Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Top Gear: Complete Season 13
The BBC series Top Gear has just released its 13th season of automotive fun on DVD.  Hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May enter a terrifying French ice race in low cost rear-wheel-drive coupés and James travels to America to spend a day with stunt-driving legend Ken Block. The boys are no less ambitious this season as Richard and James challenge the logistical might of Britain’s mail service by racing the new Porsche Panamera versus a stamped envelope across the British Isles and Richard stages the world’s first-ever race between the 1000 horsepower Bugatti Veyron, McLaren F1 and Lamborghini Murcielago SV in Abu Dhabi.

Elsewhere, Jeremy and James attempt to understand what makes a great Volkswagen advertisement – and then try to film one of their own. Plus, Jeremy gets chased by the British Army in some of its latest and most deadly toys and in a long-awaited television-first, the mysterious Stig takes off his helmet to reveal just who he really is.

The ongoing hit “Star in the Reasonably Priced Car” segment continues with Jay Leno, Olympic Gold Medal Sprinter Usain Bolt, Sienna Miller, AC/DC Singer Brian Johnson and more getting behind the wheel on the test track.

To whet your appetite, here is a clip of the three hosts engaging in one of their popular races:  steam train vs. car vs. motorcycle.  Which will reach the destination first? 


• Stig POV
• Spitfire Magic
• Ken Block: Slow Motion
• Extended Brian Johnson Interview
• Extended Jenson Button Interview
• Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4-SV 200 mph Run in   Abu Dhabi
• Train Race Sequence with JC

Top Gear Season 13 Blu-ray/DVD is available for purchase starting on Sept. 28. 

**Win!  Thanks to Bridget at Warner Bros. I have one TWO copies of Top Gear Season 13 to giveaway!  To enter, just leave a comment stating what car you would like to test drive if given a chance.  Make sure your email address is either in your Blogger profile (if you have one) or in your message so that I can contact you if you win!  The contest closes on Oct. 8, 2010.  Open to the US and Canada.  Good luck!**

The hosts are so engaging and the features are so over the top and unexpected that even non "gear heads" will get a kick out of watching!  While you're waiting to find out if you're the winner, be sure to check out new episodes of Top Gear on BBCAmerica.

Get the inside scoop on WB movie & DVD releases!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the DVD to giveaway.

Friday, September 24, 2010

As a huge fan of Stephen Fry, I was excited to discover the QI TV series.  I was also thrilled to discover that the creators of the program have also published a number of books related to the show.  I was excited to read QI: Book of General Ignorance: The Noticeably Stouter Edition. The book begins with a humorous forward by Mr. Fry himself, a completely useless attempt at humor by Alan Davies (in the "look at me, aren't I clever?" vein he employs in the show) and a forward by the author John Lloyd.
The book format consists of a question, followed by an in-depth explanation of the answer.  Many of the questions could be considered "trick" questions, as one of the purposes of the authors is to question widely accepted, but incorrect information.  An example:

How many wives did Henry VIII have?  Most Americans would probably have to go look that one up, but the generally accepted answer is six (two beheaded, two divorced, one died and one survived).  The answer to the question is: it varies according to source.  Since Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled, it never really happened, so that one doesn't count.  The Pope refused to recognize Henry's second marriage, because the Pope stated that Henry was still married to his first wife at the time.  And so on. 

There are questions about everything from animals (What's the most dangerous animal that ever lived?), to science (What's in an atom?) and history (Who was Britain's first Prime Minister?) and many other topics.  Whether you like trivia or just need some interesting facts to astound your friends (the country of Bhutan banned tobacco sales in 2004), this is the book for you!

Final Verdict for QI: Book of General Ignorance: Four Gerkins, for being an enlightening and entertaining look at some facts you only think you know

