Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hillary Does Fine on O'Reilly

Kudos to Hillary Clinton for doing a fine job in her interview on Fox News by Bill O'Reilly. And kudos for Bill O'Reilly for having Hillary on his show.

That's right. I'm a Barack Obama supporter, and no great friend of Fox News or Bill O'Reilly - on whose TV show I've appeared three times* - but I think it's good for our democratic process for people running for President to appear and talk and be interviewed on television as much as possible.

Fox News has millions of viewers. O'Reilly's Factor is its leading show. Cutting this out of the process was a disservice to both the candidates (who have done this, until now) and the American people.

Hillary Clinton offered poise, humor, and tough facts in her responses to O'Reilly. It was a great interview. I'm looking forward to the second part of the interview tomorrow.

Barack Obama was wise to initiate Democratic contender appearances on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace this past Sunday.

Both candidates would be wise to continue this. It is only counterproductive to cede Fox News to the Republicans.


*YouTube clip of my first appearance on O'Reilly several years ago

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama Denounces Wright

Barack Obama just finished an extraordinary and much needed press conference, in which he denounced Jeremiah Wright's insulting performance at yesterday's National Press Club - insulting to the American people, the political process, as well as Barack Obama.

Obama said he found Wright's statement that AIDS was introduced into the African-American community by the US government "ridiculous," and Obama took exception to Wright's praise of Louis Farrakhan. But most significant was Obama's denunciation of Wright's mocking of the political process in which all Americans are now engaged.

Obama distinguished between Wright in the Bill Moyers interview and Wright at the National Press Club in Washington yesterday. I found the Moyers interview helpful - as I wrote here on Sunday - as did Obama. I also found Wright's talk to the NAACP in Detroit on Sunday to be informative and entertaining.

But Wright's performance at the National Press Club yesterday was appalling. Far from putting the sound bites that ignited this controversy in context - as Wright did in the Moyers' interview - Wright in Washington yesterday stepped up his insults and contempt for the American people. Obama was completely right to describe these as "ravings".

Obama needed to do this. It could not have been easy. But he stepped up to the camera, denounced and divorced Wright, and answered every question.

His hope is that the remaining primary campaign can now return to a focus on issues that need resolving - the economy and the Iraq war. Wright will no doubt not go quietly. But Barack Obama has shown he has the steel to do what was needed in this crisis.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Battlestar Galactica 4.4: A Little More about Cylons

A grim 4th episode of the final season of Battlestar Galactica on Friday, in which not much happened, not much was revealed, but we perhaps learned a little more about the Cylons on the ship...

1. Roslin is telling everyone she doesn't have much longer to live. I'm wondering why this is being put so prominently into the story. It occurs to me that maybe it's a lead-up to seeing Roslin die, and come back to life on the Reincarnation ship.

2. Tyrol's having a tough time of it. The best scene of the night was when he tells Admiral Adama, trying to comfort him about Callie, that he hated Callie's "vacant eyes" and more. He's coming to realize that his true love was Boomer, who of course makes perfect sense.

3. And Tigh seeks comfort in Six, who looks to Tigh like Ellen. We know that Tigh is a Cylon. Does this give more weight to Baltar being a Cylon, seeing as how he has more or less constant visions of Six? And does Six know that Tigh is a Cylon?

Soft, intriguing questions ... which I hope coalesce into hard-edged answers in upcoming episodes.

See also ...

Battlestar Galactica's Back and Bristling!
... 4.2 Mysteries and Satisfactions ... 4.3: Deaths, Lessons, Questions ... 4.5 Mutiny on the Demetrius ... ... 4.6 Cylon on Cylon ... 4.9: Finally, Bill and Laura ... 4.10: Earth

and So Say We All: The Battlestar Galactica Blog Carnival, vol. 4

Borrowed Tides

"jumping with ideas" - Denver Post

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rev. Wright in Better Context in Bill Moyers PBS Interview

I just saw Bill Moyers' lengthy interview PBS interview with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright - Barack Obama's former paster, who has been the center of considerable controversy for his "God damn America" and other inflammatory statements.

I urge everyone to see it, because the sound bites that the media have presented, up until now, have taken Wright's comments seriously out of context.

Let's look at his "God damn America" sermon, as one example. Now, I think America is the most free country in the history of the world. Despite its many flaws, I feel happy and lucky to be living in the nation that Thomas Jefferson helped create. So those three words, taken on their own, were and are highly offensive to me.

But Rev. Wright did not say those just those three words in his sermon. He started that part of his sermon with a list of nations whose abuse of power, whose attempts to act like God, made them "fail". He mentioned Germany, Japan, Russia, and England (actually, the British Empire).

Then he got to America. He spoke of our massacre of Indians, our enslavement and auctioning of blacks, our enforcement of their poverty, poor education, second-class citizenship even after they were finally freed during the Civil War. And clearly, when you see that entire part of his speech, Rev. Wright is damning not America but those things that America did. And who would disagree with that? Who would say that there is not a crucial difference between America's finest ideals - "all men are created equal," as said in the Declaration of Independence - and the scourge of slavery and racism? Who would say that slavery and racism should not be damned?

Now, I might have put the phrasing a little differently were I making such a speech. I would have said slavery and racism are perversions of America, distortions of what is said in the Declaration of Independence, and God damn those destructive perversions of the beautiful American dream.

