So while 'Guelah Papyrus' was more of a jam/jazz track, 'Magilla' seems to serve as a nice instrumental bridge to 'The Landlady' which turns into a jam, but not after some nice Latin beats. (And by the way: if it sounds like I'm talking out of my ass about this stuff, it's because I am. Once I hit #100 on this ludicrous adventure, I'm tapping out and leaving music commentary to the experts, because I am not it.)

'Glide' sort of jumped out at me late in the album. It's got a nice beat. I dig it. 'Tweezer' on the other hand lost me a little bit- I mean, I get it, they're a jam band, so jams are to be expected, but there's such a thing as a wee bit much of a good thing and after awhile this just sort of faded into randomized noise and I just lost interest. 'The Mango Song' was pretty good and didn't meander as much as 'Tweezer' did. 'Chalkdust Torture' changes things up again with more of a rock beat. If there's a jam/instrumental track that I like the best on this entire album, it's probably the last one, 'Tweezer-Reprise' which is one hell of a culmination of a wild, crazy trip of an album.

Overall: First Phish was a good Phish experience. I loved how eclectic this album managed to be and while some of the jams lost me a little bit, others kept me fully engaged and on board. Will I try more Phish in the future? I think there's a pretty good chance of that. *** out of ****.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"Oh, the Facepalms..."

This picture pretty much sums up this past week quite nicely and while last Monday we had something of a mixed bag of not-quite-Facepalms to talk about, today, we're all Facepalms.

First up, Arsenal FC, who shat the bed in spectacular fashion against Crystal Palace. Palace fans serenaded manager Arsene Wenger thusly. Now anyone who's ever watched a soccer match will know that you can get a basic idea of what people are singing usually. Usually. In this case, you can understand each and every single fucking word. It's dispiriting when my team is having something of a dumpster fire of a season and that players like Alexis and Ozil will probably be running screaming at the earliest opportunity. Fans of other teams seem to be having a lot more fun that Arsenal is this season- and whether it's the dressing room culture or falling out of the Top 4, which seems inevitable now, change is coming. It's just a matter of when it comes, now, I think- and in what manner. I'd prefer Wenger to announce his retirement and let them get on with things, but who knows. All I know is that Saint Totteringham's Day will be bleak indeed this year and that sucks.

On balance, I'd give this a full five Facepalms. It's a tire fire. It makes me not miss having NBC Sports on my Direct TV. Come on you Gunners- get a new manager!

Second, we've got the news that Wal-Mart is planning to fly drones around in their stores to assist you with shopping. Sweet Baby Cheez-Its, why? WHY? Better idea: have more than two checkout lanes open at any one time.* Accomplish that and you can move onto bigger, better ideas like good wages for your employees and non-shit benefits for them as well- or maybe a company wide goal of not having any employees on food stamps. That'd be good for an obscenely large and wealthy corporation to do. JFC. Flying drones around to assist you in shopping... silliest damn thing I've ever heard. One Facepalm for this. It's a moronic idea and I don't want to give it more Facepalms because it just doesn't deserve more than one, damn it.

Third, we've got the whole United Airlines mess. Never mind the horror of the dude get the shit kicked out of him and forcibly dragged off of the plane. Never mind the scummy revelations about the dude's past that conveniently emerged in the wake of the incident in some truly disgusting attempts at damage control on the part of the company. And let me be clear: I don't give a damn if the dude was Buffalo Bill from Silence of The Lambs, complete with the human skin suit and the basket with the lotion in it. Unless there was a warrant for his arrest or some specific behavior that warranted his removal from the plane, nobody deserves to be treated like that- especially if they've paid for the fucking ticket. If you have a staffing issue, then guess what, you Gluttonous, Shit-Eating Excuse for an Airline, that's your problem. It shouldn't be your customers. (And it's like 300 miles between Chicago and Louisville. Stick your people in a damn car and have them drive, ffs.)

Glorious karma seems to be rained down on United as a result of this, though. Their stock tanked. Kimmel took them to the woodshed for fun. But you know what I keep thinking about it? Anti-trust laws. Let's break up some airlines- because obviously the lack of consumer choice we have in this country means that between the TSA and their gropings/strip searches and airlines that treat us all like cattle, flying can well, suck big donkey balls. If the Republicans and/or Democratic Party could detach themselves from what I'm sure is a big, juicy delicious teat of corporate money of a variety of different shades and do something about this, that would be lovely. But I'm not holding my breath. Another Three Facepalms and a Middle Finger for this one. Because fuck these guys, #BoycottUnited.

Fourth, Sean Spicer. That really should be all I have to say, but instead, he said this:
You had someone who was as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons.
He said a bunch of other stuff too that was equally as moronic. First rule of finding yourself in a hole, good buddy? Quit digging. When even Alex Jones is all like, "Dude, that's fucked up." You've probably strayed a little far off the path. The fact that this fuck-up came during Passover just added fuel to the fire.(Do I think he's going to be fired? One would hope that gross incompetence is grounds for termination, but this is Washington D.C. we're talking about. If they start firing people for being incompetent fuck-ups, there won't be much of a government left.)

Basically: never compare Hitler to anything. Just don't put the fucker in a sentence and you should- should- be fine, But this is Sean Spicer we're talking about here- so I'm probably wrong. Four Facepalms out of Five for this, because if there's a way to fuck-up that's bigger than this, I have every confidence that Sean Spicer will find a way to do it.

Finally, the Filibuster. I have refrained from saying anything about the Nuclear Option being employed to force Neil Gorsuch's confirmation to SCOTUS through because well, arguments about SCOTUS are stupid. This whole mess- if you flip the parties around, it would still be the exact same argument. But the whole creation of the Reid Option was moronic and it's lamentable bit of leftist myopia I'd like to get rid of. You can make decisions when you're in the majority assuming that you're going to stay in the majority- you gotta think about when you're back in the minority and you've handed the other dudes a fully loaded gun to use- this time on you! That was what made the whole Reid Option thing stupider than stupid and I wasn't the least bit surprised when the GOP went ahead and used it with Gorsuch. But the myopia is apparently still out there, because, get a load of this.  Moronic! You start tossing this idea around and what's stopping the GOP from doing the exact same fucking thing. You want ten Conservative justices on the court for life? Wake up, idiots.

