Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Upload Project #7

CD #61. 'Fun., P!nk $ Co (x2)' all repeats except for:
Fun.- Some Nights
Fun.-At Least I'm Not As Sad As I Used To Be
Pink- Feel Good Time
Pink- God Is A DJ
AC/DC- Shoot To Thrill
AC/DC- Back In Black
Rolling Stones- Brown Sugar
Eminem ft Nate Dogg- Shake That Ass
Eminem- No Love
Little Big Town- Pontoon
Little Big Town- Boondocks
OK Go- Do What You Want
OK Go- Here It Goes Again

CD #62, 'A Ho Prototype, OK Go, Kanye, Jay Z, Sex Bob-omb' all repeats except for:
OK Go- This Too Shall Pass
Kanye West- No Church In The Wild
Sex Bob-Omb- We Are Sex Bob-Omb
Trent Reznor/Karen O- Immigrant Song
Mohammed Rafi- Jaan Pehechaan Ho
Lil Wayne/The Game- Red Nation
Coldplay and Rihanna- Princess of China
Pixies- Nimrod's Son
My Chemical Romance- Na Na Na Na Na
The Notorious B.I.G.- Mo Money, Mo Problems
Arcade Fire- Half Light II (No Celebration)
Rehab- Sittin' At A Bar

CD #63, 'Super Old Mix (Meatloaf & Boots w/The fur)' all repeats except for:
Fleetwood Mac- The Chain
Hole- Gold Dust Woman
Meat Loaf- Paradise By The Dashboard Light
Depeche Mode- I Just Can't Get Enough
Cypress Hill- Insane In The Membrane
T-Pain- Apple Bottom Jeans
The Guess Who- American Woman
CSNY- Suite: Judy Blues Eyes
The Donnas- Take It Off
Led Zeppelin- Ramble On
Kajagoogoo- Too Shy
The Pretenders- Back On The Chain Gang
Rammstein- Du Hast
John Mellencamp- Cherry Bomb

CD #64, 'Vacay 2: Rock & Funk' all repeats except for:
Foreigner- Feels Likes The First Time
Argent- Hold Your Head Up
T. Rex- Get It On
Wishbone Ash- Warrior
Aerosmith- Rag Doll
Led Zeppelin- Black Dog
George Clinton- Stomp
P-Funk- Flashlight
Bobby Womack- Across 110th Street
Audra Mae & The Almighty Sound- Jebidiah Moonshine's Friday Night Shack Party
M.I.A.- Bad Girls
Pharrell Williams- Come Get It Bae

CD #65, 'Vacay 2: New Mix' all repeats except for:
Van Morrison- Jackie Wilson Said
David Guetta & Nicki Minaj- Hey Mama
Sleater-Kinney- A New Wave
Kanye West/Rihanna/Paul McCartney- Four Five Seconds
Mark Ronson ft. Mystikal- Feel Right
Neutral Milk Hotel- Holland, 1945
AC/DC- Shot Down In Flames
Kanye West- Dark Fantasy
Patti Smith- Gloria
Rolling Stones- Jumpin' Jack Flash

CD #66, Untitled- all repeats except for:
Drop The Lime- State Trooper
James Brown- The Payback
Derek and The Dominoes- Key To The Highway
George Clinton- Erotic City
Journey- Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'
Kate Bush- Wuthering Heights
Lady Gaga- Fame
Neil Young- Cinnamon Girl
Pink- Slut Like You
Rodrigo y Gabriela- Tamacun
Steve Miller Band- Livin' In The USA
Tom Waits- Ain't Going Down To The Well

CD #67, '32' too scratched and damaged. Couldn't salvage it.

CD #68, 'Minnesota Mix '13' all repeats except for:
The Hold Steady- Chips Ahoy
The Replacements- I Will Dare
OAR- Gin and Juice
Eagles of Death Metal- Speaking In Tongues
Kaiser Chiefs- I Predict A Riot
LCD Soundsystem- North American Scum
Stone Temple Pilots- Big Empty
The Bar-Kays- Soul Finger
Lupe Fiasco- Superstar
Metro Station- Shake It
Damon Dotson- Good Night
The Hold Steady- The Smidge

CD #69, Untitled- all repeats except for:
Pixies- Gigantic
Soul Coughing- True Dreams of Wichita
Pixies- Bone Machine
Mike Doughty- Looking At The World From The Bottom of A Well
Pixies- Debaser
Soul Coughing- Janine
Soul Coughing- Blue Eyed Devil
Soul Coughing- Buddha Rhubarb Butter
Soul Coughing- Unmarked Helicopters
Soul Coughing- Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago
Soul Coughing- Sixteen Horses
Pixies- Where Is My Mind

CD #70, too scratched and damaged. Couldn't salvage it.

CD #71, Untitled- all repeats except for:
Calvin Harris- Feels So Close
Sleeper Agent- Proper Taste
The Wanted- Chasing The Sun
Pitbull- Back In Time
Blackstreet- No Diggity
Keith Urban- Long Hot Summer

CD #72, An Episode of 'Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me'

CD #73, repeat of CD #67

CD #74, too scratched and damaged. Couldn't salvage it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Boozehound Unfiltered: Pimm's

It's summer time and you know what that means? Time to spread the word about Britain's Greatest Summertime Treat- Pimm's!

You might have seen on the shelf in your local grocery store on liquor warehouse and if you haven't actually snagged a bottle to see what it's all about, that's totally understandable. It's not really one liquor or another- it's more of a tonic. Which, of course, makes it a very British thing indeed. Emerging n the mid-1800s, courtesy of a dude named Pimm who was a farmer's son from Kent. He made his 'No. 1 Cup' as a mix of gin and secret herbs and liqueurs and by the 1880s, Pimm had gone from one Oyster Bar to a whole franchise chain of Oyster Houses.

At it's height, Pimm's had not just the 'No 1. Cup' but five other counterparts- including No. 2 (scotch whisky based), No. 3, based on brandy (still sold as the Pimm's Winter Cup), No. 4 was rum based, No. 5 was rye whisky based, No. 6 is vodka based and still around in small quantities. The No. 1 cup has been sold as pre-mixed with Sprite (Pimm's & Lemonade) and has flavored versions featuring strawberry, blackberry and elderflower.

Okay, so now that you know what the hell it is, how do you make it? Well, it's easy: take fruit (oranges, apples, cucumber if you want to be super British about it) chop it up, throw it in a tall glass with ice. Add some Pimm's. Top off with ginger ale and/or Sprite and drink. If you want to be fancy and make a Pimm's Royal Cup- add champagne instead.

Overall: This is the perfect summer cocktail. It doesn't break the bank, money wise. It's refreshing. And it's versatile as they come. You can mix and match and do pretty much anything you want with it, which makes it a pleasant summer delight. My Grade: **** out of **** Pretty much a must have for summers. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sir Roger Moore, 1927-2017

As if the world wasn't gloomy enough following a barbaric terrorist attack on a teenage pop star's rock concert in Manchester, Roger Moore died Tuesday at the ripe old age of 89 following a short battle with cancer. This genuinely, really and truly, bums me out. In terms of my generation, my 'Bond' should have been Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan, but thanks to my parents, the Bond that I was first introduced too and really, the Bond that I grew up with was Roger Moore.

First Bond movie I ever saw was Live and Let Die. As they began to release them on VHS back in the early 90s, we seemed to gravitate more toward Roger Moore movies than any other Bond movies. (I think Goldfinger was the only Connery movie we had on VHS. We added Octopussy, For Your Eyes Only, Moonraker and A View To A Kill to our collection.) Moore, I think, was the perfect tonic for the ulta-serious Connery-era Bond, He never took himself too seriously and invested his time in the Bond franchise with a certain amount of self-deprecating humor and one liners that could go overboard at times, (see: Moonraker, The Man With The Golden Gun) but ultimately made his movies fun to watch.

(I never saw any of The Saint as a television show, but I enjoyed the hell out of Val Kilmer's movie- and I think I used to have it, actually. I would have loved to have seen the television series- maybe I'll look that up sometime.)

