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I seem to be one of the very few people who is basically indifferent to the imminent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I may see it, I may not see it, but I don’t really have any feelings about it one way or another. You might think this is my usual contrariness speaking, and it probably is to some degree. I guess my feeling is that, whatever the novelty of expertly repackaged old entertainment with a nostalgic bent back in 1977, pretty much everything is repackaged entertainment with a nostalgic bent these days, at least in film, though admittedly not often expertly assembled. Having seen Abrams’s Star Trek movies, I’m sure the film will be entertaining, though since I have seen those films, I wouldn’t expect much more than that. And making it even less special to me is that it comes after a decade which has been flooded with fantasy-themed films. Which is all fine, but it doesn’t move me to care all that much.

Also, it might have something to do with the television at the restaurant I ate lunch at having ESPN on, which thought it a good use of everyone’s time to ask football players what they thought about Star Wars. Is there anything grosser than that? Literally anything?

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Lev filed this under:  

nzgnu7-benson.fearCivil society in this country has gone nuts:

Schools in Augusta County Virginia will be closed on Friday after a calligraphy lesson prompted a disturbing anti-Muslim backlash.

The controversy started when a lesson in World Geography class asked students to try to copy an example of Arabic calligraphy. The phrase was a statement of Islamic faith but the students were “not asked to translate the statement or to recite it.” Rather, the purpose of the exercise was to give students an “idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.”

The class covered a variety of religions including Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.

Some students refused to complete the assignments and several parents protested at a meeting earlier this week. Kimberly Herndon, the parent who organized the protest, called the lesson “indoctrination.”

“She gave up the Lord’s time. She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed,” Herndon said.

Other parents called for the teacher, Cheryl LaPorte, to be fired

The attention resulted in “voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area” to the school district. A statement from Augusta County Public Schools said the decision to close the schools was based on the “tone and content” of the communications “based on the recommendations of law enforcement.”

So, in response to a simple calligraphy class, we get what were probably threats of domestic terrorism against the school?

Tell me again who are the extremists?  It’s hard to keep track these days.

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Via Goddard:

A new Gallup poll shows that 47% of Americans say they are worried about being a victim of terrorism while 38% say they are worried about being a victim of a mass shooting.

Meanwhile, a new New York Times/CBS News poll finds that roughly three in five Americans “said they were very worried about terrorists coming from abroad or domestic attackers inspired by foreign extremists… All told, almost nine in 10 Americans said in the poll that they worried to some degree about the threat of terrorism by extremists and foreigners.”

It really is crazy the extent to which Americans will fear the external threat when the internal one is greater. When I was growing up, it was the height of stranger danger. My mom had a whole elaborate password strategy and everything (at one point, as I recall, it was “banana”). But of course, kidnappings out of the blue are all but unheard of at this point in time–you’d have better luck preventing bad stuff from happening by warning your kids not to be alone in a room with a male relative. But the broader dynamic is almost infinitely applicable. Rural Americans who overwhelmingly blame big government and coastal liberals for the destruction of their way of life, rather than the folksy free-market Republicans who actually destroyed it, back during the Eisenhower and Nixon presidencies. Professional hawks who spend their lives fretting about the Venezuelan menace. And so on. So while it seem insane that half of Americans are worried about being the victim of a thing that has killed a few dozen of their people in fourteen-plus years tops, while thousands have died of gun-related deaths, it’s entirely expected. The terrorists themselves seem to understand it very well. And the media and the Right are ever-eager to exploit this dynamic (while the Left, of course, ducks behind a couch). Perhaps we’re just doomed to keep overreacting until our power finally degrades altogether.

