Podcast of the Week Ending June 30


Decoder Ring :: Clown Panic

A history of clowns and how they’ve gone from funny to terrifying.

Hidden Brain :: Looking Back: Reflecting On The Past To Understand The Present

There are times when a song, book, or tv show I loved leaves me with a feeling of crippling nostalgia, so I was interested in this examination on how our brains reflect on the past.

To The Best of Our Knowledge :: Is Guilt A Wasted Emotion?

Speaking of reflecting on the past, how about an unhealthy dose of regret and guilt.

The Sounds in My Head :: “Hey, the 80’s called…”

A podcast full of current music that sounds like it was made in the 1980s.  But the good New Wave sounds of the 80s, not the crumby songs that actually made the top 40 in the 80s.

HUB History :: Immigration in Boston

Present day anti-immigrant prejudice and hysteria has long historical roots as seen in these three stories from Boston history: the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Chinese tongs in Chinatown, and the destruction of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown.

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Book Review: Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks


Author: Terrance Dicks
Title: Blood Harvest
Publication Info: Virgin (1994)
Summary/Review:

Terrance Dicks has a long association with Doctor Who, writing scripts for the 2nd to 5th Doctors, serving as script editor for 5 years, and writing 60 novelizations of TV stories as well as original New Adventures. He can always be counted on for a ripping yarn seeped in Doctor Who lore. This story sees the Doctor and Ace running a speakeasy in Chicago and rubbing shoulders with Al Capone. Meanwhile, Bernice is left on a planet with a medieval culture and an infestation of vampires, and ends up teaming up with Romana. On top of all of this, evil Time Lords are plotting against the Doctor.

The last two plots follow up on TV stories Dicks wrote, the 4th Doctor story “State of Decay” and “The Five Doctors” 20th anniversary special. With the multiple plots and heavy continuity, this book should be a mess, Dicks does a good job of alternating the first two plots while bringing them together with the third at the end.

That said the writing also reflects Dicks’ old-fashioned mentality and casual sexism. This works well in the first-person portions written from the point of view of a Chicago detective, Dekker, less so in the third person omniscient parts. He also repeats the unsettling idea from Timewyrm: Exodus of alien influence causing human violence. In the earlier book it was the Nazis, here it is Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Still, the Prohibition Chicago story is an entertaining read, and it’s fun to have Benny and Romana teaming up.

Rating: ***1/2

Previously Reviewed:

2018 FIFA World Cup Rooting Preferences – Knockout Stage


After an exciting, weird, and sometimes disappointing group round, the knockout round of the 2018 World Cup in Russia begins tomorrow.  Following up on my picks for group play, here are my picks for the knockout rounds of the tournament.  Remember these are more wishes of what I’d like to see happen than predictions of what will actually happen.  I tend to favor the underdog, so these things are not likely to pass.

Let me know who you think will win this year’s World Cup trophy, and who you want to win it most (if that’s different) in the comments!

ROUND OF 16

June 30 – Uruguay vs. Portugal

I’m kind of partial to both sides, but I’ll lean toward Portugal since they’ve never won a title.

EDITED 7/3: It’s Uruguay, I’m ok with that.

June 30 – France vs. Argentina

Seems kind of early for a matchup of these powerhouses, and I like both of them, but I’ll go for Argentina for Messi’s sake.

EDITED 7/3: Messi needs better teammates.

July 1 – Spain vs. Russia

It will be nice to see a classy side like Spain bounce the hosts out of the tournament.

EDITED 7/3: This was a huge shocker!

July 1 – Croatia vs. Denmark

Hmm…no strong feelings on either team and neither are really a powerhouse nor an underdog.  I guess I’ll go with Denmark since Copenhagen is such a great city for biking, but if anyone has a good argument for Croatia, let me hear it.

EDITED 7/3: Well, Croatia has been the surprise of the tournament so good for them.

July 2 – Belgium vs. Japan

I’ll be pulling for Japan here as the last surviving representative of Asia.  Sadly there will be no one from Africa to root for as well.

EDITED 7/3: Hah, I forgot I picked Japan and was actually rooting for Belgium while I was watching it.  What an exciting game for both sides! Belgium is my favorite surviving side from Europe.

July 2 – Brazil vs. Mexico

No offense to Brazil, but I’m pulling for our neighbors to the south, and based on what I saw in group play, I think that they could pull it off.

