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Speaking ill of the dead

Elisabeth Sladen: the autobiography

Elisabeth Sladen the autobiography cover plus link to amazon.ca

Like many North American of a certain age, my introduction to Doctor Who was haphazard at best. The first episode I remember seeing was Robots of Death, in which Louise Jameson's Leela was the companion, not Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith.

Nevertheless, TV Ontario sooner or later broadcast at least a few of the Sarah Jane serials, and the buttoned-down young journalist joined the half-naked savage as my favourites among the Doctor's companions.

So I was very much part of the target audience when Sarah Jane returned to Doctor Who in the (revived) series' second season episode, "School Reunion". That production managed to please both old fans and new, so much so that Sladen's return spawned a spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures, a children's program that often managed to be quite a bit better than its big brother.

The Sarah Jane Adventures featured Sladen as its alien-fighting principal, a woman in her seventh decade who was nevertheless forever running down corridors, hopping fences and facing down monsters, even as she played reluctant mentor and den mother to her teenage co-stars. Sarah Jane Smith was so credible as a paragon of courage and intelligence that one longed to believe those traits reflected the performer as much as they did her writers.

Fan of both Sarah Jane Smith's first and third incarnations (even Sladen quite rightly acknowledges the failure of her second, in the early 1980s), I am clearly also part of the target audience for Sladen's memoir. And so it was I impatiently waited for a Canadian release of Sladen's autobiography, completed just a few months before her surprising and terribly untimely death from cancer in 2011.

Sadly, the contents between the frankly dated and cheap-looking covers pretty accurately reflect the contents of the book itself.

Though the autobiography does not stoop to gossip or cheap score-settling, neither does it offer much insight into acting; into what it was like being a feminist icon of sorts; or into Sladen's life. Those hoping for more than some amusing anecdotes about working with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker will find in this book some tasty snacks, but nothing remotely like a full meal.

My full review is at my site, ed-rex.com.

ed_rex: (1980)

Linguistic relativism or, thoughts on just letting go

College and Bathurst
Does anybody have a photo of the facade of the old KOS (just around the corner from this streetcar)? I'd be most gratified to use it here.

September 14, 2012, OTTAWA — As one of maternally Finnish origin, I for many years insisted that the word, sauna, is properly (Correctly! I would insist) pronounced SOW-A-NA, not "SAWN-A" as is the flat and nasal fashion among Anglo-Canadians.

I knew it was a losing battle, yet I kept up the fight; in life, as it would be on the internet, I could not easily let anyone just get away with Being Wrong.

I must have been in my late 20s or early 30s when, having a drink at the restaurant, KOS, in Toronto, I had a similar argument with my friend John.

John, who is of paternally Greek background, corrected me when I uttered the restaurant's name as COSS. The word, he insisted, is pronounced KHOCSH, not COSS. "It's a Greek word," he said, "and I know."

"Oh come on," said I, "we're in Toronto and it's become an English word now. So let it go."

We argued about it for a while, until the parallel with John's obsessive need for me to pronounce Kos "correctly" and my own to correct others in their pronunciation of sauna finally dawned upon me, a slow-motion intellectual sunrise.

And so, upon reflection, did I give up my fight. Languages evolve, and there is little to be gained in raging against the tides of pronunciation, or even (usually) of definition.

Let's let XKDC plays us out ..., since Randall Munroe's latest cartoon inspired this in the first place.

Cautionary Ghost
Cartoon is reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence 2.5. The original lives at http://xkcd.com/1108/.

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The First Naked Bike Ride

There isn't a cause out there (or so it seems) that doesn't have a dedicated, international 'Day' assigned to it. Typically, it is brought to my attention too late for me to say much about it, even if I do have something to say, and this years was no different.

That's right, 2011's 2011's Canadian version of the annual World Naked Bike Ride has come and gone, without either my notice or my participation.

If Wikipedia, as of July 2nd, 2011, is to be believed, the first Naked Bike Ride was held in Spain in 2001, in Spain. (I did not participate in that one, either.)

