Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nancy Gets Spanked and Likes It: Weeds 4.8

Nancy hasn't had much romance this season. There's certainly none at home, Doug is making her nauseous, and Conrad has vanished from the universe. But there's a tall, dark stranger who clearly desires her, and it flashes to the surface in Episode 4.8 - in a spanking.

Esteban, the drug lord at the end of the underground tunnel, Nancy's ultimate boss in her current drug trade, and the mayor of his town in Mexico (that's his cover job - mayor - I love it), has shown his interest in Nancy and spanking a few episodes ago. Nancy has not followed drug cartel protocol, and needs to be disciplined. When Nancy shows up by car (not tunnel) this time, to ask Esteban for her own supply of weed (which Guillermo has refused her), Esteban asks Nancy if she realizes she needs to be punished. Nancy says yes, and - he spanks her (on her panties, to be precise).

Nancy's reaction is the key to this important episode. She's surprised, and is sore afterwards, but clearly enjoyed the spanking. She's certainly not sore at Esteban, who comes through for her with the drugs.

A breakthrough episode in more ways than one, with Nancy for the first time this season regaining some power. And those photos that Judah long ago took of her, which Andy teased her about, and Shane and we now see, ain't bad either ...

See also: Showtime's Sassy Hour of Sin ... Weeds 4.3: Nancy by the Endless Sea ... Sitting Shiva on Weeds and Laughing: 4.4 ... Nancy Has Limits: 4.9 ... Shane and Two Girls: 4.10 ... Nancy Turns a Corner: 4.11 ... The First Bitter Fruit of Telling Till: 4.12

Enjoy listening to audio books? Get a free audio book copy of The Plot to Save Socrates - or any one of 85,000 other titles - with a 14-day trial membership at ...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mad Men Returns with a Xerox Machine and a Call Girl

Mad Men returned for its much awaited second season tonight, with a quiet story that featured a new ungainly xerox machine in the middle of the office, and Betty and Don running into a old roommate of hers who now is a high priced call girl - on Valentine's Day, no less. Also of note - Harry's back with the Mrs. and they're expecting, Pete's wife would like to be, and Peggy's brighter and stronger than ever in the office, with no sign of the baby she had at the end of last season. It's February 1962, Jackie's giving her White House tour on television, and the characters seem to have hardly aged a day since we last saw them around Thanksgiving 1960. Everyone looks great and better than ever - maybe because they're just a little closer to our own time.

Youth, however, is in the air at the office. Cooper seems to have been replaced by his son - (actually not, as my vigilant commentators have informed me (see Comments); the arrogant youngo is Duck Phillips, introduced late last season (I knew he looked familiar :) -no one likes him much, of course - and Don gets a directive from Roger (apparently recovered from his heart attack) to hire some younger people. Don's take on youth - that they don't know anything but don't know it - was one of the savvier interludes of the show. (I disagree, by the way - I'm still pretty sure I knew just about everything of importance in life by the time I was 20, maybe even 17. But, then, again, I still pretty much feel like 17.)

Also excellent, as always, is Don's astute take on what it really takes to make an effective ad. In the case of the firm's airline client, it's not adventure or sex but coming home safely to family.

The flavor of the show was a bit more muted than I recall last year, but this is just the first course. One thing is clear - as was the case last year, Mad Men is unique, and a xerox of nothing that came before it.

The xerox machine, by the way, would go on to revolutionize all aspects of business and literary life - or, as Marshall McLuhan would later put it, "the xerox makes everyone a publisher" (see my Digital McLuhan, 1999, p. 120, for more). The xerox machine, in other words, was one of the first steps towards blogging...

