=Borrowed Tides= and =Alpha Centauri= right here

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lost: Canterbury, Decameron Tale Tonight

An unusual, almost standalone, gem of an episode of Lost tonight, which detailed the lives on the island of two new characters, Nikki and Paolo.

Actually, they weren't really new. They were on the plane and on the island with Jack, Sawyer, Kate, and all of our people all along - we just hadn't seen them before a couple of weeks ago, when they were not so subtly introduced, so any one paying any attention would know that something was coming up with them.

I won't tell you their story - except to say it was a good one, with a pretty nice twist. No need to spoil it for you if you haven't seen the episode.

And it really wasn't the main purpose of the episode, anyway.

The best delight of tonight's Lost was seeing the whole story of Lost, from the beginning, except with Nikki and Paolo now in the picture. There's Boone and Shannon arguing again in airport, Locke finding his feet on the island and looking around, Jack saying we have to work together or we won't survive - it was good to see that again! - and even a nice short new scene with Ben and Juliet from a while back, which revealed a bit of important information.

The series at its best has always had a Canterbury Tale-ish, Decameronistic quality to it, and it very much had that flavor tonight.

Even though it did not move the central story forward.

But tonight, that was no problem at all.

Useful links:

2 and 1/2 minute podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

Canterbury Tales

The Decameron

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Galactica Dylan

Battlestar Galactica this season was a sandwich in which the bread was spectacular but the meat was, well, chicken liver.

The opening sequence of episodes in the Fall were among the best of anything I've ever seen on television. Picking up perfectly from the stunning events at the end of the second season, the first shows this past Fall put BSG easily in the company of the best of Star Trek.

The last few minutes of the season finale on Sunday were similarly superb. We'll be talking all summer about how those four people - four! - on Galactica could really be Cylons, and who the fifth still unidentified Cylon really is.

And the Dylan song was prime. Viewers have been speculating what "All Along the Watchtower" from the 1960s says about the timeframe we are now seeing on Galactica. Of course, there have been so many covers of that song, from Hendrix, U2, Neil Young, et al - and so many more likely to come (maybe some inspired by its role, now, in Battlestar Galactica) - that there's no reason to assume that the BSG rendition came from 1968.

And something to keep in mind: ships travel faster than speed of light in Galactica's universe. So there's really no telling how far into the future Galactica's story is taking place, based on the song.

And when you add in the possibility of time travel - which, admittedly, we haven't seen on Galactica, but hey, this is science fiction - then Battlestar Galactica could still be taking place in the distant past, even with the Dylan song heard by the Cylons.

I actually doubt that time travel will be the way this will be resolved, but even just thinking about this is precisely what made this part of BSG great television.

As for the rest - well, let's not dwell on it overly. After the opening arc of episodes, BSG gave us show after show which didn't really move the central story forward, a few good personal interactions - but not the stuff of soaring television.

Fortunately, that's all in the past now. The finale did what it was supposed to do, and I eagerly await the resumption of the story in 2008.

Useful links:

20-minute podcast with further analysis, and some choice musical samples

Bear McCreary's explanation of the Dylan song in BSG he did the musical arrangement for the song on BSG

Battlestar Galactica - The Bob Dylan Connection Jon Lachonis, BuddyTV

How Star Trek Liberated Television

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

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

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

more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

Get your own at Profile Pitstop.com

Monday, March 26, 2007

24 Season 6: Hr 15: Jack Meets Rainman, Prez Musical Chairs

A very fine hour of 24 tonight, with at least three themes, each handled with style and originality:

1. Jack meets Rainman: I knew it - as I said last week, none of the main characters at CTU was the mole. Each had a convincing alibi. The breach - as one of my readers suggested - was from someone outside CTU, who was hacking in. The drone pilot had a chip that allowed the terrorists to use Nadia's computer.... And this wasn't the only hacking going on tonight. An impaired, autistic Rainman-type character is being used by his brother to get the blueprints for a nuclear plant, to give to Gredenko. Drawing on a rarely displayed sensitivity, Jack is able to gently but effectively get Rainman to get to Gredenko, in one of the more interesting, offbeat sequences we've yet seen on 24.

2. Ricky is good: I had a feeling about this, too. Why put all that energy into introducing Mike Doyle (played by Ricky Schroeder), just to make him another sleazy high-adrenalin lowlife at CTU. He's tough, but honorable, not willing to let Nadia take the fall even though he was wrong to loudly suspect her, and wrong to threaten her in interrogation. Doyle is increasingly shaping up as the best operative at CTU after Jack.

3. Prez v. VP: This is handled very well, too. Wayne is perilously brought out of the coma so he can order the strike in the Middle East to stand down - only to be contradicted by VP Daniels, who says Wayne's not in his right mind. The Palmer bros seem ever subject to this claim - David got it in his administration, too. But this was still handled nicely tonight.

Other good touches included Milo kissing Nadia (see, I told you he was a good guy!) and the doc in charge of Wayne's treatment standing up to the growling Daniels (ever played just right by Powers Boothe).

And as we gear up for next week, we need to check over our shoulders to see what's happening with Jack's father, the condition of former Prez Logan, and ... is Audrey really dead and what more may be happening with Jack and his sister-in-law.... Just in case any of those may have slipped your mind....

