Friday, February 12, 2016

Book Review: Morning Glories Vol. 2 by Nick Spencer et al.

Morning Glories Volume 2 All Will Be Free written by Nick Spencer and art by Joe Eisma

See the review of Volume 1 here.

The saga of six new students at Morning Glories Academy continues. This volume provides backstories for the students and answers some questions, like, Who is that other kid who looks just like Jun? Did Ike really kill his dad or is he just that scary/bad? Other questions come up, especially with the arrival of the student counselor. Her introduction brings some answers and more questions about what is going on and where they are.

So the Lost television show formula (large cast in a strange place with lots of mysteries about the people and the place) is still running. The ratio of satisfaction to frustration is still in favor of satisfaction but is close. The overall story doesn't move forward very far (at least, that's the way it seems), but I am patient enough to give it another volume or two to see if and how things develop.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Gone Baby Gone (2007) co-written and directed by Ben Affleck

Two private detectives (Patrick played by Casey Affleck and Angie by Michelle Monaghan) who specialize in missing persons cases are hired by the aunt of a missing girl named Amanda. Her case is all over local Boston television. Amanda's mom is talking to the cameras in front of her house. The cops are working hard on the case--they even have a special division devoted to abducted children. When Patrick and Angie accept the job, they work with the cops. The PIs provide local street connections that bring more details to light. They find out the mom is a junkie with a lot of unsavory friends and associates. The film focuses on Patrick who wants to do the right thing no matter what the cost. By the end of the film, there are a lot of costs to be paid.

With this description, you'd think the movie is a police procedural with private eyes thrown into the mix. The movie is so much more. The focus becomes more obvious about half way through. The movie is about the right and wrong things characters do and the moral codes by which they live. Patrick has a strict code but makes bad decisions in the heat of the moment. Other characters follow more pragmatic or utilitarian codes, which sometimes align with Patrick's goals and sometimes not. The situation becomes more complicated and more corrupt, providing Patrick with very hard decisions to make. The movie is ambiguous enough to let viewers draw their own conclusions about what the right thing is and provides plenty of fodder for discussion afterward.

Speaking of which, there's a great discussion of the movie at A Good Story is Hard To Find podcast, which was the inspiration for me watching the movie.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Chapel of St. Louis the King, Clarksville, Maryland

A little offering on Ash Wednesday, 2016!

The parish of Saint Louis the King in Clarksville, Maryland, dates back to 1855. The first church was soon outgrown. A new church was completed in 1889 and still stands on the parish grounds. It now serves for weddings, baptisms, and funerals, as well as for Eucharistic Adoration on weekends. It is small but charming.

Chapel of St. Louis (front view)

Corner view

Corner stone

View from the back

The nave is not large but is quite beautiful, creating a prayerful atmosphere. It reminds me of some of the churches in York.



Nice candle holder!

The sanctuary includes a baptismal font and a pascal candle, so it's all set for a baptism or a wedding.

Baptismal font and pascal candle

The sanctuary is flanked by the typical statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph. I visited the chapel over Christmas so a Nativity scene was set up at Mary's feet.

Blessed Virgin Mary

Nativity scene

St. Joseph with baby Jesus

The stained glass rose windows in front and back depict Saint Louis and the Good Shepherd.

Saint Louis, King of France

The Good Shepherd

The Stations of the Cross are a delightful painted bas relief.

Third Station, Jesus Falls for the First Time

The chapel is open during weekdays for visitors to stop by and have a little prayer. It's worth visiting.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

TV Review: Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos (1985)

Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos (1985) by Philip Martin

The TARDIS is acting up again, so Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companion Peri (Nicola Bryant) have to find a special fuel, Zeiton 7 ore, otherwise they'll be stuck drifting in empty space forever. One last burst of energy gets them to the planet Varos, only source of the ore which the TARDIS needs. The only problem is Varos was a penal colony, so the local laws are quite harsh. People are punished severely for infractions and these punishments (including executions) are broadcast for the entertainment of the Varosians. The governor of Varos is in negotiations with Sil, alien representative of the Galatron Mining Corporation, which seems to have some exclusive deal on exporting Zeiton 7. Sil wants the cheapest price possible, the governor wants his people not to starve. The Varosians don't realize the high value of their ore (it's used in all time and space travel) so they vote against the governor when he asks them to hold out via TV broadcast. Whenever one of his proposals is voted down, he gets tortured on TV just like any criminal, which may partially be motivating negative votes. Also, the governor and his advisors are considering exporting videos of the punishments as a secondary source of income, another negotiation point with Sil.

The plot is quite serious for a Doctor Who story and a fairly early condemnation of reality TV (thought it does come two years after David Cronenberg's Videodrome and copies parts of that movie). The ideas are interesting but the lack of humor and lightness is noticeable (except for the campy corporate conniver Sil). Colin Baker's Doctor is rather dark and dour in spite of wearing the most flamboyant outfit in the series. He's perfectly willing to let baddies die (two of the guards wind up in an acid bath!) and bickers with his rather pleasant companion (though her American accent is dodgy at times). The darkness seems to be more in the writing than the actor. I'd be interested to see other Colin Baker episodes to find out if that's true or not.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Meringue Swirls

The fever for making desserts has not passed from our home. The latest recipe is meringue swirls, taken from the fabulous Martha Stewart's website.

