Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Happy 80th Willie!

If I were President, I'd find an excuse to pin a medal on the Red-Headed Stranger. He may be a part outlaw, part fool, part genius, part Coyote? Or he may just be a good ol' boy who's been true to himself, flaws-n-all, and enriched us all with decades of great music.

Cheers, Willie. Here's hoping you enjoy many more years making music with your friends.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jason Collins sets the stage for Lindsey Graham (similar qualifiers apply).

Last Wednesday Collins invited two Sports Illustrated writers to his home. With both solemnity and humor (as well as a nervous pause to make sure his backyard pool wasn't overflowing), he began crafting today's account, a public declaration that he is gay. 
At some point the idea of having no openly gay athletes in a league might sound as unimaginable as a ball field segregated by race. But today Collins becomes the first active male athlete in a major U.S. team sport to come out of the closet. Yes, that's a lot of qualifiers. Yes, it may be an artificial construct. But it is a milestone. Tens of thousands of men have played in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. Until today none had expressed his homosexuality before retirement.
It took so long it's almost hard to believe it hasn't been done already, not by a guy in one of the Big Four -- MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL.

I had hoped an MLB player would be first, and I suspect it will now be very soon as Jason Collins shows it's really not that big a deal.

I mean, it's a big deal. It's a big f'ing deal. It's a big deal today and it's a big deal that it happened. As a society though, we've largely moved beyond this being an issue for any but the most retrograde among us. Sure, some of those folks are in positions of power, disproportionately so, and while the percentages are down, in raw numbers, there are a lot of bigots out there still. But, like other manifestations of cowardice and self-loathing -- misogyny, racism, fundamentalist religion, "Shall not be infringed" shouting, etc. -- homophobia is something for which the majority of people feel sorry and ashamed for those who cling to it. So when I say it's not that big a deal, I think I could more accurately say, "It won't be long before we all wonder what the big deal was and why it took so long."

Mr. Collins has taken a brave, undiminishable step and, I'm sure, has won millions of new fans in so doing. Here's hoping his teammates, his team's management and ownership, and the fans have his back, because he's bound to get some ugly mail.

The moment I can't wait to see: when some unabashed bigot brings a nasty sign to a game, or heckles him for being gay, and the fans around that guy give him the old Klingon discommendation. And maybe "accidentally" spill their beers on him.

Update: Cleaning up some typos, I realized I was assuming Mr. Collins will actually have a team next year. I looked at his stats and that might be a generous assumption. He may only be an active player in that he hasn't officially resigned yet.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Good grief, Mississippi, don't give the NC GOP any other ideas about how to force religion down our throats. #secularism

Mississippi School Forces Students To Listen To Christian Lecture, Teachers Block Exits | Addicting Info

Image via WAFB.com

Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Mississippi is under fire for allegedly forcing its students to attend and listen to Christian lectures during three assemblies held in April alone. Worse yet, students were barred from leaving and teachers blocked the exits to prevent any of them from doing so. One student was able to film one of the assemblies. As a result, a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the students by the American Humanist Association.
You know, Mississippi, in some parts of the world that called Sharia Law. You know what that makes you, right? Christian Taliban, Mississippi Chapter.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS - "I think I'm more scared of you than anything else on that Tardis right now."

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS | Wikipedia

Series 7, Story 10 (Overall Series Story #236) | Previous - Next | Index

The scent of fan service is strong on this one. So, as a fan not above being serviced a bit, I say, "Bring it." You guys, you know I'm game for a show that's going to show us more of the TARDIS than we've ever seen before (which reminds me I need to re-watch "The Invasion of Time") when I've got one of these ...

 ... on hand.

Of course, the fear is that not everyone has one of those, or even wants one, and those that don't might not be as stoked to delve into Heart of Nerdness. Nor should they have to be to enjoy an episode.

There's also the recent trend of personifying the TARDIS and treating it as a character with its own motives. Is the TARDIS a simply a machine, or a machine that happens to contain an intelligence, or an AI that happens to be a time machine/space ship? Neil Gaiman's "The Doctor's Wife" presented us a TARDIS that is certainly more than a machine, but was that really what the TARDIS is?  I'm a little skeptical about the wisdom of making the TARDIS more than a ship. Sure, it's an amazing ship, a fantastical ship even. But ... I like it to be feat of engineering, not an autonomous character. I'm fine with the Doctor treating like a person, but I'm less comfortable, with it actually being a person.
I'm also not sure how I feel about it possibly containing a ... um ... mountain range?

Wood-paneled alternate control room? Sure.

Candle-lit study console room? I'm down with that.

In order for this episode to succeed, it's got to do four things: first, it's got to be a real story, not just a bit of fan service; second, it's got satisfy fans titillated by the title and eager for the tour; third, it doesn't need to solve the mystery of Clara, but given the way this season is constructed, it's got to give us a meaningful clue, or at least do something besides rehash the same clues we've already seen -- somebody needs to learn something they didn't already know, whether it's the viewer or one of the characters, we need something; and, finally, it can't make the TARDIS something it's not ... and here I'm worried about the monsters that appear to be lurking within because we've never had any reason to believe the TARDIS is a prison ship, carrying monsters villains the Doctor didn't know what else to do but lock away, nor do I think it's reasonable to make them some aspect of the TARDIS itself, so whatever the explanation for them is, it'd better be good.

