Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review -- Outsider in the White House

Outsider in the White HouseOutsider in the White House by Bernie Sanders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

They say the mark of integrity in a man is consistency. Bernie Sanders is the world's most consistent man.

It's 1996 and Bernie Sanders is running for Congress for a fifth time, but this time it's different. The Republicans are out for blood. Bernie has been making waves in Washington standing up for ordinary citizens, and the Republicans feel they must end this precedent of an Independent Congressman with progressive ideals. They throw millions of dollars at his Republican opponent Susan Sweetser. Sweetser hires a professional firm to create negative TV ads and mass mailings telling Vermonters essentially that Bernie is an evil socialist who isn't good for their state.

All seems bleak, doesn't it? But Bernie Sanders isn't a quitter. He continues to campaign like he always has, attending parades and town hall meetings, shaking hands and listening to what the voters have to say. He'll admit that he's had some extremely close races in the past. In fact, he won his first bid to be mayor of Burlington by a whole ten votes! His first run for Congress wasn't easy, either, but these hard-won victories have taught him a lesson: Stay the course, and keep your constituents and their concerns foremost in your mind.

Of course, Bernie regained his seat in 1996. Outspent and out-advertised, he won it handedly over Sweetser and her wealthy backers. How? Simply put, the mud Sweetser slung at Bernie didn't stick. Vermonters didn't believe a word of it and felt insulted anyone would try such a low-handed tactic. After all, they knew who the real Bernie Sanders is, a man who keeps his word and fights for what he believes in without resorting to negativity and mudslinging, always doing his best to help his fellow man. The voters were too smart to fall for the lies of an expensive, slick ad campaign based on the empty promises of the Republicans.

Outsider in the White House is a second edition of Bernie Sanders' 1997 book Outsider in the House, but its contents are more relevant than ever. The first part of this edition shows how much of a scrapper the senator from Vermont is, how tough a campaigner, no matter how great the odds or the dirty tactics his opponents use. As the only Independent in the House--and now the Senate--he's fought hard to be taken seriously by his fellow legislators and has made friends in both of the major parties. Neither Republican nor Democrat, Bernie has been able to use his outsider status to form alliances for the benefit of the American people, one recent noteworthy cross-aisle alliance being his work with Sen. John McCain to improve veterans' access to health care.

The second part of the book Bernie tells us how he sees America's challenges. Remember, this book was written in 1997. You'd assume he's changed his positions somewhat, right? Wrong! Bernie Sanders is still talking about our growing income inequality between the workers and the CEOs, America's loss of jobs due to NAFTA (and now the threat of TPP), the need for universal health care, the crisis in our educational system and the necessity of protecting our environment. He even warned us in '97 about the corporate media and how a handful of billionaires can dictate information we receive as they deem fit, preventing the American electorate from becoming knowledgeable and informed voters.

On page 279 he warns us that we're in danger of becoming an oligarchy, where only the rich are represented and their wants and desires catered to at the expense of working Americans. Eighteen years later, this very nightmare has come true in the 2008 mortgage crisis and in the form of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. Why oh why didn't we listen to Bernie earlier?

A foreword by Bernie and an afterword by John Nichols bring the narrative up to the present day, detailing the excitement and enthusiasm generated by Bernie's run for the White House. Bernie's desire to help all Americans live healthy, peaceful and productive lives explodes from the page and is contagious. You can't help but cheer "Yes! Go Bernie!" after every point he makes.

Integrity, consistency, positivity and honesty attract voters. Lucky for us, Bernie Sanders possesses these characteristics in abundance. To become a part of his "future to believe in", read Outsider in the White House and get out and vote in your state's Democratic primary in the coming weeks. You--and all of America--will be glad you did.

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Visit The Bernie Blog and read about what other Bernie supporters are doing to support Senator Sanders' run for the White House. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Romancing the Doctor (On New Doctor Who)

Old lovers can still be friends.

Romancing the Doctor (On New Doctor Who)

***Spoiler alert!***
One wonders why the current producers of Doctor Who feel it's necessary to do a "Christmas special" (since the Doctor isn't human nor professes to be a follower of Jesus) but every once in a while it's nice to see an episode slightly out of the ordinary. This season needed a break from the soap opera angst of the Clara story arc, so anything to take our minds off of it is a good thing.

Even my husband agreed with me on this point concerning The Husbands of River Song. Less teenage angst and lots more humor--and Alex Kingston to boot. It's nice to see an actress who's equal in charisma to Peter Capaldi playing opposite him. River Song is a fun and mischievous character who is always up to something, so the lighthearted jaunt to sell off a pilfered diamond to a race of genocidal alien one-percenters aboard a space cruise liner is just the mindless entertainment we needed.

It's not a perfect episode of course. The threat of killing River's "husband" the cyborg king with a human head and then crashing a ship full of passengers (no matter how heinous their crimes) is a downer. Fortunately, the excellent performances of and the magical chemistry between Capaldi and Kingston pretty much drown out that tinge of nastiness that always seems to be a part of a Steven Moffat script. The unneeded nastiness really could have been edited out, but this season pretty much proves script editing is not of importance to the show runners.

See? The Twelfth Doctor can smile. And it fits his face just fine.

