=Borrowed Tides= and =Alpha Centauri= right here

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why It's Hoboken Terminal not Hoboken Station

Amidst all the concern about the train crash in Hoboken Terminal today, and relief that only one life was taken, and thoughts for that family and the people and families of those who were injured, the question arose of why the train was said to have crashed into Hoboken Terminal not Hoboken Station.

Well, that's what the Hoboken train structure is called, and the reason is that when it was first constructed a century ago it was a terminus, literally the end of the line, a place were trains completed their runs, and went no further, except to turn around and go back the way they came.  In such a Victorian and Edwardian world, it made sense to call these facilities terminals rather than stations, where in contrast to terminals the train stopped but continued its journey in the same direction.

Grand Central Terminal is named terminal for the same historical reasons, even though it is often called Grand Central Station, which itself has become a metaphor for bustling with activity.   But train buffs know it should be Grand Central Terminal, and bristle when it's called otherwise. I was once sternly told by an assistant editor that I needed to change Grand Central Station to Grand Central Terminal in one of my novels. I complied and learned.

Of course, neither Grand Central nor Hoboken are true terminals these days, and have not been for years.   When you're on the New York City Subway system and your train pulls into Grand Central, you'll pulling into a station not a terminal, and your train doesn't turn around but instead continues on its way.  Same for the PATH trains in Hoboken.

But it's still charming and quaint to continue to call these places terminals, and I'm all for it.   Yet ... names and physical structures are not the same, and though we can enjoy the old-fashioned name, we want our equipment and  to be as new and crisply functional as possible.

As engineers look for the cause of the crash, and our thoughts continue for the full recovery of the survivors, we should also give a thought to improving the infrastructure of the rail system in this country.  We deserve better tracks and trains to take in and out of these "terminals".

Masters of Sex 4.3: Hugh Hefner and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Masters of Sex is back in good form in its 4th season, with an episode - 4.3 - that featured not only Hugh Hefner but Sammy Davis, Jr. in the intro.

Hugh Hefner and the scenes at his mansion have been the best parts of this new season so far.  First, the guy who plays him - John Gleeson Connolly - looks and sounds almost 100% like the Hef we remember.   But his role in this Masters of Sex story is great, encouraging Masters and Johnson to be a couple.   At this point, the coupling is professional.   But Hef and we know that there is much more in store - not to mention what we've seen with our own eyes in previous seasons - and Hugh Hefner is therefore playing the role of the matchmaker, the guardian angel, of what we and history know to be right.

Sammy Davis, Jr. has played no major or even minor role in the overall story so far, but he was a treat to see and hear in Sunday's episode, in an appearance made al the more enjoyable because Sammy was played by The Wire's inimitable Andre Royo.

Meanwhile, the overall rest of the story so far is appealing, and slowly gathering a full head of steam. Mad Men's Rich Sommer (whom I interviewed on my podcast years ago when Mad Men was young) was good to see as a husband with a problem in earlier episodes this season. But the most explosive development so far came from another couple and the wife on Sunday who wanted her husband to be a little more rough in their love-making.  He gives every indication that that's just not in him - until he erupts in violence that brings Masters and his assistant running into the room to stop the action.

The assistants threads - Masters and Johnson each have one, as per their agreement - has possibilities, but their being married, secretly at first, now revealed, is a bit contrived.   But that's ok, as long as the Masters and Johnson story progresses on its rocky road, which I'm eager to see.

See also Thomas Maier: Masters of Sex and Biography Come to Life ...Masters of Sex 3.1: Galley Slaves ... Masters of Sex 3.2: The Shah, the Baby, and the Book ... Masters of Sex 3.3: The Bookstore ... Masters of Sex 3.7: Going Ape ... Masters of Sex 3.9: Calling Hugh Hefner ... Masters of Sex Season 3 Finale: Cliffhanger


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Marshall McLuhan, Donald Trump, and the Revenge of Cool

I'll be in Toronto,  Friday October 14 - at the Toronto School: Then, Now, Next big conference - giving a talk about Marshall McLuhan, Donald Trump, and the Revenge of Cool (expanding a bit on an earlier talk of the same name I gave at the New York Society for General Semantics meeting at the Players Club in New York City on September 9, 2016).

