Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Book Review and 2020 Plans

As is my habit, I pick out some books each year to read so I can keep whittling down my shelf of shame. It's fun to have a challenge and I try not to pick too many books or else I can't do any spontaneous reading. Here's my list of planned reading from last year--I read them all! This is the first year in a long while that I accomplished a full list. My secret was not to be overly ambitious. Maybe I'll switch that up for next year. Here's the 2019 success story...

  • Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset--Something finished up from 2018. Reviewed here.
  • The Fall of Gondolin by J. R. R. Tolkien--Another "edited together by his son" work that was very interesting. Reviewed here.
  • The History of Rasselas Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson. Reviewed here.
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green--This is a leftover from our time in England. Reviewed here.
  • English Fairy Tales and Legends by Rosalind Kerven--More leftovers that were fun. Reviewed here.
  • The Medieval Myths by Norma Lorre Goodrich--One of the included myths is Beowulf! Reviewed here.
  • Visiting the Past by Gillian Hovell--A book for amateur archeologists! Reviewed here.
  • The Anglo-Saxon World by Kevin Crossley-Holland--Yes, yet more leftovers from England. Reviewed here.
  • Ellington at the White House 1969 by Edward Allan Faine--Jazz and politics, should they mix? In 1969 the occupant of the White House was...Richard Nixon! Nixon and Ellington sound like a weird combination but somehow it worked. Reviewed here.
  • Showings by Julian of Norwich--After reading Medieval Women Mystics, I added this to my wish list and got a copy! Reviewed here.
  • Humility Rules by J. Augustine Wetta--Bragging about humility has got to be interesting, right? Reviewed here.
  • Means to Message by Stanley Jaki--Scientist, priest, and theologian Jaki wrote a bunch of essays on truth. Reviewed here.
  • St. Thomas Aquinas by Ralph McInerny--Most famous for the Father Dowling Mysteries, McInerny was an astute medieval philosopher, so this is more theology than biography. Reviewed here.
  • The Right to be Wrong by Kevin Hasson--Another paradoxical title! Reviewed here.
  • Psychology and Religion by Carl Jung--Maybe not theology, but I didn't want to leave Jung hanging all by himself. This was a bit too technical for me to appreciate fully. Reviewed here.
Fun Stuff
  • The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists by Ken Denmead. Reviewed here.
  • The Bluffer's Guide to Beer by Jonathan Goodall. Reviewed here.

