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Posts from the ‘TV’ Category


The gauntlet laid by Tim Keller’s Generous Justice

Keller at DG 2006 by Sola Lumina Captura

So having been motivated by the biblical appeal to action in Keller’s Generous Justice (see previous post), what’s the difference? It would hardly be right to leave us as armchair activists with an impetus to think but not act.

The political tightrope

Speaking as a transatlantic observer, it seems to me that one of the acute problems for American Christians when talking about matters political or social is that hearers are constantly trying to identify tell-tale signs of partisan politics. These quickly become a weapon to justify ignoring a case or to add it to your name-checks of supporters. And meanwhile the importance of the issues at stake gets lost.

Keller does not give hostages to fortune. There’s no way that either Republicans or Democrats can claim him as their own – which is entirely as it should be – he finds biblical grounds for challenges and affirmations to both.

Take, for example, the rather fundamental discussion of what justice is:

But underneath all the name calling are sharp differences of opinion about what justice actually is. Democrats think of it in more collective terms. They believe a low tax rate is unfair because it deprives the poor and minorities of the help they need to overcome years of discrimination. Republicans think of justice more individualistically. They believe that a high tax rate is unjust because it robs people of their due who have risked much and worked hard to keep what they earn.

… The fact is that the word ‘justice’ does not have a definition in our culture that we can all agree on. So we just use it as a bludgeon.  We self-righteously imply that those on the other side know they are simply being unjust. But they don’t. (p150)

Or then there is this discussion of families trapped poverty:

Conservatives may argue that this is the parents’ fault. It is due to a failure of moral character and the breakdown of the family. Liberals, however, see it as a failure of the government system to stem systemic racism and to change unjust social structures. But nobody says that it is the children’s fault they were born where they were. Those children are in poverty largely because they were not born into a family like mine. My three sons, just by being born where they were, have a far better chance to have a flourishing, happy life in society. There is an inequitable distribution of goods and opportunities in this world. Therefore, if you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don’t share them with others, it isn’t just stinginess, it is injustice. (p92)

But as mentioned in the last post, it is gospel grace that transforms social attitudes, and thus it supersedes political creeds or loyalties. Here are 3 striking quotations which show how this happens…

In Christ we receive grace, unmerited favour. Nevertheless, in the mind of the Old Testament prophets as well as the teaching of Jesus, an encounter with grace inevitably leads to a life of justice. (p49)
My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating towards the materially poor. (p102)
I believe, however, when justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and the gospel, this ‘pushes the button’ down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up. (p107)

And he goes on to illustrate precisely how this works with an extended quotation from a sermon by nineteenth century pastor and Keller hero Murray M’Cheyne. (p107 ff)

There should be no poor among you…

As can then be appreciated, how to help bring about justice for the marginalised and trapped is going to be very complex. After all, the ideologies of left and right have evolved over decades of thought and experience – and complexity simply begets more complexity. But Keller’s point is that the Bible’s analysis of poverty and injustice is far from simplistic – it’s much more nuanced than many give it credit for. Drawing on commentators like Chris Wright, for example, (and especially his excellent commentary on Deuteronomy), Keller explains how the Bible understands both poverty’s causes and appropriate responses. A key passage is Deuteronomy 15 (one which i was challenged to revisit with further study) as well as a number of others, which together offer 4 provisions for those trapped in poverty (p26 ff):

  • Release from debts
  • Provision for gleaning (i.e. leaving some food by not harvesting the edge of fields): ‘gleaning was not … what would ordinarily be called an act of charity. It enabled the poor to provide for themselves without relying on benevolence’ (p26)
  • Tithing for the poor every third year.
  • The Year of Jubilee


If we combine the requirements of radical generosity with the regulations on profit-taking and property use, we are not surprised that God could say, ‘there should be no poor among you.’ This does not mean that people would not continue to fall into poverty. But if Israel as an entire society had kept God’s laws perfectly with all their hearts, there would have been no permanent, long-term poverty. (p28)

But the bible is not naïve about how poverty arises. And Keller’s analysis is all the more striking because he approaches it all from a theological background more commonly associated with the Christian right.

The three causes of poverty, according to the Bible, are oppression, calamity and personal moral failure. Having surveyed the Bible on these texts numerous times, I have concluded that the emphasis is usually on the larger structural factors. (p38)

So what to do…

This book gave me one of those lightbulb moments at the point where he ingeniously imagined a Good Samaritan follow-up.

Imagine a sequel to the Good Samaritan parable. The months go by and every time he makes his trip from Jerusalem  to Jericho he finds another man in the road, beaten and robbed. Finally the Samaritan says, ‘How do we stop the violence?’

The answer to that question would be some kind of social reform – instituting a new social arrangement that stops the flow of victims because of a change of social conditions. (p126)

And thus, every problem is part of a wider context – what he calls a ‘matrix of causes’ (p33). Which is why it needs a matrix of responses. He articulates 3 levels of support – relief, development and reform. Here he draws on the famous theologian and former Dutch Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper and his distinction between the institutional and organic church (the latter being the impact of individual Christians going about their business in the world).

I believe Kuyper is generally right. We have spoken of different ‘levels’ of ministry to the poor – relief, development and reform. As we have said, churches under their leaders should definitely carry out ministries of relief and some development among their own members and in their neighbourhoods and cities, as the natural and crucial way to show the world God’s character, and to love the people that they are evangelising. But if we apply Kuyper’s view, then when we get to the more ambitious work of social reform and the addressing of social structure, believers should work through associations and organizations rather than through the local church. While the institutional church should do relief inside and around its community, the ‘organic’ church should be doing development and social reform. (p145)

The book does give examples of transformational work happening through churches and individuals. And as an avid devotee of The Wire (having devoured all 5 seasons in with equal measures of horror and rapt amazement!), I was hugely encouraged to hear of the work of New Song Urban Ministries in Sandtown Baltimore (started up by his friend Mark Gornik). Here all these levels are being worked out.

But, that’s definitely quite enough for now! Read the book – he says it all much more fluently and coherently. His case is cogent and hard to dismiss.

Finally, for those who think our only responsibility is to help fellow believers, there’s this resounding battle cry. Ignore it your peril:

However, the Bible is clear that Christians’ practical love, their generous justice, is not to be confined to only those who believe as we do. Galatians 6:10 strikes the balance when Paul says: ‘Do good to all people, especially the family of faith.’ Helping ‘all people’ is not optional, it is a command. (p61)


So what’s the agenda with Channel 5, do you think?

Well, I’d missed this one somehow. But thanks to my subscription to the unrivalled Private Eye, I discovered this week (No. 1268, p9) that Richard Desmond has bought Channel 5, one of the 5 terrestrial channels in the UK (which is supposed to offer a ‘public service’, unlike the cable channels which can be specific and focused).

What’s the big deal, you might wonder? Well, he is building quite a little media empire of his own. It’s not quite on the Murdoch scale, but it’s not insignificant in this country. But where did he start out? Well, on top of now owning the Daily Express and Sunday Express newspapers, + OK! magazine , he made his millions in porn. And he still owns a lot of porn magazines and pay-to-view sex channels on digital and satellite.

So what? Is Q now going to get all censory and holier than thou on us? Well no. Quite apart from what we might think about the whole porn industry (e.g. review of Tim Chester’s excellent Better Vision), Private Eye gives plenty of reasons for being concerned simply on the basis of the number of times his organisations have broken advertising and journalistic standards in the past. I just wonder what this might mean for a channel which I have to say is pretty rubbish anyway (I can’t remember the last thing I watched on it, in fact).

