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If I had the power to force all Americans to read one book, it might well be this one. It’s a one-of-a-kind book with a ton of insight over a broad range of topics, but to me the key part of the book On Killing is that, while there indisputably are violent sociopaths who could kill people by any means and with no real psychological price to pay, for virtually all of us humans taking another human life is very, very difficult to square psychologically, and the closer and more tactile the method, the harder it is to overcome our innate psychological resistance. While guns aren’t the easiest way to kill someone from a psychological perspective, they are the easiest available to the public (until the NRA legalizes grenade launchers and bomber jets for private use, of course), and it’s far easier to kill another person with a gun than with a bladed weapon or with bare hands. The science is quite settled, in this case by a former Army colonel. There is a strong scientific basis for a fairly staunch gun control regime. But you have to accept science.

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Are mostly a media-created scandal, all smoke and no fire. But as someone who has been in politics for over 30 years, Clinton had to have known what the potential consequences of using her own server could be, and did it anyway. As always, dolts who think that this will finally unveil the nonexistent Clinton criminal empire will wind up getting burnt. But as always, there’s no reason to think that a prospective Hillary Clinton presidency would be any less sloppy than this, would be any less dependent on hijacking progressive voices to fight their own personal battles for them, not to mention the bad judgment of individuals and the inevitable “tough” responses to world crises. It doesn’t have to be this way, but it will be.

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If you have two hours this weekend, might I suggest watching the (soon to be taken off streaming) Netflix documentary on John Milius. Who is he? Most people know him, if at all, for co-writing Apocalypse Now and being the inspiration for John Goodman’s character Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski, whom he perfectly resembles. But Milius is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating human beings involved in the movie industry, and he’s either created or had a hand in countless landmark Hollywood movies. The documentary gets into things I didn’t know about him: how he wrote the most memorable scene in Jaws over the phone, and how it was used in the film with few changes (though with some trimming). That he was on intimate terms with nearly all the other mavericks of 1970s filmmaking, and socialized with Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, etc., and frequently advised and helped them on their movies. That after spending the two months he was supposed to use to write a script by driving motorcycles and drinking, he sent an entire script to the studio head in 100 telegrams, just narrowly hitting the deadline. The man is an obvious throwback to the kind of manly adventurer exemplified by Teddy Roosevelt, and in movies represented by the likes of John Ford and John Huston. One gathers that he can be as difficult to deal with as they were, though obviously all have their achievements that speak for themselves. The film really brings the guy to life, examines his career and character, and relates numerous fascinating stories. We’re living in a buyer’s market for documentaries, and there seem to be a near infinite amount of choices in that department. This is the rare one that really gives you a feel for its subject matter.

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I took a bunch of undergraduate courses in religious studies back in college–at one point I considered a minor in the subject, but I went to a school that discouraged minors and deliberately made them hard to get, requiring 30-40 units for an essentially worthless distinction. In any event, I (unlike the dittohead running Ahmed Mohammed’s town) actually do know a thing or two about Shari’a Law. Hardly an expert, but my recollection is that it’s about 90% unobjectionable love thy neighbor, give to the poor type of stuff, and about 10% stuff that is problematic from a secularist’s perspective–it does do things like proscribe how the judicial system is supposed to work, so it’s fair to say that under strict Shari’a Law, a separation between church and state is not really a thing that exists (though few Islamic countries implement the entirety of Shari’a Law in their legal codes), and it must be stated that for quite a long time the idea of church-state separation was marginal in the Christian sphere as well. And if you ever listen to Mike Huckabee for more than twenty seconds, you’ll find that it’s still not universal there either.

However, despite whatever misgivings one might have with those issues, what Shari’a Law does not have are (a) some kind of forced conversion to Islam on pain of death, (b) commandments to kill the infidels (a Latin-derived term, FWIW), (c) burka requirements, (d) fifty lashes for eating pork, or whatever else the fevered mind of right-wingers might ascribe to it. When you read these stories about the graying of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, I think the fact that large swathes of them are terrified of a legal code that they don’t understand anything about needs to be interpreted as a need for a substitute for Communism to make their whole right-wing paradigm work for septuagenarians who grew up terrified of the reds. However, it is ridiculous to equate it to Communism because the USSR actually did work to infiltrate, penetrate and take over various labor organizations, newspapers, and to a huge degree the intelligence services created to watch them (read this if you want to read the so-scary-it’s-funny story of that). Right-wingers of the era, of course, held inaccurate and silly views of Communism, and in the case of Joe “Precursor to Ted Cruz” McCarthy, you clearly had a demagogue who did not have the goods on this phenomenon, but was just trying to use fear of it to beat on liberals. But at least there was a central force that was doing some of the things they said they were doing in some of the ways they said they were doing them, however exaggerated. The whole “creeping Shari’a Law” thing, though, is simply stupid. Nobody knows what it is or what it does. There is no central actor in this conspiracy, no idea that can be communicated, no evidence, no known figures, no argument, just panicked email forwards by elderly shut-ins. And while right-wingers famously refused to accept the various rifts among the Communist sphere back in the day, it’s a lot harder to deny them in the Islamic world when they’re fighting to kill each other each and every day. Aside from Vietnam invading Cambodia in the late 1970s, there was simply nothing like this back then. There’s no reason to believe that radical Islamists are even trying to penetrate institutions to the same degree that the Soviets did back in the day, or that they’d have much success if they tried. The Shari’a freakout is something that exists because septuagenarian Republicans (such as Charlie Daniels) are used to thinking of enemies compromising America from within, period, end of paragraph.


