Friday, May 08, 2009

 

Open Thread

Chat on, you crazy diamonds, on what'er strikes yer fancy!

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Star Trek: Re-energized

Don't walk; don't run. Beam up immediately to see Star Trek.  

I was expecting to catch a midnight viewing Thursday night -- only to be pleasantly surprised to find that the movie actually launched with evening shows.  So, I caught the 8:30 one in Times Square.  

If Iron Man was the out-of-left-field surprise last year, Star Trek may fill that role in '09. No, it's not a "surprise" in that everyone is expecting it.  But, could they guess that it was going to be this good?  Not likelky.  Fans of J.J. Abrams' work with Alias, Lost, and Fringe,  know that the man can craft and direct fantastical stories with heart.  

But rebooting a cultural icon can be treacherous work (look at Bryan Singer who managed to succeed with the first two X-Men movies and fall flat with Superman Returns). But, make no mistake here: Even though Abrams has the perfect pace, balancing all-out action and emotionally bracing scenes, the real MVPs of this movie -- aside from stars Zachary Quinto (as born to play Spock as Patrick Stewart was born to play Professor X), Chris Pine (Kirk) and Eric Bana (the Romulan Nero) -- are writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.  

This movie works -- special effects aside -- because it is very well written. Kurtzman and Orci's key plot device -- involving time travel -- creates real-world generation-spanning emotional satisfaction that can't be described without giving too much away.  Suffice to say, the plot allows the mythology of the original series to live on, while giving the current incarnations of iconic characters a new future to chart.  

There will be some quibble with the manner in which James Kirk becomes captain -- via a brutal manipulation of another character. However, fans of the original series will recall that Kirk wasn't above similar tactics if the occasion warranted.  

Though themes of loss and sacrifice are woven in throughout, the film also has knowing homages to elements of the original series, guaranteed to evoke chuckles and winks from long-time fans. It's hardly a spoiler to say that when a Starfleet crewmember wearing red beams down on a mission...well, you kinda know that this is probably not someone whose name needs to be memorized for the rest of the movie.  Aside from being gorgeous, Zoe Saldan takes a role that is as surprising as it is delightful.  

Yes, there are a couple of eye-rolling effects:  As far as I can tell, even in the 23rd century, certain basic laws of physics haven't been repealed -- two bodies hurtling toward the ground, even if intercepted by a transporter beam should retain their basic momentum when they "land" on a transporter pad.  But, hey, we're talking fantasy here! 

In short, Star Trek is one of the better TV series/movie/sci-fi/comic reboots that I've seen in some time.   

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

 

Rush's Colin-ectomy

Rush Limbaugh has managed to mix it up with just about everybody this year.

His pre-inaugural statement that he wanted Barack Obama to fail got him identified by Democrats as the "leader of the GOP." That ended up producing retractions of seeming insults from high-profile party leaders like RNC Chairman Michael Steele and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor.

This week, the Rush-inspired party civil war continued. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said the party was in "deep trouble," partly because of Rush's influence:

Powell, criticizing some of the party's leaders for bowing too far to the right, suggested that neither radio commentator Rush Limbaugh nor commentator Ann Coulter serve the party well. The party lacks a "positive" spokesperson, according to Powell: "I think what Rush does as an entertainer diminishes the party and intrudes or inserts into our public life a kind of nastiness that we would be better to do without.''

Not surprisingly, Limbaugh fired back:

"What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat instead of claiming to be a Republican interested in reforming the Republican Party," Limbaugh said on his radio show Wednesday.

Limbaugh also took aim at Powell's decision to endorse President Obama over John McCain during the presidential election, repeating his earlier sentiment that Powell's move was "solely based on race."

"He's just mad at me because I'm the one person in the country who had the guts to explain his endorsement of Obama," Limbaugh said. "It was purely and solely based on race.

There are two ironies here: For one thing, Limbaugh says that Powell's endorsement of Obama was "purely and solely based on race." In making that statement, he ignores the various other white moderate Republicans who endorsed Obama. And, as Powell himself said at the time of his endorsement, he could have done it months before if it was "purely and solely based on race."

But Limbaugh is more likely to use race as a motivating factor -- whether it is there or not -- as anybody, including Powell. His brief sojourn at ESPN exploded six years ago over a racial incident that wasn't. He said that the media didn't criticize Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb because he was black:

"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,'' Limbaugh said. "There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."

The problem with Limbaugh's analysis? As yours truly pointed out at the time, by 2003, African-American quarterbacks had begun to thrive in the league; there was no need for the sort of media boosterism of which he was claiming -- nor was it in evidence. Interestingly, before quitting ESPN, Limbaugh went on the attack just as he did with the current Powell situation: He annointed himself the hero who was the only one daring to speak truth to power on the, uh, white elephant in the room:

"All this has become the tempest that it is because I must have been right about something," [Rush] said. "If I wasn't right there wouldn't be this cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sportswriter community."

Note the similar self-aggrandizing language with respect to his being "the one person in the country who had the guts to explain his endorsement of Obama."

Another irony that comes from this latest kerfuffle is that for the second week in a row that Limbaugh has suggested certain Republicans need to leave the party. After Arlen Specter jumped to the Democrats, Limbaugh said he should take John McCain and his daughter Meagan with him: "You're weeding out people who aren't really Republicans."

Funny thing though, Rush has made a big thing for years about not being a Republican himself -- or at least beholden to the party establishment. Indeed, he reiterated it during his famous, "I want Obama to fail" performance:

Reasons number 249 and 50 why I'm not a Republican. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has been chosen to introduce Vice-President-elect Biden at a bipartisan dinner in Washington on the eve of the immaculation. Biden was one of Hagel's closest friends in the Senate. "Bipartisan dinners also held that night honoring McCain and Colin Powell. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina will introduce McCain at a dinner." So all these Republicans are being honored on the night before Obama is immaculately inaugurated, as though they're part of the Obama administration. Our presidential candidate is being honored. I can understand liberals honoring their losers, but I just...

