Saturday, October 31, 2015

True Confessions: How I Came to Read Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom

Thomas Farrell, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, asked me earlier today about what I had studied of Erich Fromm and existentialism when I was a student at the City College of New York in the mid-1960s (Tom and I had previously exchanged email about Fromm):

Here is my reply -



When I was an undergraduate at City College (1963-1967), I was a Psychology Major. I was taking a psych course - I don't recall the name - and I had a paper due on the last day of class (the day the final exam was given). I came into class, took the exam, but didn't have the final paper. I told the professor I had left it home, and could he give me a three hour extension (the time it would take me to go from City College in Manhattan and back to my home in the Bronx to retrieve my nonexistent paper). The professor agreed. Instead of going home, I went to the school library. Escape from Freedom was one of a dozen books which was eligible as a subject of our paper (15 handwritten pages). I spent two hours reading as much of the book as I could, the next hour furiously writing the paper, and rushed over to the professor's office. I got an "A" in the course. I finished reading the book, and have always considered it one of the wisest books I ever have read.

Turns out I had already told Tom this true story, in our previous email - he was one of the privileged few.  But I thought it was time to share that deep dark secret with the world.

Actually, I don't really consider it so dark - as I tell my writing classes at Fordham University, all that really counts is the written text, not how you produce it.   Do a hundred drafts over weeks or months, or hand in your first draft written in less than an hour - I don't care, it's what the words say that counts.

And, by the way, Escape from Freedom is a masterpiece.  Its disconcerting thesis that people accept dictatorships of all sorts because in their hearts they want to remain children, and don't want the responsibility of making decisions for themselves, explains the rise not only of totalitarian states, but the workings of democracies, and why a free people might vote for candidates and ideologies that limit their freedom.   Something to think about, especially here in the United States, as we move into full swing for our upcoming Presidential election.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Heroes Reborn 1.7: Time Travel and Twins

An outstanding Heroes Reborn 1.7  last night - the 13-episode series has now really come into its own - in which Noah meets himself via time travel, and we meet Claire's twin babies.

Unfortunately, Claire dies in childbirth (of a heart attack, we're told) - an event with Hiro, now fully back in the story, is unwilling to stop via a little more travel to the past, because it could/would result in far worse consequences.  For the same reason, Hiro won't stop that horrendous June day in Odessa, Texas, either.

By the way, as side-note, it's interesting that Hayden Panettiere, who played Claire on Heroes and now Juliette in Nashville, has encountered serious life-and-death problems in having babies.  With any luck, she'll eventually surmount these challenges on Nashville.  In Heroes Reborn, she doesn't, and all we see of her in 1.7 is her trademarked hair.   We're also left with some intriguing questions including who is the father of her babies, where is he now, and why didn't she regenerate after her heart attack (a question Noah asks, which wasn't really answered).

The big payoff of the episode - the first of a two-part mini-narrative in the series - is that the twin babies - fraternal, not identical, and a boy and a girl - are none other than Tommy (Nathan) and Malina, who we've come to know in the year after Odessa, as they begin to manifest their powers, sorely needed to save the world.   Lots of nice connections revealed, including that the nurse who helped in the hospital with the twins has been Tommy's mother.   We also learn what got Luke and Joanne on their evo-killing rampage - they no doubt blame the evos for whatever happened to their son - and it's good to see Mohinder and Angela back in the story, too.

Time travel is very a trick business, as I often say.   It's difficult indeed to tie together all the twisted loops that travel to the past and future engender.   But, so far, Noah's running into himself, and Hiro's resistance to any change which can result in even worse consequences than those he's seeking to change, have worked in a pretty tight story.  Yes, what happened in Texas was terrible.  But if saving the world is at stake, and Hiro has seen how any changes in Texas might hinder that ultimate effort, Heroes Reborn is on pretty strong, logical ground.

