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No, Tom Hiddleston, no!

The Guardian reports the aspirational wishes of producers of a remake of Ben Hur to get Tom Hiddleston to play the lead.

I note that nothing is confirmed, and I hope that Hiddleston has the good sense to keep it that way.

It's also interesting that this film appears to be pandering to religious filmgoers (not necessarily a bad thing when it led to the excellent biopic of William Wilberforce a few years ago, but perhaps not in this case.)
Saturday/Sunday, June 14 & 15, 2014, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Thousands of books available.

Location: Building 72, Arboretum, Central EXperimental Farm. Take the east exit off the Prince of Wales roundabout. Admission and parking free

For information call (613)230-3276 or e-mail

Presto card suggestion

For those who are using Ottawa's invidious Presto transit payment card:

I saw a tweet recently from someone who had found a Presto card on the ground in the Glebe and was asking if anyone had lost one (good for him!)

Which made me think that another one of the problems with this card is that, unlike monthly passes, there's nowhere to write down your contact info so that an honest person who finds it can call/email you to return it.

Suggested workarounds:

  • store it in a small plastic or leather folder with your contact info (preferably something that is also less slippery on the fingers), or

  • put an address label on the Presto card itself. Christmas card return labels would work just fine if you don't own a label maker. Or even just tape paper to the front of the card.

Star Trek: Into the Darkness

I liked this, the second installment in the Star Trek film reboot, better than the first. On the other hand, I borrowed it on DVD from the library, showing exactly how urgently I needed to see it. On the other hand, I had been checking the new DVD bins for it for a while...

What I liked about it:

  • Benedict Cumberbatch, whom I'm sure had an absolutely wonderful time playing a deep-dyed villain, and who managed to give at least a semblance of believability to said character's seriously confused, confusing, and unclear motives. And who listened to the fight choreographer enough to look like an action hero. Still, it was disappointing to see him play a character without a trace of humour or self-analysis.

  • lots of screen time and plot opportunities for Uhura, who is again played by the excellent Zoe Saldana

  • some delightful scenes for Sulu (John Cho) as acting captain, and Simon Pegg as the ever-resourceful Scotty

  • and particularly how essential Spock (Zachary Quinto) is to the plot, and how resourcefully he rises to challenges

  • the link to the movie Star Trek II

  • "where no one has gone before"

What I did not like about it

  • I have never liked James T KIrk as a character, but this version is even worse than William Shatner's. Stupid, stubborn, swell-headed, and a pain.

  • the plot holes and dangling threads (exactly how did they expect to walk away from killing & injuring all those Klingons on a Klingon planet?)

  • the complete ignorance of Newtonian physics in far too many scenes (Kirk and Khan would have been blown off those fast-moving air scows almost immediately).

  • the idea that you could just realign the engines by kicking on them and pulling them? And that that would be sufficiently accurate? The writers could have had Kirk grab some sort of instrument and pull on cogs carefully to make the alignment -- or include something that recognizes that this would be delicate equipment that required precision.

  • the idea that any spaceship would be able to fly with that many holes blown in it (tho, to be fair, this was a problem throughout the Star Trek oeuvre).

What I really did not like about the DVD:

  • the fact that it included an advertisement glorifying the US military and its "9/11 veterans" -- those people who invaded Iraq, perhaps? What I have really liked about Star Trek (an, in fact, a good part of this very movie) was that it did not glorify military incursions or shooting first, and was primarily about exploration and coming to rapprochements with other civilizations. I would just really like my escapism without a side of glory-hunting aggression or advocacy for police states.

Doctor Who: The Vault. Treasures from the First 50 Years
by Marcus HearnVault

It's traditional to put out a coffee-table-sized book to commemorate important anniversaries of cultural icons, and certainly Doctor Who would qualify on that basis.

This book is a history of the series (although not a muckraking one: any scandalous or controversial points are hand-waved over), both in written form and particularly in pictures. It's copiously illustrated: mostly with covers from Doctor Who magazines and annuals, publicity stills, photos of sets and costumes, photos of action figures, drawings of sets and costumes, and a few actual annotated script pages. And there's a lot of interesting information in it.

