Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

This week it’s back to language and literature. Following is a list of words:

  • HOT
  • MOM
  • PAT
  • BOAT
  • COAT
  • TAKE
  • EAT
  • CHAP
  • TAPE
  • PACT

Besides being simple words and presented here in all caps, what do all these words have in common? Post your answer as a comment below.

Update and hint

Here’s a hint. I’m adding more words that fit the requirement. What is the least common thing all these words have in common?

  • MYTH

Update and answer

Nobody even made a stab at this one, but the answer is simple. All the words are spelled with letters that look like capital letters in the Russian alphabet. Keep in mind, they are not necessarily the same letters in both alphabets. A comparison:

  • A = A
  • E = E
  • K = K
  • M = M
  • O = O
  • T = T

None of the others correspond.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

24: Legacy: Corey Hawkins in 24: Legacy coming soon to FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

24: Legacy: Corey Hawkins in 24: Legacy coming soon to FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

I just noticed on TVLine that the 24 series is getting a reboot. They’re figuring to restart the popular show with a new cast, absent Kieffer Sutherland, for example. And here comes the Quiz Question of the week. In reboot, where does the boot come from? Trace it back to its language origin without outside help.

Post your response as a comment below, and don’t give the answer away on Facebook.

Update and answer

A term dating in the United States from the 19th century goes something like this: “Pull yourself up by your boot straps.” It’s an absurdly impossible thing to do and flies in the face of all known physics.

However, in the early days of computers that was essentially what was needed to cold start a computer. The computer had no program in it, and it needed a program of some sort to load the program it needed. The computer was essentially required to load itself—pull itself up by its own boot straps. It  worked like this.

There were some panel switches that linked to the memory and address bus lines. You set an address in the switches and pushed a button to lock that address. Then you set the switches to the binary representation of the first instruction you wanted the computer to execute, and you pushed a button to load that instruction into the memory address you previously saved.

You repeated the process as often as necessary to load a “bootstrap” routine. Then you pushed a button to cause the computer to execute the first instruction. The rest followed automatically. The bootstrap routine loaded a few more machine instructions from maybe a paper tape and then executed them. Those extra instructions comprised a fully-capable loader, and the remainder of the required program was loaded, and the computer  was up and running. It had bootstrapped itself into operation.

It came to  pass that to  restart a computer you just hit a button to “re-boot” the machine—restart it from scratch. When a TV series gets an overhaul and is restarted with new oversight and a new cast, it is said to have been rebooted.

Story of Jake-Leg


I’ve used the term jake-leg a number of times, and some may find its use confusing. Some history is in store. The history goes back to The Photo That Got Me Arrested:

When the policeman became insistent I told him he was going to have to be very insistent. He was going to have to make it something besides a polite request. I told him I was fully ready to obey any order from the police. But he was polite, and I finally decided to be polite, as well. I showed him my driver’s license and told him were I was staying in Anaheim, and I went on my way.

It was during the course of this conversation that I discussed the firemen who had detained me and wanted to see some identification. I told the policeman I had refused because I was not inclined to show my identification to every Tom, Dick and Harry who requested to see it. I mentioned Tom, Dick and Harry, because I was searching for a different phrase that didn’t pop into my brain at the moment. That phrase was jake-leg.

From a French version, Huckleberry Finn's father

From a French version, Huckleberry Finn’s father

A strict definition applies the term to paralysis caused by drinking bad liquor. My use is different, and it’s one picked up reading Mark Twain. For example:

“No, don’t you worry; these country jakes won’t ever think of that. Besides, you know, you’ll be in costume, and that makes all the difference in the world; Juliet’s in a balcony, enjoying the moonlight before she goes to bed, and she’s got on her nightgown and her ruffled nightcap. Here are the costumes for the parts.”

Twain, Mark (2011-03-30). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Tom Sawyer’s Comrade (p. 145). . Kindle Edition.

A “jake” is a hick, a yokel. Jake-leg is a fitting term, and its use avoids having to employ terms that would bring insult to red necks and hicks. Properly, jake leg is not hyphenated, but I use the hyphen to set my use off from the standard.

Do you really, really like my post?

I have this other blog. Actually, I have three other blogs, but there is this one in particular. This particular blog centers on photography and a few related things, such as travel and dining out. For example, when I took a few days’ vacation in Italy some weeks ago, I brought along my Canon 5D and my computer. I generally shot up the place, and I started posting some photo stories to the Specular Photo blog.

Venice P.M.


And I received some responses. Such as this one:

throughopenlens liked your post on Specular Photo of San Antonio

They thought Venice P.M. was pretty awesome.

You should go see what they’re up to. Maybe you’ll like their blog as much as they liked yours!

And this one:

oliveolove liked your post on Specular Photo of San Antonio

They thought Venice P.M. was pretty awesome.

You should go see what they’re up to. Maybe you’ll like their blog as much as they liked yours!

What I noticed right off is both “throughopenlens” and “olivelove” thought my post about Venice P.M. “was pretty awesome.” How remarkable that is. Both responses concluded my post “was pretty awesome.” I guess like minds think alike.

But that was not all. “Andrea Giang | Cooking with a Wallflower” and also “brubio1111” thought my post “was pretty awesome.” This was beginning to sound like a chorus. Wait, there’s more.

I posted “Venice P.M.” at 3:08 p.m. on 28 September.

  • “throughopenlens” responded at 3:17.
  • “olivelove” responded at 3:29.
  • “brubio1111” responded at 3:40.
  • “Andrea Giang | Cooking with a Wallflower” responded at 4:29.

Are we talking diligence here?

