Category Archives: The West Wing


It’s not often the Oxford English Dictionary fails to trace an etymology, but in this case, it does:

slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.). With the. Detailed and esp. confidential information about a person or topic, ‘the low-down’; (also more generally) news, gossip.

Though I suspect the Senate vote on the “skinny” Health Care Bill was more about:

orig. U.S. A cup of coffee or a coffee-based beverage made with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk

Meaning: thin, unsustainting, not nutricious, less than stimulating, more for appearance than any real benefit.

Now to Nate Silver on The vote has just gone down on the defection of Senators Collins, McCain and Murkowski. We knew two of those would be hold-outs, but we were meant to be surprised by John McCain. As if he hadn’t signalled already …

This is usually the time when FiveThirtyEight would say “let’s not get too carried away …” but, well, this is one of those times when you should maybe get carried away? It’s not really a surprise that the bill failed. It always had a lot of problems, and Republicans didn’t come close to passing straight repeal or BCRA in the Senate in earlier votes. But that it failed in a way that will be so embarrassing to both McConnell and Trump is noteworthy and will have all sorts of implications for Republicans.

Enough already.

But there were a couple of “issues”.

Lisa Ann Muskowski has been around some time — she’s been the Senator for Alaska since 2002. Go to that official web-page and find that she has established clearly her “red lines”:

… many provisions of the ACA that have worked for Alaska that Senator Murkowski believes should be retained. Those provisions are:

  • Prohibitions on the discrimination for pre-existing conditions

  • No annual or lifetime limits

  • Coverage up to age 26

  • Continuation of coverage afforded under Medicaid Expansion

  • Maintaining access to Planned Parenthood facilities

This is a lady who has seen off the Alaskan Republicans previously: they tried to elbow her out in the 2010 Primary, so she went for a write-in campaign, and took out the ‘official’ GOP nominee (a Tea Party and Palin face)  by four clear points. The sheer bone-headedness of the Trump Administration is — yet again — on show trying to rough up the lady. Or, as Silver has it:

the Interior Department’s threats to screw over Alaska — presumably ordered by the White House

See it here:

Another indicator was the way some republican Senators kept their powder dry. Heller (Rep, Nevada) and Sasse (Rep. Nebraska) held their votes back until it was clear they could vote with their party leadership without disturbing the outcome. Ah, c’mon! Done it myself in London Borough politics: once you know the party has the votes, a pointless show of principle becomes easier. In this case, it works the other way: a show of partisan loyalty would be cheap compared to putting the boot into the higher-ups.

So here we are, relishing the aggravation caused Trump and McConnell. It looks as if the weirdo fringes have been consigned back into their boxes. McConnell is begging Democratic input (and — as things stand — it’s only too easy to watch the GOP leadership swivelling in the wind).

But the real Democrat goodies are still there for the taking. This session has not produced the repeal of ObamaCare, and there is no reason to believe much will change. Effectively, then, we are half-way to the mid-terms. There’s something in The West Wing about the short windows of political opportunity in the American system. If a decision doesn’t get actioned in the first six or eight months of a term, it runs up against the next electoral cycle. So: strike one to the Dems.

Then there are 49 GOP Senators and over two hundred members of the House who bear the mark-of-Cain on TrumpCare. Short of actually dumping on twenty million or more suddenly deprived of health-care (and resentful about it) that can’t be bad party politics.

But above all, here’s another aggrieved citizen — but this one with a soapbox:

“Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski is declaring it “Failure Friday” for President Trump, saying that if you want to know what failure looks like, “just take a look at the last 36 hours of the Trump presidency.”


Filed under health, History, The West Wing, underclass, United States, US Elections, US politics

Meanwhile, a bit of American decency and good news

dfe98e-20161108-omar11Ilhan Omar is now a member of the Minnesota House of representatives, representing House District 60B.

None too many days ago, Donald Trump was telling the world how Somali immigration represented a threat to the State of Minnesota, and — by extension— to the entire United States.

The lasting success of the United States is the ability to nurture and integrate talent from around the world. Why, even the grandson of a Kallstadt draft-evader and  barber’s apprentice can make it to the White House. We’ve just got to become used to it.

Cue the coda of  The West Wing: Episode 4.01 — “20 Hours in America part 1″. Peter Lien, son of a Vietnamese refugee, has been elected to Congress.

BARTLET: Leo, meet Congressman Peter Lien, Texas 22nd. Peter, this is Leo McGarry, U.S. Air Force, 144th Fighter Wing.

LEO: Pleased to meet you, Congressman.

BARTLET: Peter’s family fishes in Galveston Bay, but they don’t catch marlin. It’s a sore spot, and he doesn’t like to talk about it. Peter’s 34 years old.

