Saturday, March 31, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #254

We're going back into the Lost Archives from the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment to have a Lost Weekend In Vexillology... this time we're heading across Britain and back into Europe to knock off the last of our European flags with Luxembourg:
Here's the interesting thing about Luxembourg: it had no official flag until 1830, when the round of Revolutions that created Belgium and began the July Monarchy in France got the natives of Luxembourg interested in displaying their national colors. It wasn't officially defined as a horizontal tricolor of red, white and blue until 1848 and wasn't officially adopted until over a century later on when they made it official on June 23rd, 1972.

It's almost entirely identical to the flag of the Netherlands except the blue is lighter shade.

The colors of the flag were derived from the Coat of Arms of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which in turn was derived from the duke of Limbourg and their red lion an the striped banner of the counts of Luxembourg- which I suppose means we should talk about the Coat of Arms of Luxembourg as well. Here they are:

Well now, don't these bad boys look fancy? Very...  upholstered. This is the 'greater coat of arms' or the Royal Coat of Arms. Oh boy, the heraldry of Luxembourg is complicated as all heck. But the initial symbology dates all the way back to the 13th Century, when the evolution and combination of the arms of Luxembourg and Limbourg began. The royal frippery behind the arms aside, the lions supporting the shield. is described in fancy heraldric language like this: "Barry of ten Argent and Azure, a Lion rampant queue forchee Gules crowned, armed and langued Or." Whatever the heck that means, but at the very least, it shows you where the colors of the flag came from.

And that's Luxembourg!

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

Albums2010 #99: Twin Cinema

I was listening to The New Pornographers album Twin Cinema a couple of a weeks back and thought, 'I reviewed this album at some point, right?' I couldn't honestly remember if I had or not, so I went to the archives and attempted to find my answers and, incredibly, it seemed as if I hadn't actually crossed this one off of the list. There's no way to know for certain, as The Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment consigned many of my entries to internet oblivion, but I remember reviewing at later album of theirs, Brill Bruisers, but it seems incredible that I didn't review this one as well.

Well: there's no time like the present.

If you dig a little on Wikipedia, you'll find that, as a rock band, The New Pornographers are kind of interesting. They're described thusly:
Presented as a musical collective of singer-songwriters and musicians from multiple projects, the band has released seven studio albums to critical acclaim for their use of multiple vocalists and elements of power pop incorporated into their music.
One of these days, I'm going to have to back and listen to their entire discography. The thing that make me like this band and their albums I think is that collective aspect to their music- there's a variety of song styles and and a variety of vocals and instruments used here that somehow blends into a synthesis that is an excellent music to experience.

Twin Cinema is TNP's, third studio album and was released all the way back in 2005 and it probably ranks somewhere in my Top 10 list of favorite albums, if I'm really going to sit down and hash one of those lists out. The album opens with the title track, 'Twin Cinema' which immediately grabs your attention and sucks you in. It's followed up with 'The Bones of an Idol', a slower track and then 'Use It', 'The Bleeding Heart Show'. This is followed up by the oddly named, but charming: 'Jackie, Dressed In Cobras.'

I think other than the title track, 'The Jessica Numbers' is probably my favorite. The guitar hook alone grabs you by the the scruff of the neck and won't let you go. But it's the weird charm of the lyrics that I think gets me the most. 'Sing Me Spanish Techno', 'Falling Through Your Clothes', 'Jackie, Dressed In Cobras.' The words alone leave me with questions. Who is Jackie? Why is she dressed in cobras? Can one sing techno to another person? Is there something about Spanish techno that makes it singable?

Overall: This is a shitty, random review I've written of an excellent album that you should go listen too. This is one of the few contemporary/modern bands that I would absolutely go and see in concert given the opportunity. Would I buy it? Absolutely. In fact, I might have it tucked away somewhere downstairs. My Grade: **** out of ****

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Psephology Rocks: 44 Messages from Catalonia

The Intercept posted a fascinating, short little documentary on the independence referendum in Catalonia last year called '44 Messages from Catalonia' that combines documentary footage with WhatsApp messages from the tumultuous few weeks between the vote and the brief declaration of independence before Spain essentially squashed it.

Catalonia's been back in the news this week: exiled Catalan President Carlos Puidgemont was arrested in Germany. Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, but lost his internet access after this Tweet was apparently deemed a bridge too far by the Ecuadorians:
So, while it's faded from view, the debate over Catalonia hasn't gone away. And while I usually focus on an actual election going on in any given month when I do one of these posts, March hasn't been helpful. Russia held an election (Spoiler Alert: Putin won) and Egypt held an election (Spoiler Alert: Al-Sisi won) and Italy held an election (Spoiler Alert: somebody won?). The whole mess of Catalonia remains interesting to me because it raises all kinds of tricky questions to consider. Is secession okay? Do people have an inalienable right to self-determination? If you're going to vote for a new country, how can you get off the ground running?

Let's take the questions one at a time: is secession okay?

The only answer I can come up with to this one is: I don't know. There's a weird contradiction running through American history about the whole question of secession. On the one hand, as a nation, we were born of secession. The Revolution was about throwing off a tyrannical government and declaring independence as a new country. Yet, on the other hand, the Civil War was a direct result of the South seceding over the issue of slavery*. To get all crazy up in here and add a mutant third hand to the proceedings: whole states have been created through secession- West Virginia, Maine and Kentucky were all split off from existing states and admitted to the union**.

It's a hard topic to unpack, but kind of dovetails into the next question: do people have an inalienable right to self-determination? Here, I'm going to answer: yes. I think we're very conditioned to believe in the nation states that we live in, so it's a hard sell for a lot of people. (A lot of that goes back to educational systems that promote conformity and good citizenship- we're socialized to believe in our countries.) But if the people vote in a free, fair and universal mandate and they vote to leave, I think they should be allowed to leave. I don't think there's a good argument against it- but I do think it comes with a catch: unless it's a velvet divorce like the Czech Republic and Slovakia, then if you want out, then you're out.

Which brings us to the third question: if you're going to vote to start a new country, how can you get off the ground running? I think this question more than anything else is probably what doomed the Catalan attempt. One of the last messages in the documentary is from the man himself, President Puigdemont, who said 'we are witnessing the last days of the Catalan Republic.' Well, you never really had a Catalan Republic. You had a vote saying that you wanted to have one, but voting for one and getting one are two different things. The emotional arguments in favor of secession are strong ones, but they can be easily countered by rational economic arguments: what money are you going to use? who is paying the bills? who is paying for health care? who is paying for pensions and defense? I hope that the Catalans had thought about some of these questions ahead of time- I'm guessing they probably did, but you literally had to have a new currency ready to go as soon as you declare independence and without it, the Catalans never really had a chance.

