=Borrowed Tides= and =Alpha Centauri= right here

Monday, November 23, 2020

Don Caron's "Fifty Ways to Leave the White House"

 This seems to be my day to be writing about music.  I just came across this yesterday, Don Caron's parody "Fifty Ways to Leave the White House".  The lyrics are not only suitably barbed, but Caron's voice, his slightly annoyed, laconic, sarcastic delivery, does a fine and funny job of capturing Paul Simon (the Yiddish "farbissina punim" captures that personna maybe a little better than the English adjectives).  Enjoy!

Creds:  Caron wrote and sings the song, for the Parody Project,  executive producers Sally Headley, Jack Heighway and Jerry Pender.

Dylan's Murder Most Foul: From Then to Now

I didn't think about November 22, 1963 much yesterday, as I usually do on one of the worst anniversaries of my and maybe your lifetime, because I was busy with all kinds of other things, including doing a little virtual concert at Philcon (a science fiction convention) of songs from my new album, Welcome Up: Songs of Space and Time, my first new album in almost 50 years.

But I was on my son Simon's Tumblr page today, scrolling back through his posts, and came upon this one from back in March.  The world has been so crazy since then and now, with Covid and the election, and I've been so immersed teaching online classes, writing, doing podcasts, and the like, that I didn't get a chance to listen to Dylan's "Murder Most Foul" until today.

It's the best Dylan lyric -- as in emotive power, tear up the street and rip up your soul, but maybe you can put it back together -- since, I don't know, "Hurricane"?  -- and, no, actually, "Murder Most Foul" is a lot more than that.  Because of its subject.  The story of our lives, or everyone's who was alive and cognizant in 1963 and all these years since.  The song is almost a couplet with Dylan's 2012 Roll On John, about another unfathomably unacceptable assassination, but a much shorter song, and almost a warm-up for "Murder Most Foul,"  which joins Phil Ochs' masterwork, The Crucifixion, as an extraordinarily insightful song about the event which in a single moment changed the course of history, inextricably and unalterably, for the worst. But "The Crucifixion" was at the moment, written back then.  And "Murder Most Foul" is about then, and now, and all time time in between.  About the end of the joy and innocence and optimism for the future that surged through the early 1960s, an extinction that the world has manifestly still not recovered from.   

I know I haven't.  I think about it often.  Even write about it in my science fiction.  It's reassuring that Dylan hasn't either. "Murder Most Foul" captures all of this and more with a lyric which, if you want to know where I'd place it, it would be among the best lyrics Dylan, the greatest lyricist of the 20th century, ever wrote. Plays upon words about playing songs and playing parts.  I may teach a course about this song someday. It even has a recondite reference to Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon," one of my all-time favorite science fiction stories.  But the killing of John F. Kennedy was too terrible to be fiction.  And Dylan caught it all.  And here in the 21st century, with a fifth of it almost gone, this song could well be one of the greatest of this century, too.

On a lesser but still significant note -- at least to me -- Dylan's song also scratches an itch I have had about songs about DJs that also goes back to the 1960s.  I even wrote a short story about that -- Sam's Requests -- and just a month or two ago created a Spotify songs-about-DJs playlist with that  theme.  Dylan's song eminently belongs there, containing a series of requests, that in some arcane, nearly endearingly inscrutable way reflect Dylan's commentary on the times, to Wolfman Jack, whom I actually worked with.  I just added Dylan's song to the playlist.  Yeah it belongs there, and in a permanent place in the thoughts of those of us who lived through that era-shattering day.

                              a happier time

Further reading:

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Undoing 1.5: The Algorithm, the Waiter, and the ...

Well, those two elements -- the algorithm and the waiter - were by no means the most important features of The Undoing 1.5, just on HBO, but I didn't want to give away the main thing, actually two main things, in the title, and the algorithm and the waiter were nice touches.  Finding that Jonathan's attorney uses Amazon-level algorithms to get the crucial characteristics of the jurors, that was cool.  (And Haley's one one outstanding lawyer, isn't she?)  And the waiter constantly interrupting the meal that Jonathan, Grace, and Henry were trying to have in the restaurant -- that was a metaphor for this whole series, being interrupted by all kinds of things, so that after five episodes, we still can't be sure whodunnit.