This wasn't quite as a moronic, but came close. No, you can't put the ketchup back in the bottle on this. What you might be able to do, is to force people to talk. None of this threat of a filibuster- no, make their asses hold the floor until they go down like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Strom Thurmond still holds the record for longest filibuster and it's about time some other Senator who's not, well, a product of a different time, let's say, breaks the record. And if you don't want to make 'em all talk, well then, shit. What good is a filibuster anyway? Three and a half Facepalms for this.

Happy Monday, everyone. The weekend is four days away.

*Weirdly, Target has almost the inverse problem of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has like two lanes open at any given time with lines ten miles long. Target has every lane open for the line ten miles long and it still takes forever.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Netflix & Chill #11: What Happened, Miss Simone?

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2015
Directed By: Liz Garbus
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Pick: Mine

I had seen trailers/ad floating around for this documentary for awhile now, but never got around to watching it until now. I first heard the music of Nina Simone when 'Sinnerman' was more or less engraved into the soundtrack of 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair (a legit good movie that I feel like I should go back and watch) and she got sampled on a Kanye track a few years later and then this documentary came out and I thought- you know what? I should probably sit down and find out who Miss Nina Simone was and what she was all about.

Turns out, she was about a lot. Growing up in poverty, she began training to be a classical pianist at a young age and began running into the blockades of segregation and racism almost immediately: she wasn't allowed to perform in certain venues or give recitals in others but kept at it before being discovered at a bar in Atlantic City where she was working and doing gigs to support her family. Before long, she had married her ex-cop manager, Andy and was exploding in popularity just in time for the Civil Rights Movement to reach it's peak.

Something that did strike me when watching this documentary was when Ilysah Shabaz (yes, Malcom X was her Simone's next door neighbor) talked about that moment in time and the profound impact it had on creative forces within the African-American community- it wasn't that artists and creators didn't think they had something to say, it's just that the moments and the times they were living in made them realize how important what they said actually was- so songs like 'Mississippi Goddam' and 'Young, Gifted and Black' became incredibly important to the African-American community during the years of the Civil Rights Struggle.

As the 60s wore on, Simone's marriage became increasingly strained as her politics became more radicalized and eventually, her behavior became erratic. After the death of Martin Luther King Jr, she emigrated to Liberia and eventually France, where her mental health suffered and she was almost broke and destitute before friends found her and got her the help she needed (she was eventually diagnosed as bi-polar.) She launched a come back and kept her career going all the way up to her eventual illness and death in 2003.

This was a really beautifully produced documentary about one of the titans of soul and blues, whose career and talents deserve a fresh look and fresh attention in the present day- but it's not just about the music- at least I didn't think so. It's a look back to an incredibly important moment in American history as seen through the eyes of the one of the greatest musical icons of in American history.

Overall, I don't know if I'd consider myself a big documentary guy- but if you enjoy a good documentary now and again, What Happened Miss Simone? is worth your time. If you're into documentaries and all that, then this is a must see doc. **** out of *****

Saturday, April 15, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #209

You know, the calendar has been good to me these past few weeks and while This Week In Vexillology is technically another 'Lost Week In Vexillology' the timing couldn't be more perfect- because we're heading back to the Island of Malta to take a peek at their flag, which features The George Cross, which was awarded to Malta by King George VI 75 years ago today. (Malta's been in the news, with the sad, tragic collapse of the Azure Window.)

Adopted on September 21st, 1964 as the national flag as well as the state and naval ensign. The cross used to be in a blue canton, but that was removed in 1964 and a red fimbriation was added around the Cross to help make it appear less prominent. Interestingly enough it also helped the flag to conform to a rule of heraldry which states: "no color may touch a color, or metal touch a metal" The metals in this case being silver/white and yellow/gold. (I clicked the wiki-link to check out heraldry, hoping that there would be a nice user's guide/list of rules, but nooooooooo...  and hey, guess what- note to self: learn something about heraldry.)

So, what's the colors about? Well, there are two possible origins. The more mythological one dates back to 1090 when King Roger I of Sicily landed there and the local populace offered to help him fight the Arab defenders of the Island and he was so pleased, he tore off a chunk of his chequered red-and-white flag. But that story, charming as it is, was debunked as a 19th Century myth. The real and more prosaic explanation is that the flag of the Knights of Malta featured a white cross on a red field and that sort of carried over into the British colonial period and into the present day.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bookshot Special: The Play's The Thing

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I couldn't understand why anyone would want to sit through a party like this one. I mean Nick and Honey just stick around and stick around and stick around long past the point of common sense and just when you think it couldn't possibly make any more sense whatsoever, it all comes together in a rush that's like a punch to the gut. I want to see a production of this- my question is mainly centered around speed- in my head, this dialogue went by at Gilmore Girls level speed, but a view YouTube videos later revealed that wasn't true at all.

In contrast to August: Osage County, this particular copy was pretty light on stage setting instructions and stage directions as well. But the dialogue is razor sharp- I'm talking Peter O'Toole vs. Katherine Hepburn in The Lion In Winter type of sharp and I dig that. And the ending...  wow. The ending. Knocked me right off my damn feet.

August: Osage County

I kind of want to go and see a production of this on stage, because the set seems to be the whole damn house and it's... intricate. There were barely any stage instructions in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and this one is chock full of them, all delicately choreographed and laid out. There's also whole scene of multiple characters speaking at the same time which must be harder than shit to pull off on stage because I couldn't imagine trying to concentrate on my lines while like six other people are reading theirs at the same time.

Instead of messed up couples on a bender, this is a masterpiece of family dysfunction that gets really weird and twisted at the end. There's a movie floating around out there somewhere- and I don't know if movie versions of plays are any better or any worse than going to see an actual stage version, but I do want to see it and see what it's like. Some notable lines that jumped out at me:
"You know this country was always pretty much a whorehouse, but at least it used to have some promise. Now it's just a shithole."
and, of course,
I chuckled at the second one. Messed up families seem like a topic that gets mined a lot- or maybe it's just the plays I picked. We'll see.

