Saturday, June 17, 2017

Summer Hiatus!

We're at the mid-point of the year, so I'm hanging it up for a couple of weeks to go on vacation with the fam and have a rest, relaxation and review of this crazy thing I've got going here to see if I can come up with ways to make it better.

Our regularly scheduled programming will resume July 1st!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Bookshot Bucket List #1: Iowa

I have a dream. Not a goal- because goals are dreams that you write down and actually do. But a dream. An idle dream that kicks around my brains now and again and sounds positively delightful. Someday, maybe, I'd like to open a bookstore.

But immediately reality kicks in. Half of all new businesses fail. Books are either a dying medium or doing just fine, depending on who you talk to. Plus, what the hell do I know about running a business? (Not much.) I'd need a space. I'd want to make it look good. I'd need to get books for my space. It's an idle dream, but I don't even know if it's possible or not.

About a month ago, I saw this Buzzfeed listicle float by me. Then, I saw this list go by me as well. And then it sort of all connected in my brain- what better way to figure out what's possible or what's not than by visiting the best independent bookstores in America? I've already started a semi tradition of buying at least one book from my excellent local independent bookstore, Prairie Lights for Independent Bookstore Day and this year was no exception:
Yep, Walkway by Cory Doctorow. I've got a couple of things to get out of my way before I get to it, but hopefully by the end of the summer I'll be cracking it open. I have no idea how long this particular challenge is going to take me, but I think it's important to find out if an idle dream can become an actual goal, so consider Prairie Lights crossed off the list. We'll see what other places I can get to when I can...

(I'm going to be using a combination of both lists and see how long it takes me to get to the end. Just for those of you keeping score at home.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #217: Flag Day Special!

It's Flag Day and you know what that means? Time for our salute to state flags to continue. We're dipping back into the Lost Archives a bit to put together a trifecta of flags that were lost in the mists of cyberspace. First up, we've got Tennessee!
 Adopted on April 17th, 1905 and designed by Colonel LeRoy Reeves, the flag of Tennessee really isn't all that bad when you look at it. It's not a 'Seal On A Bedsheet', it avoids the cardinal sign of being too busy and too cluttered and it is blessedly free of any obvious Confederate symbolism that seems to haunt the flags of the South. NAVA's 2001 survey ranks Tennessee 14th out of 72 flags they surveyed, which seems about right to me. It's not as iconic as Arizona, Texas, Colorado or New Mexico (the big four that always spring to minds) but it's solid, it's recognizable and it's kind of cool, to be honest.

The three stars in the center of the flag represent the three Grand Divisions of the state and the circle around them represents the unity of the three. The blue stripe at the edge of the flag was actually just a design consideration to keep too much red when it's hanging limp.

Next up, we've got the only non-rectangular state flag! Yes, it's Ohio and the Ohio Burgee:
Adopted on May 9th, 1902 and designed by John Eisenmann, there's an official salute to the flag ("I salute the flag of the state of Ohio and pledge to the Buckeye State respect and loyalty") and a specific seventeen step procedure to fold the flag. The three red and two white stripes stand for the roads and waterways of the state. The blue triangle stands for the hills and valleys. There are seventeen stars in the blue field- the thirteen grouped around the 'O' represent the original thirteen colonies, while the four at the apex of the triangle bring the total to 17, because Ohio was the 17th state admitted to the union.

I like the 'outside the box' aspect of this flag- NAVA's 2001 survey ranks Ohio's flag 15th out of 72 flags surveyed, which seems about right to me. Props to the Buckeye State for doing something a little different. I think it works really well for them...

Finally, we've got the flag of Hawaii:
We must be doing mid-majors for Flag Day this year, because's NAVA's survey ranks Hawaii 11th out of 72 surveyed which I feel is both kind of harsh and kind of get at the same time. For one, the Union Jack in the canton is sort of unoriginal from a design perspective. It does stand out in terms of state flags, but in the grand scheme of things sort of not so much.

Adopted on December 29th, 1845, the eight stripes on the flag stand for the eight major islands in Hawaii. The origin story of the flag itself varies a little, but King Kamehameha I was presented with a Red British Ensign given to him by Captain George Vancouver as a token of friendship with King George the III. After seeing it flown in various places, advisers suggested to the King that perhaps he should lower it avoid being seen as an ally of the British in any international conflicts. Similarly, during the War of 1812, an American flag was raised to placate American interests but was lowered again when British officer objected to it. Balanced between both American and British interests at the time, the story (if true) goes a long way to explaining how Hawaii ended up with such a hybrid of the two nation's flags.

All in all though, I think it's pretty cool.

There you have it! Our Flag Day Special! #TWIV will be back July 1st with a Special Canada Day Edition and then be back in it's usual time slot on Saturdays for the rest of July!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Psephology Rocks: "And That's Why You Never Call A Snap Election..."

Before we start, a moment of schaudenfreude: hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Okay, now that's out of the way, let's get down to Brass Tacks. As I'm sure you and the rest of the world have already realized, the election that Prime Minister Theresa May was under no obligation whatsoever to call and yet inexplicably did in an attempt to "strengthen her mandate" ahead of Brexit negotiations didn't go the way she wanted too, like, at all. Instead of increasing her majority- she lost her majority and is having to cuddle up to the British equivalent of the Republican Party of [Insert State South of the Mason-Dixon Line Here] just to cling, by the skin of her teeth to power.