I wrote my silly little piece about yesterday’s debate last night because I found the entirety of the debate to be silly, meriting no real deep analysis. For the most part, it was eleven grown-ups alternating between truthy bullshit and rageful hysteria, a setup for the punchline that one of these people will actually wind up with a decent chance of being President of the United States. It’s hilarious that they spent any time arguing over whether Donald Trump passes muster when you have Huckabee’s bad acid trip, Rubio’s apparent attempt to steal Dinesh D’Souza’s act and offer the nation a bunch of alarmist hypothetical future nonsense, Carson sounding like some civilian who they just picked off the street, etc. If this country had a press that wasn’t full of cynics and people just generally ignorant of policy, politics and power, todays headlines would have been in the vein of, “Major Political Party’s Collapse Embarrassingly Caught On National Television.” On foreign affairs, the attitudes ranged from war right away (Christie) to let’s wait until we get a good pretext for war (Kasich). Shibboleths of resolve and respect were invoked repeatedly with no pushback. On domestic policy, virtually all of these folks tried to sound like they supported the stupidest government shutdown in history while maintaining plausible deniability, with the exceptions of Cruz, who outright favored it, and Kasich, who seemed to oppose it due to past experiences, not because of the facts of the situation. And then there was that time when several candidates played footsie with anti-vaxxers. All in all, a tough night for the sorts of people who need to find “sane” Republicans in which to put an unrealistic amount of hope and then still hold up as some example of something long after any kind of relevance, i.e. the narrative-obsessed political press, you know, the ones who still talk to John McCain every weekend for some reason.

Still, while “All these people are crazy” would have been an awesome headline if the left had a Murdoch-style tabloid (HuffPo doesn’t count since Murdoch pays his writers), there was never any chance of that. So, instead, the narrative-smiths went to work and came up with a result that hit me with equal amounts of dismay and giddy enthusiasm: this was Carly’s night! No less a narrative master than Joe Klein had the hubris to argue that this debate had given a blueprint to neutralize Donald Trump (as if Trump’s success in the polls came from this sort of setting) and hailed Fiorina and, tellingly, Rubio as standouts. Rubio does indeed speak fluently, but the content is utter nonsense, little different from the discredited neocon pabulum of a Dick Cheney. Proving, perhaps, that the media only dings people who aren’t polished media presenters, the sort of clubbish bullshit that everybody recognizes and properly hates them for. But it is Fiorina’s performance that is shaking up the intertubes. And it should be admitted that Fiorina has a command of the conventions of modern political debating: the theatricality of her abortion bit was well-executed, sure, and she provided enough moments of drama to be endlessly replayed on Morning Joe and such over the next couple of days. She even managed to fight Donald Trump to a draw on their respective business records, which is frankly nuts if you think about it. Whatever you might say about Trump’s failed businesses–remember when he tried to start an airline?–it’s nowhere near the devastation that Fiorina visited upon HP. I lived quite near their corporate headquarters during this time, had lots of friends whose parents worked there. It wasn’t exactly like a Bruce Springsteen song or anything, though I did know people who lost jobs there, but the universal feeling was that Fiorina cared more about being featured in business magazines than in effectively managing the company, which in any event she seemed to have little talent at doing. Her lame excuse that the dot-com bubble bursting wrecked HP’s fortunes just isn’t going to cut it as her tenure corresponded with Apple’s big resurgence, the success of Dell, etc. Companies that took chunks out of HP’s market share while HP was reeling from a merger that Fiorina did not inherit and was not forced to make. People were buying fucking computers and digital cameras in the early aughts–lots of them!–even though a bunch of ill-conceived web ventures went belly-up. There’s no argument there, merely distraction.

