Category Archives: Reviews

Following Egeria

A few days ago, I finished a book that I got for Christmas but had only recently gotten around to reading, “Following Egeria” by Lawrence Farley.

The gist is, there was a 4th-century nun who went and visited the Holy Land, and she wrote to the folks back home the things she saw and experienced.

Her writings were known about, then lost for a time, then reappeared in the 18th Century… but missing the beginning and the end. Still, the extant part is quite informative, about Christianity that had recently emerged from the shadows of persecution, of an Israel that has been somewhat buried over the centuries.

Father Lawrence (Orthodox priest) is treated to a trip to Israel by his deacon, and is familiar with Egeria’s writings, and also familiar with the scholarly research as to the authenticity of sites.

Fr Lawrence quotes Egeria where their travels overlap, and comments on which sites have the better claim as to Where Something Actually Happened, and why, and also expresses how he was impacted by each site.

This book made my wish list about as soon as I heard about it, so it was obviously a book I was expecting to enjoy, and enjoy it I did.

Egeria herself isn’t really quoted at length, so I was definitely left wanting to hear more from her.

Also, the scholarly research into the sites, mentioned fairly frequently, is only lightly touched upon, and I was left wanting more of that, too.

Also, after reading the book, I really wanted to go back and visit the places again (there were quite a few “been there!” moments). The thing is, I knew rather a lot less then than I do now. Was completely ignorant about Orthodoxy, and nearly-completely ignorant about Catholicism (as a Protestant, oftentimes one just has an unsympathetic view that Catholics Are Wrong, with perhaps a few specifics). Unfortunately, this ignorance doesn’t really help when the majority of sites are Roman Catholic or Orthodox. And then, one of the places I’d been to, that Fr Lawrence talks about, he’s not interested in what’s obviously there, he’s interested in looking at the remains of something that was there before. And for some reason I can’t jump back into myself-of-10-ish-years-ago.

That said, the book is partly aimed at people who haven’t been over there, so they might perhaps experience it second-hand, so I won’t moan too much (or dwell on being jealous of myself-from-around-a-decade-ago).

So, thumbs up, but definitely wanting more (not that that’s a bad thing).

Yertle The Turtle, and other stories (not necessarily the ones you’re expecting)

Spent a bunch of time today wrestling with a format change over at History Basics. As the gathering of all the possible resources, writing a bit about them, and formatting all the links, was a time-consuming part of the old process, and the long full-format entries that I aspired to were a bit too much to read (according to some feedback), it seemed a good idea to split different segments out. Hopefully the Research Guide, containing the gathered resources, will be a manageable format to sustain in the future.

As my friend Rob feedbacked yesterday that he’d like me to discuss a book that I mentioned I’d read to my kids, I thought I would do it. I’m not sure whether or not he meant it as a serious suggestion, but it sounded like a fun idea to me, so I’ll do it.

Yertle The Turtle, by Dr. Seuss.

Yertle is the King of all he surveys, which at the start of the story consists pretty much of just the pond. He orders some of his subjects to climb on each other, to create a living pedestal which would allow him to see further, and thus have more to be King over.

Unsatisfied, he orders the pile higher and higher, until he spies the moon and becomes jealous of its height.

Meanwhile, one of his underlings towards the bottom of the stack is getting rather uncomfortable. Mentioning this, and receiving no sympathy, eventually he burps, which wobbles the top of the stack so much that Yertle falls off.

There’s an obvious moral here, don’t make things unbearably hard on those you’re in charge of, it could be your downfall.

Historically, we can see this bear out: it wasn’t for nothing that the American colonies split from Britain, similar with India and South Africa. The list goes on, it’s easy to single out Britain as imposing its will on the rest of the world, the same could be said for America through the latter half of the twentieth century through to the present.

It was probably from watching Gandhi that I really got the concept of “home rule”. I think with how unstable the West has made the Middle East, that we could really use that lesson.

So I didn’t really understand Welsh “devolution” at the time, but more recently have been in favour of Scottish independence, and would rather Britain left the EU.

I think that those that govern should be accountable to those they govern, and the further removed that people are from their overlords, the worse it is.

About the only “Remain” meme that I like, is “Help! I don’t want to be stuck on an island with the Tories!”. Though I find the Labour Party equally as distasteful as the Conservative Party.

