Photographing a Baltimore Church

I mentioned in yesterday’s post about the Women’s March in Baltimore that I stopped along the way and took pictures of churches.  It’s something of a hobby of mine.  Sacred architecture speaks to the better angels of our nature, a monument to the human need for community that spans decades and centuries.

Most of the pictures I took of churches in Baltimore aren’t especially interesting, but I wanted to share a few pictures of Lovely Lane United Methodist Church.

As I walked up Charles Street toward Hopkins, this massive spire rose out of the foggy mists.  It was a striking spire — solid, a few windows, almost formless.

Naturally, I had to investigate.

What I found was something that looked ancient, like something from the late Roman Empire.  A basilica, not quite Byzantine, with arches and patios and porticos.  Wikipedia tells me that was the intention; when Lovely Lane was built in the late 19th-century, it was designed “in the Romanesque Revival style,” “patterned after the early churches and basilicas in Ravenna, Italy.”

The tower, which is what caught my eye, actually seemed wrong to me when I viewed the church in toto from across the street.

That’s because, going back to Wikipedia, the tower was “patterned after the campanile of the 12th century church of Santa Maria, Abbey of Pomposa, near Ravenna.”  Lovely Lane, then, combines two architectural styles — a fourth-century basilica with a 12th-century tower.  Of course the tower looked wrong.  It was supposed to.

The sign out front says they give tours.  I may have to visit sometime and take the tour.

Satisfied, I resumed my walk toward Hopkins for the Women’s March in Baltimore.  A few block away I turned and took another shot of the church’s formless tower, disappearing into the mists of a foggy January day.

Scenes from the Women’s March in Baltimore

Today I attended the Women’s March sister march in Baltimore.

There isn’t much of a narrative here, and I’d struggle to stitch one together.  I’ll give some brief background, an account of what I did and witnessed, pictures of what I saw, and some final remarks.  This is going behind a link, as there are a lot of photos embedded.  I took over 150, and I’ve pared them down to 28.  That took a while to do.

Continue reading “Scenes from the Women’s March in Baltimore”

Random Thoughts on Sherlock

What follows is a rambling post about “The Final Problem” and Sherlock overall that I made on Facebook.  I don’t guarantee that it will make any sense.  It’s a bit random.

A coworker said to me this morning, “You either loved it or you hated it.”  I didn’t hate it, but I’m not a fan of psychological horror, so I couldn’t really love it.  I got what (I think) it was going for last night, but it wasn’t a journey I really wanted to go on.

The interview with Mark Gatiss in Radio Times was instructive, and it really confirmed the feeling I had coming out of “The Final Problem” — emotionally it felt like the ending of Batman Begins, and Sherlock is now out of his “Sherlock Holmes Begins” phase.  I mentioned this feeling to my coworker, to which he replied: “‘He’s not the Sherlock Holmes we want, but he’s the Sherlock Holmes we need,'” which rewrites the line from the next Batman film, but it applied here.  But it also feels like a giant retcon of the four seasons of Sherlock to suggest that he hasn’t been “himself” for six years and hundreds of cases (a few recorded, most not) and only now he’s the Sherlock Holmes he was always meant to be.

The fourth series, at least to me, seemed like Moffat and Gatiss said, “Anything you can do Elementary, we can do better.”  Elementary has a Sherlock post-rehab, and when he chased the dragon at the end of season three, we didn’t see him high, only the aftermath.  The fourth series of Sherlock has practically reveled in a Sherlock off his face, by contrast.  Elementary had Sherlock’s greatest nemesis — a woman! — defeated by love and imprisoned in an impregnable fortress, and when she escapes she’s again defeated by love.  Sherlock has Sherlock’s greatest nemesis — a woman! — imprisoned in an impregnable fortress and defeated by love.  I enjoy Elementary, and those two things — a female arch-nemesis for Sherlock and a foregrounded drug addiction — are things that I associate with Elementary, so seeing them so prominently in Sherlock these last three episodes felt a bit odd.  (The only thing that would have made them odder would have been if Eurus occupied her time in Sherrinford by painting.) I’m not sure Sherlock used these elements better than Elementary, just differently.

