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Monday, August 19, 2019

City on a Hill Season 1 Finale: "You Ain't that Good, and I Ain't that Bad"

"You ain't that good, and I ain't that bad," Jackie says in the Season 1 finale of City on a Hill last night.   It was the best line in an excellent hour, and it doesn't matter who the "you" is, because it's actually all of us in the audience, and it captures the essence of the series.  Jackie cuts corners all the time, even murders people.  But, somehow, most of his actions are on the side of the good. And, the murdered - certainly Clay - though they should have been tried and convicted, deserved what they got.  And so while DeCourcy and Benham are right to take umbrage at a lot of what Jackie does, they're not right, certainly not completely right, to want to destroy him.  Because, he ain't that bad and they ain't that good.

And, significantly, Jenny sees this, too.  I knew she wouldn't leave him.  And her staying with Jackie is not an act of weakness.  It's an act of strength and love.   There's a path between leaving Jackie and just accepting what he does.  Jenny has chosen that path.  And it was good to see her finally tell off her mother, who clearly is the worst person in that family.  Jackie ain't that bad.  Jill's mother is.

Speaking of strength, Cathy has become one of my favorite characters, and she was never better than she was last night.  She's the bond that will hold her family together.   Frankie was unable to say no to his rat brother Jimmy.  But Cathy won't be.  And with Jimmy out and about and Frankie behind bars, Cathy will sooner or later come into big conflict with Jimmy, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out next season.

My sense of the series is that it has picked up power and intensity with each episode.  I very glad to see it's been renewed, and I'll be back here next year with more reviews.

See also City on a Hill: Possibilities ... City on a Hill 1.2: Politics in a Cracked Mirror ... City on a Hill 1.3: One Upping The Sopranos ... City on a Hill 1.4: Enjoyable Derivative ... City on a Hill 1.6: Tony's Mother, Mayhem, and Family ... City on a Hill 1.7: The Bodies ... City on a Hill 1.8: Personal Business and Its Accompaniment ... City on a Hill 1.9: Changes


Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Rook Season 1 Finale: Letter to Her Earlier Self

The Rook Season 1 finale, just on tonight, was an excellent, brilliant episode on all kinds of levels, including Gestalt in unified attack action again, and Myfanwy getting the better of the Russian guy who looked like Putin.

But my favorite part was next to the very end, when Myfanwy writes a letter to her earlier self.  Of course that's impossible, because she can't time travel, and that's why she sends the letter to her earlier self by throwing it over the bridge into the river Thames, the place where all of this started.  But there's enormous narrative significance in this.   The preceding episodes this season all play off the letter and communications Mifanwy's younger self sent to her older self, the self whose mind had been wiped.  The reversal of this in the end shows that Myfanwy has recovered her mind, or enough of it to be a full person, and write meaningful letters to herself again, even if they can't be delivered.

Two other notable departure points near and at the very ending.   Monica asks to have her memory wiped, so she can forget about the guy who's been haunting her.  The result is she might be dead.  Meaning?  Maybe that guy meant so much to her that she can't be alive with no memory of him.  But I'm betting if there's a second season - which I sure hope there is - we'll see Monica recovered, at least in some form.

And Linda joining Myfanwy's sister's group of free EVAs is a very nice touch, too.  This means that, if there is a next season, we may see Linda and Myfanwy at active odds, since Myfanwy is apparently still part of the Checquy, 

Lots of things to look forward to in a season two, which as of this instant hasn't bee announced.  I'm going to use all of my EVA powers as a reviewer to make that happen.  These powers are fairly subtle, but you never know.

Review of John Stith's Pushback: Grab It

I usually review science fiction novels here.  But when I came across Pushback, an adrenalin pumping mystery novel by John Stith, who wrote Red Shift Rendezvous, one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels, hey, how could I resist?  Besides, the who dunnit of mystery and detective fiction is a close cousin of the what dunnit of science fiction.

The basic story of Pushback is an amiable investment counselor in Colorado Springs, Dave Barlow, finds himself the victim of an increasing series of pranks - increasing in both frequency and intensity - which soon became bizarre and sadistic attempts to murder him.   It starts when he shows up to a high school reunion and nobody remembers him because the people at the reunion are unknown to Dave and vice versa.  This escalates into his car filled with concrete, Dave almost killed in a hit-and run, his home leveled, Dave poisoned having dinner in a nice restaurant with a pretty actress trying to help him, and Dave nearly being blasted by a shotgun rigged to go off when he shows up at a client's home to talk finances.  Who is behind this and why?

Dave may be amiable but he's no slouch.  He fights back with intelligence and style, reported through the wry voice of John Stith, who serves up this surprising tale with his customary eye for detail, keen sense of humor, and immersion in decades of popular culture.  Dave is equally at home citing Z Z Top and learning how to explode eggs in a microwave on YouTube.  Middle-aged guys coming at Dave with golf clubs are "foursomes of the dead," and he notices a woman in tight jeans "closer to the paint family than the clothing family".