Useful links:

4-min podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

Memo II to Olbermann: Did You See Jack Bauer's Concern About Militant VP? my continuing attempt to hold Olbermann accoutable for his attacks on 24

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rome Returns (and Concludes): Episode 10: Better than Shakespeare

I said in what seems like both a long and a short time ago, in my review of the first episode of this second season of HBO's Rome, that I thought the show was a powerful complement to Shakespeare.

As I watched the multiple final curtains tonight, I felt this television show of television shows was perhaps better than Shakespeare. Perhaps that makes me a Philistine ... but that never stopped me before.

Antony's words to Vorenus after losing the battle of Actium were extraordinary. He had always feared defeat, Antony said, but maybe he had overestimated its effects. Does not the water still taste good and the sun still shine?

And that was just for openers.

I have praised James Purefoy's magnificent performance throughout this season, and tonight's was his best. Shakespeare never had a better death scene than when Marc Antony took his life. Vorenus praises him. Antony humanly wonders if Vorenus really means it.

This is why I think Antony was the most human, the most noble, Roman of them all.

Vorenus will die, too, though not of his own hand. How satisfying it was to see Vorenus and Pullo reunited. How hopeful we were that they both might live. How wrenching it was that Vorenus did not, even though we understood that this ending was poetic justice.

Vorenus' temper had been responsible for Niobe's death. Did he therefore deserve to die, more than Pullo, who had killed plenty of good people, too, including Cicero (who, ok, may not have been so good, but I admire the real historical writer).

Both men had suffered the death of the women they most loved. But Vorenus had been responsible for the death of Niobe and Pullo had not for Eirene.... (though, since we didn't actually see Vorenus die, and he did survive 30 days, travelling under rough conditions, maybe we have not seen the last of either Roman...)

These two all-but-fictional characters were every bit as good as Shakespeare's best, and played as well as the best Shakespearean actors, as well, by Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson. I'll never forget them.

As I will not this series, whose death tonight, if it is indeed the end of HBO's Rome, is the unkindest cut of all.

Atia's soft tears said it all.

For I have to say that, from tonight's vantage, at the end of the series, there is nothing I could mention that displeased me, other than that the series is not continuing. I won't even grumble about the pace of the second season, which moved twice as fast or faster than the first, which had major history-shaping events and deaths in just about every episode - sometimes as many as two or three or more, as we saw tonight.

No, I won't grumble about that, because it, too, was part of this extraordinary experiment in television, which succeeded beyond anything I ever seen on tv before - both seasons, one and two.

And if we see no more of HBO's Rome, if the old BBC I, Claudius is my next tv stop in history?

I'm not complaining, because I know I just saw history in the making - or the making of a history that will go down in history, and be watched for hundreds of years or more to come in whatever we have for screens in the future.

I'll be putting together all of my reviews of Rome into one unified essay, with an introduction and likely some additional thoughts. Watch for it soon.


6-minute podcast of this review

Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC

Rome - The Complete First Season

Rome - Music from the HBO Series

I, Claudius 1977 BBC-PBS series

my latest novel: The Plot to Save Socrates

Saturday, March 24, 2007

PaulLevinson.net digest #7: Edwards, blogging, Gore, The Wire

Columbia Univ students thrown in jail for doing their assignment for videotaping on a public sidewalk

Politico-Edwards lesson: Blogs need even higher standards than mass media because mass media increasingly get their news from blogs

Media Drop the Ball in Edwards Reporting needed: a new tv graphic for speculation

Republican pap about Al Gore and the Internet clear from the context of Gore's 1999 response to Larry King that he was talking about Federal programs that helped facilitate the Internet, not "invent" it

Fox in the Act of Blatant Propaganda: A Tale of Dems, Committee, and Panel Fox got dem Dems on the brain

The Wire's "Way Down in the Hole" - Lovin' the Disappointment every season I'm disappointed that they changed the version of that song - for about two weeks...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lost ... Jack and Locke reverse roles

At the end of last week's Lost, we - along with Locke, Kate, Sayid, and Rousseau - saw Jack enjoying himself with The Others. He certainly didn't seem a prisoner-

This week, we learn that he was indeed a prisoner, looking forward to being set free from the island, the very next day, on a submarine with Juliet. (He would have come back to at very least rescue Kate, as we see in a rare tender scene between them.)

Except he doesn't make it. (How could he - his leaving the island would all but end the show. Jack has been much more central to the show than Michael.)

And who stops him?

None other than Locke, who blows up the sub, and turns out to have been unknowingly operating on Ben's behalf, who of course also doesn't want Jack to leave the island.

How did this come to be?

As we've suspected all along, Locke never really wanted to leave the island - it somehow got him out of his wheelchair (which we at last learned how he got into, tonight). Even more importantly, Ben understands this. He sees in John Locke someone who has some sort of deep connection to the island.

Someone, in other words, who may be more of an Other than Ben himself.

We still do not know who The Others are, and what exactly they want.

But wouldn't tonight's show be pivotal indeed, if it set the future of Lost up with Locke being the new leader of The Others...

Useful links:

2 and 1/2 min podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

Lost: Keys What's Really Going On essay

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Wire's "Way Down in the Hole" - Enjoying the Disappointment

I was thinking about HBO's The Wire, how much I love its theme song - Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole". It's probably my favorite tv song of all time.

Not just because you can't compare it to catchy light-weights like the Friends' theme song, or the many fine instrumentals like Lalo Schifrin's music for Mission: Impossible.

