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So I get an email today saying that Jim Webb is running for president, probably because I donated to his campaign way back when he was running against George Allen. It contained the full text of his announcement, so I figured I might as well read it. It was mostly what I expected, with a few surprises, like an indirect but still pretty clear promise to work on strengthening collective bargaining rights (good!), to a somewhat vague, procedural objection to Iranian diplomacy (eh, not so good). Ed Kilgore has a pretty thorough roundup of the whole thing.

I will admit that his not-perfectly-phrased (to say the least) entry into the confederate flag debate has killed off any progressive enthusiasm for his bid, although he’s rarely seemed to be interested in building a coalition upon that. In fact, it seems unclear what kind of Democratic coalition he even intends to build at all, as he gives nobody anything that they can’t get elsewhere. I couldn’t help but feel like I was getting a hit of 2014 strategery from reading the announcement: it smacked of trying to reach an audience that simply isn’t there at this time. Such as: Democratic realist hawks, say, or Southern working class white Democrats. His Iran stance will prevent him from being the natural peace candidate, it’s unclear how he appeals to women or minorities or environmentalists, and while his political career has long been concerned with helping the working class and downtrodden, he’s not going to go anywhere without being able to get the existing Democratic base behind him. I see no evidence of an even slightly credible plan to make that happen.

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I strongly doubt Jerry Brown vetoes the finally-passed vaccination bill. Quirky as he may be, I just don’t see the guy striking a blow for Marin assholes and internet conspiracy theorists. I think it becomes law. Sadly, I don’t see this bill’s passage as being a spur to action in other states–the only reason it’s happening here is because of the national news stories of childhood disease resurgences that came out of this state. As the aborted attempt in Washington State showed, most politicians are going to avoid antagonizing the Randian ubermenschen who see themselves as being above any sorts of social obligations whatsoever, even the ones that make sense from a self-interested perspective. Ultimately, I doubt there’s going to be much political fallout for this–it’s a somewhat bipartisan bill and no amount of money is going to get California Republicans out of the death spin they’re in, if there were some taste for retaliation to be had by the opponents. Probably won’t shift votes either way in meaningful numbers. But I think even blue states are going to move onto other business. At least, until the next national news stories hit.

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Have to admit, if the State of California actually does pass a mandatory vaccination law as is now apparently expected, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. California has a certain political reputation but it has far from the furthest-left Democratic Party–the unusual circumstance of having most wealthy people in the state being Democrats means on the one hand that Republicans have almost no power (and are in the midst of a vicious cycle in which the unacceptably nutty people keep on grabbing more power in the GOP and moving it farther away from power, thus driving away more sane people and empowering the nuts more, ad infinitum), but on the other hand it means that Democrats are perpetually compromised, and it’s still a scramble to pass certain kinds of progressive legislation. It’s why Dianne Feinstein is a political fixture rather than someone whose number the party lost after she ruined San Francisco, and why theoretically left-wing Nancy Pelosi might wind up endorsing starving grannies chained-CPI, or giving serious consideration to a fast track bill that on paper should be anathema. I kind of figured that this bill would wind up going away as soon as those Marin/SF/LA donors started their caterwaul. Well they have, and it still seems to be on track. I’ll be damned.

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One of the least demanded soundtracks in history.

If you’re not listening to Trekabout, the weekly Star Trek podcast that tackles the entirety of the franchise, then you’re missing out. It’s sharp, entertaining and authoritative. They even went through the whole animated series, episode by episode! Nobody does that. Anyway, they’ve just finished The Next Generation, en route to the TNG movies. After doing some thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that Generations truly is the worst movie of the entire franchise. Sure, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the consensus choice, but that’s almost so-bad-it’s-good in parts, and I find the protagonist’s journey to be flawed but moving. That the protagonist is Sybok, not Kirk, and that the movie seems to be unaware of this is but one of the many problems with that film. And while Insurrection is dumb and is demonstrably on the wrong side of the moral argument and Nemesis is about as optimistic as season nine of Game Of Thrones might well be, Generations is a disaster on a mind-boggling scale.