On that last point, there's plenty of romance in Pusback via Dave's new love, Cathy, and a winning tenderness throughout, making it no surprise that the novel was nominated for the Daphne du Maurier Award.   The location in Colorado Springs makes for a great pastel background for this narrative, which, come to think of it, would look great on any kind of screen. 

See also Book Review: Redshift Rendezvous by John Stith is Perfect Science Fiction Mystery Hybrid

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Rook 1.7: A Kind of Time Travel

A great, almost-all explained penultimate of the season episode 1.7 of The Rook last night, in which we learn how Myfanwy knew she was going to lose her memory, and in turn why she wrote that note and left other information for her future amnesiac self, and how specifically she got into that position with no memory on the bridge, surrounded by a bunch of dead guys.

The episode is one long flashback that begins with yet another EVA with another kind of power. It's someone for whom the month ahead or longer can seem but a split-second present, in which the EVA can see all these future events.  Myfanwy has discovered her, and she tells Myfanway that Myfanwy will have her memory wiped, by someone under the sea.

We already knew that Farrier was responsible for Myfanwy's memory loss, and Myfanwy discovers that, too, when she sees Farrier standing under a picture of the sea.  Farrier's reasons are not completely bad, maybe not bad at all.  Erasure of her memories of Checquy is the way that Farrier can let Myfanwy leave the organization and have a normal life, which is what her sister who talks to Farrier wants.

The guys on the bridge were killed by Myfanwy, whose uncontrolled EVA power manifested when two groups approached her, and she had just lost her memory. Afraid, confused, she reflexively protected herself from the groups which she saw as would-be attackers.

Meanwhile, earlier, we get a steamy scene of Myfanwy with the Gestalt, which explains the relationship see has had with them in the previous six episodes.

All in all, a very nice piece of work, with leaves open only one really big question: what will Myfanwy do in the present, i.e., the way we saw her at the end of episode 1.6 last week?  See you here next week, after the season one finale.

See also:  The Rook 1.1: Dickian Pastiche ... The Rook 1.2: Live Details ... The Rook 1.3: Gestalts ... The Rook 1.4: The Bristol Stomp ... The Rook 1.5: The Home Secretary ... The Rook 1.7: Family

They're coming out into the open, for the first time in centuries ....

City on a Hill 1.9: Changes

With only one episode to go this season, on next week, City on a Hill pulled out all the stops tonight in 1.9.   In a nutshell -

Frankie and Jimmy go ahead with the Brinks job in Fall River, but it doesn't succeed, since Jimmy has told law enforcement exactly what's going to happen.  But, although the heist is stopped, there's all kinds of significant damage, expected and unexpected, including -

  • Hank gets killed (which makes the second major character with a badge to be killed on this show, the first being J. R. Minogue).
  • Frankie sees the way Jimmy and Jackie are looking at each other, and realizes Jimmy is the rat.
  • DeCourcy wanted to stop this robbery without Jackie's help.  But Jackie of course shows up, plays a major role in getting the bad guys - he rams their car - and DeCourcy is furious.  I gotta say, though, that it's not right to say Jackie stole the glory.  He, after all, earned some of it, by ramming the getaway car, right?
Those three developments change everything - well, certainly the second and third, since Hank was not that big a character.   But next week's season one finale won't be enough time to work all this out.  Good thing there's a second season.

In either that second season, or in next week's finale, Frankie may well kill Jimmy.  And I predict that DeCourcy will actually reconcile with Jackie - unless Rachel comes up with some damning evidence, like proof that Jackie killed Clay.  Hey, that's why it'll good to see next week's season finale, rather than relying on my predictions.

See also City on a Hill: Possibilities ... City on a Hill 1.2: Politics in a Cracked Mirror ... City on a Hill 1.3: One Upping The Sopranos ... City on a Hill 1.4: Enjoyable Derivative ... City on a Hill 1.6: Tony's Mother, Mayhem, and Family ... City on a Hill 1.7: The Bodies ... City on a Hill 1.8: Personal Business and Its Accompaniment


Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Loudest Voice Finale: Truth

The Loudest Voice concluded tonight with John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth," played under postscripts that tell us what happened to major characters after the story portrayed in the series ends.  In many ways, that combo - Lennon's song and the postscripts - were the most compelling part of the series, which was plenty compelling, already.

For example, why does Beth Ailes maintain her husband's innocence after we see her in the series finally disbelieving him, after being told that Gretchen Carlson has tapes of what Roger said to her?  Since there's no public record of what Beth said to Roger privately, let alone her private facial expressions, the most likely conclusion is: Beth's coming to believe the charges against Roger may be artistic license on the part of the The Loudest Voice. As I often say, docu-dramas are not documentaries, and even documentaries, though they don't fabricate scenes, may not tell the whole story.

