Ode to Cocaine Mitch

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Another snapshot in time from the incomparable Jonah Goldberg:

The Only Adult in the Room
How Mitch McConnell has navigated the Trump era.

Jonah Goldberg

Oct 28

Amy Coney Barrett makes three. Three Supreme Court justices and 220 judicial appointments in all. Regardless of your ideological commitments, it’s a monumental achievement. And if “judges” was your overriding reason to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, it’s hard to argue with the claim that your decision was vindicated.

But ask anyone in Washington who knows anything about how Washington actually works, they will tell you that while Trump’s election was necessary, it was not sufficient. The indispensable man in this regard, and perhaps of the Trump presidency, was Mitch McConnell.

Starting with his decision to refuse consideration of Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, Merrick Garland, McConnell has been the decisive factor. That one decision arguably—I would say, probably—got Trump elected.
Of course, as I often note, Trump’s victory was so narrow that any factor that attracted even a statistically tiny number of Trump-reluctant voters can be credited with his victory.

Mathematically, if only the people who were excited about voting for Trump had cast ballots for him in 2016, he would have lost. Remember: 7 percent of Trump voters told Pew that they would be disappointed if their candidate won. So you can point to Jim Comey’s press conference, or to Hillary’s refusal to campaign in places—most famously, Wisconsin—as the decisive factor. Heck, weather alone could explain it.

But holding all those other things constant, I think Trump’s decision to outsource his list of nominees to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation was essential to putting together a coalition that could pick the lock on the Electoral College. Of voters who said the Supreme Court was “the most important factor” in their decision, 56 percent voted for Trump. Meanwhile, 26 percent of Trump voters surveyed by the Washington Post said that the Supreme Court was the basis of their decision. I don’t think the real number is that high, but even if it was a tenth of that, it would mean the Supreme Court won the presidency for Trump.
And if Mitch McConnell hadn’t made the decision he did on Garland—whether you think it was outrageous or courageous—Trump would have lost.

And yet for the first two years of Trump’s presidency, McConnell was Public Enemy No. 1 in MAGA World.

Night after night, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and the rest hammered McConnell as a Deep State stooge, an establishment fossil, an indefensible obstructionist of the glorious MAGA agenda. “So, Sen. McConnell, my message to you, if all you’re going to do is whine like a 10-year-old and complain and make excuses and blame the president for your failure after eight months of him now being in office and you having the House and Senate, guess what, it really is time to drain the sewer and swamp,” proclaimed Hannity in one typical jeremiad.

“The fact of the matter is, McConnell and [Paul] Ryan—they look like troglodytes that somehow have survived eons, and they have, if you will, been Darwined [sic] out, but just they and the conference don’t realize it,” explained Lou Dobbs. Hating McConnell became the organizing principle of Breitbart.

But no one was more committed to destroying McConnell than Steve Bannon. He told the New York Times in 2017, “Mitch McConnell has to go.” When asked whether McConnell would be majority leader in 2018, Bannon replied, “I absolutely do not think he will be majority leader. … It’s not my personal mission, but it’s an objective. … And I believe it’ll be done before this time next year.”
At this point the narrator should have intruded to say, “Actually, it was his personal mission.” Bannon soon organized primary challenges to every single Republican senator (except for Ted Cruz—who, by the way, famously refused to endorse Trump in 2016) in an explicit attempt to strip McConnell of the majority leader job. He cobbled together a ragtag cadre of MAGA gargoyles to take out incumbent Republican senators (as well as some House candidates, including the anti-Semite goon Paul Nehlen, who lost to Paul Ryan by 70 points). The most infamous of these candidates was Alabama crank and mall-cruiser Roy Moore. To McConnell’s credit, he made it clear that even if Moore won, he would be shunned by the party.

Bannon’s failure was as complete as McConnell’s success.

Governance is for grownups.

McConnell has his critics, and some make perfectly defensible points. But here’s what I admire about McConnell: He’s a grownup and an institutionalist. The two things go together. It will win me no points with populists to say this, but populism often manifests itself as childishness. “Childish” has a slightly different connotation than “childlike.” Childlike conveys sweetness and innocence. Childishness is defined by a refusal to accept the rules. Childish people are quick to take offense. They are the Veruca Salts of the world, who want it now. They don’t care about the rules, and they think manners are for other people. They are reluctant to listen and eager to shout. Childish pranks are their own reward, and consequences for their actions are always unfair. Grownups think about consequences. They remember mistakes and adjust for them.
Children think serious arguments are unfair obstacles to wish fulfilment. As the great populist William Jennings Bryan said, “The people of Nebraska are for free silver, so I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”

McConnell is a rare creature in Washington, particularly in the Senate: a man who isn’t president and doesn’t want to be. He is where he wants to be. Sure, he is an ideological conservative, but he’s also an institutional one. He opposed campaign finance reform because he believed it would damage the political system—and he was right. He opposed Harry Reid’s lifting of the judicial filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees because he believed it would damage the Senate—and he was right. You can argue that his decision to escalate the practice was wrong, but only if you subscribe to the childish notion that Democrats are allowed to change the rules without consequence. McConnell warned Reid that there would be consequences for Reid’s decision and, like a grownup, he was true to his word.

It’s a talking point of the left that McConnell is just another Trump supplicant who does the president’s bidding. This nonsense overlooks the fact that the primary reason the MAGA right hated him—other than his reluctance to spout flattery in Trump’s direction—was his refusal to abolish the legislative filibuster. As both a grownup and an institutionalist, he understood that the “I want it now” caucus has all the foresight we associate with children. He knew that Democrats would be back in power again, and the cost of abolishing the filibuster for some short-term “win” for Trump would guarantee far greater losses in the future. Politics is often called “the art of the possible,” and that’s McConnell’s métier. Yes, he looks like a tortoise, but the tortoise won the race because the childish rabbit lacked foresight.

The inestimable Kevin Williamson writes:
One of the many perversities of Trump’s presidency is that Donald J. Trump’s core deficiencies as a chief administrator—his ignorance and his laziness—are the chief practical virtues of his presidency. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, and this has created the opportunity for some of the people in his administration to get some useful things done. For this reason, the conservative advances that have accompanied the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) mostly have been in the fields in which the president has the least engagement and interest, whereas the catastrophes of the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) are strongly associated with those few areas of policy in which he takes an active interest or is personally and strongly engaged with ex officio.

Kevin goes on to note that perhaps the best illustration of this has been Trump’s utter disregard for the Constitution. “Trump’s principal success has been as a rubber stamp to the very ‘establishment’ at which Trump and his admirers like to sneer.”

This is a point I’ve hammered for years now. Trump believes his best friends are the ones who lavish him with praise and celebrate his biggest mistakes as brilliant victories. But, from the vantage point of history, his best friends are the conservatives who constrained him—or simply ignored him—to get important things done. In the summer of 2016, Trump was talking about his steadfast support for “Article 12” of the Constitution and boasting that he might put his sister on the Supreme Court. Some grownup somehow convinced him that this could cost him the election. So he had to persuade voters that he would substitute a serious group’s judgement for his own. But it was only because he never cared about the conservative legal movement that he was perfectly happy to outsource judicial appointments to people who do.
I shudder to think what kind of judges we’d have if Trump felt as invested in who sits on the bench as he is about who sits in the attorney general’s chair.

If Trump had outsourced the pandemic to the experts in his own administration as if it were a medical Federalist Society, he might well be poised for re-election (every governor, Democrat or Republican, and virtually every foreign leader, liberal or conservative, who took the pandemic seriously benefitted in the polls). But the appeal of “free media” to childishly perform during COVID press conferences was too seductive, and the allure of fighting his own medical “establishment” was too great.

What amazes me is how so many of the people who rail against “the establishment” for all of Trump’s failures always place blame at the feet of the “establishment” but assign credit for all of the “establishment’s” successes in Trump’s column. The Federalist Society, Heritage, and McConnell handled the judges, but Trump gets the laurels. Trump took the ball from Fauci and Birx, but it’s their fault Trump scored in the wrong end zone.

There are conservatives—and people who merely claim to be conservative—who so detest Donald Trump that they think the entire GOP should be “burned to the ground.” I certainly understand the detestation, and I definitely think a price should be paid (and it looks like it will be). But letting your passion run roughshod over reason is itself a form of populist childishness. McConnell didn’t want Trump to become president. But grownups adjust to reality when they don’t get what they want. That’s what McConnell did. He said “No” to Trump when he could, and when he thought he should. You can defensibly complain that he should have and could have done it more. But at a moment when Gaetzian childishness is the reigning definition of ideological purity, I am grateful for what few grownups are left in the room.
Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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The Only Adult in the Room
How Mitch McConnell has navigated the Trump era.

