Culture on My Mind – Hobbes in Bloom County

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Hobbes in Bloom County
June 25, 2021

Growing up, I loved reading the comics pages in my local newspaper, the Standard-Examiner. It’s the third largest newspaper in Utah, coming in behind The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, and while the funnies fluctuated over the years, one of my staples was Calvin and Hobbes during its 1985 to 1995 syndicated run.

There was something magical about a boy and his imagination just having fun. 

So, you can only imagine that I was amused to see Berkeley Breathed pay tribute to Bill Watterson’s creation and legacy in Bloom County. Bloom County ran from 1980 to 1989 and examined cultural and political events through the viewpoint of a fanciful small Middle American town. The children think and speak like adults and the talking animals often act as satirical foils. To be honest, it was a bit above my level in the ’80s, but it became particularly poignant when it was revived by Breathed in 2015 on Facebook. 

That’s where this tribute to Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes, and the power of imagination was presented earlier this year. I hope it touches your soul like it did mine.

 


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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #229: The God Complex

Doctor Who: The God Complex
(1 episode, s06e11, 2011)

Timestamp 229 The God Complex

The Doctor meets The Shining.

Policewoman Lucy Hayward roams the halls of what appears to be a 1980s vintage hotel. Each room she checks holds a manifestation of a fear, and the visitors must wander the halls until they find their specific room. After that, it becomes clear – “Praise him.” – before the fear kills them.

Our traveling trio arrives at the hotel and sees a series of photos with strange captions (which we know correlates to the killing fear) before meeting Rita (a human nurse), Howie (a human computer geek), and Gibbis (a cowardly, mole-like alien from the planet Tivoli). They have all been taken from their normal lives and deposited in this endlessly shifting maze on the planet Ravenscala.

To make matters worse, the TARDIS has vanished.

The three survivors also tell the Doctor about Joe, a delusional man who is tied up in the ballroom with a host of laughing puppets. Joe has “seen the light” and is willing to accept his fate because only “he” matters. Joe explains that everyone has a specific room and asks to be left behind, but the Doctor puts Joe’s chair on a luggage cart and brings him along.

The team decides to look for a way out, pledging not to leave anyone alone at any time. Howie finds a room full of twenty-something girls who mock his nerdiness and stutter, but is saved by the Doctor and Rory. Amy finds Lucy Hayward’s notes, but can’t show the Doctor before the roaring beast approaches and sends the team scattering.

Rita and Joe enter a room to find Rita’s father scolding her about grades. She begins to “praise him” as Amy, Rory, Howie, Gibbis, and the Doctor enter a room to find a pair of Weeping Angels, but the Doctor quickly ascertains that they are not real. The Doctor peeks through the door’s peephole to see the beast. The beast goes after Joe, whose bindings are loosened telekinetically, and hauls the man away before killing him.

The group returns to the ballroom, presumably the safest place now, and Amy consoles Gibbis. Gibbis notes that if the Weeping Angels were meant for him, then Amy’s room is still out there. Meanwhile, Rita and the Doctor discuss Joe’s death and the situation. She believes that the hotels is Jahannam, the Muslim version of Hell. Amy takes the moment to show Lucy’s notes to the Doctor. When the Doctor mentions the words “praise him”, Howie repeats them and the beast awakens.

Gibbis suggests that the group sacrifices Howie to save everyone, but the Doctor says that all of them are getting out alive. Theorizing that the beast feeds on fear, the Doctor tells the others that they must do whatever they can to fight the fear off in any way they can. Amy wonders about the next move, and the Doctor explains that they’re going to catch the monster.

Using a speaker, the Doctor lures the monster into the hotel spa. Amy, Rory, and Rita block the exits, locking the creature in the spa as the Doctor begins talking with it. The beast is a Minotaur and the hotel is a prison. The Minotaur has lived so long that it has forgotten its own name, but it wants the cycle to stop so it can get some peace.

Unfortunately, Howie (who was being watched by Gibbis) gets free and the Minotaur gives chase. While the team looks for Howie, Amy enters a room and finds her fear. Howie is soon found, dead, and Gibbis begs for forgiveness after losing track of him.

Rory and the Doctor share a moment in front of Howie’s picture. Rory hasn’t found his room yet, and the Doctor interprets that Rory isn’t afraid of anything. Rory replies, “After all the time I spent with you in the TARDIS, what was left to be scared of?” The Doctor is sad that Rory said it in the past tense.

The Doctor talks with Rita, who notes that the Doctor has a God complex. The Doctor watches Amy and realizes that he feels guilty for bringing them to a place with a real danger of killing them. He offers Rita a place on the TARDIS before spotting a security camera and going in search of the security room, missing the fact that Rita has been afflicted by her own fear.

The Doctor finds his own room, Room 11, and faces his fear. The reflection in his eye reveals it as the crack in time, forcing him to smile as the Cloister Bell sounds and remark, “Of course. Who else?” He hangs a Do Not Disturb sign on the door and moves on.

