Sunday, July 31, 2022

Still taking a break.

 As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'm out this week. See you back here next Sunday, August 7th.


Sunday, July 24, 2022

Taking a break.

 As I mentioned last week, I'm out this week and next. See you back here on Sunday, August 7th.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Through a lens blurrily.

So for starters, I wanted to let y'all know that I'm going to be taking a blogging break for the next couple of weeks. I'm having cataract surgery on my right eye on Wednesday and on my left eye next week, and I don't know whether I'll be able to see well enough to write a post either next Sunday or the Sunday after that. 

This picture approximates what I'm seeing out of my right eye (the blurriness, not the crosshatching or other imperfections) right now.

As you can imagine, I'm pretty anxious to get this done.

I anticipate I'll get back to blogging Sunday, August 7th. If things don't go as planned for some reason, I'll put up a short post on the 7th to let you know.


So to while away the time until I can see properly again, I've been watching A Discovery of Witches. The book was recommended to me many years ago, and the show has been recommended to me since then, so I figured I ought to give it a try.

I have so many problems with this show.

For starters, hereditary witches aren't a real thing in our world; witches are simply humans who practice magic. The magic they've been doing in the show so far (I'm about halfway through season two) is pretty well divorced from reality, too. I can maybe see using five candles (for the points of a pentagram?) instead of four (for the cardinal directions) when you cast a circle. But why is Aunt Em not inside the circle herself? Casting a circle puts up a magical barrier, creating a safe space in which to work. It makes no sense to cast a circle that leaves the magic wielder outside it, and therefore vulnerable to interference. Besides, magic almost never results in the sort of special effects that you see in these sorts of shows. Rarely do you get whizbang pyrotechnics. At best, a spell will nudge something or someone toward the outcome the magician desires. 

To be honest, these kinds of depictions of magic set up unrealistic expectations, both for would-be magicians and for regular folks. When the "powers" on display in TV shows are so outlandish, it makes it difficult for newbies to tell whether their spell worked -- and easy for doubters to dismiss magic entirely.

Second, how can there be only three categories of "creatures" in the world? Vampires, but no werewolves? Demons, but no ghosts? No chupacabra? No La Llorona? There are so many different types of magical beings in folklore, but this series has, for some reason, narrowed them to just three.

Leaving aside all that: The main character is Diana Bishop, a normal young woman who eventually twigs to the fact that she's a powerful witch whose natural magical ability has somehow been suppressed. Regardless of her powers (or lack of same), though, she's still just a babe who needs to be protected; her favorite vampire, Matthew, is constantly trying to "keep her safe," no matter how many times she tells him to knock it off and no matter how many times she proves that she can take care of herself. It's such a tired trope that I've been about to hurl something through my TV screen multiple times.

And yet, as you so rightly observe, I continue to watch the show. 

I guess I'm invested at this point. I want to see how it all turns out. So I guess on that level at least, A Discovery of Witches works. Just don't expect to learn anything about magic from watching it.


These moments of blurry blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed and boosted! See you back here in two weeks!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Complicated winds.

You may recall that a few weeks ago, I attended a Q&A with the force behind the Game of Thrones TV series, George R.R. Martin, at the Santa Fe Literary Festival. He talked about the series he was developing with Robert Redford (yes, that Robert Redford) based on Tony Hillerman's series of mystery novels set on the Navajo Nation. And I said I was very much looking forward to seeing the show -- Dark Winds -- when it showed up on AMC.

Well, I've seen it. The sixth and final episode of the first season dropped today. And I'm torn. I want to like it -- I really do. The production company took pains to make sure Native Americans were involved in all aspects of the production, from showrunners to cast. That's a good thing. In addition, the show was shot on location here in New Mexico. Tesuque Pueblo, just up the road from Santa Fe, has converted its former casino building into a film studio, and Dark Winds was shot there, as well as at other locations around town. I was tickled to recognize Loretto Chapel (with its "miraculous" floating staircase) in downtown Santa Fe standing in for an Indian school run by nuns.

And I know that Hollywood does crazy things to novels to make them into properties that will bring eyeballs to either the big screen or the small one. But... wow. This show is so far afield from the world that Hillerman invented that pretty much the only things that are the same are the setting, the names of the characters, and their job titles (and even that last is not quite true).

The first season of the show is based pretty loosely on the third novel in the series, Listening Woman. I read the book probably 25 or 30 years ago, so I was pretty hazy on the details. But I checked out Wikipedia's plot summary this evening, and it confirmed my suspicion that not much of the book's plot made it into the TV show.

Oh, the framing of the story is more or less the same: Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police investigates the deaths of an elderly man and a young woman. The man had sought advice from a Navajo healing woman -- the "listening woman" of the title of the book; the young woman is the listening woman's niece. The listening woman steps away to ponder her advice to the man, and when she returns, both he and her niece are dead. They were murdered, of course, and Leaphorn eventually ties in their case with one a few years earlier, in which crooks blew the back off of an armored car in Santa Fe and escaped with the cash in a helicopter.

