The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (TV)

I'm watching a positive deluge of TV these days, compared to my usual baseline of zero - I started watching the BBC adaptation of Sayers' The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club with another friend. It came out in the 1970s and stars Ian Carmichael as Wimsey.

They appear to be just available on youtube so the barrier to entry is very low.

I absolutely love Sayers, the Wimsey novels, and her writing generally - pretty much every aspect of the books. I actually think at this point, Gaudy Night might be my favourite novel, and it's really rare for books to get that high up in my estimation anymore (I only read it a few years ago). Of all her books though, I think I like Bellona Club least, though. I know other people don't really like Five Red Herrings but I love the setting, the fishing/painting duality the characters have going on, and I've always skipped over the timetables and mystery solving of mystery novels anyway, so it made no difference that Red Herrings had too many train timetable foolings. Plus there's the most enjoyable reconstruction that Wimsey and the Fiscal do at the end! Honestly, I think I dislike Bellona Club because I really hate George. I understand, I do: he feels humiliated and inadequate, because he got gassed in the war, clearly has PTSD/shellshock, and can't stick the things that the post-war world is requiring, living off his wife's earned income is humiliating, he sees the world has changed hugely and can't cope, etc. I get it. But he's so relentlessly unpleasant to Sheila, and he recognizes he's being a beast, and he just keeps on doing it. It makes Wimsey, visiting them, acutely uncomfortable too. There's also not much of the novel I can point at and like in terms of set-up or setting. Books like Murder May Advertise have the absolutely amazingly-drawn ad agency and its little politics as a backdrop, or the Nine Tailors has a wonderful sense of quietness and vastness, almost, to go with the huge bell tones of the book. Ugh I never reviewed the books back when I read them the first time but I loved them so much I tried to stretch them out and not read them all at once.

Anyway, the TV show is all right. Since I know the plot, most of my interest and enjoyment is derived from the strengths of adaptation; for visual media like TV mostly I am looking for good acting and visuals, if possible. Ian Carmichael is a good person, acting-wise, to play Wimsey, but he really doesn't look right. He's way too broad shouldered and conventionally handsome - Wimsey calls himself "funny lookin'" and is slight, which cause his opponents to underestimate him - both in intelligence and in fights, I might add. I also think Carmichael looks a little too old, but that's more subjective, probably. Wimsey's born in 1890, I have always felt Bellona Club takes place only a few years after the Great War, so he's somewhere in his late 20s or early 30s. George, by contrast, looks very young indeed, and honestly the visual depiction of George in this version is making him a lot more sympathetic - he's going off the handle but he is really painfully quite young for this. Murbles is pretty much EXACTLY the way I pictured him, it is amazing. I also quite like Pemberthy. He's a little soft-faced and very self-assured and confident, which rings quite right - just doesn't have the capital he needs.

I don't know if it's the poor quality on youtube or what but there's so little colour or resolution in the adaptation. Whew, everyone and everything grey, beige, black, or maybe grey again. It's cool to see all the 1920s decor. One of the joys of Wimsey is that he's filthy rich, it's not just the reader indulging in the fantasy of just having the money to do whatever he likes and be comfortable, Sayers actually talks about this herself, writing in the luxuries she couldn't afford - and despite the graininess of the footage I'm
enjoying looking at the set dressing. There's actual smoking with actual smoke, wow. The other really weird thing is it's shot with pretty much no sound effects or music soundtrack backing it at all. The only music is the beginning and ending title sequences. It is absolutely dead silent otherwise, and that feels so alien. I'm so used to modern cinema subtly or unsubtly cueing my emotions - and frankly sometimes it's mostly the violins coming down on a big sweep that's doing most of the emotional heavy lifting.

Daniel Sousa's FACE

So I have apparently fallen fannishly for Agent Carter and subsequently have been rewatching (a lot). Maybe I'll recap the other episodes, since it provides nice structure. Anyway, a lot of the show watching for the first time was following the action, watching Peggy's face and her reactions, since the story is mostly told through and around her. On rewatches though I so enjoy watching all the other details, and right now, Daniel's reactions. I mean Gjokaj is ridiculously handsome anyway so it's also partly just watching his face, but he's also so incredibly expressive, so it's such a joy to watch the scenes again and see Daniel's reaction.