Entering the security room, he watches as Rita navigates the halls. He dials a nearby room and waits for Rita to pick up the phone, discovering that she’s been affected. She wants the Doctor to remember her as she was, and as the Doctor is joined by Amy and Rory, Rita says goodbye and succumbs to the Minotaur.

Devastated, the Doctor hangs up the phone and turns off the camera. In a fit of rage, he later realizes that his theory was wrong. Rita was not afraid of her death, so the fear couldn’t be the driver. Instead, it was faith.

Howie believed in conspiracies, Rita was a devout Muslim, Joe was a gambler who believed in luck, and Gibbis believes in the continued presence of invaders who will tell him what to do. The Doctor laments that his has inadvertently helped the Minotaur by insisting that everyone reject their fear and fall back on their faith.

He tells a confused Rory that the TARDIS was pulled to the hotel – which is, in fact, an alien prison – because of Amy’s faith in the Doctor. Rory has no faith to consume.

Since Amy has seen her fear, she suddenly begins the mantra: “Praise him.”

The team then flee through the hotel as the Minotaur pursues them. They end up in the room with Amy’s fear: Her seven-year-old self waiting for the Doctor. The Time Lord laments stealing her childhood, revealing that he took Amy in the TARDIS because he was vain and wanted to be adored. He tells her to let go of her faith in him, calling her Amy Williams, and suggests that she allow herself to stop waiting for her Doctor. He is, after all, just a madman in a box.

The Minotaur collapses in the hallway and the illusion dissolves, revealing an alien prison is revealed. The automated system kidnaps people with belief systems and feeds the creature. The dying Minotaur passes a message to the Doctor, expressing his pity for “an ancient creature drenched in the blood of the innocent”, because “for such a creature, death would be a gift.” The Minotaur tells the Doctor that he wasn’t speaking of himself, but rather the Time Lord who saved him.

Refusing to tell Amy what he saw in his own room, the Doctor returns Amy and Rory to Earth. He presents them with their own home and Rory’s favorite car, and Amy knows that he is leaving them behind. She asks why and he responds that it’s because they’re still breathing. He doesn’t want to wait to say goodbye until he’s standing over their graves.

After a tearful farewell, the Doctor leaves. Rory watches the TARDIS dematerialize and wonders where he’s gone, but Amy simply says that he is saving them.

Later that night, Amy watches the sky from her bedroom window. The Doctor looks around the empty console room as he prepares to travel alone.


This was quite the ride that brought us full circle from The Vampires of Venice. Recall that, on his first journey in the TARDIS, Rory believed that the Doctor’s companions placed themselves in danger to impress the Time Lord. This adventure confirmed that first impression, and finally brought the Eleventh Doctor’s fears in that regard to a head.

It’s a common thread with writer Toby Whithouse, whose pen graced this story, Vampires, and School Reunion, all of which played with this concept.

The story here, which we first think is an obsession with facing fears, but actually is an obsession with faith, was fun to explore. It was also thought-provoking to find that there was nothing evil behind the scenes. There’s a lot to digest with an automatic system that has a mission to maintain those under its charge, even to the point of killing innocent people, and that its been doing this for such a very long time.

This story had a few franchise ties, including one that linked Amy to Ace with the Doctor saving a companion’s life by forcing her to lose faith in him. The Seventh Doctor tore Ace apart emotionally in The Curse of Fenric, opening the door for a victory. Another was exploring the Doctor’s fears, which we saw in The Mind of Evil and Inferno, and the Doctor seemed unmoved by the revelation of what he feared most at this particular point. Strangely, it didn’t seem to be his own death at Lake Silencio, which has been taking up a lot of his bandwidth since The Impossible Astronaut.

We have seen minotaurs before (The Mind Robber and The Time Monster) and we’ve seen the “distant cousin” in The Horns of Nimon, a story that I called “downright painful”.

From this point forward, we get to find the answer to the question that sprung from The Girl Who Waited: Amy loved being Amy Pond in the TARDIS with Rory Williams, but what happens when they stop traveling with the Doctor?

Obviously, Amy misses it already.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Closing Time

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – They’re Baaaack!

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
They’re Baaaack!
October 15, 2021

The Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track is back! After the shenanigans of a live-action Dragon Con and a little time off to recover – the analgesic creams seem to have done the trick – Joe and Gary have brought the atomic batteries to power and the YouTube turbines back up to speed.

On October 7th, they were joined by Kevin Cafferty, the Cadavers (namely, Nicole and Ryan), Beth van Dusen, and Michael Bailey to talk about horror sequels. To celebrate the spookiest time of the year, these brave explorers plumbed the depths of the Horror Hall of Fame to honor all the horror properties that came back for a second, a third, or even a 13th life. Only sequels needed apply, for reboots and re-imaginings were not welcome in this livestream.

 


Going forward, these Classic Track Quarantine Panels will be held once per fortnight. (That’s once every two weeks, he said with a wink). If you want to play along at home, pick up your internet-capable device and dial up the YouTube channel and/or the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.

