Friday, July 31, 2009

Baby Boy Botwin and the "Bimah" in Weeds

It was good to see Andy agree to be Baby Botwin's father on Weeds 5.8 last Monday. He's morphed from a sage, hilarious nut to a sage, hilarious nut who also has deep sense of responsibility and Jewish tradition. Andy was always a good uncle. Now he's stepping up to be a good father, with all the Jewish trimmings. He tells Nancy he'll be there on the "bimah" (also spelled bima, and bema) with his new "son" - the bimah is the raised platform in the synagogue on which the Torah is read and Jewish boys are barmitzvahed - and names him Avi Melech (my father the king).

In contrast, Esteban the biological father is losing luster with every episode. He walks out on Nancy and the baby after his political handler - an attractive woman whom Nancy has an apt word for - tells Esteban he can't be the father of this son and win elections in Mexico. In place of the dashing, powerful mayor and drug lord of last season, we have a mean-spirited, not very brave loser.

Esteban comes to Nancy after Avi's "bris" (circumcision) and insists their son is not Jewish, and will be baptized in a Church. But Nancy will have none of it.

You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. More important, it's great to see Nancy finally standing up for herself and her family.

Yet, interestingly, Avi Melech's English name is "Stevie Ray" ... not a sound-alike of Avi Melech (many English Jewish names sound like the Hebrew name - Morris for Moshe) but an homage to well ... Not likely the singer, and Esteban Reyes would be Steven Ray...

There was lots of humor and weed in this episode, but the starring theme was a clash of cultures, and it made for the best episode so far this season.

See also: Weeds Season 5 Sneak Preview Review

5-min podcast review of Weeds

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

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tom Skerritt on The Closer

Tom Skerritt has long been one of my favorite on-the-edge actors - a brilliant, memorable character actor, not quite breaking through to be an outstanding lead actor, though he always had more than enough talent. Sort of like Mickey Rourke, before his flat-out break-out leading role in The Wrestler. Not that Skerritt and Rourke played similar roles, but they were both on the ledge and edge.

It was therefore really good to see Skerritt walk into the Detective Olin - Joey O - role in Monday night's The Closer. He's looking more and more like a lean Mark Twain, and Joey O will be one of his more memorable characters.

We've seen the story line many times before - a craggy police detective, obsessed in his retirement with bringing to justice a killer that he knows is a killer but got away. Except this time, that detective crosses paths with Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson. Her wonderful obsession with closing cases will lead her to wherever the facts take her, including Joey O. But in a nice new ironic twist to this story, Brenda Leigh is clearly beginning to work up an obsession of her own - regarding a serial killer that we saw not too long ago, who so far has gotten away with it, and in fact has flaunted it in Brenda's face.

Flynn is also good in this episode - he knows Joey O the best, from before - and Provenza's having one of his best years. The Closer continues to serve up sharp, intelligent television, with a nice mix not only of humor and serious story, but of new tales and ongoing, deeper threads.

See also Det. Richard Tracy on The Closer and Pres. Laura Roslin vs. Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson

5-min podcast review of The Closer

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

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Bones in Warehouse 13

Warehouse 13 is off to a good start on the SyFy (formerly SciFi) Channel.

Bering (Joanne Kelly) and Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) have a lot of the chemistry of Bones and Booth in Bones, and the couples even look a lot like each other (Lattimer a little more like Booth). And Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek), while we're into comparisons, reminds me of Walter on Fringe.

But the comparisons end there, and if you relish science fiction, as I do, the stories on Warehouse are more intriguing than those on Bones. The warehouse houses off-the-track artifacts from various times in the past, my favorite being a neat-looking mobile videophone from the 1920s - which still works just fine, and is used by Bering and Lattimer - and is said to have been invented just after television. This is actually an historically sound premise, because the first famous display of television was actually a two-way connection, between then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover in Washington talking to AT&T President Gifford in NYC in 1927.

And the warehouse is clearly informed by and sprinkled with the work - known and unknown, real and hypothesized - of the likes of Edison and his rival Tesla. This puts the series in an historically and scientifically grounded kind of science fiction that I usually prefer to the alternate dimensions of Fringe.

