Category Archives: Popular culture

In memory of Jack Bruce of Cream

Upon the death of Jack Bruce, legendary bassist for Cream, my elder son posted the above video on my Facebook feed.

To which I responded, “That’s my favorite! And not only because I suspect it may have inspired ‘Stonehenge‘…”

Yeah, this is just the kind of over-important, mock-epic kind of rock song that Spinal Tap was making fun of, but I love it anyway. I’ve always seen it from the perspective of the adolescent boy I was, as an evocation of the way the seemingly (to an adolescent boy) supernatural allure of women can drive a young man mad (which is what the story of Ulysses and the sirens was about, after all), done through the lens of the gods of rock, which made it all that much more meaningful.

I like it musically as well. I love the shift back and forth from the hard-driving parts to the bits that go, “Tiny purple fishes…” with a thin line on Clapton’s guitar gently hovering and Ginger Baker using his cymbals to evoke the sound of waves kissing the shore and receding…

It’s interesting how the star of this video is Bruce. I guess the camera crew on the Smothers Brothers show figured since he was singing, he was the front man. They didn’t quite get who Clapton was yet. You hardly even get a glimpse of his face (he was in a mustache phase), or even of his guitar.

Rock and roll! Everyone hold up your lighters now…

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Bus passengers in an alternative universe

on the bus

Today, I got one of those emails trying to get me to engage more with Pinterest, and one of the pins it offered me was this one, which I thought was cool, because it’s one of my fave flicks of all time.

So I repinned it.

But then I noticed something… you ever take a good look at the passengers on the bus who turn back to stare at Benjamin and Elaine.

It’s like Mike Nichols deliberately filled the bus with People Who Will Never Be Seen Riding a Bus. At least, that would be the case in Columbia in 2014. And I’m even thinking it would be the case in California in 1967.

Dig the guys in suits. Especially the guy wearing cufflinks.

This is such a glaring anomaly that I find myself wondering whether it’s intentional, and it means something. Like maybe Nichols wanted a painfully bourgeois set of people to be staring at our lovebirds, or something.

Anyway, I’d never noticed it before, and I found it interesting…

Quick: What’s wrong with this electoral map?

Santos map

I mean, aside from it being about a fictional election.

Yes, I’m still obsessing about the absurdity of Democrat Matt Santos winning South Carolina in the seventh season of “The West Wing.” I don’t care that none of y’all were interested enough to comment on it yesterday. I’m interested enough for all of us.

During my workout this morning, in “Election Day Part II,” I learned one more supposed reason why the Democratic presidential nominee won SC (in addition to the two I mentioned yesterday, neither of which was convincing): It was mentioned (by the opposition) that Santos had spent so much time in SC, he could have been living here.

Well, that certainly would have been a departure from what we’re used to seeing — a Democratic presidential nominee actually visiting South Carolina.

But I don’t think it would make the difference. It would take a lot more than that, which is why Democratic presidential nominees don’t come to South Carolina during the general campaign.

I’m with Josh Lyman, who understood that there was something wrong if his guy was losing Vermont, but winning SC. He sort of freaked out about it, and who could blame him? His writers had put him in an impossible situation. Would Aaron Sorkin (who did not write these later episodes) have done that? I don’t think so.

Look at the map above. The Democrat lost California, but won SC? Mind you, there were extraordinary reasons for this. First, it was Vinick‘s home state. Second, Leo’s death was announced with another hour of voting to go in California. OK, fine — but if West Coast voters were balking at Santos because of Leo, then how did he win Oregon and Washington state?

You can see at a glance how SC sticks out like a sore thumb in blue. The Democrat would win Virginia or North Carolina or Florida way before winning here. It just doesn’t add up…

Sorry, but there’s NO WAY Matt Santos won South Carolina

The Santos-Vinick debate.

The Santos-Vinick debate.

This morning while working out, I saw episode 16 of the seventh and last season of “The West Wing,” the one titled, “Election Day Part I.

It’s the one that ended with Leo (my favorite character!) being found in his hotel room. Dead, I’m guessing (this was originally aired several episodes after John Spencer’s actual death). The episode ended with people rushing into the room after Annabeth finds him and calls for help.

So I’m braced for an emotionally wrenching Part II.

Only six episodes left…

But before we move on, I must offer my one criticism of this episode: As someone who has been closely covering SC politics for 27 years, I can tell you that it is utterly incredible that Santos would have won South Carolina.

Nothing happened in this fictional campaign that could possibly have overcome the state’s strong preference for the GOP.