I won't go any farther with the plot because of spoilers -- not for the book (it was first published in 1978!) but for the TV series. I will say, though, that the showrunners had to do a major overhaul to bring in the other two main characters: Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito. You'll note that the cover of Listening Woman is billed as a "Joe Leaphorn Mystery"; that's because Hillerman hadn't invented either Chee or Manuelito yet. Chee first appeared in People of Darkness, the next book in the series. In his autobiography, Hillerman wrote that he created Chee because he thought Leaphorn was too hardened to fit the plot he had in mind for that book. But that's not what Martin said in May; he said Hillerman had signed an option to make the first three novels into a movie, and the document turned over all rights to the character of Joe Leaphorn to whoever owned the option. It didn't matter that the film was never made; Hillerman simply didn't own his character anymore. (Hillerman must have eventually gotten the rights to Leaphorn back, because he does show up in later books.)

In any case, Chee's not in Listening Woman, and neither is Manuelito. She doesn't show up until The Fallen Man, the 12th book in the series, published in 1996. After Hillerman's death, his daughter Anne has continued the series and has put Manuelito at center stage, along with Chee. (Leaphorn's now retired.)

In the novels, all three of them -- Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito -- are good cops. Their lives are as  complicated as anyone's, of course. But morally, there's no question that they believe in the work they do and in the Navajo way of life. And that's not always the case in the series. There are things that Leaphorn and Chee do in the TV series that they simply wouldn't do in the books.

I get it; moral ambivalence is the fashion now. Protagonists these days are messy, with complicated motives -- it makes them seem more real, or so the thinking goes. And if I'd gone into the show with no preconceived ideas about the main characters, I expect I would have liked it a lot.

But what I wanted from Dark Winds was a story about heroes and bad guys, and I didn't get it. Nobody here is a hero. 


These moments of complicated blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Local news takes on the Supreme Court. Will it win?

In broadcasting, one mundane but essential task is to check your sound level. It involves speaking into the microphone at approximately the volume you intend to use when you're on the air, while eyeballing a little meter in front of you to adjust your mic level. 

An analog meter features a graduated scale, soft to loud, with a pointy indicator that bounces with your sound level. The scale is mostly black, but it has a section in red on the far right end. The idea is to keep the pointer bouncing mostly in the black, with occasional peaks in the red zone. If the pointer swings all the way to the right and stays there, your mic is way too loud. The technical term is "pegging the needle."

As it happens, it's also an apt description for a ruling that came out of the Supreme Court this week. 

Stolen from Facebook | Creator unknown

No, not that one; that was last week. This week's travesty came in the case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. You can read a pdf of the ruling here. But basically, the majority opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, reverses a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. The appellate court had held the Bremerton, WA, school district was correct to discipline its high school football coach, Joseph Kennedy, in 2015 for staging public prayers at midfield after the team's football games. The Supreme Court says the disciplinary action violated Kennedy's First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The problem with the ruling is that Justice Gorsuch gets nearly all of the facts wrong. This column by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times explains how Kennedy wasn't engaging in "a brief, quiet, personal religious observance," as Justice Gorsuch claims. In fact, Kennedy had made a big deal out of praying at the 50-yard line -- and he'd been incorporating prayer into team workouts as a motivational tool all season. Players weren't required to participate in the postgame prayer rallies, but of course eventually all the players did, at least partly due to fear that Coach wouldn't let them play as much if they didn't participate. (Y'all have been to high school, right? We all know how that works.) Eventually, Kennedy held a news conference before the school's homecoming game, announcing he would give his post-season prayer. He got a lot of press out of it -- Good Morning America even interviewed him -- and as a result, it wasn't just the players out there with him after that game; more than 500 spectators left the bleachers and jumped fences to join them on the field for his 15-second "quiet, personal religious observance."

The general opinion is that the court reinvented the facts here in order to have an excuse to overturn Lemon v. Kurtzman. In that 1971 opinion, the court laid out a three-pronged test to determine whether something violates the First Amendment's "establishment of religion" clause. We do not have a state religion in the United States, and it's unconstitutional for a public employee to promote a particular religion as if we do. In an objective reading of the facts, that's what Kennedy did -- he promoted Christianity, hard, with his very public prayer meetings. But the conservatives on the current court wanted to strike down Lemon, and Kennedy's case was a handy vehicle.

That's scary for those of us in America who aren't Christian. But that point has been made elsewhere. My point is different.

I've opined here before that local journalism matters. Six years ago, I wrote about how just ten companies control a frightening percentage of the news and information business. Three years ago, I cited figures indicating that one in five local newspapers ceased publication between 2004 and 2018; that decline has continued since then. 

Why do I keep making a big deal about local journalism? Because without it -- without local newspapers like the Seattle Times -- there would be no way, when public figures on the national stage lie, for us to learn the truth. 

Support your local independent journalists, guys. They're going to become more and more vital as we bring our country back from the brink.


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