Battlescar Galactica

June 2, 2012

Battlestar Galactica artwork, Season 4, October 12, 2008. (Halil Gökdal via TV). Battlestar Galactica Prologue (2003)

I’m a sucker for an epic story in any form. A book, a movie, a TV series, even the occasional epic poem. It really doesn’t matter. I’m also a late bloomer, one who discovers the stuff of life late, but probably enjoys the stuff I discover more because it’s on my own time, without necessarily being part of a crowd or trend.

That convergence has hit me once again, at the ripe old age of forty-two, in the form of the revisioned series Battlestar Galactica (2003, 2004-09). I had planned to watch the original miniseries for this drama when it came out in December ’03, but with so many things outside the realm of then newborn baby Noah, writing and work that year, my watching Battlestar Galactica fell to the side.

I already had a lineup of shows to watch — Six Feet Under, Queer As Folk, Law & Order, CSI. I didn’t need a new thing on my screen, especially something that was based on such an old and goofy series from the ’70s with Lorne Greene, Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch. “What are they gonna do next, redo BJ & The Bear?,” I said to my wife when I first heard about the Battlestar Galactica miniseries in September ’03.

But as with so many events in my life, I stumbled on the miniseries, thanks in no small part to my wife. It was one late Friday night this past Easter weekend. I woke up about a quarter after three, having only been

Cylon Raider Scar screen shot, September 16, 2009. (Skier Dude via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws due to image’s poor resolution.

asleep about three hours, to my wife dosing off to the TV in our bedroom. I woke up to the sight of Cylon Raiders in flight, to a strange scientist seeing visions of either a skinny angel or his dead Cylon girlfriend, and Edward James Olmos playing the mercurial Commander Adama. I could tell in ten minutes that this series was way different from the Battlestar Galactica series of my ’70s youth.

The miniseries was on BBC America, so I watched it until 5 am, and then discovered that they had skipped two full seasons ahead to a random Battlestar Galactica episode. I was fully awake by then, so I went on Netflix to find the entire Battlestar Galactica series available on streaming video. I watched season one that day, and season two Easter Sunday and that Monday.

In fact, I watched all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica in six days. I found the story engrossing, the acting intense, and the series an in-depth exploration of the worst features of the human condition under the most difficult of stresses and circumstances. It was so unlike the original series that after a few episodes, I didn’t even think about the differences anymore. The story of a flawed, destructive race of humans fighting each other while fighting for their survival against their more destructive yet more rational creations. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the series.

After that week, I finally read and watched the reviews and the comments about the series. They fell into two categories. There were plenty of folks who refused to watch the new Battlestar Galactica on principle. They saw the recasting of Starbuck as a woman an insult, the ability to make Cylons as human-esque machines blasphemy, and the revisioning of these humans as ones with many of our worst features multipled by a factor of ancient Greece, Rome and Persia an abomination. Oh well! I never liked the original series, with its idealized version of humanity, with its archetype good and evil characters, and with its goofy atmosphere in the midst of potential extinction, the ultimate epic crisis (“All Along The Watchtower” notwithstanding).

The other group was just like me. Fascinated by the lengths to which the producers and writers for the show went to present humanity at its most monstrous, between violence, selfishness, lust, greed, avarice and strive. Mesmerized by the cast’s ability to explore our worst and deepest fears, to hold out hope against hope, to take us into the depths of despair again and again.

The battle-scarred Battlestar Galactica finally reaches Earth (orbiting over the horn of Africa, March 21, 2009. (

I had to watch Battlestar Galactica a second time, this time more slowly and deliberately. So, through the second half of April and first half of May, I watched again, to find something remarkable. Despite their deep flaws, many scars and scabs, and twisted minds, there was something noble and redeemable about these humans, about the Cylons. Even the fact that the Cylons were a human creation didn’t matter. And to top that all off with a divine hand, a guiding force as the prime mover for the 50,000 humans that survived the nuclear annihilation of their twelve planets by the Cylons.

That really is an epic journey. One that heals as much as it scars. The story of my life the past thirty years, not to mention a reference in three of my posts over the past month. A commentary on the state of humanity in the early twenty-first century. What more can a late-bloomer ask for?

