A Christmas Toad

A Christmas Toad

This post is the story of a blogger who goes undercover and masquerades as a smart teacher to get the inside scoop on a playboy toad and then gets tangled in some royal intrigue and ends up finding true luv or at least some warts, but how long can you keep up such a lie? “Where there’s a Tiara, there’s dirt. Trust me.” 

At this point, you the reader might be asking yourself, shouldn’t this piece be about a Christmas frog? I mean in fairy-tales the princess kisses a frog not a toad and gets her charming prince. Well, not to get all Anura on you, but the whole prince-frog trope has been done so many times. Order! Order! I mean, it has gotten to be so tiresome. Let’s try to mix it up some. Shall we?

Back to the story. What we’ve got here is a legit Aldovian birther scandal. The prince, I mean toad, may have been born in Kenya, but why do all of his Aldovian relatives have British accents? If at this point, like at the beginning, you feel that you know everything that will happen in this story, don’t tell me.

This is a story of his royal hotness, at least on a summer’s day. Otherwise, even  with darting tongue, he is just sort of ambient. Still, as the leading amphibian, you find romance in the darnedest places. Just don’t drain the swamp. We need more wetlands after all. That’s enough ecological soap-boxing for now. 

It is so heartwarming to see that Aldovians with disabilities has become the law of the land. Not to get all political on you again, but the acorn act has got to go. It is hardly constitutional to govern through ornamental proclamations. Ah, but a king’s reach from beyond the grave should never exceed his grasp, or what’s a parliament for? Beside big set pieces that is…

Please don’t throw me to the wolves. I had to get them in here, but truly, I have not watched A Christmas Toad or whatever you want to call it. Humbug! That’s my big reveal. I just heard on NPR that its sequel drops today and thought that it was a subject rife for derision. I hope dear reader that you have enjoyed my snark and like I asked, please don’t throw me to the wolves. They’re protected.

It’s no mystery that this post is just a puff piece. That’s not rocket science. As satire, it is not even very good theater, but still, I hope that it garners like 3,000 likes. And I admire the fact that you read my blog online, instead of anywhere else. You know who you are. And to the people who have reread this post 18 times: Who hurt you? – Net-Flics

Just Another Cowboy Bar

Howdy Doody Time

Dave has landed. We four after much deliberation settled upon Blueberry Hill for a mid-afternoon repast. At that time of day, it was not a hopping place and we had our choice of almost any table. All but Dave had had a light lunch. Anne and I each settled for just a cup of soup, while the boys each had a more manly meals. Conversation dwelled on Warhammer 40K, a miniatures game that the guys play. Even though I had gotten them both started with 40K, which Anne pointed out, we both felt left out of the loop on this. We tried to distract them with snide remarks, but they were impervious to our derision.

In the end, we should be pleased that the boys have learned how to get along with each other so well. We certainly worked hard on getting them to do this. Next month, they plan for Dan to head up to Boston, hangout and play 40K. Years ago, we would have killed for them to get along like this.

Blueberry Hill is not just another cowboy bar, no matter what little Dan once announced in his unusually loud voice, to God, the world and his grandparents, “You’re not taking me to another cowboy bar, are you?” Anne and I were so mortified. It is a bar and it does have cowboys in it, but it is usually frequented by college students, not ranch hands. The place is chock full of pop culture memorabilia, including the pictured display case devoted to Howdy Doody, a type of cowboy, who would likely make an impression on a small child. 

Metadata

Storm Clouds Over the Badlands

When I first began watching the TV series “Person of Interest”, I blogged about it here. I can now proudly proclaim that I have successfully binged all 103 of its episodes. This may not seem like all that much of an accomplishment, but for me completing a TV series is rare. I don’t think that I’ll ever do the same with “Game of Thrones”. Kudos to creator Jonathan Nolan for holding my attention.

