Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Friday, June 29, 2012

"Now I don't have to kill you!"


P062812PS-0234, originally uploaded by The White House.

President Obama talking on the phone with Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, whose arguments during the Supreme Court's hearings on the Affordable Care Act are largely viewed to have not helped the cause.

But oh well, he lives to fight another day! Viva the Affordable Care Act!

Film Quote Friday



Nora Ephron died the other day, so here's a scene, as written (so some of this doesn't appear in the final film), from my personal favorite Ephron film, Sleepless In Seattle. What's going on here is that there's a guy named Sam (Tom Hanks) and his son named Jonah, and their wife and mother has died. They are deeply saddened by this, obviously, so they try to get a change of scenery by moving to Seattle. Problem is, Sam is still having a terribly rough time of it, so Jonah one night calls a radio talk show that focuses on people's life problems.

And driving in her car, on the other side of the country, is Annie (Meg Ryan), who listens to this...and pretty much falls in love with Sam just from the voice in her speakers.


INT. CAR - NIGHT

 Annie driving.  Presents on the front seat.  She's 
 singing "Sleigh Ride" and doing all the sound effects 
 and clipclops and giddyups.  After a moment, she 
 realizes she doesn't know all the words and turns on the 
 radio.

     DR. MARSHA'S FIELDSTONE'S VOICE
      Welcome back to "You and Your 
      Emotions." I'm Dr.  Marcia 
      Fieldstone broadcasting across 
      America from the top of the 
      Sears Tower in Chicago where we 
      would have a fantastic view of 
      Santa Claus and his reindeer if 
      there was a -- oops, never 
      mind.  Tonight we're talking 
      about wishes and dreams.  
      What's your wishes this Christmas 
      Eve? Maybe the best present 
      you can give yourself is a call 
      to me.  The number is --

     ANNIE
      Give me a break.

 Annie changes the station.

     RADIO VOICE
      The subject of the evening's 
      medical update is You and Your 
      Spleen and our host --

 She flips the dial back the other way.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Our caller is from Seattle.

 Annie changes the station.

     RADIO VOICE
      Coming up, Jingle Bells 
      backwards, sung by the New 
      Jersey Cape Mayettes --

 Annie twists the dial back the other way.  We hear a 
 YOUNG BOY's voice.

     BOY'S VOICE (V.O.)
      Hello, this is Jonah --
      (there's a bleep as 
       Jonah says his last 
       name)

 Annie's hand lingers on the dial.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      No last names, Jonah.  Hello 
      there, you sound younger than 
      our usual callers.  How come 
      you're up so late?

     JONAH (V.O.)
      It's not that late in Seattle.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Got me there.  What's your 
      Christmas wish, Jonah?

     JONAH (V.O.)
      It's not for me.  It's for my 
      dad.  I think he needs a new 
      wife.

 Annie shakes her head.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      You don't like the one he was 
      now?

     JONAH (V.O.)
      He doesn't have one now.  
      That's the problem.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Where's your mom?

     JONAH (V.O.)
      She died.

 Annie closes her eyes for a moment.

     ANNIE
      I don't believe this --

 EXT. HIGHWAY - NIGHT

 As the car drives along.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      I'm sorry to hear that, Jonah.

     JONAH (V.O.)
      I've been pretty sad, but I 
      think my dad is worse.

 INT. CAR - NIGHT

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      And you're worried about him.

     JONAH (V.O.)
      I'm worried about him, he's 
      worried about me, I ride my 
      bike to school, he follows in 
      the car, like I'm not supposed 
      to know he's there.  Now it's 
      Christmas, and you know what 
      happens to people at Christmas.

     ANNIE
      They lose their minds and call 
      crackpot doctors on the radio --

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Have you talked to your dad 
      about this?

     JONAH (V.O.)
      No.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Why not?

     JONAH (V.O.)
      It's very hard for him to talk 
      about this stuff.  It's like it 
      makes him sadder.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      You want me to talk to him?

     ANNIE
      Perfect.  Sandbag the father.

     JONAH (V.O.)
      And you crazy? He thinks shows 
      like this are dumb.  If you 
      didn't have an 800 number I 
      could never get away with this 
      --

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Is he home right now?

     JONAH (V.O.)
      Yeah.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Well, I think I can help a 
      little more if I talk to him 
      directly.

     JONAH (V.O.)
      I don't know --

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      I'm sure he won't be angry once 
      he realizes how concerned you 
      are about him.

     JONAH (V.O.)
      Okay, but if I get yelled at, 
      I'm never gonna listen to this 
      show again.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Fair enough.

 INT. SAM'S HOUSEBOAT - NIGHT

 Jonah is on the telephone on the first floor of the 
 houseboat he lives in with Sam.  He's got the phone cord 
 coming out of the small first-floor study, and he's 
 standing near the kitchen end of a large living area 
 looking out at the back deck, where his dad is sitting 
 in a deck chair looking out at the sea.

     JONAH
      Dad --

     SAM
      What is it?

 ON ANNIE AGAIN.

     JONAH (V.O.)
      There's somebody on the phone 
      for you.
      (into phone)
      His name is Sam.

     ANNIE
      This is completely disgusting.

 INT. BALDWIN HOUSEBOAT - NIGHT

 Sam pokes his head in the back door.  He looks much as 
 he did eighteen months earlier, except that his hair is 
 a little longer.  He picks up the phone extension.

     SAM
      Hello.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Hello, Sam, this is Dr. Marcia 
      Fieldstone on Network America.

 Sam looks across the room to Jonah.

     SAM
      I'm probably not interested in 
      whatever you're selling.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      I'm not selling anything.  Your 
      son called and asked for advice 
      on how to find you a new wife.

     SAM
      (he really didn't get 
       her name)
      Who is this?

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      (repeating herself)
      Dr. Marcia Fieldstone of 
      Network America.

     SAM
      Jesus, are we on the air? 
      Jonah, for God's sake --

     JONAH
      Don't be mad at me, Dad.

 Sam can see Jonah.  He's frightened.  Sam immediately 
 feels how upset Jonah is.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      He feels that since your wife's 
      death you've been very unhappy. 
      He's genuinely worried about you.

 Sam is looking at Jonah, who's rooted to the spot he's 
 standing on.

     SAM
      (to Jonah)
      I'm not mad at you.  Okay, I'm 
      not mad at you.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      I think it's hard for him to 
      talk to you about all this.  
      Maybe we could talk and it 
      would make him feel a little 
      better.

 Sam hesitates.

     JONAH
      Please --

 INT. ANNIE'S CAR - NIGHT

     ANNIE
      This is a grotesque violation 
      of this man's personal life, 
      but never mind --

     SAM (V.O.)
      All righ...

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Good.  How long ago did your 
      wife die?

 INT. HOUSEBOAT - NIGHT

     SAM
      It's been about a year and a 
      half.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Have you had any relationship 
      since?

     SAM
      No.

 Sam is very uncomfortable about this --

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Why not?

     SAM
      Look, Doctor, I don't want to 
      be rude, but --

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      And I don't want to invade your 
      privacy --

 INT. CAR - NIGHT

     ANNIE
      Sure you do.

     SAM (V.O.)
      (overlapping)
      Sure you do --

 Annie smiles.

     SAM
      Look, we had a tough time at 
      first, but I think I'm holding 
      my own as a dad, and Jonah and 
      I will get along fine again as 
      soon as I break his radio.

 Annie laughs.  So does Mr.  Fieldstone

 INT. HOUSEBOAT - NIGHT

 Jonah is smiling too.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      I have no doubt that you're a 
      good dad.  You can tell a lot 
      from a person's voice.  But 
      something must be missing if 
      Jonah feels that you're still 
      under a cloud.

     JONAH
      Tell her how you don't sleep at 
      night.

     SAM
      How do you know that?

 Sam and Jonah both talk into their extensions, literally 
 talking to each other on the phone within their own 
 house, but also ON THE AIR.

     JONAH
      I can hear you walking around 
      sometimes.  At first I thought 
      it was a robber.  Go ahead, 
      tell her, Dad.

     SAM
      I don't think I have to now.

 Sam starts across the room towards Jonah, who starts 
 toward him, both of them holding their phone receivers.  
 On the wall in the dining area is a pine bench.

     SAM
      Look, it's almost Christmas --
      (as the two of them sit 
       down together on the 
       bench)
      A kid needs a mother --

 He puts an arm around Jonah.

 INT. CAR - NIGHT

 As Annie listens.  She's softened considerably.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Could it be that you need 
      someone just as much as Jonah 
      does?

     ANNIE
      Yes.

 Annie catches herself, covers her mouth in embarrassment.

     ANNIE
      I'm losing my mind.

 EXT. HIGHWAY - NIGHT

 As Annie makes a turn off the beltway into a rest stop.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      We've been talking to -- well, 
      let's just call him Sleepless 
      in Seattle, and we'll be right 
      back after this break with 
      listener response, your 
      response, to the things we've 
      been discussing.  The number to 
      call is...

 INT. BALDWIN HOUSE

     SAM
      What's she talking about?

     JONAH
      This is where other people get 
      to call in and dump on what you 
      said.

 We hear the beginning of a commercial.