See also Heroes Reborn: Good to Be Back ... Heroes Reborn 1.3: Carly Fiorina meets Steve Jobs ... Heroes Reborn 1.4: GPS RIP ... Heroes Reborn 1.6: Space, Time, Videogame

And see also Heroes Season 4 Premiere: Metaphysics, University, Carnival ...Heroes Meets The L Word in 4.5 ... Heroes 4 Mid-Season Finale  ... Heroes Season 4 Resumes ... Heroes 4.15: The Chess Game Continues ... 4.16: The Trial of Hiro ... 4.18: Penultimate  ... Heroes Forever

And see also reviews of Season 3 Heroes Gets Lost ... Heroes 3 Begins: Best Yet, Riddled with Time Travel and Paradox ... Sylar's Redemption and other Heroes and Villains Mergers ... Costa Nuclear ... Hearts of Gold and the Debased ... Seeing the Future Trumps Time Travel ... Superpowered Chess with Shifting Pieces ... Villains and Backstories ... The Redemption of Sylar ... Thoughts on the Eclipse, Part I ... The Lore of the Comic Book Store ... Hiro's Time Traveling Closure ... Augmented ... Shades of Recalibration ... Baby, Rebel, and Last Fantasy ... All that Shape Changes Remains the Same? ... Season 3 Finale: Hopeful Deceptions

Reviews of Season 2 Heroes: Episode 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... 7. Heroes Meets 12 Monkeys ... 9. How Immutable Are Fate and Isaac's Futures? ... 10. Penultimate for the Fall ... Heroes 2 Finale: Heroes Who Didn't Survive

And from Season 1: Heroes in Focus ... Heroes Five Years Gone: Triumph of Time Travel and Comics ... Heroes the Hard Part: Only the Pictures Not the Words ... Heroes Landslide: Winnowing and Convergence ... Heroes Volume One Finale

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If time travel is your cup of tea ...


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Third GOP Presidential Debate: Participants and Bystanders

Back with a review of the third GOP Presidential debate tonight, as always with the proviso that I've only voted for a Republican once in my life - for John Lindsay for Mayor of New York City decades ago - and no doubt won't be voting for any of the Republicans up on the stage in Colorado this evening.

But, that said, who did the best and the worst?

I think Chris Christie had the single best moment, when he said he did not deny climate change - as do many Republicans - and would do what he could to improve our climate by supporting private alternate energy enterprise.  That's an enlightened anti-government position on this issue.

The best exchange was between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who both came across well in Bush's attack on and Rubio's defense of his poor attendance record in the Senate.   In general, both Bush and Rubio had a good night, with Rubio somewhat better.

Cruz had a strong moment with the perennial Republican chestnut of attacking the media in general and the questions being asked of him and his colleagues in the debate.  But that was about Cruz's only moment.

Kasich started strong then all but disappeared.  Rand Paul gave some good answers but looked tired and bored.   Huckabee was unmemorable - except for his proud admission about wearing a Trump tie - and Fiorina was the dullest I recall seeing her in any of the debates so far.

Carson and Trump, the two front runners, were both ok, sometimes pretty good, but they often seemed more like bystanders than full-fledged participants in this economic debate.   Someone tweeted - I think it was Farhad Manjoo - that if "if you knew nothing about the polls and watched this you wouldn’t believe Trump and Carson were leading."  I've got to agree.

And so it goes.   Trump will have a chance to rekindle some of his fire on Saturday Night Live this weekend.   He'll need that, because he certainly didn't have all that much tonight.

PS: I thought Lindsey Graham was far and away the best in the junior GOP debate tonight, and was better than at least half the contenders in the main debate tonight.


Monday, October 26, 2015

The Affair 2.4: Helen at Distraction

A most interesting episode 2.4 of The Affair last night, in which Helen comes across as the most unpleasant we've seen her, on any of the four major players for that matter, in this series so far.  And the kicker is: the worst of this was shown in Helen's own half hour.

The set-up on The Affair, up until now, is that our characters usually appear more considerate, are more sympathetically portrayed, in their own 30-minute segments.   Certainly Noah usually seems like more of a mentsch in his story than he does in Alison's, and Alison a little deeper and more loving in hers than in Noah's. Cole's first half hour in the series earlier this season was a real eye-opener - the contrast between him as a hurt and complicated human being in his story was in marked contrast to how he had appeared in Alison's a week before, where he was all but physically threatening.  And Helen was more sympathetic in her story in that same episode (2.2) than she'd been any time in the first season.

