Category Archives: Popular culture

How could Huck Finn not top any list of Great American Novels?

Thomas Hart Benton's depiction of Huck and Jim

Thomas Hart Benton’s depiction of Huck and Jim

A piece in The Washington Post this morning on the new book about living next door to Harper Lee mentions the status of To Kill A Mockingbird as a, if not the, Great American Novel — and casually links to a list.

The list isn’t explained. I don’t know who compiled it, or what the criteria may have been.

But of course I’m drawn in. The list extends to 358 books (which requires straining the definition of “great”), but let’s just examine the top ten:

  1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  4. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  5. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  6. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
  9. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  10. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

OK, first, it’s just not right for Steinbeck to get three out of the 10. Especially since — confession time — I’ve never read the first two. The Grapes of Wrath is one of those novels I’ve meant to read for most of my life, and I will (my wife finds it utterly incredible I still haven’t). East of Eden, not so much.

And, to confess further, despite having started it again to great fanfare, I’ve still never finished Moby Dick. It just seems to start to drag after they go to sea. (Yeah, I know that’s pretty early in the book.) Which is weird, because that’s when seafaring tales generally get good.

I think all the other works are deserving of the top ten, although I might move up some of my faves from the second ten (On the Road, The Sun Also Rises, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Fahrenheit 451).

But my main beef is this: How could any list of the Greatest American Novels not start with Huckleberry Finn? Hemingway famously said, ““All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” And I agree, except that I would delete the word, “modern.” It’s superfluous. All American literature, period.

It’s THE American novel. It’s episodic, picaresque structure is quintessentially American. Huck Finn, the freest character in literature, untainted by the history or culture of the Old World, couldn’t be more American. Huck can be anyone he wants to be, and slides in and out of identities throughout. And the central conflict in the novel is about the deepest, most profound issue of our history — in the sense that it has a central theme. Remember the author’s warning:

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

Which is a very American sort of warning — notice in no uncertain terms that pretension will not be tolerated.

Even the novel’s weaknesses are very American. Such as the uneven tone — starting out with farcical comedy that is an extension of Tom Sawyer, moving to tragedy with the Graingerfords and other incidents, the slapstick and menace of the Duke and the Dauphin, and ending with the broad comedy of Tom’s insistence on throwing flourishes from literature into Jim’s escape from the Phelps farm – itself a deadly serious matter, which nearly leads to Tom’s death, and does result in Jim’s recapture (as a result of his own selflessness).

Sorry, that was a confusing sentence. But you see what I mean. The novel was no more constrained by a particular tone than life itself. Very free, very American. And certainly great.

OK, off the top of my head, my own list:

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  3. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
  5. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
  7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  8. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
  9. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
  10. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

Some runner-ups:

  • The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
  • Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
  • City Boy, by Herman Wouk
  • The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
  • Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth
  • The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
  • The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
  • God’s Little Acre, by Erskine Caldwell
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

Better stop there, as my quality was slipping a bit at the end there (Heinlein is fun, but is it literature?).

I’ll come back and explain those choices a bit another day. Gotta run now…

Weird Al does it again

Although this may be the last time. At least, his last album. For now:

This week, seemingly inspired by the cornucopia of videos that attended Beyoncé’s latest album, “Market-Savvy” Al has adopted an Internet-conquering strategy of releasing a video a day from his new, 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun. This is probably his last full-length, he’s said, as his record contract is up (the title is partly a joke about contractual obligation) and the format is no longer so suitable to a spoofing style that depends on timeliness…

It could be that Weird Al’s time has passed, because he no longer stands out from the crowd:

He had the especial fortune to coincide with the MTV era—videos were essentially ridiculous already, and ripe for the clowning. Without the visuals, Yankovic’s songs would never have had the same traction. He was working in memes and virality before those terms existed. What’s more surprising is that he had so little competition. (Even This Is Spinal Tap was a cinematic event that didn’t much ruffle the charts.)

But today, as many observers have noted, it’s the opposite. He’s not so much “Weird” Al as “Norm”-Al. As Jody Rosen wrote last year, “We’re all Weird Al Yankovic.” The spike in sophisticated comedy as well as the do-it-yourself recording and video-making boom centered on YouTube have brought if anything a surfeit of musical mockery. And a lot of the newborn Weird Als, face it, are simply better than “Field of One” Al ever was….

