Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
February 20, 2007 - February 13, 2007

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

BBC's America

Secretary of Defense Lynn Cheney Rumsfeld Warner

THE WISDOM OF THE BRITS. I tried to hold off writing a review of BBC America's miniseries The State Within because the glowing reviews at (8 out 10 stars!) insisted the plot was so surprising no one would ever figure it out until the final scene of the final episode (about 340 hours in). Too many twists and turns. Too many Brit nuances. And all that acting. But, according to reviewers, plenty of excitement:

The first episode opens quickly, matching the dizzy speed that the camera moves around, with a bomb bringing down a passenger plane [over Washington, DC]. This opening looks to grab you and hold you because the writers know that...  viewers are going to be thrown into the middle of a lot of detail and be asked to keep up with it even though the connections will not start coming together for an episode or two (bearing in mind this only was six episodes long). Obviously I didn't know this at the start and I confess I did find the first two episodes to be demanding of attention without giving a lot back. However sticking with it does see all the pieces fall into place in a rather convoluted but engaging web of twists and developments. The conspiracy is sadly believable and the series builds a plot that 24 would be proud of – albeit with a bit less action.

Unless, of course, you define action as something other than chase scenes and gunfire. If you're a Brokeback Mountain fan, you'll find all the action you can handle in the Episode 1 scene between the aide to the Brit ambassador and the Deputy Secretary of Defense, who lock lips more ferociously than Madonna and Britney Spears at the Grammys. (If you don't believe me, look here, but I warn you it's Not Safe For Work, and not safe for any heterosexual who's eaten any solid food in the last 24 hours or so.) But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Only one of the rave reviews noted any sort of flaw in the six(hundred)-hour BritFest:

The whole production looks professional and expensive but at times the shaky camera-work is a distraction – in moderation it isn't a problem but some episodes felt like it had been filmed during an earthquake! The narrative does have one glaring problem within it and that is the issue of political bias. If you are right-wing and believe that the Iraq war was right and that it was all about WMD (or regime change or whatever the official reason is as you read this) then you will probably hate this series because the whole plot is essentially a very unsubtle parallel with Iraq (in regards US going to war obviously – the whole "fabricating the war thing is total fiction!). As a bit of a liberal, this element didn't bother me that much but at times it was all a bit obvious and unimaginative in regards the underlying ideas.

Obvious? Does he mean the part about how the terrorist bombing was a conspiracy by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Sharon Gless (!), former CEO of the awesomely corrupt  Halliburton Armitage Corporation, to whip up support for the suspension of all civil liberties and the internment of all foreign-born muslims?

I can't prove that's the final solution of the plot, which is why I held off writing the review while I was laboring through close to five hours of incredibly talky scenes and opaque exposition. But I can report that I knew Sharon Gless was the villain the moment she appeared on screen and began uttering dialogue in which no single sentence lacked a reference to "dicks" or "balls." You know how those crude American Neocons are. I leaped immediately to the conclusion that she was behind the bombing of the Brit plane and would turn out to be the source of all the blackest evil in the world. It took the plot only four and a half hours or so to confirm (Surprise!) my idiot right-wing paranoia. Four-and-a-half hours of indecipherable dialogue, unidentifiable Brit actors with bad hair and worse teeth, action scenes that would put the Energizer bunny to sleep, and more precious sermons than you'd hear from the Archbishop of Canterbury in a year. The one thread of suspense that kept me going related to the fact that in every scene she appeared in, I expected Sharon Gless to pull out a huge cigar and light it up, but she kept not doing that, which is probably typical Brit understatement, because everyone knows that as soon as a character smokes tobacco on screen (s)he is automatically revealed as the embodiment of pure evil.

There's still an episode left, so you can all watch to see if Sharon does ultimately pull out that stogey and laugh that fiendish American fascist laugh we all hate so much, but I warn you, each of the episodes is two-and-a-half hours long. I confess I'm not going to be there for the finale, so I won't ever find out if Sharon smokes her cigar, or lets slip a "sieg heil" salute, or rips open her top to reveal the double lightning tattoo of the S.S. on her mannish right boob. But that's the problem with us right-wingers. We suffer from attention deficit disorder when confronted by sophisticated Brit dramas that are too complex and nuanced for our dimwit American brains to comprehend.