  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • Large pinch of salt
  • Large pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
  • Gel-paste orange food coloring
The first task was to zest an orange.

Carefully crafting a key ingredient

The eggs needed separating as well, another new skill acquired by our daughter.

Making egg whites

Food coloring was another chore. We own a bunch of basic colors but not orange. So we had to mix yellow and red.

With the ingredients ready, we started to cook. Here are the directions!

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl. Add vanilla bean seeds. Put bowl over simmering water in a pot. Stir for about 3 minutes until sugar dissolves and mixture is warms. Add salt and cream of tartar.

    Mixing the first ingredients over hot(ish) water

  2. Beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form and meringue is mostly cooled, about 7 minutes. Beat in zest.

    Tasting her work

  3. Using a small paintbrush, paint three stripes of food coloring inside a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip.

    Adding stripes (they look awfully red)

    Fill bag with the meringue mixture. Pipe 1 3/4-inch circular shapes 2 inches apart on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. As you finish piping each shape, apply less pressure to pastry bag, and swirl the tip off in a circular motion.

    Making the cookies

  4. Bake meringues until crisp on the outside but still soft inside, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Our results were mixed. They taste great but the swirls are barely visible and we did have some separation at the bottom of the cookies. Our bakers report that next time they will: use more food coloring, paint the coloring on the bag right before filling the bag with meringue, and beat the egg whites until they are even stiffer. Still, not bad for a first try.

Top view

Some separation

Still tastes great

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Review: Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 2 by Brian Michael Bendis et al.

Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 2 written by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Michael Gados, and coloring by Matt Hollingsworth

Two more adventures for Jessica Jones. First, she is drawn to a small town in upstate New York where a missing teenager case needs her assistance because the missing girl is rumored to be a mutant. After that story is resolved, she returns to New York City goes on a blind date with Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man.

I found the mystery in the missing persons case very interesting and well plotted. But I found the tone of it ham-fisted and hypocritical. When Jones talks to some locals, one of the girls says that it would be awful to be a mutant, "just like being gay or...Jewish." Later, Jones goes to the local church where the pastor is practicing his Sunday sermon about how mutants are unnatural and caused by human greed, not by the good Lord above. She castigates him for inciting bigotry and goes on to tell him she doesn't know much about religion or organized religion, but she believes the purpose of religion is to make people nice, not mean. So in the name of fighting against bigotry and small-mindness, she makes a stereotypical blanket statement that underlines her ignorance about the diversity of religions and what they themselves say their purpose is. What should be a subtle but powerful point about bigotry comes off like a lecture about how terrible small town small-mindedness is. I kept rolling my eyes in disappointment. Especially since the actual mystery is interesting.

On the other hand, the blind date with another superhero was interesting and a lot of fun. They have a shared background (they both have connections to the Avengers) and have a great conversation over an al fresco dinner. The dialogue is witty in both senses of the term--intelligent and hilarious. This story went a long way toward restoring my faith in Bendis as a storyteller. So I will continue on to Volume 3. Maybe Kilgrave will finally show up?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Book Review: Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages by Umberto Eco

Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages by Umberto Eco

Quite often the middle ages are the forgotten link between the Classical period and the Renaissance. Moderns assume that Renaissance thinkers and artists rediscovered the works of ancient Greece and Rome and had this amazing and original break with medieval tradition. Umberto Eco (author of The Name of the Rose among other works) dispels this myth with this overview of aesthetic and artistic theory in the years from AD 500 to 1400.

Eco shows the classical roots of medieval theory and theology. Platonic thought was dominant early on, where his ideal world of forms was the standard by which beauty and artistic craft were measured. Aristotle was rediscovered during the middle ages; his systematic approach was assimilated and imitated by the Scholastics. The centrality of symmetry and proportionality for beauty began with Pythagoras's focus on numbers. That focus was re-enforced and enhanced by the biblical notions that creation is good (cf. Genesis's account of creation) and that the world was made according to number, weight, and measure (cf. Wisdom 11). The world is both good and knowable in a mathematical way. It conforms naturally to the transcendental notion of beauty--that which is seen as good gives delight.

The medievals had much more to say about beauty than art. Beauty is a property all things have, both things in the natural world and things made by man. Often, artistic objects were judged beautiful by their symmetry to the world of ideals or of nature. Innovations in artistic theory were rare but not unprecedented. The theoretical trend followed the cultural trend--the great artistic achievements of the age were the cathedrals. They were built by many and varied artists whose anonymity was assumed. The work was done for God, not personal glory. By the late middle ages, individual artists were becoming more prevalent and theories such as nominalism (like Duns Scotus's notion of haecceity or "thisness" as the core of being, making individuality more significant than conformity to an ideal) embodied this shift of emphasis.

Eco does a fine job pulling together various sources from almost a thousand years of thought. He is able to distill a great portion of the history of philosophy and artistic consideration in a mere 120 pages. The book is very academic but is also accessible and a good introduction to aesthetics in the middle ages.