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Netflix & Chill #86: The Great Hack/The Social Dilemma

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Election season means that we're treated to a lot of talk about 'election interference' and that means that the streaming services of your choice have dropped a relevant documentary or two and sure enough, Netflix has two ready to go that deal with more or less similar topics, so I decided to watch them both. One of the weird things about 2020 is that so many things have happened the year that other things that were a big deal at the time either fade from your memory entirely or just get lost in the distant memories of that time before this decades long year. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was kicking around a little bit since 2015-- when The Guardian noted that they were harvesting data from millions- yes millions of Facebook accounts without their consent to build big data analytics for Ted Cruz's campaign for President in 2016. It should therefore be no surprise to anyone that they switched teams in short order, helped the Trump Campaign and then went on to work on…

Serial Saturday #6: Return

I took a week off, just because- but Part Six marks the end of the Theme Thursday era of this serial, before it transitioned to Serial Saturdays on Reddit. I've super sized all the first six entries to match the 750 word limit on Serial Saturday, so please, enjoy Part Six of Murder In Kinmen: ReturnThe problem with living in Kinmen, Pei-Shan reflected, was that it's past was always closer than you'd think. it had been a week since the meeting with the Chief. The manilla folder he had "accidentally" left on his desk had only confirmed what Pei-Shan had suspected: this homicide was getting closer to something the military wanted to avoid. But it was the cryptic note at the very bottom of the folder that still puzzled her"Go running. Dawn. Shuang Kou. Lieyu.If there was was one thing Pei-Shan hated more than getting up before 9:00 AM, it was running. She loathed running, so, naturally, she made herself go running every afternoon before heading into work. But da…

Winning Elections Is Hard, Apparently

I've got two degrees in Political Science and up until now they've served as the punchline to the inevitable, "yeah, they look really pretty on my wall" kind of joke people my age make when they're trying to accept the grim economic reality of student loan debt. But Holy Hannah in a Handbasket am I getting tired of bloviating sermonizing from writers who get gigs at publications like The New Republic and then proceed to write the worst kind of drivel imaginable proclaiming that "well, actually [insert platitude/institution that the Establishment/Elite Progressives hate] is the real problem."Case in point: The Constitution Is The Crisis.Just the title alone is enough to raise my blood pressure, but it only goes downhill from there. It should be noted that if this article had appeared in say, I don't know, the Federalist or the National Review or the Wall Street Journal it would have been absolutely excoriated as "advocating for fascism" and…

Serial Saturday #5: Whodunit?

It's Saturday and that means it's time for another installment of my ongoing serial, Murder In Kinmen... please enjoy: Whodunit?
"Wait." Pei-Shan paused at the foot of the main stairs. "Let's-" she turned on her heel. "Let's make a stop real quick.""Where?""Dispatch."She led Wei-Ting down the longh allway where an imposing metal door greeted them. Next to it was a keypad and a buzzer, which Pei-Shan pressed."Yes?" The voice sounded old and gravelly, as if smoking a pack a dayof cigarettes and gargling with kaoliang every morning was a healthy thing to do."It's me," Pei-Shan said.There was a long pause before the metal door gave a distinct thunk and Pei_Shan opened the door. Wei-Ting stepped in behind her. Four of the five dispatchers were busy at work, but the dispatcher at the main console turned to greet them."Detective," she said."Huijun! Have I ever told you you're my favori…

They've Stopped Pretending Now

I could give a shit about what the New York Post actually wrote.  (Here's NPR's version of the same story, just for the sake of balance.) The various sins, both real and imagined of Hunter Biden rank pretty low on the list of things I care about. But what should concern you- and certainly concerns me is that Facebook and Twitter went to such lengths to squash the article, to begin with. And maybe some of this is due to the fact that I watched both The Great Hack and The Social Dilemma on Netflix recently, so I will concede that perhaps I'm a little more paranoid about this than I was last week- but it's not paranoia if they're actually coming to get you.Most of the Liberal/Prog Commentariat on Twitter is okay with this. After all, it's speech they don't like and Orange Man Bad after all- but you've got to look beyond the now for half a second. If this was a Vox article or a Washington Post article or a NY Times article, the Liberal/Prog Commentariat, th…