Jonah Goldberg

Oct 28

Amy Coney Barrett makes three. Three Supreme Court justices and 220 judicial appointments in all. Regardless of your ideological commitments, it’s a monumental achievement. And if “judges” was your overriding reason to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, it’s hard to argue with the claim that your decision was vindicated.
But ask anyone in Washington who knows anything about how Washington actually works, they will tell you that while Trump’s election was necessary, it was not sufficient. The indispensable man in this regard, and perhaps of the Trump presidency, was Mitch McConnell.
Starting with his decision to refuse consideration of Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, Merrick Garland, McConnell has been the decisive factor. That one decision arguably—I would say, probably—got Trump elected.
Of course, as I often note, Trump’s victory was so narrow that any factor that attracted even a statistically tiny number of Trump-reluctant voters can be credited with his victory.
Mathematically, if only the people who were excited about voting for Trump had cast ballots for him in 2016, he would have lost. Remember: 7 percent of Trump voters told Pew that they would be disappointed if their candidate won. So you can point to Jim Comey’s press conference, or to Hillary’s refusal to campaign in places—most famously, Wisconsin—as the decisive factor. Heck, weather alone could explain it.
But holding all those other things constant, I think Trump’s decision to outsource his list of nominees to the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation was essential to putting together a coalition that could pick the lock on the Electoral College. Of voters who said the Supreme Court was “the most important factor” in their decision, 56 percent voted for Trump. Meanwhile, 26 percent of Trump voters surveyed by the Washington Post said that the Supreme Court was the basis of their decision. I don’t think the real number is that high, but even if it was a tenth of that, it would mean the Supreme Court won the presidency for Trump.
And if Mitch McConnell hadn’t made the decision he did on Garland—whether you think it was outrageous or courageous—Trump would have lost.
And yet for the first two years of Trump’s presidency, McConnell was Public Enemy No. 1 in MAGA World.
Night after night, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, and the rest hammered McConnell as a Deep State stooge, an establishment fossil, an indefensible obstructionist of the glorious MAGA agenda. “So, Sen. McConnell, my message to you, if all you’re going to do is whine like a 10-year-old and complain and make excuses and blame the president for your failure after eight months of him now being in office and you having the House and Senate, guess what, it really is time to drain the sewer and swamp,” proclaimed Hannity in one typical jeremiad.
“The fact of the matter is, McConnell and [Paul] Ryan—they look like troglodytes that somehow have survived eons, and they have, if you will, been Darwined [sic] out, but just they and the conference don’t realize it,” explained Lou Dobbs. Hating McConnell became the organizing principle of Breitbart.
But no one was more committed to destroying McConnell than Steve Bannon. He told the New York Times in 2017, “Mitch McConnell has to go.” When asked whether McConnell would be majority leader in 2018, Bannon replied, “I absolutely do not think he will be majority leader. … It’s not my personal mission, but it’s an objective. … And I believe it’ll be done before this time next year.”
At this point the narrator should have intruded to say, “Actually, it was his personal mission.” Bannon soon organized primary challenges to every single Republican senator (except for Ted Cruz—who, by the way, famously refused to endorse Trump in 2016) in an explicit attempt to strip McConnell of the majority leader job. He cobbled together a ragtag cadre of MAGA gargoyles to take out incumbent Republican senators (as well as some House candidates, including the anti-Semite goon Paul Nehlen, who lost to Paul Ryan by 70 points). The most (in)famous of these candidates was Alabama crank and mall-cruiser Roy Moore. To McConnell’s credit, he made it clear that even if Moore won, he would be shunned by the party.
Bannon’s failure was as complete as McConnell’s success.
Governance is for grownups.
McConnell has his critics, and some make perfectly defensible points. But here’s what I admire about McConnell: He’s a grownup and an institutionalist. The two things go together. It will win me no points with populists to say this, but populism often manifests itself as childishness. “Childish” has a slightly different connotation than “childlike.” Childlike conveys sweetness and innocence. Childishness is defined by a refusal to accept the rules. Childish people are quick to take offense. They are the Veruca Salts of the world, who want it now. They don’t care about the rules, and they think manners are for other people. They are reluctant to listen and eager to shout. Childish pranks are their own reward, and consequences for their actions are always unfair. Grownups think about consequences. They remember mistakes and adjust for them.
Children think serious arguments are unfair obstacles to wish fulfilment. As the great populist William Jennings Bryan said, “The people of Nebraska are for free silver, so I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”
McConnell is a rare creature in Washington, particularly in the Senate: a man who isn’t president and doesn’t want to be. He is where he wants to be. Sure, he is an ideological conservative, but he’s also an institutional one. He opposed campaign finance reform because he believed it would damage the political system—and he was right. He opposed Harry Reid’s lifting of the judicial filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees because he believed it would damage the Senate—and he was right. You can argue that his decision to escalate the practice was wrong, but only if you subscribe to the childish notion that Democrats are allowed to change the rules without consequence. McConnell warned Reid that there would be consequences for Reid’s decision and, like a grownup, he was true to his word.
It’s a talking point of the left that McConnell is just another Trump supplicant who does the president’s bidding. This nonsense overlooks the fact that the primary reason the MAGA right hated him—other than his reluctance to spout flattery in Trump’s direction—was his refusal to abolish the legislative filibuster. As both a grownup and an institutionalist, he understood that the “I want it now” caucus has all the foresight we associate with children. He knew that Democrats would be back in power again, and the cost of abolishing the filibuster for some short-term “win” for Trump would guarantee far greater losses in the future. Politics is often called “the art of the possible,” and that’s McConnell’s métier. Yes, he looks like a tortoise, but the tortoise won the race because the childish rabbit lacked foresight.
The inestimable Kevin Williamson writes:
One of the many perversities of Trump’s presidency is that Donald J. Trump’s core deficiencies as a chief administrator—his ignorance and his laziness—are the chief practical virtues of his presidency. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, and this has created the opportunity for some of the people in his administration to get some useful things done. For this reason, the conservative advances that have accompanied the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) mostly have been in the fields in which the president has the least engagement and interest, whereas the catastrophes of the Trump presidency (and it won’t do to pretend that these do not exist) are strongly associated with those few areas of policy in which he takes an active interest or is personally and strongly engaged with ex officio.
Kevin goes on to note that perhaps the best illustration of this has been Trump’s utter disregard for the Constitution. “Trump’s principal success has been as a rubber stamp to the very ‘establishment’ at which Trump and his admirers like to sneer.”
This is a point I’ve hammered for years now. Trump believes his best friends are the ones who lavish him with praise and celebrate his biggest mistakes as brilliant victories. But, from the vantage point of history, his best friends are the conservatives who constrained him—or simply ignored him—to get important things done. In the summer of 2016, Trump was talking about his steadfast support for “Article 12” of the Constitution and boasting that he might put his sister on the Supreme Court. Some grownup somehow convinced him that this could cost him the election. So he had to persuade voters that he would substitute a serious group’s judgement for his own. But it was only because he never cared about the conservative legal movement that he was perfectly happy to outsource judicial appointments to people who do.
I shudder to think what kind of judges we’d have if Trump felt as invested in who sits on the bench as he is about who sits in the attorney general’s chair.
If Trump had outsourced the pandemic to the experts in his own administration as if it were a medical Federalist Society, he might well be poised for re-election (every governor, Democrat or Republican, and virtually every foreign leader, liberal or conservative, who took the pandemic seriously benefitted in the polls). But the appeal of “free media” to childishly perform during COVID press conferences was too seductive, and the allure of fighting his own medical “establishment” was too great.
What amazes me is how so many of the people who rail against “the establishment” for all of Trump’s failures always place blame at the feet of the “establishment” but assign credit for all of the “establishment’s” successes in Trump’s column. The Federalist Society, Heritage, and McConnell handled the judges, but Trump gets the laurels. Trump took the ball from Fauci and Birx, but it’s their fault Trump scored in the wrong end zone.
There are conservatives—and people who merely claim to be conservative—who so detest Donald Trump that they think the entire GOP should be “burned to the ground.” I certainly understand the detestation, and I definitely think a price should be paid (and it looks like it will be). But letting your passion run roughshod over reason is itself a form of populist childishness. McConnell didn’t want Trump to become president. But grownups adjust to reality when they don’t get what they want. That’s what McConnell did. He said “No” to Trump when he could, and when he thought he should. You can defensibly complain that he should have and could have done it more. But at a moment when Gaetzian childishness is the reigning definition of ideological purity, I am grateful for what few grownups are left in the room.