However, I have cycled naked, though I did so neither as a simple exhibitionist nor as one disguised as a protester making some arcane point.

As it happens, the last time I arranged my valuables just so on a bike's saddle, I did so fully prepared to do battle over an entirely different (though, arguably, just as questionable) point.

Click here to read about my childhood adventures as Naked Superhero — remarkably, they are Safe For Work!

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No one would have believed, in the last years of the 1970s, that musicians' affairs were being listened to from the timeless realm of cyberspace. No one could have dreamed that they were being scrutinized as an archaeologist with brush and chisel studies the shards of and middens of forgotten civilizations. And yet, across the gulf of decades, minds not measurably more arrogant than their own regarded those years with the condescension of history and slowly, and surely, passed their judgements upon them. — (With apologies to the shade of H.G. Wells)

Sometimes we outgrow the art we loved in our childhood or youth, but sometimes we lay aside a book or an album without fully intending to, until it is simply forgotten, like an old cup left outside and covered with the detritus of years.

But every once in a while, and more as if remembering a box long stored in the attic than unearthing something buried in the back yard, we come upon something we'd very nearly forgotten and find that it is unbroken, just waiting for re-connection.

And so it was that I recently re-connected with both Jeff Wayne and H.G. Wells — not to mention with the genre of 'progressive rock'. One of the fundamental roots of modern science fiction and one of the bizarre mutant descendants of rhythm 'n blues — how could I resist?

And how can you? But be warned: there is a sample on auto-play in the main story. If don't want to listen to it, look below the image at the upper left for the "off" button. Click — ah say — click for more!
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"Thanks" to [livejournal.com profile] mijopo I found myself compelled look up a poem I wrote for my high school writing class. It's a bad poem, with lurid, somewhat nonsensical imagery, a central metaphor that gets displaced by another one, a strange use of the letter y in place of i and, generally, no evidence for an ear for poetry whatsoever.

But it amuses me almost as much as it embarrasses me. If you care for a peak into one of my not-so-good early writerly moments, click away.
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My first "real" job was with CBC Radio in Sudbury.

The year was 1987 and I was renting my body out to the Biovail laboratories on Montreal's West-Island, taking what may have been a generic version of drug or what may have been a placebo, while living in a dormitory, having my diet strictly controlled and monitored, and having my arm pierced for blood-letting something like 8 or 12 times a day.

So when, during a telephone conversation, my mother told me that CBC Sudbury's morning drive-show, "Morning North," was looking for and not finding a temporary Production Assistant and would I be interested in the job, of course I said "yes". (This was nepotism, but not Nepotism. My mum was then hosting and producing the northern Ontario version of "Radio Noon". But had I flamed out, it wouldn't have done her reputation any good.)

Long story short, despite having essentially no experience in journalism (besides a couple of high-school projects) or current affairs, between my mother's assurances that I was capable and what must have been a decent performance on my part during a long-distance interview, I got the job and soon found myself "chasing" stories, doing pre-interviews and script-writing, among other tasks.

I mention all this to indicate that I have some practical background in the world of journalism and am not just another arm-chair critic.

Lies of Our Times: The Unexamined News Story Is Not Worth Reading

Back in the early 1990s, there was a magazine I read on a more or less regular basis called Lies of Our Times. I think it came quarterly. I don't know if it's still around. (Oh hell, all right - half a tick: Apparently it's not. Wikipedia says it was published between 1990 and 1994 and adds, "It served not only as a general media critic, but as a watchdog of The New York Times, which the magazine referred to as 'the most cited news medium in the U.S., our paper of record.'

Lies of Our Times analyzed and exposed both bias and factual mis-representation. At the time it seemed to me both reliable and open about its own biases, but as I did not then read the Times, I can't in good faith claim to have made a dispassionate study of it.