Serial Saturday #4: Despair

Very happy to present part four of my ongoing serial Murder In Kinmen...  hope you enjoy: Despair
"We've got nothing." Pei-Shan leaned back in the chair, rubbing her eyes. "We've been at this for six hours." She shook her head, fighting off a growing sense of despair. "Damn. First homicide we've had in years and it's like we've hit a brick wall.""Maybe we should-" Wei-Ting hesitated."Do what?" Pei-Shan asked. "Go over all this footage again? There's no sign of movement from the Mainland at all.""I've been checking internet forums, the dark web, the news from over there and there's nothing," Wei-Ting said. "Not even so much as a police report. Even the local underground types in Xiamen haven't heard anything.""The local underground types?" Pei-Shan arched an eyebrow. Wei-Ting flushed. "Not like dissidents or anything," he said hurriedly. "But, you …

The Red Pills Cut Both Ways

So, 'red pilling' is a term that is getting thrown around a lot this year. The media's been red-pilling people by standing in front of four-alarm structure fires and insisting that "the protests are mostly peaceful", the public health community and politicians have been doing it too: "Shut down your life. Don't protest that, protest this. You can't go to church, but you can march in this protest which meets with our approval." "No need for a mask," they said in March when they were worried about a PPE shortage, "but for sure wear a mask now."The overall feeling in the commentariat seems to be that these obvious double standards- whether you agree with them or not, are pissing off people- not people that are plugged into the commentariat and social media more than they should be- but the general mass populace of America that's just struggling to keep their head above water and desperately wanting this pandemic to be over a…

Tiki Tuesday #2: Corn and Oil

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I was looking for Dry Curacao*. Smuggler's Cove has a mai-tai recipe that calls for it and I had seen a bottle at the local liquor store, but when I went back to get it- do you think it was there? Of course not-- but there was a bottle of falernum on the shelf and recognizing that it was one of the "what the hell is that?" ingredients in Smuggler's Cove, I snagged a bottle and started to play around with it. One of the first drinks I stumbled across that calls for it is Corn and Oil.The name endeared it to me: if there's a decent tiki bar in Iowa (a matter I need to investigate further) that doesn't have this on the menu they need to add it! (You could even call it 'Ethanol', which would be even more perfect.)Hailing from Barbados, the recipe is dead simple:1/2 oz John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum2 oz blended aged rum (Barbados rum preferred)2-4 dashes of Angostura bittersAdd all the ingredients to an old-fashioned glass and fill with crushed ice. …

Serial Saturday #3: Secrets

Not really much to add about this part--  it's Part Three of Murder In Kinmen, 'Secrets':Wei-Ting was sitting in the back of roll call, trying not to yawn. He hadn't slept all that well the night before. Turns out, Pei-Shan had been right. Every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was the body on the beach, staring sightlessly up at the sky. He had been awake for hours, evaluating his feelings, trying in his head to make sure that he was handling his first murder in a healthy way. The Academy had talked a lot about mental health and given everything he had gone through to get here to begin with, Wei-Ting was trying to be extra vigilant about it."Wei-Ting!" The Lieutenant's voice brought him back to the present."Yes, L.t.?""You hear your assignment?""No, L.t."The Lieutenant scowled at him. "Fine, once more for the people in the back," he said. "Chang, Tseng, you've got Area 2 today- Jinning and Jinchen…

Bookshot #135: Cromwell, Our Chief of Men

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I've long been fascinated with the English Civil War- I'm not sure where that started, but a possible summer vacation spent in the Cotswolds, combined with a youthful adminration for the fashions of the Cavaliers especially is probably what started it at all. But the English Civil War wasn't the neat and tidy conflict that it's American counterpart was--- quite the contrary it was messy, so when I decided I wanted to learn more about it, I picked up two biographies (again, on another UK trip)- one on Charles II and the other on Oliver Cromwell, both written by Antonia Fraser.
Having read both, I'm still not sure I know it as well as I know the American Civil War, but I do have a greater understanding of the conflict and that is thanks in large part to the immense tomes on the two men diametrically opposed to each other throughout: Charles II and Cromwell. Now, I've already read Charles II's biography, so I tucked into this one (I think this was the second or…

