Sunday, September 30, 2018

Netflix & Chill #51: Justice League

Watched On: Redbox (DVD)
Released: 2017
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, JK Simmons
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Pick: Mine

Here's the weird thing about the DC Universe that's starting to bother me: individually, they seem to get characters that I want to see more of. Unfortunately, they haven't manage to stick all those interesting characters in a movie that works really really well just yet and Justice League is no exception.

As with it's predecessor, there's plenty of interesting characters to enjoy here. Ben Affleck remains intriguing as Batman. Gal Gadot is wonderful as Wonder Woman. Jason Momoa reinvents Aquaman and makes him a a bad ass for the 21st Century. Ezra Miller brings an entirely different take on The Flash to the big screen, but proves no less charming than his televisual counterpart, Grant Gustin. If there's a 'weak link' in the ensemble, it might be Cyborg- but even there, I think the lack of backstory his character is given is more due to time constraints than anything else. Ray Fisher's performance still hooked me and left me wanting to learn more about the character and his story.

The plot device that brings them all together? Steppenwolf and his quest for the three 'mother boxes' which, thousands of years ago he used to try and conquer Earth. A combined army of the Olympian Gods, the Amazons, Atlanteans, humans and a Green Lantern defeated him and split up the boxes to hide them. If combined, the boxes for 'The Unity', the power of which will destroy the ecology of Earth and terraform into a new home for Steppenwolf.

With Superman out of the picture thanks to the last movie, Steppenwolf returns to make his next attempt and conquering all of humanity. He gets one Mother Box from Themyscira, which prompts Queen Hippolya to warn Diana of his return. Then he heads to Atlantis and steals theirs. Batman, seeing the odds increasingly against them proposes uses the final Mother Box to resurrect Superman, which they do- and he even brings along a back up plan in the form of Lois Lane just in case Superman isn't all that happy to see them- and spoiler alert, he's not that happy to see them. He flies off to get his memories back, while Wonder Woman, Batman, Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman head to rush to take on Steppenwolf.

They do so and Superman arrives at the last minute and helps them to separate the Mother Boxes. Steppenwolf, suddenly scared is consumed by his Parademons before they all teleport away. After the dust settles from the battle, Bruce and Diana set up a base of operations for the team with plenty of room for more members. Arthur heads back to Atlantis. Barry gets a job at the Central City Police Department, Superman goes back to being Clark Kent and reporting.

There's really not much more to the movie than that...  the characters are interesting enough that you want to see movies about them, they just haven't quite figured out how to put them altogether on screen- and that's partially because Marvel did it differently- Marvel built up to the Avengers and introduced characters in their own movies. DC, weirdly, seems to be doing it in reverse, in what seems like a strange attempt to short cut their way to Avengers like box office numbers, but I'm not sure it's going to work. Sure, I think they can probably bring back Batman, keeping going with Wonder Woman, Aquaman and The Flash- but at some point, you're going to have to bring them all back together again  and for that, you'll probably need a better movie than this.

Overall: The characters are compelling and interesting and leave you wanting more. The plot is 'meh' and the villain and stokes are supposed to be well nigh apocalyptic and yet don't feel that way. My Grade: ** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, September 29, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #270

All right, let's take a left turn. Yes, I'm going to working on getting the last of the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment out into circulation again, but I also decided that I wanted to explore some more of my dear old Motherland across the pond. I recently saw on Reddit that someone had taken the time to make a map of England with every county flag show in the boundaries of it's respective county. Which made my ears perk up a bit, because I didn't know that the counties of England actually had flags... (I suppose I should have, really, but never bothered to find out.) So I figured why not instead of boring you with a bunch of flags you've seen me do before, why not challenge myself and explore all the flags of England? So I'm going to try and do them two at a time and see where we end up-and since you might as well do this is some semblance of a logical way, I'm going to start with Cornwall and Devon.

First up, Cornwall:
Though there are claims that it was used as far back as the 1100s, during the Crusades, this flag has been around officially (as in, it's been documented) since 1838 or so. It's known as St. Piran's Flag, which raises the obvious question: who the heck is Saint Piran? Well, he's the Patron Saint of both Tin Miners and Cornwall, which seems like an odd combination to me, but there you go. The flag gets his name, because of this:
St. Piran 'rediscovered' tin-smelting (tin had been smelted in Cornwall since before the Romans' arrival, but the methods had since been list) when his black heartstone, which was evidently a slab of tin-bearing ore, had the tin smelt out of it and rise to the top in the form of a white cross (thus the image on the flag.)
Also, the Irish didn't like him much and, being heathens at the time, tied him to a millstone and tossed him into a stormy sea. Legend is that the sea then became calm and St. Piran floated to Cornwall in a pretty chill manner, where his first disciples were reportedly a badger, a fox and a bear.

The black and the white combination is also seen in the flag of Brittany, which claims some Celtic heritage the same as Cornwall does. (I'd have to look into it more, but I don't think any other 'Celtic' country uses the color combo on any other level, national or subnational. But I'd have to check to be sure.)

All in all, I dig it. The black and white combo isn't usually seen a lot of flags, which makes this one pretty striking. I like that the origin story isn't about abstract notions of Cornwall- it's a natural process associated with the region and rediscovered by it's Patron Saint.

Next up, Devon:
Fun fact: Devon didn't have a flag until 2006! The notion was brought up by the Devon Scouts and the 20th World Scout Jamboree during an interview with the Beeb and they wanted to know anyone had heard of a flag of Devon. The local Beeb took up the search and started soliciting designs. It was eventually created through two web based polls (which makes it pretty damn unique- truly a flag of the modern age.)

The three colors of the flag: green, white and black have long been associated with the county. Their Rugby Union team, Exeter University and Plymouth Argyle F.C. all use them. Lord Exmouth flew a flag with similar colors during the Bombardment of Algiers. There's meaning to the colors as well: The green stands for the rolling and lush hills of Devon, the black stands for the high and windswept moors (specifically Dartmoor and Exmoor) and the white is for the salt spray of their coasts lines and the China Clay industry. The flag itself is dedicated to St. Petroc.

Our journey around the counties of England has begun! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, September 28, 2018

We Need To Demand Better

He's going to be confirmed. He shouldn't be- and there's a decent argument to be made that despite his credentials, it was fucking idiotic of the Trump Administration to nominate him to begin with- but none of that matters now. He's going to be confirmed.

Now, I might be wrong about that. I'd like to think that maybe, just maybe, there might be an outbreak of common sense down in Washington D.C., but I think it's all too far gone for that. And that's the really depressing thing about all of this...  if you watched the testimony yesterday, then you probably have formed you're own conclusions about the veracity of the accusations and his defense thereof- personally, I believe her and was less than impressed by him. Did he think this particular nomination was going to be a walk in the park? Did he think they were just going to line up and vote him in? Had I been in his shoes, I would have said no. I would have said HELL NO. At the end of the day, you've got a job and a family that loves you and apparently the respect of a lot of the legal community. Please don't try and sell me on the line that you're a victim of some kind.* You're a smart man who's not that old and should have known better than to accept this nomination right this second. There will be other times and other opportunities.

This seat is the end of days. It's the fifth vote to presumably overturn Roe v Wade, it's the culmination of a decades long effort by the Conservative legal establishment to shift the court- not just the Supreme Court, by the way, but a hell of a lot of other courts, to the right. And it only reinforces what I always say about Supreme Court fights: switch the parties of everyone involved and you'd still have the same level of vitriol, the same level of insanity, the same level of bitterness. If this was a President Hillary Clinton about to cement a liberal majority on the court, it would still be the end of days and it would be the exact same argument.

