I remember going to some sort of technology discussion many years ago where a guy talked about how Kodak developed a website that had many of the same features as Facebook years before Facebook took of–i.e. Kodak could have invented Facebook but instead just used the site to sell paper prints to people, and the point being that running a large organization it’s really difficult to see past what you need to do to keep it going like it currently is.

So I’m not so sure it’s true that the New York Times actually likes racist conservatives (they clearly do like Republicans of a certain type), but rather that it (and the rest of the MSM) is still flailing from losing the near-complete monopoly it had on news during the 1980s. It pretty much began fracturing after Reagan left office when conservative talk radio began in earnest and if you look at their behavior before and after that point (before: pretty darn willing to criticize Republicans and Reagan, after: “both sides”), it’s obvious enough. I see the “here’s this nice racist conservative” pieces they run as attempts to troll liberals, partly because they figure that this is what conservatives like, partly because they resent their own readership. This is not a good idea but simply accepting a diminished role and reflecting the values and politics of their actual readers seems to be a violently resisted anathema for them. It’s a shame because given where things are, being the American Guardian seems like it would be a pretty good place to be.

Again, I’m really not sure how it works out for them in the long run. Older, well-informed liberals get angered by this but they still venerate the Times. Younger liberals, though, don’t trust them or the MSM at all, and those pieces are going to further damage that already precarious reputation. And “ok but what about our other articles?” is essentially no different than, “but what about all the successful voyages flown by the Hindenburg?” As in, totally irrelevant. Everything else could be perfect in your paper but the Nazi pieces are still going to get attention and make your actual readers hate you. Reputation isn’t a spreadsheet, it’s emotion. It’s how people feel about you. Making the only people willing to buy your product despise you is, therefore, not a sound business model. It’s all such typical “meritocracy” arrogance, just dismissing the emotions of the little people when they conflict with their glorious groupthink. Not really sure that the Times survives with only people who graduated with Ivies subscribing though…

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The punchline of this atrocity is that a year ago, Obama was appealing to these peoples’ commitment to institutional integrity in light of the Russians’ electoral interference, and he was so worried about his credibility with them that he wouldn’t say a damn thing on his own.

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The Plot: The Soviet nuclear Klingon mining facility at Chernobyl Praxis explodes, causing an immediate energy crisis that threatens to spiral out into a full-on war if unchecked. Luckily, the Klingon Chancellor is a man they can do business with, Gorbachev Gorkon. Kirk is sent as an envoy and doesn’t do well at it, but then Gorkon is killed and he’s framed for the murder. (We all joke about the similarities to the real-world Cold War, but this almost happened too.) Kirk and McCoy must escape, Spock has to figure out who’s behind it, and Kim Cattrall gets to play a character who was obviously going to be Saavik. Then there’s a pretty great climax and the crew gets a great sendoff. A perfect ending to the journeys of a great crew. Not just some pathetic, last-ditch, bad idea…oh, wait, I’ll just stop there.

What Doesn’t WorkThe Final Frontier got mocked for having too much bad comedy in it. This movie has some not-great broad comedy in it as well, if I’m being honest. Also, we should discuss the little matter that this movie effectively writes The Final Frontier out of the canon. You know, like the part where Kirk says, “Never been this close,” referring to a Klingon ship when in the prior film he was on one. Or how the Enterprise was a brand-new ship in the prior film but an old one about to be decommissioned in the current one. No doubt there are other data points as well that I’m missing. You might say, good riddance. And in spite of my documented soft spot for the movie I do get it. But if we’re going to go this far with the whole canon/not canon thing such that it includes just movies we don’t like that much, then it’s not of much value anymore I think.