 INT. TRUCK STOP RESTAURANT - NIGHT

 Annie walks in, anxious to break the spell of her radio 
 reverie.  She goes to the counter to order some coffee.  
 There's a commercial on the radio.  The counter WAITRESS 
 LORETTA is talking to the customers -- who include a 
 TRUCK DRIVER at a booth.  HARRIET, a short-order-cook, 
 is visible through an open window to the kitchen.

     LORETTA
      I'll bet he's tall, with a cute 
      butt.

     HARRIET
      I'll bet he hasn't shaved in a 
      week.  I'll bet he stinks.

     LORETTA
      Shut up, Harriet.
      (to Annie)
      What'll it be?

     ANNIE
      Coffee, please.  Black.  To go.

     LORETTA
      Maybe I should hustle myself 
      out to Seattle.  Give him a 
      little present for New Year's 
      Eve.

     HARRIET
      You can go there if you want 
      but don't open his refrigerator.  
      They don't cover anything when 
      they put it in the fridge.  
      They just stick it in and leave 
      it there till it walks out by 
      itself.

     LORETTA
      Harriet, ever since you 
      divorced your last husband, 
      you've been no fun.  I'm 
      looking, and this guy pops my 
      tarts.

     TRUCK DRIVER
      Come on, Loretta, you're going 
      to have to jump-start this guy.  
      His battery's dead.  And look 
      at me.  Mister Ever-Ready.  
      Every six minutes, another 
      charge.

     LORETTA
      I'm looking for someone 
      sensitive.

     ANNIE
      Come on, nobody wants a guy 
      who's sensitive on the radio.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Let's take a call before we get 
      back to Sleepless.  Knoxville, 
      Tennessee, you're on.

     SWEET SOUTHERN VOICE
      Yes, I would just like to know 
      where I could get this man's 
      address?

     LORETTA
      (to the radio)
      Honey, get on line.

 EXT. DINER - NIGHT

 As Annie gets into her car.

 EXT. WASHINGTON, D.C.  STREET - NIGHT

 Annie driving toward the house where Walter's parents 
 live.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Do you think there's somebody 
      out there you could love as 
      much as your wife? Maybe even 
      more?

     SAM (V.O.)
      It's hard to imagine.

 And cut back and forth between the car and the 
 houseboat.  Sam and Jonah are still on the bench, but 
 Jonah has fallen asleep in Sam's lap.  Sam is stroking 
 the boy's hair.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      What are you going to do, Sam?

     SAM
      I don't know.  When I met my 
      wife, it was so clear.  I just 
      knew.

 Annie is listening now.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      What was it that made you know?

        SAM
      I don't think I could really 
      describe it.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Why not?

     SAM
      And if I could describe it, 
      it probably wouldn't be on a radio 
      show.
      (he laughs to himself)
      But what the hell.  It's not 
      one specific thing.  It's more 
      of a feeling.
      (continued)

 Annie coasts to a stop outside a handsome mansion in 
 Washington, D.C., the motor running.  She's hooked now, 
 she's not getting out of the car until she's heard it 
 all.

     SAM
      You touch her for the first 
      time, and suddenly... you're 
      home.  It's almost like...

     ANNIE
      Magic.

     SAM
      Magic.

 CLOSER ON ANNIE

 realizing she has just said this.  Realizing that it 
 must mean something but not knowing what.

 SHE'S CRYING.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      Well, it's time to wrap up, 
      folks --

 A FIGURE appears at the passenger side window, which 
 Annie doesn't notice.  She's wiping the tears away with 
 her hand.

     DR. MARCIA FIELDSTONE (V.O.)
      We hope you'll call again soon.
This scene sets the emotional stage for the entire movie, and Meg Ryan has to carry her part of it with little interjections as she talks to the radio and as she listens silently, allowing her sadness to show, even though we know that she shouldn't really be sad about anything right now.

Thanks for the movies, Nora Ephron.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Something for Thursday

Apropos of yesterday's Random Wednesday Conversation Starter, I'll put a couple favorite country and western songs of mine, as I can't name just one.

Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, "Seven Spanish Angels". I love this because, in addition to its gorgeous melody and the fact that the two performers here are, well, geniuses, the song invokes the folklore of the American West that I like a lot when used in country music.



Eddie Rabbitt, "Every Which Way But Loose". Yeah, the title song from the goofy Clint Eastwood movie (which I like, thank you very much). It too has a wonderful melody, Eddie Rabbitt's voice was fantastic, and this song has a slow, sad sensuality to it that I like when country is able to do it right.



Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire". I could have named any of, oh, five hundred or so Johnny Cash songs. The man was a miracle. I choose this one because I love its rhythm -- this is a song that has a hitch in its step that at first you don't really even notice, but try walking along to it: you'll find that the beats end up on different feet. (Seriously.)



Jo Dee Messina, "I'm All Right". With newer country music, I tend to respond to female artists more than males these days for some reason. I think Jo Dee Messina's voice is amazing, and this song's lyrics are cleverly used to relate one half of a conversation -- but that's really all we need.




Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A little Harry Potter humor


What if his given name had been Joey Jones? I doubt he would have turned to evil. On the other side of the coin, had his given name been Walter Quimby Zoroaster Xavier Isringhausen, he probably would never have done anything evil either, because he'd still be working through the permutations of his name!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Country-western music really isn't my usual cup of tea, but even so, there are a number of country songs that I do like a lot. These usually tend to be older songs, from when I would go with my parents on various car trips and my father would listen to country stations. A lot of it I never liked, but some of it, I really truly did.

So: what's your favorite country-western song?

(Warning: as of this writing, I am not sure whether or not I will simply mock, or summarily ban from commenting forever, anyone who can honestly claim that their favorite country song is "Red Solo Cup"!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Manuscript Ahoy!

Since I'm gearing up to start editing it in July, I finally got around to printing out a copy of Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title).

It's a proto-book! (2)


It's all I can do to resist the urge to plunge right into the book right now. I always enjoy doing my editing, even though I can be really brutal on my own work. After I finish one round of edits, I hope to have a few beta-readers give the thing a look-see (note to self: find beta-readers), and then one more round of edits (unless the consensus opinion of the beta-readers is that I've written the literary equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space, in which case I'll sit down and drink a lot of rum and have a good cry). Then it'll be off to a publisher or some such purveyor of fine literary items.

The manuscript is 443 pages long. I wrote it in individual chapter files, but in the end, I wound up copying and pasting all the chapters together into one really big file. Not sure why I'm bothering to tell you all that, but I tend to be interested in matters of process.

Anyway, next week, it's time to give my darlings a bit of a dust-up. I know, you're supposed to 'murder your darlings', and I may well do so. We'll see!

It's a proto-book! (1)


In other writing news, The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy (not the actual title) continues churning along, although my output there has not reached the consistent heights that I did whilst writing Princesses. I'm still feeling out my world and making up my backstory as I go, so this one's a bit tougher going. As of right now the book is just under 28000 words long (roughly 68 pages of a mass-market paperback), and I've had six days in the last month where I produced a goose egg for word count, which is...well, not great, but I'm averaging 600 words a day (bolstered by a couple of really good days).

The family that fiddles together....

I've been forgetting to link this wonderful Mary Kunz Goldman article from the Buffalo News about the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's newest member of the violin section, but I forget no more!

An audition with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is always dramatic. But the recent audition the Philharmonic held for a first violinist was more than dramatic. It was historic.

The final round featured only a single anonymous candidate, who played behind a screen, as protocol dictates, while a committee listened closely.

At last, the candidate was approved and could step from behind the screen.

The audition committee gasped.

The mystery violinist was Megan Prokes, the 28-year-old daughter of longtime BPO violinist Robert Prokes. Hired by the BPO's great former music director Julius Rudel, Robert Prokes recently celebrated 30 years with the orchestra.

Read the whole thing. It's a lovely story of music in a family.

UPDATE: Wow, talk about timing -- I link the original story and Goldman provides an update, on a few other family pairings in the history of the orchestra.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hair!!!


Reading, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I'm not a vain person. I'm really not. But...I really like my hair in this photo. Sigh!

(I also like that I'm not looking all dour and stuff.)

Sentential Links

Links...yup...links. Hoo boy. Links. Everybody needs links.

:: So there I was, at the work house, holding a knife. And you know what it’s like when you’re holding something like that. When you pick up a nice baseball bat, you want to swing it around. You pick up a hatchet, you want to cut some wood. Some things yearn toward their purpose. Some things are the embodiment of a purpose. Some objects are practically crystallized verbs.

What I’m getting at, is that I was filled with a powerful urge to stab something.


:: An Italian millionaire sets out to make his version of Star Wars and dang if he didn't do just that. (Oh yes, folks...Starcrash! One of the absolute worst things I've ever seen...I love it so!)

:: What I would really like to have is a camera that needs no more light than my eyes need. (I wish for the same thing. If I can see, why can't the camera?)

:: On the other hand, extras can sometimes kill you. One idiot will be looking into the camera or not reacting and it distracts from the scene. So if you ever get to be an extra someday DON’T DO THAT. You’ll find your career is a very very short one. Someone else will be hanging out with George Clooney instead of you, and if that isn't a deterrent I don't know what one is.

:: Lindelof presented it as a sort of revelatory creative epiphany. I saw it as a case of a grade-A asshole of a father traumatizing a child (something I sadly recognize all too well), who then rationalizes a horrible experience as a positive one (ditto there, too). Of course, your mileage may vary. (Wow. Interesting anecdote over there.

