Sunday, April 30, 2006


A West Wing Word

This weeks episode: 'The Last Hurrah'

Santos starts his day, he is greeted by cheering people on the street (as opposed to cheering street people) as he enters his motorcade, he is then rushed off to a meeting and an impromptu chat with the press. Vinick starts his day, retrieving the paper in front of his brownstone home in his bathrobe, then off to his Senate office (which is already is being packed up for his return to California) to make thank you phone calls to Senators, state party chairs, and big donor's to his campaign. He learns that his chief-of-Staff Shelia Brooks is taking a meeting about a job offer with the Senate Majority Leader (The GOP still control the upper house).

Later while the Santos's are having their children briefed about security by the secret service, and the Bartlets are on their way to Brussels for the G-8 Summit, Vinick is at his doctors having a physical. Still more time passes and Santos and his staff are having one of several meeting this episode in regards to filling cabinet posts, while Vinick is meeting with his lawyer to go over offers of things he can do after leaving the Senate. There are many corporations who would like Vinick to serve on their boards of directors, and he could make a lot of money for very little work, but isn't interested. Arnie does show some interest in guest lecturing at university's, but selects only those in swing states as places he'd be willing to take positions at. When Vinicks lawyer mentions this last fact to Shelia and Bob (who has stopped by at Vinicks request to go over the last exit poll numbers and further examine why he lost), the two confront him about his desire to run again in four years. While Vinick reports that his doctor informed him he is in excellent health both Bob and Shelia recognize that Arnold needs to let go of his dream, he'll be in his middle 70's during the next presidential election and just two old to get elected to a first term. Besides which his old running mate Ray Sullivan is a popular fella who is thought to have a good chance at the top job next time.

Helen Santos stops by C.J.'s office before going to meet the White House domestic staff. She has just come from a meeting in which the secret service has informed her that in order for her and the kids to stay in Houston to finish out the school year they'll have to turn their suburban street into a gated community. Helen has decided that is kind of excessive and instead they should just move the kids up to the White House in January when Matt takes office. So after her meeting with the staff the soon to be first couple go out to shop around for a good school for the children. This takes longer then expected however and thus forces the president- elect to push back a previously scheduled meeting with Vinick, who to kill time while waiting for the rescheduled meeting goes out to get some coffee and is disappointed when no one seems to recognize him while he is out.

An hour or so has passed and Helen has returned to the White House for a meeting with the official decorator and her first visit inside the Oval Office. Matt has returned to transition headquarters and meets with Vinick, who was expecting their get together to be merely a photo-opp. Instead Matt asks him if he'd consider being Vice-President, Arnold is surprised to say the least but after a few moments comes to the conclusion that the offer is merely part of a Santos stratagy. He informs the incoming President that he knows he would never take the offer and would just like to float the rumor that it had been extended so the Republican Senate will start talking about a quick confirmation of the new vice president. Then Santos can switch to his real pick (whom Vinick correctly assumes to be Baker), and pressure the Senate into giving the same quick confirmation hearings they expected have for Vinick, to the liberal Pennsylvania Gov. whom most Republicans hate. Vinick has also picked up on the good-cop bad-cop game that Bartlet and Santos are playing in regards to the situation in Kazakstahn.

After demonstrating his famed stratigic thinking and gift for diplomatic maneuvering Santos extends to Vinick the offer he really wanted to give him, to be the next Secretary of State. Experienced in foreign policy and well respected the world over Arnold Vinick would be perfect as President Santos's representative to the world, particularly since the two generally agree on foreign policy. Vincik isn't sure, initially refuses and then goes off to take some time to think about it. Bob and Sheila thinks its a great, nobel way for the Senator to continue his life of public service, and their arguments seem to have some effect on him. Santos meanwhile is having a hard sale when he brings his idea to the staff, he is non-the-less adamite about the offer despite the general opposition.

After Matt and Helen finaley settle on sending the kids to D.C.'s highest performing public school, the president-elect returns to OEOB to again meet with Vinick. Not fully comfortable with taking the position, but not wanting to let an opportunity like this go by, Vinick sets out a lot of conditions for his acceptance of the offer, to all of which Matt willingly consents. When he's still not sure Matt gives Vinick a copy of a recent briefing on the Kazick situation and ask for his analysis on Chinese demands regarding an oil-pipeline. We leave with Arnie giving Matt the benefits of his strategic thought and a strong sense that the two will sort things out and work well together in the future.

John Kenneth Galbrath: 1908-2006

John Kenneth Galbrath, liberal economist and writer who twice received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was a force in several administrations has passed away at the age of 97. Galbrath was also known for his singular wit and healthy cynicism about his job, you can read some of the quotes that helped establish this reputation by clicking here.

Double The President, Double The Laughs

Well the White House Correspondents Dinner was last night and that means the annual comedy bit (the intentional one anyway) by the leader of the free world. Just click here to enjoy the proceedings.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

DVD Saved These Video Stars


The Reagan-era nostalgia mood I got in this week prompted me to up Pure 80s: The DVD to the top of my netflix que. With selections such as "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles, "Shout" by Tears for Fears, and Dexy's Midnight Runners "Come on Eileen", I am reminded how visually static many of MTV's early videos were. Non-the-less good music and women using too much hairspray abound throughout this 1 hour collection. Fun as a lark.

Also viewed by me tonight: Charro. Elvis stars in this B-western concerning a gold-plated cannon, Highway to Heaven's Victor French co-stars.