Over the show’s five seasons it morphed from a buddy act to a battle for the future of humanity. In the beginning, two guys with the help of an all-seeing artificial intelligence try to do good and save people whose number has come up. Over time an ensemble coalesces into a resistance to a rival AI that is taking over the world. One of the series’ high points was its prediction of Edward Snowden and his data breach that outed the NSA’s spying on America. Homage was paid to Snowden in the show’s final episode when the wi-fi modem that he purportedly used to first breach the NSA network is filched from an evidence locker and is again used to breach the agency’s firewall.  

“Person of Interest” is fiction, but in this week’s New Yorker is an article that goes down many of the same rabbit holes that it had. Author Dexter Filkins’ “Enigma Machines” as the article (Paywall) is entitled in the magazine’s print edition, dissects a particularly arcane aspect of the Russian investigation. It involves the 2016 computer communications between the Trump organization and the Russian Alfa bank that could have been the mechanism for collusion.

The Domain Name System (DNS), a worldwide network that acts as the Internet’s phone book, is at the heart of this investigative piece. The DNS is ubiquitous on the Internet. You used it to find this post. The gist of the article is that much like the NSA use of phone metadata, who called who, when and where, a similar hack of the DNS existed in 2016. With this hack, as the article lays out, a meticulously detailed communications chronology is described.

Filkins has written an interesting article, but as the print edition’s title alludes to, it is ultimately unsatisfying and the reader is left with an enigma. This is the fundamental problem with metadata. It can tell you who and when, but never what. You know when two parties communicated, but you don’t know what they were saying. In the case of the Trump-Alfa logs, it could be collusion or it could just as well be marketing spam.

For the NSA, just knowing who a person of interest is communicating with is relevant. Piecing together such leads is how they eventually track and takedown terrorist networks. Filkins’ article does offer some tantalizing clues using the timing and frequency of the Trump-Alfa communications, but there is no smoking gun here and in the end it is all circumstantial. The NSA uses metadata as a filter to whittle down their leads to a manageable number that can then be prosecuted using more traditional means. Filkins concludes that any resolution to the enigma of the Trump-Alfa logs will require an analogous approach.

In The Atlantic, Franklin Foer, who first broke the Alfa Bank story in Slate, a week before the 2016 election, has revisited his story in light of Filkins’ New Yorker article. It provides some journalistic back story to this investigation. 

Person of Interest

Seney Lily Pads

My current guilty pleasure is the techno spy thriller “Person of Interest”. This TV show originally aired on CBS, between 2011-2016, now all 103 episodes are available for binging on Netflix. It features Reese (Jim Caviezel), an ex-CIA agent and Finch (Michael Emerson), a wealthy computer programmer who combine forces to save lives by using a surveillance AI that sends them the social security numbers of people who it predicts are about to be murdered or less often commit the murder. Created by Jon Nolan, this show is basically a police procedural, overlaid with a Sci-Fi veneer. At least that was how it was written, but like all good Sci-Fi, time often turns fiction into fact.

The 2011 season’s episode “No Good Deed” features a very Edward Snowden NSA agent, who is threatening to disclose the presences of the AI and the US government’s involvement in spying on America. This episode aired two years before Snowden disclosed the breath of the NSA spying efforts, via Wikileaks. I have to wonder if in that two-year interval, if Snowden was watching this show. 

The Machine, as the AI is called, has access to all surveillance throughout the country, but mostly contends itself with where the L-train goes. Its presences is visualized via a collage of CCTV feeds, overlaid with tracking cursors on all the people in the scene. Originally, these voyeuristic collages served as a segue between commercial breaks, when the show was still airing on CBS. On Netflix, with no more ads, their presence soon becomes more of an annoyance.

Surveillance is a central theme in this show. In order to protect each episode’s person of interest, the first step is always bugging them. Once bugged, every conversation is then recorded and is often used as incriminating evidence. I am reminded of this summer’s dustup where former Whitehouse aid Omarosa surreptitiously recorded her former colleagues and then leaked those recordings.