:: Based on all the mean things I say about it, you might think that I don’t really look forward to reading Funky Winkerbean every day. Nothing could be further from the truth! (Oh, I totally look forward to reading Funky every day! Imagine if you learned that each and every day you could drive by a horrible car wreck on your way to work, that you personally would never be in the car wreck, and the car wreck would not slow up traffic too much? That's what Funky Winkerbean brings to the table! A daily car wreck with no danger at all to me! Huzzah!)

:: It's a vision that I hope comes true. I can see it so clearly in my imagination: hundreds of passengers lining a futuristic version of a modern-day cruise ship's promenade railing, pressing against floor-to-ceiling viewports that have been uncovered for just this occasion, straining to catch a glimpse of a historical treasure. The anticipation builds. A couple of people point excitedly at spots that turn out to be nothing at all, false sightings. Then the ship's officers helpfully announce over the speakers where the crowd should look... and there it is, the legendary Flying Dutchman of space... a tiny, fragile-looking thing, pitted and scoured by centuries of exposure to interstellar dust and micrometeorites, glistening faintly like a dragonfly in the glare of the liner's external floodlights. Its nuclear powercells are going cold, its transmitter no longer calls home, but somehow, improbably, it's still going -- still voyaging -- ever outward... (I told Jason on Facebook that I think he sells himself short and that he wrote the idea better than Lileks, who reminds me of something Christopher Moore once said, I think about PJ O'Rourke: "He's a guy who reminds you that all the fun that was ever there be had, was had already before you were born."

More next week!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound...but it's been a lean week, actually, so I'm going to pick the lowest of possible fruit. This is just a video of people. Falling down.



I know...I shall go hang my head in shame....

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Film Quote Friday (Saturday edition, again)

Wow, barely half-a-dozen entries into this series and I've already missed Friday twice. I'm starting to question my competence as a blogger. Anyway....



I've been slagging on the writing of Aaron Sorkin a bit lately, so I thought it might be worthwhile to remind folks (and, more importantly, myself) why I'm so hard on the guy. It's simply because he's enormously gifted, he's produced some wonderful writing in the past, and in my view, he's done nothing but coast along on auto-pilot for years now. So here's a scene not from a movie but from a teevee show, The West Wing. The episode is from midway through the third season, called "Bartlet for America".

The set-up is this: In the first season, we had learned that President Bartlet suffers from multiple sclerosis, but he had not disclosed this to anyone during his campaign. So this fact was laid by Sorkin as kind of a ticking time bomb of plot, and it exploded in the second season, when events pretty much forced Bartlet to start to come clean about it. This story dominated the last six or so episodes of the second season and most of the first half of the third, as the show dramatized the anger amongst President Bartlet's staff at having been lied to, and their efforts to keep the country from boiling over with the same anger, dooming their work in the White House.

So, Congress does as Congress does and holds hearings, and in this episode, White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry is the one called to testify. We know that McGarry is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and throughout the episode (laced with flashbacks to the early days of the campaign), there are references to the White House staff trying to "get the guy out of the room". We quickly learn that this refers to their attempts to have a certain Congressman on the committee suddenly be required to attend to something else, so as to spare Leo some embarrassing questions. Unfortunately, their attempts to "get the guy out of the room" fail, and the moment Leo is dreading comes to pass in what is one of Aaron Sorkin's finest moments as a writer.

Here is what happens. The character 'Jordan' is Leo's counsel, and 'Cliff' is the Majority Counsel (Republican) on the committee. (I've taken this from this West Wing transcript site, but the actual teleplay from this episode, as written by Sorkin, can be found in the second book of West Wing shooting scripts that was released some years ago.)

CHAIRMAN: The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Michigan Mr. Gibson, for five minutes.

GIBSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Two years ago, January the President collapsed in the Oval Office. Is that correct?

LEO: I'm not sure what the medical term would be.

GIBSON: He involuntarily fell to the ground.

LEO: Yes.

GIBSON: Will Minority Counsel stipulate that we can call that collapsing? Let the record reflect that Minority Counsel has nodded his head up and down so as to indicate an affirmative response.

CHAIRMAN: So ordered.

GIBSON: Is this the only time since the President took the Oath of Office that he's collapsed?

LEO: So far as I know.

GIBSON: Is this the only time since the beginning of the campaign that he's collapsed?

LEO: [long pause] No, it's not.

GIBSON: I'd like to take you back to 30 October in St. Louis, Missouri. Jed Bartlet is the Democratic nominee for President and is about to participate in the third and final debate-

JORDAN: Mr. Chairman, I would like to request a short recess.

CHAIRMAN: We just got back from a recess.

JORDAN: Sir, we have taken breaks at the request of nearly every member of this Committee while the witness has asked for a total of none. One time, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN: We'll take a five-minute break. Please, let's keep it to ten minutes.

JORDAN: Come with me.

Leo follows Jordan out of the room. Meanwhile CLIFF makes his way to GIBSON's seat.

GIBSON: Yeah, it will all come out.

CLIFF: Excuse me. What's going on?

CHAIRMAN: I was just asking the same thing.

CLIFF: I don't know anything about testimony from October 30.

GIBSON: It's okay, I got it.

CLIFF: No, you don't got it.

CHAIRMAN: We better go someplace and talk.

FADE OUT.
END ACT THREE
* * *

ACT FOUR

FADE IN: INT. JOSH'S OFFICE - DAY
The TV next to the desk shows people milling around and talking in the hearing room.
Josh picks up the phone. He sighs as he waits for Leo to answer his cell phone.


LEO: [VO] Yeah.

JOSH: Leo... I couldn't make it happen.

CUT TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL HALLWAY OUTSIDE WAITING ROOM - DAY

Leo is walking down to hall toward the waiting room.


LEO: Don't worry about it.

He hangs up his cell phone. A guard opens the door for him. Jordan is waiting. She closes the door. She's pretty upset but he just stares are her blankly.

JORDAN: [angry] You have to tell me what's going on now or I'm walking out the door.

LEO: [quietly] Look-

JORDAN: [sharply] Tell me now.

Leo turns and walks slowly along one side of the table.

LEO: On the day of the final debate, I was meeting with two potential donors...

FADE TO: INT. LEO'S HOTEL SUITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK

Leo is meeting with three men, two of whom are CEOs. CEO #1 is balding slightly; CEO #2 has a moustache. They're all chuckling. Before they sit down, Leo shakes each of their hands, a big smile plastered on his face.


LEO: [VO] It was nine days 'til the election. We were too close to call and I didn't wanna be the guy who ran outta money first.

CEO 1: You look nervous, Leo. [glances at CEO #2] Don't worry about it. I brought my wallet.

CEO 2 chuckles.

LEO: Anybody wanna eat? I got steak sandwiches on the way.

CEO 2: Yeah and uh, let's have some drinks.

LEO: [pats CEO 2 on shoulder] Sure.

CUT TO INT. CAPITOL HILL WAITING ROOM - PRESENT

Leo sits in a chair at one end of the table.


LEO: The President was at the debate site, walking the stage. [pauses, smiles wistfully] A podium is a holy place for him...

CUT TO: INT. DEBATE SITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK

Bartlet marches into the theater, followed closely by C.J., Sam, Toby, and Josh. They're all dressed casually. Bartlet is all business, focused. He assesses the space with his eyes as he walks toward the stage. C.J. smiles and shakes hands with a woman - probably one of the debate organizers. They all follow Bartlet up to the stage, where there are two podiums and a table for the moderators. Opposite the stage, there are hundreds of seats for the audience. Lots of aides are bustling about, making preparations.

LEO: [VO] He makes it his own like it's an extension of his body. You ever see a pitcher work the mound so the dirt does exactly what his feet want it to do? That's the President. He sees it as a genuine opportunity to change minds - also his best way of contributing to the team. He likes teams...

CUT TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL WAITING ROOM - PRESENT

LEO: [smiles] ...I love him so much...

Jordan finally sits down at the table, facing Leo.

JORDAN: What was going on in your room?

LEO: [mumbling softly to himself] ...I like the little things...

JORDAN: I didn't hear you.

LEO: [jolted out of his inner thoughts, speaking louder] I said, "I like the little things." [smiles] The way a glass feels in your hand - a good glass, thick, with a heavy base. I love the sound an ice cube makes when you drop it from just the right height.

The sound of an ice cube being dropped into a glass....

FADE TO: INT. LEO'S HOTEL SUITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK

Leo is staring, transfixed, as the CEOs pour themselves drinks. They're all sitting around a coffee table.

LEO: [VO] Too high and it'll chip when you drop it. Chip the ice and it'll melt too fast in the scotch.

CEO #2: You ever try this, Leo? It's Johnny Walker Blue. Bartenders are selling it for thirty bucks a shot.

He uncorks the bottle and slowly pours the scotch into a glass on the table in front of him.

LEO: [VO] Good scotch sits in a charcoal barrel for 12 years. Very good scotch gets smoked for 29 years.

FADE TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL WAITING ROOM - PRESENT

LEO: [nostalgic] Johnny Walker Blue...is 60-year-old scotch.

JORDAN: [impatiently] I don't care. What happened in the room, Leo?

LEO: I'm trying to tell you what happened.

