Book Beginnings and Friday 56 – The News: A User’s Manual (Feb 13)

This is my first Friday post for a while, but I thought I’d give this Friday meme combo a try again. I’ve chosen a book that caught my eye at the library earlier in the week. The book is The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton. I don’t know anything about this book, but it looks fairly interesting. Time will tell, if I get a chance to read it before it’s due back. Goodreads has the following description:

the newsFrom the author of The Architecture of Happiness, a thought-provoking look at the manic and peculiar position that news has achieved in our lives.

What does the news do to our brains, our souls and our views of one another? We spend an inordinate amount of time checking on it. It molds how we view reality, we’re increasingly addicted to it on our luminous gadgets, we check it every morning when we wake up and every evening before we sleep-and yet the news has rarely been the focus of an accessible, serious, saleable book-length study. Until now.
Mixing snippets of current news with philosophical reflections, The News will blend the timeless with the contemporary, and bring the wisdom of thousands of years of culture to bear on our contemporary obsessions and neuroses. The News ranges across news categories-from politics to murders, from economics to celebrities, from the weather to paparazzi shows–in search of answers to the questions: “What do we want from this?” and “Is it doing us any good?” After The News, we’ll never look at a celebrity story, the report on a tropical storm, or the sex scandal of a politician in quite the same way again.

Now for this week’s excerpts:

book beginningsBook Beginnings is hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader, who invites anyone to join in, saying: ‘Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.  Please remember to include the title of the book and the author. Leave a link to your post.  If you don’t have a blog, but want to participate, please leave a comment with your Book Beginning.’

The beginning of The News:

It doesn’t come with any instructions, because it’s meant to be the most normal, easy, obvious and unremarkable activity in the world, like breathing or blinking.

This is a fairly intriguing beginning, and I’m guessing, from the title of the book, that he’s talking about the news here. I used to faithfully watch the news every night, but I stopped doing this probably about five years ago. I started to find it quite pointless and started to get my news fix from various sources online. I don’t really think I’m missing much to be honest and the odd occasion when I’ve caught part of a news broadcast on TV, usually when visiting someone else, has pretty much confirmed this for me.

Friday 56The Friday 56 is a book meme hosted by Freda’s Voice and the rules are as follows:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.

It’s that simple.

From page 56 of The News:

Refusing to square with human nature, it allows our hopes to smash constantly against the same shoals; it greets every day with faux cherubic innocence, only to stoke up rage and disillusionment at our condition by nightfall.

This excerpt seems to confirm my reasons as to why I don’t bother watching the news any more. It sounds like a fairly heavier kind of read, but I think I’ll give it a try nonetheless.

25 Years of Seinfeld

seinfeldApparently today is the 25th anniversary of the first time that Seinfeld appeared on TV. I’m a big fan of Seinfeld and have all nine seasons on DVD. Ironically I never started watching it until we moved to Saskatchewan in July 1998, which was almost two months after the final show aired. We only had two channels and it aired every night at 10pm on one of these channels. I started watching it out of curiosity and it wasn’t long before I was hooked!

Lots of catchphrases from the show have crept into everyday use and I’m sometimes surprised by how many of them I hear on a fairly regular basis. “No soup for you!” is probably the one that is heard most often. One that I tend to use a lot is “It’s a Festivus miracle!”

It would be difficult for me to name a favourite episode as there are too many good ones to choose from. Apart from the four main characters, my favourite character would have to be Frank Costanza (played by Jerry Stiller). I love his eccentricity and the fact that he invented Festivus.

I won’t try and choose a favourite episode, but instead here are five of my favourite moments. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do:

Top Ten Doctor Who Episodes

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This weekend is, of course, the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who. To celebrate this, I have attempted to put together my favourite 10 Doctor Who episodes. I have only included stories form Doctor #9 onwards, because it has been too long since I saw any of the shows from before then. I do remember some of the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker stories, but it would be hard to compare them with the more recent episodes as I was much younger when I saw them and my memories of them are too distant.