Velvet divorces will probably continue to create new countries for the foreseeable future, hard divorces (like the one Catalonia tried and Scotland voted against) are less likely to happen- especially in the European context. The EU has no interest in pissing off it's member states by recognizing breakaway regions like Catalonia and Spain would have every reason to veto Catalonia's entry into the EU- which wouldn't happen right away either. Now, post-Brexit, if Scotland voted to leave again, that calculation might change- but it still wouldn't mean immediate accession to the Eurozone or adopting the Euro right off the bat (at least I don't think so.)

The Kurds tried an independence referendum of their own last year and a combination of yet another worldwide shrug at the results produced more direct economic pressures that the uncertainty the Catalans faced. They lost 25% of the territory they had held post-ISIS and that included the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and that as they say was that. (At least for now, though with Turkey launching an offensive against them, I think the dream of the Kurds is going to continue to wait.)

At the end of the day, I think both sides in Catalonia messed this up. The pro-independence Catalans don't appear to have been ready to run once the votes were in and Madrid messed up a once-in-a-generation opportunity to squash the independence movement through democratic means. The argument to stay would have outweighed the uncertainties of independence. Using the police and sending in the batons doesn't solve the problem, it merely delays it.

*The more I sort of look at the historical timeline of the Civil War, the more I'm convinced that the South was fighting a losing battle on the issue from the start. The British had begun to move against the slave trade with their Abolition Act of 1833 and when the pre-eminent world power abolishes slavery, the writing is kind of on the wall. By 1872, slavery was even in decline in Brazil- where 75% of black and mulattoes were freed and it would be legally abolished by 1888.  The moral repugnance of the institution was it's downfall and by the 1860s it was dying anyway.

**Apparently, you might be able to add Vermont onto this list, since it was claimed by New York for awhile and there was some kind of issue with a land claim that New York eventually gave up? It's complicated.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Real Toxic Masculinity

To me, the passing grade of raising three sons is a three part question: 1. Did they graduate high school? 2. Do they have all their limbs intact? 3. Are they kind and polite to everyone they meet? If the answers to that question are 'Yes, yes and yes' then I feel like I've done enough to earn a passing grade when it comes to the whole 'being a Dad to three sons' thing.

But that's not enough these days and it's really pissing me off. Never mind the latte drinking liberals and all their talk about 'toxic masculinity' and 'rape culture.' Never mind the gun toting conservatives that sneer at 'beta males' and 'soy boys.' No, the real toxic masculinity is the current debate about masculinity in America today. Consider the options being presented to our boys: you're either a ball of barely contained rage ready to explode into white privilege, entitlement, rape and possibly school shooting or a weak kneed, lily-livered, guilt ridden hollow shell of a man who isn't worth of the title of being a man.

Yes, those are the messages being sent to boys today and as a parent and a father to three sons, I'd like to point out that they're not fucking helpful.

I'm going to be thirty-five this year, so I don't really have the wisdom of age going for at this point, but I'll go ahead and say that I'm a fully functional adult male with the large majority of my shit together at this point. I'm still learning about life and what it all means and it's entirely possible that ten years from now when I read this again, I might cringe mightily and want to delete it, but I'm not going to. Right here, right now, this is what I've got on the whole 'being a man' thing:

First, there's no wrong way to be a man. Be yourself. Don't tie your self-worth to anybody or anything else, because it will only make you feel like shit.

Second, never, ever apologize for liking what you like. The Elder Spawn used to like wearing his favorite pink t-shirt and having Mom goth up his nails a bit when she was painting hers. Then some little shit on the playground told him that 'pink is a girl color' and 'painting nails is for girls' and now he doesn't want to do it anymore. I'm pretty sure we've reassured him that it's okay for him to like what he likes, but messages like these are being sent in kindergarten. It's disheartening.

Third, no, I'm not going to teach my kid how to fire a gun*. Not because I'm hardcore against the idea, but because in order for me to do that, someone's going to have to teach my ass how to fire a gun and I just don't have that kind of time. What I am a big believer in and what I wish the educational system would do better at is letting boys have an outlet for their massive stores of energy. You wouldn't believe what a simple game of pick-up soccer or just twenty minutes riding a bike around the front of the house will do to improve attitudes and behavior in our house. Maybe your outlet is taking your boy down to the range. That's fine, I've got nothing against it. But the importance of giving that energy someplace to go on a damn nearly daily basis cannot be emphasized enough. Get them in sports. Get them in activities. Give them something to do!

Fourth, read to your kids. This one doesn't just apply to boys, but if you instill a love of books in 'em early, then they're never going to stop reading and they'll be curious about the world around them. If you can get them to realize that they should never, ever stop learning, then you've done right by them.

Fifth, my dudes are pretty young for college right now, but 'don't go to college unless you know what you want to do when you get there' is something I'm probably going to tell them a lot. (Because between the Missus and I, we paid about $13,000 on student loan interest. Just the interest. If you don't have a clue what to do in college, it's a damn expensive way of finding your dream.)

Six, be kind. I honestly think that kindness in boys is a trait that's either sneered at or overlooked, but it's also a trait that will get you the furthest in life.

See, look how easy that was? Six simple ways to try and raise your sons**. I didn't mention rape. I didn't mention guns or feminism. I didn't mention the word 'cuck' or snowflake or liberal. I know it's trendy to talk about 'the crisis facing men' and 'the war on boys' these days and for sure, in a changing world, there's evidence that men are stressed out and kind of in a weird place these days. But if we're really serious about raising boys and turning them into good men, then we need to start by taking a hard look at the messages we're sending to them. We need to look at what they're internalizing- because they start picking up on things at a really young age.

In order to real stop toxic masculinity, we need to stop feeding our sons poison. I haven't read a lot on this issue, but what I have read only convinces me that every message from every point of view I've seen so far recognizes that there's a discussion worth having, but thinks op-eds written in poison are the best way to start. We can and we must do better than this.

*Oh boy, this article I have all kinds of problems with. Am I going to prepare my sons for war? Men are inherently violent? It's not better than Michael Ian Black's thinly veiled assertion that there's a school shooter inside every boy, just waiting to get out. The author is obviously a pretty hardcore dude and if he wants to raise his kids to be pretty hardcore dudes, that's fine by me. But get the fuck out of here with that nonsense and keep it away from my dudes.

**This list will, undoubtedly, get longer as they all get older. But right now, these are the six things I sort of know for sure so it seems like a good place to start.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #253

We're continuing our tour of Ireland this week, wrapping up the last of Ireland's four provinces with the flag of Ulster:

Before we plunge into the meaning of the flag, I think it's important to clear up any potential confusion about the territorial definition of what actually constitutes Ulster. It is the only one of the four provinces to cross international boundaries, with the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone falling on the UK side of the border, while the counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan fall on the Irish side of the border. All of which is demonstrated by it's location on the map, shown below:

The flag is a composite achievement of the heraldic symbols of two of the best known provincial families. The red hand is derived from the O'Neill dynasty, while the gold background and red cross are taken from the coat of arms of the Burkes, a Hiberno-Norman family.