FADE TO: INT. LEO'S HOTEL SUITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK

Cigar smoke fills the air. Leo and the donors are chuckling jovially, but Leo's face reveals the strain he's feeling as he watches the other men drink. His grin has taken on a dark quality. A lull in the laughter and conversation leaves Leo staring at the glass of scotch in CEO 1's hand. He looks around awkwardly for a moment, then tries to banish temptation by changing the subject.

LEO: Should we get to it?

The THIRD MAN is visible, sitting in the background off to one side, but his identity is hidden amidst the ample cigar smoke.

CEO 1: [holding up his glass] You don't wanna find out what a thirty dollar sip of scotch tastes like?

Leo stares at the glass. He's visibly struggling to control himself, so he responds with a smile and tries to sound relaxed and nonchalant.

LEO: [nods] Naw... I gotta... stay sharp for tonight.

CEO 1 sets his drink down and stands up.


CUT TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL WAITING ROOM - PRESENT

JORDAN: Why don't you just say, "I'm an alcoholic?"

LEO: They're two CEOs. I'm tryin' to get 'em to give me half-a-million dollars a piece right now. It's not really the best time to mention it. [pauses] The President's still at the debate site.

CUT TO: INT. DEBATE SITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK


Josh and Sam are huddled by one podium, talking. C.J. and Toby are conferring by the other podium. Dozens of aides are still bustling around in the background. Bartlet is standing by the moderators' table with the woman that C.J. greeted on the way into the theater.

WOMAN: How do you feel about the temperature, sir?

BARTLET: It's good.

WOMAN: It's not too cold?

BARTLET: [glancing around] It won't be later. This is a 550 seat theater and they'll be seated a half-hour before we start, so the temperature'll be up four to six degrees.

CUT TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL WAITING ROOM - PRESENT

JORDAN: [loudly, an edge to her voice] The hotel room, Leo.

CUT TO: INT. LEO'S HOTEL SUITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK


The four men are still seated around the coffee table - the two CEOs across from Leo, the third man still off to one side, sipping his drink. Dim light is filtering in through the windows and French doors. The bottle and glasses are on the table. Leo is hunched over in his seat, fidgeting.

CEO 2: We already gave to the RNC but we're worried we may have backed the wrong horse.

LEO: You wanna hedge your bet.

CEO 1: [nods] That's why we're here.

LEO: [nods, tense] Good... Now gimme a sip of that.

CEO 2 smiles and hands Leo his glass. The ice cubes rattle against the glass as Leo holds it and takes a quick sip. He tries to act like it's no big deal, but his expression indicates otherwise.

LEO: That's what I remember.

CEO 1 chuckles.


FADE TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL WAITING ROOM - PRESENT

JORDAN: You had a drink.

LEO: I'm an alcoholic. I don't have one drink. [pauses] I don't understand people who have one drink. I don't understand people who leave half a glass of wine on the table. I don't understand people who say they've had enough. How can you have enough of feeling like this? How can you not want to feel like this longer? [pauses, sighs] My brain works differently.

JORDAN: Who was the third person in the room?

LEO: Well, now we've arrived at our problem.

FADE TO: INT. LEO'S HOTEL SUITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK


Leo is drinking scotch heartily and smoking as they talk.

LEO: [to CEOs] Count on it.

THIRD MAN: Whoa, you want to be careful there.

Leo glances over at him as he stands up.

THIRD MAN: You're not the big money party. We are.

Leo chuckles silently and takes another sip of scotch.

CEO 1: [to Leo] Did I mention that he's thinking about running for Congress?

The third man sits down on the sofa next to Leo. It's GIBSON. He smiles as Leo glances over at him again.

GIBSON: I'm thinking about it.

CUT TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL WAITING ROOM - PRESENT

JORDAN: You were drunk in front of Gibson?

LEO: I don't get drunk in front of people. I get drunk alone.

CUT TO: INT. LEO'S HOTEL SUITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK


The CEOs and Gibson have left. Leo opens the wall cupboard containing the mini-bar. He pulls out several miniature bottles of booze and checks his watch. He's stonefaced, almost like he's on auto-pilot.

LEO: [VO] They were going over something at the debate site...

JORDAN: [VO] [impatiently] I don't want to hear about the debate site.

LEO: [VO] The debate site is what happened. The debate site is how he gets to bring this up here.

CUT TO: INT. DEBATE SITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK


On one side of the stage, Sam and Josh walk over to where C.J. and Toby have been talking. Bartlet is standing by himself on the other side of the stage. The theater is still buzzing with aides making preparations.

SAM: [to C.J.] Where's Leo?

JOSH: [to C.J. and Toby] I'd still like to go over the Social Security answer. We gotta get it down to 90 seconds.

C.J.: It's down to 90 seconds.

Bartlet wanders past a TV monitor on a cart. He's wearing a sweater over a dress shirt. He puts his glasses in his shirt pocket. He looks slightly distracted, perhaps a bit unsteady. He's looking down at the floor and holding onto his coat.

JOSH: It's not - and they're gonna cut him off.

The foursome slowly walk across the stage toward Bartlet, who's standing next to the TV monitor.

SAM: I put a stopwatch on him. When he just speeds up...

JOSH: When he speeds up, he speeds up. When he doesn't... It's 90 seconds. We need to cut some more.

Bartlet crosses his arms over his chest and hunches over slightly.

TOBY: [to Josh] Which words?

JOSH: Governor, what do you think? Governor?

Bartlet appears increasingly unsteady on his feet, a bit dazed, maybe short of breath. But it's subtle enough that his aides don't seem to notice.

JOSH: Sir, we were just saying on the Social Security answer...

BARTLET: [softly] No.

JOSH: ...it's a tight ninety seconds, and...

BARTLET: [looking at floor, swaying] No, no. Not now.

JOSH: [scoffs, looks around at the others] Well, we gotta do it now, sir.

Bartlet stares blankly, straight ahead, then suddenly reaches out his right arm to balance himself, leaning on the TV for support.

TOBY: Something's wrong.

C.J.: Governor?

BARTLET: [gasping softly, trying to keep his balance] Yeah.

JOSH: Governor? [pause] Sir?

BARTLET: G'abbey...

SAM: You wanna sit down?

C.J.: Let me get some water. [turns around to grab a bottle of water]

BARTLET: G'abbey...

TOBY: He's saying, "Get Abbey."

JOSH: [to an aide] Get Abbey!

Bartlet loses his balance and pitches sideways toward Sam, who catches him, with assistance from Toby and Josh.

JOSH: Whoa...

Sam and Toby hold Bartlet up. A security agent rushes over to help.

TOBY: [looks up at C.J.] C.J.

C.J. stares at Toby. She looks shocked, a bit unsure about what to do.

JORDAN [VO]: He had an attack?

LEO [VO]: I mean, the doctor said it was an inner ear infection.

Toby and Sam help Bartlet regain his balance. They help him walk backstage, along with the agent. Josh walks behind them, stops, and takes out his cell phone. He looks up at C.J., concern all over his face.

LEO [VO]: But all Josh knew when he called me was that he'd collapsed. I was supposed to be down there already. I was supposed to be down there an hour ago.

CUT TO: INT. LEO'S HOTEL SUITE - ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - FLASHBACK


Leo is sitting on the sofa, pouring himself another drink. The coffee table is covered with empty bottles and glasses. The phone by the bed rings and rings. His breathing is labored and he's unsteady on his feet as he struggles to stand up and make his way over to the bed. He takes a gulp of scotch, presses the speakerphone button, and sits down on the bed. Then he leans back on the pillows and closes his eyes, the glass still in his hand.

LEO: [loud] Yeah.

JOSH: [on phone] Leo, the Governor's sick.

The buzzer to Leo's suite sounds. He sits up slowly, awkwardly, as he registers what Josh is saying and that the buzzer is sounding.

LEO: Okay.

JOSH: [on phone] He collapsed. You gotta get down here.

The buzzer sounds again. Leo doesn't respond quickly to Josh; he tries not to panic,
tries to get his bearing.

JOSH: [on phone] Leo.

LEO: Okay.

Leo sits up, lets go of his glass. Knocking on the door.

GIBSON: [at the door] It's Gibson.

LEO: [loud] Okay!

Suddenly, Leo processes the implications of Gibson being at his door. He rubs his forehead and sighs, exasperated and overwhelmed. He's breathing heavily again as he shakily stands up.

LEO: Okay... Okay...

He walks to the door, smoothes his hair, and tries to straighten his rumpled suit. Then he opens the door.

LEO: Hey.

Gibson walks right in. Leo stands by the open door, shifting uneasily.

GIBSON: I forgot my briefcase.

Gibson grabs his briefcase from the floor by the sofa. In the process, he notices all the bottles and glasses on the coffee table. He turns to look at Leo, questioning.

GIBSON: You havin' a party?

LEO: [barely able to meet Gibson's gaze] I uh... I-I gotta get to the uh debate site. The Governor collapsed.

Gibson nods slightly, then leaves and closes the door behind him. Before Gibson is even out the door, Leo looks confused, then pained, then horrified and filled with regret as he realizes what he's done. He sighs and tries to catch his breath.


FADE TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL WAITING ROOM - PRESENT


Leo and Jordan are still sitting at the table, facing each other.

JORDAN: [VO] I don't understand how you could have a drink. I don't understand how, after everything you worked for, how on that day of all days you could be so stupid.