LEO: I’m sorry it’s been two months and we haven’t been able to get you up here until now.

LIEN: No, please. It’s a bust time. If there’s any help I can give you in Texas…

BARTLET: Ordinarily I would tell you that Jim Coor was a good public servant, and you’ve got big shoes to fill, and he was and you do, but obviously you have a bigger symbolic responsibilty then that.

LIEN: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: But you biggest responsibiltity isn’t symbolic, right?

LIEN: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: What is it?

LIEN: It’s my district, my country, and the Congress of the United States.

BARTLET: Welcome, my friend, to the show that never ends.

LIEN: Thank you, Mr. President.

Or, in real life, the real President lists the contributions made by Asian-Americans.

To cheer us up, there’s imminent mid-Terms on Tuesday, 6th November, 2018.

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Filed under The West Wing, United States, US Elections, US politics

Chris Bryant blows the doors off

The reference is to The West Wing, episode 7, series 2, The Portland Trip:

Sam:Oratory should raise your heart rate. Oratory should blow the doors off the place. We should be talking about not being satisfied with past solutions, we should be talking about a permanent revolution.
Toby:Where have I heard that?
Sam:Permanent revolution?
Sam:I got it from a book.
Toby: What book?
Sam:The Little Red Book.
Toby:You think we should quote Mao Tse-Tung?
Sam:We do need a permanent revolution.
Toby:Still, I think we’ll stay away from quoting Communists.
Sam:You think a Communist never wrote an elegant phrase?
Sam:How do you think they got everybody to be Communists?

So that’s where John McDonnell got the idea!

Those who believe great oratory is not dead will take comfort from Chris Bryant giving Chris Grayling (and others) a right doing-over:


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Filed under History, politics, socialism., The West Wing, Tories.

Liberalism lives

I doubt that many made this association. I only did so because of a warped mind, and a preference for movies over deep philosophising (and didn’t my degree suffer as a result).

These last few days the Daily Mail has a new bone to gnaw. Having failed to nail Ed Miliband as “the enemy within” (or at least the son thereof), it needed easier meat.

Out of the blue (true, deep Tory Blue), the Mail discovered (or rather rediscovered — it is a serial slur)  that Harriet Harman, her husband Jack Dromey and Patricia Hewitt were:

Apologists for paedophiles … all linked to a group lobbying for the right to have sex with children

The “link” is somewhat tangential. All three named “suspects” were active, many years ago, in the National Council for Civil Liberties. The NCCL was open to all willing supporters. The Paedophile Information Exchange was one of several hundreds, if not thousands, of affiliates. Therefore, in the definition of the Daily Mail, there has to be a direct dot-to-dot.

Harriet Harman has issued a powerful (and, to me, convincing) refutation of the Mail smears. Don’t take it from me: read it for yourself.

The connection

The NCCL is the British equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union. Every denigration of the ACLU has already been rehearsed, honed and perfected by the American Right. The Mail is just buying into the play-book.

MV5BMTI5NDU2NDYzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDk5MDI5._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_The American President was a more-than-decent 1995 Rob Reiner movie. The script was by Aaron Sorkin (it won him the Writers Guild of America award for best screenplay) and it was, in effect, his prototype for The West Wing:

Andrew Shepherd is approaching the end of his first term as President of the United States. He’s a widower with a young daughter and has proved to be popular with the public. His election seems assured. That is until he meets Sydney Ellen Wade, a paid political activist working for an environmental lobby group. He’s immediately smitten with her and after several amusing attempts, they finally manage to go on a date (which happens to be a State dinner for the visiting President of France). His relationship with Wade opens the door for his prime political opponent, Senator Bob Rumson, to launch an attack on the President’s character, something he could not do in the previous election as Shepherd’s wife had only recently died.

Thank you, garykmcd, for that efficient synopsis.

So to President Shepherd’s Big Speech:

There’s a continuation of that speech which precisely defines the Daily Mail smear-technique:

… interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who to blame for it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo …

See it for yourself:

I’m with President Shepherd, Deputy Leader Harman, and anyone of real decency here.

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Filed under Daily Mail, films, Labour Party, sleaze., The West Wing, Tories.

First as drama. Then as farce.

There’s a meme out there: comparing what is happening right now in Washington — the President versus the Tea-Party dominated GOP House — with The West Wing, episode 8, series 5, Shutdown.

Nowhere is the comparison so aptly managed as this effort by Marlow Stern’s vamp in The Daily Beast:

Which raises more localist thoughts and comparisons in Malcolm’s mind … [Coming up!]