Post-Bond, I know he was very active in UNICEF and as a humanitarian- I guess he worked with PETA to fight against foie gras (who knew, right?) and in general, it was always a pleasure to see him pop up here and there over the years- I remember Alias had him guest star for a couple of episodes and it was an absolute delight.

By all accounts, he lived a long, full and happy life and the stories I've been seeing this week about how gracious he was with fans and just people in general make me think that he was a genuinely decent and good guy. There aren't enough of those in the world these days so once I get to my weekend, I'll mix myself a vodka martini (albeit a dirty one), shaken not stirred and toast his memory. (Come to think of it, the Parentals have all the Bond movies on blu-ray, so maybe an impromptu Roger Moore film festival shall happen this Memorial Day Weekend!)

Godspeed, Sir Roger. You'll be missed.

(Live and Let Die will always be in my favorite Bond list because it was the first one I ever saw. But, I'd say The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy and apart from the weird sub-plot with the teenage figure skater and a plot that is more or less blatantly recycled in Tomorrow Never Dies, For Your Eyes Only ain't half bad either.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bookshot Special: Some Graphic Novels, Just For Kicks

Saga (Brian Vaughn/Fiona Staples)

I had heard about this, but never actually tracked down a copy and read the first couple of volumes and it more than lives up to the hype. The story of Marko and Alana, who are the star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of an intergalactic war that never ends- they fall in love and have a baby and everyone wants them dead. All they want is to find a safe place to be a family. This might have to join Saga author Brian Vaughn's other work, Y: The Last Man on my 'must own' shelf as it grabs you from the word 'go' and sucks you right into the action.

And the action is beautiful... it's like a grand mish-mash of science fiction and fantasy and the art is beautiful and compelling and oh hell, I'm hooked. And if you haven't read this, you need to track it down and read it. It's worth it.

The Mighty Thor (Walter Simonson)

I listen to Jay and Miles X-Plain The X-Men on the regular and every time Thor comes up, they always mention that Walter Simonson's Thor is the Thor, the place to start, so finally, I tracked down Volume 1 of the collection and checked it out- and holy heck they were absolutely right about that. What impresses me the most is how dense and literate the volume is- there are at least three or four different threads being woven throughout the volume and just when you think that they couldn't possibly all get paid off in any meaningful way, it turns out that they can and then some.

I want to read all of these- and hell, to be honest, I'd probably buy them to add to my collection as well. Along with Bloom County and Tintin, these were the most engrossing, interesting stories that I think I've come across in a long time- you can see where Thor: Ragnarok is drawing their inspiration from. (I'm also hearing good things about the current run of The Mighty Thor- so I want to check that out as well.) In short:  Thor is awesome. I dig it.

The Immortal Iron Fist (Fraction/Aja/Brubaker/Zonjic/Kano/Foreman)

I'm incredibly annoyed. Not because this wasn't an excellent graphic novel- it was- but because having watch the television show and compared it to this, I became incredibly irritated at what a waste of space the television show was. The Immortal Iron Fist changes the game and deepens the character in ways that Marvel should have explored for the television show. I would love to see this brought to either small or the big screen or maybe even both. Taking the Iron Fist and making it a burden/title that gets passed down through the generations opens up storytelling possibilities like you wouldn't believe. It makes the character interesting- the history of the character interesting and now it opens up the potential for stories of different Iron Fists in different time periods as well. I already have the entire Matt Fraction run on Hawkeye, I feel like The Immortal Iron Fist makes a strong case for addition to my stack of graphic novels- and in fact, I might add it to my wishlist right now.

This Danny Rand, I actually like. His Netflix counterpart on the other hand still has work to do with me before I actually get some enjoyment out of his show. TL;DR: this Iron Fist is far, far superior to it's Netflix counterpart. Give me more of this, please.

DC: The New Frontier (Darwyn Cooke w/Dave Stewart)

True story: I ordered this once from Amazon in the latter stages of a 16 hour shift running on no sleep whatsoever. I have no memory of ordering it all. And, to top it all off, I sent it to the wrong damn address and never actually got the effing book. (Amazon, being Amazon was generous in the ease of their refund policy.) So needless to say, I was curious to get my hands on this one.

Having done so, I understand why people speak so highly of this book. The art is gorgeous and the concept amazing- it sort of serves as a bridge between the Golden Age Heroes and the dawn of the Silver Age in the 1960s (we go from Justice Society of America to the Justice League) and we get to meet all the heroes that emerge in that era along the way- Green Lantern, The Flash, John Jones- even Aquaman shows up, but old stalwarts like Wonder Woman and Batman are already there. Set in the 50s it follows the decade from when post-war public opinion turns against masked heroes and sends them all into hiding (gee, that sounds familiar: Incredibles, much?) and the tide turns back once more as all the heroes, old and new must join forces to confront a threat greater than they ever imagined.

So far in my exploration of the medium, I've fallen toward the Marvel end of the spectrum as it were. Characters like Green Lantern fascinate me but I've never really been able to connect with them- I like The Flash on television and have enjoyed Batman, but preferred Smallville over any other depiction of Superman I've seen on the big screen. This book, I think, is an ideal introduction to the DC side of things and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This one ranks right up there with Watchmen as one of the best graphic novels I've ever read.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sportsyball: End of The Season Edition

MLS Quest
I've been bad in my quest for an MLS Team so far this season, but with the Premier League out of the way, I've got to pick up the pace and get someone eliminated off of my final four before the end of the season. Just a reminder: FC Dallas, Sporting KC, Toronto FC and Minnesota United. Minnesota has probably been the biggest surprise of the season after a less than auspicious debut to their first season in the MLS. I'm excited to get into this season more than I have and keep this quest rolling.

Woof! NEC Nijmegen is battling it out to stay alive in the relegation playoffs- I'm still running down the rabbit hole to see if they're good to go but the only Wikipedia page I found on the Nacompetitie was in Dutch and while I've dabbled in Dutch via Duolingo, it's not quite that good yet.

So: I think they're safe. But even if they're not, they're off to a good start- winning both legs against Dutch Second Division team FC Emmen. But here's the rest of their season from March 16th (our last edition of Sportsyball) to date:

L to Utretcht
L to Vitesse
L to Groningen
L to Ajax
L to Twente
L to Exelsior
W to AZ Alkmaar
L to Heerenveen
W to FC Emmen (Dutch Playoffs, Game 1)
W to FC Emmen (Dutch Playoffs, Game 2)

As you can see, it's rough stuff. Hopefully they can survive another season and at the top and get a little more done. Love me some Dutch football, but it would be nice to see some more teams in the mix up at the top other than Feynoord and Ajax you know. Just sayin!

Not sure what League I'm going to pick for next season- but stay tuned in a few months for the big announcement! (Don't worry: I'll keep half an eye on NEC next season, just for old time's sake.)

The Travails of The Gunners
It's not quite done yet- there's still the FA Cup Final to contend with next Sunday against Chelsea. A Chelsea that is fresh off of winning the Premier League and looking to add to it's collection of silverware awaits Arsenal. Arsenal certainly seemed to be up for it against Everton last Sunday- despite needing some help from 'Boro to make the Top 4 and secure a place in the Champions League- help which, unsurprisingly, they didn't get. So- it's the Europea League next year- whatever that is, and a chance to spoil Chelsea's party and win the FA Cup next Sunday.

Will Arsene Wenger still be manager next season? No idea. Will Sanchez, Ozil and half a dozen other key pieces still be here? No idea. The Arsenal fandom that I wander in and out of seems to be pointing increasingly at Stan Kroenke as part of the problem and I'm starting to think that's right. Arsenal doesn't need a change in manager- they need a change in ownership. Owners like Roman Abramovitch and Sheikh Mansour are spending big bucks for silverware. I feel like the Glazers and the Fenway Sports Group wanted to buy the brands of both Manchester United and Liverpool FC- but I also think they know that the success of their brands is tied to winning silverware. I think Kroenke just wanted Arsenal for the brand. Every move or lack thereof these past couple of seasons seems aimed at waiting for the stars to align just right to Arsenal's title to drop into their laps. And maybe that'll work- goodness knows as an Iowa fan, that frustration is very familiar indeed. But if you have the money, in a league as tough as the Premier League, then you need to go out and take your silverware. Not wait for it to come to you.