To be sure, Helen's reasons for behaving so badly last night are crystal clear, and explicated powerfully by Helen when she asks Noah why he's "doing this" to her and the kids.  Noah is no doubt to blame for leaving Helen and his family in such disarray.  But no one including Noah forced Helen to drink and drug herself and drive - and, even worse, drive the kids.   That she made that bad decision is of course just another example of how off-kilter the affair has made her - but she still should have known and done better.

The kids are also foremost in Noah's story.  He, too, was a little reckless in driving the kids to hither and yon after he comes to their rescue from Helen - but he was far more in control than was Helen, and didn't do anything to endanger them.   The kids are the reason he was even willing to spend more time away from Alison, but the hour resolves with Noah now having a great set of cards in his hand for his negotiations with Helen, and Alison, who even tries to help when Noah's son gets sick, appearing better than ever.

I hope we get a half hour for her next week.




podcast review of every 2nd season episode


podcast review of every 1st season episode



McLuhan in An Age of Social Media




Just written last Thursday - already #1 on
Amazon Computers and Technology Top 100

last updated 22 November 2016



This essay can be considered a new chapter in my book Digital McLuhan, published in 1999, or before the advent of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the social media of our age. Marshall McLuhan's ideas, including hot and cool, the medium is the message, and the tetrad, are applied to help us understand selfies, tweeting, iconic television shows such as The Sopranos and Mad Men, the Arab Spring, the U.S. Presidential election of 2016, and the Kindle revolution itself.



Sunday, October 25, 2015

Heroes Reborn 1.6: Time, Space, Video Game

I missed Heroes last week - the memory guy got to me and made me forget to watch it.  No, I just got caught up in too many other things, but that's ok, because Heroes is best watched between the cracks, in time stolen from other things, which makes you a kid reading comic books when you're supposed to be doing homework.

Or playing video games.  Both of which - comic books and video games - are the heart and soul and brain of the Heroes saga.  They figure especially vividly in Heroes Reborn, and especially so in episode 1.6, on old-fashioned 2015 television this past Thursday in what was one superb episode, easily the best of the season so far, and setting us up for much more.

The hour was chocked full of great little narratives and scenes - Tommy and Emily teleporting to Paris, and doing so much better than the Eiffel Tower (including a gem of a scene at the Bouquinistes by the Seine, where Emily shows Tommy an Isaac Mendez comic book), Malina saving Luke from drowning by telekinetically pulling him out of the water, and lots of good action with Noah and company in enemy Renautus headquarters - but the best was Katana Girl, and her successful mission to rescue her father, who, as we had to know all along, is Hiro Nakamura.

The quest had its humorous moments, with Ren's laptop running out of battery power at a crucial time, but at its core was deadly serious, with Miko needing to sacrifice her life to free Hiro.  It turns out that she was maybe not really alive, a computer virus living in both virtual and real reality, but that doesn't matter, because she's such an appealing character.  So I'm betting that notwithstanding what Miko/Katana was told, we'll see her again, alive and well and even better than before, in some seamless interface of the real and digital realms, as befits an ultimate video game.

Because, after all, with Hiro and his ability to change the past now unbound, anything is suddenly possible once again in this story.  Hiro is of course wary of changing anything in the past - and with good reason - because that can undo the very basis of the present - but there's a lot in the present that can risk undoing, including not only what apparently happened to Claire but now Miko.

The deft mix of comic book, video game - far better than a LARP - and this reborn series continues.

Note: apropos video game magic, here's a debate I once had with an anti-videogame crusader ...


