Monday, February 28, 2005

Headline News
OK, I know the Daily Aneurysm has been more like a couple-times-a-week aneurysm for the last month or so. Fact is, I have lots of actual remunerative labor in my life at the moment, which leaves less time for this kind of gasbaggery. But it's also true that I have been deliberately weaning myself off the kind of steady news diet daily posting requires. The level of outrage stoked by even 15 minutes of regular morning blog-reading was growing toxic. I got tired of it, and I still am, so I don't know if I'll ever go back to the kind of posting levels I achieved in 2004. (The bulk of my blogging energy lately has been directed at The Hits Just Keep On Comin', actually.) But there's enough to talk about today that I think I can do it in small bites.

Headline: Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate to beat in 2008.
Comment: So much for the conventional wisdom that next to John Kerry, Hillary was the biggest loser in the 2004 election. The current Hillary boom is mostly name-recognition on the grossest scale--but it also ought give heartburn to those Democrats most interested in reforming the party along Deaniac lines. If Hillary gains the nomination, it will most likely be along lines laid out by the same centrist Democrats whose prescription for 2004 got our asses kicked. Yeah, they won in 1992--but that was 1992.

Headline: 115 dead in Iraqi suicide attack.
Comment: Well, the elections sure calmed everybody down over there, didn't they?

Headline: Michael Jackson trial begins.
Comment: The amount of oxygen this circus is going to suck out of the journalistic atmosphere this spring will be stupendous. The White House has to be smiling, considering all the cover it will give them for the rape of Social Security, the seeding of the judiciary with right-wing nutjobs, and planning for a war against Iran.

Headline: Million Dollar Baby sweeps the Oscars.
Comment: I saw exactly two movies in a theater in 2004--Cold Mountain and Fahrenheit 911. First of all, I hate the experience of going to the theater--uncomfortable seats, bad acoustics and picture quality (even in the newest theaters, I find), noisy fellow patrons, etc.--and second, there are often no more than three or four movies a year that remotely interest me. My best shot at seeing any of this year's best picture nominees is if The Mrs. rents them.

Headline: NYPD Blue ends its 11-year run tomorrow night.
Comment: ABC has really given the here's-your-hat, what's-your-hurry treatment to this series, letting it go with minimal fanfare, and using the limited promotional time it's given the series finale to spoil the concluding plotlines for dedicated viewers. But hardcore fans will be on hand for tomorrow night's adios with lots of fond memories. It looks as if creator Steven Bochco and company are going to resist the temptation to tie up too many storylines, just as they did with their first groundbreaking series, Hill Street Blues--instead, the police work will simply go on without our stopping by every week to watch it.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bash, Hammer, and Slash
I decided that this was the week to reread Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson--and now I wish I'd reread it during 2004, because it's full of some strangely familiar tales--for example, a controversial vote-count in Ohio during the Democratic primary--and political wisdom somebody should have listened to last year.

In 1972, of course, such wisdom could have been written off as Thompsonian hyperbole. Back then, the conventional view was that politics in general and a presidential campaign in particular were gentlemanly contests of statesmen, and every contestant placed his country's best interests ahead of his own. Thompson didn't see it that way, and found an effective football metaphor to describe the way he did see it.
There is not much difference in basic temperament between a good tight end and a successful politician. They will both go down in the pit and do whatever has to be done--then come up smiling, and occasionally licking blood off their teeth.

Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb was not a tight end, but he had the same instincts. The Baltimore Colts paid Gene to mash quarterbacks--and, failing that, to crack collarbones and make people deaf.

Shortly before he OD'ed on smack [in 1963], Big Daddy explained his technique to a lunchtime crowd of Rotarians. "I always go straight for the head," he explained. "Whoever's across from me, I bash him with the flat part of my hand--nail him square on the ear-hole of his helmet about five straight times. Pretty soon he gets so nervous he can't concentrate. He can't even hear the signals. Once I get him spooked, the rest is easy."