The Red Hand of Ulster dates back all the way to 1317 when the O'Neill Family gained supremacy of the ancient Ulaid kingship, which they turned into the title King of Ulster. It also became a symbol against the spread of English control during the Nine Year's War (from 1594-1603) A good quote from the time- at least according to the Hand's wiki-page: "The Ancient Red Hand of Ulster, the bloody Red Hand, a terrible cognizance!"

The red and gold cross has been a symbol of the Burkes since 1203, which is a pretty long time- the combining of the red and yellow cross with the red hand of Ulster was the brain child of the 1st Earl of Ulster, Walter de Burgh, all the way back in 13th Century. So the flag of Ulster has been around and kicking for a very long time indeed.

What else can I say about Ulster? Well, it was traditionally seen as the heart of the Gaelic World, due to it's geographical location between Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Belfast clocks in as the largest city in the province with 480,000. Ulster also scores some geographical points for the British Isles- Lough Neagh is the biggest lake in the British Isles and the Shannon River is the longest river in the British Isles also bubbles up in Ulster.

And that wraps up our look at the four provinces of Ireland! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

When Is Manipulation, manipulation?

The Guardian's expose on the Cambridge Analytica scandal is both troubling and head-scratching all at the same time. Your initial reaction is, 'well, it wasn't me. I wasn't manipulated. I'm informed. They couldn't possibly have made me do what I didn't want to do, could they?' But then you step back and think about it a little bit and then you find yourself wondering: how vulnerable is the average person to manipulation online? Could it get you to change your vote? And if so...  is that cheating?

I took one class on political behavior as an undergraduate and now I wish that I had taken more, because it's fascinating and given the sheer size of the scandal about this data, it's incredibly relevant in our politics today. I think my political behavior professor lost me when he told us that there was a high correlation between how your parents vote and how you vote, to which I immediately thought: "Well, my Grandmother was a Tory council member in Leeds and my mother cast her first vote for the Communist Party just to annoy her and might be a secret radical socialist of some kind, while my father was a big supporter of unions and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament back in the 80s, came to America and somehow became a deep red Republican. So what the hell does that make me?"

Two decades ago, I think my professor's assertion would have held up just fine. The problem I think we have to confront is that the old framework for looking at politics has completely broken down. The Democratic Party's base used to be the blue collar, working class. But it also championed teacher's unions and access to affordable college for all, and as a result, over the years, that blue collar, working class base became more educated, more affluent, more urban and as a result, now the Democratic Party's base is more technocratic than anything else- which leaves openings for a politician like President Trump to go after those voters.

The collapse of media credibility in this country also doesn't help the cause either. At this point, if you turn on cable news, it doesn't matter which channel, what you're being spoon fed is probably garbage. It's just that everyone thinks they're entitled to their own facts and their own news that reinforces those facts, but the problem then becomes: how do you know what's true anymore? In the absence of 'reliable' mass media sources, people are going to go to the internet to get answers and anyone who has ever been on the internet will tell you that reliable sources are damn hard to find.

So, now Facebook stock is all aflutter and it might be in a wee bit of trouble. But here's the kicker, to me: all of this might lead to greater transparency on a variety of online fronts. And, to be honest, I think that's good. I'm a big believer in sunshine being the greatest disinfectant*, so it was heartening to see that the FEC was taking up the issue of online political ad transparency. But why stop there? Conservatives have been charging for months that they're being censored on a variety of social media platforms- but the question of who decides what's objectionable or not on these platforms seems to be the furthest thing from transparent. Companies should be required to tell consumers what they use your personal data for. They should be required to tell you the rules for their websites in a clear and transparent way: consumers should be able to know exactly what they're getting into when the sign up for a social media platform or use a search engine.

In general, the issue of online transparency isn't a huge deal breaker for me. I'm writing this on a blogging platform that's run by Google using Google Chrome as my browser and I'm probably going to get a Google Pixel here in a few weeks to replace my rapidly decaying Samsung Galaxy S5. As a consumer, I know Google and Facebook and Twitter are probably using my data somewhere in their systems. I know Google tweaks it's search engine results to tell me what I want to hear. I know all of this, but I also have the TOR Browser downloaded on my personal computer at home. I saw a random link on Twitter for a search engine called DuckDuckGo, checked it out and did a side by side search for the same thing with Google and it's not bullshit. You do get different results.

Right now, I take the path of least resistance for my online usage. Google is simple, because it's there. But the real key to ending this climate of #FakeNews that we live in isn't just greater transparency across the board. It's taking the time to educate yourself about the options available to you as a consumer. It's about trying search engines like DuckDuckGo. Or checking out platforms like It's about reading multiple sources from multiple points of view to get some inkling of what the hell is going on in this crazy world. This isn't Walter Cronkite's newsroom anymore, kids. You've got to inform yourselves.

*If we can't get money out of politics (it'd be nice, but let's be real about this) then every single donation from the single penny to the Federal maximum needs to have a name attached to it. Ditto with the 503c groups. No more of this 'Americans For Whatever' bullshit. Who are you people?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Boozehound Unfiltered: Four Roses Bourbon

Four Roses Bourbon was a Christmas present from my mother in law- it's just taken me a couple of months to finally get to giving it the review and tasting it deserves. Based out of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, it's been around since 1888 and in it's Spanish Mission style headquarters since 1910. (I took a peek at them on Google Street View and it does legit look like a beautiful distillery- makes me want go back to Kentucky and pay it a visit.)

The origins of the brand are somewhat disputed. There's some mention made of Rufus M. Rose, who according to some, founded the brand in 1888, like named after him, his brother and their two sons, but the current brand makes no reference to him. Instead, the label tells the story of Paul Jones, Jr. who became smitten with a beautiful Southern belle and sent a proposal to her. She replied that if her answer were yes, she would wear a corsage of roses to an upcoming grand ball. And she showed up, with a corsage of four roses, which gave Mr. Jones the inspiration for the name. No idea which origin story is the correct one, but they're both interesting.

It's had a bit of an interesting journey as a product itself, however. It was purchased by Seagram in 1943 and was a top selling brand of bourbon in the United States for a three-decade period stretching from the 30s to the 50s. After the 50s, for reasons passing understanding, Seagram discontinued the sale of the product in the US, focusing instead of blended whiskey- it wasn't available as straight bourbon in the United States again for nearly four decades until the brand ownership shifted again in 2002, when it Seagram was purchased by Vivendi, who sold it to Diageo, who turned around and sold it to Kirin, which has managed it since and has kept it as a straight bourbon whiskey, much to everyone's delight and relief.

That's Four Roses Bourbon in a nutshell. Let's taste some, shall we?

First Impressions: Initially, it seemed pretty 'meh' to me. I wanted to take my time with this one though. I used it in a mixer. Had a few wee drams throughout the week before I sat down and did my tasting, but my overall reaction was: I've tasted better bourbons than this.

