Monday, July 31, 2017

Be Woke, Kids: Cognitive Privilege Is Neither A Problem Or A Thing

I try and browse through a wide spectrum of news sites and blogs for information and I'm pretty non-discriminatory when it comes to which side of the political equation they land on. Sometimes I go to the right, sometimes I go to the left, I think the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle on most things and it's a practice that has worked well for me thus far.

But whenever the University of Iowa, Iowa City or (in this case) The Daily Iowan start popping up on the right side of the blogosphere, I usually brace myself for an onslaught of stupid and happily, the Daily Iowan is always ready to provide.

Yes, "cognitive privilege" is now a thing. 

Look, I'm no neckbeard who gets all '"Durrrrr, Liberal, Commie Pinko, SJW snowflake" about these things. White privilege, to me, is just a fancy way of saying: "don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes." I've never been pulled over because of the color of my skin. I've never been followed in a Department store because of the color of skin. I've never been afraid to walk to my car or walk home because of my gender or have to be worried about holding the hand of my partner in public because of my sexual orientation.

TL;DR for a lot of this "privilege" talk can be summed up easily: a. Think before you speak. b. Listen. (Like really listen to a person.) and c. Don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes.

I can't think of too many people that would object to the three step process I've outlined above- but The Left seems to insist on smothering basic human decency with academic jargon that just makes regular people who don't speak that language roll their eyes and ignore them. It's the same with sexual fluidity. I watched like a twenty minute segment The View did on sexual fluidity the other day and it both fascinated me and annoyed me all at the same time. I honestly don't care what's between anyone's legs, who they love, who they marry or whatever lifestyle they lead. I won't say I understand impulse to categorize every possible permutation of lifestyle out there either, but if you want to be a homo-romantic pansexual human that identifies as female and uses 'they' as your pronoun, then you do you, friend. That just seems exhausting to me, but if it doesn't to you, then who the hell am I to judge? Just give me the 4-1-1 up front and we'll be totally fine.

But "cognitive privilege" is some bullshit I have to draw the line on. First of all, it assumes that intelligence = success. That shit ain't true at all. You just have to step off campus in Iowa City and you can find plenty of people with advanced degrees who are doing all kinds of jobs they are spectacularly over qualified for. Second, it denigrates intelligence. ("Consequently, you have nothing to be proud of for being smart.") This is the message we want to send to our children now? "You're smart- but that's nothing to be proud of." Fuck this guy and his academic bullshit and fuck this message for our children. If you're smart, be damn proud of that. Work your ass off and do something with it- and maybe then with a little bit of luck, you'll build yourself a successful life.

What this academic-ese missed was the true marker of success: in America today, it's your socio-economic status and to a lesser degree, where you live that puts you on the fast track for success. For all the grief that David Brooks got for his now infamous salami column, a lot of it was absolutely dead on the money. If you're born into the middle class, you're more likely to stay there. If both your parents had a college education, you're more likely to get one. If you're not born into the middle class or your parents didn't have a college education, social mobility is looking harder and harder with every passing year for you. (And all of this is assuming you're a straight white male. The degree of difficulty would advance a notch or five if you're a woman or a person of color.)

Be woke, kids. Let's consign "cognitive privilege" to the academic dustbin that it belongs in and go out and build some barricades and do something about class and geographic privilege in America today. Because they're the biggest markers for success in America today- and it doesn't matter a damn how smart you are.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Netflix & Chill #22: Rogue One

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2016
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Pick: Mine

I wanted to try and get to see this movie in the theaters last year, but never got around to it- so I was very excited indeed when it showed up on Netflix and watched it pretty much as soon as I could find a minute or two and wow, did this one live up to the hype and then some.

Set just before Episode IV: A New Hope, Rogue One is essentially the story of the plot to find and steal the plans to the Death Star, which, as all the world knows by now is what triggers the events of the original film trilogy. The movie opens with Imperial Weapons Developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) finding research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) who has been in hiding with his family on the planet Lah'mu. Krennic wants Erso and his family to come back to Imperial service to help him finish building the Death Star, which the Empire is hoping to use to crush the nascent Rebel alliance. Erso declines, but when his wife is killed he is taken by force- though his child Jyn escapes and is eventually delivered into the care of Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera.

Flash forward fifteen years and when an imperial pilot defects with a message from Erso about a purported flaw in the station, Rebel Intelligence agent Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) tracks down and frees Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) from a labor camp before taking her back to the Rebel Alliance where she is convinced to track Saw Gerrera to see if the message is legitimate. Turns out it is, but then the Death Star shows up and with a low powered shot takes out the capital city and they barely get out ahead of the blast. Back at Rebel Alliance headquarters, a raid on Eadu to retrieve Galen is authorized- but that to goes to hell in a handbasket and Erso ends up dying in his daughter's arms.

The Rebel Alliance at that point thinks things are hopeless and is prepared to pack it in until Jyn and Cassian get a team together to launch a commando raid on the planet Scarif where the plans are being stored in the data storage facility- when the Rebel fleet hears that the raid is underway, the Battle of Scarif begins and eventually ends with a very familiar ship fleeing an equally familiar Star Destroyer.

Wow, where to begin with this movie? First of all: Darth Vader is back and he is a bad ass evil Sith Lord in this movie. I dug it. Second of all: I feel like this (along with Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels) should have been what the prequel movies were about. We got to see the diversity and vastness of the galaxy that's far far away in this movie in ways that did not feel contrived. There was a real 'street level' feel to a lot of these planets that we visit- there are dirty back alleys and hidden bases and urban street fighting. It's a different and altogether excellent side of the Star Wars Universe that I really hope we see a lot more of.

There's a grittiness to this that feels very real as well- it's not all laser blasters and space battles- you see the real costs of what the Rebels are putting on the line in a way that makes the conflict running through the entire franchise suddenly come alive- ditto with the Death Star: it was menacing in the original movies, but here it's a weapon of incredible mass destruction.

(Spoiler-ish Things: Peter Cushing is kind of in this movie as Grand Moff Tarkin. If you're curious as to how that happened, given the fact that he's been dead since 1994, check this out. The ending kind of chaps me a bit though- the plans get frantically passed along to a very familiar ship which launches from the disabled Rebel flag ship after the battle. If Bail Organa thinks that Princess Leia is so important, why does he end up putting her in the middle of battle? I get it- and I like how it's done, but it also bugged me a little bit. Almost felt too neat, you know?)

Overall: Less of a prequel than more of the perfect prologue to Episode IV, Rogue One is a dazzling and ambitious expansion of the Star Wars universe. It's an excellent movie, it doesn't hang about and keeps the action moving and is in general, one hell of a fun ride. ***** out of *****

Saturday, July 29, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #222

We're wrapping up our trio of Gold Cup Doubleheaders this week with a country that was in the Gold Cup and another that's a CONCACAF member that didn't actually qualify, Suriname. First up, Honduras- which broke out of the group stage of the Gold Cup before running into Mexico in the quarterfinals where they lost 1-0. (Mexico, in their turn lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals to set up a Jamaica-USA Final.)

Here's Honduras:
The blue and white combo is pretty similar to El Salvador- but we're also getting further away from Guatemala and their vertical tricolor as well. It was adopted on March 7th, 1866 for national and civil usage. It was (no surprise here) based on the flag of the Federal Republic of Central America. The flag was amended and the five stars in the center were placed their to represent the five original Central American provinces. The two blue stripes stand for the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and the 'X' pattern the stars are arranged in represents the hope that the former nations of the Federal Republic of Central America would form a union once again.

Next up, Suriname:
Getting away from the Central America design a bit, Suriname actually rocks a pretty good looking flag. It's not technically in Central America and true confession: I actually assumed that it would play in CONMEBOL and not CONCACAF, but I guess it's sort of folded into the Caribbean sub-region. It hasn't done much in the Gold Cup. Last time they actually made the tournament was 1985 where they crashed out in the Group Stages. They withdrew in '93 and '03 (not sure why) and either didn't enter or didn't qualify all of the other years. They've never made the World Cup and played in the Pan American Games once, in 1991 where they exited in the Group Stage.

Their flag was adopted on November 25th, 1975 after they achieved independence. (That was kind of late in the decolonization wave come to think of it.) The star in the center of the flag stands for unity of all ethnic groups, the red stripes are for progress and love. The green is for hope and fertility and the white bands stand for peace and justice. (Some more info, since I honestly don't know all that much about the place and neither do a lot of people I think: the general wiki-page and an article which asks the question we all want to know the answer too: Why Would Anyone Go To Suriname?)