I think it does show, though, that politicians on a national level are too far removed from the people they are supposed to represent. It bugs me, both in the UK and the US, where election winners are declared before all the votes are counted. Even though mathematically it may be impossible for another candidate to win. All the time, you’re told how important your vote is. The thought that anyone might not actually vote fills people with horror. And then, if you happen to live in the wrong area, your vote literally doesn’t count. If the vote is such a sacred responsibility, and really that important, you should be absolutely ashamed that peoples votes (and in hard numbers, not a small number of votes) are disrespected so.

Switching to the US, government on a State level can be pretty bad. And while several states are more populous than Scotland, no state is as populous as England (source: Wikipedia and Wikipedia). Several States have ludicrous laws like those forbidding farmers from selling raw milk to those that would like to buy it. See Joel Salatin’s book Everything I Want To Is Illegal. But still, there are States that have declared that there are certain Federal laws that they won’t enforce.

So let’s get smaller. County? Still seems too big to me. City and surrounding area? Well, you know how you hear all the time about how bad it is that the politicians dictating on education have no experience with teaching. You may have heard about city folk with no farming experience passing laws about farming.

Just keep going smaller.

Neighbourhood could work. Although some Home Owners Associations are pretty bad, micromanaging the height of your grass, or what you’re allowed to keep visible to the street, at least you can move out.

Onorous neighbourhood-local government could lead to the ultimate literal application of “home rule”.

In a strangely converse manner, Yertle is toppled when he has many people under him, in reality it’s easier to depose someone when there’s fewer other people he’s accountable to.

Anarchy is not the absence of rules, but the absence of rulers. You can have equal-to-equal agreements, without delegating it all to those that crave power (aka, those least suited to having power).

And that’s where a Remain argument falls apart (I can’t say it makes all of Remain’s points fall apart, though most Remain arguments have nothing to do with my points). It assumes a cutting Britain off from the rest of the world, whereas it is perfectly possible to be friendly with many other countries, without a slow uniformity being imposed. Independence does not necessitate isolation. In fact, some Remain treatises get very close to this point, that immigration won’t stop if we vote Leave.And yet they poke the Panic button that trade will stop if we vote Leave. There may be some cheese we don’t get from the trap, but it doesn’t mean that all opportunity will suddenly dry up.

I could probably elaborate more on some of those points, but this is eating up too much of my sleep time.

As I’m not planning to be there to suffer the consequences of either a Leave or a Remain vote, I don’t think it’s my place to vote in the referendum, though Facebook has been advertising to me for weeks to register. I voted with my feet to leave the nanny state a few years ago. The US is, of course, far from utopia, just in some (but not all) important regards, the eye of Sauron Big Brother doesn’t seem very interested in my corner. And long may it remain so.

Encyclopedia Brown

On the basis of an off-topic recommendation on a podcast, I ordered the first book in the Encyclopedia Brown series from the library, for Oldest.

He enjoyed it, then I read it. Call it an “after-the-horse-has-bolted what’s-my-kid-actually-reading” check.

The format is straightforward. Encyclopedia Brown (“Encyclopedia” isn’t his real name, but everyone except his parents call him that because he’s so smart) is the son of the police chief, and is actually the secret weapon reason so many crimes get solved.

There are a bunch of short chapters, set around Encyclopedia, his friends, enemies, and clients, and each time there’s some sort of puzzle, which Encyclopedia works out from the information presented. The answer and explanation are given in the back of the book, to give you a better opportunity to really think about it and work it out.

Oldest enjoyed the book, but he said he didn’t try and figure the answers out, he just looked at the back. I enjoyed it, and did manage to figure the answers to most of them out, and the explanations for most of those answers.

Recommended, I’ll probably look for more in the series, for Oldest, at some point. Not yet, still giving prime time to the new books from Christmas.

The Force Awakens (Spoiler Free)

The newest Star Wars movie allegedly comes out tomorrow, but my local cinema had both screens open this evening for a 7pm and a 9-something showing. Oldest and I got our tickets for the 7pm earlier in the week. Oldest rocked a fancy Luke Skywalker costume, copied from what Mr Skywalker was wearing at the beginning of Return Of The Jedi. I had my “Hello Jawa” t-shirt, and had a red lightsaber, just in case.

The screen we were in was pretty full. Not every seat was taken, but most were.

Seemed there were more trailers than usual: Now You See me 2, Allegiant, Batman vs Superman, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, and Captain America: Civil War. A friend predicted Finding Nemo 2, and I predicted Independence Day: Resurgence and Star Trek: Beyond. We were both wrong. In hindsight, Captain America should have been obvious for the same reasons as the ones we predicted: Nemo because of the Disney connection, Independence Day and Trek for the sci-fi action.

This review of the movie will be spoiler-free, though I suspect the best way of not being spoiled will be to see the movie soon.