I watched clips here and there. I read transcripts. I didn't have the stomach to sit down and watch any of it, because a. I was home with #TeamLittle and I don't think either of them would have warmed to the notion of watching a C-SPAN stream and b. I'm still trying to come to grips with the amount of horrible bullshit that gets flung at boys and how best to make sure my sons become the best of men. I think that starts with kindness. Kindness is free and costs you nothing at any age, but it's an especially good foundation to lay at the age my kiddos are at, because on top of kindness you can build respect. Respect for yourself. Respect for other people.

In general, I shy away from a lot of Progressive thinking on masculinity, because the overall thrust of Leftism in general seems to be about bringing people down so we're all on the same level instead of raising everyone up to be better. There are a ton of unhealthy solutions being proposed by the left. All masculinity is toxic. All men are trash. You don't raise healthy boys that way and you for sure don't raise boys who respect women that way. If they get told repeatedly that their entire gender is somehow toxic or wrong (and yes, that's a broad generalization, but damn there feels like there's a lot of truth to that) then they'll internalize that get sick from the poison. I don't want that.

I also want to break away from retrograde notions of masculinity as well. Your worth should never be defined by other people. Women are not 'conquests.' When I was in high school, the overall notion was that if you didn't have a girlfriend you were some kind of loser. I internalized that (rightly or wrongly... I suspect that I'm capable of being my own worst critic at times) and it made me miserable and it took me years to realize that you have to have some kind of respect for yourself before people are going to want to even consider being in a relationship with you. If you don't like yourself, how do you expect other people to like you?

I see today that he's cleared the committee with a condition: a time limited FBI investigation. I have no idea what the FBI is going to find and I doubt it will be enough to change anyone's minds, but it'll be the fig leaf that the moderate Republicans need to pretend they actually took these allegations seriously. Unless something radically shifts in the next week or so (and it might- yesterday was crazy enough) he'll be confirmed.

Then it's just down to the fallout. Just yesterday, I saw this swing from one side to the other and back again all in the course of one day. I don't know who is going to come out ahead in this- point of fact, there's a good argument to be made that nobody 'won' yesterday.

Everything about the nomination process is so irretrievably broken after yesterday, I think it's time to get serious about the notion of ending lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court. Conservatives have been whining for years now about activist judges forcing them to make wedding cakes and marry gays and shit, so let's hold the Supreme Court accountable. Put the three with the longest tenure up for retention votes in 2020. The next three in 2032. Three after that in 2044. Or however you want to stagger it- I don't care. But this is broken. Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, common fucking sense looking at that awful mess yesterday should have convinced you about that much at least.

I also think term limits for Congress are an idea whose time has very much arrived. I think twelve years for House and Senate should work (that's two terms for Senators and six for the House- though you could drop that back to eight years if you made the House term four years instead of two which is an idea worthy of consideration in my opinion.) Throw in a lifetime lobbying ban and a 75% surtax on all earnings over 100,000 for the first eight years after they leave office and I'll be a happy man indeed.

It's time for big picture reform to get talked about it, because yesterday was disgusting. And it'll continue to be disgusting until we demand better, not only from our government, but from ourselves.

*This is what really chaps my ass about this guy. What makes you think defiance is the right card to play here? Why can't you be contrite? Why can't you admit that you were a grade A fucking dumbass in high school as so many people are and you probably did things that you deeply regret and you wish you hadn't done. How hard is that to do? Instead he looked like a raging asshole. One who shouldn't- but probably will be- sitting on the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Boozehound Unfiltered: Larceny

One of the nice things about turning 35 is that I (usually) get at least one new bottle of whiskey to dig into and this year- I got two! So I figured I might as well start with the bourbon before moving onto the Irish surprise next month- which brings us to Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon. A small batch bourbon from Louisville, this one raises the eyebrow immediately because it's a wheated bourbon- they use wheat in the secondary grain instead of the more conventional rye- which might explain the color on this one a bit- it's more of a deep rich brown than you normally see in bourbons. (I mean, I drink a lot of bourbon, but I don't know if I've reached the magical 10K hours mark or anything yet, but in my experience, the darker colored ones usually have hints of red more than brown.)

Officially, it's John E. Fitzgerald Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon and it's got a pretty nice looking website and a good story to boot: Mr. Fitzgerald was a bonded Treasury Agent and back in the days of Prohibition, they were the only ones allowed to have keys to the barrel storage rickhouses. Mr. Fitzgerald was a fan of bourbon and liked to get ahold of the best barrels and those became known as 'Fitzgerald Barrels' around the distillery. He was eventually immortalized by no less than the man himself, Pappy Van Winkle who named a brand, Old Fitzgerald after him. Larceny is a call back to the man's superb taste and the legacy of that brand.

I might come back to this one... I like to do my tastings as blind as possible to avoid confirmation bias problems, but when I look at the amount of awards this has one and the tasting notes from Master of Malt don't look anything like mine it makes me wonder. This might qualify as a 'Boozehound Revisited' in a few months, I'll have to see how I feel about it, because overall, it was just okay. It wasn't awful but it didn't knock my socks off either.  Here's my take on it:

Color: dark amber, but moving toward shades of rich brown instead of red or gold.

Nose: It's strong. You get the alcohol tickling your nose hairs a bit. Crisp, I want to say orchard fruits but it feels like a hint of apples and like sultanas? Honey?

Body: It's nicely balanced with good viscosity, but it's kind of 'meh.'

Finish: Little too strong here. It comes at you in a rush and almost feels like heart burn going down. Not a pleasant warming sensation at all.

Overall: Solid, but somewhat uninspired. (Weird addendum: this actually was much more pleasant on the rocks and once you warmed it up a bit in your hand. I think this one is more of a 'rocks' bourbon to me and I think I'll probably treat it as such going forward.) My Grade ** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, September 24, 2018

Sportsyball: The Last Two Minutes

The Iowa Hawkeyes: You know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see Iowa get the ball back with two minutes left in a game and put together a sustained, long drive to close out a game. Michigan State in the B1G Championship Game. Penn State last year. Wisconsin this year. As soon as we went three and out on that last drive before Wisconsin scored the go ahead touchdown it all felt very familiar and the script unfolded exactly the same way it usually did. The Defense, magnificent all night, was finally running out of gas and instead of shutting them down, there was more give than there was before and the chips just couldn't fall the right way. So we lost to Wisconsin...  I do think that second touchdown was kind of a dick move, but it wasn't running up the score. It's not like they were up by twenty and wanted to rub it in some. We should have expected it. We should have anticipated it. We didn't, so we lost to Wisconsin.

The weird thing is though that it wasn't all that unexpected. I think their loss to BYU probably raised hopes more than it should have, but despite giving us plenty of opportunities to win the damn thing, Wisconsin was still Wisconsin. We weren't complete ass against them. We had plenty of offense. We were moving the ball (unlike last year's 66 yards of total offense). There's reason to be optimistic. But this one chaps you a little bit, because it really felt like we could have won. But we just can't close out the big games. We sort of half-heartedly put the knife in, but we never twist. Wisconsin put the dagger in and then twisted. Hard. 

So, there's plenty of justification to be salty about this one. But, goddamn it all to hell- if Wisconsin is going to romp through the West Division in their usual manner and get to Indy- again, then they need to do the damn thing this year. Be the Bride, Badgers. Not the Bridesmaid.

What does the next stretch look like?
Bye Week this week.
Away to Minnesota
Away to Indiana
Home versus Maryland
Away to Penn State
Hmmm... can't lose in a bye week! So there's that... Minnesota is being riddled with injuries- but it's in their house, it's a rivalry game so I would expect Iowa to pull out the win, but who knows. Indiana worries me somewhat...  they probably shouldn't, but Iowa's got a grand tradition of losing to teams they have no business losing to and Indiana seems to bring out the worst of these tendencies in us of late. Maryland is confusing. They beat Texas, but lose to Temple? I feel worst case scenario is going 2-2 over the next stretch, but if Iowa gets mad and follows it's usual arc of getting better as the season goes on then 3-1 is a distinct possibility. (If Iowa gets really, really mad, you can't rule out beating Penn State- but in their house? This year? It'll be a tough out.)

