Sunday, April 21, 2019

Netflix & Chill #61: Dune

Watched On: Amazon Prime
Released: 1984
Directed By: David Lynch
Starring: Francesca Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Freddie Jones, Richard Jordan, Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Silvana Mangano, Everett McGill, Kenneth McMillan, Jack Nance, Sian Phillips, Jurgen Prochnow, Paul Smith, Patrick Stewart, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Max von Sydow, alicia Roanne Witt, Sean Young
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Pick: Mine

Dune is one of those movies that always seems to be on the SyFy Channel, TNT or [Insert Cable Channel Here] late at night that I don't think I've ever sat through and watched from beginning to end all the way through. I've seen large chunks of it- enough that I might as well have seen it from beginning to end- but never all at the same time. So when it popped up on Amazon Prime and, being stuck at work on a gloriously sunny 4/20, I figured what better way to celebrate the unofficial holiday than by watching Dune? The spice, after all, must flow.

In the far distant future, the known universe is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (Jose Ferrer). His empire relies on the melange known as 'spice' which extends life and expands consciousness. Most importantly, however, it assists the Spacing Guild with folding space which allows for safe and instantaneous interstellar travel. At the start of the movie, they arrive to demand an explanation from the Emperor about a threat they have sensed to the spice trade. For his part, the Emperor reveals his secret plan to destroy House Atreides, which has grown in power throughout the Empire and has ousted House Harkonnen from control of the planet Arrakis, which produces the spice. Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow), his son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) and Lady Jessica, Paul's mother (Francesca Annis) arrive on the planet to take control. What they don't know is that the Emperor intends to have them ambushed and killed- the Spacing Guild is especially insistent that Paul be killed, fearing that he is the greatest threat of all.

The Emperor's plan is initiated with the help of a traitor within House Atreides and while Duke Leto and the traitor are left to due at the hands of the Harkonnens, Paul and Jessica flee into the deep desert where they are rescued and taken in by the Fremen warriors, native to Arrakis. Jessica becomes their Reverend Mother and Paul falls in love with Chani, a Fremen warrior he had seen in his visions (Sean Young). He takes on the name Muad'Dib and soon the Fremen realize that he is the leader that they have been waiting for. He trains the Fremen and teaches them to use weirding modules and begins an insurgency against the spice production on Arrakis. It takes two years, but Paul and Fremen effectively halt spice production on the planet. The Spacing Guild returns to the Emperor to demand an explanation for this halt and he promises to go and restore order himself. The Spacing Guild tells the Emperor that Paul might drink The Water of Life, which is a poison used by the Bene Geserit to induce their psychic abilities-- if he does so, they fear that he may be revealed as the Super Being the Kwisatz Haderach.

As the Emperor prepares to wipe out all life on Arrakis and ousts the Harkonnens from control of the planet, Paul and the Fremen launch their final offensive. He drinks the water of life, which gives him powerful psychic abilities and the ability to control the sandworms of Dune. The Fremen defeat the Emperor's forces and Paul kills the last of the Harkonnens and assumes control of the known universe, confirming his status as the Kwisatz Haderach by fulfilling the Fremen prophecy of making it rain on Arrakis,

Well, I don't know where to really begin with this. I've heard that the new version coming out in 2020 is going to be in two parts, which I think is the correct decision. If the 1984 version of the movie suffers from anything, it's probably ambition. Dune is a big, dense book and there's a ton and a half of world building and culture development and scene setting you need to establish before you really get to the meat and potatoes of the story. I think that's probably why it took me a couple of tries to really get into the book and finish the story. It's a big, epic classic of science fiction- so it's hardly surprising that this movie tries to be faithful to the book and almost succeeds- but doesn't quite make it.

The time probably doesn't help it hold up well either- which is why the prospect of a new version in 2020 should get you very excited. Special effects technology has advanced considerably since 1984- and what probably looked pretty good three decades ago looks clunky and somewhat cheesy by today's standards. One similarity between the 1984 version and the upcoming 2020 version is that the cast that was assembled in 1984 and the one that seems to be coming together for 2020 are fantastic. All kinds of people show up in Dune- Patrick Stewart, a very young Virginia Madsen, Sting, Brad Dourif, Max VonSydow. They really took a swing at doing this and doing this right. They had all the ability, the cast and everything you could want to really do the source material right- it just that their ambition falls a little bit short.

Overall: Classic science fiction of the 1980s, Dune is a seriously credible attempt to adapt a classic of the genre that falls just sort of it's ambitions. The cast is great, the story works. The effects are a little dated- but it just doesn't quite work. And sort of ends up muddled in parts as a result. Still, My Grade: ** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, April 20, 2019

This Week In Vexillology #287

Our tour of the counties of England keeps on moving this week with England's smallest county: Rutland and the home county of Liverpool, Merseyside! Let's get to it!

Rutland is actually a pretty fascinating county- at it's greatest length, it's only 18 miles north to south and 17 miles east to west- and it's Latin motto leans into it's size: Multum in Parvo, 'much in little.' As an entity it dates back to Domesday Book-- the northwestern part, specifically, while the southeastern part is described as 'the wapentake of Wicelsea.' and it was first mentioned as a separate county in 1159 and called the 'Soke of Rutland' as late as the 14th Century. Rutland was it's own county all the way up to 1974, when it was integrated into Leicestershire. After another structural review of local government in England which was conducted in 1994, it made a triumphant return as a unitary authority in 1997.

Where is it? Well, if you head more or less direct north from London, you'll find it halfway between Leicester and Peterborough. Let's talk about their flag:
Registered with the Flag Institute in 2015, the banner of arms was originally granted to the county council in 1950 and returned in 1997 when the county made it's return as a unitary authority. The horseshoe has been a symbol of the town of Oakham, which is in the county, since William the Conquerer- when he gave a 125 square mile estate to Henry de Ferrers, whose name suggests a connection with iron-working or farriers. He had the privileges was the claim a horseshoe from any one notable who visited his estates and the a collection of horseshoes still hangs in Oakham Castle. The acorns represent the former forest that used to cover the county. It can also be interpreted as the being 'small and importance' and the oaks suggest a connection with Oakham. The green field stands for the county's agriculture and pastureland.

Next up, Merseyside. Where is it? Well, it's actually pretty easy to find-- Liverpool, home of The Beatles, right on the west coast of England, just around the corner from the northeast corner of Wales. It encompasses both sides of the River Mersey and comes up around the coast to include the towns of Formby and Southport.

It's flag is actually one of the most striking flags I think I've seen so far.
The waves represent the River Mersey, the six golden crowns stand for the six county boroughs- Birkenhead, Bootle, Liverpool, Southport, St. Helens and Wallasey- it's that simple. Simple is always best and the wavy lines of the river combined with the trio of golden castles for the six county boroughs are about as simple, clean and as striking as you can get.