Join these fine folks on October 21st as they have more fun with Halloween, and keep every other Thursday open as the American Sci-Fi Classics Track explores the vast reaches of classic American science fiction.

The episode art each week is generously provided by the talented Sue Kisenwether. You can find her (among other places) on Women at Warp – A Roddenberry Star Trek Podcast.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #228: The Girl Who Waited

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Waited
(1 episode, s06e10, 2011)

Timestamp 228 The Girl Who Waited

A moral choice reveals the core of Amy and Rory’s relationship.

The Doctor takes Rory and Amy to Apalapucia, a resort planet voted the number two place to visit for an intergalactic traveler. They are there because everyone goes to the number one place, the Planet of the Coffee Shops.

When the team exits the TARDIS, they are presented with a set of doors. Amy returns to the TARDIS for her mobile phone while Rory and the Doctor examine the doors. Presented with two choices — Green Anchor or Red Waterfall — Rory chooses the green one to reveal a stark room with a magnifying glass in the middle. Amy, on the other hand, chooses the red button and ends up in a separate but equally decorated room.

The two rooms are connected by the magnifying glasses. The Doctor and Rory are visited by a Handbot while the Doctor realizes that time is being disrupted. In fact, the two rooms are running at different speeds, and Amy’s in running faster.

The Handbot analyzes Rory. Rory exits the room and tries to enter the Red Waterfall room, but Amy is not there. When he returns, the Handbot informs them that Apalapucia is under quarantine and this space is a “kindness facility” for victims of Chen-7, a one-day plague that affects beings with two hearts. This includes the native Apalapucians and, of course, Time Lords. It’s a one-day plague because victims die within one day of exposure.

The magnifying glass syncs the two time streams, allowing loved ones to watch the victims grow old in a single day rather than sitting by a deathbed. The Doctor removes the magnifying glass and uses it to lock on to Amy, but this also sounds an alarm in the facility. He tells Amy to go through the facility beyond, and while she’s immune to the plague, any intervention by the Handbots may kill her. The Doctor then gives Rory a set of glasses that act as a camera and uses the TARDIS to try breaking through to Amy’s temporal location.

Amy checks in to the Two Streams center and meets the Interface, her guide through within the facility. After reviewing the entertainment options at her disposal, she meets a Handbot that tries to rid her of the unauthorized bacteria in her body by injecting her with medicine. She refuses, then dodges the syringe projectiles before running from the squad of Handbots. She finally hides in a cage which blocks the Handbot sensors.

The TARDIS lands in the Red Waterfall area and Rory ventures out to find Amy. Meanwhile, Amy finds the entertainment hub and chooses the garden simulation, a perfect replica of the Shill Governor’s mansion on Shallana. She finds out that she was hiding in a vent for the temporal engines. When ambushed by two Handbots, she sets out to find the engines and leaves the Doctor a note.

Rory and the Doctor figure out that room houses thousands of overlapping time streams. As Rory marvels, he is surprised by a sword-wielding Amy. Sadly, she’s aged considerably, revealing that the Doctor landed 36 years too far forward in her time stream. In that time, she’s been dodging and defeating Handbots while she’s been waiting. She also built her own “sonic probe” from scratch.

She also hates the Doctor for abandoning her.

She leads Rory to her hiding place, complete with a literally-disarmed Handbot that she’s named “Rory”. She waits for the right time, then takes Rory to the garden. Via speakerphone, the Doctor figures out where the temporal engine’s regulator is located while Amy and Rory get reacquainted over a laugh. The Doctor tells her that there’s still time to fix everything.

Rory wanders off and encounters a Handbot, but Amy saves him before Rory can be inoculated. When the Doctor offers to rescue Amy, she refuses and returns to the engineering section. She doesn’t want to die by ceasing to exist. She offers to come in past-Amy’s place, but Rory and the Doctor refuse.

Frustrated, Rory says that he no longer wants to travel with the Doctor. When he throws the glasses, the Doctor detects past-Amy, and Rory uses that to allow future-Amy and past-Amy to talk through the magnifying glass.

As the the Amys talk, future-Amy remembers the real reason she was never rescued. It wasn’t because Rory and the Doctor left her behind, but because her future self refused to help them when it mattered. They discuss Rory and their mutual love of him, realizing that Amy needs to be saved for him. Future-Amy agrees to help her past self, but only if she gets to travel in the TARDIS alongside herself.

The reunion between Amy and Rory is touching.

The Doctor admits that the TARDIS could possibly sustain the paradox of the two Amys. To make this possible, the Amys need to share a thought so powerful that it can rip through time. While Rory makes the appropriate mechanical changes, the Amys think about their first kiss with Rory while they were dancing the Macarena. The gamble works and the new trio is formed, but the TARDIS doesn’t like the paradox at all and the link via the glasses is severed.