The costumes are particularly striking: from an absolutely gorgeous white gown for Time Lady Romana (p. 134) that would fit on an Oscar red carpet, to several of the 1980s costumes for The Doctor, which were simply ghastly.

The action figures looked stiff and unbelievable, and the props a bit silly when not on screen, but one Doctor Who piece of memorabilia I would have loved to have was the TARDIS Tuner ("a Tune I for All Time Lords"): essentially a medium-wave radio with added sounds and lights.  (p. 135)

For those who don't know the whole series, or find they've forgotten episodes only seen 25 years ago, it's a good introduction or memory-jogger. While the overall organization is chronological, Hearn has done a really good job of regularly incorporating essays spanning the entire series covering everything from music/sound to costumes to the humanity of the Tardis, to Doctor Who comics, to the influence of feature films and horror on scripts, to the tie-in book series and more. The sad story of John Nathan-Turner (the last producer of Doctor Who before it went on hiatus for 15 years, who tried to leave several times but was told the show would be canned if he left, and then couldn't get another producer job once Doctor Who was eventually stopped) provides a good indication of why Russell T Davies left on a high note as show runner in the 00's.

It's interesting to realize that Doctor Who commentary on modern issues didn't start with the reboot but was present throughout the series, most particularly with writer Robert Holmes in the 1980s.  Although Holmes didn't take the show too seriously: "If anyone decides that Doctor Who is an art form its death knell will be sounded ... It is good, clean, escapist hokum. which is no small thing to be." (p. 182)

Everything Who-vian is covered from the TV shows to books to audiobooks to soundtrack records to magazines and annuals to the infamous American movie to fan publications. Fans are treated ambiguously: it's clearly noted that many of the best writers and producers came from the fan community, but there's also a quote from Gary Downie, Doctor Who's production manager in the 1980s, disdainfully dismissing carping fans. "What I hate about fans is that they all think they can do it better. They're working at Tesco service tills or as warehousemen, but they all know how to produce the show better than John [Nathan-Turner] did. ... ignoramuses who think they know everything." (p. 166).

The main problem with this book is that's too awkward and heavy to read comfortably. It's printed on heavy, coated paper which shows off the copious illustrations beautifully and it's over-sized to allow for the best graphic layout, but that makes it difficult to hold comfortably in many positions. By the end of reading it, my right wrist was noticeably sore. (It would also obviously NOT work as an e-book.) Pity: there's a lot of interesting material in it.

It's also expensive: justified by the production and work involved, but on the whole I'm glad I borrowed it from the library.  A die-hard fan would probably enjoy looking through it over and over again, though.

%T      Doctor Who: The Vault. Treasures from the First 50 Years
%A      Marcus Hearn
%C      London
%D      2013
%I       BBC/Harper Collins
%O      hardcover, US$45, CDN$49.99
%G      ISBN 978-0-06-228063-3
%P      320pp

Confusing secularism and prejudice

I recently talked to a 20-something Quebecois who was unhappy about current politicians from his province. He talked about the revelations of the Charbonneau commission on widespread fraud and bribery involved in public construction contracts; he pointed out how the current Quebec Premier Pauline Marois espoused concern about greenhouse gases in the last election campaign – and then just recently supported oil exploration in a environmentally-sensitive area. Couldn't disagree with him at all.

But what really frustrates me about Marois and the Quebec election she just called is the Parti Quebecois' Charter of Quebec values, because it seems to me that it's a truly cynical and nasty exploitation of fear of the other.

It's particularly nasty because it takes principles which I strongly believe in – that religion should be completely separate from the state, that men and women are equal – and instead of ensuring that state institutions uphold these principles in how they operate, it goes after relatively powerless individuals.

Apparently the charter is disliked in the big cities, but is going over really well in smaller centres and rural areas – just where there aren't a lot of people wearing hijabs or turbans. One CBC report I heard recently said that introduction of the charter was directly linked to a spike in PQ popularity. It's as though the PQ is pandering to the pur laine vote.