So, that's Merseyside and Rutland! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Free Write Friday #10: Dragon's Eggs

"I don't need to tell you that the war isn't going well. The Elves have their golems in the north and the southern dwarves have those damned walking engines. In ten years, our empire will be going. So you get me those dragon eggs, captain. Or don't come back at all."

"Don't come back at all." Captain Vasili Borogov said in a mocking tone of voice. "Easy for him to say, he's not here."

Here, was balancing on the edge of an active volcano- well, not exactly active. There wasn't lava spewing out of the crater below. Poisonous gases and boiling hot rocks being flung into the air weren't pressing concerns- at least not yet. But it was hot. Really, uncomfortably hot. Borogov was dressed in thick leather from head to toe and metal plated armor to protect him from the heat- but in reality it was making him sweat profusely. It was, in short, awful. But it was, Borogov had to admit, somewhat necessary.

The General had been right. Granted, he had issued his order from a marble courtyard that was draped in soft curtains that swished as the warm wind had blown up from the Margolin Sea. It was beautiful. It was decadent. It was also exactly the kind of plumb assignment that had kept Borogov in the military for this long. Ten years of scraping and bowing and kissing ass and he had finally made Captain just as the long war against the elves and the dwarves had taken a turn for the worse.

They were holding their own right now, but they needed a tactical advantage of some kind- the golems were slow moving, but destructive. It took too much time and too many men to bring them down. The walking engines were even worse. The had been forced to give too much ground in the mountains of the south and were reduced to launching stinging raids on them as they advanced- trying to do what damage they could. The only advantage they had against the dwarves were that the walking engines were fiendishly difficult to produce. There were only four of them so far and they had managed to disable one in a fierce battle near Mount Tambora last month.

So, dragons. The nested far out in the Great Western Sea, so one airship (the Phoenix) and one crew (there were ten of them-  four men,  two women, a couple of half-elves and one of the western dwarves and him) later they had taken to the skies, riding the warm winds of the Margolin Sea across to the great grasslands and high over the great twin coastal cities of Felun and Markab and out over the Great Western Sea. They had skirted the southern end of a typhoon that looked to be heading for the Elvish coast and then they had seen the rocky peaks of the Dragon Islands emerging ahead of them.

The ground lurched under Borogov's feet and he swore loudly as he struggled to keep his footing. "Earthquake!" Came the shout from above.

"Thanks!" He roared back. He fell to his hands and knees and held on for dear life for a moment as he hoped no rocks had been shaken loose from above him. When the shaking subsided, he waited for a moment to make sure that it had stopped fully, then he pushed himself upward and began to run awkwardly toward his quarry. There were eight of them in a nest about thirty yards away from him, their metallic shells shining in a kaleidoscope of colors. He had wanted to take his time and be somewhat careful, in case the mother dragon returned from hunting or woke from slumber, but the sudden earthquake made it impossible now. Speed was his friend- if there were aftershocks- or worse still, if the volcano actually began to erupt then his mission was doomed anyway.

He covered the ground quickly and, with a glance around to make sure the mother dragon wasn't around, took the satchel from off his shoulder and opened it, using his gloved hands to place the eggs inside the satchel, one at a time. They were heavy and they were warm- almost hot. But nothing happened, so Borogov kept working. Finally, he reached the eighth egg and placed it in the satchel and, closing it, he made sure the buckles on the satchel were fully secured and then, more carefully now, he slung across his back and stood up.

Unfortunately, as he stood up, an ear splitting roar filled the air and, by the urgent shouts from above him, Borogov realized that the dragon had returned. He began to run as fast as he could for the rope ladder he had descended from, feeling the flap of the dragons wings and feeling the earth shake as the dragons paws crashed into the lip of the crater. As the dragon got closer, the rope ladder seemed to be an impossibly long way away but when he felt the dragon suck the air in, preparing to blast him with fire, he found a burst of speed he didn't know he had and closed the distance to the ladder and flung himself onto it, screaming, "Go! Go! Go!"

His crew didn't hesitate. He felt the engines of the Phoenix roar to life as she pulled sharply away from the lip of the crater and Borogov saw the ground below him drop away. There was a sudden blast of heat from behind him as the mother dragon's fire blasted where he had been just a moment before. He climbed as fast as he could, feeling the rope ladder rise as well and, glancing over his shoulder, he saw that the mother dragon had taken flight and was in pursuit. "Load all cannons and fire!" He roared up at the ship and a moment later, the first concussive thumps of the cannons of the Phoenix echoed through the sky.

Finally up to the ship, the two halflings, Dravon and Lurtan pulled him up through the porthole and out onto the deck. Borogov took the satchel off and thrust it at them. "Get the eggs below! Now!" The two of them nodded and moved off toward the door that lead to the lower decks.

Borogov stood and strode over to where the first mate, Valentina, a one eyed mercenary with a braid that went all the way down to the small of her back stood clinging to the wheel.

"What's our situation?"

"Not good," Valentina replied. "We're being chased."

"I saw," Borogov said. "Bring us about and then charge her."

"What?"

"I want to send a cannon ball straight down her throat."

"And if that doesn't work?"

"Well... then, we die," Borogov said. "But it's gonna work!" He said, seeing the expression on her face.

"It better," Valentina replied. "You owe me forty ducats for that barrel of wine you made me buy back in Markab."

"It'll work!" Borogov said. "Hard about!" Valentina began to turn the wheel and the Phoenix responded, turning directly into the dragon's oncoming path.

"When she opens her mouth, fire everything directly at her!" Borogov roared to the crew. They all nodded. The Phoenix and the dragon got closer. Closer. Closer. And then the mother dragon began to open her mouth and Borogov roared "FIRE!"

Four cannonballs didn't miss. Valentina swung them up and over the dragon as it fell, mortally wounded the the sea below. A great cheer went up from the crew and Borogov grabbed the railing, sagging in relief. They had the eggs. The war was sure to be all but won.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nine Years

I've always been a little reluctant to talk about 'The Day Job' because I never wanted this blog and my writing to be about that. I like using the blog and what I write as an outlet and as something to feed my soul and my passion for writing a little bit. I've let 'The Day Job' really eat large chunks of my life at various points over the past nine years and it's taken me a long time to figure out how to fully leave work at work and focus on the rest of my amazing life when I'm not at work.

But it has been weighing on me a little bit: this is year nine. I think after nine years, it's probably time to lean into 'The Day Job' a little bit and own it more than I have. Over the years, I think I've put a lot of pressure on myself to 'do more' and 'figure out the next thing' and 'the next big career move' but the more I think about it lately, the less I feel that impetus to figure out what's next and move along. I have an awesome job. There are peaks and there are valleys, like with everything in life, but of late, I have few complaints. Every day- and I do mean every day- is different. I don't know what's going to happen when the phone rings. (Though, at this point, sometimes I can make a fairly educated guess.) 