Since then I have been running a casual experiment. I post something to the Specular Photo blog, and I get a response from Word Press telling me I just posted this to the blog. It’s an email, and it’s time stamped. Then I watch for responses from “olivelove” and all sorts. The results have been amazing. Some of these people must spend their waking hours hovered over their computer screens watching for the notice that I just posted to my blog. Then right away they respond. And they always think my post “was pretty awesome.”

“Pretty awesome?” Come on, people. The English language is rich. It is broad, and it is deep. And there are multitudes of keys on the typical computer keyboard. There have got to be multiple ways of spelling “pretty awesome.” Unless you’re not using a keyboard.

What if, instead of a keyboard, you’re using a robot, a bot in computer slang. What if you have just set your account to respond to each notification of my posts with a mail saying the post “was pretty awesome.” Even if it was not “pretty awesome.”

I am tempted, only tempted mind you, to post something that is definitely not “pretty awesome.” How about something that says, “This is a test post, and if you respond saying it’s pretty awesome, then you’re a robot and not a person, and you’re not actually reading my posts, so go find somebody else to annoy.” If I decide to do that I will post a short report on the results. I think you will find it to be “pretty awesome.”

Master at Language, Master at War

Winston Churchill is considered to have been one of the top war time leaders of the 20th century. His background attests to that basis. He was born, by accident, at Blenheim Castle in England of a British father and an American mother, possible the worst combination of the two. He had a difficult schooling, but eventually became a master of the English language and a consummate warrior. As a young man he sought out the fiercest combat and he detailed his early battles in uncompromising language. He went on in life to win the Nobel Prize for literature with his work The Second World War. The work is in six volumes, and I am in the middle of reading Kindle volume 4, The Hinge of Fate.

The first volume, The Gathering Storm, describes the rising tide of the Axis forces in the 1930s, the beginnings of the war and the defeat of England’s European allies. The second volume, Their Finest Hour, details the dark period when England and its dominions stood alone in the world against German and Italian aggression. The third volume, The Grand Alliance, covers the period that included the entry of the Soviet Union in the war against the Axis and the entry of the United States following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the fourth volume Churchill recounts the grim times in early 1942 when the Japanese Empire seemed unstoppable and quickly gobbled up the Western Pacific and the East Indies, including the Philippines, with heavy defeats of British forces at Singapore and American forces in the Philippines. The hinge of fate was the complete turn of the tide with the British blunting of Japanese interest in the Indian Ocean, the disruption of Japanese intentions in the Java Sea, and the complete defeat of a Japanese naval force in strength at the Battle of Midway.

To this victory Churchill speaks from his significant viewpoint. Japanese Admiral Nagumo intended an easy victory and capture of Midway Island. Instead, his initial attack was defeated utterly, and he lost his entire carrier fleet of four in a battle that spanned just a few hours. He still had the superior naval force, including several massive battleships. However, he chose to withdraw, uncertain of his position and of what to do next. Instead of pressing the attack, Nagumo turned his ships around and sealed the fate of future Japanese military ambitions and eventually the fate of the Japanese Empire. Churchill gives an interesting interpretation of the events.

Reflection on Japanese leadership at this time is instructive. Twice within a month their sea and air forces had been deployed in battle with aggressive skill and determination. Each time when their Air Force had been roughly handled they had abandoned their goal, even though on each occasion it seemed to be within their grasp. The men of Midway, Admirals Yamamoto, Nagumo, and Kondo, were those who planned and carried out the bold and tremendous operations which in four months destroyed the Allied Fleets in the Far East and drove the British Eastern Fleet out of the Indian Ocean. Yamamoto withdrew at Midway because, as the entire course of the war had shown, a fleet without air cover and several thousand miles from its base could not risk remaining within range of a force accompanied by carriers with air groups largely intact. He ordered the transport force to retire because it would have been tantamount to suicide to assault, without air support, an island defended by air forces and physically so small that surprise was impossible.

The rigidity of the Japanese planning and the tendency to abandon the object when their plans did not go according to schedule is thought to have been largely due to the cumbersome and imprecise nature of their language, which rendered it extremely difficult to improvise by means of signalled communications.

Churchill, Winston (2010-07-01). The Hinge of Fate (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 4164-4174). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

I have emphasized the critical passage. Churchill, a master communicator, lays the Japanese failure at the feat of their language. In my 70+ years I have dabbled in a number of languages, including English, which I always found to be a horrible mess. However I could never get into languages where meanings hinge on vocal nuances and whose written form harks back more to Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The ancient Phoenicians, by which we mean the Hebrews and Arabs of the Eastern Mediterranean, long ago hit upon a capital concept of language, and it is this. Our prehistoric ancestors communicated mainly by voice and haphazardly by hand signals. Children grew up masters of the spoken word.

When writing began all the Phoenicians had to do was to capture the spoken word in their writing. They composed graphic symbols for the vocal sounds. This allowed them to construct representations of spoken words by coding the sounds of the words in print (or clay). The rest was straightforward.

When the printing press came along it was only necessary to assemble the letters to form words. When the telegraph came along it was only necessary to encode the letters into electrical signals. When computers came along it was only necessary to encode letters into binary states of computer hardware. By this means all human thought and intellect can now be recorded, transmitted and recovered to the best fidelity possible with the limitations of the spoken language.

Churchill considered that the Japanese lacked this capability, and they lost the war. I have long held to Churchill’s premise on this point, but it is possible Churchill was mistaken in his original thought, or perhaps things have changed. In any event, the Japanese have katakana:

In contrast to the hiragana syllabary, which is used for those Japanese language words and grammatical inflections which kanji does not cover, the katakana syllabary is primarily used for transcription of foreign language words into Japanese and the writing of loan words (collectively gairaigo). It is also used for emphasis, to represent onomatopoeia, and to write certain Japanese language words, such as technical and scientific terms, and the names of plants, animals, and minerals. Names of Japanese companies are also often written in katakana rather than the other systems.