Snap elections and minority governments have this tendency not to really work all that well, if at all. I'd be banking on another election- maybe this year, more likely next year- but soon. It really does depend on how the next few weeks shake out.

I think what was probably the most interesting thing about this election was that it was such a bundle of contradictions all over the place. Looking at the results, you have to wonder how it all ended up in such a muddle. The Conservatives increased their vote share and won the most votes, but managed to lose seats. UKIP, having, well, kipped out of the EU didn't really find much of a reason to exist and/or connect with voters so it's share of the vote crashed hard, but didn't produce uniform results across the country. I saw swings to the Conservatives in some seats in the Northeast, but those produced Labour wins- but I also saw a lot of working class (presumably 'Leave') voters seeming to flip back to Labour as well.

It's not as if voters sent a clear message about Brexit either. The Liberal Democrats, who have been the most solidly pro-European party in the wake of Brexit and who were calling for any Brexit deal to be put to the voters (I'm pretty sure) and/or having another referendum on the issue altogether had something of a mixed night. They clawed their way back into double digits in terms of seats and Vince Cable recovered his Twickenham seat while their leader Tim Farron retained his, but former Deputy PM Nick Clegg lost his seat in Sheffield. Their overall vote share is down 0.5% on the election- and they've been the loudest and most vocal 'Remain' party in the wake of the Brexit Mess. Don't know if British voters aren't interesting in rehashing the whole debate or what. (I might do a deep dive into the date to see if they were running ahead of Labour and behind the Tories in some places...)

North of the border, it felt like a totally different election. Ruth Davidson made the SNP's demand for a second independence referendum post-Brexit, the central issue of the campaign and voters seemed to agree with her. The Conservatives picked up 12 seats, which in Scotland is ludicrous. (But then, reading this, maybe not.) The SNP's vote share dropped by 13 percentage points and even Labour and the Lib Dems showed signs of life, picking up six and three seats respectively from the SNP. But it was the Conservatives who really had a good night- taking down SNP's Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson and former SNP Leader and First Minister Alex Salmond. (I haven't the faintest idea what these means for Scottish politics, except that, I'm guessing they really don't want another independence referendum at the moment?)

Some final thoughts in no particular order:

1. Democrats need to take a breath before getting all excited over these Jeremy Corbyn pieces popping up over here, while there's an argument to be made that it's time to put the full Bernie to the country and see what voters think, the larger (and more effective) argument is that when you're running against someone who's going to make it all about them (as May did with her 'strong and stable leadership') then get a really good platform and run on that instead. Tell the voters what you want to do and how you're going to do it (and pay for it) and voters will respond. They did in the UK, they will here. At the very least, stop letting the media define your party message and quit trying to out Trump Trump. That ain't gonna happen, which means you need to prove that your policies and ideas are better than his. (This piece more of less says that. And I agree.)

2. An Sign of the Apocalypse To Come: Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. (No, seriously... I'm sure the knives are out already and Tory leadership contests make what Brutus did to Caeser on the Senate floor look like a tickling match.) If they avoid a leadership knife fight, it'll be a miracle- just don't bank on BoJo being the first one to make a move this time. (In public, thus far, BoJo is backing the Prime Minister- and in private he seems to be keeping his powder dry for now. Reading the tea leaves, I'd say there's a reason Michael Gove is back in the Cabinet- probably to send a message to BoJo to behave. We'll see if it works, but I'd still bank on a leadership change within a year.)

3. I think... think Hard Brexit is probably off the table.

4. Theresa May ran a terrible campaign and she thoroughly deserved this result. It was also somewhat grimly ironic that in the wake of two terrorist attacks the right wing British media (well, the Telegraph, anyway) was awash with stories about Corbyn and his 'terrorist sympathies' to try and paper over the fact that as Home Secretary, May had been slashing police budgets and numbers and telling them to do more with less. Given a choice between the Minister cutting police all over the place or the guy who says the (questionable) things you'd expect a militant hard leftist to say, voters apparently felt they should go with the guy who wanted more police, not less. Oops.

5. Modern technology is amazing. I watched election returns LIVE direct from the Beeb on Twitter of all things all the way over in America. This was a glorious, glorious mess of an election and I loved watching every minute of it. (Especially Mr. Fishfinger and Lord Buckethead)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Netflix & Chill #16: War Machine

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2017
Starring: Brad Pitt, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, Alan Ruck, Tilda Swinton, Ben Kingsley
Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
Pick: Mine

I had been seeing previews for this movie here and there for awhile, so when it dropped on Netflix I decided to give it a whirl and was pleasantly surprised and somewhat sobered at the result. Based on The Operators, by Michael Hastings, War Machine is the story of General Glen McMahon (who is based on General Stanley McChrystal) who is brought in to bring a resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan, With him, comes a motley crew of aide-de-camps and deputies ranging from a civil media adviser (Topher Grace), to the Director of Intelligence, loosely based on Mike Flynn (Anthony Michael Hall) and a few others.

They arrive in Afghanistan and immediately realize that they're stuck in a stalemate. The General soon casts his eyes on Helmand Province as a target for a surge of counterinsurgency operations designed to drive out the the Taliban and stabilize the country once and for all. Immediately, he runs into resistance- Washington doesn't like the idea. The Afghani Government is unhelpful (with President Hamid Karzai rather randomly, but excellently played by Ben Kingsley) but that does not deter McMahon one bit. He wrangles some face time with the President, lets slip to a reporter that he's spoken to the President maybe once since he's been in Afghanistan and suddenly his plan for more troops is approved.