As absurd as Eurus’ years-in-the-making plan was, “The Lying Detective” laid the groundwork for it.  Eurus was able to predict what Sherlock and John and even Moriarty would do years in the future with absolute accuracy so it would all come to a head now, as absolutely insane as that is.  But Sherlock did the same thing with John in “The Lying Detective,” setting up a situation in which John would have to rescue him a month in the future under very exact circumstances.  The Holmes siblings clearly would put the Second Foundation to shame to be that accurate.  But their powers of observation and deduction also come across as outright omniscience — Super Saiyan God Mode Sherlock or what have you.

Speaking of the Holmes siblings, I was struck by how well they map to the Wiggins siblings from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series — Mycroft/Peter, Eurus/Valentine, Sherlock/Ender.  Two families, each of three siblings, each of them super-geniuses, each of them (in descending age) boy-girl-boy.  The oldest one is a master manipulator who goes into government, the middle one has a bond with her younger brother despite being separated by years and unable to communicate, the youngest one is gaslighted by those around him into not fully understanding the circumstances of the existence that molds him into being a driven individual with strong ethical imperatives.  “Wait,” you say, “Mycroft isn’t a sadist like Peter, and Eurus lacks the empathy that Valentine has.”  First, we don’t know that Mycroft isn’t a sadist (or wasn’t in his past), and Gatiss’ Mycroft has always struck me as something of an unpleasant, monstrous figure.  And second, Valentine was as just interested in power as Peter (she was his partner in the Demosthenes project) and her empathy was directed at her younger brother, just as Eurus’ emotional energy, stunted though it was, was directed entirely at her younger brother, Sherlock.  I freely admit I’m cherry-picking details from the Ender books and Sherlock (both in general and “The Final Problem” specifically), but the more I think about it the more I wonder if Moffat and Gatiss were influenced at all by Card’s work.  Intuitively, this all feels right to me.

I assume “The Final Problem” was the overall series finale.  If we don’t see this version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson for five years, ten years, or even ever again, I’m fine with that.  I loved the idea of Sherlock, sometimes I even loved the execution (particularly in series 1 and 2), but it wasn’t quite the series I thought it could have been.  In some ways, I blame the format; three 90-minute episodes per series forced some creative choices that were to Sherlock‘s detriment by making every episode a movie-scale epic that served a larger metaplot.  In other ways, especially series 3, Sherlock‘s storytelling felt like it was geared toward fan service moments in search of a coherent narrative; the attitude of Moffat and Gatiss toward cliffhangers, or even following up on the implications and repercussions of events in their stories, I found frustrating and tiresome.  In short, it could have been a more focused and disciplined program.

Things I’ve Been Reading: “Terror of the Cabinet Noir”

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Year Two #11-13
Titan Comics
Written by Robbie Morrison
Art by Mariano Laclaustra with Fer Centurion and Agus Calcagno

Cover to Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Year Two #11This week, Titan Comics wrapped up a storyline in the twelfth Doctor comics, “Terror of the Cabinet Noir.”

Paris, 1695.  Cardinal Richelieu seems to be immortal, and there’s a darkness permeating French society.  While the public awaits a celebration of the Sun King, the upper classes are taken by an enchanting twenty-two-year-old opera soprano, one who is as quick with the sword and an insult as she is with a song.  Her name is Julie d’Aubigny, and when she crosses swords with the Doctor in the streets of Paris she embarks on a wild adventure that involves Dark Matter invading our world and possessing Richelieu, making him both near-immortal and near-omnipotent.

Julie d’Aubigny is one of history’s notorious badasses, a bisexual opera singer and swordswoman who lived fast, fought hard, and died young.  Robbie Morrison’s script for “Terror of the Cabinet Noir” doesn’t shy away from her unsavory history; issue #11 features a four-page flashback to Julie’s childhood, her arranged marriage, her love for another woman that led her to join a convent just so she could kidnap her paramour and run off with her, and her skill with the sword.  She’s an incredibly headstrong and self-confident woman, the smartest person in the room and one who doesn’t suffer fools at all, quite capable of defending herself with her snark and her sword, and when she steps in the TARDIS at the end of issue #11 she doesn’t have time for the usual “It’s bigger on the inside” nonsense.