Along the same lines, why did Ailes's assistant, Judy Laterza, first support Roger in the testimony she gave which she knew Roger was seeing on one of his cameras, and then, after Roger's death, continue to be silent on everything?  How much of the scene in which Roger invited her to join Beth and him for dinner, and Judy was delighted, until Beth nixed it, actually happened?

I raise these points not because I disbelieve Gretchen Carlson and the other women who brought charges against Roger, but because I think we need to keep reminding ourselves that the rendition of this that we saw in The Loudest Voice may be, at the very least, a narrative of truth embellished, in one way or another.  And this, in turn, is important to keep in mind when we consider Trump and the political part of the story, and Roger's view, depicted in The Loudest Voice, that he was more responsible than anyone or anything else for Trump's 2016 victory.   That may or may not be true, even though it's certainly a powerful story.

And there actually are at least two related questions here:  One, did Ailes believe that he was responsible for Trump's becoming President?  And, two, was Ailes indeed responsible for Trump's becoming President?  As I've said before in these reviews, I certainly don't think the answer to the second question is yes.  And I'm just not sure about the first.

But such questions only add to the power of The Loudest Voice, and, indeed, everything about The Loudest Voice was powerful, especially Russell Crowe's performance as Aisles, which abundantly deserves an Emmy.   Kudos to everyone who put together this little series for creating an excruciatingly timely and unnerving masterpiece.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Fleabag: Beyond the Fourth Wall

My wife and I just binged Fleabag on Amazon Prime Video.  Easy to do, since the two seasons add up to a total of 12 episodes (or about half of what a single season of network television used to be).  Easy to watch, since the dialogue was brilliant, frank, witty, and hilarious - not to mention that it all takes place in London (our second favorite city, after New York, where we live).

But the most provocative part of the series - the whole serious is delightfully and sometimes seriously provocative - comes in the second season, where the conceit of the hero (Fleabag) talking to the camera, or in theatrical parlance, breaking the fourth wall (the first three being the back and the two sides of the stage), takes a momentous turn: a crucial character, the Priest (who loves Fleabag, and with whom Fleabag falls in love), is aware of Fleabag talking to the audience.

In our current age of streaming television, the fourth wall was broken early on, in House of Cards, in which first Frank and eventually Claire talk to us, the audience.  (It was broken dozens of times in earlier television, movies, and plays - the Wikipedia article provides a good summary.  My favorite was Magnum PI.)  But even before including the Priest in the fourth wall breaching, Fleabag did far more than talking to us across the screen.  Her eyes, lips, the way she held her head, provided a compelling and enchanting part of the dialogue, which soon became essential to almost every scene, and in total provided a veritable encyclopedia of non-verbal expressions and how they shed meaning on verbal communication as silent counterpoint.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who created, wrote, and plays the lead role (Fleabag) in the series, won a British Comedy Award for her performance in the first season (2016).  The second season (2019) has thus far been nominated for a boatload of awards (eleven).  If there was an award for breaking the fourth wall, I'd give it to Walter-Bridge for the first season, and then give her a special additional award for extending the wall-breaking in the second.

There's no word yet on a third season, and the current indication is that the second season is the final.  But with the fourth wall ripped so wide open, there's another boatload, of questions, to explore.  Why does the Priest see Fleabag's mind looking away, being absent, when she looks and talks to us in the audience?  He is not partaking in the breaching himself - he's not communicating with the audience - and he doesn't quite know that Fleabag is, either.  But how does he come to see she's absent for that split second from him?  Because he loves her so much?

What will happen when Fleabag admits to him what's happening - so far, she's not allowing herself to tell him - will he believe her?  I don't for a minute think his telling her he prefers God to loving her is the end of their romantic and erotic relationship.   But even if it is, there's no reason that he won't continue seeing in her eyes that she's looking at someone else - i.e, a lot of someones else, us.

It took three years after the first to get a second series.  I'm eager to see the third, however long that takes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

City on a Hill 1.8: Personal Business and Its Accompaniment

The last scene of City on a Hill 1.8 settled our impression of Jackie, if we had any doubt before.  His swagger, his braggadocio, is much more than that.  When he tells his wife he'll kill the guy who assaulted Benny and landed her in the hospital, he was more than blowing off steam.  City on a Hill specializes in a punch-in-a-gut last few minutes.  Jackie does more than punch this guy, Clay.  He pulls his gun and shatters him.

In other words, Jackie is exactly who he says he is.  He's beyond and above the law.  He not only cuts whatever corners he needs to get the bad guys, he's not above using his gun to settle a personal score.  For better or worse, he's genuinely someone to be reckoned with.   Someone, to return to an earlier episode, who may well have pushed that reporter down the stairs.