Bad Choice Road

In 2014, I spent three months as a counselor at a summer program for blind and visually impaired youth. My time there was largely an exercise in futility. It was, among other things, a stark reminder of why I have no desire to be a parent. I did, however, try to impart certain universal truths to my teenaged students.

One of those truths was, for every action, there is a consequence. Every time you sneak out after curfew to smoke a joint, there will be consequences. Every time you get freaky with another student because you think your blind counselor is clueless as to his surroundings, there will be consequences. Every time you cheat with your sleepshades, there will be consequences.

Six years later, I have no idea whether my message took or not, but I get an A for effort.

Rush Limbaugh always said, “Elections have consequences.” The election of 2016 was no exception. The country chose to elect a man whose professional credentials included bankruptcy, beauty contests, gambling casinos and a successful reality TV show. His personal credentials included open sexual predation, a string of high-profile divorces and unashamed boorish behavior. Four years ago, the GOP (the party of family values) made a collective choice that personal character in a president no longer matters. Four years later, we have seen the consequences of these choices.

Yes, President Trump has enacted some public policies and made some judicial appointments that are favorable to conservatism, but they are overshadowed by chaos wrought by his erratic behavior. His contraction of COVID-19 and the infection of many prominent Republicans in his orbit is merely the latest (and most ironic) example of consequences befalling a leader and a base of supporters too incompetent and thickheaded to affect a course correction.

I think Ben Sasse is exactly right. We are in for a political blood bath. I think Trump is going to lose next month. I think Republicans are going to lose the Senate. I think local races in red states will feel an impact as well. Trump supporters love to tout the so-called, “shy Trump vote.” This is the phenomenon in which those who are secretly supportive of Trump don’t admit it openly to close associates or anonymous pollsters. I think the opposite will and is occurring. I think we’re in for a Trump fatigue vote. I think many voters who did take a chance on Trump four years ago are now exhausted with his antics, particularly in light of COVID-19, and are ready for a return to normalcy at the top of the electoral chain. Given the nature of many of Trump’s supporters who tread a very thin line between persuasion and bullying, it’s easier for these quietly exhausted voters just to smile, nod and go with the flow when pressed. This includes everyone outside of the base from operatives inside the D.C. Beltway to fellows and gals at the local pub who just want to have a beer in peace without being inundated by the MAGA crowd.

Sidebar: I’m not talking about the opportunistic huxters who are raking in the eager suckers through sham operations such as The Lincoln Project. I’m talking about average voters.

I don’t know, of course. Two weeks is an eternity with Trump at the helm and the chaos factor is always high. If the GOP loses, it will be a loss much deserved by a party that was all too quick to abandon its long-held principles for short-term victories. Yes, they’ll successfully appoint Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, but it will come with a very large price tag.

I take no pleasure in this forecast.

The Democrats have also squandered much of their credibility. They refused to loudly and roundly condemn the mob violence that has erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death. They insulted the intelligence of the electorate by equating racism as a comparable disease to the Coronavirus. They constantly move the definitional goal posts of long-held terms such as, “court packing,” “sexual preference,” and “white supremacy,” all in the name of a strategy of domination and cultural subjugation in the public arena of ideas. Their ‘blame and shame’ tactics with respect to all things white is reactionary, short-sighted and it will prove to have a very short shelf life before the public at large cries, enough!

Moreover, the Democrats have chosen as their candidate a man whose chief claim to the White House was won upon the coat tails of Barack Obama. Joe Biden was never a politician known for his deftness, and he now seems decrepit in comparison to his glory days in the ‘90’s. His running mate is a woman who is clearly an authority junkie, given to her own fits of political hyperbole. When they win and enact their leftist policies, whether it be packing the Supreme Court or implementing the quixotic Green New Deal, there will be consequences.

The left is lampooning Trump for holding rallies while numbers of new COVID cases are spiking around the world. This is a valid criticism. Yet, as I type this, the Women’s March is holding a national protest in Washington D.C. This protest is populated mostly by the blue state, pro-lockdown crowd. The CDC is advising people to reconsider Thanksgiving holiday dinner with family, but they are happy to go out and flaunt CDC guidelines when it suits their purposes.

Whatever happens in November, neither candidate has won my vote. Both men are singularly unfit for office. I miss the GOP, but I plan to remain an Independent voter for the foreseeable future.

To any of my former students, have you guys figured it out yet? Have you learned the lessons that the GOP forgot on election night, 2016, and the Democrats forgot after Memorial Day Weekend, 2020? Have you realized that the Bad Choice Road really exists and it only gets harder and harder to steer away from the further along you travel upon it?

If you’re reading this, I will try to impart one final lesson as a nod to the ghost of Ryan O, teacher. At some point in your life, you will face a test. Someone (likely someone you know, love and respect), will ask something of you that you know is wrong. They will have seemingly good and sound reasons for asking you to do, think or speak something that you know in your heart and mind not to be true. At that moment, the courage of your convictions will be tested. You will be standing at a fork in the road of life. One path leads to a road shrouded by the mists of uncertainty, unpopularity and disenfranchisement. The other leads to the bad choice road.

Both political parties have stood at this fork in the past four years and both have taken the wrong path. But then, who am I to judge? I have faced this test more than once and I too have failed.

Take heart, former students. When your time comes, rejoice in the knowledge that you were warned beforehand.

Ben Sasse for Senate!!!

Don Bacon for Congress!!!

Jean Stothert for Mayor!!!

Optimus Prime for President!!!

Ballad of a Modern Day Gunfighter

“Ya make me pull, I’ll put ya down.”

That is the rattlesnake whir of U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), protagonist of the underappreciated FX series, Justified. Givens is a laconic lawman with a slow tongue and a lightning-fast draw. He is the stereotypical western cowboy living in the modern world. Yet, his black-and-white moral code is thrown off kilter when he comes up against a world of criminals who dwell in the gray areas of life; criminals including his childhood friend, his ex-lover and even his own father.

Such is the premise for Justified, a show based on two novels written by iconic crime author Elmore Leonard. The series pilot, “Fire in the Hole,” is based upon a subsequent short story written by Leonard. The pilot is very faithful to the source material, but for one important detail. In the story, Raylan kills the bad guy at the climax of the story. In the TV series, said bad guy lives and ultimately becomes Raylan’s most prominent adversary.

In the opening scene of the premier, Raylan’s desire for justice (or is it vengeance) propels him into a rooftop confrontation in Miami with a very bad man. Raylan prevails, of course, but his renegade actions force his superiors to transfer him to his home state of Kentucky. This is a true punishment for Raylan, as he makes it clear that he has no desire to go home. Yet, home he goes, and soon runs up against a white supremacist who, in Raylan’s own words, “Loves to rob banks and blow shit up.” The wrinkle comes when we learn that said bank robber is Raylan’s childhood friend, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins.) They weren’t close when they dug coal together in the mines of Harlan, but as both men note at various times throughout the six-year run of the series, mining coal together forges a bond that can never be entirely broken.

The hook that brings the viewer along for the ride of Justified is that, once he is sent home, things become personal for Raylan. His repeated confrontations with Boyd Crowder are personal. His meeting with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), Boyd’s sister-in-law, becomes personal. From the time of the pilot, everything in Raylan’s world becomes personal, particularly when he attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife, and is forced into an unhappy reunion with his wayward father.

Every colorful criminal Raylan meets throughout the course of the show gets under Raylan’s skin. He hates the bad guys because he grew up around criminals and knows how poisonous they are, particularly in an impoverished community such as his home town of Harlan. This is why he refuses to change his occupation or his behavior, even after he faces the consequences of his actions in Miami. In Raylan’s world, every criminal has a simple choice. “Ya make me pull, I’ll put ya down.” Raylan can easily put head to pillow each night, knowing that the world is better off with one less bad guy to further blight the already bleak landscape of Harlan.

Raylan’s outer trappings harken back to the age of John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. Unlike the square-jawed cowboys from the golden age of cinema, Raylan is far from perfect. He is not an anti-hero, though some of his choices throughout the series stray into anti-heroism. He has a temper. He has difficulty maintaining personal relationships. Sometimes, he has a blind spot to the character flaws of those closest to him. Yet, in other circumstances, he is too cynical to allow for the possibility of change for the better in people. He is quick to warn criminals of dire consequences for their actions, yet he is too slow to realize that his own actions also garner consequences. In many ways, he is the typical protagonist of the 21st century. As the series progresses, Raylan is forced to develop a stronger sense of self-awareness when he faces the prospect of fatherhood. Raylan ultimately must choose between the voice of his wicked father, or his gentler mother when he too becomes a parent.

