Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Cute Kid Pix May 2023

More photos that did not make their own post...

The elementary school had a carnival with lots of outdoor games. My son's favorite was the giant inflatable obstacle course.

Finishing his run!

We had a Cub Scout pack meeting early in the month where my son received his Roaring Laughter belt loop. They played games and practiced being courteous. 

Awards and Handshakes

Uno with manners

We went to a local playground that changed since we were last there. Climbing was fun!

Looking over

Twisty climbing

I play the Mystic Vale app on my phone once a day and managed to have the closest game ever. If the score is the same, the first tie breaker is number of Level 3 advancements (on the left of the score), the second tie breaker is number of Level 2 vale cards (on the right of the score). It was almost a three-way tie!

Not a picture of cute kids, alas...

We went to Fairland Regional Park to find some geocaches and found some other interesting things too, like a scummy lake and a pile of snow (in late May!).


Looks better from over here

Fun by the creek

Making a snowball

Don't drop the ball!

The park has an indoor ice-skating rink, so we assumed the snow was scrapings from the Zamboni.

We (the parents) had our Summer Showcase performance at That's Dancing which was a lot of fun. The theme was Tinseltown, so a lot of the performances featured classic movie songs or music. We had a tango to El Sheik de Arabia (maybe from a classic western?) and Psy and Suga's That That, which has a very theatrical video.

Merengue to That That

Marilyn admires our tango

Monday, June 5, 2023

Book Review: Incorruptible Vol. 1 by M. Waid et al.

Incorruptible Volume 1 created and written by Mark Waid and art by Jean Diaz

Max Damage is a super-criminal in Sky City, the home of superhero The Plutonian (a Superman knockoff). Max's newest problem is The Plutonian losing his mind and turning into the worst supervillain ever (see Irredeemable). After spending a month thinking about the situation, Max has decided he needs to step up and become a hero. He has a hard time convincing people like his sidekick Jailbait (an underage female who likes the wicked lifestyle) and the police commissioner. Max starts off by letting the police know about his gang's next job, leading to their arrest. Also, he gets rid of all his ill-gotten gains. That includes torching his vault with 4.2 million dollars in it. The commissioner and Jailbait have a really hard time with that one too. Max wants to be on the up-and-up. He starts working his way through problems as they come, like an ex-associate who is profiting off of his "get superpowers quick" experiments that don't work so well but are easy to market to the desperate populace.

Max is a very interesting character. While Irredeemable told the story of why a Superman-like hero would turn to evil, this book takes on a more interesting and, to me, plausible challenge...how would a villain turn over a new leaf and become a hero? Even after a month thinking about it, Max still makes some mistakes here and there. Turning himself 180 degrees is not easy, especially when everyone thinks he's playing some sort of game or lost his mind. The reader has an easy time rooting for Max, especially when he does the right thing in little situations like not sleeping with his underage sidekick anymore. The story is a nice twist on the hero's journey.

The art is not the best. Max's face sometimes looks different from issue to issue. The book has some nice splash pages for big scenes, though the rest is fairly standard comic-book fare. Even though Jailbait has a skin-tight outfit and wants to be exploited, the artist treats her with more respect than she has for herself, so there are good aspects to the art. 

Recommended--this is a more intriguing premise than the original series.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Movie Review: The Vampire's Ghost (1945)

The Vampire's Ghost (1945) directed by Lesley Selander

Webb Fallon (John Abbott) runs a bar in the central African town of Barunda. A lot of sailors from the river hang out there. Fallon takes them to the cleaners at the craps table. He gives the money to one of the poorer sailors who buys a round for everyone. The captain keeps a chip on his shoulder. In town, Roy (Charles Vance) and Julie (Peggy Stuart) are engaged and looking forward to a life together. Their only problem is the rash of deaths in the area--several people have died with puncture wounds to the throat and blood loss. The white population doesn't know what to make of it but the natives know there is a supernatural monster in their midst. The natives communicate through drums. The drumming has been going on for a long time, putting people on edge. In an attempt to settle things down, Roy plans to go to one of the villages. Fallon volunteers to go with Roy and a group of natives. In the jungle, a booby-trapped rifle almost kills Roy. Fallon manages to push him out of the way and the native behind Fallon is hit in the arm by the bullet. The group camps for the night. The natives figure out Fallon is the vampire but fail to kill him. Roy finally figures it out but Fallon puts Roy under his control so he can't reveal the truth. They go back to Barunda where Roy falls ill. Fallon volunteers to help Julie nurse him back to health. That's when Fallon gets the idea to make Julie a fellow vampire so he'll have a companion for the long stretch of years ahead of him.

