Monday, June 6, 2022

Make It Slow

I have just endured the . . . whatever it was . . . that was Star Trek: Picard season 2. I may have more to say on the subject in a longer post. Right now, I just feel the need to highlight two three four gargantuan problems that haunt the whole season.

  1. It is God-awful slow. There are entire episodes that don't contribute at all to the main story arc. There are others (Episode 8, I'm looking at you) in which the characters get out of trouble, after a full hour, by doing something they could have and should have done in the first ten minutes.
  2. Speaking of the main story arc, what the hell is it? Who's the antagonist? Is it Q? Is it Soong? Is it the Borg Queen? Is it Renee Picard's inner demons? Is it the authorities? What exactly are any or all of the above trying to achieve?
  3. "We need to go back to the past to fix the timeline" is OVER. Don't do this setup again.
  4. Apparently Jean-Luc Picard experienced a childhood trauma that was so fundamental, so foundational to the man he became, that he sat two meters away from an empath for eight hours a day over seven years and she never noticed.

I'm sorry, I have to stop now. They're coming with my medicine.

Go watch Strange New Worlds instead.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Strike Two

I tried another Ngaio Marsh mystery, The Nursing-Home Murder.

Roderick Alleyn decides, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, to recreate the crime.

At the recreation, a supporting character--entirely by accident--nearly knocks over a piece of equipment.

This reveals the killer's identity and method.

Also, the killer's motive makes absolutely no sense. He's a fanatical eugenicist, but the victim neither has, nor has any prospect of having, children. (highlight to view)

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Concerning Dame Ngaio Marsh

 Recently a close friend forwarded this review to me:

Every Roderick Alleyn Novel (Fiction, Ngaio Marsh, 1934-1982) Roderick Alleyn, the Shakespeare-quoting, handsome, aristocratic Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, spans the gap between Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and P.D. James’ Adam Dalgleish. Not as inventive (in plot or dialogue) as Sayers, and not as deep (in character and psychology) as James, Marsh still easily beats Christie for human stories, and her puzzles are reliably honest legerdemain, the best kind. The early novels have a Sayers-Wodehouse sort of air, and she never approaches the psychological starkness of late Allingham, but at her best (Surfeit of Lampreys, Scales of Justice, and the near folk-horror of Dead Water, all Recommended) she combines knowing lightness, humanity, and cruelty better than most mystery writers. Many Alleyn novels have a theatrical setting, combining two hothouse genres with general success. –KH

Now, I am well known as a swooning devotee of the traditional whodunit mystery, featuring puzzles and clues and stuff. There are very few practitioners of the art nowadays, although I would be remiss not to cite the inimitable Steve Hockensmith and the always-excellent Aaron and Charlotte Elkins. (Although, come to think of it, I myself have imitated Hockensmith, so maybe he's only mostly inimitable.) I'm always searching for new authors in the classic mold. So nothing would please me more, at least within the confines of the literary universe, than to find that I'd unjustly overlooked Ngaio Marsh.

The thing is, I've never thought much of her. Her writing style is good, but her plotting always struck me as pedestrian at best. On the other hand, my wife likes her, and brought a dozen Marshes to our library. So I resolved to try again. I picked out one of the books I hadn't read, Death in Ecstasy.

Here's what happens:

  1. A woman is poisoned while attending a peculiar religious service.
  2. Ordinary police work reveals that she had a serious quarrel with someone, regarding the theft of some bonds which she had given to the sect. 
  3. It's not clear with whom she quarreled, but it's presumed that that's who killed her.
  4. One of the suspects actually overheard the quarrel, but he won't tell the police who the other party was.
  5. Except that, a couple chapters later, he does tell them who it was, and that's your murderer.
  6. The end.

There are a lot of melodramatic trappings, but that's it. That's the mystery.

Ngaio Marsh fans, please tell me: what am I missing?

Monday, April 25, 2022

Failure to Think, Episode 1

Like it says on the tin, I think about stuff. Also, I get unreasonably irritated when people with whom I might otherwise agree fail to do so. Today's exhibit, therefore, is entitled "How to Be Smarter than Marjorie Taylor Greene." 

Greene has been in the news lately because she's facing a hearing, in which various activists are trying to get her disqualified from running for Congress again. I've heard various people, including some NPR folks who ought to know better, who sound like they're practically salivating at the the thought.