Ah, but to stare into the handsome face of Peter Capaldi and admire the beautiful radiance of Alex Kingston on screen for an hour! Now, that's a holiday gift worth the wait.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below, and check out my reviews of earlier episodes of this season of Doctor Who:
Hell Bent 
Heaven Sent
Face the Raven  
Sleep No More
The Zygon Inversion (or Inversion of the Zygons)
The Zygon Invasion

Classic Who on Retro TV

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review--Two for the Lions

Two for the Lions (Marcus Didius Falco, #10)Two for the Lions by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been a while since I last read a Falco mystery, and Two for the Lions is a good one to pick up the general storyline and characters again. Marcus Didius Falco finds himself involved in a murder--albeit it's a dead lion found in a gladiator's menagerie--while doing another "dirty job" for the emperor, that of census auditor looking for lost tax revenue. He's partnered with his former nemesis, too, Anacrites the former chief spy. To make matters worse, Vespasian won't even pay him what he's owed for doing the work as promised from auditing Calliopus and Saturninus, the two most vengeful gladiator managers imaginable.

When the gladiator Rumex is found murdered right under their noses, and the clues lead no where, Marcus has had enough. He and Helena take their baby daughter and go looking for Helena's runaway brother Justinus and his girlfriend Claudia. They two young lovers have been looking for a rare herb that could make them all rich and is only found in Cyrenaica. Once in north Africa, Marcus meets up with the two warring gladiator managers and a third, Hanno, along with the grieved Scilla, a woman who seems to know how to play the game better than any of them.

An enjoyable read from beginning to end, my only complaint is that it just "ends" after a climactic gladiatorial contest, and I don't know what's become of Helena and the others. Oh, well, I guess I'll just have to read the next book in the series and find out!

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Monday, December 07, 2015

Retconning the Doctor (on New Doctor Who)

 Retconning the Doctor

***Spoiler Alert!***

"Am I supposed to understand anything you're saying?" -- Clara in the Matrix on Gallifrey

Take all the cool and interesting things that a multitude of writers have created for Doctor Who since its inception--the Time Lords, Gallifrey, the TARDIS, time travel, the Matrix, the cloister bells, those odd cardinal-like robes and funky head/shoulder gear the bigwigs wear--toss into a big pot, forget all about series canon, and stir. Upturn pot and pour out onto the page. Ta-da! You have the season finale, Hell Bent.

Of course, since this is Moffat's Who script you have to add in his creations--Clara and Ashildr (Me)--and plenty of creepy bits of his Blinking Angels and a Dalek stuck in a haunted-house-like data collection device known as the Matrix. (Google the Tom Baker episode The Deadly Assassin to see how different the original Matrix on Gallifrey is from this new incarnation. Yeah, it's that different!) There are some funny bits tossed in as well, such as Time Lords now regenerate without much of a hangover, changing gender/age/race simultaneously. Tack on a relatively satisfactory ending after a lot of head scratching and feet dragging.  Ta-da!

This time it's the Doctor who gets the mind wipe and not the companion (see Donna Noble) so he can move on. The undead Clara gets to have some "girlfriend time" with Ashildr in their own fifties diner-shaped TARDIS with a pure-white classic interior. How either of these young ladies know how to pilot a TARDIS isn't explained. Neither is the previous "rule" given that only a Time Lord could manage a TARDIS because of their psychic link. 

Is it good to violate the TV series canon? Nah, who cares! Nobody will notice.

Even for new Whovians who haven't a clue that Leela lives somewhere on Gallifrey, this "word salad" of a script seems to be missing something vital: emotional connection. Even with a script jumping all over the place like a hyperactive kid on a Christmas candy rush, you'd think it would be able to settle down long enough for the characters to connect with their audience. But therein lies its weakness: the emotions are telegraphed for you. 

You don't have to think or feel for yourself when you're told pretty much what is going to happen up front, similar to what happened in an earlier episode this season. (See my review for Before the Flood.) You know that Clara is going to "live" again, and the Doctor is going to forget all about her since we start out in a scene at the diner where this is made painfully obvious. I suspect the current show runner feels he has to spell everything out because he believes Doctor Who's viewers have IQs to match their shoe sizes, and we all have tiny feet.

I think my husband, a long time Whovian, said it best: "The show has gone from good scripts and wobbly sets to good sets and wobbly scripts."

All the lovely photography, location shoots, costuming, special effects, musical score, etc., do not a strong story make. (Just ask George Lucas.) Not even a classic character like the Doctor can withstand all the retconning that's happened to him in the Moffat era and come out for the better. He's been diminished somehow, made into a permanent fool, a pale shadow of the strong action character he used to be. 

Peter Capaldi reminds me of Pierce Brosnan when he finally got the part of James Bond after many years. Pierce made a great Bond, but unfortunately he got stuck with the weak scripts of that period and left early. If only the great writer Robert Holmes was around to give Peter's Doctor the shot in the arm he so badly needs after this season. A great actor like Peter Capaldi deserves the best!

We have the Christmas special with River Song to look forward to in a couple of weeks, and it appears to be a comical tale. That's good. After all the forced drama and tears of the Clara years, it'll be nice to see the Doctor relax and enjoy himself a bit with a mad romp. Fingers crossed!

What do you think? Please leave your comments below, and check out my reviews of earlier episodes of this season of Doctor Who:

Heaven Sent
Face the Raven  
Sleep No More
The Zygon Inversion (or Inversion of the Zygons)
The Zygon Invasion

Classic Who on Retro TV

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