Sure it’s conceivable that one of these days, a Democratic presidential nominee could win this state again. But it would take extraordinary circumstances. It most certainly would not be this candidate, who ran on a platform of public education and healthcare reform.

Speaking for myself and possibly other South Carolina swing voters, I found his obsession with public education — something that is not a legitimate concern of the federal government — quite off-putting. Santos projected himself as a liberal’s liberal. Not someone who is likely to make this red state change its mind.

I’m not sure I would have (as Kate Harper apparently did) voted for Arnie Vinick, but I found him a fairly appealing candidate. I would need to know more about both candidates and their platforms than I got from the show. But I know that Santos, as sympathetically as he was portrayed, still did not gain a lock on my support.

The two explanations offered in passing, over the last few episodes, for South Carolina’s move into the Santos column were:

  1. The nuclear plant accident in California. A couple of episodes back, it is noted that states with nuclear plants were starting to go for Santos, because of his complete opposition to nuclear power (and because Vinick had pushed to get the plant where the accident occurred up and running 25 years earlier). I don’t think SC would abandon its acceptance of nuclear power that easily. I know that I saw nothing in the San Andreo accident to make me decide nuclear power qua nuclear power was unsafe. Then again, maybe I’m not typical.
  2. A greater-than-expected turnout of black voters in SC. This is implied by the fact that halfway through Election Day, as exit poll numbers come in, Stephen Root’s character (a member of the Vinick campaign team) dismisses the SC numbers because the exit poll has “oversampled” black voters. He draws that conclusion because the proportion of black respondents is higher than the proportion of registered voters who are black. What he is apparently missing is that black voters did indeed turn out in higher-than-expected numbers. I have seen nothing to indicate that that would be likely. In fact, an earlier episode showed Santos having a problem with black voters elsewhere in the country, and there’s no explanation of why SC would buck that trend.

Yeah, I know. It’s make-believe. I’m overthinking it.

But I’m just trying to squeeze as much as I can from these last few episodes. So little time left…

 

Great day in the mornin’! New Sheheen ad

In “What About Bob?,” Bill Murray famously said,

There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t. My ex-wife loves him.

So true. And the same might truthfully be said about the phrase that Gov. Nikki Haley requires Cabinet-agency employees to utter when they answer the phone at work: “It’s a great day in South Carolina!”

There are some of us who find such chipper cheerleading off-putting, and are appalled at the idea that serious people with serious jobs are required to say it, regardless of the context of the call, thousands of times.

There are others who see it as harmless, perhaps even charming.

In any case, Vincent Sheheen has a new TV ad pitched to appeal to those of us in the first group:

NEW TV AD: “Great Day” Uses Haley Catch Phrase to Hit Her on Failures for Families
 “It’s a great day in South Carolina! For Nikki Haley, maybe. But not for South Carolina families.”
Camden, SC – Sheheen for South Carolina today released a new television ad using Nikki Haley’s mandated state catch phrase to shine light on her dishonesty, incompetence and unethical record that has hurt South Carolina’s hardworking families. The spot, “Great Day” will begin airing today as part of a substantial six-figure statewide TV buy. “Great Day” is the sixth television ad Sheheen for South Carolina has run in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
 “Nikki Haley says it’s a great day in South Carolina, but that’s just not true for our hardworking families. Nikki Haley has lied about her jobs numbers, hurt public education, sent our tax dollars to New Jersey, covered-up her worst scandals, and continually refuses to be honest with the people of South Carolina – starting from the moment she and her staff answer the phone,” said Andrew Whalen, Sheheen’s campaign manager. “South Carolinians deserve a governor who cares more about how things are on the ground than about how she can spin it on national television. It’s time for honest leadership and real accountability from a governor South Carolina can trust.”

Here’s supporting material the campaign sent out as part of the release:

Claim Backup
“Hello! It’s a great day in South Carolina.”
Call Nikki Haley’s state government and that’s what you hear.

 

ALT: Call Nikki Haley’s office and that’s what you hear.

But Nikki Haley vetoed teacher pay increases

 

CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Vetoed Teacher Pay

“Gov. Haley Vetoes $10 Million for Teacher Raises,” Robert Kittle, WSAV, 7/06/2012:

Gov. Nikki Haley has vetoed 81 items from South Carolina’s budget, including $10 million for local school districts to give teachers raises.

 

while giving her own staff raises.