But that is nonetheless what Rev. Wright meant. That's clear when we see the whole passage and not just a clip.

The media, as a whole, have once again in this campaign done Americans a disservice by presenting small pieces of sermons out of context. Kudos for Bill Moyers and the Public Broadcasting Service for doing the right thing. As Jefferson the author of our Declaration of Independence foresaw, the free, open flow of information eventually brings out the truth.

PS added on Sunday (April 27) evening: I saw Rev. Wright's speech given to the NAACP in Detroit. I found it sage, inspiring, and highly entertaining.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lost 4.9: Daughters, Rules, and Some Truth about Ben

We got two rare glimpses into the true nature of Ben tonight in this brutally brilliant episode of Lost - one when he said goodbye to Alex on the island, a second in what we saw on his face in the flashforward second scene with Sayid - and we learned a whole lot about some other crucial things, too.

1. I was wrong when I supposed that Ben might have been the one who shot Rousseau and Karl in Episode 8 (though not wrong at all about Ben's use of murder of innocents to further his agenda - see #2 below). But it was the bad guys on the boat, Widmore's men, who did the deed. Tonight they try to get Ben to surrender by threatening to kill Alex. Ben's tries to outsmart them, by telling them, truthfully, that Alex is not his daughter (and trying to disguise his love for her). Ben's bluff is called, and Alex is shot dead, right in front of his horrified eyes. (Keamy, played with fatal precision by Kevin Durand, does the deed.)

Why Widmore's killers would give up this possible leverage on Ben - even though Ben denied it - is a little surprising. But what is clear, in any case, when Ben says goodbye to his murdered adopted daughter, is how much he loves her. And this sets the stage for what Ben will do once he gets off the island....

2. We already saw some of this earlier this season, with Ben directing Sayid's assassinations of Widmore's men. Tonight we saw how this came to be. The murder of Alex "changed the rules," according to Ben - which presumably didn't include murdering innocent members of your family. Ben is out to kill all of Widmore's associates - and, we find at the very end, Penelope - Widmore's daughter - as well. But Ben, as accomplished a killer as he is, cannot get all of Widmore's people on his own. So he recruits Sayid ... by killing Nadia, Sayid's true love, whom Sayid found and married after getting off the island ... and blaming that killing on Widmore.

We of course do not see Ben kill Nadia. But what possible motive could Widmore have had for killing her? In contrast, Ben had all the motive in the world - he has now enlisted a trained killer, Sayid, as devoted to Widmore's destruction as is Ben.

Superb plotting.

And we also learn something else very crucial at the end of this episode: neither Widmore nor Ben know where the island is.* Why not? Likely because it's shrouded in some sort of space/time continuum distortion.

*(Actually, Jessica just pointed out in the comments that my interpretation of this last scene is likely not correct. Widmore will be searching for the island, Ben for Penny - that's what the two men will be searching for, not both for the island. Still, if Ben is teleporting through space and time off the island, it can't be all that easy for him to get back to, either.)

And that's not all. The smoke monster makes another appearance - apparently at Ben's behest. It seems to kill all the bad guys (but apparently not, according to the coming attractions). And Sawyer is splitting with Locke and heading back to the beach. It was a fine night for Sawyer, by the way - rescuing Claire and trying to protect Hurley from Ben and Locke's plans....

A fine, edge-of-your-seat night for Lost. I've got it on DVR - and liked it so much, I'm going to watch it again right now.

See also...

Further Questions about Lost 4.4: Jack and Aaron, Kate and Sawyer
and More about Season Four: Baby Aaron and the Oceanic Six and More About Lost 4: (ii) Michael and Ben, Good and Evil, Alias Echo

1. Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast 4.1 ... 4.2: Five Flashbacks and Three Rational Explanations ... 4.3: Thirty Minutes and Big Ben ... 4.4: Kate and ... ... 4.5 Desmond 1 and Desmond 2 ... 4.6 The True Nature of Ben ... 4.7 Flash Both Ways ... 4.8 Michael and Alex ... 4.10: Almost A Dream Come True ... 4.11 Unlocking Locke


2. More Thoughts On Lost 4.1: Those Who Went with Hurley and Those Who Stayed with Jack and Two More Points about Lost 4.1

additional discussion of this episode of Lost in 8-minute podcast

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 and its time travel ...

Get your own at Profile

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Final Pennsylvania Results: Clinton Wins the Vote, But Obama Still on Track for Nomination

Well, there's now more than 90% of the voted counted in Pennsylvania, and too close to call changed to too early to call to Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama by 10%.

I stand corrected about the polls - they did get it pretty right, after all. Apparently the cell phone vote did not make that big a difference. And perhaps the debate last week did do Obama a little damage, even though I thought he did just fine.

But the numbers of the overall primary campaign - the "metric" as it is increasingly called - remain with Barack Obama. Ten percent is impressive, but it is far from a blow-out. The delegate split in Pennsylvania based on this vote will likely give Clinton 15 more elected delegates than Obama will get from Pennsylvania - a drop in the bucket, given his nearly 150 delegate lead. Nor are super delegates likely to bolt away from Obama based on Pennsylvania.

But Hillary Clinton will be able to take the fight, newly empowered, to Indiana and North Carolina. She was strong and clear in her victory speech tonight.

