Monday, August 31, 2009

Illusion, Eisenhower, and Texting in True Blood

The best moment in last night's True Blood 2.11 was Bill threatening Eric about Sookie. This red hot triangle is the heart and soul of the season.

Bill's meeting the Queen was also pretty good. I especially liked her entourage standing by the pool, and she had a good line about Eisenhower. And also a more or less complete explanation of what Maryann is, and some hints for Bill about how to combat the Dionysian psycho.

Back in Bon Temps, it was nice to hear Sookie complain about the five hours it took her phone to receive Bill's text message - nice, because it's gratifying to know that not only we humans in the real world have these problems, so do vampires and mind readers in this alternate world down South.

But Maryann is no joking matter, as the tension ratchets up for the season finale in two weeks. She's recaptured Tara, and now Lafayette has bedazzled eyes, too. This leaves just Sam and Sookie, Jason and Andy, to combat her. But Bill's on his way back, and Eric will no doubt be in this battle. How will they prevail over the immortal maenad?

The Queen said something about illusion....

See also Love and True Blood in the Air and Likes Coming Together in True Blood and True Blood Boiling and Godric, Eric, and Sookie on the Roof and Maryann vs. the Good in True Blood








5-min podcast review of True Blood






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mad Men 3.3: Gibbon, Blackface, and Eliot

An even edgier than usual episode 3.3 of Mad Men tonight, delving into -

Racism -

1. Don and Betty's daughter Sally (wonderfully played by Kiernan Shipka) finishes reading from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to Grandpa. She leaves, comes back in the room, and swipes a $5 bill from his table (he's "indisposed"). Grandpa Gene realizes the money is missing, and pretty much blames the African-American maid.

2. Later, at Roger & Jane's country club party, Roger sings in black face. By the way, the voice was good - was it John Slattery's?

Weed -

Hey, I'll be reviewing Weeds tomorrow, but here it is on Mad Men, and back in May 1963, as Peggy, Paul, and two other dudes partake. My typical question: Isn't this a bit early for 1963? I know, pot goes back to the 1930s and earlier, but at a Madison Avenue ad agency? And while we're on the anachronism trail, would people have been dancing the Charleston - as Pete and Trudy were at Roger's party - in 1963? Well, some really fine dancing by Vincent Kartheiser and Alison Brie, whatever the historical timing of the dance.

Sexism -

This is of course a staple of Mad Men, but did you catch those doctors at Joan and Dr. Greg's party talking about "code pink," which goes up in the hospitable whenever an "attractive, unconscious woman" is on the premises?

Thus Mad Men continues to make us uneasy by probing some of the racism and sexism of our not so distant past. But tonight's show also had some happier music as Joan sings "C'est Magnifique" and plays her accordion (and it sounded to me like Christina Hendricks' voice). And Paul gets to quote a little T. S. Eliot as he's stretched out stoned on the floor.

And it was nice to see Don and Betty kissing at the end...

See also: Mad Men Back for 3 and 3.2: Carvel, Penn Station, and Diet Soda

And from Season Two: Mad Men Returns with a Xerox and a Call Girl ... 2.2: The Advertising Devil and the Deep Blue Sea ... 2.3 Double-Barreled Power ... 2.4: Betty and Don's Son ... 2.5: Best Montage Since Hitchcock ... 2.6: Jackie, Marilyn, and Liberty Valance ... 2.7: Double Dons ... 2.8: Did Don Get What He Deserved? ... 2.9: Don and Roger ... 2.10: Between Ray Bradbury and Telstar ... 2.11: Welcome to the Hotel California ... 2.12 The Day the Earth Stood Still on Mad Men ... 2.13 Saving the Best for Last on Mad Men

And from Season One: Mad Men Debuts on AMC: Cigarette Companies and Nixon ... Mad Men 2: Smoke and Television ... Mad Men 3: Hot 1960 Kiss ... Mad Men 4 and 5: Double Mad Men ... Mad Men 6: The Medium is the Message! ... Mad Men 7: Revenge of the Mollusk ... Mad Men 8: Weed, Twist, Hobo ... Mad Man 9: Betty Grace Kelly ... Mad men 10: Life, Death, and Politics ... Mad Men 11: Heat! ... Mad Men 12: Admirable Don ... Mad 13: Double-Endings, Lascaux, and Holes

20-minute interview with Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) at Light On Light Through



6-min podcast review of Mad Men








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The Plot to Save Socrates



"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lessons and Inspirations from Ted Kennedy's Funeral

I just heard Mark Leibovich of The New York Times tell Andrea Mitchell on MSNNC that Ted Kennedy enjoyed watching 24 on DVDs ... take that, Keith Olbermann :)

Ted Kennedy, Jr's speech at the funeral earlier today was powerful indeed. I hadn't heard him speak ever before, and was moved and mightily impressed by his delivery and his words. The clarity of vision in this family is remarkable.