In any case, the August 19, 2007, issue of the Times contained a front page story, "Falluja's Calm Seen as Fragile If U.S. Leaves", that contains one of the most blatant examples of journalistic bias disguised as "objectivity" I have noticed in quite some time. The story, by one Richard A. Oppel, Jr., concerns the efforts by the U.S. Marine Corps to secure the security "gains" in the city prior to handing it over to the nascent Iraqi security forces (whichever one that turns out to be - but see below) before the U.S. forces pull out, perhaps as soon as early next year.

According to the story, Falluja had once "controlled this city" and, in the opening paragraph, the city's police chief is quoted as referring to the Marines as his "only supports".

The Marines invaded the city nearly 3 years ago and have since been engaged in "trying to build up a city, and police force."

Despite Fallujan complaints about the central government, "...in recent months violence has fallen sharply, a byproduct of the vehicle ban, the wider revolt by Sunni Arab tribes against militants and a new strategy by the Marines to divide Falluja into 10 tightly controlled precincts, each walled off by concrete barriers and guarded by a new armed Sunni force. (The emphasis is mine.)

According to Oppel's story, "the gains in Falluja...are often cited as a success stroty, a possible model for the rest of Iraq."

The article goes on to enumerate the problems involved in maintaining the "fragile" calm. Among them are the following.
  • Fuel, ammunition and vehicle maintenance still supplied by U.S. military;

    • Police "forced" to buy black-market gasoline

  • Police use "heavy-handed tactics, they "need to learn not to arrest 'a hundred people' for a single crime'";

  • There is a great deal of mis-trust between Fallujan authorities and the central government;
  • and,
  • Marines don't trust Fallujan police, so creating another, irregular militia - sorry, "auxilliary force to help the police", who are paid $50 per month by the Marines and who are armed, "with weapons they bring from home, typically AK-47s.".

The story quotes mostly American sources, who appear cautiously pessimistic about the long-term results of their operation - hopeful, but one wouldn't expect them to place bets that things will work out after they leave.

But what does working out mean? Consider the nature of the "success" in Falluja. Buried mid-way through the story is the following paragraph.
In just 24 hours, marines cut enough electrical cable and plywood to turn a shell of a building into a functioning outpost, one of the 10 they are building, one for each precinct, and to wall off the precinct behind concrete barriers, leaving just a few ways in or out. [My emphasis.]

In other words, "Falluja's calm" is due at least in part to turning the city into a series of prison cells - a "success", if it works.

But think for a moment about the nature of this success. A city divided into not 2 (a la the Berlin Wall) but 10 security zones, each separated by "concrete barries [with] just a few ways in or out".

In Oppel's 1800 word story, analyzing the security situation in Falluja, the nature of the (doubtful) "victory" is remains entirely unexamined.

I point this out in large part because The New York Times is a "liberal" American newspaper, one which has long been a thorn in the side of the Bush administration and which has been against the war - if not from the first, then for quite a while now.

And yet this front page story completely misses the real story: That the American occupation has gone so wrong that "success" is defined as turning a city into a prison; that "success" is creating a militia because the police are not to be trusted. (Shades of destroying the city to save it!)

"Objectivity" in journalism has been a goal in North American journalism since not long after the corporate elite gained control of just about every major news outlet. In practice, this has more often than not worked out contrasting "both sides" of a given issue; in the U.S., especially, this means quoting both a Democrat and a Republican - any third point-of-view being regarded a "fringe", a priori.

The result of such false objectivity is not necessarily a "lie", but something that might be even worse: a blind truth or, as the old saw has it, to ignore the forest for the trees.
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Waiting Is the Hardest Thing

It's a strange thing, to hang around a hospital, hooked up to an IV, when you don't actually feel bad. But there I was, on the sixth floor of the Toronto General Hospital, awaiting surgery.

I went for what I thought was a mere consultation at 1:15 on Friday. The doctor examined me and my CT scans and told me to head downstairs to be admitted. "Your orbital bone is shattered," he said. "We're going to replace it with a titanium mesh. We'll make an incision in your eyelid and work in from there." He explained that the orbital bone is almost eggshell thin and can't be repaired. (The bone is just below the eye, and holds that orb in place. Without it, one's eyeball will slowly sink down and in, presumably really screwing up one's vision.) "We'll try to get you into the operating room tonight, or tomorrow morning," he told me as I packed up my bag.