Blithe Spirit

A dose of British playwriting does the body good, apparently- because this one by Noel Coward is taut, concise and full of humor as dry as a good martini. (Of which many were drunk in this play.) True story: I'm pretty sure I looked into doing a scene from this as an improv or extemporaneous speaking entry in a debate contest like way way way back in junior high?

Anyway, the TL;DR of this play: dude is writing a book about ghosts, wants to see what it's all about, so brings a medium around to have a seance. Ends up bringing back the ghost of his dead wife, much to the consternation of all concerned, including his current (second wife.) Things get more madcap and slightly darker than I was expecting from there.

The structure of this one differs a little from the first two. August: Osage County is quantam mechanics compared to this, but I also think the basic aspect of the structure is what makes the writing stand out more. I don't know if there's more writing or it just seems like there is more writing, but it stands in contrast to the somewhat dark and twisted (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and dysfunctional family fun (August: Osage County) of the first two plays. I dig it.

Hay Fever

I liked Hay Fever better than Blithe Spirit- it was lighter in touch and tone and moved more quickly though the three acts. It's described as 'A Light Comedy In Three Acts' which fits perfectly. The problem becomes evident immediately: pretty much everyone in the Bliss family has invited a guest down to stay for the weekend and chaos and shenanigans ensue, and you're left wondering whether or not the family is really as messed up as they seem- is this heading into drama territory, when in fact it turns out it's not. (The 'punchline' of the play is perfect, really- when you think about it.)

I don't know how many people have seem Eddie Izzard's riff about British drama, the whole, "Oh." "Oh."  "I think I better go." "Yes, I think you better had." thing- also works for this play. It's very British. Very very very British. Perhaps even excessively British? I mean, it is a Noel Coward play.

Only thing that I find confusing about this play: the title. Maybe I missed it in the hijinks and the weird, overly literary parlor games, but no one seems to have hay fever. There's like a sneeze here or there, but...  sigh. I'm going to have to read this again, aren't it?

Private Lives

The last of the Noel Coward trifecta, Private Lives turned out to be something of a disappointment. It started out with a premise worthy of the greatest of sitcoms- two couples recently married again end up at the same hotel as exes and mayhem ensued. But as with Blithe Spirit, there's a dark twist to this that didn't sit right with me. Basically, Amanda and Elyot (not sure why there's a 'y' in Elliott, but okay) are horrible people and they somehow ditch their respective second spouses (Sibyl and Victor) and decide to runaway and give it another go-round. But unfortunately, they're still horrible people. And while Sibyl and Victor bond it turns out that by the end of the play, they can't stand each other either.

I guess that's sort of the point of the play- that horrible people sort of deserve each other and maybe attract each other as well? I don't know... it's described as 'An Intimate Comedy In Three Acts' which I guess makes sense, but the humor was either too dry or too dark for my liking. Of the three, I think I like this one the least, which is sort of strange because the back of the book describes it as "the only classic English comedy of manners since Oscar Wilde." Well, okay then.

Of the Noel Coward trifecta I liked this one the least. But then again, I haven't really read that many plays- up until now that is. Maybe I'll grab some Oscar Wilde if I do this again and expand my horizons a bit.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Squawk Box: Meditations on Early 'Grey's'

The Missus has been making her way through Grey's Anatomy on Netflix for a couple of months now. In general, after McDreamy died I was pretty much done even remotely caring about that show (and sure enough, recent episodes seem to involve a lot of the characters shouting at each other about things that I didn't really care all that much about- either because the show is going through a bad stretch of writing (doubtful, but possible given it's longevity) or because I lack the context to understand why I should care about the hospital politics they're all wrangling about of late.) But what sucked me back into Grey's was not the newer episodes, but the older ones. And that got me thinking and remembering a (seemingly, but really not that surprising given my taste in television) surprising thing: once upon a time, Grey's Anatomy was appointment television for me.

Like Picasso, I had something of a Blue Period in the latter days of my undergraduate experience. Weirdly, that was also the semester/year that I probably came closest to becoming a runner. I would walk myself over the the Field House, pound out a mile and walk home. I'm not sure what drove me to do that, but I did. On a semi-regular basis. It was relaxing. It was briefly, my 'thing' and the closest I came to embracing my inner 'runner.'

Then there was Grey's. I'm not sure what drew me in- I want to say it was the fact that the writing centered on the people and not the procedural aspects that you usually see in a lot of medical shows. (My experience at that point in my life consisted of ER. I've never seen an episode of Hill Street Blues, do I have no idea what that was like.) The drama of that first season was soapy and delicious. Meredith navigating her relationship with Derek. Burke and Christina. George going from the dude who damn near botched an appendectomy to the guy who's doing heart surgery in the elevator. Izzy and Alex. It all just worked. It was good. Really, really good.

The gut-punch came at the end of the first season with the 'Holy Shit, he's married' reveal and the introduction of Addison. And then Mark Sloan. And then Callie Torres. Meredith slept with George. George slept with and married Callie. George slept with Izzie. Alex Karev slept with absolutely everyone. At it's height, it was gloriously deliciously soapy. It was a soap dish. A gallon jug of Ivory Dish Soap. It was this batshit loony YouTube video. The dysfunction of the American health care system, I thought, could be easily explained by the fact that these Doctors seem to do little else except sleep together and argue about it.

But then Denny happened. Like most of America, I blubbered and ugly cried over fucking Chasing Cars and that goddamn LVAD wire. Thinking back on it though, it was what was going on with Meredith that was really interesting. Between the strain of keeping her Mom's Alzheimer's a secret, struggling to deal with the whole 'married' boyfriend thing, it's no surprise her baggage bubbles up to the surface. The whole thing with the bomb in the body was cool. But I remember being annoyed at a certain point about Meredith's wishy-washy behavior. The whole on-again, off-again aspect of Mer-McDreamy seemed incredibly annoying the first time around and, in fact, turned me off to the show entirely for awhile. (Seriously: there are whole reams of the 4th Season and the 5th for that matter I don't remember. I don't remember the damn post-it note, that's how annoying I got.)