Color: Pale yellow, straw

Body: The aroma on this is hard to unpack. There's a sweetness that's immediately obvious to the nose, but there's a crisp feel to it that puts me in mind of apples and honey. (Interestingly, I handed my glass to the Missus and this point and she declared it 'the best whiskey that she'd ever smelled' and that it 'smelled like an old car.' But she also agreed with me about the apples, saying it was 'fruity but not citrusy.') Orchard fruits are prominent here.

Palate: This is going to sound crazy, but when I took the first sip, I immediately thought 'man, that tastes like bananas.' (Just a hint of them.) The viscosity on this is perfect... it's not heavy or syrupy but it's not weak or watery either. It manages a full, complex body while being nicely balanced on your tongue, It's impressive.

Overall: Versatile and more complex than I originally thought, Four Roses Bourbon makes for a delightful bourbon experience. Listed at $26.57 on The Whisky Exchange, it's easy on the budget as well (I'd put this one as a comfortable and proud resident of the 'middle shelf' of your local grocery/liquor store.) My Grade: B+

Saturday, March 17, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #252

It seems only appropriate that we somehow find ourselves in the Irish province of Leinster on St. Patrick's Day itself. Why, you ask? Well, its flag is, perhaps, the most obviously Irish of the four provinces of Ireland:
A symbol of Ireland since the 17th Century, the harp on a green field was the flag of Owen Roe O'Neil, who entered the Spanish service in 1601 and rose to prominence, returning to Ireland in 1642 to assist the Irish Confederation. Which brings us to the next obvious question: what the heck is the Irish Confederation? Well, while England was busy having its civil war, the Catholic nobles, clergy and military leaders go together and formed a Confederation and established self-rule while England was busy chopping off the head of Charles the First and being all puritan and Cromwellian about it, they set about setting up a government (which did swear allegiance to Charles the First, but that's neither here nor there) and for eleven years or so, they ran Ireland.

Where Leinster comes into all of this is the location of the Irish Confederation, which based itself in Kilkenny, 'the principal city of Leinster without the Pale.'* And that really is the long and short of how Leinster got it's flag. The current present day province started out as three ancient Irish Kingdoms of Mide, Osraige and Leinser, but after the 12th Century Invasion of the Normans (when the Pale first sort of appeared) and by then Mide and Leinster had sort of merged into one.

The present day province has a population of 2,630,720 which makes it the most populous province of the four and it's made up of the present day counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly,Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow. As to where it is in the grand scheme of Ireland, well, it's the green part of the map of Ireland you see to the right of this sentence.

We've done three out of four provinces of Ireland so far, which just leaves Ulster left to go.

In the meantime, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise and make sure you enjoy St. Patrick's Day- but just not too much.

*Next obvious question: what's the Pale? Well, it's an area of Ireland centered around Dublin that was under the direct control of the English Kings and Queens from the late Middle Ages onward. It's also the origin of the expression 'beyond the pale' because the original word 'pale' derives from the Latin 'palus' which means stake- specifically one used to support a fence, the meaning of which sort of moved from a literal fence to more of a settlement boundary once you stepped up in scale, which brings us back around to that expression: 'beyond the pale.'

Friday, March 16, 2018

Short Fiction Friday: The Door

The initial seed for this story came courtesy of a one volume history of the Ottoman Empire that I devoured late last year. (Well, not really devoured. More like enjoyed a seven course meal at a relatively sedate pace with plenty of breaks in between.) In the midst of making my way through this, I read an account of a Sultan who came to power and locked his brother away, but the world turned and times changed and then suddenly he was being overthrown and executed and they needed a new Sultan.

Except, when they went to knock on the door where his brother was being kept, he didn't believe them. He absolutely refused to believe them, thinking that he was going to be taken away and executed (which was a perfectly reasonable fear in those days, Sultans weren't exactly crazy about leaving potential rivals to their thrones out there) and they had to actually come in and drag him out and take him away to be crowned.

The idea sort of flowed from there and eventually became, "The Door"

(You can either click on the link above, or here's the full link: )

Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sportsyball: Bracketology Edition

Bracketology: Yes, it's time for the annual exercise in futility that is filling out a bracket in the month of March. It's strange, the amount of happiness that can be derived from filling out a simple bracket and making your picks- knowing, nay expecting that many of them will be wrong and your bracket will lie in ruins before the end of the first weekend. This was my first year actually looking at ESPN's little team vs team comparisons which helped me make a pick here or there. So, without further ado- let's get down to it with the South Region:

Creighton over Kansas State (could go either way, but I have peeps in Omaha, so solidarity!)
Kentucky over Davidson (so tempted to go the other way here, b/c I am no Calipari fan, but just can't do it.)
Arizona over Buffalo (every tournament needs a villain, why not Zona?)
Loyola-Chicago over Miami (my upset special of the South)
Tennessee over Wright State
Nevada over Texas
Cincy over Georgia State

UVA gets past Creighton
Zona over Kentucky in the Battle of the Wildcats
Tennessee over Loyola
Cincy over Nevada

Which sets up UVA versus Tennessee in the regional final, with UVA going to the Final Four.

The East Region:

Nova over Radford
VaTech over Bama
West Va over Murray State
Wichita State over Marshall (but I'm unsure about this one)
St. Bonaventure over Florida (Bonnies for the Upset!)
Texas Tech over SFA
Butler over Arkansas
Purdue over CSU Fullerton

Nova over VaTech
Wichita State over WestVa
St. Bonaventure over Texas Tech (Cinderella, because why not?_
Purdue over Butler

Which sets up Villanova versus Purdue in the regional final, with Purdue going to the Final Four.

The West Region:
Xavier over the Play-In Game Winner
Mizzou over FSU
OSU over South Dakota State (so tempting to go the other way here. This one might burn me.)
Gonzaga over UNCG (gotta go with my 'Zags)
Houston over SDSU
Michigan over Montana
Providence over TAMU
UNC over Lipscomb

Xavier gets past Mizzou
Gonzaga gets past OSU
Michigan gets past Houston
UNC gets past Providence

Which sets up Michigan versus Xavier in the regional final, with Xavier going to the Final Four.

The Midwest Region:
Kansas over Penn
NC State over Seton Hall
Clemson over New Mexico State
Auburn over Charleston
TCU over Play-In Winner
Michigan State over Bucknell
Oklahoma over URI
Duke over Iona (but I do think it would be hilarious if this was the 15-2 upset)

Kansas over NC State
Auburn over Clemson
Sparty over TCU
Oklahoma over Duke (Trae Young is apparently good? and I hate Duke.)

Auburn beats Kansas (because Kansas always screws me somewhere and this year it's going to be against Auburn) and Michigan State gets past Oklahoma, which sets up Auburn and Sparty for the regional final with Sparty going to the Final Four.

Final Four: I have UVA vs Xavier and an all B1G match-up with Sparty vs. Purdue... I'm going with UVA vs Purdue in the Final and although I'd really like to think that Purdue can finally do it, I'm going with UVA here. I think they've been knocking on the door of a Final Four appearance for awhile now and I think this is the year they get it all done. As always, this Bracket will be a smoking ruin by Sunday, so I might as well enjoy it while I can.