See also: 2.2: The Advertising Devil and the Deep Blue Sea ... ... 2.3: Double-Barreled Power ... 2.4: Betty and Don's Son ... 2.5: Best Montage Since Hitchcock ... 2.6 Jackie, Marilyn, and Liberty Valance ... 2.7: Double Dons ... 2.8: Did Don Get What He Deserved? ... 2.9: Don and Roger ... 2.10: Between Ray Bradbury and Telstar ... 2.11: Welcome to the Hotel California ... 2.12: The Day the Earth Stood Still on Mad Men

Also: Reviews of Mad Men, Season One: Mad Men Debuts on AMC: Cigarette Companies and Nixon ... Mad Men 2: Smoke and Television ... Mad Men 3: Hot 1960 Kiss ... Mad Men 4 and 5: Double Mad Men ... Mad Men 6: The Medium is the Message! ... Mad Men 7: Revenge of the Mollusk ... Mad Men 8: Weed, Twist, Hobo ... Mad Man 9: Betty Grace Kelly ... Mad men 10: Life, Death, and Politics ... Mad Men 11: Heat! ... Mad Men 12: Admirable Don ... Mad 13: Double-Endings, Lascaux, and Holes

20-minute interview with Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) at Light On Light Through

Friday, July 25, 2008

Obama's Missing Columbia Univ Paper: Another Conservative Red Herring

Conservative columnists have been trying to make a big deal about a paper that Barack Obama wrote when he was a student at Columbia University - they seem to think the fact that no one has a copy is a sign that Obama has something to hide. MSNBC's First Read has the whole story.

Here's the reality - which I happen to know as a Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University:

1. Colleges and universities do not usually keep or formally retain copies of undergraduate papers. If we do not return them to students at the end of the term, we might hold on to them in our offices for a few months into the next term, in case a student wants to come by and pick up the paper. That's it - they're gone after that (even in my messy office).

2. PhD dissertations and sometimes Masters theses are indeed kept on file both by universities, and by central repositories (such as University Microfilms - UMI). But Obama's paper was neither a doctoral dissertation or a masters thesis.

3. In fact, it would be a violation of a student's privacy for a professor to provide any journalist with a copy of a student paper.

4. Students are of course free to do with their papers as they please. But how many of you still have copies of your college papers? I don't (though for some reason I did keep a high school paper I wrote about Charles De Gaulle way back when. Go figure.) But there's no reason to think that Obama kept any of his college papers.

Hey, this whole subject is a good topic for a paper - maybe I'll assign it to my students at Fordham this Fall.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mamma Mia: Cure for The Dark Knight Blues

The Dark Knight was a masterpiece. But it was dark indeed. Mamma Mia, the movie of the Broadway play set to ABBA's songs, is a perfect cure.

My wife and I were talked by our daughter and son into seeing it. Actually, I didn't require too much talking, since I've been a big ABBA fan since the 1970s. In fact, our family used to play ABBA on cassettes as we drove up to Cape Cod in the 1980s and 90s. The group had a winning sincerity in an age that was post Beatles, Stones, and Dylan (though we have never gone too far if at all beyond them). ABBA's songs were innocent, authentic, and unbelievably infectious. I don't think "Dancing Queen" has ever been too far out of my head since I first started hearing it in 1976, and how can anyone resist "Take a Chance on Me" (1978) and, for that matter, just about all of their other songs. Apparently, few people did - ABBA has sold more than 400 million records.

All of the great ABBA songs are in Mamma Mia, in which Sophie, raised by her single mother, invites three men most likely to be her father to her wedding, in order to find out which one is her father. Amanda Seyfried of Big Love plays Sophie, and does it with a wonderful mix of sweetness, comic exaggeration, and serious talent. This movie will put her on the map.

Meryl Streep is the Mamma, and is better than ever, which is saying a lot, since she has been brilliant in every movie she's ever brought to life. Here, it's a pleasure to see a 59-year actress who still has it, shaking it, and singing with the best of them. (Her rendition of ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All" - 1980 - will be a classic.)

Pierce Brosnan plays one of the three possible fathers, and how funny and cool is it seeing James Bond singing ABBA's "SOS" (one of their 1975 hits). Brosnan is no great singer, but he carries a tolerable tune, which is just right for this part.

"Dancing Queen," always my favorite, was performed twice, with Benny Andersson - one of the B's in ABBA - playing piano one of those times. His piano and enthusiasm haven't aged a day.

Benny and the other ABBA "B" - Björn Ulvaeus - are among the movie's executive producers. Bjorne and Benny also appear as Greek gods (the movie takes place on a Grecian isle) under the closing credits. ABBA attended Mamma Mia's world premier in Sweden on July 4, 2008. According to Wikipedia, the group "re-emphasized that they intended never to officially reunite ... They wanted to be remembered for who they were in their prime."

