Category Archives: TV shows
Moving is not fun, no matter how many times I do it. Whether it is across continents and oceans, states or to the neighboring town, it never gets easier. I am so glad that the Insufferable Movie Snob kept the blog going on, posting her detailed and funny reviews. If you haven’t already checked out her reviews you should do so now. She rocks! Here is a link to her last review.
My last movie/TV review post before my brief unplanned hiatus was on Star Trek Deep Space 9. Unlike The Next Generation, aliens of DS9 were more than just obnoxious caricatures and Star Fleet officers were not always perfect. Main and recurring characters experienced growth and change. The show had strong women characters who had more to do than just look pretty. I have be re-watching DS9 since the fall and I for one would like to revisit Terak Nor more than once. It has a wealth of episodes pertinent to this moment in history that we are all a part of.
When I asked which episode you wanted me to review, these were the episodes that came up in the comments.
His Way (6.20)
Its Only a Paper Moon (7.10)
Far Beyond the Stars (6.13)
Blood Oath (2.19)
In the hands of the prophets (1.20)
A Time To Stand (6.1)
Tears of the Prophets (5.26)
Once More Unto the Breach (6.7)
In the Pale Moonlight (6.19)
Most of these episodes are in seasons 6 and 7 when DS9 reached its climax. Because of the serialized nature of the show I think it would be better to go in chronological order. So people who haven’t watched DS9 before, can join in if they want to.
With that in mind, I will start at the beginning with The Emissary. I also think Duet, is a must watch of the season one episodes and we can end our season one watch with In the Hands of the Prophets. If you would like me to cover any other first season DS9 episodes leave a comment.
This is a complete list of season 1 episodes. Without further ado let’s dive in and begin at the beginning.
Since I have been sick the past two weeks, I have been remiss in posting reviews. To take my mind off the election results, I was watching the last episode of the Season Six Dominion arc, Sacrifice of Angels and was struck by the parallels between our times and the DS9 universe. It’s the best of all Treks in my opinion. I love the interplay between the various races, the villains who are unapologetically wicked but have human failings and Garak!
Do you have a specific episode you would like me to review. Leave your selection in the comment section. I will do a poll of the first four by Wednesday. Here is the entire episode list for DS9. DS9 is available for streaming on Amazon Prime and CBS.
Until then enjoy the Klingon Kitteh, one of my lols that got more than 1000 votes when it made to the first page on ICHC, a few years ago. Kittehs + Trek = Win Win!
This review contains spoilers, consider yourself warned.
Indian Summers was back this Sunday night on Masterpiece Theatre. This installment was even worse than the last one. This show has become so mysterious that it is completely opaque now. In addition to the attempt murder of last week this week has an actual murder made to look like a suicide attempt. There is drama, there is sex, there is violence, there is too much going on to keep things straight.
Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly interesting. I suppose we are meant to sympathize with the simpering Alice Whelan, because she has developed some sympathies towards Aafrin Dalal, the guy who got shot last week. She seems rather clueless. First she abandons her guests who are especially there to pay her a visit to burst unannounced into Dalal’s house. She then blurts out about Aafrin’s injuries which the family had managed to keep a secret from their ailing father (Roshan Seth).
The other goody goody British character, missionary Doug is rather unsympathetic too, last week he was flirting with a co-worker and this week he was emotionally unavailable to his wife, a meddling busybody, who is a piece of work. Dougie’s unpleasant wife Sarah, is also a budding detective, who is trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of Alice’s missing husband. She wrote a letter to her peeps in London asking them to investigate. Truth be told, I cannot muster an ounce of sympathy for any of the British characters in this show. It 1932 and way past the the time for British Crown to let go of India. In fact it should have been done after the end of World War I, instead the British presence is becoming an increasingly desperate attempt to keep the restive Indians under the colonial heel.