For a 1940s vampire movie, this has a lot of distinguishing marks. There's no European castle. Fallon dresses in a white suit and tie--no cape or tuxedo or finery (also, no fangs). He has a box of dirt from his grave that he sleeps on. The box was given to him by Queen Elizabeth when he helped defeat the Spanish Armada four hundred years earlier. Fallon passes off the box's inscription as referring to an ancestor. As a vampire, he's a bit melancholic about his eternal life. The heart of Africa seems like a good hiding place to him, though he recognizes that sooner or later, the situation will turn bad and he will have to move on, like he has done so many times before. He describes time as a circle, monotonous and unending. So Fallon is not at all like Dracula or other slick and exotic vampires from the old black and white films; nor is the location some drafty old castle or modern city.

While Fallon does have some sympathetic aspects to him, he is definitely evil. He is vulnerable to crosses and silver weapons, though he's had some practice in dodging them thanks to 400 years of experience. He clearly likes mastering situations and people. And he's happy to turn on allies like the bar's dancer Lisa (Adele Mara), who draws in customers but is jealous of his attention to Julie. He's able to shift from forlorn to malevolent quickly and convincingly. John Abbott gives a very good performance.

The town has a priest who is an effective counter to the vampire and especially to his influence on people. I found it interesting that the Africans were clued in much faster than the Europeans about what was going on. Even in a short running time (barely 59 minutes), plenty of minor characters get their due during the story. The jungle setting makes for a very interesting location to deal with vampires.

Recommended, highly for vampire fans looking for something different than the usual sparkles or capes.

The movie is available on YouTube for free.

H/T to Hypnogoria podcast for recommending this film as the best of the Republic Pictures horrors produced in the 1940s.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Walkersville Southern Railroad, Maryland

Walkersville Southern Railroad offers scenic rides in Frederick County, Maryland. The trains run on tracks laid in the 1870s by the Pennsylvania Railroad and take passengers from Walkersville into the outskirts of Frederick, crossing the Monocacy River. We went on a weekend in April when they had Civil War reenactors in the area. The Confederates were out in the fields waiting to ambush the train. On the train were some Yankee soldiers ready to defend us. Also on the train were other people in period garb telling stories and history of the area and the era. Our trip started at the train station.

Walkersville Southern Railroad station

We came early enough that we had ten minutes to check out the museum across the street (and also use the toilets, since the 1920s train cars did not have facilities). The museum is one large room with a lot of items from the history of the railroad, so ten minutes was plenty of time to see everything.



Signs and other brick-a-brac

Tools for building and maintaining the tracks

We were impressed by the "tricycle" we saw below. It has three wheels, is designed to run on the tracks, and requires arm-power rather than pedal-power.

Railroad trike

Auto for the iron road

Engine wheels without a motor?!?

The train station itself is small but typical.

Boarding platform

The ride started off smoothly, going through some lightly-forested areas. 

Not particularly impressive

Once we got to Walkersville Community Park, we heard shots coming from the Rebs!

Train ambush

Gunning for us!

Even though the reenactors were shooting blanks, they still aimed high in the air just in case.

Or maybe they have poor aim?

The guy in the back is taking different kinds of shots

The boys in blue on the train gave as good as they got.

Returning fire

More defenses

One of the civilian reenactors said he was an undertaker and would be happy to make arrangements with any of the passengers who were worried about not returning. He talked about how nice his job was, wearing fine clothes and always having new customers.

Undertaker digging up some business

We passed a lime kiln that was fenced off.

Out of business

The farms along the tracks were nice. One was infested with more rebels!

An idyllic setting

A lone gunman

Using finger guns for defense

Good cover

Less good cover

As we crossed the Monocacy River, we had a good view of the water but not of the bridge. A reenactor said one of their fellow reenactors didn't like crossing the bridge because the train is larger than the bridge and hangs over the water on both sides!

Monocacy River

View in the other direction

We also crossed the Tuscarora Creek which eventually feeds into the Monocacy. The recent rain made it larger than normal.

Tuscarora Creek

As usual, the kids did not want their pictures taken, even back at the station when we could have had shots with the Union soldiers.