Barack Obama's eulogy was excellent, but I wish he'd picked up what Ted Kennedy, III (11 years old, and a real winner) said earlier in the funeral about health care, quoting his grandfather's words that health care is a right not a privilege. The Republicans in the audience need to hear that, as often as possible.

Ted Kennedy's journey will end in a few hours at Arlington Cemetery, next to his two brothers. But as Ted Kennedy, Jr. said at the end of his oration, quoting again from his father, "the work goes on".

Thoughts on the Speeches at Ted Kennedy's Wake

The memorial service for Ted Kennedy at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston earlier tonight was extraordinary. Almost all of the tributes were superb. Here are the ones that struck the deepest chords in me ...

Joseph Kennedy, II, former Congressman, son of Robert Kennedy, set the tone with captivating anecdotes and restatement of Ted's political ideals. I hope he runs for Ted's Senate seat.

Chris Dodd spoke of what it was like to have Ted Kennedy as a close political ally and friend. I was impressed with Dodd during the 2008 Democratic primary. He has a crispness of vision, and should play a crucial role in the battle ahead this September for health care.

John Kerry's speech at the Democratic convention in Denver last year wasn't carried live by the networks and all-news cable. But it was one of the best at the convention, and his speech at the JFK Library tonight was the most politically powerful. (I saw Kerry briefly this June, as he was boarding a boat in Hyannis. I was too far away to tell him how much I appreciate his continued fight for a better America.)

Orrin Hatch's speech was also impressive, especially given that he, too, was a close friend but also a staunch political foe of Ted Kennedy. I wonder - will Hatch search his soul and find room in there to do the right thing and help all Americans get good, affordable health care? Maybe.

Joe Biden gave another very moving tribute, as only someone who has had such close personal tragedy in his own life could provide. I don't know what the Vice President has been doing behind the scenes in the health care legislation discussions, but I'd like to see him set loose to ply his unique political skills with recalcitrant Senators.

John Culver, former Senator and Ted's Harvard classmate, provided comic relief, in the best sense of the phrase at a time like this. His story of how he wound up on a small boat with Ted, inveighed to go sailing, brought tears of pure laughter to my eyes.

In contrast, Caroline Kennedy's concluding tribute brought tears of something else. As did Joe, she brought home what it meant to have Ted as an uncle. I still can't forgive Gov. Patterson in New York for not appointing her to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. Our state and our nation would have benefited greatly.

Tomorrow Barack Obama gives the eulogy at Ted Kennedy's funeral.

And then the full business of governance resumes in September. There are two possible paths to universal health care. One comes from a few Republicans and recalcitrant Democrats truly taking a chance on reform and the American people. The other comes from Obama leading a take-no-prisoners charge, and getting the needed legislation with no Republican help. I'll take whichever works.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ellie Greenwich

What a day ... Ellie Greenwich also died today. She was 68. She wrote rock classics such as "Be My Baby" with Phil Specter and her then-husband Jeff Barry. With Jeff, she discovered Neil Diamond and produced his early great records. Ellie and Jeff performed as the Raindrops, and also wrote hits for groups ranging from the Crystals ("Da Doo Ron Ron") to Manfred Mann ("Do Wah Diddy Diddy"). They even wrote "Hanky Panky" for Tommy James and the Shondells.

Jeff and Ellie split. He went on to produce the first hits for the Monkees. She joined forces with Mike Rashkow (co-writer of "Mary in the Morning"). One Sunday afternoon in the Spring of 1967, Ellie and Mike were walking in Central Park in New York City, and heard some good harmony ....

That was Stu Nitekman, Ira Margolis, and me singing. We were a folk-rock pop group called "The New Outlook". Ellie and Mike changed our name to The Other Voices and got us a contract with Atlantic Records. Two singles ensued - "May My Heart Be Cast Into Stone" and "No Olympian Height". The B-side of both singles was written by Mikie Harris (then Mike's wife) and me - "Hung Up On Love".

Mike and Ellie also put together a studio group, The Definitive Rock Chorale, which recorded one of my songs, "Picture Postcard World". You can hear it below. Listen for Ellie singing in the background.