And that restaurant scene did lead to the two biggest developments in this episode.  First, Jonathan at age fourteen was responsible for his little four-year-old sister's death, because he didn't keep a watchful eye on her.  Jonathan's mother says he never felt any guilt for that -- which leads Grace's friend Sylvia to tell her that means Jonathan's a sociopath.  But Jonathan sure expressed some powerful guilt in the restaurant to Grace about his sister's death, to the point that she comforted him.

But before the hour was out, Grace discovered another suspect.  Henry.  That hammer or anvil or whatever exactly that was could, I suppose, have been wielded by Henry to bludgeon Elena.  We earlier learned that Henry knew about Jonathan and Elena - he saw the way they were relating to each other in front of the school -- so there's your motive,  right?  I suppose Haley would be happy to have another suspect to throw at the jury, but Grace is horrified.  And you know what?  I still think it's not Henry, either.  A little too soon, for one, with another episode (the finale) next week.  And, what kind of psycho would Henry have to be to be so relatively calm after commiting for such a brutal murder?

So ... we'll find out next week (though my wife says all we may see is Jonathan acquitted, and never know who did it).  But I'm thinking we will find out and ... the killer was Elena's husband Fernando.

See also The Undoing 1.1: A Murder, A Missing Person, and NYC Bustling in the Snow ... The Undoing 1.2-3: A Dearth of Likely Suspects ... The Undoing 1.4: Three Great Scenes with Sutherland


Why Did the Polls Get So Much Wrong Again in 2020 US Election?

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 158, in which I discuss why the polls got so much wrong, again, in the 2020 US Presidential election.  They did predict that Biden would win, which he did, but by smaller margins in several states than projected in the polls.  And he lost Florida and Ohio, which the polls said he would win.  Why did this happen, again (it happened in 2016), what can be done about it, and what are the implications of this failure in polling for the future?



Check out this episode!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Big Sky 1.1: Pretty Big Deal


My wife and I caught David Kelley's Big Sky.  He has a good thing currently going on The Undoing, check out my reviews.  Big Sky, based on the pilot, appears to be another good thing.  [Spoilers below.]

The story takes place in Montana, hence Big Sky.  It has a definite Twin Peaks vibe, replete with a scene in a diner (which shut down, due to Covid, a real Twin Peaks touch right there).  But so far, there's nothing other-worldly or interdimensional.  (I can't recall, was Twin Peaks already in that alternate zone in its first episode?)

But what we do have is a sharp kidnap-sex-slave ring that's been going on for a while, with at least two out-of-the-blue surprises.  A truck-driver who seems an easy going guy (played by Brian Geraghty, who made a good impression on Chicago P. D.) tazes a prostitute (played by non-binary Jesse James Keitel) he picks up at a truck stop, and then two young women whose car broke down on the road in the woods.  And a state trooper (played by John Carroll Lynch, who has made a good impression on dozens of shows) plays a state trooper, who kills a private detective who is looking for the missing women.  One unexpected tazing (the other two were certain to happen as soon as the car broke down on the road) and one unexpected murder are a better-than-average quotient of surprises in a pilot, which usually have only one.

And it's a good thing that the victims were just kidnapped not killed.  They look to be at least a little more interesting-than-usual characters (played by Natalie Alyn Lind and Jade Pettyjohn, in addition to Keitel).  And the murder of the detective leaves the agency in the hands of two women investigators, played by Kylie Bunbury and Katheryn Winnick.  I haven't seen Bunbury before but Winnick was memorable in Bones and even more so in Vikings.

So it looks like we have some good ingredients in Big Sky, and I haven't even mentioned the music, also much better than average.  Hey, it's not too often, if at all, that you hear The Rolling Stones' "It's All Over Now" on a network television show.  See you back here next week,


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Podcast Review of The Crown season 4

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 157, in which I review The Crown season 4 -- the best season so far in this superb series.

Further listening:

Review of The Crown seasons 1-3

Further reading:

Review of The Crown Season 1 ... Season 2 ... Season 3 ... Season 4


Check out this episode!

The Crown season 4: Margaret Thatcher and The Queen, Charles and Diana

I thought Season 4 of The Crown, which my wife and I just finished binge watching, was the best of the series so far.  It had two toweringly important stories, each brilliantly acted and powerfully presented.