We'll see what the Gunners can come up with in the offseason. They looked good against Everton- but I'm not sure how they'll do against Chelsea. (And their propensity for doing boneheaded stupid shit after scoring a goal remains high. That redcard and the handball? SO FRUSTRATING.) I'll say this for them though: the peaked at almost the right time. Had they picked up the pace a little bit in January instead of February or March, then they might have secured that place in the Top 4- but a strong finish is a good finish.

Bring on next season: Come On You Gunners!

Monday, May 22, 2017

The HWIC Has Arrived

Comrades! Citizens! Iowegians!

The hour we have so long waited and prayed for has come. Our Glorious and Eternal Governor, The Moustache has accepted an appointment from Our Tangerine Regime and is set to depart our fields of opportunities after decades of engaging in the most noble of Grand American Traditions: enriching himself on the public teat, parlaying his riches into lucrative six figure jobs in the private sector before coming back to suckle on the public teat of our great state once more.

Our Glorious and Eternal Governor has finally weaned himself from the burden of decades of public service and is sailing to the east to bring the authority of Our Tangerine Regime to the Godless Heathen Sort of Kind of Communists of the People's Republic of China. Yes, Our Glorious and Eternal Governor, The Moustache shall spread the good news of high quality corn, bountiful soybeans and that sweet ambrosia of the internal combustion engine, ethanol to the people of China and they shall see his magnificence for what it is, truly, the greatest gift the heartland of America has to offer to the world.

Yea, verily, the streets of Iowa will run full with the tears and lamentations of it's citizens this day. Garments will be rent. Chests will be beaten, but fear not! As Our Glorious and Eternal Governor, The Moustache ends his tenure, the hour has come for his successor to take over. Yes, the Hour of His Chief Henchwoman has struck! All hail, Our New Glorious and Eternal Governor, the Head Woman In Charge...

Long Live Iowa!

You Can't Have It Both Ways

The ongoing internet kerfuffle over the Notre Dame Commencement Walkout is starting to piss me off, so let's sit down and have a little talk. (American Right, I'm talking to you.)

First, I loved this. This is exactly how free speech is supposed to work and given the rough year the idea of free speech has been having on American campuses it was an almighty relief to see Notre Dame doing it right. They didn't boo. They didn't throw things. They didn't shout Pence down. They quietly, politely filed out of the commencement to protest Pence and his Administration's shitty policies. Good for them. This is exactly how free speech is supposed to work.

Second, you can't have it both ways.  You can't complain that college kids are too precious and sheltered to hear opposing points of view when they shut down or dis-invite speakers and then get all up and arms about it when they exercise the first amendment rights you always yell about by walking out in a peaceful, non-disruptive way. They have an absolute right to walk out. You have an equally absolute right to disagree with their reasons for doing so, but they can't be snowflakes all the time. Take a deep breath, acknowledge that there might be legitimate reasons to oppose the Trump Administration and not just the ones you see on the 'Fake News Channels' and relax. They were exercising their First Amendment rights and doing so in a peaceful, non-destructive way. It was beautiful. It was America at it's best in a year where we haven't had that many good moments. Oh and, by the way: This is exactly how free speech is supposed to work.

Third, we've got to stop yelling so much at each other. Our civil discourse is devolving into not just 'beat the other guy' but 'beat him senseless, with a shovel and then a spoon and then behead him and then poison him and then drown him and then decapitate him until we're sure that the body has stopped twitching' and it's only getting worse with every passing year. Just because someone didn't vote the same way you did, doesn't mean they're an asshole. (It might- but not necessarily.) While politics is always going to be about 'beating the other guy' to a certain degree, it seems to me there was a time when it was about 'getting shit done' too. Problem is that we're Rasputinizing our politics. And not in a fun, disco way either.

I don't think I've ever really said this before- as I still have a certain amount of hatred in my heart for Notre Dame shitting the bed the way they did against Alabama in the title game a few years back- but good for Notre Dame. If I was a rich ass alumnus, I'd be more than happy to cut a check.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Netflix & Chill #15: The Secret Life Of Pets

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2016
Starring: Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Steve Coogan, Albert Brooks 
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Pick: Mine

Our Friday night movie for the kiddos, we exercised our parental veto over Little Man (who wanted to watch Big Hero Six for the 1,432,345th time) to sit down and watch The Secret Life of Pets and while it wasn't the greatest movie I've ever seen, it was an entertaining way to pass our night and I honestly enjoyed this movie. The basic premise of the movie: what do our pets get up to while we're away at work on at the grocery story or the like? Turns out, quite a bit.

Max is a Jack Russell Terrier who lives with his owner Katie in a Manhattan apartment, while she's at work, he hangs out with the other pets in the buildings- a cat named Chlore, a pug named Mel, a dachshund named Buddy and a bird named Sweatpea- it's a pretty good life that gets turned upside down when Katie decides to adopt another dog from the shelter named Duke. Jealous, Max attempts to mess with Duke to put him in his place, but Duke it turns out has other plans and tries to abandon Max in an alleyway- but they're both attacked by cats led by a Sphynx named Ozone. They take both dog's collars and they're caught by animal control. Duke reveals that if he goes back to the pound, he's going to be put down.

They get sprung from animal control by a rabbit named Snowball, who turns out to be the leader of a gang/possible revolutionary organization named 'The Flushed Pets' and takes them to the sewers to introduce them to the rest of the gang and invites them both to join, but before they can, the cats show up and reveal that they are the domesticated pets they had just chased away in the alley- the gang turns on Max and Duke and they barely get away.

Meanwhile, Gidget, a Pomeranian from the next building over who has a crush on Max, realizes that he is missing an enlists the other pets and a red-tailed hawk named Tiberius to go and look for them. Max and Duke end up in Brooklyn and visit Duke's old home before getting captured once again by Animal Control- Duke interferes long enough to get Max free and eventually, Snowball and his gang and Gidget and her gang catches up to Max and Duke and eventually, they all get home safe and in one piece- best friends together with their owner, Katie.

As kids movies go, this wasn't bad. It wasn't the greatest kids movie I've ever seen either, but it was entertaining enough. The premise was cute- I like the character of Leonard- a prim and proper poodle who turns on his death metal as soon as his owner walks out of the door. What took me aback was the cast: Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Steve Coogan, Albert Brooks- it's an impressive list.

Overall: Cute, funny and entertaining- it's great to throw on for the kiddos and tolerable for adults. My Grade: *** out of *****

Saturday, May 20, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #214

Well, it's May.

And reaching back into the archives of 'Lost Weekends In Vexillology' I noticed that both Uruguay and Argentina are on my list, and they have one thing in common: the Sun of May.

This particular version of the sun of May comes from Argentina's flag- Uruguay's looks a little different (as we'll see in a minute.) But the Sun of May refers to the May Revolution which took place 207 years ago this week, which marked the beginning of independence from Spain for the then Viceroyalty of the Rio De La Plata. The legend goes that as the new government was formed, the sun broke through the clouds and was seen as a good omen. There have also been claims that the Sun represents the Inca Sun God Inti. (Checking Inti's wiki page, I think there's a good case to be made for that interpretation. (Side note: how cool is it that the Incan Sun God has his own Wikipedia Page?))