Ellie went on to have hit Broadway play in 1985 - "Leader of the Pack".

I went on to become a professor and a writer of books instead of music and lyrics. You can hear more of my music over here. I also have a MySpace page for The New Outlook.

I spoke to Ellie maybe once every decade on the phone. She was my first brush with flickering fame. I expect her joyous music to be around for a long time.

Edward M. Kennedy

It is beyond sad that Edward M. Kennedy has died. It is deeper, bigger, connected to something far more profound in the cosmos and the lives of people in my generation than just sadness.

I remember Walter Cronkite announcing the death of John F. Kennedy on television in 1963. I remember the headline on some New York paper in 1968 ... "Now Bobby..." Two of the worst memories in my life.

I don't think our culture has ever fully recovered from those losses. But Ted Kennedy tried. I regretted that he couldn't make it to the Presidency in 1980. But he made a difference. Perhaps most importantly in his endorsement of Barack Obama in that razor close primary with Hillary Clinton. It made a difference. It helped change America and the world.

At least Ted Kennedy died of natural causes. But death is never good. He could have lived a few more years, even a few more decades.

But we're fortunate that he lived and worked for the best instincts in America as long as he did. Although he won't be able to help directly in the great battle of our time, the battle for universal health care in America, his spirit won't be very far. Rest in peace. Your dream, our dream, will never die.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Maryann vs. the Good in True Blood

Well, we finally got to see Maryann the maenad vs the assorted forces of good in last night's episode 2.10 of True Blood on HBO. And, as befitting a not yet quite season finale, the results were tantalizingly inclusive.

1. Bill gives Maryann's neck a go, and ends up sick to his stomach. Whatever's in Maryann's veins, it's a far, savage cry from human blood.

2. Sookie has better luck. Before she helps Bill out of Maryann's presence, Sookie ignites some of light jolt between her and Maryann - and, most intriguingly, Maryann doesn't know what that is. But she likes it, and is curious, because it's something new to her. So, apparently, is Sookie and her powers, which until now have been only mind-reading (but not of vampires). Sookie's extended powers may also be part of the source of Eric's powerful attraction to her.

3. In the best scenes in the show, Tara's mother, Lafayette, Bill, and Sookie do an "intervention" with Tara, to try to get her out of that wild-eyed state induced by Maryann. Tara's mother and Lafayette have no luck ("this is the worst intervention ever," Lafayette says). Sookie can't get past the darkness in Tara's mind. Bill thinks a little glamming might open the door, and he's right - it helps Sookie finally get in there, and unlock Tara's mind.

So the battle is looming. Sam and Jason and Andy prevail over the demented town people, in a series of scenes that have a better ending than Night of the Living Dead. Bill's off to get some ultimate vampire help from "the Queen". And we've got just two more episodes to go.








5-min podcast review of True Blood

See also Love and True Blood in the Air and Likes Coming Together in True Blood and True Blood Boiling and Godric, Eric, and Sookie on the Roof






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mad Men 3.2: Carvel, Penn Station, and Diet Soda

A second episode of the third season of Mad Men tonight, especially rich in Spring 1963 historical detail...

Don says the family will go to Carvel, after they do stuff the kids will find boring in Tarrytown. Ah, Carvel ... its first store was opened on Central Avenue, not far from where I live in Westchester. Many's the time we took the kids there. Many's the time my wife and I earlier enjoyed Tom Carvel's hoarse, heart-felt sell of his Carvel cakes on local TV. So it was good to hear Don say the name tonight. And especially moving, because that first store was demolished just this past March. Gone now, melted away like ice cream from a bygone era...

Later, down in the office, Paul Kinsey puts his noble foot in his mouth over an important client, Madison Square Garden, which wants to fight back against the bashing it's been taking over its plans to tear down classic Penn Station and replace it with ... well, the ugly vestibule and corridors that pass as Penn Station in NYC today. Paul speaks up for tradition and the importance of preserving history, and nearly loses the client. Don's called in by the irritating Brit overlord (financial officer Lane Pryce - well played by Jared Harris), and gets the client back, by weaving a good tale about the new station being a gleaming future against New York City's decay - only to learn that the powers that be back in London think Sterling, Cooper et al should pass on MSG as a client after all. (But the original Penn Station was indeed torn down, so the MSG people apparently were able to withstand the criticism back in the 1960s, after all ... And so we've suffered for all of these years, but it looks as if Moynihan Station, under the splendid 33rd Street Post Office, will be the new Penn Station at long last, so lovers of great train stations will have the last laugh.)