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The basic thing about self-styled education reformers is that their movement is largely a product of elite, wealthy, powerful people who just in general tend to see their politics as not politics at all, but rather just common sense that nobody could possibly reject for legitimate reasons, sort of like how the centrality of deficit politics is just taken for granted in elite circles. The result is a sort of anti-politics that frequently undermines their goals–Michelle Rhee’s notoriety originated largely from her lack of interest in doing politics as much as her actual agenda, and shockingly, it turned out that ignoring and stigmatizing opposing views and key stakeholders ultimately helped doom the administration she worked for. Arne Duncan had no such similar effect on Barack Obama because the federal Department of Education is not as directly relevant to anyone as their local schools chief, but ultimately his arrogance and anti-politics mindset has led him to a similar end, and given that Congress has taken away the DoE’s cookie jar, it will be much harder for his predecessors to follow his act of incentivizing ever more testing. It’s unclear exactly where the movement goes from here. I mean, they’ll regroup because they’re rich people with lots of power. But this era is over.

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Lev filed this under:  

Nothing better represents the black hole in which the Republican establishment finds itself than this poll:

Among Republican primary voters in New Hampshire, 27 percent support Donald Trump, 12 percent support Christie, 11 percent support Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), and 10 percent support Sen. Ted Cruz (TX).

New Hampshire seems like the best chance Republicans have to try to stop Trump/Cruzmentum–Iowa and South Carolina seem highly likely to select an outsider candidate, but if you add together the 12 percent for Christie, the 11 percent for Rubio, and the additional 15% that Bush and Kasich pull down, you have a pretty sizable establishment base in New Hampshire, about equivalent to Trump plus Cruz, i.e. winnable–so the Republican establishment simply needs to find someone who is broadly acceptable to the party and could win a general election, and back them to the hilt.

Chris Christie just isn’t that person, and not only for the reasons outlined here. Much of the Republican base intensely loathes him and blames him (ridiculously) for Obama’s re-election. He accepted Medicare expansion, something that has hampered ideological compatriot John Kasich’s campaign. It’s still far from clear whether his act plays outside of specific pockets in the Northeast of the country. He continues to have legal and political trouble hanging over him at home, where he’s quite unpopular. His favorability is bad, though in all fairness, it’s nowhere near as terrible as Jeb Bush’s (Marco Rubio’s favorability is actually net positive), and while a lot of people thrill to his Brash Talk, his terrible numbers at home show that even in the most favorable environment to that tactic, it eventually wears thin, and Christie has not shown the ability to switch to another mode to avoid a toxic downturn in voter affection.

Christie isn’t the answer to the GOP establishment’s problem–there’s very little chance that the party faithful will accept him, and it divides the establishment-inclined electorate even further in a state that might well be the only chance to stop their nightmare scenario of a Trump vs. Cruz race. What they should be doing is trying to get Christie to drop out of the race, and probably a couple of other candidates as well, rather than trying to push him forward. If Christie does indeed win New Hampshire or come close, a Trump vs. Cruz contest becomes more or less inevitable.

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Lev filed this under: ,  

Not so good.

Citing it may well be a cliche for a lefty blog at this point in time, but Sally Quinn’s “Village” column is nevertheless a crucial text in understanding certain things. Such as the differences between normal liberals and D.C. liberals–there are undoubtedly some ideological and stylistic differences but the major difference between them is how the opposition is viewed–normal liberals view the Republican Party as a broken party that has been hijacked by rich cynics and extremists, so the continued success of Trump has not been that much of a shocker to us so much as a point of mockery and concern. But D.C. liberals–a group which includes those who create media narratives, some of whom are known to us and others of whom are not–tend to see it differently. They see the sorts of Republicans they interact with–their nice neighbor who works at a conservative think tank, the Republican pollster they go to church with, that one time they went to a dinner with Mike Murphy–as the Republican Party, with the distant (to them) right-wing extremist fringe roughly equivalent to the liberal fringe. It’s bullshit false equivalence but not inexplicable considering how much we form our worldviews based on our immediate experiences. We should, however, expect a bit more from the people who run our mass media.