But, as always, I liked Obama's speech tonight a lot better. I like being inspired. I think it will move more people in the general election.

One thing is clear - democracy moves in unpredictable ways. Inspiration can take time.

I would still like to see an Obama for President, Clinton for VP ticket. I think the results tonight make that a little more likely than before.

First Pennsylvania Returns: Too Close to Call = Obama Wins Whatever the Final Numbers

First reports on MSNBC, based on exit polls, say the Democratic race in Pennsylvania is too close to call.

This means that, whatever the final results, Obama will make progress towards the nomination tonight. Even if Hillary Clinton gets a victory, it won't be anywhere nearly enough to stop Barack Obama from getting the Democratic nomination.

What does this mean in terms of what we've seen in the past few weeks:

1. Either Obama did fine in last week's debate (as I said in a blog post here), or debates don't matter much between Clinton and Obama at this point.*

2. Polling techniques need improvement. Calling voters on landlines, when many younger voters have only cell phones, does not make sense any more in our mobile age. (Exit polls are usually done in person, and so the cell phone problem doesn't arise.)*

*But see my Final Pennsylvania Results where I admit my errors on these points...

And I'll be back later when more returns come in. An exciting night for democracy!

Monday, April 21, 2008

John Adams Concludes, The Tudors Continues, The First Amendment Abides

A fabulous, instructive night for history on cable television - John Adams, the splendid mini-series, concluded on HBO, and The Tudors, the magnificent, searing series, continued with its second season on Showtime.

The last episode of John Adams was mostly personal, and very powerful. Adams' daughter dies of breast cancer. Abigail dies. And Thomas Jefferson and John Adams die on the same day, July 4, 1826, after they have reconciled via letters.

What was mostly at dispute between them was freedom of speech and communication, and the First Amendment. Adams, early in the hour, complains that all he'll be remembered for is signing the Alien and Sedition Acts - the closest our nation has ever come to abrogating the First Amendment.

Its importance was wrenchingly, brilliantly portrayed in the two episodes (4 and 5) of The Tudors I saw tonight (on Showtime On Demand). Thomas More resists the law that Parliament passed on behalf of Henry, proclaiming him the ultimate religious authority in England. More can accept Henry's marriage to Anne, but not the displacement of the Roman Catholic Church in his country. He doesn't seek to compel any other person to follow his lead, but nor will he give in to the King's and Parliament's request.

And so, he is sentenced to death. And, much like Socrates, Thomas More is executed for his beliefs.

This is precisely what the First Amendment is supposed to prevent. By separating Church and State, by insisting that government cannot compel people to believe, cannot punish people for not believing, or believing something different, cannot punish people for talking and writing whatever they may politically and/or religiously believe, our American society seeks through the First Amendment to improve upon the savage worlds of ancient Athens and Henry VIII.

I often tell people that, were I in Socrates' position, and given a chance to escape, I would have done so, rather than drinking the hemlock. And were I Thomas More, I might well have taken his own hypothetical mode of escape and publicly said I accepted the King's law - given it lip service - and continued with my contrary beliefs. But More rejected that, and chose martyrdom instead. I doubt that I could have been a martyr like Socrates and More.

But the point is that the First Amendment in America makes such an agonizing choice unnecessary. And that is why we are truly more civilized.

As long as we don't let the First Amendment slip away.... But it's not easy - it never is. It and we are daily tested...

Truly powerful history on our new golden age of television tonight. Emmy award-winning acting by Paul Giamatti as John Adams, and by Jeremy Northam as Sir Thomas More.

And let's not forget Peter O'Toole, who is unforgettable in his every scene as the Pope, and tonight was part of the one laughing-out-loud funny scene of the evening, as he hears Michelangelo berating one of the workers on the Sistine Chapel, "Moses looks like a pile of ..."

But television nowadays has never looked better.

See also: John Adams on HBO: Good Founding Father, Bad President ... John Adams 3 and 4: Jefferson and Space Travel of the Soul ... 5. Jousting of Ideas ... John Adams 6: Flawed President and Flawed Father ...

Further reading ...

The Flouting of the First Amendment - my 2005 Keynote Address at Fordham University, in which I talk about the vying opinions of John Adams v. Thomas Jefferson...

The Soft Edge: A Natural History and the Future of the Information Revolution - my 1998 book, with more details on this time in history, and the roles of Adams and Jefferson

And ...

See also ...

Tooling Up for The Tudors and The Tudors: Transformations and Assassins ... The Tudors and the Printing Press ... The Tudors Concludes and America Begins ...

and my reviews of all of last season's episodes, beginning here ...

and more on the printing press and the Protestant Reformation in my book, The Soft Edge ...

and ...

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

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

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Battlestar Galactica 4.3: Deaths, Lessons, Questions

Battlestar Galactica isn't missing a beat in this riveting, powerful, adrenalin-coursing last season, and last night's show fit right in with the pounding pulse.

It started unsurprisingly enough, with life on the ship continuing to wear on Callie Tyrol. Things get worse when she sees her husband Galen and Tory (two of the four secret Cylons) talking, and Tory making a move on him. Galen rejects this, but Callie doesn't see that.