But the potential also exists in Warehouse for it to blur its focus with genies in bottles, and, in fact, the premier episode had a bit too much of that.

So we'll just have to see. But if the series remains true to its Asimovian, nearly factual roots, Warehouse could well be worth browsing through and looking at for years to come on SyFy.

5-min podcast review of Warehouse 13

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

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nurse Jackie at 8

Nurse Jackie - the Showtime series about the tough-as-nails nurse with a raging pill addiction and a heart of golden compassion - is eight episodes in, and still getting better with every episode, which is pretty good indeed.

Edie Falco in the lead now seems much more like Jackie than Carmela, which is a testament to Falco's considerable talent. And the supporting characters, ranging from a doctor who repeatedly grabs Jackie (he has some kind of sexual tic - handy indeed) to an administrator (a former nurse) who makes your public school principal seem like the nicest person in the world, keep the series engagingly off-balance and fun.

My favorite character in the past two episodes is the baby who shows up in the hospital, without parents or caretakers. Administrator Gloria Akalitus unhappily takes charge.

Meanwhile, Jackie's problems with her own older daughter Grace are getting no easier. To makes things worse, the grabby Dr. Cooper overhears Jackie talking to Grace, leaving Jackie no choice but to tell Cooper she was talking to her daughter. Cooper is not only tic-ridden but talkative, and he tells Eddie about Jackie's daughter.

It's still not clear to me how Jackie has been able to disguise her family ties to apparently most of the doctors and nurses and medical personnel in the hospital this long. But, then again, she's also been able to disguise her addiction from just about everyone except Eddie.

The peril of disguise is in fact the transcending theme of Nurse Jackie, and it's making for quietly addictive viewing...

See also Sneak Preview of Nurse Jackie ... Nurse Jackie at 6

5-min podcast review of Nurse Jackie

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

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Good That Obama Says Cambridge Police Acted "Stupidly" in Gates Arrest

Good to hear President Obama tonight characterize the Cambridge, MA police as acting "stupidly," in their arrest of Harvard professor Skip Gates in his home for disorderly conduct. Gates, an African-American, had trouble getting into his home - the door was jammed - so he went in via the back door with his key. But not before a concerned citizen called the police to report a possible break-in. "So far, so good," as Obama said. But when the police arrived, and Gates showed them his ID, he was arrested. "The Cambridge police acted stupidly," Obama aptly said.

Also in racist way.

I'm Caucasian, but once upon a time I was a teenaged kid in New York City, and I saw plenty of outrageous treatment of teens by New York City police. And that was a mild form of profiling indeed compared to what African-Americans have been subject to in this country.

The Cambridge police dropped the idiotic charges.

Now I hope Gates or someone pursues charges against them - for an outrageous, racist arrest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Likes Coming Together in True Blood

Lots of likes coming together in last night's True Blood - Episode 2.5 - with Sam and Daphne getting closer, as Sam learns Daphne is a kindred shapes shifter (a nice doe), and Sookie delighted to find another telepath, bell-hop Barry, at the vampire hotel ("light tight," as Sookie says) in Dallas.

Barry actually runs off somewhere, so they're not exactly drawing together even as friends, but he's still an extraordinary, mind-igniting discovery for Sookie. It's lonely being the only one of your kind.

Vampires of course have a whole society of kindred souls, and in Bill's case, he also has Sookie. She enjoys spending the night with him in a light-tight place which doesn't oblige him to leave in the morning. And speaking of light, Sarah and Jason are all but in bed together too.

Interesting back story also revealed for Eric - we see how he was made, and his maker - Godric - which explains Eric why is so devoted to saving him now. Vampire Vikings...

About the only major character we still don't know much about is Maryann - though we do get one more piece of information about her - she can make people irritated at each other, as well as lustful....

Well, let's hope that lust still keeps ruling the day - and night - in True Blood.

See also Love and True Blood in the Air

5-min podcast review of True Blood

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
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Forty Years from the Moon, and Still Counting

Forty years since we humans walked on the Moon - on July 20, 1969.