I yield to nobody in my distaste for Marjorie Taylor Greene. But . . . let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that the highly improbable has happened. Greene has lost the case, she's lost the appeals, she's been thrown out of office, she can never run for federal office again. Liberals get everything they dreamed of and more.

Now what?

What about the 229,827 voters who supported her in 2020? Are they suddenly going to see the light? Will we find them holding hands with Black Lives Matter activists, singing "Kumbaya" and peacing out on weed?

No. We will not.

If Marjorie Taylor Greene's supporters can't vote for her, they'll vote for someone else just like her. And if they can't vote for someone else just like her, they'll vote for someone worse. By getting rid of Greene, you have accomplished precisely one thing: you've confirmed her supporters in their strongest (and most destructive) beliefs. 

The problem isn't Greene. The problem isn't even that 229,827 people voted for Greene. The problem is that nobody is making any effort to provide those 229,827 people with an affirmative reason not to vote for Greene. Democrats seem to think they can just go in front of those voters and say "See? You're wrong about everything!" and then We will win and They will lose and everything will be OK again. 

Uh-huh. Sure. 

Let me know when the magic sparkly unicorns come flying down, too.

P.S. I will continue to point out that my own record as a prognosticator isn't bad.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Remember Me?

No, of course you don't. That's the problem, really.

Of all my character defects--I can provide lists, with references--one of the most vexing is this: I lose enthusiasm for things. It's not just this blog; it's all of my hobbies. The culpa is definitely mea.

Having said that, the fact is that nobody reads this blog. I mean actually, literally, nobody. So, no, you don't remember me. The Internet, remarkably enough, seems to have survived my several-years' hiatus unscathed.

On the other hand, I said when I started that this was, basically, a way to be obscure on a larger and more permanent platform. Yes, the Internet has survived this far, but why risk it?

So here I am. As proof of life, I offer photographic evidence containing my wife Robin, our emergency backup cat Biscuit, and a small fraction of our books. (Robin is the one wearing glasses.)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Nailed It.

 Look what I wrote on November 9, 2016.

"I think we are likely to see our politics dominated by mobs of insecure and angry white people for some time to come."

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Random Impressions From a Visit to Japan

Bear in mind that these are the product of a single trip, covering a mere two cities and eleven days. Don't expect deep analysis here.
  • If you go, endeavor to go sometime that is not June, July, or August. June is the rainy season; July and August are brutally hot and humid.
  • Reports of Japan being ferociously expensive are grossly exaggerated. A good hotel room in Kyoto, right across from the Imperial Palace gardens, cost us $85/night. Perfectly decent meals can be had for $10 or so.
  • You could scrape by with no Japanese, although you'd be pretty limited in what you could accomplish. 
    • Transportation, even city buses, displays enough English to let you know where you are and where you're going. 
    • The general level of English proficiency is not very high, but people in public places--hotels and train stations, for example--tend to know just enough to do their job. 
    • Menus usually have pictures. Point. You can say "kore o kudasai" ("this, please") if you want.
    • Buying stuff at a cash register is the same everywhere: look at the number, fork over the cash.
    • Museums and attractions mostly have text and/or audio in English, although it's not always extensive.
  • Take some time to study how the transit systems work before you go. For example, on the subways and trains in Tokyo and Kyoto, you look at a map and find the station you're going to; that tells you what you need to pay for a ticket.
  • Taxis are easy to find and not particularly expensive.
  • Japan is a modern, wealthy, industrial country. Don't expect to be overwhelmed with the exoticness of it the moment you get off the plane. If you look for cultural differences, you will certainly find them; you will also find many similarities.
  • Tokyo is a modern business-oriented city with no particular character but plenty to do. Kyoto is not particularly beautiful or ancient in its streets and urban fabric; its setting is gorgeous, however, and it's positively ringed with splendid temples and shrines of every description. 
  • You could eat nothing but western food, if you insisted.
  • Many Japanese, in interacting with you, will behave as if doing so were the most wonderful thing that's happened to them for the last month. You should reciprocate, at least to the extent of not being a boor. Learn, at minimum, the rudiments of polite Japanese expressions: "sumimasen" ("excuse me"), "arigatou gozaimasu" ("thank you very much"), and so on.
Photos to follow.