Nagumo’s withdrawal at Midway cannot be levied completely against linguistic failings. There was, during the Second World War, a mindset in the Japanese military, particularly in the Imperial Navy, for victory by means of a single, master stroke. If their initial offensive was not successful, they did not have a plan B. All that said, Admiral Nagumo withdrew that night in June 1942, and to this day Japanese is not the official language of the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Cambodia, China, Thailand, India, Korea and Australia.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Russian

This is for those of you who’ve been waiting a couple of years for me to post this. You can quit waiting. Here’s the story first.

When I was a mere child compared to how old I am now I went to college to study engineering. After a couple of years I got around to reading the graduation guidelines and realized I needed a technical elective outside my main course of study. Outside of engineering, that is. Math didn’t count, because I had to take a lot of math, anyhow. There were some choices.

I could study biology or geology. No way. Biology, to me, is too icky and squishy. There’s nothing there you can really nail down with a few equations. Geology scared the shit out of me. I was dead sure I would never be able to learn to recognize all those rocks and minerals by sight. I needed something else.

Foreign language was an option. It couldn’t be English, because I was already supposed to be fluent in English, even though I grew up in Texas. French? Again too squishy. Spanish? Too close to home. German is old hat. It had to be something exotic, yet manageable.

Russian was it. I would learn Russian. I needed a three-hour course. I needed the Russian literature course. But I had to take the two Russian grammar courses before I took the literature course. That was two semesters of Russian that were essentially just throw-away hours. I signed up, and here’s what I learned. I will pass it on to you. Everything you need to know.

The first thing you need to learn is the alphabet. You may have noticed that Russians don’t use the Roman alphabet. Russian was taught in the Germanic Language Department. English is also considered a Germanic language, as well. However the Russians long ago adopted a different alphabet. It’s the Cyrillic Alphabet:

The Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets, are the oldest known Slavic alphabets and were created by the two brothers and their students, in order to translate the Bible and other texts into the Slavic languages. The early Glagolitic alphabet was then used in Great Moravia between 863 (with the arrival of Cyril and Methodius) and 885 (with the expulsion of their students) for government and religious documents and books, and at the Great Moravian Academy (Veľkomoravské učilište) founded by Cyril, where followers of Cyril and Methodius were educated, by Methodius himself among others. The alphabet has been traditionally attributed to Cyril. That fact has been confirmed explicitly by the papal letter Industriae tuae (880) approving the use of Old Church Slavonic, which says that the alphabet was “invented by Constantine the Philosopher”. The term invention need not exclude the possibility of the brothers having made use of earlier letters, but implies only that before that time the Slavic languages had no distinct script of their own.

The early Cyrillic alphabet was developed in the First Bulgarian Empire as a simplification of the Glagolitic alphabet which more closely resembled the Greek alphabet. It has been developed by the disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius at the Preslav Literary School at the end of the 9th century.

I’m only going to deal with the Russian alphabet, which was derived from the original Cyrillic. Here are the capital letters:

From Google

The first thing you’re going to notice about the Cyrillic alphabet is it has a lot of your familiar Roman alphabet letters and also some strange ones. There are also some that will surprise you.

Cyrillic A = Roman A.

So far so good.

K = K
M = M
O = O
T = T

And that’s about it. None of the other Russian letters correspond exactly with their Roman lookalikes.

Take the Russian E, for example. It’s not like the English E. It’s really YE, the (soft) E sound preceded by a Y consonant. So you can spell the English YET as ET in Russian. The Y is already there. If you want the English E you have to write Э.

Moving right along, there are other mental switches you need to make:

B = V
H = N
П = P
P = R
C = S
Y = U

The Russian alphabet borrowed from the Greek, giving the following:

Г = G
Ф = F
д = D
Л = L

Vowels are interesting, also. For every straight form there is a corresponding inflected form that incorporates the Y consonant in front. For example:

Ë is the sound YO
Я = YA

In English A is uppercase, and a is lowercase. In Russian they sometimes don’t make the distinction:

M and м
K and к

Enough of the alphabet. You can learn that on your own, because you’re are essentially finished. You just need to learn the grammar, and that’s straightforward. Here’s all there is to it:

Verb conjugation is just like in English. You have first person singular, second person singular, etc. To illustrate, here is the conjugation of a simple Russian verb, видеть, to see.

1 singular: я вижу
2 singular: ты видишь
3 singular: он видит
1 plural: мы видим
2 plural: вы видите
3 plural: они видят

Back when I was taking Russian in college there was a dorm mate from west Texas who spoke Russian. He learned it at home, out near Odessa. He gave me a word to conjugate, a word he learned out on the farm, but Google won’t translate that word for me, so I have used another, less common, word.

Conjugation of past tense is much easier. Just add, in this case, el if the subject is masculine, ela if feminine, elo if neuter and eli if plural:


And thats about all there is to verb conjugation. You take the root, and append a different ending depending on the conjugation. Note that the root, вид or ви, is vid or vi, much like the root of the English words video and vision.

You’ll like Russian. It’s a lot like English. Unlike all those other foreign languages, the Russians put the adjective in front of the noun or pronoun. Only, as with the Romance languages, the form of the adjective needs to correspond with the gender of the noun or pronoun. So we have:

Masculine: красный пол
Feminine: красная площадь
Neuter: красное море

Red floor, red square, red sea. The adjective is красный, red.

OK, there is another wrinkle. The adjective has to agree with the case of the noun or pronoun. English has nominative and objective cases, principally, and Russian has only a few more, giving:

Nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental and prepositional, so you should have no trouble with adjectives. Just make sure you append the correct suffix to match the case and also the gender of the noun or pronoun. You will get the hang of it in no time.