Soda 1963 style also played a role in tonight's Mad Men, with Peggy struggling against the boys to launch an ad campaign for a Pepsi diet soda - Patio - that didn't riff so completely off women wanting to be like Ann Margret in Bye Bye Birdie (a superb movie, I don't care what they say, as was Viva Las Vegas in its own way)(my man Harry Crane certainly enjoyed Ann's performance). Peggy does a good few bars of Bye Bye Birdie herself - to herself in the mirror - and she also has a great scene with an engineering student she picks up at a bar. And the Mad Men writers get the history of diet cola just right - Ken says Pepsi wants Patio to be another Diet Rite cola, which indeed was the first diet cola, introduced in 1958, five years before Pepsi's Patio and "the Coca Cola Company put the robust flavor in Tab!"

But soft-serve ice cream, trains, and fizz weren't the only historical details that rang true in tonight's episode. There was an ominous, bone-chilling detail as well. We see the date of Roger's daughter's wedding on an invitation in his office. November 23, 1963....

This will be a countdown that will be ticking away, one heart-rending beat at a time, this whole season.

PS - I didn't mention one other very important storyline in tonight's episode, because it had no important historical detail. But it does further demonstrate a point I made in my review of last week's episode: Don's fundamental, surprising decency, despite his obvious flaws. Tonight we see it when Don, seeing Betty's distress over her mentally fading father, engineers his moving in with them.

See also: Mad Men Back for 3

And from Season Two: Mad Men Returns with a Xerox and a Call Girl ... 2.2: The Advertising Devil and the Deep Blue Sea ... 2.3 Double-Barreled Power ... 2.4: Betty and Don's Son ... 2.5: Best Montage Since Hitchcock ... 2.6: Jackie, Marilyn, and Liberty Valance ... 2.7: Double Dons ... 2.8: Did Don Get What He Deserved? ... 2.9: Don and Roger ... 2.10: Between Ray Bradbury and Telstar ... 2.11: Welcome to the Hotel California ... 2.12 The Day the Earth Stood Still on Mad Men ... 2.13 Saving the Best for Last on Mad Men

And from Season One: Mad Men Debuts on AMC: Cigarette Companies and Nixon ... Mad Men 2: Smoke and Television ... Mad Men 3: Hot 1960 Kiss ... Mad Men 4 and 5: Double Mad Men ... Mad Men 6: The Medium is the Message! ... Mad Men 7: Revenge of the Mollusk ... Mad Men 8: Weed, Twist, Hobo ... Mad Man 9: Betty Grace Kelly ... Mad men 10: Life, Death, and Politics ... Mad Men 11: Heat! ... Mad Men 12: Admirable Don ... Mad 13: Double-Endings, Lascaux, and Holes

20-minute interview with Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) at Light On Light Through






10-min podcast review of Mad Men










The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

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Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Strongly Support Health Care Reform But Not Boycotts of Whole Foods

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has angered many of his customers - including me - by writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that American citizens have no "intrinsic right to health care". This has ignited a boycott against Whole Foods.

I strongly support health care reform, I disagree utterly with Mackey's logic, but I won't be boycotting Whole Foods.

First, I think health care is not only an intrinsic human right, but the government is required to help provide it when private enterprise fails - under the general welfare provision of our Constitution. And I think private enterprise stands intrinsically and hopelessly in contradiction to provision of health care for all Americans, because pursuit of profits means you need to limit costs, which in turn means denial of treatment to some people. (See my Private, For-Profit Health Insurance Companies are Self-Contradictory for more.)

But boycotts add nothing to this debate. They won't convince anybody.

What we need are continued rational arguments, and continued exposure of Republican lies.

When the truth is on your side, the best course of action is to relentlessly speak it, not refuse to go shopping in a store whose chief exec doesn't get it.

See also Is the Whole Foods Boycott Fair? for an argument in favor of the boycott.

Nurse Jackie Finale and Dangerous Bubbles

I caught the Nurse Jackie season 1 finale on Showtime On Demand a few days ahead of time. Here's a mostly spoiler-free review...

First, given that Nurse Jackie has been renewed for a second season, you know she's going to live. But will the bubbles of delusion she has carefully constructed around her intersecting personal and professional lives?

