Remember when TV was intelligent? I just finished watching the 1979 TV version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the BBC’s masterful adaptation of John le CarrĂ©’s best spy novel. Such brilliant TV. Slow, deliberate. I particularly like how none of the ensemble cast are particularly attractive or pleasant, a bunch of middle aged doughy miserable men. Who are all fantastic actors playing nuanced roles, a real joy to watch. While the 2011 film was good, the TV show is great, and I highly recommend watching it if you can get your hands on it.

Naturally, Alec Guinness starring as Smiley owns the show. Hell of a performance, so much so that the actor somewhat stole character away from the author. But what a richly written character. A central conceit is that Smiley’s wife Ann sleeps around with other men, and all his colleagues know it, and he’s by turns humiliated, resigned, and accepting of his fate as a cuckold. Such misery! It’s delicious.

All of le CarrĂ©’s spy novels have misery at the center. They’re documents from the end of the British Empire, from when noble men with good intentions are plagued by bureaucracy, indecision, doubt, ambiguity. It all reminds me of a brilliant analysis on Bond and Bourne a Metafilter commenter made. James Bond was the product of the optimistic 50s and 60s, Jason Bourne is a product of the pessimistic individualistic 80s and 90s. Tinker, Tailor is another thing, the decrepit outcome of a crumbling English foreign service. It is well suited to a long, careful BBC treatment.

  2012-08-26 14:46 Z

Sex House is must-watch Youtube from The Onion. It’s a parody of vapid reality TV like Big Brother or Jersey Shore: film a bunch of wacky people living together in a house and see what craziness ensues! Only this house is not benign, there’s a pall of a Cube horror over the sexy hijinks.

Each episode is about 8 minutes, there have been seven so far. The first couple are hysterical but seem a little dumb. Stick with it, for it goes to a far darker place.

  2012-08-26 14:29 Z

Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas, is Dale Carpenter’s telling of the story behind the landmark Supreme Court gay rights case. The 2003 decision found that people had a right to private sexual conduct and overturned laws criminalizing homosexual sex as well as a previous, damaging Supreme Court decision. Until this decision, gays and lesbians were effectively criminalized in a good part of the US.

Carpenter’s book is readable and relevant for anyone interested in gay rights in the US courts, particularly as how it may play out for future gay marriage debates. He does a great job explaining the legal arguments and putting them into the context of the gay rights movement. He also tells the personal stories of the defendants and lawyers, particularly the Lambda Legal team who made the case. There’s a particularly moving description about how the Supreme Court itself had changed since the bad 1986 decision, how many of the justices now knew gay people.

The most fun part of the book is all the unknown weird details about the case. Much of this is available in a previous article Carpenter wrote (JSTOR; try your library), but it’s fleshed out more in the book. The defendants in the case, Lawrence and Garner, weren’t lovers and most likely weren’t even having the sex that the arresting officers claimed they were having. They were also 24 years apart and of differing race. All that detail was buried and the defendants were mostly removed from view in order to polish up the specific constitutional challenge that ended up in the Supreme Court. It helped that Texas put up a poor argument for the anti-gay law; the author suggests that the Houston DA’s heart wasn’t really in the case.

Reading this book gave me new respect for how hard, expensive, and detailed the fight for civil rights is in the US. We may be endowed with certain unalienable Rights, but it takes a lot of effort to convince the public to not deny them.

  2012-08-13 17:42 Z

Like most of my nerd friends I watched the exciting landing of the Mars Curiosity rover. What a show! Amazing tension, engineers accomplishing amazing things together, and it all worked! But I didn’t watch it on TV, I couldn’t. NASA TV did have it but Comcast in SF doesn’t carry that channel.

Instead I watched it as Internet video on my Xbox; Microsoft did an awesome job covering the event. Great picture on my big screen TV, Ken and me together on the couch with a glass of wine in hand. There were lots of other Internet viewing options; I had my iPad+AppleTV with UStream as a backup.

I also followed along on Twitter, the outpouring of excitement and joy from my friends was excellent commentary. NASA’s official Curiosity Rover account is good; charming and full of useful info. They did a great job posting instant photos. But even better than the official PR account was flight director Bobak Ferdowsi’s twitter (aka mohawk guy). I was watching him on TV while he was live tweeting the landing he was flight directing. Honest, personal stuff. Really great.

I like this future where events are edited in diverse ways and broadcast via hundreds of different Internet outlets. Between the no-TV Mars landing and the NBCFail Olympics we have two demonstrations that we don’t really need TV networks mediating live events. We’ve got a better way.

  2012-08-06 18:14 Z