The trio battle a legion of Handbots before taking the long way around to the TARDIS. Unfortunately, past-Amy is stunned by one of the Handbots, forcing Rory to carry her while future-Amy covers them. Once past-Amy and Rory enter the TARDIS, the Doctor seals the door behind them to prevent future-Amy from entering.

The Doctor reveals that he lied. The paradox cannot be sustained, and Rory must choose which Amy to save. Rory is devastated, but future-Amy tells him through the door that, if he loves her, he shouldn’t let her in. Seeing Rory carry the younger Amy to the TARDIS made her realize just how much he truly loves her. She loved being Amy Pond in the TARDIS with Rory Williams.

Rory secures the door and apologizes. The choice tears him apart.

Future-Amy turns around to find herself surrounded by Handbots. She asks the Interface to show her a hologram of Earth. She remembers Rory as she is stunned and injected. The sound of the TARDIS engines comforts her as she disappears from existence.

Rory asks the Doctor if he always knew that the paradox wouldn’t work. The Doctor only replies that he promised to save her, which he did. When Amy wakes up, she asks about her future self. The Doctor leaves the Ponds to talk.


Here we have a mix of several different tropes from this era: Amy experiences versions of herself from different times (The Hungry EarthCold BloodThe Big Bang); is separated from Rory for what should be an unnaturally long period of time (The Big BangThe Doctor’s Wife); and (flipping the script from Amy’s Choice) is the target of a life/death choice between two versions.

We also see an element of the classic era here, namely The Massacre. Steven Taylor had an attachment to Anne Chaplet, a woman who was going to die unavoidably but whom he desperately wished to save. The First Doctor could not alter history, but lied to Steven to make them think it was possible. Steven was eventually finally forced to abandon Anne to her fate and was angry with the Doctor.

Finally, the scene between Rory and future-Amy through the TARDIS door reminded me of the tear-jerking farewell between the Tenth Doctor and Rose in Doomsday. I have no doubt that the parallel was intentional.

This kind of mind-bending temporal story is like catnip to me, and it was especially engaging because the Amys were able to reconcile their differences and fight together for survival. The question of how this became a real event if future-Amy never existed, however, is an exercise best left to the wibbly-wobbly nature of Doctor Who continuity: It just works.

A different question is raised here, which may be something to consider in the future: Amy claims to love Rory because of how much he loves her. She also says that she loved being Amy Pond in the TARDIS with Rory Williams.

So what happens to them if they stop traveling with the Doctor?

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The God Complex

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Behind the Scenes of Nautilus

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Behind the Scenes of Nautilus
August 6, 2021

This week, the educational side of YouTube is on my mind. Specifically, I’m looking at a slice of submarine history with the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut.

The Submarine Force Library and Museum is home to the USS Nautilus (former SSN 571), the first nuclear-powered submarine in the world which now serves as a National Historic Landmark to educate visitors about the United States submarine force. The museum sits downstream from Naval Submarine Base New London on the Thames River, which is where I served for part of my submarine career. In normal times, it receives approximately 250,000 visitors per year.

The museum has a tour route through the forward compartment of the Nautilus, offering an in-person look at life on a nuclear submarine, including where sailors would eat, sleep, and work. In early 2021, Commander Brad Boyd presented a series of videos that go beyond the normal tour route and offer a substantial amount of historic and experience-based information.

I went through sub school with Brad and we served together at two duty stations. I was very pleased to see the news in 2018 when Brad took over as the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of Historic Ship Nautilus, and this series was part of a larger effort to keep the museum in the public eye during the pandemic. It was a smart move during a tough time to run a public attraction.

Brad was recently relieved as OIC and sent on to his next duty station. I wish him and his family the best of luck. I know he’ll do well in the future.  

This series of eighteen videos represents a great way to learn about history and life in the Silent Service. 


Episode 1 – Nautilus Introduction and Overview


Episode 2 – Nautilus Torpedo Room


Episode 3 – Nautilus Wardroom


Episode 4 – Staterooms


Episode 5 – Operation Sunshine


Episode 6 – Attack Center


Episode 7 – Sonar, ESM, and Ship’s Office


Episode 8 – Control


Episode 9 – Radio & Interior Communications


Episode 10 – Crew’s Mess


Episode 11 – Storerooms and Battery


Episode 12 – Berthing and Chief’s Quarters


Episode 13 – Gallery and Storeroom


Episode 14 – Berthing


Episode 15 – Underneath the Superstructure


Episode 16 – Escape Trunk


Episode 17 – Sail


Episode 18 – Bridge

 


You can find the Submarine Force Museum on YouTube, Facebook, and their official site. If you’re ever in Groton, Connecticut, it’s also worth an in-person visit.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp: Torchwood Series Four Summary

Torchwood: Miracle Day (Series Four) Summary

Timestamp Torchwood Miracle Day Logo

Torchwood‘s fourth series was a train wreck.

The concept was pretty interesting – a supernatural event that eliminates death, driven by shadow elements and political conspiracies, and an exploration of how it affects the world – but the execution cut the concept’s hamstrings.