In short, nil desperandum, Hawkeye faithful. Do not despair. There's plenty of season left.

Adopt-A-Team: Let's check in with Trabzonspor! It's been over a month, so let's see how they're doing... well...  they're 12th in the table currently and the results have looked like this:
L to Istanbul Basaksehir
W over Sivasspor
D with Ankaragucu
W over Galatasary
L to Alanyaspor
L to Goztepe
So... right now they're 2-3-1, which isn't great, but there hasn't been that much in the way of a season yet, so I'm not going to worry about 'em yet. The win over Galatasary (sitting pretty at 2nd at the moment) is a good result, but the losses to Alanyaspor and Goztepe kind of hurt, since they seem to be shaping up as the mid-table competition Trabzonspor should be able to hang with.

(BTW: I'm saying all of this knowing next to nothing about the actual league yet... other than 'man, these are some cool names' and 'I wish I knew Turkish', I don't have much knowledge yet. Will try and remedy that for next month.)

Arsenal: So, things are looking okay with the Gunners thus far. Yes, they dropped two games against Manchester City and Chelsea to start the season, but since then the results have looked like this:
W over West Ham
W over Cardiff City
W over Newcastle
W over Vorskla (Europa League)
W over Everton
the next month or so looks pretty busy as well:
vs. Brentford (League Cup)
vs. Watford
vs. Qarabag FK (Europa League)
vs. Fulham
vs. Leicester City
vs. Sporting (Europa League)
vs. Crystal Palace
vs. Liverpool, which gets us into November.
I think the most fascinating part of last season was watching team management given all of these competitions- I thought the Europa League actually brought out some of the Wenger of old last season as he had to play the youngsters- but only to a certain point in the competition and I think Emery will probably take a similar approach. Defensively Arsenal have looked utterly lost in too many games- the Chelsea one was especially brutal to watch, but they've... not looked as bad since then. (I don't want to say 'have gotten better' because it's not clear they have yet.) They looked flat and uninspiring against Everton yesterday, but woke up and scored two very nice goals AND kept a clean sheet, which I think is an important marker to maybe point at if you're looking for defensive improvement.

It's very hard to argue with these results. They're winning at home and away,which is a change from last season. They're scoring more goals and look like they're faster and pressing more than they did last season as well. I don't know if they're in a position to be what Emery has in mind yet, but if Emery is all about improvement, I think there's an upward trajectory to be seen here. I'm sure there will be bumps along the way, but it's a long season. Right now, they're sitting sixth in the table, which seems about right to me based on what I've seen thus far. Watford is their only shot at a Top Four team until November when they play Liverpool, so hopefully (hopefully) they bring it to the Hornets. I'd like to see them get that W.

TL;DR: defense needs work, but they're more fun to watch than last year and it's hard to argue with the results thus far.

The Vikings: tied Green Bay (yes, they TIED. Ha, suck it football fans. Don't @ me with your bullshit "durr, I hate soccer, because you can tie." Look! See! Ha!!! They TIED. Plus, pro overtime rules suck. College overtime is vastly superior) and somehow managed to get their faces stomped in by the Buffalo Bills yesterday. I'm just going to leave it at that, really. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Free Write Friday #1: Iced Coffee

Editor's Note: I'm trying to get my creative groove back, so I'm finding writing prompts over on r/writingprompts and taking them for a ride to see where I get. This is my first attempt.

Earth was known as the tea capital of the galaxy, but that title help ill-meaning; the tea of Earth is a dangerous drug for aliens.

0600 came early for Officer Havel Smith. After nearly three years on day shift, he kept expecting to get used to the schedule, but he had never been a morning person. Ever. So the process of getting up and getting showered and dressed and into uniform and then driving to work was always, without fail, something of a trial. Coffee, however, helped.

Coffee was the fuel that drove Officer Smith's day. Every morning, as soon as he had been freed from roll call and getting briefed on whatever overnights had to deal with, he would get into his squad car and make his way down to the local coffee shop and order his usual non-fat caramel macchiato with an extra shot of espresso and sit in his squad car and enjoy every glorious sip. It was his thing. It was his morning ritual. He wanted his coffee. He needed his coffee. He was an altogether more pleasant person to be around when he was given the opportunity to drink his coffee, it's just that lately-

"357, Central."

"Damn it," he said, cup of beautiful, steaming hot coffee about halfway up to his lips. With a deep sigh, he set the cup down in the cup holder and grabbed his radio mic. 

"Go ahead, Central."

"357, respond to Festival Foods, 1120 Old Cartman Road for an unresponsive subject. Fire and Ambulance are enroute as well."

Smith sighed again, knowing exactly what this was going to end up being. "Copy that, Central. I'll be enroute."

Another voice popped up on the radio. "Central, show 314 enroute as well. I'm six blocks away."

"Copy, 314."

Smith put the radio mic back in it's usual place and threw his squad car into reverse. Once he was out of his parking space, he made his way to the entrance of the parking lot and, seeing no traffic approaching pulled out on the road and flipped on his lights and sirens and began heading west toward Old Cartman Road. He was going to have to switched to iced coffee. That was really his best option- he didn't really like iced coffee, but he hated lukewarm coffee even more than that. If he was going to go to all the trouble of getting a hot coffee, he wanted it to be hot, damn it. 

Maybe he'd be wrong though. Maybe it'd be one of the transients, drunk out of their mind on grain alcohol. That'd be a nice change of pace. But he probably wasn't going to be wrong. Two days ago, it had been the Rainbow over on Marietta. Three days before that, it had been the Super Target on Highway 625. Now it was Festival Foods.

He slowed down as he reached Old Cartman Road and turned in the back entrance of the grocery store. As he drove down the parking lot toward the building, he saw the fire truck pulling out onto the road, the ambulance just behind it. His heart sank. "Damn it," he sighed again. "Tomorrow, I'm going to order iced coffee. It'll be easier." He pulled his squad car up behind 314's squad (she had already arrived and was probably inside assessing the situation), flipped off his lights and sirens, put his squad into park and opened the door, grabbing his coffee (now lukewarm, much to his annoyance) and, closing the door behind him, he walked inside the grocery store.

Smith didn't bother asking anyone for directions. This was the third one of these that he'd been dispatched to in the past two weeks. He just glanced up at the signs marking the aisles and, catching sight of the 'Cereal/Coffee/Tea/Breakfast Bars' above Aisle Nine, made his way to the aisle turned the corner and stopped. "Morning, Sanchez."

"Morning, Smith," she replied. "Had to stop for coffee, I see."

"Well, I sure as shit ain't drinking tea no more."

Officer Sanchez chuckled. "Few people are, these days. It's a pain in the ass."

"Bad enough you've got take it up to the counter to get sudafed and get on some government list," Smith said. "But now they're locking up tea as well?"

"Not here they aren't," Sanchez nodded toward the scene at the far end of the aisle. Smith sighed and set his coffee down on the shelf with the oatmeal. He reached a pouch on his belt and pulled out a couple of blue, latex gloves and began putting them on. "I suppose we should see what we're dealing with."

"I suppose," Sanchez agreed, pulling out gloves and putting them on. Together they walked down to the body at the far end of the aisle. Sanchez stepped around to the far side of the body and squatted down. "Looks like we got a Ursan."

Smith sighed... "Oh joy, the Chief is going to love that." He looked over at what was left of the tea shelf. "Can you tell what they were going for?"

"A little bit of everything from what I can tell," Sanchez replied. "There's some green around the nostrils though. Probably a matcha freak."

"Figures," Smith replied. "Ursans always seem to go for the green teas."

"Yep," Sanchez replied. "Gotta get their maximum high. Their neural receptors twig harder to green tea than black."

"Sanchez, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure can, Smith."

"You ever think you'd be doing something like this when you joined the force?"