 

CG: Gave Her Staff Raises

“Gov. Haley sets premium staff pay,” Jim Davenport, Associated Press, 1/13/2011:

Gov. Nikki Haley will pay her chief of staff $125,000 per year, a salary that eclipses her own pay and is $27,000 more than former Gov. Mark Sanford paid his chief of staff, according to records obtained today by The Associated Press.

 

It’s a great day in South Carolina!
And Haley sent our Medicaid dollars to other states,

 

CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Opposed Medicaid, Depriving Thousands of Healthcare

“SC’s poorest left out if Medicaid expansion turned down,” Joey Holleman, The State, 1/16/2013:

Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer surprised many Monday by saying she would support Medicaid expansion in her state, saying if Arizona turned down the money it would just go to insure citizens of other states. S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said he hopes Haley will make the same decision, noting South Carolina can accept the expansion money and back out of the program in three years when the federal money runs out.

 

Kaiser Health News, 11/26/2013:

About 1 million people are enrolled in Medicaid in South Carolina. The state estimates nearly 300,000 people are eligible but not enrolled. In its fiscal year ending June 30, the state expects about 130,000 people to enroll, and that number will grow to 162,000 by June 30, 2015.

 

If the state had expanded Medicaid under the health law, it would have extended coverage to another 340,000 people.

denying healthcare to seniors South Carolina’s Office on Aging explains the benefits to seniors 55 and over, but because of Nikki Haley seniors aged 55 to 64 are not covered by Medicaid expansion.

 

South Carolina Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging:

Benefits available to Senior Citizens in South Carolina….

 

Age 55
Automobile insurance credit is mandated for persons who are 55 years of age or older and have successfully completed a driver training course approved by the Department of Public Safety

 

 

and children. By not expanding Medicaid thousands of children who are eligible for coverage are far less likely to receive coverage.  Numerous studies, and the results from states that have expanded coverage have shown that doing so drastically increases the number of children covered.

 

“Administration touts benefits of Medicaid expansion for children,” Ferdous Al-Faruque, The Hill, 7/11/2014:

States that expanded access to Medicaid under ObamaCare greatly increased access to healthcare for the poor, especially for children, according to the Obama administration….

 

The CMS study notes the 26 states and the District of Columbia, which expanded Medicaid, saw 17 percent more people enroll in the Medicaid and CHIP programs.

 

Overall, the agency says 11.4 percent more people enrolled in CHIP and Medicaid by the end of May compared to average enrollment between July and September 2013.

 

“Medicaid Coverage for Parents Under the Affordable Care Act,” Georgetown University Center for Families and Children, June 2012:

Increasing coverage among parents is expected to have a number of positive impacts…. Parent coverage also appears to increase children’s coverage, as studies and state experience have consistently shown that covering parents improves their children’s coverage rates.

 

“Coverage of Parents Helps Children, Too,” Leighton Ku and Matt Broaddus, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10/20/2006:

Covering low-income parents in programs such as Medicaid and SCHIP increases enrollment by eligible children, with the result that fewer children go uninsured. Studies show that expansions of coverage for low-income parents lead to greater Medicaid or SCHIP participation by eligible children and reduce the percentage of eligible children who remain uninsured. The studies also indicate that covering parents helps eligible low-income children retain their coverage when it comes up for renewal so that fewer children lose insurance at that time, improving the continuity of children’s coverage and reducing the number of periods without insurance.

 

a great day in South Carolina!
And Haley’s Department of Social Services has failed our most vulnerable children.

 

CG: Nikki Haley

CG: DSS Children Abused, Even Killed

“DSS Death: ‘The System Failed Robert’,” Clark Fouraker, WLTX, 2/24/2014:

Despite multiple reports to the South Carolina Department of Social Services, steps were never taken to remove Robert Guinyard Jr. from his home before he died.

 

“They were notified on multiple occasions of abuse with this child,” said Richland County Coroner Gary Watts.

 

“SC senator: DSS must face questions about child abuse deaths,” Adam Beam, The State, 10/3/2013:

Laura Hudson, a member of the state Child Fatality Advisory Committee that reviews suspicious child deaths, said 312 children have died since 2009 while involved in one way or another with Social Services.

 

DSS, child protective services will be audited in light of safety concerns,” Prentiss Findlay, Post and Courier, 11/27/2012:

Reports of children starved to death, sexually abused for months and dying of treatable illness prompted a local legislator Monday to call for an audit of the state Department of Social Services.

 

a great day in South Carolina!
For Nikki Haley, maybe.  But not for South Carolina families.

 

CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Hurting South Carolina

What do you think of it?