Margaret Thatcher, the U.K.'s Iron Lady, contemporary of Ronald Reagan (from my American perspective), was tour-de-force portrayed by Gillian Anderson.  Her acting, excellent to begin with in The X-Files, just gets better and better.  Her conversations with Olivia Coleman as Queen Elizabeth II were non-pareil.  Woman-to-woman, perfect tones of voice and gestures and head inclinations and facial expressions, these conversations are a veritable textbook of how to act.  And the true story of Thatcher, the combination of her real toughness and real vulnerabilities, including her clinging love of power, rang bells as to what's happening in the United States right now.  Trump has none of Thatcher's steel.  His toughness is all bravado.  But he has the same love of power.  And though Thatcher believed in democracy, albeit as a hard-eyed conservative, and Trump is a fascist at heart, their penchant for clinging to power is disturbing to contemplate, and deftly portrayed by Anderson as Thatcher in The Crown.

Charles and Diana, as we all know, is a modern-day Shakespearean tragedy.  Josh O'Connor has Charles, at least far as we saw him in the news clips, pretty well down pat.  The slightly bent head, the almost diffident smile, all of that hiding a keen wit and a boiling well of anger at being stuck in this marriage and even life makes a riveting counterpoint to Emma Corrin's Diana, innocent at first, growing into a thirst for fame, soaking it up, and the beginning of a real humanitarian soul that leads her to hug a boy with AIDS in Harlem, NY.  The two of them drive themselves and hence the larger family to the breaking point.

But the Queen survives it all, and succeeds, better politically than personally, but still tolerably well at this point, as the family celebrates an internally frosty Christmas in the closing scene.  I have no idea how accurate this all is.  I of course know nothing of Elizabeth personally, and I prefer ancient Roman history to England for the past seventy years.  But, as I always tell my students, docu-dramas never tell the complete truth, not usually even most of it, and that's ok.  Because, at their best, they can tell deeper truths about human affairs, in all senses of that word.   And this season of The Crown does one fabulous job of it.

See also  The Crown season 1: Peerless ...  The Crown season 2: Standing Ovation ... The Crown season 3: Outstanding Story, Worthy Chapters


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Joel Iskowitz at the Atlantic Gallery

As many of you know, I've had the great fortune of having Joel Iskowitz design the covers for many of my books, ranging from the Sierra Waters time travel trilogy (pictured above -- and note that the third novel, Chronica, written in 2015, makes reference to Joe Biden as President!) to Marilyn and Monet (pictured at the end of this post).  Isky, as I call him, has been my friend since the 5th grade in the Bronx, where we conspired about how to impress girls, and I first became aware of his talent for illustration.   More recently, he has guest lectured in some of my classes at Fordham University, I interviewed him on my Light On Light Through podcast, and he introduced me to John Glenn (subject of several Iskowitz portraits), whom I interviewed just a year before his passing for Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion (for which Isky also did the cover) (here's an audio of the interview).

So, I was truly delighted to learn about Joel Iskowitz's first solo show, Icons of Inspiration, at the Atlantic Gallery in New York City.  Our continuing caution about COVID kept Tina and me from attending in person, but, happily, you can see all of Isky's works online at the virtual show, right over here.  

My favorites are just about all of them, but here are some that really hit the spot for me: Bob Dylan, Edgar Allan Poe, Louis Armstrong (with Bogey and Bacall), George Gershwin, and of course John Glenn.

Prints are available of many of these -- they'd light up any wall, just as they light up the soul.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Undoing 1.4: Three Great Scenes with Sutherland

Well, The Undoing checked in with another great episode -- 1.4 -- on HBO tonight.  And we still have really no better idea of who killed Elena.

I mean, the end, and this is not much of a spoiler, points a little more to Grace, assuming that's who Jonathan meant went he told Connie Chung that he had lost someone he loved.  There's maybe a chance that he meant losing Grace, but if not, if that meant he deeply loved Elena, and he lost her, when Grace killed her ... well, that still doesn't mean that she did.  Didn't the police cam show her walking away from the murder scene, before Elena was killed?

So that still leaves us with a paucity of plausible suspects.  I still think there's an outside chance that Donald Sutherland's character Franklin -- Grace's father -- did it.  He has a pent up fury inside him, and Sutherland played him powerfully tonight, in more than one scene.  I think my favorite was his conversation with Jonathan.  In addition to Franklin's words, he looked like he was close to spitting in his errant son-in-law's face.  A close second was Franklin confessing to Grace how unfaithful he had been to his wife her mother.  And a third scene, Franklin and that "putz" Connaver, head of Reardon, was a fine piece of work, too.

