Monday, April 25, 2011

What's in a Word?

Menacing Menaces who Menace....

Currently at my job I'm working with some newspaper clippings of a university professor who had emigrated from Russia to Germany after the Russian Revolution and then emigrated again from Germany to the United States when the Nazi Party took power in Germany.

At any rate, the clippings indicate that the professor, who taught Russian and European history, naturally, was called upon often to give talks and lectures and participate in panel discussions. In the late 1940's and early 1950's pretty much every single one of these talks and lectures dealt with Communism in Russia and the "threat" that such posed to the United States.

What struck me, though, as I went through these files is how often, in fact almost every single time, the word "menace" is used to describe the subject of the talk. "Is Communism a Menace to America?", "America and the Red Menace", etc., etc., etc.

And that, in turn, got me thinking about the way we use words and the words that we use. According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary the word "menace" means: "A dangerous or possibly harmful person or thing." "Someone who causes trouble or annoyance." "A dangerous or threatening quality."

Looking at the cold definitions it really takes some of the menace out of "menace". Yet when we hear that word it conjures up images of dark, skulking figures ready to do us harm or else looming, large-scale disaster. Words are infected with emotion and it is interesting to note how, once people understand this more, they end up using words to deliberately invoke those emotional reactions -- sometimes to the point it becomes a meme. Think about it -- how many times in Cold War era literature, movie, or TV have you heard the phrase "The Red Menace?" It really became to the point where you couldn't seem to use "Red" *without* using "Menace" as well. Or use "Communism" without "Menace".

It's something to take note of. Here's a little homework challenge -- listen to your everyday life for the next couple of days. Listen to the news, the TV, the radio, and start listening to the phrases and the 'shorthand' used. See if you can pick up on any words or phrases deliberately used to try to invoke emotional responses or else tie certain people or ideas togethers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Requiescat in Pace

Actress Elisabeth Sladen has passed away unexpectedly from complications from cancer.

An actress of both stage and television and with a career that spanned decades she is best known in the geek community for her role as Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who.

She arrived on Doctor Who in Jon Pertwee's (the 3rd Doctor)final season on the show to be the new companion character -- a replacement for actress Katy Manning who had played the previous companion Jo Grant.

Sladen was convinced to stay on after Pertwee left to help smooth the road for the new Doctor actor Tom Baker. As it turned out Sladen and Baker got along well together and their onscreen chemistry won over fans for more than a generation.

Sladen left the series in 1976 feeling it was time to move on but she found herself returning again and again. She did a failed pilot for a spin-off series called K-9 and Company and returned to the role again for the 20th anniversary special "The Five Doctors". She also appeared in the 1993 Doctor Who charity special "Children in Need".

In audio she did Doctor Who radio dramas with Jon Pertwee -- "Paradise of Death" in 1993 and "The Ghosts of N Space" in 1996. British audio drama company Big Finish also hired her for two series of spin-off series titled simply Sarah Jane Smith.

When the new series of Doctor Who launched in 2005 it was not long before show runner Russell T. Davies sought out Sladen for an appearance. The episode "School Reunion" brought the character of Sarah Jane back in front of audiences and won her a whole new generation of fans. Sladen's brilliant handling of the character led to RTD deciding to go for a spin-off show featuring Sarah Jane. Unlike the failed K-9 and Company the new Sarah Jane Adventures proved to be a hit.

Aimed at kids, the show never talked down to them and Sladen and the rest of the cast proved adept at presenting oft-times thought provoking stories in a smart but gentle way. The series had run for three seasons and Sladen and the cast and crew were already filming a fourth season when she passed.

No one will EVER forget Lis Sladen either. She's left behind a legacy of a tough, strong, smart, savvy and compassionate character who will hopefully inspire more generations to come. Everyone needs a hero and there is no question that Sarah Jane Smith represented the best kind of hero.

Condolences go out to her family and friends.

I've thrown in some fan-created music videos here to try to put a happier and more upbeat spin on things because I think it's good to celebrate what has been along with mourning what is lost.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What I've Been Watching....

So, again, I know this blog has been a bit dead. Busy, stuff to do, all that jazz. And also I've been I've been enjoying some pretty good old TV stuff that I just haven't been choosing to review because it isn't something that's exactly reviewable.

But recently I was reminded of something that I *would* like to bring your attention to...

Heat of the Sun.

This British production was aired in America in 1999 as part of PBS's Mystery! series.

Yeah, I just threw that in there because the Edward Gorey art-inspired animations are just so massively cool.

Anyway, while Mystery! built it's reputation on adaptations of famous mystery books by famous writers it did often vneture into original productions and such was the case with Heat of the Sun.

The series consisted of three movie-length installments. For the PBS airing each story was split into two parts, one-hour each. Because the original productions were movies sometimes the places PBS chose to make the splits meant installments didn't end on cliffhangers or even very logical points in the story to make a cut... but this didn't really impact things too much because the stories themselves were just so compelling.

I saw the series first-run in the U.S. and when I got the chance I bought the series on VHS. Of course, several years ago my VCR died and I never replaced it since DVD's were taking over. This meant that I no longer had the resources to watch the tapes.

Recently, I was reminded of the series and then a couple of days ago I spotted the DVD set at my local library. I love my local library.

Sitting down to watch the series again after the passage of years I find that none of the charm has really dulled.

The Premise:
Scotland Yard Superintendent Albert Tyburn breaks the law in a big way in order to see justice done. To avoid scandal and because of his exemplary record in both Scotland Yard and WW I he is offered a choice -- stand trial and go to jail or else be exiled to Africa to the Nairobi police force. For freedom and the chance to keep doing the job he loves Tyburn chooses Africa.