The 4th Season finale is really what made me take a second look at the early period of Grey's- not because of the whole house outline in candles thing- that was epic, that was romantic- but it was a couple of scenes before that when Meredith finally figures out why her mother tried to kill herself- or in this case, didn't try to kill herself. I had never noticed the moment my first time through, by the second time, it was...  man. I don't know if it was the writing or the acting or a combination of both, but the whole build up to that moment- with Meredith fighting kicking and screaming not to go to therapy and then finally going and then getting more and more frustrated with it until she finally, finally puts it all together- the payoff for all that- was an incredible piece of television.

(Of course, I didn't remember the part where Derek had his breakdown after lobotomizing someone and getting all haunted and woodsman like for awhile. But it was nice to see that the see-saw in the relationship went both ways- that Meredith could push him back up when he was down.)

I cut myself off early in Season 6. George was dead. Izzy was on the way out. Owen 'Ginger' Crazy Pants had shown up and they were starting the whole merger storyline with Mercy West which sort of you know, bored me a little bit. So I stepped out for awhile. I became a casual viewer- keeping up with the shenanigans when and where I could. Watching the plane crash with the tragic end for Lexie Grey (one of the best characters on the damn show) and Mark Sloan and Arizona's subsequent struggle about her losing her leg*. I'm nowhere near as into this show as I used to be.

Early 'Grey's' though was something else. I think of fondly from time to time and it was a pleasure to jump back into the soapy pond once more.

*Okay. I have all my limbs. I can understand that losing a limb might be painful. It might be a struggle to learn how to handle a prosthetic. There would, I imagine, be  world of suck associated with losing a limb of any kind. HOWEVER (and this may well make my sound like a gigantic asshole) Arizona went overboard with this damn leg business IMHO. I get it. You can't wear Heelys** around the Hospital anymore. But you're also, what's the word, still fucking alive with a woman and kid who both love you. I recognize the suck and the struggle, but damn girl. Take a breath. Get a little perspective. Count them blessings.

**They don't make Heelys in my size. I've checked and am forever resentful.

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Good News, Everyone!"

Where do we begin the week? It's Monday morning, so Facepalms of note await us from the week prior? What boneheaded bill has been proposed? What's preposterous policies have been enacted? Grab your coffee. Irish it up with some whiskey Because, as the wise man said, "it's going to be a buuuuumpy ride."

First up, "Well, we're bombing Syria." Or more precisely, we did bomb Syria. We lobbed some cruise missiles onto the airbase which the Assad Regime had used to drop sarin gas on a bunch of it's own people. Big noise went boom and it turned out didn't do a hell of lot more than that because it was back up, running and dropping bombs on it's own people pretty much right away. Reaction was decidedly mixed to the strikes and legal experts seem to be of the opinion that the old "well, this falls under that resolution Congress passed at breakneck speed in the aftermath of September the 11th" line doesn't apply here.

Personally, the whole situation seems mildly heartburn inducing. I'd say that I haven't been a fan of our Syrian policy since the start of their Civil War, but that implies that we've had a Syria policy worth of the name. I don't think we have. I think after the mess that erupted in Libya, another sticky Middle Eastern wicket in Syria was not high on the Obama Administration's list of priorities and with some fairly strategic thinking and reasoning behind it. Intervention in Syria would have been an entirely messier affair. I think the time to make a serious and substantive move was in 2012, when President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons would be a 'red line.'

Unfortunately, if you're going to declare lines that means you have to be prepared to follow through if the target of your red line walks across your line and says, "Oh yeah, buddy. What's it to ya?" Our inaction then makes options for continued intervention now extremely limited. Then, we could have destroyed Syria's air power and bolstered effective opposition groups and that might be paying dividends for us now. With all the Russian involvement in the conflict now, that prospect becomes tricky to impossible to effectively achieve.

All that said, I'm glad we did something. I'm glad we sent a message that "no, asshole, you can't just drop sarin on people" however, unless more of a strategy emerges over the next few weeks, I'm going to file this under "The Most Expensive Lipstick In The World" and call it good. With Chinese President Xi in town for a meeting down at the Mar-A-Lago and with allegations about him being Putin's broski-in-chief, the timing of the strikes can hardly be coincidental.

I'm withholding Facepalms on this one. If we're going to do this, we need a real strategy and clear goals and I want to see those first. (And you know, it's a horrible, bloody conflict tearing an entire country apart and sparking a massive humanitarian crisis that we're not doing enough to solve, IMHO. It's a goddamn tragedy. Not a Facepalm.)

Second up, some *ACTUAL GOOD NEWS* Congressman Loebsack, if you, for some strange reason find yourself reading this, then guess what? You've one yourself one vote for 2018 for introducing this delightful legislation: H.R. 1786: Congressional Halt In Pay Increases and Cut Congressional Pay Act.  It probably will last as long as an icicle in hell, but I this gets a rousing two thumbs up from me. More like this, please.

No Facepalms. Two thumbs up. If I had more thumbs, they'd be up too.

Finally, in "inexplicable questions I didn't know needed asking" Does Iowa need courthouses in all 99 counties?   You know, I'll be honest, gang: I was ready to roll my eyes at this, but the more I think about it, the more I have to wonder if there might be something to this. Especially for rural counties- but here's the thing- you'd actually have to sit down and think this through a bit. The story from the Register references a woman who had to drive all the way to Marion County's Courthouse for like a two minute hearing, which doesn't make a lick of sense. But, let's look at Iowa and Powesheik Counties, for instance.

Iowa's County seat is Marengo. Poweshiek's is Montezuma. Placing one courthouse for both counties in either of those cities would cause a lot of people a headache or three. People in Iowa County would probably hate shlepping all the way to Montezuma and people in Poweshiek would probably be less than enamored at driving all the way to Marengo for the same reasons. But, looking at the map there's towns like Victor, Camforth and Guernsey which are sort of clustered along the county line and more or less half way between the two.