As it's been all along, The Undoing is teeming with great acting.  Hugh Grant put in some excellent scenes tonight, too.  And all of this is still wrapped tight as a drum as to who did the deed.  Anyone else?  It's almost certainly not Henry, and not Sylvia, either.  Though she's likely the other woman Jonathan was having an affair with, so that increases her chances, at least a little.

When you can't find a suspect, one sometimes fruitful move is to go back to the first one -- in this case, Jonathan -- but the combination of the character and actor still has me pretty much convinced it's not him, either.

See you here next week.

See also The Undoing 1.1: A Murder, A Missing Person, and NYC Bustling in the Snow ... The Undoing 1.2-3: A Dearth of Likely Suspects


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Carlos Scolari and Fernando Rapa's Media Evolution: A Review

Marshall McLuhan burst onto the scene and became the preeminent thinker about media and their effects upon us -- a position he still comfortably holds -- with the publication of his two masterful works, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Understanding Media (1964). These two were unconventional books -- Gutenberg Galaxy exploded the very notion of chapters and turned them into blog posts almost 40 years before there were blogs online -- but they were undeniably books.

Not so, or not quite, the pair of publications that followed.   These were a lot a closer to Mad Magazine than a book, or, if a book at all, more like a graphic novel than a proper or improper scholarly book.  They were also co-written -- which has nothing to do with their structure, but is worth noting -- with Quentin Fiore (The Medium is The Massage, 1967; War and Peace in the Global Village, 1968).  McLuhan followed these with more "conventional" Gutenberg Galaxy-type books, which also were co-written, leaving The Medium is the Massage and War and Peace in the Global Village as standalone high-water marks of how to conduct a scholarly probe ala Alfred E. Newman.

But those two serio-comic books are chocked full of insights, worthwhile to profound, about the media world back then and where it might be headed.  My own first book about McLuhan (Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium, 1999), a scholarly investigation in a form that your great-grandmother's professor would be comfortable reading (if not necessarily agreeing with) has quotes from and references to the two McLuhan-Fiore books in just about every chapter.  And I cherish the worn, cracking paperbacks of these sibling books on my bookshelf, right next to the other harder, hardcover works by McLuhan, or McLuhan and co-authors.

So I was truly pleased to get a copy of Carlos Scolari and Fernando Rapa's Media Evolution (Scolari's words, Rapa's graphic designs), which will fit right up there on my bookshelves next to Medium is the Massage and War and Peace in the Global Village.  Most of the words are in Spanish, which I can barely read, but the images are pretty much all you need to get what the book is talking about it, and they're images Quentin Fiore, and Marshall McLuhan, would surely have appreciated.   The references in the book are also in the McLuhanesque tradition -- deep and far reaching -- and range from close McLuhan associates such as Bob Logan to science fiction pathbreakers like Bruce Sterling.  Hey, Scolari even managed to get a photocopy of a relevant page from my 1979 doctoral dissertation (Human Replay: A Theory of the Evolution of Media) into his book.

So, pick up a copy of Media Evolution, and enjoy and learn, whatever language you most like to read.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Why Did So Many People Vote for Trump?

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 156, in which I consider why more than 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in the just concluded Presidential election.

Further reading: Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm

Check out this episode!

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Undoing 1.2-3: A Dearth of Likely Suspects

Catching up with two episodes of The Undoing on HBO, because I've been focusing on the election.  But now that America has pulled back from the precipice, it's good to be back to watching at least a little fictional drama.   And The Undoing is mystery drama par excellence.

So, here's what we've learned in episodes 1.2 and 1.3: Jonathan is alive.   He's Elena's baby's father.  Grace is coming around to at least being open to the possibility that Jonathan didn't kill Elena.  And ... she was in the area of Elena's murder the night she was so savagely killed.

That's a lot to digest.  For Grace to be the murderer, she has to be a psycho par excellence -- if that phrase can be used in conjunction with a psycho.  If memory serves, there's been at least one other drama -- a movie, I think -- in which the killer was not the patient the shrink was treating, but the shrink her or himself.  So we now have two suspects:  Jonathan and Grace.

I'll go out on an obvious limb and say I think the killer is neither.   Fernando the victim's husband has the obvious motive, but police say the camera in the area has no record of his being near the scene of the crime.  Is that conclusive?  Probably not -- I mean, he could have gotten into the room of the crime some other way, been waiting in an apartment above where Elena was killed, right?   So, no, his not being in the video footage is not conclusive.  But, and, yet, I don't think he's the killer, either.