The problem the MSM has faced along this front is that the continued success of Donny Trump and Ted Cruz (and Ben Carson for a minute there) is that it’s hard for them to process that these people could plausibly run their Republican Party, which they thought had shook off the Tea Party craziness back in 2014 (no kidding, they did, just read Ed Kilgore’s book) and they believed were going to take another step in that direction next year by nominating Jeb Bush. But Bush turfed out epically, and their panicked attempts to assuage cognitive dissonance have failed. There were dozens of discrete events that were supposed to be the End of Trump, but weren’t. There is that longrunning duck-duck-goose game of candidates they anointed as the new frontrunner or dark horse, despite little polling data and less rationale–Kasich, Rubio, Fiorina, Rubio again, now Chris Christie apparently is getting his moment, as though Christie’s “brash talk” is supposed to make up for this with the Republican base. I halfway expect Patakimentum to hit the media at this point. Perhaps now is the time to put down the narrative for a little while, and just try to report on what’s happening for a bit. Narrative journalism is a tool, it can help put events in a context to make them more understandable, but at this point the context is so narrow and arbitrary that it prevents the most basic events from being properly understood through a media lens. Enough already.

Also, not for nothing, but remember when the Hillary Clinton email scandal was, like, the biggest thing ever according to narrative-makers, and now “what was in Hillary Clinton’s emails?” ranks somewhere between “who was the seventh singer of Black Sabbath?” and “what year was margarine introduced?” in terms of things that couldn’t be less relevant to the average person? Glad we spent so much time on that.

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Lev filed this under:  

For all I know, Marco Rubio will win the Republican nomination easily just like the poli sci people tell us. That’s certainly a possibility that I can’t deny, and a lot of smart people who I respect hold it. But I feel like this is sort of an exercise in avoiding Ockham’s Razor. If Rubio flops in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina–all states I don’t think he’s going to be great in–then I think he loses the nomination. Nobody gives a shit about whether he wins the Florida primary–hell, Gingrich managed to win the Georgia primary in 2012 even after his campaign fell completely apart. Maybe if he scores a close second or something the media will boost him just like they have after every debate he’s “aced” that did nothing to his support. But I don’t know if that’ll matter since getting the most favorable MSM coverage of any Republican candidate hasn’t gotten Rubio any closer to the nomination, just as getting the worst hasn’t gotten Hillary any further away from hers.

The notion that some critical mass of Republicans will at some point “tune in” and that’ll mean the end for Trump ignores the inconvenient fact that they, um, have been tuning in like crazy, not to mention that Trump’s durable polling shows that this is not a field where unformed opinions and random fancies are running amok a la 2012. (I doubt that many people combined had ever even watched FOX Business before!) And the big problem the establishment has (particularly with Cruz, and also with Trump in some respects) is that these are guys who are taking the establishment’s own ideas to their natural conclusions, rather than going only so far but holding back so as to avoid political damage. Cruz’s 2013 shutdown may have been bad for the Republican Party, but the logic of it was different from the Boehner-McConnell refusenik strategy only in degree, not in kind. And Trump’s rhetoric on let’s just say immigration is much the same–there’s no wink-and-a-nod to it, but the party whose last leader advocated self-deportation is hardly alien to this type of thinking, if not this particular expression of it. This is why attacking Trump as too liberal hasn’t worked and likely won’t work–Trump’s current “liberalism” mainly consists of wedge issues where the elites disagree with the base, and the thrust of his argument builds upon the Limbaugh/Ailes playbook perfectly. They don’t like this at all, but that they seemingly don’t understand what is happening makes me skeptical that they’ll be successful.

It’s a bit more complicated with Trump but the reason why Republicans hate Cruz isn’t because he’s an asshole–he’s hardly alone there. (Assholery being present in both parties, of course, though only celebrated in one.) It’s because Cruz takes their strategy beyond where they want it to go. He’s both more and less cynical than they are at the same time–Cruz knows on some level that a government shutdown hurts the party, but the party wants to use the “Obama usurper” meme for firing up the rubes up until the point that it harms them. Cruz blows past that point, as does Trump in some ways, which can be either a cynical exploitation for personal gain or an honest, unhedged expression of honesty, depending on your perspective. It is, in a way, a parallel to the pragmatism vs. purity debates on the left. Big difference is that way more people on the right seem interested in the purer options (Trump, Carson, Cruz) than do people on the left (Sanders, largely), just to judge by poll numbers.

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