But it reminded me of something from David Dark’s fascinating, though rather alarmingly titled, book Everyday Apocalypse.

Yet as it is, television most often caters to our own worst instincts, driving us to base our identity in what we’re able to purchase, hijacking our hopes with the emptiest of slogans and scenarios, and wasting our sympathies on tales that are devastatingly shallow and sentimental. It can even be argued that our relationship with television has crippled our ability to recognize, within ourselves, the need for a better way. We’re numbed to our own deterioration. Actor/entertainment personality, Ben Stein has prophesied that by the year 2030, it will all be pornography. (Dark, p43)

You might think from this quote that Dark is simply out to bemoan all the failings of popular culture. Well, it couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a book that thrillingly wanders through such pop culture icons as The Simpsons, Radiohead and The Matrix to find sacred resonances and truth.

So it makes this observation all the more chilling. I hope he’s wrong – but I’ve a horrible feeling he’s not…


Andrea Clarke on Henry VIII at the BL

This was made by a US network to plug their broadcast of the Tudors series. Its Spooks-like opening seems a bit OTT. But the point of posting this is not Natalie Dormer (who played Anne Boleyn) but the fact that she goes to the British Library during the brilliant Henry VIII: Man & Monarch exhibition (sadly now closed) to be shown around by the awesome Andrea Clarke.

Andrea is a friend and fellow NT Greek fan – but more importantly she co-curated the exhibition with David Starkey and slogged at it for months. There are some amazing things on show, including one of his loveletters to Anne and his own annotations on complex legal documents in Latin concerning his break with Rome. Enjoy.


Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 11 (August 2009)

Bit of a bumper edition this August – to help you while away the long idle hours of the summer…

Sacred Treasure

The first problem, though, is that Thought for the Day is secular already. God is almost never allowed to poke His nose into a broadcast and when He does His appearance is heralded with apologies and embarrassment. He does no smiting, He is never angry, no matter what issue comes before Him. The God you hear in Thought for the Day has been created by BBC producers and made in their image — a slightly disappointed but nonetheless benevolent middle-aged man of confused sexuality who wishes that everybody might live together peaceably in a warm and caring multicultural society, m’kay? A middle-aged man not terribly convinced as to whether he exists or not.

Topical Treasure

Quirky Treasure


saints with a past, sinners with a future…

At last been catching up with House Season 4 on DVD. Watched what has become one of my favourite episodes ever last night: 4:9 Games (old news, I realise, as it was first aired in the US in Nov 07)

House is at his most Machiavellian in this episode as he is forced to whittle down applicants for his team down to the last 2 or (will it be 3?). He uses his famous whiteboard in the Diagnostics Office to keep the scores of the 4 candidates, and has found the most complicated case for them to work on – a nihilistic rock musician druggie with every symptom under the sun. One of the 4 hates druggies, one of them has great sympathy. Here House grills the latter, otherwise affectionately known as Thirteen (because that was her number in the original crowd of applicants). Of course, one of the undercurrent themes is that House himself is addicted to painkillers…

CUT TO: [House’s Office. Day. House and “Thirteen” walk into his office.]

GREG HOUSE: Why do you love drug addicts?
“THIRTEEN”: I won’t pigeonhole the patients, so that means I’m…
GREG HOUSE: I’m perfectly capable of drawing my own conclusions. Are you capable of answering a question?

[The third degree begins… yet again.]

“THIRTEEN”: I think there’s more to him than the drugs.
GREG HOUSE: Admirable. Why?
“THIRTEEN”: I need a reason for doing something admirable?
GREG HOUSE: There’s always a reason. He’s a patient, you don’t know him. Why do you like him? The alcoholic parent? Druggie youth? There’s no such thing as a saint without a past. 
“THIRTEEN”: Or a sinner without a future.
GREG HOUSE: What makes you so sure that drugs are a mask for something else?
“THIRTEEN”: Drugs are always a mask for something else. 

[A beat.]

GREG HOUSE: That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard in my life.

[She smiles and leaves. House goes to the Diagnostics Office and changes her points to 102, a small smile on his face.]

Well, surprisingly enough, there’s some pretty good theology in there…

STOP PRESS – Some Source Criticism

I’ve just discovered that this is based on a line by Oscar Wilde in his play A Woman of No Importance:

Lord Illingworth: The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.


Everything Bad is Good For You

Have recently finished reading Steven Johnson’s 2004 book on pop culture: Everything Bad is Good For You. A fascinating read – and certainly helps to explain the prevailing resurgence in TV programming (and makes me feel a bit better about my West Wing (et al) obsessions – after all it’s always good to understand one’s own hang ups a little better). Like a lot of such books, its case could probably have been presented in half the space. But there you go.

The main thesis is that pop culture (in particular movies, tv series, computer games, internet etc), far from the bain of all bookworms and luddites is actually beneficial. It stimulates the mind in unexpected but constructive ways and even prepares people for the complexities of modern life! Well how about that! Here are a few quotes:

The impact of computer games

To non-players, games bear a superficial resemblance to music videos: flashy graphics; the layered mix of image, music, and text; the occasional burst of speed, particularly during the pre-rendered opening sequences. But what you actually do in playing a game – the way your mind has to work – is radically different. It’s not about tolerating or aestheticizing chaos; it’s about finding order and meaning in the world, and making decisions that help create that order. (p62)

Then check this out:

The game scholar James Paul Gee breaks probing down into a four-part process, which he calls the ‘probe, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink’ cycle:

1. The player must probe the virtual world (which involves looking around the current environment, clicking on something, or engaging in a certain action).
2. Based on reflection while probing and afterward, the player must form a hypothesis about what something (a text, object, artefact, event, or action) might mean in a usefully situated way.
3. The player reprobes the world with that hypothesis in mind, seeing what effect he or she gets.
4. The player treats this effect as feedback from the world and accepts or rethinks his or her original hypothesis.
Put another way: when gamers interact with these environments, they are learning the basic procedure of the scientific method. (p44-45)

On what ACTUALLY happens if you are addicted to computer games:

Another recent study looked at three distinct groups of white-collar professionals: hard-core gamers, occasional gamers, and non-gamers. The results contradict nearly all the received ideas about the impact of games: the gaming population turned out to be consistently more social, more confident, and more comfortable solving problems creatively. They also showed no evidence of reduced attention spans compared with non-gamers.

The impact of TV

On the complexities and in-jokes of modern series like The Simpsons:

According to one fan site that has exhaustively chronicled these matters, the average Simpsons episode includes around eight gags that explicitly refer to movies: a plotline, a snipped of dialogue, a visual pun on a famous cinematic sequences (Seinfeld featured a number of episodes that mirrored movie plots, including Midnight Cowboy and JFK). The Halloween episodes have historically been the most baroque in their cinematic allusions, with the all-time champ being an episode from the 1995 season, integrating material from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Godzilla, Ghostbusters, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Pagemaster, Maximum Overdrive, The Terminator and Terminator 2, Alien III, Tron, Beyond the Mind’s Eye, The Black Hole, Poltergeist, Howard the Duck, and The Shining.