Actually, all of this can be quite efficient. Just specifying the correct form of the adjective allows Russians to drop some redundant language from their writing and conversation. Take this for example:

“Give me the gun, fat face.” Дай мне пистолет, жирное лицо.

See, use of the dative case of the pronoun I (мне) implies “to me” without the extra word, to. Of course, English speakers dropped the “to” from this construction long ago, but that’s another matter. For some reason, Google has translated gun as pistol.

Here’s a famous Russian term: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик, Union of Soviet, Socialistic Republics. USSR or CCCP.

The first word is Союз (Union), and it’s nominative case, and the root word is used. The second word is Советских (of Soviet), and it’s genitive plural, because the ultimate target is the last word is Republics, and it’s going to be “of republics.” So they took the root adjective советский (sovietsky) and added the proper suffix. English speakers typically misinterpret the third  word, Социалистических. It’s not Socialist, but Socialistic. A minor point. The root is социалистический, but the target will be genitive plural again. The last word is the object of all this, Республик. It’s republics, plural, but the root noun is республика. It’s feminine, but the use is genitive plural, so they just drop the a at the end.

And there you have it. Isn’t Russian easy?

There is just a little more you might need to know. Sometimes pronunciation is not what you would expect. Take the word for friend: друг, drug, pronounced droog. The plural is друзья, pronounced droozya. You’ve seen this before.

Actress Natalie Wood was from a Russian family, and she spoke Russian. This came in handy when she starred in the movie, The Great Race, with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. In the film the three find themselves stranded in a Siberian town, surrounded by suspicious Russians. Natalie resolves the situation by standing up in the car and shouting “Как поживаете, друзья!” Roughly, “How are you getting along, friends.” It’s a common greeting to say Как поживаете when you meet somebody you know.

There are some other pitfalls, as well. Take the word god, which traditionally was not capitalized in the old Soviet Union. It’s spelled бог, bog. But when you say an expression like “my god!” you say боже мой (boszha moy), god of mine. Who would figure?

And that’s about it, except. Except there are a few curiosities remaining.

Russian doesn’t have the usual indefinite articles, and the “to be” verb is virtually nonexistent. So in Russian you do not say, “the ball is red.” You just say “ball red” (мяч красный). That’s why when a Russian attempts to speak English he comes off like a Hollywood movie caveman speaking pidgin English.

That’s all I’m going to say about Russian today. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

The West Wing

I became aware of The West Wing about the time it came out in 1999, but I never watched it at first, because… Because TV dramas tend to be predictably flat and predictable. And life is short. I had some other stuff I needed to do.

The first episode of The West Wing I watched was on syndication after the series was well into the second season. That’s when I perked up.

This was some really good writing—for television. The directing was well above the bar, as well, and the overall production quality was first rate. I became a fan, and I bought the first season on DVD when it came out. I eventually acquired all seven seasons and have watched everything at least once.

So, having little to do these days I decided to take up a review of the series, which has already been done by others, but without my own insight. That’s because I look for certain qualities that an entertainment professional may not consider worthwhile.

Warning, I’m not going to review all episodes—over 150 were produced. I will just work my way through seven seasons and hit the high spots. I will particularly bear down on plots and situations that deserve some critical analysis.

To start off with I am going to completely rehash the pilot, the first episode of the first season of the series. If you read through this you will get a flavor of the series, and when (if) you read the remaining posts certain things won’t need to be explained to you. First some details:

This is a political drama that features a liberal Democratic administration. The West Wing of the White House is where business gets done, and all the characters play out their rolls there. The East Wing is the residence, where the president lives, and some action is here. As you make your way through episode after episode, season after season, you will see other locales, some on the streets of Washington, some at local establishments, some in far off places. There will be political intrigue, sexual innuendo, rivalries, political shenanigans, high crimes and even murder.

Martin Sheen is President Josiah Bartlet. Sheen was not scheduled to be a regular, because there was no plan to make the president a central character. Apparently the entire series was intended as a long-running staff party. However, the president’s appearance in the first episode inspired the writers to keep him on for two four-years terms as commander in chief.

Originally the principal character was supposed to be Sam Seaborn, played by Rob Lowe. Lowe was typically outstanding in all his performances, but his demotion to a supporting role caused him to exit the series after a couple of seasons.
Other principle characters include Bradley Whitford, as Josh Lyman, deputy chief of staff. Whitford’s performance was such that he quickly became the de facto principle character. Lyman’s executive assistant is Donna Moss, played by the ordinary-looking but extremely sexy Janel Maloney. Tall and curvaceous Allison Janney is press secretary C.J. Cregg. Veteran movie actor John Spencer is the typically Irish chief of staff Leo McGarry, and Richard Schiff is Toby Ziegler, the White House communications director. Dulé Hill comes on as Charlie Young, an intellectual but street-wise high-school graduate during the first season when he is hired as personal aide to the president, and he stays throughout the remainder of the series. Other characters will be introduced during the reviews as they appear.

I mentioned the excellent writing apparent in the show, and the reason became clear when I learned that Aaron Sorkin was the show’s creator and principle writer. Things then began to fall into place. Sorkin got some notice with his hit play A Few Good Men, later a highly successful movie of the same name. He next wrote The American President a few years previous, and The West Wing was conceived as a continuation of the theme. Viewers of both the movie and the series will recognize a number of actors who made the jump from the former to the latter. For example, Sheen was chief of staff in The American President.

The first thing I noticed about the pilot was the intro. It’s called the pilot, because it was produced to test the waters for any further production. If the pilot is not received well, then a series is often quickly truncated. The pilot does not contain the famous West Wing theme music and drum roll, and there is no “Previously on The West Wing” voice over. It just starts.