Here, for those who can't wait, or want a taste of my talk, or won't be able to make it to Toronto at all, is a slightly expanded version of my abstract (updated on 13 October 2016):

It may seem strange to characterize Donald Trump, and his angry, aggressive rhetoric as "cool" in the McLuhanesque sense, but most of his statements, especially those on Twitter where he frequently posts, contain almost no content. You can't say much anyway in just 140 characters, but Trump says whatever comes into his mind, claiming one day that he's "softening" his position on immigration, the next day that he's really "hardening" his position, and the day after that he's softening. Like all cool presentations, this allows his supporters to see whatever they want to see in his tweets and other statements. McLuhan might have said that Trump as a politician is all medium and no content. The dark side of this is that, just as the cool medium of television flipped into maximum participatory violence in the 1960s, so Trump and his ice storms of cool have already begun flipping into violence at his rallies.   But cool can taketh as well as giveth not only for society, but the candidate who plies it.   Trump's stiffness with the teleprompter, and his egregious lack of preparation for his first debate with Hillary Clinton, are hallmarks of his cool, which may be poised to exert its revenge on Trump. And his vulnerability to release of a hot recording of explicit, sexually abusive remarks in October 2016 - which caused him to plummet in the polls and lose the support of dozens of officeholders in his own party - speaks to the fragility of cool. At the same time, the propensity of Trump's core supporters, i.e., those most caught up in the cool, to continue to see and hear whatever they most want in their candidate, provides the candidate with a rock-solid floor of devotees, whatever he may actually do or say, or whatever reports of earlier misconduct may reveal.
For more about the conference, here's the final program.   Come on by if you can.  I'll be on a 3:30pm panel on Friday, October 14.

For more about Trump, Clinton, and how McLuhan may have reckoned this campaign, see my McLuhan in an Age of Social Media, available on Kindle and in paperback.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hillary Clinton Mops the Floor with Donald Trump in 1st 2016 Presidential Debate

I'm a Clinton supporter, so may be a little biased, but I've never seen such a wipe-out in a Presidential debate as what Hillary Clinton did to Donald Trump tonight.

She was clear, calm, logical, powerful, smiling - in contrast to Trump, who seemed beleaguered, tired, defensive, even incoherent at times, especially in foreign policy.  He was rude in many exchanges, even snapped at the moderator Lester Holt, and seemed rattled.  On several occasions, he resorted to bragging about his properties and accomplishments.

And she bested him, point by point, on such issues as

  • ISIS, which Trump said Hillary had been fruitlessly fighting her "entire adult life"
  • Trump's taxes, which Holt and Clinton both successfully pressed him on not releasing  - at several points, Trump even seemed to admit that he had never paid any taxes
  • racial profiling, which Trump said he supported, despite its unconstitutionality
  • Trump's birtherism and lifelong racism
  • Trump's lies about never supporting the war in Iraq and the attack on Libya, which Holt also called him on
  • Trump's ignorance of NATO, which he said he would relate to as a "business man"
  • stamina, which Trump, clearly out of steam and almost haggard, said Hillary didn't have, while she stood there smiling, energized, almost radiant
In short, there was not a single issue on which Trump succeeded, while Hillary displayed mastery of all of them. Trump's job, in this debate, was to appear Presidential.   Instead, he appeared far less than Presidential than in previous weeks.

Can Trump survive this?  His supporters will continue to support him.  But it's hard to believe anyone on the fence won't want to jump off and run the other way.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Designated Survivor: Jack Bauer Back in the White House

Designator Survivor debuted on ABC tonight - just a few days after terrorist bombs in New Jersey and New York City fortunately took no lives, and the very night that riots in Charlotte, North Carolina put one man in the hospital in critical condition, in the wake of another black man shot under, at best, unclear circumstances in Charlotte, and another black man was shot by a cop, point blank, and killed, when he had his hands up in Tulsa.

As horrendous as that, our reality, is, what we see in Designated Survivor is worse: the Capitol building is demolished during a State of the Union address, and the President, VP, and his entire cabinet except the Secretary of Housing are killed.  And also the Supreme Court, most of the Joint Chiefs, and likely most Senators and Representatives.

This set-up for the designated survivor requires someone who can rise to the task.   Who better than Kiefer Sutherland, aka Jack Bauer, to step up - or allow himself to be put up, might be a more apt description. Sutherland's newly minted President Kirkman correctly doesn't have much of the swagger of Jack, but he has Jack's strength, and Sutherland has already made him a memorable character.

Natascha McElhone as the President's wife is also good, playing essentially the same character as she did in Californication (not a President's wife, but the same persona), and it works for Designated Survivor.  Kal Penn as a speech writer and the other supporting roles are also apt and well-played.