Adopt-A-Team: Well, Defensa Y Justicia is turning into a solid mid-table performance so far this season, which makes me feel pretty good, especially given the fate of NEC Nijmegen last season. (Spoiler Alert: they were relegated.) Since we last checked in with them:

L to Argentinos Juniors
W over Chacharita Juniors
L to America de Cali (1st Round, Copa Sudamericana)
D to Tigre
W over Patronato
W over Atletico Tucuman
W over America de Cali (2nd Round, Copa Sudamericana- Defensa wins 3-1 on aggregate)
D to Belgrano

So, they're currently sitting at 12th in the table, which is pretty damn solid, all things considered. Down the stretch, they've got Talleres Cordoba  (2nd in the table, probably an L or a D), River Plate (17th in the table, should be a W on paper, but who knows), Boca Juniors (1st in the table, probable L), Racing Club (6th in the table, could be some points to be had here), Independiente (3rd in the table, probable L), Rosario Central (15th in the table, could go either way), Newell's (23rd, should be a W) and Arsenal Sarandi (dead last in the table, so should be a W.) They've got some tough tests ahead of them, but they've had a good run of form for a couple of months now, so who knows what their potential really is, but I feel pretty confident in saying that they're not going to be relegated this year.

Arsenal: Beat AC Milan in the First Leg, beat Watford 3-0 and got Peter Cech his 200th Clean Sheet and has the second leg against AC Milan tomorrow. They've got Stoke City, Southampton, Newcastle, West Ham, Manchester United, Burnley and Huddersfield down the stretch in the League, plus whatever the Europa League throws at them. (Assuming, of course, they get past AC Milan tomorrow.) Right now, Top 4 looks like a stretch, but it sure would be nice to take the maximum points possible off of their remaining 7 games and see where they end up. My expectations, however, remain delightfully low. In a perfect world: 21 points from 7 games and winning the Europa League followed by Arsene Wenger taking a bow and exiting stage left would be quite nice. None of that will happen, so I'll just enjoy the rest of the season free of worry.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Netflix & Chill #40: Lincoln

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2012
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones*
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Pick: Mine

This movie has been on my 'must-watch' list for quite a few years now, but for whatever reason I have never gotten around to it, so when it popped up on Netflix- I'm assuming as an President's Day gift, I loaded it up and plunged right in.

The movie opens in January of 1865 and President Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is expecting the Civil War to be over soon. Anticipating this and worried that his Emancipation Proclamation could be discarded by the courts after the war, he is adamant and determined to secure passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery before the end of the war when the returning Confederate States would presumably vote it down. He wants to eliminate any possibility that freed slaves could be re-enslaved.

However, the political atmosphere that confronts him is challenging. Radical Republicans worry that they cannot secure the support of western and border Republicans to pass. With multiple Democrats having lost their re-election bids in the fall of 1864, many urge the President to wait for the new Congress to be admitted, but the President will not bend: he wants the Amendment passed before the end of the war, which means they will need support from Democrats in Congress as well.

To shore up the support of the Republican Party, Lincoln must rely on Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) a founder of the Republican Party who is keen to end hostilities sooner rather than later, as victory for the Union seems highly likely but is not yet fully secured. In exchange for his support on the amendment, Blair wants Lincoln to allow him to immediately engage the Confederate government in peace negotiations- which Lincoln knows might cause him trouble with the Radical Republican faction in the party, but in order to secure the support of Blair and his faction he authorizes the mission.

Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William Seward (David Strathairn) work to secure Democratic votes- but are unwilling to go so far as to offer bribes, instead offering patronage instead. The debate on the amendment begins and at a crucial point in it, racial equality advocate Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) moderates his position, arguing that the Amendment represents only legal equality and not actual equality. When rumors of Confederate peace envoys (whom Lincoln has instructed be kept out of Washington) begin to circulate, many call to postpone the vote, but Lincoln's instructions allow him to inform Congress that there are no peace envoys in the city, which allows the vote to proceed and it passes by a two vote margin.

This allows Lincoln to meet with the Confederates and tell them that slavery cannot and will not be restored before the end of the war- as the Northern States will vote to ratify as well as reconstructed legislatures in the south- enough to secure approval of the Amendment. The writing is on the wall for the South soon thereafter and they surrender, ending the war.

The movie closes with Lincoln heading off to Ford's Theater, where he is assassinated. They show his death the next morning and close with him delivering his 2nd Inaugural address.

This was an incredible movie. I loved the choice to focus on one part of Lincoln's presidency rather than casting a wider net to try and capture the whole thing. So much went down in his life and career, so I think that focusing on just the 13th Amendment actually helped to capture the essence of the man more effectively than a more general biopic would have. Daniel Day-Lewis is just... well, he is Lincoln. Sally Field is great as Mary Todd Lincoln. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens- also excellent- in fact, there's really not a bad performance in this movie.

Even though you know that the 13th Amendment passes, the debate and the vote are awfully tense and nail biting. (And the rough and tumble nature of the debate in the House makes me wish we could import a little of that to the present day, instead of watching people drone on and on and on to a half empty chamber on C-SPAN.)

Overall: a beautiful historical moment with the right script and the right actor for the role of a lifetime. I think a lot about Bruno Ganz's performance as Hitler in Downfall- he seemed to inhabit the role and almost become the dude and Daniel Day-Lewis more than matches Ganz by becoming one of our greatest Presidents. My Grade: **** out of ****

*There are a TON of actors you will recognize in this movie. Just going through the IMDB full cast list, I find: John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Black Nelson, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Gloria Reuben, Jeremy Strong, Walton Goggins, David Oyelowo, Dane DeHaan, Dakin Matthews, Gregory Itzin, Adam Driver and S. Epatha Merkerson just to name the ones I recognized from either movies or television.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #251

We're continuing our journey through the flags of Ireland this week, heading south from Connacht to take a look at the flag of Munster:
That Kerrygold butter that everyone raves about? Well, it comes from Munster. Weirdly though, the cheese doesn't- which is kind of a bummer, because it would dovetail nicely with the whole 'awesome butter' thing that Kerry has going on. It consists of the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford- it's also the home of the Blarney Stone, Skellig Michael of The Last Jedi fame and of course, Jameson Whiskey and Waterford- so you can get the whiskey and the crystal glasses to drink it in. So Munster is apparently where all the fun stuff is. So that brings us back to our most pressing question of all: just where the heck is Munster? Well, our handy-dandy map of Ireland is back and ready to assist us.

The green part shaded in on the map down there on the southwest chunk of Ireland? That's Munster. (And thinking about it: I've probably flown over Munster at least once. I have a very vivid memory of flying over to the UK in 1992 on Air Canada, no less. We had awesome entertainment options and none of us really slept on the flight, but I remember, when the map finally showed us over Ireland, I peek out of the window and far below in the dim morning light I saw the craggy beginnings of the coast of Ireland and knew we were getting close to our destination.)