Enter the Rolling Stone reporter. Accompanying Team McMahon on their trip to Europe to drum up more soldiers from their reluctant coalition partners, Mr. Rolling Stone acts as the narrator of the entire movie. Team McMahon wrangles the troops, has a good time on the way- despite Tilda Swinton popping up as a German politician asking bluntly what on Earth they trying to do in Afghanistan in the first place- and heads back to Afghanistan to initiate his grand plan.

The push into Helmand Province does not go well. Despite the promises of schools and good jobs, the locals make it clear that they know the Americans and their coalition partners are eventually going to leave and when they do, things will be worse for them- that seems to shake McMahon up a bit and maybe make him realize that this is more futile than he thought- but really, it's the publication of the Rolling Stone article that seals his fate. He flies back to Washington, alone, to be fired and replaced by the next general up. Bob. (Rather randomly played by Russell Crowe- and believed to be based on General David Petraeus.)

Amusing, darkly comic and sobering all at the same time, War Machine asks some serious questions about why we're in Afghanistan, what we've been doing there and what, if anything we hope to accomplish there. It's pretty clear that the movie thinks it's somewhat of a hopeless case and that's where it really sobers you up. We're still there, spending time, energy and money and lives doing what, exactly? What's the best outcome? How can we extricate ourselves from a country that's chewed up and spat out empires with ease over the centuries? I don't know, but I sure hope someone can figure it out.

As a movie it all felt a little random... Tilda Swinton and Ben Kingsley are some serious actors and they're given not much of anything to do. Anthony Michael Hall was unrecognizable (and actually, pretty damn good in his role.) It wasn't a bad movie, but given the subject matter, it could have been a lot better- especially with the star power it assembled. My Grade: ** out of *****

Saturday, June 10, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #216

I'm getting tired of filling in my Lost Weekends In Vexillology (plus, I did Argentina and Uruguay and few weeks back and totally forgot about this important debate going on in Argentina between sky blue and ultramarine) so I had to do some thinking, before it finally hit me! It's Pride Month! So, whipped out my Wikipedia and discovered that not only does the original Pride Flag have some solid symbolism behind it, but holy cow does the LGBTQ community have a lot of flags! So, in honor or Pride Month, let's take it from the top:
Surprise! The original Rainbow Flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 and it had eight stripes and not the usual six that's been popular since 1979. Hot pink was removed due to fabric unavailability at the time (which knocked it back down to seven stripes) and then Indigo and turquoise were combined and changed to royal blue, which is what gets us down to the six color version seen most often today. (Vertical hanging also played a role in dropping the number of stripes to an even number, because the central stripe would often be obscured by a post.)

Each stripe/color combo has a meaning: Hot pink stands for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic/art, indigo for serenity and violet for spirit. What I don't know is if the meanings shifted as the flag was modified...  can't seem to find any info on that for whatever reason. I'm assuming with hot pink gone, then sex is out. But do turquoise and indigo combine for a royal blue stripe of magic/art/serenity?

But wait, there's more! Here's the Bisexual Pride Flag:
Designed in 1998 to by Michael Page to give the bisexual community it's own symbol, the colors are described as pink, lavender and blue- pink being for attraction to the same sex, blue being for attraction to the opposite sex and lavender being for attraction to both.

Not attracted to anyone and proud of it? There's an Asexual Pride Flag:
(Can't find the meaning of the colors. Sorry. I'll keep looking though.)

Transgender? There's a flag for that:
Created by Monica Helms in 1999, the light blue stripes are the color for baby boys, the pink for baby girls, the white stands for intersex, neutral or undefined gender. The nice thing about this design is that it's correct no matter how you fly it.

Pansexual? There's a flag for that:
The pink stripe stands for women, the blue for men and the yellow for non-binary genders.

Intersex? There's a flag for- well, you get the idea:
Created by the Organization Intersex International Australia in July of 2013, the goal of creating a flag for this community was to create a flag that is "not derivative, but is yet firmly grounded in its meaning." They were aiming for a symbol without pink and blue gendered colors- yellow and purple are described as hermaphrodite colors.

There are more, oh so many more Pride Flags out there- but I feel like this is a good sample. To those that celebrate, Happy Pride Month! And for everyone else, Flag Day is right around the corner (a special, Wednesday edition of This Week In Vexillology) and then we head into a two week Summer Hiatus.

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Albums2010 #90: The Joshua Tree, Revisited

Believe it or not, this whole project of mine began two blogs ago on the 1st of June with none other than The Joshua Tree, so it seems only appropriate to revisit the album that started it all, albeit with a slightly different experience this time around. Way way back in January, U2 announced they were launching a 30th Anniversary Tour for The Joshua Tree it seemed like destiny. I had stood in line for tickets with my mom for the first tour and now finally, I might have a chance to see them live. The time to fulfill my rock n'roll destiny was at hand, so the Missus and I snagged some tickets and made a plan for June. The Grandparents (her Mom and both of my parentals) helped wrangle the kiddos and my parentals (very generously) sprung for the hotel and away we went for a weekend in Chicago, culminating with U2, live at Soldier Field.