Over the years I've helped develop a multi-channel social media presence for our department. I've been afforded opportunities to attend training on multiple topics ranging from radiological alarms to Spanish for 911. I help coordinate and run the Departmental Awards Program. I data drag every month and keep various crime maps updated. When I feel like I've run out of opportunities to grow in this job, new ones always seem to spring up where I least expect them and it's really hard to complain about that.

I could be riding a cubicle somewhere. Or teaching. Or grinding out a Ph.D. Or doing anything else, but honestly, I can't think of any other job that would keep me as engaged and interested on a daily basis as this one. And, as a bonus, I get to help people every single day. Some times their problems are fairly mundane. Sometimes they really are having the worst day of their lives. But every day when I sit down behind the console and log into my CAD, I'm always thinking at the back of my mind about how I can do my job better today. 

The world of 911 Dispatching is bigger than people probably realize. There are individual agencies of all sizes you can find. There are Joint Centers that range from the medium-sized counties to big cities. My little corner of that world may not have the Domestics or the vehicle pursuits or the shootings or the exciting stuff you see on Live PD or COPS, but it's never boring and it'll surprise you from time to time- sometimes in good ways, sometimes in weird ways and sometimes in bad ways.

Nine years. It's National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week this week. I've seen nine of them come and go. But it's time to stop pretending that this is a stepping stone to something else. Without realizing it, I've found a career. I found my little corner and my perfect tribe. I don't know if I'd call it the greatest job in the world, but it's pretty damn good and I am fortunate indeed to have stumbled into it, seemingly the same way I always stumble into these things.

Not every 911 Dispatcher out there is fortunate enough to be appreciated the way we have been this week. It's simple enough to buy some food and say 'Thank You' once a year, but not everyone has great managers. Not everyone has a work environment that has good morale. To those fellow 911 Dispatchers, I see you. If no one else has said it, let me say it: Thank You. You're awesome at what you do, even if no one else wants to tell you that.

Nine years. I've never not been proud to be part of The Thin Gold Line, but it's time I start saying so out loud a little more.  I am a 911 Dispatcher and if you call me, I'm here to help.

Monday, April 15, 2019

On Faith and Politics

Look, it's ridiculously early yet. I'm not really expecting the race to really get down to brass tacks until fall at the earliest. There are more Democrats jumping into this race every day- so who knows how the race is going to go. Who knows who's actually going to win the Democratic nomination or much less with the election in November of next year.

It's ridiculously early yet.

That said, we gotta pause and talk about something that I never honestly expected to be talking about in this race- the odd, but important intersection of faith and politics that seems to have emerged in the race- mainly centered around the intriguing candidacy of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. To be clear: I have no idea whether or not Buttigieg is going to win this thing. He's raising money at a pretty brisk clip. He's got a lot of people interested. What that translates out to over the marathon length of the primary campaign and then the Presidential campaign I haven't the faintest idea. (Perhaps a sign that his opponents are taking him seriously, he's gotten the now expected attack piece already circulating out there.)

What sets him apart, at least so far in the campaign is his willingness to speak openly and honestly about his faith as a Christian.

My faith is something that I don't really talk about a lot. It's intensely personal and private to me. I do my best to be a good person and not to be an asshole to my fellow people, but I don't always succeed. I was baptized, raised and confirmed in the Catholic Church. I left when I realized that my attendance at church was driven more by habit than any meaningful desire to practice my beliefs. I was about to come back when the Church put it's temporal power over it's moral authority and shielded the Princes of the Church from any kind of accountability in the ongoing sex abuse scandal. I was married in a Methodist Church and we've wandered around for a bit before landing on a local community church that between our work schedules we're trying our best to attend. I'll be honest in saying that once the Catholic Church gets its claws into you, you're sort of stuck. I believe, but the ritual of it, the familiar patterns of going up and down and kneeling and praying are embedded into it, so I think I'll always feel slightly out of place in any other church. I'm fine with that though. That's my choice and, given the behavior of the Church over the past two decades, it's the correct choice to me.

I'm not an Evangelical Christian. I never will be. I have a massive amount of distrust for politicians of any stripe who claim to 'act on their faith' because inevitably, too many of them ignore the complete message of Jesus and focus on the parts that are the most political convenient to them. All politicians that talk about their faith do this to a certain degree- it's to be expected, honestly- which is what makes the attacks of Buttigieg all the more galling to me. To try and claim that 'he's not a real Christian' or he's 'just playing one on television' ignores the abject hypocrisy so many 'values voters' and so-called 'faith politicians' espouse. For too many 'values voters' and 'faith politicians', Christianity has been reduced to two issues: abortion and gay marriage. Which, if you're trying you're level best not to be a hypocrite, you can't ignore, but you also can't ignore the rest of the pie either, which is what a too many 'Christians' these days do. You can't rail against abortion and then want to build a wall and throw all the refugees out. You can't denounce gay marriage and then vote to shred whatever social safety net we have left that takes care of the poor. You can't denounce a once married, never divorced man for his sexuality when you wrap your arms around a thrice divorced President who's paid hush money to his mistresses on multiple occasions.

You want me to take you seriously as moral authorities? You have to practice what you preach-- all of it, not part of it. Not the parts that are politically convenient or get you the most votes. Be pro-life. Be for traditional marriage. But also be for compassionate immigration reform. Be for refugees. Be for programs that help the poor. Be for health care that doesn't bankrupt families. I might not agree with you on all the issues (I'm pro-choice and pro-gay marriage for instance) but I'd respect you for at least trying to be consistent with the message of Jesus. I'd respect you for trying to live out all of your faith and not just the parts of it you agree with.

A few years back, The Quiet Man and I took a trip down south to see the 150th Anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Shiloh. Going down various highways, I remember seeing multiple churches along the side of the road-- some of them larger than others. All of which had neatly trimmed lawns and next door, in a significantly nicer house with a nicer driveway and a nicer car parked out front, you'd see where the Pastor presumably lived. That kind of Christianity rubs me the wrong way. If your church is a former arena of the Houston Rockets, you're missing out on some key points of the message of Jesus. And I'm tired of those kind of Christians having a lock on talking about faith in the public sphere. Do I necessarily agree with Buttigieg on all the issues? No, I don't.* Does a strict and Conservative interpretation of Christian theology have a problem with his sexuality? It does. But as he points out, your quarrel shouldn't be with him, but with his creator.

If your response is that it's in the Bible, well then, I'd just say to you that the Bible says a lot of things that we don't actually do today. We don't stone adulterers to death for instance. We also aren't down with slavery or prostitution. If you focus on the micro aspects of Christianity, you miss the macro aspects of it way more than you should. I'm less concerned with your adherence to the footnotes and random sentences in the Bible and more concerned that you're trying to live out the message of Jesus as best you can in your daily life. So, good for Pete Buttigieg for talking about his faith. His faith strikes me as more genuinely and deeply felt than a lot of other politicians out there. And good for him for not counting out more Conservative religious voters as well. 