I don’t know about that last part. No one has ever touched the soaring goofiness of “Eat it,” which, let’s face it, was way better — far more creative, certainly — than the song it apes:

Ravenel’s two press releases today

ravenel media

First came this one:

EDISTO, SC – Lowcountry businessman and independent U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel issued the following statement regarding his decision to participate in a second season of Bravo’s ‘Southern Charm’ reality television show: 

“I struggled with this decision in light of the political campaign I am undertaking,” Ravenel said. “Ultimately it came down to this: It doesn’t make sense to turn down a platform that enables you to spread your ideas to a bigger, more diverse audience. If America is ever going to turn things around, we’ve got to get rid of this notion that cookie cutter politicians with their blemish-free backgrounds are the way to go. The truth is those are the very politicians who are driving this country into a ditch. That’s never been who Thomas Ravenel is – and so owning a part of my life that doesn’t fit the typical political mold is fine by me.”

For more information, please contact Kevin Heekin…

Then came this one:

RAVENEL: “PUPPET” LINDSEY GRAHAM MUST CUT THE STRINGS TO MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, LIBERAL ESTABLISHMENT

EDISTO, SC – Lowcountry businessman and independent U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel called on U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to publicly disavow a $250,000 contribution made by former New York Mayor and notable anti-Second Amendment zealot Michael Bloomberg to a “Republican” political action committee that’s supporting Graham’s reelection.

Ravenel also challenged former S.C. “Republican” Party chairman Katon Dawson to send the money back to Bloomberg.

“Lindsey Graham is nothing but a puppet of the far left – and he’s never going to cut the strings. In fact his silence on contributions like this means he’s just fine with the gun-grabbing efforts of politicians like Michael Bloomberg – and with liberal special interests bankrolling his reelection effort,” Ravenel said. “This is why the Republican brand is dying – because politicians like Lindsey Graham are bought and paid for by this country’s liberal elite.”

Ravenel added that this wasn’t the first time liberal money had washed up in South Carolina on Graham’s behalf.

“When Lindsey Graham joined John Kerry in pushing for a new energy tax hike in 2009, the far left flooded South Carolina’s airwaves with ads defending him,” Ravenel said.  “They’ve been holding the purse strings – and pulling his strings – for years. He’s nothing but a puppet.”

Ravenel also called out the state’s “Republican” establishment for its hypocrisy.

“This week the SCGOP attacked me on Lindsey Graham’s behalf – but now we learn the party’s former chairman is getting a quarter of a million dollars from Michael Bloomberg to defend Graham’s liberal policies?” Ravenel said. “And they have the audacity to call me an ‘embarrassment?’ The only embarrassment here is a so-called Republican establishment, led by Lindsey Graham, that would rather go to bat for the far left than stand up for you – the tapped out taxpayer.”

For more information, please contact Kevin Heekin…

My question is, how does the campaign expect anyone to pay attention to the second one after they’ve read the first one?

Toby Ziegler didn’t get it, but Jed Bartlet did

Here’s my third post on my “people (even politicians) are people” theme…

Two nights ago, as I was still thinking about my arguments on Cynthia Hardy’s radio show in opposition to the cynical approach to politics, I saw an episode of “The West Wing” that illustrated my point.

It was the 10th episode in the 5th season, “The Stormy Present.” Here’s a synopsis:

Bartlet clears his schedule to attend the funeral of a former President whose conservative views often clashed with his own while he monitors a potential firestorm in Saudi Arabia as freedom protesters threaten civil war and surround a worker’s compound that includes dozens of Americans. Elsewhere, Josh mediates a post-Civil War fracas between a representative from North Carolina who demands that her Connecticut counterpart return her state’s copy of the Bill of Rights — stolen long ago by a Union soldier — and C.J. is flustered after meeting a Pentagon scientist whose security innovations could threaten privacy. En route to the funeral, Bartlet shares sobering thoughts with two other men who appreciate the weight of the Oval Office — Speaker Walken and ex-President Newman.