First: Soldier Field... I hadn't actually been back to Soldier Field since before it was all renovated and modernized and it was something of a struggle to remember what it had used to look like, back in the day. (My general impression was that, like the Metrodome it was showing it's age and kind of a well, dump in it's final, pre-reno years.) Spain vs Bolivia in the Group Stage of the 1994 World Cup was my first visit, this was my second and I was impressed with the renovation. They've done an excellent job preserving the architecture of the old stadium that gave it so much character while improving and modernizing where they needed to for the sake of the modern, commercial aspects of the game (i.e. luxury boxes, etc). I was impressed.

Second: the seats.  While the stadium was impressive, I didn't realize quite how high our seats actually were. At the top. The very top. Row 32. Which was admittedly nice, because there were no people behind- however it was a hike worthy of ascending Mount Everest in terms of the number of stairs you had to climb to get there and get down to things like a bathroom or food. However, the view provided some compensation. We could see the entire Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan and had a great view of the action itself on the field below.

Third: The Lumineers... they're on the radio and I've heard a few of their songs, but wow were they an excellent opening act. (Expect an album or two of theirs to show up in the next few editions of Albums2010 as we race toward our conclusion at #100.) There's something to be said for a band that uses a bunch of tambourines and a cello.

Fourth: the meat and potatoes itself! U2 didn't waste any time getting things going- they launched right into  a duo of tracks from War and one from The Unforgettable Fire (Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year's Day and Pride (In The Name of Love)) before getting into the main event: The Joshua Tree. The backdrop, which had seemed like a fairly pedestrian back drop up until that point, came alive as videography courtesy of the band's longtime collaborator Anton Corbijn came alive to bring the album to life right there on the field in front of us.

It's one thing to listen to an album on CD or whatever, but it's an entirely different experience to hear that album, live and in person, every song, in order. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before and I honestly don't think I'll ever see it again,. U2, for the record: is a really, really good band live. When they started in on 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' I think I said, 'Wow' out loud. I don't know if anyone heard me, but it was a spine tingling moment. Goosebumps. Absolute goosebumps. 

I love this album, so every song was amazing, but I think 'Bullet The Blue Sky' live...  holy shit. The Edge ate his Wheaties that night because god damn, the guitar on that. Face melting levels of amazing.

They stuck to business for the album portion of the proceedings with only one or two asides by Bono- the encore was where things got a little more political, but not a super annoying way. The overall message was one of love, peace, humanity. He went out of his way to say that everyone was welcome- left, right, no matter who you voted for, which was a genuine touch.

I think everyone has that one band that impacted them growing up- you know, the band or the artist that sticks with you over the years whether you know it or not. There's more than one band perhaps- I think, given the amount of Pink Floyd I listened to on family vacations as a kid, I'd probably have a similar reaction to seeing them live and in person, but man...  I didn't realize how much of the music of U2 has stuck with me over the years. I think a visit to their discography is probably in order, but The Joshua Tree remains one of my all time favorite albums ever. It started this crazy notion of mine off seven years ago and came back around almost at the end of the notion 

Seems fitting somehow.

(For the record: this dethroned Duran Duran in Rome as my all time favorite concert ever. Not that I have that many to choose from, mind you- but between us, the Missus and I seem to have a good track record of picking amazing concerts to go too.)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Did The GOP Pick The Wrong CEO?

This question rattled through my brain yesterday and the more I think about it, the more I have to wonder if there's something to it. Don't get me wrong: I've long been rolling my eyes about the Conservative dream of 'running the government like a business.' I don't get it. Business is not government and government is not business. One of the biggest problems in the country today is that the boundary lines between government and business and business and government have become way too blurred for either effective regulation of business by the government or a marketplace free of burdensome regulations for business.*

In short, the notion seems laughable to me. But, for the sake of our thought exercise, let's play with the idea a little bit and accept the notion: "The government would work so much better if it ran like a business."

If that's the case, then why on Earth did the GOP rally behind Donald Trump?

In terms of business folks who have sought (or won) the GOP nomination there are three examples to look at: Mittens, Carly Fiorina and the current President, Donald Trump. Each one of them represents- to me, anyway, a slightly different approach to business and brings a different skill set to the table. Let's start with Mittens:

Mittens, who, if whispers are to be believed might be destined for a Senate run in Utah** if Orrin Hatch retires next year, seems to be all about rescue operations and management consulting. As a venture capitalist, he snatches up companies, fixes their shit, makes them profitable again and sets them free. He zoomed in save the 2002 Winter Olympics, was wildly successful and parachuted back out again. He's a fixer. That's how he rolls.

Carly Fiorina, in contrast seems to fit the more traditional mold of business person. She started at the bottom and worked her way all the way up to the very top. She wasn't afraid to shake things up and make bold decisions (granted, her track record at HP and the Board Room fights she had to go through suggest that you could make the argument that her 'bold' decisions could also easily be categorized as 'questionable' ones.) She's more of a traditional CEO. I'm assuming (though I don't know) she'd be about hiring the best people and delegating jobs to those people to take the company (in this hypothetical case, the United States) where she wanted it to go.

President Trump, on the other hand, comes from the third school and that's brand. He's all about brand. That's not to say he doesn't know how to run a business, because obviously, he does- he wouldn't be where he is on brand alone, but the problem with the 'brand name' model of business is where we're seeing now. Everything has to be emanate from the source of the brand. (Donald Trump) Everything has to be loyal to the brand. (Donald Trump) Everything you do should be about promoting the brand, because the better the brand the more money you make.