And then things get much much worse. Callie trails Galen to a meeting of the three Cylons (the fourth, Starbuck's husband, is on her ship, looking for Earth), and discovers to her horror that that's what they are. Back in her quarters, she beats Galen with a wrench, and takes their baby to a Viper launch tube. She's thinking of opening it, and killing her baby and herself.

But Tory comes by. She's compassionate, sensible, understanding, and eventually talks Callie out of suicide. She takes the baby from Callie - and knocks Callie across the tube with a powerful Cylon blow ... and ejects her from the tube into raw space and cold death.

We have learned something crucially important: this secret Cylon, at least, is capable of cold, calculated, vicious murder. She says - in her talk to Callie - that she is just like any other human. Ironically, this is true. Humans are of course capable of murdering people who are threats to their well being. But any illusions or hopes we may have had that these secret four might have somehow been different is shattered - at least, for this one. And is there any reason to think the other three might be different?

I did have one quibble with this superb scene - if Tory is able to hurl Callie across the tube, did she never notice she had this power before? Like the question I posed about Tigh in an earlier review, the lives of the secret four prior to their revelation as Cylons remains a puzzle that flirts with inconsistencies. But that's ok ... I have confidence that at least some of this will be resolved.

Meanwhile, speaking of deaths, the Cylons are in open civil war back in their part of space. Dean Stockwell's One has come back, offers some great analysis of democracy (he has the best lines on the show), and feigns a reconciliation with Six and the good Sharon - all to lure them to a place in space with no Resurrection ship in sight, where they can be killed forever...

Of course, it's just these versions of those models that are killed, and who knows what the other versions of those models will do once they learn what has happened...

See also ...

Battlestar Galactica's Back and Bristling!
... 4.2 Mysteries and Satisfactions ... 4.4: A Little More about Cylons ... 4.5 Mutiny on the Demetrius ... ... 4.6 Cylon on Cylon ... 4.9: Finally, Bill and Laura ... 4.10: Earth

and So Say We All: The Battlestar Galactica Blog Carnival, vol. 3

Borrowed Tides

"jumping with ideas" - Denver Post

Friday, April 18, 2008

Passover and Politics: Reflections

Hey, Passover starts tomorrow night - it's always been my favorite holiday.

A fine feast, catchy songs, and a great storyline - what more can you ask for?

The part I like best comes early in the seder. Why do we need to have a Passover ceremony - the answer is provided by a look at The Four Sons. The first son is highly intelligent - no need to have the story of Passover told for him, because he already understands it. The second son is evil - no point in telling the Passover story for him, because he deemed himself above all of this. The third is a little bit of a dim-wit - no need to have the story told to him either, because the meaning can be satisfactorily conveyed to his weak mind in just a few, simple sentences. But the fourth son - he who has not the capacity to even inquire - he is the reason that the Passover story must be told. It must be told, in other words, for those who, for whatever reason (perhaps because they are too young, or otherwise know nothing at all about the ceremony), cannot even ask a question. It is told just in case they may be interested in learning more.

Which son did I always identify with? The evil son, of course... :)

Now, clearly, this part of the ceremony is also sexist - though, in all of the seders I've ever been part of, girls as well as boys were considered part of the The Four Sons (the youngest child - girl or boy - reads The Four Questions, which come a little before The Four Sons).

The story, of course, is the rising up against oppressors, and freeing a people from bondage. It is a story, alas, that never grows old.

Back in 1968, I remember scandalizing my Uncle Benny by saying something at our seder about Martin Luther King, Jr., who had just been assassinated. It wasn't that Benny was a bigot - he was just surprised to hear a current event talked about at a seder.

This year, we have another kind of bondage that we can rise up against. We have an African-American and a woman running for President - the first time for each group in America. I strongly support Barack Obama, and expect him to be our next President, but I also will honor Hillary Clinton and her contribution at the seder.

I hope that every American who has yet to vote, and can vote in the upcoming primaries, does so. We made some progress since Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt. We can rise up from the bondage of the last eight years now by going to the polls.

Have a sweet Passover, everyone!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Obama Appeals to the Good Sense of Americans in 21st Democratic Debate Tonight

David Gergen on CNN thought both candidates were "pandering," Howard Fineman on MSNBC thought the debate was stale, and Patrick Buchanan, also on MSNBC, thought Barack Obama did not have a very good night ... but I thought it was the ABC-TV questioners who didn't have a very good night, and the candidates made this 21st Democratic debate the best so far. Hillary Clinton was her customarily clear debating self. But Barack Obama made some important progress in his continuing campaign to practice a new kind of politics in this election - one which respects the intelligence and rationality of the American.

Obama was hit with bevy of volleys about not wearing a flag pin, his friendship with Weatherman radical William Ayers, his relationship with Rev. Wright, etc.

And Obama pointed out that this is not what the election is about - and not what Americans are interested in hearing. These discussions do nothing to fix what is wrong with America.

There were some important questions mixed in with this trivia - about taxes, Iraq, soaring gas prices, and the like. Clinton and Obama both answered them well.

But as long as the media insist on harping on why a candidate does not wear a flag pin, the American people will have to work that much harder to get at the issues that count. (Hillary was hit by this harping too, when she was asked about her misreporting of her Bosnia experience.)

Obama has been staking his whole campaign on the Jeffersonian assumption that people are up to this task - on the view of John Milton, who thought that when truth and falsity, triviality and profundity, fight it out on in the arena of public opinion, truth and profundity will win.