Toby Ziegler is on the plane carrying the president, along with officials from the administration of the former president, to the funeral. Toby is tasked with writing a eulogy for Bartlet to deliver at the funeral. Toby is a basket case. He’s deeply appalled at being on the same plane with these people he regards as dangerous wing-nuts. He spend most of his time on his cell complaining to his colleagues back in the West Wing about what hell it is to be in the company of such people. He’s sincerely stressed out. He gets into Air Force One’s liquor supply and gets too wasted to be much good in writing the speech. (Looking back, I’m not entirely sure who DID write it in the end.)

But there are a couple of good scenes in which Bartlet reveals that, while his overly partisan staff may see the previous GOP administration as the embodiment of evil, he has learned to get over that. He has come to value his predecessors as the only human beings on the planet who understand what he is experiencing as president. He has come to see past the ideological differences and political competition between the parties. He, and especially the former presidents, are past that.

There is a good scene with a former Democratic president who’s along for the ride who talks about how furious he was at Bartlet, and was going to call him up and chew him out… until he was talked down by their conservative Republican predecessor.

I got really disgusted with Toby watching this, as he seemed to embody everything that was bad about hyperpartisanship today — he was so wrapped up in his hostility toward the opposition that he couldn’t function, which made him a metaphor for everything wrong with Washington today.

But the human connection and understanding between the current and former presidents held out hope of a way our system could work, if the parties, staffs and interest groups could just shut up for awhile, and let people listen to each other and work together, deliberately…

If you have Netflix, I recommend you go back and watch this episode.

The Ben Hoover reaction

Suddenly, Donita Todd, general manager of WIS-TV, seems to be the least popular woman in town.

As you’ve probably heard or read, she’s bearing the brunt of viewer rage over the sudden departure of anchorman Ben Hoover.

Hoover announced the move thusly:

After 6 years of anchoring and reporting at WIS, this Friday, July the 4th will be my last day on the air. Recently, I was informed by station managers that they did not wish to renew my contract. Like so many other anchors and reporters in the past, I wish I was in a position to announce the next opportunity for my family and me. But, to be honest, I didn’t see this one coming. So, as we like to say on the news, you’ll have to stay tuned. And, maybe say a little prayer for my family and me.brgnP616_400x400

One of my closest friends shared this with me in the last few days: “If it’s not fatal, it’s not final…and, if it’s not final, it can be fruitful.” That friend is Judi Gatson. Working side by side with “JG” has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and life. Judi, Dawndy, Papa Joe, John, Ben, Rick and my core group of “news hounds” here will forever be like family to me. I will miss them like crazy.

Some of the stories I’ve covered over the years have been very heavy and hard to tell. A dad living on the streets after every corner of his life crumbled. The young parents in a fight and race to save their precious little girl. A military mom smiling through raw pain to ensure her son’s legacy (and dimples) aren’t forgotten. All of them, and others, facing down some of life’s greatest challenges. But, what’s always stood out to me is the one common thread that ties them all together – hope.

So, in the name of the dig deep, do good, work hard, “never give up” spirit so many of our viewers have shown me over the years, I say — HOPE is a pretty doggone good thing.

After Friday, you won’t see me on WIS anymore but please stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and email hoov11@hotmail.com. I promise to do the same. Judi Gatson Dawndy Mercer Plank WIS TV John Farley Ben Tanner

After two or three days of protest, the station put out this statement yesterday:

During the last several days much has been posted on social media about Ben Hoover’s departure from WIS news, much of it erroneous.

However, we simply cannot engage in a public conversation regarding details of Ben’s departure from WIS TV. It is a private personnel matter.

We sincerely thank Ben for his service to the station and the community and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.

We also want to thank our viewers for their concerns and comments regarding this matter.

We can assure you that WIS remains fully committed to the excellence you have come to expect from this television station over the last 60 years.

Based on the response to the statement on Facebook, that oil has done little to calm the troubled waters. Some examples:

  • “You got rid of the wrong person. Donita Todd needed to go.”
  • “What part of the comments were “erroneous”? The part that the viewers want him back? That he and Judi were good together? That he put his heart into his work – walking to work in the snow, living with the homeless? Again what part was erroneous?”
  • “I don’t own a Bull. I never have. But I do know what a bull does several times a day. And this smells just like it.”
  • “Excellence is not a word to be used in any way by WIS. You did not allow him OR Judi to anchor the final broadcast. There is NOTHING excellent about that. Rest assured your other employees are planning an exit, because the station has lost it’s moral compass.”
  • “WOW!! I have read through many many discussion forums in my life…NEVER have I read through one where all the comments from the public voicing their opinion are all in agreement!!! The viewers have really spoken and come together on this one! WIS really should re-think their decisions on this one!!!!”