It starts at night in a bar in Washington, DC, and Sam is having a conversation with a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. They are arguing over whether the president was going to fire Josh Lyman. Sam notices a fantastically sexy woman sitting at the bar and looking invitingly at him. Things are going to get interesting.

Sam and Billy at the bar

Here I’m going to take some time to analyze the dialog between Sam and Billy, the reporter. It has the touch of Aaron Sorkin, even though it is possible he did not write it. In this series, which has a minimum of physical action and on-screen violence, it’s the dialog, the banter among the principles, that keeps the drama moving. This is what really what makes the series popular. That and some fairly interesting plot lines. Here’s a snatch of the dialog in the bar:

Billy: Deep background. I won’t use your name.
Sam: And you won’t get a quote.
Why are we here?
You sat down.
Is Josh on the way out?
I know he’s your friend.
He is.
Did Caldwell..?
I’m not talking.
Who do I call?
Just tell me who to call.
Call 1-800-BITE-ME. (pause) He’s not going anywhere, Billy.
You’re lying now.
Why would I lie to a journalist?
After a pause, Billy: Why do you keep looking behind me?
Alger Hiss came in with a pumpkin. (a pause) That girl’s eyeing me.
I never know if they’re looking or not.

Billy glances back at Miss Hot-to-trot and turns to Sam: Yeah, I think she was.
Thank you for the casual way you did that. She probably didn’t notice that.

The scene cuts to the home of the president’s chief of staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer), who is apparently having breakfast in his palatial home (he’s very rich). The TV is on, and the news is reporting a railroad accident that has spilled 20,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide. Leo is reading the New York Times and is complaining about the crossword puzzle.

Seventeen across is wrong. Just wrong. Can you believe that, Ruth?
Ruth: You should call them.
Leo: I will.

Ruth is apparently the maid, who is serving Leo his breakfast.

Now here is the first writing foul-up. Sodium hydroxide is a crystalline solid and does not come in gallons. You buy it by the pound or the ton, depending on what you want to do with it.

Somebody (probably Leo’s wife) announces a phone call.
Leo: I’m in the shower.
Voice: It’s POTUS.

Leo takes the call.

The scene shifts. The White House press secretary Claudia Jean (CJ) Cregg is running on the treadmill in the gym. It’s between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. She’s trying to make conversation with a sexy guy on the next treadmill. It doesn’t work out. He informs her that her pager is paging. She tries to take the page without getting off the treadmill and takes a comical pratfall.

The scene shifts again. It’s very early in the morning in the White House, and somebody is running a vacuum cleaner. Josh Lyman is passed out face down on his desk. The vacuum cleaner doesn’t wake him up, but his pager does. He takes the page. He sees who is paging him and immediately places a phone call.

The scene shifts again. In an airliner approaching a landing at Washington Dulles Airport early the same morning the passengers are advised to turn off their electronic devices. Communications Director Toby Ziegler keeps working on his computer. When the flight attendant reminds Toby again, he says he’s almost done. The flight attendant is insistent.

Another attendant brings Toby a message.

Mr. Ziegler. A message has just been passed up to the cockpit for you. I’m not sure I got it right. POTUS in a bicycle accident?
Toby: You got it right.

Toby reaches for his phone. The attendant reminds Toby he cannot use his phone until the plane lands. Toby has an encyclopedic mind, and he reminds the attendant of the type and date of manufacture of the aircraft and questions how it could be vulnerable to so innocent a device.

The scene shifts to the apartment of Miss Hot-to-trot, Laurie (Lisa Edelstein). She’s wearing a night shirt and panties. Sam is in the shower. It’s obvious Sam had some success after he ditched Billy back at the bar. Laurie informs Sam that a message came for him on his pager while he was in the shower. She reads the message on the pager: “POTUS in a bicycle accident. Come to the office.” Sam immediately gets dressed and heads out the door with the barest of apologies. But first after getting the Laurie’s phone number. As he leaves she tells him, “Tell your friend POTUS to learn to ride a bike.” Sam tells her POTUS is his boss, not his friend, and POTUS is not his name but his title—President of the United States.

Here is what I consider a major flub in Sorkin’s plot. As the story progresses you are going to learn that Laurie is a law student. She’s a law student in Washington, DC, and she does not know that “POTUS” is an abbreviation for “President of the United States.” We can only hope she knows SCOTUS stands for Supreme Court of the United States. And more.

Now everybody is arriving at work in the White House, except Josh, who was there all night. Leo walks in through the lobby. The guard at the desk says something like “Good morning, Mr. McGarry.” Leo responds with, “We’ll take care of that in a hurry, won’t we, Mike.”

And that sets the mood for a day at the White House. All through the series there’s the impression that days at the White House are one crisis after another. Watching the daily news we have already gotten that idea. It’s the main theme of the series and allows for the creation and maintenance of multiple, often interleaving, plot threads.

Leo speaks to Josh’s assistant Donna: “Is he in yet?” Donna is stirring coffee. “Yeah.” Leo: “Will you get him, please?” Donna shouts over her shoulder, “Josh!”

They continue with a discussion of the president’s accident. Donna: “I heard it’s broken.” Leo: “You heard wrong.” The president was riding a $4000, titanium frame touring bike (borrowed from Leo) at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and hit a tree.

Leo comes into Josh’s office and asks just how many Cuban refugees have crammed themselves into fishing boats and headed for Florida. Josh disputes the statement owing to the use of the term “boats.” The Cubans are on what amounts to rafts. Leo questions Josh about details—how many Cubans, when, where? Josh has no answer to any of these. Leo observes that anybody standing on Key West with binoculars would be as well informed as the United States government at the moment. He wonders at the amount of money the government spends on its intelligence operations. The United States Coast Guard is going to have to handle the situation, and the Coast Guard works for the president. The ball is in the White House’s court. This is going to be a major item of business for the day.