It's got an area of 9,527 square miles and a population of 1,280,020 with it's most populated city being Cork.

So let's get down to brass tacks and take a look at the flag of Munster...  it's a far cry from Connacht with it's bad ass mutant eagle, but the initial glance is pretty damn striking- though in a more understated way than Connacht's. Munster and it's three crowns have been showing up on flags and coats of arms for nearly four hundred years now. The three crowns were also seen on many flags and symbols of Ireland until the harp symbol became prominent on a more national level.

Here's the thing though: no one is quite sure about the meaning of the crowns on the flag- many have theorized that crowns stand for three of the medieval lordships in Munster: the O'Briens, the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds.

And that;s the flag of Munster! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Squawk Box: Dirty Money/Altered Carbon

There is a lot to like about one of Netflix's newest shows, Dirty Money. A six episode look at a variety of corporate and business scandals that have dominated the headlines over the past few years, its hard not to be outraged and some of the examples of corporate malfeasance and corruption that they explore.

The quote that's sort of sticking in my craw about this series is found on it's Wiki-Page, which cites Brian Lowry of CNN saying: "for pro-business advocates of deregulation... offers a simple yet powerful rejoinder: Look at the terrible, unethical behavior that corporate entities try getting away with when they think nobody's looking." I kind of agree with this, but I also think it's nowhere near as simple as this quotes pretends.

Yes, Dirty Money does tackle corporate scandals like the VW Emissions scandal and yes, it's shocking. I just assumed that VW had cheated in a regular, shitty big corporate kind of way, but no- it was far more sinister than that. They actually created a device that detected when their cars were in a testing environment versus an actual road environment, so the emissions looked good in the lab, but went hog-wild on the road. (There's also a jaw dropping revelation that they were considered testing the effects of these emissions on human subjects, but decided not too, because of 'bad optics.')

But VW is probably the most run of the mill corporate scandal, 'this is why deregulation is bad' the show tackles. They delve into shitty industries that prey on poor people (payday loans), look at the ethics of stock shorting and drug pricing (I'm honestly not sure where the show lands on that episode. Drug price shenanigans bad, but they seem oddly neutral on the idea of stock shorting, which is interesting given the role that practice played in the housing crisis of 2008.) They look at big picture corruption when they look at HSBC and how much money they laundered for the Sinaloa Cartel. (What happened to HSBC, you might ask? Oh, that's right. Nothing.)

The final two episodes though are probably the most interesting. They delve into Canada's great Maple Syrup Heist and look at the ongoing struggle between the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and the rebel producers that don't want to follow the Federation's rules. (This would be an episode where regulation is the problem, not the solution to me.)

And then they tackle the biggest and most obvious fish of them all: President Donald J. Trump. I had some hope for the Trump episode. I thought they were going to present a fascinating portrait of a man who bet big in the 80s, lost it all and then spent the 90s reinventing himself as a master of branding and marketing. Yes, he's a P.T. Barnum and a snake oil salesman, but the history of American politics is littered with examples of politicians of a similar vein. I would have been more interested in finding out how much of his schtick he actually believes, but of course, Dirty Money can't help themselves, so they trip and fall into the Russia trap just like everyone else does. Oddly enough, they bring in one of the Planet Money guys to interview and he raised the possibility that Trump might genuinely not know the full extent of his business dealings, but mentioned that designing your business to insure that you don't know (willfull blindess) is still a crime.

Altered Carbon, Netflix's new cyber-punk drama based off of the Richard Morgan novel of the same name doesn't quite measure up to the glorious perfection that is Blade Runner (but then again, who does) but has a hell of a good time trying too. Set nearly four hundred years in the future, where humanity has reverse engineered cortical stacks that are implanted on the base of the neck and can store your consciousness and enable to be transferred between bodies (which are now known as sleeves.) Awakened after two centuries 'on ice' and placed into a new sleeve, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) is given a choice by Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), one of the wealthiest men of the settled worlds: go back 'on ice' for the remainder of his prison sentence or to help Bancroft solve his own murder.

Kovacs settles on the latter option and spends the rest of the show's ten episode run fighting and shooting and having lots and lots of sex with a variety of people in his single minded quest to find the truth. To be honest, there were points watching this where it seemed to drag on a bit, but the show never managed to get itself into a rut. By the end run of episodes, when Kovacs begins to figure out that a familiar face from his past (two centuries or so ago) is in fact alive, well and behind it all, that, I think is when Altered Carbon really begins to come into it's own. Kovacs is an Envoy, the last soldier of a failed uprising against the new world order two centuries before and he's haunted by his past and the loss of his love and fellow Envoy leader, Quellcrist Falconer (Renee Elise Goldsberry). As more details of his past come back to haunt him, I think it deepens the complexity of the character and allows the show to tell a more complete story.

I think it'd be interesting to interview some of the actors about how they approached this show, given the ability to move your consciousness into a different body whenever you want. Without fault, all of the actors portraying characters that have shifted bodies do an amazing job of convincing you that they are that other person- just in a new body, but I think it's worth shouting out Matt Biedel's performance especially. A tattooed and bearded gangbanger one episode, he plays someone's Abuela (back for Dia de Los Muertos) the next and a full blown Russian mobster after that- his appearance doesn't change a bit, but the shifts in his performance are incredibly well done. (He's a pretty minor-ish character overall, but he stole a few scenes here and there just making the most of the role he had.)

I've always said that good science fiction always has something to say about the present and Altered Carbon is no exception- though in there case, they're casting their eyes forward a few decades to coming conversations about the nature of humanity itself. At some point in the future, someone's going to figure out radical life extension or uploading or something of that nature at which point, talking about what makes humanity actually human is going to become a very interesting conversation indeed. (I'm honestly not sure what to think about it all yet. I wouldn't want to be like a 90 year old for fifty extra years, but if you could get a little more time to do everything you want to do with your life, that might be okay by me.)

Dirty Money: a solid addition to Netflix's growing collection of documentary series, it wanders into weeds a little when tackling the President, but not fatally so. My Grade: *** out of ****

Altered Carbon: a cyber-punk romp through the future, it gets a little uneven in parts, but not enough to get the show stuck in the mud. A vision of humanity's future that is dazzling and troubling by turns, I can't wait for more of this one. My Grade: **** out of ****

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Kidlit: Roald Dahl

This collection was perhaps the best birthday present the Missus and I have come up with thus far for the Elder Spawn. I'm not sure he'd necessarily agree with us- at least not yet- he's a big fan of his Nintendo DS and playing Mario Kart right now, but one thing he always loves and always gets sad if we run out of time to do, is reading books.