Overall impression was that The Force Awakens was a good, enjoyable movie. Not blown-out-of-the-water fantastic you-must-see-it-now super-wonderful, but still good, and I’m glad I saw it.

It opened with the Lucasfilm logo, then the traditional “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”. It was weird for the main Star Wars theme to be without the Fox fanfare.

It seemed that most of the trailer footage, promotional stills, and so on, were taken from the very beginning of the movie. Not all, but rather a lot.

I didn’t go out of my way looking for speculation about the movie, based on those trailers and images, but I did see some. And it was interesting how not-right it all turned out to be.

There were a bunch of impressive visuals. I mean, it would be pretty bad if there weren’t, but I can picture getting screen grabs of several things, for the screensaver.

Characters: I liked Maz. I wanted to know more about Snoke. It seemed they were setting up for us to learn more about Rey, in further installments of the series.

Some returning characters were used surprisingly sparingly. Even some new characters seemed less significant than some promotional material seemed to suggest.

There were some nice continuity nods to earlier films. Including a throwaway line explaining why Finn isn’t Temuera Morrison.

The Force Awakens seemed a solid Part 1. A New Hope seemed more standalone than this one, though this contained its story pretty well. It does leave you wanting to know What Happens Next.

I’m looking forward to seeing it again on DVD.

After Mockingjay Part 2’s MPAA number came tantalisingly close to 50000, I was waiting to see if The Force Awakens’s would beat it. It seems that though the number generally corresponds with release date, that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Well, it turned out to be 50155. Wow, where did those 159 other movies go?

Anyway, those are my first-viewing spoiler-free impressions of Episode VII. Might so a more spoilery one after the DVD comes out.

Spoiler: Wash dies.

Star Trek: Excelsior – Into Season 3

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a producer of the audio drama Star Trek: Excelsior. James is a friend from a different context, so while I’d heard of his show, I didn’t insert it into my listening schedule until just recently, when he announced the show’s intention to get two stars from Trek’s Original Series for a Trek 50th Anniversary Special episode.

When I started the interview, I’d only listened to a couple of episodes, and when I finished, I’d only heard a couple more. Now, I’ve worked my way through Seasons 1 and 2, and have started Season 3. James recommends new listeners start with Season 4, and if you enjoy that, then to work backwards: the quality of the production improves over time, and if you’re going to put your best foot forward, you might as well point out which foot that is.

So, if you’re interested, go start sometime in Season 4, you’ll be ahead of me. Here’s some thoughts on what I’ve heard so far.

The first thing to note, is I’m more forgiving of a story’s flaws, if I’m enjoying the story. And also, being aware that they don’t recommend starting at the beginning, ignoring that recommendation means I’m more obliged to give the benefit of the doubt, or be more forgiving in general.

Starting with the less-than-stellar: Mr Heaney mentioned the script for the pilot episode, “…There You Are”, is terrible. The briefing room scene certainly is a bit awkward, making very unsubtle introductions to a bunch of characters, and the show’s general concept. Once the story got going, and as it progressed into Season 1, there was less of that sort of awkwardness.

I remember noticing at points in The Next Generation, sometimes a character would introduce themselves, pronouncing their name one way, and then other actors would pronounce the name differently – like the actors interpreted the pronunciation from the script separately, rather than the characters being in the same conversation. Early Excelsior has moments like this, and it feels worst when a non-regular character does it to a regular character, like they really should have listened to some of the show. When Season 3 hits, we have a character mispronouncing the captain’s name, but pretty soon we find out he’s doing it on purpose. Hopefully, this signals the start of a more concerted effort towards consistency in this area.

Have you ever come across a story where someone has a long, formal, needlessly complicated name, and people are obliged to use the whole thing all the time? I can think of a couple of examples, but one acknowledges the concept and the other one outright takes the mickey. In Angel, some characters travel to recurring character Lorne’s home dimension, and he repeatedly gets called (and it’s far too late to fact-check this) “Kreblorne-swath of the Deathwalk clan”. After a few times, one is begging the TV to knock it off. The other example is Veggie Tales’ Lord Of The Rings parody The Lord Of The Beans. Gandalf-equivalent is talking to the Ent-equivalents, and it’s all “Randalf, son of Mandalf, keeper of the flame of” I don’t remember, and the other guy is “Lord Falaminion Tereglith, Son of Therabil Elithimon”. They say each a few times. While not as bad as these, there are points in the first season when the Valandrian leaders get dangerously close to this territory.