What Does Work: Quite a bit, actually. Nicholas Meyer is back to clean up the mess and he had only barely the budget to do it. In his (highly recommended) book, A View From The Bridge, he talks about how Paramount (as it was then known) nickled and dimed him to such an extent that he had to use cheap OfficeMax chairs in his production design. I can’t not see them after reading that. Nevertheless, this is just an incredible movie. Meyer again goes all in on the theme of how to live with the knowledge of death, but from a different angle. Of course, people do have complaints about it. The two biggest that I’ve seen are:

  1. Kirk is suddenly a racist
  2. The cold war parallels are on the nose

Obviously I made a joke about the second in the plot summary–in addition to those parallels, there’s a character named “Colonel West” who recommends illegal covert action to get back Kirk and McCoy. This is not exactly subtle, though Oliver North never asked approval for what he did, and in the most recent Blu-ray release he’s completely removed from the film. (Also worth noting is that there are like a half-dozen different cuts of this film floating around, the differences mainly revolving around the mind-meld “rape” scene and the West subplot. Speaking of what’s canon and not…) But the West stuff aside, I think this stuff all works. Klingons were space Russians from the start and paralleling them in this way seems like a fine idea. I actually think it works better the further away we get from the Cold War. Perhaps people see there being just one too many close details to the real world that make it too on the nose. Which I get. But that’s really just the setup for the story. It’s not an allegory.

As for the first point: eh, maybe they have a point. There could have been a bit more care taken, it is a bit of a retcon, but it’s not as though it’s unheard of for people to become angrier and racially bigoted as they age. The movie roots this in his anger over his son’s death, an especially poignant event as Kirk readies himself unhappily for retirement. There’s maybe a bit of retconning to set up the arc of the reawakening of Kirk’s idealism. That said, that arc does work. The movie mainly combines Kirk and McCoy, which is a different pairing than usual, and one that works well as Kirk grapples with his knotty emotions about aging. I dig the action-adventure plot, there’s maybe the best space battle in the franchise’s history, and then a speech about change that I think is pretty powerful in its simplicity:

I also like how Spock’s subplot with his protege/surrogate daughter Saavik Valeris plays out. It would have been better with Kirstie Alley in there, of course, but it’s sold well enough. Not the biggest fan of depictions of rape on screen but the forcible mind meld scene is very much put in those terms and works really well.

Legacy: Saved the franchise and provided the original crew with a perfect ending. Until the next movie unwisely Lord Of The Rings-ed it and piled on a couple more endings. The Undiscovered Country is just solid, though. There’s a menace and unease to it, but also hope. It’s a decent document of the emotions of its historical moment, the end of the Cold War. It’s also a genuinely fun watch with plenty to say about aging, death, and rebirth.

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There are some valid reasons to be wary of Cory Booker but, if I’m being honest, he’s probably my second choice among presumptive 2020 candidates who are actually likely to run, after Kirsten Gillibrand. I don’t think either Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown will actually go for it, and while Bernie Sanders might, there’s the age issue and the reality that he has a hard time reaching beyond his base. Booker has been close to finance and has had some ideological issues before holding national office (where he’s been quite good), but the best reason to support him is that he has charisma. My greatest fear is that Democrats will decide they need a nominee to contrast with Trump, i.e. a “grown-up” who offends nobody and seems qualified and sober, but who doesn’t excite anybody or have any gift for narrative or storytelling. John Kerry redux. After all, that’s what focus groups always say they want! But there are countries with sober, boring politics, and America is not one of them. If we truly did want Norway’s politics, we would have them. But if you look at the last forty years’ worth of presidents the only one who was like this at all was George H.W. Bush, who only lasted one term. Having someone with a dash of the dramatic sure seems like a better choice than a white person who has a Deep Command of Policy but doesn’t connect.

Ultimately, if it’s Trump versus, say, Amy Klobuchar, I’m not sure how 2020 again isn’t The Trump Show. Booker is clearly someone who can demand attention. Admittedly, Trump may be so radioactive that anybody can win, or he may punk out and not run in 2020 (you laugh but how many times did he do this in business and leave shareholders holding the bag?), so it wouldn’t matter. But the best weapon against a celebrity is almost certainly another celebrity.

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[That’s because they are, actually, tax hikes.]

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I’ve always been a bit gobsmacked by how incompetent James O’Keefe has been with his super-stealthy “undercover” video hit jobs.  Remember the subtle pimp getup?