Obviously, the series makers want us to root for Ralph Whelan against our own better judgment, since he is so pretty. I couldn’t care less, they all seem terribly pompous and even more unforgivable for a TV show, unbearably dull. Even the scheming Cynthia was torpid in this episode, perhaps she had a hangover from the party in episode 1. The Indian characters aren’t all that interesting either, so far I only like Dalal’s youngest sister, the one in the school uniform.
The focus of the action or rather inaction was the assassin who has been identified now as Chandru Mohan of the Madras Presidency, who seems to have known Whelan, who called him rakshas (demon). As an aside, Channel 4 better hire Hindi dialect coaches ASAP because their Indian characters cannot pronounce simple Hindi words like rakshas and zindabad correctly. Kaiser, the mustachioed main minion of Cynthia Coffin helped forge a fake Congress membership letter for Mr. Mohan, who was found dead at the end of the episode but not before he got to beat up Ralph Whelan into a bloody pulp. Why would an Indian have the name Kaiser, or has Cynthia renamed him? Equally mysterious, American houseguest throwing herself at Ralph Whelan again at the end of the episode. Why? Is this so called heiress without any prospects that she has to bait cold fish Whelan in sweltering India of all places. Why is she even there?
Then there was also an Indian journalist a certain Mr. Khan who was trying to figure out the reason behind the attempted murder. Despite the obvious photo-op at Aafrin’s bed, Mr. Khan’s seems to have figured out that the shooting was more a case of personal vendetta and not a political act.
In other happenings, Adam the Anglo-Indian child who was rescued by Dougie and Leena was trying to stab himself with a thin blade, what’s his sad story, I wonder. Why did Aafrin’s girlfriend Sita and his sister Sooni had a rendezvous in the cemetery? I have no idea. Its somewhat understandable that the two lovebirds of different religions have to meet under the cover of darkness and in secret, but why these women?
Anyway I am fast losing interest in this show and its convoluted happenings. I am going to give it one more chance, mainly because I am interested in the history of the time period and second also because reviewers who have seen the entire season in the UK say that the show gets better. We shall see.
In case you missed it, review for the first episode is here.
This used to be the Viceroy’s Lodge in Shimla (From Victorian Web)
Indian Summers, currently airing on Masterpiece Theater is more sudsy than substantial. The show is set in the waning days of the British Empire in the town of Simla, the summer capital of British India. Its more Downton Abbey than Wolf Hall, with the Indians playing the part of the downstairs crew. If like Downton, this show turns out to be a love letter to the days of yore, extolling the virtues of the Empire, when the benevolent British brought civilization to the heathens and the coolies knew their place, I am going to barf.
The show’s acquaintance with reality is passing at best, in just the first episode we saw banana trees in Simla. Even more egregious; someone who is barely thirty and looks like he is just out of college is supposedly under serious consideration for being India’s next Viceroy. All he needs is a wife. Not bloody likely, as a Brit might say. Being the Viceroy of India was a plum assignment and usually went to someone with either a distinguished military and/or diplomatic career and the right pedigree. Linlithgow who became the Viceroy in 1935 was in his late 40s when appointed and had served in the army as a Colonel during the First World War. Even the train that takes the sahibs up the hills was all wrong. The train to Simla is a narrow gauge train, and looks nothing like the spacious broad gauge train in the show.
Much of the action takes place at the Royal Simla club, where no dogs or Indians are allowed. Nothing much happens except an attempted assassination that goes awry, we are also introduced to the cast of characters. There is Ralph Whelan, the above mentioned private secretary in running for the Viceroy and his pretty sister, Missionary Dougie and his catty wife, a rich American and his sister (Mathers) who is trying to snag a husband and Cynthia Coffin, an army widow and the scheming hostess of the Royal Simla Club, who is a cross between Downton’s O’Brien and the Dowager Countess, round out the main British characters. Aafrin Dalal, a Parsi clerk who takes the bullet meant for Whelan, his family, including a freedom fighting sister and worry wart parents, Dalal’s crazy Hindu love interest, Sita, and Dougie’s pretty assistant Leena round out the non-servant contingent of the Indian cast.