Small tangent into Red Dwarf. I read the novels, I had the script books, I watched the TV show. Sometimes lines would get said in the show, not quite in line with how they were written. In the books especially, “Zero Gee” was established as a sport in that universe. In a script, there’s a list of VR sports programs Lister played, and Zero Gee was listed before kick-boxing. Comma between them in the script. In the show, Lister says “Zero-G kick-boxing”. In Psirens, Lister lost his memory, and on being prompted suggests that Rimmer is his best mate. Kryten, acting as his medic, suggests that Lister might not be well. Reading the script implies the line was supposed to be “you are sick”. In the show, it’s delivered more, “you are sick“. There have been moments like this, not very often but occasionally, in my listening to Excelsior, so far. I think that the main part of the problem is that the actors aren’t really bouncing off each other, each reads the lines separately, then sends them to the editor.

Moving on from the negative, I must say I’ve been enjoying the story. I think Season 2 was an improvement on Season 1, and the plus side of listening in this order is that there’s definitely progression: the Season 2 arc definitely follows from the Season 1 arc, and the Season 3 arc (so far, I’m in episode 5) follows on from both 1 and 2.

There’s lots of humour. The title for the Season 3 opener, “All Good Captains Have Admiral Problems”, serves as a good example. And the humour goes hand-in-hand with continuity. A good Trek geek has looked at the Star Trek Encyclopedia, and seen examples of signage on the Enterprise-D, which aren’t in focus in the show. so the set designers put silly things on them. “Wherever you go, there you are” is one, and in the Excelsior show, it’s on the ship’s dedication plaque. It’s referred to in the pilot’s title, “…There You Are”. And then it’s used to humorous effect somewhere in Season 1.

There are also strict continuity references: the Iconian Gateway being technology introduced in TNG, and brought back much later in DS9, and now Excelsior uses one. Many more, of course. Does feel like they’re playing in the same universe.

But there are also sly references as treats for a broader geekdom. Using a sonic screwdriver here, and the Sub-Etha waveband there. If I wasn’t enjoying the story, I think these things would be likely to bug me, but as I’m enjoying the story, my reaction is more Captain America “I get that reference!”.

I think that subtlety can be a hard thing to pull off in audio drama. This is due to a couple of factors: one has to compensate for the loss of nuances one might notice in a visual medium, and so naturally extra emphasis has to creep in. Also, audio is a format where listeners can do other things while imbibing your content. Someone listening while driving is more likely than someone listening and not doing anything else. In short, Malcolm Reynold wouldn’t work in audio drama, because he mumbles way too much (much as I love Firefly). So I might understand someone using the word “overacting”, but I don’t think it’s happening here, I think extra-acting has too happen because of the nature of the beast.

Casual listening was tricky in Season 2, because some voices were entirely in one ear or the other. Made it difficult listening with only one ear in. Haven’t noticed that being a problem in Season 3.

In Season 3, I’m noticing some British phrases being used by non-British characters. I had some “Did they really say that?” that’s gone to “yes, it’s still there”. It’s not spoiling the story, it’s more of an oddity I’m noticing. One could explain it as colloquialisms becoming popular in cultures other than the one in which they originated, an evolution of language (which there would be over nearly 400 years). Or, I suppose, one could let it bug one, or one could ignore it and enjoy the ride.

I look forward to see how the show continues to improve into Season 4.

I think from all that typing, I’m better in a position to conclude.

I like the show.
Why?
Because it cares about the source material. Because the stories are interesting and enjoyable, and really fit the universe in which they’re being played out. Because the show has a lot of character.

I said at the beginning of this post, that there are certain things that make up for shortcomings and rough edges. Excelsior is not without rough edges, but it has more than enough of the good stuff, that I’m glad I interrupted my horrendously long podcast queue to fit this show in now.

The Kickstarter is getting pretty close to $10,000, and if it gets to $11,000 by/on Sunday, then an existing backer has promised to up their pledge by 1,500 to get Chekov on the show (they’ve already reached the threshold to get Uhura on). They stand a good chance of doing it. I jumped into pledging still listening to Season 1. Give a Season 4 episode a bit of a listen, and see if you like it, too.

The Man In The High Castle, Season 1

A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched the first couple of episodes of The Man In The High Castle, currently exclusive to Amazon Video. I wrote about that, at the time.

So we’ve just finished watching the whole series.

The show does not wrap up all the threads that it sets up, so there’s potential for a second season. Just did a search to see if I could find any information on a second season. IMDB trivia says that the showrunner got confirmation from Amazon that there would be a second season, before writing the finale, so he wouldn’t end on a cliffhanger if the show weren’t returning.