LEO: That's because you think it has something to do with smart and stupid. Do you have any idea how many alcoholics are in Mensa? You think it's a lack of willpower? That's like thinking somebody with anorexia nervosa has an overdeveloped sense of vanity. My father was an alcoholic. [leans forward] His father was an alcoholic. So, in my case...

JORDAN: [nods] Ain't nothin' but a family thing.

LEO: That's right.

JORDAN: Who knows?

LEO: Josh Lyman and the President.

JORDAN: Why nobody else?

LEO: Because.

JORDAN: That's a little boy's answer.

LEO: [pauses] 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.

There's a knock on the door and it opens. A security guard appears. Jordan turns to look at him.

GUARD: We're back in a minute.

JORDAN: Thank you.

The guard closes the door. Jordan turns back toward Leo.

JORDAN: Just out of curiosity... Why have you been asking me to have a meal with you every five minutes?

LEO: I like you. I've been tryin' to get it in under the wire.

Jordan takes a moment to take this in. She seems a bit surprised.

JORDAN: You'll answer the questions - simply and directly. I don't want to hear about Mensa. That'll be my job.

LEO: Okay.

Leo stands up, walks toward the door. Jordan doesn't move, a hint of a smile on her face. Leo opens the door as Jordan stands up and walks toward him.

JORDAN: Yes, by the way.

LEO: Yes? What?

JORDAN
Yes, I'd like to have dinner with you tonight.

LEO: [surprised] Okay.

Jordan walks out ahead of him and he follows her.


CUT TO: INT. HALLWAY OUTSIDE CAPITOL HILL HEARING ROOM - DAY


People are milling around, waiting for the hearing to reconvene. There's a small room off the hallway. A guard is standing beside the glass door. Inside the room, Bruno, Cliff, and Gibson are standing face to face arguing.

CLIFF: That's where you're going with this?

GIBSON: Yeah.

CLIFF: Just to embarrass the guy?

GIBSON: Just?

CLIFF: Leo McGarry's sobriety isn't the subject of these hearings. These hearings are to investigate...

CUT TO: INT. A SMALL ROOM - CONTINUOUS

CLIFF: ...if any rules - ethical or otherwise - were broken by Jed Bartlet while he was running for President.

GIBSON: That's nice, but I live in the actual world where the object of these hearings is to win.

CLIFF: [shakes his head] No... it's not.

Bruno listens closely, stonefaced.

GIBSON: It's the object of the Majority.

CLIFF: Not while I'm the Majority Counsel, it's not. This is bush league. This is why good people hate us. This right here. This thing. [Bruno turns his back on them and leans on a table.] This isn't what these hearings are about. [Gibson glances over at Bruno, peeved.] He cannot possibly have been properly prepared by counsel for these questions, nor should he ever have to answer them publicly.

Bruno turns back around, rubbing his chin, looking concerned.

CLIFF: [jabbing his finger at Gibson] And if you proceed with this line of questioning, I will resign this committee and wait in the tall grass for you, Congressman, because you are killing the party.

Cliff glares at Gibson, who turns toward Bruno.

GIBSON: Who the hell is this?

Bruno meets his gaze.

CLIFF: [to Bruno] You don't have to make up your mind right now, Mr. Chairman...

GIBSON: Phil...

CLIFF: You don't have to make up your mind right now. Declare a recess 'til after the holidays. Buy yourself two weeks.

GIBSON: [to Cliff] And give him two weeks to circle the wagons?

Cliff maintains eye contact with Bruno, although he'd clearly love to respond to Gibson.

GIBSON: [to Bruno] How do you think the Speaker's gonna feel about this? To say nothing of the RNC?

BRUNO: [sighs] I need a minute.

Gibson quickly leaves, followed by Cliff, who practically slams the door on his way out. He walks through the crowd of people in the hallway, back toward the hearing room. Leo is in the hallway, shaking someone's hand, and notices Cliff walk by.


CUT TO: INT. JOSH'S BULLPEN AREA - DAY


A TV in the hallway is showing coverage of the hearing. Phones are ringing and staff members are bustling about. Sam walks through a swinging door and heads toward Josh's office.


CUT TO: INT. JOSH'S OFFICE - CONTINUOUS


Josh is leaning against the back of a chair, watching the hearing on his TV, and rubbing his forehead. Sam appears in the doorway.

SAM: I tried everybody.

JOSH: [looks up] It's all right.

SAM: I tried everybody. It was just a tough fit. And since I couldn't tell 'em what it was about...

JOSH: [points at the TV] They're back.

Sam sighs heavily. They both focus their attention on the TV.


CUT TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL HEARING ROOM - DAY


Bruno gavels the hearing back into session.

BRUNO: Let's come to order.

Jordan and Leo are back in their seats. Jordan looks a little worried.

BRUNO: Mr. Gibson, you can proceed with your questioning.

Cliff sighs with exasperation. Leo stares at Gibson.

GIBSON: Mr. McGarry, 30 October in St. Louis, Missouri, the date Jed Bartlet was...

BRUNO: [holds up a hand in Gibson's direction] No, I'm sorry. [pause] Mr. McGarry, it's been a long day and, unless Counsel has an objection, I'm gonna resume this after the holidays.

Jordan and Leo are stunned.

LEO: What?

Cliff breathes a sigh of relief. Some members of the committee look pleasantly surprised, others not so much. Gibson shoots a warning glare at Bruno.

GIBSON: Mr. Chairman...

BRUNO: Mr. Calley.

CLIFF: Mr. McGarry, that concludes our questioning for today...

CUT TO: INT. JOSH'S OFFICE - DAY

CLIFF: [on TV] We'll pick it up here when the Chairman gavels these hearings back to order.

Josh sighs with relief.


CUT TO: INT. CAPITOL HILL HEARING ROOM - DAY


Leo is still confused and not sure if this is real.

LEO: I'm sorry...?

BRUNO: You're done for the day, sir. The House Reform and Government Oversight Committee stands in recess until January the 5th, and the Chair wishes everyone a Merry Christmas.

The hum of conversation fills the room as people begin to stand up. Several people in the audience - journalists, presumably - leap out of their seats to go outside. Jordan is pleased, but very surprised. Leo still can't believe it. They steal short glances at each other. Jordan chuckles softly to herself.

LEO: What the hell...?

JORDAN: [shakes her head] I don't know. [They both stand up.] We have two weeks.

A woman who's been sitting behind Jordan hands her a coat. Leo leans against his chair.

LEO: I really had to tell you the damn story?

JORDAN: Shut up. I'm going to dinner with you.

She starts to leave, passing Margaret, who's standing behind Leo.

LEO: [softly] Yeah. [pauses, turns to look at her] Well, listen.

JORDAN: What?

LEO: You wanna do it tomorrow night instead?

JORDAN: What's tomorrow night?

LEO: It's Christmas Eve.

JORDAN: [pauses, smiles, nods] Okay.

LEO: [smiles] Okay.

Jordan walks off into the crowd. Leo gathers his things from the table and glances up at the committee dais. Cliff is standing behind his chair, also gathering his things. They meet each other's gaze for several long moments. Cliff looks away first, then quickly leaves. Leo seems to realize what - or who - may have stopped the hearing. Then he turns around toward Margaret, who's been chatting amiably with someone. Slowly, they walk out of the hearing room together.

What I like about this is how it's all character-driven; this is the type of development that can only happen to someone with a specific problem, and what happens when previous bad choices we barely remember come back to haunt us in odd ways that we never could have seen coming.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Something for Thursday

A brief but lovely selection today: a bit of diegetic film music from Princess Mononoke. "Diegetic" film music is music that is actually a part of the narrative, or part of the world which the characters inhabit...by way of example, the Cantina Band in Star Wars: A New Hope is diegetic music, because it's actually being heard by the characters as it's played. The John Williams score is non-diegetic.

Anyway, this is the work song sung by the women of Lady Eboshi's Iron Town as they work the bellows for the forges. It's short but beautiful, not unlike just about all of this wonderful film's score by Joe Hisaishi. Here is the "Tatara Women's Work Song".


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

When you were a kid, there was a store that you hated going to, and yet, there you were, every week or two, getting dragged to that store by your parents. It was absolute torture and to this day you shudder when you think of that store and the awful, boring times you spent there. (And yet...maybe on some weird nostalgic level, you miss that store a little.)

What store are we talking about?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"We don't have time to do one thing at a time!"

The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum reviews the new Aaron Sorkin show, The Newsroom. Surprise, surprise:

“I’m affable!” Will McAvoy yells in the pilot of “The Newsroom,” Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series. McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) is an irascible anchor whose brand is likability, and it’s a good line, delivered well. It is also a rare moment of self-mockery—and one of the last sequences I was on board for in the series. In “The Newsroom,” clever people take turns admiring one another. They sing arias of facts. They aim to remake television news: “This is a new show, and there are new rules,” a maverick executive producer announces, several times, in several ways. Their outrage is so inflamed that it amounts to a form of moral eczema—only it makes the viewer itch.

This is not to say that “The Newsroom” doesn’t score points now and then, if you share its politics. It starts effectively enough, with an homage to “Network” ’s galvanizing “I’m mad as hell” rant, as McAvoy, a blandly uncontroversial cable big shot whom everyone tauntingly calls Leno, is trapped on a journalism-school panel. When the moderator needles him into answering a question about why America is the greatest country on earth, he goes volcanic, ticking off the ways in which America is no such thing, then closing with a statement of hope, about the way things used to be. This speech goes viral, and his boss (Sam Waterston) and his producer, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), who’s also his ex-girlfriend, encourage him to create a purer news program, purged of any obsession with ratings and buzz.

