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…


still image from "In the Heat of the Night"In celebration of the Oscars this weekend, an approximate “Top Ten list” of my favorite movie moments; it should be noted, we’re not talking favorite films necessarily – although some on my Top Ten list are represented here – rather those singular moments. In some cases the moments are scenes, in others just a single shot.
[Note: when I originally wrote this post, I had links to almost every item listed here; apparently most of these have been taken down (damn copyright laws); I’ve tried to find suitable replacements, but I presume many of these will eventually be taken down; your mileage (and bandwidth) may vary…]


1) In the Heat of the Night
Sidney Pontier, Larry Gates, Rod Steiger  – the slap; powerful for its time, and probably one of the first instances of an person of color showing strength, resolve, and dignity that I can recall seeing in popular culture. Directed by Norman Jewison.



2) Big Night
Stanley Tucci, Tony Shaloub, Marc Anthony – the final kitchen scene, all one take; I wish more American films would embrace the power of simply rolling camera and pointing it at a group of actors so immersed in their characters that we will sit spellbound watching them eat breakfast (understanding that there is subtext – a reconciliation happening just below the surface). Directed by Campbell Scott.

[this cuts out before the real end, where Tucci puts his arm around Shaloub, but it was the best version I’ve found]


3) The Verdict

Paul Newman, the summation (“today you are the law”); written by David Mamet. Directed by Sidney Lumet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o15uqb30Fq8  (not great quality)


4) Network
William Holden and Faye Dunaway – when Diana breaks up with Max (“why is it that a woman always thinks that the most savage thing she can say to a man is to impugn his cocksmanship?”); written by Paddy Chayefsky; Directed by Sidney Lumet.



5) tie: 2001 A Space Odyssey
ape to space transition and blue danube sequence:


& Bowman re-entering the Discovery sequence; Directed by Stanley Kubrick

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NbkF9_T0Eg [apparently shot hand-held on someone’s TV showing the film… but, heck it was the only one I could find…]


6) Local Hero
Peter Riegert walking over the hill carrying his shoes, then cut to his watch being over-taken by the waves on the rock where he left it with the alarm going off…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e96Uv7P8Sq0&feature=related [taken offline]


7) 13 Conversations About One Thing
Alan Arkin and Matthew McConaughey in the bar, “show me a happy man” (ok, basically Alan Arkin’s whole performance); Directed by Jill Sprecher



8) Raiders of the Lost Ark
the opening sequence (and yes the whole film still stands as my favorite action-adventure film of all time); directed by Steven Spielberg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpCSFKF_9as [taken offline?]


9) 25th Hour
Ed Norton, the “FU” monologue; directed by Spike Lee


10) RAN
the final shot, where a blind Kyoami walks along the cliff, near to the edge, and his stick drops off, allowing him to catch his balance just before doom and then he turns around and continues on his way (this image captures the whole movie we’ve just watched into a single moment: the human race comes close to its own destruction, but somehow manages to recover and avoid complete annihilation); Directed by Akira Kurosawa

[can’t for the life of me find this online…]




Well, where were we?…

I know. I’ve been neglectful. Or, the modern equivalent – busier than I care to describe; I’m sorry I’ve let the blog slip; it won’t happen again; all those other web sites meant nothing to me, etc. etc…

As a way of mending bridges, getting back on track, etc. – allow me to share something I stumbled upon that I think epitomizes the power of the web – if not computers in general.

First, go over to Forbes (yes, Forbes) and read Jason Oberholtzer’s piece Revise and Evolve, relating to the manner in which Charles Darwin’s watershed book “On The Origin of The Species” was produced – ie: with lots of hard work, evolving over time, not sprung from his head fully formed.

Oberholtzer’s post is well-written and insightful in and of itself, but it links to the real piéce de resistance, Ben Fry’s chart on the work of Darwin. (page loads text and an embedded interactive piece requiring Java)

Fry has taken all six editions of Darwin’s text, arranged them in an interactive, time-based chart which shows how each of the chapters was edited – including allowing the viewer to hover over sections of the chart and read word-for-word the text, with edits color-coded by version.

This, to me, is mind-blowing.