There is a powerful fascination that attaches to this kind of efficiency--and it is worth remembering that Kennedy won the 1960 Democratic nomination not by appealing to the higher and finer consciousness of the delegates, but by laying the stomp & whipsong on Adlai Stevenson's people when the deal went down in Los Angeles. The "Kennedy machine" was so good that even Mayor Daley came around. A good politician can smell the hammer coming down like an old sailor smells a squall behind the sun.
I read that the other night and instantly understood why today's Democrats are so feeble. We lack the tight end's instinct. We act as if laying on the stomp & whipsong is beneath our dignity, and that appealing to the higher and finer consciousness of people is the only decent way to play the political game. In short, we do not know how to drop the hammer. And so we get beaten like a gong again and again and again.

I suspect that Howard Dean knows how to drop the hammer--but whether he can convince the rest of the Democratic Party of the necessity of doing it is an open question. And anyway, Dean is removed from the day-to-day strategizing of government, where hammer-dropping is also required--which means that Democrats in Congress have to figure it out, too. To his credit, Harry Reid has already shown more fight in a couple of months than Tom Daschle showed in all his years as Leader, and Nancy Pelosi seems to be growing a spine, too. But there's quite a distance to travel between learning how to stand up for yourself and going forth to righteously kick ass.

Of course, how righteous Democratic ass-kicking will seem to millions observing it through the media filter is an open question, too. I forget where I read it, but recently somebody observed that people like Wolf Blitzer and Tim Russert, who are most likely liberals in the voting booth, are harder on Democrats than on Republicans on the air because they fear being Ratherized by the right. In other words, they lean to the right to leave no doubt that they're not leaning to the left. And so, if Democrats start employing the same hard-nosed tactics that are already common practice on the right, you can guess how the talking heads will spin them. You need do no more than observe the media's non-response to the Gannon/Guckert story--paid partisan mole masquerading as legitimate reporter turns out to be gay prostitute--and then imagine the fantods Wolf and Tim would be having if a similar story had occurred on Bill Clinton's watch.

The good news, I suppose, is that far more people observing politics today understand that political combat is like a knife-fight in a phone booth than understood it 33 years ago. Not everyone does, of course: Hillary Clinton, the presumptive presidential front-runner for 2008, is already distancing herself from either knife-fighting or hammer-dropping, tacking away from the liberal wing of the party in her husband's classic, triangulating fashion. But I am beginning to think, brilliant though he was, that the 1992 version of Bill Clinton might have a harder time winning in today's supercharged political environment. From now on, Democrats have to be prepared not just to play, but to bash, hammer, and slash--because our opponents already do.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Fear and Loathing in the Bathroom
Lots of remembrances of Hunter S. Thompson floating around today: a couple of good ones are at Fly Trap and Best of the Blogs (actually posted yesterday). There's apparently been some speculation that Thompson's suicide had to do with his hatred for George W. Bush, but Thompson's attorney (his actual attorney, not the one from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) says now that there were signs Thompson was thinking of doing himself in, and that Bush had nothing to do with it.

Yesterday, Salon retold the story of Thompson's 1974 Super Bowl party in Houston, at which he first met Bush--and at which Bush passed out in Thompson's bathtub. When I find distasteful creatures in my bathtub, I whack them with a slipper or something. The Doc never said whether he did the same to Bush, although he probably didn't feel the need at the time. I'm sure he regretted missing the chance.

Recommended Reading:
If you've been reading Seeing the Forest, as I suggested recently, you've probably already seen this. If not, go read: Dave Johnson observes that the historical trends that have governed American politics and society seem inoperative now, as do the checks and balances intended to guard against tyranny. So what's to stop our leaders from becoming tyrants? Little apart from their own inclination not to--and how long can we depend on that?

Also writing today is Joe Bageant, who's fast becoming a favorite of mine. In "Poor, white and pissed: A liberal guide to the white trash planet," Bageant explains why the American underclass hates liberals--in part because we've deserted them, and because many of us know and care more about liberating Tibet than we do about taking care of our fellow citizens who may be in front of us in line at Walmart. I've placed a link to Bageant's work in my links list--this guy is seriously good at what he does.