Some observations:

The season ends on the word “twist”. Literally.

Rufus Sewell’s character is introduced as a ruthless villain. Later on, we meet some people who are even worse. Prediction: his character will become less hard-line about certain things next season, which has the potential to make him more brutal in others. I don’t see him doing a complete about-face. If I’m wrong on that, he’ll stay as hard-line on the point I expect him to soften on, then that’ll make him intolerable in everything, then he’ll slowly crack.

Juliana. Her deferential mannerisms seem appropriate to the context which she’s grown up in. I’m not sure we see the same from any other significant character in the Pacific territory. She knows she doesn’t have the complete picture, and I think that this leads to indecisiveness and mind-changing, rather than setting a course and keeping to it.

After the first couple of episodes, I thought the show would be mostly Juliana and Joe in Canon City, was surprised it didn’t work out like that.

I really enjoyed the character of Trade Minister Tagomi. Looking the actor up on IMDB, it was interesting seeing that he was in Star Trek TNG (Mandarin Bailiff! Wooo!), Babylon 5, Alien Nation, and Stargate SG1. And a bunch of other things I’ve either seen or heard of. Getting towards the end of the series, I was still waiting for more explanation of his motivations. We get some, but I think Season 2 will shed a lot more light on this.

As this is my Sunday post, I’ll say that I looked at the Wikipedia page of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the guy who played the Trade Minister. There’s a paragraph towards the end of the Career section, which talks about his religious belief, which I found interesting.

The eponymous Man In The High Castle is mentioned a bunch at the beginning of the series, and Juliana and Joe seem to come close to meeting him in episode 4. The thought occurs, though, as I write this post, that we do happen to see a castle that’s geographically altitudinous, in which a male lives, who seems to be a bit of a film collector.

Rats, now I’m going to have to read the book, to see if it’s actually him, or if the title character is a…. mirror? counterpoint? reflection? Something along those lines.

A lot of what most of the characters do is reactionary, rather than being proactive. This leads to a bit of a settling-down somewhere in the second half, before things get a bit shook up again. I think even towards the end, when a bunch of characters get more active, there’s still a bunch of doing what they’re told, rather than forging their own path.

The creepy Edelweiss theme, kind of delicate over the dark brooding images of the credits, was given an interesting explanation by someone far smarter than I am (my wife): the song is associated with Germany (or, rather, Austria, though in our universe, the song was written for the film The Sound Of Music, rather than being traditional). But the arrangement here may be intended to suggest a Japanese musical style (America being divided between Germany and Japan in the show). The singer in real life is Swedish, that does not necessarily discount the idea.

In my previous post on The Man In The High Castle, I linked to an article that Wikipedia referenced, which was an examination of the Japanese-ness of the Japanese portion of America in the pilot. One of the things it pointed out was Hirohito Airport, where naming an airport after someone was not a Japanese thing to do. When Joe flies into an airport in the Pacific States later in the series, I noticed that it wasn’t named after anybody. Different airport? Retcon? I don’t know. And though, in the scenario, Japanese culture would become dominant in the areas they control, who’s to say there wouldn’t be any cultural bleed the other way? Perhaps using Americisms in some places, but with a Japanese edge, as a secondary, softer method of establishing cultural dominance.

Interesting show. I look forward to Season 2, and hope that the continuation feels organic. Obviously, with certain developments, it’s not going to be the same as Season 1, but it might be a bit of a balance to feel like the same show.

Zero Day by David Baldacci

John Puller is a top-notch criminal investigator for the military. He has combat experience under his belt, and resists transfer and promotion to stay in his preferred line of work. He’s assigned to a case, investigating the brutal murder of a Defense Intelligence Agency worker, and his family.

Normally, investigating the suspicious death of someone who deals with sensitive material, would call for a team, but Puller’s sent in solo, with a lot of eyes from higher-up, keeping tabs on his work. He soon finds that those murders were the tip of a rather substantial iceberg.

Zero Day is Baldacci’s first John Puller novel, followed by The Forgotten and The Escape.

I finished reading this one today. Funny story: I ended up with two copies of it. Both looked well-read, one had a slightly ripped cover, I read half of that one. Then I offered it to a couple of people, and finished up the book with the other copy. Which turned out to have been visited by water at some point, but no pages were stuck together or unreadable.

I tend to choose to read books I think I’ll like (SHOCKER!), and I’ve enjoyed other books by Baldacci, so it ought not to be a surprise that I enjoyed this one. I don’t think I really thought that the semi-romantic thread in the story was a good idea, but it didn’t bug me enough to spoil anything.