At the end of the day, sit back and think about this: A gay, married, Christian man just announced he was running for President. I'm glad I live in a country where that's a real thing. We were founded on the freedom to worship as we saw fit, so these debates about the authenticity of his faith are not only more than a little hypocritical, they run fundamentally counter to the founding bedrock of this nation.

*I'm not sold on abolishing the Electoral College- I think we should allocate EV's proportionally first and see what that does. I'm also not crazy about court-packing the Supreme Court. I'd prefer some democratic accountability and retention votes instead. Both of these things are also entirely dependent on getting a Constitutional Amendment out of Congress to the states for their consideration and the odds of that happening any time soon in the current climate are rather slim. But I think these are good issues to talk about and for sure, they're issues worth fixing- and that's the other thing we need to remember. You don't have to agree with a candidate on every single issue to support them.

**Also, Dear God. If y'all think this is true then there's a problem here.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

This Week In Vexillology #286

Our tour of the counties of England is moving right along, because This Week In Vexillology, we've got the flags of Cheshire and Bedfordshire!

First up, Cheshire! We start with our usual question: where the heck is it? Well, find Liverpool, head south across the River Mersey and eventually you'll hit the city of Chester and find yourself smack dab in the middle of Cheshire. (For some reason, Google Maps doesn't want to give me a nice set of boundaries when I search for Cheshire, so unfortunately, no helpful link to the Googles.)

What's the deal with Cheshire? Well, it's a very agricultural county- hence, Cheshire cheese. But Harry Styles, Ian Curtis, John Mayall, Paula Radcliffe and George Mallory all hail from the county. So, let's take a peek at their flag:

Registered with the Flag Institute in 2013, it's based off a banner of arms of the former Cheshire County Council which was granted in May of 1938. (There was a big governmental reorganization of all the counties in 1974, which explains why there was such a burst of new flags in the early 2000s-- there were plenty of historic banners of arms out there, but none actually representing the new counties themselves- not that there were many new counties per say, just the boundaries shifted from old historic counties slightly.)

Anyway, the three sheaves of wheat and a golden blade on a blue background is considerably older than 1938. It's been associated with the Earldom of Chester since at least the 12th Century and has been officially used in the coat of arms since 1560. This is one of those flags that you almost wish had more of an explanation to it, but alas, it doesn't.

Next up, Bedfordshire! Anyone who has flown out of London for a cheap flight to obscure destinations in Europe might well know at least part of Bedfordshire thanks to Luton Airport which, along with the city of Luton is tucked away at the southern end of the county. What else do we know about Bedfordshire? Well, a lot of notable British companies, including Vauxhall Motors and Easy Jet- but I think it's probably the Bedfordshire clanger that we should celebrate the most, because it honestly sounds kind of good.

Here's their flag:
Okay, I really like this flag. It's unique, colorful and I like the shells! It's another one based on the banner of arms of the former county council that was granted by the College of Arms in 1951. The current design was adopted in September 2014 as the flag of the historic county with the support of the High Sheriff of the county. When you fly the flag, the top corner nearest the flagpole should be gold.

There's actually a lot to break down with this flag.. The yellow and red quadrants are taken from the arms of the Beauchamp Family, who were powerful in the county after the Norman conquest and build Bedford Castle. The blue and wavy white lines are for the Great Ouse River, which flows through the county- including the main county town of Bedford. The three shells on the field of black are taken from the coat of arms of the Dukes of Bedford.

And that's the flags of Bedfordshire and Cheshire! Until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Psephology Rocks: All Right, It's The Greatest Show On Earth

I haven't really been all that inspired to nerd out over an election for a few months now. I was toying with the idea of doing a deep dive on Israeli elections and how they work, but I figured the results would be too depressing to really get excited about (turns out, that assessment was right) but then a flurry of news hit: Algeria got rid of it's old President (a bigger deal than people think) and is getting a new President. Sudan is getting new military leaders and perhaps a new President. Israel had it's elections and The Greatest Show on Earth is getting underway as we speak as India starts it's amazing exercise in month long electioneering.

So, there's a lot of things to talk about all of a sudden, so I figured, why not hop back on the Psephology Train and here we are. Let's start with Israel and the nuts and bolts of how it all works.

Israel has always been kind of a fascinating country from a political science viewpoint: it's got a unicameral legislature- so the Knesset is a one stop shop for passing legislation- there's no upper chamber to worry about. It's only got 120 members, which seems like a low number for a national legislature until you look up Israel's population and realize that it's only got 8 million people in it, which puts it as about the same as Virginia- which has two chambers and 140 totals seats in their legislature- so it's not that crazy. It just seems low.

However, 120 wasn't just a random number they landed on. They took it from the 'Great Assembly' of Jewish tradition, which was an assembly of scribes, sages and prophets in Biblical times- and there were, of course, 120 of them. The Great Assembly wasn't elected and was a completely religious body, but it's a nice bit of- I don't want to say continuity because that's not quite right either- but it's a nice nod to tradition anyway.

Another thing I didn't know: Israel doesn't have a formal constitution. They've got the Basic Laws of Israel- but the Knesset can pass any law by a simple majority, including ones that might conflict with the Basic Laws of Israel. They've also got not statute which grants a power of judicial review to the judiciary which seems... unusual to me. (The Supreme Court of Israel has been asserting itself a little bit of late and doing that, but there's no formal law about it.)

What I do know about the Knesset is that there are a crazy number of parties in there: Likud, Blue and White, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Hadash-Ta'al, Labor, Yisrael Beitenu, United Right, Meretz, Kulanu, Ra-am-Balad, New Right- and those are just the ones listed on the Wikipedia page. With only 120 seats to go around, it's been Coalition building since the very beginning for Israeli- and no party or single faction has ever won 61 seats for a majority. (Closest was the 56 seats won by the Alignment- an admittedly cool sounding party name- in the 1969 Elections.)

Members are elected from a single nationwide district (so no Single Member District issues to deal with here) and they use the D'Hondt method of proportional representation with a 3.25% election threshold for parties to clear before they can get a seat in the Knesset.

So, what went down with this year's elections over there? Well, Israel is pretty much All Right now- as in, 'all the parties are on the right'. The Left has been pretty moribund in Israel for over a decade now and they didn't show any signs of life this time around either. The Labor Party which was a dominant force in Israeli politics for the first few decades of it's existence ended up with a grand total of six seats- which isn't great. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a record fifth term as Prime Minister- despite the possibility of corruption charges hanging above his head. Despite promises to start annexing parts of the West Bank. His Likud Party tied with the Blue and White Alliance of Benny Gantz- who admittedly gave Netanyahu a strong challenge- but Israeli politics is all about coalitions, so with an alliance of right-wing parties, Netanyahu ended up with 65 seats to the center left bloc's total of 55 seats. What does it mean for the peace process- or what's left of it? Probably nothing good. But we'll see.