Wow, did I call it or what. I hate to go on and on about how Sorkin annoys me, but dammit, I used to be a huge fan of his. But he hasn't had a single new idea in more than a decade, as far as I can tell. And worse, he hasn't found any new ways to write about the same old ideas. Reading the review pretty much confirms what I've been thinking about Sorkin for years. A Network-style live rant? Sorkin's never done that before! (Except in the first five minutes of Studio 60.) Someone saying that what they are doing is totally new and they're gonna rewrite the rulebook? Sorkin's never done that before! (Except in The American President and in The West Wing.)

I recently watched the first three or four episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip again (they're on YouTube), and my God, that show is even worse now than I remember it being during the first airing. I really think that Aaron Sorkin is utterly convinced of his own genius, and that people will line up to hear the same lines and same tropes in the mouths of new actors playing out the same stories. Maybe they will...but yeesh, why?!

BTW, here are a couple of scenes from The West Wing, during the seasons after Sorkin left. The show was particularly uneven in the fifth season, although it did hit some real high points (the episode detailing the nomination of two Supreme Court justices was fantastic).

Here is Bartlet sitting down for some late-night ice cream with the Republican nominee for President, Senator Arnold Vinick, after rumors of Vinick's possible atheism have come to light:



Here's a beautiful scene between Toby Ziegler and CJ Cregg, from the second-to-last episode ever. Toby has been fired from the White House and is on his way to prison in a few days for leaking classified information to the press; CJ is finishing up her service in the Bartlet White House (as Chief of Staff after more than four years as press secretary), and she is wondering what to do next with her life: she has job offers from an extremely wealthy philanthropist and from Matthew Santos, the incoming President-elect.



And finally, here's a good scene between Matt Santos, the Democratic nominee, and his running mate, Leo McGarry. These two men don't know each other well, having been thrust together by Santos's surprise winning of the nomination at a brokered convention and subsequent hasty selection of Leo as his VP. Here they are still feeling each other out...and start to come together as a team.



Post-Sorkin West Wing took a bit of time to find its voice again, but when it did, it was often just as good as ever.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sentential Links

Linkage, like The Dude, abides....

:: Both books felt like a love letter to Kabul, Afghanistan and to the Afghan people to me and they made the country feel like a place that deserves such a letter. (I've never read either one of these books. Maybe I should.)

:: You’re not entitled to absolve yourself of blame for the entitlement mentality you so despise.

:: Me: [long angry rant of frustration] (BAHHH HAHAHAHAHA! Go forth, Interweb, and Bastianich someone today! [The humor of this will be completely lost on people who don't watch Master Chef.)

:: Last week, I met Droner for coffee at a local Starbucks. (I love her dating stories.)

:: The Law is a blunt instrument. It's not a scalpel. It's a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible.

:: As always, best of luck. Someone has to break through. Why not you?

:: Therefore, any writer who takes into account the potential reactions of his audience – which is to say any writer worth a damn – should strongly consider not just whether depicting a rape will create reaction but if that reaction merits the inclusion in the first place. If you don’t address that issue, then what’s the point of talking about rape in fiction in the first place? (Interesting discussion in response to a writer who opined that rape is 'a f***ing awesome plot element', which seems to me a pretty cavalier attitude toward the depiction of one of the most traumatic of all crimes.)

More next week!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: No matter how well-versed I am in Star Trek lore, there's always something new to learn...like a really creepy thing that almost happened in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. My God, I'm glad they didn't do this in the movie.

:: Here's a handy reading flowchart. I think. I don't use flowcharts to select my reading material, I just kind of wander amongst shelves.

:: "At the bottom of the biggest underwater cave in the world, diving deeper than almost anyone had ever gone, Dave Shaw found the body of a young man who had disappeared ten years earlier. What happened after Shaw promised to go back is nearly unbelievable—unless you believe in ghosts." This is a pretty harrowing and tragic (and rather graphic) story. It's also highly compelling reading.

More next week.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Film Quote Friday (Saturday edition)

Well, it didn't take long for me to miss a day on this feature, did it? Oops! Thursday was largely taken up by a reinstallation of Windows on the Main Library Computer here at Casa Jaquandor, and Friday was one of those up-at-oh-dark-thirty early-starts-at-work days, followed by a longer than usual nap and generally letting my brain just slosh around in my brain pan for the rest of the night. Not great for blogging. Anyway, this is one of my favorite movies:



I remember when this came out, the advertising was all about Jack Nicholson's Melvin Udall, who was billed as Archie Bunker with the offensiveness dialed up to eleven, and the film itself billed as a typical "grumpy mean guy learns to love" tale or something of that nature. And yes, it is that, but the movie is a lot more intelligent and insightful about it than that basic plot description makes it sound. It's not just about Melvin and his goofy infatuation with his server (Carol Connelly, played by Helen Hunt) at the restaurant on which he has chosen to inflict his aggressive OCD tendencies, and very early on the film affords us glimpses into Melvin that suggest that there's a lot more than just jerkiness going on under his skin -- such as the look on his face when he slips up and says something to Carol that's way over the line, and he realizes it's way over the line before she tells him point-blank how over the line it was.

Anyway, As Good As It Gets is chock-full of quotable dialog, some of which has become fairly well-known over the years. I'm sure the movie will show up again on this feature, but for now, here's a wonderful scene that gets overlooked. What's happening here is that Melvin has been strong-armed into taking his gay artist neighbor, Simon, to Baltimore so Simon can beg his estranged parents for money. Sensing an opportunity, Melvin then convinces Carol to go along, which she does, because she's desperate for a chance to see something other than the restaurant where she works, the apartment where she lives, and the hospital where she takes her sickly son. The problem, for Melvin, is that Carol and Simon quickly form a friendly connection that Melvin sees as some kind of threatening: not a romantic rivalry, per se, but a competition for time with Carol that he feels is rightly his. And Melvin can't help himself but inject some of his own insight, which the film treats brilliantly as both annoying and partly true.

I think that's a big reason why this movie is so good: Melvin can be annoying and offensive and downright full of shit, but there are times when it's clear that he's also right, at least in part. This is one of them.


EXT. ROAD - DAY

 A short time later. Carol is now driving.

      CAROL
      I'm sure, Simon, they did 
      something real off for you to feel 
      this way... But when it comes to 
      your partners -- or your kid -- 
      things will always be off for you 
      unless you set it straight. Maybe 
      this thing happened to you just to 
      give you that chance.

      MELVIN
      Nonsense!

      CAROL
      Anybody here who's interested in 
      what Melvin has to say raise their 
      hands.

 Simon does not raise his hand. Simon and Carol have thus 
 declared their majority.

      SIMON
      Do you want to know what happened 
      with my parents?

      CAROL
      Yes. I really would.

      SIMON
      Well... 

      CAROL
      No, let me pull over so I can pay 
      full attention.

 Car pulling over toward parking spot.

 EXT. HIGHWAY - CURBSIDE - CONVERTIBLE - DAY

 She takes the car curbside and parks.

      CAROL
      Now go ahead.

 Simon looks back at Melvin as does Carol. He looks 
 innocent. Several beats -- Melvin almost says something 
 -- a hidden hand gesture from Carol stops him. Finally.

      SIMON
      Well, I always painted. Always. 
      And my mother always encouraged 
      it. She was sort of fabulous 
      about it actually... and she used 
      to... I was too young to think 
      there was anything at all wrong 
      with it... and she was very 
      natural. She used to pose nude 
      for me... and I thought or assumed 
      my father was aware of it.

      MELVIN
      This stuff is pointless.

      CAROL
      Hey -- you let him... 

      MELVIN
      You like sad stories -- you want 
      mine.

      CARL
      Stop. Go ahead, Simon. Really. 
      Please. Don't let him stop you. Ignore him.

      SIMON
      Okay. Well, one day my father 
      came in on one of those painting 
      sessions when I was nine -- and he 
      just started screaming at her -- 
      at us -- at evil. And... 

      MELVIN
       (very quickly)
  ... my father didn't leave his 
  room for 11 years -- he hit my 
  hand with a yardstick if I made a 
  mistake on the piano.

      CAROL
      Go ahead, Simon. Your father 
      walked in on you and was yelling 
      and... really, come on.

      SIMON
      I was trying to defend my mother 
      and make peace, in the lamest way. 
      I said, "she's not naked -- it's 
      art." And then he started hitting 
      me. And he beat me unconscious. 
      After that he talked to me less 
      and less -- he knew before I left 
      for college, my dad came into my 
      room. He held out his hand. It 
      was filled with money. A big wad 
      of sweaty money.
       (gathers himself)
      And he said to me, "I don't want 
      you to ever come back." I grabbed 
      him and I hugged him... He turns 
      and walked out.

 Carol, whose life has been rugged but basic, feels as 
 strange as she does moved by Simon's trauma which is so 
 much more complicated than her meat and potatoes 
 troubles. She looks out her window -- then kisses her 
 fingers and touches them to Simon's cheek. A nice, 
 understated, gesture of friendship.