Please enjoy a gifset (I am sorry sholio I am stalking your tumblr for the pretty, pretty AC gifsets and meta)
stars in the sky

1 month of birding every day

Actually, 35 days of checklist streak, as defined by ebird. Because ebird is trying to collect data that is useful for science, they have birding protocols. The most valuable is a "complete checklist", where your primary purpose is birding, you try to identify all the birds that you can see and hear, and you give number counts - estimating obviously, if necessary (and it's very necessary when faced with thousands of birds at sea, I'm totally overwhelmed. Counting is hard!!)

Anyway, it's been pretty helpful, because if I've learned anything about practicing, it's that if you practice every day you cannot fail to get better. It's a very comforting thought. Piano was the first thing I did this with - my parents made me - but I've also done smaller projects like this, like carving a stamp a day for a set period of time. (THAT project levelled up my carving skills so fast, but I need to do a 30 days of drawing. Design is now the sticking point.) I definitely think I've gotten better at birding. It's forced me to not only go outside every day, which I'm actually pretty good at doing, but also makes me focus on listening and watching, being active about observing. Also, though I think I've got a pretty high tolerance for going to the same place and watching it change throughout the seasons, I do get bored, so I try to change up the locations. I usually go during lunch since I can't reliably get out of work in time before sunset; the main pond nearby has other birders reliably covering that location, but there are smaller parks and wooded patches that aren't well-visited at all, so since I'm local I try to keep a watch on those.

For lazy days, I have a feeder filled with seed that hangs on the lilac in the back yard. I call it a yard, but it's not really - it's about two meters of dirt that is at the back of the apartment block, with a concrete wall (overgrown with ivy) separating it from the alley, and a concrete path that runs through to the back door. However, there's also a reasonably tall lilac bush and I've hung the feeder from there. It gets mobbed by sparrows and I do so enjoy watching their little interpersonal conflicts and their cute little faces. Blue jays drop in too, and cardinals and mockingbirds. I'm sure the starlings will be back - I'm amazed they haven't come by yet.

Anyway, what I was going to talk about is the study that was done on avian populations in North America, and the staggering statistic that we've lost about 30% of the bird population compared to 1970. 1970 is only 50 years ago. These aren't rare birds disappearing - common backyard birds have suffered huge losses. Here is the article:

There's another article which I cannot find now but was talking about a physics lab (I think) in the Midwest, where to accommodate the lab, there's land set aside, and it's interestingly enough turned into a bit of a wildlife sanctuary, because it's land that's not being actively used for human purposes. The ecosystem's just been left alone. There's a scientist at that lab who also birds, and there was a quote from him saying that it was so strange (and disquieting) to walk through the property there and now hear so little birdsong, because he remembers. Older birders remember a past that had more birds in it. The change has come so fast.

It makes me wonder about my memory and the future. 2020 is when I started really observing and listening. This is my start. This is the baseline, for me - I've always liked nature but lived in cities, so Pandemic Year 2020 will probably be my earliest memories of birding. I'm a young person and life expectancy is pretty high, there are a lot of years to go. I hope I won't ever have similar thoughts, and to be saddened by the silence of the woods & meadows. I think about how common mallards and Canadian geese are and how any patch of water might have a duck or two in it, no matter how small; I think about how even when running errands, passing by some ordinary city house's shrubbery I can hear a vocal horde of house sparrows chattering away; I think about the way I can stand still in a small urban forest and hear black-capped chickadees singing their distinctive song. I hope these don't become rare experiences.

Rather late rambling about Endgame

I was mad about the way Endgame ended in a lot of ways, but I watched it when it came out and wasn't really doing much lj/dw, so I didn't write about it. But watching Agent Carter really made me think about how much I dislike a lot of how that movie handled things.

Leaving aside the whole issue of how it feels like so many female characters got screwed over, specifically (Natasha? Gamora? etc) and how much the manpain of Thanos irritated me*, the time travel was just terrible. Superficially, it was enjoyable to watch previous scenes like the Avengers (2012) scenes from a different angle and to see different outcomes. But I hate time travel in fiction generally because it messes up the storytelling a lot, especially in canons where the story mostly isn't about time travel, which frankly the MCU wasn't going for. Up until this very last moment, the storytelling was very linear.

