Something that always seems to get lost in the nonstop panicking over all the terrorism going on right now:  There was a lot more terrorism happening back in the day.

Terrorism in the West

I’m sure CNN bears a lot of the blame.  But also social media and the ability of people to watch horrific videos online.  Terrorism was viewed as a serious law and order issue before 9/11 but it wasn’t an “existential threat” to western civilization.

This always reminds me of one of bin Laden’s key goals:

“We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah,” bin Laden said in the transcript.

He said the mujahedeen fighters did the same thing to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, “using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers.”

It’s not really that hard to understand that 9/11 wasn’t about killing people in buildings.  It was designed to evoke a wildly inappropriate overreaction – and we were very willing to oblige.

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I tend to doubt that the Trumpian energy will simply “go away” after he (most likely) loses. Perhaps elite Republicans would like to tamp it down for a bit and retool, but that simply isn’t in the cards. One of the first things President Clinton would do would be to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice. My guess is that that person won’t be Merrick Garland, who will likely go down as President Obama’s final, futile olive branch of bipartisanship. Regardless of who it is, immigration politics will be at the heart of that confirmation process as well as the politics immediately afterward. A Dem SCOTUS will almost certainly reverse the Fifth Circuit’s finding against Obama’s unilateral immigration reform, or if that case has already been heard, then Clinton can (and will) simply issue a similar order in the sure knowledge that it would be upheld by the Court. Regardless, this fight will ensure that the Trumpian energy is given no time to dissipate within the Republican Party. It’s easy to imagine Trump himself rebounding from a big defeat by getting on FOX and screaming about immigration a lot. Maybe setting himself up for another run in 2020. Crazy to imagine, but does anyone really think Paul Ryan can stop him?

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Atrios delivers a fantastic piece about the “both sides” tendencies in the media. I think the point really needs to be made that the MSM and the GOP–the two institutions who created Trump–paved the way by essentially abandoning empiricism in their own ways. The Republican Party rejected empiricism in large part because it conflicted with deeply emotionally-held beliefs (e.g. guns) or because it conflicted with the financial interests of the people who own the party (e.g. climate change). (Though there’s a pretty porous membrane separating these categories, sure.) And the media rejected empiricism because they panicked when they lost so many customers to FOX and Rush, and have not stopped trying to get them back. Of course, they’ll never come back, and Bill Kristol will laugh all the way to the bank whenever some MSM outlet pays him to spout nonsense b/c “balance.” But ultimately that’s that “both sides” is about.

The thing is, of course, that when you refuse to run criticism of one particular party unless you can find something similar the other side has done (or unless a notable member of that party publicly opposes something they did), you tend to miss big stories. Like, oh, I don’t know, the rise of Trump. There are certainly ways in which Trump is unusual for a presidential nominee, but as an enemy of empiricism he fits squarely into current Republican trends. Bob Dole, at one point an avowed enemy of supply-side economics, actually picked nonsense budget pioneer Jack Kemp as his running mate. Dubya rejected environmental science, budget math, and any semblance of a realistic view of what could be done in Iraq. McCain ran almost entirely on his (media-recited) biography as a national hero and selfless servant, even though he divorced his first wife for getting fat and only became a naval aviator because his dad pulled some strings, enabling him to be an incompetent Maverick wannabe who crashed multiple planes (oh, and he picked a Victoria Jackson SNL character as his veep choice, despite running a campaign with the motto “country first”). Long story short, notwithstanding a truly harrowing spell in the Hanoi Hilton, McCain is a hypocritical, selfish asshole and always has been, but the media recreated him as this glittering Cincinnatus. Then there was Mitt Romney, whose aggressive assault on any notion of objective truth was truly breathtaking and paved the way for Trump in ways that doth make him protest too much. Sure, Trump is a little worse than Romney, but ultimately not all that much, and the progression is clear enough. The media, however, spent the last twenty years pretending that nothing had changed. Wages of suppressing any trace of a point of view, I guess.

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It should surprise nobody that Carly Fiorina has bounced/is bouncing back:

“Carly Fiorina’s quiet outreach to state party chairs in recent days has top Republicans speculating that she’s laying the groundwork for a Republican National Committee chairmanship bid,” Politico reports.

“Fiorina’s advisers have reached out to more than a dozen state parties telling them that the former GOP presidential hopeful is prepared to help in “any way,” offering up her personal phone number, and informing them that she would like to connect with their respective state party chairperson.”

I predict great success!

It’s worth noting that Fiorina is the political equivalent of a trust fund kid deciding to try an acting or music career without having the slightest talent or the drive to make a success of it. The major difference is that great wealth in politics (and particularly in Republican politics) is a credential all its own. So the owner of the New York Knicks or Macaulay Calkin can have shitty novelty bands that nobody really cares about, and exist mainly to be snarked at by pop culture publications. (Seriously, someone thought putting pizza puns in Lou Reed songs was a good idea for some reason.) Just being a rich person alone is not enough to push you to success in that field. But in Republican politics, being rich is enough to forgive a whole multitude of deficiencies: a terrible business record, a short and mostly disastrous political record, and a personality so charmless, nasty and unappealing that even Republican primary voters couldn’t be persuaded to go for it. It apparently qualified her to be next-in-line for the presidency as well.