Raylan’s nemesis, Boyd Crowder, serves as the opposite side of the same coin. He too grew up exposed to a criminal element, but his personality forces him down a different, more circuitous path. During the show’s six seasons, Boyd undergoes several transformations, changing from a white supremacist to a religious zealot to a lost soul, before he finally embraces his father’s legacy; that of his rightful place as the criminal kingpin of Harlan. Raylan proves to be an inflexible man who is mostly incapable of change, while Boyd seems to be in a constant state of flux as he struggles to come to terms with his true nature. The scenes that Olyphant and Goggins share together are the show’s best and it quickly becomes evident that each man is the dark alter ego of the other.

Justified is not a flawless series. Very few shows can achieve what Breaking Bad did in its near-perfect execution. One of the problems of the show is how it treats its female characters. In a crime saga like Justified in which the two main characters are male, the primary purpose of the female characters seem only to be to drive the storylines of the men.

Ava Crowder is the best example. When we first meet Ava, Raylan visits her shortly after she kills her abusive husband at the dinner table. Boyd wants revenge on Ava for her husband’s murder, since he was Boyd’s brother. This conflict serves as the climax of the pilot. Once the story is resolved, Ava remains as a presence in Raylan’s life. At first, they become lovers, which proves detrimental to Raylan’s career. Later, after Raylan becomes re-involved with his ex-wife, Ava switches sides and becomes involved with Boyd. Her allegiance to Boyd serves as a centerpiece for the remainder of the series, particularly in the show’s final season, but it never feels entirely authentic. It’s as if the writers loved Joelle Carter’s work and didn’t want to lose her, so they contrived a plot twist in which Ava becomes romantically involved with Boyd as a means of continuing her presence. Ava is a strong woman (all women on Justified are strong), but that doesn’t mean that all of their choices are intelligent, or that the writers do a good job of illustrating Ava’s reasoning in an organic fashion. This defect becomes particularly stark in the show’s fifth season, in which Ava is given a jailhouse storyline that separates her from Boyd for the duration.

Raylan’s afore-mentioned ex-wife Winona is another example. From the moment we first see Winona (Natalie Zea), it is clear that Raylan is still in love with her. Winona is more of an intermittent presence throughout the series than is Ava. She and Raylan seem to be locked in a dance wherein neither can decide if they want to truly commit to the other. Their rapport is interesting early on, but becomes tiresome as the series progresses.

Another female character that is criminally underused is U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel.) She is an African-American law enforcement officer in the Deep South. One would think that, over the course of 78 episodes, the writers could give Rachel at least one substantial plot. The most we get is a stand-alone episode in the show’s second season in which we learn a little about Rachel’s family. Aside from that, Rachel usually just serves as back-up for Raylan. The same is true for Raylan’s other Marshal sidekick, Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts), who served as an Army Ranger sniper in Afghanistan.

The character of Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), Raylan’s boss in the Lexington office, is far better served. Raylan’s father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) is a hardened criminal and the two men have no love for one another. As Raylan and Art continue to work together, Art takes on the role of Raylan’s surrogate father. This often serves as a burden to Art, who is usually exasperated by Raylan’s off-book methods, even though they yield results.

In the first two seasons, Justified suffers from a mild identity crisis. It can’t quite decide if it wants to be a series of stand-alone procedural stories ala Law & Order, or more serialized ala Breaking Bad. It finally settles on the latter by the third season and is better for it. The best of the stand-alones is the fourth episode, “Long in the Tooth,” in which Raylan chases a former mafia bookkeeper masquerading as a dentist into the desert.

The plotting of Justified is uneven and overly convoluted at times. In true Elmore Leonard fashion, there are periods in which viewers will find themselves watching three or four separate groups of characters, all working across purposes. I mean… I was able to keep up with the dense plotting of Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, for God sake, and there are still times when I will finish an episode of Justified and ask, what the hell was that all about? This flaw is particularly evident in the show’s third and fourth seasons. In times like this, it is best for the viewer with a mid-range I.Q. simply to sit back and enjoy the eccentric characters and colorful dialogue for which the late Mr. Leonard was so notable.

This leads me to the biggest strength of Justified; the colorful cast of villains and supporting players that litter the barren landscape of Harlan, Kentucky. Elmore Leonard was always known as a master of dialogue and nuanced characters. The fact that showrunner Graham Yost worked closely with Leonard until Leonard’s death before the show’s fifth season is reflected in every scene of Justified. The accents range from perfect to passable, the dialogue is laced with wit and humor and the characters feel real.

Yeah… The characters. It may be true that Justified adheres to the ‘baddy of the season’ formula, but what baddies they are! Wynn Duffy (Gere Burns), mercurial mid-level hit man for an organization known as the Dixie Mafia. Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), one of Boyd’s henchmen with a Nazi tattoo on his neck and nothing in his head. Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), psychotic Detroit mobster in a business suit with more up his sleeve than a scheme to conquer Kentucky. Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), an African-American crime boss with murky motives. Avery Markham (Sam Elliott), a pothead kingpin who seems to growl more than he talks.

No review of Justified would be adequate without a prolonged and respectful nod to Mags Bennett and her boys. They emerge as the chief villains of the show’s second season and, in hindsight, they are the best. Mags (Margo Martindale) is the ruthless matriarch of a crime family who deals in pot and homemade moonshine. She shows no mercy to those who seek to undercut or betray her. When Raylan is forcibly returned to Kentucky, he finds himself smack in the middle of a decades-old feud between the Givens’ and Bennett clans. Raylan holds particular animus for Mags’ son Dickie (Jeremy Davies.) Dickie is crippled as a result of a childhood fight with Raylan. In typical Justified fashion, Dickie is the dumbest of Mags’ three sons, though he believes himself to be the smartest. Of course, this only serves to make him the most dangerous.

The current conflict, which centers on a teenage orphaned girl named Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever), serves as the show’s best season finale. It also illustrates why Martindale was one of only two actors to win an Emmy; Davies being the other.

Sidebar: I was so impressed with the character of Mags that I named my beloved cat after her.

… And I haven’t even addressed the rich cast of supporting characters who aren’t criminals. If you want to meet Judge Mike ‘The Hammer’ Reardon, Constable Bob, Ellen May, Pastor Billy and Raylan’s Aunt Helen, watch the show!

Justified does have an occasional misfire with respect to casting and characters. In the show’s fifth season, generally agreed upon by fans and critics alike as its worst, the producers made the unfortunate choice to cast New York native Michael Rapaport as Darryl Crowe, Jr. The only thing worse than the meandering, tangled plot of the fifth season is Rapaport’s glaringly hideous southern accent. Some fans lament that Yost and company chose to pull the plug after the show’s sixth season, despite pleas from FX president John Landgraf for more. Yet, when I try to rewatch the fifth season, it becomes sadly evident that Justified probably ran one season too long.

It is also worth noting that Timothy Olyphant came to Justified several years after his starring role on another celebrated postmodern western series, HBO’s Deadwood. Olyphant was tailor made for western roles, and fans of both series always wondered who might be next to transfer from the Old West of Deadwood to the Modern West of Harlan. As it turned out, Deadwood regulars W. Earl Brown, Jim Beaver, Garret Dillahunt, Sean Bridgers, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Brent Sexton, Gerald McRaney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ray McKinnon and Peter Jason all had either single-shot or multi-shot guest stints on Justified. Fans were hoping that Ian McShane might make an appearance, given his electric on-screen chemistry with Olyphant, but it never materialized.

Sidebar: If you want to learn more about Deadwood, I wrote an extensive review of it elsewhere in these hallowed pages. Also, Walton Goggins costarred on another FX masterpiece, The Shield, which I hope to review in the future. Sadly, none of his costars appeared on Justified, mainly because they were all being used over on the inferior Sons of Anarchy.

Compared to its contemporaries such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game of Thrones, Justified was underrated. As is usually the case with shows of this kind, it had a loyal but small fan base and was adored by critics. Yet, it never really caught on as cubical conversation. Luckily, it is available for streaming and on home media. If you’re stuck with no place to go in the midst of the pandemic and need something new to binge, and if you like noir crime dramas with a western flavor, try Justified.

As for the source material furnished by the late Elmore Leonard, I always found him to be an acquired taste; a taste that I never really warmed to. Still, his body of work is undeniable and he did have a flair for quirky characters and off beat dialogue. Leonard did claim that Justified was one of his favorite screen adaptations. This is high praise indeed from an author. God bless him and those who made Justified a reality for six years.