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

Boozehound Unfiltered: A.D. Laws Four Grain

I don't know when we'll get back to Colorado, but when we do, a visit to Laws Whiskey House is going to be high on my list of 'things to do.' (Plus: with any luck, the kiddos will all be a little older so they might actually dig it a little more.) But while we didn't get to the Whiskey House itself, I did manage to score a bottle of this lovely, delicious stuff:
(Some background on this: after years of lurking, I finally hopped on Reddit for real (I'm at u/litcityblues if you're a fellow Redditor reading this) and I kid you not, about a week, week and a half before we were set to head out for vacation, there's a post that I find about a haul of Colorado whiskey. So tentatively, not really knowing what I'm doing, I hop on there and ask what the r/Whiskey Hive Mind would recommend from the Centennial State that you can't really find anywhere else. I can get Stranahan's 'round here, so I wanted something local. The r/Whiskey Hive Mind spoke and recommended this stuff- and fast forward to now, I have tasty delicious bourbon to drink. TL;DR: Reddit recommended this stuff.)

I checked out the Laws website and it's pretty slick looking- I like their philosophy: "Craft over commodity. Quality over quantity. Whiskey above all." Having tasted Four Grain, I think they've succeeded in translating that philosophy into their product. They get three of their four grains from Colorado and get their corn from Wisconsin before aging in White Oak Barrels for two years. (The grians: corn, barley, wheat and rye.)

But the real question: how did it taste? Let's find out:

Color: Dark yellow, deep golden...  it's lighter than it looks in the picture, but it's still creeping toward a nice, rich amber hue.

Body: well bodied and rich, this aroma is hard to pin down. It smells damn good- I know that much. There's a smooth undertone to it- more like vanilla than anything else. I keep wanting to say that the spice I smell is cinnamon, but that's not quite right either. It deep, rich, earthy, spicy and smooth all at once. 

Palate: It's well balanced- sits on the tongue easily. It's neither too syrupy or too watery, which is nice. The spice hits you gradually, which is nice, but when it hits, it hits big. Not in an unpleasant way, but- hell, let's just say, it's got a kick to it. 

Finish: If I have a point of contention, it might be here. The spice in the palate can make for a bit of a harsh finish going down, but it fades quickly and the cockles of your heart will be warm indeed.

Overall: Damn tasty stuff. Excellent over ice, straight, however you want to drink it. Will have to ration this stuff until I can secure more. My Grade: **** out of ****

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Bookshot Bucket List #2: Colorado

We went to Colorado last month on vacation (if you didn't already know that by now) and after hitting up the Museum of Science and Nature in Denver, we hit up The Tattered Cover Bookstore before heading back to Tacos, Tequila and Whiskey for some of the best tacos I think I've ever had.
What surprised me first about The Tattered Cover was the size of it. It was positively palatial, with a downstairs, a main floor and a 'stage' area with a reading room/news stand toward the front of the store. It's the kind of place that you could easily get lost in and/or spend a lot of money in, but the thing that I liked most about it was the different 'areas.' It gives the impression that you could travel to different places while you were in the same store. I really dig that.

I'm not really sure how to describe where its located. The Colfax District/neighborhood is nice enough- very artsy/hipstery and interesting enough, but there's kind of a pedestrian mall/shopping area tucked in and around the store- you walk up to the entrance and there's a nice patio with seating where people can drink coffee and relax and the like. It really sets the tone for the store that you're about to walk into.

I think my personal takeaway from the place: if you can't find a place as big as The Tattered Cover, give the illusion of space. Make people feel like they're getting lost in your store (here locally, The Haunted Bookshop did a fantastic job of that in their old digs where The Northside Bistro is now- I honestly haven't checked out their new digs- which I feel like I probably should.) And while the kiddos were not at all enamored of perusing a bookstore- especially after having so much fun at the Museum- we didn't leave empty handed either:
Wolf Hall has been on my list of books to read after seeing some of the excellent Masterpiece Theater adaptation. The Missus got the Elder Spawn convinced that we needed a copy of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales and despite the Younger Spawn trying to insist on every Thomas The Tank Engine book he could get his hands on, I thought The Story of Ferdinand would be a nice addition to the boys bookshelf. (Especially after seeing that there's a movie coming out.)

I loved this place. If you're in Denver or close enough to Denver to get down there for a weekend now and again, go check this place out- and then go get the tacos.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Today Kind of Sucks

I've written about this now and again on Tumblr over the past few months, but I've never really taken to this blog to talk about it, so, long story short for those that don't already know:

Thanksgiving of last year, we got a call about the Elder Spawn having a half brother, Tiny Man. Tiny Man and Elder Spawn shared the same mom, who had gotten pregnant and kicked out of prison right at 36 weeks pregnant. (Whether this was because she had actually done enough time/good behavior or because DOC was looking for an excuse to kick her out before she delivered, we don't know, but Tiny Man could have had a very entry into the world had they waited three weeks.) Mom OD's on heroin once. Then twice. And at that point, they got Tiny Man out of there. Mom's rights were terminated and a warrant was issued for her arrest. She went radio silent for about a day and a half, two days and then turned up, tragically, dead- of an overdose.

So, then DHS is calling, because poor Tiny Man has no Mom. They don't know who Dad is and Tiny Man needs a safe place to go. They told us he'd be very adoptable and because he's the half brother of the Elder Spawn, that, to us, made him family, so we said yes. And then, in the space of about forty-eight hours, we had three kids.

The next few months were crazy, stressful, rewarding, wonderful, heart breaking and really, really, really hard. But we did it. We loved Tiny Man as much as we could and we got ourselves all the way to April, when it became clear to us that the between the courts and DHS, they were putting Tiny Man on course to be placed in the custody of his Bio Dad. And, as heart breaking a decision as that was for us, we felt that with Bio Dad being down in the Quad Cities and us being up here in Iowa City, the distance was becoming an impediment. So we made the request that Tiny Man be moved closer to his Bio Dad. If he was going back to Bio Dad, then he needed way more contact and way more face time than he was getting by staying with us. We had hoped that longer visits and eventually overnight visits would happen to ease Tiny Man into life with his family.

We didn't want to be selfish about it. Tiny Man has half brothers and sisters. He has aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents- a whole other family out there ready to love and care for him- who are we to deny him that? If he has a Bio Dad, shouldn't the Bio Dad get a fair shake? I won't speak for the Missus on this- she has her own feelings about it- but I just imagined that if Tiny Man stayed with us forever, that I'd have to sit him down and tell him that his Bio Dad was given every chance, every opportunity, to do right by him and just couldn't take care of him the way that he needed to be cared for. I wanted to be able to say that to him so bad.

But it turned out that none of our reasoning seems to have mattered a damn. Have there been longer visits? Yes. But no home visits. No overnight visits. Problems have mounted and have been documented and passed on to DHS, for all the good it seems to be doing, and although there was no decision today- so maybe I'll be wrong about this- I don't think it's going to matter.

I get that DHS is about keeping families together. And where they can do that, they should do that- but only within reason. At a certain point, the children themselves- especially ones so young who can't speak for themselves- have to matter more. What's best for them? What will give them the best chance at the best life possible?

Right now, in Iowa, everyone seems to be fixated on the tragic deaths of Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray- but there's rot deeper in the system, at a fundamental level that needs to be fixed. Better pay, more funding, adequate staffing and a clear mandate to do right by families if they can, but to protect the children at all costs are needed. I know state Republicans right now aren't about spending money- especially since we're in an economic downturn, but if you mean what you say about your pro-life rhetoric, then increased funding for DHS is a moral necessity. You cannot deny poor people access to basic family planning and turn around and gut every government program designed to protect life and children in turn. You have to do both. If you're going to tell me that there's a 'genocide of the unborn' then you have a moral obligation of the highest order to do so.

And if you're unwilling to do that, then it's time for the pro-life movement and the social conservative wing of the Republican Party to just close up shop and go home. You're not helping. You're not particularly being good Christians. And you're sure as hell not pro-life.