And not for nothing, while he is undoubtedly a full-on misogynist, Trump’s criticism of Fiorina’s business record was pretty much spot on. I’m not sure which is more surreal about that: a) that Trump actually has a legitimately better record in business than her, or b) that he was actually moved to tell the truth about it, which is rare indeed. But a bona fide bullshitter like Trump knows that there are times where the truth is the most situationally useful thing. In any event, the thought of her running the apparatus of a just-defeated political party is very exciting!

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A few weeks ago, I found myself on a three-hour plane flight looking for a movie to watch on the in-flight entertainment system. I had half-heartedly decided upon Richard Linklater’s latest nostalgia trip Everybody Wants Some!! as a last resort before discovering that I could instead watch one of the great comedies of our time. And boy, what a fantastic choice, as it cannot be said enough what a ridiculous piece of trash JFK is. It really says something about moviemaking in the early 1990s that a mere decade and a half after The Godfather Part II, Chinatown and The Conversation vied for the Best Picture Oscar, a movie this pompous, overheated, ridiculous, artless and surprisingly racist managed to actually garner near-universal critical acclaim and competed for all the top Academy Awards (except for Kevin Costner’s conspicuously (though fairly) un-nominated lead performance–apparently giving him Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas Best Director Oscar was enough for the Academy).

So the first question is: how do you start the movie JFK? Lots of possibilities. You could start by showing Kennedy going about his day for a scene or two before boarding that fateful convertible. Then maybe an exciting re-enactment of the assassination from the viewpoint of someone in the crowd? Or maybe from Oswald’s? Kennedy’s? Maybe all, showing already the different points of view on the subject, the main theme of the film. Well, you could grab the viewer that way. Or you can open your movie with a long, narrated documentary about the life and times of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Seriously.

It’s only four minutes but it easily feels twice that long. Obvious padding keeping us from the movie proper. Of course, most of what is covered in the documentary is common knowledge, particularly for the audience who would have been most interested in seeing a film about John Kennedy in 1991. But it does set the tone of the film, in a funny way. Get ready to just have information laid on you, folks. At times this will feel like a film, but in actuality, it’s a lecture. A moralistic lecture by a journeyman director who people at one point thought was a deep thinker. Goddamn the ’80s.

Things don’t get much better when the actual narrative kicks in. The scene where our protagonist, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison–easily one of the least colorful Southern politicians ever in a movie–finds out about the killing of John Kennedy gives new meaning to the term, “on the nose.” It is something that–as written and performed–could almost play as a lesser Saturday Night Live sketch, complete with setup and payoff. Garrison is sipping some whisky at a bar when he hears The News. Over to his left, an angry old white guy moans about how “the n*gger lover got what he deserved,” or some equivalent, while in the same bar, a black woman weeps profoundly. (Integrated dive bars apparently being common in the pre-Civil Rights Act Deep South) Over to Garrison for the punch line: “I’ve never been more ashamed to be an American.” Welcome to JFK. It’s every bit as much a groaner as it sounds (sorry, but I couldn’t find the clip on YouTube), unnatural and reductive. Ladies and Gentlemen: your Best Picture nominee.

This gets me to the racism element of it all. Stone presents himself as a progressive fellow and I don’t believe he has any active malice to people of color. But he does manage to make a film that unintentionally is one of the more racist I’ve seen in some time. There are no central black characters, but whenever the script calls for pathos over the slaying of John Kennedy, a black character (usually a woman) dutifully appears to weep over the powerful man who failed to actually accomplish anything for her. If you wanted to be charitable, you could let Stone off the hook by saying that he’s just projecting white reactions to Kennedy’s death onto black people rather than exploring the nuances of their reactions to the assassination, and that it’s a misdemeanor of racial insensitivity. I, however, am not charitable in this case: black people serve no other purpose to the world of the movie other than to be receptacles of quivery emotions. Few outright racist works have been so successful at denying the humanity of black folks than does Stone here, and the worst thing is the patting on the back that Stone permits himself: lingering on the sad black faces, the gratuitous close-ups, the soundtracking for these moments, are all intended to call attention to them. It’s utterly repellent.

The film’s sexism, on the other hand, is not at all surprising. Stone makes films about men for men, and the female characters he creates are rarely very distinctive in any particular way. They’re invariably either supportive, sexy, or nagging–on rare occasions, perhaps even two of the three. In this film, he presents us with two significant female characters, and they are revealing: one is Garrison’s secretary, who is “just one of the guys” and gets fully involved in Garrison’s dereliction of duty to the people of New Orleans, and the other is Garrison’s wife, who is played by Sissy Spacek, in a one-note nag performance so immediately tiresome you’ll be begging for the relative craftsmanship of Skyler White. Spacek’s character is so afterthoughtish and sloppy I couldn’t believe it: a half-hour in she’s already whining about Costner’s involvement in the case and all he’s done is read a few books. There’s no build or development: she just returns to the same beats over and over again. In this film, women can either assist a man in what he needs to do, or they can hinder what he needs to do. Either way, their thoughts and opinions are decidedly not among the film’s interests.