The woman at the Admissions desk was a big, friendly Jamaican immigrant, who rolled her eyes when I told her no one upstairs had given me my admission papers (she had to call up to get them faxed down to her) and who laughed out loud when she asked if I wanted to declare a religion and I replied, "Absolutely not!"

Which didn't come on Friday, nor on Saturday.

Despite my lack of glasses, I did a lot of reading, a little writing (the results of which I hope to post shortly - meaning later today), and a lot of striding down the halls with my rolling pole holding the bag of saline solution.

The Room-mate - Work on the Sense of Humour, Buddy!

I wasn't sure whether my insurance covered the cost of a semi-private room, so I opted for a bed in a ward, figuring I was only going to be in for a night in any event. As it turned out, though, I ended up in a semi-private space anyway, sharing it with a patient whose face looked a lot like Frankenstein's monster - a huge scar from ear to chin, and several more on his face.

Saturday night, we exchanged stories. "Face cancer," he said, and told me had been in the hospital for 6 weeks now.

It was about 3 in the morning and he had awoken me on his way to the bathroom we shared, stopping at the foot of my bed on his way back to his.

I told him my story, of how I had spent 30 seconds being pounded by a drunk, and then I must have blinked, because the next thing I knew, he was looming over me, fist cocked and aimed at my face.

My feet were trapped by my blankets, my left arm tied to the IV, and I close to freaked out.

Struggling to free my legs for a defensive kick at his chest, I shouted, "Fuck off!" and, happily, he did. "Sorry," he said, "sorry. I was just kidding."

Some joke. I told him I didn't think it was very funny and he went back to his bed while I calmed myself down.

Surgery At Last

After Saturday's anti-climactic waiting (I kept getting bumped by emergencies), Suday saw me bording a gurney and being wheeled down to the operating room.

I have to say that, throughout this ordeal, I have been pretty impressed with both the professionalism and the personalities of almost everyone who dealt with me. As a fer'instance, the anesthesiologists spent a good ten minutes questioning me about my medical history before admitting me to the OR itself.

Once there, I finally believed it was actually happening and found that I was, in fact, a little nervous. But - by god! - general anesthetics work fast! They hooked me up, placed the oxygen mask over my face and ... the next thing I knew, I was in another room entirely, groggy but coming back to consciousness fast.

Within an hour I was once more wandering around, waiting again. At first I felt almost ecstatic. I had a lot of energy, but not much to do with it, but wait for Laura to arrive and, by the time she did, I had fallen into a post-operative low that her arrival did little to alleviate.

I wanted to go home, but they wanted me to spend one more night for observation before letting me out.

Monday morning, after a quick examination by the surgeon, they did. And here I am. My face is still kind of numb, I'm still not allowed to blow my nose and I won't be able to get new glasses for a week or two, but the ordeal is over (or so I hope). And I think I'll be pretty again.

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The girl was no more than 8 or 9 years old. She wore bright, tight, red shorts and a an equally-tight, white t-shirt that both revealed and obscured the nipples budding from her narrow chest.

She looked me in the eye as I neared her, and held my gaze like some prepubescent Houdini.

Maybe 10 feet away, she broke into song and started to sashay, grinding her little-girl hips and waving her arms about her like a stripper.

And she sang,

Touch me, touch me,
I wanna feel your body!

Touch me, touch me,
Your heartbeat next to mine ...

It was summer in 1988, if memory serves. I was in my early 20s, and the song the little girl sang had been a recent hit on MuchMusic. The "artist" behind it was one Samantha Fox.

Cunt Rock
Cunt Rock

As I recall, Fox was one of the first female pop-stars to take full advantage of the new, video-based, era in popular culture. A pin-up girl who could more or less sing, she was a shooting star from Britain who made her name much less for her music than for her willingness to display her undeniably enormous breasts and to shake her ass to the delight of pubescent boys of all ages, clearing the trail first laid down by Madonna a couple of years before.