See also Heroes Reborn: Good to Be Back ... Heroes Reborn 1.3: Carly Fiorina meets Steve Jobs ... Heroes Reborn 1.4: GPS RIP

And see also Heroes Season 4 Premiere: Metaphysics, University, Carnival ...Heroes Meets The L Word in 4.5 ... Heroes 4 Mid-Season Finale  ... Heroes Season 4 Resumes ... Heroes 4.15: The Chess Game Continues ... 4.16: The Trial of Hiro ... 4.18: Penultimate  ... Heroes Forever

And see also reviews of Season 3 Heroes Gets Lost ... Heroes 3 Begins: Best Yet, Riddled with Time Travel and Paradox ... Sylar's Redemption and other Heroes and Villains Mergers ... Costa Nuclear ... Hearts of Gold and the Debased ... Seeing the Future Trumps Time Travel ... Superpowered Chess with Shifting Pieces ... Villains and Backstories ... The Redemption of Sylar ... Thoughts on the Eclipse, Part I ... The Lore of the Comic Book Store ... Hiro's Time Traveling Closure ... Augmented ... Shades of Recalibration ... Baby, Rebel, and Last Fantasy ... All that Shape Changes Remains the Same? ... Season 3 Finale: Hopeful Deceptions

Reviews of Season 2 Heroes: Episode 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... 7. Heroes Meets 12 Monkeys ... 9. How Immutable Are Fate and Isaac's Futures? ... 10. Penultimate for the Fall ... Heroes 2 Finale: Heroes Who Didn't Survive

And from Season 1: Heroes in Focus ... Heroes Five Years Gone: Triumph of Time Travel and Comics ... Heroes the Hard Part: Only the Pictures Not the Words ... Heroes Landslide: Winnowing and Convergence ... Heroes Volume One Finale

#SFWApro

 
no heroes, but pretty strange


Monday, October 19, 2015

Homeland 5.3: Carrie and Kerry

Well, we now know for sure in Homeland 5.3 what we should have known for sure anyway - no way Quinn would have killed Carrie, whoever gave the encrypted order.

But this raises another question - might Saul have given the order after all, knowing that Quinn would never kill Carrie, but figuring that the best way of bringing her in would be to get Quinn to go after her?   And did Quinn understand this all along?  Could be ... but if I had to bet, I'd still say someone other than Saul gave the kill command.

Meanwhile, speaking of Saul, it was good to see him in bed with the CIA woman, but this lends a little more credence to her being the source of the order.   She rummaged through Saul's notes or apps when he was sleeping, and found out how to give the command.   Maybe - I'm still not convinced that she's the one, either.

I liked how Carrie tried to use her bi-polar powers to figure out what was going on in this episode.  As always, the question is whether she really figured it out, or overshot the solution in her state.  In the past, she's usually been right.   But there's always a first time for errors.

It is notable, even in this digital day and age, how Carrie does her most inspired thinking with pictures on the wall and floor.   Hacking is supreme, everywhere, accept for Carrie, where it may be taking second place to what she can do in her mind.

And speaking of hacking and leaks, I had the pleasure of seeing Edward Snowden via Google Hangout at Bard College on Friday.   His philosophic depth and insistence that individual conscience can sometimes take precedence over law was inspiring, and highlights the clanging superficiality of John Kerry's denunciation of Snowden as a "coward" that Homeland has seen fit to work into the opening montage of every episode.  Maybe that's Homeland's way of being critical of Kerry - but just saying.





And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

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  different kind of espionage

The Affair 2.3: The Half-Wolf


A superb episode of The Affair tonight - 2.3, featuring Noah and Alison, and a standalone story in Alison's half-hour about Robert's half-wolf Pete, who in many ways captures perfectly the spirit of the narrative.

Pete is half-wild, runs away from home, and kills a bunch of innocent chickens.   Yvonne, who never liked Pete in the first place, wants Robert to do something about this problem - and Robert offers to kill the half-wolf.

With Alison by his side, Robert levels his rifle at Pete.  But you just knew Robert couldn't kill this animal, with paws in two worlds, civilized and wild.  That's because that situation - civilized and wild - is as good a characterization as we might want of Noah and Alison's story.   They're tied together by a love, still illicit according to the rules of society, but as true as can be.
Noah tells Alison he's been happier in the past six weeks than ever before in his life, and she feels the same.   Robert's firing at the sky rather than at Pete must confirm for her in some profound way that what she is doing with Noah is right, and all the shots being fired at them will miss in the end, too.

