Category: television

Space Exploration and the Value of a Good Teacher

We just finished watching From the Earth to the Moon, the mini-series devoted to the US space program in the 1960s. It traces the entirety of the effort to get people to the moon. Produced by Tom Hanks, with many known actors in the roles, it’s a great production, and one I highly recommend. Great stuff.

Two things stood out to me during this rewatch. The first is how clear it was that the only thing that motivated the politicians to make this huge push to get to the moon was the competition with Russia. That’s obviously not the reason for everyone, but it’s how so much money was magically found in the budget to support the endeavor. That’s easy to see, since it’s now fifty years later, and we’ve never been back. Yes, there’s talk of sending people to Mars now, and we have the international space station, but that huge laser focus on getting people to the moon is gone.

Some of that might be because since we’ve already been there, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to go back. Some of it is because the space station is so successful. What can be done on the moon that can’t be done on the space station? Some of it is because our government has gotten out of the business of supporting space exploration, for the most part. Leaving it up to independent companies to foot the bill. It’s debatable what role government should play, but I’ll leave that argument for now. I had just often thought of the space program as one example of a time when we all worked together to get something great accomplished, and so I was a bit disappointed as I realized the motivations to do that great thing varied widely. “Beating the Russians” seems like one of the worst justifications for spending millions and millions of dollars. Though if we could somehow recreate that motivation for the right things . . .

The other takeaway was focused on the tremendous Episode Ten of the show. They’d already depicted the moon landing, and so you’d figure the best episodes were behind the series. But this one shows how they taught the astronauts to be knowledgeable field geologists. It’s one of my favorite in the series. They contrast the initial approach (sitting them down in a lecture room while an expert droned on about rocks) with the final approach (taking them out into the field, led by a professor passionate about the subject and teaching.)

It’s not always that cut and dried, but it made me remember the great teachers I had. The ones who could make you love a subject, even if you knew nothing about it at first. One of the main reasons I added linguistics as a second major was because of Professor Oaks at BYU. He did such an incredible job with Intro to Linguistics, that I just had to learn more. He made me realize how much I loved the subject. Sure, some of that’s probably because I was already naturally inclined to like it. Not everyone who took the class loved it. But still, in the hands of the right teacher, a subject can really come alive.

I almost think that episode should be required viewing in our teaching classes. It’s great as a standalone piece. You don’t need to know anything else about the space program. It looks like it’s freely available online. Give it a watch sometime, and check out the whole series when you can!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.



Television Review: When They See Us

I heard good things about When They See Us as soon as it was released on Netflix. A dramatized retelling of the Central Park Five rape case in the 80s that has since gone on to garner 12 Emmy nominations. It went straight to the top of my “Watch Next” list, and I finished the mini-series last week.

As expected, it’s an absolutely brutal experience. If you’re not aware of what went on in the case, it was focused around the rape of a jogger in New York City. The night she was raped, a large group of boys had been in the area, assaulting several other people. Police rounded up who they could, and five of those boys (four 15 year olds and a 16 year old) eventually ended up being accused and convicted of the rape, primarily based on them admitting to the act on camera in taped confessions. Years later, another man came forward and confessed to the crime. He was a serial rapist who’d been active in NYC at that time, and DNA evidence proved he committed the crime. The 5 boys were exonerated, though some still believe they were part of the assault of the woman.

So this is not exactly material that’s going to leave you feeling uplifted and happy. But I think it’s important to watch. It reminded me in many ways of The Wire. (As a heads up, it’s TV-MA, largely for language.) But the problem with a work like this is that it’s so hard to use it as fodder to get any real change implemented, and that’s even more depressing.

Any time you’re dealing with “facts,” people want to come out and dispute the facts. Ave DuVernay’s depiction of this historical event leaves little in the way of justification for the police. Taken at face value, it’s clear these 5 boys were wrongly accused, and that what happened to them was a travesty of justice. The people involved in those false convictions are monstrous for what they did to those boys. But of course, the people involved then say the depiction wasn’t accurate, and that key pieces of evidence were left out of the mini-series to make it all seem more cut and dried. It reminds me of the Making a Murder show that came out a while ago.

I was not present at the scene of the crime. I can’t say definitively what happened and what didn’t happen, and at this point in time, there’s nothing that can really be done to solve the past in this instance. NYC paid over $40 million to settle a case against it by the 5, though naturally some say that shouldn’t have happened. That they were guilty and remain guilty.