The song that accompanies this scene makes it all the more memorable.  It's Jackie DeShannon's "Put A Little Love in Your Heart".   We hear it earlier as accompaniment when Jimmy gets the stuffing beat out of him.  That was effective enough.  But its reprise when Jackie takes care of personal business is creme de la creme.  Jackie accompanying Jackie.

Not only that.  I have to say, Jackie De Shannon sounds a lot like Jenny Rohr.   Jill Hennessy, who plays Jenny flawlessly, is also a singer.   It occurred to me that she could've been singing the song.  You never know. 

City on a Hill has been renewed for a second season.   I hope they have more Jackie DeShannon songs.  I'd recommend "When You Walk In the Room" or "Bette Davis Eyes".

See also City on a Hill: Possibilities ... City on a Hill 1.2: Politics in a Cracked Mirror ... City on a Hill 1.3: One Upping The Sopranos ... City on a Hill 1.4: Enjoyable Derivative ... City on a Hill 1.6: Tony's Mother, Mayhem, and Family ... City on a Hill 1.7: The Bodies


Monday, August 5, 2019

Captain Phil interviews Paul Levinson about his New Music, Science Fiction, and Trump

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 117, in which the notorious Captain Phil (on WUSB Radio) interviews me about my new music, latest science fiction, and Donald Trump's current assaults on democracy.  Phil also plays, at the start of the episode, two rough mixes from my forthcoming Welcome Up album of science fiction songs, to be released by Old Bear Records this Fall: "Alpha Centauri" and "Samantha".  We discuss such topics as the return of Jeff Lynne and the re-launch of Amazing Stories, in which several of my new science fiction stories have appeared. I always have a good time talking to Phil, and this interview was one of the best.

Helpful links:
  1. Robinson Calculator
  2. more on anniversary issue of Amazing Stories
  3. my review of Jeff Lynne at Prudential in Newark
  4. my review of The Loudest Voice
  5. Levinson on television about Trump

Check out this episode!

The Loudest Voice 1.6: "Television Has Replaced the Political Party"

That's what Roger Ailes says in The Loudest Voice 1.6 - "television has replaced the political party." I'm not so sure.  I mean, I believe Roger Ailes certainly thought that and likely said that.  But I'd say Twitter more than television is the most significant political medium in this Trumpian age.  Maybe 2016 was a little too soon for anyone, even Ailes, to recognize that.  Maybe Ailes was constitutionally incapable of recognizing the Twitter revolution, given his running the engines of television for politics, going back to Nixon.

As I've been saying all along, I don't quite buy a lot of what we're seeing in The Loudest Voice about Ailes and politics.   Most especially that he made Donald Trump.  What he made was Fox News as such a behemoth of cable news.  That part, I believe.  As for the womanizing, I wasn't there so I don't know any of that for a fact.  But I have no problem believing that, either.

But not the Trump part.  The limited series will end next week, and will leave us with the message that Trump was an Ailes creation.  The 2020 election is still more than a year away.  If Trump loses, that will support the thesis of this series.  Trump lost because he lost his diabolically powerful media booster.  If Trump wins, that would mean that Ailes was not so crucial to Trump after all.

You know what?  I usually like to be proven right in my media criticism.   But there are some things more important than proof of professional acumen.  As a human being, I deeply hope that Trump loses, and therein lends support to the claim that Ailes got Trump in office the first time, and Trump lost the second time he ran for President because Ailes was no longer around (as in, not on this Earth).

The series ends next week.  I'll say a little more about this then.  As for that welcome ultimate disproof, we'll have to wait until November 2020.

See also:  The Loudest Voice 1.1: Fox Launch ... The Loudest Voice 1.2: September 11 and After ... The Loudest Voice 1.3: Prelude to Trump ... The Loudest Voice 1.4: "We Create the News" ... The Loudest Voice 1.5: Was Ailes Really All That Powerful?

The Rook 1.6: Family

Myfanwy meets her sister in The Rook 1.6 - assuming she is her sister, real family.  This in contrast to Checquy, who act as if they're her family.  Checquy is certainly as dysfunctional as many families, we'll give them that.  (I like how each of the Checquy pronounces their name slightly differently, you notice that?)

By the end of the encounter, we and Myfanwy are convinced that her sister is her sister.  She tells Myfanway how the Checquy ripped her apart from her  family when she was 12 and her EVA powers manifested.  More convincingly, Myfanway feels something she recognizes when she strokes her childhood bedcover, and this leads to other memories.  Yeah, the sister is likely her real sister, and Checquy are likely monsters.

The Home Secretary is beginning to learn the monster part, the hard way.  Farrier's super powers have convinced the Home Secretary that her success resides in working with rather than against Farrier. She instructs Conrad to rehire her.