The film parodies and cultural sampling of The Simpsons usually get filed away as textbook postmodernism: media riffing on other media… But I think it’s more instructive to see both these devices as sharing a key attribute: they are comic devices that reward further scrutiny. The show gets funnier the more you study it – precisely because the jokes point outside the immediate context of the episode, and because the creators refuse to supply flashing arrows to translate the gags for the uninitiated. (86)

On why the famed TV debate between Nixon & Kennedy might not have been set such a bad precedent after all:

So what we’re getting out of the much-maligned Oprahization of politics is not boxers-or-briefs personal trivia – it’s crucial information about the emotional IQ of a potential president, information we had no access to until television came along and gave us that tight focus…

That’s not to imply that all political debate should be reduced to talk-show banter; there’s still plenty of room for position papers and formal speeches. But we shouldn’t underestimate the information conveyed by the close-ups of the unscripted television appearance. That first Nixon-Kennedy debate has long been cited as the founding moment of the triumph of image over substance – among all those TV viewers who thought Nixon’s sweating and five-o’clock shadow made him look shifty and untrustworthy in the end. Perhaps all those voters who thought he had won after they heard the debate on the radio or read the transcript in the papers simply didn’t have access to the range of emotional information conveyed by television. Nixon lost on TV because he didn’t look like someone you would want as president, and where emotional IQ is concerned, looks don’t always deceive. (102-103)

In the 70s the mandate of TV producers was to provide Least Objectionable Programming (LOP – in order to maximise ratings) – mainly because you would only see a programme once and not again. But with the advent of DVDs and the web, the chance to rewatch programmes has multiplied. Now the aim is to produce Most Repeatable Programming (MPR) Neil Postman was reacting rightly to the shallow and pathetic of 70s TV. But things are different. Programmes like The West Wing, Lost, 24, The Sopranos, The Wire, are light years away from 70s stuff – which is why they are so addictive, and more significantly, rewatchable:

The MRP model cultivates nuance and depth; it welcomes ‘tricks’ like backward episodes and dense allusions to Hollywood movies. Writing only a few years after Klein’s [LOP] speech, Neil Postman announced that two of television’s golden rules were: ‘Though shalt have no prerequisites’ (meaning that no previous knowledge should be required for viewers to understand a program) and ‘Thou shalt induce no perplexity.’ Postman had it right at the time, if you ignored the developing narrative techniques of Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. But twenty years later, many of the most popular shows in television regularly flaunt those principles. (162)

The impact of the Internet

Steve Jobs on why the Internet is better than TV

Almost all forms of online activity sustained are participatory in nature: writing e-mails, sending IMs, creating photo logs, posting two-page analyses of last night’s Apprentice episode. Steve Jobs likes to describe the difference between television and the Web as the difference between lean-back and sit-forward media. The networked computer makes you lean in, focus, engage, while television encourages you to zone out. (Though not as much as it used to, of course.) This is the familiar interactivity-is-good-for-you argument, and it’s proof that the conventional wisdom is every now and then, actually wise. (118)

On how the internet actually reverses a decades-long cultural trend:

Television and automobile society locked people up in their living rooms, away from the clash and vitality of public space, but the Net has reversed that long-term trend. After a half-century of technological isolation, we’re finally learning new ways to connect. (124)

Perhaps, the book overstates its case a bit. But it was definitely stimulating and thought-provoking. Which is all one really wants in a book. Especially if it is going to keep me away from watching the West Wing extras disk in my TWW boxed set.


Iconic American roles – by Brits!

On receiving his Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Chariots of Fire, back in 1982, he famously cried ‘The British Are Coming!’ Well, the British film industry hasn’t exactly taken over the movie-making world, so it sounds rather like hubris in retrospect; although British presence at this year’s Golden Globes (and therefore presumably the Oscars too) was not to be sniffed at.

But the funny thing is, his prediction has come true rather in some ways – not on the big screen but on the small screen. I’ve not seen anyone spot this yet, or at least draw the link. But i guess some have. But many have recognized the fact that we seem to have been enjoying bit of a golden age as far as American TV series are concerned. There’s the obvious: West Wing of course, then 24, Alias, Heroes, Lost etc etc. But it suddenly struck me that 3 actors have taken US TV by storm – by playing Americans, utterly convincingly in House, The Wire & Band of Brothers.


But here they are: Hugh Laurie playing House, Dominic West playing McNulty in The Wire (which is being hailed as the greatest and grittiest TV drama ever) and Damian Lewis in Spielberg’s Band of Brothers (and now starring in his own cop show, LIFE).

But you know what – besides all 3 being remarkably good British actors, who all pull off being authentically American (such that American friends simply can’t believe they’re not home-grown), they all have something else in common. They all went to Eton. Well fancy that.


The greatest West Wing episodes (Season 3)

ww3In the mists of my memory, the 3rd series wasn’t nearly as good as the 2nd. But having seen it through again now, I think it is still pretty much up there. The humour, drama and intrigue are all sustained throughout, although there were perhaps not as many individual standout episodes. Here are some of my favourite individual moments:

  • Josh revealing that he wanted to be a ballerina (aged 4) – in 3:3 Ways & Means
  • Toby’s speech to his staff after someone had leaked to the press – instead of a rocket, he inspires about what leadership and teamwork are all about – in 3:5 War Crimes
  • Jed deciding that he can recover from his censure by announcing a cure for cancer by the end of the decade  – in 3:11 100,000 Airplanes
  • The chess games Jed plays with Toby & Sam, illustrating the complexities of international diplomacy (especially when China is concerned) – in 3:14 Hartsfield’s Landing
  • Donna discovering that she might actually be Canadian and therefore can’t go to Abby’s birthday party; in the same episode, Marbury makes a stab at explaining Northern Ireland – in 3:15 Dead Irish Writers.
  • CJ having a go with Simon Donovan’s gun in the training centre, and Donna having to listen to arguments for North Dakota dropping the ‘North’ – in 3:20 We Killed Yamamoto

But the episodes that are worth noting are:

  • 3:9 – Bartlet for America – the episode where the heat gets turned up Leo on the Hill over Jed’s MS and he finds himself under attack for his alcoholism. He weathers the storm in true Leo-style, but what sets this episode apart are the various flashbacks he has. We see Jed as New Hampshire Governor, dealing with the most banal and parochial issues – it makes one wonder why anyone would want to get local politics at all. But Leo has the way out for him. And then the conclusion of the episode is enough to make grown-men weep (well it made Leo blubber, anyway).

BARTLET: What do you want to talk to me about? 
LEO: I’ve been thinking about getting back into politics. 
BARTLET: I think that’s great, man. I think it’s about time. You probably mean the House, but I think you should consider the Senate seat in Illinois in two years; I can help raise money. 
LEO: No, I wasn’t thinking about the Senate. I was thinking about the White House. 
BARTLET: Hey, Leo, I swear to God there’s no one I’d rather see in the Oval Office than you but if you run there’s going to be a lot of discussion about Valium and Alcohol. I mean, it’s going to come out; this is the world. 
LEO: Yeah. See, I wasn’t thinking about me. 
LEO: I’ve been walking around in a kind of daze for two weeks and everywhere I go…planes, trains, restaurants, meetings…I find myself scribbling something down. 
Leo takes a napkin out of his pocket, licks it, and sticks it on the posterboard easel. It reads “Bartlet for America.” 

A very revealing comment about alcoholics who relapse when Leo is asked why he kept it quite…

LEO: I went to rehab. My friends embraced me when I got out. You relapse, it’s not like that. “Get away from me” – that’s what it’s like.