I have re-watched all of the newer stories in order over the past four months or so, but there are so many good ones that it has been hard to narrow them down, so here goes:

10. The Fires of Pompeii (Doctor #10) – this was the second episode of series four. In this one the Doctor and Donna travel back to Pompeii on the day before Mount Vesuvius is due to erupt. The Doctor faces a tough moral dilemma, in which he tells Donna that this particular moment in time is a fixed one that he cannot change, as it would affect the whole of history. It is this emotional component of this story that puts it into my top ten. Interestingly, this episode also featured two actors who were/are to feature in later series of Doctor Who – Karen Gillan (later to be the first companion of Doctor #11) and Peter Capaldi (soon to be seen as Doctor #12).

One of my favourite lines in this episode is when Donna says:

You fought her off with a water pistol. I bloody love you!

9. Let’s Kill Hitler (Doctor #11) – this is the eighth episode of series six, where The Doctor, Amy, and Rory end up in Berlin in the 1930’s, after the TARDIS is hijacked by Mels, a childhood friend of Amy and Rory. They accidentally save Hitler from being killed by the Teselecta, a time-travelling justice department. Things are further complicated when Mels regenerates into River Song. Because River is a criminal herself, the Teselecta decide to pursue her instead. Hitler spends most of the episode locked in a cupboard. My favourite quote from this episode is the following conversation, after which Hitler finds himself in the cupboard:

The Doctor: Rory, take Hitler and put him in that cupboard over there. Now. Do it.

Rory: Right. Putting Hitler in the cupboard. Cupboard. Hitler. Hitler. Cupboard. Come on.

Adolf Hitler: But I am the Führer!

Rory: Right. In you go.

8. The Crimson Horror (Doctor #11) – this is episode eleven of series seven and takes place in Yorkshire in 1893. This one features the trio of Silurian Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and their Sontaran butler, Strax, friends of the Doctor who are investigating the disappearance of scores of people after they have voluntarily gone to live in Sweetville, a community led by Mrs Gillyflower and the rarely seen Mr Sweet. They end up having to save the Doctor and Clara from the clutches of Mrs Gillyflower, as well as saving the world from her plans to poison everybody.

Although this story has many dark moments, it also has some really funny lines involving Strax, who is one of my favourite Doctor Who supporting characters, including one where Madame Vastra asks him the following:

Strax! You’re over excited! Have you been eating those jelly sherbet fancies again?

7. Turn Left (Doctor #10) – this is the eleventh episode of series four and shows the consequences for the world when Donna, after encountering a time beetle, turns right instead of left, causing her not to meet the Doctor, resulting in him being killed when she is not there to save him. This episode features very little of the Doctor himself, and focuses mostly on Donna and the ensuing collapse of the universe caused by the Doctor no longer being around to save it. She encounters Rose Tyler, who persuades her that she is the only hope for the future survival of the universe.

6. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (Doctor #9) – these are episodes nine and ten of series one, and were a two-part story set in London during WWII. This story features Captain Jack Harkness for the first time and has at the centre of it a young boy with a gas mask for a face terrorising the city. More people in a nearby hospital end up like the young boy, with gas masks for faces. The first episode ends in a real cliffhanger with the Doctor, Rose, and Captain Jack surrounded by these mysterious gas-mask people in the hospital, with no obvious means of escape. In the second part the Doctor discovers what is causing the mystery of the gas-mask faces and has to race against time to prevent this happening to everyone.

The best, and perhaps most quoted, line from these episodes is the oft-repeated line by the young boy:

Are you my mummy?

5. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardobe (Doctor #11) – this is the 2011 Christmas special and is my favourite Christmas episode. As can probably be guessed from the title, this episodes contains many obvious and not so obvious references to C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is also one of the most emotional episodes for me and I usually choke up a bit as it gets near to the end of the story. It is set in England in WWII, as well as in a strange futuristic snowy world. The episode has some very dark and very light moments, and I love the Christmassy feel to the whole story. Some of the funniest moments happens when Marge, the mother of the English family from WWII, encounters some space miners on the snowy planet. I especially like the following conversation:

Ven-Garr: She’s unarmed sir.

Droxil: Who are you?

Ven-Garr: Wait Armed! No, Unarmed. Sorry sir, she’s wearing wool sir. Natural Fabrics they interfere with our…

Droxil: Please say we can tell the difference between wool and sidearms.

Ven-Garr: We can tell the difference sir.

Droxil: Can we?

Ven-Garr: Not always sir, no.

This is one of my most watched episodes as I really enjoy the way it all ends up.