EDITED 7/3: The result here was not surprising.  Brazil seems to have the best chance of a non-European side winning the Cup, but they’re not new and exciting either.

July 3 – Sweden vs. Switzerland

Hmm…another match that doesn’t promise to be exciting, but I’ve enjoyed Sweden’s play thus far.

EDITED 7/3: Well, bully for Sweden.

July 3 – Colombia vs. England

Colombia all the way! Perhaps one of the most fun teams to watch and a South American underdog who’ve been bubbling under for some time. And what better team to user England out the door?

EDITED 7/3: The team I most wanted to win lost to the the team I most wanted to lose.  What a bummer!

QUARTERFINALS

July 6 – QF #1: Portugal vs. Argentina

Every tv station in the world is rooting for Ronaldo vs. Messi.  I expect that if Argentina makes it this far, Messi won’t be able to carry the team any further, and Portugal will get a deserved win.  Doesn’t necessarily mean that Ronaldo is better, although that is the conclusion every sports pundit will make.

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. France

Leaning toward Uruguay, but like elements of each side.

July 6 – QF #2: Mexico vs. Japan

Sticking with Mexico here.

EDITED 7/3: Brazil vs. Belgium

Cheering for fancy beers and peeing boys.

July 7 – QF #3: Spain vs. Denmark

Spain will win this, although I’ll root for Denmark to be the final surviving Scandanivian side.

EDITED 7/3: Sweden vs. England

Lets go Sweden! <clap, clap, clapclapclap>

July 7 – QF #4: Sweden vs. Colombia

Colombia may my favorite remaining team, so this is easy.

EDITED 7/3: Russia vs. Croatia

Croatians must have some score to settle with the former Soviet Union, right?

SEMIFINALS

July 10 – SF #1: Portugal vs. Mexico

This would be an interesting, albeit unlikely, matchup.  I’ll give Portugal the nod.

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. Belgium

Should probably go with Uruguay as the last non-European side in this scenario, but I’m really liking Belgium.

July 11 – SF #2:  Denmark vs. Colombia

Still with Colombia.

EDITED 7/3: Croatia vs. Sweden

Keep the Croatian win streak going

THIRD PLACE

July 14 – Mexico vs. Denmark

El Tri for Third Place!

EDITED 7/3: Uruguay vs. Sweden

Uruguay gets the bronze.

FINAL

July 15 – Portugal vs. Colombia

Colombia all the way!

EDITED 7/3: Belgium vs. Croatia

The biggest victory since Waterloo!

After writing this out, I know how ridiculous this all looks, but hey, if it actually happens…

Video Replay in Sports


This year the FIFA World Cup is using video assistant referees (VAR) to correct or confirm questionable calls made by the referee on the field.  VAR has already played an instrumental role in several matches, including both of Monday’s Group B games where the referee reviewed plays in the 90th minute of Spain vs. Morocco and Iran vs. Portugal.  One of the joys of soccer that distinguishes it from other team sports is that the clock never stops and excepting the oddity of stoppage time, 90 minutes on the clock is generally close to 90 minutes of real time. So it’s a bit of a drag to see the referee staring at a video monitor for several minutes at the height of a game.

FIFA is not the first sporting body to adopt video replay review. The NFL started using replay review in 1986, adopting their current system in 1998, and many other sports leagues have followed suit. Major League Baseball began using instant replay on a limited number of types of plays in 2008 and then expanded it to greater usage in 2014.  Obviously, it can be very exciting when a call is reversed in favor of your team, especially in a big game, but these instant replay reviews can be interminable, delaying the game and sucking momentum from the action while the officials watch the clips over and over. (I speak for myself in not enjoying reviews, as my son enjoys going to the MLB sight to watch reviews from various different games).

Now, I’m not a Luddite opposed to the use of technology.  There is a place for replay reviews and I’m certain many games in the past would’ve been improved if umpire’s miscues were overruled. Who can forget these famous blown calls in MLB history, all of which were followed with apologies from the umpires in post-game interviews?

1996: Derek Jeter awarded a home run in a playoff game when a fan reaches over the wall to catch the ball.

1999: Jose Offerman called out despite Chuck Knoblauch failing to tag him.

2010: Armando Galarraga’s perfect game is ruined when the umpire inexplicably calls a base runner safe.