So who then?  We're running out of suspects.  Franklyn, Grace's father, could have done it, I guess.  But does he have the physical strength?  I don't know.  Who's left?  I can't think of anyone.

All of which makes for one good detective story.   Sharply acted, with great New York flavor, including that prison room for visits, which looks like it was shot in the cafeteria of my junior high school in the Bronx, or is that just me?

See you here next week.

See also The Undoing 1.1: A Murder, A Missing Person, and NYC Bustling in the Snow


Saturday, November 7, 2020

Truth Wins in the Marketplace of Ideas

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 155, in which I put Joe Biden's victory in some philosophic context: it offers proof of John Milton's argument, way back in the Areopagitica, that truth can win in the marketplace of ideas, even this age of social media.


Check out this episode!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Understanding Media Ecology Just Published in China


This brand new book by Liang Yi, Understanding Media Ecology,  has a chapter devoted to my work, with a link to an audio and a video recording of me.   This makes the second book published in China this Fall about my work -- the first was Cheng Gong's Media Competition for Human Selection, Survival of the Fittest: Paul Levinson's Media Evolutionary Theory devoted completely to my theory of the evolution of media, first presented in my 1979 doctoral dissertation, Human Replay: A Theory of the Evolution Media.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Podcast: Grounds for Optimism the Day after the Election

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 154, in which I explain how Joe Biden is winning the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.

Check out this episode!

Grounds for Optimism at 9:30 in the Morning, the Day after the Election

The counting in the 2020 Presidential election in the United States continues, despite that fascist in the White House.   And the results are providing grounds for real optimism.

Joe Biden is close to being called winner in Wisconsin.  He's beginning to move up in Michigan (AP is already calling Biden leading in Michigan).   AP and Fox News have Biden winning Arizona.  He also won a district with one electoral vote in Nebraska.   That's enough to make him President.  

And ... Philadelphia's mail-in ballots, to be counted tonight, could well give him a victory in Pennsylvania, too.  Even Georgia's still in play.  I'm moving from guardedly optimistic to solidly optimistic. 

The course of true democracy never did run smooth.  It's beset by ignorance and fascistic impulse in the populace at every turn.   An impulse that bids people to act on their worst instincts, to ignore facts and throw away logic in favor of gratifying grievances and delusion.   Trump has fanned these flames at every turn.

But the counting continues nonetheless.  Hope and truth and respect for truth persist.   And I expect, before this day is over, that it will triumph over the despoiler in White House, and consign him to the ignominy of history.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Queen's Gambit: Will Check Your Attention and Keep It for a Long Time

If you'd like your soul lifted, refreshed, and recharged for a long time, check out The Queen's Gambit, a seven-episode mini-series, on Netflix.  Its story of Beth Harmon, a fictitious child chess prodigy who grows into a flawed but splendid champion, shines on so many levels.

The closest analog in real life is Bobby Fischer, an American child chess prodigy who went on to become World Chess Champion in 1972 by beating Boris Spassky, who held that title and represented the Soviet Union.  Fisher's career went downhill after that, and The Queen's Gambit ends right after Harmon gains that victory, so there the similarity ends.  But we're left with an extraordinary set of scenes and relationships.

Among my favorites -

  • Beth with Mr. Shabel, a janitor in the orphanage who recognizes Beth's talent and teaches her chess
  • Beth with the variety of boys and young men she usually beats in matches, and can't quite connect with or fall in love with.
  • Beth with her adoptive mother, who comes to deeply believe in her.
  • Beth in the Soviet Union, where she meets and bests a whole new series of masters and near-masters
  • Beth and Jolene, a friend at the orphanage, who turns out to be quite a friend indeed
As this list which I could go on with indicates, Beth is the centerpiece of just about every scene in the mini-series.  And Anya Taylor-Joy delivers this role memorably, animating a character who ranges from almost autistic at the beginning to alcoholic and almost serenely triumphant at the end.   Same for all the other characters - memorably performed that is - ranging from those chess boys young and old, to the pharmacist with whom Beth has her own unique relationship.  Come to think of it, she has a unique relationship with just about each and every character in this narrative.

One of the main reasons The Queen's Gambit is so good is precisely because it comes from a novel, not real life, which all too often is not quite as incredible as the story told here.  And, though I haven't yet read the Walter Tevis novel of the same name from which the mini-series is derived, I see on Wikipedia that he authored six novels before he died in 1984 at way too young an age, and three of them, including The Hustler, were made into movies before The Queen's Gambit.  