But the key here is the story.  Kirkman has to navigate the potentially disastrous currents of world diplomacy, while the FBI and Federal investigators try to figure out who blew up the Capitol.  I'm guessing, based on what we saw tonight, that it's a domestic group.

It's an especially strong scenario, made more acute not only by the terrorist attacks this weekend, but by the fact that we're of course in the final weeks of our very real and harrowing contest for the succession to the Presidency - i.e., the election of 2016.   If the attacks this weekend had taken any lives, the debut of Designated Survivor would no doubt have been postponed.   But our real campaign for President would have continued, as it should.   That's the difference  between entertainment (the debut tonight) and real life.

Good for ABC for providing a little more drama to all of this - fortunately, in this case, fictional, which we can sit on the edge of our seats and enjoy.

  terrorist squirrels and bombs in NYC


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Metaphors, Skittles, and Free Speech

Earlier today on MSNBC, conservative radio host and Trump supporter Hugh Hewitt championed "metaphor" in his response to the criticism Donald Trump, Jr. (the candidate's son) has received for his comparison of US immigration policy regarding children to ingesting a handful of Skittles candy, some of which may be poisoned.

We don't want to live in a society, Hewitt nobly proclaimed, in which politically-correct thought police ban use of metaphors.

Now that's something which I, and I would bet any rational person, would strongly support.  A world without metaphor would be dull and dismal and limited indeed - because, as Marshall McLuhan liked to say, punning on the poet Robert Browning, one's reach must exceed one's grasp, or what's a metaphor?

But Hewitt's proclamation is incomplete, to the point of being disingenuous.  For surely Hewitt would agree that we must be free to criticize and denounce metaphors, when we find them dehumanizing. Surely Hewitt is not saying that sons of Presidential candidates, or anyone for that matter, should be able to tweet whatever they want in some kind of zone that protects them from scathing criticism?

As repulsive as so much of the Trump campaign has been, I would never advocate or even imply that he and his ilk should be silenced.   I agree with Louis Brandeis that "the remedy to be applied [to falsehoods and fallacies] is more speech, not enforced silence".  Surely that applies to demeaning metaphors.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Taking the Show on the Road

Paul Levinson's Upcoming Events

Hey, I'll be making four public appearances in the weeks ahead, and I figured I might as well tell you about them ...

Date City, State Venue Event
Sep 23, 2016
11:00 AM
Washington, D.C., 19th Annual International Mars Society Convention talking about Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion w/James Heiser, Michael Waltermathe, Lance Strate, and Nicole Willett; convention program
Sep 23, 2016
4:00 PM
Baltimore, MD Baltimore Book Festival Getting Published: The Nitty Gritty - discussing various paths of publication, crowdfunding, and tips for embarking on your own career as an author; convention program (I was just invited, so I don't yet appear on the program, but I'll be there!)
Oct 14, 2016
3:30 PM
Toronto, Ontario The Toronto School: Then, Now, Next lecture: "Marshall McLuhan, Donald Trump, and the Revenge of Cool"; convention program; see McLuhan in an Age of Social Media for more
Oct 15, 2016
2:45 PM
Callicoon, New York 74th Annual N Y State Communication  Association talking about Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion w/Lance Strate, Molly Vozick-Levinson, Brittany Miller; convention program

Ray Donovan Season 4 Finale: Roses

The season four finale of Ray Donovan was the most satisfying and enjoyable of all the season finales of this series, so far, because--  [spoilers follow]

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Stephen King's 11.22.63 on Hulu: Three-Part Drama in Eight Episodes

I finally got around this week to streaming Stephen King's 11.22.63 on Hulu, based on his novel of the same name.  Before I say what I liked and didn't about the short TV series, here's a little context:

Although I think King is a masterful writer, the fantasy/horror/science fiction nexus of most of his work never appealed to me, either in print or on screen.  I had hopes for his CBS-TV series, Under the Dome, but they were pretty quickly dashed.

On the other hand, I consider the assassination of John F. Kennedy the defining moment of my life and our age, even given the close contention for that destructive apex by 9/11.   And time travel has been a consuming passion for me, as a reader, viewer, and author.   Indeed, my Loose Ends saga, begun as a novella published in Analog Magazine in 1997, was all about a time traveler in Dallas on November 22, 1963.   So I approached 11.22.63 with great expectations.

These were only partially rewarded, and they all came in the last episode of the series.  But they were impressive, and well worth awaiting.