They head off for a meeting. Josh inquires if the president said anything (about Josh). Leo replies the president is pissed at Josh, and so is he (Leo). Leo reminds Josh, “We gotta work with these people. And where do you get off (reference to Al Caldwell)? Al Caldwell’s a good man.” Josh says that Al Caldwell wasn’t there.” Leo tells Josh he shouldn’t lump all the Christian Right together and call them stupid. “We need these people.” Josh says, “We don’t need these people.” He continues, “We need Al Caldwell. We want Al Caldwell. We do not need John Van Dyke. We do not need Mary Marsh.” Josh and Leo part. Josh calls out, “I was right.” Leo says under his breath, “Like I don’t know that.” Josh’s day is off to a good start.

Leo walks into the president’s office. Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) asks about the X-ray. “Is anything broken?”

By now the titles are about through scrolling up the screen, announcing that this episode was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Thomas Schlamme.

Leo strides into his own office and shouts to his secretary, Margaret (NiCole Robinson). He tells her to call the Times crossword and tell them Gaddafi is spelled with an “h.” CJ quizzes Leo, attempting to get clarification on the president’s accident. Leo has none.
From this point on I’m going to just summarize the plot. At an informal staff meeting they discuss the Cuban refugee situation that is beginning to unfold. They then turn the discussion to the matter of Josh. Meanwhile two from White Press corps are discussing Josh. The president is going to have to fire Josh.

Now here comes the critical part. Josh is alone in his office watching a video tape of the episode that got him into trouble. He’s having a disagreement with Mary Marsh, a Christian fundamentalist, and she is saying “I can tell you that you don’t believe in any god that I pray to, Mr. Lyman.” Josh is a Jew. Josh responds, “Lady, the god you pray to is too busy being indicted for tax fraud.” Josh plays and replays this bit of the exchange.

I never understood what was so significant about the phrase, “too busy being indicted for tax fraud,” but that is the thing that so infuriated the Christian Right and got Josh into trouble. If anybody reading this can clue me in, please do.

Donna comes into Josh’s office, bringing him coffee. It turns out she has been working for Josh for nearly two years and has never before brought him coffee. She closes the door behind her and reminds Josh he has been invaluable in getting the president elected, and the president can’t fire him. Josh says that if he gets fired, then he gets fired.

Sorkin fills his plots with lively dialog that’s at the same time realistic. People say things that make sense in the setting, the interchanges between people reflect natural conversation, but at the same time Sorkin’s characters typically come off as witty and driven by natural forces. The action may not be entirely of Sorkin’s making, because action us usually the job of the directors—in most cases in the series Thomas Schlamme.

A lot of the action takes place within the west wing of the White House, and it’s fun to watch. The White House is a great presidential mansion, and a family could do a lot of living here, if only so much of it did not have to serve as an office building. Imagine this: lots of people of varied stripe working in close quarters with lots of offices, doors, desks and partitions. A popular theme in the series has a conversation involving two or even more people. As they talk they move through work areas, up stairs, along corridors, through doors, rubbing shoulders with non-participants, sometimes breaking the thread for a short exchange with a passerby. All the while the camera follows the action in an unbroken shoot.

There’s deadly serious business conducted in The West Wing. Political schemes are hatched and executed, some leading to spectacular failures. Threats both political and physical are exchanged. Off screen people die violently, and in one case the president orders the assassination of a terrorist leader, which is carried out on-camera, but at a foreign location. There is romance, flirtation and implied sexual encounters to keep viewers’ hormones engaged. Careers are made and broken. And there is comedy, sometimes slapstick. In one episode Josh has just finished asserting his authority and superiority when he sits down at his desk. Only his chair is out for repair, and Josh winds up on his butt on the floor.

The pilot, the subject of this review, is rife with fun. Here are the themes:

Sam has met Laurie at the bar and finished up the night in her bed. By mistake they exchange pagers (“These look so alike!”), and Sam gets a page for Laurie’s answering service. She turns out to be high-priced call girl who has taken an itch for Sam and has gifted him with a freebie. Sam has to get this straightened out, because the Republican Party would just love to discover that Sam has spent the night with a prostitute.

Sam gets deeper into trouble. A school class is scheduled to tour the White House, and it’s Leo’s daughter’s class. Leo can’t be there, so Sam is delegated to entertain the class. Sam arrives back at the White House after meeting with Laurie to exchange pagers, and he is immediately snagged by his assistant and told the class is waiting for him in the Roosevelt Room along with the teacher and a couple of parents. Sam asks which student is Leo’s daughter, because he wants to make a good impression (boss’s daughter and all that). The assistant is no help, so Sam is on his own.

Sam goes into the Roosevelt room, maybe out of breath from his mad dash to the prostitute’s apartment and back. He is confronted by a dozen grade-schoolers sitting expectantly at the large conference table and attended by their teacher, a slim and very attractive woman. The problem for Sam is twofold. First, he has had no time to wrap his brain around the task at hand. Second, he is expected to talk about the White House, and he knows absolutely nothing about it, except the street address perhaps.

Sam launches into a ludicrous attempt to fake knowledge about the White House when the teacher, Mallory O’Brien (Allison Smith), stops all this nonsense and pulls Sam outside and closes the door so the children won’t hear.

Mallory: I’m sorry to be rude, but are you a moron?

