An Angel Tree Package for the Office

As the company has done for a number of years, a Christmas tree was put up in the lobby and, a few days after Thanksgiving, Angel Tree stockings were hung.

I had decided long ago to participate in the Angel Tree program this year and, when I was passing by the lobby area on other business and saw they were up, I stopped and spent a few minutes deciding upon which one to pick.

I chose, similarly to last year, a boy, eight years-old. I signed my name to a sign-up sheet on the front desk, and, with a spring in my step, back to work I went.

There wasn't any guidance with the stockings as there were with the Angel Tree tags a few years ago. Those tags indicated ideas for toys and clothing sizes. I had to operate blindly, but I was fine with that. You see, I already had a half-dozen items at home for my Angel Tree recipient. I wouldn't say I had a plan for the recipient, per se, but I knew this was something I wanted to do, and since I knew it was something I wanted to do I saw no reason not to start buying items. And if there had been guidance, the recipient was still going to receive the things I had bought.

I didn't have a budget. Instead, I was going to buy stategically. Like last year, I was going to do a box of stuff. If I was out at a store and I saw something that intrigued me, I would buy it. In October, then, I started buying items here and there, so by the time the stockings were hung on the tree I had a box of stuff ready to wrap.

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This Year's Angel Tree Package

Last week was... not the best.

I should clarify. It wasn't bad. It was simply stressful. And hectic. And tense. And all of the things that a week that where the catalog and orders go to press usually is.

Thankfully, the week ended with the Nerd Prom — the Employee Appreciation Party (or the Christmas Party) — and after the week that had been, the Nerd Prom was muchly needed.

Last week, the Christmas tree in the office lobby was put up, and it was decorated, as it always is, with stockings for the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program.

I did the Angel Tree for the first time three years ago — and enjoyed it — but for various reasons, mainly not checking the tree at the right time, I didn't the last two years.

As I walked past the tree Wednesday afternoon — or was it Tuesday? — I looked at the stockings on the tree, saw one for a "Boy Age 7," and took it. My week had been overwhelming to some extent, and the thought of helping someone who needed help I saw as a way of balancing the karmic scales.

(Yes, the Salvation Army sucks, and there are sound reasons for never, ever associating with them, but there's also a seven year-old boy who needs something for Christmas. I can overlook the Salvation Army's problematic aspects if I can use them to help a person.)

Unlike three years ago, where I had a hang tag that had a short want list and clothing sizes, all I had to go on this year was "Boy Age 7." I then got some clarification from Human Resources about whether or not I had to use the stocking; after all, three years ago I didn't. I was told that I could put anything in whatever I wanted; the little bit to identify the recipient was all that was necessary, and it needed to be visible. I could work with that.Collapse )

The Peanuts Movie Novelization

Yesterday evening I went to the BAM! (formerly Books a Million) near York Galleria, not for any particular reason, just to get away from the gloom and the muck that had been all day Saturday thanks to the rain brought by Hurricane Joaquin.

thepeanutsmovie-novelizationThere I found a most unexpected book — The Peanuts Movie Movie Novelization, adapted by childrens book author Tracey West.  (The double “Movie” in the title is not a typo on my part; that’s what it reads on the cover and the spine.)

I’m not going to critique the book, per se; I’m well beyond the age of the book’s intended audience, and any critique would be bringing a fortysomething’s perspective on and expectations of fiction to a work that doesn’t deserve that type of scrutiny.  I did feel something… strange about reading this book and engaging with the Peanuts characters through prose, but that’s my conditioning and expectations born of nearly four decades of reading these characters in comic strips or watching them on television.  When I was in second or fourth grade (I skipped third), this would have been my speed.  (Or maybe not.  I was reading Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by fourth grade, and I’d already been to Narnia and Middle-Earth.) And the book should really be looked at in that way.  It’s a book for kids. :)

The important thing to say about The Peanuts Movie novelization is that it’s entertaining and the book is frequently laugh-out-loud funny.  West takes us inside the psyches of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and she makes us feel for good ol’ Charlie Brown.  The prose isn’t complicated, the characters behave exactly as they should, and the sense of melancholy that pervades Peanuts is present.  For the elementary school reader who knows Charlie Brown and the gang from the animated specials, The Peanuts Movie Movie Novelization would be a lovely introduction to the characters.