I have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow- or the next day- or whenever the decision comes down. All I know is that situations like this are why nobody believes in the system any more. It's why nobody trusts the government. When there's only a thin veneer of competence seemingly being applied to the life of an innocent child, it makes me angry. And it makes me helpless. I second guess our choices over and over again and I don't know if the outcome will be different. I honestly don't know if the outcome is wrong- say Tiny Man does go home with his Bio Dad- isn't that right? Isn't that good? Isn't that what's supposed to happen?

Tonight, right now, I don't know the answer to any of those questions. But that's why my Monday sucks.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Netflix & Chill #21: Jodorowsky's Dune

Watched On: Hulu
Released: 2014
Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, HR Giger, Chris Foss, Nicolas Winding Refn, Amanda Lear, Richard Stanley
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Pick: Mine

I've been keeping an eye out for this documentary for awhile, so I was excited beyond belief when a r/documentaries over at Reddit threw up a link that took me to Hulu and this amazing documentary. For those that don't know: before David Lynch made Dune, which I think more or less everyone agree was less than good- though I'll totally cop to sitting down and watching it for a bit whenever I find it on television, a guy by the name of Alejandro Jodorowsky had this massive, crazy idea to do a film adaptation of Dune. It would have been either a. amazing or b. batshit lunacy but it's a movie that I would have loved to have seen, despite the liberties it took with the book.

Jodorowsky hailed from Mexico and got his start in independent, avant garde film. I'm not an expert in that particular genre of film, but from what the documentary showed of his early films, they were either pretty trippy or beautifully strange, which seemed like an ideal combination for adapting the work. He partnered up with French film producer Michel Seydoux and set about designing and planning his sprawling, epic adaptation of Dune.

He got HR Giger, Chriss Foss, Jean Giraud to start designing concept art, set and character design. (HR Giger went on to create the xenomorph from Alien, if that named seemed familiar.) He wanted Pink Floyd and Magma for the music. He wanted Salvador Dali for the Emperor, Orson Welles for the Baron Harkonnen, Mick Jagger for Feyd Ruatha and that was just the start of the fun.

The script eventually ballooned to the size of a phone book and would have made a 14 hour film- the concept art (which they turned into a book which is referenced and shown throughout the documentary) is a book that was equally as large and apparently there are only two left in existence, because I would buy that thing as a coffee table book without hesitation. (Maybe not right this second, but you know, when the kids get older and we can do coffee table books and the like.) Despite the liberties he took with the script (Arrakis itself becomes sentient and flies away through the galaxy or some such thing.) it would have been a crazy-ass movie to actually watch.

Unfortunately, just getting it off the ground was a hideously expensive process and nobody wanted to spend the money to get it made. All the studios passed and then the money couldn't come together and then in 1982, the film rights lapsed and Dino De Laurentis picked them up, handed 'em to David Lynch and that's how we got Dune, circa 1984.

But here's the crazy about this movie that never got made: it's fingerprints are all over a ton of movies. Obviously, with H.R. Giger, you have the Alien Franchise. Concepts from the movie show up in The Terminator. Tracking shots described by Jodorowsky show up in movies like Contact. Blade Runner too! It never got made, but the ideas packed into this movie helped influence a decade or more of some truly excellent science fiction films.

If you love science fiction, track this sucker down and watch it. It's worth it. My Grade: **** out of *****

Saturday, July 22, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #221

It's time for our second Gold Cup Doubleheader-- this time, featuring a team that's not actually in the Gold Cup, Guatemala (they were actually suspended from the competition.) and El Salvador, who faced the United States in the Gold Cup quarterfinal and lost. Let's get to it, shall we?

First up, Guatemala:
I've always actually really liked the flag of Guatemala and thinking about it, I think it's the quetzal bird that does it for me- the long tail that runs the length of the central emblem is just about perfect- but the other aspects of the flag work as well. The blue stripes are meant to represent the two oceans that the country lies between- the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean as well as the sky above the country. The white stands for peace and purity. The overall blue and white color combination should be familiar- especially if you're all about Central America and it's early history as it recalls the flag of the Federal Republic of Central America.

The central emblem of the flag is the Coat of Arms of Guatemala which includes the quetzal bird, which stands for liberty- a parchment scroll bearing the date of Central America's independence from Spain- which is September 15th of 1821. The crossed rifles stand for Guatemala's willingness to defend itself, the crown of laurel is for victory and the crossed swords stand for honor. Fast fact about Guatemala: it's only one of two national flags of UN members to feature a firearm.*

Then, we've got El Salvador.
Adopted on May 27, 1912 for national and civil usage, you can immediately see the blue and white combination from the Federal Republic of Central America is still strong here- which makes a certain amount of sense from the historical and geographic point of view- Guatemala is right next door, after all. There are some differences though- El Salvador uses a darker shade of blue, royal cobalt blue, which stands for the great sky and two massive oceans of Central America. White is for peace and solidarity with the world and the golden amber is for what Wikipedia refers to as, "the entire bold phraseology in the flag." Whatever that means.

In the center you've got the Coat of Arms- which, like Guatemala's is quite striking. It's pretty packed with symbolism, so I'm going to let Wikipedia do the talking on this one. If dig heraldry, it's worth a read.

So there you have it- Guatemala and El Salvador.  Remember until next time keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

*The other flag with a firearm is Mozambique.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bookshot #98: Pride and Prejudice

Well, I've done it. I finally sat down and read a Jane Austen novel. I suppose in literary circles this officially classifies me as either 'woke' or 'woefully behind the times and why haven't you read Emma and Sense and Sensibility yet because Jane Austen is awesome.' But it's done. I read it. And... hoo boy. My initial reaction: "man, dating was complicated back in the day."

The first half of this book was probably the hardest to read. Austen isn't big on a lot of direct dialogue and there were reams upon reams of exposition in the early going that made this kind of a tough road to hoe. Mr. Bennett was probably my favorite character of the early going. Lizzy just seemed like a real pain in the ass- but in a good way, you know? She wanted to be picky, she was protective of her sisters and when Bingley and Jane hit it off only to be sort of broken up by Darcy it seemed like a 19th Century definition of a 'dick move.'

Lizzy then fends off Mr. Collins and his advances, which actually works out for the best because he seems a lot happier with Charlotte (I'm pretty sure that's who he marries anyway.) Lady Catherine remains forever associated with Maggie Smith in my mind and I read her as such throughout the book.

To me things get interesting when Wickham sort of shows up and starts talking smack about Darcy which Elizabeth buys hook, line and sinker and when Lizzy learns that Darcy had broken up Bingley and Jane when he confesses his love for her, she shuts him down hard. The next morning, she gets a long letter from Darcy explaining it all and suddenly she begins to realize that she has misjudged Darcy.

A few months later, Lizzy is visiting his estate of Pemberley and continues to learn how she has misjudged Darcy- meeting his sister and learning what a kind and generous man he is- and meeting him there, he invites his Aunt and Uncle to go fishing on the grounds as well. Their happy interlude is broken by the news that younger sister Lydia has eloped with Mr. Wickham.

If the book was picking up steam at Wickham's entrance, it takes off like a rocket at this point. Darcy leaves immediately and Lizzy returns home to wait for the news on her sister- whether it's good, bad or utterly disastrous- and she's learning toward utterly disastrous, given the speed of Darcy's departure. As it turns out though, the couple is found, debts are paid and they are properly married- which preserves the families good name and the prospects of everyone else.

After the happy couple is married and dispatched to points to the north (sparing everyone the whole 'awkwardness' of their elopement') Bingeley and Darcy show back up at the Bennett house and Bingley proposes to Jane, who accepts and Darcy and Lizzy take a walk and he proposes. Lady Catherine shows up to try and stop it, which doesn't happen and Mr. Bennett is somewhat dubious at first, but then Lizzy explains what Darcy had done to bring Lydia and Wickham together and assures her Dad that it's for love and he couldn't be happier about it.

Overall: Once things kicked into high gear, this was actually a pretty enjoyable book. I'm pretty sure though that I could watch any number of cinematic or television adaptations to get pretty much everything that's in the book out onto the page. (And actually this makes me want to dig up the Keira Knightley version to do just that.) I would say  **** out of ****. This earns it's status as a classic.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Oh, Those Russians..."

God bless this GIF. It sums up so much of our interminable existence as our nation reels from one supposed crisis/scandal to the next. Donald Trump Jr. has finally forced me off the fence. I feel compelled, nay driven, to take a position on this whole Russia Fiasco and after some deep thought and consideration, I've decided upon the following:

I don't care.