Sam confesses that he knows absolutely nothing about the White House, but asks Mallory’s indulgence. He tells her has is have a very rough day, and he just discovered he slept with a prostitute. Now, could she please tell him which one of the kids is Leo’s daughter, because that would help his day go so much better.

Mallory: That would be me.

Oops. Sam just told his boss’s attractive daughter that he was screwing a prostitute last night. That is so bad for Sam, and it is also so funny.

Sam explains to Mallory that he screwed a prostitute last night

This is another problem with Sorkin’s script. The absence of reality is a simply dreadful. Sam has been working for Leo in the White House for a year and a half and likely a year prior to that during the campaign. And he still does not know that Leo has a grown daughter who looks like she just stepped off a fashion magazine cover? Who is Sorkin trying to kid here?

Also, as the series unfolds viewers will learn that Sam has left a high position in a prominent New York law firm to work for the White house. And he doesn’t know past presidents of the United States? While trying to describe the White House Sam informs the students the Roosevelt Room was named after the 18th president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Every high school student is taught that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president, followed by Andrew Johnson on Lincoln’s death, followed by Ulysses S. Grant, making Grant the 18th president. Sorkin has gone vastly overboard to make Sam appear foolish, and he has also made the storyline unbelievable. Enough said about that.

More comedy and sex comes with the introduction of Josh’s ex-girlfriend. She is Mandy Hampton (Moira Kelly), and she is smart, dynamic and ambitious. She is also sex-on-a-stick.

Toby Ziegler has a frank talk with Josh about offending the Religious Right and losing his job. He finishes up by handing Josh a clipping from the Wall Street Journal. The clipping features a photo of Mandy along with a note that she has left a highly-paid position in NewYork and has opened a consulting office in Washington.

Josh: Who’s she working for?
Toby: I’m checking it out.

We meet Mandy. She’s driving her BMW convertible in downtown Washington with the top down, and the radio is blaring a high-energy track. She is carrying on a spirited conversation with “Bruce,” and it’s apparent she is gearing up for action. She only dials it down when a D.C. motorcycle cop pulls her over for running a red light. Now that’s funny.

Mandy and the traffic cop

More comedy: Leo is talking to two economists. He is getting conflicting advice and makes the observation that economists were put on the Earth to make astrologers look good. One economist predicts the Dow-Jones will be up 1000 in a year. The other predicts down 1000.

Leo meets with staffers to discuss a presidential challenge from within their own party, Senator Lloyd Russell. His popularity is rising among the valuable demographics. It’s starting to appear he may challenge the president in the next primary. Given all that about Russell, Josh asks, rhetorically:

Where do you go?
Leo: Put together an exploratory committee.
Josh: Who do you get to run it?
Leo: You.
Josh: I already got a job.
Leo: For the moment.
Josh: Who do you get?
Leo: Well, if I could get Mandy to leave $900,000 a year at Lennox-Chase, I’d get Mandy.
Josh: You’d be smart.
Leo: Hey, come to think of it, do think she would be interested in his job?
Josh: You’re in luck.
Leo: Is she in town?
Josh: Just got here today.
Leo: What’s she doing?
Josh: Working for Lloyd Russell.

So, the political shit hits the fan. The White House team launches a scheme to derail Lloyd Russell’s presidential ambitions. Josh arranges to have lunch with Mandy. It’s hard to hide that some of the old spark is still there.

Lunch with Mandy and Josh

Ignoring for the remainder of this review the Cuban refugee subplot, the climax of the pilot is the confrontation with the easily-offended Christian Right.

Al Caldwell is the nice guy of the bunch. Deeply religious and completely sincere, he chides Leo in a private conversation for the administration’s lack of enthusiasm in pushing the Christian agenda. The other two are John Van Dyke and Mary Marsh, one or both of whom are associated with an organization called “The Lambs of God.” As the story develops we get the idea that given different geography and a little more firepower they might be called “The Taliban.”

Toby arranges a meeting with the three in the White House to smooth over the insult Josh has offered up. The White House team is cautioned to be nice and to keep the tone down. It starts out that way, and Josh offers his sincere apology.

Christian Taliban at the White House

Mary Marsh is not there to accept an apology. She wants an apology and political leverage:

Let’s deal.

The White House team is taken aback as their visitors begin making demands. Marsh and company want the United States Government, currently in the hands of the sitting president, to accommodate their religious views in government policy. Marsh wants one or all of prayer in the school, a war against pornography and no condoms in schools. The White House team has come only to apologize and is not prepared to play Let’s Make a Deal.

And this is the part I love the most. Everybody should know by now I am no fan of religion, let alone Christianity, let alone the Christian Right. Eventually Mary Marsh brings the discussion to a head with an address to Josh:

It’s only a matter of time with you Josh…
New York sense of humor…
They think they’re so much smarter.
Josh interrupts to remind everybody that he’s not from New York, but from Connecticut. Toby has had enough.
She meant “Jewish.”
When she said “New York sense of humor, she was talking about you and me.

Toby is from New York, and he comes from a background where being a Jew was a handicap for him. He has seen Mary Marsh all his life in various personas. Politics be damned. Toby is through being nice to people who consider Jews second class citizens. The discussion devolves into a shouting match about the Ten Commandments.
John Van Dyke states:

The First Commandment says “honor thy father.”
Toby: No it doesn’t.
“Honor thy father is the Third Commandment.”
Van Dyke: Then what’s the First Commandment?”

At long last, the president of the United States enters, walking with the aid of a cane.

I am the Lord your God, and thou shalt worship no other god before me. Boy those were the days.

Everybody is on their feet now as the president is recognized. It turns out the president has had enough of this, as well. He announces his granddaughter once made a statement that accommodated women’s right to abortion, and in return the Lambs of God sent her a rag doll with a knife stuck through its throat. The president calls a halt to the meeting with the Christian Right and invites them to find the door. I have to tell you, readers, that I cheered when I watched this segment for the first time, and I still get some lift every time I watch it again.