Baldacci does use some pretty vivid imagery, and there were some particularly notable moments in this book. Speaking as vaguely as I can, the building in an egg, a motorcycle incident.

It’s never made explicitly clear why the book is called “Zero Day”. It’s nothing to do with patches to software released the same day as the software it patches. This is probably a bit spoiler-y, but the nearest I can make out, is it has to do with the term Ground Zero, in its traditional, pre-9/11 meaning. and didn’t that term being applied to the Twin Towers site, help fuel part of the conspiracy mill.

Anyway, thumbs up for this one.

Mockingjay, Part 2

I hadn’t expected to see this film anytime soon. I saw the first movie in the cinema, the second on an ex-rental DVD we picked up, and the third on Amazon Prime streaming. Getting out to see anything can be awkward. But a friend was going to see it tonight, and invited our household along. Well, the grown-ups, at least. I think only my wife and I had seen Part 1, and she knew I wanted to see this one, so she suggested I take the opportunity.

I will aim to be as spoiler-free as possible, in talking about parts of the movie

We talked through the trailers (including Allegiant, Creed, and a new Julia Roberts movie), and settled down for the movie. I don’t think there were more than a couple of other people watching.

We had fun. Most of the time we were completely engaged with the movie, but there were a few points where we quietly commented to each other.

There was a point where a bunch of characters are sneaking around, and they hear some strange noises. One of the noises may have been a kind of whispered “Katnissss….” which did invite a “My Precious….” comment.

As far as I recall the book, the movie followed the book pretty well. There was a part of the book that I read a few times, not succeeding in following it very well. As the books follow Katniss’s perspective, I think the scene was intentionally confusing, it’s pretty chaotic and a lot of things were happening, so it wouldn’t be surprising for the character to find it difficult to follow all that’s going on. Still, it was nice to see it a lot more clearly in the movie. The scene in question is outside the presidential gates.

I found the movie as well-paced as Part 1. I thought Catching Fire was a bit squeezed into the movie, and rather a lot happens in the Mockingjay book, both movies based on it seemed to give the scenes enough room to breathe. I didn’t think anything seemed dragged-out. There were some characters who could have used a bit more time to help the audience get to care about them, but that’s a pretty minor nitpick.

The last few scenes were especially important to get right, and I think the filmmakers did well enough.

Creature design was interesting. Shades of Alien, but it’s kind of hard to not evoke that, with that combination of head shape and posture. Different colour, evoking more the Alien/human hybrid from Alien Resurrection. Maybe Venom from the Spider-Man cartoons, minus the tongue.

Having read the book, there were definitely some moments of anticipation for things I knew were coming up. And I didn’t feel disappointed by anything.

All in all, I think the movie series treated the books pretty well. I’d still say the books are worth the time to read, but wouldn’t turn my nose up at the movies.

Sat nine rows back in a pretty small cinema, which was good for the most part. Only one actiony sequence was hard to watch. Not enough to make me wish the director had been forced to watch the movie from the front row at a big cinema screen.

Many years ago, I started collecting the MPAA numbers that are (usually) at the end of movies. I’d noticed them for a while, and it has kind of been an on-again off-again project. Complications with making them out, in the VHS days, and scrapping the project one time when I encountered some major inconsistencies between the number and the movie’s copyright date for a chunk of movies. Now I get screen grabs off the DVDs, when I can. Anyway, for a while now, I’ve been expecting each movie I see to break 50000. Mockingjay  2’s number was 49995. Maybe Star Wars?

DS9 Season 2, Part 3: Rules Of Acquisition

Deep Space Nine has quite a range, having episodes that are very light, and episodes that are quite dark. This contrast is significant, it allows for a broad painting of life which is, for want of a less pun-ny way to put it, quite lifelike. Sometimes, the contrast is starkened by light and dark being in the same episode.

Rules Of Acquisition” is rather firmly in the lighter side of things.

It starts with Dax playing Tongo with a bunch of Ferengi, in Quark’s bar, which is closed for the night. The game looks very complicated, there are constant bids going into the pot, there’s a set of cards on the table, each player has a hand of a different kind of cards, there’s also the rolling of dice. There are a couple of points where the game is held up by a player who takes a while to make a decision, or whose mind is elsewhere. It happens in games, though most people try not to be that person. I try to have my turn planned before it happens, though of course in many games the element of chance, or other players’ turns, can disrupt that planning.

Quark then gets a call from the Grand Nagus, in his second appearance on the show. Zek wants Quark to meet with some representatives from the Gamma Quadrant, and come to a significant deal, establishing the Ferengi a financial foothold in the new market.