All of which adds up to a real phenomenon on our hands, and cause for a big round of applause for everyone concerned, including Netflix for getting it on our televisions, computer screens, and phones.


U.S. Senate vs. Twitter

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 153, in which I dig into the issues raised  by the appearance of the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee at the end of October 2020.  In a nutshell, the issues boil down to violating the First Amendment vs. Violating the Spirit of the First Amendment.

Relevant reading: Postjournalism by Andrey Mir

Check out this episode!

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Undoing 1.1: A Murder, A Missing Person, and NYC Bustling in the Snow

David Kelley's The Undoing mini-series debuted with a star-studded cast on HBO tonight.  I mean, with Nicole Kidman as Grace Fraser a psychologist and Hugh Grant as her husband Jonathan Fraser an oncologist on the posh side of New York City, and a murder and a missing person, we can just stop there and how can you go wrong, right?  You can't.  The first episode was sleek and blockbuster powerful, an East Coast analog in many ways of Kelley's California Big Little Lies, which was pretty hot, suspenseful stuff, too, over two seasons.

[spoilers below]

The Undoing starts off with a nice long build-up of rich mothers (whose kids are in an elite private school) plus one (who's among them on a scholarship) meeting on some auction committee.  Before the hour's over, Elena (the young mother with a scholarship for her son) has a conversation in the nude with Grace in a locker room (that is, Elena has not even a towel around her), Elena on the night of the auction kisses Grace on the lips, and Elena is found brutally murdered the next morning.  And, when Grace tries to let her husband know about the murder -- he left in the morning to (supposedly) to attend a meeting in Cleveland -- she finds that he's gone missing.  About as good a set-up as you're likely to find on any screen.

So here's where we stand:

1. Is there a connection between Elena's murder and Jonathan's disappearance?  We don't know that yet, for sure, but, how could there not be?  

2. Did Jonathan murder Elena?  He's the most likely suspect at this point, his motive being jealousy, or maybe he was sleeping with Elena and she or he wanted to end that.  He did say something to Grace about Elena, and his being missing doesn't help,  but that's all still circumstantial at this point, as they say.  There's even a chance that he, too, could be dead.

3. Any other suspects?  The husband -- Elena's -- is always a possibility, but he seems like a nice guy.  I suppose there's a very outside chance that Grace did it, but she didn't really have the time, and she seemed genuinely shocked to find out about the murder.  So, make that chance very slight and outside.  (My wife suggested Grace's father Franklin.  We don't know much at all about him, but he's played by Donald Sutherland, which suggests some kind of significant role.)

4. How about someone not at all in the first episode?  I'd say no -- Kelley's too good to pull rabbits like that out of a hat.

So we have a nice, taut, high-octane mystery on our hands, set in snowy, pre-pandemic New York City, which is fun to see in any case.  See you back here next week.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Unsolved Mysteries Season 2: Ghosts, DNA, and Missing Children

Unsolved Mysteries has returned with another short, six-episode season on Netflix.  Why they just don't do one twelve-episode season is still a mystery, but the good news is this second season is just as good as the first, which is to say, quite good.

There's a strong mix of true stories, ranging from who murdered a U. S. government official to whether a woman whose death was ruled as a suicide was in fact murdered.  But I'll just say a few words about my three favorite episodes:

  • Tsunami Spirits is the closest these six episodes come to science fiction, or maybe fantasy, as in life after death.  But this ghost story almost could be a serious piece on the anthropology of how people in a community deal with a mass death.   In this case, it's a town in Japan hit by a tsunami, leaving many of the survivors with the feeling that spirits of the departed were still at hand, and communicating with the living.  The priest interviewed for this episode was especially instructive and memorable in his thoughts and comments.  He was and is determined to take these survivors' stories of interacting with the dead seriously, even though that might go against the specific tenets of his religion.
  • A Death in Oslo tells the story of a woman who checks into a posh hotel, only to be found dead in her room of a gunshot to her head a few days later.  The gun's at hand, but seems in the wrong place for the suicide that this death is initially thought to be.  The woman's identity is not known -- in retrospect, her check-in was suspicious -- and the people who investigate, especially a guy who has devoted decades of his life to finding her, realize their first job is to identify her.  They do, eventually, get her DNA.  And there the story ends.  My question:  wouldn't 23andMe and like-DNA family tracers be helpful in locating this woman's relatives?  (See my review of Sergio Pistoi's DNA Nation for more.)
  • Stolen Kids is a story of just what it sounds like, and heartbreaking.  Two unrelated tots around the age of two are kidnapped just a few months apart from the same park in Harlem, NYC.  That happened decades ago, and age progression images are the best hope the police and the families now have of reuniting with their now-adult sons.  The episode ends with a whole series of age-progression images of little kids who were kidnapped.  I hope that helps get some of those families reunited.
In the original Unsolved Mysteries, one of the best parts was when, after an episode, we got an update on mysteries that were solved.  I'm looking forward to the next season of Unsolved Mysteries, and hoping we see at least one or two happy resolutions, or at least resolutions of some kind.