Mamma Mia certainly captures that rare spirit, and more.

clip of Dancing Queen from Mamma Mia - with Benny on piano

ABBA performing "Dancing Queen" in the 1970s

and another story that concerns Grecian isles ...

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

Monday, July 21, 2008

Janet Jackson's Breast Unfined: US Appeals Court Stops the FCC Trampling the First Amendment

Score a big one for the First Amendment today.

"The First Amendment precludes the FCC from sanctioning CBS for the indecent expressive conduct" of Janet Jackson's nine-sixteenths-of-a-second exposed breast, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today, and in striking down the FCC's obscene $550,000 fine, the Federal appeals court not only saved CBS lots of money, but struck a blow for freedom of expression on television, and media in general.

It's good to remember that this current reign of FCC terror, in which fines of millions of dollars have been levied by the FCC against offending media, was ignited by that split second of Janet Jackson's breast in the Super Bowl Halftime show on CBS in 2004. The FCC said it received more than a million complaints from outraged Americans about indecent broadcasts that year, and even though it was later revealed that at least half were instigated by Brent Bozell's Parents Television Council (see my debate with Bozell below), the race to trample the First Amendment was on.

Today's decision focused on the special absurdity of going ballistic over split seconds - fleeting appearances - of images.

The Supreme Court will be deciding a case on fleeting words in the Fall.

We have a long way to go. But America has finally stepped back from the stampede to censorship. Hats off to the 3rd Circuit Court.

Brent Bozell v. Paul Levinson on the First Amendment, November 11, 2004

See also The Flouting of the First Amendment

and my interview about this ruling, in the Los Angeles Times

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight Transcends

I just got back from seeing The Dark Knight, and it is eons better than any previous Batman movie, or, for that matter, any Superman or other movie made of a comic book character. In fact, The Dark Knight is as far away from comic book tropes and exaggerations as The Grapes of Wrath is to a nursery rhyme.

Heath Ledger as The Joker was stunning and unforgettable - more like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys than Jack Nicholson's Joker in a previous Batman movie, and Nicholson was pretty good. A fitting last bow for Ledger indeed, and all the more tragedy that he won't be with us for more.

But Ledger's was not the only brilliant performance. Gary Oldman is truly in a class of his own in acting, playing radically different characters in different movies with the same ease and also unforgettable perfection. This time Oldman was James Gordon - and Gordon and the audience never had it so good.

Aaron Eckhart as the "White Knight" Harvey Dent was powerful, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Batman's and Harvey's love was perfect, and you can never miss with Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman (whose Lucius Fox takes a stand against Orwell's Big Brother). Lost's Richard (Nestor Carbonell) plays the Mayor, and our real Senator Patrick Leahy even puts in a nice cameo.

Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne was fine - but I wouldn't put him ahead of George Clooney and Val Kilmer's performances of the role.

But the story was so powerful, the supporting acting so extraordinary, that Bale really shined, too. I'm rarely surprised in a movie - I did guess one minor bad guy sitting in the driver's seat - but the complex story of The Dark Knight was packed not only with punches but real twists and surprises.

Most of all, despite its advertised "darkness," the movie had hope and soul. When you see it, I think you'll agree that the real heroes were the people of Gotham, and in a soft-spoken, understated, but memorable and heart warming way. I don't know, is it too much to say they evinced a distinctly Democratic, humane capacity, resisting the baser impulses of a people under attack? Yes, they did. Gotham - that mixture of New York and Chicago, the quintessential American city - shown bright in The Dark Knight tonight.

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, July 17, 2008

Suggestion for New Snorg Tee from Paterson NJ Councilman "We're Tired of Seeing Your Behind"

Not your behind, necessarily, unless you wear saggy pants, below the buttocks, in Paterson, New Jersey. If you do, Councilman Anthony Davis apparently has had his eye on you - or, at least, your backside - and is sick and tired of seeing it. So much so, that he's pushing for fines for indecent exposure for anyone parading around with such low cuts.

To be clear, I don't think anyone is actually showing a complete, naked rear. It's big baggy underwear, with maybe a little of the top of the bottom line.