I was thrilled at the time, and still am, but I already could tell then that it would be a long time before our species got much farther. Lots of people, even back then, didn't seem to care all that much about this extraordinary accomplishment - the most extraordinary, in many ways, in our history.

Some said, back then, that it was the Vietnam War - that it soured many people on anything connected with the military. But it was more than that. I think there are some people, many people, who just didn't and still don't see the big deal about getting off this planet and out into space.

For me, it's always seemed crystal and pressingly clear. And the reason is not just scientific, or economic, though they play a part.

But the main reason is simply this: we'll never know truly who we are from our vantage point down on this planet. We live on a planet that is part of an immensely larger universe. And until see some more of that, first hand, we'll be lacking a crucial piece of our self-awareness and discovery. To borrow from Socrates, we'll never be able to truly know ourselves from just on this planet.

And once, against all odds, we did make it off this planet, and more than once. But we followed up with missions, which though heroic and valuable, have not really pushed the human envelope beyond the Moon.

Where will we be 40 years from now?

I hope further than where we were 40 years ago, and where we still are today.

5-min podcast about the Moon

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite Reaches the Cosmos

Sad but not unexpected news ... Walter Cronkite has died.

He placed first in a Gallop Poll in the 1970s ... the "most trusted man" in America. News anchors were held in a lot higher regard then than now.

He was our public companion during the momentous decade of 1960s. He told us about JFK's assassination, about Martin Luther King's. He called out the "thugs" who were shoving Dan Rather around on the floor of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago (the thugs were convention "security"). He bore witness almost speechless with awe and wonder to our first steps on the Moon, almost 40 years ago to this day.

I thought he retired too early when he stepped down from the CBS Evening News in 1981. Dan Rather was great - but I would've liked to have seen a few more years of Walter.

Now he's stepped up to the cosmos of our memories.

The Closer: Det. Richard Tracy

The Closer - like Bones - is a deft mix of detective story and comedy. This past Monday's episode - 5.6 - hit new comedic heights. Some scenes had me practically falling down laughing.

The main storyline, about the murder of an Internet matchmaker, was funny enough. But they threw in a detective impersonator...

Det. Richard Tracy at first fools Pope, Provenza, and Flynn, who are so happy with his being first on the scene (in the murder outside of our regular district) that they give him their cards. This opens the door for Tracy to conduct the investigation by impersonating Pope et al.

It takes Brenda, of course, to realize that Richard Tracy = Dick Tracy, a fictional character, but the story gets even funnier once Tracy is outed. He loudly complains that keeping him in custody is keeping him off the case, and in effect gives Provenza and Flynn a glimpse in the mirror of what a passionate detective might be. Fine performance by Andrew Daly (who used to be on MADtv) as Tracy.

I hope we see Tracy back (his character's real name is Jonathan Baird). The Closer is better than ever, introducing new characters like Capt. Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) and now Det. Tracy in just about every other episode, in a frothy cool mix just right for the summer heat.

See also Tom Skerritt on The Closer and Pres. Laura Roslin vs. Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson

5-min podcast review of The Closer

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sen. Franken vs. Judge Sotomayor on the Internet and the First Amendment

Kudos to Senator Al Franken for bringing up the importance of the Internet and First Amendment today in his questions to Judge Sotomayor in her Senate confirmation hearings.

Franken asked Sotomayor if she agreed with the importance of keeping "the Internet the Internet" - or free, as it has been.

Sotomayor replied that she recognizes the crucial importance of the Internet in our society - but that the Supreme Court's role is to rule on the basis of Congressional law.

Franken pressed her, pointing out the importance of the First Amendment, as a part of the Constitution in effect superior to what Congress may do. (He could have also said, but, after all, only an Amendment to the Constitution can change the First Amendment - not a law enacted by Congress.)

Sotomayor replied that the First Amendment is not necessarily superior to "property rights" and other compelling interests.

I think Franken has the right of this. He might have further replied, if he had more time, that the Supreme Court has to follow the First Amendment, regardless of what Congress does.