Despite a rushed ending in issue #13 (I felt that it was missing a page or two as the plot skipped ahead of itself), “Terror of the Cabinet Noir” is an immensely fun story thanks to a captivating characterization of Julie as a bright and quick-witted person who doesn’t have the time for anyone’s bullshit (including the Doctor), and the artwork by Mariano Laclaustra, as colored by Carlos Cabrera, has an almost painted quality to it.  This feels very much like a “companion introduction” story; besides the villain referring to Julie as the Doctor’s “companion,” there’s a nice rapport between the Doctor and Julie, we “see” much of the story through Julie’s POV and the narrative weight rests on her, and at the end of the story she says outright that she’s looking forward to more adventures in time and space (to which the Doctor notably does not say no).

Cover to Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Year Two #12Personally, I hope Julie sticks around until Titan introduces Bill in the summer.  Titan has done well introducing original companions (the tenth and eleventh Doctors have traveled exclusively with comics-original companions in Titan’s comics, and they’ve just introduced a comics-original companion for the Nine/Rose/Jack team), and bringing an historical personage into the TARDIS would, I think, be quite fun.  (As an aside, when I watched The Tudors years ago, I dreamed of a Doctor Who series with Sarah Bolger’s Princess Mary as the tenth Doctor’s companion.) Julie d’Aubigny would have to leave eventually — the BBC would prefer Bill (and Nardole, I’d assume) in the TARDIS as soon as possible, and Titan is already promoting the Free Comic Book Day special in May as Bill’s comics debut — but until then, she could have a nice ten-issue run (from her debut in Year Two #11 to, presumably, Year Three #5).  Some television companions don’t even last that long. :)

If, like me, you want a nice Doctor Who pseudohistorical, “Terror of the Cabinet Noir” in Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Year Two #11-13 is a welcome choice with its fun characters and great artwork.  Plus, it’s a great jumping-on point for Doctor Who fans.

Just ignore the Cybermen on the cover to issue #11.  There are no Cybermen here.  Titan’s Doctor Who covers, especially when you get into the variants, don’t typically reflect the contents. :)

Into Syria with the Doctor aboard the TARDIS

I have easily a hundred ebooks on my Kindle that I’ve never read.  Either they were freebies, or I made them from files off Project Gutenberg, or I got them as part of a bundle where I was interesting in only two or three specific titles, or I bought them cheaply from one of the various ebook alert newsletters I subscribe to.  My Kindle isn’t my preferred way of reading — I still enjoy the tactile pleasures of the printed page — but it serves a function, even if that sometimes seems like a virtual “to-be-read pile” of forgotten files.

coverLast weekend I went through my Kindle and I found that, sometime in the past, I’d downloaded Aboud Dandachi‘s The Doctor, the Eye Doctor, and Me.  Dandachi’s book, a look at Doctor Who through the prism of the Syrian civil war offered for free on the Kindle, interested me conceptually, but I never got around to reading it.  In light of the fall of Aleppo to Bashar al-Assad’s government forces, I decided it was time to visit the book.

A refugee from Syria’s civil war and holed up in a hotel in a seaside city, Dandachi discovered Doctor Who as a way to pass the time while the war went on around him.  A short book of maybe 25,000 words, The Doctor, the Eye Doctor, and Me looks at Matt Smith’s era as the eleventh Doctor, which corresponds to the first three years of the Syrian civil war, and relates the storytelling to his experience and the war itself. 

Dandachi examines several episodes of Smith’s era — in order, “The Impossible Astronaut”/”Day of the Moon,” “The Doctor’s Wife,” “A Good Man Goes to War,” “The Girl Who Waited,” “The Wedding of River Song,” “The Eleventh Hour,” “Asylum of the Daleks,” “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS,” “The Night of the Doctor,” “The Day of the Doctor,” and “The Time of the Doctor” — and explores the ideas in the episode, the character of the Doctor, and how the episode illuminates aspects of Syria’s civil war.  Initially predisposed against the Doctor due to his name — in Syria, Bashar Assad is known as “the Doctor” — Dandachi finds something compelling in the Doctor, a man whose first choice is never violence but, when forced to fight, picks his fights and plans his moves.  He contrasts the Doctor with the “Eye Doctor,” Assad himself (a trained eye doctor), and finds Assad wanting.  Delving into the episodes, he examines how conflict hardens and scars people (“The Girl Who Waited”), how people lie to themselves to cope with horrible circumstances (“Asylum of the Daleks”), how nature abhors a vacuum and what fills it may be as bad or worse than was had been there (“The Time of the Doctor”), even how Matt Smith’s departure and the revelation of Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor represented a turning point in his life.  Dandachi presents a thoughtful and unexpected take on Doctor Who here, showing how the series cuts across cultures and offers universal lessons.