Meanwhile, we learn some further details about our characters new and old in this episode, too. Yvonne is not Noah's publisher - she's just a friend of Noah's editor, and she likes hosting an author a year in her guest house.   Her hostility towards Pete, the way she tries to dominate Robert, makes her another woman-as-villain in this story, along with Helen's mother, and even Helen herself, though she seemed a little more sympathetic in her own half hour last week.  The men in this series are no angels either, to be sure, but the women have a special nasty edge.

With the exception of Alison, who, while no push-over, has a winning heart.  She's good for Noah now, and standing by him in the future.  Which brings us back to the question of who killed Scotty. Based on what Noah said tonight, I think we can be pretty sure that he didn't hit and run.  But then who? The only thing we can be completely sure of at this point is that it wasn't Pete.




podcast review of every 2nd season episode


podcast review of every 1st season episode




Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Knick 2.1: Playing off Our Present

The Knick was back for its second season on Cinemax last night.   As was the case last year, the New York 19th-into-20th century cinematography was just perfect.   I mean, I obviously didn't see any of that first hand, but I have a fair number of photographs in my collection from that era, and have seen many more, and this movie-like television show captures the textures just right.

The details are on key, too.   One of Edison's cameras, a horseless carriage ambulance, and of course the medical procedures all fit in like glittering parts of an historic mosaic come to life.   The medical parts of course are the soul of the show. They speak an irrepressible optimism in progress and the success of science, which we also saw last season, and which is sadly lacking or at least tarnished, at least among the general public, right now. We go to doctors, submit to procedures, are admitted to hospitals, but we have a little less confidence in our doctors than people did over a century ago, even though our procedures are so much more advanced.   But back then there was a sense - best portrayed by Thackery,  but others including Edwards have it, too - that they can cure anything, if it's a disease or malady.

Thackery makes this point eloquently at the end of the episode, with his realization that if he considers his addiction an illness rather than a craving, he can find a cure.  And Edwards yearns for a treatment for his detached retina, after his physician tells him there's not much that established medicine can do for it.  But given that this is 1901, and we're watching in 2015, you just know that something will come up - even though, given that this is drama, we also just know that it may not work.

The morality in flux also continues to play a major role.  Edwards is subject to racism, though some of his white colleagues have seen the light of equality.  The nun who performed abortions is in prison, and condemned by one of her sisters, her former student.   We in 2015 know that history is on their side - though it moves forward exceedingly slowly.   And it is from our very age, the present we inhabit, that The Knick derives its ultimate power.  We in the future are the foundation upon which The Knick bounces off and builds upon.

Part medical history, part historical and current social commentary, altogether unique and captivating, The Knick is vert much welcome back.

See also The Knick: Paean to Scientific Method ... The Knick Sneak Preview Review 1.8: Good Loving, the Fix, and Typhoid Mary ... The Knick Sneak Preview Review 1.9: Sacrifice ... The Knick 1.10 Sneak Preview Review: Fallibility

 
deeper history

#SFWApro

Friday, October 16, 2015

Edward Snowden at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College



I spent an extraordinary few hours earlier today, seeing Edward Snowden, live from Russia via Google Hangout, address and answer questions at the "Why Privacy Matters" conference that took place at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College in Annandale, New York (thanks to my friend, author David Brin, who delivered a lecture at the conference yesterday, for the invitation to this event).  The day was beautiful and cool, the Fall foliage peak, but what made the day truly exceptional was what Snowden said - the kinds of things that, well, offer grounds for a little hope for our species after all, or, if you already had such hope, a little more.

There were lots of quotable moments.  Snowden thinks all the candidates in the first Democratic debate on Tuesday, save the one (Lincoln Chafee) who didn't want to see him brought before our criminal justice system, lacked political "courage".  Yet he was heartened that, unlike in 2013, when many politicians were quick denounce him as a "traitor," no one on stage uttered that word on Tuesday.  Snowden (of course) spoke approvingly of the new drone leaks ("The Drone Papers"), and correctly sees that far more incursions on our privacy have occurred under Obama than during George W. Bush's administration.   And he was unafraid to call out his host, Russia, for its own violations of human rights.