Pre-show prefatory remarks out of the way, let's watch the show and see whether it succeeds or fails ...

1 - Real story? Well, it's the dirtiest trick in the sci-fi writer's bag, the reset button. Stuff happens and then wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, no it didn't. Well it did a little, because one big brother found his last shred of decency. ST:TNG did this better, but this wasn't the worst of its kind. Partial credit.

2 - Did we see enough of the TARDIS to satisfy our nerd hunger? Yes. The library was a bit of showing off and good on the Doctor for it. And I loved how the audio of past Doctors was weaved in as echoes floated around. Heard Tom Baker's voice, and Eccleston's, and probably missed others I'll catch on re-watch.  The mountains were an illusion and the Eye of Harmony looked damned good, so yes, I'm quite pleased with how that turned out.

3 - Meaningful clues? Well, half way here. I think we already knew Clara doesn't know if she's a "trick or trap," but I think that was the closest we'll get to confirmation she's not behind her own mystery. Clara finds out the Doctor's name. Then, of course, wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, no she didn't. Ugh. More on secrets in a moment. But I won't give demerits or points for this one.

4 - The TARDIS is not overly anthropomorphized, or timelordopomorphized, whatever, and the monsters aren't prisoners or some dark secret about how the TARDIS was made or anything like that, so good.

Based on my pre-watch criteria, I'll call this one a success, but mostly on the TARDIS reveal front because it was cool enough to outweigh the stupid reset button ending.

But let's come back to the idea that secrets are good, that secrets keep us safe and are necessary. As a pseudonymous writer, clearly I value some level of privacy. But here's the thing, I don't think it should be necessary for atheists and pro-union progressives to have to be very careful about who they let know who they are because some employers don't look kindly on the latter or the former and a fellow needs to be able to work and provide for his family with fear of reprisals or prejudice. What I do and and say here I've always felt has to be judged on its merits, the words and pictures on the screen and nothing else. Convincing, or at least persuasive, or not, based on solely on what's on the page, not on any kind of credentials or personal authority. The decision to use a pseudonym was made over thirteen years ago and I've never had reason to change my mind.

In the Doctor Who universe though, or really in just about any fictional universe, I'm inclined to think the the storyteller's duty is to help us imagine a world we can make that is as good as it can be. Even dystopian fiction serves this purpose. The theme of every story, at core, if not about striving for justice, for a moral perfection we may never attain but can improve ourselves by striving for, if not about that, I fear it can only be a wasted effort, an irredeemable narrative. That doesn't mean no villains can ever win, nor does it mean the heroes always have to be perfect. Ultimately, however, stories without humanist values are always something other than about awakening us to the possibility of being better and, to go a bit binary/Manichean here,  when they're not humanist, they're worthless.

Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, despite some pretty epic coolness, left me disappointed because it espoused the same values we hear the Doctor blurt out here: namely that humanity needs false idols, can't handle the truth, is better served by secrecy. Secrecy is bad public policy for a reason. Secrecy leads to a lack of accountability, and when you combine a lack of accountability with power, you're practically begging to be exploited. If we can't handle the truth, it's only because we're not accustomed to it. Progress comes from reasoned decisions about facts in evidence. Hiding the facts sells us short.

Now, it's not clear to me why the Doctor's name is a secret, and there's plenty of room left in the storytelling for it be thematically valid for it be desirable for that particular secret to be kept. It's just ... I've got hackles ... and when a character says "You can't handle the truth," well just like Lt. Kaffee's hackles were raised by Col. Jessup, so too are mine.

Oi, got off on a bit of a rant there. So, in terms of this episode, it's re-watchable and shows us lots of TARDIS. Despite the too-neat-for-its-own-good ending, a keeper.

Apropos of nothing, I'll just leave you with a peek behind the scenes of Cdog family life on the way out.

We don't do religion in this house, but you could
say my daughter is being inDoctorinated nonetheless. 

Pyramids of Mars - "How do I look?" "It must have been a nasty accident." "Don't provoke me."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Pyramids of Mars - Details

Series 13, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #82) | Previous - Next | Index

The 1970s, in case you missed them, were largely like this: Leonard Nimoy hosted In Search Of, we were inundated with UFO silliness, alien sasquatch robots on The Six Million Dollar Man, and the like. Erich von Däniken was a wildly popular purveyor of pseudo-science and UFO inflected conspiratorialist history: ancient peoples accomplished feats of engineering? Impossible, must have been aliens, or so the 'reasoning' went. Sociologists must have sourced this by now to a combination of Cold War fatigue, Watergate disillusionment, a 60s hangover, and polyester blood poisoning, but that's beyond the scope of this piece.

Ancient Egypt was fertile ground for the imagination of quacks. Pyramids, sphinxes, mummies, and dog-headed gods brought out the best in them. Remember Pyramid Power? Good times. (For an example of the scientific basis of the phenomenon, check out this quote by the Doctor: "DOCTOR: It transposes with its projection. Pyramid power." Ok, yeah.