One thread that ran throughout the discussions of these episodes was padding (or bloating). The series lacks a sense of forward motion, even in moments of action, which is something that the BBC knew how to do while balancing the drama that we’re used to in this property. Torchwood can be slow, but even those slow moments in previous series kept the audience ready for more. Miracle Day felt like it was chained to the deck.

Another thread that wove throughout the series centered on disturbing tropes. The first episode contains the Black Dude Dies First trope – which also extends in poorly-written media to pretty much any minority because of outdated assumptions that audiences wanted/needed white straight male protagonists to win the day – and only subverts it because of the Miracle. Then Rex experiences another terrible trope twice as the series progresses: Stuffed into the Fridge.

I pointed this out in The Blood Line, but it bears some further exploration in a series-wide analysis. Two major character deaths served to motivate Rex in the ten-episode arc. First was Vera Juarez in The Categories of Life, and while her death wasn’t motivated in universe as a strike against Rex – she was murdered by the manager of a death camp to keep things quiet – it did serve narratively as a motivator because Rex was present and filming as she was burned alive.

The second was far more obvious. Esther’s death in The Blood Line was purely intended to drive Rex’s actions, and it transformed her from a character that was timid and unsure at the start of the series to a bold woman who saved Jack’s magic blood and told Rex that she was (in no uncertain terms) accompanying him to the Blessing.

In The Blood Line‘s analysis, I stated that the wrong agent had died and suggested that Esther should have lived while Rex died. I said that with full understanding of the Black Dude Dies First trope, and my thought process regarding it is pretty clear: Miracle Day tried that trope and subverted it, and then the writers spent nine more episodes building Esther while keeping Rex exactly where he was at the start. I didn’t want Rex to die because he’s a minority, but rather because he wasn’t developed in the course of the story. If he had grown, that analysis would be different, but the writers chose to transform Esther into an object after investing so heavily into her as a character. They undid all of that good will with a single narrative choice.

And in a series of episodes like this, the writers and producers needed to preserve as much good will as possible.

Enough soap-boxing: It’s time to look at the numbers. We’ve been through this thrice now, so we’re familiar with the drill: We can’t make a direct comparison between Torchwood and Doctor Who, but we can look at the scores so far to get an idea of how it fits within the Timestamps Project’s scope.

Torchwood Series Four earned a 3.1 average. That’s way down in last place among Torchwood, and is equivalent to the classic Third, Nineteenth, and Twenty-First seasons. Out of thirty-three seasons of Doctor Who so far in the Timestamps Project, that’s a three-way tie for 28th place.

The New World – 5
Rendition – 4
Dead of Night – 4
Escape to L.A. – 2
The Categories of Life – 4
The Middle Men – 3
Immortal Sins – 3
End of the Road – 3
The Gathering – 2
The Blood Line – 2
Web of Lies – 2

Torchwood Series Four Average Rating: 3.1/5


Thus ends Torchwood. It’s the first of the spinoff series to end, so it’s the first opportunity to provide a whole series rating. Keep in mind that if Torchwood should return to screens, then this will change.

Series 1 – 3.8
Series 2 – 4.0
Children of Earth – 4.8
Miracle Day – 3.1

Torchwood Weighted Average Rating: 3.79/4.00

Would I recommend Torchwood as something to watch in the Doctor Who mythos? Absolutely, but the obvious caveat is that Miracle Day does not hold up to the series. As we’ve seen, it’s also darker, gritter, and far more adult than anything else in the overall franchise, so if the light and hopeful of the main series is more your style, this might be best avoided.


The Timestamps Project is proceeding in mostly chronological order. As such, the next block of episodes will cover what remains of Doctor Who‘s sixth series. After that, the final series of The Sarah Jane Adventures is on the docket before a straight shot through the seventh, eighth, and ninth series of Doctor Who takes us well into next year.

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Girl Who Waited
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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – The Physics of Bowling Balls

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
The Physics of Bowling Balls

October 1, 2021

This week, I have Veritasium on my mind. I love to go bowling even though I’m not particularly good at it. Bowling is fun and (before the pandemic) gives me a great opportunity to chat with friends in the time between throws.

I have seen a lot of these ball movements over the years, but I didn’t have enough information to understand why the physics worked like they did.

Veritasium did the work.

Happy Friday. See you again soon.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Rabbit Rabbit – October 2021

Rabbit Rabbit
October 2021

Rabbit, rabbit!

Since at least 1909, a superstition has lived in North American and the United Kingdom that if a person says or repeats the word “rabbit” upon waking up on the first day of the month, good luck will follow for the remainder of that month.

Elements of the tradition exist in the United Kingdom, New England, and even in various First Nation cultures.

While I’m not necessarily endorsing the superstition, it provides a way to look in depth at each month of the year, from history and observances to miscellaneous trivia. The topic this month is October.

History

October is the tenth month of the year, but it used to be the eighth in the old calendar of Romulus.