That out of the way, I want to take some time and discuss the story, which isn’t West’s purview; she worked with the script she was given.  What follows will be spoilers, and I’ll leave an LJ cut for those who wish to stop reading…

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Scenes From a Vacation Day

On Thursday, I took a vacation day and went to Washington, DC. The Washington Nationals were having Pet Day — with a special ticket, you received a 2015 calendar of the Nationals players and their pets, you could participate in a pre-game petting zoo, and part of the cost of the ticket went to the local humane society.

"Why not?" i said. Why not, indeed, and last week I bought the special ticket.Collapse )

Crazy Sherlock Theory

I feel like I've cracked the problem of Sherlock's "His Last Vow."

I wrote this at TrekBBS earlier. And we have to go back about a decade, to another television series about a brilliant, drug-addicted man who could discern things simply from observation...

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It's not perfect, but this would make sense of the situation. And it would be Moffat paying tribute to the modern day series that paved the way for Sherlock.

Thoughts? Yes? No? Maybe so?

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Last night, either out of boredom or madness, I rewatched the pilot of Reign on The CW. And it didn't irk me as much as it had on Thursday night, probably because I knew what to expect with the wild tonal shifts from costume drama to teen soap, sometimes in the same scene.

Mind you, I'm still not saying that it's good. It's still undoubtedly aneurysm-causing for the historically sensitive among us. And I'd have a difficult time recommending the series as it exists after one episode.

Idly, I found myself wondering if there were a multiyear plan for the series. I went looking for my copy of Antonia Fraser's biography of Mary Queen of Scots and, unable to find it (I wonder if I got rid of it when I moved, since I culled my library by about a third), I turned to Will Durant's The Story of Civilization, specifically The Age of Reason Begins, to check some dates. Given where the series starts, Mary and Francis will wed in a year, King Henry will die in two years, and Francis will die in three. There you have it, the season finales for the the next three years.

A fourth season, set in Scotland, would be fascinating. Mary would be nineteen, widowed, living in a country she hasn't see since she was five, thinking of herself as French and not Scottish, having to deal with John Knox and the Scottish Reformation, and caught up in the various dynastic plots on both sides of the English border.

I don't think Reign will get that far, though.


Reign. That was an unholy mess, wasn't it?

I expected something about as historically accurate as The Tudors, which is to say "Not historically accurate at all." It was sumptuous to look at and slickly made, though it occasionally felt claustrophobic in terms of sets and cast, due no doubt to budgetary limitations. And for the twenty minutes of the episode that played like a PG-13 Tudors, it held my interest and I thought it generally worked and had potential.

Those other twenty minutes? Boy-crazy handmaidens? A plucky heroine who defies the conventions of the times to assert her independence? A broody and indecisive male lead? An alt-rock soundtrack that has nothing to do with the era and everything to do with pushing emotional buttons? In no sane world do those twenty minutes belong in the same program as the machinations of Catherine de Medici.

The tonal shifts would give an MPD sufferer whiplash. I can imagine the elevator pitch for Reign -- "A Tudors-esque historical drama for the CW audience" -- and that's certainly what the first episode delivers. The twenty minutes that had me going "Whiskey tango foxtrot?!?" hit that demographic square on the head, while the twenty minutes that I enjoyed no doubt baffled the CW demo.

I don't even want to imagine what my old history professor at Richmond, John Rilling, would think of Reign. Probably give the man an aneurysm.

I'll stick with it for a few episodes. Give me something to watch before Elementary.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.


A Few Quick Thoughts on Today's Events in DC

As you've no doubt heard, there was a shooting rampage in the Navy Yard in DC, along the banks of the Anacostia.

I've been in a state of disbelief all day, for several reasons.

First, I really like that area of DC, and not just because the Nationals play there. It's has a nice vibe, and if I could live there, I totally would. (Yes, I'd even pick the Navy Yard neighborhood over Wrigleyville.) The area used to be a dump, but it's gentrified nicely.

Second, my (late) best friend's father occasionally worked in the Navy offices there. Interestingly enough, on 9-11 he was in meetings there when the plane struck the Pentagon — and his office was one of those struck by the plane.

Third, my great-grandfather was born in that neighborhood. The family moved to Georgetown when he was a few months old, and his father is buried in Congressional Cemetery a few blocks away from the Navy Yard. So I feel a familial connection to the area, even though all of these people died long before I was born.