It should be said that some of the ideas in the film hold promise. The basic idea of an entity that promises boundless joy, but destroys everyone who gets near it, is an idea that could be taken in any number of creative directions. The linking up of both Picard’s new sense of mortality after his family’s death, and Kirk’s (vastly less convincing) regret at having lost the time and opportunity to have a family because of his spacefaring adventures–both involving a suddenly realized lack of time–to a reality where time is a renewable commodity could all make for a decent movie. And Data’s choice to install the emotion chip is just a fantastic…just kidding, that’s just a bad idea. But there are some decent ideas in the film, and some emotionally potent moments. But those moments–Picard talking to Troi after the deaths in his family, his scenes with Soran–are often embedded in scenes that do not work, or that lack proper payoffs later on. The Picard-Soran Ten-Forward scene plays out in the middle of a scene where Data “humorously” decides his newfound emotions make him hate a particular drink, one which mostly serves to show just how the “no emotions” rule for Data makes no sense. I guess one must have explicit emotions to have preferences for eating and drinking? It’s a tonal clash worthy of a Star Wars prequel, and this movie’s sense of humor might be even less funny than those.

In fact, outside of those few emotionally potent scenes, much of the movie has Braga’s fingerprints on it. Braga gets a lot–maybe too much at this point–of blame for the decline of Star Trek. That’s sort of like blaming the lieutenant for losing the war, instead of the general. But the movie feels like a retread of much of what he’d already done, and the missteps that don’t have direct antecedents in his work make much more sense as his doing than Ron Moore’s. The Nexus is a typical Braga spatial anomaly, of the sort that he’d introduced in “Cause and Effect” and “Timescape,” and that he’d shortly litter Voyager with. It would qualify as high-concept but there’s no real concept there. Where does the thing come from? What is its purpose? What does it represent? It seems unlikely that this is a natural phenomenon, and yet the movie is uninterested in what it means, and views it purely as a plot device, with no metaphorical or allegorical content, no history and no purpose. It would be as though the white whale in Moby-Dick were literally just a whale that was white, it is a hollow center to a hollow film. Add in the shocking battle scene between the Enterprise-D and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey–a ship that Kirk’s Enterprise was able to best in the prior movie, and that needed two buddies to be an even match with the Enterprise in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”–but that ultimately defeats the very same Enterprise essentially because the latter decides not to blow it up instantly–which it could do–but rather to use some kind of technical trick not unlike the ones Braga often prefers, such as in the aforementioned “Cause and Effect” and “Timescape” to unravel the mystery. In those episodes, it works well. But what was dazzling in those episodes feels wrong and inappropriate in a tense, adrenaline-infused battle scene, and merely reinforces the inadequacy of the writing. It makes it seem as though Starfleet doesn’t even require its members to learn combat tactics, requiring improvisation despite obvious tactical superiority. (“Her casualties were light” my ass.) And this is not even getting into the frequently painful humor of it, which doesn’t fit with Ron Moore’s attitude (i.e. one joke per season, a la Battlestar Galactica), as well as other small touches, like the inclusion of Data’s cat Spot, who seems to figure into Braga episodes very commonly (“Genesis,” “Phantasms”). The overall feel of it is that of a bad Braga script that Moore polished in a couple of places.

The problem with criticizing this movie is that once you start, you can’t stop. Why is Kirk even on the Enterprise-B? There’s a vague sense that an Enterprise simply must have Kirk on board, but we’ve never seen this sort of hero worship within the universe of Star Trek before, and it does not fit. Does Starfleet need the favorable press to increase its budget or something? Even more strange is why Kirk decided to go–it makes sense that he’d be lost in life without the adventure of captaining a ship, but to go along on a new ship as a living museum piece is such a desperate, attention-seeking, ego-shattering move that it seems to establish Kirk on a diminished stature right off the bat. Not as unimpressive, however, as the Enterprise-B‘s official captain, played by Alan “Cameron” Ruck, who seems to lack any sort of charisma or ability at all. This is the best captain in Starfleet? No wonder the franchise skipped over 70 years to avoid what must have been a sad, boring period in this particular fictional universe.

The Next Generation‘s finale was called “All Good Things…” It’s a bold move to give your work a title that could be thrown back in your face if it flops, but in that case it really did embody much of what was good about the show. This contains almost all that was bad about it: clumsy humor, reliance on “spatial entities” as a sort of black-box storytelling device, and for good measure, a strange dose of the show’s early inferiority complex by not having the confidence to do Star Trek that wasn’t The Original Series. The movie is called Star Trek Generations but this is a lie: it contains at best one and a half generations of Star Trek, making it both too much and too little of the older generation, giving the impression the new folks couldn’t handle a movie of their own while not providing anything of interest with the three older ones they cajoled into this. The movie obliterates the original cast’s fitting sendoff in favor of making the film as safe a commercial prospect as possible. Which means it was merely a portent of things to come…

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I listened to the Barack Obama interview with Marc Maron on Monday morning, and as is often the case when I listen to him in an extended conversation, I remembered why he appealed to me in the first place. While his promise to be a different kind of politician hasn’t really panned out in terms of substance, it has in terms of style. It is actually refreshing to have a president that actually answers questions that are asked of him, and who puts actual thought into the answers. Most politicians’ only thoughts in that context are in how to package their talking points so that they might seem close enough to an answer of the question. I was able to put aside all the unforced errors of foreign policy from Libya onward, the naivete that led to the disastrous debt ceiling deal/sequestration, and the obnoxious jonesing for more legacy bullet points at any cost that is TTIP, and just reconnect briefly with the candidate who won me over in 2008. Or at least, to be reminded of those things that were appealing back then.