"Way Down in the Hole" is even better than The Sopranos's "Woke Up this Morning" (by A3)...

It's had an amazing life on the show.

Sung by four different artists, in four different ways, in each of The Wire's four seasons.

I loved the first rendition, by the Blind Boys of Alabama. Slow, soulful, melodic and harmonic. I couldn't believe how good it was.

And I couldn't believe it when they replaced it in Season 2 with Tom Waits' own version. I mean, ok, he wrote it, sure, and I like his voice ... but I really missed the Blind Boys' singing ... for maybe about three episodes, and then I was lovin' Waits' performance.

So, you can imagine how unhappy I was with the Neville Bros' version instead of Waits' (which by this time had become the standard for me) at the start of Season 3. The Nevilles - what I can say? I've been crazy about their singing since I first heard "Tell It Like It Is" in the 1960s. And I'll just throw in that Aaron Neville's voice can make a skyscraper sway, though I don't think he was singing on the Neville's version of "Hole".

Which I quickly came to think was my favorite of all the recordings, too.

Which is why I was so upset to hear DoMaJe singing the song in Season 4 - you'd think I would've learned by now - but, no, I was almost as irritated by DoMaJe's choppy version as I was that Idris Elba's Stringer Bell was no longer on the show (and I was plenty unpleased about that)...

But I came to be crazy about DoMaJe, too (and yeah, I thought Season 4 was outstanding - even though I still miss Stringer). And after the season was over, I listened to all four versions, and thought maybe I liked DoMaJe's the best...

But no, not really, I love them all ... each of them ... the hallmark of a brilliant song, brilliantly performed...

And I'm really looking forward to being really disappointed, yet again, when I hear what they've got going on "Way Down in the Hole" for Season 5...

See also Looking Back At The Wire

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

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

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

more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

Get your own at Profile Pitstop.com

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

looking back at The Wire (with spoilers)

Two blog posts from last year follow on The Wire - in particular, the unique contribution of the Stringer Bell character, played perfectly by Idris Elba. Also check out the two podcasts listed at the end of these two posts - featuring hip-soul and rap recordings by Idris, as well as further analysis from me.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

~The Wire~ and The Wealth of Nations

The premier of Season 4 of The Wire on HBO is under a month away. I just finished Season 3 on DVD - 12 episodes in three sittings. It's the best show about the real world on television.

This means I'm not comparing The Wire to Battlestar Galactica or even 24 -- my two other favorite shows on tv -- which would be like comparing not apples to oranges, but maybe apples to androids or apples to adrenalin.

But The Wire has surpassed The Sopranos in the range, subtlety, intensity, and eloquence of the bad guys portrayed. Perhaps The Godfather, as well.

The cop part of the show is excellent, but we've pretty much seen it before on Homicide: Life on the Street, the 1990s NBC tour de force. The alcoholic detective, the political police chiefs, the heroic lieutenant are all played to perfection on The Wire, but we've been in those gritty precincts of Baltimore before.

Where we've rarely if ever been is next to D'Angelo Barksdale (played by Larry Gilliard, Jr.), the drug-dealer street manager with a serenity and a heart, or Stringer Bell (played by Ibris Elba), the drug-dealing second-in-command with an intellect and Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations on his bookshelf. "Who the fuck was I chasing?" Detective McNulty asks himself when he comes upon this book in Stringer's apartment in the next-to-last episode of the third season.

Who indeed? Someone like no other criminal you've met before. In between ordering murders, Tony Soprano watches the History Channel, Michael Corleone goes to the opera, and Stringer Bell goes to night school and reads classics in economics. Who is the more unusual, dangerous, perversely admirable?

If you've got a few days or weeks, do yourself a favor and find out in the first three Wires.

Monday, October 30, 2006

~The Wire~ without Stringer

The 4th season of The Wire has been very enjoyable so far, with a good Baltimore political campaign that resonates well with this time of year. (Hey, I find the politicos on The Wire more real than those who talk on Chris Matthews' Hardball.)

But I gotta say that I'm beginning to feel that this will not be one of The Wire's best seasons, and the reason is Stringer Bell's absence.

The greatest strength of the show - its truest genius - always resided in the subtlety, intensity, and surprising humanity of its drug dealing bad guys. But most of the originals are gone. First, they killed off D'Angelo Barksdale (on Stringer's order). Then Stringer got his just desert - just for him, unjust for us the viewers, and our continuing enthrallment in the show. And Avon Barksdale, out and in and out and now back in prison again, is nowhere to be seen this year.

Marlo Stanfield, the new, young, drug kingpin, is good - that is, he seems unremittingly evil. But that's also the problem. Because he apparently has almost no redeeming qualities, he's much less intriguing than D'Angelo and Stringer. Omar, anti-hero of the show for all four seasons who preys upon the drug dealers - he helped killed Stringer - does have some heroically conflicted qualities. But will they be enough to carry the show?

Stringer Bell, played to perfection by Idris Elba, was more than heroically conflicted, more than a villain with redeeming qualities. He attended night school, had The Wealth of Nations on his shelf, saw clearly that he had put his money in something other than drugs if he wanted to survive, but couldn't quite do that in time to save himself. His death put him in the realm of Michael Corleone, and thus was brilliantly appropriate for the story arc - but it left the future of the show in the lerch.

