Running Commentary 6/10/2024
8 min read

Running Commentary 6/10/2024

The Acolyte (E1,2), Bobolink


I'm still working my way through re-watching seasons 1 and 2 of The Bad Batch; I'm hoping to get my review of that series written and published by the time The Acolyte ends so I can get started on reviewing that then. That gives me about a month.



Still from

The Acolyte

The latest Star Wars television project has arrived, and, like usual, I'll be giving my episode-by-episode thoughts here. Let's look at the two-episode premiere:

  • I went into this show without any real set expectations. The Acolyte is part of the High Republic multimedia initiative, and I've long since given up on keeping up with the High Republic books after the first six I read seemed not to be going anywhere interesting. But this show is set a good bit later, and doesn't feature the Nihil as villains, so it's not really a High Republic story as far as all that is concerned. Two episodes in, I'm enjoying it. I have a couple concerns that I'll get into, but overall this show is unique and exciting and beautifully shot in many scenes.
  • The action in this show is the most distinctive part. There've been lightsabers drawn, but no duels so far; there's also very little blasterfire. Everything so far has been Force-aided hand-to-hand combat, with Mae having her throwing knives for a little extra danger. The fights are well-choreographed and well-shot; they're some of the best action scenes we've had from Disney-era Star Wars.
  • It's long been a tongue-in-cheek fan theory that the Galaxy doesn't have OSHA, given its built environments commonly feature bottomless pits but rarely feature handrails. Well, now there's a character named Osha, and she's a laborer working in an illegally hazardous environment. That's great.
  • We knew Amandla Stenberg would be playing the titular Sith acolyte, but now we see she had a dual role, also playing the acolyte's ex-Jedi twin sister. Mae has the starts of an interesting villain, from what we've seen so far. Osha is...less well-done, at least from what we've seen. Stenberg plays her quite bland: never showing much emotion, whether being unjustly arrested, or confronting her long-lost sister, or being found out while in disguise. Maybe that fits with her Jedi upbringing, but that's not good TV. She's also not a proactive agent in the story thus far, largely getting kicked along through the show by the actions of others. Overall Osha feels like things will work out how they work out, and she doesn't have to do too much or care too hard. Hopefully this show can break through that slacker attitude as it goes on.
  • There are several different Jedi in this show and I'm happy to say they're all distinct characters, which was not the case in those books I gave up on. I liked all of them, especially (as has become consensus) Master Sol. Vernestra Rwoh shows up from the books; there she's a very young Jedi Knight; here she's a veteran of the Order and seems to be in the role Mace Windu would later occupy: the Order's top cop, with a shaved head even. Yord I think we're supposed to read as a young hothead a bit like Anakin, but I don't see that much from his actions. Jecki Lon is a sort of comic relief counterpart to Sol, legalistic in her approach in contrast to Sol's more intuitive approach. I like that; as much as the rebellious teen padawan chafing under their master's rules is a thing in Jedi stories, I think having the padawan depend heavily on book learning due to a lack of lived experience is just as realistic a take to go with.
  • I found Yord's padawan to be a bit old, considering he was himself only knighted two years ago. Padawans are generally taken by their masters by their early teens, at the latest (by Human standards, anyway) so even if Yord took on Tasi Lowa the day he was knighted she should only be about sixteen at the most, or about ten years younger that she seems to me. Perhaps she had another master earlier, and Yord is just finishing her training.
  • For the most part the look of this show, the costumes and the sets, is pretty solid. The main weak point in this comes early, in the Trade Federation ship, and especially during the spacewalk scenes, which really didn't seem at all to be taking place in space; that looked cheap and fake even by the standards of a network TV show, much less a high-budget limited-episode streaming series. The costumes for the Neimoidians looked great, but the rest of those scenes looked a little off.
  • The mystery of who killed Master Indara, which marketing for the show suggested would be the central question of the show, is known, both by the audience and by the Jedi investigators. There's something that happened years ago when Osha and Mae were young, that the characters seem to know that we don't, and what that is I think will be a big influence on my final evaluation of the show.

Bird of the Week

Merrily swinging on brier and weed,
Near to the nest of his little dame,
Over the mountain-side or mead,
Robert of Lincoln is telling his name.
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink,
Snug and safe is this nest of ours,
Hidden among the summer flowers.
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln is gayly dressed,
Wearing a bright, black wedding-coat;
White are his shoulders, and white his crest,
Hear him call in his merry note,
Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link,
Spink, spank, spink,
Look what a nice, new coat is mine;
Sure there was never a bird so fine.
Chee, chee, chee.

from "Robert of Lincoln" by William Cullen Bryant1

William Cullen Bryant was a newspaper editor and noted poet, a contemporary of Edgar Allen Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and a mentor to Walt Whitman. He's less known today than he was during his life, and he's not mainly known for "Robert of Lincoln" in any case, but that poem is relevant here for popularizing the common name of this week's bird: the Bobolink.