I mean, having access to text was an early promise of the web which for many people was accomplished with the advent of Yahoo! and Google. But here, thanks to modern computers and a robust network that can move a lot of data, we have the ability to have access to the complete evolution – all six versions of one of the seminal texts of our modern age. What Fry has crafted is not just a static scholarly resource (which arguably would still be impressive and valuable), but a sort of organic, interactive, story experience of the information as well.

That, to me, epitomizes the power of what the web can really mean to the future of information sharing, search, research, and new discovery. Hardcore.

the ‘Pad

Yep, I did it. I bit the bullet. I became an early adopter. I got an iPad.

Early this morning (well, early for a Saturday), I got up, went out to East Towne, walked in to Best Buy and – after cradling one in my hands for the better part of twenty minutes – I plunked down my hard earned do-re-mi (along with a BB gift card left over from Xmas which I had yet to use).

I was very good. I managed to put off the un-boxing for most of the day, opting first to do the adult thing and take care of other errands and food shopping (true, I did leave my MacBook Pro to the task of downloading a necessary iTunes upgrade, but still you have to admire my restraint…).

Thanks to previous experience with the iPod Touch, syncing the ‘Pad was a cinch. My app’s, music, contacts, calendars, bookmarks, and other goodies made the transition to the new device without a hitch. True, I had to do some tweaking of settings in individual apps (such as the WordPress app that I’m currently writing this post in), but otherwise it’s off to the races… or blog post writing, or picture viewing, or video watching, or blasting some tanks away in Battlezone, or anything else I please.

Of course, I don’t really NEED an iPad right now. Even though it’s fun to have a brand new entertainment device around the living room, the real reason for plunking down the dough is the hope that it will prove to be a true productivity device (which it is so far proving to be). Purchase of some other app’s – including iWork, and Omnigraffle, which I hope is right around the corner (or soon as the next paycheck comes) will be the next step. Then the real testing begins…

The fun? That began a couple of hours ago…

Why I don’t feel sorry for Dr. Boyce Watkins

My thanks to my friend, Suz, for pointing me toward an MSNBC piece, re-posted from a blog where Dr. Boyce Watkins, an African-American author and professor at Syracuse University, is a contributor. Tuesday, Professor Watkin took on the recent arrest controversy revolving around  Dr. Henry Louis Gates.

In his post (“Consider this before crying ‘racial profiling'”, which MSNBC retitled “Why I don’t feel sorry for Henry Louis Gates“), Watkins questions the race aspects of the case and in doing so he plays the “class” card:

“America is far more capitalist than it is racist, so a distinguished Harvard University Professor like Gates is likely to get more respect than the average White American. The idea that he is somehow the victim of the same racism that sends poor Black men to prison simply doesn’t fly with me, and Gates should be careful about appearing to exploit the plight of Black men across America to win his battle of egos with the Cambridge Police Department.”

Exploit the plight of Black men? Far be it from me, a caucasian, to say so, but isn’t THIS the plight of black men?! – If I’d shown a valid ID to a cop that would have been the end of the matter, period. Prof. Watkins implies some sort of snootiness on the part of Professor Gates in saying that he shouldn’t be questioned this way.

Further on, Professor Watkins offers this little gem:

“Dr. Gates, in all of his frustration, might have been served well to remember that the officer has a gun…”

As if black men, nay Dr. Gates, need to be reminded of this; and as if in the very sentence the author doesn’t realize that he’s reinforcing the very mitigating factor whose presence he’s trying to deny: if there was a class disparity here it was not between an “elite” Harvard professor and a lowly cop – it was between an un-armed man trying to lawfully get into his home and an armed officer who demanded more proof because the very color of the suspect’s skin made him more suspect. The very presence of the weapon outweighs any power Prof. Gates might have had in the situation due to his status as a professor at Harvard.

Why I dont feel sorry for Henry Louis Gates – Race & ethnicity- msnbc.com.

Moon child

Just slightly more alarming to me than marking my own personal fortieth anniversary of entering the world, is the marking of the fortieth anniversary of the landing on the moon (made all the more poignant – if that’s the right word – by the recent passing of Walter Kronkite). Can it really have been that long ago?

If you haven’t yet, please read Tom Wolfe’s Op Ed in Sunday’s New York Times – “One Giant Leap to Nowhere”; it is by turn tragic, cynical, and hopeful; on balance, very well done. He praises those involved in making the moon landing happen, even as he acknowledges that he thinks the success marked the end of the magic that was the U.S. Space Program.