Friday, April 28, 2006


Those of you who know me know that I am a big fan of the David Lynch, and am consequently pleased to be able to offer you some links to a few Lynch related clips. Jackson you may have remembered me telling you on a few occasions that Keifer Sutherland played a nerdy FBI agent in the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (click here for low-res trailer). Well I wasn't able to find a regular clip of him in the movie, but somebody did do an MST3K style dubbing of the famous 'coffee house scene', that more then gets his characters nerdy awkwardness across. In all seriousness Fire Walk With Me is acutely a very powerful film about child abuse, albeit laced in a lot of mysticism. While Mulholland Drive (Click here for high-res trailer) is and reminds my favorite Lynch movie, Fire is my second and Twin Peaks the series is my favorite of all of Lynchs work. Click here to watch the Twin Peaks title sequence, which is one of the longer ones for a network TV show, this particular clip leads into the season 2 opener which takes up where season one's 'who shot agent copper?' cliffhanger ended (ironically we don't find out who it was until near the end of the season, by which point in my first viewing of the series I'd almost forgotten he'd been shot at all). Finally though not related to Lynch I'm including a link to the Brockback to the Future trailer that Joe first informed me about (it's funny how many perfect scenes the trilogy provided for assembling this satire).

Twin Peaks compatibility test, if you can take this clip then you can take the series.

Heil Honey, I'm Home

Thanks to the wonder of the internet you and I can now have access to all sorts of things that probably shouldn't reach the light of day. As case in point I present the ill-advised British Comedy Heil Honey, I'm Home. Only a single episode of the program featuring Adolph, Eva and their Jewish neibourghs the Goldensteins was ever broadcast (and that's all I think was ever made), while it is a pretty accurate spoof of some 70's sitcoms it's just not something the public was going to embrace.
So from 1990 and presented in two parts it's Heil Honey, I'm Home:

Part 1
Part 2

Also worth seeing, and much shorter is this variation of the Perfect Strangers opening title sequence as done by a couple of college kids.

Ground Broken On Twin Falls Temple

Like the posts headline says ground has been broken on the Twin Falls Idaho Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Twin Falls will be Idaho's fourth LDS Temple as its completion is expected to come after that of the Rexburg Idaho Temple.

Also of note Elma Farnsworth, widow of television inventor Philo Farnsworth has passed away at the age of 97.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Classic HBO and Other 80's Stuff

I got in a bit of a nostalgic mood this evening and ended up searching 80's commercials on the internet. I found this great bumper that HBO used for about a decade or so. In the 1980's while living in Utah my folks subscribed to HBO, back when it was a very different network from what it is today. I have very vivid memories of this sequence that proceeded most any movie that was shown on the network. I hope that you enjoy it as well. Click Here (don't worry it loads real easy)

Also, remember Zak's sage career advice? Well here is a reminder.

I can't resist adding the title sequence of one of my favorite 80's cartoons, Count Duckula, which desperately needs to come out on DVD. Nor sadly can I resist posting the opening credits of the obscure family comedy The Hogans (which acutely had two titles for some reason as you'll see), this show was a staple in our household for years, and I especially remember the episode about the first Martin Luther King Day holiday.

Like Bill Moyers, But In Reverse

Well those who accuse Fox News of being a propaganda arm of the Bush administration are going to feel simultaneously validated and disappointed by the appointment of commentator Tony Snow as the new White House Press Secretary. Rumors that Snow was being offered the position have been floating around for weeks, but I didn't really think it would happen. Mr. Snow is taking on a big task with the Bushies in disarray and the Presidents approval rating averaging at a dismal 32%. However on his radio show I've heard Snow make a much stronger case for controversial administration decisions then I've ever heard come out of the White House, so he might just well be the right man for the job.

interesting Fact: In the late 1960's Richard Nixon wanted to tap Mike Wallace as his press secretary.

Duck Genealogy

I found this stuff online several months ago and have been meaning to post it. You see I seemed to have run into a dead end on my Duck family history work, but was lucky enough to find some helpful web sites that I think you'll enjoy. Now if I can only confirm to identity of Huey, Dewy, and Louies father.

Link 1
Link 2
Link 3
Link 4

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Devil and Mr. Van Cleve

A Movie Review

Heaven Can Wait
(1943) was not what I expected it to be, it is not the inspiration for the 1978 film staring Warren Beatty (that movie is a remake of the 1941 feature Here Comes Mr. Jordan), but rather a sentimental Ernst Lubitsch picture with some slight supernatural framing. Having died comfortably at 9:36 PM following a large and enjoyable dinner, Mr. Henry Van Cleve (national treasure Don Ameche) presents himself at Satans offices in Hell confident that is where he belongs. The courteous and surprisingly reasonable dark prince finding no obvious reason to let him in agrees to hear the story of the old mans life. Covering the period from his birth in the 1870's to his death in 1942, Mr. Van Cleve tells the story of his mortality with emphasis on his relationships with women. The most significant women in his life was his late wife Martha Strabel Van Cleve (dead celebraty of the month Gene Tierney in her first mother role), whom he stole away from his boorish cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn).

This is a movie about a man who thinks he's a worse person then he acutely is, granted he had a taste for the ladies and made his share of mistakes in life, but he was no monster, and on the all a likeable chap who loved his family. The story as I said is quite sentimental and very old timey, it plucks along at a leisurely pace, has likeable characters, and is generally a relaxing cinematic experience. Special note has to go to the always good Charles Coburn who is wonderful as Grandpa Hugo Van Cleve, as well as the uncredited Clarence Muse who as black butler Jasper is better then Benson. This movie also has excellent use of color, an aspect of film aesthetics' that we pay little attention to now days. A fine if not overwhelming good film.

1,000 Visits

Today my blog received its 1,000th hit since I got my counter in late February, to celebrate I'm posting this picture of telegraph inventor Samuel Morse.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Josh & Sam

A West Wing Word

Episode: Transition
Josh is working on assembling his White House staff. We see him on a plane, then in a chauffeured car, then in an office building in southern California. Josh walks in on Sam who is in the middle of some kind of meeting, evoking strong echoes of the similar meeting interruption 8+ years ago when Mr. Lyman recruited Mr. Seaborn away from a successful career in law to work for the Bartlet campaign. Sam excuses himself from the meeting and he and Josh go to a plaza cafe to talk things out. Sam lost his 2003 race for congress and is now back in law and happier at his current firm then he was at his previous, he is also engaged to be married to a fellow attorney. Josh offers Sam the job of Deputy Chief of Staff, "Your me to my Leo". Sam is happy where he is in life right now but Josh seems determined, he knows that it won't take long for his old friends resistance to wear down. Driving back to the airport Josh calls Donna, who is helping Mrs. Santos pick out a temporary residence for the incoming first family to live in during the transition (I guess now they're living in a hotel or something when in Washington). Josh and Donna have a brief and awkward conversation then go back to what they were doing.