I also read graphic novels and manga (basically, graphic novels from Japan). Here's last year's graphic novel challenge list:
  1. Superman for All Seasons--reviewed here.
  2. Asterix and the Falling Sky--reviewed here.
  3. Koshchei the Deathless--reviewed here.
  4. My Hero Academia Volume 2--reviewed here.
  5. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 8--reviewed here.
  6. Level Up--reviewed here.
  7. The Man of Steel--reviewed here.
  8. Rasputin: Voice of the Dragon--reviewed here.
  9. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 9--reviewed here.
  10. The Life of Frederick Douglass--reviewed here.
  11. My Hero Academia Volume 3--reviewed here.
  12. Form of a Question--reviewed here
  13. Pacific Rim Aftermath--reviewed here.
  14. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 10--reviewed here.
  15. Royden Lepp's Rust Volume 1--reviewed here.
  16. Life of Captain Marvel--reviewed here.
  17. My Hero Academia Volume 4--reviewed here.
  18. Black Hammer Volume 2--reviewed here.
  19. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 11--reviewed here.
  20. Royden Lepp's Rust Volume 2--reviewed here.
  21. The Chancellor and the Citadel--reviewed here.
  22. My Hero Academia Volume 5--reviewed here.
  23. Black Hammer Volume 3--reviewed here.
  24. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 12--reviewed here.
  25. The Shadow Hero--reviewed here.
  26. I Kill Giants--reviewed here.
  27. Big Ideas: Rocket to the Moon--reviewed here.
  28. My Hero Academia Volume 6--reviewed here.
  29. A Fire Story--reviewed here.
  30. Secret Coders Volume 3--reviewed here.
  31. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 13--reviewed here
  32. Secret Coder Volume 4--reviewed here.
  33. The Walking Dead Volume 31--reviewed here.
  34. My Hero Academia Volume 7--reviewed here
  35. Secret Coders Volume 5--reviewed here.
  36. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 14--reviewed here
  37. The Night Witches--reviewed here.
  38. Secret Coders Volume 6-reviewed here.
  39. Shazam!--reviewed here.
  40. The Quantum Age--reviewed here.
  41. My Hero Academia Volume 8--reviewed here.
  42. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 15--reviewed here.
  43. Hawking--reviewed here.
  44. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane--reviewed here.
  45. Grimoire Noir--reviewed here.
  46. Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1--reviewed here.
  47. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 16--reviewed here.  
  48. My Hero Academia Volume 9--reviewed here.
  49. The Walking Dead Volume 32--reviewed here.
  50. Amazing Decisions--reviewed here.
  51. Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 17--reviewed here
  52. Shackelton: Antarctic Odyssey--reviewed here
  53. Miles Morales: Spider-Man--reviewed here.
  54. Deogratias: A Tale of Rawanda--reviewed here.
  55. My Hero Academia Volume 10--reviewed here.
  56. Fullmetal Alchemist 18--reviewed here.
  57. Castle in the Stars Volume 3--reviewed here.
  58. Spider-men--reviewed here.
  59. New Super-man and the Justice League of Chinas--reviewed here.
  60. Ghosts--reviewed here.
  61. My Hero Academia Volume 11--reviewed here.
  62. Lewis & Clark--reviewed here.

Here's next year's plans:

  • The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age by Stanislaw Lem--he's the author of Solaris, so I've had him on my radar for some time.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson--more cyber-shenanigans!
  • Outer Banks Tales to Remember by Charles Harry Whedbee--local stories and myths from North Carolina.
  • Scottish Myths and Legends selected by Rosemary Gray--Scotland must be a good source for myths and legends, right?
  • Swords Around the Cross: The Nine Years War by Timothy T. O'Donnell
  • Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland by (you guessed it) Malachy McCourt--This should pair well with the previous book?
  • Roanoke Island: The Beginnings of English America by David Stick--More from North Carolina, though this is actual history.
  • The Apostle of the Marianas 1627-1672 by Juan Ledesma--I bought this book on Guam last century/milennium (take your pick), so it's been on the shelf of shame for a while.
  • Friar Thomas D'Aquino: His Life, Thought and Works by James A. Weisheipl, O.P. A Dominican writing about the Dominicans' superstar!
  • Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church by Stephen K. Ray
  • Science of Today and the Problems of Genesis by Patrick O'Connell, B.D.
  • What is the Point of Being a Christian? by Timothy Radcliffe, O.P.
  • Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill--Will I keep this after I've read it?
  • Five Moral Pieces by Umberto Eco--Some non-fiction from The Name of the Rose author
  • The Poverty of Historicism by Karl Popper
  • The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton--I may have to read Boethius's original Consolation of Philosophy along with this.
  • The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche--I still haven't read any full work by Nietzsche. I had a professor who said Nietzsche is very popular with teenage boys but they shouldn't read him because a lot more is going on than the surface meaning.
  • The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet by Thomas Dubay, S. M.--maybe this should be in theology?
I'll be doing the graphic novel challenge again as well, though I still haven't seen a sign-up for it yet. My Hero Academia and Fullmetal Alchemist are still going strong for me and I am hoping the final Amulet book comes out in 2020.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Rams Head World Beer Club Update Fall 2019

More beers from the World Beer Club at Rams Head Tavern...

#113 is Mild Manor'd Amber Ale (5.3% alcohol by volume) from Manor Hill Brewing. It's a refreshing brew with a bit of bitterness at the end, but not enough to spoil the experience of drinking it. The brewery is local so we may have to take a tour some day. They are a farm brewery, which means they grow their own hops!