BARTLET: Did you get a date with her?
LEO: It’s none of your business… [walks around behind his desk] I just came back to catch up on some work. [joking] See how badly you screwed up this church thing in Tennessee.
BARTLET: I did the church thing in Tennessee okay. I did it without you.
LEO: You mind if I make some calls – see if Tennessee’s still one of the states and stuff?
Bartlet smiles, stands, and picks up a small package with a big red bow from the table beside him.
BARTLET: So anyway, I have a present for you.
Bartlet walks over to Leo’s desk. Leo is surprised and acts like Bartlet really didn’t have to get him anything – although he’s clearly pleased Bartlet hands him the gift.
BARTLET: Merry Christmas, Leo.
Leo removes the bow, revealing a small square black frame holding the “BARTLET FOR AMERICA” napkin from their first meeting in New Hampshire. It’s wrinkled but it’s still legible. Leo stares at it for several moments, then slowly looks up at Bartlet. Clearly, he’s very moved.
BARTLET: That was awfully nice of you.
Leo looks down at the frame again and starts to lose control over his emotions. Bartlet senses this and leaves, walking through the passage to the Oval Office. Once Bartlet is gone, Leo shifts back and forth on his feet and holds the frame to his chest. When he can’t stay standing any longer, he sits down heavily in his chair. And then he allows himself a good cry.

  • 3:12 – The Two Bartlets – West Wing works best when it interweaves seemingly unrelated narratives and this episode is a case in point. Josh has to deal with an old friend who is an environmental protester, Sam is on the case of alien bodies being stored in Fort Knox, Donna has trouble with jury duty and Josh promises Amy a trip to Tahiti, all while Jed is kicking off the last campaign of his career. In the midst of it all, there is actually a sensible discussion about affirmative action – thus West Wing again avoids simplistic liberal bias. And then there is that extraordinarily real conversation between Toby and the President.

C. J.: I’m the wrong Democrat to talk to about [affirmative action].
Toby: Why?
C. J.: Because… After my father fought in Korea, he became what this government begs every college graduate to become. He became a teacher And he raised a family on a teacher’s salary, and he paid his taxes and always crossed at the green. And any time there was opportunity fo career advancement, it took him an extra five years because invariably there was a less qualified black woman in the picture. So instead of retiring as superintendent of the Ohio Valley Union Free School District, he retired head of the math department at William Henry Harrison Junior High.


Toby: Your father used to hit you, didn’t he, Mr. President?
Bartlet: Excuse me?
Toby: Your father used to hit you, sir?
Bartlet: Yeah.
Toby: Not like a spanking.
Bartlet: He hit me. Why?
Toby: He punched you.
Bartlet: I’m done being polite now.
Toby: He did it because you made him mad, but you didn’t know why.
Bartlet: Toby, it was a complicated relationship. Can I help you?
Toby: It was because you were smarter than he was.
Bartlet: It was a complicated relationship.
Toby: He didn’t like you, sir. That’s why he hit you. That’s why people hit each other. He didn’t like you. You were smarter than he was.
Bartlet: Why are we talking about this?
Toby: So maybe if you get enough votes, win one more election, you know? Maybe your father…
Bartlet: You have stepped way over the line! Any other president would have your ass on the sidewalk right now.
Toby: Yes sir.
Bartlet: They’d have had your ass on the sidewalk a long time ago. I don’t know what the hell goes on in a Brooklyn shrink’s office, but get it the hell out of my house! 

  • 3:21 – Posse Commitatus – the series climax, which inevitably ends in disaster, but of a much more personal kind than previously. Finding a new secretary for the President has its moments, while Jed has to work out what to do about the Qumari defence minister which gives him sleepless nights, and the political supersedes the personal for Josh and Amy while Jed and the crew go to watch our beloved RSC perform the bard’s history plays. It’s great that to see Lily Tomlin join the show, while Jeff Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ seems almost written for the moment.

CHARLIE: Mr. President, this is Deborah Fiderer. I’ll be right outside. [exits]
BARTLET:It’s Fiderer?
MS. FIDERER: Fideler. Fiderer. It’s Fiderer.
BARTLET: [while signing papers] I saw your resume, so we don’t need to talk about that. What have you been doing recently?
MS. FIDERER: I’m an alpaca farmer.
BARTLET: Like the sweaters?
MS. FIDERER: Before they’re sweaters.
BARTLET: Uh-huh. And before that?
MS. FIDERER: [rolls her eyes] Craps and blackjack.
BARTLET: You’re a professional gambler.
MS. FIDERER: I like the way that sounds.
MS. FIDERER: Bally’s… mostly.
BARTLET: Okay. Why did you leave the White House?
MS. FIDERER: Well, Mr. President, if you want to talk about getting screwed with your pants on…
She drops her bottled water, bends down and picks it up.
BARTLET: Charlie!
MS. FIDERER: I guess I… I got pretty-pretty well-doinked.
CHARLIE: [walks in] Yes, sir.
BARTLET: Can I have a minute?
CHARLIE: Yes, sir.
BARTLET: [to Ms. Fiderer] Would you mind waiting outside just a moment?
MS. FIDERER: [as she walks out] No, not at all.
BARTLET: [to Charlie] Is this a joke? If it’s a joke, it’s both funny and well-executed, but I think you and I both know that it’s not. I send you out to replace Delores Landingham, and that’s what you came home with?
CHARLIE: Was she…?
BARTLET: She was an alpaca farmer who needed two tries to get her own name.
CHARLIE: Well, sir, maybe…
BARTLET: Don’t worry about it. I’m gonna get the Personnel Office on it. I got to go change for New York.


Bartlet (to presidential rival, Ritchie): In the future, if you’re wondering, “Crime. Boy, I just don’t know.” is when I decided to kick your ass.


The greatest West Wing episodes (Season 2)

So now to Season 2 and still a long way off from the Santos/Obama prophecies. TWW had definitely got in its stride in this season – it was gritty and punchy, and still gripping. I think it is actually even better than the 1st Season.

The hand of Sorkin could be felt throughout, even in the episodes for which he didn’t take the final writing credits. We knew the main characters well by now, but there was still much to learn – and the series ventured into more backstories than the first season (eg how the staff was recruited onto the original campaign, Toby’s marriage to Andi, Bartlet’s relationship with his father and with Mrs Landingham etc). It was very hard to choose which to include, with some great set pieces. For example:

  • CJ falling into the swimming pool when Toby comes to LA to recruit her
  • Josh’s counselling for his post-traumatic stress.
  • The the deliberations about who would sit where at the Leadership breakfast only to realise they’d left the President out
  • Ainsley Hayes’ first (disastrous) meetings with Bartlet
  • the epic Senate filibuster by Stackhouse etc. 

But here are my stand-outs:

  • 2.1 & 2.2 – IN THE SHADOW OF THESE GUNMEN (pt 1 and pt 2) – you really need to take these 2 together. Fascinating to see how the team came together – especially because Bartlet doesn’t come across as particularly attractive character to begin with. This also sows the seeds for big questions that will come towards the end of the series, namely who is in power when Bartlet is unconscious.

Josh: The Democrats aren’t gonna nominate another liberal, academic, former governor from New England. I mean, we’re dumb, but we’re not that dumb.
Leo: Nah, I think we’re exactly that dumb.


Margaret: I can sign the President’s name. I have his signature down pretty good.
Leo: You can sign the President’s name?
Margaret: Yeah!
Leo: On a document removing him from power and handing it to someone else?!?
Margaret: Yeah. Or do you think the White House Counsel would say that’s a bad idea?
Leo: I think the White House Counsel would say that’s a coup d’état!
Margaret: I’d probably end up doing some time for that.
Leo: I would think!
(Margaret retreats to her office as C.J. enters)
Leo: And what the hell are you doing practicing the President’s signature?
Margaret: It’s just for fun.
Leo(*to C.J.): We’ve got separation of powers, checks and balances, and Margaret vetoing things and sending them back to the Hill! 