The whole season has been an incredible, sometimes unbelievable, but entertaining even riveting dance on the edges of these bubbles. How can Jackie be happily married to a great husband, with two children, and happily carrying on an affair with the pharmacist in the hospital? It's not just because she needs the drugs - she's clearly enjoying the affair. And now she's playing with additional fire with the pretty boy young doctor.

And how can she keep feeding her ferocious drug addiction under everyone's noses in the hospital?

And while she's doing all of this, she manages - usually - to come through for her friends.

Rather than resolving these impossible matters - rather than bursting any of the bubbles - the finale keeps them afloat, and indeed casts Jackie into a bigger, more dangerous bubble ....

And I'll be back with my musings on that when the next season debuts.








5-min podcast review of Nurse Jackie

See also Sneak Preview of Nurse Jackie ... Nurse Jackie at 6 ... Nurse Jackie at 8







The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

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Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Private, For-Profit Health Insurance Companies are Self-Contradictory

Private, for-profit health insurance companies are self-contradictory. They cannot pursue profits - try to make as much money as possible - and support necessary health care. I know this from first-hand experience.

Years ago, when our son was a little boy, he contracted a type of pneumonia that did not respond to the usual courses of antibiotics. After several rounds and weeks of fever on and off and on, his doctor decided to admit him to the hospital. You can imagine how upset my wife and I were. As we were talking about this, in the doctor's office, we heard him talking to our insurance company - Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield. "No, no, he's a professor. They're not those kinds of people. This is legitimate, I can assure you," our doctor said to Empire on the phone. (I was professor then not at Fordham.)

This went on for about 10 minutes. Finally, our doctor got Empire's agreement. By this time, we had walked out into hall, and he saw that we had heard the conversation. He shook his head sadly, and said, this is what you have to go through....

And I couldn't help thinking - let's say I hadn't been a professor. Let's say we were "those kinds of people" - people who had been paying premiums, but for some reason were not held in high regard by the insurer. Our son's hospital bills would not have been covered?

Our son did finally get an antibiotic that worked in the hospital. But my wife and I learned an important lesson about health insurance that day: the companies that provide it it are mainly in for the money. Accordingly, they do anything they can to limit their expenses. That's just good business.

I had actually learned this about insurance companies (actually, a car company that provided warranties) years earlier, when I was driving a new Oldsmobile to another school. The car up and died on the highway - the engine expired. When I got on the phone, later that day, to the car warranty company, I was treated to "do you have any proof that you were driving your car safely"? I replied that unless Oldsmobile which had happily taken my money for the car and the warranty now paid for the car's repair, and I was assured within an hour that this would happen, I would go to the media and tell them about their shoddy way of doing business. And I would have - but some supervisor called me back 10 minutes later and apologized for the first conversation. "He was only doing his job," he said of the first guy I had talked to. Exactly. Of course he was, and that was the problem. Just good business. Limit expenses.

The car was aggravating. The repairs were just about money, for me as well as Oldsmobile. But health coverage obviously can be a matter of life and death.

We can no longer afford to leave such matters in the hands of people and companies whose main goal is not to protect health but make a profit. I'm all in favor of making money. Profit and capitalism continue to do great things. But they've failed in this country to give adequate health care, even for people they accept in their plans.

It's time to break loose from these hopelessly conflicted, oxymoronic for-profit health insurers. And vote out of office anyone who opposes this long overdue, humane, clearly rational reform.

Government programs are certainly not flawless. But at least they don't work against their own stated goals.

And Now Don Hewitt, 1922-2009

Been a tough summer for the titans of early television. In front of the camera, Walter Cronkite was taken from us in July. And now comes the news that Don Hewitt, as great behind the camera as Walter was in front, has joined Walter.

Don Hewitt was 86. He is best known as the inventor of the tv news magazine - 60 Minutes, which debuted on CBS in 1968, and is the longest running prime time show on network television.

But Hewitt was there - meaning, here, on the screen, with us - far earlier. My parents bought their first television set in 1951, when I was four years old. I can't say that I remember the first broadcast of See It Now, with a cameo by Don Hewitt, on November 18, 1951 - but I know my parents did, because we talked about it years later.

Jonathan Sanders, formerly at CBS News, and now at Fordham University (I was pleased to bring to our faculty when I was Chair, several years ago), was good enough to send me this clip from that 1951 premier, now on YouTube. Jonathan notes Edward R. Murrow's classic line, at the beginning of the clip, "This is an old team trying to learn a new trade."

Keep watching, and you'll see and hear a little of Don Hewitt (bringing producers out front on a show was not an invention of Saturday Night Live....)