As always, I hate to see a guy lose his job, but there’s an emotional core to this protest that I’m having trouble understanding. Was there this kind of outpouring when David Stanton left? Maybe there was, I don’t recall — I was sort of busy with my own stuff at about that time. Maybe y’all can enlighten me.

Anyway, it must be some comfort to Ben to know he was so appreciated. I hope so.

Thoughts? Observations?

Today’s Sarah Palin eruption on Twitter

There are two or three things that you might not know about Sarah Palin, even at this late date:

  1. She still has a lot of fans. Passionate ones.
  2. They don’t have what most of us would call a “sense of humor.”
  3. They really don’t hesitate to leap to conclusions.

It all started when I saw this Tweet:

The title of the show, which I assure you I have never seen, immediately brought to mind Tina Fey’s hilarious sendup of the ex-governor (possibly because I watched several episodes of “30 Rock” on Netflix over the weekend).

So I reTweeted the item with the following addendum:

As in, I can see Russia from my house!

Which I thought might give someone out there a small — very small — laugh.

The first person who responded was very literal-minded, but reasonable:


He was right, of course — it was neither here nor there. It was a joke about a joke. But wishing to be polite I wrote back,


Then, the floodgates opened.


Wow. Anyway, for any of you who’d like to get a kick out of the original skit — the funniest thing Tina Fey has ever done — once again, here it is…

Whoa! Did this picture of our gov grab your attention? It did mine…

BrdvSPRCYAA-Bls

Six men came to kill me one time. And the best of ‘em carried this. It’s a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge. It is my very favorite gun.

– Jayne Cobb, on “Firefly”

My first thought was that it must be photoshopped. There’s something unreal about it, from the glint in her eye to the… really unusual weapon she’s holding with such delight.

I found myself reminded of Jayne Cobb showing off Vera. I mean, certainly the governor will give this baby a name…

But The Sun News reports that it’s for real:

AYNOR — Welder Jamieson Woodard leaned against a table a good way beyond the semi-circle of television cameras Monday as S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley got her commemorative, semiautomatic rifle from PTR Industries.

Woodard is part of the contingent of employees who transferred to Horry County when PTR left Connecticut because of restrictive gun laws passed by the state legislature.

The law, written in reaction to the killing of elementary school children and teachers in Newton, Conn., bans the sale of the guns PTR makes.

“Not only did it put us out of work,” Woodard said of the law, “it was the little guys that really got hurt.”

During the ceremony Woodard watched, Haley said she promised PTR that South Carolina would never politicize gun ownership, and those are the kind of words that have helped the company and its employees feel they’ve been received with open arms.

“People here are a lot friendlier than they are up North,” Woodard said…

Jayne with Vera: "It is my very favorite gun."

Jayne with Vera: “It is my very favorite gun.”

When you play villains as well as Oldman, you HAVE TO apologize this graciously, and then some

Would you accept an apology from this guy?

Would you accept an apology from this guy?

Gary Oldman has apologized abjectly, completely and graciously for offensive comments he made about Jews in a Playboy interview:

I am deeply remorseful that comments I recently made in the Playboy Interview were offensive to many Jewish people. Upon reading my comments in print—I see how insensitive they may be, and how they may indeed contribute to the furtherance of a false stereotype. Anything that contributes to this stereotype is unacceptable, including my own words on the matter. If, during the interview, I had been asked to elaborate on this point I would have pointed out that I had just finished reading Neal Gabler’s superb book about the Jews and Hollywood, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews invented Hollywood. The fact is that our business, and my own career specifically, owes an enormous debt to that contribution.

I hope you will know that this apology is heartfelt, genuine, and that I have an enormous personal affinity for the Jewish people in general, and those specifically in my life. The Jewish People, persecuted thorough the ages, are the first to hear God’s voice, and surely are the chosen people.

I would like to sign off with “Shalom Aleichem”—but under the circumstances, perhaps today I lose the right to use that phrase, so I will wish you all peace–Gary Oldman.