Dalals are supposed to be Parsis, problem is that neither of the younger Dalals makes for a convincing Parsi, nor are the Mathers believable as Americans. In fact most of the younger cast simply seem to be twenty first century Brits playing dress-up. BTW Dalal being a member of the Indian Civil Service or ICS seems far fetched too. Before he got himself shot, Afrin Dalal was treated like an errant school boy by Whelan. The Indian Civil Service practically ran India during the British days just like its successor, the Indian Administrative Service does right now. Selection process was and is extremely competitive. There were about a thousand ICS officers at the time of Indian Independence and only about a third were Indian. ICS officers and their current counterparts, IAS officers also get perks such as government paid accommodation and domestic help. I very much doubt that an ICS officer, even an Indian one would be treated like a peon.The pooja that the would be assassin performs was very Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom like, complete with an idol of Kali. No monkey brains were eaten though.
The part about British only clubs where no Indians are allowed as guests or members, was spot on. There were many such clubs where the colonial masters liked to retreat far from the riff raff they had to rule. Some of these exclusive clubs exist even to this date, as if frozen in time. Although, instead of expat British you will find rich and famous Indians there instead. The British disdain for Indian life and dignity is pretty much on the money too, as their genocide by starvation policies attest.
What intrigued me was Ralph Whelan’s divided loyalties, his Indian ways when he thinks no one is watching, he likes to eat with his fingers sitting cross-legged on the floor. He mentioned to his sister that the only way they could get him to leave India was by killing him. Apart from Ralph Whelan all the other characters seemed like cardboard cut outs. I will probably give the show one more chance and watch the next episode, what about you?
Simla (now known as Shimla) in winter
Grade : B-
The fourteen hour documentary about the three Roosevelt cousins, Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor, that aired the week before the last week on PBS stations across the country was one of Ken Burns’ best. A total of seven episodes, broadcast in installments of two hours each, chronicled the lives of the three members of the Roosevelt family. The documentary spanned more than a century, from Theodore’s birth to Eleanor’s death. Despite its length, it left me wanting more.
The first three episodes focused mainly on TR or Theodore Roosevelt, while the next three on Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, while the last one was about Eleanor’s life after White House. Theodore and Franklin were fifth cousins, while Eleanor was TR’s niece and FDR’s fifth cousin once removed. Of all the episodes, only the sixth one on WWII felt repetitive. Perhaps, because the history of WWII has been the subject of so many other TV documentaries on PBS and elsewhere.
Though all three cousins grew up in the lap luxury, I cannot imagine any of them jeering at those less fortunate than they were, as moochers. In the political arena, the Roosevelt, I was most inspired by, was FDR. One can argue that he was one of the most consequential Presidents of the United States.
The New Deal regulatory regime kept the financial genie that brought about the Great Depression caged, while the New Deal and the War Stimulus bought the greatest era of broad based prosperity to the United States. One could argue that the ongoing dismantling of the New Deal regulatory regime since the Reagan administration has been directly responsible for many of the financial crashes since then, including the latest one in 2008. If a man is known by his enemies, FDR made the right ones. He is hated even now by the intellectual and actual progeny of his erstwhile detractors. A cottage industry of hacks discrediting or minimizing his achievements in tackling the Great Depression, exists even today, one recent example, here.
FDR’s other monumental achievement was his able leadership during the second world war. Mobilizing for WW II transformed the United States from a regional to a world power. In the light of FDR’s unparalleled legacy, the idea of term limits for a President does not make much sense, at least to me.
I knew the broad outlines of FDR’s story but this documentary filled in a lot of details about Franklin D. Roosevelt as a person, including his often difficult marriage to his fifth cousin Eleanor and his struggles with polio. Shy and reserved as a child, Eleanor, came into her own as time went by. Though she was unloved as a child or perhaps because of it she became a voice for those without a voice, whether they be miners in West Virginia or those who suffered under the Jim Crow regime years after the end of the Civil War. On a personal level, Eleanor impressed me the most, her metamorphosis from a shy and unsure young woman to a stateswoman who shepherded the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the fledgling United Nations was truly inspirational.