In short, for various reasons, all of them somewhat distant when looked at dispassionately, I'm feeling somewhat stunned by today's events.

Appreciating John Hurt's Era as The Doctor


Over on TrekBBS, there was some discussion last night and today about John Hurt’s tenure as the Doctor. A poster by the handle of Newspaper Taxi kicked it off:

I don’t really see a lot of people talk about the Hurt serials that ran from ’01 to ’05. I really felt that the show took on a much darker tone during this period and I’m really shocked at some of the things that the guy we’re supposed to call “The Doctor” did. I mean — the Time War? It made for one hell of a season finale and my favorite regeneration scene ever, but wow. I had a hard time looking at him the same way afterwards.

I’m going to riff of some of what I wrote there.

As much as I love Paul McGann and Matt Smith, and even though it was the Bakers and Davison that I grew up watching, it’s John Hurt that is my Doctor. There’s no shame in saying that. I’ve always admired Hurt as an actor, and I’m sure that has something to do with it, but I think it’s more that Hurt’s era as the Doctor spoke to me. His four years in the role were a serious attempt at grappling with and saying something about the present in a way that Doctor Who had never really done before.

In the late-90s, when I really started to get into online Doctor Who fandom, I didn’t think anything could be more controversial than Sylvester McCoy’s era. That was probably the thing that shocked me the most about my early ventures into rec.arts.drwho; there were people out there, Doctor Who fans all, who absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, hated significant chunks of the show they claimed to love. As much as McCoy’s era was slagged in retrospect, Hurt’s era was reviled in its time. That wasn’t unique to Doctor Who; Star Trek fandom had the same thing at the same time with the online backlash to Star Trek: Enterprise. My theory then, my theory now, is that the rise of the Internet and its widespread adoption in the first few years of the 21st-century helped give rise to what I call “hatedom.” Fans who hated what they claimed to love were always there, but they had been marginalized over the years. The Internet gave them a platform, USEnet and bulletin boards and blogs gave them a platform and a megaphone, and people saw that it was acceptible to not just dislike the program but actively hate it. Hurt’s era had the misfortune of coming along at precisely that moment in time.

What I usually say to people who say that those four years “are’t Doctor Who” is this.

You need to look at John Hurt’s four years in the context of the times. Look at what was going on in the world in early 2001 when McGann’s departure was announced as John Hurt was cast. The world was at peace. The economy had taken a dip after Bush’s election but it was starting to rebound. Frankly, early 2001 was a good time to be alive and it looked like things were going to be mellow. The first half of John Hurt’s first season, which would have been planned and written during the summer months of 2001, reflected that reality.

Unfortunately, Hurt made his debut as the Doctor on September 13th. The world changed rather dramatically two days before. And, midway through Hurt’s first season, Doctor Who began to reflect that.

It wasn’t until “The Sontaran Gambit”/”Sentinel of the Daleks” two-parter in February 2002 that we really began to see how dark Doctor Who could go. Ironically, it wasn’t even Hurt’s Doctor that was dark. It was what the Thals were doing in that two-parter that was so jaw-droppingly insane, and as appalled as the audience was by the revelations at the end, it was clear the Doctor was right there with them in their shock. Clearly, it was a story written in reaction to the Afghanistan mission, but it really opened the door for where Hurt’s era would go with the Daleks taking the Sontaran clone banks for themselves and the revelation about the Dalek time machines. Doctor Who was in new territory. Midway through his first season, Doctor Who did something that it had never really done before — it became a series that, like Star Trek did back in the 1960s, reflected the present world and its concerns through sci-fi metaphors. The Last Great Time War, a science fiction idea that should have been a natural for a time traveling series like Doctor Who, was a metaphor for the threat of terrorism; the Time Lords could no more guard themselves against an enemy who could travel through time than we could guard ourselves against a dedicated terrorist cell determined to destroy us. The fanaticism of the Daleks, once a metaphor for Naziism, became the fanaticism of the Islamic jihadists. What was so surprising about Hurt’s era in that regard is that, unlike Star Trek‘s attempts at subtlety, Doctor Who foregrounded the metaphors and made them impossible to ignore. Hurt’s Who was very much of its time, but that also made the series difficult for so many to love because it was such a break with the past.