Speaking of links, I am pleased to find that the Daily Aneurysm now appears on the links list over at Liberal Oasis, which is one of the first blogs I ever read regularly. I'm also on the list at States Writes: the Progressives' Peer Directory from the American Street, which is a list of news sources and blogs maintained by the American Street, an extremely good blog I don't read nearly often enough. Shout-outs are also due to mjh, who frequently links to my posts at his twin blogs, mjh's blog and the Dump Bush weblog, to Coturnix at Science and Politics, who links now and then, and to Aussie Ankle Biter, who found this blog from way-the-hell-and-gone in Melbourne, Australia. It's a small blog world, after all.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson Is Dead and I'm Not Feeling So Good Myself
I heard it on NPR before the crack of dawn this morning: The Doctor apparently killed himself yesterday behind the walls of what he always called his "fortified compound" near Woody Creek, Colorado. While others might speculate about the reasons for his act--mostly to make up cautionary tales of danger out of his taste for drugs, alcohol, and firearms--I won't. I am not one to begrudge somebody their right to check out if they believe it's time.

(Many stories today have contained the phrase "single self-inflicted gunshot wound." I'd like to think Thompson would be amused by the absurdity of that careful phrase. In my experience, suicides rarely have to reload--and especially not someone with Thompson's affinity for and facility with heavy weapons of all sorts. If he decided it was time to go, then he was going, and he wouldn't make a bad job of it.)

However: I can't remember the last time the death of someone I didn't know personally hit me as hard as Thompson's has today--first of all, because he was a favorite writer of mine, inventor of gonzo journalism, that melding of fact and fiction that seemed to get at the truth of things nevertheless. And he was, if nothing else, a hell of a writer. Take for example the opening paragraphs of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, one of Thompson's most famous books:
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. . . ." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?"

Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. "What the hell are you yelling about?" he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. "Never mind," I said. "It's your turn to drive." I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.
The first two sentences are reportage, then the thing takes flight to somewhere else entirely. And its voice is pure Doc; if you ever heard him speak, you can easily imagine him sitting across from you, telling you this.

(Las Vegas is probably where to start reading Thompson, although my favorite is Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, and Hell's Angels is essential also. His most recent books, Kingdom of Fear and Hey Rube, grew out of his columns written for ESPN.com--just last week he posted a new ESPN column, which turned out to be the last thing he ever wrote.)

Thompson's death hurts, too, not just because I enjoyed his work and admired his style, but because I enjoyed his thinking, too. I can't truthfully say I have tried to live my life by his philosophy, for compared to his life, my existence has been pretty tame. ("I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone," he once said, "but they've always worked for me.") However, some of the things he said made a great deal of sense to me. Take for example, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." I've always read that to mean if you're going to thrive in a weird world, you have to be even weirder. In my own way, I have tried to become (and remain) as weird as possible for as long as possible. Maintenance of your personal weirdness quotient used to be a sort of lifestyle choice--now it's a necessity, if you intend to navigate each new day without cracking. That life finally got too weird even for Dr. Thompson is truly frightening, because if he couldn't handle it, what chance do the rest of us have? Weirdness was a subject with which Thompson was intimately acquainted--and so he was the perfect journalist to cover the final third of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st.

Regular readers of this blog will know that for a long time, I featured a quote from Thompson at the top of it. It was taken from a piece that first appeared on ESPN.com shortly after the 2000 presidential election, but I didn't know of it it until 2003, when it appeared in his book Kingdom of Fear, which I read cover-to-cover while stranded in O'Hare Airport the day the Iraq war began.
We are living in dangerously weird times now. Smart people just shrug and admit they're dazed and confused.

The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we knew it. Doom is the operative ethic. . . .

Look around you. There is an eerie sense of Panic in the air, a silent Fear and Uncertainty that comes with once-reliable faiths and truths and solid Institutions that are no longer safe to believe in. . . .

Guaranteed Fear and Loathing. Abandon all hope. Prepare for the Weirdness. Get familiar with Cannibalism.
One of Thompson's favorite adjectives was "savage." In this, the most savage era living Americans have known, we need all we can get of writers who see behind the savagery and cut through to the truth at the bone of it. The Doc could do it, but who the hell's going to do it now, I don't know.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Clueless in Oklahoma
Some of us have lived online for so long (in my case, since 1996) that we're like fish who have to remind ourselves we're wet. And we can easily forget that many millions of our fellow citizens have only a passing acquaintance with the Internet. Millions more may never have been online, ever--and some of those millions are as suspicious of the Internet as their great-grandparents may have been of the horseless carriage.