It's an interesting notion- but if you're going to do it, you can't be attached to the idea of county seats or hell, even of counties- it's a valid question to ask: does Iowa need 99 counties anymore? Unfortunately, what's interesting in theory usually makes it way into reality in the most nonsense and idiotic way possible. I'm going to award this one Facepalm with a possibility of more if people actually start doing this in foolish, inconvenient ways.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Netflix & Chill #10: Doctor Strange

Watched On: Redbox
Released: 2016
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachek McAdams, Benedict Wong, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Pick: Mine

Despite the urge to say things like "Yer a wizard, Harry!" I enjoyed the hell out of Doctor Strange. The origin story of Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme opens with a decapitation courtesy of the sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his followers, who break into the magic library of Kamar-Taj to steal a mystical text from the library of the Ancient One. The Ancient One attempts to stop them and pursues them, but they get away after some nifty, Inception-level twisting of the landscape.

In New York City, our hero, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an acclaimed neurosurgeon, but he's not the McDreamy-type with long flowing locks and loving glances and make out sessions in the elevator- instead, he's arrogant, likes expensive watches and fast cars (and I have to admit, this Honest Trailer does come pretty close to the mark) and naturally, crashes one of those fast cars and loses the use of his hands. Obsessed with regaining control of them he pushes everyone in his life, including one of the last friends/former lover's he has, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Seeking alternative treatments, he heads to Nepal to search for a treatment in the mystical sanctuary of Kamar-Taj.

He finds it and is taken in by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who introduces him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who reveals her power to him and after some persuasion agrees to train him. Strange eventually works his way through all the books in the library and finally learns about what the whole deal with this magic business is all about. Earth is protected from incursions from other dimensions by three Sanctums in London, New York and Hong Kong- Kaecilius and his followers are attempting to destroy the Sanctums to bring Dormammu of the Dark Dimension to Earth where he will destroy time (thus delivering them eternal life.)

They make their movie, first destroying the London Sanctum and then moving on to the New York Sanctum. Strange holds them off until Mordo and the Ancient One arrive, but in the ensuing battle, the Ancient One is mortally wounded and Mordo's confidence is shattered when he learns that the Ancient One must draw from the power of Dormammu to sustain her life. Strange and Mordo arrive in Hong Kong only to find the sanctum destroyed and the Dark Dimension already eating Earth- but with the Eye of Agamotto, Strange bends time, bends the rules and strikes a deal with Dormammu to leave Earth, taking Kaecilius and his followers with him in the bargain.

Strange takes over the New York Sanctum and keeps on studying. Mordo, however, strikes out on his own, disillusioned with the knowledge that the Ancient One too drew on the power of Dormammu.

Overall, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie and to be honest I'd probably rank it right up there with the first Thor or even the Captain America: Winter Soldier in terms of personal favorites from the MCU. Cumberbatch is pitch perfect casting and ably backed up by Ejiofor, Wong, McAdams and Swinton.

Speaking of Swinton: I thought it was a piece of incredibly outside the box casting to make her The Ancient One. I dug it, to be honest- but I can also understand where the complaints are coming from too. Having seen Iron Fist though (it's next month's Squawk Box) I feel like Marvel took the easy way out. Sure, they could have gone with a more diverse casting choice. But then updating the source material becomes a very delicate task indeed- because in the comics The Ancient One is portrayed as full on whispy moustache Kung-Fu master type of a trope. That's not to say that Marvel shouldn't have tried to update their source material for a contemporary audience, it's just that doing that right and not falling into a minefield of really really bad stereotypes of Asians would be more of a highwire act, I think. It's a highwire act Marvel is more than capable of pulling off though and one of these days, they should roll up their sleeves and take a chance on bring this source material into the present day more effectively than they have so far. Despite that, Doctor Strange is an excellent new entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My Grade, **** out of *****, The Missus' Grade, ***.5 out of *****

Saturday, April 8, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #208

Another week and another consultation of the calendar which gave me the idea for This Week In Vexiollogy- yes, it's International Romani Day, so what better way to mark the occasion than by unpacking the flag of the Romani:
Created by the General Union of the Roma of Romania in 1933, it wasn't adopted internationally until the First World Romani Congress of 1971, which was help in London. (There's a minor split between Western European and Eastern European Romani over the issue- a 1992 Congress help in Latvia agreed on a different flag- retaining the blue and the green but changing out the wheel for a horse head to represent the independence of the ethnic group.)

Breaking down the symbolism of the flag, let's take the official explanation:
The World Romani Congress have adopted a Romani flag which is respected by all the Roma the world over. It comprises of blue and green traditional colors with the red wheel in the center. Blue is the blue sky and the heavens,. Green is the land, organic and growing. The blue symbolizes eternal spiritual values; the green earthly values. The wheel in the center symbolizes movement and progress. It may not be out of place to point out here that the Indian national flag has also got Ashok Chakra in the center.
Even though are up to a million Roma in the United States, I think I can honestly say that I've never met a one of them- I know there's that television show kicking around the place, but that's pretty much the extent of my knowledge, other than what I'm sure is a dubious depiction in the movie Snatch.

A quick Wikipedia glance, however and my mind is sort of blown. The Roma emigrated from India around 1,000 years ago- which isn't, in the grand scheme of things all that long ago- which explains the similarities between their Ashok Chakra's and the one found on the flag of India. What's even wilder is that the evidence they're basing this idea on is mainly linguistic.
More exactly, Romani shares the basic lexicon with Hindi and Punjabi. It shares many phonetic features with Marwari while it's grammar is closest to Bengali.
(That large sound you just heard? It was my mind. Being blown.)
So that's the flag of the Romani People. Remember, until next time- keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

100 Years Gone

Today marks 100 years since America entered the First World War. PBS is starting a documentary on The Great War next week which I'm sure will be up to it's usual standards of excellence. (I might DVR it, actually.) The Moustache, in one of his dwindling acts as Our Glorious and Eternal Governor declared today World War One Centennial Reflection Day- and with good reason: 114,000 Iowans served in World War I and 3,576 of them died. If you've been in and around Des Moines ever at any point in your life, you've probably seen signs or driven down Merle Hay Road, named after Private Merle Hay, who was one of the first American Soldiers to die in combat during the war. Marion Crandell of Cedar Rapids was the first American woman to die in the combat zone.