Of the three,Theodore Roosevelt was the hardest for me to relate to, perhaps because his times have receded into a distant past and his world is a far cry from the world we live in today. His war lust seems out of place after the two world wars and other conflicts. There is no nobility in war now if there ever was in some distant past. In the era of mechanized warfare and nuclear weapons, war means misery and death and not just for the soldiers . On the personal front,TR’s tenacity and courage in overcoming both asthma and depressive tendencies were nothing short of impressive. His colorful and brash personality must have guaranteed a good copy for the journalists of that era. One thing struck me that TR would have been a misfit in today’s Republican party because of his progressive values and conservationist ideals.
The voice-overs for the Roosevelts were done by Paul Giamatti, Edward Hermann and Meryl Streep for TR, FDR and ER. I found Streep distracting and a bit overdone. All in all, an impressive documentary about three impressive people, flaws and all. At the end of part seven I was left wanting to know even more about them.
Credits : Produced by Florentine Films and WETA, Washington. Directed by Ken Burns; written by Geoffrey C. Ward; Mr. Burns, Paul Barnes and Pam Tubridy-Baucom, producers; Mr. Barnes, Tricia Reidy and Erik Ewers, editors; Buddy Squires and Alan Moore, cinematographers. With: Meryl Streep (the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt), Paul Giamatti (Theodore Roosevelt) and Edward Hermann (Franklin Roosevelt). (source: NYT)
Breaking up a system into its tiniest building blocks, is an approach that provides a great insight into whatever you are studying, from the hydrogen atom to the Universe. To figure out the evolution of massive stellar objects one needs to understand its tiniest components, i.e., matter at the atomic and subatomic levels. Episode 6, focused on this idea in general and the elusive neutrino in particular.
In episode 6, Neil De Grasse Tyson started with the universe contained in a dew drop, he bored deeper and deeper till he reached the atomic level. Atoms, are mostly empty space with a dense positively charged nucleus. The electrons that surround the nucleus are tiny in comparison. We also learned about forces of electrostatic repulsion and then the nuclear forces which bind the atom together. Nuclear attractive forces have to be much stronger than the repulsive electrostatic forces to keep the positively charged nucleus together. The nucleus also consists of particles with charge zero, the neutrons which are necessary to keep the like charged protons together in the nucleus.
Now that we know what we are made of, we also need to know the means through which particles interact with each other. Most of the macroscopic interactions on our planet are a product of the electromagnetic force which is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, and the one we understand the best
The other fundamental forces are the gravitational force, and the two nuclear forces; the strong force and the weak force. It’s the weak force that gives rise to aforementioned neutrino. A mass less and charge less particle that was predicted by Wolfgang Pauli based on energy conservation arguments. The argument boils down to this: the total mass and energy of any given system is always conserved, no exceptions.
Neutrino, or the little neutral one in Italian is an elusive particle and extremely hard to detect because it does not interact much with anything at all, since it has almost zero rest mass and no charge. It is a product of nuclear beta decay, a type of radioactive decay*. This makes the neutrino a great candidate to study about the origins of the universe and stellar cores. De Grasse Tyson took us to the neutrino detection laboratory in Japan. The secrets of neutrino astronomy are yet to be revealed.
Credit: Super-Kamiokande Collaboration, Japan
Earlier entries about Cosmos are here.
Natural radioactive decay
The number of electrons in a neutral atom determines its chemical properties. The elements are arranged in the periodic table in the ascending order of the number of electrons, their atomic number. As the atomic number increases we need more neutrons than protons to keep the atomic nucleus together. This works up to a point, addition of neutrons makes the nucleus unstable and we get the phenomena of natural radioactivity. For example, Uranium which is naturally radioactive and has no stable isotopes. Uranium 235, its most abundant naturally occurring isotope has 92 protons and 143 neutrons.