If the issue was, for example, prayer meetings in government offices where workers who didn't participate might feel that it affected their promotion possibilities or ability to work with others: reasonable concern.

If the concern was whether a person's face was covered, I can understand that there are reasonable arguments about being able to recognize someone and needing to see someone's face for full understanding of what they're saying, just as there are also arguments about not infringing on religious beliefs.

But the primary argument seems to be what a nurse or doctor or police officer or civil servant wears on their head, or around their neck. Who gives a damn? It's not an attempt to proselytize as such. Are Marois et al afraid that people will get contaminated by recognizing that people have different religious beliefs? Or are they just trying to exploit fear of the immigrant, fear of the non-white?

I keep wondering if Marois was scared by a nun in full habit when she was a young child. (Born in 1949, she would have been in her early teens when Vatican II changed religious garb.) Even discounting the cynicism, the charter does seem like such an emotional proposal, almost irrational, and certainly inconsistent with the reasonable accommodations Quebec and the rest of Canada have worked out about religious dress over the past decades.

And it both annoys me and makes me fearful because it feels like a throwback to the days (not that long ago) when Jews and Catholics (and even more other non-Protestant faiths) were subjected to automatic prejudice. Why do we have to fight this again?

"The One Novel to Change Our Nation"

So the annual CBC debate on Canada Reads ended on Thursday, with the winner being The Orenda by Joseph Boyden.

It's not a debate I tend to tune into because, firstly, the books are very CanLit and mostly not to my taste (the only one that appealed this year was Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan), and, secondly, the CR debates I have heard were too emotional and not very enlightening. They tended to feel like a CBC comments thread, not an intelligent critique. And I'm not all that big on reading what everyone else is reading in any case: I like reading in my own time, not to an outside schedule.

But a comment I heard this year really flabbergasted me.

The tagline for 2014 was “The One Novel to Change Our Nation”, which I thought was a) unlikely b) overly hopeful, even assuming the change was for the better. But what really got me was the debate I heard Thursday morning, when I accidentally tuned into CBC Radio: Wab Kinew was doing his final defense of The Orenda and said that it was an important “lesson” about First Nations that everyone should get.

And I said to myself: I don't want to get lessons in my fiction.

I feel this really strongly and viscerally. I read fiction to be entertained, first and foremost. I read it for the characters, for the plot, for vivid (and often unexpected) settings. I also read for new ideas and well-expressed themes, but they have to come out of the plot, characters, and setting.

I really hate the cod-liver oil school of fiction that implies the only reason to read is to be enlightened.

If I want a “lesson”, I'll read a primer on Advanced Perl, or Digital Video editing techniques, or best practices in film lighting. But novels should be fiction – not disguised messages.

Which is probably why I'm so not a Canada Reads type of person.

But I do wonder how many other people were turned off by that comment as well, or the idea that you need to be changed by a novel.
Until January 27, TV Ontario has a documentary available to view online (it was also broadcast  several times in December) called Unsung: Behind the Glee.

It`s about the Show Choir Canada competition, which started in 2011, and the two Toronto high schools who have traded the top spot between each other for the first three years.

And so if you like musical theatre with a side of human interest and kids overcoming obstacles to sing & dance their dream: it's a great story.

Before seeing this, I'd neve head the term "show choir". Apparently it's an American phenomenon, mainly in the midwest: a combination of singing and dance, using material from musical theatre, pop songs, some classical music -- whatever you can present effectively with both your voice & your body and with large numbers of people -- up to 150 on stage in this competition.

The two school groups profiled in this piece are from Wexford Collegiate Institute in Scarborough and the Etobicoke School for the Arts. ESA seems rather more whitebread & well-off; they perform choreography by Bob Fosse ("All that Jazz", and "Sing, sing, Sing"): a really spectacular presentation. Wexford does a more varied selection of musical numbers (for example from Les Miz). They're both really good.

You see the kids in rehearsal, interviews with the teachers & with the students, and at home with their parents, and for four of the students, what factors led them to the choir. Good pacing, and some unexpected revelations as well. And then you get to see the big day and some of the show -- and find out who wins.