I feel like World War I gets overlooked a lot in the history classes here in America. As a nation, our big moment moving onto the international stage was World War II instead of World War I and along with Korea, it makes a fairly strong case for being labelled as one of our 'forgotten wars.' While every Veteran's Day you can probably find someone selling a poppy outside your local grocery store or some such place, we no longer call the day what the rest of the world does, Armistice Day. (That's not to suggest that I don't think vets deserve a day, they do. But changing the name of the day allows us to all too easily forget the original meaning of the day. Every year for 100 years now, Europe has stopped- a whole continent, to mark the moment where the guns fell silent. They remember- we owe it to those that died in this conflict to remember as well.)

World War I and America's role in it is ready for a re-examination, I think. (Plus, I think the fact that Wonder Woman, of all things, is going to be set during World War I and not World War II might help push the conflict back into the cultural zeitgeist somewhat.) It had a more profound impact on this country that I think we give it credit for sometimes. German was almost a second language in many parts of America at the time- there were hundreds of German language publications and newspapers in circulation- but after America entered the war? The number tanked. People didn't want to speak German anymore (sauerkraut, for instance, reportedly became 'liberty cabbage' and the German measles became, 'liberty measles' because well, if you're going to get measles, you might as well feel good about America while you have it.) 

Oh, and if you've ever heard the Marines be referred to as 'Devil Dogs'- well, that got that nickname from the Battle of Belleau Wood.

With the family being from Across The Pond, World War I will always be important to me, personally. One of my great (great and possibly another great) Uncles died during the war. I have his medals and the Dead Man's Coin they used to give to the families of the fallen. (It's not a little coin. I throw up a picture over on the Tumblr if anyone's interested to take a peek at it.) My parents were fortunate enough to see this exhibit commemorating the centenary over in London- and they were even more fortunate to get one of the ceramic poppies which they still have.

Looking to get the 4-1-1 on W-W-I? Start here, with Dan Carlin's Hardcore History series on the conflict, Blueprint for Armageddon. It's a 5-6 part series and while it's on sale as I write this, if it's not when you click on the link, it's worth the $1.99. Every single episode of it- it's beautiful, jam packed full of knowledge and if you're light on knowledge of the subject and want to learn more, it will do the job in an entertaining way.

In the meantime, take a minute today- and remember.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bookshot #96: Fahrenheit 451

While I didn't intend to read The Martian Chronicles- I was just happy to find it at the Library, I was, however, after Fahrenheit 451, which up until now, I had somehow manage to escape reading- and it was worth the wait, believe me.

Set in a future America, where books are banned, Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of Guy Montag, the fireman- though these fireman don't put out fires, they round up books and burn them. (The title refers to the temperature at which books burn.) Books are banned and people get all their news and entertainment from 'television.' Montag is sleepwalking through his life as the book begins when he meets a new neighbor, Clarisse McClellan who is a free-thinker and talks about the past when people read books and learned things and pokes at Montag until he begins to look around and question his life and existence. He comes home that night to find his wife Mildred has overdosed on sleeping pills, calls for medical attention- but she doesn't remember a thing the next day. Montag keeps walking with Clarisse and soon begins to sort of expect her and maybe even look forward to their walks together, but then, she disappears.

On a job a few days later, Montag steals a book before any of his co-workers notice as they ransack the house of an old woman for books that they're going to burn. But the woman refuses to leave her house and her books and chooses instead to light a match and burn herself alive. Montag, returning home hides the book under his pillow and tries to make conversation with his wife, only to realize how little he actually knows her and the fact he doesn't have much in common with her at all. She mentions in passing that she thought Clarisse had died after being struck by a car and her family moved away. Montag tries to get to sleep, but suspect that the mechanical 'Hound' that helps the fireman is lurking outside.

Montag stays home sick from work the next day and tells Mildred he might want to quit, but Mildred isn't a fan of that idea because she likes his income and blames the woman who killed herself for having books. Captain Beatty, his fire chief comes by to check on him and tells Montag about how books became irrelevant and then were banned, casually mentioning along the way that every fireman gets curious and steals a book at some point. If it gets burned within 24 hours, then there's no trouble at all. After Beatty leaves it all falls apart pretty quickly for Montag. He reveals the stash of books to Mildred, who panics and tries to burn them. Montag insists that they need to read the books to see if they have value and if they don't, they'll burn them. Montag soon realizes that he'll need help understanding the books and finds an ally in Faber, an old English professor who agrees to communicate with him through an earpiece to help him through the difficult journey ahead of him.

Unfortunately, Montag freaks out his wife's friends who end up reporting him to Beatty, who, despite Montag's efforts to pretend that he's back on-side with firemen and is all about burning books again, doesn't believe him and takes Montag to his own house to burn it down. Mildred leaves, refusing to talk to him and Montag burns down his house, but refuses to be taken into custody and goes on the lam. Faber gets him out of the city, where he meets the other exiled drifters who keep the knowledge of books alive. The threat of war that's been hanging over the book breaks open and the city Montag flees is destroyed by nuclear weapons. The next day, Granger, Montag and the other drifters head back to the city to rebuild civilization.

Man, Ray Bradbury is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. I love his writing style- he has this unique ability to transport you into the moment- the whole sequence where the old woman refuses to leave her house and burns herself alive along with her books is incredible- probably some of the best writing I've ever read. But it's when Montag escapes the city and meets the drifters that Fahrenheit 451 makes it's most brilliant point of all: books are more than just physical objects- they're ideas the drifters that Montag assumes will have the books with them, instead carry the books in their head. When books were banned, they turned back to the oral tradition and when civilization is rebuilt they'll bring back the books and maybe do it all over again if civilization turns against them. You can destroy the books, but not the ideas.