We are now living in a surveillance state. The ubiquitous presence of cellphones that can act like electronic leashes makes us parties to our own monitoring. The tradecraft that is routinely demonstrated in this show gives one a heads-up on what is going on. We are all being watched now, all of the time. 

On Location

Lovers Point

I’m looking at the HBO series “Big Little Lies”. I’ve watched the first ten minutes and I haven’t decided whether to watch anymore. The series is set in Monterey and its first season garnered lots of awards (4 Golden Globes and 8 Emmys). A casting call for its second season is front page news in the Monterey Herald. In my miniscule viewing, the show opens at night and two homicide detectives are seen walking up to an elementary school, where a fundraiser has gone tragically wrong. The all-star cast is headlined by Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley, who play three women that get embroiled in a murder investigation.

Flashback and Witherspoon is seen driving her daughter to school, on the first day of school, for first-grade, across the Bixby Bridge. A jump-cut later she is involved in a near accident, just west of Lovers Point, three blocks from the school, which would put it in Pacific Grove. She trips, sprains her ankle and a voiceover says that maybe none of this would have happened, if she hadn’t fell.

Maybe it’s a private school? That would go a long way in explaining her cross-jurisdictional commute, but at this point I was confused, so I did a little digging. Supposedly, the principals all live in Carmel Highlands, which is a community that is south of Monterey and south of its more famous near namesake, Carmel-by-the-Sea and all of these places are well north of the Bixby Bridge. Unless you are also filming a car commercial, then this commute makes no sense.

As an aside, my brother Chris has sold a photograph of the bridge that was used in a review (HuffPo) of this show. Also, my Dad told me that in the ’50 he and Mom had looked at a lot in Carmel Highlands, before they eventually bought in Carmel Valley. Not that he would have seen any of his erstwhile neighbors homes featured in this show, because further research revealed that other than landmark Monterey area locations everything else was shot nearer to LA. 

Babylon Berlin

Cabaret Program Cover Art

A steam locomotive hurdles through the night only to be brought to a screeching halt by a burning tree fallen across the tracks and of course, there are those men with guns, who turnout to be Trotskyist train-jackers. This is the opening to the new Netflix German import, “Babylon Berlin”. Set in the spring of 1929, this period crime drama predates both the Great Crash and the rise of the Nazis. It shows the Weimar Republic at the height of the roaring twenties.  “Babylon” captures Germany’s dark glamour in a briefly exhilarating time between the wars. An era that has been mostly overlooked, considering what followed.

This is the biggest budget German language (subtitles volk) TV series ever made. If has been reviewed as “Cabaret” on cocaine. I think that crack is more apt. It’s not for the prudish, not that it is all that salacious, but because it is so earthy. One comparison has been drawn about women’s armpit hair. While other series like “Game of Thrones” or “Outlander” show depilated heroines, “Babylon” does not. Begging the question where those fantasy women find space to toilet. This comparison is used to emphasize this show’s realism over others, but don’t worry, because there is still just as much nudity in this show.

This is a crime drama and our protagonist is a PTSD suffering, self-medicating morphine addict. Otherwise, he seems like a standup guy, at least compared to the soup that he is swimming in, which includes sex, drugs, thugs, corrupt cops and those pesky Trotskyites. It is less a crime drama than an expose of Berlin.

I loved it! I must admit that I’m a sucker for stories about this time and place. I’ve read all of the Alan Furst Nazi era novels. Its attention to period detail enthralled me, like coin-operated electricity in the tenements. As of writing, I’m ¾ of way through the 16 episodes that dropped this month. I’ve been binging, but hey, it’s cold outside there baby. This is the show’s first two seasons.

The show is based upon author Volker Kutscher crime novels, of which he has written plenty. It has been well received in Europe and I would expect sequels to follow. It’s a thing now and with the Netflix US distribution deal, this only ensures its continued success in the future.