Israel is all said and done, but India is just getting started.* With 900 million eligible voters, it takes a month to get done and one my all time political science nerd dreams is just to go over there and spend a month jetting around all over India just to watch it. Americans get really full of themselves about Star Spangled Awesome were allegedly are, but India's elections are damn near inspirational. 900 million people are gonna spend the next month voting. It really is the Greatest Show on Earth.

So how does it all work in India? Well, for the Lok Sabha, which is the lower house of India's Parliament has 545 members that are all elected using single member district, first past the post elections. So no proportional representation either... the upper house, the Rajya Sabha is indirectly elected by the members of the state and territorial legislatures. The President of India can appoint 12 members for contributions to art, literature, science and social services. The two houses are on equal footing legislatively despite the Lok Sabha having twice as many members- and the Lok Sabha can override the Rajya Sabha in areas of supply- which is admittedly an obscure parliamentary thing I haven't heard of, but TL;DR the upper house can't refuse to pass legislation to force the lower house to do something. (I think that's how it works?)

The elections are a whole other thing entirely: voter rolls have increased by 84.3 million since the last election, which  means that the largest ever election in the world. 15 million voters who are 18-19 years old get to cast their votes for the very first time. Counting the votes won't even start until 23rd of May- which is over a month away. (Glancing over the news- it seems like things went fairly well, despite some reported problems and sporadic violence. A lot of states in the northeast and the southeast/south central coast were up today. Parts of Bihar, Uttah Pradesh and West Bengal will be voting in all seven phases and it looks like Jammu and Kashmir is going to be split up as well.) 

I'll have to do some more reading and research to get a sense of how things are going to go. Regional parties are increasingly powerful players in India's elections, so the Congress Party might be able to stitch together enough of anti-Modi coalition to force the BJP out- that simultaneously gives them more options to build a coalition to oust Modi and makes it more of a challenge to hold a coalition together. I feel like (again: I need to read more) there are some issues that the voters aren't very happy with the BJP about, but Modi's government is coming off of a dust-up with Pakistan and looked pretty muscular and powerful doing it and Hindu nationalism is kind of the BJP's thing.

The biggest election in the world is happening right now. That's kind of awesome.

*Do I wish that America had a news network that gave a shit about any of this? I desperately do. CNN is continuing flog their increasingly dead Trump Trump Trump Russia Russia Russia Mueller Mueller Mueller bullshit and not actually paying attention to the goddamn news. Shit's going on out in the world, kids. If only people had news networks dedicated to bringing us that... oh, what's the word? Oh, that's right- the news.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sportsyball: Post-Bracketology

Adopt-A-Team: Trabzonspor is in the top 4! This might legit be the best result that my Adopt-A-Team has posted to date. When last we checked in with them, it was mid-February- specifically, February 18th, 2019. Since then, the results have looked like this:

W vs Goztepe
L to Umraniye (QF of Turkish Cup- lost 3-1 on aggregate)
D to Kasimpasa
W vs Akhisar
W vs Buyuksehir
W vs Antalyaspor

That's a pretty good run of football! Down the stretch they've got matches against Fenerbahce and Besiktas, so there's potential to move up further in the table, provided they don't drop any games down the stretch. All in all, it's pretty awesome. (Prior years: Defensa y Justicia is sitting in second place in the Superliga- and I actually think their regular season is done already. NEC Nijmegen is sitting in 14th place in the Eerste Divisie, so the news is not so good there.)

The Arsenal: Oh the peaks and valleys of the Arsenal season continue! They were looking pretty damn good and solid for the Top 4 a week ago and then a dismal 1-0 loss to Everton sort of brought out the sackcloth and ashes again and woe is Arsenal and doom is upon us! But really and truly: there are some serious questions to be addressed in the summer transfer window and it could go sideways in a bad way if they don't either win the Europa League or finish Top 4, but Emery has done a fantastic job making Arsenal fun to watch again and not so damn frustrating. (That's not to say that their lack of consistency hasn't been incredibly frustrating, but they seem to have shaken off their tendency to shrug and say 'well, shit, we're 1-0 down, so we're done here' which is a big step in the right direction.)

The results since last we met!

W vs BATE
W vs Southampton
W vs Bournemouth
D vs Tottenham
L to Rennes
W vs Manchester United
W vs Rennes (W, 4-3 on aggregate)
W vs Newcastle
L to Everton

It's pretty damn hard to complain about a run of football that good- but Arsenal has Watford, Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Burnley away down the stretch. They're going to have to bring their home form with them on the road- because woof, their away form has been not so good.

Iowa Athletics: Iowa Basketball had a decent March-- the Iowa men surpassed expectations by beating Cincinnati and then giving 2-seed Tennessee as much as they could handle and then some by forcing overtime before coming up just short. Aside from a weird bubble of rumors that Fran might be leaving for Arkansas, on balance, I think it was a good year. I remember working some games during the Lickliter era and am honestly convinced that Iowa's basketball commentariat has the memory span of syphilitic hamsters, because kids, shit was bad back then. The hole the program was in was deep, dark and looked a lot like this. We are so much better than where we were and with time, I think we might able to climb back out of the hole and get back to where we were back in the day- or at the very least, a close approximation of it.

My baseline for the men's team is pretty simple: make the Tournament more often than not, win more than one game in the B1G Tournament and generally be in the upper half of the conference whenever possible. Intersperse some deep runs in either the NCAA or the B1G Tournament and I'm fine.

The women's team had a great March. They stormed to the Elite 8 before falling against eventual national title winner's Baylor. Megan Gustafson continued to do Megan Gustafson things and finished the season with just over 1,000 points- for the season. She also won the Naismith Player of the Year Award and a bunch of others and Coach Bluder won the well-deserved Naismith Coach of the Year award. Gustafson is also going to be attending the WNBA Draft tonight, which marks the first time ever that I've said, 'man, I need to check out the WNBA Draft tonight' ever.

Gustafson's season sparked an interesting Twitter discussion on the Iowa Commentariat with most people agreeing that she belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of Iowa Athletes right next to Nile Kinnick. Where things got interesting was who else belongs up there as well...

(Oh and Spencer Lee won another National Title for Wrestling... Penn State, however, continued their dominance of the Team Title. Dethroning them will have to wait there until next year.)

Post-Bracketology Thoughts: I was late filling out a bracket this year because we were on vacation doing vacation things, so I didn't do my usual deep dive on the field and really think about it. I went with Duke v Gonzaga and Virginia v Houston in the Final Four and actually had Virginia making the title game and losing to Gonzaga.

Obviously, that didn't happen. Looking at my bracket-- I'd say my biggest miss was Saint Mary's- I took them to the Sweet 16. Houston, I took to the Final Four- which didn't happen either. I didn't even see Texas Tech coming at all. But, I did actually sit down and watch the title game with The Quiet Man and it was a legit good game. It was also refreshing to see so many of the traditional powers fall by the wayside. Neither Virginia nor Texas Tech had won the National Title before- and Virginia's last Final Four was in the 80s, so it had been awhile since they had been to the Final Four and Texas Tech hadn't been at all. (Interestingly enough, had they won, they would have the first Texas team to win it since Texas Western of 'Glory Road' back in the day.)