Matt Santos enters the White House Situation Room for a briefing on military preparations for the Kazakhstan campaign. C. J., Secretary of Defense Hutchinson and National Security Advisor Dr. Nancy McNally (read Condi Rice) are there to brief him. They explain about troop and supply shipments and we are reminded that the purpose of the military commitment is to force China and Russia to the negotiating table (so far this hasn't worked, "but at least they've stopped advancing"). Santos expresses his fustration at the whole enterprise and leaves after only a couple of minutes. After he's gone Dr. McNally causally mentions to C.J. that the NSA has been tapping all high level communications between the U.S. and Russia and China, and that the President-Elect said nothing inappropriate during his recent conversation with the Russian President (part of the courtesy calls the newly elected President is expected to make to the leaders of the G8).

Josh returns home to his apartment after his trip to Cali, Donna arrives and the two have 'relations'. Early the next morning Josh is in his living room working on 'the education plan' when Donna comes in preparing to leave. They have 'the talk' and Donna tells Josh they have four weeks to define their relationship, if they can't do it by then its not worth their time and they'll have to break-up. Later that morning Josh is in the transition offices with Santos, they talk about White House Consuel Oliver Babbish as a possible nomanie for Attorney General as well as some other matters, Mr. Lyman then has to leave for a meeting with C.J., and after he's gone the President-Elect tells Ronna that he would like to place a call to the Chinese President.

Josh and C. J. have their meeting, he tells her that the soon to be first family has decided that they'd like to move into Blair House for the transition, that he offered Sam a job, and then they talk a little about inauguration plans. Several hours after the meeting with Josh, C. J. and Dr. McNally enter the Oval Office to tell President Bartlet that in his recent conversation with the Chinese President Santos was heard questioning the appropriateness of the Administrations military commitment to Kazakhstan. Our Ms. Craig is so upset that she calls over to the transition office and has Josh interrupted during an interview to fill a position on the incoming economics team. Josh goes over to C.J.'s office again, she chews him out, he leaves and calls Sam again inviting him out to D.C. to talk. Josh then goes to tell Santos off for getting out of line with Bartlet administrations policy before even taking office. Then its off to a meeting with Lou where Mr. Lyman offers her the job of Communications Director (Tobys old gig), a position she is not overly excited to take as the recent Santos win means she can now triple her fee as a private consultant. Meanwhile Helen Santos ask Donna to be her chief of staff, a surprised Donna asks for time to think about it.

The next day Sam arrives and Josh introduces him as the new Deputy Chief of Staff before he even has a chance to officially accept. Donna tells Josh about Mrs. Santo's offer and reminds him that time is ticking away on their relationship defining window. Josh goes back into his office looking for his blackberry and goes into a fit when he finds out Otto has it (having forgotten he gave it to him to hold ten minutes ago). Sam witnessing the increasingly ragged looking Josh have a mini-breakdown goes into his office and gives an ultimatum, either Josh Lyman take a weeks vacation or he will refuse to work in the new administration (hey that rhymes). We cut to Santos in the waiting room outside the Oval talking to the Presidents secretary Debbie. The President arrives and he and Matt enter the office, here it is reveled that Santos and Bartlet are working together to play a little game of geo-political 'good cop, bad cop', and they have a plan meant to motivate the Chinese and Russians into negotiations by making it look like an impatient Matt Santos would be willing to use U.S. troops to force their armies out of Kazakhstan so that he would be able to re-focus on his domestic agenda. This perception is thought by the two to be enough to make both parties more then willing to negotiation with the current Bartlet administration, only time will tell.

In closing we go back to the transition offices where Josh introduces Matt to Sam and says he will be 'covering' for him while he takes a much needed vacation (presumably to the Caribbean somewhere). We leave with Josh and Donna on the plane together and Mr. Lymans unattended blackberry ringing back in his office.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


A Boxed-set Review

Seinfeld c0-creator and inspiration for the character George Larry David is the creator and star of the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm. While Seinfeld was iconicly New York Enthusiasm is very much about Los Angeles. In the series David plays himself much as Jerry Seinfeld did in his program, and indeed both shows have a similar sense of humor, only Curb Your Enthusiasm by virtue of being on pay-cable is able to present it in a highly concentrated form that would never get by on 'the Networks'. Basically the show is about bad karma, Larry through virtue of his innate selfishness and hang-ups over life's unwritten rules will inevitably make a poor decision in each episode that will come back to bit him in the end. For example when he refuses to pick up a golf ball for a guy on the course because he is wearing an annoying hat, he ends up needing that same guys assistance later on to get directions. Also in a Seinfeld type manner Larry will obsess over the little niceties such as what is the cut-off time for calling someone with kids, and how long of an appearance are you obligated to make at a party you do not want to attend. Rounding out the cast are Cheryl Hines as Larrys wife Cheryl and Jeff Garlin as his agent Jeff Green. Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of the only shows that can make me uncontrollably laugh aloud, but simultaneously has reduced me to hiding my face on several occasions. This program is all about the awkward. Not for everybody but very funny Curb Your Enthusiasm is strong comedy.