Although the series consists of eight episodes, I see it as essentially a three-part drama:

The first part was an enjoyable enough, workmanlike presentation of the hero being drawn into time travel - going back for a quick jump to prove to himself that the time travel is real, figuring out how he can have money in the past, those bells and whistles are always fun to hear and see.  But we've seen and heard all of them many times before.

The second part, at its worst, had nothing to do with the JFK assassination, and dramatically brought into the story some of the literal bleeding that I like least about King's tales.  Even when this took place in or near Dallas, it was at best a distraction and at worst an ugly story that I didn't want to see.

But the final act was masterful, and, in and of itself, a masterpiece in time-travel storytelling.  In stories in which the time traveler is trying to stop a momentous event like an assassination, the options are limited and daunting to pull off with originality.  If the traveler doesn't succeed, is that because she or he unknowingly made the bad event happen?  If the traveler does succeed, does the world get better as intended, or does it get even worse due to an unintended consequence?

In a riveting, magical final hour, 11.22.63 keeps you breathless and guessing, and does this not only for the event at hand, but for the personal life of the time traveler, powerfully played by James Franco.  Although seven hours is a long time in preparation, I strongly recommend 11.22.63 for its astonishing, hard-hitting, heart-rending rollercoaster of a finale, which will stay with you for a long time.

 photo LooseEnds-series.png_zpsvr6q50f0.jpeg

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tyrant Season 3 Finale: A Sarcastic "Good Morning," and "Afraid It Does" and More Than Enough to Continue

Tonight's Tyrant Season 3 finale was strong, which makes me hope it's indeed just a season finale and not a series finale.  FX, for its part, has dumbly cancelled the series, leaving it hunting for a new channel, which I hope it lands.

This finale had a lot to commend it.  Among my favorite scenes, and there were many, was Molly riding Barry in loveless sex so she can have another baby.   I mean, it was a sad, unpleasant scene, but very well played.

Also memorable was General Cogswell's goodbye to Leila, on the phone, preceded by his frank conversation with Exley.  On a night when Trump, our real-life tyrant wannabe in America, was trashing our generals at the Commander-in-Chief Townhall - saying they're "rubble" - it was good to see a fictional general comport himself so well.

And speaking of military leaders, we got a powerful, even stunning scene from Bassam's chief military man Colonel Maloof, who tells Bassam the truth - which is, that Barry can't survive without Maloof and his military support, which makes Barry/Bassam serving at his Colonel's pleasure rather than vice versa.   Maloof even sarcastically says "good morning" to Bassam, to underscore his point that he's waking the President up to reality.

The Daliya, Leila, Sammy, and Al-Qadi  threads were a little obvious and/or maudlin, but that's ok, because they provide ample material for another season or more.  And the very last scene, with Bassam looking at the painting his son Ahmed has commissioned for him, newly hung on the wall, replacing the portrait of Jamal who was not Ahmed's father, was good, too.  Barry's "I'm afraid it does" comment about how well the portrait suits him was a perfect last word for this season finale, and I'm looking forward to more.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Winner of Portable Story Time-Travel Writing Contest

This just in from the Portable Story Series Time-Travel Writing Contest, which I was honored to judge:

BIG NEWS! We're delighted to announce the winner and runners-up for our second short story contest, our Time Travel contest!

Congratulations to CHRISTI NOGLE and her winning story, CUBBY. CUBBY will be read by a narrator and recorded at CDM Sound Studios, Inc. in Manhattan. The Grand Prize audio production of the story will be posted for download in October.

Christi teaches college writing in Boise, Idaho. She has published fiction in the local Log Cabin Literary Center's Writers in the Attic anthology. This is her first story distributed to a national audience.

Congratulations also to the runners up, including:

Imminent Domain, by David Armstrong
Time and H. G. Wells, by Robert Grossmith
Our Friend John, by Christopher Fox
Somewhere Else, by Ryan Bloom
Hands of Time, by Carolyn Croop

Many thanks to our Time Travel contest judge, Paul Levinson. And writers, thank you for your submissions; we couldn't do Portable Story Series without you!

STAY TUNED, as we'll be announcing our newest contest theme soon! In the meantime, you can download our inaugural winning story (and donate!) here: http://portablestoryseries.com/#listen

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Narcos 2: In League with The Godfather Saga

My wife and streamed Narcos 2 on Neflix the last two evenings, and, what can I say, it was outstanding, a stand-out masterpiece in both true-crime and crime fiction drama, in any medium.  I liked it even better than the first season, and I would now place it in league with The Godfather trilogy and The Sopranos.