If you want to watch, maybe you could report back to me about the surprising developments in the final episode. While you're at it, maybe you could explain a few other things to me. Like when was it exactly that the Brits became the arbiters of morality and decency in the conduct of foreign affairs? The last time I looked they were still the all-time Guinness world champion record holders in the imperialist category, with 400 continuous years of brutal, racist oppression and exploitation of more third-world nations than the average American politico can even name. When did they acquire the Solomonic wisdom that enables them to lecture their American cousins about the most virtuous policies for defeating terrorists while preserving the necessary civil liberties on the homefront? Was it sometime after they stopped ordering the Brit army to wantonly beat and murder British subjects in Northern Ireland a few years ago? Or didn't that count? And when in the hell did they get the nerve to look down their big ugly noses at us about the death penalty? Haven't they executed more people for more trivial offenses than there are incompetent dentists in the whole sorry thousand-year history of the Evil British Empire?

Just asking. And one more thing. If you have the time, could you explain to me why any American would sit still for -- let alone enjoy -- being pontificated at by a bunch of self-pitying anti-American nitwits who'd be speaking German right now if we hadn't saved their flat flabby asses from teutonic conquest, twice, in the last 90 years?

Well, maybe it's a gay thing. Wasn't it Oxford that first made treason and homosexuality synonymous? I think so. But that still doesn't explain Sharon Gless. Are there dykes at Oxford? My muse is silent on this point. Someone please help me.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Global Warming:

A New Fundamentalism for Narcissists

Behold a saint of the New Faith

THE BOOK OF ANDREW THE HERETIC. In this very cold month of February, the Global Warming rhetoric has heated up to an astonishing degree. On the same day a couple weeks ago, Drudge linked an apocalyptic warning from Ted Turner (Global Warming is the 'single greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced'...) and another from Al Gore ('Never before has all of civilization been threatened'...). These and other outbursts incited a response from a leading Canadian climatologist:

Believe it or not, Global Warming is not due to human contribution of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This in fact is the greatest deception in the history of science. We are wasting time, energy and trillions of dollars while creating unnecessary fear and consternation over an issue with no scientific justification...

No sensible person seeks conflict, especially with governments, but if we don't pursue the truth, we are lost as individuals and as a society. That is why I insist on saying that there is no evidence that we are, or could ever cause global climate change...

Today, a Roman Catholic cardinal from Australia weighed in, expressing his own flavor of dismay:

We have been subjected to a lot of nonsense about climate disasters as some zealots have been painting extreme scenarios to frighten us.   They claim ocean levels are about to rise spectacularly, that there could be the occasional tsunami as high as an eight story building, the Amazon basin could be destroyed as the ice cap in the Arctic and in Greenland melts.

An overseas magazine called for Nuremberg-style trials for global warming skeptics while a U.S.A. television correspondent compared skeptics to “holocaust deniers”.

A local newspaper editorial’s complaint about the doomsdayers’ religious enthusiasm is unfair to mainstream Christianity.  Christians don’t go against reason although we sometimes go beyond it in faith to embrace probabilities.  What we were seeing from the doomsdayers was an induced dose of mild hysteria, semi-religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition.

I like putting these two quotes together, because it is not at all uncommon for science and religion to echo one another. Whether its current practitioners recollect it or not, western science was a direct outgrowth of the Christian faith and its empowerment of the individual, which also gave rise to the Enlightenment generally, the idea of human freedom, and the philosophical possibility of atheism.

Despite all these manifestations of modernity, the origin of science in the Judeo-Christian tradition also means that the DNA of science still retains strands of the Old Testament's obsession with the concepts of evil and doom, which are intensely relevant to what is going on in the Global Warming debate right now. "The Book of the Heretic Andrew" referenced above picks out these issues in some detail. The following quotes are just thumbnails of a much fuller discussion: have asked me, “What if Mankind is not doomed?”
2  And I must laugh out loud at the question,
3  Because it is Mankind itself that has always insisted on believing in doom, 
4  And it is not something made up by Harry just to be eccentric.
5  If Mankind stopped believing in doom,
6  Then he would also have to stop believing that he is evil,
7  Because throughout history he has always used these two ideas to explain everything about himself,
8  First believing  he was doomed because he believed he was evil,
9  And then believing he was evil because he believed he was doomed,
10  Which must mean that these are the things Mankind wants to believe in,
11  Since he has gone to such extraordinary lengths to keep believing in them,
12  No matter what...

8  For if Mankind could suspend his belief in doom,
9  He would have a lot of thinking to do,
10  And many questions to answer,
11  Including some very hard questions,
12  Such as why his spotlessly rational science,
13  With all its spotlessly objective methods,
14  Has been obsessed from the very start with finding confirmation of ancient superstitions about original sin?...