Having launched just four days before our national lift-off, I have always been tied to the moon; both because of my own innate curiosity about it, and because of the cultural moniker given to all us Summer of ’69 births: moon child.

I think one of the reasons that Wolfe’s piece about the moon landing resonates so deeply with me is there is a parallel to be drawn between my life and NASA. Sounds like a stretch, but bear with me; I, too, like the space agency, am struggling to find what that next goal should be; as I face the prospect, due to financial reasons, of having to return to the home I grew up in, I think of some of the critics who say NASA shouldn’t go back to the moon – “it’s been done.” Even if I manage to find gainful employment that allows me to maintain my current standard of living is that enough? Or is the American public – my adoring fans – expecting something bigger, more unexpected out of me. Relocation, and a new job search in un-explored territory? Connecticut? How about elsewhere in New England? Will only NYC do? Where is my Mars, my Jupiter?

See, moving out to WI in the early nineties and pursuing a graduate degree in the performing arts was my long-shot. It was, to use the phrase, shooting the moon. It was the big risk, the kind you take when you are young and relatively privileged enough, and stubborn enough to pursue something you love regardless of its practicality within a capitalist culture. And I did it – I mean, my first degree was earned thanks to my parents and their hard work and judicious saving (which propelled both me and an older sibling to a Bachelor’s degree), but this one was all me, financed by my TA salary (this was long before UW-Madison found its way to tuition remission for teaching assistants) and the six student loans I took out (and have been paying back, up until this past year, entirely on my own). Despite the odds, with a lot of long, hard work, I achieved my goal; I made it to Tranquility Base; I planted my flag.

Being born in the shadow of the moon landing meant arriving on American soil at the moment when America felt a sense of pride in having followed through on the promise of its idealistic, young President some nine years before. Yes, we had suffered his loss, and the loss of his brother and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. thereafter, and we were starting to wake up to the reality of the morass that was the Vietnam War; we were still licking wounds, but we did not let that deter us from reaching for the stars.

Soon after – after the war, and Watergate, the oil crisis, the hostages in Iran, and AIDS, and the dozen or so things we swept under the rug or tried to forget – along came better technology and bigger cars and we got lulled into a sense of false comfort; we were happy enough to have the Cold War end and our economy (seemingly) grow more robust and our standard of living was to be rivaled, so wasn’t that enough?

We forgot what it meant to reach for things – things that cost money and take effort but whose end goal is the furthering of our story as a species and our understanding of our tiny, tiny place in this vast, unimaginably big universe.

So, too, in some ways I became comfortable with my daily job and very nice two-bedroom apartment over-looking the park, and my economic car, and my summer playing Ultimate Frisbee and the occasional trip east to see family and friends. I still pushed myself – did things outside the mainstream, and reached for changing the world, making it better – but it didn’t seem as urgent somehow. Not until I lost that daily job and then the bottom fell out of the economy.

In his article, Wolfe remembers visiting NASA just a few months after the historic landing and finding a former member of the heat-shield team working – as a tour guide. Says Wolfe:

“A baffling wave of layoffs had begun, and his job was eliminated. It was so bad he was lucky to have gotten this stand-up Spielmeister gig on a tour bus. Neil Armstrong and his two crew mates, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, were still on their triumphal world tour … while back home, NASA’s irreplaceable team of highly motivated space scientists … was breaking up, scattering in nobody knows how many hopeless directions.”

How loudly that seems to resonate now. It’s as if all of us, working away in our jobs in whatever our chosen (or not chosen) professions had been through the ’80’s, ’90’s, and early ‘aught’s, were the driving force behind the rise to prosperity of a minority of greedy fellow citizens, and now (while some of them are still on a triumphal world tour no less) we find out that we are dispensable after all.

So, where to from here? How can a nation, entrenched in an unjust (and unnecessary) war, beleaguered with economic collapse from the private sector to the housing market right on up to municipal and state levels, still in many ways reeling from pain it hasn’t dealt with from the recent wounds of terrorism (what’s the statute of limitations on grieving for a sneak attack?), find its way back to pulling together and uniting behind a single, albeit risky, cause?