A brief recap of the properties of light that we have encountered so far in Cosmos.
- The speed of light through vacuum is nature’s speed limit.
- Light travels in straight lines.
- The speed of light depends on the medium.
- Visible light is composed of seven primary colors.
- Energy of light waves depends on their wavelength.
- Our eyes are sensitive to a small band of electromagnetic radiation.
These properties were hiding in plain sight but it took centuries and the work of many individuals to unravel these properties. Lots of imagination and hard work went into getting nature to reveal its code to us. You may ask, how does this concern me? Why should I care? It does because the entire edifice of modern life, from your hand held device to your camera phone uses this knowledge. To paraphrase Newton, each of us can see farther because we are standing on the shoulders of giant. Technological progress is possible because of research in the pure sciences. Unfortunately funding for science is getting shortchanged these days in the name of fiscal prudence, see for example, sequestration.
Still to come:
- Light can demonstrate both wave-like and particle like phenomena.
- Light waves are transverse electromagnetic waves.
- Light can travel through vacuum
The last property has been taken for granted but never been elaborated upon by Neil De Grasse Tyson while narrating Cosmos. There is a great story lurking behind that fact, I hope he tells it in one the upcoming episodes.
At start, no has lyte. An Ceiling Cat sayz, i can haz lite? An lite wuz —Lolcat Bible
Note :1nm = 10-9m
It is as if Neil De Grasse Tyson read my last review, and decided to give us the physics behind the light show of last week. He covered a lot of ground, this week. This episode began its exploration of light with geometric optics and pinhole cameras and ended with speculation about dark matter. This week’s history lesson told us about the contributions of the ancient Chinese experimentalist and philosopher, Mozi, and the Arab philosopher-scientist Alhazen, of the ancient Indian mathematical concept of zero. An excellent counterpoint to those who insist that Christianity was an essential aspect of the scientific revolution. Unfortunately Mozi’s teachings did not survive the Chinese thought police. Like the Inquisition era Catholic Church they too were afraid of the open exchange of ideas. No one has a monopoly on either the smart or the stupid but the cultures that allow an open exchange of ideas flourish, while those who stifle them, don’t in the long run.
Continuing our exploration of light, Tyson revisited Isaac Newton and his discovery of the spectrum of visible light. Newton figured out that sunlight or white light is a composite of the seven primary colors, VIBGYOR (Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red). Newton was not the main star of Sunday’s Cosmos, instead it was Joseph Fraunhofer, for his contributions to spectroscopy. He was the first to observe the solar spectrum with a telescope and analyze it. De Grasse Tyson then described the atomic structure of hydrogen, and quantum mechanical explanation of its spectrum. He then generalized it to atoms of elements more complicated than hydrogen. Thus looking at the spectrum of a heavenly body we can figure out what it is made of.
In a brilliant graphic Tyson demonstrated how the New York skyline changed when we focused on the different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. The different parts coinciding with different wavelengths. To explain the concept of a wavelength, Tyson compared light waves and sound waves. Missing however was any mention of Thomas Young, who experimentally proved the existence of the wave nature of light. Also, there was no mention of Newton’s corpuscular theory of light which had to be eventually discarded since it could not explain interference and diffraction.
What I love about physics in particular and science in general, that it does not matter whether you are Newton or Einstein, if what you say does not agree with experiment your theories have to go. Put up or shut up. Physics does not bow to the rules of the thought police.
Tyson still has to discuss the wave-particle duality. Though, he briefly touched on quantum mechanics while discussing the hydrogen atom he has yet to talk about the Uncertainty Principle. I am sure that the quantum revolution of the early part of the last century will be the subject of a future episode. The changes it brought about, in how we perceive both matter and light were radical. As is always the case, that revolution too had its own thought police.