Wild Manor'd Amber Ale

#55 is Atlas Dance of Days (5.7% alcohol by volume) by Atlas Brew Works in Washington, D.C. It's listed in the Pale Ale section of the beer menu but it tastes awfully close to an IPA. Compared to an IPA, it is lighter and more refreshing. It also still has that nasty taste of grapefruit ending that I don't like in IPAs. The beer is named after the DC Punk scene circa 1985, so it is more and more local.

Dance of Days

#53 is Boddingtons Pub Ale (4.7% alcohol by volume) by Boddingtons Brewery in Manchester, England. This beer is another Pale Ale but is not close in flavor to an IPA. Boddingtons has a nice, light flavor with just a little tartness. It is very easy to drink but it is not very distinctive. I am sure I could not pick it out of a line up.

Boddingtons Pub Ale 

See my past adventures:
  Initial Post
  January 2019

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Book Review: Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi

Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi

With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, President Thomas Jefferson wanted a survey of the new land. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were chosen to lead the expedition. This graphic novel shows the highlights and hard times of that journey. The story is a great adventure and Bertozzi makes it exciting. He gives a strong sense of the two personalities and how hard it was to cross the North American continent at the beginning of the nineteenth century. While not as entertaining as Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, this book is interesting and a good introduction to an early adventure in United States history. It did leave me wanting to read more.

Slightly recommended.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Movie Review: Knives Out (2019)

Knives Out (2019) written and directed by Rian Johnson

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is the patriarch of a good-sized family. He's also a popular mystery author who publishes two books a year, generating the wealth that supports his offspring. Thrombey is found dead the day after his 85th birthday. At first glance, the situation looks like suicide. But all of his descendants have reasons to kill him, mostly because he is cutting each and every one of them off from the family fortune in one way or another. The only one who feels guilty is his nurse/helper, Marta (Ana de Armas) even though she left the house before Harlan died. She has one big disability for a murder suspect--she throws up whenever she tells a lie.

If that isn't mysterious enough, famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) has been hired by an anonymous person to investigate the suicide. He cooperates with the police, though his laid back style makes the family members (and even viewers) wonder how interested he really is. Blanc asks a lot of penetrating questions and recruits Marta, who seems to have an air-tight alibi, as his assistant. The investigation proceeds in a clever and fun way.

The movie clearly borrows and owes a lot to Agatha Christie. Blanc has a name like Hercule Poirot though he has an accent like TV's Matlock (Andy Griffith, who does not appear in this movie). The murder of a family patriarch happens more than once in Christie's work and the old family manor house is a classic location, even beyond Christie. The investigation proceeds in a methodical and fun manner. Some clues are misinterpreted to both comic and dramatic effect. The movie also has a certain old-fashioned moral sensibility that is refreshing to see. As a homage to Christie's mysteries, this movie delivers the goods. Which means, of course, that it's a good mystery.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Book Review: Adventures in Orthodoxy by Dwight Longenecker

Adventures in Orthodoxy: The Marvels of the Christian Creed and the Audacity of Belief by Dwight Longenecker

The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is an ancient text that summarizes the basic beliefs held by almost all Christians. Like any list of basics handed down from posterity, it can seem a bit rote and remote. In this book, Father Longenecker goes through the creed phrase by phrase, showing how the ideas are revolutionary and exciting. One of Longenecker's favorite things is to look at things from different perspectives, as if standing on one's head in order to notice different details. His comments are both insightful and witty, making the book a delightful and quick read.