Alida Valli Dead at 84

In Memory

Italian actress Alida Valli best known for her work in The Third Man and The Paradine Case has passed away from undisclosed causes in Rome at the age of 84. While her American film career was relatively brief Alida (who was sometimes billed simply as Valli in the credits), continued to work in Italian cinema into the 21st century. Her best known Italian work would probably be Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900. Her and her family were Fascists resistors in World War II era Italy.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

William Sloane Coffin: 1924-2006

In Memory

Rev. William Sloan Coffin perhaps the best known non-black minister of the American political left has died at the age of 81. Coffin made a name for himself in the 1960's with his active opposition to the Vietnam war, he had also been in opposition to the current war in Iraq though ill health had prevented him from making public appearances in that capacity. I write this partially because I just learned today who the Reverend Coffin was in an article published in The Nation (published just a day or two before he died) lamenting that no one like Sloan Coffin had emerged to prominence in the religious left in decades! I can really say, Rev. William Sloan Coffin I hardly knew you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The First Out Of The Gate

Well the first official announcement by a member of either major party has been made in regards to the more then 30 month off 2008 presidential election. The candidate, is 75 year-old former Democratic Senator for Alaska Mike Gravel. This relatively unknown politician has next to no chance of getting the nomination but apparently wants to make sure he gets in his share of media time, you know before he dies. Anyway you have got to visit his website because it is really cool, a miniature Mike Gravel will walk onto his home page and start talking to you, so make sure your volumes on. Enjoy.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Leo's Wake

A West Wing Word

This weeks episode: "Requiem"
Setting: The Friday After the election.

This episode begins with a montage of our characters preparing to go to Leo's funeral, we can hear the sermon from Leo's very Catholic funeral overplaying these images. The funeral sermon allows us to segway into the acutely service ("More of a celebration really"), and the chapel is PACKED with old guest characters from the series. I mean it was really quite moving to see all those people again, they are all paying respect not just to the character Leo, but to the man who played him, John Spencer. Nancy McNally was there, Leo's daughter and her husband (this is who I am assuming the 6th pall bearer was), the three Bartlet Girls, two Vice-Presidents, Danny, Amy, Ainsley, Debbie, and of course Margret, among others. The pall bearers we know include President Bartlet, President-Elect Santos, Charlie, Josh, and Goodwin. Toby of course is also there (along with his ex-wife, whose re-election status has not yet been established), but do to the crimanel investigation he can't really socialize with anybody else. Toby stays in the chapel after the service hopping to wait out the reporters outside, Charlie stops by to talk to him and they have a sweet little conversation before the two leave the building together.

Josh and Santos return to their new transition headquarters at the OEOB. Matt has put Goodwin in charge of the selection committee for a new Vice-President, meanwhile he has arranged meetings with the three candidates for the Speakership (remember the Democrates have just regained control of the House). First we meet Congressman Fields, a liberal he is one of Matts best friends from the House and represents his bordering district in Houston. We then meet Congressman Selner a 'Blue Dog' from who knows where, who is currently in the lead for the position and is quite blatant about his intentions of always keeping their congressional majority (which they only have by four seats and haven't had in ten years) a higher priority then the Santos agenda if elected. Matt wants to use the 'honeymoon period' starting in January to pass lobbying reform, believing that if lobbyist can no longer influence legislation with campaign dollars this will unclog the system and make it easier for him to get the rest of his agenda passed later. We then meet Congressman Marino, who is 80+ votes behind in the count and is mostly a goofball brought in for comic relief. Matt would like to call in some favors and put Fields over-the-top, but Josh says that its bad politices to get involved in the speakers race and it will just alienate representatives whose votes they will later need.

At the White House people are starting to arrive for Leo's wake. C.J. and Danny have a conversation about how they had sex the other night and would like to do it again that evening, however their plans are ruined when Donna asks Ms. Craig if she can bunk at her place because she's loaned her apartment to someone else. Donnas staying at C.J.'s also puts a hold on Josh's plans for her that evening (The West Wing season 7: "The Sex Season"). Speaking of Donna, her and Charlie have a conversation in his new office (formerly Annabeths office, formerly Tobys Latina assistants office, formerly Will's office, formerly Sam's office). It seems that Josh had yet to get her a solid position in the new White House staff, Charlie seems to think this is slacking on Joshs part but Donna knows it has more to do with the not-fully developed parameters of their new relationship. We also see Will and Russell have a brief conversation and learn that Leo (like Spencer) was only 58 at the time of his death.

Jed arrives at the wake were he immediately proceeds to mask his pain at Leo's passing by putting up a strong front and telling funny stories about his adventures with the late Mr. McGarry. This is something the President will continue to do that evening during a more intament and informal gathering of close friends in the White House residence. Abby however is more reserved throughout the proceedings, she knows exactly what Jed is doing and I don't think she believes its completely healthy. After the Wake Ainsley (Emily Procter) our blond republican dream girl from the second season comes up to C.J. to ask her about a job. It seems our Ms. Hayes would be interested in rejoining the White House council's office in the next administration and would C.J. to put in a good word, apparently she is not happy in her current position at the Hoover Institute.

Amy Gardner (Mary-Louise Parker) catches up with Josh after the wake. She wants to talk with him about who they are considering as the new vice-president. She is pushing a congresswomen named Carol Gelsy from Florida, apparently she has twice as much legislative experience as Santos, is popular on both sides of the aisle and would help in Florida during the re-election run four years hence. Though Amys real agenda here seems to be that they could get a women into the vice-presidency and the public would just accept it, they wouldn't have to sell the idea (which is harder to do) like they would during a real campaign. Josh says that Gelsy is 2nd on the list, behind Gov. Baker whom he thinks is the right choice (current VP Russell had also offered to stay on in the job). Josh agrees to let Amy meet with the President-Elect, but before they do she tries to set him up with a friend of hers, saying that its time he settle down, she is completely oblivious to Donna and Joshs new relationship. When Ms. Gardner and Santos finally do meet, he tells her that his will already be a paradigm shifting administration and he can't afford to start staffing it like "it's Noah's Ark". Instead he offers her the job as head of legislative affairs, challenging Amy (who seems much more shrill now then she did when a semi-regular on the show) to 'stop casting stones and start trying to build something'. This episode ends with a hard to read sequence of Josh leaving the White House and looking back at the building.