The Miracle of Dr. Jack Daniel

May 16, 2011

Dr. Jack L. Daniel, University of Pittsburgh, 2004. Pitt Magazine. The use of this photo falls under fair use under US Copyright laws because this blog post is in fact about the subject in this photo.

Last week I started a conversation about my three weeks of starvation in order to secure my entry into graduate school through my post, “Sometimes Starvation.” I’m continuing that conversation with today’s post. For it was that on this date twenty years ago that divine intervention came in the form of a voice inside my head, leading me to a meeting with then University of Pittsburgh Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs, Dr. Jack L. Daniel.

Even as I turned down the opportunity to go back to Mount Vernon and work up in White Plains with Joe Carbone and Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health for the summer of ’91, a name kept popping in my head. And I didn’t know why. I’d only met Jack Daniel on two occasions, both during my freshman year at Pitt. I was a Challenge Scholar, in the inaugural class of Challenge Scholars no less, a merit-based half-tuition scholarship meant to attract more students of color to Pitt, and Dr. Daniel was the author of the program.

I knew that he was a professor with expertise in Black communications. I also knew that he was one of the activists who helped bring the Black Studies Department to Pitt in ’69 by occupying the central computing system on the seventh floor of the Cathedral of Learning, back when he was a freshly minted Ph.D. Other than that, I had zero contact with the man in my four years of undergrad.

For once, I listened to the voice inside my head and, after some coaxing of Dr. Daniel’s assistant, made an appointment with him to discuss my financial options for going to Pitt for my history MA. I figured that I had nothing to lose. I really only hoped that there was an extra $1,000 or two left in his budget that would at least help to feed me through my first year of grad school.

That Thursday, the sixteenth of May, I arrived at my 2:30 pm meeting with Dr. Daniel on the eighth floor of the Cathedral of Learning, not knowing exactly what I was going to say. I walked into the Office of the Provost, where the stale stone of the super-tall building turned into the sights and smells of dark wood, cherry, mahogany even. We exchanged pleasantries, shook hands, and I sat down feeling like I was in sixth grade instead of like I’d recently finished my bachelor’s.

I started. “I’m looking for a little extra money for grad school this fall, so that I don’t have to borrow money to cover tuition and eat,” I said. Dr. Daniel then asked

“What was your GPA here?”

“A 3.4,” I said, rounding up from a 3.37 average.

“What about your GRE scores?”

“60th and 7oth percentile on math and reading,” I said.

“What about your major?,” Dr. Daniel asked.

“I was a history major with a 3.82 average,” I said with a smile.

Then Dr. Daniel got this look on his face, like he was actually angry, like there was a piece to the puzzle that I was missing. “Hold on for a second, I need to make a phone call,” he said.

He called Pitt’s History Department Chair, who at the time was one of my future grad school professors, Van Beck Hall, and spent the next couple of minutes chewing him out about my record and about why I hadn’t been awarded a fellowship. I sat there with a stone face, not wanting to give away the sense of glee I felt watching Dr. Daniel on the phone while verbally beating up on a department chair. Politely, of course.

After he got off the phone, he said, “You’ve got your money for school next year.” My mouth fell open, and not just because I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Then Dr. Daniel explained how his office had worked with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (and the other major schools within the university) to create a new fellowship to attract more students of color and women into Pitt’s grad programs. He also explained how some departments and programs had resisted communicating the existence of this new fellowship program to potential grad students. I apparently was another case demonstrating how some folks within the university simply refused to address Pitt’s lack of diversity at the graduate level.

I was beyond thankful. Incredulous, thankful, even speechless. I couldn’t stop shaking Dr. Daniel’s hand. Despite three weeks and a loss of twenty-plus pounds, I played basketball at Pitt’s athletic center that evening, making shots as if I’d been on an athlete’s diet for the past three weeks. I was more excited about the possibility of grad school being paid for than I was about getting my first paycheck of the summer that Friday.

The following Tuesday evening, the twenty-first of May, I saw Dr. Daniel walking down Fifth Avenue outside of the Cathedral of Learning as I was on my evening walk home from work. I told him that I’d gotten the paperwork for my full-tuition fellowship and $7,000 graduate student assistantship stipend for the ’91-’92 school year. As he walked away after I said, “Thank you!,” again, I yelled “You’re the man!” All Dr. Daniel did was stretch out his long arms, shrugging it off as if he’d given me a nickel to buy a Tootsie Roll.


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