Ten West Wing Episodes to help us Weather the tRump Storm

There’s lots of advise floating around these days about how those of us in the “popular vote” portion of the nation might weather the storm of the next few years, support each other, get involved, etc. Since I can think of no better source for inspiration and contemplation on all matters political than “The West Wing”, here is a selection of episodes to help ease the pain, grease the wheels, or (re-)light the fire under ‘whatever it is you need lit’ in order to not let this travesty of democracy be, well, the end of Democracy.

A note: while The West Wing is a fine show through and through, I’ve always considered the first four seasons – the episodes that were principally written by Aaron Sorkin and over-seen by Thomas Schlamme – to be the definitive story arc of the show, so I’ve limited my scope to just those seasons.

The Pilot (S1 E1)
If for some reason you’ve never watched The West Wing (for shame!) you might as well start at the beginning. Like any series, the pilot is a bit rough – a broad sketch of what the show would eventually become (though, Sorkin is no slouch; even at this early stage, his pilot script is dense, tight, and smarter than most of anything else on television). Besides a good intro, this episode is worth watching for its take on some of the tactics used by those who power broker for the religious right.

The Crackpots and These Women (S1 E5)
How can you not like “Big Block Of Cheese Day”? A funny episode, but at its core a refreshing reminder that governing is also about access for all. Also, “I can’t get over these women”…

The Short List (S1 E9)
No, we won’t be seeing a Supreme Court nomination process like this anytime soon, so at least we can enjoy this dramatic depiction in which the topics of race, class, and privacy get some much needed air time.

The Midterms (S2 E3)
Let this serve as a warning for us all; we have two years, people…

Isaac and Ishmael (S3 E1)
First of all, this is an amazing episode, especially when you consider that Sorkin got NBC to forgo their scheduled season opener, and in the wake of 9/11, in twelve days, wrote, shot, edited, and aired this episode in its place. Second, in these days of terrorism frenzy, how about a little levity and analysis?

The U.S. Poet Laureate (S3, E16)
How ironic that tRump wastes so much time attacking the Press; here’s some lessons in how you can actually work them, if you’re smart enough. Also, Laura Dern!

20 Hours in America (S4, E1&2)
In this extended episode that opens season four, Toby, Josh, and Donna are marooned in the midwest when they miss the motorcade while campaigning for Bartlet’s re-election. The examination of farmland realities vs. the politics of D.C. could have been (should have been?) a primer on election 2016; but pay special attention to the way Toby and Josh banter about President Bartlet’s opponent – it echoes eerily the tone of the tRump campaign.

The Red Mass (S4, E4)
Josh sends Donna to a seminar held by one of their opponent’s advisors; there’s a scene in there about “fortune cookie candidacy” and who/how the President receives advice and makes decisions that gives me chills in our current context.

25 (S4, E23)
Spoiler alert: John Goodman’s performance (as always) is enjoyable, and the contrast of his character and Bartlet seems eerily evocative of what it feels like to have an intelligent, left-leaning leader replaced with a “straight-shootin’ right-wing one. Also, the more we all can learn about the 25th Amendment at this point, the better:

BONUS: Bartlet for America (S3, E10)
This may or may not belong on this list, but it’s simply the best episode of the best T.V. show ever. To watch any West Wing and not watch this episode seems a sin…

the wireframe democracy

me: doc, it hurts when I laugh
doc: then don’t laugh

with apologies to Henny Youngman…

It is upon us; in a few hours we will swear in an opportunist, narcissist, deal-maker-in-chief, and America’s transformation from a democracy to a brand name will be complete. Business leaders, who have always seen government regulation as an obstruction to profit margins, will summarily be put in charge of the business of running the country – a process we once held so sacred that we went to war against the most powerful nation on earth (at the time) in order to secure our right to have a say. The rule of law, built over generations, bought and paid for with blood, sweat, tears, marches, resistance, negotiation, and compromise, will be on the auctioning block.

Ok. We’re a brand now. As brands go we’re sort of ahead of the game – we have a stars and stripes logo already in place (the logo even scales well, and works in color as well as black-and-white, which graphic designers can appreciate). But, as with any branding project, we need to make sure we understand what our brand stands for, what image we want our brand to project, and how we will back that brand up.

There’s been a meme making rounds lately, whereby the President Elect’s edict that we “build a wall” is flipped into a suggestion that we build a mirror instead. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

In a conversation with a friend the other day, we were diving deep into the idea of wireframes. For the uninitiated, wire-framing is a technique associated with any number of design projects – webpages, logos, architecture, etc. – where you sketch in in the roughest form the most central, and important, structural aspects of whatever vision you are trying to bring into being.