Um, yeah… the U.S. Chamber may be (slightly) cooler than I thought it was…

Um, yeahhhh....

Um, yeahhhh….

Or at least, it has a greater sense of irony.

As evidenced by the following Tweet:

You ever notice how much Jed Bartlet aged in office?

Once, he was so young and vigorous.

Once, he was so young and vigorous.

Well, there’s not much “West Wing” left.

As I was working out this morning, Leo McGarry — now Matt Santos’ running mate — was sweating over debate prep, and Josh and the rest of the campaign were leaking how badly he was doing, to lower expectations.

One by one, President Jed Bartlet’s key staffers have pulled away. Sam Seaborn just sort of fell off the face of the Earth when he went West to run for Congress (the way he faded away, without any mention of what happened to him, is one of the few weaknesses in the writing of the show). Leo stepped down after his heart attack, but is now “jumping off the cliff” again with Santos. Josh is running the Santos campaign. Toby is — well, you know what happened to Toby — and if you don’t, I’m not telling you.

The Bartlet administration is winding down. This was episode 10 of the 7th and final season. Only 12 episodes left.

And if you think the presidency of Barack Obama has aged him, have you ever compared pictures of Jed Bartlet from season one and season seven? Being a TV president can be pretty rough, too, apparently.

Of course, the transformation is more startling to me than it was to folks who watched the show the first time around. I saw my first episode at the start of this year.

As you know, I have loved this show. I don’t want to lose it, and have to go back to the horrible real-life politics. Or to vastly inferior television, for that matter. I try to cling to it. I get excited when someone else out there writes about how much he or she loved the show, and I nod enthusiastically. When a young woman asserted in the WashPost that “I’m the biggest ‘West Wing’ fan you’ll ever meet,” I protested, “No, you’re not.”

I’ve started following “Leo McGarry,” my favorite character, on Twitter. A sample:

All this fanboy behavior is pitiful, I know, but then my plight is truly pitiable: I’m about to run out of West Wings. And I fear there’s nothing out there that I haven’t seen that is as good as this.

Showing his age, with Leo in Season 7.

Showing his age, with Leo in Season 7.

Why DO Americans freak out so over single-payer?

One recent morning, I watched another episode of “The West Wing” while on the elliptical trainer. It was the one titled “Drought Conditions,” the 16th episode of Season 6. It’s the one you might remember best from the scene when Josh and Toby actually get into a fight, right there in the West Wing, and Toby gets a nasty cut on his cheekbone. (See above.)

At this point in our story, Josh has left the White House to manage Matt Santos’ bid for the Democratic nomination for president. His candidate has done better than expected in New Hampshire, but Josh is worried about another candidate who has come out of nowhere to start grabbing support that should go to Santos. This new candidate, Rafferty, is using language that Toby once wrote for Bartlet in favor of a single-payer health care system. Toby admits he’s been collaborating with Rafferty. This is what precipitates the fight.

Anyway, there are two or three conversations about this, and we pick up on the fact that, way back before they won the White House, everybody else had to talk Toby (and presumably President Bartlet) down from their politically unpalatable position.

This was so familiar to me. This episode aired two years before I wrote my column asking why no presidential candidate, even in the Democratic field, dared to say “single-payer,” other than fringe extremists such as Dennis Kucinich. Barack Obama certainly didn’t dare say it. My attitude was much the same as Toby’s: What’s the point in even having Democrats, if they can’t stand up for something so obvious, so commonsense, so entirely accepted in the rest of the advanced world — and so in their wheelhouse ideologically?

Anyway, I finished watching the episode just as I finished with the elliptical trainer. (I do 40 minutes, which is almost perfect for watching American “hour-long” commercial TV shows.)

While doing my crunches and stretches after, I put on a few minutes of a “30 Rock” that I’d started watching previously. It’s the one when Jack and Avery have their baby, reluctantly, in Canada after failing to get back across the border before she gave birth.

Which leads to this exchange, which interrupts a phone call Jack is having with Liz Lemon:

Avery: This woman is trying to tell me that we don’t have to pay for any of this.

Woman: Right. The Canadian health care system…

Jack: Oh, no you don’t. We will not be party to this socialist perversion. You will take our money.

Woman: I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that.

Liz (on the other end of the phone): Oh, this is gonna be good.

Jack: Avery, can you walk yet?

Avery (rising from her bed, holding the baby): I am right behind you, Jack.

Jack: Let’s go find a Canadian who will take our money.