Wish I would have been able to catch more of this year's Dance, but it sure seemed like an entertaining one. One day, my Zags are gonna win at all! But that'll have to wait until next year.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Netflix & Chill #60: Saving Mr. Banks

Watched On: Netflix
Released: 2013
Directed By: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Pick: Mine

Netflix seems to have upped it's movie game lately, because Saving Mr. Banks sort of popped up last week when I was down with some kind of a stomach bug and I figured, what else was I going to do in between rounds of various stomach related ailments? Saving Mr. Banks seemed like the perfect sick day movie and that turned out to be absolutely correct, because with a cast this charming, it's hard to find complaints about this movie.

The film opens in 1961, with the financially strapped author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) confronting the ugly truth: her book royalties have dried up and it looks like finally, she might have to surrender to the inevitable and let Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) adapt Mary Poppins for the big screen. Disney has apparently been after her for the rights for nearly twenty years, having made a promise to his daughters to get Mary Poppins on the big screen. Her agent, Diarmuid Russell (Ronan Vibert) points out that Disney has made two unprecedented concessions: no animations and script approval. So reluctant still, Travers gets on a plane and heads to Los Angeles.

As Travers arrives in Los Angeles and disapproves of the artificiality of the city and how friendly people insist on being, her childhood back in Australia is revealed. Her father, Travers Goff was her idol, but suffered from chronic alcoholism which lead to his repeated firings which caused strain in her parents marriage and nearly drove her mother to suicide. His death at an early age from tuberculosis leads her Aunt to arrive- she's firm, but practical and serves as the main inspiration for the character of Mary Poppins.

Her working relationship with the Disney team is strained from the outset. Travers views Mary Poppins as the element of sentiment and whimsy, which puzzles the Disney team given the imaginative nature of the book. She hates the portrayal of George Banks, arguing that he is not cold or cruel and gradually, the team realizes how personal a lot of the characters are to her.

Disney, trying to understand what troubles her takes her to Disneyland, which, along with her developing friendship with her driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti) breaks down her opposition- especially when they come up with a new song for the ending. However, just as everything seems to be proceeding well, an animation sequence is revealed and furious, she confronts Disney over his broken promise and returns home.

Disney then learns that P.L. Travers is actually her pen name and having realized that Mr. Banks is actually based off of her own father, flies to London to tell her that he too had a less than ideal childhood and that he doesn't let the pain of the past dictate the present and neither should she. He promises her that he will take excellent care of Mary Poppins- and will make sure that George Banks is saved and redeemed- which finally gets her to relent and grant Disney the film rights.

Three years later, Mary Poppins is set to have it's world premiere in Hollywood and Disney has not invited Travers, fearing how she might react with the press watching. But she shows up unannounced and asks for an invitation anyway, which Disney grants. She still disapproves of the animated sequences, but warms up to the rest of the film and is in tears by the end as she watches George Banks be saved and ultimately redeemed.

Overall: A nice piece of of behind-the-scenes history of the House of Mouse, Saving Mr. Banks actually tells a sweet and sentimental story that is perfectly on brand for Disney today. It's not a particularly complicated film, but it does what it sets out to do: tell the true story behind Mary Poppins and it's long road to the silver screen and demonstrate the power of art and film to heal and make a difference in people's lives. In short, it's the perfect movie to spend a lazy afternoon with. My Grade: *** out of ****

Saturday, April 6, 2019

This Week In Vexillology #285

We're back in the saddle again and heading back across the pond to continue our (now rather long-running) tour of the counties of England .I sat down with a printed map of the counties of England, a sharpie and a list of all the counties we've looked at so far and narrowed down the list of what's left. I figured we've got maybe a month, month and a half left of our grand tour- but today, we're going to keep on moving with Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

Let's start with Buckinghamshire. Where is it, exactly? Well more or less northwest of London. If you find Oxford and Milton Keynes on the map, you'll find the town of Aylesbury and that's more or less the center of Buckinghamshire. The boundaries of the county  narrow the closer it gets to London, running along the M-25 and the Colne Valley Regional Park before arching around the town of Slough and heading back up into the Chiltern Hills again. Seems like a lot of famous folks live in Buckinghamshire- so I imagine both it's natural beauty and proximity to London are probably quite a draw.

So, let's talk about their flag:

Adopted on May 20th, 2011, it's listed as a 'traditional' flag and sadly, there's not much more to it that Buckinghamshire is where they bred swans for the King dating back all the way to Anglo-Saxon times. But, let's step back and consider a few things, shall we?

That is one pissed off fucking swan. I mean, look at the damn thing. It's chained, there's a crown around it's neck, it's either going to straight up kill a human being or breed the hell out of some poor unsuspecting female swan. (BTW: I've been to a swannery and have long since determined that swans are the raging, festering assholes of the bird world.)

Either way: props to Buckinghamshire for having the most metal flag of any county in England.

Next up, Hertfordshire. Where is it? Well, it's still northwest of London, but it's more north-northwest than true northwest- if that makes sense. St. Albans, Watford, Stevnage, Hemel Hempsted all form the major towns of the county. If it's known for anything, it's for movies- Harry Potter, Star Wars IV, V and VI and GoldenEye were all filmed in the county.

So, let's talk about their flag:

Designed by the College of Arts and adopted in November of 2008 the flag of Hertfordshire is a traditional heraldic design. The blue and white wavy lines represent the many rivers of the county, while the yellow shield and reclining hart are taken from the arms of Hertford. It's also a pun! A hart, lying on a ford, so Hertford! The yellow field that the hart reclines on stands for Saint Alban, who is the patron saint of the county.

So we've got a raging, metal as hell swan and a nice, reclining very chill deer- both of these flags are striking and unique- so, there you have it- Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire!

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

Friday, April 5, 2019

Free Write Friday #9: Familiar Day

Most young mages use incredibly complex spells and extremely rare ingredients to summon their familiar. You just drew a circle and threw a bag of chips in it.

The main lecture hall of Merlin College was starting to fill up as Preston Cameron Morgan IV made his way up the narrow stairs to the back of the hall. Preston was a large young wizard who loved partying more than the serious study of magic. He was the third member of his family to be accepted to Merlin College and had become a fixture of the fraternity that both his grandfather and father had been members of: Alpha Beta Rho. He had eschewed the usual robes today and instead wore a large, ill-fitting t-shirt with the fraternity's symbol on it and it's motto in large friendly letter below it: "Abras Forever!"

With a huff and a puff he flung himself into his usual seat and began to settle himself into his chair when he noticed that his friend, Teddy was shifting in his seat and looked somewhat green. "Why you look so nervous, Teddy?" More and more witches and wizards were pouring into the hall chatting to each other and finding their seats as they waited for the Professor to arrive.