Maybe that's ok. Maybe The Wire, having achieved that height with Stringer, can continue and succeed on a slightly lower level, which would still leave it a great show, far better than 99% of everything else on television (but not better than Battlestar Galactica this year.) We'll see...

Useful links:

The Wire's "Way Down in the Hole" - Enjoying the Disappointment blogging about the best song in tv history

The Wire Without Stringer 20-minute podcast, featuring Idris Elba's hip-hop soul song, "Johnny Was"

The Wire Season 4 in 20 with Driis Speaking On Stringer 20-minute podcast, featuring Idris Elba's rap, Driis Speaks On Stringer

The Wire DVDs: First Season, Second Season, Third Season

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

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

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

more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

Get your own at Profile Pitstop.com

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

PaulLevinson.net digest #6: I, Claudius, Phil D'Amato, politics, fiction

I, Claudius after Rome what to watch when HBO's Rome ends: the 1977 I, Claudius

John Scalzi for Science Fiction Writers of America President writerly politics - I was Prez of the org 1998-2001

The Four Phils facts about the adventures of my fictional NYPD forensic detective, Dr. Phil D'Amato, in short story, novel, movie, and radio play

A Modest Political Proposal: Supporting the Best Candidates in Both Parties don't pick your favorite candidate - pick your favorite candidates, Democratic and Republican, and work for both

Monday, March 19, 2007

24 Season 6: Hr 14: Who's the Traitor in CTU?

24 was firing on all cylinders tonight - I thought this was the best show in this season so far, and one which now puts Season 6 within striking distance of Season 5.

Where to begin?

Powers Boothe as VP Daniels was in great, true form. No one is going to push him and what he says is right for the U.S. around. Not Karen Hayes, who's back in the White House, not Tom Lennox, who may or may not suspect what we may or may not know about Daniels (was he involved in the bomb that killed Assad and put Wayne Palmer in a coma?)

Hayes goes to the hospital to see if there is any way that Wayne can be revived in time to stop Daniels from hitting an Arab nation with a nuke. Wayne's sister Sandra is in the hospital - looks as if she's back in the picture now, too.

And things may be even more exciting back in California, if that's possible. Is Nadia really working for the bad guys? I don't believe it - too easy. But if not Nadia, who? Milo? Didn't he take a bullet to save Jack's sister-in-law, Graem's wife? (More about her below.) If so, what is Milo, some kind of suicidal spy? I don't quite believe that, either. Well, then, who? Morris was tortured, for cryin' out loud! Can't be him ... well, then ... we've got a nice, tough mystery on our hands...

Back to Jack ... He almost kisses Marilyn (his sister-in-law) (she wanted to) (I would've kissed her) ... and then she tells him: Audrey's dead!

Now, we've all seen these kinds of set-ups a hundred times. She's not really dead. She's being kept prisoner... I don't know, I'll be disappointed if this is how the Audrey-is-dead situation is resolved. Not that I want her dead, but ... I think Jack would be happier with Marilyn (personally, I've always found Audrey a little whiny.... She may be better suited for The Nine.)

So here's where we stand for next week: San Francisco was almost hit by a nuclear drone. Quick CTU work prevented that, but some nuclear material was still spilled. Not enough to hurt many people, Buchanan tells Daniels, but enough for Daniels to want to proceed with his nuclear retaliation.

So Karen Hayes is in the hospital to somehow get Wayne to intercede ... it may cost him his life - the doc says it's life-threatening to wake him.

And Jack will stop at nothing to find out who killed Audrey in China - presumably, they were Chinese - if she's really dead. And we may yet see William Devane - Audrey's father, and former Sec'y of Defense, back in the action again.

But with all of this exciting stuff, I find myself still most interested in - who is the spy at CTU? If not Nadia or Milo or Morris, then who? Buchanan? Impossible. Curtis - sorry, that was a low blow...

But it shows how desperate I am.

Chloe? No, as impossible as Buchanan.

Then, who?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Useful link: 4-min podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rome Returns: Episode 9: Gods and Reptiles

"He worships gods and reptiles," our friend the news reader, splendidly rendered by Ian McNeice, tells the Romans of Marc Antony. And Antony has indeed walked into the trap set for him by Octavian, but not without first putting up the emotional fight of his life with the reptilian goddess Cleopatra, in an episode so thoroughly splendid that the news reader was the least of it.

Antony may not be as preternaturally clever at plotting as Octavian, but Antony can see exactly what the soon-to-be Emperor of Rome has in mind. Send Octavia and Atia down to Alexandria, put Antony between the rock of Rome (his wife and his erstwhile lover) and the hard-soft place of Cleopatra's passions, and see where that leaves him. It leaves us with some of the best sex scenes in the series - see below for further - and Antony no more able to resist Cleopatra's ambitions than he is her charms.

Cleopatra, incidentally, is looking more sexual than beautiful, just as the most recent thinking in history would have it. Lyndsey Marshal plays her perfectly, as James Purefoy does Antony.

The acting and action back in Rome are every bit up to this. Octavian and Livia have a powerfully erotic scene in bed, and Octavian performs exactly how we would expect. Anyone who second-guessed the wisdom of replacing Max Pirkis with Simon Woods can no longer doubt it, if for this scene alone. (By the way, if the FCC and Congress have their way, scenes like tonight's in Rome will soon be ancient history - see my Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC.)