Our Roald Dahl adventure began with Fantastic Mr. Fox. It was always my favorite Roald Dahl book growing up, just because Mr. Fox seemed like so much fun and it was a short, adventurous read. We followed that up with The BFG (which I hadn't read before) and then James and The Giant Peach and Danny The Champion of The World, The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Esio Trot and we're getting toward the end of Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator.

Dahl can tell one hell of a story and retains so much of his charm even when you're reading these books as an adult. I never managed to become a Dahl completist as a kid, so it's been a lot of fun reading some of his books that I never managed to get around to reading. Both The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me* and Esio Trot are short, fast reads though I found to be the former to be far more whimsical and charming that the latter. That's not to say Esio Trot is bad, per say, it's just... sort of troubling in a way. I mean he goes to all the trouble to make her think that he tortoise has grown with her magic words and then marries her and then Alfie just sort of becomes an after thought that requires what seems to be a hurried post-script to let the reader know that in fact, Alfie had a great life- just with someone else entirely.

The other fascinating thing- which I must look into at some point, are the vague references to Willy Wonka that are peppered throughout the latter half of The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me. It makes sense, since the whole point of that book is that George wants to open a candy store where the Ladderless Window Company makes their headquarters. ('At some point' turned out to be right now: The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me was published in 1985, while Charlie and the Chocolate Factory preceded it by a couple of decades, being published in 1964.) The idea of a shared universe is what I found the most appealing about the book though. I think it would have been more appealing had hints of Willy Wonka had been planted in a book prior to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, but it's still a charming, fast read never the less.

The BFG was another one I hadn't read before and I was impressed by how faithful the movie adaptation was- though, really, I shouldn't have been that surprised by that, given the fact that Steven Spielburg directed it. Of all the books of Dahl's that I hadn't read, the one that I found to be most intriguing was Danny The Champion Of The World. I wanted to be disappointed in the book, because it seemed to promise more than it delivered, but by the end of it I was on board- and I think honestly, it might showcase the best of Dahl's storytelling abilities and his incredible gift at taking those medium sized moments of childhood and making them seem like the grandest adventures in the world- and that, I think is Danny The Champion Of The World in a nutshell. I also love the fact that it was a story about a father and his son. I feel like those are rare finds these days.

Five and six are strange ages when you're trying to figure out what to start reading to your kid. My own experience is something of a bad example as my deep, deep nerddom and love of books meant that I was reading things like 'The Illiad' at that age. So the trick is that you need to find something that's age appropriate, not too long and fun enough that they'll pay attention. The Elder Spawn and I have had mixed results sometimes: The Wayside School books by Louis Sachar and Bruce Coville's My Teacher Is An Alien were both big hits, while Redwall and Harry Potter we might have pulled the trigger on a year or two ahead of schedule. The one author I keep coming back to, the one author that has been consistent at holding the attention and capturing the imagination of the Elder Spawn has been Roald Dahl.

If you're tired of the same old children's books night and night out and are looking to find that balance between too short and too long, then I can recommend Roald Dahl. (The Elder Spawn loved Fantastic Mr. Fox so much that we now own the movie and we've seen the movie adaptation of The BFG, but we've got plenty movie adaptations to go. Plus, if you're a fan of Roald Dahl and James Bond (a strange intersection, I know) he wrote the screenplay for You Only Live Twice.)

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Worst 48 Hrs. Since 'Another 48 Hrs.'

Worst. Weekend. Ever.

Friday began with a sad trip to the vet to put our Yorkie, Sophie to sleep. We'd known for awhile know that she had a large mass on her abdomen and was showing signs of heart failure and had been doing our best to keep her comfortable with a couple of medications that seemed to be helping. But in the last week or so, she had taken a turn. She just wasn't comfortable any more and was having trouble getting up sometimes and it was getting harder and harder for her to breathe, so we made the appointment and took her in.

Sophie was a sweet little dog that came into our lives thanks to a friend of my sister in law's who had broken up with her fiancee. The fiancee was being charming about this poor little dog, threatening to take her to the pound and my sister in law swooped in to save the day- but through a series of circumstances that I'm still kind of fuzzy on, the Missus (who was The Girlfriend at the time) and I ended up sort of adopting her as our own.

When we lived in Mankato, we would take her all over the place with us. We'd do regular walks and go to parks with her (we even took her to see a bike race, one hot summer afternoon). She used to jump in bed with us and was the best little snuggler when she wanted to be as well. She loved tummy rubs and running around outside.

As the years passed and we moved to Iowa City and Winston joined the family, I feel like she sort of faded into the background a little bit. We never pampered her as much as we could have (or probably should have) but I think she liked being present but also being able to do her own thing after awhile. She'd find a corner to take a nap in. She'd be at the ready for any bread bones or treats, but in general, she slipped into old age so quietly we almost didn't notice, really.

Sophie was the dog that completely turned me around on small dogs. I would, at some point in the future, happily give serious consideration to getting one again. She was sweet, gentle and just the best puppy you could ask for and it was hard to let her go, but I'm glad we did. We kept her comfortable for as long as we could, but it was time and hopefully she's breathing easy and running free somewhere.

Friday was bad enough but somehow managed to get even worse when we took poor Winston in to get checked out. Poor old dude had been having a hell of a time pooping for a week or so and just was getting more and more uncomfortable and was in obvious pain after awhile. We were expecting that he had probably eaten something he shouldn't have and had a partial bowel obstruction (his infamous tampon eating incident meant that it was not entirely out of the realm of possibilities for him) but after checking him out, the vet found a mass just above his rectum that was pressing down on it and sealing it shut. He referred us to a surgeon if we wanted to know more, but was pretty convinced that the mass, whatever it was, was inoperable due to it's position below the spine.

We had medications for Sophie that had helped to keep her comfortable for awhile, but there was really nothing we could do for poor Winston. They prescribed up some stool softeners, which we didn't end up using, because we didn't want to risk making things worse for the poor guy. Bad enough he couldn't poop, even worse if he was full of laxatives, crampy, miserable and still not really able to poop if they didn't work. We made an appointment for Monday to take him in to get him put to sleep, but after a day or so of just watching him be absolutely miserable, neither the Missus nor I could do it any more, so Saturday night, barely a day and a half after Sophie had left us, we took him in to the emergency vet and sent him over the rainbow bridge to join Sophie.

Winston was our million dollar dog- and I mean that almost literally. He was adorable as a young guy- boisterous and fun, sweet and snuggly. I have a picture of him floating around somewhere doing tummy time with one of my nieces when she was just a tiny baby. He loved to be by people and had no concept of personal space, which could get a little annoying at times (especially when he was constantly licking you.) He'd also do this thing where he'd sit next to you on the couch and sort of face away from you like he was trying to be all non-chalant about it and then, 'BOOM' he thump his head into you and snuggle you as hard as he could.

He claimed space on the end of our bed that required negotiation and moving him to exactly the right spot so we could both stretch out comfortably every night. On occasion, he would sneakily creep up the bed, so that by morning there would be a large bulldog between us and one of us (usually the Missus, it seemed) would have all four paws in our backs.