"It's Familiar Day."

"Actually," Preston let out a large, wet, juicy belch. "It's Thursday, my man. You know what that means?"

"What?"

Preston leaned over and whispered as loudly as he could to Teddy. "DRINK SPECIALS AFTER CLASS. Who's ready to get LIT?"

"Um, Preston," Teddy said. "It's Wednesday."

"No, it's not," Preston replied.

Teddy rotated the laptop he had perched on a thick, leather bound book labelled 'Practical Spells and Methusaleh's Guide to Familiars' and clicked on the calendar icon. After a moment, it loaded. "See? Wednesday?"

Preston looked a little ill. "Is it really the 23rd?"

"Yes."

"So, it's-"

"Familiar Day, yes,"

"And I have-" Preston reached into his bag and pulled out- "Fritos Flavor Twists, honey barbeque flavored."
"You didn't bring of your potions or spell books?"

"Dude," Preston said. "How long have you known me?"

"Three years now," Teddy replied.

"And have you ever known me to bring potions or spell books to class on a Thursday afternoon?"

"No."

"Because?"

Teddy sighed. "Drink specials after class," he said. "You gotta get... lit."

"Damn skippy!" Preston said.

"Well, your dedication to partying is impressive," Teddy said.

"Thanks, bro," Preston replied.

"So what are you gonna do?"

Preston shrugged. "Too late to run and get my stuff," he said. "I'll just have to wing it."

Teddy looked as though he was about to say something, but before he could, the Professor entered the room and expectant hush fell. Professor Archibald was a cantankerous old man who had a stare that could stop even the bravest of first year students in their tracks. He was a battle ax of a teacher, drowning them in homework and make all their lives a living hell. Despite that, every student who came out of his classes intact (more of a problem than one might think when it comes to incantations) all came to the realization that despite Archibald being a total and utter bastard of a professor, they had actually learned quite a lot and learned it well.

"All right," Archibald said into the silence. "It's Familiar Day. You should all know the drill and, more importantly, what to expect. Depending on the level of spell you perform, you could end up with anything from an animal to an imp or a sprite or a full grown demon as your familiar." He started pacing at the front of the lecture hall. "In all my years of teaching, I've yet to see any student get a fully grown demon as their familiar. I've seen a sprite or an imp now and again. But the majority of you are going to end up with animal familiars. It'll be your job to take care of them, bond with them and use them to enhance your powers."

He clapped his hands together and rubbed the palms vigorously, looking for a moment to be positively excited at the prospect. "Right. Any questions? No? Let's get started." He strode over to the lectern and looked down at his class list. "Ingrid Albertson."

Teddy and Preston watched as their classmates went up to the front of the stage, drew their spell circles and cast their incantations to summon their familiars. Ingrid got a barn owl. Trevor got a frog. Alistair got a cat. There were lizards, snakes, eagles, falcons, a wolf- something that everyone thought was going to be an imp, but turned out to be armadillo. Lisa Miller, a young witch whom Preston insisted on referring to as 'that blonde hottie' manage to summon a small blue imp who immediately leaped into her arms, much to the delight of Professor Archibald and then, finally, it was Preston's turn:

"Preston Morgan."

Preston made to get up, but Teddy reached out a grabbed him by the arm. "Wait a second," he said. He leaned over and dug in his bag for a moment before handing a piece of casting chalk to Preston. "Take this. It's my spare."

"Hey, thanks man," Preston said. He slipped the chalk into his pocket, grabbed his wand and the bag of Fritos and headed down the stairs and made his way to the stage. Professor Archibald fixed him with a disapproving glance. "Where are your potions, young man?"

"Don't need 'em, Prof," Preston said with more confidence than he felt. "Got some chips and my wand, right here."

"You realize," Professor Archibald said, "That failure to summon anything will result in you getting a F on this assignment which is worth 50% of your final grade."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Prof," Preston said. He knelt down and then set about drawing his incantation circle, slowly and deliberately and then, when he was done he stood up and made a careful examination of it, circling it once, checking for any breaks in the line. Then, satisfied with the circle, Preston planted his feet and drew his wand, holding the bag of chips in the other hand. He said the incantation in a loud clear voice and as he reached the climax of the incantation he pronounced the final words and then threw the bag of Fritos over the line and into the circle.

There was a blinding flash of green and then the room filled with a lurid yellow smoke. It cleared, revealing- gasps echoed throughout the room and even the expression of disgruntled disapproval that had marked Professor Archibald's face was gone. Now, he looked impressed. There, in the center of the circle, holding the bag of chips in his hands was a fully grown demon. It was pale blue with the usual horns, hoofed feet and a long, sinuous tale. It was also, as some of the students noticed immediately stark naked.

"Thanks," it rumbled and opened the chips. It reached in and delicately pulled out a Fritos Flavor Twist. "I was getting awfully hungry."

"You're welcome," said Preston. "Um, you're my familiar. Did you know that?"

The demon nodded. "Yep," he said. "Been a few centuries since I've had a human, so I'm probably due." He stood up and, still holding the back of chips in one hand extended his hand. "I'm Larkothemialanagalopoulous. But most humans just call me Lark for short."

Preston reached over the circle and shook the demon's hand. "Pleased to meet you, Lark. I'm Preston."

"Nice to meet you, Preston," the demon said. "Tell me, do humans still like...  oh what was it called. Beer?"

Preston grinned at the demon and brushed away the chalk incantation circle so that Lark could step over the line. "You know what, Lark? I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Bookshot #118: The Odyssey (Translation by Emily Wilson)


It's surprisingly difficult to figure out how to review a work that you've read in various forms multiple times over the years, but that, I suppose, is probably par for the course when it comes to translations of the ancient works of Homer. I have a very good prose translation of The Odyssey kicking around somewhere on my bookshelf, but I began to hear a lot of good things about a new poetic translation of the work by Emily Wilson the fact that she is the first woman to ever translate it made me sort of curious about it. I threw it on the old Amazon Wishlist for Christmas, Santa delivered and I dug in.

Look, I know these are poems. They're supposed to be poems, Homer- whether he was one dude, a collections of dudes or entirely fictional was a poet. But between The Illiad and The Odyssey I've always preferred prose translations of the works. I don't know why- I think it probably has a lot to do with my general dislike for a lot of poetry. Growing up, my parents had an incredible translation of The Illiad that has probably long since dissolved- I read it that much. A few years ago, I picked up a poetic translation of The Illiad and it was okay. It was readable. It didn't hold up to that prose translation from my childhood, but it would do. So, I was sort of leery about a poetic translation of The Odyssey. I didn't know if it would click with me. I didn't know if I would like it. I didn't know if it would be just 'okay.'

Kids, I was wrong. 