When we watch "Pyramids of Mars," we have to remember the milieu from which it emerged. Those of us born early in the 70s weren't necessarily suckers for that mess, but many of us, yours truly included, never lost our fascination with some aspects of the era's obsessions. Full disclosure:

The relevant thing here is the Eye of Horus tat as a testament to my abiding fondness for Egyptology,
not the hairy arm as evidence of possible ancestral sasquatch-human interbreeding.
Only a fool would think aliens directed the building of the pyramids, but that doesn't take the fun out a sci-fi yarn that puts the last of the ancient race of Osirans, paralyzed and imprisoned under a pyramid controlled by a power source on Mars, with a link to an English country house through a sarcophagus in the possession of a Edwardian-era Egyptologist. (I wonder if Horus had to negotiate with the Ice Warriors to set up his gear?) Fans of the new series, infatuated by fezzes, will also enjoy henchman Namin's headgear.

I'll spare you my usual fawning over Sarah Jane, this one time, and just complain that they stuck her in Victoria's old dress. (But, quickly, she's fabulous here. Her gentle teasing of the Doctor behind his back when he goes on solemnly about what a Time Lord he is, walking through eternity, yadda-yadda ... is priceless.)

The general consensus that this is one of the best stories in the history of Doctor Who is, in this case, correct. Sutekh is an intriguing villain -- sure, he's very much like Omega, and I suppose we could list a few other imprisoned/exiled super-powerful villains -- but he's got a great, menacing voice, a dope costume, and he's nihilist of the first order: he brings death, darkness, and dust wherever he treads, is the enemy of all life, and he finds that good. I'm not sure we get his equal until Davros threatens the universe with his Reality Bomb at the end of Ten's run, but this guy's more powerful, with his green eye rays, he can break the Doctor down by force of mind as easily as swatting a fly.

Great story, strong supporting cast, lovely atmosphere, tremendous chemistry and comic timing between Lis Sladen and Tom Baker, genuine menace (alternate 1980 is desolation -- no fixed points in time after 1911 if Sutekh has his way, I guess), and the nitpicks aren't worth mentioning; this is simply one of the must-sees and should be one of your first stories if you're new to classic Who.

This poacher gets one of the all-time great death scenes. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

He didn't just play Doctor Who, he was Doctor Who.

The Doctors Revisited series on BBCA takes on the inimitable Tom Baker this weekend leading into a broadcast of "The Pyramids of Mars."

I made Monday morning extra tough for myself last time around by staying up late to watch Pertwee in action. This time I'll watch the classic episode in advance and just watch the documentary special at 8pm.


I probably won't watch "Pyramids" twice this weekend.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Time Warrior - "Is this 'Doctor' a longshanked rascal with a mighty nose?"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Time Warrior - Details

Series 11, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #70) | Previous - Next | Index

Sometimes, the experience of watching a story with a friend makes it more memorable. For example, I'd have no willingness to sit through "The Curse of Fenric" again if I hadn't watched it for the first time on VHS over a friend's house as part of our classic sci-fi viewing sessions lo, those many years ago. Our mutual bafflement, the way that episode made us question our very sanity -- even now I wince and shake my head to get straight -- I'll watch it again (one of these days) just to confirm we didn't miss the bigger picture and it really was a muddled, crappy waste of time and the human spirit.

Other times, watching with a friend is the icing on the cake, and a fine, fun adventure is improved by the camaraderie of enjoying the good in it, while gently teasing the silly bits, with an old friend. (Oh my, that sounded much more like gay code upon re-reading! Where's my editor?)  "The Time Warrior" is a classic bit of Pertwee that I thoroughly enjoyed watching on my own a few times over the years, and enjoyed even more watching with another fan of the classic series last year. Because I watched it on a vacation trip and wasn't on a computer at all, I didn't get to write this up while it was fresh in mind. Undaunted though, I'll take a stab at it five or so months later ...

If you're after a story with adventure, Pertwee (well, maybe it's his stuntman in a wig) gets plenty of opportunity to show his action chops in this one. There's a scene where he's attempting to evade capture within the walls of Irongron's keep that is, I think, filmed from atop one of the walls looking down on the action which is unlike any other in the run of the series. It includes a fairly long shot of Pertwee (or the stuntman) running back and forth, tangling with Irongron's men as he hops over bales of hay and such, that feels very dynamic. (I could be wrong about its uniqueness, but I've thought every time I've watched this one, "Why didn't they do that more often?") He also gets to  do a bit of an Errol Flynn impression in another action sequence against Linx's robot knight. There really is a lot to like in this one. Irongron and Bloodaxe are a great pair of louts, and Holmes gives them a bevy of great lines. If there hadn't been a Linx, could we have a Strax today? The introduction of the Sontarans in the potato-ish person of Linx in make it worth the viewing all by itself. 