(I could use stronger language here: "I don't give a shit." "I don't give a fuck." But I went with simple, clean and easy- because I don't care.)

That's not say that I don't care about the integrity of our elections- I do, but the media's not talking about the integrity of our elections- their talking about collusion- real or imagined with Russia. Is that troubling? Sure. But actual proof thus far is sketchy at best- the documents leaked by NSA Contractor Reality Winner probably have been the closest thing to what I'd call 'proof' the media has shown us so far- and even those documents show an effort to compromise electoral officials information, but nothing (so far) to indicate that the results of the election were swung one way or the other by the Russian government.

Most everything else is just- to steal a phrase- "sound and fury, signifying nothing." There are I don't even know how many investigations going into this Russia mess at this point- when one of them is ready to deliver a verdict, tell me and I'll be happy to tune in and see what they've decided. Ditto with the Special Prosecutor. When he's ready to let us know what he's found, I'll tune in. Until then, it's time to change the subject.

Why, you ask?

First, while I loathe and detest the two party system in this country, it doesn't do me a lot of good if it's a one party + 'an argument that runs candidates and has a platform that labels itself a party'. If we're stuck with this two lamentable choices that means that as a voter, I want- nay, I demand that both parties be at their fighting weight. While the Democratic Party seems to be making some noises in the direction of actually acknowledging the depth of the hole they are in, polling like this- which yes, you should take with a grain of salt, because it a poll- should give Dems everywhere pause. "Being Against Trump" isn't enough. You need ideas that win everywhere. You need candidates that win everywhere. You need to be a 50 state, big tent party and if that dilutes the leftist orthodoxy a little bit, then so be it. Your progressive principles don't mean shit if you don't win- and winning could be very easy indeed.

Second, if you're a Dem, ask yourself this: who says the media is your friend? Sure- they may be on your 'side' in a manner of speaking, but go watch cable news for awhile. It's not about your message or your candidate or your party. It's about ratings. Ratings means viewer and viewers mean money. And if you ask the media to choose between your party and it's message and ratings, they're going to choose ratings every. single. time. Which is why the Democratic Party cannot let the media be the default driver of their message- because that's no way to win either. (Tom's Rule of Politics #1: You will never lose votes by shitting on the media in this country. Doesn't matter which party you are.)

Third, this opinion piece gets it: Everything is a distraction from something much much worse. Let the investigations play out. Focus on the much much worse, because that's what we should be talking about.

Finally, in general, I'd just like everyone to stop talking about this for awhile. There's a Special Prosecutor. There's probably a dozen Congressional investigations going on by now. Let them figure this shit out and then tell us and walk us through it. In the meantime, was Donald Jr's meeting idiotic? Probably. Was it purportedly about opposition research but ended up being about adoption? Sure- why the hell not? In the middle of a campaign, what better way to get a meeting with a Trump on the inside- "Hey, I've got dirt on the Clintons." Of course he took the meeting. Hell, Tiffany Trump would have probably taken that meeting.

And of course there was an ex-Soviet spyish type person there. Rich people flock together worldwide and after the USSR went bye bye all the smart Soviet spyish types got filthy rich and became oligarchs. If you're above a certain tax bracket and doing business in Russia today you probably can't swing a cat without hitting six or seven ex-KGB types. I didn't find it as shocking as the media makes it out to be.

Could there be something to this whole Russia thing? It's entirely possible. But in the meantime while the media is screaming RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIA 24/7/365, the Trump Administration is actually conducting some business behind the screams. It'd be more useful at this point to focus on what they're actually doing and wait for these investigations to play out.

(We've usually got CNN on at the Day Job in case something big and crazy happens in the world we need to appraise our Admin about, so we all lived through the Malaysia Airlines Disappearance and I'm telling you: Don Lemon is going to get aliens and wormholes involved in this Russia thing. It's gonna happen. You can put money on it.)

Monday, July 17, 2017

The New Doctor Who Hullabaloo

The regeneration cycle of Who fandom has begun. New Doctors usually lead to something akin to the five stages of grief:

1. Denial: "I can't believe they replaced [Beloved Former Doctor] with [New Doctor]. [Beloved Former Doctor] will always be the one, true Doctor Who to me!

2. Anger: "[New Doctor] is going to ruin the show! The show is dead to me! I'm going to stop watching right after [Beloved Former Doctor's] last episode!"

3. Bargaining: "I wonder if they'll bring [Fan's Doctor of Choice] after [New Doctor] flames out after a season or two. That would be okay."

4. Depression: "Man, [New Doctor] is going to suck. [Beloved Former Doctor] and his predecessors were so much better."

5. Acceptance: "I can't wait to see the new Christmas special!"

The regeneration cycle is a little bumpier than usual this time around because the Beeb has taken the leap and made British Actress Jodie Whittaker the 13th Doctor. I guess technically she's the second woman to take on the role since Joanna Lumley played the Doctor in a spoof called "The Curse of the Fatal Death" in 1999, but she is the first woman to take on the role full time and the internet is reacting predictably.

Some people are reacting positively, other people are just well, reacting and then there's the comment section of The Daily Mail, which if you know anything about the British press is the closest thing to that pink sewer from Ghostbusters 2 that the real world has.

I haven't seen Ms. Whittaker in Broadchurch, but she was in Attack The Block which is a sci-fi cult classic that I apparently need to track down and watch- so she's got some genuine genre street cred to back her up. (Plus David Tennant, Doctor #10 was in Broadchurch, so I'm going to take that as a sign of a good thing.) In terms of an acting resume, I think she fits the bill and ultimately, with any casting decisions about the Doctor that's what I'm interested in. I'm interested in the best actor/actress to do the most interesting thing possible with the character. Sometimes, that's a relative unknown (Matt Smith) and sometimes it's not (Peter Capaldi, Christopher Eccleston) but with every new Doctor you want a new and ultimately interesting interpretation of the character.

By that standard, Ms. Whittaker more than fits the bill. (In the past, I've been keeping my fingers crossed for choices like Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba, Richard Ayaode, Jason Statham- genuinely outside the box choices to take on the character and take it to new places.)

The obvious, tiresome internet objection is that, "SHE'S A LADY DOCTOR!" There's fifty years of Doctor Who out there to work with and, as far as I know, there's nothing in the rule book to suggest that the Doctor has to be a man. And to be honest, as soon as the character of Missy showed up, you had to know that this was a possibility. If the Master can be a woman, so can the Doctor. Hell, in one of the Capaldi episodes ("Hell Bent" I think) a Time Lord General regenerates into a woman. The possibility hasn't been explicitly ruled out (as far as I know) and as a show, Doctor Who has always been flexible enough to avoid locking itself into canon. (Witness Matt Smith getting a whole new set of regenerations in "The Time of The Doctor"- not to mention the whole idea of regeneration itself.)

If you've been on the air in various formats and medium for five decades, you can't just keep going to the overly full well of white male actors to take on the role. Each regeneration is more or less a reinvention for the show in many ways, so why not expand your options a little bit? I have no idea if Ms. Whittaker is the right choice, but as with so many Internet Outrage Controversies, I think the most important thing is to actually watch the show before you decide it's going to be absolutely awful.

In general, I'm not a fan of diversity for diversities sake and I think consumers can sense when companies/creators/shows, etc are trying to 'tick a diversity' box for the sake of ticking a box. If it fits the established character, if the writing is good* and if the creators are genuinely trying to do something to take the character/show/franchise in a new direction, then I'm all for it. But what I have absolutely no time for is people absolutely destroying something they don't actually bother consume. If you haven't seen the show, if you haven't seen the movie, if you haven't read the book or the article or watched the YouTube video, then do hush. Watch the thing before passing judgment on it!

I'm excited for this! Can't wait for the Christmas Special!

*Perfect example of this is Thor. When Marvel made Jane Foster Thor there was a sizable chunk of the internet that lots it's damn mind, but here's the thing: the power of Thor is derived from his (or her) hammer and there's nothing on the hammer that precludes a woman being worthy to pick it up. So I was fine with it- and from what I can tell, the adventures of Jane Foster as Thor are probably some of the best things Marvel is doing right now. If it's good writing, fits the character and takes the 'thing' (whatever it is) to new and interesting places, then I'm all for it. And people should unbend their brains enough to check something out before passing judgement on it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Netflix & Chill #20: Beauty and The Beast

Watched On: The In-Laws Television
Released: 2017
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Pick: The In-Laws (Redbox Night on Vacay)

We made it across Colorado and Nebraska on the last Friday of vacation before coming to a merciful halt for the night at the In-Laws place in Omaha. Both the Elder and Younger Spawn got to play with their cousins for a bit and then we settled in for a Redbox movie night featuring Disney latest live action conversion, Beauty and The Beast.