Nowadays, in the age of Twitter and YouTube and other new new media, we're all an old team learning a new trade - and it's never been more fun.

Thanks, Don, for helping blaze this trail that got us here.



See also Walter Cronkite Reaches the Cosmos

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Finding Killers vs. Hearts on The Closer

A tender episode 5.11 of The Closer last night, with Sosie Bacon (real life daughter of Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon) once again playing a crucial role as Brenda's niece Charlie (spunky, compassionate ... a lot like Brenda). I'm hoping Charlie will become a permanent resident on the show.

Brenda comes upon a double shooting in a school yard, as she's driving Charlie. One of the boys is dead, the other wounded. Brenda asks Charlie to keep an eye on the wounded boy (Jake) in the hospital. He's about Charlie's age, the two strike up a conversation and the beginning of a relationship. Jake - well played by Philip Ettinger - tells Charlie he was "dumped" by his girlfriend. "Why?" Charlie asks - in a perfect tone of incredulity, which tells us and Jake that she likes him.

But Jake takes a turn for the worse - the shrapnel that hit him creates virulent infections - and it soon becomes clear that he won't live though the night. Brenda knows this from the doctor. Charlie, now at home, does not. Brenda needs to question Jake one more time to find the killer, and this again pitches her into a conflict between doing her job (finding the killer) and doing the right thing for someone she cares about. Charlie wants to come to the hospital to see Jake again, and Brenda says no.

She later explains to Charlie, after Jake has died, that she didn't know how much time Jake had left, and she needed that time uninterrupted, so she could ask her questions. Significantly, she doesn't lie to Charlie - she could have said that she didn't know Jake was that close to death.

And so Brenda's difficult tightrope walk between finding killers and finding her heart continues. With Charlie in the picture, the stakes are expanding beyond Fritz.








5-min podcast review of The Closer


See also Brenda Leigh's Niece and Libby from Lost on The Closer and Tom Skerritt on The Closer and Det. Richard Tracy on The Closer and Pres. Laura Roslin vs. Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson







The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

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Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
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Monday, August 17, 2009

True Blood: Godric, Eric, and Sookie on the Roof

Well, I predicted last week that Godric would not survive the bomb blast. I was wrong - he did survive. But I was right that he would not survive too long.

True Blood 2.9 had an ending that cried out to the cosmos, as Godric stands on the roof in the dawning sun, and ends his life of 2000 years on this planet. Eric tries in vain, tears of blood in his eyes, to convince Godric to live. Sookie tries in vain, sweet human tears on her face, and she bears witness to Godric's noble suicide.

Eric needs to leave the roof before the sun is up, but he was center stage for most of this fine episode. Most importantly, he tricks Sookie into sucking silver bullets out of his body - he was hit by them in the blast, but his vampire healing would have pushed them out without Sookie. The result is that Sookie, having swallowed some of Eric's blood, now has an emotional/erotic connection to him.

She dreams about making love to Eric, as she lies next to sleeping Bill. The triangle is pulsing.

Meanwhile, back in Bon Temps, Sam keeps free of Maryann by turning into a fly - nice touch, with a nod to the science fiction classic. And Maryann is going from bad to worse in her obsession to get Sam.

Is she more potent than the vampires? Three episodes left to see what damage she does, and who's left sleeping at the end.

See also Love and True Blood in the Air and Likes Coming Together in True Blood and True Blood Boiling








5-min podcast review of True Blood





The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

Get your own at Profile Pitstop.com



Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
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Mad Men Back for 3

A tip-top Season 3 premier of Mad Men tonight. Betty's well into her pregnancy, the Brits have taken over the firm, and-

1. The head of accounts is fired. Pete is told he'll be the new accounts chief. He's chuffed, as only Pete can be. But his pure joy is short-lived. It's diluted by the news that Cosgrove has been appointed to the same position. The Brits are apparently trying to see who will make the best head of accounts. Nothing like a little good old fashioned capitalist competition...

2. Don and Sal are off to Baltimore to shore up the British London Fog account (I have a London Fog coat and I love it, just sayin'). The big story here, though, is not the Fog of coats but the fog of human relationships. Don is seduced by a blond bombshell stewardess. It's not 100% clear how far they go, because a fire alarm interrupts them. (They probably already slept together.) And this leads to the most important development in tonight's season opener...