And this at the same time as Myfanwy, after thanking her sister, tells Gestalt that Farrier caused all the recent damage - the bridge executions, the memory wipe, all of it.  Of course, she knows this mainly because Nazim told her, and is there any reason she should so value his information.

But Farrier, who apparently caused some real damage to the Checquy, is back in that family fold.  Which only shows, again, how dysfunctional that family really is.

See also:  The Rook 1.1: Dickian Pastiche ... The Rook 1.2: Live Details ... The Rook 1.3: Gestalts ... The Rook 1.4: The Bristol Stomp ... The Rook 1.5: The Home Secretary

They're coming out into the open, for the first time in centuries ....

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Years and Years 1.6 (Finale): Power

Years and Years had an especially powerful finale last Sunday.  In part because it was, in effect, a two-part finale.  In part because each part was so strong.

The first had to do with a happy ending to the dystopian near future which was the political part of the narrative.  This near future Britain was worse and better than our Trumpian America.   Worse in that the BBC was forced to close down, and undesirables were not only rounded up but killed.  Events as massive as the atomic attack on the Chinese island were taken by an increasing number of the public as fake news.

But, in the end, the power of the people rose up and swept Vivian Rook and her totalitarian system from office.   Which is not to say that a new demagogue might not ever arise - Trumps and Rooks are always never far from center stage - but at least, for the time being, freedom and truth won the day.

The second had to with a happy ending to the science fiction in the story.   Uploading yourself to a computer as a way of cheating death and achieving immortality has long been a trope of a science fiction (see my review of Charles Platt's Silicon Man from 1991, eight years before The Matrix).

On Years and Years, the personality and memories are downloaded (to water) rather than uploaded.  But Edith, who absorbed a slowly lethal dose of radiation in that atomic blast, is able to survive, sans flesh, in that aquatic digital fluid.   As neat and satisfying a science fictional solution (sorry, I can never resist a pun) as has come along on television in a while.

A great ending to a great success of a little series that couldn't be more relevant to our dangerous world.

See also Years and Years 1.1-1.4: "Democracy ... Worn Out" ... Years and Years 1.5: The Disappeared

Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood: Masterful Alternate Reality

My wife and son and I just saw Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood at our son's invitation. He's an even bigger Tarantino fan than I am, and my wife liked a couple of his earlier movies too.

The latest is among the best three Tarantino ever made - right up with Reservoir Dogs (in a class by itself) and Jackie Brown, which was just an all-out brilliant movie.  I use the phrase "alternate reality" in the title of this review.  As many of you know, I'm a science fiction author, and a copious reviewer of science fiction television series and movies.  I don't mean to suggest that Once Upon a Time is science fiction alternate reality, in the way that, say, the recently departed Counterpart on television was.   But as the title surely suggests, Once Upon a Time is a fable, neither docu-drama (though it does touch upon many aspects of real history) nor sheer fiction.

And the aspects of reality woven into this marvelous movie that takes place in 1969 Hollywood range from Bruce Lee to Mannix on television to the Playboy mansion to Charles Manson and Sharon Tate.  The fictitious characters are headlined by Rick Dalton (a somewhat washed up 1950s TV Western actor) and his stunt man double, Cliff Booth.  Rick is played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Cliff by Brad Pitt.  I've been saying ever since the two began burning up the screen decades ago that their looks almost made them interchangeable.  It was good to see Tarantino finally build a movie around this.

The movie is chocked full of memorable scenes, including Sharon Tate enjoying her own movie, Cliff getting the better of Bruce Lee in either a fantasy or a flashback, and Al Pacino playing a agent whose name is Schwarz and insists that people don't call him Schwartz (I've known a few people named Schwarz over the years, and have always been aggravated that I couldn't call them Schwartz).  And a plethora of great lines, including Dalton exulting in fried "sour kraut" when he takes a flame thrower to Nazis in an audition for a movie.  (I wouldn't be surprised if Tarantino came up with that line when he was 15, and was just waiting for a chance to write a scene in which he put it into a movie.)  And a full-house of great stars, most of them no youngsters, playing all kinds of bit and bigger parts, as per just about all Tarantino movies.

But the best part - and I won't say more, lest I give too much away - is the ending of the movie, which is why I say this movie is alternate reality (or alternate history, depending on how you look at it).  With so much of our reality animating this fable, Tarantino lulls us into thinking that just about everything will be the same.  It isn't, and that what's wraps up this wonderful package of what will go down as a quintessential Tarantino masterpiece.

real alternate reality, if that makes any sense
"flat-out fantastic" - Scifi and Scary

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Listen to the Way Pacino (Hoffa) Says "Phone"

This has to be one of the best trailers I've ever seen - for Martin Scorsese's new movie, The Irishman, due out on Netflix and select theaters this Fall.  It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pacino.  It's about Jimmy Hoffa.  How could you go wrong?