Now, look, Yuen Woo-Ping had only just gotten started in 1973 and his influence wouldn't be seen in fight sequences here in the West for many years, so we watch these keeping in mind -- as we always must! -- that Doctor Who is a family show made so the parents can watch along with kids. Then, as now, it wasn't being made to push the boundaries of technique or storytelling -- good grief it was often unbearable those occasions when it tried the latter, see my reference to TCoF above -- so we must watch it, and judge it, for what it is. And that was some pretty well done action for an early 70s, low-budget British children's show.

Linx gets an earful from Irongron.
(Image via An Unearthly Doctor)

But it's the other first that makes this one more than just worth watching, it makes it special: this is the introduction of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. She's marvelous, even if they introduced her by the credulity straining device of having her journalist character penetrating a top secret, military installation with a daft cover story that'd never have worked. But never mind that, our little "narrow-hipped vixen" (thanks again, Mr. Holmes) is a spunky and intrepid reporter with a perfectly natural reaction to being an unwitting time-traveler dropped in medieval England.

I swoon a little, and then feel a bit heartbroken every time I watch an episode with Sarah Jane. I had a mad crush on her as an adolescent that evolved into ... well, I guess it was still a mad crush all those years later when she came back for "School Reunion". I was every bit as pie-eyed and gushy watching it as Tennant was playing Ten when he met Sarah again. (I'll put Tennant's foreword to Ms. Sladen's autobiography below -- if you've not heard it, it's quite touching.)

If this episode has a drawback, it's one that's typical of the show as a whole from the classic series: the mechanics of getting the story from point A to point B in the four cliffhanger format tends to lead to a bit of A to B back to A back to B as characters get captured, thrown in the dungeon, escape, make their way back to the dungeon, have to escape again, and so on.  I will say though, that it's more than a little refreshing to watch the first story of a season and not to be inspecting it for clues to a mystery we know will take a full season to play out, and probably wind up an incomprehensible jumble in the end anyways. *cough* New series. *cough*

My advice is to watch it with a like-minded friend, ideally with an adult beverage or two as well, and appreciate Pertwee at his finest, the fresh-faced Sarah Jane, and the dialogue of Robert Holmes.  

Adventures of an inexpert reader of French language newspapers ...

Un nouveau pot vert à la marque Activia de Danone a fait son apparition dans les rayons des supermarchés aux Etats-Unis depuis quelques jours. Sur l'emballage un mot magique, grec, et des mentions tout aussi évocatrices pour le consommateur américain : 0 % de gras, deux fois plus de protéines. 
Avec cette composition, encensée par les experts de la diététique, le yaourt grec fait un tabac outre-Atlantique. Dans un supermarché à l'enseigne Pathmark de la banlieue de New York, il représente près d'un tiers des produits en rayon.
To call my French "rusty," would imply it was ever a steely, gleaming precision instrument. It was never thus. Comme un fou, peut-être, I elected to study French when given the opportunity to choose a language in middle school. "One day, I will live in Paris, a successful expat novelist drinking espresso in cafés on the shores of the Seine," 11-year-old me thought. It's possible that, in my daydreams, I was wearing a jaunty beret and had a pet monkey. (Look, if you weren't a pretentious idiot as an 11-year-old, I can only take my lumps and congratulate you on your advanced development as pre-teen.)

Photo by Le Xuan-Cung on flickr
Anyways, I've kept tabs on a few French-language blogs over the years, and had a stream of French language headlines pour through my reader feed. (They're interesting for perspective on American politics, not always very liberal as you might think, immigration is not exactly a settled topic and xenophobia seems to be more of a problem there than here; but, recently also for perspective on the struggle for gay rights as marriage equality makes gains overseas.) Estimating generously, maybe a quarter of it makes sense to me. But I will go a few articles and try to figure them out. Online translators occasionally helped, but were often more like those silly text generators that spewed gibberish to fill fake publications in publicity materials. Incapable of handling idiom, or even standard usage, they were good for maybe helping with a translation of a word, but almost never with the meaning. Over the last few years though, they've been getting better and Google Translate, while still a muddle, at least provides useful clues now is convenient in the browser. Still the mysteries of literal translations generally provoke a chuckle.

In the article above, which I read because we buy greek yogurt, despite the fact I can barely choke it down and frequently gag in the effort, the phrase fait un tabac caught my eye. I took it mean "does very well," or something to that effect, but tabac I understood to be 'tobacco' so I wondered if it could an expression like our 'making a killing.' Sure enough, Google Translate rendered it as "make a tobacco," but the link I imagined between 'tobacco' and 'killing' doesn't seem to be there, I think the link is more along the lines of people loving something as much as they love to smoke to tobacco. The nicotine effect, not the carcinogenic. No surprise there given the European love of cigarettes, and the relatively recent, relative to tobacco's introduction to European culture, understanding of smoking as a health hazard.

Attempting to contribute an alternative translation using Transalate turned out to be a bit more difficult than I expected, where I would put "diet experts" instead of "experts of diet" the way the translation groups the French words didn't allow for my English to map directly to the group of words I was trying to offer a translation. A sign, perhaps, that online translators are going to be overly literal and resistant to crowd-sourced fixing for a while yet.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hide - "Don't trust him. He's got a sliver of ice in his heart."

