As the first episode of the "House of Cards" second season ends, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) looks directly into camera and says, "Did you think I'd forgotten you? Perhaps you hoped I had ... Welcome back." If the hype surrounding this season's release is any indication, audiences certainly have not forgotten about Frank. The second iteration of this political thriller is a leap forward -- albeit with some boring moments -- as the show explores power hungry characters willing to do the unthinkable to expand their clout in Washington, D.C.

The second season starts where the first left off: Frank and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) jogging silently through an unnamed Washington, D.C., park. The Underwoods maintain a breakneck pace, only stopping momentarily to reflect on where they are. Frank is about to be sworn in as the Vice President which, while the first season made the process almost look easy, is remarkable. Thanks to Chief of Staff Douglas Stamper (Michael Kelly), reporter-turned-lover-turned-reporter-again Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), the late Representative Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) and others, Frank has fought his way up the Washington food chain.

Season two follows Frank as he uses his power to reap even more. He tracks down super PAC funds contributed by a cabal of shady Chinese businessmen. He sabotages investigations into Peter Russo's death. And he avoids a government shutdown with the precise application of parliamentary procedure.

To say the least, the Machiavellian wheeling and dealing required to keep all of these balls in the air, while still advancing his own interests, keeps Frank quite busy. Additional romantic interludes fill much of the rest of the season's time, including one between Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) and newly appointed Majority Whip Jacqueline Sharp (Molly Parker).

Yet the season's main plot focuses on Frank separating the feeble, easily manipulated President Walker (Michael Gill) from his friend and mentor, ultra-wealthy businessman Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney). Unfortunately, that plot forms much of the season's weaker middle episodes. The first season thrived in its plot diversity. Unlike this season, the initial 13 episodes never had Frank involved in one bump in the road for more than a few episodes. As he idiosyncratically broke the fourth wall, Frank easily placed each obstacle within the context of the last.

In season two, much of Underwood's problems are embattled in his tug-of-war with Tusk over President Walker. While all of Frank's complex machinations come into focus by the final two episodes, much of why Frank cares so much about $25 million dollars being re-routed to Republican super PACs seems fuzzy and unimportant. This is particularly prevalent in the context of modern elections, in which one presidential candidate can spend nearly $1 billion to get elected. Perhaps a result of Netflix's all-at-once content delivery, it's easy to tune out much of the intricate set-ups of some episodes and tune back in for their inevitable results.

As such, the better episodes of the second season are at the front and back. Episodes one and four ("Chapter 14" and "Chapter 17") are standouts, as are 11, 12 and 13 ("Chapter 24", "Chapter 25" and "Chapter 26"). Of particular note is episode four, in which the promise of Claire's depth, hinted at in episode four of the first season, is finally fulfilled. Wright displays some of the best acting of the season here, skillfully exploring her character's painful history in the most public manner possible. She puts forward a provocative thesis: the past can exist both as pain and as drive. Claire may be a victim, but she can -- and does -- transform her victimization into motivation. Credit belongs to the writers, who included so-called ripped from the headlines issues without the haphazardness that other shows have attempted, but don't always succeed in executing.

What makes the popularity of "House of Cards" so interesting is how it differs from other wildly popular political thrillers. Comparisons between "The West Wing" (1999-2006) and "House of Cards" abound, but the essential difference is this: the former involves good people exercising power for the right reasons and the right ends, while the latter is about morally ambivalent, or even morally bankrupt, people exercising power for their own reasons and their own ends.

In the current political climate, with a gridlocked and ineffectual government, it is not particularly surprising that audiences want a protagonist who can wield power effectively to accomplish anything at all. Even President Obama himself remarked, when asked about the first season, "I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient ... It's true. It's like, Kevin Spacey, man, this guy's getting a lot of stuff done." Has Frank Underwood's rise reflected a new, post-idealist America? Who knows and, as Frank would probably say, who cares? All that matters in Frank Underwood's America is who has power, who doesn't and who is in the way. All of that and, of course, a good rack of ribs.

Vitamin D supplements may not increase bone density

People over the age of 50 often take vitamin D supplements thinking they’re making their bones stronger and preventing osteoporosis.

But a new review of past studies finds the supplements don’t usually increase bone density. And researchers said they aren’t necessary for most healthy adults.

Among people with osteoporosis, bones become weak and fragile due to the loss of bone density that often comes with aging. Fragile bones are more likely to break. A common prevention strategy is to take calcium and vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium. But it’s not commonly found in foods, unless they’re fortified, like most milk. The body makes vitamin D after skin is exposed to sunlight.

Although calcium is necessary for strong bones, there has been some concern about the safety of taking calcium supplements.

“Recent evidence has indicated that calcium, with or without vitamin D, probably increases the risk of heart attacks,” Dr. Ian Reid told Reuters Health in an email.

“Therefore, there is a renewed interest in the value of using vitamin D alone for optimizing bone health,” Reid added. He is a professor of medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and the lead author of the new study

Reid and his colleagues collected 23 past studies on vitamin D and bone density and re-analyzed their findings.

The studies included a total of 4,082 participants. The participants were in their late 50s, on average, and 92 percent of them were women.

The researchers found vitamin D supplements at any dose didn’t make much of a difference for bone density.

“We were surprised at the large number of carefully conducted studies which did not disclose any benefit to bone density from vitamin D supplements, even when the baseline levels of vitamin D in the study subjects were quite low,” Reid said.

The results were published in The Lancet.

Each of the studies measured bone density at between one and five sites on the body, like the spine, hip and forearm.

Across the studies, there were 70 separate measurements of bone density at a particular site before and after participants took vitamin D supplements. Of those, six showed some benefit tied to supplement use, two showed bone loss and the rest found no effect of vitamin D.

There was no difference comparing vitamin D2 and D3, the two forms normally sold as supplements.

Reid said he finds the current evidence that calcium supplements increase the risk of heart attacks to be persuasive. So he doesn’t recommend people take calcium, unless it’s advised by a doctor.

“Individuals interested in lifestyle modifications to optimize bone health should aim to achieve an adequate calcium intake from their diet, without recourse to supplements, and to have regular exercise and sunshine exposure without risking sunburn,” Reid advised.

“In practice this means sunlight exposure at the beginning or end of the day in summer.”

Some people do need to consider vitamin D supplements, he said.

“Individuals who are permanently indoors, usually as a result of advanced age and frailty, require supplements. Supplements are also required by individuals with very dark skin living at a distance from the equator, and those who are habitually veiled,” explained Reid.

Paul Coates, director of the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, confirmed many people in the U.S. take vitamin D supplements, although they trail behind multivitamins and calcium in popularity.

It’s possible vitamin D supplements might have other benefits, but Coates told Reuters Health there isn’t enough evidence to make recommendations for anything other than bone health. Studies are currently being done to examine vitamin D’s relationship to cancer and type 2 diabetes prevention.

Opinions and recommendations on dietary supplements seem to change frequently, making it difficult for consumers to keep up with the science.

Coates suggested the Office of Dietary Supplements website (ods.od.nih.gov) and the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus (medlineplus.gov) as two resources.

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