But it looks and sounds to be even better than that.  Listen to way Pacino, playing Hoffa, says "phone" (about 28 seconds in).   Pacino's voice and phrasing, the way he bends words just right, like daggers (usually softly) in your heart, has always been one of his strongest suits.  But this "phone" is something else.  Beyond just right.  Sheer acoustic genius.

And De Niro has been subject to a new "de-aging process".   That's something to see, too.  This trailer is like a real window to the past - except the real is the Hoffa story, and the fiction is someone De Niro's current age playing him in a 2019 movie.

Pesci also is in fine form and voice.   I could listen to these three guys all night.   If the movie is anything as good as the trailer, it'll be one for the ages.  Look for my review here in the Fall.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Second 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate, Part 2 of 2: Winners and Losers

The headline of the second part of the Second Democratic Presidential Debate, just concluded on CNN, is that Joe Biden did a lot better than he did in the First Democratic Presidential Debate on MSNBC last month. He was still a little inarticulate at times, and a little too prone to let the moderators interrupt him, but he was very impressive.  And so was just about everyone else on stage in Detroit tonight.

Some highlights -

  • De Blasio is completely right that current, private health care premiums, deductibles, out of pocket expenses, not to mention costs of prescribed medications, are far more expensive than what we would pay in taxes for universal, government-provided heath care.  On the cost of pharmaceuticals, good for Biden for highlighting that these obscenely high costs need to be brought under control
  • Castro and Gillibrand were right to call on De Blasio to immediately fire Eric Garner's killer, officer Daniel Pantaleo (Harris joined in on this call, too.)
  • Inslee was right to call for end of Senate filibuster.
  • Biden handled criticism of some of his past decisions pretty well.  He explained what he was trying to accomplish at the time, on issues ranging from busing to the Hyde Amendment, and he got support from Gabbard and Bennet.
  • In general, just everyone on stage was sharp and combative when needed.  I'd say the weakest, in terms of ideas and constructive engagement, was Andrew Yang.
One point about Harris: she again wrongly contrasted science vs. science fiction in Democratic vs. Republican positions on climate.  Not that the Republican positions aren't fantasy and counter-factual, it's that science fiction is not that, and not the opposite of science.  She did the same thing in the first debate last month.  Here was my response.
The September debate is next up, and there will no doubt be fewer candidates up on stage for that.  I'll be back with an assessment of what should be another exciting, even inspiring, night.

See also Second 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate, Part 1 of 2: Winners and Losers

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Second 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate, Part 1 of 2: Winners and Losers

I thought the first part of the second 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate, just concluded on CNN, was much better than the first part of the first 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate on MSNBC last month.  By "much better," I mean that almost every candidate on the stage expressed her or himself better than what we saw last month.

Among the highlights -

  • Bernie and Elizabeth Warren were clear, passionate, and outstanding on their view that the avarice of private health insurance means that the best path forward is the government provides all of it.  As Bernie said, health care is a human right.  (I would add, the government protects us from human parasites, why not from micro-parasites and lethal cells?)  And as Warren said, private insurers are all devoted to maximizing profits, which means taking in as much money as possible in premiums, and keeping expenditures for health care to a minimum.  Later in the debate, Rep. Delaney's equation of private pensions and private health insurance was wrong: there is no immoral profit motive in companies providing pensions for employees.
  • Amy Klobuchar was outstanding on the need to finally stand up to the NRA as the only way to get sensible gun reform in America, and stop the massacres.
  • Back to Bernie and Elizabeth Warren: Bernie was better than Warren in wanting to cancel all student debt, in contrast to Warren, who wants to cancel 95% of that debt.  But good for Warren for being better than everyone else on that stage on that issue, other than Bernie
  • Good for Pete Buttigieg for insisting that all U. S. military engagements (i.e. wars) get Congressional approval,  and that approval have a three-year sunset clause.  Here's a better idea: how about we follow the Constitution, and insist on a Declaration of War (but also with a sunset clause).
  • Buttigieg also put out an important challenge to all Republicans in Congress: do you want to be remembered as someone who didn't speak up about the racism of Trump?
  • Bernie's denunciation of Trump as a "pathological liar" is always good to hear.
  • Especially powerful closing statements by Buttigieg, Warren, and Bernie.
As to everyone else in the debate, I thought that Rep. John Delaney spoke the best, and offered the best arguments against Bernie and Warren.  But I didn't agree with him.  And as for the rest, well, I look forward to not seeing them on stage in the third debate, in September.
See you here tomorrow night.

Monday, July 29, 2019

City on a Hill 1.7: The Bodies

Jackie continues to get his way in City on a Hill 1.7, squeezing Jimmy to reveal the locations of the bodies from the heist, essential to DeCourcy making a case.