This option is perfect for running for President. We've already seen that. Those damn red trucker hats are going to be everywhere forever. Make America Great Again will be on the internet forever. But is this going to be equally as effective at governing?

I have to admit, however reluctantly that my answer is: maybe. The President knows how to play the media like a fiddle- a single Tweet can dominate the internet for days at a time. (See: 'Covfefe') Meanwhile, things like privatizing air traffic control get reported on, but perhaps don't get the scrutiny they deserve, because it's not as sexy as that one thing he said last night about Russia. Or Qatar. Or Comey. What's he doing while we're being bombarded with the constant drumbeat of RUSSIA IMPEACHMENT COMEY INVESTIGATION over and over again? (He announced 11 new Judicial picks today. Is CNN talking about it? Of course not.)

So this model might be effective. But it's got some drawbacks as well- not least of which is that everything exists to serve the brand and the brand, as a result, can come across as some what egocentric. The President has shown an ability, (it seems when he's carefully prepared and scripted) to sound polished, Presidential and entirely competent. He even pushes towards being 'credible.' which is impressive, at least from where I'm sitting.

I think our politics would be a lot more traditional and things would be running a lot more smoothly than they are now had GOP voters gone with either Fiorina or Mittens and had the country decided to buy what they were selling.

The next three years will be key in testing this particular Conservative bromide. Personally, I'm hoping the current President puts to bed the idea once and for all that a business person is what we need to run the country.

*This can also be said for media and business and media and government as well. It's all one big sticky wicket and media is ratings driven these days and usually garbage as a result and because the business that run the media get goodies from the government, there are some topics (net neutrality, DAPL) that cable news won't touch with a ten foot pole. The whole sticky wicket is a large and growing problem.

**It's Utah, so I'm assuming if Hatch retires and Mitt runs, he'll probably win. I honestly wouldn't be displeased to see Romney land in the Senate. He's got the gravitas and the real world experience to be a nice counterweight to more hardcore ideologues like Ted Cruz and in combination with Mike Lee would give Utah a truly dynamic duo of Senators.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Heads In The Sand

In general, my personal environmental policy can be summed up in a single sentence: "We have one planet and we should take care of it." It a reasonable sentence and one that covers all manner of sins and policies and everything in between, but in general, I tend to shy away from the almost religious fervor that seems to consume the climate debate, because the debate- at least as it's portrayed in the media and culture- doesn't feel scientific, it feels dogmatic. And as a sort of kind of lapsed Catholic, I have an inherent distrust of dogma of any and all kinds.

That's not to say that I don't believe human beings are impacting the climate. The data alone suggests otherwise. We all drive cars. We all fly planes. We all consume consume consume plastics and thanks to our Iowa caucuses have a love affair with ethanol that only contributes to the use of fossil fuels and increases the problem. It's pretty obvious that at some point- if not for Mother Earth, then for the sake our national security, we're going to have to get off oil.

I wish there was a better way to talk about this issue, but unfortunately the media has made it all but impossible. Something has always got to be about to kill us, because, well, ratings. Back in the 60s, it was supposed to be global famine due to overpopulation. Then in the 70s, there was talk of an ice age. In the 80s it was the hole in the ozone layer (which admittedly, was actually there) and now it's climate change. It's hard for people to take the media seriously about this issue- harder still when they notices that the people screaming about the supposed crisis are all flying around on private jets to talk about how we should save Mother Earth. Celebrities as spokespeople tend to make regular folks roll their eyes just a bit.*

Nevertheless, President Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Accords. The decision was a nakedly political one- and any suggestion otherwise is bullshit. I'm not a climate scientist, but from what I can tell reading the Wikipedia page on US Greenhouse Gas Emissions, we're heading in the right direction. Slowly. Conservatives can applaud and say that "it was a Treaty and Treaties need to be approved by the Senate" but it wasn't about Constitutional principles any more than it was about helping the economy. It was about President Trump pandering to his base- and while all politicians are going to pander, pandering on a global level just so you can go to West Virginia in two years and talk about how good you were for an industry that employs less people than Arby's does is politics at it's absolute worst.

The President didn't have to do this. He could given the issue a wide berth and just ignored it all together. I mean, if we're on track to meet the goals set by Paris**, then who cares? If the business community is increasingly finding ways to make renewable energy and technology profitable and create jobs along with it- then who cares?

In general, I'm not one given to partisan hyperbole. When people say things like, "He's not my President" I tend to roll my eyes and ignore them. Up until now I've more or less trusted that whomever is running things, they're at least aware that their responsibility is to be President of every American- not just the people who voted for them. Not every President in my lifetime has lived up to that ideal, but I've had faith that all of them had been aware of the general notion that what they do had to be for the whole country and not just their party or their base. I can't say that any more. This President has made it clear that he's the President of the people who voted for him and not of the United States of America. And that's sad. It's bad for our democracy. It's bad for the Republic. And when it comes to the problem of human activity impacting the climate, it just leaves our government with it's head in the sand. 

*Ed Begley Jr. can talk to me about the environment whenever he likes. Everyone else with their private jets and their climate conferences in far off places- not so much.