Well, he’s really scraping the bottom of the talent barrel this time.  This is just amazing:

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I take it the New York Times published another “nice” Nazi piece. It’s not going to destroy them, of course. And it’s hardly original to note that the paper’s leadership is obviously morally bankrupt and has been for some time (remember when torture in their pages was “enhanced interrogation techniques”?). Still, you really do have to wonder just how many times they can sympathize with these sorts of people and get away with it. It’s true that they publish plenty of inoffensive-to-great articles for every bad one like this they publish, but if they really expect this argument to make Millennials (and, eventually, post-Millennials) have any desire to pay money to pick up the slack as their older subscribers die off, I don’t even know what to say. You don’t want well-informed liberals to associate “sympathizes with fascists” with your product, NYT, particularly since that group is the only one that actually buys it. Not sure how they regain their credibility with their actual consumers, particularly if they keep doing it. (Also, no matter how nice they are to the wingnuts, they’ll never lure any away from Breitbart.)

Obviously, I’d rather the Times clean up its act rather than fall to pieces. But can it be avoided?

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You have to admire the guts of this movie. Its ad campaign decided that car crash imagery was a good thing to evoke.

Plot: Captain Kirk and the rest of the crew are recalled to duty after a rogue Vulcan takes some diplomats hostage. It turns out that the Vulcan is Spock’s half-brother Sybok, and in no time he’s hijacked the Enterprise and is taking it to the impassable Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy to meet God. Man does this sound dumb even describing it. This, and a lot of belabored comedy, happen before a bewildering climax. Sorry, I try to keep these impartial up top, but even writing this one is hard.

What Works: Okay, let’s just skip the structure I arbitrarily imposed and talk about this movie.

Everybody knows that this is a disastrous movie. I was therefore surprised to learn that it actually did make money. It made back its budget and almost certainly covered its marketing and distribution costs too. But it was a victim of bad buzz and terrible reviews. Did it deserve better? I can’t really say that it did. And yet…

I have a soft spot for this film. I do not think that it’s good. There are a couple of fundamental mistakes in the conception of the movie that would have prevented it from being great or even good, even if Shatner had gotten the freedom and budget he wanted. Frankly, given what he was doing, the suits should maybe have been interfering more. But as for the biggest complaint most people have about the film I have to be honest: I don’t really have an issue with Sybok being Spock’s estranged half-brother. Yes, it’s never before been established and it’s out of the blue, but come on, The Sopranos introduced a new family member nobody had ever heard of before every goddamn season and nobody complained about it. And honestly, Sybok is a great character. He has an arc and he’s well-defined. I really like Lawrence Luckinbill, the actor who portrays him, who gives a varied and fascinating performance. Sybok is a character that’s difficult to briefly encapsulate: he is sort of a cult leader, but he’s also someone who believably abhors violence. He’s liberated and gregarious, but also exerts a creepy level of power over his followers. He’s literally looking for God but doesn’t really come across as insane, he’s self-confident to a fault but also self-aware. That’s a lot of characterization there and it all comes off perfectly. Honestly, this is a great character to build a movie around. Just not this one. This is a Star Trek movie. We want to see Kirk and Spock as the central players here, not some guest star who takes over the ship for an episode like fucking Balok or Trelane or any other antagonist from the Original Series. Sybok really is the protagonist of the film, he drives the action from moment one and is in control for practically the entire movie. Which is good because Kirk is a total asshole for much of it:

I don’t even want to get into Sybok’s “liberating” therapy/mind control or whatever it is. It’s vague and poorly considered. And having Kirk’s best friends and most loyal crew members abandon him because of his reductionist dime-store Freudian bullshit is just bonkers. It’s fairly obvious that Shatner didn’t really “get” Star Trek if he thought this cynical, dark, difficult to like vision was how it should be done. His insecurity drove him to try to one-up Leonard Nimoy, but Nimoy quite clearly understood the franchise he’d been working on for two decades and created a great film with The Voyage Home. Shatner, on the other hand, gave us this:

Yup. Scare quotes and everything.