  • 2:4 – IN THIS WHITE HOUSE – the one about AIDS in Africa. I’ve mentioned this episode in a previous post. It is one of the best of the best – it avoids both an easy slam of pharmaceutical companies (even though they of course have much to answer for, they are not entirely dens of iniquity), and rosy-tinted or naïve solutions for Africa. Pres Nimbala of the fictional Equatorial Kuhndu is played by the wonderful Zakes Mokae (right), with real dignity, agony and integrity. The impact of this episode has not diminished since the first time i watched it – and having known friends die of AIDS in E Africa, and seen the tragic cycles of violence and corruption that compound the problems, it is painfully close to the bone. The conclusion of the episode breaks your heart – but is all too realistic. But as ever, the intensity and seriousness is given Shakespearean counterpoint, with the whole sequence of Ainsley Hayes’ drubbing of Sam and her subsequent recruitment.

Leo: (closes the door) Were you offered coffee or something to drink? 
Ainsley: Yes, the woman who works out there, who I imagine is your secretary, offered me coffee or something. 
Leo: Okay. 
Ainsley: She was also kind enough to ask for my coat. 
Leo: Excellent, and…
Ainsley: She seems to be a very good secretary. 
Leo: She’ll be happy to hear that, she’s standing right outside the door. 
(He thumps his hand on the door.)
Margaret (Voiceover): Ow. 


Nimbala: It’s a terrible thing to beg for your life. Terrible. My father… [slips back into mother tongue]
Interpreter: [to Nimbala] A proud man. 
Nimbala: Proud? Ah. My father was a proud man. He built homes. He wouldn’t like what I came here to do.
Toby: Yes he would, Mr. President. I swear to God, he would. 
Nimbala: [after a long silence] Thank you, sir. 

  • 2:8 – SHIBBOLETH – the one about Chinese stowaway immigrants arriving over Thanksgiving. As ever, high drama is interwoven with absurdity and comedy (this time provided by CJ’s agonised decision about which turkey the president should ‘pardon’. But it is not everyday that you get justification by faith discussed in earnest (albeit incompletely) described in a top tv show. It is very moving indeed.

C.J.: They sent me two turkeys. The more photo-friendly of the two gets a presidential pardon and a full life at a children’s zoo, and the runner-up gets eaten.
Bartlet: If the Oscars were like that, I’d watch.


Bartlet: How did you become a Christian?
Jhin-Wei: I began attending a house church with my wife in Fujian. Eventually, I was baptized.
Bartlet: How do you practice?
Jhin-Wei: We share bibles–we donít have enough. We sing hymns. We hear sermons. We recite the Lord’s Prayer. We are charitable.
Bartlet: Who is the head of your church?
Jhin-Wei: The head of our parish is an 84 year old man named Wen-Ling. He’s been beaten and imprisoned many times. The head of our church is Jesus Christ.
Bartlet: Can you name any of Jesus’ disciples? If you can’t, that’s okay. I usually can’t remember the names of my kids, or for that matter…
Jhin-Wei: Peter, Andrew, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Thaddeus, Simon, Judas and James. Mr. President, Christianity is not demonstrated through a recitation of facts. You’re seeking evidence of faith, a wholehearted acceptance of God’s promise for a better world. For we hold that man is ‘justified by faith alone’ is what St. Paul said. ‘Justified
by faith alone.’ Faith is the true… uh, Im trying to… shibboleth. Faith is the true shibboleth.
Bartlet: Yes, it is. And you sir, just said the magic word in more ways than one. Thank you. It was a pleasure to meet you.

  • tww-jedtoby2:18 – 17 PEOPLE – the one where Bartlet’s MS comes centre stage. It is quite brilliantly constructed and written, as we watch Toby over a number of days working out what has been going on all the time. It is tense. And it begins Bartlet’s bullishness about his failure to disclose that will last right into Season 3.

Sam: I flat out guarantee you that if men were biologically responsible for procreation, there’d be paid family leave in every Fortune 500.
Ainsley: Sam, if men were biologically responsible for procreation, they’d fall down and die at the first sonogram.


Toby : Leo said you had an attack last year.
Bartlet : Huh?
Toby : Leo said you had an attack last year.
Bartlet : Yeah.
Toby : Couple of nights before the State of the Union.
Bartlet : Yeah.
Toby : Wasn’t that also the night you saw satellite pictures of India moving on Kashmir?
Bartlet : Yeah.
Toby : India and Pakistan were staring each other down and control of some nuclear weapons had been put into field.
Bartlet : Yeah.
Toby : So in the middle of a– I don’t know what you call it.
Bartlet : An episode.
Toby : You were in the Situation Room as commander in chief.
Bartlet : I know. I can’t believe we’re all still here.

  • 2:22 – TWO CATHEDRALS – the season climax, and what a climax! The focus is of course Mrs Landingham’s funeral in the National Cathedral, but serious issues weave in and out (the crisis in Haiti, the legal battles with big Tobacco, the questions over whether or not Bartlet will stand for another term). This episode is TV drama at its absolute peak – and it breaks the heart with its raw, intense grief and its profound articulation of doubting God’s goodness in the face of suffering. We see Jed’s boyhood battles with his stern uncompromising headmaster-father and the beginnings of his relationship with Mrs Landingham. This all lays the groundwork for the extraordinary final scene. From a theological point of view, however, the reason that Bartlet is so angry is partly because he has a works mentality that assumes life is a divine/human quid-pro-quo. But that aside, if you’ve never been tempted to utter such pained and extreme grief-filled doubt, then you’ve never really suffered. Here are two longer quotes, one with Bartlet alone in the Cathedral, and the second with him discussing his situation with the imaginary ghost of Mrs Landingham.

bartlet-2-cathedralsBartlet: You’re a son of a bitch, you know that? She bought her first new car and you hit her with a drunk driver. What? Was that supposed to be funny? “You can’t conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,” says Graham Greene. I don’t know who’s ass he was kissing there ’cause I think you’re just vindictive. What was Josh Lyman? A warning shot? That was my son. What did I ever do to yours except praise his glory and praise his name? There’s a tropical storm that’s gaining speed and power. They say we haven’t had a storm this bad since you took out that tender ship of mine in the North Atlantic last year, 68 crew. You know what a tender ship does? It fixes the other ships. It doesn’t even carry guns. It just goes around and fixes the other ships and delivers the mail. That’s all it can do. Gratias tibi ago, domine. Yes, I lied. It was a sin. I’ve committed many sins. Have I displeased you, you feckless thug? 3.8 million new jobs, that wasn’t good? Bailed out Mexico. Increased foreign trade. Thirty million new acres of land for conservation. Put Mendoza on the bench. We’re not fighting a war. I’ve raised three children. That’s not enough to buy me out of the doghouse? Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto, a deo scito? Cruciatus in crucem. Tuus in terra servus, nuntius fui. Officium perfeci. Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem!