Roman observances for October include one of three Mundus patet (October 5th), Meditrinalia (October 11th), Augustalia (October 12th), October Horse (October 15th), and Armilustrium (October 19th). None of these correspond to dates on the current Gregorian Calendar.

Anglo-Saxons also referred to October as as Ƿinterfylleþ, because at this full moon (fylleþ) winter was supposed to begin.

Observances

October hosts a lot of month-long observances, including Black History Month in the United Kingdom, the Month of the Holy Rosary in the Catholic Church, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Health Literacy Month, International Walk to School Month, Medical Ultrasound Awareness Month, Rett Syndrome Awareness Month, World Blindness Awareness Month, World Menopause Month, and Vegetarian Awareness Month.

The United States, in grand tradition, adds a slew of observances.

In general for the United States, October hosts American Archives Month, National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, National Arts & Humanities Month, National Bullying Prevention Month, National Cyber Security Awareness Month, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Filipino American History Month, Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month, Polish American Heritage Month, and National Work and Family Month.

Then, they add a bunch of health-related observances, including American Pharmacist Month, Dwarfism/Little People/Short Stature/Skeletal Dysplasia Awareness, Eczema Awareness Month, National Dental Hygiene Month, National Healthy Lung Month, National Infertility Awareness Month, Liver Awareness Month, National Lupus Erythematosus Awareness Month, National Physical Therapy Month, National Spina Bifida Awareness Month, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month

Oh, we’re not done yet.

They also have a few food-related observances, too: National Pizza Month, National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, National Pork Month, and National Seafood Month.

Finally, because I love it so, the month ends with Halloween. Get spoopy, friends.

Trivia

  • October’s birthstones are tourmaline (a stone of reconciliation, humanity, and grounding) and the opal (a stone of love, passion, desire, and eroticism).
  • The western zodiac signs of October are Libra (until October 22) and Scorpio (October 23 onwards).
  • The month’s birth flower is the calendula.
  • The French have been known to shorten octobre to 8bre for… reasons?

Rabbit Rabbit is a project designed to look at each month of the year with respect to history, observances, and more.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #TW42: Web of Lies

Torchwood: Web of Lies
(Motion Comic Special, 2011)

Timestamp TW42 Web of Lies

Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Missing Day – 2007: The setting is Cardiff as Jack and Gwen chase a shadowy figure across the rooftops of the city. Gwen loses site of Jack for a moment, after which all that remains is a green gas. Jack is missing.

Miracle Day – 2011: In Los Angeles, Miles Mokri breaks a promise to his sister Holly that they’d celebrate her cancer remission. As Holly goes to a club without him, Miles is nearly abducted. He escapes, but ends up getting shot. When Holly leaves the club, she finds his abandoned cell phone and the paramedics. Luckily for the Mokris, the Miracle has begun. No one dies.

Miles had started to write about a conspiracy surrounding Miracle Day. Oddly, he started it one week ago.

Missing Day – 2007: Gwen storms into a nearby convenience store and plugs her computer into the power outlet. She starts tracking Jack and notes that he is moving incredibly fast around the world.

Miracle Day – 2011: The hospital is chaos. They need more room for all of the non-dying people, so Miles is sent home. Holly starts looking into the footage on her brother’s phone and discovers that there were three gunshots but only two wounds. She figures out that Miles knew his shooter, finds a mysterious phone number hidden in a sudoku puzzle, and makes arrangements to meet the shooter at the Ambassador Hotel High School.

Surrounded by the Soulless, Holly and Nick (Miles’s best friend) discuss how death is not the worst part of dying. Rather, that the pain and suffering before it far outweighs it. They are met at gunpoint my the mysterious shooter and taken to a nearby van. It turns out that the man is Joe Bradley, an FBI agent who was working with Miles after he presented evidence that the Miracle was being planned.

Agent Bradley didn’t shoot Miles, but instead caught him when he fell.

Missing Day – 2007: Gwen tracks Jack’s flight over Russia. As she pursues him, Jack wakes up to the muzzle of a gun. Jack quips about whether the gunman is trying to either intimidate or seduce him. The gunman takes aim, casting aside concerns that the bullets would puncture the hull because he’s working with practice range rounds. They won’t leave Jack’s body after he’s shot.

Miracle Day – 2011: Holly, Joe, and Nick are chased down by the men who tried to abduct Miles. During the ensuing car chase, Holly hacks Miles’s laptop and discovers information implicating Phi-Corp in the Miracle.

Missing Day – 2007: The kidnapper witnesses Jack’s resurrection in amazement, then decides to see just how much punishment Jack can take. He pushes Jack out of the plane, watching him fall 30,000 feet the the ground in Chernobyl. After recovering what parts of Jack’s body could be found, the kidnapper is impressed that Jack can survive pretty much anything.