Quark’s waiter, Pel, provides Quark a lot of helpful advice, leading Pel to become a significant assistant during the negotiations. Pel turns out to be a woman disguising herself as a man, Ferengi women not being allowed to go outside, wear clothes, make a profit, that sort of thing. The profit one may be the most significant, in a culture that worships profit.

The Dosi, the species Quark and Pel are trying to broker a deal with, are aggressive negotiators, and are reluctant to agree on the high amount of tulaberries that the Ferengi are demanding. Even intially, before Grand Nagus Zek tells Quark he’s to negotiate for tent imes the initial amount.

Pel intuits that Zek knows more than he’s letting on, and that the tulaberry deal isn’t what he really wants. Quark gets told that the Dosi can’t deliver the amount he’s asking, but he should try dealing with the Karemma.
“Who’s the Karemma?”
“An important power in the Dominion.”
“The Dominion? What’s that?”
“Let’s just say if you want to do business in the Gamma Quadrant, you have to do business with the Dominion.”

This is our first mention of the Dominion, who become somewhat important later in the series.

I’m sure I shall say more about the Dosi, the Karemma, and the Dominion, when we’re introduced to the Karemma, I believe at the start of the next season.

The Dosi seem to be a bit violent, perhaps not quite so much as the Klingons, who head-butt each other for fun. Last season we saw Tosk, a kind of sentient pet species, and the race that hunted Tosk for sport. We also saw the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis, two factions on a planet, that were always at war, and those that died got regenerated by nanotechnology. so the majority of species we’ve met in the quadrant, have a violent streak.

We’ve also seen the Wadi, who weren’t really violent, they were more interested in pleasure, particularly games. Wonder what they’d make of the Ktarians.

Considering what comes later, it’s interesting to contrast what comes earlier.

The Ferengi view of women is something that gets looked at a few times in DS9. When Jake and Nog went on a double-date, Nog expected his non-Ferengi date to chew his food for him, like a Ferengi woman would be expected to. In today’s episode, there’s scandal that a woman is out and about, wearing clothes. Quark and Zek reach a kind of stalemate, that either could ruin the other by revealing that they let a woman take such a big place in these important negotiations. And of course, next season we meet Quark’s mother, who also doesn’t adhere strictly to Ferengi law. And the attitude of pretty much any male Ferengi to any female at any time, perhaps paint even more of a picture than our exposure to Ferengi females.

“They’re greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls, and I wouldn’t turn my back on one of them for a second.”
“Neither would I. But once you accept that, you’ll find they can be a lot of fun.”

One does rather wonder where these attitudes come from. A couple of the screen-mentioned Rules of Acquisition specifically concern females (#94: “Females and finances don’t mix.”, and #139: “Wives serve, brothers inherit.”, honorable mention to #112: “Never have sex with the boss’s sister.”), and quite a few others recommend exploiting family in general, and employees.

From what we see in the show, Rule #94 doesn’t make a lot of sense, Ishka and Pel both turn out to be smarter and better at business than most, if not all, of the other Ferengi we ever see ever. Perhaps the smart Ferengi male is one who disregards that rule, and lets his wife have her own income streams (under his name, to put off suspicion), or takes her advice on things sometimes.

But the Rules themselves must have reflected the culture in which they were produced, by Grand Nagus Gint, 10,000 years ago. Though there have been revisions and additions since then, so who knows how bad the original ones were. Not us, certainly, as the show never explores that. Rules are often set up for a reason, and to understand the rule, you have to understand the reason for the rule. And sometimes both reason and rule are stupid, sometimes the reason is understandable, but not good enough to establish a rule, and sometimes there’s a surprisingly good reason for a rule.

The Ferengi were originally intended to be an opposing race that would rival the Klingons in popularity. They didn’t really take off as that, from their first few episodes in TNG, and so they packed up heir bags, and headed into the land of comic relief. They had their taste for profit from their introduction, however.

The Rules of Acquisition made their debut in Season 5 of TNG, their only TNG appearance. Most of the rest are from DS9, the rest are from Voyager and Enterprise. The TNG reference is late enough that it may have been part of setting up for DS9, which started 9 months later.

I think those who established these facets of Ferengi lore in the TV shows, never really asked why the Ferengi were like this, and to be fair, I don’t think they ever really needed to. Like an anecdote I heard about Fawlty Towers, we don’t need to know why Basil and Sybil got married, or what they liked in each other back then, we just need to understand that they are married now, and to some extent they don’t really like each other any more.