Next Week: Sam's Return.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Better Easter Post

Well I'm just killing time right now waiting for my brother and sister-in-law to bring my nephew over for a late mini-Easter egg hunt. I felt obligated to post something for Easter, so I had previously put the image in the post just below this one up, but as I have more time now I can take some time to ramble. First off, I seem to be having a predilection for decidedly non-LDS images of the resurrection today, I'm not huge on Mormon art and while the stuff posted here isn't my favorite iconography at least it is a little different. I had a different Easter today, went to a rare 'morning service' outside of the Boise Temple this AM, I was very cold (should have layered more). I guess I was so visibly shaking that at one point a women offered me a blanket, I declined and acutely stopped shivering for awhile. I guess that my sense of embarrassment is stronger then my sense of cold. Anyway it was nice as something different to do. Since I was out anyway went down to the Comm building at Boise State to record my radio show for next week. I had an Easter show that was to broadcast today but instead the University Pulse people (re)-broadcast a show I did two weeks ago. At least I'm assuming it was a rebroadcast, as two weeks ago was conference and I didn't get to listen to any of my show that week. I don't know how they messed that up but they did, they broadcast part 2 of my Irving Berlin tribute last week, part one again this week, and as my Easter show is now no good they will broadcast part 3 next week. The rest of today has been dominated by the unfortunate intrusion of homework on the Sabbath, and a barb-a-que ribs Easter dinner (hey, I think my sister planned it). Anyway my posting will probably be a little scantly for the foreseeable future as the end of the semester is coming up. In May I have a three-week summer school class that may turn out to be time intensive, but after that I should have 2 1/2 months or so to live the life of an 19th Century English land owner (very little to do), and post a lot on this hobby of a blog of mine. Anyway, got to spell-check this sucker before the visitors arrive, so Nate out.

Happy Easter

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Arthur Winston: 1906-2006

In Memory

Arthur Winston, just recently retired after 72 years working for Southern California Rapid Transit, has died in his sleep at the age of 100. I first encountered Winstons story less then two weeks ago and it really impressed me. To learn more about the man I suggest clicking on this link. (This is a picture of him at age 99!)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Movie Reviews

Movies Reviewed: The Public Enemy, Angles with Dirty Faces, and White Heat.

Now I had seen Cagney do drama (Man of a Thousand Faces), comedy (One,Two, Three), and musical (Yankee Doodle Dandy) and all quite well, but until recently had never seen him in the genre for which he is most famous, namely the 'gangster picture'. So to rectify this situation I netflixed the three gangster titles listed above. The first is the most arch-typical of the genre, the second a gangster picture with heart, and the last a valedictory gangster film that has a little of just about everything in it. All are fine examples of the kind of role that really established James Cagneys in the industry and for which he will always be best remembered despite the great versatility of his long career.

The Public Enemy was the film that put him on the map. Originally cast in the role of Tom Powers buddy Matt Doyle, he was switched to the lead a few weeks before shooting began do to his great success opposite George Arliss in The millionaire (which for some reason is listed after The Public Enemy on imdb). This 1931 feature still holds up remarkable well with memorable and innovative direction by William A. Wellman. Watching this pre-production code film you might be surprised with how contemporary it feels, while it shows little in the way of acutel 'sex and violence' there presence is heavily implied and felt. There is also a bit character in this movie who comes across as very gay, something I just didn't expect to see in a Cagney gangster picture.

Like many of the gangster pictures of its time The Public Enemy both glorified its subjects while attempting to use them as morality lessons. Following the rise and eventually fall of street hood Tom Powers, the Cagney characters larceny and wickedness is counterpointed by the behavior and utter virtue of his brother, World War One vet Mike Powers (Donald Cook), with their torn mother Ma Powers (Beryl Mercer) brought in to further play-up the pain that a life of crime can bring to ones family. Of course even in these pre-production code times the crooked Tom can not be allowed to get away with his evil doing, and he is humbled, brought-down and punished in a real 'hit home' manner (pardon the pun for those who have seen it). It is interesting that our leads demise is brought on indirectly by the randomness of life, for it is the death of gangster 'Nails' Nathan (Leslie Fenton), in of all things a horse-back riding accident, that triggers the films climatic gang war. Jean Harlow is here, a sex-symbol whose then popular statues I don't fully understand, as well as frequent frequent Cagny co-star Joan Blondell, and the infamous 'grapfruit scene'. While similar story wise to the Edward G. Robinson starrier of the previous year Little Caesar, this film is more fluid and technically superior to the later as well as containing the better performances.

Angles with Dirty Faces is the best and most memorable of the three films I saw. James Cagney and Pat O'Brien are child hood friends who do to pure chance grow up to be on opposite sides of the law. Cagney is William 'Rocky' Sullivan a notorius hood who has just gotten out of jail, while Pat is Father Jerome 'Jerry' Connelly pastor of their boyhood church. Ann Sheridan plays Laury Ferguson, the widow of a small time crook turned social worker who is a love interest for Cagney. A pre-Maltese Falcon Humphrey Bogart plays Rockys crocked lawyer James 'Jim' Frazier, while George Bancroft is Mac Keefer the kingpin who control's the cites underworld. Also notable in this film is the presence of 'The Dead End Kids' a group of young actors who had brought in by Warner Brothers to reprise their stage roles from the hit Broadway play 'Dead End'. The 'Kids' sustainability would be assured by their casting in Angels, and they would continue to appear in vehicles of continualy decreasing quality, as a group and apart, at several studios over the ensuing years. Leo Gorcey being the most memorable of the group.

Angels story of friends divided by cirumstance is an iconic one that still resonates, and in this telling has earned a endearing place in our popular culture. In a sense I had seen this movie before because its template was used, right down to the child hood train sequence, in an episode of the Warner produced Batman cartoon of the 1990's. Angels with Dirty Faces was also the favorite movie of the Robbie Coltrain character in the British crime investigation series Cracker.
The most talked about aspect of the movie of course is its semi-ambiguous ending which features a powerful performance by Cagney on his way to the electric chair. To this day its meaning is debated.

Cagney didn't like to be type-cast and for a long period refused to make more gangster pictures, but he returned to the genre triumphantly for an inspired performance in one of its later entries. White Heat really does have a little bit of everything, in addition to being a gangster picture its also a police procedural, caper feature, prison picture, revenge saga, film noir, psycho-drama and epic tragedy. Cagney's Arthur 'Cody' Jarrett is unlike his previous gangster characters, no matter how mean, because he's simply crazy. Emotionally unstable and mother-obsessed Cody as an animal, capable of being your friend one minute and bitterest enemy the next. Giving us a character it might well have been impossible to top it is no wonder that Cagney retired from this kind of picture, save for some lose plays on his earlier persona in a few later pictures.