It occurred to me, that tRump’s run had been a wireframe candidacy. Think about it, on the campaign trail he bloviated but never filled in anything substantive. “It’s gonna be huge” “it’s gonna be great, I’ll bring in the best people,” etc.

And this makes complete sense. His only real experience is in business, and in business it’s about brand, image. It’s about what you say you’ll deliver, not necessarily what you actually deliver; this gap, this juncture, is what drives profit margin.

Running a country is an entirely different thing. As I write this, apparently the incoming administration has not even filled several key national security and military positions. Are those really gaps we the American people would want unfilled in whatever blueprint we were handed – whatever proposal we were handed by someone asking to be hired to the highest office in the land?

So why are we here? And by “here” I mean well, let’s just leave the fact that he didn’t in fact win the popular vote, that there may have been, oh, some “shenanigans” involving a foreign government interfering with our election process (you know the little details) aside for a bit. Let’s just contemplate whether our democracy is a wireframe democracy. Is it just a framework put in place oh so many years ago, which is served us (well served some of us, especially people that look like me) well enough that we occasionally watered it and moved on trusting that things would grow properly?

What does it mean to move beyond the wireframe democracy? To paint in the details; to actually fill in and build between Strut A and Strut B the connective tissue that truly holds them together and makes their presence meaningful in the first place? Are we willing to look in the mirror and ask those questions, and to show up and actually build what needs to be finished?

Super Tuesday

[with apologies to them Stones that Roll]

No one really knows where they came from
And human rights don’t matter once their gone
And Constitutional rights
Despite historical fights, despotism grows
It ebbs and flows

Here comes Super Tuesday
Who could our nom-a-nee be?
Chip away at our rights and new ways
Still we will endorse you

Don’t question what it means to be so free
They’ll tell you there is only one way to be
And Justice will be chained
To protecting Capital Gains and business costs
Equality’s lost


There’s no time to lose, the People say
Protect your rights before they slip away
And lying all the time
They’ll trade your vote for those that have more bucks
Don’t politics suck?

[chorus, repeat]


So, it has happened again. And once again America will celebrate its macabre parade: the repeated images of grieving families and shocked onlookers; the headlines and special report segments across newspapers, TV, and cable; the questioning of “why?”, “how could this happen?”, and the brazen attempts by news media – as well as legislators and politicians (is there a difference?) – to convey grief but steer clear of taking a substantive stance on the presence of guns in our communities.

First, yes, again it was a male. And again those of us in the violence prevention movement decry for this culture to take serious stock of how we raise boys to be men. How we continue to keep boys boxed-in at a place where they think violence and aggression are the only acceptable means of emotional expression. That anything else makes them like women – and we all know how bad THAT is; to take stock of misogyny and homophobia and the lengths we go to keep the gender divide in place by playing to men’s fears of women, gay men and women, transgender and gender non-conforming people.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, layered on top of it all is a culture immersed in an epidemic of gun violence. Some of the press coverage, and many of the comments on Facebook and Twitter, have brought mental illness into the picture – and while I, too, believe that this individual’s lack of ability to deal with his pain in any constructive way eventually led to his actions and the senseless deaths of he and 26 other human beings, I must admit I get weary of bringing the conversation to the level of mental illness. As if this, and all other incidents, are isolated actions played out by madmen. As if all those struggling with mental illness are mad, out of control, or resort to violence.

Owning guns is a mental illness; it is the collective mental illness that we, as a nation, are in the grip of…

There is no reason – no reason – to own a gun, except to contend with the “boogie man” that resides in your own mind. Gun ownership is the tangible manifestation of a philosophy of life where conflict is resolved by asserting power over others, and where one’s own perspective and experience of reality is the only one. The owner of a gun asserts that because of something – one’s race or national identity, or economic class, or the balance of wrongs that one has endured in life add-up to a sense of entitlement – they are imbued with the right to be judge, and if circumstances warrant, jury and executioner.

How did it get to this point? How does the right to bear arms, written at a time when we were in a struggle with the British crown over sovereignty and control of our destiny, get turned into a manifesto for the rights of individual citizens to have access to weapons of mass destruction (and really, what do you call something with a 16 round clip)? We won that fight. We have a democracy where we get a say in what happens. We have avenues and pathways to address disparity, unfairness, oppression, and violations of the common law that we all swear allegiance to. We no longer need guns, really.

Except, of course, there are those that profit from their manufacture and sale, and therefore profit from the proliferation of a culture of fear and the concept that any problem you have can be kept at bay or wiped out. At the end of the barrel of a gun.


Today is election day.

We have struggled through months of robo-calls, commercials, numbers, polls.

That ends today. This morning, we wake to a world still embroiled in war, recovering from natural catastrophes, and with the culture still entrenched in misogyny, racism, homophobia, and able-ism.