But to me, the longer this remains focused on finding out “exactly what happened” in this particular case, the bigger chance there is that things similar to what is depicted in the mini-series continue to happen. Do police beat false confessions out of suspects? I cannot imagine that they don’t. This isn’t because I don’t trust police officers. It’s because I recognize that any system as large as the American criminal justice system is inevitably going to have problems. Just as I know and respect many doctors, I still recognize the fact that doctors will make mistakes. They will misdiagnose. Wrong limbs will be amputated. Massive blunders happen. Our goal should always be 100% accuracy, but anyone who thinks we’re already there in any area is delusional.

And yet so often the approach of the law in America seems to be “police don’t make mistakes and are never crooked.” If you speak out against any instances, some will accuse you of slander or bias. But for our justice system to improve, it can’t be an “all or nothing” defense of it. Just because we acknowledge there are serious flaws in some areas doesn’t mean we’re accusing the whole thing of being rotten.

When I watched this mini-series, I got angry. Angry that things like this can happen in our country. Angry that people can have their lives ruined so that other people can slap a proverbial “problem solved” sticker on an issue or a case. I want that to stop. I want a justice system that’s open and accountable. I’m very glad police have taken to wearing cameras on them at all times, though it’s disappointing that’s what it’s taken to get some of these travesties brought to light.

I get it. I understand life is complex, and the cut and dried Hollywood solutions on screen are rarely that way in real life. But at the same time, I’m growing very tired of the hackneyed tendency of some (mainly on the right) to pat other people on the head and claim that they’re all misguided children. And even as I write this, I know the reaction some will have to it. But I challenge anyone to try to argue that events like those depicted in this series don’t happen. If we can at least agree that they do, and that they shouldn’t, perhaps we could start to come up with ways to ensure less of them do in the future.

In any case, this is something I think should be watched. Yes, it’s extremely uncomfortable. And it’s not perfect. There are a few pacing issues in spots, but I ended up giving it a 9.5/10. Highly recommended. Now I want to search out the Ken Burns documentary that was made on the same topic.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Television Review: Good Omens

Life’s full of disappointments. The fact that Good Omens was terrible is a big one, but let’s keep things in context. There will be much bigger disappointments in my life, I’m sure. Still, I was a fan of the book, a huge fan of Terry Pratchett, a great admirer of Neil Gaiman, and I had big hopes for this production. It had a huge budget, great special effects for a TV show, a stellar cast. So much potential.

Almost all of it, wasted.

The biggest criticism I can give about it is that halfway through the show, I decided I no longer cared enough to watch it. Even though the events of the book are quite hazy in my mind (it’s been years since I read it), the plot was as obvious as a connect-the-dots. And not a connect-the-dots for grownups, with like 1,000 dots. A connect the dots for a toddler, where the dots go in a circle, and the end result is a circle.

Of course, I don’t review things I don’t finish, and so even though Denisa stopped watching, I decided to press forward. Part of me hoped it would get better. It didn’t. Compare it to season three of Stranger Things (I just finished episode 6 last night–no spoilers!), and the difference is night and day. In Stranger Things, I care about the characters. They’re unique and well developed. They have their own agendas. They do intriguing things. There’s a variety of conflicts. It’s a great show.

Good Omens has a ton of characters. We’re told we have to like them or hate them, but the only two I cared about even remotely were Crowley and Aziraphale. But really? I didn’t care about any of them at all. The world was supposedly about to end, and I wasn’t concerned in the slightest. For one thing, I didn’t ever truly believe it would, and for another, I wouldn’t have minded if it did, because at least then the show would have been over.

The series is also completely inconsistent, theologically speaking. It uses a whole slew of Christian beliefs to base its view of the end of the world, but then yoinks Christ out of the picture completely, pausing only to make some gimmicky one-liners about the crucifixion. (Yes. I get that the show was poking fun at religion on purpose. I wouldn’t have minded if it did a halfway decent job of it. But it didn’t, and the screwed things up even more.)

All in all, the only few nice things I can say about the series is that I liked most of the soundtrack, and David Tennant did as good a job as he could with what he was given.

How could it have been fixed? That’s pretty straightforward. The first step would have been to go beyond 6 episodes. It needed at least 10 to even come close to being enough to cover what they tried to cram in. Probably more like 30. Instead, they kept falling back on the idiotic approach of using a narrator to tell us what was happening and how we should be feeling about it. Total #TVfail.

Assuming they couldn’t go for 30 episodes, then they should have cut down the characters drastically. Ditch the witch and the witch hunter. Get rid of the host of angels and demons. Slim the story down to the essentials. But they tried to ram it all in instead.