I remain somewhat conflicted and puzzled by Disney's latest move at converting every excellent animated movie they ever made into a live action feature. Conflicted, because some of these animated movies were very very very good indeed and if they were that good, well then, why bother with a live action remake that runs the risk of being less good than the original. Puzzled because although I'm positive they're doing this purely from a business perspective, (All the kids that grew up with these animated movies are now adults and will of course, spend money to go and see their favorite animated classic converted to live action on the big screen) it seems like an odd way to spend your money. There's not a kids franchise out there that could use the Disney touch? (Though, to be honest: I would actually be less conflicted about a live action remake of Hercules, because apart from the Greek Chorus, Hercules was probably my least favorite Disney movie.)

But anyway! Make money money money make money money make for the House of Mouse. What about the film? Was it good?

Why, yes, it was. They had the option to open the movie with an old school overture (which we took) and I don't want to say it gave the movie 'gravitas' because that's the wrong word, but what it did do was make it seem like a play or a musical- and the some of the sets backed that up. In the opening song, ('Belle') when Emma Watson (who does a pretty good job singing. I dig it.) declaims that "she wants much more than this provincial life" she does so to a beautiful painting of the village below.

The rest of the plot unfolds much like it's animated predecessor. Belle's father heads to town to sell things, get caught in a storm, harassed by wolves and eventually stumbled into the Beast's castle only to be thrown into prison. Belle goes looking for him and takes his place. Befriending the servants, she is treated to a spectacular dinner ("Be Our Guest") before wandering into the west wing of the castle, which the Beast has told her was off limits. Enraged, he scares her so much she flees into the woods and he has to rescue her from the wolves.

A friendship begins as she nurses The Beast back to health- but in the meantime, Maurice makes it back to the village and enlists Gaston's help to rescue Belle, but when Gaston reveals that he's just doing it to get Belle's hand in marriage, Maurice balks and Gaston ties him to a tree to leave him for the wolves. Maurice is freed by Agathe (actually the Enchantress) and makes his way back to the village where he tells people what Gaston did. Gaston, being the gentlemen he is, convinces everyone that Maurice is crazy and needs to be thrown into an insane asylum.

Belle meanwhile has a beautiful, romantic dinner with The Beast and when he uses the mirror to show her Maurice, she sees his predicament and The Beast lets her go, giving her the mirror so she'll have something to remember him by. She goes home and proves that The Beast is real and Gaston assembles a mob to go burn the castle to the ground. The final showdown sees Gaston meet his fate, the Beast die before Belle confesses her love, breaking the curse and restoring everyone to human form.

If you've seen the animated movie, it's more or less the same thing. But, this movie actually dabbles a bit in developing characters a bit more. The fate of Belle's mother is revealed (Maurice was forced to flee Paris as his wife succumbed to the plague.) The Enchantress is more developed as a character as is Gaston and LeFou. The whole uproar of "the gay character" thing is much ado about nothing but all in all, it's a beautiful musical adaptation of an animated classic.

All glory and honor to Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts- but I don't care what anyone says, Angela Lansbury will always be Mrs. Potts to me. My Grade: *** 1/2 out of *****.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #220

The CONCACAF Gold Cup is underway and on various sports channels right now so as I was scratching my head, pondering what to do next, I figured it out: I'll combine my love of soccer with my love of flags and break down some of the nations involved in the tournament. We've got three doubleheaders lined up to round out the month of July and first up, we're starting right in the middle with the Central American neighbors of Costa Rica and Panama!

Costa Rica is sitting on top of Group A right now, following a win over Honduras and a draw against Canada and a solid thumping of French Guiana. Here's what their flag looks like:
Adopted November 27, 1906 for national and civil usage, it was designed by Pacifica Fernandez who was in turn inspired by the 1848 Revolution in France and the creation of the French Second Republic. The blue-white-red combination is taken directly from the French tricolor. (It's similar to the flag of Thailand and the flag of North Korea as well- but both of those were adapted after the flag of Costa Rica.) Color wise: the blue stands for the sky, opportunities, idealism and perseverance. The white is for peace, wisdom and happiness. The red is for the blood spilt by martyrs in defense of the country and the warmth and generosity of the people.

The Coat of Arms (although you can't see it all that well on this image- try this link if you want something a little bigger)- features the isthmus between the Pacific and Caribbean with 3 volcanoes. The seven stars stand for the seven provinces of Costa Rica- the Spanish name for the country is scrolled on a white banner and the blue upper scroll recalls the United Provinces of Central America.

Next up, we've got Panama. They're also having a pretty solid Gold Cup so far- they drew with the USA, beat Nicaragua 2-1 and waxed Martinique 3-0. Here's their flag:
I've actually got this one somewhere in the collection (Vexillology Dream/Goals: a better way to display my collection as well as adding to it.) The first thing that's important to know about Panama's flag is that it could have looked like this flag, which to me, is cooler. The Bunau-Varilla proposal might be a little too similar to that of the United States- so I can understand why people might be a little leery of it, but damn are the colors striking and the proposal...  it just looks good. But here's the crazy thing: I actually like the current flag of Panama as well.

The design is simple, has symmetry and it's got a simple meaning: the was the color of the Conservative Party, red the color of the Liberal Party and white is the peace they operate together in. It was adopted on March 25, 1925 for national and civil usage.

So, there you have it, the first of the Gold Cup Doubleheaders is in the bag! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Is Biotin Bullshit?

Most people already know this about yours truly, but for those that don't, I've been growing my beard out. Like hardcore. I don't think I really had any driving motivation to do so- it's not like I'm aiming for The Beard Olympics or something (though I could) it's just that I didn't want to shave anymore. So, beard.

But I figured if I was going to beard, I might as well do some research about it. I got the brush to get in there and keep my beard fresh and relatively free of dead skin cells and the like. I got a comb to keep it less wild and bushy. I got special shampoo to keep it soft and conditioned. I got beard balm to make it smell night and keep the natural oils in the hair all happy.

In short I went all in on beard- and that included grabbing some biotin and taking it as part of my increasingly old mannish sized spectrum of supplements and vitamins. (It's getting a little ridiculous actually- currently: Zinc, Folic Acid, CoQ10, Quecertin, Allergy Pill, Montelukast and until yesterday, biotin.) I had read an article that seemed to say that it would help you grow your beard faster and wanted to test the hypothesis. 

And 100 pills later, I'm honestly not sure what to think. I think it helped, but I'm not sure. I didn't go from regular beard to ZZ Top in the space of three-four months, but my beard did get that longer. Whether or not that was down to biotin or the natural growth of my beard, I don't know. A consultation with Mr. Google revealed that I'm not the only one who's somewhat dubious about the effects of biotin. This article urges caution when taking biotin and this one went a little more scientific and actually had people try the stuff, but the results were mixed

That's more of less in line with my own experience with the stuff. Just seemed like a pill to me and I honestly didn't see results one way or the other, so this marks the end of The Grand Biotin Experiment. (I might be nearing the end of The Beard Experience as well..  The Younger Spawn is developing a somewhat painful habit of grabbing ahold and yanking fistfuls of it when it suits his mood and it's not exactly fun for me. So, this might stick around for a month or two longer, but I have a feeling a change is coming...)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Basement Purge Chronicles

Operation: Purge is underway in our house and things are moving at a delightful speed. We got a bunch of stuff out of Mom and Dad's basement and we sorted that out and we cleaned out all the boxes in the basement, I got a bunch of books purged and in general, there's less clutter and right now that feels good. It's going to be nice to streamline and simplify things and both The Missus and I are excited to get this massive project underway. Less toys. Less crap. Less boxes. Less stuff over all. It's a good feeling.

It's also lead to the discovery of some interesting treasures:
(There's a lava lamp in an 'as yet to be opened' tote that I'm looking forward to unpacking.) But the real prize was the collection of binders that apparently contained everything that I've ever written dating all the way back to 5th Grade. Yes, you read that right. I found a bound collection of Myths that we all wrote back in the 5th Grade. I found anthologies from a variety of writing projects in the 9th Grade, some truly cringe worthy editorials from the 10th Grade. An out of control draft novel that I'm pretty sure came in around 50K words that I turned in for a project in the 11th Grade. (I'm still not entirely convinced that Mrs. D (then Ms. G) read it. I think she probably just flipped through it, took a big pull off of her wine glass and gave me the A. Which saved my bacon in the wake of The Color Purple Fiasco.)