Overall: This book was well worth the wait. It's an incredibly powerful defense of knowledge and a searing indictment of ignorance. This one can go on the old Amazon Wishlist as well! Note to self: read more Ray Bradbury. **** out of ****.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Monday Morning Facepalms

Coupled with the cheerful news that Public Service Loan Forgiveness might well be ignored or the DoE might just say things like, 'Sorry dude, no forgiveness for you' it's easy to give in to cynicism and despair or just plain anger, but not to be out done, the State Legislature in Des Moines stepped up to the plate and delivered not one, not two, but three shining facepalms to begin our week.

First up, the minimum wage roll back! For a party the proclaims the glories of local control and less government, Republicans down in Des Moines sure seem to be interested in micromanaging Iowa's 99 counties and the minimum wages they set. I mean, who really cares if Johnson County has a higher minimum wage than say, Iowa County? Minimum wage is stupid right? We should just abolish the minimum wage altogether? But no, no, that's not enough for the Party of Small Government and Local Control, no, they need to rein this shit in. Can't be paying workers a fair wage now, can we? The peasants might start to get ideas- and ideas are dangerous things! (The next thing you know, the little bastards might start voting! The shock... the horror!)

On the face of it: maybe not the hugest deal in the world. After all, there's nothing stopping businesses from paying their employees better and the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa is approaching business in Johnson County to see if they're willing to do just that and keep paying folks at the higher level. Though there's also nothing stopping businesses from rolling back their wages to the lower level either- and Facebook (yes, I've only seen this on Facebook. So consider the source, y'all) is abuzz with reports that the ETRE Restaurant group (El Patron, Formosa, Takanami) has let their employees know that their wages are going down, down, doooooown. Which sucks, because Takanami has good sushi. (Updated: Wages aren't going down! Nice.)

Verdict: On a scale of one to five face palms, I'd rank this as a two. More of a 'dick move' than anything else, there really is nothing stopping businesses from paying above the minimum wage. It's just a shitty thing to do to people, you know?

Second up: the fiscal state of the state. Well, if this shit is at all true, everyone needs to vote the bastards out as soon as possible. Yes, apparently, we've gone from a $927 million state surplus to a $130 million deficit. If the Democratic Party can't make hay enough out of that fact alone to oust the The Moustache's Chief Henchwoman next year, they need to well... disband. Quit. Hang up the ol'cleats and call it a day, because holy hell in a handbasket. That is a staggering, staggering amount of fiscal mismanagement.

Look, it'd be one thing if tax cuts and corporate welfare had generated economic growth and were showing some dividends. Evidence suggests, however, that they're just not doing the job and so the state is well, burning through money at a hefty rate. The answer is to roll things back to where they were, end the corporate welfare and try and right the ship. It's not perfect, but it sure as hell beats doubling down on what looks like increasingly failed economic policy. I don't want to become Kansas here, but that seems to be where we're heading.

Seriously, Democrats: if a week is a long time in politics, a year is an eternity, but goddamn. If you can't claw something back out of this trainwreck, y'all really need to look in the damn mirror and figure your shit out.

Verdict: Four and a half out of five face palms. Holy hell, Republicans. What in God's name are you people doing down there, skipping around the Capitol Building with a gas can and a zippo lighter? Get it together people. Quit spending like you're on your third Harvey Wallbanger at Senor Frog's in Cancun on Spring Break. Please.

Finally, this happened. Just read this article.

I'm somewhat loathe to comment on abortion, because, after all, I have a penis. But this is another example of so called principles of the Republican Party not meaning a damn thing when the rubber meets the road. Bills like this one represent a massive intrusion of the state into the personal lives of women (and men) across this country and if you're going to open the door to give the state that much power, what else can the state do? Really and truly- and it might be something of an acrobatic leap to say this, but if the state can walk right into your doctor's appointment and dictate what you can and can't do, do you honestly think your guns are all that safe?

Social engineering shouldn't happen this way. Changing the culture can't be done through changing a law- the experience of Prohibition should be instructive here, but for some reason it isn't. If that didn't stop boozing, what makes pro-lifers think that an abortion ban will stop abortion? (Answer: It won't.) And  you have further problems because, if you're really about creating a culture that respects life, then that culture can't stop as soon as a baby's born. Republican social policy- or what passes for Republican social policy, anyway, suggests that the whole 'pro-life' thing stops as soon as the baby is out.

In general though: I'm not a fan, but agree that it should be safe, legal, rare and outside of that, it's not really any of my business. But, as a dude, I think it allows men to shirk their responsibilities and puts far too much of the onus and societies judgement on women, where, to my mind, it shouldn't be. If you're a dude and you get a lady preggers and then just throw money at her and tell her to 'go take care of it' then fuck yes, I'm going to judge you. Everyone should judge you.

Verdict: The Full Five Face Palms for this one... you can't be pro-life and against birth control. And this course of action- and believe me, I was shocked to find out that the Representative in question was a woman. It felt like something an elderly white man would spout off- would be detrimental to the health of women if not outright kill them. Plus, if you're for smaller, limited government, then get the hell out of my bedroom, please.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Netflix & Chill #9: The Big Short

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2015
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Pick: Mine 

This has been lodged in my Netflix streaming line-up for awhile now, but I never really rolled up my sleeves and went to it until a couple of weeks ago and right off the bat, I'll tell you this: this movie should never have worked. In a million billion years, it should never have worked. But it did and that's impressive and probably speaks volumes about Adam McKay's abilities as a Director and a screenwriter. (He shared credit with Charles Randolph for the screenplay.)

So, what's it about? The housing market collapse of 2008. I know- a movie about the housing market collapse sounds about as appealing as paint drying, but it's actually not. It's massively entertaining, because the movie looks at three separate storylines- the first is about a somewhat eccentric hedge fund manager, Michael Burry (Christian Bale) who discovers all the way back in 2005 that the housing market is extremely unstable thanks to high-risk sub prime loans. He decides to create a credit default swap market which would allow him to essentially bet against, or 'short' the housing market. Everyone thinks he's crazy.