“It was already in the glass… Not in the jar.”
Mags Bennett

“Next one’s comin’ faster.”
Raylan Givens

“Raylan, the whole world’s a tree. I’m just a squirrel tryin’ to get a nut.”
Boyd Crowder

“I been married for 28 years. I don’t get the pole out as much as I used to.”
Art Mullen

Schadenfreude

This article comes from David French at the newly-formed Dispatch. Everyone who cares about fact-driven conservative journalism should subscribe. It is so important that I am placing it here as a snapshot in time.

As Tara Reade’s Evidence Against Joe Biden Builds, All the Chickens Come Home to Roost
When everyone abandons norms, who is left to trust?

David French
Apr 28

I’m not generally a person given to schadenfreude. I try to be empathetic and sympathetic. I really do. But there are times when the consequences of terrible ideas become so plain, and the partisan boxes we build become so confining, that it’s hard not to take at least a degree of pleasure in the sudden public realization that old standards of fairness, due process, and personal character just might have some merit.
Exactly two weeks ago, I wrote a rather lengthy assessment of the Tara Reade’s case against Joe Biden and the conservative case for media hypocrisy in the coverage of Reade’s claims. My verdict was simple. Reade’s claims were shaky. The claims against key media outlets were strong. They did, in fact, apply different reporting standards to claims against Brett Kavanaugh and Biden.
Regarding the claims against Biden, here was my summary:
At the end of the day, however, we’re left with a 27-year-old claim with a single anonymous corroboration that’s inconsistent with the claimant’s own previous accounts and is (so far) unsupported by any other claim of similar behavior. I’m troubled but unconvinced. Based on the current state of the evidence, I don’t think it’s likely that Biden assaulted Reade.
Since I published the newsletter, however, the evidence against Biden has grown stronger. Last week we learned that Reade’s mother apparently called in to the Larry King show in 1993 and made the following, rather vague claim:
“Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington?” she asks. “My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.
It’s not proof of sexual assault by any means, but it’s at least evidence that Reade told her mother that something untoward had happened. Then, Business Insiderupped the ante, locating two additional sources who substantiated Reade’s claims:
Now two more sources have come forward to corroborate certain details about Reade’s claims. One of them — a former neighbor of Reade’s — has told Insider for the first time, on the record, that Reade disclosed details about the alleged assault to her in the mid-1990s.
“This happened, and I know it did because I remember talking about it,” Lynda LaCasse, who lived next door to Reade in the mid-’90s, told Insider.
The other source, Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Reade in the office of a California state senator in the mid-’90s, told Insider that she recalls Reade complaining at the time that her former boss in Washington, DC, had sexually harassed her, and that she had been fired after raising concerns.
The New York Times’s Michelle Goldberg summed up the effect of these new disclosures nicely:
Michelle Goldberg @michelleinbklyn
This is the most persuasive corroborating evidence that has come out so far. What a nightmare.
Rich McHugh @RichMcHugh
NEW: A former neighbor of Joe Biden’s accuser Tara Reade has come forward, on the record, to corroborate her sexual assault account, saying Reade discussed the allegations in detail in the mid-1990s. https://t.co/EyhJDd0qNJ
April 27th 2020
1,317 Retweets6,741 Likes

What a nightmare indeed, for everyone. Every single side of this story is now living with the consequences of dreadful mistakes. Joe Biden is now confronting the “believe women” movement he helped build. Key media outlets and multiple media figures are now face-to-face with their own, post-Kavanaugh double standards. And, finally, the GOP is left without an arrow in its quiver against the Democratic nominee because of its own profound moral compromise.
Let’s start with Biden’s dilemma. There’s of course the easy contrast with the statements he made during the Kavanaugh controversy, when he said a woman’s claims should begin with a presumption of truth:
“For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time. But nobody fails to understand that this is like jumping into a cauldron.”
But lest you think this is a one-quote gotcha, we can’t forget that Biden was an advocate for Obama administration policies that systematically dismantled due process protections for college students accused of sexual misconduct. It’s a brutal story—one that I’ve covered time and time again.
To make a long story short, in 2011 the Obama Department of Education published a “Dear Colleague letter” that dramatically reduced due process protections for accused students at campuses from coast-to-coast. The administration mandated a low burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence), expanded the definition of sexual misconduct, and failed to preserve for the accused even the most basic right to confront their accuser with cross-examination.
The result was a legal disaster. Hundreds of accused students have sued their schools, courts all over the country have overturned sexual misconduct findings and struck down deficient campus procedures. The system was so broken in California that its progressive judiciary halted proceedings in more than 70 sexual misconduct cases to fix the broken process.
Yet as Emily Yoffe wrote last year in Politico, Biden repeatedly spoke about the campus sexual assault controversy in crude caricatures, supported the administration’s Title IX reforms, and then directly attacked proposed Trump administration reforms that restored traditional due process protections in campus adjudications, including the right of cross examination.
To put it another way, the Obama administration broke campus due process to favor sexual assault accusers, Biden championed that effort, and he opposed the restoration of the most basic due process rights. And now he’s in the crosshairs of a serious complaint.
But Biden of course isn’t the only party sleeping in the beds they made. I don’t need to belabor the stunning differences in the way the New York Times, The New Yorker, and many other outlets covered the claims against Biden compared with their coverage of claims against Brett Kavanaugh. I wrote about the double standard two weeks ago:
Writing in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow published the completely unsubstantiated claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to a woman named Deborah Ramirez. Not only did she confess to drinking heavily and to memory gaps, she said that she only came forward “after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney.”
Even worse, The New Yorker stated that the magazine “has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party.” (Emphasis added.) That’s extraordinary. The claim never should have made it to print. Not only did it reach The New Yorker’s prestigious pages, but virtually every other prestige media outlet carried the claims immediately.
But the negligence surrounding Ramirez’s claims is nothing compared to the widespread press negligence and outright recklessness in reporting Michael Avenatti client Julie Swetnick’s fantastical and grotesque claims that she saw Kavanaugh “waiting his turn” for gang rapes after facilitating them by spiking or drugging the punch at high school parties. The mainstream media reporting on the claim was immediate and prominent. On Twitter, journalist after journalist immediately credited her claims.
To be perfectly clear, the care that media outlets have taken with the Biden allegations should be the standard. When a claim is made, investigate it carefully and comprehensively before rushing it to print. And in the absence of solid evidence, claims should not generate an avalanche of “I believe women” think pieces based on unrelated experiences, teen movies (Vox actually published a piece that used the John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles to bolster the rape claim against Kavanuagh)or shaky social science (like unverifiable statistics claiming very low rates of false rape allegations).
The rush to convict Kavanaugh represented one of the most disturbing media moments of my career, and I’m hardly conservative America’s harshest media critic.
Finally, let’s talk about the GOP. What is it going to do, pray tell, with the Biden allegation besides harp on about media hypocrisy? Can it claim in any way that Reade’s allegations are material to Biden’s bid for the presidency? After all, more than a dozen women have accused Donald Trump of various forms of misconduct, there’s a tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women by the genitals, and his lawyer is currently sitting in prison for his participation in a criminal scheme to conceal hush money payments to a porn star.
Moreover, while the allegations against Trump vary in credibility, some are supported by considerable corroborating evidence. For example, former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos accused Trump of kissing her without consent in 2007, grabbing her breast, and thrusting his genitals up against her. She filed a defamation case against Trump after he said that he never “met her in a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago.”
She not only claims that she told “family and friends” about the incident and that she reached out to legal counsel to consider legal action as early as 2011, but discovery in the case has produced phone logs and itineraries that Zervos claims corroborate her timeline and her account of communication with Trump. And that’s but one claim.
It is so painfully obvious that each and every error outlined above would have painful consequences. No one should think that norms of due process and presumptions of innocence that have been built up over centuries of painful human experience can be cast aside by any person or political party without soon facing their own challenge in responding to presumptions of guilt and lowered burdens of proof.
Media organizations that set irresponsible precedents when confronting a conservative judicial nominee should not be surprised when critics rightly highlight the care they take in reporting on a Democratic presidential candidate.
Finally, a political party that thoroughly discards any meaningful character test for president—including by discarding any real concern as to whether its nominee has abused women—cannot then be surprised when the press and the public ultimately treat accusations against a political opponent with a yawn and a shrug. “Character for thee, but not for me” persuades no one.
And so, here we are, reminded once again that presumptions of innocence are important, careful reporting is a professional necessity, and personal integrity is of paramount importance in national leaders. Yet few of our leading national institutions are well-equipped to make that case. Is it any wonder that Americans deeply distrust virtually every significant player in the American political system?