That is played for laughs, and it is hilarious, particularly Jack’s hyperbolic crack about “socialist perversion.”

But what it’s making fun of isn’t funny. Why DO Americans freak out so over something that Canadians and Brits take for granted?

Y’all know me. I’m a center-right kind of guy (if you must place me on that stupid left-right spectrum), and on some things a neocon. I want the federal government out of things it has no business in, such as education (which means, by the way, that I would never vote for the fictional Matt Santos — he comes across like he’s running for school board rather than POTUS).

But putting everybody into the same risk pool and eliminating profit from the payment system just seems like common sense, not radical at all. Paying my premiums (or if you prefer, taxes) for coverage that I can never lose, no matter where I go to work in the future, also just makes sense to me. Having something simpler than either the patchwork of private coverage or the complex maze of Obamacare just makes sense to me.

I don’t get why it doesn’t make sense to other people — and in fact, freaks them out so. I mean, intellectually I understand that some people have a sort of religious horror of the government being involved with anything. I accept that they are that way. But I have trouble understanding why they’re that way. Why do Americans get so worked up about something that other people who are so like us culturally — such as the Brits, and the Canadians — take for granted, as a matter of course?

Some of y’all have tried to explain it to me in the past. Maybe you should try again. Maybe I’ll get it this time. Then again, maybe not.

The thing is, I can probably recite all of the objections. The words I know. What I don’t get is the passion, the horror at the idea. It’s the emotion that eludes my understanding…

So why can’t a hallucination be an actual message?

Unfaithful

 

First, a confession…

Sometimes in Mass, my mind wanders. This is not entirely my fault. I love St. Peter’s and its architecture, but the acoustics have always been terrible. Everything said from the altar or the pulpit bounces around in the dome above it, so that the last thing a speaker said is competing with what he or she is saying after that. This is particularly bad for me with my Meniere’s problem, because it causes me to have particular trouble separating speech clearly from background noise. Add to that the fact that the Mass I attend is in Spanish, and while my pronunciation is good, my understanding isn’t what it was 50 years ago when I lived in Ecuador. Even when I can hear it clearly, I have to work hard to catch enough words to get the drift.

Put all that together, and I have a lot of trouble following what is being said. So my mind wanders. Frequently. And when it wanders, I often think of religious-themed posts for the blog. But then, by the time the Mass is over, and I go home and have lunch and, if I have my druthers, have a nice Sunday afternoon nap, I’ve forgotten about it. So Sunday posts remain rare.

But here’s the one that was going through my head in Mass yesterday…

The night before, I watched on Netflix an episode of “House,” from Season 5, titled “Unfaithful.”

It opens with a weary, dissolute-seeming young priest (Greene’s “whiskey priest” in The Power and the Glory seems to be a literary antecedent) who has just taken off his collar and is trying to relax in his dingy cell, located in the charity that he runs for the homeless, by knocking back a whiskey or three.

A few moments before, a homeless man had knocked, seeking a warm coat, which the priest gave him. Now, someone is insistently knocking again. Reluctantly, grimly, he drags himself to the door, opens it, and before him is a bloody Christ, with fresh stigmata, scourge wounds all over, and the crown of thorns.

The priest says, “That’s not funny, freak.” The figure before him answers, “No one is laughing, Daniel.” The priest looks down and sees that the figure’s nail-pierced feet are hovering several inches from the ground.

This, to say the least, freaks him out.

The priest immediately turns himself in to the hospital where House works — because, of course, he was hallucinating. He leaps to that conclusion because, after being hounded from parish to parish by a false sexual abuse charge leveled at him by a young man several parishes back, the priest has no faith left.

So to him, as to the atheist House, the only explanation for such an incident is that there is something wrong with his brain. It’s a symptom, not a message from God — a diagnosis with which the writers of the show clearly agree. And we viewers, being moderns, are meant to assume this is the case.

The next day, thinking about this in Mass, it occurred to me that there’s something wrong with the logic underlying the show’s premise. To follow me, I ask my unbelieving readers to suspend their disbelief for a moment. Stipulate — just for the sake of this discussion — that there is a God and that He does try to tell us things from time to time.

So, if we accept that… why would the incident being a hallucination mean that it wasn’t an actual message from God? Mind you, I can’t tell you what the message in this case would be, beyond shocking the priest out of his faith slump.

But what about a hallucination makes it an invalid form of perception, within the context of faith? Think about this: The Bible is filled with instances of people receiving divine messages through dreams, from the original Joseph of the many-colored coat to Joseph of Nazareth. No one says, “It can’t be a real message because it was just a dream.”