Hide (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 7, Story 9 (Overall Series Story #235) | Previous - Next | Index

Doctor Who has a rich tradition of gothic, ghostly, horror-tinged stories. "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" is a personal favorite and "Horror of Fang Rock" also leaps to mind, but we could go on and: "Planet of Evil," "The Daemons," "The Brain of Morbius," "The Pyramids of Mars," and I'm sure many others. I suppose we need to include the McCoy-era "Ghost Light," at least. More recently we've had "The God Complex," "Asylum of the Daleks," "Night Terrors," and "The Eleventh Hour."

4 and Leela in Victorian London. Not related to this episode,
just establishing a dark and shadowy mood.

Intolerant of superstitious mumbo-jumbo, as I am, these episodes tend to appeal to the humanist-rationalist aspect of my worldview. Just like the old Scooby-Doo cartoons, where I enjoyed the revelation in each one that the mystery never had anything to do with actual ghosts, zombies, cryptids, aliens, or what have you, there was always a con-man behind the whole thing for our intrepid investigators to unmask. In Doctor Who, we have to substitute the alien, generally speaking, for the human agent behind the mystery, but the same satisfaction can be derived from the debunking of the supernatural explanation. Those vampires in Venice? Aliens with a human-understandable motive. The witches at Shakespeare's Globe Theater? Aliens with a human-understandable motive. Ghosts and re-animated corpses running across Dickens in Cardiff? Aliens with a human-understandable motive. Werewolf in Scotland? Alien with human-understandable motive, natch. (Yeah, so those were all episodes I could have listed in the show's horror tradition as well. It's an oft-tapped vein.)

Check out Fred's arm in that scarecrow unmasking. O_o
"Hide" is every bit the atmospheric suspense story a fan could hope for. I'm not sure it all quite made sense (that is to say I'm pretty sure it made almost none if we start pulling at the threads), and the Witch in the Well seemed a little underwritten as a character once she was rescued from the well, as it were. But the house and the misty woods were plenty spooky, and the mystery met the Scooby test, so I was satisfied. Like last week, the show is proving it can hit the notes in just about any genre or sub-genre, and bring it's sensibility to bear in an entertaining fashion.

That the trip to visit the empathic psychic turned out to be a dead-end in the Doctor's investigation into Clara was fine. Some lines of inquiry don't pan out, that's how it goes. Her warning to Clara about the sliver of ice in the Doctor's heart was a deft touch and set the stage for Clara's probing the Doctor for answers about why he would care about humans at all when we must all be ghosts to him.

All that said, I can see why some of the initial response to the episode has been frustration. It didn't seem to move the season's arc at all -- though who knows what might have been a clue that we all missed. Some diligent frame-by-frame dissecter had already started reading into the brand of wine on an upside-down crate in one of the scenes in the time between the show's broadcast in the U.K. and its airing here in the U.S. (Trying too hard on that front, I think.) I also felt like the whole TARDIS not liking Clara thing was hammered a bit too hard, and I'm starting to suspect we're being beaten with a red herring. We get it, so either make it mean something or give it a rest. Last nitpick: the Professor with the rich past as a WWII special agent seemed too young, as played by Dougray Scott (mid-40s in age I reckon), considering the story is set thirty years after war ended. I was confused at first whether he was meant to be a veteran of Vietnam, Korea, or WWII -- but he already looked too old to be a love interest for Emma, either both those roles needed to be cast with older actors, or the setting should have a been at least five, if not ten, years earlier.

As far as the season goes, my favorite theory to this point -- meaning it's bound to be off by a mile and I'll have to admit later I was completely fooled -- is that Clara is the Doctor's great-granddaughter via Susan, who must have been chameleon-arched at some point after leaving the TARDIS. Sadly, this makes almost no sense and would do nothing to explain why Clara is popping up throughout time with the same name. Still, I like it.

The Fires of Pompeii: "Oh, you're Celtic. That's lovely."

The Fires of Pompeii (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Season 4, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #190) | Previous - Next | Index

For me, this story is basically an excuse to see Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who. Mr. Capaldi is one of those actors I'll watch in anything; he's just brilliant. Whether he's tearing a swath through the political world as the vicious Malcom Tucker from In The Thick Of It or trying to cop a kisu off Marina as Danny Oldsen in Local Hero, he nails it. He's a bit alien, and yet passionate in a way that makes him perfectly identifiable.

"The what-ano?"

Not for nothing, if it were up to me to cast the next Doctor, Mr. Capaldi would be at the top of my wishlist.

Catherine Tate, on the other hand, is not a favorite of mine, at least she wasn't until she played Donna Noble. She's wonderful with David Tennant, in this -- and everything else I've seen them do together. Their chemistry works in a way -- and I still blame the writers not this, not the actress -- 10 and Martha's never really did. Donna's "Oi, Space Man ..." is a breath of fresh air after too much, well, romantic longing. OK, so she does say, "I bloody love you!" But we know she's just impressed he held off a stony alien-possessed monstrosity with a water pistol. Her delivery of "Never mind us" when it looks like Donna will need to sacrifice herself along with the Doctor is absolutely winning. And the way she's gutted when she realizes she can't save them all. She's really very good.