But to tell you the truth, I'm not really the best person to testify about this, because, the few times that someone wearing such an outfit has crossed my path, I didn't particular look. So maybe because I'm not particularly interested in seeing those behinds, and therefore haven't seen all that many for all that long, I'm not tired of seeing them.

Councilman Davis presumably was, and is, and that's his business. But not the Paterson City Council's, not any government's, which isn't and shouldn't be in the business of telling us how to dress.

I won't go so far to say this is a bonafide First Amendment issue, but, hey, clothing is a kind of communication, I talk about modes of dress when I teach nonverbal communication, so maybe I wouldn't be that much of a smart ass if I said it was...

All right, the puns are endless. "We're tired of seeing your behind" has to be one of the funniest lines that has come down the pike since O'Reilly's "We'll do it LIVE!" If there's not a Snorg tee-shirt out with "We're tired of seeing your behind" in the next week, I'd be amazed.

But Councilman Davis really needs to get back to doing the people's business ... and stop cracking down on the people's business line...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Suggestion for Next New Yorker Cover: Cartoonist and Editors with Heads Up Their...

You've all no doubt heard about and seen The New Yorker cover with the inane cartoon of Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House, fist bumping, Barack dressed in mid-East garb, Michelle like an Angela Davis revolutionary, replete with AK-47, and the American flag burning in the fireplace decorated with a picture of the world's leading terrorist above it. You can see it in the video clip below, if somehow you missed it.

I can't see this having any adverse effect on the campaign. Who of Obama's supporters would change their vote because of this? Who of those who don't like Obama will be energized by this? I'd say no one. Those against Obama would have been, and will continue to be, whatever the New Yorker put on its cover.

But that doesn't mean that we should excuse let alone approve of this ridiculous cartoon. Yes, The New Yorker has every right under the First Amendment to put whatever it pleases on its cover. But we the world have every right to object.

And more than anything, this lame attempt at satire shows how out of it, how behind the times, The New Yorker was with this cartoon. Hyperbole has a role in satire, but putting together a kitchen sink of canards about Obama goes beyond humor - there's too much wrong in this cartoon to find it funny or sage in its attempted criticism of Obama's nutcase critics.

Well, The New Yorker has published some of the great cartoons of our age. Here's an idea for a new one: a cartoon about a cartoonist penning a cartoon, and editors approving it, all with their heads up their...

Paul McCartney Singing All Things Must Pass

Another YouTube gem - Paul McCartney singing George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" at the Concert for George held at the Royal Albert Hall in London on November 29, 2002 one year after George's death...

My favorite line was always "daylight is good at arriving at the right time" ... not only good things, but bad things, don't last forever...

But there's a lot good in this song, and McCartney's performance. Look at the look McCartney gives Harrison's son, Dhani, at close to the end of the performance, followed by the look McCartney gives Eric Clapton.

All things must pass ... but perhaps not if they've been put up on the eternal golden playlist of YouTube....

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lovin' My Prius, Part III

Well, I've glowingly blogged and podcast about my Prius a few times in the past two years, but I was reminded again today just why I can't say enough good things about it.

I was sitting in my Prius at an intersection in Westchester County, NY. A big truck got stuck trying to make a turn. I missed about 4 lights before the truck was able to move again. For most of that time, my Prius wasn't costing me a cent of gas, because the internal combustion engine ("ICE") had automatically shut off, and the electrical engine had taken over.

Now, sure, I could have turned any car off, easily. But how many times have you ever really done that, sitting at a light for a long minute? Never, is my answer.

And when you drive in the city, you're stopping at lights, and sometimes stuck at them, almost as often as you blink. And every time that happens, you save a little gas money - that you otherwise would have spent, for literally moving nowhere.

I heard today that Toyota is shutting down an SUV plant in the US, and opening up a Prius production plant. Way to go...


Like science fiction? Jump into my short story, The Other Car, in which a Prius is a bridge to an alternate reality

Prius podcasts: My Sweet Prius, Part II ... Prius and Bluetooth

Prius blog post: Nine Reasons I Love My Prius

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sitting Shiva on Weeds and Laughing: 4.4

No, Weeds hasn't died - in fact, its sitting shiva episode was the best yet of Season 4, bursting with energy, humor ... and life.