"Abraham Lincoln Over There"

I've been thinking about the second and final Presidential debate between Biden and Trump last week.  Obviously, and as I said on Twitter and Facebook right after the debate, Trump was less abusive than he was in the first debate (faint praise), but Biden held his own, and delivered a vastly more effective closing statement.   But as Election Day -- or the end of Election time -- looms, and that last debate fades into history, I'm realizing the highpoint of the debate, certainly its most memorable line, came when Joe Biden looked at Trump and said, "Abraham Lincoln over there..."

This came a little after Trump had claimed with a straight face that he done more for African-Americans than any other President, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.  It had much the same power as Lloyd Benson's rejoinder to Dan Quayle's statement in the 1988 VP debate that he and Jack Kennedy had been of a similar age, allowing Bentsen to say to Quayle, I knew Jack Kennedy and you're no Jack Kennedy.  Quayle had been warned by his prep team not to say that in the debate -- he had been saying that on the campaign trail -- and Bentsen had been well prepared for such a statement.  In the case of Trump, there's no warning such arrogance,  and it didn't matter if Biden had been prepared for that statement and was ready with the Lincoln jibe, it was delivered with just the right tone at just the right time.

Trump unsurprisingly went on to dig a bigger hole for himself, responding that he had never said he was Abraham Lincoln.  This was literally true but a lie in effect.  Everyone had heard him compare himself to Lincoln just a few minutes earlier.  The denial also showed that Trump is metaphor-blind.

In all fairness to the Trump-Quayle comparison, Quayle did go on to win the Vice Presidency in that 1988 election.  But that was only because George H. W. Bush ran a much better campaign for President than his Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis.  Though anything is possible when the votes begin to get counted next week, and underestimating Trump's support is an ever-present danger, I expect Joe Biden to do much better than the ersatz Abraham Lincoln who masquerades as President.

Borat 2 (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm): Camera Epistemology

My wife and I just saw Borat 2 aka Borat Subsequent Moviefilm on Amazon Prime Video.  As with the first Borat movie in 2006, it was at turns and sometimes all together (and altogether) hilarious, horrifying, over the top, sobering, and vulgar.  And there's the already infamous Rudy Giuliani scene near the end.

As always, the question -- Giuliani aside -- is how much the people in the movie, other than Borat and his daughter Tutar -- knew about what was going on, i.e., that they were appearing in a movie.  The two guys who took Borat into their home and spouted dangerous conspiracy theories, the woman who genuinely tried to help Tutar, the various women and men who tried to understand Tutar and Borat, however outrageous or insane their stories, until these marks either broke or continued to work with varying degrees of discomfort inside this horror-show amusement-park universe -- were they really marks or were they part of the paid, unacknowledged, scripted acting cadre?

The people singing the at once very funny and deeply disturbing Covid-19 song were at a rally, and they most likely were real.  They wouldn't have wondered what the cameras that were recording them were doing there.  But what about the conspiracy duo -- who were also at this rally -- what did they think when Sacha Baron Cohen entered their home with not just his mustache but some kind of camera crew?  Or, again, that wonderful woman who took Tutar under her wing, and tried to give her guidance?  I sure hope she was real -- she showed there's still some hope for humanity -- but what did she make of the cameras?  Or, did both Cohen and Maria Bakalova who played his daughter have some kind of super-micro cameras tucked somewhere into their shirts?   Which brings us to Giuliani.