Anyhow, that’s the tone of The West Wing. The president and his administration are Democratic and liberal in the best sense of the meaning. The Republicans are often portrayed as hard-nosed, but often enough as sensible and level-headed. The plots dip deeply into real-world politics and the mechanizations of government. Production of the series called on the help of people who had served in the White House in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and their insight shows in the politically savvy story lines.

Keep reading.


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Log onto Wikipedia and make a donation. This blog hangs heavily on resources provided by Wikipedia, so I get generous about this time each year. You should, too.

You can say that again, Senator.

What does it take to be a public speaker these days? Apparently lots of words. Where you get them is another matter:

Sen. Rand Paul seeks to dismiss criticism of Wikipedia plagiarism
Posted: November 4, 2013 – 4:14pm
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For days now, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has sought to dismiss criticism over similarities between his speeches and entries in Wikipedia. He is accusing “footnote police” and “hacks and haters” for unfairly criticizing him.

There are reasons he’s been speaking out: in the long run, allegations of plagiarism could be used against him in a presidential campaign. And, in the short term, assailing his critics could fire up his loyal backers — and donors.

It all began last week when MSNBC host Rachel Maddow suggested that the senator lifted passages about the 1997 science fiction film “Gattaca” from the movie’s Wikipedia entry in a recent appearance in Virginia.

The senator from Kentucky has run afoul of a problem that plagues politicians and all manner of public speakers. You have to get your message out, and you have to keep coming up with fresh and imaginative ways of putting it. The problem is with the fresh part, because not every turn of phrase is inspiring, and those that are inspiring often aren’t that fresh. The most famous English-speaking word smith of the 19th century was Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain. He had his own take on the matter:

I know one thing—that a certain amount of pride always goes along with a teaspoonful of brains, and that this pride protects a man from deliberately stealing other people’s ideas. That is what a teaspoonful of brains will do for a man—and admirers had often told me I had nearly a basketful—though they were rather reserved as to the size of the basket.
– “Unconscious Plagiarism” speech, 1879

See, I’ve done it myself. Those aren’t my words up there. Those are the words of Mark Twain. But notice how I did it:

  • I attributed the words (correctly) to the original author.
  • I cited the place where I obtained the text.
  • I did not alter the text in any way, or at least in any way to distort the meaning.

The problem is politicians must campaign hard and press their issues publicly and often. They almost never have time to do their own writing, and they often rely on under-paid or volunteer staffers to come up with the appropriate text. At that point if a politician uses the text in a public presentation, he will be well-advised to 1) check the sources for himself, or 2) require his staff to double check everything before going public with it.

Now Senator Paul is in hot water, and his detractors are not eager to let him off the hook. His best recourse is to say he screwed up, cite the original source, apologize to his audience and to the original source and never ever let it happen again. If there is one thing worse than a plagiarist it’s a repeat plagiarist.

Speaking for myself, I have ample proof I do not plagiarize the works of others. If I did my stuff would be more grammatical. Q.E.D.

The Bible Project

You know me, then you know that I’m a photographer. That is, I’m a photographer in the same sense that I have a camera, and I know how to push the shutter release button. So, I sell a bunch of images through agencies, and I count on these agencies to protect my property rights and to make sure people who use my images pay me for them.

So you can imagine my conflict when I need an image for a blog post, and I don’t have one of my own. OK, when I’m doing a review I have no problem cobbing an image from the object I am reviewing, because the image is part of the review, and this is generously considered to be “fair use,” and I would have no problem if somebody uses one of my images in a similar fashion.

However, there are times I need an image for an illustration, and I have been known to grab one off the Internet. Official photos of celebrities are OK, because these people put those images out for public use. Also images created by government agencies are fair game, because I already paid to produce them in the first place. Then there are the others.

More recently I did a story which had a Bible image that went along with it, and I also used the image. No problem. But then later I needed another Bible image for something else, but I did not have one, so I reused the same image from the previous story. This is probably not fair use, and here is the image, which is being employed in fair use in this instance, because this discussion is about this image:

Bible image

Well, that’s a good image, but I can produce an equally good, or at least an acceptable image of a Bible. After all, I am a photographer. All I need to do was take a photograph of a Bible. Only I don’t actually have a Bible.

Now, I have told people many times that I have read the Bible, and that I do have a copy of a Bible, but the copy I have is not holy enough. It’s more a Bible a person would want to read if he wanted to find out what was in the Bible. You would not actually pray over this Bible, and you certainly would not use it to swear in the president of the United States, although it would be perfectly legal to swear in the president using a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

Also, when I want to do serious Bible research I go to the Bible on-line, for which there are many many sites, and searching is also facilitated on the Web. In addition I have a Kindle Bible, which I can read on an airplane and not disturb the pilot. But that still does not get me any Bible images of the kind I often need.

So, what to do.

Half Price Books to the rescue. There’s a store close to my house, and I cranked up my 13-year-old car and headed out.

HPB had a small selection of Bibles, and some were much too analytic, and the ones that were truly holy were more than I wanted to pay for just a photo prop. But I settled on this one, and paid the nice lady. And guess what? THERE’S NO SALES TAX ON BIBLES! Is this a great state we live in or what? Anyhow, here’s the book.

The book

I set up my outdoor table on the front porch where there was no direct sun and took a series of photos. I also went through a change of t-shirts and held the Bible in front of me and made images with several different color backgrounds and hand positions. So I am set with Bible photos for the near future and for ever and ever, and I will not have to use somebody else’s Bible image again. I swear it on my Bible.