I actually think that a major problem we have now is that people have too much trust in leaders (at least the ones in their own side). Too many Republicans are resistant to simply believing that Trump/Ryan want to kick them off their health insurance even though there’s no other remotely plausible explanation. Too many Democrats simply couldn’t believe that Barack Obama’s foreign policy was just endless war with a bit more legal nicety than Dubya, even though it remains virtually impossible to argue otherwise (Obama was much better as selling it as something else). But Fallows makes a solid point here. We used to be able to take for granted that even leaders we disagreed with could be trusted in crunch time, but that’s passed. Not that we should trust Trump, but combine this and that Republicans had zero trust in Obama even in emergencies (remember Jade Helm?), and I don’t see how the ultimate end of the Madisonian Era of Government isn’t one side* simply denying that a crisis confronted by the other side exists, and then things blowing up.

* Most likely Republicans, as you round up arsonists when arson happens, but you never know.

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So I recently found myself perusing a several months old Rolling Stone magazine that purported to list the 100 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time. Because I would rather write about literally anything besides politics right now, here are some thoughts on a four month old magazine article:

  1. They got number one right.
  2. I’m happy they didn’t Balkanize the list into top dramas, comedies, etc. Though it is apples and oranges to compare American Idol to Mad Men, just go the Ebert route of “did it accomplish what it wanted to” and leave it at that.
  3. I’m also happy that they included active shows. It probably hurt the AFI’s initial list that it had so few recent films (and, for some reason, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?, which always was awful and not very progressive, even for the times), but film has a longer history than TV and probably until two decades ago was by far the better-crafted, more deliberate, more arty medium, meaning that more of it stood the test of time. For a variety of reasons TV is always going to be more current, though by extension this list ten years from now is not going to have most of the current shows it has on it now. It will still have Larry Sanders and Deadwood though. I give Game Of Thrones 50-50 odds of making that list.
  4. I’m not a conspiracy theorist generally, but I do think something must be going on for so many people to pretend that the US House Of Cards is actually a good show. Smart people generally seemed to agree that Sons Of Anarchy was a cheesy, over-the-top guilty pleasure, but oddly many of them seem determined to make a case for an even sillier (and less well written) show as legitimately great. Not since Mystic River has the name of the person behind the project and relentless self-seriousness (well past the point of camp) so turned the heads of the smart set.
  5. The second season of Fargo is basically a high school homework novel. Sorry folks, it just is, and there are better ways to re-experience that.

Semi-relatedly, I oversaw someone in a Starbucks recently watching that Aaron Sorkin master class thing. I don’t really have much else to say other than that he has gone full Santorum (at least sartorially) and embraced the sweater vest:

Also, when you do an image search for Aaron Sorkin, a fair amount of Val Kilmer pictures pop up. I can’t imagine he’s happy about this. I wouldn’t be.

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A bigger story would be a Trump staffer is discovered to be not a fascist.

Maybe Mattis?

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Count me as being highly skeptical of the rapidly-prevalent theories that Donald Trump leaked his own (mostly innocuous) tax return, as well as the one that the American Health Care Act is some sort of ploy by Trump/Bannon to give Paul Ryan enough rope to hang himself with. Not so much because they’re impossible, but either would require a strategic suppleness that I have yet to see from this crew, and he’s made such a stand on the tax returns that releasing any now, even in secret, even strategically, would have be too humiliating to contemplate. Admittedly, Tony Soprano does wind up ratting at the end of The Sopranos when the danger got too big to handle, but this is just my guess.

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Could someone explain to me why Virginia Democrats have chosen to settle for a Bush-voting insider who almost left the party in 2009? Virginia is going to be the most consequential election this year. New Jersey is a lay-up given partisan lean, off-year turnout dynamics, and the hollowed-out remnants of Chris Christie’s career. Given Trump’s plans for the federal bureaucracy, there’s a chance for big gains to be had in Virginia legislatively, possibly even a flood if it’s bad enough to overpower the gerrymander. And the state has in recent years been one Democrats can rely on for (narrow) statewide wins, including 2006. I’m sure that Ralph Northam has made all the proper assurances and may well govern like an acceptable Democrat, but why take the risk? Someone who in recent times can’t make up their minds between the two parties is either an ignoramus or an opportunist. Period.

Tom Perriello has become almost a progressive unicorn, which is too much since he’s taken some problematic stances in his time (see aborted Syria bombing, support for). Nevertheless, I really don’t see a downside to supporting him. The party needs fresh faces and younger voices and it needs potential future leaders, both of which are in short supply. Northam, an AARP-eligible white guy who believes in nothing, isn’t that. Perriello is. Given Virginia’s proximity to a major media market, he could be a very visible face of the party, possibly performing the function that Chris Christie did for the GOP before, you know, the collapse. The stakes are a bit higher than simply filling the office with a (D), though I see no indication that Dem elites see it that way. What’s troubling here is that it seems that Democrats took none of the lessons of 2016 to heart. So far as I can tell, Northam is the guy b/c money and a deep desire to avoid a primary contest. But you know who didn’t have money and went through an almost comically bitter primary contest? Donald Trump. Elite Democrats place too much emphasis on this kind of thing. And Northam is the sort of uninspiring insider who Democrats have had a very difficult time selling to the public in recent years, particularly in terms of motivating marginal voters. Perhaps those voters will be energized anyway because of Trump, but if that’s to such an extent that anyone could win, what sort of prize is Northam? Honestly, the only other thing I can think of is that they’re impressed by his victory margin in 2013, which would be stupid considering his unusually incompetent opposition. Sandersistas can’t take over this party soon enough for me, but a nice step would be to kick in a couple dollars for Perriello.