(Note that 2 of these 3 plays benefit the Yankees in line with the statistic that 66% of blown calls in MLB history favor the Yankees)

I think there is a place for video replay review when an umpire or a referee makes a call that anyone watching the game on tv (or after an initial replay) is glaringly wrong.  I don’t think it benefits the game when “too close to call” plays are analyzed for several minutes at multiple speeds from different angles to see if the point of a baserunner’s spikes poked the base milliseconds before or after a fielder brushed his uniform with the lace of his glove.

So I propose that all of these sports should use video replay review with a time limit.  The referee would have 30 seconds or 45 seconds tops to watch a replay and confirm or overturn a call.  If a decision cannot be reached in that time, the call on the field stands.  I think that would bring the full benefit of video technology to making sure that sporting games are free of the most glaring errors with out falling down the rabbit hole of full-on forensic analysis of a play that drains that urgency from a game.

On the other hand (pun intended), if there’s no statute of limitations on video replay reviews, I’d like VAR to go back to 2002 and evaluate this play.

Book Review: The Highest Science by Gareth Roberts


Author: Gareth Roberts
Title: The Highest Science
Publication Info: London Bridge (1993)
Summary/Review:

This is the first published novel for Gareth Roberts who went on to write numerous Doctor Who books, audio dramas, comics, and episodes of the revived tv series and the Sarah Jane Adventures including “The Shakespeare Code,” “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” “The Lodger,” “Closing Time,” and “The Caretaker.”  His stories are known for being clever and funny. Unfortunately, Roberts has also revealed himself as a bigot who rants against LGBT people and I believe the BBC has rightly decided to not have him write for the show again.  If it’s any consolation I got this book second hand so he won’t get any royalties.

As to the book, it features the Seventh Doctor and companion Benny investigating a Fortean flicker, a temporal anomaly bringing together beings from different people from different times on one unremarkable planet.  This includes the Chelonians, a militaristic turtle-like species who clear planets of “infestations of humans,” a group of hippie-like individuals traveling to a music festival; people riding an English commuter train; and a galactic criminal traveling with a stolen organic intelligence called The Cell.  Without giving too much away, the book is largely a parody of the elaborate plots and schemes that the Seventh Doctor is known to create, with the twist of this time the Doctor failing to anticipate someone else’s scheme.  But is it worth it to have to keep up with so many different characters and their plotlines, especially since only some tie in with the conclusion while others are shaggy dog stories?

Rating: **

Previously Reviewed:

Book Review: The True Flag by Stephen Kinzer


AuthorStephen Kinzer
TitleThe True Flag
Narrator: Robert Petkoff
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio (2017)

Previously Read by the Same Author: All the Shah’s Men

Summary/Review:

This book explores the strains of American foreign policy which veers over the course of history between imperialist and interventionist goals and isolationism. Kinzer argues that these two positions have a long history, and the tension between them has repeated since at least the turn of the twentieth century.  The imperialist urge emerges with the outbreak of the Spanish American War and the United States taking control of foreign territories for the first time in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. The interventionists argue that the peoples of these lands will find freedom under American control, seemingly at odds with the democratic ideals of our own Revolution.  Anti-imperialists then as now try to get Americans to cling to these principles and restrain their militarist impulses, with Mark Twain the most prominent voice.  Theodore Roosevelt stands as the icon of imperialism in this book, although Kinzer describes Henry Cabot Lodge as the actor working behind the scenes of the imperialist cause, up to and including engineering Roosevelt’s rise to the presidency.

Recommended booksThe Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin and The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Rating: ***

Photopost: Father’s Day on Stellwagen Bank


On Father’s Day, my kids celebrated a whale of a dad by taking me on a New England Aquarium Whale Watch. We were lucky enough to see majestic humpback whales, a mama and a baby, trying to catch a snooze on a clear and calm day. When we returned to Boston, the kids hadn’t reached their fill of nautical adventures, so we took the MBTA Ferry from Long Wharf to the Charlestown Navy Yard. There we saw lots of Big Dogs, steel sculptures by Dale Rogers, and played on the playground.

Related Posts:

Podcasts of the Week Ending June 23


Another week of audio delight for my earbuds.

The Truth :: Fish Girl

A tale of a girl and her friendship with a puffer fish.