Bartlet: Damn it! Mrs. Landingham!
Mrs. Landingham: I really wish you wouldn’t shout, Mr. President.
Bartlet: The door keeps blowing open.
Mrs. Landingham: Yes, but there’s an intercom, and you can use it to call me at my desk.
Bartlet: I was…
Mrs. Landingham: You don’t know how to use the intercom.
Bartlet: It’s not that I don’t know how to use it. It’s just that I haven’t learned yet.
I have MS, and I didn’t tell anybody.
Mrs. Landingham: Yeah. So you’re having a little bit of a day.
Bartlet: You gonna make jokes?
Mrs. Landingham: God doesn’t make cars crash and you know it. Stop using me as an excuse.
Bartlet: Party’s not going to want me to run.
Mrs. Landingham: Party will come back. You’ll get them back.
Bartlet: I’ve got a secret for you, Mrs. Landingham. I’ve never been the most popular guy in the Democratic Party.
Mrs. Landingham: I’ve got a secret for you, Mr. President. Your father was a prick who could never get over the fact that he wasn’t as smart as his brothers. Are you in a tough spot? Yes. Do I feel sorry for you? I do not. Why? Because there are people way worse off then you.
Bartlet: Give me numbers.
Mrs. Landingham: I don’t know numbers. You give ’em to me.
Bartlet: How about a child born in this minute has a one-in-five chance of being born into poverty.
Mrs. Landingham: How many American’s don’t have health insurance?
Bartlet: 44 million.
Mrs. Landingham: What’s the number one cause of death for black men under 35?
Bartlet: Homicide.
Mrs. Landingham: How many Americans are behind bars?
Bartlet: 3 million.
Mrs. Landingham: How many Americans are drug addicts?
Bartlet: 5 million.
Mrs. Landingham: And one-in-five kids in poverty?
Bartlet: That’s 13 million American children. 3 and a half million kids are going to schools that are literally falling apart. We need 127 billion in school construction and we need it today.
Mrs. Landingham: To say nothing of 53 people trapped in an embassy.
Bartlet: Yes.
Mrs. Landingham: You know, if you don’t want to run again, I respect that. But if you don’t run because you think it’s going to be too hard or you think you’re going to lose well, God, Jed, I don’t even wanna know you.



There are loads of these articles around which compare the USA2008 election to Seasons 6 & 7 – but here is one of the better ones (HT Brie Barton) – Following the Script (NYT Oct 29 08)


Wordle on what makes me tick

Wordle is just great. Here is a compilation of everything that makes me tick


The greatest West Wing episodes (Season 1)

Indulgent but important! This is the start of a little blog series, season by season.

TWW is seminal television. And let no one dissuade you of the fact. It is not just because Season 7 was an almost word perfect prediction of the 2008 US Presidential race; nor because it’s essentially left-of-centre political fantasy; nor even because it (still) seems to be at trendy thing to be in to. [I’d just like to point out, as i do frequently, that i was THERE, hooked from the VERY FIRST episode on Channel 4 way back in 1999.] No, the reason is that it is just great drama. It is television at its best – it’s entertaining with great characters, it’s thought-provoking on serious issues without preaching (well not that much); Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is just a feast for the ears (pacey, brittle, witty, concise and even occasionally hugely informative – in short, just brilliant). And it manages to make me laugh – sometimes a lot.

Now there are of course nay-sayers. They usually object to the rosy-tinted view of the world where earnest, well-motivated and essentially honest people try to do their very best for their fellow man and woman. We all know that life just isn’t like that. I remember a good American friend describing Washington (and he might easily have described the worst corners of Westminster as well) as ‘a white-washed tomb’. But hey – a bit of escapism never did anyone any harm, surely? Then, because it is American TV and because I’m a cynical world-weary Brit, there are definitely moments of American schmaltz and sentimentalism which even a diehard like me can’t quite stomach. But truth be told, there’s a part of me that wishes we weren’t always so cynical.

So here is my list from Season 1 – in airing order because I can’t think of any other order to put them in. The reasons for inclusion range from being dramatic to dealing with real matters of substance, from being downright hilarious to being genuinely poignant. Do let me know what you think and what you’d add/subtract.

  • 1:5 – THE CRACKPOTS & THESE WOMEN – One of Leo’s big block of Cheese days. Some great dialogue and especially good to see CJ trying to take the wolf highway people seriously. Also, quite poignant when Josh gets the Secret Service card admitting only him to safety in the event of a nuclear attack.

Toby: It’s “Throw Open Our Office Doors To People Who Want To Discuss Things That We Could Care Less About… Day”

  • 1:14 – TAKE THIS SABBATH DAY – The death penalty one. Mixes both high drama (will Bartlet commute a drug-pusher’s death sentence?) and almost slapstick humour (Josh wearing Sam’s all-weather sailing dungarees, after a boozy stag night, at his first meeting with the wonderful Joey Lucas). But the final scene with Karl Malden (cameoing as Bartlet’s old priest, Fr Cavanaugh) is simply amazing. As Martin Sheen himself said of this episode: To see the most powerful man in the world get down on the floor of the Oval Office and ask forgiveness for his sins – finally I got to do something personal.

Father Cavanaugh: You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. And that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, ‘I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.’ The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, ‘Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.’ But the man shouted back, ‘I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.’ A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, ‘Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I’ll take you to safety.’ But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety. Well… the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?’ God said, ‘I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?’

  • 1:21 – LIES, DAMNED LIES & STATISTICS – The FEC campaign finance one. All about the machinations involved in getting the people you want into the positions you want. Seeing Barry Haskill’s face as he gets ushered into the Oval Office in the Leo-prompted assumption that it’s ‘where we keep the drinks’ is a peach. Also good is the moment where Bartlet asks an old businessman friend (Mitchell) to hire an ambassador:

Bartlet: Let me just tell you, I need a favor. I need you to hire a guy.
Mitchell: Who sir?
Bartlet: A former ambassador to Bulgaria.
Mitchell: Who is that, sir?
Bartlet: Ken Cochran.
Mitchell: Well, isn’t Ken Cochran the current ambassador to Bulgaria?
Bartlet: Not for long. Look, he’s a good man, a smart man, I think he’d make a very good corporate officer.
Mitchell: Why is he being fired, sir?
Bartlet: Gross incompetence. I’ll be right back.


On a separate but not unrelated note, here is the transcript from an imagined conversation between President Jed Bartlet and Senator Barack Obama from the New York Times last month.


Why I’m so thrilled the book has an orange cover.

Well, Tim Chester has done it, so I feel i can do the same. It seems that the trendies of UCCF have gotten creative – and produced a students 10 must-read list for the recent New Word Alive spoofing TV programmes and ads (from Antiques Roadshow to The Office via Top Gear, Jamie Oliver and M&S food ads). Pretty funny really. Although, I suppose I’m a little confused (call me narrow) why the guy who did my book (who I’m sure is a very lovely bloke) started riffing on why he’d like to be an orange with everyone wanting to peel him. Weird. I wonder what he would have come up with if it still had the old cover (see right).

For info, the books are:

  • Glory Days, Julian Hardyman (IVP)
  • Cross-Examined, Mark Meynell (IVP)
  • Out of the Salt-Shaker, Rebecca Manley-Pipert (IVP)
  • Dig Deeper, Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach (IVP)
  • Delighting in the Trinity, Tim Chester (Lion)
  • Let the Nations be Glad, John Piper (IVP)
  • Battles Christians Face, Vaughan Roberts (Authentic)
  • Sex is not the problem (Lust is), Joshua Harris (Multnomah)
  • The Devoted Life – Introduction to the Puritans, Kelly Kapic & Randall Gleason (IVP)
  • God’s New Community, Graham Beynon (IVP)

HT also to Dave Bish


A palpable hit: Mma Precious Ramotswe triumphant

We watched the greatly anticipated, feature-length pilot of The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency last night. Poignant because of the death of its director, Anthony Minghella this week, it was a triumph. I’d been nervous because we’ve loved the books so much. They capture so wonderfully and incongruously (I mean, you couldn’t invent Alexander McCall Smith, the Scottish medical lawyer who gets under the skin of Botswana – below with Jill Scott who plays Precious) the drone of crickets and freshness of an African dawn.