But focusing solely on HP ignores her vast history of failure that has been exhaustively documented on this blog. To paraphrase Pesci’s character from Casino, this gal could fuck up a cup of coffee. The fact that she threw away the Republicans’ best chance to win a California Senate seat in decades and then had a hand in the party’s embarrassing 2012 Senate failure, along with getting yanked as a McCain campaign surrogate, should convince Republican elites even if her business record doesn’t that this woman is a walking disaster who has no business being anywhere the main stage. But it hasn’t. Fiorina is the perfect match for a party in denial about its history since she is, like St. Ronald Reagan, in complete denial of her own, including her apparent belief that she’s an “outsider” even though everything she’s done since branching into politics has been thanks to party contacts, certainly not due to her own record of escalating failures. And this makes her the perfect match for a party that likes to deploy rhetoric about meritocracy but is in reality committed to consolidating power among a small circle of insiders. She doesn’t have to learn that double game, she lives it. No failure is too great to wreck the reputation of someone who is on the inside, after all, as D’Souza, Ralph Reed, etc. have continually proven. I would say that she could be the Republicans’ presidential nominee except that it’s going to be impossible to paper over the HP problem. Romney’s record could be (and was) interpreted in multiple ways, but Fiorina’s can only be interpreted as a story of overreaching, incompetence and failure. But my original prediction stands, in fact, the probability of her failing upward to a veep nomination is I think an especially good possibility now. It will be amusing to see how she blows that up too.

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MV5BMTUzMjAzMjMyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTUzNDIyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR1,0,214,317_AL_A couple of observations:

  • An hour and a half in, and neither Rubio, nor Walker, nor (especially) Bush has had the Big Night that they were said to need. Bush in particular managed to diminish himself on almost every exchange, often trying to hit Trump but frequently and never really threatening the latter’s control on things. Walker really doesn’t belong here, and most likely won’t be for much longer. Easily the most inert thing on stage, including his podium.
  • Obviously, I’m a wildly biased observer, so take this with whatever quantity of salt you wish. But Carly Fiorina has to have one of the least appealing personalities of any politician to reach this point I’ve ever seen. Obviously, she can talk, and she has some command of details and specifics. She sounds credible even when saying nutty things. But there is a brittleness and a coldness that is frankly remarkable in such a public-facing role, not to mention an unfortunate tendency toward sour looks (i.e. defensiveness) when being challenged, and further not to mention that she is clearly a member of the club of people who should never, ever, ever smile (which also includes Bob Filner and Steve Buscemi). No trace of humor or charm (which Christie possesses in spades), and no apparent ability to project hope or optimism, even (especially?) when launching furious attacks. Their beloved Reagan could pull that off, recall. Obviously personality isn’t the only or most important characteristic in a potential president. But let’s face it, most people connect to politicians through personality, or at least the personality projected to the public. Fiorina is well suited to be an attack dog but I can’t imagine she has any real fans. Say what you will about Trump, but he can do all the things she can’t.
  • I don’t get Ben Carson at all. But I do get Trump. Even if you think of him as a racist, vulgar buffoon as I do, there’s no denying that he’s fun to watch. “Higher energy today Jeb, I like it!” Come on, that’s fucking funny.
  • Kasich did fairly well, and should probably continue to rise. Christie did pretty well as well–this is definitely his arena–but he has no chance. Everyone else both boring and crazy, a uniquely modern Republican combination.

All in all, not a ton of surprises–Tapper intended to stir up conflict and aside from Trump, none of the other candidates took the bait. Trump definitely seems to have taken some steps forward as a candidate–even though the topic of the first twenty minutes was basically, “Is Donald Trump a joke?” it is now patently clear that he isn’t one, nor is he the craziest person on stage. It’s passe to think of him as any more of a joke than Huckabee or Cruz or Carson. They’re all jokes. Except maybe for Kasich? I dunno. I can’t believe they expect people to sit through three hours of this.

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Spend it with Mort:

Why do I find Downey so fascinating? The rapidity of the rise and fall narrative, of course, along with the multivariate nature of his ambitions (at one point, he even tried to break into country music). But his views could defy easy categorization: find me any other right-wing media personality who would go to Harlem and spend an hour insulting and belittling neo-Nazis and white supremacists. It’s interesting. Most of his successors I think just want to avoid antagonizing all that potential audience (while also not mentally accepting that they are a potential audience). I also feel like for liberals who want to understand the emotional appeal of FOX News, watching this clip provides a pretty excellent hit of it, as Downey is more or less on the liberal end of the issue but he’s using his usual approach.

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