"Looking at dead bodies?"

"No, the...  you know. The alien thing."

Sanchez shook her head. "Nope. Didn't even think aliens were real until they showed up looking for tea."

"Me neither," Smith said. It was actually surprising how well humanity had taken the news that they were not alone in the universe. Mainly because the various alien races were too busy chasing down tea to make any serious attempts to conquer the planet or enslave humanity. The alien governments had placed Earth under an interdiction to prevent mass emigration to the planet and so far, that seemed to be doing the trick at keeping the peace. It had taken some getting used to, but humanity now generally shrugged off the sight of an alien strolling down the street. Earth governments had taken advantage of the addictive properties of tea to gain access to technology and sustainable energy that were being implemented across the planet.

So, governments looked the other way. They didn't want to see the consequences. Sure, Smith thought, it's just one more Ursan junkie dead in the breakfast aisle. But we have zero point energy now. We have anti-gravity technology. We have faster-than-light drives. We're solving famine and improving health care. It's a bonanza of miracles. He turned back from his detailed examination of the tea shelf to look at the body of the Ursan, lying on the floor. A bonanza of miracles, that comes at a cost. 

"What do you think, Sanchez? You think we need to call in homicide?"

Sanchez stood up and took off her gloves, one by one. She shook her head. "Nope," she said. "Looks like an overdose. We'll let the Medical Examiner and Forensics see if they come up with anything different."

"You want me to call 'em?"

"Central already has them enroute."

"Sounds good," Smith said. He took his gloves off one at a time and, moving carefully, headed back down the aisle to where he had placed his coffee, Sanchez just behind him. As Smith reached his coffee, the forensic team arrived. 

"Smith! Sanchez!"

"Leo," Smith said, raising his coffee in greeting. 

"What do you have for me this morning?" The lead forensic guy hung back a moment as the rest of the team began to document the body and the death scene. 

Sanchez shrugged. "Matcha freak. Ursan. Looks like an overdose to me."

"Oh boy," Leo replied. "Third one this week."

"Yep," Smith replied. "You got this?"

"Yep," Leo said. "We got this." Then he kept moving down the aisle to join the rest of his team.

Smith took another sip of his coffee. "Damn it."

"Cold?" Sanchez asked.

"Yes," Smith said.

"Well, let's go to the bakery and get some food. I could do a danish," Sanchez said.

"They got fresh coffee over there?"

Sanchez shrugged. "Probably," she said. "No guarantee it'll be hot by now though."

"That's okay," Smith replied. "I'll take it iced."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Scotus Pocus

Here's the thing with the Supreme Court: any argument, any confirmation fight, any disagreement: if you switch the parties of everyone involved, you end up in the exact same argument.

Here's the thing with Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser: I believe her, not just because that's the decent thing to do in the 21st Century, but because it really stretches credibility to me that any woman would put themselves through a mountain and a half of undeserved bullshit for something they made up. ("But why wait so long to come forward?" Well, the culture has changed. People are far less likely to be silent about things like this these days than they were in times past. Again, I find it entirely credible that this woman kept her silence on the matter and moved forward with her life as best she could, because so many woman have undoubtedly done just that.)

At this point, I don't know of Kavanaugh's nomination is going to survive or not. The cynic in me probably thinks it will. After all, Clarence Thomas survived Anita Hill and has been comfortably ensconced on the court ever since. But maybe we're not that far gone. Maybe we're better than we used to be, but I doubt it. If his nomination does go down (and I think there's a decent chance it does) then I would expect President Trump to nominate a woman- to naturally, own the libs.

The current nominee aside (and when I say 'aside' I don't mean to diminish the accusations against him in anyway- far from it) I think it's time we face up to the fact that the process of confirming nominees to the Supreme Court is broken beyond repair. In fact, there's a serious case to be made that the Supreme Court itself is in need of serious structural reform. The stakes for the highest judiciary shouldn't be so apocalyptic with every vacancy on the court.

Politics is always going to be about winning to a certain degree- especially in the current system we have. My head is full of songs from Hamilton (which we saw this past weekend) and the warnings and fears the Founding Fathers had about factionalism and political parties seem to be very prescient given the current climate today. Our current system doesn't help either. A political binary is the worst of all possible worlds for the growth of a healthy democracy and a sane and civil discourse in our society. It's either/or. It's a/b. It's the knowledge that the pendulum might swing one way, but it will surely swing back your way at some point. Nothing about our system encourages consensus or coalition building and it's absolutely 100 percent about winning at this point. If you look at Washington through the lens of 'how do we own the [cons] or [libs]?' and 'how do we beat the other guys?' it explains so much about the dysfunction of our political system.

So while the press and the circus will focus on the accusation leveled against Kavanaugh, the larger structural problem won't be talked about. We're not about solutions anymore, just how to get the most mileage out of our problems so that one of the two parties can wring the most advantage of it. I'm in favor of structural solutions. But no one is offering those- at least not in any meaningful way in Washington.

This one was out there on Medium. I like it. It's relatively simple: increase the number of justices fron nine to eleven and then have them serve one twenty-two year term on the court and stagger their terms so that one new justice is appointed to the court every two years. This plan neuters many of the political advantages that currently surround appointments to the court- each President would be able to appointment at minimum two at most four justice over the course of either one to two terms- and by increasing the number of justices to the eleven, you also prevent any President of either party from appointing a majority to the court.

This one is slightly more radical, but makes equally good points. Go big or go home, it says. Keep the nine and add fifty more, appointed by each Governor and approved by the Senate. This plan might be a little too extreme for my tastes, but it sure as hell beats what we've got going on now. It's at least a solid proposal. It's something. A solution.

Whatever you think of Kavanaugh, it should be obvious to everyone that the way we appoint Justices to the Supreme Court is broken beyond repair. I hope we're better in 2018 than we were in 1991, but I doubt it. I'm sure he'll probably be confirmed. What that says about us as a country, I don't know. Probably nothing that good. If his nomination does go down, then I'd expect the circus to start right back up again.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Netflix & Chill #50: Molly's Game

Watched On: Redbox (DVD)
Released: 2017
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd, Bill Camp
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Pick: Mine

I own every season of The West Wing, have seen every episode of Sports Night and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and The Newsroom and I went ahead and brought the Aaron Sorkin masterclass on screenwriting and I pretty much make it a point to eventually getting around to watching pretty much everything the man writes and/or creates, so when I heard that Molly's Game was going to be written and directed by him (his directorial debut, no less) I put it on the list of movies that I would eventually, maybe, hopefully get around to watching. Turns out I didn't have to wait too long and, even better: this was a really, really good movie.

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is a world class mogul skier, who opens the movie about to qualify for the 2002 Winter Olympics, but ends up severely injured instead, effectively ending her career. She originally had planned (at the advice/guidance/pressure from her overbearing father (Kevin Costner) to attend law school, but she takes a year off and moves to Los Angeles. She becomes a bottle-service waitress at a club and meets Dean (Jeremy Strong), who is an ostentatious and unsuccessful real estate developer. She becomes his officer manager and eventually helps him run his underground poker games which attract movie stars, investment bankers and sports players- she ends up earning large sums of money on tips alone.

When Molly gets too independent for Dean's liking, he fires her and she sets up a game of her own. One of Dean's A-List players, Player X (Michael Cera) leaves with and soon Molly is making even more money- but when a skilled, conservative and very successful player by the name of Harlan Eustace (Bill Camp) joins the game and ends up losing to one of the worst players in the room and he becomes compulsive, suffering heavy losses. Molly finds out that Player X has been funding Harlan to keep him in the game and she berates him for his unethical actions and in turn, Player X changes the venue and the other players leave Molly's game to join him.