That was the end of the episode.  The beginning also had a body, but one which just managed to survive.  That would Michaela, who winds up at the bottom of a steep flight on Boston stairs, barely alive.   Did Jackie have something to with this, as well?

We know that Michaela's been investigating Jackie.  Did he push her, or have her pushed, down that flight of stairs?   The medical assessment is she fell - but we know how out of touch with reality those can be.   Well, one thing's for sure.  It's not likely Bonnie from Big Little Lies did it.   She's presumably still in California.

But the serious question about Jackie remains.  Would he actually kill someone to protect his vital interests?  I would say if the person was a dangerous criminal, yes.  But a reporter, investigating him?  On balance, I'd say no.  Jackie's sense of morality may not be the strongest, but it's there.  And as a practical matter, killing a reporter could well only invite further investigation.

Even with Michaela surviving, it already has.  Rachel has now taken up Michaela's investigation.  And, as an insider, she has a lot more at her command than does/did Michaela.  In fact, Rachel looks to be the most serious opponent Jackie may encounter on City on the Hill this season.

Which makes it eminently worth watching.

See also City on a Hill: Possibilities ... City on a Hill 1.2: Politics in a Cracked Mirror ... City on a Hill 1.3: One Upping The Sopranos ... City on a Hill 1.4: Enjoyable Derivative ... City on a Hill 1.6: Tony's Mother, Mayhem, and Family


The Rook 1.5: The Home Secretary

The Home Secretary came into focus in The Rook 1.5 last night.  No figure head, she, but a crucial player, who's been having an affair with Conrad, and wants to be Prime Minister.  And she's well played by Gina McKee, whom I first noticed in The Borgias.

But the big news is Farrier, who's not only fired by the Home Secretary, but displays some powerful super powers of her own.  Unless I haven't been paying attention, this is the first time we've seen them.   As this series progresses, it's apparent that there are more EVAs than first met the eye.

I've said the show reminds me of Heroes.  It also has threads of Sense8.  The Gestalts, indeed, are closely related Sense8 clusters - born on the same day, in powerful telepathic connection, the only difference being the Sense8 cluster members are not physical twins.  But the cluster members come from all around the world, and the back story of Nazim brings home the global distribution of EVAs.

The resonances of The Rook with other series - in reviewing it in the past weeks, I've mentioned Heroes, Counterpart, and Sense8 - is actually its great strength.   Because although it bears resemblances to these and other shows, there's something about The Rook that's all its own.  Something in the pacing, or the characters, or both.  Take the Home Secretary, for instance.

She's having an affair with Conrad, and the rules say they either now must break it off or go public with it.   Jennifer (that's her name) breaks it off, because she thinks the Prime Minister is vulnerable and thus open to Jennifer becoming the PM.  So, I'm wondering - is she also an EVA of some sort, and if she becomes PM, wouldn't that be a provocative development?  (Hey, the current Prime Minister in our real world is ... well, let's not go there.)

See also:  The Rook 1.1: Dickian Pastiche ... The Rook 1.2: Live Details ... The Rook 1.3: Gestalts ... The Rook 1.4: The Bristol Stomp

They're coming out into the open, for the first time in centuries ....

The Loudest Voice 1.5: Was Ailes Really All That Powerful?

The fifth episode of The Loudest Voice makes clear what the series has been more than hinting at all along: it was Ailes more than anyone else who put Trump in the White House.  Or, at least, the coming attractions do, after we see Ailes do his utmost to get Obama to lose in 2012.  Ailes blames his failure on that score to the lameness of Romney as a candidate.

I should point out that I'm not a particular believer in any single reason for Trump's winning in the Electoral College. Not the Russians, not Facebook, not Ailes.  All of those contributed in one way or another, but none was decisive, and even all together, those reasons, and those kinds of reasons, don't add up to a factor that was much more important: there were enough racist people in the country, along with people who see their futures eclipsed by what I and others see as progress, like health care for all, that they put Trump over the top.  Because they just happened to be in the right places to do this, given the oddities of our electoral system.

So Ailes, who played a role, was not quite the king maker he's made out to be in The Loudest Voice, and Ailes himself apparently and presumably believed.  A genius for understanding what a significant segment of the American public wanted in its news, yes.  A paranoid conservative with boundless confidence, willing to always act on those beliefs, yes.  A womanizer, yes.   But if he was responsible for Trump, he shares that awful distinction with millions of other Americans.

Back to tonight's episode, it was another powerhouse of docu-drama.   His firing of Brian Lewis, his near destruction of Joe, his groping of Gretchen - all parts strongly played by their actors (Seth MacFarlane, Emory Cohen, Naomi Watts) - not to mention the searing off-the-charts performance of Russell Crowe as Ailes - make The Loudest Voice a show to behold.