Ugh. The sooner I’m done thinking about it, the better. 2/10. Avoid almost at all costs, especially if you’re a Pratchett/Gaiman fan.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

TV Series Review: Chernobyl

Yes, there’s still one episode to go in this, but I can’t wait to talk about it anymore, so I’m going to gush about it now. Chernobyl (a mini-series airing on HBO right now, with the final episode coming Monday) is absolutely riveting stuff. It’s a depiction of the events, response, and aftermath to the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986. Is it 100% historically accurate? No. But through its depictions of these events, it manages to bring the history alive in a way that’s definitely worth watching, if for nothing more than to get you thinking about what really happened and why.

Before watching this, my experience with Chernobyl was pretty much nothing but abstract. “It happened.” “There was a meltdown.” But what exactly “it” was and what a “meltdown” consists of was never really clear in my mind. So while some reviewers criticized the show for having some blatantly obvious set up scenes (such as where an official asks a nuclear scientist to “explain how reactors work”), I appreciated them taking the time to do that. It needed to be done, because the vast majority of the audience just doesn’t know enough about how nuclear energy works to properly understand what it is they’re watching.

The threat in Chernobyl is invisible. There’s a fire, yes. But there have been fires before, and humans generally know the risks involved with flame. If it’s not spreading, it’s not an immediate danger to you. But the people in Pripyat had no idea what they were dealing with. They accepted the official storyline, and why wouldn’t they? The immediate problems with radiation weren’t clear, and the cases that were clear were hushed up.

Basically, you end up watching a train wreck in slow motion. But because the film makers are careful to inform you just what’s happening when, and what those implications are, it’s that much more powerful. (Even more impactful when watching it with Denisa, who was 10 years old at the time and living 700 miles away. You’d think that was plenty of space for her to be safe. After all, it’s the distance between me in Maine and Erie, Pennsylvania. But it wasn’t.) The show is also very much informed by the current political events here in America. (Or at least, I was unable to avoid drawing many parallels.)

So much of the problem of Chernobyl came from the response to it. The attitude that if they ignored it or kept it quiet, it would go away. That it was better to safe face than it was to save lives. And you’d like to think that sort of mentality ended with the fall of the Soviet Union. That surely today, qualified people are put into positions of power to make sure they understand the consequences of the decisions they make. But I look at some of the people selected to lead American cabinet positions, and I inspect their qualifications, and I am far from convinced this problem is behind us.

The mini-series starts with this line: “What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, that we no longer recognize the truth at all.” It’s a sentiment that continues to be one of the things that alarms me the most in the world. The constant undercutting of truth.

I think that’s why I find Chernobyl so compelling. It helps inform my views of the present while filling in my understanding of the past. I gave it a 10/10 so far, and I can’t really imagine that will change after the finale. Be aware that it’s TV-MA, mainly for gruesome depictions of what exactly went on in Chernobyl, though there’s also some (very) non-sexual nudity and language.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

In Defense of Franchises: From Star Wars to Game of Thrones

I’ve been watching the fallout to the final season of Game of Thrones with no small amount of interest. It’s been fascinating to see how virulent the response has been from some quarters, including fans signing a petition for HBO to re-do the season(!) Yes, I realize many just view that as a way of showing their displeasure with the end of the show, but it’s still a strange way of expressing that, and it’s in line with fan response to other popular franchises like LotR/Hobbit, Star Wars, Marvel, etc.

One thing I really dislike these days is the trend of fans making up their mind on a show or a movie and then declaring it “good” or “bad.” To me, this is something that began with the Star Wars prequels, where there was this huge pent up demand for the movies, and then when they arrived, they were different than what fans thought they should be, and therefore bad. I fell for that the first time around, agreeing with many that the prequels were a travesty. But as time has gone on, and I’ve seen that same pattern repeated again and again, I’m not really falling for it anymore.

What’s the pattern? Easy. Take any popular show or film franchise. It has to reach a critical mass where there’s enough fans of the show to really be whipped into a furor. It’s also key that this show/franchise be lasting for at least a decade or more, since it takes that amount of time for fans to really conglomerate around various ideas. Build up expectations in the franchise until those expectations take on a life of their own. Then come out with actual films and television episodes and watch the inevitable fallout.

Fans are disappointed. Fans are enraged. The show was ruined. The movie destroyed everything they held dear. The director dropped the ball. The writers are incompetent. And never mind the fact that it’s the same creative team around the show or franchise. Fans start passing out the pitchforks and torches, and then they gang up on anyone who might go against their new canonical opinion of the work in question.