Greg Pollowitz at the National Review thinks Cosmos is boring;
I think we have a real dud of a show in the making.
Daily Beast’s David Sessions, argues that Bruno was a theologian not a scientist.
What Cosmos doesn’t mention is that Bruno’s conflict with the Catholic Church was theological, not scientific, even if it did involve his wild—and occasionally correct—guesses about the universe.
Sessions must have fallen asleep while watching the episode, because I distinctly remember De Grasse Tyson mentioning that Bruno’s was not a scientist.
Andrew Sullivan at the Dish, finds the history lessons cartoonish.
The segment previewed above is on the 16th century priest and philosopher Giordano Bruno, which includes deGrasse Tyson intoning that the Roman Catholic Church sought to “investigate and torment anyone who voiced views that differed from theirs”. Really?
Yes, really. Has the great scholar of history not heard of Galileo? Besides, what does it matter if Bruno was not a scientist? I thought Andrew Sullivan was against torture. Or is torture okay if condoned by the Catholic Church?
Besides have Sessions and Sullivan not heard of Copernicus? He delayed the publication of his book until the year of his death. The book, postulated a heliocentric solar system based on his observations of the planets. Perhaps, because as a man of the cloth, Copernicus was aware of the blow back from the Church if he published his thesis.
What exactly is Bruno’s being a priest supposed to prove? In fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries, not many besides priests and noble men had the time to dedicate their life to philosophical or scientific questions. I don’t really get Sullivan’s and Sessions’ criticism.
Neil De Grasse Tyson and Cosmos continue its journey through space-time. The reason this journey seems stranger than science fiction is because it is beyond our direct sensory perceptions. In the interior of stars, the effects of both quantum mechanics and relativity cannot be ignored. We can safely ignore quantum mechanical effects in our day to day lives, unless we are dealing with matter on the atomic atomic scale or smaller. As for relativistic effects, they become important only when we approach the speed of light. If you are interested in exploring what quantum mechanical and relativistic phenomena would look like if we could experience them via our senses you should read the Russian born physicist, George Gamow’s Mr. Tompkins series.
Coming back to Cosmos, this week’s protagonist was the British astronomer William Herschel, voiced by none other than Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart to non-Trekkies). Herschel is credited with discovering Uranus among other things. The exploration of space-time dealt with the consequences of applying Newton’s laws of motion and that of universal gravitation to the astronomical objects. Tyson also tackled the concepts of action-at-a-distance through the presence of a force field. We learned about an astronomical unit of distance, a light year, and the mind bending consequences of nature’s speed limit, the speed of light.
We were also introduced to Maxwell’s equations and the origin of electromagnetic waves of which the visible light is but a very small portion. If human beings are the products of intelligent design then pray tell why our eyes are sensitive to only a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum?
I wish the show had spent some more time on the idea of ether, the Michelson-Morley experiment which failed to detect its existence and proved that light unlike sound did not need a medium to propagate. De Grasse Tyson introduced the work of Albert Einstein and talked about both the General and the Special Theories of Relativity. The show ended with a thought experiment exploring what might be inside of a black hole. A collapsed star with a gravitational pull so great that even light cannot escape it. I do wish though that Tyson would spend more time discussing the physics behind the dazzling light show.
Although, none of the physics De Grasse Tyson discusses is cutting edge, most of what he tackles would be covered in undergraduate physics, it is timely and necessary. Especially if it helps bridge the gulf that separates lay people from practitioners. The depth of scientific ignorance, seen in debates over climate change and evolution, even by media heavy weights is mind boggling, so the timing could not have been better.
Lasting economic success is built on technological progress which is not possible without basic science. This fact seems to be lost on policy makers, who give preference to tax cuts for the 1% over funding for basic science. Industry is not going to step in to fund basic research, or any product that can’t be marketed for an immediate return. We need science for the sake of science, to satisfy our innate curiosity, a purpose higher than increasing quarterly earnings.
You will find the review of the earlier episodes of Cosmos, here.