Miracle Day – 2011: Holly finds out that Miles’s computer has an anti-hacking feature that allows access for only 15 seconds at a time. After three attempts, the hard drive will self-destruct. She finds information on Phi-Corp, documents about a flight form the United States to Kiev, an “Iron Wheel”, and satellite photos and plans for medical overflow camps and industrial ovens.

She also finds four photographs with coded letters for each person: S is Jack, complete with the word Torchwood on his photo; R is a red haired woman; Z is Jack’s kidnapper; and M is an executive in a suit. Another coded message from reveals that “Only S can die” and that the secret to the Miracle can be found on Coney Island.

On the way to Coney Island, Holly realizes that the third “gunshot” might have been a flash from a speed camera. Checking the footage, Holly finds that Nick himself fired the shots from a moving car.

Missing Day – 2007: At Chernobyl, Jack’s kidnapper has been taking X-ray images with an old MRI machine. He sees that Jack retains the shrapnel from each death but doesn’t suffer any pain from the remnants.

Miracle Day – 2011: The team arrives at Coney Island. After restoring power to the park, Holly reveals to Joe that she knows that Nick is the real shooter. Nick reveals that he has backup and Joe’s sidearm.

Missing Day – 2007: Gwen tracks Jack to Chernobyl but the kidnapper gets the upper hand with the MRI magnets and disarms Gwen. Jack reaches for an abandoned scalpel to free himself.

Miracle Day – 2011: Nick reveals that Miles had the key to the Miracle and Nick shot him so that Holly would solve the case. Nick also tells her that the Miracle has cured cancer, but stopping it might kill her. An automatic message from Miles to Holly reveals that the Miracle “begun under Vatican control.” She solves the clue about the “iron wheel” and leads everyone to the nearby Ferris wheel. As they ride it, Holly realizes that the map points to a specific location in the amusement park. She eventually escapes and follows the clues to a giant vat of blood. Nick catches up to her and explains that the blood belongs to an immortal man, one that is the only mortal being in the era of the Miracle.

Missing Day – 2007: Gwen is thrown into a van filled with packs of Jack’s blood. The kidnapper returns to stop Jack from reaching the scalpel, but Jack turns the tables by reaching the MRI switch. The magnet tears all of the shrapnel from Jack’s body and fires them through the kidnapper, killing the man.

Miracle Day – 2011: Holly decodes Miles’s “Vatican” clue, finding a gun under the vat. Holly shoots the bad guys, then reveals that Miles couldn’t make the choice to destroy the key or not. He left a laptop computer linked to the vat’s destruct mechanism, and Holly makes a tough choice. Even though it may kill Miles and her cancer may return, she needs to destroy the blood. Nick tries to stop her, but she shoots him one more time and he dies in the explosion.

Missing Day – 2007: Gwen frees Jack, but as she does, the mysterious green gas returns. Jack says that they must try and remember what happened here, but Gwen says whatever happens they’ll deal with it together. As they finally succumb to the gas, three men arrive to take them and the blood in the truck away. Back on the rooftop in Cardiff, Jack states that he feels like they’ve forgotten something very important. In a voice-over, Gwen reveals that they never did remember what happened on that “Missing Day”.

Miracle Day – 2011: In the aftermath of the Miracle’s end, Holly pours a glass of wine for Miles. Holly says that as the Miracle gave him time to heal, she felt like it was about time. As they banter back and forth, a pack of blood can be spotted at the back of the fridge. Could it belong to Jack?


We find out some interesting bits here, including that the Three Families had access to Retcon in 2007 (correlating to the time between Series One and Series Two). This series also suggests that other people may have been able to piece together the plan, but only when they brought it public did the Three Families move to silence them.

Other than that, this was an average side story with little to no consequence for Torchwood or Miracle Day overall. The only big thing would be that pack of Jack’s blood, and depending on Holly’s skills, that would last either 42 days or up to ten years if properly treated and frozen.

Regardless, it was good to see (or rather, hear) Eliza Dushku again. I’ve been a fan since her BuI’d like to see her in Doctor Who at some point.

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”


UP NEXT – Torchwood: Miracle Day (Series Four) Summary

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #TW41: The Blood Line

Torchwood: The Blood Line
(1 episode, s04e10, 2011)

Timestamp TW41 The Blood Line

Everything changes… back.

Gwen stares out the window and relates a story about the day that her father was accused of thievery. Young Gwen offered to help pay back the money, but her dad taught her a lesson about impressions and honesty. He couldn’t stand being known as a dishonest man when he wasn’t. Gwen saw him as the nicest man in the world.

Today is the day that she kills him.

The two Torchwood teams prepare for the coming confrontation. Rex and Esther contact Director Shapiro for CIA assistance while keeping Jack, Gwen, and Oswald’s presence in Shanghai a secret. Unfortunately, that includes Charlotte, the mole in the agency. Meanwhile, The Mother plans to bomb the sites of The Blessing to keep it safe.