Molly moves to New York and after some efforts, starts up another game. She finds success again, but runs into a problem when she begins to have trouble covering her losses when payers can't play. She gets convinced to start taking a percentage of the larger pots, which does cover her losses but makes her game an illegal gambling operation. When one of her Los Angeles players is inducted for running a Ponzi scheme, Molly is investigated and questions about who was at her games. This sort of starts a downward spiral for her and she becomes increasingly addicted to drugs and unsavory and dangerous elements from the Mafia start becoming involved in her games, other members of the Mafia offer their services to extort money from her non-paying players. When Molly refuses, they attack her in her home, hold her at gunpoint and threaten her mother. But before anything further can come of this, the FBI rains the game, her assets are seized and she returns home to live with her mother.

Two years later, Molly has moved out and published a book where she names a few individuals who played in her games. She's arrested by the FBI for involvement with illegal gambling and the Mafia and enlists the help of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) a high profile lawyer in New York, who agrees to help her after he realizes that she's been protecting innocent people who were affected by her poke games.While she's waiting for her trial in New York, her father seeks her out and attempts to reconcile with her, admitting that he was overbearing and treated her differently because she knew about his affairs. Charlie negotiates a deal for her, but Molly declines, wanting to protect the identity of her players. She pleads guilty, but the judge decides that she had committed no serious crimes and gives her probation, community service and a $200,000 fine instead.

Overall: Here's the deal...  usually, Sorkin leaves his fingerprints on what he writes. If you watch enough of his stuff, you'll see the same lines and the same cadence to his dialogue. There's whole supercuts of it floating around the internet, which is what makes this movie so fascinating to me. It's got the cadence and the rhythm of his writing, but it's also just about fingerprint free. I think I bumped on maybe two moments in the entire movie. Sorkin's always been a great writer, but I feel like this movie might be his masterpiece. I loved it. My Grade: **** out of ****

Saturday, September 15, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #269

Let's get down to business right away. We're still reaching to the bottom of the barrel of the Unfortunate Wordpress Experiment and we're in the race to the finish line of the Lost Archives, so let's get to it.

This Week.

Back in Africa.

Double shot of the old Vitamin C with Chad and Cameroon.

First up, Chad:
No, I haven't made a mistake. This isn't the flag of Romania- it really, really is the flag of Chad. The shade of blue they use is darker than what Romania is rocking and here's the deal. Chad kind of got this tricolor going first- kind of. When the flag was adopted on November 6th, 1959, Romania's flag had a communist symbol in the center stripe which lasted until 1989 when their Communist government was overthrown. Then the symbol was removed and the flag reverted back to it's pre-war configuration which is pretty much the same flag that Chad had going on.

The Chadians kind of make noise about the similarities now and again, but Romania isn't gonna change and they don't seem to be in a hurry to change either, so for now, they're pretty much going to have the same flags.

So what does it all mean? Well, the original concept was supposed to be a combination of blue-white-red from the flag of France and the pan-African colors of green,  yellow and red. I don't know if they've managed to communicate that to anybody who looks at their flag, because while the idea is cool and historically worthy of consideration, the practical upshot of it is that you look at the flag and go, "hey, isn't that the flag of Romania?" So the original notion behind this sort of gets lost almost immediately to me. The colors have some meaning: the blue stands for sky and hope, the gold is the sun and the desert and the red signifies the bloodshed over independence.

If I'm Chad and looking to stand out, I've got two words for you: diagonal tricolor.

Next up, Cameroon:
Okay, here's a fun fact about Cameroon. It used to be plural, but now it's singular. No, really... over the years, there have been German Cameroons, French Cameroons and British Cameroon and at some point, they made the decision to make like Voltron and join forces to become one, greater, more awesome Cameroon and that's how we got where we got to where we are today.

So, the flag of Cameroon: the flag was adopted on May 20th, 1975. It's rockin' the pan-African colors of green, red and yellow. It's got a five pointed star in the center stripe, which can apparently vary in size (but it always stays in the center stripe.) The green in the flag stands for the forests in the south of the country, yellow stands for the sun and the savannas in the northern part of the country. The star in the center is known as 'the star of unity' and red is the color of unity.

I like the whole Voltron thing that Cameroon has going on. (Our national motto of 'Out of many, one' surely applies here.) Their flag is... pretty good. It doesn't make me jump up and down with excitement and it uses the same old color scheme we see all over the place in Africa- and that's also fine. The star is a nice touch, as well.

Two more countries to cross off the list! Closer to clearing out the Lost Archives! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying, FREAK or otherwise!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Squawk Box: Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan


I wanted to watch this show for a couple of reasons. First, Amazon has been promoting the shit out of it since like March, which seemed ridiculous to me, but for months now, you couldn't go anywhere on Amazon without seeing some trailer or banner ad for it. So if you're going to hype a show at me that much, I'm going to want to tune into to see if it lives up to the hype.

Second, I love this character. Growing up, I read pretty much every Tom Clancy book I could get my hands on- great, thick tomes, all of them. So the idea of Jack Ryan moving to the small screen intrigued me greatly. I didn't like Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears. I didn't even bother with Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. So I was more than willing to give John Krasinski a shot in the role occupied by the latter two as well as Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin.

The great part: it all works really, really well. The first season is only eight episodes, which I think helps immensely, because there's no filler here. They know what story they want to tell and they don't waste time telling it- but it's also not so jam packed that they don't allow for character development and nuance either. When the series of opens, Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) is a low-level financial analyst in the Terror, Finance and Arms Division (T-FAD) of the CIA. He's been tracking financial transactions that he believes are connected to an emerging terrorist named Suleiman whom he belives is operating out of Yemen. He has a hard time convincing his new boss, James Greer (Wendell Pierce) of this and eventually heads out to a cocktail party where he meets Cathy Mueller (Abby Cornish) the daughter of his former boss from the financial firm he used to work at on Wall Street.

Greer realizes that Ryan is onto something and sends a helicopter to the party to whisk him away and soon Jack is away from the comfort of his desk job and out in the field. They had to Yemen, where they interrogate the man supposedly responsible for the payments and his bodyguard when the camp comes under attack and they realize that the bodyguard is none other than Suleiman (Ali Suliman). He's rescued and Jack and Greer are left with the realization that a new and dangerous player has joined the terrorist game.

Back in the states, Jack reconnects with Cathy and keeps following the phone records and other intelligence they had gleaned from the Yemen incident which leads them an apartment outside of Paris where Suleiman's brother, Ali (Haaz Sleiman) is transferring the funds. Greer, Ryan and French Intelligence raid the apartment, but Ali escapes in the chaos and the raid ends in a suicide bombing. Greer and Ryan track Ali to a hideout they believe is his rendezvous point in Southern France, but in their attempt to take him into custody, he's killed.

Meanwhile, Suleiman's wife Hanin (Dina Shihabi) becomes increasingly concerned with the armed terrorists that her husband is bringing into their home and begins to realize that her husband has another, darker side that she's never seen before. She flees with her daughters, but Suleiman sends someone after her.

While Hanin is being pursued, Suleiman starts an insurrection against ISIS and effectively takes control of the organization. His terrorist cell stages a sarin gas attack on the funeral of a well-known French priest. In the aftermath, Jack makes contact with Suleiman using the messaging board on a video game, posing as his brother Ali- but Suleiman detects the ruse and Jack confirms that Ali is dead and manages also to confirm that Suleiman's wife, Hanin has fled before Suleiman disconnects, which sends Greer and Ryan racing to the Middle East to find and extract her.

Cathy, meanwhile, is investigating a case of Ebola in Liberia where a man has been infected with a strain they believed was eradicated. It is then revealed that six months earlier Suleiman and Ali dug up a body infected with that strain. Greer and Ryan catch up with Hanin and her children and extract them safely. Ryan and Greer investigate the Ebola case, which reveals Jack's true job to Cathy who isn't exactly happy at the news, but eventually forgives him. Ryan and Greer also convince their superior to launch a ground assault on Suleiman's compound when they discover the existence of a dozen or so western hostages. All hostages are rescued, but the compound is empty and neither Ryan nor Greer can figure out why at first, until they realize that the hostages (including an old army buddy of the President's) have all been exposed to Ebola.