Here's a rather long quote, but it so well exemplifies the writing style and intelligence of the book:
Try a little experiment. Just for fun, if you aren't already Catholic, tell people you've decided to convert. Your friends with taste will tease you for liking plastic snowstorm paperweights with miniature basilicas inside, paintings of Mary on black velvet, and pictures of Jesus with googly eyes. At the same time your friends who pride themselves on being "plain folk" will blame you for a sudden interest in Baroque architecture, lacy vestments, and Monteverdi Masses. Educated colleagues will denounce you for joining an ignorant and unthinking religion that demands blind obedience, while your less-educated friends will think you've been seduced by philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Your populist critic will blame you for being elitist, while the snob will smile sadly and say that you've chosen to mix with peasants, simpletons, and working-class drones. "Spiritual" friends will be incredulous at your acceptance of a rigid, dogmatic, and hierarchical system, while your theologically minded friends will say you've gone in for mysticism and mushy spirituality. Your liberal friends will shake their heads in dismay at the thought that you would submit to an authoritarian and misogynistic regime, while your conservative friends won't understand how you can possibly agree with a Church that promotes social-welfare programs, opposes the death penalty, and is in favor of ecology, ecumenism, and interfaith dialogue.
  If everyone attacked the Catholic Church for the same huge and terrible crimes--as they do Hitler, Pol Pot, or Bin Laden--we'd have to conclude that the Catholic Church was indeed a most terrible organization, and every good man and true should rise up against her. But since the attacks are on totally contradictory fronts, don't we have to suspect that there might be a problem, not with the attacked, but with the attackers? [p. 124-125]
The book is very orthodox and very entertaining and very thought-provoking. Catholic or not, it is well worth reading.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Movie Review: Scrooge (1951)

Scrooge (1951) produced and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst

Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol has been adapted far more times than any one viewer could comfortably watch in a Christmas season, even if one were to live as the redeemed Scrooge who vowed to "honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year." This 1951 British production is widely regarded as the finest adaptation. I don't know who had the stomach to watch every movie and television adaptation, including the numerous sit-coms that would paste the story onto their own characters to make a Christmas episode. Putting hyperbole aside, this production does a splendid job.

Alistair Sim plays Scrooge with an incredible amount of energy and pathos. He's believable as the misery old man at the beginning and as the giddy philanthropist at the end. It's hard to get both right and have the connection between the two be credible--Sim does the job. Part of the credit is due to the script (and naturally to Dickens' brilliant writing). Even so, Sim achieves something special. He runs a full range of emotions and shows so much humanity as Scrooge.

The script follows the story faithfully while adding in some small nuances or changes that work well. Scrooge's fiancee has a slightly larger role than in the book. She winds up serving the poor at a debtors' prison during the Ghost of Christmas Present sequence to great effect both on the viewer and on Scrooge. Scrooge's sister Fan also has a bit more than usual that deepens the story.

Visually, the movie is creative though some of the special effects have not aged well. Those moments are fairly short and easy to overlook since the story is focused so much on the characters.

Overall, this is a great adaptation of the story with a top-tier performance from Sim.

Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

War of the Christmas Novelty Ales 2019

Here are this year's combatants in the war of the Christmas novelty ales (see previous wars here)!

  • Samuel Adams White Christmas (5.8% alcohol by volume)--This "white ale with spice" is described on the bottle: "White Christmas' crisp wheat character combines with orange peel and warming holiday spices cinnamon and nutmeg, for a flavorful and refreshing ale that's perfect for the season." It doesn't taste like a wheat beer, though it certainly looks like one. The spices (nutmeg and cinnamon) are there but not overpowering or spoiling of the flavor. The beer taste is still present. The blend is good and it gets the seasonal flavor just right. This was a delightful surprise for me. It's not a great beer but is very drinkable and festively flavored.

  • Brooklyn Winter Lager by The Brooklyn Brewery (5.6% alcohol by volume)--According to the web site description, "Brooklyn Winter Lager is our answer to the heavy ales and stouts that emerge in wintertime. Though dark in color with a sturdy presence, our Schwarzbier-inspired lager layers notes of chocolate, roasted barley, and dark bread into a 5.6% ABV frame that finishes surprisingly light and pleasantly dry. Winter means different things depending where you live, but Brooklyn Winter Lager is ready for any chill." It does have both the lager flavor and some roasty notes in its taste. The darkness of the beer (they definitely put the Schwarz in their Schwarzbier) does not really fit with the lager flavor. This beer is a bit disappointing. I'd rather have one of those heavy ales and stouts, please!