**To be fair, despite having crawled through a Wikipedia page on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and a long ass article from The Atlantic trying to explain what the hell the Paris Accords actually do, I'm not 100% comfortable with this statement. I think (emphasis on 'think') we are- and certainly the push back over the decision from the business community especially seems to indicate that an increasing number of companies are making an increasing amount of money off of renewables/green tech and if there's one thing that's going to move the levers of power in this country, it's money and the people who are making it.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Netflix & Chill #15: The Bonds of Roger Moore, Part 1

Watched On: Blu-Ray, courtesy of the Parentals
Released: 1983 (Octopussy), 1973 (Live and Let Die), 1974 (The Man With The Golden Gun)
Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Eckland, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Kristina Wayborn, Kabir Bedi
Rotten Tomatoes: Octopussy- 42%, The Man With The Golden Gun- 45%, Live and Let Die- 66%
Picks: Mine

The passing of Roger Moore, who I've long considered to be one of the best James Bond- or at least the one that made the greatest impression on me when I first watched the franchise, got me thinking about how long it had been since I had actually seen any of his Bond movies. One quick trip to the Parentals later and I had their blu-ray set of all the Bond flicks and I was off and running.

I could have (and arguably, maybe should have) done this in chronological order, but for whatever reason I didn't. Instead, I started with one of my favorite Bond movies, full stop and probably the most underrated film of the franchise, Octopussy. I've always liked this one, because it's very grounded and could probably stand up as a straight Cold War thriller all by itself. When 009 turns up dead at the British Embassy in West Berlin with a fake Faberge egg, Bond is soon on the hunt to find the killers. What he does find is a mysterious circus, run by an equally mysterious woman known only as Octopussy, who lives in on an island populated solely by women in India. Following the trail to India, Bond soon is being hunted himself by Kemal Khan and his henchman, who are working with the renegade Soviet General Orlov to auction fake jewelry in the west to raise money for their purposes- which turn out to be nuclear in nature! Racing against time, Bond tracks the Octopussy Circus back to an American Air Force Base in West Germany, disarming the nuclear bomb in the nick of time.

Next, I backtracked to a movie that I always remembered as annoying me, but actually turned out to be a pleasant surprise, The Man With The Golden Gun. It's hard not to roll your eyes from the word go with this one. Scaramanga is a deadly assassin with a third nipple? Christopher Lee is bombing around in uber 70s Jumpsuits? Knick-Knack is the one who is actually trying to kill him by hiring all these assassins to come to his island paradise to hone his skills. It's very Fantasy Island at first, but turns nicely on a dime once Bond is taken out of action because Scaramanga is coming after him. Setting out to track down Scaramanga, Bond ends up in Macau, then Hong Kong and finally in Thailand where he runs into (inexplicably) Sheriff JW Pepper from the previous film. Eventually, he tracks down Scaramanga for a final showdown on his island- which, obviously, he wins. I thought Maud Adams as Andrea was great in this movie- granted, there's the never-ending problem of how women are written in these films (strong one minute, 'oh James' the next) but she turned in an excellent, icy performance- and when Bond pretty much tries to walk in on her while she's in the shower, she pulls a gun on his ass and gives him whatfor, which is appropriate. Britt Eckland as Goodnight also turns in a strong performance and is actually helpful instead of just arm candy. (And gets pissed at Bond for being such a floozy, which is something you don't see all that much of.)

Finishing off Part 1, I began with my very first Bond movie- and Roger Moore's debut, Live and Let Die. When the British Ambassador at the UN dies and British agents in Louisiana and the Caribbean Island of San Monique turn up dead along with him, Bond is sent to America to work with good old Felix Leiter to figure out why. The CIA's suspicions center around the leader of San Monique, Dr. Kananga, who always travels with his personal tarot card reader named Solitaire. But Bond soon finds himself tangled up with the drug kingpin Mr. Big and soon enough, they find out the connections between Kanaga and Mr. Big and go to San Monique to stop his drug smuggling operation before it can flood the United States with heroin. There's a lot to like about this movie- there's bayou boat chases, voodoo rituals, tarot cards, a young Jane Seymour, the excellent Yaphet Kotto. (You know the ill-tempered sea bass with laser beams on their laser beams on their heads from Austin Powers? They came from the end of this movie.)

Moore took the franchise in a different direction and these films showcase him at his best in a lot of ways. There's the one-liners, the humor, the carefully controlled sense of camp- they made these movies not just entertaining action packed adventures, but they made them fun. And that only adds to the enjoyment of them. Three movies down- four to go! (Of the three, I'd say Octopussy is probably my favorite and Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun probably tie for second- the latter was much, much better than I remember it doing.)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #215

Originally, I was going backtrack to the 'Lost Archives' to take a look at the flag of the Republic of Georgia, but then I thought that yet another 'Lost Weekend In Vexillology' just sounded way too boring. But then, as I was googling 'flag of Georgia' to find the flag I was looking for, it hit me: why not double the amount of Georgia and do both Republic and State? (Since people can legit get them confused I guess.)

So- double shot of Georgia it is! Let's get the obvious one out of the way first- the state of Georgia:
This current version of the flag of Georgia is actually relatively new- it was adopted on May 8th, 2003 and yet still bears the unfortunate name of the 'Georgia Stars and Bars.' Yes, you guessed it: the Confederate States of America still has an unfortunate legacy that's found in the flag of Georgia. (Along with the flag of Mississippi and to some degree, the flag of Alabama.) But, despite that: this is actually a step in the right direction for Georgia, considering that their flag used to look like this.