And what is a hallucination except a waking dream?

We mortals have a wide variety of methods of communication. We can speak to people face-to-face, or tell them what we’re thinking with sign language. There’s writing, smoke signals, Morse code, email, videochat, texting — some of which are more “virtual” than others, but all seen as genuine communication. And let’s not forget movies with special effects — do such effects mean that they can’t communicate a serious message? (Not that CGI-rich films tend to be heavy on ideas, but they can be, just as any other film can.)

The hallucination, or the sleeping version, seems to be a favorite mode of communication of the Almighty.

And you don’t have to be a believer to find meaning in dreams, to see them as powerful communicators of important ideas. Ask a Freudian. Absent God, it could be your superego is trying to tell you something.

We empirical moderns like to think that something isn’t real if it can’t be independently confirmed — which seems rather narrow and limited of us. If someone else looking out his window at the moment the priest was having his waking dream did not see the crucified figure hovering there, then the priest didn’t, either. Except that he did. And if anyone could make him see something that his neighbor didn’t  — encoding the message for him alone to see, which is not a radical concept — an all-powerful God who knows everything about how every individual is made would be the one. Again, you have to believe in God to follow this, but if you do, why would you think the Deity couldn’t do that?

A photograph taken at the time wouldn’t show the Jesus figure. There would be no drops of blood on the sidewalk. But then, there was no physical evidence of Moses’ burning bush experience, either. The scripture specifically notes that although it was burning, the bush was not consumed.

So while you might not believe, if you do believe, why is this priest’s vision automatically less legit than that of Moses, or the dream in which Joseph was urged to go ahead and marry Mary?

There are some belief systems that are all about hallucination, even about deliberately inducing them — I think of shamans who treat peyote as a sacrament.

Have you ever read any of Carlos Castaneda’s books? They’re all about achieving greater enlightenment by inducing hallucinations, and actually entering into those hallucinations and taking action within them. The Separate Reality is as legitimate, within the context of that system of thought, as one that concrete thinkers see as the only reality.

So, given all that, what’s the justification for seeing a hallucination as just a hallucination, and therefore automatically devoid of meaning? That seems a very shallow, and at the least unimaginative, explanation.

Anyway, that’s what I got to thinking about during Mass when I was supposed to be paying attention…

It’s International Talk like Robert Newton Day

Some call it “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” but I’ve often wondered where we get the silly notion that pirates went around saying “ARRRH!” and growling in a West Country burr.

I assumed it came from the movies.

Apparently, it came primarily from character actor Robert Newton, who played Long John Silver in the ’50s. This was brought to my attention by the Slatest.

So, if you didn’t know before, now you know…

Robert Newton

Hollywood, you’ve got to give me a reason to keep watching

Over the weekend at my house, we started to watch two films nominated for Best Picture Academy Awards in the past year.

After 10 minutes or so each, we quit watching them. I have no desire to resume. Neither film gave me the slightest promise that there would be anything worth seeing if I would only waste more time on them.

First, we tried “American Hustle.”

It opens with a bloated Christian Bale going through a personal grooming ritual that is so odd that it takes a moment to realize what he is doing. And what he is doing is laboriously pasting a hunk of black hair to the top of his pate as filler, and then elaborately pasting a combover on top of that, at gravity-defying angles.

Then there is a scene with Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner. Bradley Cooper has a ridiculous permanent, and is dressed in clothes meant to give the spectacularly ugly duds on Bale a run for their money. In case you may be trying to ignore the clothes and the hair, Amy Adams points out how much Cooper is dressed like Bale. Or someone does. I’m not going to watch again to check.

Then enters Renner with a pompadour that would have embarrassed Elvis in the depths of his Vegas decadence. My wife points out, “Who wore a pompadour in 1978?” No one, I replied.

Then ensues a confusing argument in which every other word starts with F. Then, the film turns to flashback, showing us how Bale and Ms. Adams got together. You didn’t want to know, and as they tell you, you want to know less. There is nothing appealing about these people. Even Ms. Adam’s celebrated, exaggerated décolletage is off-putting after a couple of moments.

The film depicts these people as so ugly, so sad, so tawdry, so flawed, so tacky, so off-putting that every moment of watching them is painful. Oh, and I was an adult during this era. Yeah, the fashions were tacky. But this film wallows in ugliness to a point far, far beyond invoking an era. Our clothes were sometimes ridiculous, but beneath them we were still real people, people as fully, appealingly human as anyone today, or at any other time in human history. We were not the sum of off-putting fashions. As it seems everyone in this film is.