And if all of this passion and political maneuvering of gods and reptiles isn't enough, Vorenus and Pullo put in one of their best nights as well. Vorenus, loyal to Antony in Alexandria, seeing where his general is going, unable to stop him, recognizing the same "disease" in himself. Which is: hurting himself, trapping himself in impossible-to-win situations, out of guilt. For the loss of Caesar perhaps - for not being there, each for their own reasons, when someone they were bound to protect was murdered?

And Pullo has a hell now, too. He foolishly keeps Memmio alive - this did seem a little like a forced plot to device - so Memmio could escape, almost kill Pullo, but be killed by Gaia. Who is mortally wounded, and confesses to Pullo...

Wonderfully acted, all around, with special mention - as always - of Kevin McKidd as Vorenus and Ray Stevenson as Pullo.

And so the stage is set for the finale of next week - which every lover of Rome will be sad beyond words to see.

As has been the case with this entire, extraordinary series, part of the ending we know, and part we do not .... Pullo will be on his way to Actium and Alexandria. To face Vorenus? Probably. To kill Caesarian - Cleopatra's son with Caesar - as Octavian ordered? Maybe not, if Pullo believes the boy is really his...

6-minute podcast of this review

Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC

Rome - The Complete First Season

Rome - Music from the HBO Series

I, Claudius 1977 BBC-PBS series

Special Discount Coupons for Angie's List, Avis, Budget Rent-a-Car, eBags, eHarmony, eMusic, Nutrisystem

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Wiki Way, Parts I and II

[Originall published on my MySpace blog in September 2006, describing my initial foray on Wikipedia. Updated here with links throughout essay, and additional new links at the end.]

Part I

Most of you no doubt know far more about Wikipedia - the encyclopedia on the Web written not by experts but, well, by everyone - than I do. I of course had been hearing about it for a few years, but I confess I did not take a careful look until a few days ago, when a couple of entries about me came up on a Google search. In a nice coincidence, there was an excellent piece about Wikipedia on ABC's Nightline the other night, right before the piece on cell phones as bling in which I got to utter one good line.

I've been big fan of encyclopedias almost all of my life - in fact, ever since I read the Encyclopedia Galactica entries in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Decades later, I found old Encylcopedia Britannicas to be great sources of information, especially about the ancient world and Victorian times. My 1954 Encyclopedia Britannica was my single best resource in writing The Plot to Save Socrates - newer additions trim or delete older entries, so they have room for new information, such as the human genome project, which you can find just about everywhere.

I'm very impressed with Wikipedia - not just with the range of entries, but the way they are discussed and usually improved by Wiki readers, who can easily edit and correct any errors. The problem, obviously, is that not only can errors be made in the first place, but in the corrections. But the solution resides in the collection of minds that sooner or later read an entry and its corrections. From what I've seen, in perusing entries on topics I know something about, the process works. The more people refining an entry, the better it is.

This represents a very profound change in the way knowledge in general and encyclopedias in particular have been presented to us. Up until Wikipedia, a small group of experts decided what went into encyclopedias (I've served in this role for various encyclopedias myself.) Entries were very carefully scrutinized by editors, but once they passed through the gate, who could remove them from the encyclopedic grounds, who could correct or refine them? Only the same group of experts and editors, the next time around, in the next edition.

Newspapers and radio and television news and documentary shows work pretty much the same way. With the exception of letters to the editor, and the equivalent on radio and the television (call-ins from the listeners and viewers on some shows), everything the public gets is filtered through editors and producers - the gatekeepers of media.

Blogs have offered a no-gate alternative to news media on the Web. And Wikipedia is now doing the same for the venerable encyclopedia.

It operates not primarily on money, not on the selection of experts with demonstrable knowledge, but on the collective brainpower of our species.

It might fail, in the end, if not enough people join in the process. But I think it will succeed. So, get over there and put your two or more cents in. Chances are you know more about at least one entry than is currently posted there.

Part II: The Forces of Light vs. Darkness

So, I've continued my reading - and writing - on Wikipedia this week. And I noticed - and slightly participated in - a very interesting and, I think, significant occurrence yesterday.

An article on Pericles was selected by the editors as a "Featured Article". This lands it on the front page of Wikipedia. Which of course also lands it in the sights of anyone who want to do a little good-natured - and bad-natured - mischief.

Poor Pericles got plenty of both. These ranged from playing games with the grammar to just stupid obscenities (in contrast to intelligent obscenities - see my blog post in support of Thom York several months ago). I corrected a small, dignified vandalism that changed "was" to "is" in the first paragraph, which was otherwise all past tense ("Pericles was...").

My favorite was someone who came on at least half a dozen times, and changed "Perikles" (an alternate English spelling of Pericles) to Pickles.

And every time that change was made, one of a few people came right back with an edit that restored Pickles to Perikles.

Now, not to make too much of this, but it suddenly hit me that right there, on Wikipedia, I was seeing a sample of the contest between creative and destructive impulses that besets everyone - a microcosm of the battle between those who build and those who tear down that has always characterized our species, and likely always will.

On the one hand, some people add value to whatever their piece of the world. The guy who sells hot pretzels on the corner makes it a better place, with more to offer, than just a sidewalk and street with people rushing by. On the other hand, someone who throws an empty Snapple bottle on that same street makes it worse. It's no big deal, either way. But selling pretzels helps and throwing bottles hurts.