Don’t get me wrong. I 100% believe in the right of the audience to evaluate a show. Anyone who tells me they dislike the Hobbit movies or the end of Game of Thrones or The Last Jedi is totally entitled to that, and they can use whatever reasons they want. True, I might disagree with those reasons, but if someone reads a book and says “this character bored me” or “I didn’t think the ending was believable,” there’s no way to tell them they’re wrong. You can’t be wrong about being bored. You either are or you aren’t, and you’re the expert. (You can suffer from bad taste, of course, but that’s a different debate.)

What I dislike is when fans start to groupthink a franchise to death. They all get into an echo chamber and start reassuring themselves they’re all right. They reinforce their opinions until they’re etched in stone. So you still have the popular opinion that Lost blew its finale. Indiana Jones 4 was awful. The Last Jedi was done in by Social Justice Warriors. The Hobbit trilogy was a complete mess. And there are plenty of articles and videos produced to reassure anyone that opinion is the right opinion.

For the record, I enjoyed the Lost finale, had a great time through all three Hobbit movies, didn’t love Indy 4, and thought The Last Jedi was excellent. I also think this final season of Game of Thrones has been fantastic. (More on that in a moment. I promise.)

I think many of these franchises get to the point where a stunning, perfect finish that’s universally acclaimed is no longer possible. They just have too much weight to carry. With Game of Thrones, think of the thousands and thousands of hours fans have poured into the show, developing theories about what might happen, picking apart character motivations and tiny details that might have far reaching implications. Spending years building up love for certain characters and hate for others.

How can anything possibly live up to all of that? Especially in the heat of the moment. When you watch a show after the fact, all at once, you get a different feel for it. And many of the shows these days are designed to be binge watched. Last week’s Game of Thrones destruction fest felt absolutely brutal, but that was because we couldn’t just immediately move on to this week’s finale, which provided context for it. Take away that week’s worth of debate and discussion, and you completely change the response to the following episode.

Fans are now saying the show runners rushed the ending of the series. That it should have been three complete seasons. That the things that happened could have still happened, if only the show had taken its time to develop all of them adequately. Personally, I think what they’re noticing is a big part of the reason why George RR Martin has been unable to even write another book of the series, let alone finish it.

It’s always easier to spin out more plot lines. To complicate matters more. To answer questions with more questions. To deepen the intrigue and the mystery. But each time you do that, speaking as a writer now, you dig yourself a little deeper. Coming up with a way out of all those plot lines with something approaching a satisfying conclusion snowballs out of control, until the sheer weight of expectations leave you breathless and unable to continue.

Martin wants to be done with the series in 2-3 more books. I don’t think it’s possible to pull that off in a satisfying way. Because remember, the books are even more complex than the show.

Was the final season rushed? Certainly from a logistical standpoint. Where before, it would take weeks to travel anywhere in Westeros, by the last few seasons, people were zipping back and forth between locations at light speed. But from a stance of telling the story they wanted to tell, I think the creators did a great job.

I went into last night’s episode with no clue how they’d manage to pull off an ending I would be satisfied with. (For the record, I was fine with the Mad Queen storyline, because I found it totally in line with what Dany has been doing all along. Burninating the countryside. Burninating the peasants. The only difference between Meereen and King’s Landing (beyond sheer scale of destruction) was the fact that we were more familiar with King’s Landing, so the impact was more immediate and harder to ignore. (And as for scale, she’d been upping her desire to burninate ever since she came to Westeros. King’s Landing Dany was Dany Unleashed.)

But they pulled it off. The jump forward in time was a fantastic move, allowing them to complete the story without showing what really would have been unnecessary fluff at this point. There’s no need to show Gray Worm capturing John and then almost killing him, before being talked down by someone or convinced by someone else to hold off. I mean, sure, you could have done that, but that’s answering a question with another question. At some point, you need to just give answers.

Perhaps that’s why some are so upset about these shows. They love the questions, and so they hate when the ultimate answers are finally given, and they don’t match up with everything they’ve imagined might be the answer. What I loved about Game of Thrones was the fact that any character was fair game. Plot arcs might not be the plot arcs you assumed they were. No one was tied to any one destiny. From Ned’s beheading to the Red Wedding to King’s Landing’s destruction, it was all on the table, all the time, and it made for some exhilarating watching.

The show’s ending was great. It caps off a wonderful series. Not the best series I’ve ever watched. (That’s still The Wire.) But still an easy top 5. Just an incredible piece of work, and no amount of fan petitions are going to convince me otherwise. (That’s okay. I’m sure my post won’t convince them either.) If you don’t like a franchise, fine. But no need to scour the internet to band together and start petitioning for a rewrite. If you want to do something better, go do it.

I could go on for much longer, but I’m out of time. If you have specific comments or questions, I’m happy to answer them as they come up.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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