But what most struck me about Snowden, and made this event so memorable, was his philosophic depth. In a phrase, he thinks that human values, decided upon by individuals, can be more compelling of our loyalty than any laws.  Yeah, I know this can push us down the slippery slope of anarchy as everyone does what they want to do regardless of the law. And I know that such a principle can easily be used against a progressive law that we support, such an anti-discrimination ruling or statute. But the general principle still holds.  The government, which already holds so many cards, including a monopoly of power (as Snowden also aptly noted), cannot always be the ultimate authority in our lives.

Certainly our right to some small bit of privacy, a piece of our lives not available to governmental scrutiny, would be one place in which human judgement should be superior to governmental fiat. Snowden's leaking of classified information was designed to expose our government's massive incursion on our privacy.   He committed an illegal act to lay bare our government's activities which, legal or not, are intrinsically at odds with one of the very bases of our humanity, our need to have at least a little time off the screen.

Should Snowden come back to the United States to stand trial for this?   He allowed that he would, if he could explain in open court what the government was and is still doing to its citizens.  I admire his willingness to do this but don't know that I would do the same, were I in a similar position.  I've always been a firm believer in the precept that a government which acts immorally loses its claim on us to follow its laws. Had I been visited by Crito on the eve of my death sentence in  Ancient Athens, I would have jumped on that ship in the harbor in a New York minute, and left the hemlock to those who immorally sentenced me to drink it, democracy or not.

In some ways, we've come a long way since then.   We not only are constantly surveilled by the government, but have an increasing power to turn the lenses back on the government, record what it might be illegally doing, and therein begin to hold it to better account.  David Brin has been talking about this kind of "sousveillance" (viewing from below) for years - I'll in effect be talking about it at Annenberg in Philadelphia in December in my Eye in the Sky in the Hand: How Video Cameras in Smart Phones are Finally Beginning to Bring Police to Justice lecture -  and it's part of Snowden's optimism about the future.

Whether it's police killing innocent African-Americans, or the NSA attempting to erase our privacy and therein killing our freedom, these governmental activities deserve our peaceful but staunchest opposition. Hats off to Edward Snowdon for stepping up and acting on this, and articulating the profound issues embedded in his action so eloquently today.


  privacy vs. national security


 
what was Socrates' real motive?

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fargo 2.1: Good to Be Back in the Freezer

Fargo was back for its second season on FX on Monday, with a narrative that promises to be as brilliant, blackly humorous, complex, and altogether in a world of its own as what we saw in its first season.  And other than this story also taking place in North Dakota, this story seems at this point to have only one connection to the first season, which I'll get to shortly   Indeed, whereas the first season took place in the present, this second season is happening in 1979.

Let me see if I got the setup (always a question, when you've only seen an episode of Fargo just once).  There's a criminal family, the Gerhardts.   They need a judge to make a proper ruling.  One of the sons, a hothead with a gun, thinks he can convince her to do what they want.  He accosts the judge in a diner, and ends up shooting her, a former athlete now working there, and the waitress, all to death.   Then he's hit by a car, and carried along on its hood.

We learn that the driver, Peggy (played by Kristen Dunst) is a married to a guy, Ed (played by Jesse Plemons), who works for a butcher (the honest kind who sells meat, not as far as we know a murderer of humans).   This serves Ed in good stead, as he has a freezer in which to stow the killer's body (after he kills him, after the bad guy attacks him, because the bad guy wasn't thoroughly dead).  You just know that freezer with the body is going to be opened in some upcoming episode at the worst time.

Meanwhile, the sheriff and state trooper are investigating the three killings at the diner.  Hank Larson the sheriff is played by Tad Danson, always good to see.   The state trooper is none other than Lou Solverson, who will age well and be played by Keith Carradine in Season 1 (that's the one connection).

And just to top it off, and provide a little more sinister depth to this story - always a key ingredient in Fargo - the episode ends with a bigger criminal enterprise in Kansas City set to move in on the Gerhardts in North Dakota.

There nothing else quite like Fargo on television, and I'm looking forward with relish to the rest this second second (maybe some mustard, too).

See also: Fargo Debuts with Two Psychos ... Fargo 1.7: The Bungling and the Brave ... Fargo 1.8: The Year ... Fargo Season 1 Finale: The Supremely Cunning Anti-Hero



A story about another kind of killer ...  The Silk Code

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