The link to the video is

For my pirate-loving friends

Next March 13-29: Much Ado About Feckin' Pirates! at The Gladstone

More info:

Sometimes English is just weird

Why are there so many ways to say "heavy", but only word that is its antonym: "light"?

The problem being, of course, that "light" has a huge number of other meanings and connotatioons, which make it not exactly the correct word. But the only other way to say this is "not heavy", which isn't correct either.


I'm gum-swozzled

So Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's excuse for smoking crack cocaine is that he was drunk at the time?

Just possibly this shows poor judgment? And a poor choice of people to associate with? And not someone who you would trust to run a city?


Stephen Harper, the Musical
How to survive and thrive in the dying days of the empire of oil
Starring James Gordon
Wed to Fri, November 27-29
Tickets: $20 ($10 for seniors, students, unemployed or underemployed)
Arts Court Theatre, Ottawa

James Gordon’s fourth full-length musical play, “Stephen Harper: The Musical”, is ready to tour, after successful runs in his hometown of Guelph and at Hamilton’s Pearl Company Canadian Theatre Festival.

As the title suggests, this new play examines our current Canadian political climate and in particular Stephen Harper (who actually doesn’t like to see that word “climate”, it makes him think of those annoying environmental ‘terrorists’). The production is a one-person show (well, two if you count the somewhat disturbing Harper Dummy!), with James using humour, political commentary, pathos, original songs, spoken word, hundreds of projected images, audience participation and an activist’s passion to show where we are and where we can go as a nation. The initial Ontario run for the play generated considerable enthusiasm among activist and political groups.

The timing is right for this innovative work. So many Canadians are feeling that their voice is not being heard under the “Harper Government”. What can we do about this? Audiences can find out and have a fun theatrical evening at the same time with this production.

Audiences will be familiar with James Gordon for his work as a singer-songwriter, with 40 albums to his credit over a thirty-year international career. His current CD, “Coyote’s Calling”, reached #2 in February on the Canadian national roots radio airplay charts, and the album includes some of the songs from “Stephen Harper: The Musical”.  His previous plays “Hardscrabble Road” (about homeless and globalization issues), “Nastee Business” (about the bottled water scam) and “Tryst And Snout” (a hillbilly adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) established him as a skilled playwright with an eye for using musical theatre as a vehicle for pointed social commentary.

As a resident songwriter for 12 years with two CBC radio shows, “Basic Black” and “Ontario Morning”, James honed his comedy skills.  Twenty years with the Canadian folk trio Tamarack gave him a nation-wide outlet for his music about Canada’s heritage and identity. James has been very involved with community activist issues in Guelph, and in fact ran in the last provincial election as a provincial candidate (hint – not for the Conservative Party!)

Note: This event will also provide attendees with an opportunity to view “Stephen Harper: The Portrait Gallery”. This curated exhibit of paintings will include Margaret Sutherland’s famous “Harper nude” portrait (see article at

And all will be well

The Spouse had a longing for baked goods this evening, and I remembered I had a yen for coffee cake, which I hadn't made in years.

So down came Food that Really Schmecks from the shelf, and I started the sour cream coffee cake recipe.

Perhaps because it was after 10 p.m., I forgot
a) that when you sift flour you're supposed to measure it again afterwards (I just simply shoved 1 3/4c cake flour through that sifter and that was that, it had been so long that I'd actually sifted flour for anything)
b) I managed to add the baking soda to the dry ingredients and then remembered it was supposed to be mixed into the sour cream (so I stirred a little bit more into the sour cream)
c) the sour cream had somehow managed to freeze in the back of the fridge last week and its texture (now thawed) was watery in the extreme, altho it tasted OK,
d) the recipe called for putting 1/2 the batter in the pan, then adding 1/2 the nuts/sugar/cinnamon mixture, then putting the rest of the batter on top followed by the rest of the nuts/sugar/cinnamon. I ended up (w/o realizing it), putting 3/4 of the batter on the bottom, putting on the nuts/sugar/cinnamon, and then realizing I didn't have enough batter to even cover that -- some quick excavation work ensued.
e) I realized a few minutes in that the oven rack was too high and had to adjust it.