My wife was first to say she had seen enough. So I popped it out and tried “Nebraska.”

The very first gritty, windy, black-and-white image of a pathetic old man walking down a highway was decidedly unappealing, but I said, look — I expected this to be kind of a downer. But I’m hoping it’s leavened with some stuff that makes it rewarding to watch.

It wasn’t. Everyone in it, every single situation depicted, was completely depressing. No one had a reason to embrace or even, seemingly, to endure life. Even the usually delightful Bob Odenkirk was a complete bummer.

As with “Hustle,” the film seemed to be daring me to keep watching — slapping me in the face and saying, “Can you take it? Huh? Can you? Here’s some more! Slap!”

And I have no reason to take that.

I feel the alienation, but I will keep watching -- and be rewarded for it.

I feel the alienation, but I will keep watching — and be rewarded for it.

For some reason, irrelevantly, I started thinking about “The Graduate.” Remember the beginning? A depressed, almost catatonic Benjamin sitting on the plane, then riding the moving sidewalk in the terminal on his way to pick up his baggage, with “Sounds of Silence” playing? It was hip. It was arty. It was ironic. It was all about alienation. You were meant to sense Benjamin’s disconnection from his dispiriting surroundings.

But… you wanted to keep watching! There you were, stuck in the theater — you’d bought your ticket. Mike Nichols could have assumed that he had you for the whole 105 minutes. But he didn’t abuse that. He made you want to keep watching, and see what happened to Benjamin. Maybe it was just the Simon and Garfunkel — but you wanted to keep watching. And you were richly rewarded for doing so.

But the directors of these two films I gave up on over the weekend aren’t going to stoop to seek my approval, or even my submissive cooperation. Even though I’m sitting there in my TV room with four remotes at hand, with cable and Netflix streaming and iTunes and Amazon and all sorts of alternatives at my complete command, not to mention my not inconsiderable DVD collection — they just keep slapping me, poking me in the eye, trying to make me go away.

Well, they succeeded.

Ginger, get the popcorn! Bryan’s got ‘West Wing’ on HIS blog

leo argue

You tell ‘im, Leo!

Well, maybe it’s not all that exciting to y’all, but it is to me.

Go check it out.

Wow, they looked so much younger then! Pretending to be in the White House really ages you, doesn’t it?

I also note that back then, Bartlet was itching to use military power. In the clip Bryan uses, he and Leo are on opposite sides of the same argument they’re having just before Leo’s heart attack.

Of course, Leo’s right in both instances. Leo’s always right. Leo’s the one who should have been president. As the clip below demonstrates.

Yes, I’m now in the sixth season, and yes, the quality has declined somewhat. But I’m still enjoying it.

One beef, though: You ever notice the way people or plot lines would just evaporate, without a word spoken as to what happened? For instance, what happened to Sam Seaborn? He went West for a very brief special election, expecting to lose, and then… what? He’s been gone for a season or more now.

Seems like they could have made the slight effort to explain his absence…

I know what, lads! Try walking the OTHER way now…

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Ran across the above image on Pinterest today.

Seems a bit off, doesn’t it? Here’s what they were reaching for.

The website the Pin linked to didn’t offer any information beyond the headline, “Abbey Road Album Cover Outtakes.” You’d think there be a word or two about the photographer, etc.

But no. In this increasingly image-oriented world, too often we only get the pictures.

But I went and found this info elsewhere:

Iain Macmillan was a freelance photographer and a friend to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm wide-angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds.

Prior to the shoot, Paul McCartney had sketched his ideas for the cover, to which Macmillan added a more detailed illustration….

A policeman held up the traffic as Macmillan, from a stepladder positioned in the middle of the road, took six shots as the group walked across the zebra crossing just outside the studio.

The Beatles crossed the road a number of times while Macmillan photographed them. 8 August was a hot day in north London, and for four of the six photographs McCartney walked barefoot; for the other two he wore sandals.

Shortly after the shoot, McCartney studied the transparencies and chose the fifth one for the album cover. It was the only one when all four Beatles were walking in time. It also satisfied The Beatles’ desire for the world to see them walking away from the studios they had spent so much of the last seven years inside….