The reasons for the revolt are complicated (and I'm going to plug the Revolutions Podcast again- their 5th Season covers Simon Bolivar and touches on this end of the continent as well) but at the time, the Viceroyalty of the Rio De La Plata contained roughly the modern day countries of Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina- but the Sun of May doesn't show up on either the flags of Paraguay (which broke off quickly to do it's own isolationist thing) and Bolivia, which sort of got mixed up with Simon Bolivar and Antonio Jose De Sucre and ended up doing it's own thing as well. Argentina and Uruguay were at the heart of the Rio De La Plata- and looked across the river at each other, so it sort of makes sense that the Sun of May would have had the most impact there. So let's check out the flags:
Adopted on February 27th, 1812, the flag of Argentina was designed by Manuel Belgrano and there are two main interpretations of the colors- with popular belief linking the colors to the sky, clouds and the sun- but other more historical contexts indicate a possible loyalty to the House of Bourbon. At the time, the initial revolt against Spain was sparked by the French invasion and occupation of Spain during the Peninsular War. With the Bourbon Monarchy overthrown and imprisoned, the colors of the flag neatly walked a tightrope of autonomy and independence while still demonstrating loyalty to the monarchy of the mother country.

The Argentine version of the Sun of May has thirty-two rays, alternately wavy and straight.

As a flag, Argentina has had a measurable design impact on the region. Uruguay's flag has the Sun of May as well- Paraguay, is a horizontal tricolor though with slightly different countries. El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua all follow the configuration of horizontal color with similar shades of blue and white.

So, let's slip across the river and check out the flag of Uruguay:
Adopted on July 11th, 1830, the flag of Uruguay has nine stripes which represent the original departments of Uruguay and the Sun of May- which only has 16 rays as a posed to Argentina's 32. The Sun of May represents a new nation in the world.

Uruguay. while originally part of the Viceroyalty of the Rio De La Plata, had a long and bumpy road to Independence. First, they broke from what would become Argentina- over the question that would consume South America post-independence. Centralism versus Federalism...  Jose Artigas, the founding father of Uruguay championed political and economic autonomy for the provinces, especially the Banda Oriental (Literally, the 'East Bank' which is where Uruguay was and remains to this day.) The government in Buenos Aires wasn't interested in federalism though and doubled down on centralism, refusing to even seat the delegates from the Banda Oriental. That was enough for Artigas, who raised some troops, took Montevideo and said 'Nuts' to Buenos Aires and formed an autonomous government.

In 1816, the Brazilians got in on the fun, invading and occupying the country and annexing the Banda Oriental and calling it the Cisplatina Province. In a weird turnabout of history, the Thirty-Three Orientals declared independence and with the help of the friends from across the river they launched the 500-day Cisplatine War which finally secured Independence for Uruguay.

So that's the 4-1-1 on the Sun of May and the flag that bear it's smiling face- Argentina and Uruguay.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Laws of Unintended Consequences

I wasn't intending to keep writing so much about politics this month- I kept a slot open in my schedule for the expected departure of Our Glorious and Eternal Governor, The Moustache, but he's still here and the gears of bureaucracy are grinding very slowly indeed. But the President keeps doing shit that makes it impossible not to write about.

So, he fired FBI Director James Comey. (My thoughts about that hot mess, here.) But then things took a shocking and unexpected twist: a purported memo Comey wrote that claimed that the President ordered him to stop investigating former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. No one right now knows what the memo actually says and despite the media shrieking, until we know what it says it's hard to say how big of a deal this actually is- but the general consensus is that it might be a very big deal indeed.

Let's say the memo says: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go. Flynn's a good guy." (Which is a White House statement I saw floating around CNN yesterday.) Then the optics are bad, but it's not necessarily fatal. On the other hand, fi the memo says: "Hey fella, stop your investigation right now." That's a big-ass deal. Either way, the existence of a memo is a bombshell that the Trump Administration did not need this week- and it could be a fatal bombshell.

Whispers have already begun about President Pence. Crusty proto-nationalist Pat Buchanan is talking about Watergate. Obituaries, while perhaps premature, are already being written about the Trump Administration. But it's Camille Paglia that hits the most troubling note: the media's hysteria and the potential damage it could do to the country, no matter what happens.

We've been in a downward spiral for a couple of decades now. Hyper-partisanism kicked into high gear in the mid-90s, culminating in a highly politicized and questionable attempt to kneecap a President over a sexual indiscretion- not because he perjured himself, but because he was a Democratic President and it wasn't about what's right or what's good, it was about winning. And ever since then, that instinct- to make it about winning over governing has gotten worse and worse.

The Left lost it's mind when George W. Bush was in charge. The Right lost it's mind when Barack Obama was in charge. Now it's the Left's turn again and if the House flips to the Democrats next year and they go for impeachment (which I'm going to assume will be as controversial and politicized as Clinton's impeachment was- barring actual, hard evidence of malfeasance- which isn't out of the question with this Administration) then what happens next?

The wells are poisoned. Our politics have become bloodsport. We have to break the cycle and change our political discourse. I have no idea how to do that, but thinking before speaking would be a good first step. Thinking about the laws of unintended consequences would be a good second step.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Albums2010 #89: Guardians of the Galaxy- Awesome Mix Vol. 2

I haven't done too many soundtracks on this long, strange trip of mine, but the first Guardians of the Galaxy had such an excellent, almost iconic soundtrack, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the second one- and for the record: I haven't even seen the movie yet! That's how pumped I was for this thing...

The first soundtrack was packed full of songs I recognized- I knew all the artists and had heard and liked at least 10 out of 12 tracks- the second volume goes for some deeper cuts- I've heard and liked about 5 out of 13 tracks. And I recognize only nine out of thirteen bands. You'd think that the deeper cuts would make it harder for a listener to connect to a soundtrack, but once again, the minds behind Guardians of the Galaxy prove me wrong.

The fun starts with ELO's Mr. Blue Sky: awesome song- I'll have to see the movie to be sure, but for some reason ELO really works. (There was a Tennant Doctor Who ep that used 'Don't Bring Me Down' to great effect. Also, I think they used this one too.) Right away, you get something you recognize and get drawn in.

Next, Sweet's Fox On The Run: did not know that this was Sweet! Awesome song that's gotten heavy airplay in all the trailers for the movie. True story: did not know a single Sweet song other than 'Ballroom Blitz' so I'm glad to expand my repertoire.

Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah changes the tone with 'Lake Shore Drive', and then Fleetwood Mac chimes in with 'The Chain' (Rumors remains one of the best albums ever made.) Things get soulful with Sam Cooke and 'Bring It On Home To Me' then Glen Campbell and George Harrison perk things up a bit with 'Southern Nights' and 'My Sweet Lord' but it's Jay and The Americans that drop the most interesting song in the soundtrack into the back half of the album. 'Come A Little Bit Closer' is a super old school song (I guess they were big back in the 60s and came up with Lieber and Stoller) that embeds itself in your brain and is one hell of an earworm.

Cheap Trick's 'Surrender', Cat Stevens' 'Father and Son' and P-Funk's 'Flashlight round out the album without  too much fuss.

I guess it depends on how you judge soundtracks, but to me, the mark of a good soundtrack is that it makes you want to sit down and watch the movie again. (Again, I really need to sit down and watch the first movie again and I really want to get to see the second movie.)  But in general, this is, as advertised a truly Awesome Mix. There's more of a 70s flavor to this soundtrack than the first movie (which had more of an 80s feel) but the choices for the soundtrack are all solid, kick-ass, home runs.

Overall: While I have yet to determine if the 2nd movie is as good as the 1st, I can now say with certainty that the 2nd soundtrack is just as good as the first. A worthy successor in every way, it's worth a spin on your Spotify if you are so inclined.  **** out of ****

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Netflix & Chill #14: Gimme Danger

Watched On: Amazon Prime
Released: 2016
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Pick: Mine

Things have been weird lately, which made this the perfect documentary to sink my teeth into. I should clarify: by weird, I mean that I keep stumbling back into bands that I had forgotten that I had gotten in pretty deep with at some point back in the day. I had my odd Rod Stewart period (from the Faces all the way through to 'Do You Think I'm Sexy'), I watched Almost Famous a few times and then suddenly I got into Yes in a big way and for awhile I was really into Iggy and the Stooges.

So, this documentary was a pleasure and a half to watch.