With the President a numerous other officials quarantined, the next stage of Suleiman's plan- detonating a cesium dirty bomb inside the hospital is revealed and is almost successful, but Ryan and Greer make one last timely intervention which culminates in Ryan shooting Suleiman before he can detonate the device. As rewards for preventing the attack, Greer is promoted to Deputy Station Chief, Moscow Station and Ryan takes over as the head of T-FAD.

Overall, there is so so so much to like about this. The characters are complicated and nuanced and all of them felt fully realized and three dimensional. This series gets right what a lot of the movie adaptations don't: it's possible to update a lot of Clancy's source material to a contemporary setting and they get it absolutely right. Ryan worked in finance, Cathy's Dad was his boss. He had been in the Marines and was gravely injured in a  helicopter crash- though in Afghanistan this time. Greer is almost perfectly cast with Wendell Pierce assuming the role that James Earl Jones played so well in the movies. A nice twist though is the reveal that his character converted to Islam for his now ex-wife. I didn't see that coming at all and the fact that he converted adds an unusual and fresh dimension to the character. All in all, this is taut, thrilling, crackling with suspense and the complexity that made Clancy's novels so great to read.

The problem with Clancy's source material is that a lot of it was written in a Cold War context that's incredibly dated now. Jack Ryan proves that the best of the source material can be updated to a contemporary setting while staying true to what made the originals works so great. I can't wait to see more. My Grade: **** out of ****

Sunday, September 9, 2018

35 Random Observations about Turning 35

1. If one trip around the sun is roughly 584 million miles, then 35 trips around the sun is 20,440,000,000 miles. I feel like there should be some frequent flier miles for that much travel.

2. In my lifetime, I'm only on my third Pope.

3. Additionally, there's only ever been one British monarch.

4. There have been six US Presidents and six British Prime Minister since I've been alive.

5. In 1983, there were 158 members of the United Nations, today there are 193.

6. The Cubs, White Sox and Red Sox all broke their respective 'curses' in my lifetime.

7. The Triple Crown of Horse Racing has been won twice in my lifetime.

8. It struck me when I was in line at Hy-Vee the other night. I remember when food stamps were actually bills/stamps and not on electronic cards.

9. The Euro didn't exist when I was born. Neither did the Channel Tunnel.

10. We've never landed on the Moon in my lifetime. (Or Mars for that matter.)

11. Six countries have won the World Cup in my lifetime: Argentina, Germany, Brazil, France, Italy and Spain.

12. Liverpool won the old First Division four times, Everton twice, Arsenal twice and Leeds United once in my lifetime.

13. Manchester United won the Premier League thirteen times, Arsenal three times, Chelsea five times, Manchester City three times, Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers once.

14. The Iowa Hawkeyes have been to the Rose Bowl three times in my lifetime and have yet to win the darn thing.

15. The Minnesota Vikings have yet to win a Super Bowl in my lifetime.

16. Technically, ARPANET adopted TCP/IP on January 1st, 1983 and began assembling what would become in the internet but it really didn't come into existence in the form we think of it today until 1990. So I was born before the internet was a thing.

17. The Soviet Union was still a country when I was born and barely two months after I was born we had a brush with actual nuclear war during the Able Archer incident.

18. STS-9, a flight of the Space Shuttle Colombia was the first space shuttle launch after I was born. I saw the end of the space shuttle program with STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

19. The Mir was launched, operated and abandoned over the course of my lifetime.

20. The International Space Station was launched and is still going strong.

21. James Michener's Poland, Stephen King's Pet Semetary, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, John Le Carre's The Little Drummer Girl, James Michener's Space and Judith Krantz's Mistral's Daughter all appeared on the New York Times best seller list the year I was born.

22. William Golding won the Nobel Prize for Literature the year I was born. Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize.

23. The Berlin Wall was still up when I was born.

24. Cell phones were the size of large bricks when I was born. Now the sum of all human knowledge is on your phone and can fit in your pocket.

25. Bitcoin was not a thing when I was born. It is now though.

26. South Africa was still under apartheid when I was born. Namibia wasn't a country. Burkina Faso was still called Upper Volta and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was still called Zaire.

27. Less than 50% of the US population was covered by 911 when I was born.

28. The US Interstate Highway system was still under construction when I was born- I-80 was completed coast-to-coast three years after I was born and the I-70 stretch through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado was only completed when I was 9.

29. This seems like an obvious thing, but might be somewhat mind blowing to the younger generations: social media wasn't around when I was a kid. Like, at all.

30. I still remember old rotary style telephones.

31. This was a better fountain than whatever they have on the Ped Mall today. I miss this fountain.

32. Betamax, VHS and Laser Discs were still around. I purchased my first album in a Sam Goody. It was on a cassette.

33. We rented VHS tapes to watch o the weekend.

34. The Hubble telescope was launched.

35. Oldsmobile Supreme, Ford Escort and Ford LTD were top selling cars the year I was born. The Chevrolet Equinox took the top crown for the front half of 2018.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

40 For 40: Year 5

When I wrote this list five years ago, part of the criteria I set was that I could revise this list when I turned 35. The way I figure it, people's priorities change. People change. Life changes. I listened to an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience a few months back, where he interviewed Kevin Smith not long after he had survived a massive heart attack. I was struck at home changed Smith seemed to be by the experience- I don't know him personally, but it was... moving almost, to listen to him talk about being so serene about it. Accepting the fact that he might well have reached the finish line of the great race that is life that night really made me think.

The average life expectancy for US Males as of 2015 was 78.84 years. That means in five years, I'll be officially at the halfway point, according to the statistics anyway. The older I get, the less I seem to care about acquiring 'stuff.' I'm more interested in accumulating experiences now- and, of course, making sure I last as long as I can in my own great race of life. So, yeah, there are some changes this year. Changes are noted in red.

1. Publish my novel.
2. Get another tattoo
3. Finish all 4,532 pages and 12 volumes of Winston Churchill's 'The Second World War.'
4. Run a 5k
5. Visit All 50 States
6. Lose 50 lbs (this is a more specific, attainable goal than just 'get ripped, yo')
7. Pay off every single dime of my student loans.
8. Write more novels, publish them.
9. I would like to ride a mechanical bull.
10. Go on a Caribbean Cruise with the Missus.
11. Drive to Alaska.
12. Find out if St. Louis and Kansas City are pretty cool, since people keep insisting that they are.
13. Have at least one culinary adventure a year.
14. Vikings/Packers at Lambeau. 'Nuff said.
15. Read one fiction book a year that's well outside my usual genre preferences.
16. Work on my backlog of non-fiction and history books, my Fraser biographies of Charles II and Cromwell, The Steel Bonnets and my Jenkins bios of Churchill and Gladstone are at the top of the list.
17. Read Wuthering Heights and understand/appreciate it.
18. Re-read and finish The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire
19. Read Pride and Prejudice and understand it/appreciate it.
20. Master my ukulele!
21. I would like to shoot a gun. Because I've never done that before.
22. Be the best Father I can be.
23. Be able to buy a really rare bottle of whiskey for my 40th Birthday.
24. I'd like to visit Kentucky and check out the Bourbon Trail.
25. I'd like to visit NYC.
26. Ride a day of RAGBRAI.
27. Ride the whole week of RAGBRAI.
28.  Learn how to make bread from scratch.
29. World Travel Wishlist: Brazil, India, China, Europe.
30. Brush up my foreign language skills. I've invested a lot of time of the years into learning French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Arabic and Hindi. I'd like to maximize my knowledge of all six languages. (Wrapping up Duolingo courses on all languages is my preferred benchmark for this.)
31. Get something pierced again.
32. Go skydiving.
33. Go to Trekfest.
34. We've got family in Texas, Georgia and the UK. Be nice to take vacations to at least two out three of those destinations.
35. Make our house perfect (or move to a bigger and better house.)
36. Be able to afford subscription to The Economist.
37. Road trip it up to Winnipeg for Jets game.
38. I'd like to see an Iowa away game somewhere. (Football and Basketball.)
39. Go to a Major League Soccer Game
40. Go to a Cubs game at Wrigley

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Let's Talk About Socialism, Because Everyone Else Is

I suppose we should talk about socialism. Everyone else seems to be these days- but here's the kicker that's sort of starting to annoy me. All these people running around talking about the glories of socialism and how socialist they are and how we should all be socialist? I'm not sure they really understand what the hell socialism actually is. (And for that matter, not having lived in a socialist country for the majority of my life, I'm not quite sure what it is either, but I'm willing to take a whack at it.)