Of course, it is fantasy. But then isn’t all drama? And it paints a wonderfully positive picture of African culture. But then how often do we get that on film? Think of these films: sure they have their heroes and uplift, but the worlds they present are not exactly bristling with optimism, are they?
  • Cry Freedom
  • The Constant Gardener
  • The Last King of Scotland
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • Blood Diamond
This is more Miss Marple than Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect) – it does for African female detectives what Agatha Christie did for cycling spinsters living in the English shires! But this is not to say that the cruelties of African life are completely obscured. After all, Precious is a detective. The sinister world of witch doctors abducting children and the exigencies of poverty (i.e. the insurance scams to pay for AIDS orphans’ education etc) are never far away. Mma Ramotswe has both a profound humanity and a fearless sense of justice that are magnetic and always manage to find a way through it all. The credit for this of course must ultimately go to McCall-Smith’s books – but what was such a relief and a joy was that the film so faithfully captured all of this and more. Beautifully filmed, tight but authentic script, wonderful acting (lots of minor characters stick in the mind, esp Spooks actor David Oyelowo playing ladies’ man Kremlin!).

I have to say it all made me nostalgic and miss our life in Uganda – which now seems a millennium away. What a different, distant life it all seems. We won’t do to get all rosy-tinted about things – but this film reminded me so strongly why I love Africa so much. And you can’t say fairer than that.


Obama punditry – and the middle east crisis

OK – time now for a return to some silly, far-fetched speculative speculation which is neither here nor there, but it will give me quiet pleasure if I’m proved right.

So how about this?

Obama wins the Democratic nomination – and then chooses Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Totally ridiculous of course, especially as those who know about these things think it impossible. Not least because Lieberman is only just a member of the Democratic Party. But get this:

  • Obama is on the left of the Democratic Party; Lieberman is very much to the right. Together they could bring the whole party with them, as well as build a national consensus. Of course, their contradictory positions on Iraq could be the deal-breaker here though.
  • Obama is the new kid on the block – he’s the ‘Change we can believe in’ etc. But Lieberman would bring the years of experience he lacks. Quite a combination I’d say

But this is the most intriguing aspect of their potential pairing:

  • Obama is half white American Christian and half Kenyan Muslim, (ethnically if not religiously). Lieberman is Jewish. Just think of the statement that could make for the intractable problems in the Middle East. Could this not bring a brand new credibility to the process, which the current administration could only dream of, let alone that of ‘our man’ out there, Blair?


Thanks to Andrew Burkinshaw for this link. But it seems that the West Wing similarities observed before are not so accidental. Check out Jonathan Freedland’s article from yesterday’s Guardian. I mean, just check out this photo:

This is how Freedland sums it all up:

Barack Obama v Matt Santos

Barack Obama

  • Young, handsome and charismatic member of Congress, attempts to become America’s first non-white president.
  • Began political career as a community organiser in a big city (Chicago) before winning first election at local level. Married, with two young children.
  • Faced stiff opposition in Democratic primary against occupant of the White House during previous Democratic administration (first lady Hillary Clinton)
  • Rivals attack him as inexperienced after just four years in Congress, but triumphs through grassroots support, inspiring speeches and message of change.
  • Republican opponent is veteran moderate senator from a western state, unpopular with conservative base (John McCain of Arizona).

Matt Santos

  • Young, handsome and charismatic member of Congress, attempts to become America’s first non-white president.
  • Began political career as a community organiser in a big city (Houston) before winning first election at local level. Married, with two young children.
  • Faced stiff opposition in Democratic primary against occupant of the White House during previous Democratic administration (vice president Bob Russell).
  • Rivals attack him as inexperienced after just six years in Congress, but triumphs through grassroots support, inspiring speeches and message of change.
  • Republican opponent was veteran moderate senator from a western state, unpopular with conservative base (Arnie Vinick of California).

meet the clintstones – and isn’t McCain actually Arnold Vinick?


I hope I’m not breaching copyright rules, but it seemed to me that this is yet another example of Private Eye genius (from this week’s – issue 1203, 8th Feb edition). The photo (from the Guardian website) below is of official campaign badges – one can only assume that the team is desperately hoping that Bill won’t derail Hill.


But the Flintstones is not the only TV link in this year’s US election. For as Ross Hendry mentioned to me this week (and managed to put his finger on something that was only a vague thought in my mind), this election is getting more and more like West Wing by the minute. As such this is not an original thought and pundits this side of the Atlantic from the Daily Mail to the Guardian via BBC news online, are drawing obvious parallels.


But as Ross observed, the plot of the 2008 primaries seems to be careering towards that of TWW Season 7:

…the current race bears remarkable similarity to West wing season 7? old moderate conservative, slightly outspoken sweeps the republican party nomination, whilst the democrats have a close race that goes down to horse trading at the DNC. And we may end up with a young charismatic ethnic minority candidate! Let’s hope the televised debate is as good as the West Wing….


So in keeping with Quaerentia’s ground breaking tradition of punditry, how about this:

McCain = Vinick













Obama = Santos














Which just leaves Billary…?

So if we follow this logic, is it not fitting that Obama’s chief rival is in fact 2 people: Billary. Which also seems to fit rather nicely with TWW. Since in Season 6, Santos’ rivals in the contest for Democratic nominee were the 2 Vice-Presidents , ‘Bingo’ Bob Russell and John Hoynes. Which all means that Billary will lose.



TV theology 2: LOST’s Sayid experiences the liberation of real forgiveness

In my opinion, LOST Season 3 is much better than Season 2 (the latter just got silly – well more silly than the other stuff). I know we’re a bit behind the times but have been working through it as a result of a lovely Christmas present. For the uninitiated, Sayid (played by Brit, Naveen Andrews) was a torturer with the Iraqi Republican Guard under Saddam Hussein. He is one of a large number of survivors of a terrible plane crash onto a deeply mysterious island, somewhere in the South Pacific. In each episode, a different character is the focus and we learn more about them through a series of flashbacks. In the episode ENTER 77, Sayid has a flashback to his time working as a chef in Paris – and finds himself kidnapped by the husband of someone who claims he tortured her back in Iraq. Here she confronts him. NB – the first minute or so is a bit gruesome!

If this clip doesn’t work, then you can watch it on the Youtube site here. Don’t quite understand why it works sometimes and not others.

Forgiveness here is profoundly liberating. But notice it is also linked to admission of guilt. And the guilt was genuine, as the clip shows. It had plagued and haunted Sayid ever since. His only escape from the vicious cycle of revenge was for forgiveness to break it. It is what Dr Truman in the ER clip (previous posting) longs for but never found in the hospital. But it is remarkably what Sayid finds from his victim.
After this flashback, Sayid’s forgiveness has a major impact on his life and methods – and creates significant tensions amongst fellow-survivors his part in the drama. But it all goes to remind me of the essential Christian imperative that is derived from the gospel liberation of forgiveness. (Ephesians 4:23-5:2) Of course, not everyone has the ‘luxury’ of being able to find forgiveness from the people they have wronged. Estrangement or bereavement are two such barriers, as is a victim’s unwillingness to forgive. Which is why it is all the more amazing that the gospel brings total and divine liberation for every conceivable (and inconceivable) wrongdoing.