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Filed under Amazon, The West Wing, United States, US politics

Dave revisited

Way, way back, when Malcolm’s Home and Away Services were blogspotted, he found himself pre-occupied with the multiplicity of Daves.

twangThat was prompted in part by George Strait’s 2009 album, Twang. Then newly-released it was thoroughly raspberries by Steve Morse, reviewing it for the Boston Globe. Across the Great Divide, Randy Lewis for the LA Times nailed it as:

a pretty nifty summation of what commercial country is, circa 2009.

Note that “commercial”. It is not a compliment, but it makes one wonder what “uncommercial country” must amount. Particularly so when it’s a “big hat”act.

Anyway, Twang includes a song, Arkansas Dave (a folksy old-fashioned C&W morality, credited to Strait’s son):

He rode up on a winter day,
Steam rising off the street, they say.
Said, “You probably know my name:
If you don’t it’s Arkansas Dave.

He talked of fifteen years ago,
And how he got to play hero.
Said he killed a man in Ohio:
First man he killed, first horse he stole.

Marty Robbins did this kind of thing with more style, and more originality, a half century gone.

Johnny Cash could, and did, do it sequentially — starting with Don’t Take Your Guns to Town in 1958. When Strait’s boastful (and totally forgettable — Malcolm wishes he could purge it from his memory) Dave ends up miscalculating the odds, and dead in that same street, we are not prostrate in bestaggerment.

Still, let’s hear the good stuff:

In honour of Diddy Dave Cameron, who hasn’t been having a good few days of late, what other lyrics celebrate the forename of the moment?

11021614438_3-W231His Name is Alive, on the King of Sweet album (not Malcolm’s sort of thing, at all, but if you have one, don’t shout about it: it’s worth the odd bob) did two in a row: Ode on a Dave Asman and A Dave in the Life.

Boomtown Rats achieved something eponymous and a bit better known (Pete Townsend rated it), as the opener for The Long Grass album:

But please,
The view from on your knees
Keep going, Dave.

That one was deep into the trans-Atlantic deep doodoo. The US executives thought it odd that a man might sing a love song to a “Dave”. It had to be re-recorded and issued as Rain. There is a clip on YouTube, but it’s blocked in the UK.
Then we have Caffein(UK punk-rockers, on the road less-taken — unfairly so) doing Dave’s Song (In Slow Motion):

I looked up to the sky, and I saw a figure
It was small with shiny lights;
And out of this, this little blue figure,
With the small shining lights
Stepped a little blue man,
With a little blue figure
And he said to me “Do you believe?”

Some kind of psychological profile is emerging here; and it doesn’t flatter Daves.

Let’s go to the movies …

Dave (1993)On the great Silver Screen (but more at home on off-off-peak sitting-room TV), there was Kevin Kline’s 1993 outing as Dave.

In Malcolm’s view, that was a more than decent movie: light, frothy, with a heart in the proper place. It references two recognisable characters:

  • the scheming, creepy, on-the-make Bob Alexander (played by Frank Langella), the inspiration for subsequent melodramatic villains of the Dubya coyer: Karl Rove and Veep Cheney;


  • the decent, honourable Vice-President Nance (a cameo for Ben Kingsley). He takes the name from “Cactus Jack”, FDR’s first Vice-President, John Nance Garner, and his unacceptably-progressive (except in the company of such as President Jed Bartlet) ideology from FDR’s second, Henry Agard Wallace. In historical terms, just as well that FDR’s death precipitated his third pick, Harry Truman, who deservedly gets into everyone’s Top Ten of all time, into the job.

The slogan on which Dave was advertised went:

In a country where anybody can become President, anybody just did.

The US of A allows even a self-confessed “mutt, like me” to reach the highest office in the land, but, as far as Malcolm can recall, the only time a real “David” made it into the White House, he was David Dwight Eisenhowe (and he didn’t make too bad a show of it). In the UK, of course, it helps to see a Dave through if he has royal cousinage, is descended from the mistress of a royal princeling, has a wife with connections to the Astors, and some £20 million of inheritance money.

david-golden-balls-1345794682Why are some Daves unfailingly “David”?

In particular, why was “Golden Balls” always given his full birth name, never abbreviated — or when he was, he became “Becks”?

Even St David of Wales is allowed to be “Davey”, but that’s largely because he is also Dewi Sant. If one is the author of all those psalms, you get your full moniker, and pass it on to all the others. Dabíd mac Maíl Choluim and Daibhidh a Briuis, as the two Kings David of Scotland, are historically dignified without shortening. And if you were sculpted by Bernini, by Donatello, by Michelangelo or by Verrochio, you get the full five-syllables, though one of you spends eternity in the buff.

David, Prince of Wales, got the top job (briefly) and was recycled as “Edward VIII”, before he become “Duke of Windsor”. But he was just one of three Princes of Wales with that forename, along with Dafydd ap Llywelyn and Dafydd ap Gruffydd. Perhaps we should throw David Lloyd George into that mix.