In the course of his exmaination of the series, Dandachi delves into the history of Syria, how Assad came to power, how the civil war unfolded, and how Syria’s population suffered from Assad’s incompetence.  (Violence, as Isaac Asimov wrote in Foundation, is the last refuge of the incompetent.) He also has harsh words for the “Friends of Syria,” countries who condemned rhetorically Assad’s brutal suppression of his people but stood by and did nothing as he unleashed chemical weapons attacks on the rebels and destroyed cities like Homs and Aleppo.  He writes about what it’s like to be in a city block that’s being shelled by the Syrian military and notes how unrealistic it was for the Gallifreyans of Arcadia to run out into the streets as the Daleks move in to exterminate.

An intensely political book, this book is a compelling account of what remains, even with the fall of Aleppo and a tenuous truce, an ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Syria, one man’s discovery of Doctor Who, and the lessons in life and politics he drew from the series.  Occasionally repetitive, sometimes in need of a good copy-edit, The Doctor, the Eye Doctor, and Me is literate, thoughtful, and worth the time for any Doctor Who fan with an interest in geopolitics and the plight of Syria’s population.

Reporting to the Head Beagle on 2016

I received an urgent request to fill out an annual report to the Head Beagle.  I think this urgent request may have come to me by accident — unlike Snoopy I am not a beagle — but in the spirit of the New Year, herewith is my 2016 response to the annual survey.

1. How many rabbits have you chased?
I chased no rabbits in 2016.  I was content to let the rabbits frolic outside of my apartment.  Some mornings I would even sit outside and drink my coffee as they frolicked in the spring.  No rabbits.

2. How many cats have you chased?
I chased no cats.  I’ve not seen a cat in a while, honestly.  No cats.

3. How many owls did you howl at?
No owls.  I’ve not seen an owl this year.  I’ve seen lots of squirrels!  There was a squirrel making a mating call just a few hours ago while I was throwing out recyclables.  But a squirrel is not an owl.  No owls.

4. Did you take part in any fox hunts?
No fox hunts.  I’ve never been on a fox hunt.  I’ll never participate in a fox hunt.  No foxes.

5. Relationships with humans…
a. How did you treat your master?

If you mean my bosses at work, we’ve gotten along fine.

b. Were you friendly to neighborhood children?
Yes, I’ve treated the neighbors’ children nicely.

c. Did you bite anyone?
No, because that’s gross and mean.

I think I would not make a particularly good beagle.

On the Year that Was

With 2016 drawing to a close and 2017 about to begin, I decided to take a look back at 2016 and spotlight the best (or most significant) blog post of each month.  Some months — July, quite notably — were more difficult that others; there were a few months, like March and August, where I only posted two or three times in the month.

There you have it, the year that was 2016.

Magnificent

Elbow’s video for their single “Magnificent (She Says)” makes me think of Gandalf’s final line in The Lord of the Rings: “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are evil.”  (Page 1007 in my single-volume hardcover edition.) The song itself is gorgeous, and I have listened to it many times since its debut earlier in the month.  The video created for the song, offering a look at life in Myanmar, with all of its mystery and wonder, as seen through the eyes of a little girl, I find poignant and quite moving.

I am not unaware of the political and human rights issues in Myanmar; the country is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, embroiled in civil wars for much of the last fifty years, and the ongoing suppression of the country’s Rohingya minority is a human right calamity.  I admit, that makes me a little uncomfortable to share the song’s video because I know, just beyond the innocence of the narrative, there are darker and intractable issues afoot in the country.  Yet, the video fills me with a sense of hope.  I don’t overlook the darkness, but I can see the possibility of a better, kinder future.

The new Elbow album, Little Fictions, is out in February.  I’m looking forward to it. :)

Write the Story

Last night after work I stopped at 5 Below for trivial reasons — I needed a new mouse, I knew they had computer mice for four dollars, and they happened to be more convenient than other retail options.