I got really excited when I saw some Rhetoric papers and was really hoping that I had saved some actual academic work other than my Master's Thesis, but no- it was Creative Writing class- literally every copy of every draft I handed out for people to read and their reaction notes. Dear God, that was a lot of paper- but it was actually kind of cool, because the piece in question became the final pages of The Prisoner and The Assassin. It was in my brain since the undergraduate years and guess what? I made it happen. I brought it to life. I finished that book. (It's a bit of a rough diamond, but it's out in the world- my personal book/writing plan, lodged somewhere on Google Drive calls for me to revise, polish and repackage both books in the next few years- with professional, shiny covers. But we'll see if I get there.) I've got to crack the book in front of me first and get that written and then there's the little matter of getting myself back to school as well.

This week has been ghosts of my youth. Vacation had be wondering about what happened to all the things that I used to love to do as a kid. And then I fell down the rabbit hole of a wonderful website called Classic Reload. All the computer games I loved as a kid available to play for free online. I played some freakin' Number Munchers, man! Civilization, Sim City 2000, Warlords, Spectre (but not Spectre Supreme, which was my jam back in the day) and 'Vette. I never had a gaming system when I was growing up, but I had these games. It's amazing to see them again. It's even more amazing to play them again. (Warlords, man. The original Warlords remains incredible...  Elvallie, The Orc of Kor...  all the favorites.)

It doesn't have all the games, of course. (Though Prince of Persia and Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego? are on there, games like Glider, Glider Pro and the Marathon first person shooter are absent.) But way way back in the day, I was all about these games. I could have been a gamer, but at a certain point, the graphics and the technology got too good and the games just moved to a level of complexity that just didn't do it for me any more. And eventually I moved away from them. I didn't get into Warcraft or Command or Conquer... I just sort of stopped playing computer games and I don't really know why.

Just one of the many questions I'm relieving from my misspent youth. All of course, thanks to the grand purge of the basement that's currently underway.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Albums2010 #91: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt. Pepper turned 50 this year, so naturally, we had to include it on the list at some point. While I like The Beatles and went through a period early in my undergraduate years where I listened to a ton of their stuff. (I think it was a combination of the release of Anthology in the mid-90s and the hoopla around that and then '1' dropped my freshman year of college.) I'm pretty sure that I saw A Hard Day's Night and I know Mom had Rubber Soul in her stack of CDs... but other than that (oh and maybe listening to Abbey Road and The White Album at least once a piece) I wasn't really all that much into The Beatles. (Except this paragraph makes it seem like I totally was.)

But Sgt. Pepper was one that I hadn't sat down for in awhile, so I dug it up on Spotify and gave it a whirl. The first thing that stands out is the running time. This is a relatively quick album- coming in at 39:52 but the other thing that stands out is how seamlessly it all fits together. I'm assuming that was part of the whole 'concept album' thing that they were going for it, but it moves things along at a pretty brisk clip.

The albums opens with the title track and then moves into 'With A Little Help From My Friends' (the original far less bombastic and grandiose than Joe Cocker's cover) and 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.' The opening trio are song that I'm familiar with, love and hadn't heard in awhile. So listening to them was like getting together with old friends again. The pleasant surprise was track four: 'Getting Better' which was a song that I had almost forgotten about but still worked just fine for me. (It's actually one of my favorites, because, well, the sentiment works for me. "You've got to admit, it's getting better. It's getting better, all the time." which is the kind if optimism we could use more of these days, I think.

Things slow down a bit with 'Fixing A Hole' and 'She's Leaving Home' but pick back up again with 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!' who joins Rocky Raccoon, Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam as memorable characters that have spring to life in the music and lyrics of the Beatles. 'Within or Without You' gets all mystical and is a pleasant change of pace for the atmosphere. The time the band spent in India is on display here with sitars and tablas going full throttle. Then the gentle but fun 'When I'm Sixty-Four' is followed by 'Lovely Rita' (another one for The Beatles and their character compendium) and then 'Good Morning Good Morning', a reprise of the title track and the glorious ending to it all, 'A Day In The Life.'

(I bear a minor grudge against the last song. It was used in our high school graduation slide show and while it worked well enough, we were the graduating class of 2001 and we should have used the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey somewhere in there, damn it. But I have only myself to blame- I didn't speak up and suggest it. So really, it's sort of my own fault.)

Overall: The wiki-page on this album alone is worth a visit and well, it's The Beatles. It's really hard to find something bad to say about any of their albums, but this one jumps right up to Abbey Road and The White Albums in terms of importance and sheer excellence in my book. If  you like The Beatles, you've undoubtedly listened to this one a time or two. But if you haven't gotten around to it yet, then what are you waiting for? **** out of ****

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Netflix & Chill #19: The Bonds of Roger Moore, Part 2

Watched On: Blu-Ray, courtesy of the Parentals
Released: 1981 (For Your Eyes Only), 1985 (A View To A Kill), 1979 (Moonraker), 1977 (The Spy Who Loved Me)
Starring: Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Julian Glover, Topol, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Patrick Macnee, Christopher Walken, Richard Kiel, Barbara Bach, Curt Jurgens
Rotten Tomatoes: For Your Eyes Only- 74%, A View To A Kill- 36%, Moonraker- 60%, The Spy Who Loved Me- 79%
Picks: Mine

(Apparently the addition of a fourth movie to my tally created some formatting problems, so if this post looks a little awkward, I apologize.)

Last month, before we headed out on vacation, I spent some time building a fort out of newspapers and watching the rest of the Bonds of Roger Moore- so without further ado, here's Part 2 or, as I like to call it, "The Best of the Rest."

First up, was For Your Eyes Only. Any movie that has Topol in it is going to be a good movie- and if you throw in Julian Glover to boot, you move up a peg or two in my eyes. I was honestly surprised that it scored a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes though, but upon further reflection I think that's about right if you think about it. When a British spy ship sinks in the Ionian Sea, a critical system (ATAC) which is used to coordinate and communicate with the Royal Navy's fleet of Polaris missile submarines is compromised and Bond finds himself in a race with the Soviets to retrieve it. The British initially ask a marine archaeologist, Sir Timothy Havelock to investigate but he is killed by a Spanish assassin, which gives Bond a place to start. Unfortunately, Sir Timothy's daughter vows revenge as well, so Bond has to keep her from killing important people he needs to talk too, fend off the advances of an amorous figure skater before a final showdown at a mountaintop stronghold.

Cold open Bloefold-ish shenanigans aside, this one actually holds up really well. I'd probably slot it in behind The Spy Who Loved Me and Octopussy as one of Moore's best outings. There's the requisite action set pieces and the whole figure skating thing aside, the end where Bond throws the ATAC over the cliff and tells Gogol, "That's detente, Comrade. You don't have it. I don't have it," is just about perfect. (Interestingly enough, Cassandra Harris, who plays the Countess Lisl was future Bond Pierce Brosnan's first wife.)

Next: A View To A Kill. Let's get this cleared up right away: best Bond song hands down. It's not even a contest, but as Bond movies go, it's... less good. Roger Moore was 57 when this one was filming and it showed. Christopher Walken is good as Max Zorin. Grace Jones is interesting but underused and Tanya Roberts always grated on me a bit as the main love interest. Patrick Macnee being in this one was delightful as it meant that both Mrs. Peel and Steed made it into a Bond film, which seem like it was worth noting. I was just never honestly sure about Zorin's Master Plan about pumping water into the fault to cause an earthquake...  it stretched credibility a bit. Super villians are part and parcel of Bond- I get that. But plans either need to be grounded (selling fake jewelry to fund arms sales in an attempt to provoke World War III) or batshit crazy (let's all live in space! Let's all live under the sea!) and unfortunately Zorin lies somewhere in the middle and doesn't quite work for me.