  • Family Drama Imperial Pilsner and Holiday Tradition by Flying Dog (8.4% alcohol by volume)--The label on this beer has a Mad Lib: "Aunt ______(name) shows pictures of her ______(adjective) cats. Uncle ______(name) singing songs about his ______(adjective) divorce. Cousin ______(name) bragging about ______(noun). And you can't leave. It's another Christmas ______(noun) for the whole family. So, come on. One more. It's a celebration." As you might guess from the name "Imperial Pilsner," this beer has something of an identity crisis. The beefy amount of alcohol is paired with a barely-there amount of flavor. It has a tiny bit of sourness or tartness, so maybe if you pair it with a sweet dessert or snack it would be okay. By itself, it's just an alcohol delivery beverage. I still haven't found a Flying Dog beer I like, but I keep trying. You can't give up hope.

  • Santa's Cookies Imperial Oatmeal Stout by Champion Brewing Company (8.0% alcohol by volume)--The advice from the label is "Give Santa what he really wants this year. Our Imperial Oatmeal Stout is made with real ginger and cardamom for a relaxing holiday treat." The spices are very distinctive. I'm afraid this is one of those Christmas beers that lays on the seasonal spices a little too hard. I wish there was some oatmeal or sugar cookie flavor. The cookies we leave out for Santa...well, I know how good they taste. Someone should make a brew that tastes like those. Maybe someday I will learn to make my own. This beer's awesome name doesn't fit with what's inside the can.

  • Tidings by Port City Brewing Company (8.5% alcohol by volume)--The label says "Tidings Ale is a strong, spicy Belgian-style blonde ale brewed with local wildflower honey and Virginia-grown wheat. These local ingredients store away the essence of summer to warm you during the cold winter months. Gently spiced with coriander, cardamom, fresh ginger, and Grains of Paradise, Tidings balances complexity with drinkability." The brew is very blonde, definitely looking like a fine summer day. The smell is a little weird and off-putting but the flavor is nice. The spices are gentle and taste quite natural after the first two mouthfuls. My initial reaction was, "Oh no, another dud!" but the flavor grew on me quickly. The classic Belgian blonde doesn't need any spices but this is a nice variation on a favorite. I found Tidings a tasty beer, even though all its Christmas is in the name and the label. 

  • Accumulation by New Belgium Brewing (6.2% alcohol by volume)--The label tells the drinker, "Flurries of Mosaic and Amarillo hops bring soft fruit and citrus flavor, followed by a layer of bitter in our seasonally suited White IPA." I was trepidatious coming to this since I am the only beer lover who doesn't like IPAs. This beer has the classic grapefruit sourness that I dislike about India Pale Ales. The fruit and citrus flavor is not soft at all! In addition to the IPA problem, the beer also has no seasonal flavor or notes, other than the name and the label. Like a stocking full of coal, this beer was a bummer. Sad.

  • Holiday Cookies Porter by Red Shedman Farm Brewery & Hop Yard (5.7% alcohol by volume)--The label states, "Our unique holiday porter that has as much chocolate, ginger, spices and cheer as we could fit in a can. Just in time, too!" The dark porter look and taste is already a favorite of mine, though this beer ends with a tad more bitterness than I would like. The holiday spices are balanced very well, making the drink flavorful without turning it into a lick of an all-spice jar. The chocolate is subtle in the best possible way. The chocolate flavor sits in the background enhancing the other flavors in the foreground. This is so much better than Santa's Cookies even if it isn't quite the cookie-plate beer that I was hoping for.