"Oh no! We're not ..."
Re-watching this leading up to 50th Anniversary, which we learned this week will be called "The Name of The Doctor," added some timeliness. This is one of the episodes where we get an intimation that the Doctor's true name is deeply significant. "Even the word, 'Doctor,' is false. Your real name is hidden. It burns in the stars -- in the Cascade of Medusa herself."

After the last two weeks, it's fun to revisit the explanation of the TARDIS translation matrix. It's a well-written episode with snappy dialogue and genuine wit built around that bit of explanation. A bit of a contrast actually, from how it's been handled in season 7.

The key to this episode though is the conflict between the Doctor and Donna about the fate of Pompeii.  Donna's desire to save as many as possible is in conflict with the Doctor's understanding -- the burden of the Time Lord, he calls it -- of Pompeii as a fixed point. ("Someone must make a choice. A terrible choice.") That conflict adds depth to the story of the vapor huffing oracles and their puppet master, which was interesting enough on its own in the context of the historical events. This weaving of humanist themes and sci-fi adventure, with snappy dialogue and strong supporting cast around the dynamic charm of Ten, this when the series fires on all cylinders. Again, we see how how superstition makes people dupes, more of one of my favorite themes of the series. We also see the Doctor and Donna revered as household gods, but knowing how they came to be so, and seeing the smile on young Quintus's face as he pays his respects, on his way out the door to study to be a doctor himself, it doesn't offend the sensibilities.

Look, I'm not saying it's perfect. The water pistol isn't really very convincing. The Doctor and Donna should have been roasted to ash. They weren't. Sorry if that's a spoiler. And the bright light from within the TARDIS when the Doctor decides he can save someone and goes back for Caecilius's family, it's all a bit much. Minor quibbles though.

It all comes together at the end. If overwrought in the rescue, it's note-perfect in the aftermath.

And I'd completely forgotten this episode contained a sneak peek of an almost-unrecognizable-beneath-all-that-makeup-and-robery future companion:

Karen Gillan, pre-Amy Pond.

Heart of the Dragon -- Jackie Chan

Nate Silver crunches the numbers on the the relative conservatism of GOP Governors

In State Governments, Signs of a Healthier G.O.P. - NYTimes.com

More conservative than Perry. Ugh.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Really? Boston's tragedy is your excuse to push your gun fetishism? That's sick.

So here's the tweet:

Here's my reply to his mealy-mouthed "apology."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shapes of things to come: rising speculative fiction talent

The best young novelists – from SF's universe | Books | guardian.co.uk
Granta's lists of 20 novelists under 40 – American, Spanish-language, Brazilian and most famously the British contingent – being renewed for 2013 this week – have become an institution in literary fiction. SF has no direct equivalent, but if it did, who might be on it?
Sadly, I have no idea. I've spent the last few years barely able to set aside time to read anything but the newest Kim Stanley Robinson novel, so I've ready exactly none of the authors on this list. If things change this year ... fingers crossed ... and I'm able to carve out some time to actually get through a few novels without cramping my internet reading, this is the list from which I'll likely be picking. (When google shuts down Reader for good, unless I grow more fond of feedly or some other alternative, I'm going to find myself going offline more often and back to proper reading.)

So who's the next KSR? The next China Miéville? Not that we need copycats, I mean the next author who's going to think big and write novels that we'll call sci-fi but are as literate as any of the posher genre?

J.G. Ballard
Recognize this nascent genius?

Cool integration or the next step in G+ swallowing Blogger whole?

Comments are GPlusified. Trying it out now because I'm assuming Google will eventually make it mandatory anyways.

So, yakkity-yak, feel free to talk back.

The surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders held their last reunion.

How America 'Struck Back': Doolittle Raid Turns 70 : NPR

Image via NPR.org

"I bailed out," Griffin says. "I bailed out at night, in a storm, from 10,000 feet. And I could just see my [parachute] — it would open up right over my head, and it would go over here, and it would start to collapse, then it would come back up over my head again ... I was in a big pendulum."
There's another story about this, heard this morning on the way to work (link above is from last year at this time), which I'll add when available. Only three were healthy enough to attend the meeting this year (four still survive), so they've announced it will be the last reunion.

[Update: Famed World War II Aviators Hold Final Reunion]

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cold War - "He wants to speak to the organ grinder, not to the monkey." "I heard that!"

Cold War (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 7, Story Story 8 (Overall Series Story #234) | Previous - Next | Index

Hey, it's Jean Reno in Doctor Who! What, no?! Ohhhh ... that's Reno look-a-like, famous in his own right, Liam Cunningham. Got it. I trust I wasn't the only one fooled by the resemblance when the pictures for this episode started getting released.

Liam Cunningham - Jean Reno Separated at Birth?

That out of the way, let's get down to the most anticipated episode of the the early part of the second half of series seven. (Yes, that's a thing.) The one with an Ice Warrior!