Of course, we are left to guess whether that’s accurate. But it sounds right. Notice how Paul was driving everything? By the end, he was the only one interested in doing things together as Beatles…

Hillary Clinton, goofing around with Frank Underwood

I was feeling pretty good about a Hillary Clinton candidacy the other day, but now that I see she’s so tight with Frank Underwood, I dunno…

I received this from the DCCC. And although the ostensible reason for it is to celebrate Bill Clinton’s birthday, I have a feeling that if you DO click on the invitation to “Sign President Clinton’s Birthday Card,” you’re going to get hit up for money.

Just call it an informed hunch…

Hill

The Dude as a Senate candidate

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For this to make sense, you sort of have to know that some folks in Montana have been talking up the idea of Jeff Bridges running for the U.S. Senate.

Armed with that, you are more likely to get this item on The Fix yesterday, headlined “The Jeff Bridges Senate campaign, a play in one act.” An excerpt:

Scene 1: Interior, a large house in Montana. BRIDGES enters and turns on the light. He is grabbed by a pair of INTRUDERS, dragged to the bathroom, and his head is thrust into the toilet.

INTRUDER: You better run for Senate, Bridges.

BRIDGES: (gurgling sounds)

VOICE: Run for Senate, Bridges.

BRIDGES: (gurgling)

They pull his head out of the toilet. BRIDGES doesn’t recognize the pair, nor does he know what the “DSCC” on their name badges means.

BRIDGES: (sighing) Does this place look like I’m a f***ing politician?

The room is decorated in a marijuana leaf motif. One of the intruders looks at the decor, then at Bridges, and then looks at the rug.

In spite of it all, as The Dude says to the Narrator later in the script, “The Dude abides, etc.”

The Narrator lays some homespun wisdom on The Dude.

The Narrator lays some homespun wisdom on The Dude.

What?!? You don’t think people got THIRSTY in 1924?

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ADCO‘s clients sometimes wonder why we want to make sure to have our own Brian Murrell present on photo or video shoots to direct the proceedings.

This is why. Even the best photographers and videographers, sticklers for detail, can make a mistake. It helps to have an independent (and skilled) eye overseeing the proceedings.

This mistake is painful. You know that everybody concerned strained to get every tiny detail exactly right — the costumes, the hairstyles, the fireplace, the vases, the clock.

And they almost succeeded. But then later had to remove this photo, taken with such loving care to promote the upcoming fifth season, from “Downton Abbey’s” Facebook page.

All because somebody involved was thirsty…

Who’s actually going to see all of these Hobbit movies?

Hobbit

I just saw a trailer for the third Hobbit movie, titled “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” (Here’s a link; I didn’t find the embed code right away, and wasn’t interested enough to keep looking.)

And I had to wonder, not for the first time: Who is paying to go see all three of these things?

I watched the first one — after it became available on Netflix. It was… about like the beginning of the book, only dragged way out.

Haven’t seen the second. But what I’m wondering is, where is Peter Jackson getting all the material? From that one slim little book?

It’s been many years since I read the book, and here’s what I remember: The Hobbit gets pulled into an adventure against his inclinations, and it involves dwarves and orcs and trolls and some giant spiders. He and the dwarves are on a quest to get something back from a dragon. The eventually do that, and go home. The one significance of the narrative to the imaginary history of Middle Earth is that Bilbo runs into Gollum, and obtains the One Ring, thereby setting the stage for the trilogy.

I don’t remember anything about a Battle of Five Armies. That sounds more like something out of Return of the King. It was a small story, an intimate story. Not a spectacle involving a CGI cast of thousands.

Basically, this just seems ridiculous. The three “Lord of the Rings” movies made sense. There were, after all, three books. But this was one book, one little adventure story, and I don’t see how it sustains three long films.

I like Tolkien. I’m not one of the fervent fans, but I like his stories. I’ve been a Martin Freeman fan since the original “The Office.”

But come on, people. What’s next — The Silmarillion, stretched into nine movies?

‘Beyond Belief': A most persistent earworm

This earworm may set some sort of record for me.

Last night, on my way to bed, I turned out the light in the kitchen. In the split-second before the room went dark, my eyes fell on a notebook, the cover of which was decorated with a picture of Alice. Lewis Carroll’s Alice, that is.

And this started running through my head:

So in this almost empty gin palace
Through a two-way looking glass
You see your Alice
You know she has no sense
For all your jealousy
In a sense she still smiles very sweetly
Charged with insults and flattery
Her body moves with malice
Do you have to be so cruel to be callous

And it persisted. I woke up with it. It nagged at me in the shower. It followed me to breakfast. I indulged it by listening to “Imperial Bedroom” on Spotify, and it stayed in my head all day.

Such persistence is, well, beyond belief…