      CAROL
      Well, you know -- I still stay 
      what I said. You've got to get 
      past it all when it comes to your 
      parents. We all have these horror 
      stories to get over.

 Melvin shifts INTO the FRAME.

      MELVIN
      That's not true. Some of us have 
      great stories... pretty stories 
      that take place at lakes with 
      boats and friends and noodle 
      salad. Just not anybody in this 
      car. But lots of people -- that's 
      their story -- good times and 
      noodle salad... and that's what 
      makes it hard. Not that you had 
      it bad but being that pissed that 
      so many had it good.

      CAROL
      No.

      SIMON
      Not it at all, really.

      MELVIN
       (a veteran's irony)
      Not at all, huh?!... Let's go to 
      the hotel. And if you're lucky 
      tomorrow Dad will give you another 
      wad of sweaty money.


That metaphor cracks me up: "Good times, noodle salad". I just love the idea of a mind wired so that a primary image of someone living a life of relative happiness involves noodle salad.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Something for Thursday

It's Graduation Time all over America -- actually, it has been for a few weeks now, since colleges tend to graduate students in May and high schools send their charges out into the world with a piece of paper in June. And that means that the Graduation Tune is getting played a lot. Everybody knows it as "Pomp and Circumstance", but the whole thing is actually Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D, and there's a lot more going on in that march than just the famous "Bring on the graduates!" tune. Here's the entire thing, as played by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein.



Incidentally, in his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Daniel C. Dennett suggests that the following would be, by its tune and character, an even more appropriate musical accompaniment for academic commencements, if not for the associations of its lyrics. It is, after all, titled "Behold the Lord High Executioner!"



I, of course, think that this ought to be used for all such occasions, but nobody ever asks me:



Congrats, grads! I hope the world's prospects improve for you, and soon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Name a chain restaurant you once loved but haven't been back in years, for whatever reason! (Doesn't have to be 'because they suck'...I used to go with my family to Burgerville USA all the time, but then we moved 2500 miles away from the nearest one, so that was that.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Images from the Transit

The recent transit of Venus over the Sun yielded some amazing images. Here are some of them, from the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center's Flickr stream (which is, incidentally, one of my favorite Flickr streams).

NASA's SDO Satellite Captures Venus Transit Approach

SDO's Ultra-high Definition View of 2012 Venus Transit - 304 Angstrom

Venus Transit From ISS

SDO's Ultra-high Definition View of 2012 Venus Transit - 171 Angstrom

SDO's Ultra-high Definition View of 2012 Venus Transit - HMI Instrument

Hinode Views the 2012 Venus Transit


That last one is amazing...it's among the greatest space images I've ever seen.

After the transit, I tweeted to Neil DeGrasse Tyson that now I want to see images of an Earth transit, taken from Mars.

By the way, it's always helpful to keep in mind the sheer distances involved here. After putting in some values to this site, I find that to make things to scale, if we have a Venus that is 1 inch in diameter (well, 0.9909 inches), the Sun is a sphere nine and a half feet wide, and the two are .14 miles apart, or about 740 feet. Space is big, which is a large part of why these transits only come more than a century apart.

Twenty-two shades of Crap

I have zero intention of reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because...well, life's just too short, and I already read Twilight. But Kerry read it and reports. A sampler of her opinions on this book:

2) Her catch phrase, the thing she utters in all and any circumstance, is "Holy crap." For example, when she's at the climax, if you will, of an erotic moment with her dominating hero, she will scream "Holy crap." "Holy crap" is never a sexy thing to say.

3) The male character, in turn -- god-like, well-educated, nuanced sex fiend that he is -- often says things like, "You look mighty fine, Ms. Steele. Mighty fine." WHO SAYS THAT? It makes him sound like a cross between Pa Ingalls and the lumberjack on Brawny paper towels. Not sexy. Not one bit, even if you lived in the Pacific NW in the 1800s.

Of course, the whole point of reading these books seems to be to read about Teh Sex, and my recent experiences with George RR Martin convince me that my tolerance level for badly written sex is very, very low. So I don't think I'll be reading this book, or sequels, or whatever.

(Huh...maybe it's the title. Shades of Gray is the title to one of the most loathed episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a crappy clip show that has them drilling holes in Riker's head.)


Ugh!)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Happy Birthday John Constable

One of my favorite painters, ever since high school, when I saw one of his paintings in my English Literature textbook, senior year.

The white horse (John Constable: il fascino della natura)

John Constable - Stour Valley and Dedham Church at Boston Museum of Fine Arts

John Constable - Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds at New York Metropolitan Art Museum

John Constable - Beaching a Boat, Brighton, 1824 at Tate Britain Art Museum London England

"Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows" by John Constable, 1831

The Lock, John Constable, 1824

Words o' wisdom

 (Swiped from Facebook)

Sentential Links

Links!

:: When all writing is 144 characters long, there won't be anymore books written in a generation or two - who would ever have the attention span left to read one?

:: Ray Bradbury made a transit as well. He moved from this world to the next -- the Undiscovered Country from whose bourn no traveller returns. Whatever there is in that country -- celestial figures with white robes and harps or a surfeit of nothingness -- I'm sure he will have no trouble speaking the language.

:: It’s telling that we read Bradbury for his short stories. They are stylish glimpses at possibilities, meant for contemplation. The most important thing about writers is how they exist in our memories. Having read Bradbury is like having seen a striking glimpse out of a car window and then being whisked away.

:: "Looking back over a lifetime, you see that love was the answer to everything," Ray said once, in an interview.

ASIDE: I haven't said anything about Ray Bradbury because, well, many others have said it better, and I give a small selection of them above. Bradbury is yet another of those writers whose work I have not read enough of but whose work I'm somewhat familiar with; in his case, it's mostly through his short fiction, which is invariably amazing, no matter what his subject matter at the time may be. Ray Bradbury lived long and he certainly prospered. If there are such things as souls, I hope his is among the stars!

Non-Bradbury links:

:: Here’s a simple rule: if you want to be a musical, you have to write original songs. (Well, let's be careful here. Many of the most beloved film musicals of all time don't have any original songs, as they are film adaptations of stage musicals. And two of the musicals most often cited among lists of greatest musicals ever, Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris, almost exclusively feature recycled, existing songs. There are two original numbers in Singin', and none in American in Paris, which uses the songs of George Gershwin, who had been dead fourteen years when the film came out. The fact is, filmed musicals that recycle songs from earlier works have a very long pedigree.)

:: Batman has the Joker, G.I Joe has COBRA, Sheriff Roscue P. Coltran has the Duke boys and I have a guy that is the spitting image of Wilford Brimley at the county dump.

:: The truth is physical comedy is the most enduring. I LOVE LUCY will be funny 100 years from now. Last night's hilarious DAILY SHOW will not.

:: The next transit is due on December 10, 2117. I suppose there's always a chance that someone will develop a longevity serum in the next couple decades... (Nah. Cryogenics, man. That's the way to go.)

More next week!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Ever wonder how the events of Pulp Fiction unfold in real time, as opposed to the film's nonlinear depiction of the story? Wonder no more...here's a timeline!


(via)

:: PopSpots is a site that figures out the exact locations that great events in popular culture took place, such as the location depicted in Edvard Munch's The Scream. The site is NYC-centric, but still fascinating.

:: PIXAR's rules of storytelling. A lot of good food for thought here, for those interested in the telling of tales. I will admit that i don't agree with item #7, which indicates that you need to figure out your ending first. I like the endings to arise as I go, and I rarely start a story with an ending in mind; when I do have an ending in mind, it's only the very basic idea of what happens at the end, as opposed to any detailed stuff. I prefer to let the characters end the story.

But then, I'm a guy with a bunch of unpublished manuscripts and rejection notes. They're a movie studio with a gazillion dollars and the good will of the entire planet. Hmmmmm...nah, I'm gonna be pigheaded and keep doing it my way! Take that, PIXAR!

More next week!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Film Quote Friday



Yup, it's baseball! Specifically, my favorite baseball movie of all time, Bull Durham. I won't wax totally poetic about the movie, having done that before, but...I've got baseball on the brain. Why?

Well, I have a friend at work whose favorite hobby is collecting sports autographs. And while he does buy signed items from memorabilia stores and online, he does most of the legwork himself: he goes to the ballpark and the arena and the stadium and various other places and gets stuff signed himself. He's got a ton of great stories about the hobby and the thrill of the autograph chase, such as a time he and some friends went into a hotel bar, one at a time, to get Jim Plunkett, the onetime Raiders quarterback (and two-time Super Bowl MVP), to sign. The punchline that night was the last guy, who went up to him with a photo of a Raiders quarterback wearing number 16...only to have Plunkett tell him, "That's not me." He'd approached Plunkett with a photo of George Blanda.

Anyway, this weekend my friend has a shot at getting the autograph of the oldest active athlete in his collection: baseball pitcher Jamie Moyer. Moyer is 49 years old, and after starting the season with the Rockies and getting cut, signed a minor-league deal with the Orioles this week. They sent him to AAA Norfolk, who play this weekend at Buffalo against our Bisons. Moyer is scheduled to pitch tomorrow.

Moyer was born with JFK was President, less than a year after my parents were married. He made his Major League debut on June 16, 1986, when Ronald Reagan was President. The top movie at the box office the week of Moyer's debut was Back to School, starring Rodney Dangerfield. And even though Moyer made his MLB debut in 1986, he would not win his first World Series ring until 2008, when he pitched with the Phillies.