This translation has to be the best translation of The Odyssey I think I've ever read- and it grabs you from the very first line: "Tell me about a complicated man." If there's a 'First Line Hall of Fame' for literature out there, this one would have a pretty decent shot at getting in. Six words that perfectly distill the character of Odysseus as well as the story you're about to read. After that, you're off and running- Wilson's choice of using iambic pentameter is somewhat inspired, because I think it's a meter that most people who have English as a primary language will find to be the most accessible, if for no other reason that everyone had a little bit of Shakespeare in high school.

But it's her language that really kicks it up a notch. It's clean, sparse and simple-- all of which you'd think would be kind of an obvious thing to aim for, but I expect (but don't know, having not done a comprehensive examination of translations of The Odyssey) that isn't necessarily the case. I imagine that there's a temptation to stay as close to the original meaning as possible, which might make for a translation that's closer to the original poem and thus more 'authentic' but it means the language might not be as accessible to readers as you'd like. Wilson's use of language makes her translation extremely accessible to readers. It's modern, clear language and brings out the story perfectly.

Speaking of the story: the familiar hits are all here. The Lotus Eaters, The Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, The Cyclops, Aeolius and the Bag of the Winds, Circe, the Sun God's cattle and finally Calypso's island, where Odysseus finds himself at the start of the story. Two things that I didn't realize- or at the very least had sort of forgotten: first, how relatively small a part Odysseus' journey actually plays in the story itself. As readers, we don't follow him home and see the journey, but rather hear him tell the story when he's in the court of the Phaeacians. Second was the parallel journey of Telemachus in all of this. Wilson's translation brings Telemachus to life and moves him to the front of the story in a way that a lot of translations that I've read don't. He goes off to Sparta and Pylos, inspired by Athena to take a parallel journey of his own to find some news, any news of his father. 

The Suitors, too, become more well rounded characters. They're still sort of the collective mass of 'bad guys', but their impatience and greed and desire for the wealth of Odysseus' household becomes far more pronounced. You can understand the motivation for the rage of Odysseus when he finally returns home. These guys have been wrecking his house, eating his food and disrespecting his wife for years now. Their inevitable bloody end is well earned (and graphically depicted.)

One of the blurbs on the back of the book says, "In the history of Odyssey translations, few have exerted such a cultural influence that they become 'classics' in their own right... I predict that Emily Wilson will win a place in this roll-call of the most significant translations of the poem in history. She certainly deserves the honour." I feel like this more or less hits the nail on the head...  this translation is a revelation that breathes new life into an ancient poem and propels it into the 21st Century with beautiful, clear language that brings the musicality of the original poem out into the light in a way that you didn't realize was possible.

Overall: One of the best translations of The Odyssey I've ever read. Hands down. ***** out of *****

Monday, April 1, 2019

Google+, 2011-2019

Google+ is officially dying tomorrow and I almost want to say that I'm sad about it- but honestly, I'm not. In fact, I think the kindest epitaph for it is probably going to be a bunch of people saying, "Google+, is that still a thing?" when the doors are closed at the lights turned out tomorrow. Such is the internet. Such is social media. So it goes.

The debates about social media are going to be with us forever- or at least until social media as a concept dies or evolves into something else. One thing that I've learned over the years that I wish more people understood is that you should never have all your eggs in one platform's basket- because that's a good way to get screwed when things like this happen. Obviously, in the case of Google+ I don't think there are going to be that many people who went all in on the concept, but there might be a few. Lives, memories and photos are all going to be gone- unless you've downloaded them to your home computer. (Which, admittedly, I haven't- because I've never done anything exclusively on Google+ or any social media platform for that matter. Always have redundancies built in, kids-- it's the best way to operate.)

I can't remember when I hopped on Google+ exactly, but I think it was soon after it launched- where there was a lot of hype and noise and clicks about it being a potential competitor to Facebook. It seemed interesting. The whole 'circle' concept (which seems to have evolved into 'Communities' over the years) was kind of cool. But I never fully embraced it, because nobody else did either. Back then, we didn't have the same debates over privacy and data that we're having now, but I think it was more of a tyranny of convenience thing more than anything else. All your friends were on Facebook, so you were on Facebook. Why change to some weird new platform?

There's a pretty decent argument to be made that one less social media platform in the world is a good thing, not a bad thing and I'd totally embrace that. Facebook is less of a time suck for me than it used to be. Reddit is easier to curate so I don't see shit I don't want to see and depending on what's going on Twitter can range from useful and informative to fun and chuckle worthy to rage filled, angst ridden dumpster fire- sometimes all in the same day. The somewhat sinister commonality between all these platforms is that you are their product. The time and content you put into the platform grows it and leads to clicks for advertisers and somewhere along the way, money gets made- just not by you- well, maybe you'll make some, depending on the platform. But Zuckerberg and Dorsey are the ones who really get all the money.

It's a catch-22 though. Social media has become one of the primary drivers of all public discourse and conversation in this county. We communicate. We connect. But we also are spending more and more time with our faces smashed into our screens and less and less time living in the moment and appreciating the present. A quick glance at a lot of social media platforms only underscores the problem. These platforms can be good, I do believe that. But if we use the cloak of internet anonymity to spread hate and conspiracy theories or harass women or minorities, then any quantifiable 'good' you can draw from connecting and learning from these platforms seems to get washed away. (Quilette did a recent series on this that looked at a variety of platforms that are out there-- it's worth a read. Joe Rogan also had Tim Pool and Jack Dorsey and Vijaya Gadde on for an extended episode of his podcast talking about Twitter and their shadow banning/banning controversies- it's a bit more of a time commitment, but worth a listen if these are issues you're interested in.)

The largest problem that I can see with all this censorship on social media is that it's not reflecting how discourse should work in a real life situation. If a real life person spouts off with something horrible or fairly transparently racist, we don't exile them to an island of misfit toys for their sins. We say (or we should say, rather) 'hey man, that's not okay.' We interact. We learn. We teach. That's how we get better as a society. And yes, I know, it's nowhere near that simple on social media or in real life- but it's a problem and the worst balancing act in the world and all these platforms are fucking terrible at it. (With the possible exception of Reddit, which might just be really bad at it- which isn't great, but probably a marginal improvement over Twitter- at least in my opinion.)

There's been video after video on this, but internet trolls never say it to your face. You point the camera at them and make them read their misogyny or racism out loud and they realize how awful it is. A lot of them do it just because they can. Radical transparency and removing, where possible, the shield of anonymity that clouds a lot of the garbage online could be one model. I don't think censorship, whether it's soft and relatively benign or hard or ideologically driven is the answer. I think it invites government regulation, which in turn, opens up a whole can of worms that may not end up being so tasty.

So, the future is going to be interesting at least. I'm already on Minds. I'm checking out MeWe to see what that's all about. Google+ has been one of the spokes of my social media presence for years now, so I feel it's only right to mark it's passing it- even if I'm not really all that sad about it.

Such is the internet. Such is social media. So it goes.