I really did get into these movies and intend to see more of their like in the future. The gangster fim is a part of our film heritage that any serious movie fan should take some time and invest in, as they really don't make them like this any more.

Monday, April 10, 2006

"The Same Night Awaits Us All"

A West Wing Word

This weeks episode: 'Election Day Part II' (the title of this blog entry is the translation of Leo's Latin campaign slogan, and while it refers to the unbearableness of election night it also serves as a reminder of the inevitableness of death).

We open on Bruno and Josh giving dueling interviews to the media attempting to spin the continuing closeness of the election. After these interviews are done (in which the two characters are acting very calm and assured) we return to campaign craziness. Josh is pulled aside by two member from the White House 'Transition Team' (kind of jumping the gun) who want to talk with him about changes they would like to be made in the Congressman acceptance speech. Feeling this is something he will not want to talk about, Josh asks Donna to come back and 'save' him after two minutes before he goes to speak to the two. When Donna fails to do this, and after he has completed his talk with the transition team reps, he goes to hunt her down and find out what happened. When Donna greets him with a somber face Josh thinks something has happened with the election returns, then she tells him that Annabeth found Leo unconscious in his hotel room and he's being rushed to the hospital.

Back at the White House C. J. gets the news about Leo's apparent heart attack and must go and tell the President. Jed has just flown back in to Washington from New Hampshire, he tells C.J. when she enters the Oval Office that it was just two awkward being at his daughters home and watching his son-in-law lose his House race (something the President says Doug richly deserves to lose). Jed is understandably shocked to hear about what happened to Leo and starts making plans to fly down to Texas to be at his bedside.

Back at Santos Election-Night HQ the staff and the Congressman are trying to figure out what to do, Matt wants to issue a statement but some of the staff want to keep things hush-hush because they are afraid that Leo's illness could have a negative effect on the still open voting in the western states. Josh and Donna head to the hospital to check on Leo only to be greeted by a tear soaked Annabeth how tells them: "He died". At about this time Minnesota is called for Santos and Ohio for Vinick. It is not long before word of Leos death gets out, first to those who knew him (his daughter Mallory was at the hotel for election night goings on), and then to the media. We see a lovely montage of people reacting and I found myself quite moved, especially by the chocked back tears of Margaret, Leo's longtime personal secretary who is now working for C.J. at the White House. This is also an especially sad moment for Annabeth who had grown quite close to Leo during the campaign acting almost like his personal assistant. The writers had been hinting at a possible May-December romance between the two, a story line which of course had to be discontinued after actor John Spencers similarly unexpected death late last year.

At Vinick HQ members of his staff think the Leo's death might have saved them in the election, and even propose using it as grounds for a lawsuit should the Senator lose (the logic being that, and this is as simply as I can state it though I'm sure its really more complicated then this, that electing Santos without Leo is a form of false advertising). Back in Texas Santos is meeting with a bunch of high Democractic muckity-mucks discussing how to handel the situation. It is suggested that Santos could come out and name a new V.P. choice, something he dosn't want to do yet. Someone else reminds him that the party by-laws dictate that in the event of a V.P. candidates death the DNC gets to name his replacement. It is also suggested that Santos should wait until after his inauguration to name a new VP under the provisions of the 22nd Amendment, this would stifle any real legal challenge to the appointment from disgruntled Republicans. Lou interrupts them all to insist that the Congressman go down stars and make a statement, which Matt does though he has to interrupt '(the) Foo Fighters' who are on stage. Santos gives one of his famous reassuring speechs and we see Leo's death looming large on Josh, who has wanted to make Mr. McGarry Vice-President ever since Hoynes resignation in 2003.

Back at the White House Jed reminisces with C.J. about Leo and says that the first time they meet they argued about economic policy. We then cut back to Campaign news and find that a late shift in voting towards Vinicks favor has occurred in the western states, however this swing comes to late for the Republicans in general who have now lost control of the House (something the Democrates were never able to accomplish during all of Bartlets previous time in office). As the night drags on the usually Republican state of Texas is eventually called for Santos by a slim margin (Vinick on the other hand won the traditionally Democratic states of Vermont and Main). When Santos wins him home state the staff breaks out in a chorus of 'Deep in the Heart of Texas'. Donna goes to tell Josh about this victory and finds him in Leo's hotel room looking at the small everyday objects he left behind (shoes, glasses) that bespeak of a life cut short, (he was apparently dressing for the election party when the heart attack occurred).

At late surge in Califorina puts Vinick over the top in his homestate, but only by about 80,000 votes. Its now all down to Oregon and Nevada, and both sides are considering their legal options should they lose. Bruno and the Stephen Root character sit down and talk at Vinick HQ, Stephen would like to go into the political consulting business with Bruno no matter who wins. Bruno says that after this election he's going to retire, go back to his home in Essex county New York and maybe plant flowers. Its also been nice in these Vinick scenes to see Patrica Richardson back as an informal advisor and friend to the Senator. Oregon Then goes to Santos, and everyone waits for the Nevada results.

C.J. awakens the President at about 4 or 5 in the morning, reminding him that he asked her to do so when they had a winner. She softly smiles and we cut to a Santos victory celebration, they won Nevada by 30,000 votes. Vinick decides not to contest the election saying he'll only be either a loser or a winner nothing in between. Arnie then goes on to make some rather wise comments about how sometimes the public doesn't decide, circumstance, history, or fate decides, and while he is really disappointed he accepts his lose. The Senator then Calls Santos to concede. Matt and Helen take the stand in Houston, he gives another good speech, praises Vinick, and reminds everyone it was a close election and the whole nation needs to pull together. Josh in back up in the 'control room', he finishes marking their election map then turns to a bulletin board covered in campaign pictures, many featuring Leo, and says a quite 'Thanks boss.' We fade out, the final election tally in Santos 272 Electoral Votes, Vinick 266.