The good thing about Pence and Giuliani -- good, that is, as far as their roles in the movie -- is that neither would have been surprised by cameras in the contexts in which they were filmed, and of course there's no way they would have agreed to play along with Cohen, anyway.   So about Giuliani:  He consents to go into Tutar's hotel room, leering during the interview, and for some reason lies back on the bed (I'd rather not say "lay" here, and who knows exactly if that's grammatically right) and then either (a) tucks his shirt down the front of his pants or (b) you be the judge (this is Cohen's advice to viewers of his movie).  It probably doesn't really matter - Giuliani is a sleaze either way, just a worse sleaze if he's not tucking in his shirt.

Anyway, a brilliantly funny and all too instructive movie by Cohen, wonderfully acted by him and by Bakalova as his daughter.  And as for the rest of people who appear in this movie?  Brilliantly acted or real? Follow Cohen's helpful advice:  See the movie and decide.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Why the US Gov Going after Google is Not a Good Idea

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 151, in which I argue that the U. S. government pursuing anti-trust action against Google is not a good idea.   My reasons range from media evolution, which responds to human needs, taking care of information monopolies as it did regarding Microsoft's near-monopoly in the 1990s, to Trump's real reasons for going after Google.

Links to articles and books mentioned in the podcast:

Other relevant podcast episodes:

Check out this episode!

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Trial of the Chicago Seven: A Little Too Much Fiction in this Docudrama

My wife and I saw The Trial of the Chicago Seven on Netflix on Saturday. Having lived through the real trial of the Chicago Seven (originally Eight) in 1969-1970, we thought there was a little too much fiction in this docu-drama to be 100% successful and effective.  Nonetheless, it was powerful viewing.

To back up a little, as I alway tell my classes, docu-dramas are by definition never 100% truth or exactly as the events in the movie actually happened.  Hey, even straight-up documentaries are never 100% true, because the film-maker inevitably has to leave some events, one hopes inconsequential, out of the film.  Real life is too sloppy and inexact to fit in just as it is or was in a documentary.

But docu-dramas go a big step further away from truth.  At the very least, they rewrite or make-up dialogue.   Worse, they often make up characters and/or endow characters who existed in real life with deeds they never did.   This works best the further back in history the docu-drama goes.  I couldn't possibly have any personal recollection of what Lincoln said and did.  So I was able to enjoy Spielberg's Lincoln with zero quibbles.   But 1969-1970 is a lot closer than are the early 1860s to our time.

So, lots of people noticed that Tom Hayden's closing statement in the Aaron Sorkin docu-drama wasn't made by Hayden in reality, and was not a closing statement.  Or that the pacifist Dellinger -- who did in fact earlier read the names of some of the American fallen in Vietnam during the trial-- never hauled off and punched a guard who was trying to escort Dellinger out of the courtroom, as so dramatically depicted in the movie.  To be honest with you, neither my wife or I jumped up and shouted during the movie that those events never happened.  But my wife had a vague sense of irritation throughout the film, and I was annoyed after the movie to have been brought to tears by that closing scene, so effective, that didn't happen in real life.

I suppose Sorkin might say that such a reaction is my problem, not his, and if I was brought  to tears by the ending that didn't happen in reality that shows that Sorkin succeeded, doesn't it.  I'm not so sure.  I think that, even in a docu-drama, or maybe especially in a docu-drama, the film maker has an obligation to present a greater quotient of truth.  Again, especially if the docu-drama is so close to home in time.  I'm sure Marc Anthony never said "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;  I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him," but that didn't in the least get in my way of really enjoying Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, from the moment I first read it, so many decades ago, and for that matter thinking about that play right now.

Maybe the answer is Sorkin's movie is meant for a younger generation than mine.  It has lots of assets, including boiling down the differences between the protestors on trial to Hayden vs. Abby Hoffman.  I don't know if that's true, either.  But since I don't know for sure that it isn't, I'm ok with thinking back on that crucial aspect of The Trial of the Chicago Seven, and enjoying the recollection and contemplation of that fundamental conflict between political revolution (Hayden) and cultural revolution (Abby Hoffman). And I should say the acting in this movie, including Eddie Redmayne as Hayden and Sacha Baron Cohen as Abby Hoffman, was just superb.   Regarding those two, special kudos to two Englishmen talking at each at some length in passable American accents.

So, see the docu-drama - with no reservations if you weren't around the first time this trial happened, back in the 1969-1970.  And see Medium Cool made in 1969 if you'd like to see a documentary about the protests around the Democratic National Convention which ignited the trial.