As is indicated in Bryant's poem, the name "bobolink" is imitative of the bird's song. Bobolink males are supremely jabbersome creatures. I personally don't hear "bobolink" in their song terribly clearly; to me, the sound uncannily like astromech droids from Star Wars, with shrill whistles and chordal beeps that almost, but not quite, for proper melodies. There's an incredibly distinctive quality to the bobolink's song that's not easily forgotten once you've heard it.2

Bryant also went as far as to suggest "Bob o'Link" to be short for "Robert of Lincoln"; that is not merely a name pulled at random, but a reference to Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, a medieval English clergyman and philosopher who is credited with introducing the notion of controlled experiments, a key aspect of modern scientific methodology, to the Latin-speaking scholars of Europe.3

Fittingly for a bird generally heard before it's spotted, I've described what the bobolink sounds like without describing what it looks like. The breeding male bobolink looks as distinctive as he sounds: a small, slim icterid blackbird with white marks running down its back (often said to look like he's wearing a tuxedo backwards) and what almost seems like a pat of butter spread over the back of his head. In flight, it is the only bird its size with a pale back and black wings in its summer range. Off-season males and females are colored much the same as female mallards, actually, with mottled yellowish bodies. All bobolinks share distinguishing long-clawed toes and short, jagged-ended tails.

Bobolinks are grassland birds, and as such one of the more seriously threatened birds in North America. The decline of both natural meadows and of hayfields left un-mowed in the late spring have left bobolinks with fewer and fewer good nesting sites; furthermore, bobolinks don't know that a field of crass is scheduled to be mowed later, and so will make nests only to have them destroyed by heavy machinery.4 Bobolinks themselves have a large enough breeding range (covering the northern continental U.S. and southern Canada) that they are not considered a threatened species,5 but their numbers and the numbers of other grassland creatures are steadily decreasing.

The bobolink has historically also been called the ricebird, due to its feeding in rice fields during migration and over-wintering. From its breeding range it moves south to Venezuela, then, after a stop-over period, on to Paraguay and adjacent regions. Here it is known as the "charlatán", a Spanish word meaning "chatterer". (This, as well as the English word "charlatan" – a synonym for "fraud" or "con artist"– originally came from an Italian word referring to disreputable physicians known for their quick, deceptive chattering speech.)6 To science, they are Dolichonyx oryzivorous, or the "long-clawed rice-eater".7

  1. Bryant, William Cullen. “Robert of Lincoln.” From Poems That Every Child Should Know, 1904, retrieved from Wikisource, April 11, 2023.
  2. Kachala, Nick. “ML239370861 - Bobolink." Macaulay Library May 24, 2020.
  3. Lewis, Neil, "Robert Grosseteste", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  4. Bollinger, Eric K., Patricia Bollinger, and Thomas A. Gavin. “Effects of Hay-cropping on Eastern Populations of Bobolink.” ResearchGate, September 13, 1990.
  5. "Dolichonyx Oryzivorus.” IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, October 1, 2016.
  6. “Charlatan.” In Merriam-Webster Dictionary, May 29, 2024.
  7. Jobling, J. A. (editor). The Key to Scientific Names in Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman et al. editors), Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Ithaca.

Shoe-string theory | Brett Israel, Berkeley News

"A new study by mechanical engineers at UC Berkeley finally shows why your shoelaces may keep coming untied. It’s a question that everyone asks, often after stopping to retie their shoes, yet one that nobody had investigated until now. The answer, the study suggests, is that a double whammy of stomping and whipping forces acts like an invisible hand, loosening the knot and then tugging on the free ends of your laces until the whole thing unravels."

Precision guided disc golf launcher | Stuff Made Here

[VIDEO] Throwing a frisbee is relatively intuitive. You might not get it right away, but you can generally trial-and-error your way into a working method. But try to make a machine capable of doing the same thing is a little trickier, though it is possible. (25 minutes)

Into the Fire Tubes | Emma Lira, National Geographic

“A Canary Islands volcano pushed rivers of molten lava through the earth. Now scientists and explorers trek through the cooling underground, looking for insights into life on this planet—and perhaps on others.”

The Board | Elif Batuman, Electric Literature

[FICTION] “’I thought it was a basement unit,’ I said. ’Every building is different,’ the broker said. ‘Especially prewar buildings.’ ’Surely the custom of putting the basement on the bottom floor has a venerable, even an ancient history,’ I said, attempting a note of levity. But the back of the broker’s head betrayed no sign of amusement, and we resumed our climb in silence.”

See the full archive of curations on Notion