30  Which is when Mankind at last became ready for the Way of Harry,
31  And why there is no way left but the Way of Harry,
32  Which is itself the proof that Mankind is doomed,
33  And will destroy himself,
34  Because he is obsessed with destroying evil,
35  No matter what it costs,
36  Just like his ancient Gods taught him to,
37  Even if he has to invent the evil and the doom,
38  All by himself,
39  With all the miraculous talents God gave him,
40  Just to prove that he hasn’t been a complete idiot for the past five thousand years.

You see, it's very lonely being a scientific-materialist atheist, because you have to dispense with the idea that you and your species might be important due to divine origin or interest. You have to accept that your whole existence is an accident in the unbelievably long history of an unbelievably monstrous universe. And yet, as the product of a self-obsessed culture which has taught you to have the highest possible respect and regard for your own impulses, desires, and convictions about social justice, you just know that you are, somehow, well, nevertheless important, in spite of it all. It's tough to do. The sheer bigness of the universe has to be cut down to size, enough to salve the needy egos of those who separate themselves from their fellow hairless primates on the basis of an intellectual superiority that fundamentally cannot matter at all.

Academic scientists manage the trick by imagining themselves as godlike figures -- the ones who, despite their essential nonentity, achieve the colossal feat of understanding how it all works. This delusion results in the absurd presumptions of narcissists like Stephen Hawking, who proclaims his determination to know "the mind of God," though this possibility is ruled out entirely by the elementary logic of Godel's Theorem, which also preempts the omniscient fantasies of Richard Dawkins.

Garden variety secular-materialists have a bigger problem. They desperately need their own version of the Christian fundamentalist's one-to-one relationship with J-e-e-e-sus, that direct connection to a larger truth which elevates and ennobles their otherwise insignificant experience of life. And like the worst of the self-satisfied fundamentalist elect, they also need that connection to be a panacea, a blessing so complete that it obviates any obligation to accept personal responsibilities that might require bravery, sacrifice, or intimate personal, moral introspection. It must suffice to shout in a loud voice, "Praise the Lord, for I at least am saved," in whatever words are appropriate for the chosen few. [***Go below the fold for an ancillary discussion of the threats such "global citizens" have no (self)interest in envisioning for us.]
That's what Global Warming is to the narcissists of the left. The doom it describes is too large and complex in the fixing for any of them to have any power to effect a cure. Yet the self-righteousness they're entitled to feel from merely believing in this image of doom is absolute. Each one of them can grasp with a single hand the substitute icon of J-e-e-e-sus called Global Warming and proclaim the Word from the rooftops as a simultaneous affirmation of personal salvation and condemnation of the diverse original evils of capitalism, consumerism, economic inequality, and nationalistic ambition. All products of human labor and aspiration are vanity (Ecclesiastes), but they are pure. And because they are pure exceptions in a species of viciously self-destructive, er, evil primates, they are -- ta da -- IMPORTANT. Without having to do one damn thing about it.

Behold the secular materialist godhead. Pretty cool, huh?

There is one slight problem about all this, though. It's called scale. Unmitigated hysteria can take a narcissist pretty far, but I'm betting that actual science -- that is, non-consensus application of the scientific method by rigorously trained rationalists -- will eventually drain some of the fever out of this particular swamp.

The fact is that without the spiritual crutch of belief in God and other unprovable spiritual affects, the secular materialists are ultimately going to have to face some ugly arithmetic. A religion that makes mankind in general responsible for the welfare of Mother Earth will eventually have to address the common-sensical assertion above, namely: "there is no evidence that we are, or could ever cause global climate change..."

Why? Because as a purely physical phenomenon, mankind is extremely small potatoes, even in the context of Gaia, i.e., Mother Earth.

Are you intellectuals ready for a bit of math?

There are 6.5 billion human beings. Even assuming that the average human weighs 150 lbs, their total mass amounts to less than 1 trillion lbs. Rounding up to an even trillion, the fraction of the earth's mass represented by its human pollutant is this:

________1,000,000,000,000_______  =

________1,000,000,000,000_______  =


This means that the "human element" represents less than one part in 13 trillion of Earth's mass. And, yes, I know that systems theory posits that small changes in system input can have a disproportionate impact on system output. And I know that microscopic viruses can wreak havoc on vastly larger organisms like, say, mammalian bodies, but deadly viruses wreak that havoc by multiplying their numbers at exponentially increasing rates in short bursts, while human population is already showing signs of peaking. At less than one part in 13 trillion. Either we're unexpectedly malignant in the grand Old Testament tradition, or our potency as a planetary impact has been wildly overstated.