And amazingly enough, the cake turned out absolutely delicious. Obviously a forgiving recipe.

The Mammoth Book series expands its oeuvre

I was looking on for this book which squirrel_monkey just announced.

Not there. But I did find

The Mammoth Book of Erotic Romance and Domination

and yes, it is directly related to the success of That Book.

Lost Doctor Who episodes found in Nigeria

Apparently nine episodes featuring the Second Doctor were found in the storeroom of a television relay station in Nigeria.

(You know, I don't think I could have made that up...)

It would be just the perfect time for UFOs

I gather one of the consequences of right-wing Republicans throwing a hissy fit and the US government partially shutting down, is that almost all of NASA was sent home on furlough, other than those supporting immediate operations (i.e. the Space Station).

So it occurred to me this evening that this would be the perfect time for an alien invasion :-) :-)

Of course, there are still Russian and Chinese and European and Indian space bureaucracies and lots of telescopes run by non-Americans or by universities out there, so perhaps the UFOs would still be detected.

But, really, this whole thing is so stupid. I mean, even John McCain is telling the Tea Party types that they lost the healthcare war in 2012.

Up here in Canada. this wouldn't happen. Any time the opposition gets too powerful, our leaders would just prorogue Parliament. Just a second -- is that actually an improvement? Better for keeping things running, but not more democratic, especially when you consider that Harper's Tories were only elected by just over a third of the electorate.

This is my favourite full-out anti-Tea Party rant so far. It's from a Roman Catholic publication from Australia, although it's written by an American Jesuit.

For a more measured (but equally pissed) reaction, I like Paul Krugman's blog in the NY Times.

Update viaswan_tower: The Republicans are doing this because they feel disrepected?? This is simply farcical now.

The perfect vampire accompaniment?

While choral music is not my thing, this does sound like an impressive and very appropriate soundtrack:

Seventeen Voyces presents Nosferatu, the 1922 silent vampire classic directed by F.W. Murnau, starring the terrifying Max Schreck. A chilling start to Halloween. The film will be presented on a giant screen, accompanied by live choral music & Matthew Larkin on organ. Music includes Brahms' Nänie.

Dates: Friday October 18 & Saturday, October 19: 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Cost: Adults $25, students $15
Location: St. Matthew's Anglican Church, 130 Glebe Avenue, Ottawa

Why Agents of SHIELD didn't grab me

fajrdrako arranged for us to see the pilot episode of Agents of SHIELD on Tuesday. Unlike most of the others in the room, I found it didn't really work for me.

Part of it was simply that I'm just not a real fan of comics. I really like Neil Gaiman, Herge, and few Japanese anime films, and that's about it. I understand why people like them, I can admire the work that goes into them, but I just don't get the same charge out of them as I do a story in text. That's strictly my preference (not any judgment), but it does mean that I obviously was not going to be familiar with the Marvel source material and get the extra frisson others were getting from recognizing characters or plot points. I did get a few references from having heard others describe the movies or having seen the trailers, but the joy wasn't the same

Secondly, I hadn't seen any of the Marvel movies, mostly because I haven't been able to afford to see much of anything lately, and superhero movies, again, are just not high on my list.

But mostly what bothered me was this attitude in the show of "we are the government and we're going to protect you." It was the glorification of the secret in-group, those people who work in the shadows and save the world -- and are never answerable to the voters for what they've done.

It's a very seductive attitude, but it's also led to

  • Iran-Contra

  • The Bay of Pigs

  • the overthrow of Mohammed Mossedagh in Iran

  • the CIA planning and support for Augusto Pinochet's murder of SAlvador Allende and thousands of other people in his coup in Chile

  • barn-burnings by the RCMP on Quebec

  • decades and decades of spying in Canada, the US, the UK, Fance, and many other supposedly democratic countries on innocent people who had done nothing more than question government policy

  • billion-dollar "black" budgets in the US

and so on.