From the genesis of the band in the wilds of Ann Arbor of the 60s, through meeting each other and their early association with the MC5 before breaking out and falling apart in the 70s before finally coming back together again in the late 90s/early 00s, it's been a wild ride for Iggy and the Stooges and Jarmusch wisely keeps the focus on his subjects. There's little to no narration, just the members of the band, telling their stories from past to present.

Growing up in post-war Michigan, all of the band members seemed to have points of commonality: their Dads had all served (Ron Asheton related the odd hobby he and his Dad developed of collecting Nazi memorabilia.) Their childhoods were pretty rough. They just sort of met at school, thought they all looked bad-ass and started hanging out together and sort of fell into a band. Where it gets really interesting is when they meet the MC5. While MC5 were more overtly political, The Stooges were not- the man himself, Iggy Pop says, "I just wanted to be." And while that might have tagged them with the whole nihilism thing that seems so common with punk, it's a simple statement of philosophy that I dig a lot. (Plus, if Iggy Pop couldn't be any cooler: he played a Vorta on an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.)

I'm sort of struggling to come up with anything else to say about this documentary and I think that's sort of a good thing at the end of the day. It's taut, well directed and doesn't waste time- it lets the members of the band tell their story themselves- the archival footage is a raw and gritty look at the 70s. This is a band that was extraordinarily influential in music and a documentary to tell their story was long overdue.

Overall: If you like Iggy Pop, watch this documentary. If you like Iggy and the Stooges, watch this documentary. If you like Jim Jarmusch and his movies, watch this documentary. In general, if you like taut, well made, interesting documentaries about kick-ass music, sit down and, well you know- watch this movie. ***** out of ***** Now I've gotta go jam out to some Iggy Pop on my Spotify.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #213

We're going back into the archives again, this time for another 'Lost Weekend In Vexillology' this time in Africa...  and if you're talking about flags of Africa, what better place to begin than with the country that started it all, Ghana:
The Pan-African colors of red, yellow and green have had a huge influence on vexillological design across the continent- so much influence, in fact, it's almost too much, in my opinion. You can only have so many variations on one theme, you know? But Ghana was the second African flag after the flag of the Ethiopian Empire to feature these colors and while Ethiopia had remained free and independent and uncolonized by Europeans, Ghana was the first colony to declare it's independence and a wave of independence followed in its wake.

Designed by Theodosia Okoh it was adopted in 1957, flown until 1962 and the reinstated in 1966. (I haven't figured out if there was a reason for that brief interruption, but they brought it back- and good thing, too- because this is a pretty cool flag.) The red in the flag stands for the blood of those that died in the struggle for independence from Great Britain. The gold stands for the mineral wealth of the country and the green is for the rich forests and natural wealth of the country. The black star is a symbol of African emancipation and was taken from a shipping line (The Black Star Line) owned by Marcus Garvey.

From a design point of view, the monotony of African flags gets to me after awhile- as I said, you can only have so many variations one theme, you know? However, since Ghana was the first one over the line of independence, as it were- I give it a pass and actually really dig this flag. I think the black star is what sort of sets it apart from it's neighbors- it focuses the overall design of the flag and sharpens it up nicely. (To be honest: I've always wanted a flag of Ghana to add to my collection. I need to get on that.)

And that, in a nutshell, is the flag of Ghana.

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Put The Tin Foil Hat Down and Back Away Slowly

I was not intending to write quite so much about politics this month, but events keep embedding themselves in my brain and leading me to write things like this:

1. Comey should have been fired months ago. Sure, the timing was lousy, but holy hell- whether you're Democrat, Republican or Independent, I think we can all agree on this: dude tanked a Presidential election just because he could. I was betting that had Hillary won, he would have been first out the door and it doesn't surprise me that President Trump is showing him the door now. If he's willing to tank a Presidential election for the flimsiest of reasons, then what else is he willing to do? I wouldn't trust this dude any further than I could have thrown him. (Plus, the new acting FBI Director? Democrat. Very Democrat. So it's not like the President fired Comey to make way for a new buddy immediately. Getting a new FBI Director will take time.)

2. No, the Russia investigation isn't going away. In fact, it's intensifying. If you honestly believe that this move was because 'Comey was getting too close' then, as the wise man said, 'check yourself before you wreck yourself.' Michael Flynn has been subponead. The Senate Intelligence Committee wants Comey to testify now. If firing Comey was supposed to make this all go away, mission not accomplished.

3. The meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was probably scheduled for awhile now. The optics and the timing are bad, but Russia is kind of a big country and President Trump is the President of the United States,  so meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister kind of feels to me like NBD, you know? And holy shit- of course the Russian Foreign Minister is going to report back to his freakin' President. No shit, Vox. Way to state the obvious, dudes.

4. We need to define what people mean by 'influence' and 'interference' and 'hacking.' While I think it's important that we do our due diligence on this whole Russia thing and make sure there's nothing there (I doubt there will be, though I'm assuming the Left/Media will try and insist otherwise.) at a certain point, we risk making real, legitimate concerns about foreign influence on our elections into a self-fulfilling prophecy, you know? So let's break it down:

'Interference' and 'Hacking' to me, mean actual, verifiable evidence that there were shenanigans ongoing to change the results of the election in a way that was favorable to Russia (or whomever else.) I don't think we're going to get evidence of this... for a start, if I'm going to steal an election, I'm going to make sure the margins are more comfortable than they were in this election and probably going to have my guy (or lady) wins both the popular and electoral vote. If you just win the electoral vote, you're not really hobbled by it, but it's always going to hang over your head a little bit. If you want your choice of President to win and have power with all the trimmings and toppings that work for you, you'd want more of an emphatic win, I think.

Which is why I think there's more of a case to be made for 'influence.' If you're Russia and you want to undermine confidence in our democracy, this is exactly what you would do and circumstances have only helped you out even more. The (arguably) most qualified candidate for the Presidency of the United States lost to a reality television show star who's track record at business is mixed at best. People can't wrap their heads around that. DOES NOT COMPUTE in their brains. So obviously, there's got to be something else, some other explanation, right?

And that's why I worry all this is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy in many ways. The way the media reports this (in the most dramatic way possible, because, well, ratings) and the general inexplicable confusion over how the Democrats managed to piss this election down their leg means that everyone is believing the statement: "Russia interfered in our elections" without having seen evidence as to what/how they did that. The allegation (and at this point, it's still an allegation) has been repeated so often that the media is reporting it as truth now- which both undermines trust in the media and our democracy all in one go.

In short, if Russia did pull some shenanigans, it probably cost them about $100 worth of shitty clickbait stories they planted on Facebook and the media did the rest for them and I'm sure much caviar and vodka has been consumed in great merriment at our national histrionics since.

5. Election night, I was expecting Hillary to win. I really was. I thought after the convention, after Trump went after the Gold Star Family, after the whole 'pussy-grabbing' thing surfaced, I thought "there's just no way. There's absolutely no way." I was wrong. And looking back on it, I think that's what everyone was thinking- the weeks before the election were filled with breathless stories about how Georgia might be in play. Texas might be in play. Omaha might be in play and I think people (and I'm assuming the Clinton campaign did as well) got caught up in that at precisely the wrong time. 2-3 weeks out, if I'm running a national campaign, I'm checking my six and making sure my base is actually going to come out where I need it too- expanding the map is a bonus at that point. The fact that Clinton didn't go to Wisconsin at all after the convention and barely went to Michigan goes a long way to explaining why it all went down the way it did.

6. Post-election, I had a fear. I still have that fear. "TRUMP BAD" and, "B-b-b-but hey man, Russia..." is not a platform that voters are going to give a shit about.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Psephology Rocks: You're All Wrong About The French Election

So, it's President Macron. By a more than comfortable margin- as expected, the other parties closed ranks against the National Front and Marine Le Pen just couldn't expand her base enough to get the votes she needed to make it close or even to win. But here's the deal: all the takes I've seen so far on the French election- they're all wrong and here's why.