In A Weird Way, Steve Forbes Had A Point

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Hey, remember this guy? I'm sure if you're a young Conservative hipster type who thinks that the current flavor of Bannon/Trump/Stone conservatism is just so passe and that the real cool flavor of conservatism is to be found in the mid to late 90s when such titans as Jack Kemp and this guy hung out then you know exactly who this dude is. If you're not a Conservative hipster type, allow me to enlighten you: it's Steve Forbes, everybody! Yeah, you know Forbes magazine? That Forbes. And he ran for President a couple of times and his big, signature issue was, of course, the flat tax. Now, in the wake of our current President's tax information being breathlessly splashed around the internet, a thought occurred to me: in a weird way, Steve Forbes had a point.Not necessarily about the flat tax- though we can argue about that if you want- Forbes thought your taxes should be big enough to fit on the back of a postcard and that doesn't seem like the worst idea in the wor…

Serial Saturday #2: Sympathy

Part two of Murder In Kinmen also began life as a Theme Thursday response over on r/writingprompts... it's been revised and expanded to 750 words for Serial Saturdays, so I hope you enjoy... Sympathy.The weariness had settled into his bones by the time Wei-Ting stood up for the last time that morning (now afternoon) and watched as the coroner's van awkwardly made it's way up the Nanshan Path toward the main road. Detective Pei-Shan was over talking to the Chief and the Colonel, neither of whom looked all that happy, so Wei-Ting was content to stare at the retreating van.It had been a long morning. Wei-Ting was still trying to figure out how he felt about it all. They had warned him about his first dead body. About the smell and what rigor mortis looked like, but-"Kid?" Wei-Ting blinked and turned. He hadn't heard Detective Pei-Shan walk up behind him."Sorry," she said. "Didn't mean to make you jump.""That's all right," We…

Court Packing Ahoy!

The Supreme Court has been stuck at nine justices for about a century and a half now. FDR tried court-packing when his New Deal programs weren't going so well and that didn't exactly go so well for him either. So far, Biden seems somewhat resistant to the notion, but if President Trump gets a nominee through before the election or in the lame-duck session just after the election, he might change his mind in a hurry.For months now it hasn't really felt like an election year. We were all stuck in this weird hellscape of a year, toiling through quarantine, trying like hell not to get sick, arguing about masks [deep sigh, internal screaming] and generally just trying to take things day by day. In a year when every month has felt like a decade, November has seemed an eternity away and no one really knew what the election was going to be about. COVID, police accountability, systemic racism, anarchist riots, climate change-- there was a veritable menu of issues and disasters we c…

Netflix & Chill #85: The Trip To Spain

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Watched On: HuluReleased: 2017 Directed By: Michael Winterbottom Starring: Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Claire Keelan, Marta Barrio, Kyle Soller, Margo Stilley Rotten Tomatoes: 83% Tomatometer, 64% Audience Score Pick: Mine
Look, I'll be totally honest here: no idea why these movies work so well, but they do. It's a basic formula at this point: two middle aged white guys get in a car, travel around a location (Northern England for the first movie, Italy for the second and now Spain), riff with each other on various funny topics and impressions, take in scenery, drink wine, eat fabulous looking food. 
That's pretty much it. If you really want to you can expand the formula a bit: both men seem to be envious of the other in slightly different ways. Rob has a stable family life, Steve doesn't. Steve has more professional accolades and success than Rob does. These movies also seem to have a melancholy undercurrent to them. Part of that makes sense: there's always that sort of bu…

Serial Saturday #1: Vulnerability

Murder In Kinmen began as a Theme Thursday (over on r/writingprompts) response about five months ago. The theme in question was 'vulnerability' and I had to write out a five hundred word response. At the time, I had fallen down a weird rabbit hole on Google Street View about Taiwan. I think it was a raft of news articles about how well they were handling COVID-19 that initially drew me in, but it was all downhill from there and then some random fragment from my Chinese politics classes popped in my brain and I remembered Quemoy and Matsu and the Taiwan Straits crisis and wondered where they were.So I googled them and was stunned to find that not only does Taiwan still control Quemoy (Kinmen) and Martsu, but the outlying islands are like, right there. In my head, I couldn't imagine a more vulnerable place to live- and the murder mystery aspect of it just sprung from there. Then I went to Campfire and read it and people liked it and said the inevitable: "Hey, you should…