For this year's War of the Christmas Novelty Ales, the winner is Holiday Cookies Porter. The dark, roasty flavor is spiced just right. It's a biblical case of the last being first. Have a merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Book Review: My Hero Academia Vol. 11 by Kohei Horikoshi

My Hero Academia Volume 11 by Kohei Horikoshi

The rescue mission continues as the heroes face off against the League of Villains, including an epic battle between All Might and the villains' boss All for One. The students watch from the edge of the battle since they've been ordered not to fight. Midoriya hatches a plan to save the kidnapped Bakugo that won't involve fighting or getting in trouble. The mission goes well though All Might has to make a big sacrifice to win his part of the mission. After the battle, the school staff faces the problem of public trust. The students have been attacked three times in very public ways. Parents are starting to question their kids' safety. Who can blame them?

This issue is another fine step forward for the story. Various relationships grow and interesting changes happen for the characters, some very significant.


Friday, December 20, 2019

Movie Review: The Great Buster: A Celebration (2018)

The Great Buster: A Celebration (2018) written and directed by Peter Bogdanovich

In an interesting blend of biography and analysis, film director Peter Bogdanovich looks at the life and films of Buster Keaton. Buster was born to vaudeville parents and by the age of four was part of their act. He learned timing, risk-taking, and how to take a fall from his father. When Buster reached his twenties, he moved to New York where he was drawn into film, working with Fatty Arbuckle on comedy shorts. Arbuckle moved to feature length comedies, so Keaton took over the production. He spent a good decade and a half producing shorts and feature films independently, making his greatest and most creative works, like Sherlock Jr. and The General. He took a contract with MGM which took his creative license away. The studio system ran by the script and by the schedule. Keaton's career went into a long decline and he faded into obscurity. Still, his films are remembered fondly and his impact on comedy, cinema, and art is undeniable. The movie features interviews with Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, Richard Lewis, Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, and Werner Herzog.

This film looks at Keaton's life first and then, in the last third, delves more deeply into Keaton's major feature films from the 1920s. His energy, creativity, and daring are amazing. He did all his own stunt work and some of the stunts are almost unbelievable--buildings falling down on or around him, Keaton swinging out over a waterfall to catch a falling woman, etc. Even though he was nicknamed "Stoneface" for his deadpan reactions, Keaton is physically expressive and his eyes (if not the rest of his face) show intelligence and emotion. He's an artist that doesn't get enough credit or enough play time these days.

This documentary is a fine introduction to Keaton and his work.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Book Review: Seven Glorious Days by Karl W. Giberson

Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story by Karl W. Giberson

The creation account given in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis were written thousands of years ago by an author with a very different world view and a very different knowledge base than anyone could have now. The style is poetic and sparse, giving only the broadest outlines of unseen times. Reading it as a scientific text, or indeed a literal text, is perilous and ill-advised. But is it far from the scientific understanding of today?

Author Karl Giberson teaches both science and religion and has grappled with the relationship between the two throughout his career. In this book, he reformulates the text of the seven days of creation. He retains the poetic sense while adding in more contemporary expressions of what happens each day, or "epoch of creation" as Giberson calls them. The revision respects the religion in the text. God creates according to "the Logos of creation," a term Giberson uses to emphasize the order and rationality (i.e. the understandability, especially in a scientific sense) of the origin of the material universe.

The main body of the book goes through each epoch and discusses the scientific understanding of those times. He starts naturally with the Big Bang, summarizing not only the technicalities of what happened as science has come to understand it, but also the controversies scientists went through to come to that understanding. He recounts the attempts to rename the Big Bang with a more scientifically respectable name. Compared to "quantum mechanics" and "general relativity," "Big Bang" sound like something that happens after a superhero punches someone. Giberson goes through the story of how the primordial gases slowly condensed into stars that turned the omnipresent hydrogen atoms into heavier, more diverse matter. Such stars exploded, casting out new elements that would recondense into other stars and planets. He discusses the importance and impact of the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force) in the formation of the universe. And that's just the first day/epoch.

