Saturday, October 20, 2018

Overhead View

The Atlantic's "In Focus" feature for Oct. 16 is a selection of satellite photos that show seven square miles of different places on Earth.

The wilderness or natural images are the most interesting, since most of the city scenes resemble each other from that distance. New York City is an exception, since the picture chosen includes the green rectangle of Central Park. Egypt's Giza is another, as the three pyramids of the ancient Giza complex are a part of that picture.

On the other hand, the seven square miles of Greenland's ice sheet looks about like you'd expect: A sheet of heavy-bond stationary, broken up only by a small meltwater lake in one corner. Two pictures of braided rivers -- one in Iceland and one in Mongolia -- show just how different those phenomena look observed from high enough up in the air.

Pic #25, the Maria Atoll in the south Pacific, looks like it would be a neat place to hang out, except that it's uninhabited. The fact that the interior lagoon is a hypersaline lake, similar to the Dead Sea, might make it tough to get drinkable water and contribute to the unfriendly living conditions.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Powered Down

Following the announcement earlier this week that Netflix canceled its Iron Fist series, today the streaming service did the same for another Marvel comics superhero show, Luke Cage.

Cage, known in comic bookdom as "Power Man," had finished two seasons and, like Iron Fist, set the table for new developments in its third. Netflix executives apparently didn't hear what they wanted in the pitch for the third season, which is really not surprising. Cage has suffered from one of the same problems all of the Marvel Netflix shows had -- too much season for its story. But it had some other structural issues that would probably have made for a pretty limp third season.

Season one opened with one of the better villains the Marvel shows have had, Mahershala Ali's crimelord Clarence "Cottonmouth" Stokes. But seven episodes in, the story kills off Cottonmouth and hands the evildoing off to the considerably less charismatic characters of Alfre Woodard's city politician Mariah Dillard and her new lieutanenant, Hernan "Shades" Alvarez (Theo Rossi), as well as the one-note run-of-the mill Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey). This trio might have managed to hold viewer interest over a couple of episodes, but not the six they were called on to serve.

Season two again offers too much of the load to Dillard and Alvarez. Alfre Woodard's considerable acting talent simply can't make Dillard anything more than a standard corrupt politician, even with the significant backstory the show uncovers, connecting her to her daughter Tilda Johnson (Gabrielle Dennis). And Rossi's weirdly affected performance and strangely cadenced speech give Shades an artificial manner that completely short-circuits his character's arc. Mustafa Shakir gives John "Bushmaster" McIver a dash of charisma, but since the meat of his moves in Harlem concern Mariah Dillard it would need to be more than a dash, and the standard-issue storyline offers him no room to bring it.

The season's main problem is that it can't figure out what it wants to do with its title character. Mike Colter's Cage is supposed to be a man who pairs his great strength and invulnerability with top-level smarts and a serious nature, but he's all over the map with no real consistency. Is Luke a man who wants to give his Harlem community a chance to bring itself forward, using his great gifts to guard it against dangers it faces? Or is he a man too clueless to see that a bully picking on the other bullies doesn't make people feel safe, it just makes them scared of him too? Does he understand that true manhood isn't measure by how much ass you kick, or does he see every problem as solvable as long as he can punch it? Different episodes present him differently. But rather than show any real sense of a developing conflict between the two views, the series just flips him back and forth like a switch. Colter's own powerful acting skills can't wring coherence from scripts that push against it, and when he winds up the season taking more or less the same authoritarian role that Cottonmouth had and Mariah sought you kind of have to wonder why you watched him at all.

Although I have no idea what shortcomings Netflix execs heard that made them back away from a Season 3, I would sympathize. It's not that a Luke Cage trying to walk the line between power and persuasion as he seeks to elevate and redeem his community is uninteresting. Every monumental smack he lays down can prompt people to see him as someone to fear rather than someone here to help -- how does he resolve that conflict? The showrunners to this point haven't given much reason to believe they'll be able to handle those ideas in an interesting enough way to get people to watch.

Thursday, October 18, 2018


-- Some of the late Hugh Hefner's possessions will be auctioned at the end of next month.

Disinfectant extra.

-- Dennis Hof will be on the ballot for the Nevada State Legislature on Election Day and is likely to win his race. The wrinkle is that he passed away Tuesday. A couple of the political consultants quoted in the story think that his passing may actually increase Hof's chances for victory: He was running as a Republican, but he owned brothels and large segments of the GOP would have been a little reticent to vote for him. But now, knowing that he will not serve and the vacancy will be filled by a state-specified process, those same voters will have much less discomfort.

And in any event, a dead man is hardly the worst thing that Nevada voters have ever put into public service.

-- No link for this, just an observation. Our current gubernatorial race pits GOP newcomer Kevin Stitt against Democrat and former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson. With Libertarian Chris Powell, an Oklahoma City police dispatcher, in the mix as well. A vote against Stitt is pretty much a given -- if I wanted to spend the next four years watching Eddie Haskell I'd buy some Leave It to Beaver DVDs. But to vote for Edmondson or Powell? Edmondson trails Stitt but has significant support, so a vote for him could count. On the other hand he's a career politician who will have a healthy desire to get elected or re-elected, and a propensity to sell whatever he needs to seal that deal. Moreover, his major pitch to this point has been that he has a plan to help fix the state educational system's funding woes. What I've seen of it seems promising, but what we haven't heard is Edmondson's plan for getting his plan past a legislature controlled by the opposing party and unfriendly to most of his ideas. If you've got great ideas but no way to get them passed, then you haven't made the case I should vote for you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Highway to Hell

You think your commute is bad? Hey, it probably is and who am I to tell you it's not when I'm not the one who has to drive it. But I'm betting any route that includes the below Qianchun Interchange, found in China's Guizhou province, is worse.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Test Pattern

Driving, meeting, driving, sinus. See you tomorrow.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Just Four Questions

Ursinus College in Pennsylvania is not following the trend of many liberal arts colleges to reject the idea of a core curriculum for a variety of independent study topics or trend-of-the-month theory classes that will prove very useful in developing one's ability to gaze at one's own navel.

Ursinus, it seems, is strengthening its commitment to a grand idea uniting its core, which retains great writers of Western civilization while adding some new voices. The four questions are presented to students as guides for their entire college experience (and beyond), even if they are not necessarily the subject matter of each individual class.

The four questions: What should matter to me? How should we live together? How can we understand the world? And what will I do? I have to confess the Ursinus students are significantly more reflective than I was as an undergraduate, although I certainly spent some time contemplating these things.

I also spent time contemplating how to stretch my barley and hops budget without crossing over into the realms of Wisconsin Brews Of Unknown Grains, those 12- and 24-packs in the darkest corners of the liquor store, their boxes covered in the dust of the eldritch past. And I spent time contemplating my fellow students of the fair sex, especially when spring increased temperatures to above freezing and reduced layers of outerwear so that they no longer resembled the Michelin Man.

All the same, sending someone in search of answers to those four questions before they start out living their lives seems like a good idea, whether one is in college or not. Heck, those questions might even bear frequent contemplation by the aged and grumpy, especially as we near winter and we are no longer interrupted by the need to order the whipper-snappers off our lawns.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Although if this item from Laurence Andrew's 1527 The Noble Lyfe and Natures of Man of Bestes, Serpentys, Fowles and Fisshes is correct, it's going to be a surprise that Prince Eric does not enjoy.