He finds himself thrust into a world of dichotomies -- rich and poor, British expatriots and native peoples, soldiers and civilians -- as well as a surprisingly cosmopolitain community consisting of British, Dutch, Germans, various African tribal peoples, and Arabic peoples; and many of them with secrets, scandals, and desires. It is a world far from the urban sprawl of London but Tyburn proves quickly adaptable.

For Superintendent Tyburn the only thing that matters is justice and Nairobi is a place where that justice can be a very hard thing to come by but he will fight to his last breath for it. The question is, will his quest for justice prove futile? Or perhaps even fatal to him? And can he, perhaps, finally find happiness and a home in Africa?

If you want to know the answers to those questions then watch the series yourself. It doesn't take long to get through it and the whole production is simply wonderful. The series was actually filmed in Africa (although not in Nairobi since, at the time the series was made, Nairobi was experiencing unrest and the area was not safe)and careful attention was paid to getting the costuming, music and settings just right for the time period. From the very first moment of the series, opening in London, the viewer is thrust into 1931 and there is never anything to take you out of that time period.

The characters are also a lot of fun. Tyburn, polayed by Trevor Eve, is, in may ways, a fearless, no-nonsense sort but he also has a sly sense of humor that he allows to slip out from time to time. He also has his rough edges -- he is not a polished fighter but rather a brawler and he does not have a talent for diplomacy -- instead being plain-spoken and straightforward -- sometimes to his detriment.

If there is an area where the series falls down it is that many of the supporting characters are somewhat one-note but they still manage to radiate charm or be the type of jerks one loves to dislike. One of the better supporting characters is Susanna Harker's character of Emma Fitzgerald -- an independent woman who has made her own way in the world and makes her living in Nairobi by being a bush pilot with her own bi-plane. She truly lives life according to her own dictates and she finds something of a kindred soul in Tyburn.

If you love period pieces, if you love well-done dramas and mysteries then definitely seek this series out and put it in your Netflix qeue or seek it out from your local library. I must say this about the DVD set, though, it is very stripped down and the extras are pretty much non-existent which is a little bit of a disappointment. Still, the stories themselves and the characters within them (many based on actual, historical figures) really shine.

Friday, April 15, 2011


You ever find yourself just going through your day and... noticing... stuff?


Last night, on my drive home, I passed by a rather large-ish house in a nice neighborhood full of large-ish houses. In the driveway were two child-size backpacks -- one red, one pink, and I thought to myself of how much that seemed to suit childhood. Two kids, not to be sterotypical but probably a boy and a girl, and they come home from school and immediately drop their educational burdens in favor of play.

They were nowhere in sight but the fact that they abandoned their bags in the middle of the driveway spoke to me about impetuosity and immediacy. They saw something -- a friend (or friends) who called them over, a dog or a cat maybe, something interesting or cool that caught their attention and the bags were simply dropped rather than being taken inside. Heck, they didn't even take them into the garage to dump them! No, at that point fun had become of far more concern than the safety or security of the bags and their contents.

A pair of dumped backbacks summed up childhood to me in one, quick glance as I drove by and I found myself smiling because it reminded me of the times when I was no different.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all occasionally just drop our bags of concerns, go play, and come back and deal with them later?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

In Those Moments Between Sleep and Wake....

You ever notice that in those moments between being fully asleep and fully awake your brain can be a bit weird?

For example:

My first thought this morning?

"If you were going to create a totally bizarre and utterly useless superhero what would you create?"

My answer?

"Rubber Stamp Man".

Yeah. Really.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Moment of Surreal...

So last night I was knitting while watching an old episode of Hawaii Five-O. hey, it's not like it takes a lot of brain power to watch old Five-O. Come to think of it, it's not like it takes a lot of brain power to watch an episode of the new Five-O either... but that's another story....

It was an ordinary evening and then... the moment of surreal struck. It went a little like this...

*Knit, knit, knit, knit, looks up at the screen* Gee, that's funny, that actor looks kind of like a young Chrisopher Walken.

*Knit, knit, knit, knit, looks up at the screen* That actor REALLY looks a lot like Christopher Walken. Only blonde. Heh, a blonde Christopher Walken... that would be funny.

*Knit, knit, knit, knit* Sometimes that actor even sounds like Christopher Walken. Huh. Strange.

*Knit, knit, knit, kni...* Waitaminnit! Holy crap, that IS Christopher Walken!!! [expletive deleted] Young, blonde Christopher Walken playing some schmuck of a sailor on Hawaii Five-O that's actually..... kind of disturbing.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Things That Made Me Smile Today....

Still busy but I was reminded that I should really remember to take time out to smile, laugh, and dance a little bit.

Over the past week here are some things that did that for me...

Go ahead, now tell me ukulele's aren't cool.

Yes, that is part of the cast of MST3K riffing a movie... live.

You have to love the fact that the Dachshund keeps wagging his tail even while caught in the sleeve of the sweatshirt.

Because I DARE you to listen to this and not dance around the room... or at least boogie in your desk chair a little bit.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Knitting Out While the Knitting's Good

So, yeah, haven't been posting a whole lot. Got a number of 'irons in the fire' so to speak including a couple of knitting projects that are sucking up immense amounts of free time.

So, to tide you over, here's another 'Why Would You Knit That?!' item.

For the record, I don't necessarily hate the style. It's a sweater vest. It's functional. It's a little too 'Stereotypical Librarian' for my taste (and I can say that because among my several college degrees I now have a Masters in Library Science) the big problem is the color scheme here.

I mean, seriously, why would you knit a sweater with the Joker's color scheme?

And for the recond, Harley Quinn wouldn't be caught dead in a sweater vest like this....