It hasn't in the last two general elections, and the media aren't making it easy now, but I'm betting that even if truth doesn't prevail in the Pennsylvania primary next week, it will still make a good showing. And, whatever happens in Pennsylvania, it will prevail in August and, most importantly, in November.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

John Adams on HBO: 6: Flawed President and Flawed Father

People sometimes ask me why I'm so critical of John Adams - the real person in history, not the superb HBO series - and the answer is the damage done to, and near death of, our democracy brought by the Alien and Sedition Acts, signed into law by Adams. This grim episode, and Jefferson's protest that these acts trampled on the Constitution, were vividly portrayed in this 90-minute episode that covered the whole of Adams' Presidency.

But the episode brought to light something equally lamentable about Adams - pertaining to his family not his country. Charles, the reprobate son, is disowned by John Adams. His son-in-law is turned away when in financial need. It's not that our culture was so different then. It's that John Adams could not overcome his stern New England upbringing, and give his son the love and emotional support, his son-in-law the economic support, that they needed. John Adams meted out punishment instead - just as he did to his country by jeopardizing the First Amendment and its protections.

It's a measure of how superb Paul Giamatti's performance is as John Adams, that we feel anything akin to sympathy for the second President and father at all. Giamatti is just perfect for summoning the pain and humanity that one hopes Adams felt for these actions. It convinced me enough that I called them "lamentable," rather than despicable, in the paragraph above.

As I've said in previous reviews of this series, this is history on television on an entirely new, breathtaking plane.

The series concludes with the next episode.

How about a series about Thomas Jefferson, played by the outstanding Stephen Dillane.

See also: John Adams on HBO: Good Founding Father, Bad President ... John Adams 3 and 4: Jefferson and Space Travel of the Soul ... 5. Jousting of Ideas ... John Adams Concludes

Further reading ...

The Flouting of the First Amendment - my 2005 Keynote Address at Fordham University, in which I talk about the vying opinions of John Adams v. Thomas Jefferson...

The Soft Edge: A Natural History and the Future of the Information Revolution - my 1998 book, with more details on this time in history, and the roles of Adams and Jefferson

And ...

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Amsterdam Bows: Lessons in Cons and Backsides

New Amsterdam gave its final bow tonight - of the season, maybe of all time - with a line that is destined to become classic, when John says to his annoying boss Callie (played by Susan Misner) "I won't kiss your ass - which isn't that great, by the way. The way you twitch it around, you'd think it was one of the seven wonders of the modern world."

Well, it's looked ok to me, and Callie also gets creds for asking John at the end of the episode if he really meant this line, part of the little act the detectives put on to nab the bad guy (actually, a bad woman).

We don't get to see John's answer, but we did get a fine final episode, in which the current police and the past part of John in historical New York are finally meshing pretty well. Con artists are the common thread, in the 1920s and the 2008 parts, and of course conning most of the people around him is just what John has been doing his whole 400-year life.

Not to stretch this metaphor too far, but tantalizing the television viewer with just a beginning view of a series like this, a fine derriere moving swiftly around the corner, is a con job, too. I know, we're not paying for any of this, so maybe we're getting exactly what we're paying for, but I think New Amsterdam has real potential, and I'd like to see more.

It needs more time to develop. Callie irritated me as a character when she first came into the series a few weeks ago, but now that irritation is perhaps starting to make a little sense. If John is commenting about her ass, that means he's paying at least a little attention to it, and could that mean that ... Callie's the one?

Well, I'm still betting on partner Eva, and looking at Callie as a candidate for John's true love may be a little ass-backwards ...

But we'll know never know unless there's another season in the unsetting sun of John Amsterdam...

See also New Amsterdam, 1,2,3 ... 4. Poetry and Parenthesis ... 5. Meets Mad Men ... 6. The DNA of Art ... 7. What Kept John from Dying?

winner of the Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction novel of 1999

"delivers on its promises" - The New York Times

Silk Code trailer

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Obama's Words about "Bitter" Workers, Guns, and Religion: No Big Deal

Barack Obama has been receiving considerable flack about this statement made earlier in the week - "It's not surprising then they [economically hard-pressed workers] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Hillary Clinton and John McCain have gleefully called such words "elitist," Obama has regretted and clarified them, and the media have been having their customary field day, ever on the lookout for a possible slip by a major contender.

You know what I think? It's no big deal.

Why should working families having trouble making ends meet take offense at a Presidential candidate recognizing that they may be feeling bitter? That's a normal human reaction, and ignoring or denying it - as Clinton and McCain are doing - is plain hypocrisy.

What about the linking of religion to this? Well, I thought that was supposed to be one of the social purposes of religion - giving solace and comfort to people who may be frustrated for whatever reason. How is what Obama said an insult?

And the reference to guns? As any psychologist will tell you, feelings of powerlessness can indeed sometimes lead to violent fantasies - and realities. (Not videogames, by the way, and not television - but real life frustration.) So in what way was Obama so wrong to make this point?

All in all, this is another tempest in the teapot, stirred by Obama's opponents and happily carried by the media.

You know what else?

I think the workers of America - including Pennsylvania - are far too bright to fall for this.

Grand Opening of my New Bookshop in Second Life!