Except for grandma. She may have survived being taken off life support in Episode 3, but not Nancy's pillow, applied off-camera. The pillow, by the way, is a good example of why no technology is inherently always evil or good. The evil gun can save lives and help us hunt for food, the good pillow can be used for murder and euthanasia (ok, not as bad as murder, but I'm just saying).

Now, in the Jewish religion, the custom is for the immediate family of the departed loved one to sit at home, on wooden boxes (not comfortable), for seven days - "shiva" is Yiddish for seven. You can't play, you can't work, you can't prepare or buy food. So compassionate friends and relatives bring it to you. It's tough going - when I was kid, I thought it was sitting "shiver".

You can talk, though. And the seven little clips of the Botwins talking for seven days were hilarious. One of the best sequences in all of the seasons.

In the aftermath:

Lenny takes Nancy's money and decamps - we may not see him again.

And Doug is moving in permanently.

Trading Lenny for Doug. Not bad ... but I'm going to miss Albert Brooks as Lenny. A classic performance.

See also: Showtime's Sassy Hour of Sin ... Weeds 4.3: Nancy by the Endless Sea ... Nancy Gets Spanked and Likes It: 4.8 ... Nancy Has Limits: 4.9 ... Shane and Two Girls: 4.10 ... Nancy Turns a Corner: 4.11 ... The First Bitter Fruit of Telling Till: 4.12

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!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama and His Family Created Excellent History on Access Hollywood

I'm really surprised about the flack Obama has been catching about the recent interview of him and his family - Michelle, and daughters Malia (age 10) and Sasha (age 7) - by Maria Menounos on Access Hollywood.

I found the interview heartwarming and delightful. It was a pleasure to see a family joking, quipping, even complaining about Obama leaving his suitcase on the floor. Maybe I'm not objective, but this reminded me of my wife and our kids, when they were younger, and seemed refreshingly normal in a candidate for President.

So why the uproar?

Anderson Cooper, on CNN, was the first I saw expressing some displeasure, griping the night before last that the questions Ms. Menounos asked were softballs. Cooper expected, what, hard-hitting questions of children? Menounos conducted an excellent interview. As Dan Abrams (still my favorite on MSNBC) observed last night, Cooper was just jealous.

And what's vexing Andrew Sullivan? In his Daily Dish today, Sullivan says he was "was gob-smacked by the Obamas' decision to include their children in a soft-focus TV interview," and ties this to concerns about Obama's positions on FISA, the Second Amendment, Iraq, and deciding to give his acceptance speech in a huge outdoor stadium!

Talk about a laundry list. Much as I like seeing the word "gob-smacked," what on Earth is Sullivan talking about? Obama didn't change his position on Iraq or the Second Amendment, he did on FISA - I don't see that as such a problem, but even if I did - what does that have to do with having your family interviewed and wanting to accept your nomination in an outdoor stadium? Sullivan says it's all "hubris" for Obama - but, frankly, the hubris here looks more like Sullivan's.

Obama himself has said he regretted the family interview - but, I've got to say, that's one thing that I do disagree with Obama about. I predict Maria Menounos' interview of the Obama family will go down as an illuminating piece of history of a Presidential family to be.

Because, the fact is, we really don't have any others. Wouldn't you love to see one of JFK and his family right before he was elected? Of course, the timing wasn't quite right, Caroline was not even three, but you know what I mean.

But good for the Obamas and Access Hollywood and Maria Menounos for making this happen.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Secret Service Owes America an Explanation for Violation of Librarian's 1st Amendment Rights at McCain Townhall Meeting

You've all likely read about this, and/or seen the video below (my student, Mike Plugh, first brought this to my attention):

A 60-year old librarian in Denver was carrying a sign with the message, McCain=Bush, as she waited to attend a McCain town hall meeting at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (a public venue). Some guy in a beige jacket asks her to remove the sign. She refuses. An onlooker asks him why she's been asked to remove the sign. The beige jacket responds that he was "asked" to do this, "by representatives of the Secret Service." Soon after, a Denver policeman starts talking, and informs the librarian that she has two choices: keep the sign, and be issued a ticket for "trespass," or get rid of the sign, in which case she can continue to stand in line to attend the McCain town hall event. Carol Kreck, the brave librarian, takes the ticket. She's escorted off the public premises, and tells the camera that she's been told that, if she returns, she'll be arrested.