What does this have to do with Bull Durham? Well, there's something Crash Davis-esque in Moyer's refusal to retire before he's damned good and ready. As Annie Savoy says in the film after Crash gets cut by the Durham Bulls and travels to the next town down the road to try to catch on with another team in a slightly smaller, slightly crappier ballpark, "You have to respect a ballplayer whose just trying to finish the season."

Of course, Jamie Moyer is something of the opposite of Crash Davis; if Crash is the guy who keeps playing and playing and playing and yet he can't quite crack the Majors, Moyer's the guy who keeps playing and playing and playing and the Majors can't get rid of him. Moyer's never been a great pitcher, but he's been solid enough for long enough, and a baseball rotation isn't worth anything if it doesn't have a solid guy going up there every fifth day so the staff ace's arm doesn't fall off.

Anyway, here's a great scene from Bull Durham. Tough to pick one, as the movie has nothing but great scenes.


CRASH COMING OUT OF THE SHOWER -- Toweling off, watching the 
               innocent, vulgar fun. He sits down in front of his locker, 
               drying his hair, when the CLUBHOUSE BOY approaches:

                                     CLUBHOUSE BOY
                         Hey, Crash -- Skip wants to see ya.

               CRASH RISES AND HEADS FOR SKIP'S CUBICLE -- Wearing only a 
               towel and his shower shoes.

                                                                    CUT TO:

               INSIDE SKIP'S OFFICE -- Skip and Larry sit in postgame 
               routine, checking charts, smoking, half dressed.

               CRASH ENTERS as he's still drying off.

                                     CRASH
                         Yeah, Skip, you wanted to see me?

                                     SKIP
                         Crash, shut the door.

               And it hits him. Crash looks at Skip, who looks down at the 
               floor, unwilling to face Crash who then looks at Larry, who 
               also looks away nervously.

               CRASH SHUTS THE DOOR -- The party rages beyond.

                                     SKIP
                              (heartfelt)
                         This is the toughest job a manager 
                         has...

               CLOSE ON CRASH -- He's been in the game too long to be 
               surprised; nonetheless, he's surprised. And hurt. His stoicism 
               is professional.

                                     SKIP
                         The organization wants to make a 
                         change... now that Nuke's gone they 
                         wanta bring up some young catcher...

                                     LARRY
                         Some kid hittin' .300 in Lynchburg... 
                         probably a bust.

                                     SKIP
                         I put in a word for you with the 
                         organization -- told 'em I thought 
                         you'd make a fine minor league manager 
                         someday... Might be an opening at 
                         Salem next year --

               EXTREME CLOSE UP ON CRASH -- His eyes are moist.

                                     SKIP
                         Helluva year, Crash -- you know how 
                         it is.

               Silence.

               Crash stands there nearly nude. He just nods slightly. Without 
               rancor or bitterness, he turns and re-enters the raucous 
               locker room.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Something for Thursday

Before the series finale episode of House MD aired, FOX played promos for the show, using this song that I'd never heard before, by a group I'd never heard of before. This is one of those spiritually hypnotic songs that, when well done, I tend to find absolutely and utterly captivating. It's hymn-like in its musical approach, and since those ads started airing, I can't get enough of this song...so much so that I'm almost afraid to sample anything else by this band. I kind of want this song to exist all by itself, in some ethereal realm. Here's Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors, with "Live Forever".



Wednesday, June 06, 2012

From the Books: "Coming of Age in the Milky Way"


Last night saw a rare, and spectacular, astronomical event: the transit of Venus across the Sun. There were many amazing pictures from this event, and Phil Plait provided some terrific coverage. The event reminded me, specifically, of a passage from a favorite book of mine, and one which I've been planning to dig out for a re-read soon: Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris.

This book constitutes a one-volume history of the human species's discovery of its own roots in, and relation to, the Universe. In that respect, the book covers quite a bit of the same ground as Carl Sagan's Cosmos, although Ferris's focus is more on a narrative approach than Sagan's more free-form exploration of the Cosmos. Still, Coming of Age in the Milky Way contains some of the finest science writing I've read, and I strongly recommend it.

In the following selection, Ferris relates the mobilization of the scientific world in the 1700s to use that era's coming transit of Venus as a means of measuring the distances between the planets, further establishing the size of what was then thought to be the entire Universe. The transits had been predicted by Edmund Halley nearly a century before, and he had admonished his scientific descendants to take advantage of the opportunity, because by recording the timing of the transits as they unfolded from different parts of the world, a triangulation could be employed to survey the size of our sky.

What's most amazing to me about this is the sheer hardship endured in the name of scientific discovery, hardship that we tend to overlook in the onward march of discovery today, when the transits can be observed and recorded by spacecraft orbiting our world and beaming their data back to us so that I, sitting at my desk, can look at the images on my laptop. I can see the transit of Venus without getting up from my desk, except to get a bottle of water. These guys? Read on to see what they had to put up with to see a Venusian transit....

As for Venus, its transit on December 6-7, 1631, was visible only from the New World and appears to have been viewed by not a single human being, and the transit of November 24, 1639, was observed by two people, the English astronomer and clergyman Jeremiah Horrocks and his friend William Crabtree. Alarmingly for Horrocks, who was a clergyman, the transit occurred on a Sunday, when he was obliged to preach two sermons. He rushed home from church, peered through his telescope at 3:15 pm, and saw Venus, "the object of my most sanguine wishes...just wholly centered on the Sun's disk." Venus, like Mercury, looked smaller than had been predicted – Kepler thought Venus would cover one quarter of the sun, an enormous overestimate – and so to behold its apparent tiny size helped improve human appreciation of interplanetary distances. But Horrocks had no way to measure the apparent diameter of the disk precisely, and, since he was but one observer, he could not have triangulated Venus even if he had possessed an accurate clock. Crabtree, for his part, was so overwhelmed by the sight of an entire world dwarfed by the Sun that he made no coherent notes at all, prompting Horrocks to protest that "we astronomers have a certain...disposition [to be] distractedly delighted with light and trifling circumstances."

But the world had changed by the time the transits of Venus of 1761 and 1769 came due. Astronomy had become an organized science, conducted by professionals, sponsored by scientific societies, and supported by government funds. Now at last, it was felt, science had the resources to sound the dimensions of the solar system. Halley's implorations were remembered, and the transits were scrutinized by scores of observers equipped with micrometers, accurate clocks, and brass telescopes mounted on hardwood tripods at sites as far away as Siberia, South Africa, Mexico, and the South Pacific.

And, to an extent, the transit observers succeeded, though not without suffering some sufficient tribulations to remind them that while the motions of the planets may be sublime the affairs of this world are marbled with chaos. The astronomer Charles Mason and the surveyor Jeremiah Dixon, later of the Mason-Dixon Line, were attacked by a French frigate while making their way to Africa (this was during the Seven Years' War) with a loss of eleven dead and thirty-seven wounded; they reached Cape Town under military escort and observed the 1761 transit, only to find that they differed by many seconds in their estimate of the time when Venus had entered and left the disk of the sun. William Wales timed the transit from Hudson Bay, Canada, after enduring mosquitoes, horseflies, and a winter sufficiently severe that, as he noted with empirical exactitude, a half-pint of brandy left unattended iced over in only five minutes. Jean-Baptiste Chappe d'Auteroche, dispatched by the French academy into the depths of Russia, raced across the frozen Volga and through Siberian forests in horse-drawn sleds, arrived at Tobolsk six days prior to the transit, posted guards to repel angry mobs who blamed him for causing spring floods by interfering with the sun, and managed to observe the transit. He died eight years later in Baja California after timing the 1769 transit, of an epidemic that spared but one member of his party, who dutifully returned his data to Paris. Alexandra-Gui Pingre was rained out for most of the transit in Madagascar, lost his ship to the British and was returned to Lisbon under British guns; a humanist as well as a scientist, he took comfort in the ship's rations of spirits: "Liquor," he wrote, "gives us the necessary strength for determining the distance of...the sun."

Least fortunate of all was Guillaume le Gentil, who sailed from France on March 26, 1760, planning to observe the transit the following year from the east coast of India. Monsoons blew his ship off course, and transit day found him becalmed in the middle of the Indian Ocean, unable to make any useful observations. Determined to redeem the expedition by observing the second transit, Le Gentil booked passage to India, built an observatory atop an obsolete powder magazine in Pondicherry, and waited. The sky remained marvelously clear throughout May, only to cloud over on June 4, the morning of the transit, then clear again as soon as the transit was over.

[excerpt of Le Gentil's journal excised]

Worse lay ahead. Stricken with dysentery, Le Gentil remained in India for another nine months, bedridden. He then booked passage home aboard a Spanish warship that was demasted in a hurricane off the Cape of Good Hope and blown off course north of the Azores before finally limping into port at Cadiz. Le Gentil crossed the Pyrenees and at last set foot on French soil, after eleven years, six months, and thirteen days of absence. Upon his return to Paris he learned that he had been declared dead, his estate looted, and its remains divided up among his heirs and creditors. He renounced astronomy, married, and retired to write his memoirs. Cassini, eulogizing Le Gentil, praised his character but allowed that "in his sea voyages he had contracted a little unsociability and brusqueness.

(top image via)