But today is election day. And we awaken, as Americans, to the privilege and the power of joining our voices together in a collective expression of our intent to have a say in our destiny.

Certain people like to espouse that we don’t need “interference” from the federal government. Today we remind them that we ARE the Federal Government.

Today we let our voice be heard.

If you have not already, vote.

Today is election day.

Rob Thomas: The Big Gay Chip on My Shoulder

Good piece on The Huffington Post by Rob Thomas regarding being a straight ally to the gay community vis Prop 8; I think he sums it up pretty well:

A civil union has to do with death. It’s essentially a document that gives you lower taxes and the right to let your faux spouse collect your insurance when you pass away. A marriage is about life. It’s about a commitment. And this argument is about allowing people to have the right to make that commitment, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Anything else falls under the category of “separate but equal” and we know how that works out.

George Orwell would be proud [see: Animal Farm – “all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others”]. As would John Hodgman: 

I have confidence that, in no short order, Prop 8 will be repealed, and the gay marriage debate will look as absurd at the miscegenation debates of the 20th century do now. I have confidence this will happen not because it is merely right, or because the electorate will suddenly love gayness, but because opposition to gay marriage has no logical foundation in a civil society that is premised on equality.

I seriously can’t quote that often enough; it is the fundamental bottom-line, and this silly Prop 8 would go away in a second if all the folks who claim to love this country and the freedoms it stands for were to suddenly awaken to their collective hypocrisy… anyway, read Thomas’ piece:

Rob Thomas: The Big Gay Chip on My Shoulder.

Mass. Labor Writes to Prez for universal health care

Massachusetts Labor Leaders Write to Obama Urging Passage of HR 676 | Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Labor Council.

A very well written letter that I think appropriately critiques The Massachusetts Plan (for those of you not living there, from there, or unaware of the health insurance situation, MA implemented a mandatory health insurance law a couple of years ago) as ineffective. I applaud the labor leaders who collaborated to draft this letter, which I hope and trust that Obama will take quite seriously.

Full disclosure: my brother is one of the signatories, on behalf of the AEEF-CWA Local 1300. You go, Joe!

What Obama Must Do : Rolling Stone

I’ve become a rabid fan of Paul Krugman in the last six months. What’s not to like: he’s an economist who knows what he’s talking about; he a liberal; he has a Nobel Prize.

He wrote a must-read open letter to incoming President Obama (can we drop that useless “elect” modifier yet?!) for Rolling Stone (the print version – an easier, one-page read is here: http://tinyurl.com/6t6uzf)

You might want to be sitting down when you read it….

I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Krugman: President Obama should first rescue the economy – by ensuring that banks which receive bailout money have a Federal mandate to lend that money to consumers and small businesses– and then he should usher in the era of a universal healthcare system.

I wish I could elaborate or expound upon these points, but I really can’t. First, I believe Mr. Krugman explains it better than I could, so I defer to his fine text (it’s not a short piece, but worth the read). Second, I haven’t the time – since, in the middle of my twentieth consecutive month of unemployment, I must prioritize my morning and get moving on job application #198 … (no kidding, I’ve been keeping count).

Disagree II

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for tweeting this post from Psychology Today (PT): “Women Have Better Things To Do Than Make Money (Part II).”

The author, Satoshi Kanazawa, wrote a two-part piece looking at discrepancies in salaries along gender lines from an evolutionary standpoint. Well written piece, even though I whole heartedly disagree with his premise. My response, just posted to the comments section on the PT blogs:

While it’s true that there are differences between genders, the vast majority of “difference” is largely attributed to a much out-dated value system that continues to view female attributes (or anything presumed to be feminine) as less-than, or of lesser value (either monetarily or inherently), than that which is masculine or male.
It is not that men seek achievement in their work, but rather that they live in a culture that continues to tell men that they should seek such achievement, and that such achievement is their means of having value (and gaining not only a salary but the attention of women); this is the same culture that perpetuates a billion-dollar pornography industry and continues to tell women that their only means of having value within the culture is through the use of their body and sexuality.
It is not, as Mr. Browne puts it, that “many jobs that pay higher wages require their occupants to work longer hours…or work in dangerous and unpleasant conditions” but rather that men are raised in a culture that teaches us not to complain about such conditions – lest we be labeled “wimps”, or worse: women.
And it is not that “women are unwilling to pay the price and make the necessary sacrifices” but rather that they’ve come to understand nobody should be treated in an inhumane way just because you’re providing a salary.
With no intended disrespect to Mr. Kanazawa, nor disregard to the field of evolutionary psychology (which has many good things to teach us), it seems a bit reckless to analyze the monetary realities of our current culture from an evolutionary perspective without putting in context or calling into question the cultural imperatives that continue to reinforce and exalt masculine identity at the expense of equality.