At least one happy customer

Getting the evil eye

On the way back, we went by the Confederates again who seemed a little more organized and a little easier to shoot.

Forming up

Ready to shoot

Happy to oblige

Back at the station, we saw a car in someone's driveway that made us think they were reenactors too.

Maybe "cosplayer" is more accurate than "reenactor"

The railroad does some regular train rides, along with dinner rides, Santa rides, and Easter rides. I am not sure we would go again unless it was for a special occasion, like people visiting.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Book Review: On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Rapaport

A core problem in democracies is balancing the freedom of individuals to act in ways they think are acceptable against the restraints of government protecting social order. Mill lays out a lot of philosophical groundwork in support of the rights of individuals against the will of the majority, which can often feel like (and sometime is) tyrannical. Mill's first attempt to resolve this problem is by invoking the principle of doing no harm to others. A person can decide for themselves what is okay to do and, as long as no one else is effected, that person should not be interfered with. His first chapter is about freedom of thought and discussion. He advocates for very broad freedoms with regard to opinions and recognizes a need for ideas to be presented and argued over in order to prove their worth. He objects to opinions that are held by tradition or authority without knowing the reasoning behind those opinions. 

Mill acknowledges that the problem of liberty becomes trickier when moving from individual opinions to individual actions. While he believes in a free market of ideas, he states that opinions which encourage or inspire bad actions can legitimately be limited by society. All the more so, the actions that harm others (his idea of "bad actions") can and must be held in check by society. He recognizes that very few actions are not public actions--as long as any other person is involved, the action is public. Also, actions provide examples or ideas to other people, possibly causing harm. Further, there can be circumstances where the state has an obligation to protect someone from harming themselves. So he needs to refine the No-Harm-To-Others principle to allow exceptions. 

His new criterion for social obligation is to act in a way not to violate a specific obligation to another person or group of persons. Some relationships create obligations (which are often mutual or complimentary), like between husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees. One can't spend money recklessly and cause harm to family members or failure to make payroll. Contractual obligations need to be fulfilled and can be enforced. Mill cites two types of public coercion. First, public opinion can and does punish people who do harm through their actions; fear of public, social criticism is a motivator not to do acts contrary to what's publicly acceptable. Second, legal punishments are used to redress grievances between individuals or groups. The tricky part of the system is to find the dividing line between practices that can be tolerated by society (Mill cites the example of Mormons) and those that cannot. At the end of this essay, he provides some examples of applying his principles.

Mill presents a clear and thorough argument for his position. While his investigation is interesting, I found it incomplete. As a utilitarian, his idea of liberty is built on what makes one happy and he depends on people to discover what their own happiness is and pursue it in their own ways. There is no depth of understanding human nature, no authentic human anthropology, underpinning Mill's theory. Anyone can chose any form of happiness and claim it is authentic regardless of its actual compatibility with their own human nature, as long as they are not harming others. Mill needs a more robust anthropology in order to understand and explain what constitutes harm for other people and how much harm can be tolerated in a democratic society.

Mildly recommended--this is a classical philosophical text but it is not the best there is.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Book Review: Slam Dunk Vols. 9 and 10 by Takehiko Inoue

Slam Dunk Volume 9 by Takehiko Inoue

The Shohoku High team is in the playoffs, thanks to some non-team fans taking the most of the blame for the fight that broke out in the last issue. The coach still thinks some players need some discipline, so he benches Hanamichi, Rukawa, Ryota, and Mitsui. At least, they are benched for the start of the first playoff game. The boys still have issues to work out and Hanamichi needs to figure out two things: how to shoot free throws and how not to foul out of games.

The story is definitely improving since the last issue, with more focus on basketball and less on personal dramas. The comedy works well too.

Mildly recommended.

Slam Dunk Volume 10 by Takehiko Inoue

The team advances to final four contention with a big game against Shoyo. The Shoyo school team is dying to play against their rival Kainan but must get Shohoku out of the way. Shoyo's team is huge, almost all six-footers. Shohoku has momentum coming in. The game starts as a blow-out in favor of Shoyo but the Shohoku squad starts slowly making it back from a big deficit by leaning into the strengths of the individual players, making a better overall team.

This whole issue is only half of the game, which may sound like the game is dragged out but it really is not. The action is exciting and the players' dynamics are finally starting to coalesce into a team. Can they win and move on to the next level? While I think the answer is a given, I'm still going to read the next one.

Mildly recommended.