I can understand the need for temporary secrecy, but not permanent. It's going to get abused sooner or later. We see enough of that just in police services, who supposedly are answerable to civilian oversight, and where officers can be charged and police chiefs can be fired. And I'd really rather not have a TV show glorifying that attitude.
Tuesday, September 24, 7 p.m.
Carleton University Art Gallery (St. Pat's)

"DOUBLE MAJOR is back! Join us for the first installment of the new academic year, where we’ll hear from two passionate experts, each speaking for 20 minutes about their subject, after which there will be a Q&A addressing both topics. One speaker is from the Ottawa-Gatineau community, and one is from the Carleton community. DOUBLE MAJOR is a fun and friendly way to stimulate discussion of seemingly disparate topics, and to make new connections between people and ideas. Props encouraged!

    Lost Ottawa (David McGee) and Procrastination (Tim Pychyl)


    David McGee is a one of the two architects of Lost Ottawa, which is now Ottawa’s largest historical Facebook Community. David grew up in Ottawa, and then completed a BA in History at Carleton and a PH.D in the History of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. For ten years he worked on a series of historical research projects at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., and at the Max Plank Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He returned to Ottawa – his city of choice – in 2008 and now works as the Archivist for the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

    Tim Pychyl: The Director of the Centre for Initiatives in Education and an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University, Tim has earned an international reputation for his research on procrastination ( In addition to his scholarly writing, he writes the popular "Don't Delay" blog with Psychology Today and produces the iProcrastinate podcast available through iTunes. He has won numerous teaching awards including a 3M National Teaching Fellowship from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association's Teaching Excellence Award, and the University Medal for Distinguished Teaching at Carleton University. Most recently he was recognized with a Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs Faculty Mentor award.

    For the fall program, please visit:

Tom Hiddleston

For my Avengers fan friends (and for me as a Shakespeare fan), Tom Hiddleston appeared on Q on CBC Radio yesterday to talk about his role as a vampire in the new movie Only Lovers Left Alive, among other things.

Here are two video clips (one half an hour, one a few minutes) from the interview:

You can also download the entire radio show:
Good news in this story from the Guardian: the final novel by the late Diana Wynne Jones has been completed by her sister Ursula, and will be published next March.

It's called The Islands of Chaldea, and will be "set on a group of four warring islands, where a king's son is held for ransom behind a magical force field which a young girl and her bossy witch aunt set out to fight". "Along the way they encounter a giant invisible cat, a very fiery lizard and a boy and his gas air balloon that relies on singing to keep it afloat," according to HarperCollins Children's Books.

Fascinating stuff as well from Ursula, who felt a strong supernatural tue to her sister while writing the book:

"Diana was very much my eldest sister, and I was very much aware of a fury from her, either that I was doing it, or that I was not doing it fast enough. I had awful nightmares about it. It was curiously traumatic," she said. "I was conscious of her looking over my shoulder in many different ways. To start with, there was this disturbing feeling of fury. Then once I'd got under way there was almost a moment of rather grumpy 'oh all right then'. I'm not a believer in any of this sort of thing but I tell you it was palpable, and quite uncanny.

"Then it went ahead very easily. I did notice I was moving things around and changing structures or settings almost at her prompting, possibly because I knew how to get right inside the book at that stage. I certainly managed to erase my style."

And writing the last sentence, she said, "was an unbearable second parting from her: as if she had died again".

The last book published by DWJ during her lifetimre was very much for younger readers (due to her ill health), so I'm looking forward very to a full-scale DWJ (cross fingers!).
Saturday, June 15 & Sunday, June 16, 2013, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

- Thousands of books available.
- Stock up for your summer reading.
- Location: Building 72, Arboretum, C.E.F.
- Take the east exit off the Prince of Wales roundabout.
- Admission and parking free
- For information call (613)230-3276 or e-mail us at

Guy Gavriel Kay interview on CBC Radio

He was interviewed by Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter this week.

The uncut interview is at


Holbein, Derich

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