I don’t know whether Oldman or a publicist wrote that apology, but it’s a good one. It holds nothing back, unlike many other public apologies we’ve seen (such as the Mark Sanford “I’m sorry, but I’m like King David, and God forgave King David, so you’ve gotta forgive me — what, do you think you’re better than God?” approach).

Of course, when you play villains as chillingly convincingly as Oldman does, you’ve got to go all-out, because a lot of people wouldn’t consider it a great leap to picture him as a neo-Nazi. And even when you DO apologize, they’re quick to point out that you didn’t apologize to other groups you may have offended.

All of that said, what person with any class does Playboy interviews any more? What does he think this is, 1970?

... or this one?

… or this one?

Am I about to run out of good ‘West Wing’ episodes?

Merlyn

I’ve been thinking about the passage above from The Once and Future King. The boy Wart has just met Merlyn for the first time. Merlyn, who experiences time backwards, asks how long it’s been since they met. When the boy tells him, he is deeply saddened, because he is about to lose his dear friend of many years.

In my own strange temporal distortion, made possible by Netflix, I am experiencing “The West Wing,” a series that everyone else saw a decade ago, for the first time. What is old to everyone else is fresh and new to me. And it has renewed me physically as well as regaling me mentally — it’s made me enjoy working out every night, and getting in shape.

But I just discovered something upsetting. I had heard that the series was only as wonderful as what I’ve been experiencing during the years that Aaron Sorkin wrote it. I had looked forward to a full seven seasons of delight, watching the episodes each night while striding away on the elliptical. But I happened to discover that Sorkin stopped writing them at the end of the fourth season.

I watched “Life on Mars,” the 21st episode in the fourth season, Tuesday — the night before my accident. There are only two episodes left in the season. Had I not banged my head, I would have watched them both by now, and would be feeling rather bereft.

Are my friends about to abandon me? The lovely Ainsley, appealing on so many levels, including the all-important UnParty level, has already left, without a warning and with no goodbye, replaced most disappointingly by Matthew Perry. (Donna seems to find it an acceptable substitution, but I lack her glandular bias.)

I look forward to getting back up on the elliptical, but I dread running out of good episodes. I would hate to see the quality decline — it would be like being bitterly disappointed by a friend. And I’m not sure what to do if I no longer have good episodes to watch. I’ve tried getting into other series available for streaming on Netflix. I watched the first episode of “Dexter,” which many have praised, but was quite disappointed. I’ve tried getting into the various series in the “Star Trek” canon, but I doubt I’ll ever be a Trekkie.

There’s got to be something else out there as delightful as these four seasons of “West Wing.” But I haven’t found it yet. And doubt that I shall. It rivals my previous uncontested favorite series, “Band of Brothers” and to me, exceeds “The Sopranos.”

I sense a long quest before me…

Will my friends all abandon me now?

Will my friends all abandon me now?

Arrested for getting ‘Happy’ in Iran

Thought this was an interesting slice-of-life-on-the-other-side-of-the-universe item: Iranian students arrested for having made a popular video based on the pop song, “Happy.”

Hassan Rouhani Tweeted his dissent from the official disapproval, thereby asserting his “moderate” cred abroad and, I suppose, playing “good cop” for domestic consumption:

The kids in the video are reported to be out of jail now, but not the director. You know, the authorities can’t be too careful with a dangerous character like that guy. People can’t be allowed to just wander around loose making upbeat, G-rated videos that make people smile…

Below is the full video:

Does ‘quality’ television really have to be so morally arid?

Does "quality" really have to be so dark, so morally arid?

Does “quality” really have to be so dark, so morally arid?

This is by way of following up on a brief exchange Kathryn and I had yesterday about the dearth of appealing characters in the TV shows that currently compel our attention.

Bryan sent me a link to this piece, headlined “The Moral Relativism Of Serial Television.” It’s actually several years behind the curve, with this observation:

The sweet spot for serial television drama right now exists on non-premium cable channels. After decades of dominance by the broadcast networks, followed by a period in which the premium cable channels broke the mold with hits that reached mainstream culture like OzThe Sopranos, and Dexter, non-premium channels like the Fox property FX, BBC America and AMC have rushed in to, at least temporarily, hold a lock on the highest volume of compelling drama on the small screen today.