Third up, Moonraker. Okay...  fact I didn't know about this movie: it was the highest grossing entry in the series until Goldeneye rolled around in 1995. And to be honest, I actually ended up liking it better than I remembered. The space stuff actually kind of worked and Drax, as a villain actually had a dry, understated sense of humor that suited the character perfectly. Sure, he was going to eradicate humanity and create a new master race, but that didn't mean he wasn't ready with a suitably dry observation or quip. This movie marked the second movie we see Jaws (Richard Kiel) as a henchman and while he still packs a punch, he's lost some of the menace he had in The Spy Who Loved Me. Similarly, Bond's attempts to come to grips with feminism fall painfully flat, as poor Dr. Holly- a strong, capable, potentially well-rounded female character in a franchise bereft of them- gets saddled with the unfortunate last name of 'Goodhead' and ends up swooning for James by the end anyway.

I'm seriously still kind of stunned that this was the highest grossing Bond film until Goldeneye.

Finally, the best of Roger Moore's run: The Spy Who Loved Me. When both British and Soviet submarines start disappearing Bond is summoned to investigate, dodging a Soviet hit squad in the process and killing their leader. A submarine tracking system is being auctioned of in Egypt and Bond heads there only to find that his Soviet counterpart, Agent Triple X is bidding as well. The two join forces, dodging Jaws along the way. The trail eventually leads to Karl Stromberg, who has a marine research base off of the coast of Sardinia where he is plotting to start a nuclear war between the two superpowers and go live under the sea.

Bond and Triple X storm the base, take care of Stromberg, free the submarines and their crews and blow up the whole kit and caboodle as they do so.

The cinematography on this one is what stands out. It's probably the most beautiful looking Bond film- especially the sequences in Egypt. Bond finds an able foil in Agent Triple X and despite the inevitable romance between the two, Barbara Bach holds her own with Roger Moore and seems awfully willing to kill him for most of the film. The theme song is awfully strong- ranking right up there with 'Live and Let Die' and 'A View To A Kill.' This is peak Roger Moore and is probably the best of his movies and along with Octopussy probably his contribution to the James Bond Hall of Fame, as it were.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

This Week In Vexillology #219

This was supposed to be the 'July 4th Special' for this year but it didn't quite fall on the holiday, so we're going to do it the Saturday after and just say it counts. We went to Colorado on vacation this year, so it should come as no surprise that This Week In Vexillology, we're going to feature the flag of Colorado!
While I didn't succeed in my goal of finding a flag of Colorado while we were in Colorado, I did get a super cool Colorado flag thermos that I plan on drinking coffee and other hot beverages out of as soon as I get the opportunity. (Hey, flag swag is just as good as an actual flag, right?) 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the flag of the Centennial State though, we gotta talk about that infamous 2001 NAVA Survey. Colorado ranked 16th. I'm sorry, but that is way too freakin' low. I mean, don't get me wrong- it's not bad. It's not a total miscarriage of justice, but it's still, way too freakin' low. The NAVA Survey looked at Canadian Provinces, US Territories and all 50 states and D.C. so the sample size is a little bigger, which I'm willing to make allowances for. But honestly: in terms of state flags, Colorado ranks right up there with New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona as iconic flags of state vexillology. 

So, let's look at the 15 flags NAVA thought were better than Colorado's. DC and South Carolina no way should be ranked above Colorado. California should be ranked higher as well. Personally...  I'd probably put Colorado at #5, Cali at #8 and slot Alaska in at 13 and DC at 16. This is just too recognizable a flag and it's just too well designed. It commits none of the usual sins of the state flags- it's not a seal on a bed sheet. It's simple. The number of colors is low and the fact that the 'C' is slightly off center makes the design clean and instantly recognizable. (At least to me, anyway- and you know what, isn't it about time for another NAVA Survey anyway?)

Rant over. Let's talk flag:

The elements of the current flag have been around since 1911, but it was adopted in its current form in 1964, which makes it a relatively recent flag as state flags go. In terms of colors, the blue represents the skies, the white for the snow capped mountains, the gold for the sunshine in the state and red for the color of the Earth. The red-yellow combination of the 'C' stands for the colors of the Spanish Flag which used to own Colorado way back in the day. (While I'm assuming that the 'C' stands for Colorado, I haven't found anything that explicitly states that yet.)

(Another thing that I noticed about Colorado: the sheer number of flavors of license plates they have. The Missus and I spent our travels across Nebraska playing the license state game (the Elder Spawn is probably a year or two away from really getting into it) but our progress slowed down considerably once we hit Colorado because of the sheer different types plates we kept coming across. (That didn't stop us from picking up both an Alaska and and a Hawaii for our tally though.))

At the end of the day, this is one of my favorite state flags. I'm sure we're going to get back there one of these years and when we do- I'm going to track one of these bad boys down and add it to my collection. There aren't many state flags that I want to add to my collection and Colorado is probably pretty damn close to the top of the list.

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

Break The Spectrum: Use Your Y-Axis for Once

If you think the Democratic Party is in a bit of trouble these days, you're probably one of the few people paying attention to facts on the ground instead of whatever noxious swill cable news is trying to force down our throats, gavage style instead. Happily, the New York Times ran an op-ed yesterday that has the solution you've been looking for: do what Bill Clinton did and move back to the center!

On the face of it, it's not a horrible idea, except in the many ways that it is. Part of the problems that I had with Mrs. Clinton's two candidacies was that both resembled a Reunion Tour for aging political operatives in ways that were damaging to both the Democratic Party and her chances in the election*. You can't run like it's 1992 in 2008 and yet in '08 all the old Clinton faithful were back in the saddle again. You also can't like it's 2008 in 2016 and try and glue together what appears to be a once-in-a-generation coalition put together by President Obama not once, but twice to help him to victory.

SPAM-flavored centrism some Clinton Disciple found in a warehouse somewhere marked 'MADE WITH LOVE IN 1992' needs to be put back on the shelf where it was found. You've got a few things to consider:

1. People hate labels. There are more independents than ever before. In what appears to be a post-partisan era, you can't rely on the same tired spectrum when things get bad. "Oh, they don't like our leftism, BACK TO THE CENTER BOYS!" You may hate our Tangerine Overlord with the heat of a thousand fiery suns, but he broke the spectrum and started using his Y-Axis and his X-Axis on the great big graph chart of politics. Oh, said he, there a blue collar working class demographic that's seen their jobs shipped overseas for two decades? Might they be willing to vote for someone who at least talks tough on free trade? 

Turns out, they were. Whether they still listen in 2020 is still up for debate, but the point is that the field is opening up in a big way. Pick your issues and you might win support in places you weren't expecting. (Locally, Johnson County saw granola eating hippie types ally with Ayn Rand reading Libertarian types to (somewhat myopically, IMHO) vote against a new jail.) 

Issues and ideas matter. Offer the right platform and policy solutions and who knows who might vote for you.

2. States are important. Everything everything everything begins at the state level! If you can't win in all 50 states, as a party you're not much use to anyone, now are you. States were also conceived as laboratories of democracy- so don't be afraid to try new ideas. Just because a Progressive Revolution is unlikely on a national level doesn't mean it can't happen on a state level. Field test ideas for reforms. Think outside the box. See where it  goes. Republicans have been doing all of this for awhile now. Democrats desperately need to get in on this as well. 

(Oh, and the 8 million Republican candidates versus the 6 or so Democratic candidates in 2016 illustrates another reason why states are important: that's where the next generation of Democratic leaders are going to come from. The depth of the Republican 'bench' as it were stood in stark contrast to the shallow 'bench' the Democrats had last time. TL; DR: be the Golden State Warriors. Don't be the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sure, the Cavs have Lebron and he can win. But Golden State has a small platoon of awesome talent. That's what Democrats should aim for.)

3. Do I think we should do away with caucuses and go to all primaries as the op-ed suggests? I don't know. I go back and forth on that. On the one hand, yes, caucuses do tend to skew to the more hardcore supporters of the party which may not be where the electorate as a whole is. On the other hand, caucuses do lend themselves well to retail politics and making candidates shake a bunch of hands and meet a bunch of people too. For sure the role of super delegates need to be looked at carefully... yes, they're supposed to be a check to protect the Party itself- and given what happened to the Reform Party, I think they could be useful. 

The irony of this post is that I'm a registered Independent. I've voted for Greens, Libertarians, Democrats and Republicans in various elections over the years, but I desperately want the Democratic Party to get it's shit together. Dreaming of impeachment and fondling chicken entrails to try and see some future smoking gun to bring down Our Tangerine Overlord becomes counter productive at some point. Our Tangerine Overlord might not fuck it up all that much. And banking a Democratic comeback on whether or not he does is a risky bet indeed. 