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Interestingly, the reaction to the interview was also a reminder of how unbearable it has been to actually be a politically engaged person during the Obama presidency. The fact that Obama made a point about racism not being about the use of specific slurs led a never more useless mainstream media to aggressively question the use of a slur in a demonstrative context not only proves his point completely, but it also is a reminder: a reminder of how Obama has been so intentionally misunderstood throughout his presidency, by people who know better, or should. News outlets could easily have explained the context and point that was being made, rather than ginning up a controversy that was much too dumb to play with the general public. It is, sadly, typical. During the Obama era, they have tasked themselves with alternately wishing that Republicans would become more sensible, then pretending that they have (how Joni Ernst became a big part of the latter narrative remains incomprehensible), as well as pretending that Barack Obama could somehow pass legislation unilaterally if he would just schmooze more/concede more/leadershipify more. What they haven’t tasked themselves with: explaining the policy of major legislation. Obviously not all reporters are guilty of this, but the overall culture very much is, and has caused untold damage to the nation. One can see why the president continues to make use of any possibility at all to avoid dealing with them.

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Via Loomis, this is just bizarre. I think you have to take it this way: Texas generates a lot of oil. Putin identifies oil with power. According to Martin Sixsmith’s book, oil went from accounting for 25% of GDP under Yeltsin to 50% under Putin. This was intentional, and for huge amounts of Russians–particularly provincials–his rule has been an utter, avoidable disaster. But to Putin, oil is what power is all about. It’s what keeps Europe from pushing him around. It’s what lets him throw his weight around when dealing with his neighbors. It stands to reason that the idea of losing your prime oil producing region would be the most devastating thing Putin could think of doing to his adversary. The whole “America seized Texas, therefore I can seize Ukraine” element is obvious spin. Of course, to the extent that his goal is to “destroy American liberalism,” as his advisor says in the piece, getting Texas to leave the Union would be just about the most counterproductive way to do it–the Senate becomes a bit harder for the GOP and the House would immediately become a Democratic lock. It seems that Putin, unsurprisingly, does not understand American politics all that well. A much smarter play would be to back Californian separatism, which would ensure that Republicans hold the House until kingdom come, and would ensure that Republican presidencies–i.e. the ones more likely to provide the foil he wants to play to his electorate–become much more common. Admittedly, the creation of a hypothetical sovereign California would have many unforeseen side effects that may not all be positive for Putin, but the overall situation would be much more to his liking. I would guess that there’s a vastly smaller portion of people favoring Californian separatism than Texan separatism in their respective states, but a big glut of Kremlin cash could certainly get the ball rolling, to whatever extent it’s going to roll.

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Chait is right, it would be quite easy for conservatives to condemn the Charleston shootings, acknowledge the obvious motive of racism, and disavow the entire thing without compromising conservative doctrine. This would be the smart political move. That they all haven’t is morally and politically disastrous. So why not do it?

Obviously there’s no one answer and, unlike in the act of violence we’re talking about, it’s difficult to know exactly what these folks are thinking and feeling. Someone like Rick Santorum basically only sees attacks on religious freedom (as he sees it) wherever he looks. That’s his particular hammer, and this is just another nail. Gun nuts are obviously trying to shut down any gun control momentum that might come of this. It’s just become routine for them to argue that the cure for the disease of handgun killings is more guns. For someone like Jeb Bush and other mainstream/establishment conservatives of his ilk, the decision to remain aloof is stranger. The best I can figure is that they, like Santorum and the NRA, are trying to play the angles, either to avoid either getting slammed for being insensitive, or for (even worse) actually having to agree with the liberal left on race in a high-profile case. Not to mention the implications of what that agreement might mean.

I might be wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this winds up being a bit of a turning point. For years we’ve been hearing about the ideological calcification of conservatism, but this is one of the starkest examples yet, one where the ideology and its protectors simply cannot handle what’s going on in the world, and needs to reframe things in comfortable ideological abstractions that make no sense. If even fabulously multicultural Jeb Bush gets mealymouthed over this, then the party’s ability to expand beyond their graying base is going to be even tougher than was previously thought.

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