That’s something I might have said two or three years ago (think “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead”). What I sense happening now, or about to happen now, is a shift beyond non-premium cable TV, and on to series made for streaming and bingeing, such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”

But the general observation of the piece is that there is a seemingly deliberate lack of characters to root for, or even care about, in the most compelling recent dramatic series.

It ends, as do so many episodes of these popular series, on a dark note:

It is at least marginally troublesome that as a society, our most compelling entertainment increasingly eschews the concept or even the ideal that good exists in the world and ultimately should prevail. An artistic criticism of this view can legitimately point out that life is rarely so neat as to allow for the inevitable victory of the white knight. However, the rejoinder to this point is that we are not considering real life but rather television, which exists because we would rather watch it than real life. The entire raison d’etre of the medium is to idealize real life interactions into conclusions that are satisfying on at least some visceral level. If our television tastes are any guide, America increasingly takes satisfaction from a muddled mess of emotional responses which are provoked by disorderly and sometimes directly contradictory stimuli. Perhaps, if a society can be judged by its entertainment, what we are witnessing is the leading edge of the end of America’s desire to collectively be the good guy, or even to support the good guy in his efforts to be good. Or perhaps we don’t need television to tell us this; perhaps we need look no further than the ballot box.

Do we really not want to find good in characters and root for it? I don’t think that’s the case, although there’s no doubt we are living in a more cynical world than the one I grew up in.

I think we are still human, and there is still good in us, and within us lives a desire to perceive good, and embrace it — however many times we’ve been disappointed. I think the dark, moral emptiness of these recent entertainments is a function of writers and directors who are trying to produce high-quality material, and who buy into the insidious notion that moral clarity is lowbrow and insufficiently “artistic.” So they steer clear of it.

But does “quality” really have to be so dark, so morally arid?

I think if someone would come along and produce similar series, but with the humanity-affirming characteristics that marked “The West Wing,” the world would joyfully cheer, and reward the effort with their loyal patronage.

Think of that — a new series with the cinematic quality of “Breaking Bad,” but with characters like Jed Bartlet and Leo McGarry and Josh Lyman — characters you want to see succeed. As I watch the series for the first time, each night as I work out, I simply don’t see any characters who are utterly lacking in appealing characteristics. Even the adversarial figures who try to thwart our heroes have understandable, sympathetic reasons for taking the positions they do. While there are occasional digressions from this approach (one of the weakest scenes I’ve encountered was the one in which Jed Bartlet humiliates a character based on Dr. Laura with what he seems to imagine is a clever manner, but which is painfully trite — by asking her whether she literally supports all of the strictures in the Old Testament), by and large there is an appealing understanding of everyone’s motives.

Which is the way we should all live our lives. We should take strong stands based on what our discernment has taught us to believe is right, but strive to appreciate the convictions of those with whom we disagree. It could serve as an antidote to the default mode of today’s partisans, which is to demonize opponents, and scoff at their motives.

Imagine that — television that not only gives us heroes to root for, but which shows us ways to be a better society.

Now that would be television worth watching.

Frank Underwood should be able to push through an earmark to repaint Peachoid

The Peachoid in better days.

The Peachoid in better days.

Dire news from Gaffney:

Gaffney’s Peachoid — a one-million-gallon water tank and the city’s most recognizable landmark — will be temporarily repaired after chunks of paint peeled from the crevice with this winter’s fluctuating temperatures.

Gaffney Board of Public Works owns the Peachoid, which was erected in 1981 and has been repainted twice.

BPW General Manager Donnie Hardin said areas of paint — about six to 10 feet in diameter — started peeling from the Peachoid recently, mostly due to freezing and warmer temperatures through the winter.

“With extreme cold, fluctuating temperatures, it caused more damage than normal,” Hardin said. “Two areas flaked off the tank, and we’ll have those repaired in two to three weeks.”…

I just hope they’re not planning on spending local tax money for the repair. Frank Underwood should be able to score some federal funds for the purpose without breaking a sweat.

In fact, Frank wouldn’t settle for repairing a patch. He could get the whole thing redone, with real fuzz this time…

Frank and local leaders contemplating the monument.

Frank and local leaders contemplating the monument.

D’oh! is right. What century do you think this is?

hulu

Seeing as how she and Warren have gotten into blogging lately, and grown more sophisticated in their use of social media and such, I was disappointed when I didn’t find an embedded video with the online version of Cindi’s column today.