Mythology

In my previous entry, I said that I seem to find great comfort in Star Trek during times of emotional turmoil. When I moved from Denver to Omaha two years ago, I began a major binge of the original Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and many of the feature films. Recently, after Mags died and as a prelude to the premier of Star Trek: Picard, I again began to re-watch great chunks of the franchise. I also re-watched the original Star Wars trilogy over the holiday season.

I have some random thoughts about Trek overall, but I want to focus on a common thread that I see running through the major reboots of our time, especially Star Trek and Star Wars.

When we first see Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we quickly discover that he is a vagabond. Far from the relatively happy person he was at the end of Return of the Jedi, he is a galactic burn-out who has separated from Leia and who is now reduced to near homeless status. By the end of the movie, he is murdered by his own son.

In the sequel film, The Last Jedi, we discover Luke Skywalker, another major hero of the original trilogy, living as an embittered old hermit on a secluded island. He voices regret for everything he did as a Jedi, feeling that his efforts made little difference. He ultimately becomes a force ghost, and even though subsequent writers quickly tried to retcon Luke’s initial sentiments in the final movie, the contrast alone signifies major tonal discords in the Star Wars universe.

Now, we meet Jean-Luc Picard after 20 years in Star Trek: Picard. Again, we find a defeated, embittered old man, living on his family vineyard in France, looking back regretfully at his life. Time will tell as to where Picard will end up, but it’s safe to say that he is not in a happy place when we first rediscover him. In interviews, Patrick Stewart seems to refer to the TV series that re-launched his career as flawed in some way.

Why does Hollywood insist in tearing down its own mythology?

It’s not a stretch to lay much of the cynical mindset of the creative community at the doorstep of current-day politics. Stewart did that himself in his own pre-show interviews, siting Brexit and Donald Trump as the key inspirations which drove him back to the role 17 years after the last movie in the franchise.

In a strange, twisted way, we can link these recent events in the fictional world to those in the real world; specifically, those of The 1619 Project, launched last year by the New York Times Magazine. IN it, a series of authors and historians claim that the entirety of America’s existence must be viewed through the lens of slavery. It is an impressive body of work, but it has been disputed by many historians from across the political spectrum. Still, The 1619 Project is now slated to be included in the curriculum of many education systems across the country.

Why are we living in a time when our mythology, as well as our own history, must be torn down? I have no concrete answers. I do think that a good deal of it has to do with the blurring of the lines between fact and fantasy. Terms like, “Fake news,” can easily be reshaped into terms such as, “Fake history,” “Fake philosophy,” or “Fake science.” In this hyper-flexible environment, it is easy to tear down someone’s reality in an effort to supplant it with another. If one’s own substitute reality isn’t readily accepted by the masses, better to plant seeds of doubt with a giant question mark, rather than allowing crystallized reality to continue.

We are eight days away from the Iowa Primary; the first in the 2020 election cycle. I have absolutely no idea where our country will be a year from now. As I age, I seem to know less and less about the real, static world around me.

But I know this. We all need heroes in our lives. As a child of the ‘80’s, I found Luke, Han and Leia to be a great comfort to me. In the ‘90’s, I found Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Data, Worf and all the rest of the Enterprise crews from both centuries to be a continuing comfort. More than that, even as I questioned the possibility of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian future, I found peace in the hope of it. Apparently, I still do 25 years later.

I can’t say that I believe in Roddenberry’s vision for the future. There are far too many holes in it. As I grow older, I fear that my worldview comes closer to that of Game of Thrones than Star Trek. This is why I liked Princess Leia much better as a female hero than Daenerys Targaryen.

More than anything, I find classic Trek to be the best form of escapism for me. I love the constant rumble of the engines of the Enterprise D, the childlike musings of Data, the growling observations of Worf and the calm, paternal presence of Picard.

I agree with Irvin Kershner that Star Wars is a fairy tale. Many categorize it as science fiction, but there is very little of actual science in it to explain lightsabers, blasters, droids or The Force. Star Trek tries a little harder, but it too is unlimited by its own ever-changing rule book. I treat them both as fantasy. They have different props and settings from Harry Potter, but they are tonally and thematically similar. In all three cases, they served as fictional beacons of optimism in a volatile world for three generations.

The character arc of Han Solo is particularly tragic to me. When we first met him, he was a criminal; rakishly handsome, callow, arrogant and charming. His self-seeking nature was transparent. He made it clear that he was not rescuing Leia out of any sense of the betterment of his world. He was only doing it for money. Yet, Luke and Leia lifted him up, showing him that he too had a stake in working for something larger than himself. At one point, Han tried to run away from his responsibilities, but he never quite made it before he ended up as a screaming carbonite statue. Yet, his friends risked everything to save him. Han discovered that the price of growing up was friendship, loyalty and honor.

But his story ends with Han as an old space bum who gets a lightsaber in the chest; a lightsaber wielded by his own son. Many young men might very well examine the trajectory of Han Solo and ask, “What the hell was all that for?”

Luke Skywalker did very little to advance his own arc, even before he died. Leia could not do more to empower the next generation of women warriors everywhere due to the untimely death of Carrie Fisher, but given our current political climate, it’s safe to guess that the woke writers in Hollywood would have been kinder to Leia’s legacy than they were to the other two heroes in the original trio.

Captain Picard may yet be able to restore the legacy he holds with classic Trek fans everywhere. It is likely that he will rise from the ashes and redeem himself. He will likely do it by forcing the United Federation of Planets to redeem itself for its wayward ways since he left. Yet, if the first episode is any indication, the tone of the show will be much darker and may prove to be inhospitable for Picard’s calm, measured approach.

Many critics would argue that the time for the wide-eyed optimism that used to characterize Star Trek has passed. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense!!! One need only look at the time period in which the original series was conceived to know that there is always room for hope and optimism. When Star Trek premiered in 1966, America was in the middle of the most divisive military conflict in the 20th century. Rioting occurred in the streets of most major cities as minority groups rose up and marched for their civil rights. Every American institution was questioned and criticized down to its very core. In the ‘70’s, when Star Trek Flourished in syndication and really captured the imaginations of the public, the country also experienced an energy crisis, tension with the Middle East, a mounting drug epidemic and the resignation of a sitting president one step ahead of impeachment. Sound familiar? So please don’t tell me that the times don’t allow for hope and optimism in our culture.

Sidebar: I find it interesting that Captain Kirk’s legacy seems to be unblemished, even though the younger version played by Chris Pine didn’t perform very well in two of the three reboot movies. Perhaps it is because the character was killed off when Trek was still in its creative prime. Even though the manner of his death did not go over well with fans, he died a hero, unlike Han Solo.

I mentioned Harry Potter before. I think he, more than Kirk, Picard or Han Solo, signifies the hopeful hero of our current generation of youth. They didn’t grow up with the U.S.S. Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon in their subconscious. They grew up with Hogwarts. Wouldn’t it be a shame if someday, we learned that Harry, Ron and Hermione did it all for nothing?

Sorry, Katya, but fanfic doesn’t count.

Of Slings, Arrows and Smoking Guns

Folks, I just completed reading “Catch and Kill,” by Ronan Farrow. I highly recommend this book, but it is not for the faint of heart. The ways in which the predatory
behavior of Harvey Weinstein was covered up and excused by legions of accomplices from Hollywood to D.C. will chill your blood.

The most disturbing part of the audio book is when you hear the actual recording of Weinstein trying to force himself on one of his victims. I wasn’t prepared for it and it stopped me cold.

My one criticism is over Farrow’s narration of the audio version. His parents are both actors and he has a background in theater. It shows in his delivery. There are times when he swerves into hammy territory (particularly when immitating accents.) This detracts from a subject that should be
treated with the utmost seriousness. Despite his trials and tribulations as he battled to get the story of Weinstein’s victims on the public record, he sounds as if he’s having a lot of fun in the recording booth. This is a small nitpick, however, and should not serve as a reason not to read this impressive (if not disquieting) body of work.

For my blind followers, it is available on both Audible and BARD.

And speaking of Harvey Weinstein, God bless Hollywood! “Bombshell,” the third biopic about Roger Ailes in the wake of his public disgrace and subsequent death after credible allegations of sexual assault came out last weekend. I guess they thought we wouldn’t get the point after the first two.

Look, at this point, I have zero sympathy for FoxNews. If Hollywood
wants to cast stones at the memory of Ailes and laud the bravery of the women who came forward, more power to them. Ailes deserves the slings and arrows
and a network who cheerleads a man like Donald Trump can stand the pounding. However, the contrast in standards is pretty stark to me in the wake of Ronan Farrow’s book.