Can we mark this auspicious anniversary with a sense of pride, but one that is as forward-looking as it is reminiscing? Let us think of extraordinary things – ventures of great importance with lofty goals including the uncharted terrain of justice, fairness, and equality – and let us gather around the drawing board, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

File Under “Now I’ve Seen It All” : Vibrating Mascara

Now I’ve seen it all… while munching on my breakfast cereal and catching up on morning email on my PowerBook, my ear caught something coming out of the EyeTV (running on a freebie MacMini that acts as my own private media empire) which caused me to actually look at the screen as the Today Show segued into commercial land (this is usually when I look away from the screen)…

And that’s where, as they say, my life changed…

For until this morning I was totally unaware of the existence of Maybelline’s Pulse Perfection Mascara. See, I don’t pay much attention to make-up generally, especially mascara; maybe it’s because I’m male – though plenty of men do, (and “not that there’s anything wrong with that”) not to mention that as an actor I’ve worn my fare share over the years – or maybe it’s because I have plentiful eyelashes that have been the envy of every woman I’ve ever dated (but that’s another blog post…).

Well, let me tell you, eyelash technology has really improved while I wasn’t looking; now you can purchase mascara with a brush that is powered to oscillate some “7,000 times per stroke” [per their ad campaign; number unverified – ed.].

Really? Does the human race really need this? And I’m not being smarmy – like it’s a news flash that someone made another product to fix a need that arguably doesn’t quite exist; I mean to say “does the planet need this?”

And Maybelline is not alone. Apparently Lancome, and several other competitors, produce these kinds of products. These things are powered, somehow – there’s little info on the web on the exact “technology” behind them, but one has to surmise there’s a small motor and some sort of power source packed into the applicator. And it’s not rechargeable, it’s disposable.

See, if they would make it rechargeable, I’d even start using it; it would be my lefty obligation practically. But, come on, do we really need to take a product that was already wasteful and ad mechanical parts and battery acid to the mix and watch these things pile up in our landfills?

Just for kicks, I Googled “Pulse Perfection Mascara, environmental impact” and most of the hits referred to, I’m not kidding, “creating the right spa environment” and how just a few applications of a certain cream “had a big impact.”

I realize I’m treading that dreaded double-standard line: here I am, a man, complaining about a product that’s geared toward women, all the while typing away on a computer which also has a battery and limited life-span and will eventually wind up in a landfill. Granted, Apple’s recycling program is getting better (and I’m trying to help the situation by continuing to use a five year old computer and get every last drop of usefulness from it), but even first world recycling programs can have tremendous impact on third world cultures and the ecosystem (and if you haven’t seen Frontline’s piece, you simply must); so even us non-make-up-wearing techies need to take a sobering look at our own contribution to the problem.

But there’s a larger problem that I see which the Maybelline commercial touched upon: the mechanization of processes that otherwise need no mechanical apparatus. Powering devices to make them useable by people whose physical abilities are impaired is one thing; adding mechanics and power sources to products used in conditions where said power adds very little other than the illusion of a more efficient, convenient way of doing something that good old “elbow grease” can already do just fine seems downright lame.

Are we really this lazy, America?

Another #$*%&!^ blog…

Despite his better intentions to not succumb to the cultural pressure to join the blog-erati, my long time friend, Bryan Reesman, has finally made the leap and installed a WordPress adjunct to his site.

Bry has been a freelance writer for over fifteen years, covering everything from heavy-metal, ambient, industrial, and techno music, to movies, Japanese anime, Hollywood, Broadway, and pop culture celebrities. Not everything he’s captured on tape or put to paper (or hard disc, really) over the years has seen the light of day; after all, writers are the foot-soldiers, but editors really hold the final say over what readers’ eyes see. That’s why it’s so exciting that he’s finally launching a blog where he intends to share some of this other-wise edited content.

Well, it’s not exciting for me; I’ve been privy to his work since we’ve first met in (gulp) 1982, and it’s been my pleasure to watch him grow as a writer and build his career. But it’s exciting for the rest of the world who might finally get a chance to hear what’s been hiding in that head of his for so long…

His first post, “Into the Wild Blog Yonder”, can be read at:

Attention Deficit Delirium – Exploring a plethora of pop culture.

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.