After all, it started this way:

IN ONE OF MY favorite Saturday Night Live skits, a just-exonerated Bill Clinton walks to the podium in the Rose Garden for a news conference, gives a thumbs-up to his supporters, declares “I … am … bulletproof,” and walks away. After a moment, he turns, walks back to the podium and adds: “Next time, you best bring Kryptonite.”

Our legislators must feel the same way after Circuit Judge Casey Manning discovered that they have bulletproof armor that protects them from criminal prosecution….

You have to realize what a special thing it is for Cindi Scoppe to make a pop culture reference that way. She doesn’t do pop culture. She is the most all-work-and-no-play person I know, and her readers are the beneficiaries of that affliction. So I particularly appreciated this reference, and immediately went hunting for a video clip…bulletproof

which I could not find. At least, not right away. (I’d be happy for some of y’all to show me what I missed.)

Oh, I found one that may have been the right one. NBC had taken it down. And then added insult to injury by saying, “Don’t worry, though. We have plenty of other stuff to watch.” Like I’m here to be entertained. Like any other “stuff to watch” will compensate for the lack of the one clip I need, the one being quoted.

Join the 21st century, folks. Rather than hiding your content, leverage it by allowing other media — including blogs and even newspapers — to praise your creativity and urge other people (perhaps people who have the time and inclination to watch that “other stuff” you’re offering) to seek it out. You’ll be a winner in the long run.

Sheesh…

Bee Gees tune makes my hypothetical band’s playlist

Last night, I was watching an episode of “The Americans” and it ended with a song in the background that was a pleasant-enough-sounding ballad, but for one thing: It seemed to be very close to something very familiar, and something that I wanted to hear, but it never got there. It was too busy being artsy, too free-form, too showy in its refusal to be anything like the original.

I now know it was Roberta Flack’s version of “To Love Somebody.” It was pleasant, but considered as a cover of that song, it was awful. It left out all the best bits, such as the change when it launches into “you don’t know what it’s like,” and then when it takes it down a notch, for “to love somebody.”

Everything that made the song special was missing, including the appealing rhythm of the verses, in between the aforementioned best bits.

Frankly, I hadn’t ever realized how special the song was, until it had been stripped of what made it that way.

So I’m unilaterally adding it to the playlist for my band, for when I have a band. I’m not consulting my bandmates on it, because I don’t have any, and it wouldn’t do to start having artistic differences before we even get together.

I’m even thinking of going out on a limb and adding “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” because I’ve always known that was great, even though it was by the Bee Gees. After all, the Brothers Gibb were pretty good before disco (he said defensively).

This is coming together well. Before long, I’ll have a complete playlist for my ultimate cover band, and that will give us a head start when I get around to actually putting the band together. Don’t you think?

The cast of “Star Wars VII” assembles

10271548_736620193056251_5192269333816421968_n

This is pretty cool — a picture of old and new cast members sitting around preparing for shooting to begin in a couple of weeks on the new “Star Wars.”

Check this out:

The Star Wars team is thrilled to announce the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII.

Actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow will join the original stars of the saga, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker in the new film.

Director J.J. Abrams says, “We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.”

Star Wars: Episode VII is being directed by J.J. Abrams from a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Abrams. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, and John Williams returns as the composer.

I wonder what character Max von Sydow will play — the ghost of Obiwan Kenobi, perhaps?

I guess that’s the back of his head, talking to Mark Hamill over on the left. There’s Harrison Ford on the opposite side of the circle, in front of R2D2. Is that Carrie Fisher two over to the right of him?

Aside from von Sydow, I don’t know the new cast members. But then, I didn’t know who Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill were, before the original film. Carrie Fisher I remembered from “Shampoo.” Who could forget?

All right! Test proves that I am, of course, Leo McGarry…

Leo

As y’all know, I’m getting into “The West Wing” about 15 years later than everybody else (they just started streaming the whole series on Netflix), and making up for the delay by getting really, really into it.

Like, as much into it as I am into Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels. Which is about as extreme as it gets. Or as extreme as I get, anyway.

So when I saw that Scout had provided us with a link to a “Which ‘The West Wing’ Character Are You?” quiz, I immediately took it. And I am entirely pleased with the results.

I am — of course, of course — Leo McGarry. No result could have pleased me more. Leo is exactly what I want to be when I grow up.