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Turning up by the Duck Pond during rush hour yesterday, I (along with dozens of other motorists) was annoyed to find my journey delayed by a herd of geese who decided to cross the street vvveeeerrrry slowly. They seemed to enjoy tormenting people. I'd never seen anything like it. Lead goose would slowly lift one leg, hesitate for a while, then slowly put it back down. The others were worse. There were about 6-8 other geese on the right-hand side of the street who kept darting into the road, then back to the side, then hesitantly standing by the side of the street looking as if they were going to step out in front of cars any second. Finally one of the frustrated motorists got out and shooed across the geese who were, at that moment, in the street. I was expecting them to have just used this as a ploy to draw us out of our cars for a good savaging, but they docilely scurried on across. I hope all drivers are as patient as these were!
We’ve all seen how the economy has been negatively impacted recently by the poor (some would say greedy) actions of a seemingly small group of people.These business people who were personally making millions every year had no hesitation in risking the livelihoods, pensions and futures of their employees or even strangers. While these people rose to prominence using their business skills and personal drives, at the end of the day many high-flying CEOs have taken hard falls in recent months. In the book Derailed, Tim Irwin profiles some of these fallen business leaders in an attempt to determine what went wrong, and what skills they were lacking that ultimately led to their downfalls. Many of the people profiled became blinded by their own power and influence and lost sight of the ultimate results of their actions. Irwin emphasizes the need for a strong background in morals, strength of character and integrity for people who obtain positions of leadership. While skills and profits are extremely useful, they cannot make up for the character flaws that have been exposed in fallen leaders recently. Irwin gives advice on how to strengthen these important traits in our own careers. Good advice!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Over the weekend I watched the dramatization of the events surrounding the 1960s terrorist group the Red Army Faction (also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group) in the film The Baader Meinhof Complex. I had some vague impression that they had perhaps set off some bombs in Germany in the 1960s, but I had no idea of the extent of their activities. While their many atrocities were shown during the film, their motivations, goals and backgrounds were all left out. Since the film is German, I assume the director thought that the audience would be familiar with the events in the film. For someone who didn't grow up in that era or that country, it was all somewhat confusing.

The story starts with some student protests at universities in Germany in the late 1960s. Like most students at the time, they were upset with the events taking place in Viet Nam. Ulrike Meinhof was a journalist, somewhat older than the other members of the group. She was also married and had two children. She starts off as a somewhat fringe follower of the group, but makes a snap decision to go with the fleeing members after they break a prisoner out of jail. After that, she is part of the group.

It was difficult to follow who all the members of the group were, apart from the 3 main characters: Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin. There were always plenty of other people milling about, but none of them really stood out. What was never explained was why the group came to be known as the Baader Meinhof Group. Andreas Baader was extremely hostile and contemptuous toward everyone, but especially toward Ulrike Meinhof. It seems strange that their names are linked forevermore in that way. It's also difficult to understand how Meinhof became such a fanatical follower of the group that she was willing to have her children sent to a Palestinian orphanage and to never see them again.

The members of the group were forever spouting off about wanting to help oppressed people and ending imperialism. How they planned to do that through robbing banks and bombing department stores was never explained. They seemed to have no means of support (the bank robbing took place pretty far into the course of events), yet they were forever flying off to be trained in terrorism methods in places like Jordan. The "terrorists" came across as terribly rude, shallow and unaware. The German girls delighted in sunbathing in the nude in full view of their Arab hosts in Jordan. Baader thinks it's hilarious to pick pockets of innocent pedestrians, but he goes ballistic when someone steals his car. And so on.

The group eventually becomes involved in more and more extreme activities. In addition to their bombing and bank raiding activities, they were also implicated in the murders of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, a plane hijacking, murders, assassinations, and so on. What was really strange was that much of the German public at the time apparently supported the group and their anarchistic activities. When the main members of the group are captured and put on trial, their every utterance is met with cheers from the courtroom spectators. And I didn't get the impression that all the spectators were their fellow Red Army Faction members, either. There has been some speculation that the public support for the group stemmed from leftover feelings of guilt and mistrust for authority in the aftermath of World War II. Whatever the cause, it was very strange.

The trial sequences were also unusual. There never seemed to be any lawyers present or speaking for either the prosecution or the defendants. The courtroom scenes basically showed one of the four defendants railing about how their rights were being ignored and how the trial was a farce. The defendants also engaged in the very adult pursuit of calling the judges rude names. It might have been easier to feel sorry for the poor prisoners if it didn't seem as if they were receiving extremely favorable treatment in jail. They all had very nice and large cells, complete with color TVs, bookcases, typewriters and other amenities. They were all allowed to meet, apparently for most of the day together, and seemed to have adjacent cells (the men and the women all together on the same floor).

I could just never get what it was all about. Not why the group embarked on its murderous, destructive mission, nor what their defence was during the trials, nor what rights of their were supposedly being violated. None of it made any sense. The film seemed to end rather abruptly with the deaths (suicides?) of the four main characters. While they were in jail, the outside members of the group were committing more atrocities. Whatever happened to them? Nothing is mentioned. It's as if the group stopped with the leaders' deaths, but this was clearly not the case.

I enjoyed the film for showing the events surrounding the group, even if I don't really understand what was going on. Still, it's an interesting snapshot of a point in history that I'm too young to remember.

Final Verdict for The Baader Meinhof Complex: Two Gherkins, for being a vivid, if somewhat confusing, depiction of a turbulent time in German history

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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