In order to believe that we are a significant variable in the atmosphere of our planet, we would also have to believe that we are a major exception to the history of every species on earth. Because there is no precedent yet recorded of a species that caused its own destruction by its negative impact on the environment. Many species have been rendered extinct, but always because of their failure to adapt to external changes in environment or habitat. And if the scientific materialists are correct, we are also a purely natural by-product of our planet, made of the same stuff, and the result of the same natural process of evolution. No matter how much we value our own biochemical theories about the concept of social justice -- and the despicableness of our own evil natures in the context of an evolutionary process which has relentlessly generated ruthless predators and prey in constantly changing forms over aeons, we are -- unless the God of Social Justice has singled us out for a grossly over-proportional influence on the planet that made us -- just another creature that will evolve by adapting to the changes a habitat many trillion times our size imposes on us. (And by habitat I don't mean the whole earth. We evil, earth destroying human live on approximately 16.2 percent of the earth's surface; 53 percent of the 30 percent that's dry land..)

So, is it just possible that human beings are not responsible for Global Warming? I mean, is it possible to consider other causes without having to be tried as Nuremberg war criminals? Consider that the other major theory regarding the cause of Global Warming is solar activity in the form of sunspots, irregular solar eruptions that can each be larger than the earth itself. Now take a look at the relative size of the sun and earth, remembering that we human beings are one 13-trillionth of the dot you see below as the earth.

Let's review. Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe says that human-caused Global Warming is settled science. Is she a saint of the new fundamentalism? Or is she an archetype of a hubris more outrageous than anything found in the Holy Bible? You decide.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Right Again.

Another Brit bitch subscribes to Suicide Fashion.

INSTAPUNK RULES. If we had a publicist, we'd be calling her up about now to get out the word of another spot-on InstaPunk prediction. Back in March 2006, we wrote:

[T]he whole purpose of fashion is to attract, to propose the esthetic appeal of new influences, however difficult, and to begin the process of inseminating the popular culture with those influences. Are we being warned or inured? It's anyone's guess which is the intent here. Regardless, the once alien images and concepts of the world's only philosophically bellicose major religion are being smuggled into our everyday consciousness. If Europe becomes, as Mark Steyn predicts, Eurabia, this will have been one of the incremental steps along the way.

The United States is less endangered than Europe by Islamic cultural absorption. I do recommend, though, that American parents keep closer track than they have so far of the fashion trends that sweep through the teen and pre-teen boutiques where their daughters shop for the latest and greatest in chic attire. Be on the alert for variations on the theme of headscarves and veils and desert robes.

We published a follow-on piece in July 2006. Now, though, the Malkin Mob has suddenly gotten concerned about recent developments in the fashion industry. At Hot Air, you can discover the shocking news that a British designer has adopted the Islamic practice of covering up women's faces as a chic fashion statement. Her name is Louise Goldin, and some of her work is shown above. More alarmingly, perhaps, the youth-oriented fashion magazine Marie Claire is also featuring Islamic attire as hip and trendy.

Do you know where your daughter's shopping?

As we suggested a year ago, last year's runway trick becomes this year's mass market hit. But we're more tired this year than we were last year, and if western women don't have any problem dressing up as captives and slaves of a barbarian faith, who are we to judge? What the hell. Apparently women the world over will do absolutely anything to attract a moment's attention, and if they get the hang of muslim modesty, maybe the beatings they're asking for won't be quite as humiliating for them as what Hollywood (absolutely, positively NSFW) is pushing.

All we're learning is that there's very little point in accurate prediction. People will go right on being dumb no matter how smart we are in advance or how outraged the Malkinistas are after the fact.

Maybe we'll be in a better mood tomorrow.

Just for Bubba.

He's got rabbit ears and like that.

IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENTS. Loyal commenters are a treasure. It's rare that there's any opportunity to thank them, apart from saying "Thank you for making me feel that this blog is worthwhile." Which seems lame and self-serving to say the least. But today I get the chance to thank Bubba Kartoffel for years of insightful additions to InstaPunk. In response to the post about Rome he wrote:

I often wonder what I am missing sitting by my 12 inch screen adjusting the tin foil to just the right place on the rabbit ears in order to fine tune the free airwaves. Something like this comes along and I wonder whether cable or satellite is in order...

Anything else I'm really missing out on, oh glimmering ones? I value your recommendations.