Sometimes these kinds of quizzes are pretty silly, but this one was obviously devised by geniuses…

quiz 1

Mrs. Landingham, we hardly knew ye


The West Wing by Habzapl

Wow. Last night, I watched the Season Two finale of “The West Wing” not once, but twice. It was one of the best episodes of any TV show that I’ve ever seen.

Just thinking about Mrs. Landingham telling Jed, for the second time in their long association, that if he didn’t want to proceed because he didn’t think it was right, fine, she could respect that, but if he didn’t try because it would be too hard, “Well, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you”… well, I get goose bumps right now, just typing it.

On a previous thread, we were talking, in the context of the military, about what it means to live for a purpose greater than yourself. Well, this TV show is getting to me, and it’s on that level.

I’ve been watching this show nightly while working out, and loving it. (I never saw it when it was on the air.) It’s probably not good for my mental health, though, because I’ve become so very jealous of those characters and what they have together. I don’t always agree with the things they’re trying to do, but that’s beside the point. The fact is that they get to do it as part of a group of people just as committed to serving their causes as they are. And what they do actually has an effect on the world around them.

I mentioned that Ainsley, the young Republican lawyer who joins the staff, is possibly my favorite character (my second favorite may be Toby, although I really like Leo, too). She disagrees with this bunch of Democrats even more than I do, and is a wonderful foil for them. But she, too, is a member of the group; she feels the sense of mission perhaps more purely than they do — because she is there solely in order to serve her country, rather than the president’s party or anything like that.

It’s no accident that the episode I saw last night uses Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” to such effect. That’s the appeal of the show. These people are all brothers in arms, in a cause greater than themselves.

The show creates in me a longing. I couldn’t serve in the military for medical reasons. I’ll never be a senior adviser in the White House because, Ainsley aside, you not only have to be a partisan, but a professional partisan, to get there these days.

But I know there are people in this world who have something like what those characters have, and I’m deeply envious.

tumblr_m52897kH9q1rqckue

The Cartographers for Social Equality

The other night, continuing to make my way through “The West Wing” (which I never saw when it was on) while working out each evening, I saw the one in which the Cartographers for Social Equality were allowed to make a presentation on Big Block of Cheese Day.

I enjoyed it. It reminded me of the time, maybe a quarter-century ago, when I visited my friend Moss Blachman in his office, and saw his map of the Western Hemisphere with south at the top and north at the bottom. As someone who lived in South America as a kid and who has long thought my fellow gringos give Latin America short shrift, I got a kick out of it. Because, of course, the practice of putting north at the top and south at the bottom is totally arbitrary (an obvious fact that sort of blew C.J. Cregg’s mind).

I enjoy things like that which cause us to look at things in fresh ways.

Of course, the political conclusion that the cartographers draw from the way the Mercator distorts the world is rather silly. I’ve always known Africa is way bigger than Greenland, and that Africa is thousands of times more significant in world affairs. But I also know that Africa doesn’t derive its importance from being bigger; it derives it from the fact that there are multitudes of nations and cultures and geographic and biological diversity in Africa, and it is not mostly a frozen waste. Population of Greenland: 56,840. Population of Africa: 1.033 billion. Duh.

If I were stupid enough to think the significance of nations and continents were a function of size, I’d conclude that England has been of no account whatsoever in world history. Which I don’t. And I can’t think of anyone who does.

But I enjoyed the scene anyway, because it is good for the brain (and pleasurable as well) to flip things around and look at them from unaccustomed angles. And if there are people who did make foolish assumptions about the world based on the usual depiction, and their eyes are opened, then great. But I wouldn’t attach a lot of importance to that.

20120227-peters-world-map

Han Solo takes the Fifth on Greedo killing

The Washington Post should be ashamed of itself. Not because it won a Pulitzer for helping Edward Snowden achieve his goals, but because it led readers of its The Switch blog to believe that it was going to finally clear up the raging controversy over whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first.Greedo

That didn’t happen.

But in the course of not answering, Harrison Ford demonstrates a callousness regarding the question that seems consistent with the classic Han-Solo-as-rogueish-antihero-who-would-shoot-first interpretation, as opposed to the revisionist he-was-just-standing-his-ground-in-self-defense view.

That’s how I see it, anyway.