When is Hollywood gonna bring us an epic about the Harvey Weinstein years? Seriously! If Farrow’s narrative is accurate, the Weinstein affair has all the earmarks of a major thriller; a menacing antagonist, systematically oppressed women, an openly gay reporter who is the son of a celeb also accused of sexual assault, spineless network executives, shadowy foreign surveillance agencies, moles and countermoles, duplicitous lawyers, a ‘smoking gun’ recording… How can ya not love a story like that!?

Maybe we’ll get it after Weinstein is in his grave. Or maybe, we’ll get it after every single Hollywood exec and politician who took money and/or favors from Weinstein is in the ground. Less embarrassment to go with the popcorn,
don’tchya know.

If not Weinstein, what about a biopic of Matt Lauer? They could title it, “Button,” after the device Lauer used to automatically close
his door, thereby holding his victims captive.

I also notice Bill O’Reilly does not appear in the film. That is… Interesting. It’s also interesting that, despite major hype from critics, “Bombshell,” bombed at the box office. I guess the public prefers Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers over Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly.

*yawn*

Pass the Popcorn

I’m gonna write about something positive because…well…I need something positive in my life right now.

On Facebook the other night, I opined that I missed the era of appointment television. This was back in the glory days when 24, The Sopranos, Deadwood and Breaking Bad all reigned supreme. I miss the anticipation of a new episode, new plot developments and new water cooler buzz the next day after Tony would whack someone, or Jack Bauer would torture another Muslim terrorist.

That said, 2019 is an exciting year for those of us who have the recent TV nostalgia bug. Three movies are due out this year that serve as codas to previous TV giants.

The first one is a series that I already touched upon last October. Deadwood was a show that was canceled before its time. On Friday, May 31, HBO will correct that grave injustice by running Deadwood: The Movie. We’ll get to see Al Swearengen and all of the gang of Deadwood one last time before they ride off into the sunset. I’ve already shared my thoughts and hopes for the upcoming movie, but of the three, this is the one for which I’m most excited. It’s probably because fans have been waiting years for this thing to drop.

The second one excites me, though not to the degree of the Deadwood epic. David Chase is filming a prequel to The Sopranos called, The Many Saints of Newark. No, guys, it won’t explain the great black screen of doom that still frustrates many Sopranos fans. Rather, it will focus on a young Tony Soprano in the late ‘60’s when the Italians were embroiled in racial hostility with African-Americans. The interesting thing about this movie is that James Gandolfini’s son Michael is set to play young Tony. We’ll see how that goes. The thing that gives me pause is that I think David Chase is going to fuck up the timeline. I just re-watched the entire series of The Sopranos and it was stated more than once that Tony Soprano was born in 1960. At one point, Carmela tells a reporter that Tony was three when JFK was assassinated. So by the time Tony was 15, Nixon would already have been impeached. I don’t know how chase is going to reconcile this obvious continuity error. Still, I’ll go see the movie and hopefully will enjoy it.

The third movie is the one you would think I would be most excited about, but I am the least excited. Earlier this year, Vince Gilligan announced that we are going to get a Breaking Bad movie. Publicists are still playing it coy, but everyone knows that the movie will star Aaron Paul reprising his role as doomed Jesse Pinkman. When we last saw Jesse, Walt had freed him from captivity from Todd and Uncle Jack and Jesse drove off laughing crazily as Walt died in his meth lab over the strains of, “Baby Blue.”

My problem is that this served as the perfect ending to Breaking Bad. Walt died, Jesse was free but scarred for life and Walt’s family may or may not have been able to live in comfort thanks to his efforts on their behalf. Those unanswered questions are part of what makes the finale so good. Not everything had to be wrapped up with a pretty bow on top.

Whereas Deadwood feels completely necessary and welcome and the Sopranos prequel may or may not work, but can’t hurt anything, the Breaking Bad movie feels superfluous. Sure, Jesse was a compelling character, but without the presence of Bryan Cranston as Walt off whom Jesse used to play so wonderfully, the story will feel hollow. Yes, I may be selling Vince Gilligan short, but he gave us Better Call Saul and, for me, the results are mixed. Maybe Breaking Bad is that lightning that only strikes once. Yet, if possible, I will be in the theater on opening night, popcorn and Peanut Butter M & M’s in hand as the credits roll.

Even if all three wrap-up movies suck, it will be a pleasure to have something to look forward to that doesn’t involve a super hero, a transforming car or a talking CGI animal. I’ll take it, and pass the fuckin’ popcorn. If you don’t have any hot butter, I’ll settle for canned peaches. What about baked xiti?

Song of Myself

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I
know it.

I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe,
and am not contain’d between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,
The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and
fathomless as myself,
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female,
For me those that have been boys and that love women,
For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be
slighted,
For me the sweet-heart and the old maid, for me mothers and the
mothers of mothers,
For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,
For me children and the begetters of children.

Undrape! you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded,
I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no,
And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and cannot be
shaken away.

Walt Whitman: “”Song of Myself”

Do Androids Dream of the Boys Locker Room?

I am not going to waste precious space in this blog writing about Solo: A Star Wars Story. The movie blew bigger chunks than you would find in an asteroid field. If I wouldn’t have been bored last Sunday, I would’ve saved my money.

However, there was one point I need to address. I am frankly sick of the idea propagated in science fiction that androids possess sentience.

In Solo, a young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) has an android co-pilot named L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge.) It doesn’t take five seconds after we meet L3-37 to learn that she is an android who is on a quest; the great and universal trek for equal rights. It is not atypical for modern Star Wars to insert concepts favorable to social justice in their scripts, but even by modern standards, the character is written in a very heavy-handed fashion. She is, in effect, the Dobby of the script without the charm.

Even though Lando seems to resist the idea that droids are worthy of equal rights, we discover that he implicitly validates the idea of her sentience when we see that he is (“gasp!”) attracted to her. The ironic parallel is obvious and ham-handed; the black character attracted to a machine he views as property, just as, a long time ahead in a galaxy far, far away, white slave owners were attracted to and bedded down people whom they did not, in fact, view as people at all.

How could any reasonable viewer of Solo come to any other conclusion but that droids are, of course, sentient and therefore, do deserve equal rights. L3-37’s cause is just, which makes her death all the more poignant when it inevitably comes.

The writers had fertile ground in which to plant this particular seed. After all, the viewers on whom they tried (and largely failed) to conduct financial extractions mostly haled from a generation that grew up with C-3PO and R2-D2, two humanistic droids who, more than once, saved the Star Wars universe. 3PO was a droid who never met a neurosis he didn’t like. R2-D2 didn’t communicate in spoken language, but his series of beeps and chirps and his diminutive cuteness, made him function more as a hyper intelligent animal, if not a human.

Then, 32 years later came R2-D2 2.0, aka BB-8, courtesy of The Force Awakens. One year after that, we met K-2SO in Rogue One. Now there was a droid who really brought the tude. He might have been the poster droid for the quest for equal rights if he were not already fighting in another rebellion with some actual teeth.

Of course, one might argue that the writers don’t actually think that droids are sentient, but rather, they are using L3-37 as a metaphor for real humans here on Earth. Duh! That trope has been played by sci-fi writers for generations. Nothing pioneering in that.

Ah, but if you want a franchise that takes the concept of android sentience more seriously, you need look no further than Star Trek: The Next Generation, embodied in the character of Lieutenant Commander Data.

Any fan of TNG should know where I’m headed before I get there. Season two, episode nine. Title, “The Measure of a Man.”

Picard and company are docked at an outlying starbase that houses a newly-installed JAG officer. About eight minutes into the episode, a guy named Bruce Maddox shows up and orders Data to report to Starfleet so that he can be taken apart and studied for further cybernetic research and experimentation. Data refuses. Maddox hands him transfer orders backing him up. Data resigns. Maddox says, “You can’t resign. You are a machine. Therefore, you are the property of Starfleet Command and thus, you have no rights.” Picard, of course, legally challenges Maddox, leading to a climactic courtroom battle that would make Perry Mason bow in awe.

But wait! There’s a twist! The JAG orders Number One to be the prosecutor, even though he is a close friend of Data’s and doesn’t believe that Data is not sentient. “Tough titty, said the android kitty,” says the judge, and we’re off to court.

Commander Riker presents his case first and calls only one witness, Data himself. He orders Data to take off his hand, which Data does. Then, Riker deactivates him by flipping his off switch.