So anyway: fairly early in the life of the Internet, it became generally accepted that links are non-copyrightable. It's only logical--if I put something up on the web, I can't stop you from linking to it by claming that the material at the link is copyrighted. You're only directing your readers to something that already exists. If merely linking without reprinting text is a copyright violation, then so is recommending a book or article to somebody.

The Tulsa World newspaper doesn't get that, though. Tulsa blogger Michael Bates got a nasty letter from the paper demanding that he remove all links to World material on his site because the paper says such links are in violation of copyright. His post on the affair is getting massive linkage on the web tonight from both liberals and conservatives, who stand united (for once) in thinking that this is about the dumbest damn thing we've heard in a long time.

Bates also explains the role of the World in Tulsa politics--which sheds more light on the paper's reasons for harassing him. The paper is the house organ of that portion of the Tulsa community that has run things down there to its own benefit for a long time--people who are used to getting what they want and to smacking down those they perceive to be their inferiors. A blogger--one guy with an Internet connection--is definitely getting above his raising, and that will never do. But by making Bates an Internet cause celebre, the paper's hamfisted threats have now backfired in a way it could never have imagined. One thing's for sure--the World will understand the Internet a little bit better now.

(Man, they've got some godawful newspapers in Oklahoma. In fact, Oklahoma City's The Oklahoman might be the worst newspaper I've ever seen. Papers like the World and The Oklahoman help explain some of the dimwits Oklahoma voters have sent to Washington--Imhofe, Istook, Coburn--although as Bates notes, voters in Tulsa recently failed to elect several World-endorsed city council candidates, which caused great consternation at the paper.)

Electronic Frontier Foundation founder (and sometime Grateful Dead lyricist) John Perry Barlow said it best, way back in the mid 90s when the Internet first burst to public consciousness and elected officials raced to regulate it: "We are in danger of getting government by the clueless, over a place they've never been, using means they don't possess." Clearly, the clueless don't have to be elected officials.

Just Shut Up
As a congenital gasbag, what I'm attempting today is nothing less than monumental: links with comments in five words or less.

Link: from the Fly Trap, "Is Cokie Roberts the Dumbest Journalist in America?"
Comment: Yes.

Link: Krugman on what Howard Dean is about.
Comment: Krugman is the anti-Cokie.

Link: Digby on Gannon-gate.
[I]f gay hookers are running around the White House I do find it somewhat frustrating that we have to put up with this shock and horror bullshit from the right wing about average Joe and Jane gay person wanting to get married and have a family. Please.
Comment: Digby going on blogroll.


Sunday, February 13, 2005

Charles DeGaulle's Ghost
I was, as you may remember, the first kid on my block to latch onto Howard Dean for president. It was June 2003 when it struck me that this guy was A) right on the war and B) unlikely to take shit from anybody, and at that point, he was my guy. Nine months later, I voted for him in the Wisconsin primary even after his candidacy was finished, because I preferred to go down believing in something and thus lose with my head held high. That he's officially been chosen head of the Democratic National Commimttee is welcome news indeed.

I haven't blogged about this at all, mostly because others have done it better. But I will say this: the chairman's campaign exposed the intellectual--and, arguably, the moral--bankruptcy of the Democratic centrists. That they would consider foisting a collaborator like Martin Frost or a pro-life wimp like Tim Roemer on a party so soundly beaten by the Repugs last November is ludicrous. If they're that ashamed of being Democrats, then they ought to go away and form their own damn party--the name "Vichy Democrats" is available if they'd like to use it. But the unprecedented interest in the race also exposed the fight still remaining in a significant segment of the party--and I'd suggest that if the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh are begging us to choose Dean, then he's exactly the chairman we should have chosen.