The world of ideas has always had both types of people, long before Wiki. The reason I have a low opinion of many critics (see my Of What Value Are Critics?)is that they tend to throw bottles, detract from creations and our understanding of them, rather than help. In contrast, the movie-maker, the songwriter, the tv producer, even the closet poet are all at least trying to add something to the world - to give it something that wasn't quite there before. They might not succeed, but at least they're trying.

Over on Wiki, people who write articles like the one on Pericles are trying to add something to the world. Not only in the content of that article, and many others, but in the daring, intellectually dangerous process of leaving it open to everyone's edit. Sure, a little mischief can be funny, and in that sense add a little humor to the world. Stephen Colbert's little game with elephants, in which he encouraged viewers to go on Wiki and write nonsense about the beasts, was worth a few chuckles.

But at the end of the day, the more lasting contribution will come from the accurate knowledge that Wikipedia is now making freely available to everyone. And an important part of that knowledge will be how to combat intellectual vandalism without succumbing to the authoritarian impulse. Wikipedia banned Colbert, in frustration over his joke. (Or was a sock-puppet banned - an account run by someone else, pretending to be Colbert.) But the response to Perikles and pickles yesterday was far better - correct it, don't lock the vandal out. Therein lies the most enlightened path of all.

Useful links:

Wikipedia: The Open Gates of Knowledge 20-minute podcast (Light On Light Through)

diGGin Round: Further Adventures in Gate-Opening 20-minute podcast (Light On Light Through)

How Important Are Critics? 5-minute podcast (Ask Lev)

Digg and Wikipedia: Further Adventures in Gate-Opening blog post

Digg and the One-Man Truth Squad blog post

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lost ... finding itself

Well, readers of this blog will recall I publicly gave on Lost a few weeks ago - with my Lost: Lost post. But I confess that hope springs eternal in the human heart, and I've secretly been watching Lost with my wife, anyway.

And tonight's episode is worth writing about. Locke's killing the guy with the eye-patch was a nice, early, unexpected twist. And, in general, excellent progress was made - meaning, moving a little closer to answers - on both fronts, out on the island with the Locke-Kate-Sayid party, and back in camp with Claire, Charlie, and Desmond.

Locke was the most interesting of the people out in the field - revealing a killing-instinct I didn't quite see before. Next week's show promises some answers, including what put him in the wheelchair.

And Claire and Charlie have made some progress - Desmond has told Claire at least a little about his future visions regarding Charlie. Rumors on the Web say that he actually is time travelling - not just having visions - and, well, as the author of The Plot to Save Socrates, that would be fine with me.

Claire's backstory was also excellent. Jack's father is hers. And this raises the question - how on Earth, why then, did they both end up on the doomed plane? I'm convinced that these kinds of coincidences hold the key to what's really going on in Lost (see my essay, Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On).

For the first times in weeks, I'm really looking forward to next Wednesday night...

Sometimes it pays to have a little illogical faith in a television show...

PS - Wow, what a great last scene with Jack! How could he have become so friendly with his captors so quickly ... He didn't look like he was pretending...

Useful link: 3-min podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

Something New: How About We Look for Best Candidates in =Both= Parties?

The approach most people take to Presidential elections is, pick a candidate - if you can - one candidate, and support him or her to the hilt. If your candidate fails before getting the nomination, you may or may not switch to another, and go through the same process.

If your chosen candidate is a Democrat, you likely will have little real interest in the Republicans, except to hope that they choose the weakest person to run for office. And vice versa - if your favorite candidate is a Republican, all you likely will care about regarding the Democrats is what they can do, presumably unintentionally, to help your Republican candidate win.

But does this approach get the best out of our democracy?

I'm trying something a little different this time around. I am going to try to pick my favorites in both the Democratic and the Republican fields, and do whatever little I can to help them get nominated. If I'm lucky enough to see both nominated, I'll then decide whom to vote for in the general election.

So far, here are my favorites, and why:

Democratic Party:

Al Gore: pluses: his election would correct the deep injustice of the 2000 election, he was anti-Iraq-war from the beginning, he is genuinely interested in science to improve our human condition; minuses: I'm concerned that he may be in favor of Congress's crackdown on "indecency," given his wife Tipper's history on this issue

Barack Obama: pluses: he was anti-Iraq-war from the beginning, he would bring a Kennedy-esque youthful vitality to the White House, it would be healthy for America to have an African-American President; minuses: not enough experience, and untested on many issues

*John Edwards: see below for note added on April 21, in which I've including Edwards in my Democratic favorites

Republican Party:

Ron Paul: pluses: he was anti-Iraq-war from the beginning (and, better than Gore and Obama, was in office at the time, and voted against the war resolutions), he is a vigorous defender of the Constitution and the First Amendment, he is an opponent of government censorship, he's in favor of private enterprise in space (so is Gore); minuses: he's in favor of states (but not the Federal government) banning abortion (I'm in favor of a women's right to choose), an opponent of gun control (I agree that the Second Amendment is consistent with Paul's position - I'm in favor of repealing it), urged US neutrality in Israeli-Hezbollah war


So, there you have it. I currently consider myself a supporter of all three candidates. Regarding Gore and Obama, I would certainly be happy with a Democratic ticket that had them both (Gore for Pres, Obama for VP), and I would be happy with a ticket that had either for President. Regarding Ron Paul: at this point, there is no other Republican even remotely as good, in my view.