First: Stop projecting this country's political neuroses onto other countries- France is not like America. So, this piece of satire, while excellent misses the point. All the Tweets I've seen like this miss the point as well:

Points like this, while I'm sure of great comfort to liberals and Progressives on this side of the Atlantic miss the point about both the 2016 election as well as what happened in France. The National Front is seen as an existential threat to the Republic itself which is why the two times that they've made it to the Second Round of a Presidential Election the other parties have closed ranks against them. They're viewed as a threat, the Republican mistake in the 2016 cycle was not taking Trump seriously as a candidate until it was far too late for them to do anything about it. Ignoring a problem and hoping like hell it will go away isn't capitulation, it's an admittedly gross miscalculation about the depth of anger in the country as well as the level of support that President Trump ended up getting. I realize that it might be comforting to a lot of Trump opponents out there to think of him as an existential threat to our Republic, but despite the best efforts of the media to portray him as such, he just isn't.

Second: likewise, the takes on the Right that want to blame the media and it's unending attacks on the Nationalist Le Pen- also wrong. You can't blame the media for everything and I would cast a serious side-eye on anyone that wants to imply that there's a large, undercurrent of angry pissed of voters similar to the average Trump voter here in America. The comparison is too easy once again- and while it's easy to breathe a sigh of relief at the results, this thing isn't done yet.

Which brings me to point number three and where I land in the spectrum of Hot Takes [insert fire emoji here]. The results of this election are reason to cheer- but a mild cheer. The Far Right won more votes than it ever has before and although it's not being talked about both candidates that made it through to the Second Round came from outside the mainstream of French politics. This might have been a setback for the populism of the right, but it's not necessarily a setback for populism itself. And President Macron's task only gets potentially harder from here. He's got Parliamentary Elections in June and a political movement/party that's been around for about as long as his candidacy has. While there's apparently an alliance of sorts with En Marche! and the MoDem centrist party, they've got work to do- even if early indications are good. And with the peculiarities of the French system being what they are, without an En Marche! majority to work with, President Macron will have to pick a Prime Minister that can win support of the National Assembly and getting into a Co-Habitation again could put a crimp in his ambitious agenda.

This election was a rejection of mainstream French politics across the board. While Macron turned out to be the more palatable of the options on the ballot, if he cannot deliver the goods, then the Far Right could exceed it's 35% and then some in 2022. Le Pen's voters aren't going anywhere and if they're not taken seriously, then their numbers will only grow.

Happy? Relieved? Don't be. This was a warning shot. President Macron has to deliver the goods otherwise I'm not sure how many more elections the Republican Front will hold.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Bookshot #97: Siddhartha

Well, it's short. I'll give it that. Coming in at one hundred and fifty two pages, Siddhartha is a fast read. Initially, I assumed that they were talking about the man himself, Gautama Buddha- but Hesse is in fact, talking about another Siddhartha, his main character- the man himself does show up in the book, but as Gotama, the Enlightened One that Siddhartha encounters on his travels.  But- backing up a second:

Siddhartha is the young son of a rich Brahmin, who, feeling no satisfaction with his comfortable life decides to discard it and seek a life of contemplation, joining the Samanas and becoming an ascetic and renouncing all his personal possessions for a life of poverty- his friend Govinda joins him and Siddhartha fasts and meditates in search of spiritual enlightenment- he finds no answers and eventually he and Govinda seek out the Gotama and attempt to find wisdom from his teachings. While Govinda makes the decision to join Gotama's order, Siddhartha leaves him behind saying that while the Gotama is supremely wise, his teachings do not taking into account the distinct experiences of a person- that individuality means that true wisdom cannot come from a teacher- so he carries on his quest alone.

He comes to a river and a generous ferryman takes him across and when Siddhartha is unable to pay, the ferryman tells him that Siddhartha will return to the river later to bring payment of some kind for him. Siddhartha goes into the city and lays eyes on Kamala, the most beautiful woman Siddhartha has ever seen. He requests instruction in the art of love, but Kamala advises him that he will have to earn her affection by making money and becoming a man of wealth. He abandons his ascetic life and soon becomes a successful businessman and a rich one as well. He becomes Kamala's lover and reaching his middle years that his lifestyle of luxury is a game that has nothing to do with his quest for spiritual enlightenment. He leaves it all behind and heads back to the river, considering ending his life. An experience with the Holy Word 'Om' and meeting Govinda again who is passing through the area as a wandering Buddhist.

Siddhartha decides to stay by the river, where he reunites with the Ferryman from many years ago and decides to live a simple life and work as a ferryman beside the river which is giving him so much spiritual inspiration. Years later, Kamala, now a Buddhist convert comes through, trying to reach the Buddha who is on his deathbed, accompanied by a child that he recognizes as his son. He struggles to be a good father to the boy, who resists at every turn- used to a life of comfort and leisure and not a life of poverty and eventually, the boy runs away. Siddhartha wants to go after him, but the Ferryman advises him to let the boy find his own path, the same way Siddhartha did when he was young.

The Ferryman eventually leaves for the woods at the end of his life, claiming his work is done and Siddhartha is alone again until Govinda finds him once again at the end of their lives and finally understands that Siddhartha has found the enlightenment that he seeks.

It seems strange that I'm reading so soon after Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which was everywhere in the news last month thanks to the passing of it's author, Robert Pirsig.) Siddhartha is another book drenched in philosophy- thought it's more accessible than Zen's was. I like the fact that Siddhartha rejects the Buddha, realizing that true enlightenment has to come from within and not through the teachings of anyone. That appeals to me and feels right- spirituality is different for everyone and I'm a big 'internal, uber-private, wrestling match' kind of guy. But Hesse drops in another nice metaphor with Siddhartha's connection to the river- his eventual realization that everything is connected and that time is an illusion and nature is in fact cyclical fits perfectly with the idea of the river. It keeps flowing.

While I understand the motivations for the character essentially abandoning his child, it also bothered me. The reasoning behind Siddhartha's choice made sense: he had to let go of his parents to find his own path, so it makes sense that his child would have to do that as well. But I didn't like that. I understand it and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Overall: This was a nice, quick read, written in an accessible, lyrical style that I enjoyed. I'm going to go with *** out of ****.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Netflix & Chill #13: The BFG

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2016
Starring: Mary Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Harder
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Pick: Austin's

I've been trying to read to Austin more often (for a variety of reasons- not least of which is that I think the more you read to kids, the more they're going to want to read and the more they read, the better of they'll be) and one of the books we just finished was Roald Dahl's The BFG- now, he had already seen the movie at some point along the way, but obviously since we just finished the book*, that meant that we had to watch the movie again.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a ten year old orphan, who stays away reading because of her insomnia- around 3 AM one night, or what she calls 'the witching hour' she sees a large, elderly giant outside her window- when the giant sees her, he captures her and takes back to Giant Country. Once he reaches his house, he explains to Sophie that she must stay with him for the rest of her life to keep the existence of giants secret. She soon learns that the giant's name is The Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) and he's the only vegetarian in a group of man-eating giants. One of them, the Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) shows up, smells Sophie and almost eats her before leaving. The BFG gives her some new clothes and together they head out to Dream Country to catch dreams together-- but not before the other giants catch the BFG and toss him around for fun. Sophie runs away and stays hidden, but drops her blanket in the process. As they head out to Dream Country, Sophie encourages the BFG to stand up to the other giants.

In Dream Country, they each catch a dream before heading off to London to spread good dreams to sleeping children- but when Sophie realizes that she has lost her blanket, the BFG leaves her behind at the orphanage again, explaining that the last human child he took and raised was discovered and eaten by the other giants. Sophie, unwilling to be left behind, takes a chance and jumps out her window, banking on the BFG to catch her- which he does. Returning to the BFG's home, the other giants barge in and trash his place, looking for Sophie and finally, enraged, the BFG drives them off and, discovering a portrait of Queen Victoria in the home where the other child the BFG had taken lived, she hatches a plain to appeal to the current Queen for help.