That's right: I've moved my Second Life bookshop - The Soft Edge - to beautiful new quarters, in the Artists' Village in Second Life.

And to celebrate this new opening, I'll be reading from the beginnings of each of my five novels - The Silk Code, Borrowed Tides, The Consciousness Plague, The Pixel Eye, The Plot to Save Socrates - at 4pm Eastern (1pm Second Life time) this afternoon!

I'll also be giving away a copy of one of my novels in a contest, which will be open to only those who attend the Grand Opening today!

If you're already my friend in Second Life, look for an announcement from me, 30 minutes before the reading, with a landmark you can use to get to the reading.

If you're already on Second Life, but are not yet my Friend, I can be contacted at PaulLevinson Freenote - send me a note in Second Life, and I'll reply with a landmark to the reading.

If you're not on Second Life, you can join for free any time at - after you've joined send me a message here on Facebook, and I'll give you more details.

More details about all of my novels over here...

Time: 4pm Eastern (= 1pm Second Life Time)

Here's a snapshot of my bookshop - clicking on it will bring to a place where you can "teleport" to the bookshop... (my old friend Barry Cramer is even sitting permanently outside...)

Battlestar Galactica 4.2: Mysteries and Satisfactions

Some sweet mysteries and deep satisfactions in the second episode of the final season of Battlestar Galactica tonight ...

Minor mystery, though maybe not so minor: Why is Baltar talking to Baltar rather than Six? Baltar asks his conjured vision of himself if "he" is not really Six, and "he" doesn't really answer, but ... This gets us to focus, once again, on exactly what the palpable vision of Six that only Baltar can see has been all along. Somehow, not just something arising totally from Baltar's brain, since the vision gives him information that (presumably) Baltar couldn't know ... Unless, Baltar is a Cylon ... Nah, too obvious ... But, whatever's going on, it could be that this Baltar seeing Baltar rather than Six offers some clue to something profound....

Big mystery/big satisfaction
: What exactly is going on with the seven minus one (who is boxed). We see Six changing the Centurions' programming so that they riddle One (played by the always convincing Dean Stockwell) and his two nasty Cylon colleagues with bullets - this after One got a majority of the six (by One or someone getting Sharon's model to vote against herself) to agree to "lobotomize" the raiders - because One et al are understandably concerned that the raiders showed independent judgment in pulling back from the attack last week. Ok, makes sense, and it's indeed satisfying to see arch, smug One get what he deserves, especially after he told us last year how painful he finds the Cylon reincarnation. But ... seeing as how the bullet-riddled Cylons will come back, what was the point in killing them? Nonetheless, it was very satisfying to finally see Six acting totally on her more humane impulses ...

Biggest satisfaction: Lee and Kara kissing, and Lee telling Kara, "I believe you".

Just sayin'...

But, we all believe Kara, don't we?

And why is that? After all the tricks we've seen, including Cylons who don't even know they're Cylons, why do we believe Kara?

That may be the biggest mystery of all.

Well, not bigger, of course, than who is the final Cylon. My two current guesses are: Admiral Helena Cain (hey, she was pretty brutal, she was killed ... but if she's a Cylon, she can come back ... and it makes sense that the Cylons would put a skinjob on the Pegassus) or Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch of course was in the original BSG, and it would be cool if he wound up being a Cylon now) ...

And, as a fallback, I'd say President Roslin. When she said she couldn't be sure, tonight, in response to Starbuck's insistence that Starbuck was no more a Cylon than Roslin, well ... Roslin saying she couldn't be sure, could have been Roslin talking about herself.

See also ...

Battlestar Galactica's Back and Bristling!
... 4.3 Deaths, Lessons, Questions ... 4.4: A Little More about Cylons ... 4.5 Mutiny on the Demetrius ... ... 4.6 Cylon on Cylon ... 4.9: Finally, Bill and Laura ... 4.10: Earth

and So Say We All: The Battlestar Galactica Blog Carnival, vol. 2

Borrowed Tides

"jumping with ideas" - Denver Post

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Tudors: Transformations and Assassins

It's the season for history on cable television - John Adams on HBO, the return of The Tudors on Showtime - and it's proving to be a wonderful season, indeed.

The Tudors this season is all about transformation.

Charles Brandon (well-played by Henry Cavill) was Henry's loyal buddy last year. But Princess Margaret died, Charles has remarried, and is changing his ways. He seems faithful to his new wife. He spends more time at home. And he is taking Queen Catherine's side...

What happened? I've "grown up," Brandon says. And this growing is putting him on an ever more dangerous collision course with Henry and his supporters, as the King at last officially proclaims Anne.

Thomas More is growing too. He can no longer serve as Chancellor, and is finding keeping quiet about his misgivings about Henry and Anne increasingly difficult. Henry is definitely "no longer Harry".

And the Church is changing too, both in England and Rome, though The Tudors takes some literacy license and compresses history just a bit. I don't mind - this is a dramatization not a history book. But if you're interested in real history vs. history on The Tudors, here's the long and the short of it:

In The Tudors and in history, Henry marries Anne in 1533. This is ordained by the new Archbishop of Canterbury. In The Tudors, Paul Paul III (brilliantly rendered by Peter O'Toole) sends a newly commissioned Jesuit on an assassination mission. This was all great television, with The Tudors almost taking a page from the Da Vinci Code.