Regarding the minuses for all three candidates: I'll keep researching their positions and records, and of course be on the look-out for new developments. And I'll also be open to any new candidates, or to any dramatic shifts in all of the candidates currently in the field, but I'm not holding my breath for either.


*Added 21 April 2007 - John Edwards' Favorite Book is I. F. Stone's The Trial of Socrates. If find this so impressive - indicative of a love a freedom of expression, and a philosophic depth - that I now include Edwards along with Gore and Obama as Democratic candidates for President that I could enthusiastically support.


25-minute podcast of this proposal - 14 Oct 2007

PaulLevinson.net digest #5: Ron Paul

Ron Paul - At Very Least, the Most Appealing Republican for President anti-war, anti-censorship, pro-private enterprise in space ... this candidate deserves serious consideration...

Monday, March 12, 2007

24 Season 6: hr 13: Markov's Mouth, and Martha

First, I gotta mention something that impressed me last week, and now this week, again - did you see that Russian guy's mouth? Anatoly Markov's - the Russian ambassador's - frown? John Noble, who sometimes goes by the name of Nogle, and played the slimy Denethor in the last two Lord of the Rings movies, contributed a world-class grimace to the past few episodes of 24. I'll miss it.

I'll miss Charles Logan, too. Even if he survives Martha's knife wound, he's not likely to be seen much longer on the show, outside of intensive care. A tough season for Presidents, current and former.

But Powers Boothe as the VP acting as President is in high, nearly snarling gear back in Washington. It's still not completely clear how bad he is - at very least, he's a hard-ass willing to risk war - actually, that wouldn't necessarily be that bad, given the peril the U.S. is in. But Vice President Daniels looks like he may also be behind the bomb that killed Assad and put Wayne Palmer in the hospital. And at very least, he's also leaning on Tom Lennox to lie to the Arab ambassador .... Tom could use some help from Karen Hayes, who should be back at the White House pretty soon now.

Back to Martha - what a performance! Jean Smart couldn't have played her tormented role any better. And it was great to see Aaron, again, too.

Last but not least for tonight, Ricky Schroder coming on board at CTU is a good thing, too. He may have manhandled Morris, and been none too friendly to Milo, but he reminds me of ... a younger, Jack.

Always good.

Hey, did you see that Russian ambassador's mouth? How does he do that?

Useful links:

2-minute podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

World Class Frowns On Television

The Two Towers Visual Companion

The Return of the King Visual Companion

PaulLevinson.net digest #4: Josh Wolf (twice), Mars, The Sopranos

Free Josh Wolf II: The Case for A Shield Law in the name of common sense and decency

Yay! Daylight Savings Time oh yeah!

Connecticut Going for the Easy, Ineffective, Unconstitutional Way to Protect Children on MySpace authorities go for the easy fix - once again

Free Josh Wolf - he sits in prison ... because he videotaped a demonstration!

Should Liars Be Unwelcome on Wikipedia? I say ... all that counts is the truth of what they write, not who they say they are

Sopranos Dissed! No Blue Moon in Bloomfield, NJ and then the town reversed itself ... someone made them an offer they couldn't refuse?

White Tea try it, you'll love it

Voyage to Mars - in 1965 we coulda' made it - seriously

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Rome Returns: Episode 8: "Attendance is Compulsory"

"Attendance is compulsory," Atia's slave advises her master, regarding an invitation to dinner with the family over at Octavian's.

And it's indeed a dinner you wouldn't want to miss, culminating in a confrontation between Octavian and Antony - that Antony loses. A nobler Roman than Octavian, Antony is nonetheless no match for Octavian in political maneuvering. He retreats to Alexandria, rather than risk being made a fool of, over his wife Octavia's affair with Agrippa.

"Attendance is compulsory" - and you wouldn't want to miss what happened in the Aventine tonight, either. Pullo's wife is poisoned by Gaia, and laid to rest. Vorenus is robbed of the shipment of gold entrusted to his protection - betrayed by his oldest daughter. He will repair to Aegypt with Antony, as Pullo gives Memmio what he has coming. These scenes were among the very best in the entire two year series.

Octavian takes a wife, and Antony reaches Alexandria and Cleopatra, at last looking as utterly captivating as we expected and hoped.

Command performances all around tonight ... especially Kevin McKidd as Vorenus, James Purefoy as Antony, Simon Woods as Octavian, and Lyndsey Marshal even briefly as Cleopatra.

There will be more of this to come next week ... attendance is compulsory.

3-minute podcast of this review

another blog post from me: Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC

Rome - The Complete First Season

Rome: Music From the HBO Series

I, Claudius 1977 BBC-HBO series

Monday, March 5, 2007

24 Season 6: hr 12: Powers Boothe

No one can play a complex badass/badguy as well as Powers Boothe - in Tombstone, Deadwood, and now 24.

We saw Vice President Daniels, briefly, before. Now he assumes full command in Washington, as Wayne Palmer is on the operating table, for serious injuries received in last week's bomb blast.

And Boothe delivers Daniels with his customary blend of gravitas, facial ticks, and cool aplomb. I'm almost hoping he doesn't turn out to be an irredeemable bad guy in the end, but chances look slim for that tonight.

Other notables on tonight's show are Kari Matchett, fresh out of the water from ABC's Invasion last year, and Peter MacNicol as Tom Lennox, a brave patriot despite his wimpy style.

And Jack ... Jack, what are you doing, getting yourself entwined in another hostile embassy again?