In Shanghai, Gwen locates the site but retreats to contact Jack when she gets whammied by the emotions surrounding it. Before they rendezvous with Gwen, Jack and Oswald have a heart-to-heart. Gwen takes a moment to call Rhys, who is working with Andy Davidson to gain access to the Cowbridge Overflow Camp so he can say a proper goodbye to Gwen’s father.

Across the planet, the CIA coordinates with the Argentinian army. Captain Federico Santos arrives with a detachment of soldiers, but a Three Families agent inside the detachment bombs the truck. The soldiers are all Category 1, the supply of Jack’s blood is destroyed, and Rex and Esther are presumed dead. Director Shapiro demands that they find the CIA mole immediately. Charlotte sets a bomb and leaves just as the trace is completed. The bomb makes everyone in the command center Category 1.

The two teams infiltrate their respective sites. Oswald objects to leaving a trail of Category 1 bodies and Gwen gets notification that Rhys has arrived at her father’s side. He only has ten minutes before the Category 1s are taken to the ovens. As Rhys comforts Gwen’s father, Andy comforts an unknown 15-year-old girl.

Jack, Gwen, and Oswald descend to the Blessing and are met by Jilly, The Mother, and three armed guards. Unfortunately for them, Jack has rigged Oswald with a suicide vest. Unfortunately for Torchwood, Rex and Esther have been captured and are being held at gunpoint by the Three Families. The standoff is stalemated when Jack presents his blood to the Blessing. He warns The Mother to be very, very careful with him.

Oswald, exposed to his very soul before the Blessing, almost loses himself in the reflection of his sin. Jack brings him back before he and Gwen muse about the origins of the Blessing. Jack muses about the Doctor, Silurians, the Racnoss, and huon energy before admitting that he has no idea where it came from. It projects a morphic field in symbiosis with the human race, but the Families fed Jack’s blood to the anomaly. The Blessing transformed the blood’s pattern into a gift for all humankind and the Families took advantage of the worldwide disruption in a form of eugenics.

In order to secure the plan, the Families drew Jack out of hiding and attempted to kill him. Jack threatens to bleed into it and reset the planet’s mortality, but the Families remind him that it has to be introduced from both sides simultaneously. As the standoff intensifies, Rex reveals that Esther transfused Jack’s blood into him. The destroyed blood was a ruse.

To stop the salvation of the world, the Families mortally wound Esther. As Rex descends into sorrow, Gwen talks him back off the ledge. Together, Rex and Jack drain themselves into the Blessing.

Death returns to the world in a single breath as every Category 1 says goodbye.

Both ends of the Blessing begin to tear themselves apart. Jack returns to life as his immortality is restored while Oswald and Rex eliminate the Families representatives and Gwen knocks Jilly out. Rex and Esther, both on the edge of death, are retrieved by Captain Santos. Jilly disappears into the explosion at Shanghai.

Several months later, Jilly is found by her contact in the Families and offered a place to restart her life in charge of Plan B. Elsewhere, the Torchwood team joins Charlotte and Rex at Esther’s funeral. Charlotte offers her condolences to Rex before leaving. Rex gets an update about the trace program that Shapiro was running and finds out that Charlotte was the mole. She shoots Rex and is gunned down by the other agents in attendance. Rex is declared dead.

And then comes back to life. His wounds, including the Miracle Day wound, all heal. He is now immortal.

Everyone is surprised, but none more so than Rex.


The production team killed the wrong person.

No, seriously. In terms of character growth over the ten episodes of Miracle Day, Esther moved leaps and bounds over Rex. By killing her off, they not only wasted that character development, they also committed the narrative sin of fridging her in order to motivate Rex.

That trope originates from the comics, specifically Green Lantern. In that story, the villain Major Force left the corpse of then-Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, literally stuffed into a refrigerator. The idea is to spur the hero into action by brutalizing someone that they care about. It was later named and shamed by comic book writer Gail Simone.

In this case, Esther was fridged in order to motivate Rex. It’s lazy writing that immediately devalues Esther as a character. No matter what happened with her to this point, her final intrinsic narrative value is a plot device to motivate a stereotypical action hero.

It’s also sad, because the story and characters could have been better served. Keep Rex as the vessel for Jack’s blood, an idea that came from Esther to begin with, and transfer the Gwen-shooting-Jack action to Esther instead. Let Rex die for the world and Esther come out with a completed growth arc that we watched happen over ten episodes of television. She could also end up with immortality, for all the good that it does Torchwood after this point, as a reward of sorts.

Other than that rather large elephant in the room, the finale was entertaining enough, if not a bit bloated (as was the rest of the Miracle Day season). The return of death to the world was emotionally stirring. Oswald was finally useful.

The cliffhanger itself is rather disappointing in the end given that this marks the end of Torchwood on television. In fact, Rex Matheson hasn’t appeared on television again to date. He’s been in two novels, one of which is a prequel, and an audio drama, but his parts in the post-Miracle Day universe appear to be sparse.

How disappointing.

It should have been Esther who survived the Miracle.

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”


UP NEXT – Torchwood: Web of Lies

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.