In real history, however, the Jesuits weren't founded until 1534, didn't get to Rome until 1537, and didn't adopt the name Society of Jesus until 1540 (see the Wikipedia entry for more). There is certainly no record of the Pope sending out a Jesuit assassin - but, I of course have to admit that who knows what was said and done behind closed doors. (Full disclosure: I'm happily a Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, a Jesuit university. So far, no signs of assassins here....)

But The Tudors is throbbing with assassins, of the spirit and the flesh, of the heart and the mind, and these contests are precisely what make the show such a pleasure to behold.

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See also ...

Tooling Up for The Tudors and The Tudors Continues, The First Amendment Abides ... The Tudors Concludes and America Begins ...

and my reviews of all of last season's episodes, beginning here ...

and more on the printing press and the Protestant Reformation in my book, The Soft Edge ...

and a bit of historical science fiction about another era ...

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

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

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

more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

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Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
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Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Amsterdam 7: What Kept John from Dying?

Next to last New Amsterdam on Monday - at least, for this season, and no one is saying at this point if it there will be another. This hour moved the story forward on one crucial point:

Apparently Dr. Sara is not the one for John. He's shot (again) at point blank range, comes close to dying, but survives. The implication is the attack would have killed a mortal man. Were Sara the one, and this reduced John to mortality, as per the original prophecy, he should have died.

Reasons for John surviving, if Sara indeed was the one, and John was mortal, could only be if the damage done to him by the gun was not that serious. That would be a rather weak move for the story, so I'm assuming that's not the case.

Another possibility - especially given the other main story in Episode 7 - is that John may be slowly dying from the lead in his body. This is what happened to John's prior partner. He was shot, survived, but eventually died of long-range complications.

But I'm betting that what's going on is John's current partner, Eva, is John's true love.

Will this be revealed next week?

Either way, I'll be sorry to see this promising series end.

See also New Amsterdam, 1,2,3 ... 4. Poetry and Parenthesis ... 5. Meets Mad Men ... 6. The DNA of Art ... 8. New Amsterdam Bows: Lessons in Cons and Backsides

winner of the Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction novel of 1999

"delivers on its promises" - The New York Times

Silk Code trailer

Monday, April 7, 2008

Barack Obama Gets High Marks for Speeches in Japan

Well, last week was a good week for Barack Obama around the world - and I've been happy to do what I can to help.

Yesterday, I posted a clip from the CBC's "Cell Phone: The Ring Heard Around the World," aired on April 3, in which I and the documentary praise the Obama campaign's savvy use of cell phones.

Turns out I was also on the air in Japan last Friday - April 4 - giving Obama and his speech writer Ron Favreau very high marks (I also grade Hillary Clinton). The above clip with me, from NNN-TV News in Japan, was recorded in January (same week as the CBC clip). You can see the entire report in Japanese - with a comparison of Obama and Martin Luther King - on the NNN-TV News 24 website.

John Adams on HBO: 5: Jousting of Ideas

An intellectually powerful and sophisticated Episode 5 of John Adams on HBO last night - the most vivid so far in the mini-series in portraying the contest of political philosophies that made this country. Indeed, the most compelling I've ever seen on television. We see:

.John Adams, who believes the best (and only reliable) path to a continuing, free America is a strong central government. Towards this end, Adams even wants a monarch-like way of addressing the President - an idea soundly defeated in the nascent U.S. Senate. Adams protests that he's not really a constitutional monarchist, but it's difficult to see exactly the ways in which he is not.

.Thomas Jefferson, who shocks even Abigail Adams with his famous statement that "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" - not insignificantly putting patriots ahead of tyrants in the blood letting. What's really at stake here is Jefferson's view that government is not the protector (as Adams believes) of the peoples' freedoms, but the worst threat to it.

.Alexander Hamilton, who is no friend of either Adams or Jefferson, but wants a strong central government (making him closer to Adams) to build a strong American economy. Hamilton is in many ways the most modern man in Washington's cabinet, provoking Jefferson with Hamilton's suggestion that the Federal government should take over the debt of the states, to demonstrate to foreign powers that America is a worthy borrower. The beginning of deficit spending...

.George Washington, who is not very successful in keeping his combative cabinet together, and clearly has no taste for politics...

All of this is fought out against the backdrop of war between England and France, which Washington desperately doesn't want America to be pulled into. Jefferson sees
France and its revolution as a natural ally of the United States. Adams and Hamilton, for different reasons, see our interests best residing in England.

A fascinating, vivid portrayal of one of the crucial moments in the creation of the United States of America.

See also: John Adams on HBO: Good Founding Father, Bad President ... John Adams 3 and 4: Jefferson and Space Travel of the Soul ... 6. President and Father ... John Adams Concludes ...

Further reading ...

The Flouting of the First Amendment - my 2005 Keynote Address at Fordham University, in which I talk about the vying opinions of John Adams v. Thomas Jefferson on human nature...

The Soft Edge: A Natural History and the Future of the Information Revolution - my 1998 book, with more details on this time in history, and the roles of Adams and Jefferson

And ...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Barack Obama and the Cell Phone Revolution

Well, Canadians get it ... the above is a clip from CBC-TV's Cell Phone: The Ring Heard Around the World, aired in Canada on April 3, in which I talk about the intersection of the Obama and cell phone revolutions.... Nice to hear the Canadians say Obama may be our next President. Significantly, he is the only Presidential candidate featured in this show.