Did I mention the girl was no more than 8 or 9 or (maybe - just maybe) 10 years old?

I gave her a wide berth as we passed each other by. She watched me with the predatory look of a cougar on her eighth drink at a frat party. I knew it was silly to think so, but I felt this kid might - right there on the sunlit street - stop and grab me, hurl me onto the sidewalk and fuck me, whether I was willing or no.

And I wondered, as we passed without actual incident, What kind of kid does that kind of dance for a strange man on the street?

And that, despite the original's much-flaunted feminine pulcritude, is my strongest memory of Samantha Fox: a little television-watching girl, practicing lap-dance moves on 20-something men she passed by on the street.

* * *

I know, I've been neglecting livejournal, and those who inhabit my small corner of it. Truth is, I haven't even been much more than spot-reading my friends' list over the past few weeks.

What I have been doing includes work (a busy bitch, of late), writing yet another letter to the editor the Globe and Mail didn't see fit to print, continuing the (I hope) never-ending process of learning to live with the woman I love, not writing much, and wasting far too much time ogling profiles of pretty girls on myspace, which has nevertheless been an education, in spite of my voyeuristic inclinations.

It was on myspace that I was reminded of the existence of Samantha Fox. It seems that she is in Canada now, and trying for a come-back. Such is the way the world has changed, said come-back includes spamming people who have accounts on myspace. Even people whose accounts - such as mine - consist of little more than a photo and a username. "She" has twice sent me friend requests.

Myspace is a weird corner of the internet, a place where spam is okay and where young women - sometimes very young women - seem thrilled by the opportunity to show off their bodies in a state as close to complete déshabille as the sites owners will allow (actual nipples or pussy - and, straight men can only presume, cock - are apparently verbotten there, but sometimes slip through).

All of which pornography struck a chord, as Laura has such tendencies herself, as do a number of my lj friends.

I was reminded of a recent post here by touchmyskin, the woman who introduced me to lj and who - ironically - even more recently unfriended me, questioning feminist responses to pornography, a subject to which I have been giving some thought lately.

I have - at last - become more or less comfortable with the fact of my Desire. With the fact that I am attracted to women and, in particular, to the way women look. As my long-time readers may recall, I enjoy the sight of a well-turned ankle, a short skirt rippling in the summer air, pert breasts proudly carried like banners through the streets.

I say "comfortable" because I know that I am able to distinguish my appreciation of a woman's looks from her self. There are as many beautiful morons walking on their hind legs as their are buffed jocks striding about on theirs.

And yet ...

And yet, I am not comfortable with the emphasis our society places on the physical, on the visual. A firm ass or chiselled jaw no more means its owners are intelligent and moral than they are stupid or venal. Though I (do I flatter myself) maintain that I do not judge a person on her appearance, there is no denying I am in thrall enough to physical beauty that I am more likely to talk to a pretty woman than to a plain one.

It is not at all hard, from that acknowledgement, to imagine a slightly different "me" who would take the surface for the whole, dismissing the ugly as evil.

Celebrate the body, yes. Deify it, no.

* * *

Which makes my recent (and ongoing, thank you darlin') visits to one (or some) of Toronto's BDSM communities more than a little interesting. Here is a group of people, come together almost entirely due to their sexualities - sadists and masochists who not only beat and fuck each other, but who celebrate birthdays, play volleyball and generally act like the rest of us, only very often in weird clothes and to music I usually find much too loud.

Are they a part, or apart, of the mainstream sexualization of our culture? I don't know, but I note well that - their love of costumes notwithstanding - they come in all shapes and sizes, the fat apparently as comfortable in their skin as their slender counterparts.

These people, from what I can see, are living their own lives, not slavenly following the dictates of Fashion Television or Maxim.

* * *

I know, there isn't much focus to this. That's why it's a journal, I guess. Next time (maybe), I'll talk about the new novel, just out, by Kim Stanley Robinson. It's a good one. For now, I'm off to a birthday party, for someone I don't even know.

July 2017

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