So, let's start with a definition. This is what the Googles delivers:
socialism
1. a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
2. policy or practice based on the political and economic theory of socialism
3. (in Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism.
Well, there's a lot to unpack with this definition, but for the sake of argument, let's limit our scope somewhat and throw out number 2. It's probably the most abstract definition of the bunch, anyway. This leaves us with #1 and #3. The problem is that when people right now are talking about 'socialism' neither of those two definitions really fit either.

So, if we're going to unpack this a little more I think we've got to throw another definition into the mix: social democracy. Wikipedia leads off that entry with this:
"a political, social and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and capitalist economy."
THIS is far closer to the mark of what a lot of Progressives are talking about these days. A lot of Conservatives when they talk about the evil boogeyperson of socialism always go to Venezuela. The pathway that a lot of Progressives talk about when they talk about socialism is closer (at least in theory) to Denmark. The hitch is this, from the second 'graph from the Wikipedia entry:
"Social democracy originated as a political ideology that advocated an evolutionary and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism using established political processes in contrast to the revolutionary approach to transition associated with orthodox Marxism."
In other words, the destination may be Denmark initially, but the idea is to transition (at least on paper) to a fully socialist system. Hence, the Conservative paranoia about the evil boogeyperson of socialism and Venezuela. (As we can see here, trying to compare Denmark to Venezuela didn't go so well for a Fox News anchor lately- and it was a slipshod comparison that collapsed like a flan in an oven when you pushed on it even slightly.)

I have several things about this whole 'ooooooooh, scaaaary socialism' versus 'socialism, hurray!' thing that's going on.

First: why do we have to be constantly stuck in the 19th century? I mean, our government and (somewhat) our educational system are rooted in the 19th century. Why do we have to default back to a binary that's as old and sclerotic as people from that century at this point? The answer isn't going to be: "If not A, then B" all the damn time. Why can't we come up with something new? I would argue that there's a mountain of data out there for the shortcomings of socialism and it's becoming increasingly obvious that whatever the hell we've got going on in this country, it's not really laissez-faire capitalism. It's more like 'let us pass a tax break to help you with that and oh, we'll get rid of some pesky regulations while we're at it,' which is very much governmental interference in the market. (I type this sitting in an ag state awash in what now? Oh that's right: farm subsidies.)

Second: I have real doubts that moving to a socialist model on a Federal level is going to work. One of the reasons that social democracy worked so well in Europe for as long as it did is that the populations were relatively small and homogeneous and the strains on a lot of European welfare states at the moment are probably incredibly complex in many ways, but to me, the changing nature of that population combined with declining birth rates have to be a factor in the strains that are being put on those societies. That's one thing.

The other thing is money. Money is the great super glue of American life today. We spend $3 trillion on health care today- which seems ludicrous to a lot of people, which is why they're pushing for a socialized, single payer model (for reasons both ideological and fairly sensible- $3 trillion is a hell of a lot of money and a lot of people would argue that they're not getting all that much out of it.) But here's the kicker. In 2016, the Health Insurance industry made an estimated $13.1 billion. That's a health insurance industry with jobs and salaries many of which would go bye-bye if we went to single payer. That's what makes a lot of these major radical changes so unlikely to me... there's industries with a not inconsiderable amount of money that will be invested in maintaining the status quo and I don't care how many laws you pass or taxes you raise. At the end of the day, $13.1 billion is a huge investment in the status quo. Until you provide incentives to change that, ain't nothing gonna change.

Third: I think we're both closer and further away than we think to 'socialism.' In many ways a lot of the structure of the welfare state that we take for granted has been in place for decades now, thanks to the New Deal. Radical transformations seem somewhat unlikely, given our current politics, but a renewal of the New Deal or even a New New Deal of some kind (though I wouldn't brand it as such) could well be feasible to sell to the American people. Medical bankruptcy shouldn't be a thing. People shouldn't worry about securing access to world class medical care. Also, the price of health insurance for individuals should be cheaper. There should be more distance and carefully constructed boundaries between business and government. There should be more regulation of business from government- not necessarily a bureaucratic avalanche of red tape, but effective regulation. Anti-corruption and draining the swamp may have been a rallying cry for President Trump, but anti-corruption efforts are fast becoming a serious policy plank for the Progressive left- and they're not unreasonable things either. Senator Warren's plans for the economy may well make economists and policy wonks shudder, but she's not that far off the mark when it comes to the corruption stuff.

In short, I'm leery of all this ideological talk. I prefer concrete policy proposals that lead to real solutions to problems. Too often, our political system prefers to keep problems around because they can soak them up for votes instead of actually solving them. If I come down on the side of anything, it's probably pragmatic utilitarianism. Take what's possible to do and use it to achieve the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people and actually do something and I'll be right behind it.

In short, the people screaming about socialism and what it all means seem to be more wedded to their pet ideology that concrete results. I'm vastly more interested in the latter than the former.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Bookshot #111: The Hero With A Thousand Faces

I've always loved mythology ever since I was a kid. I devoured Greek myths. I was that kid who read The Illiad and The Odyssey multiple times and enjoyed them greatly when I did so. I still get irrationally angry about what Disney did to Hercules. (Spoiler Alert: they royally fucked it up. Hades was never the bad guy, Hera was. Kevin Sorbo and  Hercules: The Legendary Journeys does a far better job at staying true to the mythology.) So, it's kind of surprising to me that it's taken this long to pick up Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces and read it.

The heart of the book is Campbell's theory that the important myths from around the world have survived for thousands of years because they all share a similar and important structure, which Campbell calls the 'monomyth.' Campbell explores this myth and it's structure throughout the book- but does so in a fairly unusual way that kind of through me a little bit at first, but by the end of the book, begins to make a lot more sense. Instead of what I would have done, which would be to explore the similarities between individual myths from around the world, Campbell lays out various stages of a hero's journey and finds the myths from all over the world to provide evidence for that journey.

His hero's journey goes a little like this: the hero receives a 'call to adventure', if he accepts that call, then he has to overcome various tasks and trials along the way- either alone or with the help of others. At the climax of the journey, the hero survives a severe challenge- if they survive, they get a boon or a gift of some kind. The hero then has to decide whether or not to return to the ordinary world with their boon or gift of some kind- and if they survive the return journey, then their boon usually brings some tangible good or improvement for the world.

Not all myths contain the complete cycle of the hero's journey- some only focus on a party of it, or deal with the stages , but inevitably, traces of the cycle can be found in myths from across the world. Some of these stand out as being more complete than others. The stories of Osiris, Prometheus, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed and Jesus are all compared throughout various parts of the book and their similarities are talked about at some length.

The influence of this book on the popular culture of the past few decades cannot be overlooked: Bob Dylan, George Lucas (for Star Wars), Jim Morrison, The Grateful Dead, Stanley Kubrick, Disney cites it's influence on Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty and The Beast. It's been used by JK Rowling, Richard Adams and Neil Gaiman. (There's also mentions of Community, Lost, The Matrix Trilogy...) So in other words: this idea of the monomyth and the hero's journey is an incredibly important one that had more of an impact on our culture than I previously thought.