Yet, Hurt’s era was not without its charms. I loved the two-parter with Jamie McCrimmon set in Revolutionary-era, British-occupied New York. Yes, it was clearly inspired by the New Adventures, with the Doctor and his former companion at odds with one another, but I didn’t mind because it was done very well and it had a spin on the concept that those NAs didn’t have. As an old school Doctor Who fan, I kept hoping that Jamie would remember something, anything about his travels with the Doctor. I liked that they didn’t go that way, though, and that Jamie never remembered, not even as he lay dying after taking a bullet to save his daughter and the Doctor from a mob, not that he would have recognized Hurt.

That story, of course, gave us Claire McCrimmon, one of the most delightful companions of recent memory. Yes, she could have been a Victoria redux, but instead they treated her with more psychological depth than the series was capable of pre-1980s. I liked the way her relationship with the Doctor developed, especially as she drew out the Doctor and came to understand who her father had been as a young man. And who can forget the tragic consequences when she was captured by the Daleks and brought before the Emperor? Her screams as she’s led off to the conversion chamber still haunt me. That was another moment that, in my opinion, really broke this Doctor.

The other charming moment came early in Hurt’s first season, before the series changed direction in “The Sontaran Gambit.” I’m still amazed that they did a Hartnell-esque pure historical. Not even RTD or Moffat have had the testicular fortitude to do that. The only word to describe “The Vinlanders” is “vintage.” You look at that episode now, and you have to think they got lucky in their timing. It hit screens right before The Lord of the Rings hit, so there was already this medievalist buzz in the air, and when FOX repeated it that summer they recut the trailer to be more Lord of the Rings-esque. I won’t say that “The Vinlanders” is completely successful, but it was fun in a way that Doctor Who hadn’t been for a few years and wouldn’t be again until “Smith & Jones.”

Ultimately, I view Hurt’s era as a reaction to the Bush/Blair failure in Iraq, and I see Hurt’s Doctor as a tragic hero. Obviously, the writers in 2001, 2002, 2003 had no idea that Iraq would end in ashes, and the early stages of The Last Great Time War, especially in Hurt’s second season (2002-3), are unfailingly optimistic about the Time Lords’ inevitable victory over the Daleks. But as Iraq turned sour, and it was obvious by late 2003 that it had, the initiative shifted in The Last Great Time War and there was nothing inevitable about the triumph of the Time Lords. You can see in Hurt’s Doctor the arc from true believer in the righteous cause to disillusioned warrior who has lost faith in his leaders. You can see it most clearly in “The Tears of the Ten Thousand” when the Doctor confronts Romana and demands to know how many more worlds must burn because of a mistake, and Romana’s chilling response — “The mistake would be in not burning more” — is the point where the Doctor loses all faith in his cause.

Hurt’s era is uncomfortable viewing, because they were trying so hard to make something relevant to the era. But Hurt’s era is also, in retrospect, difficult to watch simply because it hasn’t aged well. The ambitions of the era didn’t match the budget, so these galaxy-spanning battles were as realistic as the Dalek army in “Planet of the Daleks.” Even Babylon 5, with its budget issues, looked better than Hurt’s era. The era that followed with Eccleston and Tennant also hasn’t aged particularly well — Eccleston’s season in particular is grounded firmly in 2005 pop culture, and its references have dated badly — but Hurt’s era looks cheap by comparison and its political undercurrents are no longer meaningful.

Hurt himself was great. He brought the gravitas that you would expect from an actor of his calibre. His four seasons, however, are very much of their time. They lack timelessness. Say what you will about Steven Moffat as writer, but as a producer he’s made his era timeless.

I would hope that in this 50th-anniversary year fandom can reevaluate John Hurt’s four years as the Last of the Time Lords. I hope that Steven Moffat does Hurt’s Doctor justice in the anniversary special. I suspect, though, that we’re still a decade away from the reevaluation and reappreciation of the era. Another decade, and the children who watched Hurt’s Doctor every week will be adults, breaking into prose and television, some of them even working on Doctor Who in a professional capacity. That’s what it will take, someone saying, “I’m going to do Hurt right.”

I’m glad to see John Hurt back this November. He was my Doctor.

Posted via m.livejournal.com.