You can see the complete 40+ minute program - with me talking my head off about the history of the cell phone and its growing importance in our lives - on the CBC's website. Some other fine guests on the show, too - including inventor of the camera-phone Philippe Kahn and the space-faring Richard Branson.

Featured on the show....


"A superb and often amusing account of one of the greatest revolutions in human history" --Arthur C. Clarke

Friday, April 4, 2008

Battlestar Galactica is Back and Bristling!

Battlestar Galactica is back for its final season, and glistening, bristling with action, puzzles, and intrigue of the highest, deepest order.

The puzzle is set out to us in the first lean, mean razor of a new opener: 12 Cylons, we know 7, 4 live in secret on the ship, so who is the 5th/12th?

Caprica Six gives us a hint, when she says all five feel near to her.

And that's not the only puzzle.

Starbuck is back - after six hours on the clock for her, more than two months for everyone back on the ship (time dilation seems to be in the air this season - see also Faraday on Lost). She's sure she's been to Earth. But Adama and Roslin are determined to keep the ship on its predetermined course, based on last year's clues - or, at least, Roslin is. As for Admiral Adama, his heart tells him Starbuck may be right...

Other puzzles ... why did the Cylons pull back their apparently victorious attack? To give Anders some secret order, that even he is not aware of? Or, simply because they saw and realized that the secret Cylons had been activated? (Just four, or all five?)

One thing, at least, seems clear: the four revealed Cylons on the ship are determined to keep living their lives and their human loyalties just as they did before their revelation. This may offer a clue as to the ultimate resolution of this superb series.

(But a question about Tigh - Haven't he and Bill been friends since they were much younger men? If so, how can Tigh be a Cylon - or, is he yet a newer kind of model, which ages?) (It dawns on me that the Cylons that do not age are templates for John Amsterdam in New Amsterdam.)

About as fine a beginning as I can recall. My only regret is that I can't sit down and watch the whole rest of the final season right now.

See also ...

4.2 Mysteries and Satisfactions
... 4.3 Deaths, Lessons, Questions ... 4.4: A Little More about Cylons ... 4.5 Mutiny on the Demetrius ... ... 4.6 Cylon on Cylon ... 4.9: Finally, Bill and Laura ... 4.10: Earth

Galactica Dylan

Lost 4.3: Thirty Minutes and Big Ben

and So Say We All: The Battlestar Galactica Blog Carnival, vol. 1

Borrowed Tides

"jumping with ideas" - Denver Post

additional discussion of this BSG episode in 7-minute podcast

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Fallacy in the Argument that Obama Lacks the Experience Needed to Be President

I've noticed a fundamental illogic in claims that Obama does not have experience sufficient to be President - an illogic that deserves to be called out.

Here's how it goes: Against the claim that Obama does not have enough national experience to be President, his supporters (including me) cite JFK and Theodore Roosevelt - two great Presidents who were criticized when first running for or assuming the office, as being too inexperienced to make a good President. To which Obama's opponents are quick to reply: yes, but JFK (Congressman for six years, Senator for eight) and Theodore Roosevelt (Governor of New York for two years, Vice President of the United States for less than a year)had much more experience than Obama.

Well, first, regarding Roosevelt, I'd question whether his experience was more or better than Obama's - though I'd be willing to concede that being VP even for six months is certainly impressive.

Much more important, however, is how the actual prior experience of JFK and Roosevelt misses the point regarding Obama: because, just as in the case of Obama, both candidates were derided for their inexperience when they ran for President in 1960 (JFK) and Vice President in 1900 (Roosevelt). JFK was told he should be patient, and let one of his elders in the Democratic Party get the nomination. (Sound familiar?) And when Roosevelt was elected McKinley's Vice President, Republican politico Mark Hanna infamously told his friends, "You've put that damn cowboy within a heartbeat of the presidency."

Tragically, Hanna's nightmare came true when McKinley was assassinated. But its ending was one of the greatest Presidents in American history, as Theodore Roosevelt moved America into the 20th century with flair and wisdom.

I expect Barack Obama will do the same for our country in the 21st.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Obama's Best Moment on Chris Matthews' College Tour: Obama Finds Humor in Cable News

Obama did fine on Chris Matthews' Hardball "College Tour" interview from West Chester University in Pennsylvania on MSNBC tonight, answering well on all the major issues. But sometimes it's the little exchanges that show the most about a candidate and make the most lasting impression.

My favorite tonight was Obama's answer to Chris Matthews' light-hearted question about whether Obama ever has any moments in the campaign over which he laughs his head off later that night. That happens every day, Obama came back, then added, "but then I stopped watching cable news."

That's what I like to see in a candidate. Not hostile to media, but putting the press in its place. You ask me a question about what I find funny, well, I find a lot of what you put on air about this campaign pretty funny, Obama says.

This is part of what people mean when they say they see a lot of JFK in Barack Obama. Kennedy, a rarity in politics and the Presidency, understood the value of joking with the media, putting reporters back in their place when need be, but always with a smile.

This kind of humor, this kind of comfort with laughter, bespeaks a comfort and confidence to lead.