3. On his way down the fire escape with the stewardess (he with a jacket and pants he hastily puts on, she in the London Fog), Don passes by Sal's window, and sees him in the room with a bell boy. Don's shocked. A significant part of the series has now changed, because someone now knows Sal's secret. Later on the plane back to New York, Don assures Sal, and advises him to "limit your exposure" - good advice for Sal in the early 1960s, as well as the new slogan for the London Fog campaign. Most importantly, Don has again revealed himself as a decent human being. With all of his flaws, he still manages to do the right thing when the chips are down.

So a punchy, satisfying new beginning for Mad Men. And ever on the edge of the 1960s and today, Harry Crane had a great few lines bemoaning the high tax brackets for people who make a lot of money. Those eternally recalcitrant Republican ad execs...








5-min podcast review of Mad Men

See also: Mad Men Returns with a Xerox and a Call Girl ... 2.2: The Advertising Devil and the Deep Blue Sea ... 2.3 Double-Barreled Power ... 2.4: Betty and Don's Son ... 2.5: Best Montage Since Hitchcock ... 2.6: Jackie, Marilyn, and Liberty Valance ... 2.7: Double Dons ... 2.8: Did Don Get What He Deserved? ... 2.9: Don and Roger ... 2.10: Between Ray Bradbury and Telstar ... 2.11: Welcome to the Hotel California ... 2.12 The Day the Earth Stood Still on Mad Men ... 2.13 Saving the Best for Last on Mad Men




And listen to my fabulous 20-minute interview Fall 2007 with Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) at Light On Light Through






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

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Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Les Paul Overdubs Through the Ages

Les Paul died today - he was 94. He was known as one of the inventors of the electric guitar, which became the essential instrument of rock 'n' roll. Just as important, he also developed overdubbing and multi-track recording.

You can hear it on his hit records with his wife, Mary Ford (who died in 1977). She harmonizes with herself in the 1951 Capitol recording "How High the Moon," #1 for nine weeks. I love identifying unique times in media history, when something was accomplished, some miracle of communication, that had never been done before. The first time a message was sent at the speed of light (via the telegraph) ... the first time someone looked at a face captured in a photograph, not as an artist might have rendered it but as it literally was ... those kinds of things. Harmonizing with your own voice may have been a more minor, but no less profound and usually more beautiful kind of extraordinary invention. It just couldn't have happened without the technology. It was never heard in a purely natural world.

And that, too, changed the course of rock 'n' roll. The Beachboys, the Beatles, all the great harmony groups overdubbed to their own voices, and used more sophisticated multi-track recording techniques (8 tracks, in the case of the Beatles on Sgt. Pepper) to keep all the voices uniformly present and clear.

I've been teaching about Les Paul and his impact in my "Into to Communication and Media Studies" and "Intro to Mass Media" courses for more than 30 years. I've always remarked how good it was that he was still alive. This Fall I'll have to say, the late Les Paul. But his music will never be late. Because through the other miracle of recording - that of any recording of sound - we'll always be able to hear it, whenever we like...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Valkyrie and Defiance

I finally saw Valkyrie and Defiance last night on Netflix DVD - a Nazi true-story double-header in the household. As harrowing as such movies are, we watch them from the cushion of knowing we won the war, in the end - though not before horrendous damage was done to humanity, including the Holocaust.

Valkyrie was a reasonably good rendition of the daring 1944 Germany Army bomb plot that almost killed Hitler. Tom Cruise was effective as von Stauffenberg - who planted the bomb and in many ways spearheaded the operation - and Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp and Tom Wilkinson are a pleasure to see in any role.

The plot failed for several reasons. Hitler survived the bomb because it went off in a meeting room larger and more open than expected. Had the explosion occurred in the original room, its bunker construction would have contained and thereby made more lethal the explosive power. And the briefcase with the bomb was inadvertently moved to a place under the table where the blast was somewhat deflected from Hitler.

With Hitler alive, the only chance the plot had was for the conspirators to quickly wrest power from the Gestapo, and this turn in depended on the belief that Hitler had perished in the explosion. Hitler's voice on the phone to a key army official was the decisive turning point depicted in the movie. I favor the interpretation that Hitler's voice on radio, the day after the explosion, was even more decisive, because the radio reached everyone (see The Soft Edge for more), but the point remains about the power of the voice to save or change everything in an age of telephone and radio. Given the capacity for spoofing and deception in the digital age, that power may no longer exist today.