4. Blink (Doctor #10) – this is the tenth episode of series three, and is another episode where the Doctor plays a very small part. This  story is our introduction to the Weeping Angels, who feature again in later stories. The story centres around a young lady called Sally Sparrow and her friend, Larry Nightingale, who are trying to work out the connection between seventeen separate DVD titles, each containing the same cryptic Easter egg, featuring a stranger (the Doctor), with the following warning: “Don’t Blink. Blink and you’re dead. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t Blink. Good Luck.” This episode has some of the most tense and scary moments of the new Doctor Who series’. The following is one of my favourite conversations from this episode:

The Doctor: Fascinating race, the Weeping Angels. The only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely. No mess, no fuss, they just zap you into the past and let you live to death. The rest of your life used up and blown away in the blink of an eye. You die in the past, and in the present they consume the energy of all the days you might have had, all your stolen moments. They’re creatures of the abstract. They live off potential energy.

Billy Shipton: What in God’s name are you talking about?

Martha Jones: Trust me, just nod when he stops for breath.

The Doctor: Tracked you down with this. This is my timey-wimey detector. It goes ding when there’s stuff. Also, it can boil an egg at 30 paces, whether you want it to or not, actually, so I’ve learned to stay away from hens. It’s not pretty when they blow.

3. Rose (Doctor #9) – this was the first episode in 2005 when Doctor Who was revived after a long time away. I have to admit that I was a bit sceptical about its return, having remembered how it had disappeared in the first place. However, after a few minutes of Rose my fears were dispelled and I knew we were going to have a winner. It’s just a shame that Christopher Eccleston only did one season, because he was a great Doctor. As well as being introduced to the new Doctor in this one, we meet his companion Rose, for the first time, along with her mum, Jackie, and her boyfriend, Mickey Smith. In this episode they encounter the Autons, whom I remembered from my days watching Jon Pertwee, so they brought back some happy/scary memories. One of my favourite moments is when this early conversation takes place:

The Doctor: I’m the Doctor, by the way, what’s your name?

Rose Tyler: Rose.

The Doctor: Nice to meet you, Rose, – run for yer life!

2. Vincent and the Doctor (Doctor #11) – this is episode number 10 in series five and was almost my top episode. In this one, the Doctor and Amy, after seeing an ominous figure in one of Vincent van Gogh’s pictures at an art museum, decide to go back and see the artist himself. There they discover that Vincent is being tormented by an invisible monster that has been responsible for some deaths in the area. Vincent can see it, but is powerless to fight it. The monster turns out to be a stranded Krafayis. This is definitely one of the most beautiful and sad episodes ever. After thinking that her encounter with Vincent may have helped him to change his mind about his impending suicide, she is disappointed in discovering that when she returns to her present day, he still went through with it. The most emotional moment in this one is when they take Vincent to the art museum in Paris to see his pictures on display, along with hearing what the art professor has to say about him and his legacy, part of which is the following:

The Doctor: Between you and me, in a hundred words, where do you think Van Gogh rates in the history of art?

Curator: Well… um… big question, but, to me Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.

1. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (Doctor #11) – in the end it would have been impossible for me not to have this two-parter as my favourite Doctor Who story. These were the last two episodes of series five. This story has almost everything and, despite being a two-parter, is one of the fastest paced Doctor Who stories. If you haven’t seen it, then I’m not going to give much away, because it is definitely worth seeing. We see loads of the Doctor’s most infamous enemies, Rory takes on almost mythical proportions, the Doctor wears a Fez,  and we find out what Stonehenge really is, among other things. There are a number of great quotes from these episodes, including the following one:

The Doctor: You graffitied the oldest cliff face in the universe!

River Song: You wouldn’t answer your phone!

And this one:

River Song: Right then. I have questions, but number one is this – what in the name of sanity have you got on your head?

The Doctor: It’s a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.

[a pause, then Amy grabs the fez off the Doctor’s head and throws it into the air, where River shoots it]

As well, there is this short one:

The Doctor: We’re all stories in the end.

So, that’s my top ten, for now anyway. I won’t get to see the 50th Anniversary special until Monday evening at the earliest, so who knows, it may deserve a place on this list as well. Then, I’m sure that Peter Capaldi will have something to add to this , too. Maybe I’ll be back revising this when the 60th Anniversary comes along!