While I was there, I took a look at their book tables.  I’ve turned up some interesting things there, mainly cookbooks.  Come to think of it, that’s all I’ve bought off their book tables.  Cookbooks.

They had Write the Story, a directed writing notebook from Piccadilly, a book I’ve seen at Barnes & Noble.

The book has a writing prompt for a short story and ten words that you’re have to use in that story.  It’s a book of writing prompts, essentially, but more focused and, in a way, more challenging.  Instead of writing about a thing, you have to write about this thing using these things.

Piccadilly’s website says that “in the end, you’ll have a collection of stories all in one place.”  Well, not really, unless these are more sketches than stories; each page might fit two hundred words.

I picked Write the Story up, too.  I’m thinking of using it more as a writing exercise than as a writing challenge.  Get up, pour my morning coffee, open to a random page, and spend a few minutes jotting some words down.  Maybe I’ll come up with an outline that deserves more attention.  Maybe that will happen one out of every ten times out.  Maybe one in twenty.  I don’t know.  I’m not expecting to create an anthology of awesome here.

Really, if all it does is to get the brain moving a little faster in the mornings, I’ll consider that a win.

We shall see. :)

You Have Been on Mars, I Perceive

A series of bright flashes on the planet Mars catch the attention of Sherlock Holmes, the world’s great consulting detective, and with Dr. Watson at his side, Holmes attempts to alert the authorities that an invasion by the Red Planet is imminent.  His warnings go unheeded, and when cylinders fall on Horsell Common and Martian war machines emerge, the War of the Worlds has begun.

D.G. Leigh’s The Massacre of Mankind: Sherlock Holmes vs. The War of the Worlds imagines what Holmes and Watson were up to during the events of H.G. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds.  Unfortunately, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters weren’t up to anything interesting.

First, the book is pointless.  Instead of recounting the events of the War of the Worlds through the eyes of Wells’ unnamed narrator, Leigh tells them through Watson’s eyes.  And Holmes and Watson are as powerless to do anything to save Earth from the Martians as Wells’ narrator.  Holmes and Watson go to similar places as the Narrator, they have similar experiences, they witness similar things.  Instead of a deranged curate, Holmes and Watson encounter a deranged farmer.  Instead of the artilleryman and his theories about restarting civilization, there’s a government functionary who fills the role.  Except for providing a “secret origin of Moriarty” — I suppose we can’t have a Sherlock Holmes pastiche without the Napoleon of Crime — adds nothing to your understanding of The War of the Worlds.

Second, the story is a waste of Sherlock Holmes.  Nothing about this story requires Sherlock Holmes because the story The Massacre of Manking is telling isn’t a Sherlock Holmes story.  There’s no mystery here, no deduction.  What little characterization of Holmes we have in the book is inexplicable; the Holmes that Watson writes about in A Study in Scarlet — “Knowledge of astronomy, nil” — wouldn’t take an interest in flashes of light on Mars before even the noted astronomer Ogilvy and become worked up into a panic that Martians are invading the Earth.

Third, the writing is poor.  Sherlock Holmes fans know that Watson has a distinctive prose style.  Leigh’s Watson writes in staccato sentences that are closer to headlines, often missing either subjects or verbs, than to actual prose.  Here’s a great example: “The town of Woking in the midst of being evacuated. The rail station besieged, thought still claim and civil, with people carrying all manner of unnecessary belongs. The army had set their cannon battery on the hill north of the town. If the Martians had come for a fight they’d find one away from the civilian population. The decorated officer in charge confident he’d pummel the enemy into submission with the initial volley.”  Not only is the text riddled with typos (see “claim” or “unnecessary belongs” in the second sentence there), but it doesn’t read at all like Watson’s polished prose.  It’s nothing but words vomited on the page, and it’s painful to read.

The Massacre of Mankind badly needs a rewrite and a copy-edit but, more importantly, it needs a story worthy of Sherlock Holmes.  Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a pointless rewrite of Wells’ classic that wastes both Sherlock Holmes and The War of the Worlds.  As it stands, The Massacre of Mankind is an unpleasant chore to read and a waste of the reader’s time.

Not recommended.