Unfortunately, this is not what the Supreme Court has consistently done. The Supreme Court wisely struck down the Communications Decency Act in the late 1990s, but supported the FCC's censure of WBAI Radio in the late 1970s.

As I've indicated in my discussions of Sotomayor and the Doninger case, I'm concerned about her support - or lack of - of the First Amendment. Her response to Franken was not very reassuring.

She has comported herself very well at the hearings, however, and will likely be confirmed.

It's good to know that the First Amendment will at least have Senator Al Franken on its - and our - side.

See also The Flouting of the First Amendment.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nurse Jackie at 6

Hey, I've seen the first six episodes of Nurse Jackie on Showtime, so I figured I'd pop back in here with a little review....

First, I'm glad to see that Paul Schultze's Eddie is finding getting some good sex with Edie Falco's Jackie. Back on The Sopranos, Schultze's Father Phil never quite got to first base with Falco's Carmela, but it's more than possible that he didn't really want to, and preferred the food dance instead.

Though, it's intriguingly not at all clear on Nurse Jackie exactly how she feels about the relationship, and what she wants from it. She certainly values Eddie as a source of her pills - which she clearly can't live without - and she seems to enjoy the sex. But it may well be that she'll drop him like a hot potato if the drug pipeline is closed. And it's not easy to maintain an affair with Eddie with her husband Kevin - with whom she also enjoys a good relationship - often on the verge of dropping by the hospital.

Jackie's relationship with her two daughters - especially her older daughter, Grace - also bears watching. Grace's drawing without sun or color catches the concerned attention of her teacher, and Jackie is slowly beginning to see that Grace may need some help. If you ask me, the drawing is no big deal - I agree with Jackie on that - but there may be other symptoms.

The series is slowly percolating, with a suitably slightly zany cast of characters and stories, and I'm looking forward to it coming to a boil....

See also Sneak Preview of Nurse Jackie ... Nurse Jackie at Eight

5-min podcast review of Nurse Jackie

Highlights of Michael Jackson Memorial

Some highlights of the superbly moving Michael Jackson Memorial today at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which I've been tweeting a little about, but wanted to say a little more about here -

.Berry Gordy's eulogy was masterful, and captured the sense that all of us had about Michael Jackson in the late 1960s and early 1970s ... a boy with the soul and depth of someone much older...

.Al Sharpton's speech was brilliant and powerful ... what he said directly to Michael Jackson's children was especially on target ... "there was nothing strange about your Daddy, what was strange was what your Daddy had to deal with" ...

.Brooke Shields' words about how Michael Jackson made her smile were memorable, and segued into what I thought was the best musical performance of the memorial...

.Jermaine Jackson's incandescent performance of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," Michael Jackson's favorite song... (which says something right there about Michael Jackson's universal place in our culture) ...

.Sheila Jackson Lee's announcement that she's introducing a Congressional statement of tribute to Michael Jackson was welcome ... she's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, from Texas....

.Smokey Robinson, also one of my favorite songwriters and singers, said the most that a singer-songwriter could say to another singer - you, Michael, sang my song better than I ...

.the We Are the World wrap-up was just right ... as were the words from Michael's brother Marlon, and-

.those words by Michael's daughter Paris ... I doubt there was a dry eye in the house, and in much of the world ... anyone with a heart couldn't help but be moved...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Latest Episode of Why Are Republicans So Mean: Peter King about Michael Jackson

Another entry in my continuing Why Are Republicans So Mean?

The latest comes from Peter King, member of Congress, from New York. He’s denounced Michael Jackson as a “pervert," a "pedophile," and a “child molester”.

Jackson was found not guilty of child molestation charges. King is entitled to his opinion about that, and whether Jackson is a “pervert". The real question is why did Rep. King feel the necessity to speak out about this now?

The world is still mourning the death of Jackson – or, at least, that part of the world that found deep resonance with his creative work, and that seems like a large part of the world, indeed. Jackson has not yet been laid to rest, and the Staples memorial for him will take place tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Why did Rep. King feel the need to disparage Jackson publicly right now? Why not wait until this public mourning period is over? Whatever happened to the humane notion of a decent interval, after someone’s death, to withhold criticism, let alone such vehement denunciations?