I have this feeling that this is a book I'm going to come back to again and again and again. If it left me with an impression, it was that you could read it a dozen different times and learn something new each time. As a result though, my reading felt shallow at times- like I wasn't getting to the bone of the narrative. What I did love was exploring the different myths from around the world and seeing how similar they are. When Campbell says 'around the world' he means it and you delve into myths as close as the American southwest and as far away as New Zealand. (It (sadly) didn't occur to me when I was reading the book, but one of the criticisms of the book involves Campbell's repeated look at mythology from a masculine point of view, but he had a pretty good thought about that.)

Overall: I love mythology, so of course I loved every minute of this book. But I also loved the deeper meaning behind it...  it's easy to see why it's had such an influence on so many artists of various mediums over the year. The monomyth speaks to humanity's deeper struggle find meaning in the world. My Grade: **** out of ****

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Netflix & Chill #49: The Last Jedi

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2017
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Pick: Mine

The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) handing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) his old lightsaber on the planet of Ach-To. He throws it away and reveals to Rey that he has no interest in joining the Resistance and has, in fact, exiled himself from The Force in the wake of his failure to train Kylo Ren to be a Jedi. R2-D2 persuades Luke to train Rey as a Jedi, but unbeknownst to Luke, Rey and Kylo (Adam Driver) begin communicating through the Force, which puzzles the two of them at first, but they gradually begin to have visions of the future where they're partners.

The Resistance, meanwhile, is on the run following the attack on Starkiller Base. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) organizes a counterattack that takes out the First Order dreadnought, which allows the rest of the fleet to escape to hyperspace, but the Resistance soon realizes that the First Order is tracking them through hyperspace and the attacks continue. Kylo Ren goes out in a TIE fighter and hesitates to attach the bridge of the lead Resistance ship when he senses the presence of his mother, Leia (Carrie Fisher). His wingmen, however, have no such hesitation and blow up the bridge, destroying most of the Resistance leadership, and incapacitating Leia, who only survives by using the Force. The new leader, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) sets coordinates to an old rebellion base (though she doesn't tell anyone that.)

Disagreeing with the strategy, Poe helps Finn (John Boyega), BB-8 and the mechanic Rose Tico (Kellie Marie Tran) to go to the planet of Canto Bight in an attempting to find the source and location of the First Order's tracker, using the services of DJ (Benicio Del Toro), an underworld code breaker.

While the others are on Canto Bight, Kylo reveals what really happened between him and Luke that caused him to choose the dark side of the force to Rey and when confronted with this, Luke confesses that for a moment, he thought about killing Kylo when he sensed that Snoke (Andy Serkis) was corrupting him, but only for a moment- but it was long enough that Kylo destroyed the new Jedi Order in retaliation. Rey is convinced that Kylo can be redeemed, so leaves to go and try and do that, without Luke. Luke prepares to burn down the Jedi Temple, but hesitates to do so- Yoda's (Frank Oz) ghost then appears and summons a bolt of lightning to set it alight, telling Luke that Rey has all that she needs to learn and tells Luke to learn from his failures.

Holdo reveals her plan: to evacuate the remaining Resistance members using transports. Poe believes her actions cowardly and leads a mutiny against her while Finn, Rose and BB-8 infiltrate the resistance ship, where Finn and Rose are captured by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Rey also lands on the ship and Kylo brings her to Snoke, who claims to have facilitated her mental connection with Kylo to bring them together in his presence. They struggle and eventually after a plot twist, Kylo and Rey fight over Luke's lightsaber which splits in two.

Leia recovers and stuns Poe, which allows the evacuation to begin- but when DJ double crosses Finn and Rose, their plan to escape undetected is revealed and the transport ships are destroyed. Holdo then sacrifices herself by taking her ship into hyperspace and ramming into Snoke's ship. Rey escapes in the chaos and so do Finn and Rose and they all end up on Crait for one, last desperate stand against the First Order. Rey draws the TIE fighters off in the Falcon, and Luke shows up to do battle with Kylo Ren, buying time for the Resistance to escape- sacrificing his life in the process. The Rebellion, Leia declares, is reborn.

I think merely the return of Star Wars with The Force Awakens was going to get people excited and for sure, it was a great return of the franchise, but The Last Jedi takes everything up a notch. It grabs you by the scruff of the neck and starts running faster and faster and faster, jam packed with action and great character moments and a sense of pulse-pounding urgency that never lets up until the final confrontation at the end of the film. You almost miss with Rian Johnson is building to, because you're having so much fun and the movie seems fully intent on making the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, it's moving that fast, but the final confrontation on Crait is a beautiful confrontation that is epic movie-making at it's finest. I don't understand how people could hate this film, because I enjoyed every second of it.

Overall, Star Wars came back at a solid 8 and The Last Jedi dials everything up to 11 with epic results. The scenes between Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are especially poignant, given her passing not long after this film ended and it absolutely sets up Episode IX for an absolutely spectacular finish and raises the pressure on J.J. Abrams to stick the landing on this new trilogy. The bar has been set very, very high with The Last Jedi. I can't wait to find out if Episode IX can clear it. My Grade: **** out of ****

Saturday, September 1, 2018

This Week In Vexillology #268

It's been a busy month: we're settling into a routine in our new house and I'm training someone right now at work, which means the majority of my brainpower gets shoved to one side and stuck in a blender. It's also getting harder and harder to find inspiration for these weekly posts. I'm just not feeling it of late, which is okay. That happens from time to time. Life ebbs, flows, goes in and out. So expect the next few weeks to feature the last of the Lost Archives and maybe by the time we get deeper into the fall, I'll have found a bit of inspiration to get back to digging up new flags to feature.

But enough of all that...  This Week In Vexillology we've got a double shot from Africa. First up, Ghana:
The first country in Africa to kick start the wave of decolonization, Ghana adopted their flag in 1957 and then re-adopted it again in 1966 after a brief four year hiatus between 1962-1966.  It's the second country after Ethiopia to feature the Pan-African colors of red, yellow and green. (Weirdly, just looking at the geography of it all, it seems like Ghana had more of an impact that Ethiopia did in many ways- there's a lot of this color combination in West Africa and far less in East Africa closer to Ethiopia. (Their proximity to the Arab world might have something to do with that though... pan-Arab colors seem to exert a design influence just as strong as the pan-African ones do.)

The flag was designed by Theodosia Okoh and the red represents the blood of those who died in the struggle for independence, the gold stands for the mineral wealth of the country and the green stands for the rich forests and the natural wealth. The black star is a symbol of African emancipation. (The black star came from the flag of the Black Star Line, which was a shipping line incorporated by Marcus Garvey.)

Similar to the flag of Ireland (there is green, white and orange) the flag of Ivory Coast was adopted on December 3rd, 1959. There's a few different interpretations of what the colors mean. During the debate about making the flag, they went with orange for "the color of our rich and generous earth; it is the meaning of our struggle, the blood of a young people in its struggle for our emancipation." White, "peace, but the peace of right." and green, "hope of course, for others; but for us, the certainty of a better future."

Then we had this:
"the orange stripe expresses the splendor of national blossoming, while also serving as a reminder of the Northern Savannas. The white stripe glorifies peace in purity and union of hearts and is the pledge of our success; and the green stripe, expression of our hope for the future, recalls the luxuriant virgin forest of Ivory Coast, the first great sources of national prosperity. The vertical alignment of the strips symbolizes the dynamic youth which heads for the future under the national motto 'Union, Discipline and Work."
Which is a little more complete as explanations go. Then there's one last one worth throwing out there as well. "The flag unites the colors of the three great landscapes of the Ivory Coast: green forest, white lagoon and orange savanna."

Whichever explanation works best for you, it's a unique flag and I like it.

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