1. There's a lot of speculation and contradictory information, because of canon vs word of god, plus somewhat unexplained canon, about how the time travel works. What really is sticking in my craw of course is Steve going back in time and living out his life with Peggy. When old Steve shows up on the park bench, the movie is implying that Steve got there by living through the years, and he knows to show up at that spot because he obviously time-travelled from there first, so he knows that if he shows up in year 202X at this park he'll find Bucky and Sam there. Which means it's the same universe. Which means - I don't even know. There's another Steve who is frozen in the ice until the 21st century, Peggy and Steve hide their relationship somehow?, Steve hides from the public too, Bucky's going through the Winter Soldier programming and being used as an assassin and Steve knows about it but isn't doing anything, Steve knows SHIELD is HYDRA and isn't telling Peggy or they're both complicit, just so many unanswerable, character-changing implications are being created by this time travel. Being from the future means you know things. And you want to not act on them? Not only is this refusing to engage with the time-travel question - Marvel, you open this can of worms, you need to address them - but it's also not really in line at all with Steve's personality.

2. That Steve/Sharon kiss is so weird with this implication. I don't think it's stated how Peggy and Sharon are related but - have they never met? Is he not her great-uncle?

3. Another problem with time travel and narrative is that it sucks all the urgency and timeliness out of your story. If you can go back - even if you have only one chance - to any time, then it's no longer urgent. You can get good and ready before you go back. It's all past, anyway. You could limit it like Endgame does with limited trips back into the past, but a lot of the urgent tension of fixing things just dissipates.

4. The way Steve went back and got together with Peggy just doesn't sit right with me after watching Agent Carter. I know, the team movies are tough to do because they have to integrate ALL the solo movies/shows, and historically that's not always been a priority (cf Ragnorak Thor's character journey being regressed, etc) since the priority is probably creating an enjoyable movie that fits in under 2 hours. I also know that being in fandom means I'm much more invested and probably remember more about previous movies than casual moviegoers, who make up the majority of the movie-watching population. But damn it, I hate it. So much of AC was Peggy accepting her grief, moving on, forging a path forward. The time-travel just totally stomps that theme and message.

The weird thing is I distinctly remember shipping Steve/Peggy, not blindingly hard or anything, but quite generally happy with them together and/or exploring their relationship. That was less than 10 years ago. I now cannot summon any of that feeling at all. Maybe I should rewatch CA:TFA. I think what is causing this is that they were just embarking on the relationship and then he goes into the ice and then it's another loss in the war for Peggy, who is understandably carrying around a ton of grief already.

*The main issue is he keeps being so SAD about how oh boohoo, his life is so difficult, he has to sacrifice his "daughter" Gamora and everything. Well, you are the architect of everyone's problems, including your own. I have sympathy for those who are screwed over by no or little fault of their own, I enjoy villains who are just out there cackling away and doing what they want, but kindly spare me the crying about things which you caused yourself! You brought this on yourself and moreover, you could stop this right now if you wanted. No one made you kill half the population, and your plan was unutterably stupid in the first place - if it's all life, are you aware that the way life happens on earth requires a lot of eating of other organisms, once we're past the photosynthetic layer?! This doesn't solve an overpopulation problem if you halve the resources! That's not how math or ecology works!

On Looking - Alexandra Horowitz (3/?)

On Looking is an exploration of what the world looks like through different experts' eyes - the ability of one's perceptions and interests, training and background, shape how we see the same scene. Written by Alexandra Horowitz, an expert in dog cognition, she explores (mostly) the same block of NYC through many different people's eyes.

I picked up the book because I am also personally fascinated by how we perceive the world around us, and especially I am fascinated by the idea of the secret things lying in plain sight. It's not a question of the perception of our rods and cones and how wide you are physically keeping your eyelids - there's just too much visual (and other) information to appropriately or reasonably process it all, and we pick and choose, often completely unconsciously, what to actually perceive. It's a question of focus and conscious/unconscious attenuation to different things, and Horowitz shares this interest, and takes a walk with many different people - first, by herself; then with her young toddler, with a typographer, with a doctor, with an entomologist, a sound designer, with someone who went blind in middle age, with her dog, etc.