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Star Trek vs. Star Wars

2884171-starWars_starTrek_coexist(picture found at comicvine.com)

Live long and prosper. May the force be with you. These are two phrases that have found their way into the mainstream thanks to two of the most successful space franchises ever. In case you have been in hiding for the last 47 years or so, then of course the first one is from Star Trek, the second one from Star Wars. Before I go further, I should say that I like them both and see no reason why I can’t. However, I should also point out that I find Star Wars slightly more enjoyable, but don’t hold that against me. I realise that there are some people out there for whom it can only be one or the other and that’s OK for them, but I see no need for this kind of thinking, hence the ‘coexist’ picture at the top of this post.

Unlike Star Wars, which had its start on the big screen, Star Trek made its début on the small screen. It was first shown in 1966, the year I was born, so I was introduced to it through childhood reruns. It can be easiest described as a science fiction entertainment franchise, but for many it is much deeper than that. Since 1966 there have been six different TV series (if you include the animated series), twelve movies, and almost uncountable books, games, toys, video games, and comics.

For some people it is only Star Trek: The Original Series that counts, with everything that follows being inferior. Some are able to embrace everything that has come along and just enjoy the ride. Others pick and chose what they like, whilst there are some who just can accept everything apart from the two newest movies. Some younger people, whilst enjoying the newer stuff, can’t see what the fuss is about the earlier stuff. What can be said about the whole thing is that there is something for everyone in there.

At the centre of all the different versions there is one constant – the Starship USS EnterpriseAlthough different versions of it have appeared in the different adaptations, it is where the main action happens. The first crew members, Captain James T. Kirk, Commander Spock, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Lieutenant Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and Ensign Pavel Chekov, have been followed by many others, but the franchise has now gone full circle, with the reintroduction of these characters in the two latest movies. For some this is sacrilege, but I like the way that the movies have gone into an alternative version of the universe, leaving the integrity of the originals intact.

Star Wars, which could be best described as an American epic space opera franchise centred on a film series created by George Lucas, doesn’t have anything like the number of versions that Star Trek has, but it is still at least as popular. It first hit the big screen in 1977, with Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, which I remember seeing when it first came out and liking it immensely from the start. Being there when it started might be the reason why I like it more, but that doesn’t really matter. For the uninformed, or even uninterested, the numbering system of the six main movies so far may be a little confusing, but it’s just the way the movies came out. At the last count there have been seven movies (one animated), eleven (mainly animated) TV series, and, just like Star Trek, almost uncountable numbers of books, comics, toys, games, and video games. There are also lots of Lego Star Wars models from the various Star Wars movies and TV series. Many of these Lego models have found their way into our household, with probably many more to follow.

Having grown up more with Star Wars than Star Trek, there are moments in its history that I tend to remember more. The biggest of these is remembering the shock when, as a young teenager, I first heard Darth Vader sharing the truth of who he was with Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. I think that you had to be there at the time to understand the depth of that revelation. When I first watched the movies with my son, I insisted we watch them in the order they were released, so that he too could experience the shock of the truth revealed there.

Recently the rights to future Star Wars project was sold to Disney. I have to admit that this initially made me a little fearful and apprehensive, but I’ll have to wait and see what happens, and hopefully I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The debate over which one is better will probably rage on in some circles, but I’ll continue to happily enjoy both in their own way, as more instalments of each franchise are released. In the meantime, here is a mash-up video for you to enjoy, following which you can read Star Wars vs. Star Trek in Five Minutes:

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Turn it off, then!

It seems to me that a lot of tweets, facebook statuses, blog comments, etc. these days are about TV and the lack of quality programming. What is the obsession with TV? Why the constant moaning about it? If you don’t like it turn it off. Yes, it is as easy as that. If the satellite, cable, or whatever company you are giving money to doesn’t meet your standards or expectations, then unsubscribe and stop supporting them. If you keep giving the money then they have the means to keep churning out the same dross that seems to upset you so much. Believe it or not, TV viewing is not compulsory! There’s so much more that you could do with your time – read a book, connect with friends, get a new hobby, go for a walk, play some games – the list is endless. Take the first step now (hint: every TV has an on/off switch) – you’ll thank yourself later on.