See also:  The Loudest Voice 1.1: Fox Launch ... The Loudest Voice 1.2: September 11 and After ... The Loudest Voice 1.3: Prelude to Trump ... The Loudest Voice 1.4: "We Create the News"

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Just Published: Robinson Calculator

They're coming out into the open, for the first time in centuries ....

my new novelette ... not related to any fiction I've published before ... available on Kindle and paper 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Years and Years 1.5: The Disappeared

Episode 1.5 of Years and Years couldn't be more tragically relevant to our lives right now in the United States, off-screen.  It was about the treatment of immigrants, their placement in concentration camps, and what that really means.

Here in the United States, the detention now of would-be immigrants in camps at our southern border, where children and parents are separated, and children are kept in deplorable conditions, including having so little room as needing to sleep standing, in holding areas without access to toilets, has been decried by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others as "concentration camps".  Trump and his minions have characterized these members of Congress as "socialists," and feigned outrage at the use of the phrase "concentration camps," which the Trumpists claim is an insult to the Jewish people, whose relatives were put in real concentration camps by Nazis in World War II.

First, I should say that I'm Jewish, and I wasn't insulted by use of the term "concentration camps" to describe the awful conditions in the Federal holding facilities.  No, I wasn't insulted, I was horrified to learn about these conditions.

In Years and Years, Vivian Rook, the wily, fascistic Prime Minister of Britain, actually says something which supports the position of the Congressional observers here now in the United States.  Viv rightly says that concentration camps do not necessarily have to mean death camps -- they can relate to any concentration of people or any thing in a given place.

But, given the nightmare scenario that is Years and Years, Viv soon uses the cover of non-objectional concentration camps indeed to do what the Nazis did.   Borrowing an approach from fascist regimes in real-life South America, the British government quietly begins "disappearing" (i.e., killing) the immigrants it's keeping in concentration camps.

In the season finale next week, we'll see if this means the end for Viktor.  In the meantime, score another powerful and horrifyingly relevant episode of Years and Years.

See also Years and Years 1.1-1.4: "Democracy ... Worn Out"

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reflections on Mueller'sTestimony Before House Intelligence Committee, Wednesday Afternoon

Mueller's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, just concluded this afternoon, was stronger than his testimony before House Judiciary Committee this morning.

Schiff's opening and closing statements were both powerful, in contrast to Nader's, whose opening statement and questions were excellent, but whose closing statements were not memorable.   In general, Mueller answered more questions, and gave fuller answers.  He has a genuine passion about doing something to stop Russian interference in our electoral process. 

Unlike in previous years, Republicans do not share this, certainly not with the same passion.  This left the field open to the Democrats, who probed Trump's alliance as a candidate with Russians continuously and effectively.  In contrast, Republicans resorted to their typical tactic of yammering about straw-men, this time characters named Joseph Misfit and Kathleen Cadillac (well, that's what they sounded like).

But Russian interference with our last election, and the certainty that they will at least try to do it again, is no laughing matter.   If this afternoon's testimony wakes up more Americans to this problem, Mueller's appearance will have been worthwhile.

Whether this and the morning's testimony will empower the move towards impeachment, and/or the success of Democrats in the 2020 election for President and regaining the Senate, remains to be seen. My guess is it won't do much  for the first, certainly won't in itself lead to impeachment in the House, but may well have strong underlying effect in the next election, leading to Democratic success at the polls.

See also Reflections on Mueller's Testimony Before House Judiciary Committee, This Morning

Reflections on Mueller'sTestimony Before House Judiciary Committee, Wednesday Morning

Some assessments of Robert Mueller's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, just concluded.

Mueller is clearly not a very fluent speaker, and all too often responded to questions by deflecting to his report, or just flat-out declining to answer the questions.   But there were several powerful responses from Mueller this morning:

  • He agreed with and even said, in response to one question, that there were a lot of "liars" amidst the President's cadres.   He even characterized some of those people interviewed in his investigation as "outright liars".
  • Although he refrained from specifically recommending impeachment, he acknowledged that impeachment was a next step, in view of his insistence that he as Special Prosecutor could not indict a sitting President.
  • He repeatedly did not back down from his insistence that his report did not "exonerate" the President, as Trump and his supporters repeatedly claim.
  • He strongly backed the people who worked for him in his office as "non-political," despite Republican claims to the contrary.
Most of the Republicans on the committee also came across as motor-mouths and nasty.  Their conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, etc came across as unpersuasive.  In contrast, the Democrats quoting from the Mueller, and getting Mueller to agree with their quotes, was an effective way of getting more details of the report out to Americans.

So, all in all, the morning session was very much worthwhile.  Mueller's testimony was valuable when he chose to answer the questions put to him.  But he should have answered more of them.

See also Reflections on Mueller's Testimony Before House Intelligence Committee, This Afternoon