Because of time issues I can not now get into an analisys of the 2006 campaign, explore the implications of a Santos presidency, or write a proper obit for Leo, all things I hope to be able to do later (I've only got about a month left in the semaster and have a lot of things demanding my daylight hours). I did however want to mention my choice for the new VP. While Barryhill might seem the obvious 'big name' choice for this slot, or even Democratic Senate head Trippelhorn, my vote goes to Jack Buckland. Buckland was a former US Olympian and Heisman Trophy winner who was elected Gov. of traditionaly Republican Indiania. Buckland almost challanged Bartlet for the 2002 Democratic Presidental nomination from the political center, but Josh helped broker a deal that prevented this and eventully made him Secretary of Labour (the same cabainte post Leo held in the Lassiter Administration). I belive he would bring some of the same things McGarry had to the table and would be a popularly acceptiable choice given the closeness of the election. In the end though well just have to see if the show even answer the VP replacment question.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Death of the Telegram

Western Union sent out its last telegram message a few months ago and that event marked a sad day for fans of archaic communication technologies. NPR did a neat little piece on this technologies passing that you can access via this link.

Two Guys, A Girl, And A Plastics Deal

The Billy Wilder Centennial

is probably the most well-known Wilder film I had yet to see before last night, it is also his most successful romance, and I'm saying this as an utter devotee of The Apartment. It is the story of two rich men who both fall in love with the daughter of the family chauffeur. The daughter is Audrey Hepburn, who as Sabrina Fairchild grew up in the shadow of the vast Larrabee estate and was stricken at a young age with a love for the youngest Larrabee child, David. David is played by Wilder favorite William Holden, returning to work with the director who revitalized his career just a year after his Oscar win for Stalage 17. David is an irresponsible play-boy who never really noticed Sabrina until after her transformative return from cooking school in Paris. When David decides to forgo his 4th marriage, this time to the daughter of wealthy businessman whose support is vital to the company's landing a successful plastics merger, so that he can run off with Sabrina, his brother is forced to intervene.

Playing the part of older brother Linus is Humphrey Bogart, in his middle-50's he seems an unlikely suitor for the waffish young Audrey Hepburn, but it works in this picture. Linus ensures that David experience a little 'accident' that puts him out of commission for a while, and then attempts to romance Sabrina himself so as to save the plastics deal. For those of you who might think Bogart mis-cast as a wealthy Long Island born businessman, its important to remember that Humphry, cragy features and all, came from a weal-to-do New York family and was going to be a doctor before catching the acting bug. The slow formation of Linus and Sabrinas mutual love in the film is brought about in subtle and intricately constructed ways, and despite its seeming unlikelihood feels more real them most any other romance I've seen in a motion picture.

This is a strong little cast in a beautiful and simple film that seems a real break from the kind of slightly callused stuff Wilder was doing in this period. The director in fact seems to be letting us all know that inside that cynical exterior he's a real softy, and I find myself wondering how much of his take on this movie (which comes form the Samuel Taylor play) was inspired by his deep love for his much younger wife Audry. Sabrina was remade in 1995, and though I haven't seen it I can't imagine it topping the original. Billy Wilders Sabrinia is an A1 romance enjoyable for even those who are not huge on the genre, and thusly comes highly recommended by me.

Also seen by me last night:

  • The Thirteenth Floor: Now I was intrigued by the concept of this film when I first learned of it back in 1999. In the movie computer scientists have created an exact replica of 1937 Los Angeles on the 13th floor of a city high-rise. In short The Thirteenth Floor is an attempt at Film Noir by way of The Matrix. This movie promises much but delivers little, at least part of this is due to the trailer which gives away far to much. You start out the movie knowing exactly where its going and what the twist is, your just a little short on the details. It reminded me of watching The Boys From Brazil, you know those Nazi's are cloning little Hitlers from the start, it just takes Sir Laurence so *#%! long to figure it out! None of the characters in the movie is all that interesting and the casts acting is sub-par, this is especially true of Vincent D'Onofrio's two one-note characterizations. However Dennis Haysbert is in it, and when President Palmer is stuck in Los Angeles you just know craziness is about to ensue. The Thirteenth Floor has craziness aplenty, but little else worth recommending.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Catholic Movies

While on the IMDB yesterday I was amused to find this cool 'Films of Faith' set being advertised. I say amused because it is something of an inside joke in my family about my love for Catholic theamed movies. Now I have been a 'Mormon' all of my life, I don't have any plans on converting to Catholicism, but I must say that I am a fan. Like Catholics, Mormons live with a faith that is very much wedded to an institutional church, which leads to a certain amount of blessings and a certain amount of disappointment. Human institutions regardless of how divine their mandate, are simply going to screw-up on a regular basis because they are staffed by humans! Much of the protestant world has abandoned strong institutional loyalties, so many of the issues that effect Catholics and Mormons in the area of organizational dynamics are not that big a problem for say a Methodist or Baptist. There have been many great 'Catholic' movies that deal with the issues of faith and church and the conflict that can often rise between them, a subject matter that Mormon cinema has yet to seriously tackle with the possible exception of Brigham City. So I must turn to Catholic film to find cinematic solace in this area and would just like to list a few of my favorites: The Shoes of the Fisherman (Pope Kiril almost makes me want to convert), The Cardinal (underrated Preminger) and The Song of Bernadette (under rated Vincent Price). I'm looking forward to many more great Catholic films to come.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

West Hollywood


The 1970's where by far the strongest decade for the work of Mel Brooks, and while I had seen most of his films of that era until tonight my major oversight was Blazing Saddles. A 'spot-on' spoofing of films about the American west from John Ford to Sergio Leoni there are a few good belly laughs in this picture. The most delightfully subversive aspect of the film though is its look at the stereotyping and casual racism that mark both the real old west and much of the historic western genre. The plot deals with a black man (Cleavon Little) appointed by a an inept politician (Mel Brooks) at the behest of a corrupt swindler (Harvy Korman) as the sheriff of a small western town. The villain hopes that the presence of a black sheriff will alienate the towns folk and make it easyer for him to run the locals off of their own property so he can make money in a railroad scam. Of course the plot itself isn't that important, as with all Brooks films its the comic performances and the gags that count. Madline Kahn is great as a Marlene Dietrich-style saloon girl, right down to the low German accent and promanite use of her legs. Young Frankenstein is still probably the best Brooks film, though this movies 'western brawl in the Warner Brother studio' sequence is arguably the funniest thing he's ever done. Finally notice must go to Slim Pickins for so masterfully making fun of his own persona.