I'm not sure I'm a fan of the current flag either, but I think we can call agree that it at least constitutes a giant step in the right the direction for Georgia. Better than their old flag anyway.

But back to the current flag!

The ring of thirteen stars symbolizes Georgia as one of the original thirteen colonies. Within the ring, you find the state Coat of Arms in gold. The arch stands for the state Constitution, while the three pillars are the the three branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial.) The state motto of 'Wisdom, Justice and Moderation'* is wrapped around the pillars and the male figure is dressed in colonial attire dating back to the revolution. His sword is drawn to represent the defense of the state's Constitution. And the words, 'In God We Trust' is underneath it all representing the state's 'foundation.' And the overall design with the red, white and red bars is yes, still based on the first national flag of the Confederacy- the Stars and Bars.

The flag of Georgia the country, on the other hand, looks like this:
Another relatively new flag (it was adopted in January of 2004) the flag of the Republic of Georgia is another improvement on both it's Soviet Era flag and it's initial flag after independence (which is honestly kind of 'meh'). The current flag dates back in one form or another the medieval Kingdom of Georgia which was around from the 1000s to the 1400s or so before fracturing. The actual five cross design is believed to be a take on the Jerusalem Cross which was a popular crusader symbol from back in the day as well.

After achieving independence from the Soviet Union, a majority of Georgians, backed by the Georgian Orthodox Church rallied around this flag and wanted it restored- the Parliament even passed a bill in 1999 doing just that, but then President Shevardnadze didn't endorse the change. So it's not surprising that the flag was then adopted by the main opposition to Shevardnadze and became a key symbol of the Rose Revolution that ousted him.

In general, of all the flags of Georgia out there, I probably like the current one the best. It's got deep historical roots that go back centuries. It's part of their national heritage and culture and from a design perspective it has none of the hang-ups that the State of Georgia has and is simple, clean and to the point. Four red crosses in each canton divided by a big red cross on a field of white. Can't get much cleaner than that!

So that's our double shot of Georgia!

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

*Wisdom, justice and moderation except where secession from the Union and historically bad race relations are concerned of course. #JustSaying

Friday, June 2, 2017

Squawk Box: Trekfried

Star Trek: Enterprise

I'm ambivalent about Season 3. Let's start with the Xindi Weapon attack on Earth- totally okay with the idea of a massive attack on Earth and sending Enterprise out to find the people responsible. That's all fine and dandy- but a fucking laser beam slicing across the Eastern Seaboard? I'm assuming if they have ships like Enterprise, they have better communications technology than we do now- so you're telling me, they a. didn't notice where it was coming from, b. couldn't extrapolate a trajectory and c. warn people to get out of the way? A massive bomb/asteroid attack like we saw in 'Shockwave' would have been more effective and had more emotional heft- especially when it comes to the death of Trip's sister. If someone drops an asteroid on her, there's absolutely nothing that he could have done. But a gigantic ass laser beam? She didn't see the wall of fire, get in her car and run like hell?

The whole quest for the Xindi thing just drags on and on and on and doesn't start getting good until they build-up to the pay off, which actually- and I'm guessing here, because I haven't seen Season 4 yet- is probably the best run of Enterprise episodes of the entire series. I like the idea of the Sphere Builders being behind it all, but there was an epic missed opportunity not to think ahead and plant seeds for this all the way back in Season 1- in a somewhat similar way to what TNG did with the Borg. I also think that with all this Temporal time jumping, there was a huge missed opportunity not to have a crossover ep with another Trek series at some point as well. Pretty much- Zombie Vulcans and the whole Trip/T'Pol thing aside (thank GOD they got rid of those hideous pajamas by the end of the season) the whole thing was good, but it felt like with a little more ambition, it could have been a truly epic arc of Trek.

But then they have to ruin everything by introducing fucking Alien Space Nazis. God damn it.

Star Trek: The Original Series

So, Season 2 apparently is all right for fighting because damn- I can't think of too many episodes in the second season that didn't feature a fistfight of some kind. Overall, it's kind of a mixed bag, but there are some standout episodes worth talking about, 2/3rds of the way through the run of the original series, Right off the bat: 'Amok Time' which introduces the idea of Pon Farr and fleshes out a ton of Vulcan and it's culture that remains canon for the rest of Trek. 'Mirror, Mirror' introduces the alternate 'eeeeeeevil' universe where Spock has a goatee (visited  by Deep Space Nine multiple times and weirdly, Enterprise once.)  'The Doomsday Machine' is an incredible episode that can run hold it's own right up there with the best of Trek. 'Journey To Babel' introduces Spock's parents, 'The Trouble With Tribbles' is a classic and deep in the season, where I was just sort of getting used to eye rolling, 'meh' episodes, 'The Ultimate Computer' came along and surprised the heck out of me with an intelligent look at the debate between technology and humanity and the boundaries between the two- some of which still seems very relevant today.