It's interesting to note how many Democrats are praising Dean's suggestion that the party needs to contest all 50 states--some of the same Democrats who criticized him for suggesting that guys with pickup trucks and Confederate flags should be voting Democrat. With the likes of Frost or Roemer, this mostly meant more Jesus from the bully pulpit. With Dean, we stand a better chance of reinvigorating the real values of the Democratic Party instead of running away from them.

A good place for Democrats to start reframing the message is to start pointing out the rampant hypocrisy of conservatives as bluntly as possible and as often as possible. And as loudly as possible. Dean made that very point yesterday, and his best quote is one every Democrat ought to learn and repeat: "I don't want to hear any lectures about Christian values from the Republican Party. They are the Pharisees and the Sadducees." That is, so far, the Quote of the Year for 2005.

Recommended Reading: Seeing the Forest has been absolutely rockin' over the last few days. As posts will be light here again this week, you might want to go there instead. And over at Best of the Blogs, Evelyn Keyes observes that the time is ripe for a Rod Serling revival.

Friday, February 11, 2005

It Won't Be Long
Since the evidence of American torture practices first surfaced, what has disturbed me the most about torturing terrorist suspects in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib has little to do with Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, awful as the abuses we know about have been in those places. What disturbs me the most is the likelihood--the inevitability--that one day, it won't be happening only in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; it will be happening here. "If you build it, they will come," says Digby, and if you believe, as many conservative legal scholars do (including, apparently, the new Attorney General of the United States) that the president can order any action he deems necessary for any purpose he deems necessary, there is absolutely nothing to stop him from ordering domestic enemies to be "disappeared" and clapped off to Guantanamo one day, or even to be tortured on American soil. Repeat: Nothing. The rule of law is finished. At first, it will be brown Americans with "foreign-sounding" names--but there's no reason why it couldn't be white Americans with European names, and someday, it probably will be.

The off-the-charts madness of this cannot be understated. It will, however, be under-debated and under-understood--which is what makes Digby's post so important. Go read.

WTF Moment of the Week: The word is pronounced "nuclear," not "nucular," and even an administration that claims to have some special mastery over shaping reality can't change the rules of proper pronunciation. Or can they? On the two most recent episodes of the Fox series 24, characters have used "nucular" instead of "nuclear"--ace terrorist fighter Jack Bauer two episodes back and the show's secretary of defense this past week. Yes, it's Fox, but the entertainment side of the network has generally had little to do with the politics of the news division. Indeed, Fox entertainment shows provide a great deal of the cultural rot many Fox News fans love to decry. But it's mighty weird, and I can't explain it.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Getting the Gate
Over at Daily Kos, they have something called "diaries," in which readers can contribute their own posts as if they were bloggers themselves. Now and then, Kos will "promote" a comment from the diaries to the main page. I am promoting the following, which reader KN put up this morning. Here it is:
Is anyone following Gannon-gate? What Wonkette says is a non-thing turns out to be a thing. From Kos: "A potential male prostitute gets White House [press] credentials using a fake name, provides McClellan a welcome ideological lifeline during press conferences, and somehow gets access to classified CIA documents that out an undercover CIA operative." David Brock's MediaMatters.org started poking around about this guy a couple of weeks ago, Kos unleashed its army of cyber-investigators, all sorts of improprieties were discovered, and the guy ended up resigning yesterday from his pseudo-news agency (Talon News, a thinly disguised political org called GOPUSA). He gets subpoenaed by the grand jury looking into the Valerie Plame case, and Talon promptly pulls every article he's ever written.

How does someone with a fake name and questionable journalistic credentials (a $50 weekend "journalism" course run by a GOP propagandist mill) who's working for a fake news organization, who can't get a hard pass to the White House press room, manage to get a day pass every day for the past year? How does he get his hands on a classified CIA document? The fact that he was writing scathing anti-gay articles while himself being connected to three gay prostitution websites is just icing on the cake. Look for more about his connections to Rove. (Hint: They're tight.)

Will all of this get buried in today's news from North Korea, Iran, and Buckingham Palace? Probably. If we didn't live in Bizzarro World, this would be Bush's Watergate.