Of an episode set in 1983 aboard a Soviet submarine searching for oil in the Arctic, we expect certain things:  nuclear tensions (check), that sonar ping sound (check), dripping water and impending suffocation (check and check), and, because it's Doctor Who, we expect at least one subordinate of the crew the Doctor encounters to be an ideologue, shifty and menacing -- a bad guy at least as bad as the bad guy (check). All delivered. These are the reassuring tropes, sort of the bare minimum the episode should  have, or have the wit to subvert, either way. What we don't know whether to expect or not going in is if there will be any more information provided about the mystery that is Clara, anything that ties the story to the season arc.

Better still, but maybe too much to hope, is if it can deliver something thematically intriguing in its own right.

That's not a mammoth
And surprise, monkey, that's an empty suit. Tell the organ grinder!

Skaldak the Ice Warrior is, not a savage, but a killer. He murders several of the crew to do some forensics on them. And yet, in the end  ... spoiler alert ...


He shows mercy. He leaves. His comrades rescue him and they leave. And that, I think, is the best of it. This bloody warrior can be talked back from the brink by being reminded of the song he sang to his daughter. A display of compassion that earns the warrior a salute from the Doctor as he departs. (Well, one of those Soviet crewmen was a weasel anyways, eh?)

Funny how the TARDIS translation matrix works in this episode, even after the TARDIS buggers off. That HADS protocol felt like was re-introduced (from "The Krotons") specifically to be used later. We'll see.

Rematerializing at the other pole is good for a chuckle but it's kind of an awkward chuckle if the Doctor can't fetch it back.

Does digging for oil in the ice make sense? Sounds dubious to me, but I'm no wildcatter.

And, WTF was that, a Barbie doll? Weird.

All in all, this episode did well enough dropping the Doctor and Clara into an Alien meets Das Boot milieu that I'm willing to let some of the questions I have about it slide. This half of the season hasn't quite lived up to the first few episodes of the first half, but if it can execute this well the rest of the way *and* deliver a satisfying answer to the mystery of Clara, then you'll get no complaints from me.

For those willing to dig deep, you can see the hulking, hissing, ancient Martian warriors make their black-and-white Troughton-era debut below (subject to internet impermanence):

The Ice Warriors Part1 by matrixarchive

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Rings of Akhaten - “I came here a long time ago, with my granddaughter.”

"The Rings of Akhaten" | Doctor Who | The A.V. Club

Series 7, Story 7 (Complete Series Story #233) | Previous - Next | Index

I read a while back that someone who'd seen preview screenings of the first three episodes of this half of series 7 rated them: OK, pretty bad, and awesome, in that order. Can't remember where I saw it and if it was Blogtor Who or not who'd offered those assessments ... but, it left me not expecting much from this episode, even as the teasers and promo pics started coming out and they looked pretty cool.

This is your obligatory "spoilers lurk below" warning ...

Promo image via the BBC
They used "Ghost Town" by The Specials at the beginning, so that right there was going to make this an episode I couldn't wholly dislike. Having the Doctor do an in-person background check, as it were, on Clara, was kind of a neat idea, but I'm not sure if I missed something, and he missed something, because it looks like she's bona fide. Did something blow that leaf to kick off the series of events that got her born though? Don't know.

Exploring Akhaten was a strange mix of visually impressive and somewhat claustrophobic by turns; there was a disconnect between with f/x used to show the rings and the planets, and closely constructed indoor set feel of what I think was supposed to be a bustling open-air market. That didn't quite work for me. (And you just kind of have to accept, I guess, that there was an atmosphere around all those rocks in orbit around the sun thing that eventually disappears without causing the whole system to fly away without a mass to orbit?)

The thing that surprised me the most was Eleven casually mentioning in passing that he'd been to Akhaten before with his granddaughter. That came a bit out of the blue and is the sort of reference to the show's past that I think has to mean something, have some consequence later, or else it's an awfully manipulative red herring, isn't it?

The Doctor's weeping offering up of his memories didn't really work for me either. It struck me as another chance to put Matt Smith in a dramatic position to deliver a bombastic monologue, shades of the Stonehenge speech, but really not amounting to anything. I don't gather he lost the memories he offered up, and doing so didn't solve the problem, it was actually Clara's leaf that, somewhat implausibly, dealt the death blow to the Old God.

When it comes to matters of religiosity, I'd be remiss if I didn't remark on the Doctor's commentary on the this system's origin myth. He's kind, perhaps to a fault, in his assessment of the veracity of their account of the development of life, all life, in the universe. Clara asks him if it's true, that she is standing where life originated. He replies: "It's what they believe. It's a nice story."  It's a diplomatic way to sidestep what her next question might have been, and it's generous in not being dismissive. Having no patience for mystical malarkey outside of the realm of storytelling, I'd hope to see him get the chance to say the same about an Earth religion -- rather, to point out when a "nice story" stops being nice because people use it as a justification to act immorally by appeal to a just-so story instead of applying reason, judgment, and a true feeling of compassion towards questions of morality.