Honestly: if the Democrats can't claw something back on the state level by 2020 they could be out of power for a generation. The Party cannot go into the next census where it is now on the state level. 

I'm glad people are talking seriously about solutions, but it's time to stop playing checkers and start figuring out the rules of that 3D Interdimensional Space Chess. Because that's the world we're living in now and moving one way or the other on the spectrum isn't going to cut it any more.

*We can re-hash '16 and '08 til we're all blue in the face, but let me just say this: I voted for Mrs. C in '16. But I found both of her campaigns to be very frustrating experiences. They could have and should have been better than they were both times.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Squawk Box: The Grab Bag

13 Reasons Why: In terms of a starting point for discussions on suicide, depression and overall mental health for teens, I think 13 Reasons Why is a good show. I think these are important conversations to have (and you can add the importance of consent, sexual assault, slut-shaming- a whole host of things, really) for young adults and if this show can change some minds and spark some discussions for kids and teens, excellent.

As a show, however... oh boy. Where to begin? Hannah, Clay and Tony aside (though I did want to hit Clay over the head a few times) with the exception of the surly barista, Skye (who is my favorite character on this show) all the other kids on this show are fucking awful. Plus, the premise of the show itself gets stretched almost beyond credibility: you mean to tell me that they keep the box of tapes secret for longer than a day? No way that happens in real life. Kids talk too damn much. Her suicide plan is also way too elaborate for my taste: she goes through all the trouble of finding tapes, recording equipment and making the damn things and kills herself anyway? (Yes, I get that depression is a strange beast. Been there, done that. But so many opportunities just to vocalize it to someone, anyone in authority is maddening.) So much of this show could have been avoided if someone would have just told someone, which is both an important lesson for kids and teens and probably the source of my frustrations with this show.

Will I watch Season 2? Maybe.

Dear White People: I'd already seen the movie so was curious enough to check out the television show- and no, before you freak out, it's not promoting white genocide or whatever the usual segments of the internet were freaking out about...  what it is, however, is a thoughtful, intelligent discussion on the complexities of race in America today and switching the medium from film to television allows creator/film director Justin Simien a lot more room to explore the issues.

Look, just go watch this okay. It has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Keep an open mind, watch the show and you might be surprised at how much you enjoy it. You might even learn something.

Fauda: A Men In Blazers podcast actually tipped me about this show so I dug it up on Netflix, watched an episode and was instantly hooked. An Israeli import, Fauda tells the story of a top secret undercover team of Israeli spies that go into the Territories to track down terrorists and the like. When a bomber by the name of The Panther re-emerges, a retired agent, Doron is drawn back into the hunt and once he's back in, he puts it all on the line: his family, his career, even risking his life. What's especially impressive about this is that a lot of it is based on the experiences of show creator Lior Raz who actually did more or less what the characters in this show do- work undercover and catch terrorists, etc. (You can kind of tell, actually- if you watch the way the team enters the building and how they clear rooms, you can tell that it's not lightly fictionalized 'SPY TRAINING' it's legit .)

Even more impressive (admittedly from my relatively safe white guy perch in 'Merica) is that the show doesn't pull punches with either side of the Palestinian-Israeli question. It's unafraid to look at the indignities of the Occupation or the questionable tactics used in the name of catching terrorists used by the Israelis.

I'm hesitant to use terms like 'appointment television' or 'important television', but if I was the sort of person to use those terms Fauda would fit the bill. Yes, it's subtitled. But it's a thrilling, scintillating ride that manages to illuminate an entrenched conflict in unexpected ways. (And seriously: go listen to that MiB Pod Special. It's an amazing listen.)

Sens8: Oh Sens8, you were too beautiful and too ahead of your time for this world of streaming and cable I think... (I think. At the very least you were just too beautifully shot and far too expensive to justify making more of.) I thought the first season was interesting enough that I wanted to see more (there was a lot more global sex orgies that I was expecting) so I was hoping that the second season the show would gather itself and start going somewhere and wouldn't you know it? The second season had plot. It had character development. It had action. It was going places! I was starting to invest in these characters and actually care about them...  I was getting down with the concept (TL;DR- certain people are telepathically linked together in a 'sensate' cluster and can see/hear/experience what each member of the cluster experiences.) And then you had to go and end it on a fucking cliffhanger like that!!!!!  You can't be doing that to me! I want more! If not another season, then at least a 'two hour special' or two or three to wrap it all up in a satisfactory manner.

Spoiler Alert: actually really got into this show and would absolutely watch another season or movie or special or just about anything you want to throw at me.

Catastrophe: An Amazon series that I kept hearing about, I finally sat down and watched it and it was raunchy, hilarious and touching all at the same time. The seasons are only six episode apiece (yay for British television formats) and basically Rob (Rob Delaney) hooks up Irish teacher Sharon (Sharon Horgan) on a business trip. They hook up a few more times before Rob leaves and then Sharon calls him back in America to let him know that she is, in fact, pregnant. So, Rob goes back and together they embrace the accidental nature of their relationship and just figure it out as they go, getting married and having another kid and navigating the various car crashes that life throw their way. Carrie Fisher is absolutely glorious as Rob's mother Mia. My personal barometer for any sitcom is a simple one: does it make me laugh? And Catastrophe does that in spades...

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Idiocies of Legalized Fireworks

Look, what did you think was going to happen? You legalize fireworks and of course the number of fireworks that got purchased and used is going to increase- exponentially for the first year (hopefully it will level out and diminish in coming years.) Making fireworks illegal has never once stopped people from purchasing them and using them. And if they're going to be legal and purchased, they might as well be legal and purchased in Iowa, right? Makes sense.

And yet, Iowa City (and many other cities) in its wisdom has made the sale and purchase of fireworks legal yet expects it's residents not to actually use them. So, as the P-C reported the ICPD responded to 1 fireworks complaint last month and they're already at 57 for the month as of July 1st.*

In general, I've reconciled myself to the provincial narrow mindedness that can rear it's ugly head from time to time living in this town. The same townies that spent my youth bemoaning the out of control bar culture and the kids running amuck and all but demanding that the University do something about it are the first to call and complain when the University throws a concert that goes beyond their regularly scheduled bed time. People who should know better, who should, one hopes realize where they live have called to complain about noise from the Stadium on game days.

I grit my teeth. I roll my eyes. I deal with it.

But when it comes to fireworks honestly, what did you think was going to happen?

Look, I get the pet argument. I have pets and I don't want my pets hiding under a couch for the next week or so. Same with the PTSD argument. I've been in major cities where fireworks are legal for the 4th and if I was a veteran who had come back from overseas with a suitcase full of stuff I'd rather not talk about, they would be the last places I'd want to be for the July 4th holiday.

I get Iowa's history with the issue. I can even understand the urge to want to try and put the toothpaste back in the tube. But this limbo that we've stuck ourselves with is untenable, plain and simple. It's a waste of law enforcement time and taxpayer money to have our first responders spend the better part of a week running down scores of fireworks complaints.

Don't get me wrong: idiots putting firecrackers where they don't belong? Alcohol fueled fireworks parties that get people hurt? Those are worth calling about. Those are worth responding too. Those are worth fining and potentially arresting people for.

I don't think the toothpaste is going to go back in the tube at this point**. (And oh, the delicious irony of having to have a statewide minimum wage because we can't have municipalities and counties getting any ideas, now can we? But feel free to restrict the use and sale of fireworks all you want. We'll trust you with explosives just not with wages.)  But I think we need to tweak things a little bit. Municipalities are fighting a losing battle with this and while we can hope that the novelty is going to wear off by next year, a wise municipality would do well to surrender to the inevitable and just let people do what they're going to do from July 1st to the 5th every year. You could put time limits on it if you want- say Noon to Midnight. But you can't have your cake and eat it too.

If people can buy fireworks, they're going to use them. The sooner cities and counties accept the fact, the sooner the focus for fireworks can be brought back to where it should be for government agencies and first responders: making sure that everyone who uses fireworks does so in a safe and responsible manner.

*Can confirm. (Day Job Tangent!) I was working and it was... idiotic the number of calls they were getting. The amount of time they were spending dealing with them all was...  beyond idiotic. 

**It's not like Iowa is an island of legal fireworks either. Only NJ, MA and DE have complete bans on consumer fireworks and every other state allows some kind of fireworks usage by consumers.