This is one of the most outrageous violations of the First Amendment I've seen in a long time. Not a case of allegedly indecent broadcasting, in which there is at least a confused (and unconstitutional) Federal Communications Act to back it up. Not a shield law issue, which, although profound in its threat to the First Amendment, is not a direct assault upon it.

No, this is about as straight-up an attack on the First Amendment as you can get - an attack on exactly what Jefferson and our Founding Fathers were protecting in the very First Amendment to our Constitution: the right of every citizen to express her or his political views, unobstructed by the government.

What's to be done?

1. The Secret Service owes America an explanation. If they indeed put the beige jacket and the Denver police up to harassing and preventing Ms. Kreck from exercising her First Amendment rights, then those in the Secret Service who did this should be fired and brought up on criminal charges.

2. If the beige jacket was lying, and was not told to do this by the Secret Service, then he should be brought up on harassment and other criminal charges.

3. The Denver police in either case were pathetic. If the Secret Service ordered them to harass Ms. Kreck, they should have refused to follow the order, and should be reprimanded for such ignorance of the First Amendment. If the Secret Service gave no such order, and they harassed Ms. Kreck on the basis of what the beige suit told them, then they should be fired.

It's time we started standing up for our rights.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Obama's Acceptance of Nomination in Stadium Resonates with Democracy

Good for Barack Obama for deciding to accept the Democratic Party nomination for President this August in a huge outdoor football stadium in Denver.

Stadiums are usually thought of nowadays as platforms for sports and celebrity concerts. But they have a history that hearkens back to the very roots of democracy.

In ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy as far as we know, the ideal size for a democratic state was thought to be the number of citizens who could sit in a public arena or stadium and debate the issues.

Ancient Athens put Socrates to death - they had no First Amendment back then - but not every aspect of our democratic system is better than theirs. In place of the direct democracy of Athens, we elect representatives who debate and vote on our behalves. Rather than seeing our speakers in person, we see them on television, where members of the press - another kind of representative - ask them questions for us.

YouTube has taken some of the press out of this process, and put videos in our own hands (or, at least, laptops and cell phones), but we still do not get to see candidates, or each other, in person, as we all pursue the democratic process.

Obama's decision to move his acceptance speech from inside the convention to Invesco Field at Mile High, in Denver, is a powerful and important symbolic move. Like JFK, who also accepted his party's nomination in 1960 in the big outdoor Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Obama's nomination in Denver will be a crucial step in moving our democracy a good mile higher in responsiveness to the people than it is today.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Vantage Point: Flawed but Fine

Hey, I just saw Vantage Point on DVD. The critics didn't much like it, but, once again, I didn't much agree with them.

In fact, I thought Vantage Point was pretty good. Kept me guessing with good twists and lots of action. A refreshingly different kind of assassination movie - especially in tune with the complexities of our age, in which the bad guys are far from dummies.

Two points I did have a little trouble with -

1. William Hurt played both the President and his double. Now, I can understand the people in Spain, in the crowd, not knowing the difference. But the event was televised on GNN - a CNN equivalent - with close-ups to boot. How would the double, however much he looked and sounded like the President, have fooled the American people and everyone in the news business? (This flaw could have been dealt with by setting up the news coverage as unable, for whatever tech or security reason, to deliver close-ups of the President with decent sound.)

2. I guessed Matthew Fox (Agent Taylor) was the bad guy as soon as he told Dennis Quaid (Agent Barnes) that he, Fox, would check something out. Now, I think making Fox the bad guy was an ingenious move, given that we know him best as Jack Shephard on Lost, who is good, through and through. But something in that scene between Fox and Quaid gave it away, at least to me.

Nonetheless, if was a fine movie. With an especially good part played by Forest Whitaker, who never disappoints. (Also good to see Richard T. Jones - Agent Ellison from The Sarah Connor Chronicles - playing Agent Holden in Vantage Point.)

PS: My wife had trouble with an additional point in the movie: Why did the terrorists want to take the President alive? Didn't bother me, though. I thought that, with these more intelligent than usual terrorists, we're supposed to assume that they understand that holding a US President hostage gives you a better hand to play than killing the President.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Pete Seeger on the 4th of July: The Truest American Hero

My wife and I saw "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song" last night. Part of PBS's superb American Masters series, "The Power of Song" may well win an Emmy this year, and it would be eminently deserved. One of the best portraits of a singer - someone far more than a singer - I've ever seen.