But in real life, we do need to understand the reasons for things. A significant element of ’60s and ’70s culture was “free love”, which essentially meant unrestricted sex for everybody. To some extent, our media still portrays that as an ideal. But, as Austin Powers was confronted with when he reached the ’90s, there turned out to be reasons why everybody doesn’t just sleep with everybody else.

Western society now has a kind of schizophrenia, pushing sex, while also pushing the notion that you’re not owed sex by the object of your desire, who might not be that into you. Promising freedom from consequences of sex through abortion, while enforcing consequences for sex by hasty marriages or child support.

And all the while, it seems that every other cultural boundary is open for dismantling, every other taboo is ripe for mainstreaming. It’s like someone in a house, deciding he doesn’t need this wall or that one, and taking them out without any concern or knowledge that some of these walls might be load-bearing, and thus, rather important.

And yet at the same time, the majority of the laws being enacted are increasingly more restrictive.

Neither of these, of course, are new phenomena. The Roman Empire, as it got more decadent, also got more restictive. Communism, billed as levelling the playing field for everyone, tearing down social structures and creating its own.

Many consider certain traditional understandings of things, to be as silly as the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. But I think only a tiny fraction of them have ever given any thought to the Why of things, not to try and understand it. Perhaps to ridicule it, but not to understand it.

But also many of those who adhere to the traditional understandings don’t have a firm grip on the Why, either. When the That has been common understanding for a long time, it’s easy to just accept. The realisation that suddenly there’s a whole lot of people not on the same page as you, tends to catch you unawares.

For an example, iconoclasm. (Warning: simplification for the sake of time) There was Christian art from the beginning (apparently the Roman catacombs have some good examples), and iconography was status quo for quite a long time. Then there was the rise of iconoclastic Islam, which started conquering Christian lands. Some leaders thought perhaps the Muslims were winning because there might be something wrong with icons, which opened up a second front of destruction. The iconodules were used to icons being the status quo, and knew the What, but now they were challenged to come up with a Why. And they did, there are writings (by St John of Damascus and St Theodore the Studite, for example), and the results of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

Dialogue and understanding between different groups and opinions, rarely seem to be actively encouraged. It’s hard to not think that this will be our downfall.

Best Song On The Album – Whaler By Sophie B Hawkins

Once upon a time, there was a song on the radio that I liked. Actually, the nineties was a pretty good decade for such things, but this was a while before things like realising Virgin’s “No repeat 9-5″ had virtually the same playlist every day (you could just about set your clock by November Rain at one point), or suffering “Chasing Cars” five times in one night shift.

So this song I liked, I didn’t really catch enough in the way of lyrics, and certainly nothing in the way of announcements, to find out what that song was.

Some years later, on a message board I frequented at the time, I mentioned some half-remembered lyrics, and some helpful person said something along the lines of “That kinda sounds like…”, then named a song, which quick research revealed to be the right one.

“As I Lay Me Down”, by Sophie B. Hawkins.

This turned out to be her last single, coming from the second of her four albums.

Some time after that (I have no idea how much time), I came across that album, “Whaler”, in a charity shop. Due to meticulous record-keeping (AKA “not peeling the label off”), I know I got it in Help The Aged for £2.99. Bit steep for a CD in a charity shop, but hey. I was young (ish) and reckless (well, perhaps, can’t say I really remember).

We have a 5-CD changer in the living room, and some CDs tend to be picked, stay in there for a while (a mealtime tends to take most of 1 CD, and if the player’s left going we’ll sometimes reach a third, and occasionally it reaches the end of the 5th). Then after a while, someone decides it’s time to change CDs, and we get another batch that lasts a while.

Recently, Whaler (from 1994) was brought into the playlist. It’s been played a few times. so what’s the best song on the album?

Sometimes, an album will contain tracks that are better than the singles (“you released THAT one as a single?”). And other times, the single tracks are the good ones, and the rest feels more like filler.

Well this time round, I can’t say that I put on headphones, and subjected myself to a close listening of the album 5 times before writing about it. I did notice that a bunch of the rest of the album had more of a pop edge to it, where if I was making a playlist and was familiar with those songs, I probably wouldn’t choose to listen to them.

Perhaps it’s familiarity with the track, perhaps this track is that much different from the others, but the only track that’s really stood out, in that “I want to hear this” kind of way, as the sound of the album drifts out into the house, is “As I Lay Me Down”. It’s so pretty. None of the other tracks made me want to come over and find out what the track was called. Of course, neither did this one, because I already know. But you know what I mean.