So glad you asked, old friend. As it happens, if you have a DVD budget, we do have some recommendations that are bound to give you hours of pleasurable and sometimes educational viewing. Not all of them are cable offerings, and some you may already be aware of, but they're all on the list of good stuff you won't be able to watch on the rabbit-ear version of TV. Interested? Here we go.

Rescue Me. This is a series on the F/X network we've commented on before. It's scheduled to return to the air in June. That gives you time to catch up on previous seasons via DVD.

Nero Wolfe. This one we've never called out. Rex Stout's series of detective novels featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are some of the best written, funniest, and most re-readable works of the genre. The television series, now cancelled, starring Maury Chakin and Timothy Hutton was as definitive -- after many failed and inaccurate attempts dating back to the 1940s-- as the Jeremy Brett series of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Done as period pieces set in 1950s New York, the individual episodes are both true to the original books and riveting in terms of costumes, cars, cuisine, and casting, which employs an ensemble approach unusual in American productions. Start with either "The Doorbell Rang" or "The Silent Speaker," although all of the episodes are first-rate.

Return to Paradise. A movie we discovered on cable. God only knows how many juvenile comedies Vince Vaughn has starred in. We were utterly unprepared for the beautiful performance he gave in this story of a debt casually incurred and torturously repaid in Indochina. It made us want to beat the hell out of him for cheapening his reputation with all those crappy boob movies. He's an extraordinary actor, and this is a performance you'll want to watch again and again.

Everything Is Illuminated. Every InstaPunk reader knows we're obsessed with the Holocaust. This is another movie we discovered on the blizzard of cable channels offered by Comcast. It begins as if it's trying to be an eastern European version of Napoleon Dynamite, and it ends by tearing your heart right out of your chest. Elijah Wood is in it, and this time he's more than a hobbit, although it will take you a long time to appreciate his character.

Swing Kids. Before we saw the previous production, we'd have said this was the most excellent movie treatment of the Holocaust ever done. The plot summary makes it seem peripheral to the worst of Nazi Germany, but the depiction of youthful Germans dancing to American Big Band music turns out to be affecting at the deepest levels imaginable. A great performance by the vastly under-appreciated Frank Whaley -- and another by Robert Sean Leonard, the actor who's become famous as House's oncologist friend, Dr. James Wilson.

King Kong. Had to throw this one in. It's all over HBO at the moment, and like many many others, we turned up our nose at the thought of seeing it in the theater. We were wrong. Despite the three and a half hour runtime, if you don't shed a tear for King Kong at the end, there's something wrong with you. It's a great old-fashioned movie type movie.

Brideshead Revisted. Going back in time now. The best minseries ever. Jeremy Irons has gone on to great stardom, but whatever happened to Anthony Andrews, who is spellbinding in the role of Sebastian? It's 13 hours of magical drama.

Our Mutual Friend. The old Masterpiece Theater version. One of Dickens's best and most modern novels. Simultaneously an apotheosis and parody of the Victorian cliche exemplified by the over-praised Jane Eyre.

Forsyte Saga, The original. In black and white. Marred only by the indifferent acting talent of Kenneth More, everything else is superb. The best soap opera ever put on film.

Waking Ned Devine. A movie you won't find by yourself unless you're channel-hopping on cable. Irish. Very Irish. And totally hilarious, charming, and addictive. One of the very few films you'll actually want to watch again and again and again.

Tunes of Glory. But InstaPunk is a Scot. To hell with the Irish. If you want to know what bagpipes truly mean to Scots, watch Alec Guinness and John Mills do their accursed Scottish thing in this movie. It will haunt you forever.

We Were Soldiers. We are all children of the Vietnam War. Was there ever a movie about it that wasn't a rewrite of Kafka's The Trial? Yes. This one will chill you, hurt you, and make you proud. Even if you are fed up with Mel Gibson.

Last of the Mohicans. Yup. More than 10 years old. Seen by everyone. But still the best movie ever. If you don't have it on DVD, you're a jerk.

What do you think, Bubba? Enough to get started with?

Cancel It..

Yuck. Y-u-u-u-u-u-ck.

ED TURNING IN HIS GRAVE. Fox News is planning something called "The Half-Hour News Hour." They've been promo-ing an SNL-type opening with Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter playing the President and Vice-President. It's not funny. Just like the clip that's playing on YouTube.

I know conservatives are angry about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But these guys are funny precisely because they're pretending to be objective, which forces them to be creative about their bias. A lot like the Marx Brothers, who had to be creative because the mores of the day wouldn't permit them to be dirty.