So yeah, the movie is just so problematic, particularly in the lack of care with which Shatner handles the characters who aren’t James Kirk. Scotty and Uhura are hooking up because why the fuck not? Then there’s the dignity-destroying bad comedy which was obviously included because the last movie was a huge hit and a comedy, but it’s tonally jarring here. And the villain sucks, like, really, really sucks. For all the shit people throw at Christopher Lloyd for his Klingon villain, there’s no denying that Klaa is just awful, much worse in every way than Lloyd’s character. Klaa has no real motivation and the character is just such a cliche. I could buy that Klingons are still mad at Kirk over his killing off Kruge’s crew in the third film and paying no real price for it but that isn’t his motivation–it doesn’t even come up. Klaa wants to defeat Kirk because that would bring him great honor. That’s it? Who cares. Honestly, his female first officer is ten times as interesting as he is in just a fraction of the screen time. Why couldn’t Kirk face off against a female Klingon? That would at least be a little novel. Then again, Kirk never actually faces off against Klaa, it’s Chekov and Spock who have that honor. Because why would you want the franchise’s most iconic hero and most iconic villains to face off? Here’s a little taste of what Klaa’s performance is like:

Only a slight joke as this was actually supposed to be the ending of the movie, scrapped (natch) for budgetary reasons. The climax features the famous, “What does God need with a starship?” scene, of course, and I like Sybok’s arc even if the resolution makes little sense. Kirk then fires a photon torpedo at it without knowing if that would even effect the energy being, then runs like forty feet for cover as though a photon torpedo is only as powerful as a hand grenade (instead of, you know, much more powerful than a nuclear warhead). The energy being chases him, some bolts of lightning are thrown around for some reason, and honestly folks it’s just filler, a Benny Hill scene without the goddamn saxophone. It’s not angering so much as it is confusing. Though honestly the reception at the end of the movie is nice.

But because this is Star Trek, having a huge hit movie means you have too small a budget for the next movie, and the movie uses a lot of sets from Star Trek: The Next Generation without bothering to redress them. Or perhaps they just didn’t have the resources to do so? And then there’s the ending:

So all this is bad, and yet…there’s something about the movie that charms me. It shouldn’t, but it does. I kind of dig the cheap-ass, flimsy, no-budget nature of it. It’s so misguided and yet, at the very least, there is a vision there. Kind of a shitty, late-80’s direct to VHS vision, but a vision nonetheless. There are also plenty of unintentionally hilarious moments and campy moments throughout. Nichelle Nichols’s striptease is one such, as is Kirk’s fight with the three-breasted cat-woman (which unfortunately does not end with a cheesy quip like, “Cats really don’t like to get wet, do they?”). It stunned me to learn that Shatner actually thought he was making a good film before it came out as there are just so many ill-considered, bizarre, jarring elements to the movie. I shudder to think what kinds of movies he likes. But honestly, I think that insanity why I kind of like it. It’s so goddamn weird! There are things in it that don’t show up in another Star Trek movie or, indeed, any movie. (Yeah, Total Recall has a three-breasted woman, but she’s not a cat-human hybrid so it doesn’t count!). The big setpieces are so maladroitly handled it’s kind of incredible. I’m frankly amazed they even kept the proto-Jupiter Acending rocket boots sequence in the movie, for one thing. It makes no logical sense and you can see the panel they’re standing on. But then Kirk yells, “FIRE THE ROCKETS!” with the sort of shouty delivery he hadn’t used since The Original Series and we’re back on track with camp silliness. If nothing else, Shatner rarely lets the movie get boring and he has a sort of lunatic, go-for-broke ambition, which oftentimes leads in bad directions but it at least leads somewhere. He doesn’t have great instincts, but at least one of them is to keep things lively. That puts it above The Motion Picture at any rate.

Legacy: Aside from the critical drubbings and its low place in the culture, it says it all that the next movie in the series arguably writes it out of the canon. But what’s interesting to me is that a bad outing could once upon a time nearly kill a film franchise that had spawned multiple hits and made its studio a lot of money. It’s kind of mindblowing considered from the present-day vantage point and speaks well of the Hollywood of the time, and not so well of the Hollywood of our time. Thankfully it didn’t happen though.

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