At that moment, Riker has won the argument. The judge rules in Maddox’s favor, Data gets carted off to some dusty lab at Starfleet Command and Lore takes over as the second officer on the Enterprise. His first action… To disembowel Worf.

That was in the Kelvin timeline. In the prime timeline, Picard is unnerved by Riker’s compelling case. Then, Whoopi Goldberg shows up for her one token scene in the episode. They get to talking about how history is rife with cultures who have written off other cultures as less than human, thereby making them… Disposable people.

This, my friends, is the emotional money shot of the episode. Maddox is the villain, and he’s a villain because he wants to replicate Data, thereby creating an entire race of Datas who will serve man. But Data is sentient, so that would mean that Starfleet Command is creating slaves and, just like Lando Calrissian, they are sanctioning slavery.

Picard runs with it! Now, we’re back in court. Picard cross examines Data, and we are reminded that the android fulfilled a fantasy that many teenage boys could only dream about. He bagged Tasha Yar.

Then, Picard calls Maddox. He asks Maddox to define sentience. Maddox clumsily answers that sentience contains three components; intelligence, self-awareness and consciousness. Picard quickly dismantles the first argument, and no pimply-faced fan with his or her hand deep in the Cheeto bag would disagree. Data is way beyond intelligent.

Picard then turns to argument number two, asking Data to recite his current predicament in order to illustrate his self-awareness. Data complies. This is a little flimsy, but we’ll let it go.

And then… And then… Maddox starts to become unsure. Picard pounces. “Data meets two of your criteria. What if he meets the third? I don’t know what he is. Do you? Do you!?”

Silence.

Finally, the judge rules in Data’s favor, even though she admits that no one really proved their case. Her final verdict is, “I don’t know, but we’re going to defer in Data’s favor just in case he happens to be alive. Besides, we need to keep Brent Spiner around until he wins an Emmy.”

The story is over, except that Picard goes off to get nekkid with the judge, which is a task that usually falls to Riker, except that Picard has a bad history with this lady and the tension has been building all episode. Besides, Picard hasn’t been laid since… Never. And Riker is too busy hanging his head in shame even to take Deanna Troi for a loser’s lap. Data comes in and lets him off the emotional hook. “You were a splendid example of self-sacrifice, sir,” is basically what he says. Then he follows it up with, “I do not resent you, Commander. After all, resentment is a human feeling. As the audience no doubt knows, I cannot feel, because feeling connotes sentience, and I am not sentient.”

He doesn’t actually say that last part, but once these pimply-faced fans go wipe off the Twinkie crumbs and spend about 30 more years in the real world, they figure out that the writers deliberately stacked the deck against Riker. Yes, Riker won the legal battle, but in the 24th century, just as in the 21st, emotion trumps logic.

But who cares, right? Data, after all, is played by Brent Spiner, a very talented actor who is a human being, just as Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Alan Tudyk are all human beings. Just as Disney likes to anthropomorphize animals in order that kids grow up to adopt an anti-hunting, pro-environmentalist sentiment by thinking of Bambi as a human being, sci-fi writers want a new legion of budding social justice warriors to think of the brave L3-37, or Data, every time a kid questions whether he is a boy or a girl, or a parent wants to take their son into the girl’s bathroom, or someone at work demands to be called Rachel instead of Tony.

Just as Picard stops short of pushing forward with his argument because he likely could not demonstrate that Data does not, in fact, possess consciousness, the new woke Star Wars crowd should not bother to ask certain critical questions. Your honor, isn’t it true that computers can only do what their programmers tell them? Your honor, if you flip off Data’s switch, couldn’t you flip it back on again in 20 years, just as Data did with his brother Lore? But why can’t you do that with Bernie Sanders? Your honor, if I see a penis on a boy, but he says he’s a girl, wouldn’t a little healthy skepticism be in order?

And the answer comes back like a hyper echo. “Fuck off, bigot!!!”

Ok, friends. I can’t resist. Real quick, here are five reasons why Solo blew big asteroid field chunks.

5. As previously stated, L3-37.

4. The movie should have been a buddy adventure featuring Han and Lando, rather than a romantic adventure featuring Han and Q’ira. Yeah… I know. Strong female movie characters, yada yada yada.

3. It was doomed from the start. No actor could possibly succeed Harrison Ford. That aside, Han was the ultimate alfa male. Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo seemed like a wiseass college kid who acts oppressed, but secretly gets a pedicure three times a week.

2. Darth Maul appears in the movie. Ok, think about that for a second, then think about the timeline of the prequels. Does Star Wars have a Kelvin timeline, too?

1. The writers eviscerated the spirit of the Han Solo character. Han’s backstory was boring. The Han Solo we met in the original Star Wars was a self-centered, greedy, cynical, cheeky anti-hero who was ultimately redeemed. This guy was a straight-up hero whom the writers contorted to fit a mold. In other words, modern Han would not have shot Greedo first… Unless Greedo was a Trump supporter, of course.

Now that I got all of that off my chest, I’m gonna go watch Star Trek TNG, Season three, episode 16, “The Offspring.” Damn! I still get a lump in my throat every time Data’s daughter dies.

Qapla!

I tell ya what… I’m gonna say this with love and respect to Potter fans everywhere, especially Katya. There’s a reason why the Potter universe will always be inferior to the Star Trek universe. The reason is simple, and it can be boiled down to one word. Klingons.

There are no Klingons in the world of Hogwarts. You have werewolves and headless ghosts and Death Eaters and giants and centaurs and Dementors and hippogriffs and elves and dragons and goblins and wizards and all that, but no Klingons anywhere.

I’ve been making my way through Deep Space Nine, and it’s not a coincidence that the show went from good to great when Worf came on board. Because in Worf’s first episode, the Klingons get pissed at the Federation and invade the station. And you know what… Even though they ultimately stand down, they put up one hell of a kick-ass fight. Gone is the nerd dialogue and overtures to peace. All you get is a bunch of roaring, grunting Klingons marauding their way through the station.

And then there’s that episode where Worf is a prisoner of the Dominion and takes out about 25 Jem’Hadar soldiers before they finally get the point. He’s like, “Let me rest for 30 seconds and sip my prune juice, then we’re back at it, bitches! It is a good day to die! Rahhhhhhhhhh!!!”

And as for the Borg, two words: “Assimilate this!”

You know what… I’m convinced that Hagrid was actually a Klingon who somehow got stuck on Earth because of some freak accident in the space-time continuum. Or maybe Q was playing a joke on the magical creatures of the Potter world by making Hagrid forget that he was Klingon. That’s why he was so weepy all the time. I know Klingons don’t have tear ducts, but whatever.

You know what would happen if a Dementor tried to kiss a Klingon? He would breathe on the Klingon, and said Klingon would become offended and deliver a death scream in the Dementor’s hooded face, and the Dementor would be chasing his own ass all the way back to Azkaban. No question. Depression!? Warriors don’t get depressed.

Lest you Potter fans feel picked on, I have to admit that I don’t even think Darth Vader could take a Klingon in a battle. Vader is probably my favorite movie villain of all time, but facts are facts. Vader would throw some Klingon on the ceiling with the force, and the Klingon would kick his way back down to the floor and laugh in Vader’s masked face. Then, Vader would draw his light saber and the Klingon would say something like, “What a pretty toy you’ve got there, but the Sith have no honor,” before he took his bat’leth and decapitated Vader.

How many women are reading this right now and laughing at me. Well, I return your laughter. You criticize me for thinking that Klingons are all that and a bowl of gagh, but how many of you actually think that 50 Shades of Grey is real? You gals need to go out and find yourselves a Klingon male. He’d be perfect for you. He dresses in leather, growls a lot, gives orders and engages in ultra-rough sex. I won’t out some of my female readers by name, but you know who you are and you know I’m right.

I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I don’t even think Walter ‘Heisenberg’ White could take out a Klingon. He’d try to talk his way out of a confrontation, and… You think Gus’s box cutter was messy? Ok, I admit it… I’m getting pretty far afield here.

I tell you this… I think Klingons exist right here on Earth. But God has his reasons why they can’t appear in their humanoid form. So, God is masquerading them as pit bulls. Think about it. Pit bulls are aggressive and could tear a human apart if given the chance, but really, they’re just misunderstood. They are actually very joyful creatures that just want to have fun. If you give them some raw meat and play with them, they’re all good. That’s exactly how Klingons are.

Now cats… They’re Romulans in disguise. Always sneaky and cunning and you never know when they’re gonna strike. They like to toy with their victims before they deliver the kill. I’d like to pursue this line further, but I need to clean Mags’ litterbox before the caffeine wears off.

By the way, if you disagree with my views, all I can say is, you’re a Patak!