A salesman/banker type by the name of Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) (storyline #2) discovers Burry's analysis and gets in on the action- not before an accidental phone call gets Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) and his team in on the game as well. He sends his team down to Miami, where they discover that it's true. Mortgage brokers are making money selling risky mortgages and helping to create a housing bubble.

The third storyline involves a pair of young investors who discover a prospectus by Vennett and want to get in on the action, but they have to convince a retired securities trader by the name of Ben Rickert  (Brad Pitt) to help them out.

Eventually, the bets that all three 'storylines' make come due and the housing market collapses- but not before they all realize that there is a staggering level of fraud throughout the system. Baum and Company discover that the credit rating agencies are riddled with conflicts of interest. The young investors and Brad Pitt realize that the SEC has no regulations to monitor mortgage backed security activities. And with pressure from his investors mounting, Burry discovers that banks collude with the major bond-rating companies to maintain their ratings on useless mortgages which allows them to dump the bad mortgages before their true value becomes known.

Eventually it all goes to hell, of course and everyone involved in our story makes a filthy amount of money- but not everyone is all that happy about it, given the cost to the every day people affected by it and the staggering lack of accountability for any of the banks and companies involved in the scandal.

Overall, this was a surprisingly entertaining movie about subject matter that normally would put me in a coma. To be totally honest, I want to track down and read the book to see if it's as informative and entertaining as the movie is. McKay, I think, knew his subject matter was somewhat, well, obscure- or hard to connect with, because Ryan Gosling's character serves as something of a narrator for the film and there are cut-away scenes featuring Margot Robie, Anthony Bourdain and Richard Thaler and Selena Gomez all playing themselves, all explaining some aspect or another of the looming economic crisis facing the characters. It's quirky and if done wrong, it could have seemed jarring, but McKay makes it work beautifully.

In terms of a story about recent history or hell, just for those folks (like me) who don't speak Wall Street-ese and want to get a grip on just what the hell went wrong in 2008, The Big Short is a fantastic and informative movie that manages to be entertaining as hell all at the same time. That in and of itself is an impressive feat. My Grade: **** out of *****

Saturday, April 1, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #207

Well, I was going to take advantage of the wide spread mourning over the collapse of the Azure Window to revisit the flag of Malta, but I some digging provided a much more exciting alternative than another Lost Weekend in Vexillology- because you see, today, the Canadian Province of Nunavut turns 18! Nunavut's legal! Woot woot!

So, Happy Birthday to Canada's newest province- so let's check out their flag:
This is a boss flag. According to Wikipedia, it was criticized for having too many colors, the placement of the star at the end of the flag and the use of gold and white as the background field and the black outline around the red inuksuk in the center. All, IMHO, utterly bullshit complaints and here's why: the gold and white are a good color combination and the red inuksuk at the center acts as the glue between the two sides of the flag perfectly. Had they but the blue star on the gold portion of the flag, I might buy into the whole idea that there are too many colors- but the blue star on the white sky? Works fine for me. Plus- stars don't hang in the sky like they do on flags, so I'm fine with the placement of the star as well. The black outline of the inuksuk is just getting nit-picky, really...  an inuksuk from what I can tell is a pile of stones used as a navigational aid and/or sacred marker and adding the black outline to it on the flag helps to better delineate what it is.

So all the criticism*: bullshit. This is a boss flag, Nunavut. Fly this bad-boy proudly.

Let's break it down, shall we: the red inuksuk at the center is a traditional Inuit land marker (as we've already mentioned.) It's red to represent Canada as a whole (and is a nice call back/tie back to the Canadian flag itself with the red maple leaf so prominent in the center.) The colors blue and yellow represent the riches of the land, sea and sky and while the Wiki-page doesn't actually say it, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the white represents snow? The blue star itself represents the North Star and the leadership of elders in the community.

Just for kicks, let's check out their Coat of Arms as well:

Is that a narwahl? That's a narwahl! That's freakin' awesome! So let's start with the shield, which is a roundel and not a traditional shield (which to me, makes sense.) The blue and gold of the shield represent the riches of the land and the blue portion contains a representation of the midnight sun and the star is, of course, The North Star. The gold portion contains an inuksuk and a qulliq, a stone lamp that represents the home and community.

The crest is an igloo which stands for traditional life, survival and the territorial government assembled in the legislature. The crown stands for royal sovereignty. Supporting it all, we've got a caribou and a narwahl which stand for sustenance and the natural resources of the land and sea. They stand on top of an iceberg at sea (the narwahl) and a field of Arctic poppies, dwarf fireweed and Arctic heather. The motto of Nunavut in traditional syllabary is listed below: "Our land, our strength."

So, that's Nunavut! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

*Sigh. I was a good vexillologist and followed the Wikipedia citation down the rabbit hole and found this. I'm still not entirely impressed with what I found there...  if it's true that credit was not given to the Inuk youngster that came up with the same design, then that's a fair charge to be levelled. But the rest? I'm not convinced. While yeah, the flag of the NWT is kind a hot mess with the number of colors in play, the author seems to think that the national flag with it's 'stark beauty' is the gold standard that provinces should aim for.

I don't find this flag all that crowded and I think the red inuksuk being so prominent reduces any arguments about the gold-white bicolor to negligible at best- while yes, the Vatican is the only other state to use that particular color combination, I think the prominence of the inuksuk hides any similarities to the Vatican quite nicely- though the author stands on firmer ground by pointing out that these shades may be more prone to fading in the environment of Nunavut. 

His overall argument is rooted in the traditional rules of heraldry and an approach to vexillology that is almost scientific in nature- which is a perfectly valid point of view. But, speaking as someone from south of the border whose approach might be more based in design than tradition, I think rules are made to be broken and if you know the rules, you can break them successfully. This is a standout design that isn't that crowded, despite the assertions to the contrary and it avoids the truly cardinal sin of any words on a flag.