Defiance tells the heroic, inspiring story of the four Bielski brothers, who escape into the forest and organize resistance after the German occupation and slaughter of Jews in Belarus in 1941. Daniel Craig as Tuvia, Liev Schreiber as Zus, and Jamie Bell as Asael are simply superb, and I'd say Defiance was one the best movies I've seen in years (better than the excellent Munich, in which Craig also played a take-no-prisoners Jewish fighter, and better than Valkyrie). My wife and I have grandparents and relatives who come from that area, and we could see their faces and hear their voices in this movie.

All of the brothers - and their love interests (it was good see Mia Wasikowska, Sophie on In Treatment, play Asael's in Defiance) - survived against all odds, and our knowing that Tuvia, Zus, and Aron (who was a boy in 1941) made it to New York after the war, and opened a trucking business, was especially satisfying. (Asael joined the Russians against the Germans and was killed in action.) Tuvia died at 81 in 1987, Zus at 82 in 1995, and Aron is still alive.

So, yes, the bomb plot failed, the Bielskis did not, and we beat the Nazis.

But as the extremist part of the debate now raging about health care reform in America now shows - with some opponents of Obama likening him to Hitler, which is itself a classic Hitlerian propaganda tactic (false association and insistent exaggeration) - we need to take care more than ever to keep our democratic processes and protections real and robost. The Weimar Republic, which the Nazis overthrew, was after all a democracy too...



Tuesday, August 11, 2009

True Blood Boiling

A powerful True Blood this week - episode 2.8 - with apparent resolutions to a number of situations and crises, including -

.Jason has finally snapped out of it. Sookie being in danger got Jason in motion. Great goodbye scene with him and Sarah...

.Godric's rescued - though it turns out he may not have needed to be. He's a transcendant vampire, seriously seeing the need for peaceful co-existence and cooperation between humans and vampires. He's also the oldest and most powerful vampire we've seen so far. But I have a feeling he's not long for this world (see below).

.Eric's attraction to Sookie is becoming more obvious - it's good to see him and Bill on a slow collision course over this.

.Godric finally sends Lorena packing. Bill steps out of the nest with her, to see her off, when-

And here's where everything might change in an instant. A suicide bomber from the Fellowship sets off a bomb in the nest. Everyone - except Bill and Lorena - is at risk of dying in the big explosion.

Of course, vampires heal very quickly - as we were reminded of this again in a delicate moment with Jessica and Hoyt - and vampires can restore even critically wounded humans.

But I'm thinking someone important is bound to die in this explosion, and my best guess is Godric. We'll see next week...


See also Love and True Blood in the Air and Likes Coming Together in True Blood








5-min podcast review of True Blood






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

Get your own at Profile Pitstop.com



Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Brenda Leigh's Niece and Lost's Libby on The Closer

It was nice to meet another member of Brenda Leigh's extended family on The Closer last night. Her niece is having problems at home, so she's staying with her grandparents (Brenda's parents). But Brenda's mother has a better idea - the niece can stay for the summer with Brenda!

But lest we forget what kind of show this is and who Brenda is - a police detective show about someone brilliantly obsessed with solving and closing every case that comes her way - you know that Brenda is going to put her niece to some kind of good use in cracking a case...

Which, as fate would have it, is about a psychologist apparently murdered by the father of one his patients, a charming, schizophrenic young man. Well, the father has confessed. But his elocution in court does not match the evidence. Perhaps the son can shed some light on this? Brenda uses his attraction to her niece, whom Brenda sits in an adjoining, visible to the son, to put him at ease.

The psychologist's wife, played by Cynthia Watros, best-known as Libby from Lost, is also a psychologist and may also have a role in the murder. Interestingly, Libby on Lost was a clinical psychologist. Her story is one of the most compelling and inexplicable in Lost, and has yet to be resolved. She befriends Hurley on the island and the two fall in love. She's killed by Michael. But we also learn that she was in the same mental institution - as a patient - with Hurley, well before the crash.

How could this be? It's one of the inexplicable coincidences that I think provide the keys to understanding what is really going on in Lost. But so far, we've been given no clue as to how Libby could have been in that facility, and transformed from patient to healer. Surely all of Lost is more than Hurley's dream from that institution....

So it was good to see "Libby" again, with a different name but the same profession, on The Closer. Now, if only Brenda Leigh Johnson could use her investigative talent to figure out what really happened between Libby and Hurley on Lost...

See also Tom Skerritt on The Closer and Det. Richard Tracy on The Closer and Pres. Laura Roslin vs. Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson








5-min podcast review of The Closer and Lost










The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

Get your own at Profile Pitstop.com



Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
.... FREE!
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