Musicians seem to tend to Dave rather than David: Brubeck; Davies; Edmunds; Matthews, Swarbrick, Van Ronk. Apart from the economist Davids (Hume and Ricardo) Hume and the playwright Mamet, the most obvious literary David was always elided down to D.H.

Still, most peculiar that the demotic never accepted “Dave” for Beckham..

On the box

Nor should we overlook Freeview channel 12. Here we find the BBC’s marketing vehicle for antique video-tape. It’s Dave, tending to laddishness (and named on the principle that “Everybody knows a man called Dave”), the 1998 fifth reboot of a repeats channel. Stephen Fry and TopGear seem never far away from the schedule.

In recent years Dave has  has has spawned a whole litter of siblings, and even got around to the odd original (if dirt cheap) studio shows never knowingly oversold as:


full of complete and utter wits

Or as:

The home of witty banter

Read those very, very carefully. Any miscue is deliberate.

The posters for Dave, common on the London Underground, are unfailingly striking, and frequently zoological:
At least it is switch-offable or channel-hop-able. And isn’t based entirely on prat-falls and mis-speaks of the Cameron kind.

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Filed under advertising., blogging, Britain, culture, D.H.Lawrence, David Cameron, films, folk music, History, Jazz, Johnny Cash, Kinks, Literature, Music, reading, Scotland, The West Wing, US Elections, Wales

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages …

The Tower of the Elephant… because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

Once upon a time, when the world was youngMalcolm worked out how to write audience-pleasers.

His audience then were the academics, the teachers, the lecturers and the professors who would opine on his laboured thoughts, and respond with a simple — usually disappointing — grade and a cryptic — usually demoralising — comment.

The strategy Malcolm evolved (and he boasts it was self-devised and taught by nobody) amounted to:

  • having an eye-opener opener, which could be reprised in the closing sentence or two;
  • 51ZoZ+EXWwL._SY445_which opener would employ a knowing literary animadversion (though Robert E. Howard’s pulp fiction, or Robert A. Heinlein, both as above, would neither be a good choice, at least for that audience);
  • a use of well-chosen, precise and extended vocabulary, though not so much to be pretentious;
  • marshalling expression as tri-partite Ciceronian expressions;
  • deliberately opposing constructions, by use of colons, by antitheses and by jarring shifts of style.

That’ll do for the time being.

Some of those techniques may persist in his writing to his present senility.

James Kirkup, with his politics blog for the Telegraph, is up to similar tricks.

He starts one effort today:

Gay marriage and David Cameron: what he could learn from Conan the Barbarian

There’s a scene from the first season of the West Wing when Josh Lyman tells President Bartlet: “We talk about enemies more than we used to.

It’s either touching or cloying, depending on your perspective, but either way, it touches on an essential truth of politics: to govern is to make enemies. For better or for worse, the exercise of power is almost always a zero-sum game. Every choice you make will make someone happy and someone else unhappy.

Any friend of Josh is invited to be a friend of Malcolm.

The rest of Kirkup’s neat little essay has some nice throw-aways:

… Gordon Brown, a man who could write several books about political feuds and political enemies. Mr Brown’s view of political dissent was formed in the unforgiving world of Scottish Labour, whose culture was once described as “Dog eat dog, and vice versa.” Despite the odd appeal to the punters, the Brown approach to enemies was built on machine politics and sheer aggression, a willingness to demolish utterly those who stood in his way.

Sometimes, to speak to Team Brown was to be put in mind of a line from Conan the Barbarian, when Conan is asked: “What is good in life?”

He replies:

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Kirkup, a bit naughtily Malcolm feels, is citing the film there, not the text.

Is that admiration or criticism, young James?

Let us trip lightly over Kirkup on the (ambiguous?) motives of Tim Loughton and his civil-partnership amendment. In the context, clearly Kirkup sees a malevolence here.

Instead let us relish Kirkup’s closure:

Anyone in power for any time will find themselves, like Josh, talking about enemies. Mr Cameron and his friends need to do more than talk. They need to think of something to do about those enemies, and soon.

Hug them close. Bribe them. Charm them. Go over their heads. Kill them all and plough their fields with salt. What’s the best choice? It’s not clear. But one thing is clear: ignoring your enemies won’t make them go away.

220px-Scaramouche_book_coverIn any political generation there may be just the singular political spadassinicide [woo ! woo! Sabatini gets a look in! Change of genre, Malcolm!]. One who could be wholly ruthless, as alien as a Martian … as real as taxes but he was a race of one [which gets back to the Heinlein: sneaky, huh? And you were expecting Conan].

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, films, James Kirkup, reading, The West Wing, Tories.