See cover story on Salon today for details. DailyKos and AmericaBlog are the places to go if you want more.
I'd only add one thing--potential Bush Watergates are thick on the ground: a new one today: 52 aircraft attack warnings ignored before 9/11. Like KN, I doubt this one will get any traction, either. Again you wonder if there's ever going to be a tipping point at which the administration's contempt for law and truth will get through to our somnolent fellow citizens in sufficient strength to wake them up. And then you fear, if it ain't tipped yet, it ain't gonna.

B Gone
I am de-hiatusing myself long enough to link to this article from the Austin Chronicle by Michael Ventura. It's not an article, really, but rather a sobering list of statistics. It'll probably spoil your morning--unless you have already abandoned all hope, prepared for the weirdness, and gotten familiar with cannibalism, as Dr. Thompson suggests.

As for the rest of this day, I will spend it in mourning. The Master of the Hammond B3, Jimmy Smith, has died. There's nothing in jazz or blues like the sound of the B3 electric organ, and Smith was the first to fully embrace its possibilities nearly 50 years ago. Although he recorded a lot with a large orchestra, his work with small groups, including with such guitarists as Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell, is what sounded best. To sample the soulful sound of the B3, click here.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Colorado Cookie Caper
Life in the red states is life as life is supposed to be. The red states have good family values. Red-state children are taught to love their parents and to fear Jesus, so that they will be insulated from the temptations of Satan so beloved in other places, like the blue states. A good red-state child, when invited to a party where there might be cursing and drinking, would know to stay home and engage in a more wholesome activity, like baking cookies for the neighbors.

That's precisely what Taylor Ostergaard, then 17, and Lindsey Jo Zellitte, 18, of Durango, Colorado, did one night last July. They baked cookies for several neighbors instead of going to a party, and delivered them late that night, on little plates decorated with ribbons. Too late for Wanda Young, however--who was so freaked out by the anonymous cookie delivery that she ended up in the emergency room with an anxiety attack. Then she sued the girls in small claims court for her expenses.

And won. The court ordered the girls to pay about $900.

And in Colorado yet, home of radical cleric James Dobson and Focus on the Family. I believe that's called "irony." As for the lesson it sends to Taylor, Lindsey Jo, and others like them, I believe that's called "No good deed goes unpunished."

Back on the Road Again: This weekend's posts represent a hiatus from the hiatus I announced last weekend. The big hiatus is about to resume for yet another week. Posts will be light, and most likely nonexistent, until Friday or so. In my absence this week, check out "The Counterpoint," the splendid blog of a former colleague of mine, Ted Remington, who teaches in the communications studies department at the University of Iowa. Ted "critiques and corrects the daily editorial by Sinclair Broadcasting's corporate vice president, Mark Hyman, that is broadcast on all Sinclair-owned television stations across the country." Over beers the other night, Ted told me the website has two purposes--to give him a chance to vent on right-wing nonsense, but also to analyze, from his expert point of view, the propaganda and spin techniques Hyman uses night after night. Ted says he's already gotten some love from Air America Radio--and some contact from Sinclair's lawyers. So you know it's gotta be good stuff.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Cured of Liberalism
If you watch The West Wing, you know that the show is gearing up for an election and will, early next season, replace Martin Sheen with either Alan Alda or Jimmy Smits as the fictional president of the United States. Executive producer John Wells told a reporter this week that it's not preordained that the show will succeed the very liberal Jed Bartlet (man spells his name wrong) with another liberal (Smits' Congressman Matthew Santos), and neither is it preordained that the show will respond to the presumed conservative drift of the country at large and replace Bartlet with a Republican (Alda's Senator Arnold Vinick). (Wells knows, of course--but he wouldn't say so at this point unless he were waterboarded.) Many West Wing fans are all a-twitter about this--Iowa City's famous Hamburg Inn, where the candidates campaigned on the most recent episode of the show, is having the same kind of coffee-bean caucus for the show as it puts on for real presidential campaigns--but far fewer are asking whether it's a good idea to change administrations.

I'll ask, and answer: A new administration is a terrible idea, for a number of reasons.