While the good are very good, the bad this season are very bad indeed. 'The Gamesters of Triskelion' featured yet another uncomfortable, cringeworthy moment involving a female crew member (Lt. Uhura) getting assaulted in her cell- and that's the best interpretation I can offer- the not so good interpretation is that she was raped in her cell- and they certainly seem to lean toward that in the episode itself. Trek's overall vision of the future is optimistic enough, but it's not all sunshine and daisies for women all the time in the future. I know the portrayal was probably fairly tame for the time it was shown, but in a modern context it is jarring and uncomfortable. That ep is the worst offender...  'Patterns of Force' and 'Bread and Circuses' are just lazy writing, at least to me. Space Nazis and a planet full of Romans are kind of eye-rolling kitchy- though the whole Space Nazi thing persists far longer than you'd think, showing up in Voyager and I think Enterprise as well. 'Catspaw' was just a hot-ass mess and probably my least favorite of the entire season.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

I think Season 5 and Season 6 of TNG are probably this show at it's best- and both seasons are certainly my favorite so far of the run. Season 5 wraps up the Klingon Civil War with Redemption, Parti II and then hits you right away with 'Darmok' a Trek classic, 'Ensign Ro' which introduces the Bajorans and their back story and then 'Disaster' which sees command of the Bridge fall to a very unprepared Counselor Troi- who goes on to have some of her character's best moments in the entire series over the course of Season 5 and into Season 6. ('Power Play' and 'Face of the Enemy' especially the latter, convinced me that Marina Sirtis might just be the John Billingsley of TNG. Criminally underused. Plus, I'm glad she finally ditches the pink velvet thing for a regular uniform. It works for her.) 'Unification Parts I and II' brings Spock into TNG and delves more into the Romulan dissident movement which gets played with in a few episodes. Worf gets some good episodes- especially in 'Ethics' where they explore the ins and outs of ritual suicide and right-to-die ethics.

'The Inner Light' serves as a fantastic book end to the season (along with 'Darmok' this episode has to be one of the best TNG throws down.)

Season 6 keeps the awesomeness right on rolling with the time travel two parter, 'Time's Arrow.' 'Relics' brings Scotty to the future. (McCoy, Scotty, Spock all make it. Sulu, Uhura and Chekov don't make it all the way to the future at all- though in Chekov's case, I'm sure playing Bester on Babylon Five probably kept him busy. And Sulu does show up with the Voyager episode 'Flashback' as, weirdly enough, a flashback.) 'Chain of Command' is an excellent two parter- probably one of TNG's best... David Warner and Patrick Stewart bounce perfectly off one and other. 'Tapestry' is probably the best Q episode of the bunch. (It's a Wonderful 'Q' Life, pretty much) and Doctor Crusher has one of her strongest outings of the series in 'Suspicions.' (Another character they could have and should have done more with.)

We'll see what Season 7 brings, but at this point after probably two of the strongest Seasons I've seen thus far, let me just say this: I get it. I'm on board. This is really, really good stuff...  is it... better than Deep Space Nine good? That I don't know...  but  has TNG nudged far enough ahead to make for a photo finish with Deep Space Nine and Voyager? I think it has. The level of consistency and the quality of writing, especially in the later seasons are more than evident.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

The back half of Deep Space Nine is amazing. Probably the best, the most consistently excellent run of any Trek franchise out there. Once the Dominion War (which the back half of Season 5 built up too) begins, it doesn't seem possible, but Deep Space Nine gets even better- opening Season 6 with a six episode arc about the struggle to retake Deep Space Nine. There's not really a bad episode here- there's a weak-ish one, 'Valiant' the whole, 'ship full of kids doing war' didn't really work for me. Sort of made me roll my eyes more than anything else- but hey, if that's the only complete you can muster, then it has to have been a good season of television.

So, what's the best of the best? Well Dax and Worf get married, ('You Are Cordially Invited') Iggy Pop shows up as a Vorta ('The Magnificent Ferengi'), Sisko makes compromises to help win the war ('In The Pale Moonlight') oh and you can throw in, 'Who Mourns For Mourn?', 'Far Beyond The Stars' and 'The Sound of Her Voice' to that list as well.

I know I said Voyager was pushing up the list and threatening to dethrone Deep Space Nine as my favorite Trek, but these last two and a half seasons are reminding me just how excellent DS9 can be.

Bonus: Chaos On The Bridge

A fascinating little documentary about the early seasons of The Next Generation, William Shatner lifts the lid on the craziness. From getting a deal to make another show in place, to making sure that Gene Roddenberry gave it his blessing and came onboard to casting, to the chaos in the writer's room that was reflected in the, shall we say, somewhat uneven quality on the show in the early years.

Facts I did not know: they made Patrick Stewart audition in a toupee because Gene Roddenberry was convinced that people wouldn't go for a bald Captain. Boy was he wrong! Roddenberry's lawyer is a character that I would have loved to have seen interviewed for this doc, because apparently he had his fingers in every thing. And Roddenberry? His vision of an utopian future where everyone got along clashed with the realities of television: namely that without drama, there is no television show. After going through writer after writer after writer- and losing cast members (Denise Crosby left the show when Tasha Yar was killed off. Gates McFadden got fired and replaced with Diana Muladar's Dr. Pulaski for the Second Season only to be brought back in the 3rd Season) eventually they got Michael Piller in charge of the writing and he shifted the focus onto the characters- a formula that stuck not only throughout the rest of TNG's run but through subsequent series' as well.

If you're a fan of Star Trek, look this up. It's floating around Netflix and it's only about an hour- so it's not a hard watch and it's an enjoyable, behind-the-scenes look at TNG's early years.