The book is very informative and does a very convincing job weaving together the ancient Genesis account with the modern scientific account of the development of the universe. The text doesn't get too deep into the details of either the theology or the science which would probably make the book ten times as long and only comprehensible to academics. At 190 pages, it is readable and engaging and well worth the reader's time.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

TV Review: Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (1983)

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (1983) written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Peter Moffatt

The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) experiences some cosmic illness and is sucked back to the Time Lords' home world of Gallifrey. But not to just any part of Gallifrey--he's been pulled into the Death Zone. The Death Zone is an ancient area where combatants were placed to provide gladiator-style entertainment. The Zone was sealed off by Rassilon, a Time Lord with great powers and an even greater moral sense. As it happens, not only is the Fifth Doctor hijacked, but also the First Doctor (played by Richard Hurndall, replacing the late William Hartnell), the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), and the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee). The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) is also kidnapped but he gets trapped in the time vortex and does not arrive on Gallifrey.The four Doctors travel to the Dark Tower at the heart of the Death Zone. The Tower is Rassilon's tomb, a place that legendarily can grant amazing powers.

The other Time Lords see the disturbance of the Doctor's timeline and send in the Master (Anthony Ainley) to get the Doctor out of the Death Zone. Sending in his worst enemy seems like a bad idea and none of the Doctors wants to work with him. They go through a lot of shenanigans to get to Rassilon's burial chamber, where the true mastermind behind the scheme reveals himself and tries both to achieve immortality and eliminate the Doctors.

The episode celebrated the twentieth year of Doctor Who. Baker did not want to come back for this special episode, so footage from an unaired episode was used to shoe-horn his Doctor in. The plot is a nice excuse to bring back not only the previous incarnations of the Doctor but also a lot of beloved companions and villains, some in minor cameo roles. Viewers need a bit of familiarity with these Doctors in order to appreciate a lot of the jokes and references. Without that background, the episode is probably much less interesting and enjoyable.

Recommended, but be sure to have some knowledge of the first several incarnations of the Doctor.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Book Review: Ghosts by Raini Telgemeier

Ghosts by Raini Telgemeier with colors by Braden Lamb

Catrina and Maya have to move north from sunny southern California because Maya has cystic fibrosis. Maya is upbeat about the change, as she is upbeat about pretty much everything. Cat is much less happy. She doesn't want the darker, damper weather or the new school or the new town. The town is Bahia de la Luna (a fictional town) with an old Spanish mission up on the hill and an abandoned pier/arcade/lighthouse area down by the bay. The girls meet Carlos, a local teen who is up on the local lore. The town is full of ghosts, he says, and the dia de los muertos is the biggest party night in town. Cat doesn't want to hear about the ghosts but Maya can't wait to meet one. Once Halloween rolls around, things start happening.

The story is very engaging and interesting. The characters are believable and likable (even the dead ones) and the plot line flows naturally. At first glance, Cat is a stereotypical teenage girl, a bit embarrassed by her younger sister and by Carlos's affection for her. But she really does love her sister and soon enough recognizes her affection for Carlos. The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration fits naturally as the town's big celebration. The ghosts also reinforce the themes of breath (the ghosts need humans to breathe on them in order to speak; Maya's cystic fibrosis makes her short of breath) and of displacement (the family move, the loss of relatives, the need to adapt to new situations).

The art is simple and expressive, capturing the lighter mood of what could have been a very dark story. The town is just enough spooky and dilapidated to justify Cat's worries but not so much that the reader expects malevolent ghosts who cause harm. The ghosts here are people who have moved on to a different part of their lives, a part that the town is more in touch with and Maya wants to experience. The ghost too are drawn simply and effectively. Cat is afraid not because the ghosts look scary but because change is scary. She learns to confront her fear and grow in the process.

Highly recommended.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Lincoln Memorial, Washington

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the iconic locations in Washington, D. C. The monument was authorized in 1867. Construction began in 1914 under the guidance of architect Henry Bacon; it was completed and dedicated in 1922. The memorial is built from granite and marble from various states (Massachusetts, Colorado, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia) to symbolize the reunification of the country. The building is patterned after the Parthenon in Athens.