The answer, I’m sorry to say, is that some – not all – Republicans seem to lack a sense of decency, and indeed humanity. At times like this, it seems you can always count on a Republican, somewhere, to go to the gutter, and say the vile thing.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Don Lemon, Al Sharpton, and the Media's Reporting of Michael Jackson

I just saw Don Lemon defending CNN's coverage of Michael Jackson, in response to Al Sharpton's criticism that the media have been much more negative in their reporting of Jackson's death than they were in coverage of Elvis and Frank Sinatra's passing.

Lemon's response that the media covered controversial aspects of Elvis and Sinatra may be be true, but they were more along the lines of footnotes to the lives of the great singers, rather than the questions about Jackson's life that have been trumpeted in just about every report I've seen about him. The fact is that we do not yet know if drugs caused his death - the autopsy report has not yet come in - and Jackson was acquitted of child molestation charges in his 2005 trial. Sharpton is right that these issues are receiving undue attention.

More important, the media should not be in the business of defending itself against criticism of its coverage. We look to the media for news and information, not self-righteous defense of what it chooses to cover. If Sharpton has a critique of the media's coverage of Michael Jackson's life and death, and CNN wants to report that critique, fine. But we don't need to see Don Lemon then say, hey, I don't know if Sharpton was talking about CNN or other media, but CNN has been reporting just fine about Michael Jackson.

In short, the media should report on the world, not report on its reporting, and certainly not give us report cards on its reporting.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Timely, Masterful HBO Documentary about The First Amendment

Just in time for July 4, HBO debuted its First Amendment documentary, "Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech," this past Monday. Its perspective - that the First Amendment has not been under such fire since the 1950s - is something that anyone who cares about the First Amendment can't help but agree with. The documentary features First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus, and was made by his daughter Liz Garbus. She's already won two Emmys. Her work on this documentary should win her another and more.

Martin Garbus has been an heroic champion of the First Amendment - I quote him about the need for shield laws for blogger journalists in New New Media - and in this documentary, he is the main guide through recent attacks on our freedoms of expression guaranteed in the Constitution.

The key is that in order for the First Amendment to protect speech we value, we must support its protection of speech we may loathe. Communication that everyone including the government likes needs no protection from government censorship and punishment. "Shouting Fire" thus includes the battles of Ward Churchill, a professor who disparaged some of the victims of 9/11 as "little Eichmanns", and Chase Harper, a student who wore a tee-shirt in his high school that said "homosexuality is shameful".

You may disagree strongly with both points of view - I certainly do - but allowing them to be silenced, or punishing the people who espouse them, is destructive to the very basis of our democracy, or, as Martin Garbus aptly puts it, "a country where anybody can think anything, say anything, create anything." Technically, neither Churchill nor Harper was punished by the government, but Churchill (a tenured professor) was fired (on grounds that he plagiarized some of his credentials) and Harper was suspended.

Churchill's reinstatement is currently under consideration, after a jury found that he had been wrongly fired. But others whose First Amendment rights were trampled, as they tried to communicate ideas a lot more welcome than Churchill's or Harper's, have not yet been as fortunate. "Shouting Fire" tells the story of Debbie Almontaser, who was dismissed as principal of the first dual-language Arabic-English public school she was founding, after cowardly NYC officials caved to right-wing pressure. Her case is currently in the courts.

Liz Garbus's documentary - masterfully produced, with clips from movies and real-life interviews interspersed with keen analysis - concludes with a note on the importance of the Supreme Court, and the danger the First Amendment faces from the current court, which could be under the baneful influence of Bush appointees for decades.

No mention is made of Obama's first appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, because the documentary was no doubt already finished when Obama announced the appointment in May. But given the ruling of the Sotomayor Appellate court in the 2008 Doninger case, which upheld a high school's punishment of a 16-year old for objectionable language she wrote on her off-campus blog, the release of "Shouting Fire" is well timed.

I recommend this documentary to everyone who bears witness to our freedoms.

See also June 2009 Interview with Avery and Lauren Doninger and 2005 The Flouting of the First Amendment.