Pete Seeger is 89, and has been a major player for good and peace throughout most of the 20th, and now the 21st, century. He had some number one records with the Weavers in the 1950s, was blacklisted in the McCarthy era, worked tirelessly for civil rights, and inspired the cleanup of the Hudson River in the 1990s - our kids actually helped a little with that when they were in summer camp. But what stands out most about Pete Seeger is his voice with banjo singing out against war.

My wife and I were inspired by him many times in the 1960s, when we were first dating, especially when we were marching in Washington in October, 1969 to stop that decade's unconstitutional, immoral war, and Pete Seeger, singing out John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," across the street from the White House, shouted "Are ya listenin' Nixon?" And, it took a few painful years, but eventually Nixon had to, because the American people roused by heroes like Pete Seeger gave Nixon no choice.

Yes, Pete Seeger was and is a hero - the best kind of hero in an illegal, disgraceful war - the kind of hero of who does what he can to bring that war to an end. Far more of a hero than a fighter pilot who drops death on innocent people.

Pete Seeger of course was scorned by the retrograde forces in America throughout his career. The Smothers Brothers courageously put him on their TV show after Seeger had been banned for 17 years. Johnny Cash did, too, and one of the best parts of "The Power of Song" was a clip of Cash standing up for Seeger in an interview on Cash's show. Johnny Cash was a great man, more than just a singer, too. Bill Clinton as President finally gave Pete Seeger the official admiration he deserved, honoring him at the Kennedy Center in 1994.

We should all stand up for Pete Seeger today - happy Fourth of July, Pete Seeger, you're the truest and best kind of American, and our country and the world owes you a lot.


And take a look at this superb video - Pete Seeger and Majora Carter in the This Brave Nation series, recorded just last year.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Weeds at 4.3: Nancy by the Endless Sea

A more serious bunch of Weeds this fourth season, I think, now past Episode 3.

The most dramatic and also profound part of the plot concerns Judah's mother, hooked up to machine, in a coma, tended by Judah's father, Len, aka Albert Brooks. She mutters in Episode 2, in Yiddish, that she doesn't want to live, and this sets most of the family off on a debate as to whether to kindly put her out of her misery. Andy leads the arguments for yes, Silas is the most opposed. The Andy Ayes eventually carry the day, and appoint Nancy (of course) to the task.

Nancy shuts off the machine via turning off circuit breakers - but, miraculously, grandma keeps breathing! I was glad to see that.

Meanwhile, Nancy's being tested as a runner to Mexico, the Feds finally believe Celia that Nancy's the drug runner, and some kind of crisis is clearly brewing, but it's still a little too soon to tell what.

But I'm enjoying Nancy and her family by the sea - not to mention Len v. Andy - and looking forward to maybe even grandma now playing an active role! Intimations of immortality...

See also: Showtime's Sassy Hour of Sin ... Sitting Shiva on Weeds: 4.4 ... Nancy Gets Spanked and Likes It: 4.8 ... Nancy Has Limits: 4.9 ... Shane and Two Girls: 4.10 ... Nancy Turns a Corner: 4.11 ... The First Bitter Fruit of Telling Till: 4.12

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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Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Hey, have you noticed the two little widgets I put up on the right hand column of Infinite Regress a few days ago?


Well, just scroll down a little from the top, past the What Am I Doing lavender Twitter widget, and the little Pownce badget, and the tiny ODEO player which, if you click on it, will tell you, in my own voice, how to get autographed copies of my books, and-

Right, there they are: two widgets, the first one flashing with covers of my novels, the second with pix of the covers of my nonfiction books, and much more. Because if you click on either of these, you can find out much more about the books, about me (there's even a link to the Wikipedia entry about me), and about the operation, AdaptiveBlue, where you can get these and all kinds of other widgets, free of charge.

Now, if all you wanted to do was put my widgets on your blog or profile page, that of course would make me very happy, and when you click on either of the widgets you'll see an easy option to do that.