TV Theology 1: ER exposes postmodern forgiveness

Thanks are due for this to my friend, Paul Carter, the-pastor-with-his-eye-on-the-pulse (if you can have eyes on pulses) over there in Virginia. Last week’s ER episode (I was a devotee when it started in the mid-90s but have rather fallen out of the habit) shown in the USA is intriguingly called Atonement. Seems to be a bit of a trend (see earlier post). I’ve obviously not seen the whole episode, but this clip is just fascinating.
The guy in the bed is a former prison doctor, Dr Truman, who is dying of cancer. He is gripped by guilt over his involvement in the execution of an innocent framed for murder (I think, on the basis of this short clip). Reiko Aylesworth (recognisable to all 24 fans) is Julia Dupree, a chaplain in postmodern mould. Truman’s fury exposes the absurdity and cruelty of relativist platitudes when confronted with our mortality. Of course, much more needs to be said about whether or not there is even the possibility of knowing truth and having confidence of forgiveness or atonement. But what this clip shows very shockingly is that the spirit of our age simply will not do. We’re no doubt meant to feel acutely sorry for Julia Dupree – but in the end, Truman is surely right.
Here is some of the script (courtesy of
Dr. Truman: I don’t want to go on. Can’t you see? I’m old. I have cancer. I’ve had enough. The only thing that is holding me back is that I am afraid. I am afraid of what comes next.
Julia: What do you think that is?
Dr. Truman: No, you tell me. Is atonement even possible? What does God want from me?
Julia: I think it’s up to each one of us to interpret what God wants.
Dr. Truman: So people can do anything? They can rape, murder, they can steal, all in the name of God, and it’s okay?
Julia: No. That’s not what I’m saying.
Dr. Truman: (voice rising to a shout) Well, what are you saying? Because all I’m hearing is some new age, God is love, one size fits all crap!
The classic bit though is just before this:
Dr. Truman: God tried to stop me from killing an innocent man, and I ignored the sign. How can I even hope for forgiveness?
Julia: I think … sometimes it’s easier to feel guilty than forgiven.
That may well be the case – but her crucial omission in all of this, which Truman is ruthlessly and rightly clear about, is that there IS SUCH A THING as objective guilt… For which forgiveness is the only hope. While our take on reality is always flawed, partial, provisional, or even misguided, we cannot avoid the simple truth that reality is a reality (if I can put it like that!) and that things can be and are objectively true.

The Battle of Britain from the ghetto – litigation & the me-culture

Never analyse humour – it takes the heart from the soul.

Still, these two clips from Friday night’s episode of the Armstrong & Miller show are ingenious, provocative AND funny. Incongruous juxtaposition is the key – yanking modern (sometimes ‘colourful’) street-speak out of context and injecting it into the mindset of Battle of Britain fighter pilots. It exposes our self-obsessed and litigious age for what it is – and tentatively suggests that modern generations lack the nerve to make the same sacrifices.

Yellow Spitfire, anyone…?



Louis Theroux’s plastic surgery – what counts is what’s underneath

louistheroux.jpgI adore Louis Theroux – he goes where no one else goes. He has a humanity and a very unpatronising way of trying to get at what makes people tick. And yet i find that he always gently asks the questions one is longing to ask. He doesn’t care if the people he meets are pariahs or oddballs in other people’s eyes. This was especially clear in his hugely enjoyable book The Call of the Weird – in which he revisits people that he’s filmed in the past to see how they’ve got on (including UFO contactees in Arizona, porn stars in LA and neo-Nazis in Idaho).

But last night he was back on form with his BBC2 programme, Under The Knife. He wanted to get under the skin (pun intended – sorry) of the USA plastic surgery industry. Having been uncertain before, he even decided to have liposuction himself (at his own expense, apparently), even though he is clearly not overweight. But what was particularly striking was the things that some of the patients he talked to had in common. They seemed nice enough people – but what clearly motivated the cosmetic changes were deep emotional scars or persistent insecurities. I couldn’t help but be moved by Adrian, the German sales rep now living in the States. At the age of 50 had had a whole load of procedures (including pecs and bicep implants) – as Louis gently probed, it became obvious why. His step-father for 15 years had called him ‘an ugly bastard’. Decades later, the pain is still with him and he has to do something about it. Then there was the already pretty woman who had been in an on-off relationship with a bloke upstairs for 8 years – who decided to have all kinds of things (including breast implants, brow-raise and liposuction) to improve her confidence and attractiveness. The bloke upstairs came down to inspect and was impressed – and she was pleased. But as my wife Rachel commented, what would have been better for her was if he’d actually said “You look fantastic … but I love you anyway, regardless of how you look”. But he clearly wasn’t going to do that.

If we have to have reality TV, then this is the only sort they should allow. A key question that Theroux asked the surgeons (the breast-sculpting surgeon was particularly oleaginous) was whether or not they contributed to the culture of vanity and self-obsession. At least the guy who did Louis’ lipo had the honesty to give a clear yes. But with a few of those interviewed, vanity wasn’t their primary problem. It was a profound sense of personal insecurity. When Louis asked one of them how she knew it would improve her life, she simply replied, ‘I just know’. And Louis could sense that that was not necessarily enough in the end. As ever, self-esteem boils down not to self-love, but true love – the faithful and stable love from another. Which of course only a death on a cross can ultimately provide.


Zimbabwe: a despotic shrug, but at least things are happening

Making a stand

It’s always difficult to join a bandwagon – but then, if that bandwagon is heading in the right direction, then not to join it is itself problematic.

  • So good to see Gordon Brown making a strong stand for the EU-AU summit (yesterday)
  • Also inevitable to see Mugabe shrugging it off (today)
  • Also, in case you missed it, is the news that China is withdrawing backing from Zimbabwe (report 31st Aug) after years of propping up the decrepit and discredited Mugabe (see photo).

Perhaps this humble blog is making a difference after all… And perhaps our beloved Prime Minister will get the prize from Quaerentia’s very own Spot The Difference competition.


Art imitating life?

Incidentally, I am acutely sensitive to the way that Africa gets portrayed in fiction and on screen (i have a forthcoming review of Last King of Scotland coming soon). So much is patronising, ignorant or profoundly unhelpful.

So I had my antennae out on stalks last night when we watched Season 5, episode 4 of SPOOKS (known as MI-5 in the US) – the new boxed set happily arrived last week! After a pretty iffy and unrealistic concept and start, it did improve – not least because of its portrayal of the moral dilemmas inherent in involvement with African politics. Read the synopsis here if you’ve not see it and don’t want to. It revolves around a G8/AU (African Union) summit to deal with fair trade deals for Africa – obviously a perennial and knotty issue. It is obviously tv – and real life is much more complex than could ever be conveyed in a spy thriller. But dare i say it, i couldn’t help wondering whether or not there were any deliberate similarities between the fictional President Sekoa of West Monrassa (played by the excellent George Harris) and President Museveni of Uganda – both lauded in the west as African pioneers and leaders, while getting up to all kinds of dodgy stuff behind the facade.

And while we’re on this tack – one of my favourite West Wing episodes, and one which really breaks the heart, is Season 2 episode 4: In This White House. While all kinds of different plot lines are being followed (in true TWW style), the primary concern is that of a dialogue between the CEOs of major US Pharmaceuticals and an African president looking for ways to get cheaper HIV/AIDS drugs to his continent. Played by the brilliant South African actor Zakes Mokae, President Nimbala of Khundu comes across as a sympathetic leader doing his best against impossible odds – but thwarted at every turn. The ending is simply tragic – but not implausible (which makes it all the more affecting). And yet without being patronising or generalising, the episode realistically and movingly conveys the agonies of the continent. There are no glib solutions here – and that is precisely the point.