Have You Heard? :: A La Carte: School Choice, Segregation and Gentrification in an Unequal City

Interview with Carla Shedd on how the “school choice” movement is undermining public education while promoting segregation and inequality.

Album Review: so sad so sexy by Lykke Li


Albumso sad so sexy
ArtistLykke Li
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • two nights
  • jaguars in the air
  • so sad so sexy
  • utopia

Thoughts:

The album title sums it up perfectly as Swedish singer-songwriter sings heartbreaking tunes of romantic entanglings that ultimately end in failure. Stylistically, Li has shifted from indie rock and dream pop to contemporary R&B and electronic dance music.  It’s not a shift that I think works for her, as the music doesn’t sound bad, but it loses Li’s unique style for something that sounds like a lot of other music out there today. I’m thinking that this album will be recognized more as the transition to whatever Li does next than for itself.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)


TitleWon’t You Be My Neighbor?
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Director: Morgan Neville
Production Company: Tremolo Productions
Summary/Review:

I was born into the first generation of children who got to know the friendly, calm, and soothing presence of Mister Rogers through our television sets. As a teenager, I grew to find the show cheezy and a bit trippy.  As an adult, I learned more and more that Fred Rogers was one of the most genuinely good and kind human beings ever to grace the earth.  This documentary reinforces that notion (in case you were worried that this is a “tell-all” documentary that would expose Mister Rogers’ dark side, it can’t because it doesn’t exist) by showing that the Mister Rogers we saw on tv was an authentic expression of the man himself.

The documentary only touches upon Rogers’ personal life, with hints of his childhood explored through dreamlike animated segments featuring his alter ego Daniel Striped Tiger.  The bulk of the movie is interviews with Rogers’ family and work colleagues and lots of spectacular archival film.  We see clips from “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” behind the scenes footage, public appearances, and interviews.

Through the interviews Rogers narrates his own story.  He explains how he was called to use the new medium of television to minister to children (which he did for more than 30 years without ever mentioning God or Jesus).  One interviewee notes regarding his ministry, “He didn’t wear a collar he wore a sweater.” Rogers himself discusses the “holy ground between the tv and someone receiving it.” One of his sons notes that it was “Tough for me to have the second Christ as a dad.” He also talks about the influence of child psychologist Margaret McFarland on his work as well as other leaders in child development of the era such as Benjamin Spock and T. Berry Brazelton.

The history of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” shows how from the very beginning he addressed children directly on dealing with difficult subjects.  The very first week of the show talked about war by showing King Friday building a wall around his kingdom to keep people out (UM, THAT’S A LITTLE BIT TOO ON POINT!).  A few months later he created a special episode for children and their parents to deal with the assassination of Robert Kennedy. When segregationists poured acid into a swimming pool where black people were swimming, Rogers responded with a segment showing him soaking his feet in a wading pool with François Clemens.  By the 1980s the show would spend an entire week on topics such as divorce, bullying, and death. In one episode he finds that one of his fish has died and shows him gently removing the fish, wrapping it, and burying it in the yard behind his tv home.
In the real world, Rogers testified before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee in favor of funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and through his gentle but persuasive explanation, encouraged tough guy Senator John Pastore to award the funding. The film also shows the parodies of  Mister Rogers – such as Eddie Murphy’s “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood” – and what Rogers thought of them.  Starting in the 1990s, there was also right wing critique of Mister Rogers’ philosophy of recognizing children for the uniqueness and loving them for who they are as being a cause of children to grow up to be selfish and unmotivated.  Most heartbreaking is the appearance of “Christian” protesters at Rogers’ funeral, some of them bringing their own children to shout hatred at the man who lived a life based in love.  Even Rogers’ loses hope as seen in clips where PBS brought him in to make PSAs after the September 11th attacks and he questions whether anything he can say would make a difference.
There’s a lot of nostalgia for me in watching this documentary, and I’m particularly pleased to remember things I loved like Mister Rogers’ fish, the traffic light next to the aquarium, and characters like Trolley and Daniel Striped Tiger.  On the other hand, I have absolutely no recollection of Lady Aberlin, the only human character who interacts with the puppets in the Land of Make Believe, so it was nice to become reacquainted with her through clips from the show and interviews with Betty Aberlin.  This was a very emotional movie to watch for me, and I know I’m not alone, so if you do go see it I recommend bringing a box of tissues.

Rating: *****