The Lincoln Memorial

It honors the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. He was president during the American Civil War and was the key figure in keeping the Union together. The statue of him inside the memorial was original to be ten feet tall but once construction began, they decided to double the size lest he be dwarfed by his own monument. The current statue's height is nineteen feet; if that Lincoln stood up he'd be twenty-eight feet tall!

The statue of Lincoln

Lincoln is depicted as a weary but strong man. His clenched left fist represents his determination; his open right hand represents his compassionate nature. Above his head is engraved "In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."

The north and south side of the chamber have murals of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address. Above them are murals symbolically depicting Unity (on the north above the Second Inaugural) and Emancipation (on the south above the Gettysburg Address).

Second Inaugural Address

Hard to get a good picture of the mural, go and see it for yourself!

Gettysburg Address

Click to enlarge

From Lincoln's vantage point, the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument are easily visible.

Not quite from Lincoln's view

It's possible to and I recommend walking around the memorial at Lincoln's level. Most visitors don't realize they can go all the way around the memorial and enjoy some nice views. Behind the memorial is the Potomac River with Virginia on the far side.

View into Arlington

More Virginia

Memorial Bridge leading to Arlington National Cemetery

A more Lincolnish view

Us at the memorial

Friday, December 13, 2019

Movie Review: Kuroneko (1968)

Kuroneko (1968) written and directed by Kaneto Shindo

Feudal Japan is plagued by war. A mother and daughter are raped, killed, and their house is burned down by a band of samurai who happened to be passing through. The women come back as vengeful spirits, luring random samurai deep into a bamboo grove where that samurai meets his doom. A war hero is brought in to deal with the demons, though he has his own problems both with the head samurai (who naturally wants the demons gone) and with the demons themselves.

This simple plot is made into a fantastic movie by the atmospheric cinematography and sound design. The ghosts are surprisingly mundane until they turn against whichever samurai happens to fall into their clutches. The women, even in demon form, are very sympathetic and strong, providing an interesting foil to the completely unheroic and selfish samurai in the film.

The story has an unexpected twist about a third of the way into the film that moves the plot in an unexpected direction. This move creates a lot of suspense about where the story is going and kept me riveted to the screen.

I enjoyed the movie a lot and am thankful to the B-Movie Catechism guy for flagging it up in one of his posts.

Recommended, especially for Halloween viewing or a chilling Christmas Eve ghost story like they have in Britain.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Ellicott City Fire Department Christmas Train Garden 2019

The Ellicott City Fire Department is hosting its annual train garden. We've gone many years before and still go back because it is so fascinating. And it gets us in the holiday spirit.

Sign outside

The rather regular looking fire station

The trains are set up in an unused bay across a hall from all the fire trucks and other emergency equipment. We visited the very first day at the very first hour so it was not too crowded.

Part of the display

The elf land section has a lot of fun little fantasy buildings, including Nana Splits and a karaoke joint.

Elf village

The cool part of town

Another area is home to superheroes from both Marvel and DC Comics. The area features the Daily Planet building (with Superman flying around the top) and the Batcave!

Daily Planet building

Mister Freeze and Penguin at home in the Christmas weather

Daredevil and Spider-man hanging out

The Batcave flanked by Catwoman and Batgirl!

Another are had some creatures from the classic Rankin/Bass Christmas specials.

Snowmen, both Abominable and Frosty

The set even shows how Santa makes it through the holiday season with all its stress and pressure.

Fortified by the support of a good woman (or something stronger than hot chocolate)

The fire department building on the train set looks much nicer than the building in which it is housed!

Fire department

Standard winter wonderland

The train set has a large Christmas tree that's mostly decorated. The Santa on the ladder climbs up and down with a string of lights!

Christmas tree

Closeup of Santa at work

The set includes a lot of other impressive models.


Bromo Tower from Baltimore

Dance hall

Our kids had a good time too since the firefighters provide a scavenger hunt sheet. We had fun searching for Wonder Woman, a tire swing, a dreidel, and many other tricky objects.