Fox News is starting this show with no pretense of trying to be neutral, which means they don't have to be creative. At all. Just stupidly reactionary. Like eighth grade boys sticking their tongues out at girls with braces. It's ugly. And calamitous. If you need further explanation, Wuzzadem (who is funny) has it.

Somebody needs to start a petition. On behalf of all the conservatives who are funny, at least sometimes, to protect our reputation from this looming abomination.  We can't do it, because we aren't capable of organized behavior. But somebody better.

Unfunny is a charge we don't need. Especially if it proves accurate. Hell, there's no "if" about it. Maybe it's time for the "Pope" of the center-right to start earning his keep. Or even the bootblack of the libertarian right, Neal Boortz.

Somebody. Take a letter...

UPDATE. Okay, OKAY. No, you don't have to pretend to be neutral to be funny. But you do have to be funny.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Misunderestimated Roman

Octavian was Julius Caesar's adopted son, callow,
juvenile, and way over his head in Roman politics.

THOSE ROMANS. This is just a plug. The HBO series Rome is in its second and final season. I guess it's my month for heresy, but this production surpasses the Masterpiece Theater icon I Claudius by a mile. I'm not saying I Claudius wasn't great. It was. But Rome is better. Don't miss it.

There has always been an interesting hole in Roman history. There is the Rome of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which gives us compelling portraits of Caesar, Brutus, and Antony. Then there  is Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, in which we once again focus on Antony. Octavian is a major character, to be sure, but he is cast in the dramatic role of villain, though he displays a fair amount of humanity, going so far as to permit the lovers to be buried side by side.

What's missing is the extraordinary story of Octavian the political prodigy, the teenager who responded to the assassination of Julius Caesar so adroitly that he bested some of the most famous characters in recorded history, including Mark Antony, Brutus, Cassius, and Cicero, to become the first emperor of Rome and the architect of the Pax Romana, the longest period of relative peace Rome would enjoy before its eventual downfall almost 500 years later.

If there were a 20th century Shakespeare who chose his topics like the first one, we'd have plays about Robespierre and Louis XVIII, but none about Napoleon Bonaparte. That's the scale of the omission. To put it in perspective, Caesar Augustus is the only Roman Emperor mentioned by name in the Bible. Yet where have we heard his story before? In Shakespeare, he was an afterthought and a foil, and in Robert Graves's I Claudius he was a cheerful but moribund symbol of the calm before the storm. Shakespeare lacked interest because he wasn't a tragic character; he was, unlike Napoleon and other subsequent pretenders, a winner. The result? Writers aren't interested in his story.

HBO's Rome rushes into this void with a dramatization of perhaps the greatest political tour de force of all time, the process by which the frail teenage nephew of Julius Caesar accomplished his personal transformation from Octavianus Balba to Caesar Augustus, deftly turning one Roman warlord after another into pawns and victims of his own quest for absolute power over the known world.

Octavian is a far more interesting character than Caesar Augustus. In the scripts of Rome, one can see, and believe, that the titans of the time continually assumed they could manipulate and intimidate him. Cleverly, Rome reinforces this illusion by depicting his mother and sister as blind to the intellect by which he performed the most effective political calculus ever recorded in antiquity, seamlessly creating and breaking alliances as changing circumstances dictated, even among members of his own family. Those who insist that women never wielded power before c. 1970 will both object to and adore the character of Atia, Octavian's mother. Interestingly enough, the woman who plays Atia, Polly Walker, does resemble her.


The triumph of Rome is that this incredible and heretofore untold story is complemented by extraordinary characters and subplots that make the Roman Empire more vivid, enticing, and repellent than any of Hollywood's (or  PBS's) epic efforts. Some liberties have been taken, to be sure, since history is kinder to the mothers of Octavian and Brutus (Servilia) than HBO allows, but these departures are a small price to pay for the picture we get of a pagan world in which murder is matter of fact, beheaded chickens forgive all, sex is private from the patrician neighbors but not from slaves or in orgies, and the origins of today's mafia are evident in the arrangements between the senate and the plebeian "dons" who managed labor for the ports and commercial districts of the city.

And we haven't mentioned the color. Rome paints the ancient world in reds and blues and greens and golds we never associated with the worn marble and cement of ruins. And graffiti. What do you suppose they painted on the walls back then, before there was a Christian Right? Go take a look. If you don't understand, ask Pullo. It's all there, as early as the credits.

Sunday nights at 9 o'clock.

Plug finished.

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