I pretty much found them all really interesting. Horowitz devotes a chapter to each person and writes engagingly, wrapping transcribed dialogue with her perception as it changed, description, and context, which is always valuable. I really enjoyed several chapters - the one that talked about how we walk on crowded sidewalks, the city animals that live among humans, with an illustrator (and an interesting diversion into meeting the gazes of strangers - one of the first things you learn to NOT do in a city). The most engagingly written, though, was the one with Horowitz's dog, which I guess is unsurprising. The conceit is always engaging for me to read (I like dogs!), they've become integrated with humans for thousands of years and dogs can do things like actually follow our gazes, and that's Horowitz's specialty. Maybe also because the other chapters are from other human's perception - with the exception of the woman who went blind, we're all really visual based, but dogs aren't. It

My main objection to the book is just the constant evocation of various savannah hypotheses - the one where we attempt to explain why our ability to concentrate or some other psychological phenomenon comes directly from avoiding lions trying to eat us for dinner. It's not that I have any specific objection, I think, yet - just that I've watched so many eg evo-psych theorists propound hypotheses that they have not tested, and nor do they ever think they might be fallible and steeped in their individual culture. Why, for example, do all the gender norms you propose originated from paleolithic living end up perfectly fitting into 1950's American middle-class roles? A lot of those questions about how our concentration work are still inadequately answered, as far as I know. I don't think Horowitz is necessarily going too far, I'm not qualified to judge that. But it's distracting and always kicks me out. There is also one walk with a doctor who specializes in diagnosing issues visually - contrasting with doctors who make an estimate based on symptoms, examination, and then order tests. I don't mean to downplay this skill but I think there are definitely a lot which cannot be easily visually identified, a lot of misdiagnosis that has happened in the past before we developed sensitive tests, and also, on these walks, it's hard to check the answer. So-and-so says they have this, and you can't just run up to that perfect stranger and ask (or have it found out). You just have to rely on reputation, and your perception rests on their authoritativeness and substitutes for truthful or accurate diagnoses. Maybe this is also driven by the knowledge that so many people go through so much effort to get their complex medical issue diagnosed properly. The doctor is compared explicitly to Sherlock Holmes and I can't say I like that much either. There were so many where I just wanted to then go and fact-check.

spring in Paris

running late on so many entries - Taylor Swift's re-recording of Love Story

But I just listened to Taylor Swift's re-release of Love Story. Her master recordings are owned by Scooter Braun and she's tried unsuccessfully to buy them back, so she's re-recording them.

I have listened to the original Love Story hundreds of times at this point and know it really well, so it was really interesting to go and listen to the new release. Once I listen enough to a recording, it's never quite the same as the first. All the roughness and unusual parts become known and expected, what's seen as initially weird patches are just part of the song then. The re-recording is itself "new" and I'm noticing detail that I won't once I get accustomed to it.

The recording (Taylor's Version), is definitely a lot more controlled, vocally speaking. I've criticized Swift before for her uneven singing, especially early on live, where there's a lack of breath support, vowels get slid around and sometimes the vowel distorts as the note goes on longer (big no-no in classical singing), a thinness to the sound when there are jumps etc. I stopped listening to her live performances around 2010 because I preferred to just enjoy the recordings. On the recordings, a lot of the live singing's weaknesses are just not that big of a deal. There's a freshness and a youth to the voice itself (plus the technique) on the original which helps sell the track, a track which is a really good song but is still written by a really young Taylor. Oh man, I used to listen to this on the radio while lying in bed! This might have preceded Vevo. This was the first Swift song I heard that made me a fan, more than a decade ago. But listening to the re-recording, it's pretty easy to hear the difference - Taylor's gotten a ton more controlled and deft with her voice - there's an "oh, oh" in the second verse that is quite different. Lots more deliberate note ends especially so that they are rhythmic, losing/dropping the twang, when her voice catches it feels much more practiced. On the new recording, it sounds like her vocals are overriding the instrumentation and leading on the song, whereas the original feels a little more like it's going along. The pleading part where she sings to Romeo and voices her doubts is a lot less plaintive, and it loses a little in the contrast when Romeo replies (even the bounce back into major key isn't enough to make up the difference). Even if she had stagnated in her singing, which she clearly hasn't, a thirty year old's voice just sounds different from a nineteen year old. It's obvious just listening.

I don't really have a point to this. I think it's awesome she's re-recording, and even if there wasn't a dispute with her masters (and I'm on her side, too) - I'm still of the "two cakes" disposition, and I'm pleased to have two copies of a song I love to listen to, and compare. I'm looking forward to the re-recordings and mixing and matching the ones I like the best.

Love Story (from Fearless, 2008)

Love Story (Taylor's Version) (from Fearless (Taylor's Version), 2021)