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…and they’ll get it, in a distressingly literal way, as TrumpCare’s effect on coverage will wind up looking exactly like a crater after an explosion:

Much of these are Trump voters, of course. The election of Trump may well be the greatest ever act of self-harm in the history of America.

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I will admit that it is a surprise to me to see the usual right-wing agitators under Obama going against Ryan and Trump on healthcare. I figured they’d unite without a problem but, of course, nobody would donate anything to Heritage Action if they just stepped in line. Unlike, say, the Kochtopus, the ideological component to Heritage Action is secondary to CUCKSERVATIVES!!!!! Don’t know if it’ll be enough to kill the bill, but if this dynamic continues the Carter-Trump analogy may not be so far off.

Oh, and needless to say, Paul Ryan is a fraud whose only talent is a sophisticated understanding of how to manipulate the MSM’s pathologies to his own benefit. He is, in that respect, extremely similar to Newt Gingrich. It’s astonishing to me that Ryan might actually be the weak link in the Trump/Ryan/McConnell threesome, but it may be true.

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So I happened to rewatch Star Trek Beyond and found a few things that stuck out to me this time. The much greater focus on the team is a major shift from the two Abrams films, which were more in line with the Next Generation films in that they each focused on the same two characters and ignored the rest of the ensemble most of the time. (Ironically, the original series’s movies were much more ensemble-focused, even though the show was pretty strongly focused on the two leads.) It’s right that Kirk and Spock have the strongest emotional throughlines, and it’s smart that they mirror each other, but everybody does contribute, and the ensemble is in some sense the theme of the movie. While everybody at first was like, “The guy who directed some The Fast And The Furious movies is going to fix Star Trek?!” those films do revolve around teamwork, diversity and fun, which are not terrible things to have associated with Star Trek (and were not especially in evidence in the prior Abrams movies). In any event Justin Lin’s background is more varied than that (including Community among other things) and he actually likes Star Trek. What a concept.

Additionally, I do like the use of “Sabotage” in the film, which was the element most attacked when the trailers came out. It’s not only a payoff, but using it in the way it was used was the sort of fresh idea that Abrams was supposed to be bringing to the table, but didn’t. To find a fitting, unironic use for it that fit into an actual science fiction concept was pretty damn cool, and the sort of pop-culture riff that Simon Pegg can bring to the table. Also, it took me until the second viewing to realize that the movie doesn’t actually end with a space battle–it does have the explosions that a blockbuster must of course have, but there’s no weapons fire. It’s the first Star Trek movie in some time where the heroes out-think the bad guys, and where science and not brute force wins the day. This was a serious flaw in the Abrams movies, as both ultimately wound up amounting to the sort of might-makes-right ethos that has been the default mode of underexamined action movies probably since the Rambo sequels (not so much First Blood, which has been tainted because of its sequels but which does have a sense of nuance about cycles of violence, perhaps due to its having a Canadian director). Not much could be more dispiriting than seeing Spock–the figure of enlightenment, reason, and scientific curiosity–being reduced to punching someone else dozens of times at the climax of the movie. Nothing better exemplified just how much Abrams missed the point of everything with that choice. You just don’t do that. And nothing better exemplifies just how much better the current folks get it by what they do in this movie. (Also, I liked that they didn’t actually go to Earth. The last time a Star Trek film didn’t go to Earth was 1998, believe it or not. Even relatively smaller choices like that really made a difference in turning the page from the failed Berman/Abrams films.)

Probably the best thing about it is that it obliterates the need to watch Into Darkness at all. There are references to the first Abrams movie but nothing much to the second. I suppose the Spock/Uhura breakup is the only specific reference to the earlier movie, but given how hot for each other they were in the first film, you can kind of infer a short-lived relationship that didn’t work without having to suffer through actually seeing that misfire. I didn’t hate Into Darkness as much as some but that’s a really damning indictment of the movie, that there was essentially no character development to speak of that needed to be taken into account for the third. Actually it plays better if you just ignore Into Darkness, the contrast between Kirk’s naive excitement at the end of that with the disillusioned, sort of jaded state in the third is quite striking. Makes me wonder to what extent this was an active writing consideration on the part of Pegg and Doug Jung. Given how little enjoyment the cast seemed to be having making Into Darkness I wouldn’t exactly rule it out.

Admittedly, I didn’t much warm to the villain, Krall, whose purpose I understand from a script perspective as the antithesis to Federation values, but overall, he’s more like the antagonist of a lesser Mission Impossible movie than anything else, essentially a rogue agent out for revenge against his former colleagues. It’s a character we’ve seen too often before and he simply isn’t specific enough to really make an impact, though Idris Elba does his best. For sure, Krall is vastly better done than Nero or Admiral Robocop from the Abrams movies. Could have been better, but a middling villain isn’t as big of a problem to the movie as it would be to a James Bond movie. On the whole, this movie was a blockbuster-type movie with lots of action, explosions, a revenge-obsessed villain, inside fan references and all the rest, but it at least was willing to meet me halfway with good character work and some different ideas, not to mention a vastly better understanding of why Star Trek is a thing and, importantly, some amount of restraint. I feel like the bad buzz was due more to fans being really pissed off at Abrams, but the movie is actually quite solid. And hey, you can rent it for 99 cents:

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