Anyway, I’ve delayed it long enough, so now I’ll get to the actual content of the film. As a snarky millennial-ish writer–a group that generally tends to look down upon the shibboleths of Boomers–I tend to cast a bit of a skeptical eye on John Kennedy. He didn’t accomplish much, wasn’t terribly effective, and the true genius of the Kennedys was in PR, godfathering the personal narrative and spin decades ahead of their standard usage. I don’t consider these tremendously positive accomplishments. Still, I do understand just how devastating his killing was to the people who lived through it, how unexpected and senseless it must have felt, how hard it was to come up with any kind of meaning from it. I understand why people would try to an explanation more satisfying to them than, “Lone nut killed him,” even if there’s no real basis to believe it. All this being said, I do not think this is a fitting tribute to John F. Kennedy. Kennedy strikes me as a man who treasured history and the classics, whose many allusions to them in his speeches reflect a deep affinity for their values, one of the greatest of which was reason. I do not think, even if the film were entirely accurate (and much of it has indeed been challenged and debunked, much of it even before the movie was made), that he would much like this particular testament, which is more about Stone’s negative attitudes toward authority and the government that Kennedy served and briefly headed. The heart of the film is the Donald Sutherland scene, which makes short work of any pretense to reason: before the scene, Garrison presents the image of someone trying to follow the facts wherever they might lead, damn the consequences, but after it, he begins incorporating hearsay and rumor into his theories with no empirical basis whatseover. Think this is Garrison’s ultimate downfall? It isn’t. At least, it isn’t in the movie. What Umberto Eco presented as horrifying in Foucault’s Pendulum is presented in JFK as heroic:

Eco’s book is fundamentally about the same things as JFK, but with the opposite takeaway: his take on hell is the mind of a conspiracy theorist, a device doomed to constantly rework data to satisfy some sort of emotional need, with no checks, no boundaries, no progress and no end, just meaningless activity leading to nothing. It’s not surprising that Eco’s take on the same basic subject matter and has a headier, more coherent take on it. What is surprising is that Foucault’s Pendulum is a more entertaining, exciting work of art than JFK, even on just a surface level. Stone works up a lot of agitation but doesn’t bring it home: after watching the film, it presents no coherent alternative theory, just a bunch of obtuse, unresolved haze. This is a complete letdown if you think about it but it does makes sense: conspiracy theories are never “done,” they’re constantly evolving things, adding new data, incorporating new defenses, kept alive because the official story is simply too unbearable to be accepted. In Eco’s book, feeding this part of the human mind becomes a disaster for a small group of slumming academics trying to make a quick buck. In Stone’s film, it’s part of the hero’s fucking journey. In a different movie that could be the stuff of tragedy. In this one, it winds up being a joke.

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It may seem ridiculous that Democrats could legitimately win Georgia and compete in South Carolina and Mississippi, but it’s worth noting that while these states tend to be unwinnable normally, they wind up being a lot closer than you might think. Obama got 44% in each in 2012. Ordinarily getting the rest of the way is pretty much impossible for a Democrat (high ceilings compared to Wyoming, but firm ceilings nonetheless), but if a couple percent of their population happen to be college-educated Republicans who cannot stand Trump, you never know. And Georgia and North Carolina, long at the cusp of battleground status, look to be legitimately in play.

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There sure are a lot of unlikely suspects facepalming over Trump’s irresponsible bullshit:

Radio host Hugh Hewitt sparred with Donald Trump on his radio program Thursday morning, pressing the Republican presidential nominee on his claim that President Barack Obama was “the founder of ISIS.”

“Last night you said the president was the founder of ISIS,” Hewitt said. “I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.”

“No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” Trump replied. “I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”

Hewitt pressed Trump, explaining that Obama has not been “sympathetic” to the terrorist organization, “hates them,” and is “trying to kill them.”

“I don’t care,” Trump said. “He was the founder. His – the way he got out of Iraq was that – that was the founding of ISIS, OK?”…

An exasperated Hewitt responded by saying he’d “just use different language to communicate” the message.


Even perennial champion of “both sides do it” journalism Ron Fournier has had enough.

I’m not a mind reader, so I don’t know what Trump meant to suggest when he said, “maybe there is” something Second Amendment supporters can do to prevent Clinton from picking judges.

But it almost doesn’t matter what Trump meant to say, because of the truth in this maxim about leadership: What you say isn’t nearly as important as what people hear you say.

What did people hear?…  They heard Trump say there is nothing a gun-rights advocate can do to stop her from appointing liberal judges.  They heard him say, wait—maybe there is something you can do…

If Trump meant to incite violence, he should be in jail. If this was an accident—if Trump doesn’t understand the danger he loaded into his language; if he doesn’t know how to measure his words—he should not be president.

(Yes, he did throw in a weak bit about a vaguely similar incident in the 2008 election but even he granted that it wasn’t a very apt.)