So I don't think we gained much in terms of insight into the Clara mystery and the Big Bad was beaten by a leaf wielded by a (granted mysterious) Earth girl. There were nifty visuals and variety of aliens, but I'm not sure the point of it all was. I suspect I'll be doing the V-8 slap later when I realize I could've sussed something out of this one when things develop later, but for now I'm just thinking what a great song "Ghost Town" is.

The Unquiet Dead - "Go out there like that and you'll start a riot, Barbarella!"

The Unquiet Dead (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Season 1, Story 3 (Complete Series Story #159)

From the distant future last time out, to the not-so-distant past for this story, the thrill of time travel is certainly back. Rose's sense of wonder at the ability to step into the past is brilliantly played, as is the Doctor's at meeting Dickens. Eccleston's giant smiles are delightfully infectious. How often, outside of Doctor Who, do you see characters look like they're having so much fun?  This episode moves deftly from moments of joy (stepping out of the TARDIS into a snow that fell over 130 years ago) to terror (Rose trapped in the mortuary with two walking dead, beating on the door for help) and back (as the Doctor barges in, announces that Rose is his dance partner, and introduces Charles Dickens) that we can't help but enjoy the ride.

Rose, Dickens, and 9 confront the walking dead.
You can't build a show on facial expressions, but everyone here is so naturally expressive that we smile with them, and when the show is clicking, as it is here, that smiling along and laughing with the characters builds empathy, so we're engaged in their struggle. Tennant and Piper have this chemistry as well, but I still say it's a shame we didn't get to see more of Eccleston travelling with Piper's Rose. They're so good together and Nine's a bit more alien than Ten, not quite so pretty, so the building of that empathy feels like more skillful job. 

Nine, laughing in the background, while Rose reacts with disgust at the mortician's callousness is priceless. The Doctor, this lonely, last-of-his-kind traveler, finding a companion that help him move on and enjoy adventure again brings us no small bit of pleasure. He's been through more than we have and look how he can get his mojo back, eh?

In "Rose," we saw the Doctor offer the Nestene a chance, and here again he wants to look past the unfortunate events of the alien and human interaction before his arrival and help, but again offering the hand of kindness nearly gets it bitten off. That's one of the things I like about these first few stories, he shows he's a compassionate being, even when it exposes him to danger, and he doesn't change after being disappointed. He's not a sucker, and he's going to be merciless when crossed, but he always approaches the conflict with an open mind and an open heart ... well, almost always, we'll see later for whom he's got no compassion left.

And, yes, the "happy medium" line still cracks me up.

Friday, April 5, 2013

"Don't worry, I'll handle this ..."

Medical Emergencies at 40,000 Feet - Celine Gounder - The Atlantic

Is there a doctor on board?
Airline medical emergency response hasn't changed since Airplane!
I have responded five times to "Is there a doctor on board the plane?" In three of the cases, it was a true emergency. Airline systems are woefully underprepared to deal with these situations.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lester Bangs on how the sixties happened.

Fate of Nations / Notes From Underground - Where Were You When Elvis Died? (How Long Will We Care?) (and Robert Johnson, too)

Elvis on Ed Sullivan via musicalbites.com

I will say this: Elvis Presley was the man who brought overt blatant vulgar sexual frenzy to the popular arts in America (and thereby to the nation itself, since putting "popular arts" and "America" in the same sentence seems almost redundant). It has been said that he was the first white to sing like a black person, which is untrue in terms of hard facts but totally true in terms of cultural impact. But what's more crucial is that when Elvis started wiggling his hips and Ed Sullivan refused to show it, the entire country went into a paroxysm of sexual frustration leading to abiding discontent which culminated in the explosion of psychedelic-militant folklore which was the sixties.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

At the intersection of punk rock and philosophy ... via @wfmu & @britney_spheres

 Is the first best the classic ...

... or, do I need to learn German, too?

It's a good day, @MarkDionne2

Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees - April 1, 2013 | MLB.com BOS Recap

Ellsbury via redsox.com
NEW YORK -- They were timely at the plate, aggressive on the bases and clutch on the mound. In other words, the Red Sox looked very much like a new team on Monday while notching a satisfying 8-2 Opening Day victory over the rival Yankees in the Bronx.
Guess who I'm predicting will win the 2013 World Series?

Hint: you shouldn't need a hint.

This is as depressing as it is unsurprising ...

What are they thinking?!

I'm sure (hopeful, at least) calmer heads will prevail and the Christian Taliban wing of the NC GOP will be put back on their meds.

Still, it's chilling what these clowns would do if left unchecked.

Click image to read the bill.

Also, more car chases.

Snipped from Nature

You've mentioned that your most intentionally predictive writing was "Prometheus Unbound, At Last." What was that? 
[KSR] This was a short story I wrote on an invitation from the editors of Nature magazine, when they were doing a series that filled the last page of every issue for a year or two, called "Nature Futures" or something like that. There was a word limit of 800 words or so, which as a novelist I found fairly daunting, and I solved the problem of doing something interesting in that word-length by writing a "reader's report" on a fictional science fiction novel that told the story of the 21st century going well, by way of a particular kind of "scientific revolution." It can still be found online, and I would offer it as a brief bit of sport that is a kind of skeleton key to the futures in many of my stories, one way or another.

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