Pablo Escobar's crew is portrayed in vivid and memorable detail.  Limon the driver ... La Quica the hitman ... Blackie the masterful bomber ... everywhere you turn in this story you find a subplot as riveting as the overall drama, and acted with style and precision (Limon by Leynar Gomez, La Quica by Diego Cataño, and Blackie by Julián Díaz).

As the pressure mounts on Escobar and the Medellín Cartel, he and we can never be sure who is still loyal.   The story has some shockers, especially if you're not familiar with the real history.   The pressure comes from so many interlocking sources that, as was the case in the first season, you find yourself admiring Escabar's intelligence and survival skills, despite the murders that he ruthlessly dishes out, especially when he's angered.   In addition to (most of) the government of Colombia including its President, and the US DEA, Escobar must fend off increasingly damaging attacks from the rival Cali Cartel and a brutally effective rightwing military group, Los Pepes.   Even worse for Escobar, these groups have an alliance, uneasy but effective enough for the DEA - or at least one agent, Peña - to funnel high-tech surveillance info to Cali and Los Pepes.

Even a fleeting knowledge of history will tell you how Escobar's story ends. What you may not know, though, is the lack of telecom sophistication that sealed his fate, or the joy he took in just buying and eating strawberries and creme like any other citizen of Medellín (assuming that's true, but touchingly shown in the series).  But the bigger questions attendant to his life of crime continue.  Miguel Uribe, husband of Diana Turbay - tragically killed by Colombian National Police in 1991 during a botched rescue attempt after Escobar had kidnapped her (portrayed in Season 1) - told me at dinner in New York City in the late 1980s that the drug cartels wouldn't have grown rich and powerful in his country had there not been such a keen taste for the white powder in ours. And that problem obviously still remains.

And this means there's more than ample Narcos story to tell for a third and subsequent seasons, which I hope are made.  As for the first two, they shouldn't be mistaken for literal history - some of which is left out, such as La Quica's arrest in Queens, NY and his conviction for the bombing of Avianca Flight 203, for which he's still serving time in the U. S. - but that's the difference between documentary and docudrama.  Indeed, even documentaries sometimes leave out material that others deem important to the true story, but what we're left with in Narcos is a fabulous piece of work - not really the "magical realism" with which the narrator Agent Murphy frames the story (clever, given that the late Gabriel García Márquez, one of the pillars of magical realism, also penned News of a Kidnapping, about the cartel's kidnappings, including Diana Turbay) -  but a real epic of our time, or the time that led to our time, brilliantly told and directed, and indelibly acted by Wagner Moura as Escobar and Paulina Gaitan as Tata his wife.  Narcos, like all the great crime drama, takes its place not only with The Sopranos and The Godfather, but Shakespeare and the Greek tragedies - in other words, with stories of greed and yearning for freedom, and right and wrong, and establishment vs. anti-establishment, as old as our very humanity.

See also Narcos on Netflix: Outstanding


a different kind of crime

Friday, September 2, 2016

Tyrant 3.9: Al-Qadi and Tea

In many ways, Al-Qadi was the centerpiece of Tyrant 3.9.   Everyone wants him dead or neutralized.

The Caliphate wants him dead, seeing correctly that he's the last chance for any kind of unification in Abuddin, given his alliance with Leila.  In a scene in which a pot of tea never had so much pivotal power, his wife Nafisa can't bring herself to poison her husband with a cup of tea.  And he - because he's a fundamentally good person - can't bring himself to let her poison herself, after challenging her to drink the tainted tea.   Given Annet Mahendru's prior record of playing characters who die - actually, just one, but it was a major character on The Americans - I was pretty sure she was a gonna, but glad to see that she's still alive.

But Al-Qadi also faces a threat from the other side, with Bassam, getting worse and worse as a tyrant, setting loose his military to confront Leila.   Fortunately the American general disobeys orders and prevents the Abuddinian military from proceeding.   I like Chris Noth's General Cogswell, and hope this doesn't mean he's recalled or whatever and therefore off the show.

Back to Bassam, he's really dug himself into a huge hole, egged on by his now maniacal wife, and their thirst revenge for the murder of their daughter.   He has Daliya locked up.   She was wrong and Leila was right when she warned Daliya about Bassam - he may love Daliya, but that didn't stop him from arresting her.   And her going on a hunger is a strong next move in this chess game.

Will he let her die?   My prediction: he won't, and he'll break free of the downward spiral of Molly and revenge at all costs.   But then again, I'm an optimist, and we'll just have to see in the season finale next week.