Also seen by me recently:
  • The Fifties- Taken from journalist David Halberstam's book of the same title, this 1997 History Channel documentary series explores the zeitgeist of one of the most mis-understood decades of the 20th Century. Over seven episodes topics examined include teen culture, sexuality, advertising, the beatnik's, race relations and McCarthyism. Generally informative and entertaining, though some episodes do tend to drag, this is a good introduction to the era and would be perfect for high school use. The one area in which I must find fault with Mr. Halberstam and the producers is their over focus on the 50's as 'pathing way' for the 60's. While a lot of what exploded during the 60's was building up steam in the 50's, you almost get the sense that the makers of this series felt they had to justify taking a look at the decade based on later events. The fifties stands on its own as a fascinating era to explore, no excuses are needed. Narrated by Edward Herrman.
  • Erin Brockovich- Julia Roberts and Albert Finny make an entertaining team in this inspiring Academy Award winner based on a true story. I watched this in my 'environmental communication' class and quite enjoyed, though I am aware that some things about this movie and about Ms. Brockovich herself have been questioned by John Stossel and others.

Katie Couric to leave Today Show

Katie Couric announced today that she will be leaving her position as co-host of NBC's Today Show to take a major position at CBS News. Couric who became 'Americas sweetheart' during her 15 years as Today's female lead, will replace Bob Schieffer as host of The CBS Evening News and contribute to that networks venerable 60 Minutes news program. While Katies established TV persona doesn't exactly fit the traditional model of a national evening news anchor, lets not forget that both Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw had also been morning show hosts before assuming their now iconic news anchor status. As rumors of Katies departcher for CBS had been floating around for about a year it is expected that NBC will be announcing her replacement on Today in the very near future.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Exit Polls or The Waiting Game

A West Wing Word

We open up on election eve, Josh, Donna and most of the Santos Campaign senior staff are at the hotel in Houston. We learn that Ronna (not to be confused with Donna) is a lesbian and that most of the senior staff is involved in various 'campaign flings.' Josh and Donna go to bed together for the first time. Back at Vinick headquarters in California, Bruno has brought a young women up to their offices for an early election day fling. Bruno seems to use campaigns as an excuse to go after younger women, we saw him do something similar after the Bartlet re-election victory in 2002. Later in the episode Bruno states that its one of his election day 'good luck' traditions.

The Santos's arrive in Houston after an election eve rally in L.A., after voting they return to the house and Matt acutely has some free time for a change. So used to always working and having to do three things at once Matt doesn't know what to do with himself: "What am I going to do all day?" Mrs. Santos has an idea and in accordance with this episodes real theme they go up to the bedroom. Vinick meanwhile is doing some last minute campaigning in California after going to his home town of Santa Paula to vote. Last minute campaigning in your home state is usually not a good sign by the way.

Josh tries to rally the troops at Santos HQ with a not very effective little speech and then proceeds to try and micro-manage election day operations, despite his staffs constant reminder that they have everything under control. We learn that it raining in Boston and Santos workers are providing umbrellas for voters, and that team Santos is afraid that Gov. Ritchies Republican replacement in Florida Gov. Swenson, is somehow going to make things difficult for their volunteers there. Josh goes down stars to the hotel ball room to check on preparations for that nights party but is called back up to look at the first exit polls. It seems that Republican values voters are staying at home and that Santos is acutely competing in the south, though their New England numbers are less then they had hoped for. Josh keeps looking at the numbers and while they indicate they are winning he keeps thinking that something isn't right. (Meanwhile back in California Bruno is thinking the same thing.) After Josh has another his fit about the Minnesota numbers, Donna takes him back to his room and the two 'continue their relationship', the West Wing usually isn't this smutty by the way.

Checking in on our real 'west wing' crew we find that the Bartlets are up in New Hampshire to vote. We see Charlie for the first time this season (actor Dule Hill has been filming some new cable TV series), who is brining loads of job offers to C.J.'s desk. C.J. thinks its to early to be looking into a post White House job, but eventually Charlie tells her the reason he is pushing is that he would like to continue working for her after the presidents leaves office. This statement inspires Ms. Craig (who has been feeling kind of nostalgic) to start considering her future and we see her looking through some of the job offers. Will and Kate bump into each other in the hall and we find they are still 'seeing a lot of each other' if you know what I mean. When asked about what he's going to do after Bartlets administration is over, Will says thats he's been feeling kind of nostalgic himself about his roots in California local politics, and might head back there to run Mayorial races or something. Kate seems to react rather strangely to this and later that day seeks Will out to apologize. Kate is worried about what is going to happen to her and Wills relationship, saying that unlike 'the others' around here she doesn't "live and die with the Democratic Party", and would like to stay and help whoever is elected through the Kazakhstan thing. It is also implied that Kate voted for Vinick. Finally, despite the apparent theme of this episode it really does look like we're never going to see the whole Charlie/Zoey thread resolved.

Back at Santos HQ the states that have been called so far include Indiana and Kentucky for Vinick and Pennsylvania and South Carolina for Santos. Annabeth decides its time to go and get Leo from his hotel room but when she arrives there its strangely quite. When Leo doesn't respond to her calls she enters the bathroom, presumably to find the VP candidate sprawled out on the floor (this is pretty much how I thought they'd do this scene). Annabeth calls out for help and the last thing we see in the episode is the secret service rushing into Leo's room.

Next Week: Election part II and the aftermath of Leo's passing.