First, the obvious one: A new West Wing administration means new supporting characters. By going with Vinick, Wells would have to create a whole new cast. This is problematic--for one thing, if Wells draws his new characters from the same bag of cliches he seems to draw his plots, the prospects would be grim. But even if the characters were somehow well-drawn, would longtime West Wing fans accept them? Maybe a producer could get away with it in an era of reality shows that change casts every season, but I can't think of another program in traditional TV forms, drama or comedy, in which the whole cast turned over at once and the show remained viable. By going with Santos, Wells could reasonably keep a few of his current characters, such as Josh Lyman, a Bartlet staffer who is running the Santos campaign, and Lyman's one true love (although he doesn't know it), his former assistant Donna Moss. Knowing how viewers love continuity (and networks love viewers), this is the best argument for betting on Santos.

But even if Santos becomes president, there are more subtle reasons why a new administration is a bad idea. If the show were still a major hit and had a few years' life expectancy remaining, a complete cast makeover might be seen as groundbreaking. But The West Wing's ratings and creativity have been in decline over the last two seasons, and most of the actors' deals are set to expire after next season anyhow. Why not just let the show wrap up as part of the natural order of things? Let Jed and Abby Bartlet ride triumphantly into the sunset of history, Josh and Donna finally hit the rack together, Toby get back together with his ex, Will run for Congress, C. J. get a talkshow on MSNBC, Leo become an ambassador? Although such an ending would be intensely satisfying for West Wing junkies, such a graceful exit isn't usually how TV works, of course. As long as NBC can continue to get cash from the cow, the cow will retain its place in the barn, even if said cow has been reupholstered so much it scarcely resembles the original.

Still another reason to fear a new administration is the political one. For its first four seasons, The West Wing represented a liberal utopia--Jed Bartlet was Bill Clinton, zipped up. Then, creator Aaron Sorkin was run out of the building, and in seasons five and six Wells and company aimed to make the show more bipartisan, but actually made the show's characters sound like graduates of a 12-step program to cure them of liberalism. Given the country's current conservative climate, I am betting Wells will go with Vinick as his new president in the seventh season next year. Even though the character is being set up as a Republican maverick, he's still a Republican, and have to watch the damn Republicans screw up the country every day--why the hell would I want to watch them screw up one of my favorite TV shows? Only if Sorkin were writing them--after all, Speaker of the House Glenallen Walken (memorably played by John Goodman), aide Ainsley Hayes, and White House lawyer Joe Quincy managed to be Republicans with nuances. The only Repug prominently featured in the Wells era is House Speaker Steven Hatley, a shrill red-state martinet.

(Digression: Apart from ideology, writing is another reason to consider giving up on The West Wing. It's become a ritual among West Wing fans to pay close attention to the writer credit on each episode--some of the writers, such as Debora Cahn and Eli Attie, understand both the show's form and how politics works, while others, such as Wells himself and John Sacret Young, have no idea. Wells' plotting is some of the most unsubtle on television--where Sorkin painted dots for viewers to connect, Wells drops anvils onto their heads. Furthermore, all of the characters worth watching were created by Sorkin. Those created by the Wells regime--such as the national security aide whose precise position is never made clear, or Congressman Matt Santos himself--are cardboard figures moved around at writerly whim. For example, Santos is supposed to be some sort of new-breed liberal who is guided by principle rather than party, but it's not really clear what his principles are. We are supposed to believe that Lyman sees in Santos what Bartlet's mentor saw in Bartlet. Exactly what Lyman sees, however, is so invisible to many dedicated viewers that one West Wing message board chalks it up to a gay crush.)

So yeah, changing administrations is a terrible idea, but that doesn't matter. The West Wing is headed for a final season from an alternate universe in 2005-06, like the last year of The X-Files, with new characters but little point, and few viewers left but uncritical hardcores. For the rest of us, at least we'll have the DVDs of the first four seasons.

Friday, February 04, 2005

This Is Just Wrong
But it's funny. Really funny. Snorting milk through your nose at breakfast funny.

(I'll put up a full post on the weekend. I promise.)

I had a completely wrong link on this post earlier this morning, which I've now fixed, and I promise, it really is funny. Cripes, I'm mortified.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I Said I'd Check in if There Was Something Too Good to Pass Up
I just didn't know it would be on the first day.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?