So, together they mix up a dream for the Queen, detailing the activities of the giant and in the dream, the Queen will wake up and find Sophie on her window sill- so that means they have to sneak into the grounds of Buckingham Palace and place Sophie on the window sill. Sure enough, though, everything goes as planned and the Queen (Penelope Wilson- who actually played Prime Minister Harriet Jones in Doctor Who, strangely enough) wakes up, finds Sophie on her window sill and is soon convinced by the BFG of the existence of giants and their danger to her subjects- so she sends the Army and the Air Force out to Giant Country to capture the giants (which they do) and air lift them to an uncharted island with plenty of snozzcumber seeds so they'll have plenty to eat. Then, the Sophie and the BFG go their separate ways and the film ends with Sophie narrating that whenever she feels lonely- she talks to him and he can hear her and smiles.

Overall, this was a relatively faithful and visually stunning adaptation of the book. They sort of downgraded some of the darker parts of the book (the giants at the end get thrown down a deep dark hole and left there as a posed to be taken to a nice, uncharted island) and Sophie doesn't get adopted by the Queen's maid and get to live in Buckingham Palace at the end of the book. But those are nit-picky at best. (Plus, I think it has something to do with Stephen Spielburg being the director. Everything's got to have a sort of glossy golden nostalgia with a slightly melancholy ending and this is no exception.)

What bugged me the most? Well, it was apparently the universe where the Queen still exercised absolute political authority over the Armed Forces and government and/or it was the late 1980s where Ronald Reagan was still President and/or Boris Yeltsin in charge of Russia or the Soviet Union. (Though to be fair, it was sort of amusing to imagine the 'Boris' she calls at the end being Prime Minister Boris Johnson and then, it that case, I'm glad the Queen has so much power.)

But again: if that's the biggest complaint you can have about what's fundamentally a movie for children, then how bad could the movie have been? Answer: not bad at all- My Grade: *** and 1/2 out of *****

*We're now tackling Redwall, which means I'll have to dig up the animated series.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #212

This Week In Vexillology, we're looking at some municipal flags*, just so shake things up a bit: Tampa and Tulsa. Let's start off with Tampa- the flag of Tampa? Well the flag of Tampa looks like this:
Adopted on July 1st, 1930, it's meant to represent "the eras, growths and characteristics of Tampa." And it's not really a flag- it's more of a strange combination of a bunch of other flags. Yes, there are elements of the Stars and Stripes (should be obvious to the eye), the British Union Flag (I'm assuming the diagonal red lines here?), the flag of Italy (the red and the green at the tip of the flag) and the French Tricolor (red, white and blue). There's also red and gold to represent Spain- who helped to explore the area in 1528. The area also saw an influx of Spanish and Cuban immigrants.

There's an 'H' in the flag that should be obvious to the eye that stands for Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located and the blue stripe/white stars form a 'T' that stands for Tampa.

I'm honestly not sure how to feel about this flag...  it's shape is unusual, which kind of makes it stand out, but it's also a hot mess. It commits the cardinal sin of a placing a 'seal on a bed sheet' when honestly, it'd probably look a lot more interesting without it. It'a got multiple colors- far too many for an effective design and that's further undermined by a white background, which makes this whole flag look like a  collection of random lines with a seal on top of it. In short, I think this flag is trying to do too much. Something simpler would be a lot better and you don't need to cram your entire history into one flag. TL; DR: This may be a hot mess, but it's an interesting hot mess, which is a hell of a lot better than a just plain old regular hot mess.

Tulsa, on the other hand- had a hot mess and is trying to improve it! They've got three potential replacements all lined up and ready to go and voting is underway through May 10th. Check these bad boys out:
I actually changed my tune on these flags after checking out the explanation video on the website. I was all about the bottom left flag, but I think I'm leaning toward the top left flag instead. The top right flag, while nice and actually kind of striking, is a little too abstract for my taste. Let's look at my choices (taken direct from their awesome website!) Top Left:
The central element re-imagines the current city seal while simultaneously representing an acorn, symbolizing the Council Oak Tree and the founding of the modern city of Tulsa. The center of the design comes together to form a 'T' for Tulsa. The black lower left triangle represents the discovery of oil that brought people and commerce to our city. The gold bottom right triangle typifies the Art Deco architecture in Tulsa that is a product of prosperity and innovation. The top triangle stands for our Native American heritage; the middle bar for Black Wall Street. The blue lower half represents the Arkansas River and the gold upper half symbolizes a new day and a promising future for our city.
This really has grown on me. The design is simple, the central feature/element is back with symbolism and in contrast with say, the flag of Tampa, the low number of colors makes for a clean design with a central element that really stands out. So, what's the 4-1-1 for the Bottom Left:
The dream catcher is a Native American symbol of unity, and here it represents the settlement of Tulsa by the Creek tribe under the Council Oak Tree. Within the shield, the color red honors the lives lost in the Tulsa race riot. The Art Deco style star at the center represents Tulsa's future. It shows that our city heals from past wounds and flourishes as an icon of a uniquely American city. The horizontal line represents the 1901 discovery of oil, the 'black gold' that brought substantial growth and commerce to this land. Finally, the blue field symbolizes the Arkansas River and the many resources it has provided throughout our history and today, while the beige field represents the warmth and community found in Tulsa. 
I am honestly torn between these two flags. I like the fact that the dream catcher is slightly off-center in the bottom left flag, but what I didn't know was that the bottom half of the flag was, in fact, beige and not white. Which I think is the deciding factor is me going with the Top Left. The beige in the flag is hard to see unless you squint. But both of my choices are sharp and if you're in and around Tulsa or in Oklahoma- text your vote in! You've got three sharp looking choices and two choices that I think would make you an excellent flag.

(Speaking of which: I'm going to have to follow up and check to see if Iowa City has a flag- and if it does have a flag, what the heck is it and can we and should we do better? I think we probably can and should- especially what with us being a UNESCO City of Literature and all.)

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

*I know we've already done the flag of Chicago, but I stumbled across this Medium article about the story behind it's flag that I thought it was worth adding a bonus.

Friday, May 5, 2017

May On Medium

This month on Medium, I'm finally reaching the end of the cycle of short stories that I began working on last year with The Great Lemonade War:

This one was inspired by a random sign on a local bank I saw last summer, "Ask Us About Becoming A Lemon Boss' and I sort of took it from there. I think I was sort of aiming for a vaguely Lake Wobegon type of nostalgic humor and I don't know if I quite hit the mark. In general though, I'm happy with it.

Now, I pick out the best of the bunch, find places to send them and then roll up my sleeves and get to work on my next book.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

100 Days In

100 Days is a totally arbitrary and entirely stupid number to use when judging the metrics of a Presidency. Just because FDR had an amazing First 100 Days doesn't mean you need to use him a yardstick for every other President ever, all right- I mean, the dude lasted four terms, ended the Depression, won World War II and died in office. It's like comparing Michael Jordan to Reggie Miller. Reggie was a legit baller. Doesn't mean he was good as Michael Jordan was though.

But hey, every one gets all hot and bothered about the whole 100 Days Bullshit, so this modest blog of mine should be no exception, right?  So, where are we- 100 days in?

Well, we're still here. So that's a start, right?

Let's start with Foreign Policy:

Oddly enough, while I may not be crazy about some of the Trump Administration's more aggressive moves internationally, I feel okay about this administration and foreign policy now. With Michael 'Pizzagate' Flynn and Steve 'Crazy As A Loon' Bannon either out or potentially on their way out, H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis are forming, "an Axis of Adults" which is a relief, to say the least. I don't know if we'll stay out of a major conflict for the next three years or so- I sincerely hope we do- but I know that by their reputations, Mattis and McMaster are incredibly smart, capable people who know their shit. And they'll be advising the President. And that makes me slightly less queasy about President Trump's finger being on the nuclear button.

Diplomatically, I'm less sure about Secretary of State Tillerson- though by all accounts putting former South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley as UN Ambassador was a gifted choice on the part of this administration.

