The Rule of Empires by Timothy Parsons

Couldn’t finish it. The first two chapters can be summarized as: “We have no idea what it was like for peasants in Roman and early medieval times, but I bet it was terrible, because every cultural achievement was built on their sweaty, overworked backs. Now here’s a bunch of quickly summarized history to wash that down.”

What did I learn? Nothing, really. There are better books out there on everything he tackles here, from the waxing and waning of Imperial Rome (see Peter Heather’s The Fall of the Roman Empire) to life in Spain during the Reconquista (see Kage Baker’s In the Garden of Iden).

How to Fix Doctor Who: Deep Breath

(Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead)

This episode is so uneven, like a miniature version of Moffat’s tenure at Doctor Who. There are some brilliant ideas – having the Doctor bring a dinosaur along for the ride after it swallowed the Tardis – and some utterly daft ones – who wants to see an older man flail about in a nightgown? – all mixed together, but never congealing into something coherently enjoyable.

Of all the things that went wrong, though, there’s a huge missed opportunity that stands out.

Clara should have left at the end of the episode.

Imagine if she did. There’s no last-minute phone call from Matt Smith manipulating her into staying, no puppy-dog eyes from the current Doctor to beg her to stay. No. The Doctor touches down in Clara’s time, she asks if she’s home, and he says “Yes.”

He drops her off, and explains why: his past self made a mistake in thinking of her in a romantic way, and some unknown person is manipulating their relationship. Until he knows who that person is, and why they’re doing it, he’s not going to play into their plans and perpetuate his predecessor’s mistake. This is a different Doctor, a Doctor that’s not as needy, and he’s strong enough to let her go when he sees it’s best.

Making that the final scene would recast the episode as the breakup of the Doctor and Clara, giving it some emotional heft, and making his abandonment of her in the middle a kind of foreshadowing. It would also give the season a little more tension: will Clara and the Doctor ever travel together again? Will he find out who’s been manipulating them? Will he take on a new long-term companion, or will this Doctor be more independent than the past?

I feel like this approach is something an earlier Steven Moffat would have done. The writer of The Girl in the Fireplace and Forest of the Dead would have seen the opportunity for a defining, bittersweet moment, and taken it. Instead Moffat’s new Doctor, perhaps like Moffat himself, does not know when to let go.

The Rent is Too Damn High by Matthew Yglesias

Short, direct and to the point. Yglesias makes a good case that housing prices in the US are a serious problem, and one we can solve. The driving cause is not techies taking over, or greedy landlords driving up rents. Instead, the roots of the problem lie in regulations that restrict housing density.

3 Things I Learned:

  1. The meme comes from a real debate held in the run-up to the New York governor’s election of 2010.
  2. Tall buildings are actually illegal, not just hard to approve, in most suburban areas.
  3. Parking regulations have a large impact on the feasability of a project. For example, if the law requires one parking space per unit, and the bedrock prevents building more than two stories for underground parking, you’ve got a hard limit to high up you can build. Ironically, with denser development placed closer to jobs, we wouldn’t need as many cars. Requiring the parking spaces actually makes congestion worse, in addition to driving up housing prices.

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

Surprisingly good. Jones covers almost 300 years of history at a pace that feels perfect: not so fast that you miss out on interesting details, not so slow that you ever want to stop reading. Each chapter zooms in on just a few years, keeping them short and easily digestible but still giving him space to tell a dramatic story.

Three things I learned:

  1. I always thought England went thousands of years without an invasion by a foreign power: from 1066 to the present. Turns out France invaded during the chaos at the end of the reign of King John (who you may remember as the villain in most Robin Hood movies).
  2. In many ways, the early Plantagenet kings were really French lords that happened to have the throne of England. They spent most of their time in France, since that’s where most of their wealth and power came from. John was the first king to spend the majority of his time in England, and the local barons got so sick of him they forced him to sign the Magna Carta.
  3. I thought the Glorious Revolution was the first time parliament deposed and chose a king, but really it goes back into the Plantagenet era: both Edward II and Richard II were deposed via parliament – Edward in favor of his son, Edward III, and Richard in favor of Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV.

Chase, part twelve: Jack

(Start with Part One)

The next few days were a hell of paperwork. Blake and his suits bugged out of town with their coma patient – who woke up twice on the way back to the station, screaming every time – leaving Lacey and I to justify the whole thing. We told the Captain the FBI had closed the case, told the parents the perp was in federal custody, and told ourselves we didn’t want to know what had really happened.

After all, if I knew the story behind that scream, I might go a little crazy myself.