But you can also design your own widget - and featuring all kinds of things other than books. You can have a widget for your Netflix queue, your music, all kinds of things.

That's it - just a great new, free way to share just about anything online with your friends, readers, and public.

Arianna Huffington Interviewed on Mark Molaro's Alcove

Excellent 20-minute interview of Arianna Huffington by Mark Molaro on his Internet Alcove show. (I consider Mark Molaro the Charlie Rose of the Internet.)

Huffington correctly attributes Barack Obama's success to his campaign's mastery of the Internet - or, what I call "new new media," and discussed with Mark on The Alcove last November.

The Huffington Post is one of the primary heralds of new new media journalism and commentary, and this interview provides an important audio-visual document by its Editor-in-Chief. The interview is of course available on YouTube, which is part of this revolution, too.

My favorite line in the interview (one of many): the mainstream media, in ineffectively covering the build-up to the Iraq War (its failure to report that there were no weapons of mass destruction), became, in Huffington's words, "stenographers to power".

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Obama's Modified Positions Make Sense

Barack Obama has received considerable criticism for changing his positions on public financing (will now not use it in his campaign), and on FISA (supports the bill passed by the House). A few disappointed supporters have said he's therefore no different from John McCain, who changed his position on Bush's tax cuts (McCain now supports them), etc.

I think this misses the point, which is: what counts most is not whether a candidate changes positions, but whether the change is for the better or the worse. Let's look at the candidates and the issues:

Obama on public financing: I frankly never liked public financing of Presidential campaigns in the first place. Designed to prevent wealthy donors from dominating an election, public financing laws also get in the way of all Americans contributing to campaigns. Further, in the Bush/Kerry election of 2004, loopholes allowed millions of dollars to be spent on ads that swiftboated Kerry. And, worst of all, public financing gives the government too much power. It is illogical and dangerous to democracy to have the government that is up for election also determine who gets public financing for the election, and how much.

This year, Obama would have received $84.5 million from the US Treasury for his campaign, would have been unable to accept any private contributions, and would have been prohibited from spending more than the $84.5 million. Given that Obama took in $95 million in private contributions in just March and April, and more than 90% of his donations were under $100 (according to Obama's communications director, as reported in The New York Times), Obama's acceptance of public financing would not only have made no financial sense, but would have been a slap in the face of democracy. His opting out - even though he had previously said he wanted to work with public financing - was the right thing to do.

Obama on FISA: The Bush's administration's wiretaps after September 2001 were a direct violation of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) provisions that a special court has to approve or warrant the wiretaps (Bush's wiretaps were not approved by the FISA court). The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 is intended, in part, to make sure that does not happen again. A sticking point is what to do about telecom companies - AT&T, Verizon, etc - which permitted the illegal wiretaps. Many Republicans want to give them immunity from invasion of privacy suits. Many Democrats do not.

Back in February, Obama said he would not support a FISA Amendment Act which did not hold the telecom companies accountable. Last week, Obama said he would support the FISA Amendments Act which passed in the House, even though that Act does provide immunity for the telecom companies.

Here is why Obama's change of position makes sense: 1. We need a strong statement from Congress that FISA must be respected from now on. Delaying or defeating the FISA Amendments Act would work against that. 2. According to Keith Olbermann quoting John Dean on Countdown last night, the immunity in the Act pertains only to civil suits - the telecom companies could still be held liable for criminal proceedings (as would the Bush administration). See the video clip below.

McCain on Bush tax cuts
: As just one example of the kinds of changes in position McCain has been offering, consider that he correctly denounced Bush's tax cuts for the very wealthy, and now endorses Bush's taxes. I can see nothing positive or useful in McCain's reversal of positions - unless we agree with Bush that the ultra-rich were paying too high a tax.


In sum, then: Not all modifications of positions are equal. In the case of Obama's change of positions on public financing, and on FISA, they make sense. We might reasonably have wanted Obama to have come to these positions sooner, but by far the more important point is that he has the right, or best possible position, now. If this is in part a result of being attuned to the political climate, that's not necessarily bad - part of being a successful public servant is being flexible, and attuned to changing circumstances.

In the case of McCain, no circumstances regarding Bush's tax cuts have changed - it was wrong to punish the less wealthy then, and it's wrong now.