So people wise, I think we're okay. Actions wise, on the other hand...  I think much ado was made of Syria- but really it was largely cosmetic. The President was meeting with the Chinese President down at Mar-A-Lago when it all went down- we used Tomahawk Missiles, which didn't put any pilots at risk and Assad was back at it within a couple of days. (Though apparently with 20% less aircraft, which is a good thing.) Personally, I think our options are limited in Syria. A no-fly zone would have been nice a couple of years back, but now you'd need Russian cooperation and they've got a ton of hardware in the area and you get a whole ton of planes flying around up there and that increases the odds of accidents and international incidents. I thought it sent a message that 'no, you can't just gas random innocents anymore' and I hope we'll be willing to go there again if needs be, but I wouldn't imagine we'd do much more than that unless the situation changed somehow.

North Korea, on the other hand, is a far more dicier situation. It could be a really, really smart play. Or it could start the Korean War right back up again for, what I would imagine would be a truly hellish Netflix reboot after nearly a seven decade hiatus period. (Technically, we're still at war with North Korea. We just avoid shooting each other?) Why smart? Well, it sort of puts the onus back on China- who is in a position to do far more things to North Korea far more effectively that we are. If we're done placating the North Koreans with aid money and food shipments and are ready to go all in if we have to in order to secure a non-nuclear Korean peninsula that sort of puts China in an odd place.

On the one hand, China doesn't want a unified Korea as a potential economic/power rival right on their border. On the other hand, it probably doesn't want a nuclear North Korea making other regional powers like Japan and South Korea consider getting nukes of their own. And for sure it doesn't want the US going all in and forcing the issue on our terms. So there are powerful motivating factors for the Chinese to pressure the North Koreans to pipe the eff down and hand over the nukes. Whether or not that will be enough, I don't know- but this administration has proven willing to call North Korea's bluff so far- which- so far, seems to be working.

On balance, the major action so far hasn't been half bad. My Grade: with Bannon and Flynn out of the way? I'd give this a solid B with room to trend upward.

Which brings us to Domestic Policy, which so far seems to be, to borrow a phrase from Macbeth (which seems oddly appropriate, somehow), 'all sound and fury, signifying nothing.' There's been more piss and vinegar than actual major policy achievements so far on this side of the ball, but there's been a lot more talk and whispers of potential moves that have sounded less than cool to me as well.

Right off the bat, getting Judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court has to rank as the President's biggest success. I've said it before and I've said it again- but arguments about the Supreme Court are stupid, because if you switch around the parties, it's still the same exact argument but Trump got that done. Whatever else happens, he got someone on the Supreme Court. Which ain't nothin' Do I care one way or the other about Gorsuch? Not particularly. He's replacing Scalia, so obviously, he's going to be as Conservative as they come- but he doesn't do anything to the balance of the court. The next retirement or two- that's when people are going to lose their damn minds and when I'll start to scrutinize the issue a bit more.

While he's made some good choices for his national security team, his choices on the Domestic side of things have been less than inspiring. Jeff Sessions I'm honestly starting to think is a throwback to the worst kind of 1980s drug policy, which is not at all what we need right now in this country. Betsy DeVos is sending signals that she's ready to screw borrowers- including yours truly. I don't know where to begin with this lady and apparently Ben Carson got stuck in an elevator?

Health Care has been a disaster so far. The GOP had to scrap one attempt to pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and now seem to taking another run at it with no guarantees of success. Tax reform is also on the President's agenda and if it's an opening bid, it's one hell of a radical one. A border wall has yet to materialize and unless there's a tax on remittances included somewhere in these bills that the Republican Congress is failing to pass, I don't see how Mexico is going to pay for it. (But, I'd be down for something like this. Assuming it's not just talk, of course.)

Domestically, this administration needs message discipline and quickly. While I get the feeling that the President tweet randomly crazy sounding things just to give the media a seizure or two at a certain point, you've got to get your shit together. These comments on the Civil War are batshit nutty. While the prior administration may have had people close to your campaign under surveillance, randomly throwing out allegations that you yourself have been wire tapped isn't the same thing. Like at all.

If there's some kind of plan or agenda here, I'd dearly like to know what it is. Oh, and P.S. if you could not screw poor buggers like myself who are trying to pay off their student loans too much, that'd be great. My Grade: D Ugh. Just a dumpster fire on the domestic side of the aisle.

So, My Totally Arbitrary and Meaningless Grade thus far, a little over 100 Days into The Trump Presidency: C Not great, but not the apocalypse we were lead to believe either. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Squawk Box: You Had One Job, Danny Rand

So, where to start with Iron Fist?

I think Marvel was sort of damned if they did, damned if they didn't in many ways and having seen Doctor Strange, I'm increasingly convinced of that fact. With these Netflix shows, they seem to have made the decision to go with the 'classic' version of any given character as a means of either introducing them to a wider, screen-based audience or just because they wanted to hew as close to the original source material as possible. And therein, I think lies the fundamental problem with this show.

As people were quick to point out, Danny Rand isn't the only Iron Fist. The character didn't have to be a rich white dude- and having seen the first season, there's a very good argument to be made that he shouldn't have been a rich white dude, but if you say, 'let's not have him be a rich white dude' then suddenly you have a potential problem with the source material- much of which dates from the 60s and well, is full of martial arts/wisdom of the east/horrible Asian stereotypes that would present a challenge to update in a palatable way for a modern audience. It's a challenge that Netflix and Marvel should have accepted- because (and admittedly I haven't seen it but now want too) shows like Into The Badlands are reportedly doing the martial arts thing better than Iron Fist was- hell, even better than other Marvel movies- this review from the Guardian rightly points out that Iron Fist, the alleged greatest martial artist of the Marvel Universe looks positively sluggish next to Black Widow, who puts a phone call on hold to kick the shit out of three Russians in a very convincing and slick manner. That's what Iron Fist should have been.

It was intellectual and creative laziness that seems to have driven them to the 'classic' take on Iron Fist and unfortunately, the source material they insisted on embracing turns out to have been an idiotic thing to do, because the character of Iron Fist is probably the least interesting character in the entire show.

I cared more about everyone else on this show. Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho), who had floated around Daredevil with subtle menace came out of the shadows to become the most interesting and complete villain of any Marvel property thus far. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), back for more after Luke Cage had a more interesting character arc than Danny Rand. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) had a more interesting character arc than Danny Rand. The Meachums (Tom Pelphrey as Ward, Jessica Stroup as Joy and David Wenham as Harold) in and of themselves were sort of annoying at first, but by the end of the show, that miniature family drama had become- wait for it- more interesting than any of the alleged trials and tribulations of Danny Rand. (Finn Jones)

The intellectual and creative laziness which lead them to a parboiled take of the original Iron Fist story also kept them from showing us anything meaningful about his training in Kun'Lun- probably for fear of tip-toeing into a minefield about Asian/Martial arts stereotypes. We see the same three flashbacks every single episode and as a result, when he shouts at Colleen's dojo about their lack of respect for their sensei, he looks like a raging, rich, white asshole- and people are absolutely right to be offended by that. (Why is he shouting? Why do we care? We haven't seen his training, so we don't know that he's the 'Greatest Martial Artist EVER' or whatever.)

It's not all terrible. By the time the back half of the season rolls around, they're starting to hint and poke at the full extent of Danny's trauma. They're starting to show us just how messed up he is and question the motivations of what he was trained to do in Kun'Lun (namely, destroy The Hand- which seems simple in another astral plain, but infinitely more complicated in the real world.) They don't do it enough, but you start to realize that fundamentally, in many ways, Danny Rand never grew up, He's sort of frozen in that moment of his plane crash and if you view the character through that lens, he seems childlike, innocent, naive and impulsive- traits which might make perfect sense in the context of the show as written, but don't make for a very palatable or likable superhero.

This felt like filler. The last pieces of the puzzle before The Defenders, which was unfortunate, because the character is an interesting one, (I think they deserve another shot at this. I feel like they can do this better than they did here.) He's the Iron Fist. Guardian of Kun'Lun, protector of the way- only it turns out that the way was open the whole time and...  well, you had one job, Danny Rand. And it turns out you weren't very good at it.