Tiki Tuesday #1: The Suffering Bastard

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Recipe: In general, when it comes to my personal mixology, while I appreciate the urgings of the authors of these books to use the most authentic and fresh ingredients possible, I'm a practical kind of guy and Iowa doesn't exactly have the greatest liquor laws or liquor selections out there, so sometimes you just have to improvise and make do with whatever you can get ahold of. While the recipe also calls for a Collins or highball glass, I just used a whiskey one, because again-- I'm just going to use whatever I can find. (I'm also completely agnostic about garnishes-- if you wanna be fancy, you do you, but apart from Luxardo cherries in my Manhattans, I'm indifferent to them. I probably shouldn't be, but I am.)(Taken from Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and The Cult of Tiki, page 65)4oz ginger beer1/2 oz fresh lime juice (I used bottled lime juice- though apparently the original recipe also used Rose's Lime Juice, which I wouldn't be opposed…

Squawk Box: The Great/Never Have I Ever

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Catherine The Great seems to have popped up in popular culture now and again in the pat few years. HBO had a miniseries starring Helen Mirren that looked good, but obviously, I don't have HBO and didn't watch it- but then along came Hulu with The Great. The previews looked amusing enough. Elle Fanning stars as Catherine The Great and Nicholas Hoult stars as her husband Peter III of Russia- seemed like it was worth a shot and you know what? It was actually really, really good.  The first season focuses on Catherine's arrival in Russia and her realization that her husband is kind of a terrible Tsar and deciding to seize the throne for herself. When she arrives, she's very naive about the way things work at court in Russia- but her maid, Marial (Phoebe Fox) soon realizes that Catherine could be her way back to prominence after the actions of her aristocratic father see her demoted. Marial educates Catherine about how court works- telling her how to manage the ladies of cou…

40 Before 40: Year 7

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 Every State in The Lower 48 (Slightly more achievable before I turn 40 then all 50, but I still want to get to all 50.)
6. Lose 50 lbs and keep the weight off. 
7. Pay off every single dime of my student loans.
8. Publish two more novels
9. Get the front deck replaced/get the patio area in the back done the way we want it.
10. Go on a cruise/solo trip with the Missus
11. 
12. Find out if St. Louis and Kansas City are pretty cool, since people keep insisting that they are.
13. 
14. Vikings/Packers at Lambeau. 'Nuff said.
15. Get an Ancestry.com membership to build out the family tree. (Also, do Ancestry DNA/23 and me)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 Wu…

Bookshot #134: The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

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I'm not a huge Civil War buff, but General Ulysses S. Grant has become increasingly fascinating to me. Reading about the western campaigns and the Army of the Tennessee prior to my visit to Shiloh with The Quiet Man opened up a whole new aspect of the Civil War to me. There's an anecdote about the Battle of Shiloh that stuck out to me- after the first night, Sherman found Grant leaning up against the tree, trying to stay out of the rain and said something like, "Well, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we sir."

Grant said, "Yep. We'll whip 'em tomorrow though."
The tree isn't there anymore, but they've got a marker to commemorate the spot. (I also found out that Old Crow- while probably not the original recipe that Grant preferred was, in fact, the brand he liked- and as bottom shelf bourbons go, it's actually pretty solid.)
Anyway: finding that not one, but two volumes of his Personal Memoirs were available for free on K…

Conventions Are Dumb

I've never understood the point of political conventions. I mean, I know if you go back a few decades, things of actual import happened there- but since I've been alive, they've essentially been three or four days of what's essentially an infomercial followed by an acceptance speech and a balloon drop. (Occasionally, there's a surprisingly dumb story about the party platforms- which I think exists to give delegates at these conventions something to do. During Democratic Conventions, expect to see right-wing media lose it's mind over eliminating the word 'God' from something, during a Republican convention, expect to see the left-wing media lose its mind over something about abortion, gay marriage, etc. Does it mean anything in the end? Not usually. Just something for the media the yell about.)In general, I watch the acceptance speeches and that's about it.  I sort of halfway pay attention to the rest and that's about it- and if there was a year …