At least this time, Buchanan's on the case, and out to spring Jack.

Useful links:

2-minute podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC in Washington

Last night's episode of Rome was probably the most chocked full of sex so far - Antony and Atia, Antony and Octavia, Agrippa and Octavia, and Pullo and Gaia. That gives Antony and Octavia two each, to the others' one. But the best scene was Pullo and Gaia - those underclass Romans sure knew how to do it... (note added at end of March - check out the next to last episode of the season, too)...

HBO knows how to do it, too. The first movie I ever saw on HBO, in the late 1980s, had Lynda Carter naked from the waist up. (She played Wonder Woman on tv, but this was a movie without super heroes.) Since HBO was not broadcast over public airways, but delivered on cable, it was free of FCC meddling.

HBO has gone on, under Sheila Nevins' leadership, to score all kinds of firsts in the presentation of sex on television. The documentaries - Real Sex, Taxicab Confessions, etc - have been especially pathbreaking in this area.

And, much as I hate to sound a sour note in such a joyous chorus, all of that could end if Congress and the FCC have their way with cable, and extend to it their already unconstitutional control of broadcast media. Imagine cable television unable to show even Janet Jackson's breast for a split second - or being vulnerable to multi-million dollar fines if it did.

That's the world of television we'll be treated to if the FCC and Congress have their way with your and my cable. You may think freedom of speech is only a political issue, and if you're not involved with or concerned about politics it doesn't concern you. You'd be right that it is indeed a political issue, but wrong that it doesn't concern you - that is, assuming you enjoy some nudity and sex from time to time on HBO, Showtime, et al.

If you're in that enjoying-sex-on-television camp, you ought to write your Senator and Representative, speak out whenever you can.

In the meantime, I'll continue to keep my eyes peeled for good hot scenes on HBO and elsewhere, so I can write about them knowledgeably.

Useful links:

complete review of the entire Season 2 of Rome, episode by episode - blogged minutes after the end of each show

Derriere and Bosom on the Tudors: What the FCC Doesn't Want Us To See



PaulLevinson.net digest #3: Vikings, squirrels, and Digg

Vikings, On Cloudy Days what great things happened in history that no one knows about?

The Magic of the Olde Bookstore for me it was shop near Bowdoin College in Maine

Digg and the One-Man Truth Squad kudos to Muhammad Saleem for trying to keep the place honest

Eight True Squirrel Stories like it says...

Narcissistic Research contrary to this research, I say nothing's wrong with it

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Rome Returns: Episode 7: Cutting Up the Map and Relationships

Episode 7 begins with a fine scene of Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus cutting up the map of Rome and its many possessions - Antony gets the affluent East, Octavian the politically important city of Rome and the West, and hapless Lepidus what's left in Africa.

But territory was by no means the most significant treasure cut up in tonight's story.

Antony, as blind to basic human psychology as he is gifted in relating to his soldiers and the people, antagonizes Posca over a bribe received from Herod (Antony refuses to share even a token part of it with Caesar's former slave, now free). And worse, Antony in not reporting this bribe to Octavian violates what little confidence survives between the two. Octavian of course finds out anyway from Posca.

But that's not all. Atia thinks she has finally arranged for Antony to marry her. But Octavian and the force of history decree otherwise. Antony marries Octavia, in one of the most spectacular scenes in the two-year series - much to the dismay and heartbreak of not only Atia, but Agrippa.

As for Octavia, who loves Agrippa, she is beyond this - consigned, as she was from almost the very beginning with Pompey, to giving her posterior to a man not for passion but politics.

And what will become of Atia? She realizes she is indeed cursed now, by Servilia's dying breath, played to suicidal perfection by Lindsay Duncan.... Although I couldn't feel too sorry for the character - hey, next time, don't engineer the murder of Julius Caesar - Duncan's performance tonight was easily worthy of an Emmy.

And all's not well on the other side of town, either, as Pullo sleeps with Gaia rather rather than beat her as his wife requested, and Gaia plans a suitable revenge.

And look for even greater trouble ahead, as Antony moves ever closer to Cleopatra...

to dinner with the family over at Octavian's.

And it's indeed a dinner you wouldn't want to miss, culminating in a confrontation between Octavian and Antony - that Antony loses. A nobler Roman than Octavian, Antony is nonetheless no match for Octavian in political maneuvering. He retreats to Alexandria, rather than risk being made a fool of, over his wife Octavia's affair with Agrippa.

"Attendance is compulsory" - and you wouldn't want to miss what happened in the Aventine tonight, either. Pullo's wife is poisoned by Gaia, and laid to rest. Vorenus is robbed of the shipment of gold entrusted to his protection - betrayed by his oldest daughter. He will repair to Aegypt with Antony, as Pullo gives Memmio what he has coming. These scenes were among the very best in the entire two year series.

Octavian takes a wife, and Antony reaches Alexandria and Cleopatra, at last looking as utterly captivating as we expected and hoped.

Command performances all around tonight ... especially Kevin McKidd as Vorenus, James Purefoy as Antony, Simon Woods as Octavian, and Lyndsey Marshal even briefly as Cleopatra.

There will be more of this to come next week ... attendance is compulsory.

3-minute podcast of this review

another blog post from me: Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC

Rome - The Complete First Season

Rome: Music From the HBO Series

I, Claudius 1977 BBC-HBO series