While he was a gentle and faithful sentry for both our babies, he and the Elder Spawn butted heads after awhile and one of the saddest things about letting him go was the missed opportunity there. He and the Elder Spawn should have been best buddies. I'm really sad that they weren't. (Though, to be fair, he became the Medium Spawn's puppy after awhile and it was adorable.)

But he also had terrible allergies every summer that required special shampoos, cortisol shots, medications and copious amounts of Benadryl. Moving to the new house seemed to help a little bit at first, but last August he had another bad flare up. And then his knees started to go bad (our new house had stairs, which is something that he had never really had to deal with on a regular basis.) Then his tail developed a massive infection and had to be removed. It was just one thing after another with the poor guy until finally it was too much.

Winston is the reason that we both love bulldogs and absolutely won't be getting another one.

He could be sweet and loveable and cranky and cantankerous all at the same time and his farts were absolutely deadly. But we'll miss him. I never thought he and Sophie liked each other all that much, but apparently like an old married couple that's been together for years, they couldn't be apart. Between losing two cats (Harper, a few years back and our big guy Moxie to heart failure a few months back) and now this, we're down to one in our menagerie.

These dogs were, in their own way, the best dogs you could ask for. We'll miss them both.

(I should just note in passing that I haven't actually seen either of the 48 Hrs movies, but given the fact that Rotten Tomatoes rates the sequel, 'Another 48 Hrs' at a whopping 15%, it seemed fitting.)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #250

It's March and I was struggling to come up with a fresh idea or two for this feature when a handy dandy dive into Wikipedia gave me some inspiration. It's St. Patrick's Day this month and I happened upon a flag of the four provinces of Ireland: Connact, Leinster, Munster and Ulster. I figured- four weeks and four provinces will take care of the bulk of the month of March, so in celebration of St. Paddy's Day and all things Irish, we're starting off This Week in Vexillology with the flag of Connacht:
First of all: how bad ass is this flag? A big strong arm and a sword on one half and a fearsome looking eagle on the other- I don't know what to think except: bad ass. (And be possibly worried about a one winged, one armed mutant black eagle coming to kill me with a sword.) The next (and perhaps more obvious) thing to tackle would be a simple question of geography: just where the heck is Connacht? Well, it's here:

That part in the green there? That's the province of Connacht, which consists of the present day counties of Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo. It had a nice run a few centuries back culminating in Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair and his son Ruaidri Ua Conchobair expanding the ancient Kingdom's influence enough that both became kings of Ireland. (Wikipedia also tells me that of the four provinces of Ireland, it's got the greatest share of Irish speakers, clocking in at about 5-10% if you wish to share my joy at learning linguistic nerd facts like that.)

Now that we know where it is, we've got to turn our attention back to the bad ass mutant sword carrying black eagle flag of Connact and really get down to some serious questions.

Like, what about that Eagle? In terms of heraldry and symbolism, eagles aren't usually associated with this neck of the woods in Europe. St. Patrick (the man himself) drove out all the snakes. Across the water you have Wales with it's dragon, Scotland with it's unicorn and England with it's Lion...  you've got to go to central Europe and the Holy Roman Empire to get into eagle territory. (Albania's flag still features a double headed eagle. German symbology features an eagle. It's very central European.) Wikipedia (that font of all knowledge) admits that even they don't have a satisfactory explanation for all of this- the best that they can come up with is an Irish monastery that was established in central Europe near the town of Regensberg and it's royal benefactors (which included Ruaidri Ua Conchobair) were granted the arms and sort of brought them back home and began to use the arms.

Our celebration of all things Ireland is off to a great start! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Bookshot #106: Silence

I saw some previews for the movie Silence and read some articles about what a passion project it was for it's director, Martin Scorsese and so I figured, 'man, I should get ahold of this book and read it,' so I did.

In the 17th Century, when news reaches the Church in Portugal that a Jesuit Priest named Ferreira had undergone torture in Nagasaki and renounced his beliefs, the Church decides to send two young Priests, Father Rodrigues and Father Garrpe to research the truth of the matter and minister to the Christians of Japan while they do so. Japan is currently in a period of repression against Christians, so both Priests make the long arduous journey, first to Macao and then to Japan knowing that once in the country, they will be in great danger.

The Priests make landfall and soon find a Christian community in a nearby village. They begin to minister to the faithful, while hiding from occasional sweeps by samurai sent by the local magistrate, Inoue, whose name they have learned to fear as they were told he was a former Christian who was especially vigilant at finding Priests and either executing them or getting them to renounce their faith. The authorities bring a fumie, a carved image of Christ with them and ferret out hidden Christians by getting them to trample on the image. Those that refuse are imprisoned and tortured.

When a pair of local Christians are found and refuse to renounce their faith, they are tied to crude crosses and placed in the tide to freeze or be battered to death by the water- the crosses are placed just high enough that they do not drown. Eventually through a combination of exposure and exhaustion, both are martyred, which shakes the faith of Father Rodrigues especially. Martyrdom, he had believed was a glorious act of faith, replete with nobility and courage. But there was nothing but brutality and cruelty in these deaths and Rodrigues begins to wonder at the silence of God.

The two Priests flee the village, to avoid putting any more of the villagers at risk, but soon Rodrigues is lost and starving and finally, when betrayed by one of the villagers he is captured and forced to watch as Father Garrpe is executed while other Christians are drowned. Captured and imprisoned by the feared Inoue, he learns that initially, the authorities had been torturing Priests in an attempt to get them to renounce their faith. After Father Ferreira had renounced his faith, they changed their tactics and instead tortured the Christians, promising the Priests to end the suffering of their flock if they renounced their faith.

Rodrigues continues to struggle with his faith, even as he meet Ferreira, who tells him that Christianity cannot succeed in Japan and that what he had spent decades building had turned out not to be Christianity, but local beliefs with Christianity painted over them. While Rodrigues continues to understanding suffering for one's faith, he begins to wonder if it is self-centered and egotistical for him not to recant when doing so would ease the suffering of others. God remains silent until the climactic moment, when Rodrigues makes his choice.

Silence is probably the most incredibly written and moving novel of faith I've read since Graham Greene's The Power and The Glory. The climax of the struggle of Father Rodrigues is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I think I've ever read in a long time. This was one of those books that I had to put down, lean back and just sort of think about for a very long time. It sticks with you and books that do that are rare indeed. I loved the structure of the novel as well- using letters written by Rodrigues to tell the story allows the reader a glimpse into the inner personal struggle that he's going through, but the choice to switch toward the end of the book to a journal/diary of a Dutch trader is an interesting one as well. That chapter was a bit jarring, especially since the book switches back to the point of view of Rodrigues after that, but it also gives the reader more of the historical context in which Endo is writing, which I think adds to the power of the novel, knowing that Christianity really did have a period of persecution in Japan.

Overall: powerful, moving, incredible writing. If you haven't read this book, you should. ***** out of ******