So, the guy who proudly claims to not be a Republican is telling a guy who has served in multiple Republican administrations -- and spoken at Republican conventions -- that he should quit the party? But, of course, Rush thinks pushing moderates out of the party makes it that much stronger.

Call it Limbaugh's Anti-Powell Doctrine: The enemy may outnumber you -- but still keep removing as many as possible of the free-thinkers on your team until you've achieved ideological purity. Who knows? Maybe Rush will be knighted as the new leader of the Duchy of Free-donia. Call him the Mouth That Roared*.



*Yes, the mixing of metaphors and allusions to fictional literary and cinematic small countries was intentional.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

 

The Dumma Bubba

It wasn't supposed to be quite this way. Yeah, John Edwards was idealized by many Democrats as "the next Bill Clinton." By that, they meant that he was the good-looking, smooth-talking Southern moderate that would follow Clinton's path to the White House.

He shared the former presidenet's modest background: The son of a mill-worker, as Edwards would always remind voters, became a ridiculously successful trial lawyer, by managing to click with jurors. Eventually, his success led him to winning a U.S. Senate seat in 1998.

Instead of going for re-election, Edwards decided to make a presidential run in 2004. He finished a distant second to John Kerry, but still managed to get the number two slot on the presidential ticket. In an ideal world, he would have been well-positioned to be a leading candidate for 2008. That didn't happen -- partly because of the historic efforts of Hillary Rodham Clinton and a guy named Barack Obama.

Yet, even with that, things couldn't have gone more disastrously wrong. Instead of the White House, Edwards' career has ended up in a Bizarro World version of the Clinton Story. Unlike Bill, this good-looking, smooth-talking Southerner got caught having an affair BEFORE he became president. Worse, there's an illegitimate child (which he denies -- though no one believes him). Worse, he has a wife sick with cancer (though he claims the affair happened when the illness was in remission) -- making him look like a sleazeball and a cad.

Oh, and wife Elizabeth just released a tell-all, what-it's-like-being-the-aggrieved-wife-of-a-cheating-jerk biography. Could it possibly get any worse for John Edwards?

Well, yeah, it could and it has: Like Clinton, the affair of the heart (or other parts of the anatomy) is now headed for the criminal courts: The U.S. Attorney in his native North Carolina has announced an investigation into whether campaign funds were used to keep his affair with Rielle Hunter secret.

Which makes this entire affair a tragic farce. From Edwards' side, it is farce that couldn't happen to a non-nicer guy. There's a certain sense ofschadenfreude that envelops this. He was such the insufferable pretty boy that -- were this a Greek play -- it would be said that the gods needed to punish him for his vanity. But, in the real world in which we all live, one wonders how this saga can end in any good way.

Elizabeth Edwards' cancer is incurable and she has what could be a few years to live. But, after everything her husband has put her through over the last few years, does she spend her remaining time with him and her younger children? Or does she take the children and leave? She knows the emotional drama the kids will have to deal with, in terms of her inevitably declining health. As a mother, she wouldn't want to expose those kids to even more anguish of a family break-up. How does a good mother make such a choice?

And an even better question: How does a sleazy lawyer, ex-senator and wannabe president of the United States even begin to live with himself after all he's put his family through?

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

 

View From Your Wet Stadium

A first visit to the new Yankee Stadium is not a dry one.

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Last Pass For The GOP QB

While at a birthday celebration for a friend last night, the guest of honor looked at  his Blackberry and said, "Oh my gosh! Jack Kemp died!" He then added, "Wow, I'm now really feeling my mortality."  

No kidding. Even though Kemp announced earlier this year that he was battling some illness, it seemed eerie that he would actually die.  Not because he was seen as some immortal, but because he always had such manic energy that he seemed forever young.  Even with that helmet of gray hair, there always was this rush of exuberance about Kemp.  

It's also sadly ironic that he died on a Saturday concluding a week of existential crisis for his Republican Party.  Kemp encompassed many of the contadictions and controversies that now spark much soul-searching.  On the one hand, as a House disciple of economist Arthur Laffer, he was the man who conceived and shephereded what became known as "the Reagan tax cuts" through Congress. The modern-day Republican Party -- at least its fiscal message -- was built on the foundation of Ronald Reagan embracing the "Kemp-(Delaware Senator William) Roth" legislation reducing income tax rates by 25 percent.

From that moment on the GOP was the party of tax cutting. 

On the other hand, as the representative from a blue-collar Northeast city (Buffalo) -- who had led a pro sports team before entering politics -- Kemp never veered from his message that the Republican Party should be open to people of all backgrounds. 

He pushed a message of outreach all the time.  It's not surprising that, as George H. W. Bush's secretary of Health And Human Services Housing and Urban Development, he started getting criticism from conservatives for seeming to care too much about blacks and the urban poor.  

Thus, he ended up embracing all sorts of criticism -- attacked by both mainstream media as a "Reagan true believer" and then years later by so-called heirs to Reagan as a "squishy moderate." 

So it goes.  

Though it was pretty clear that Bill Clinton was riding toward an easy re-election,  it says a lot about Jack Kemp that the proudest vote I ever cast in a presidential election was in 1996. Cranky Bob Dole tried to inject some energy into the GOP pase by going for a "Hail Mary" pick of "the quarterback" as his running mate. 

Kemp's best days as a professional pol may have been behind him, but I felt very cool about having the chance to pull the lever for a ticket that had his name on it -- if nothing more than to thank him for being the party's happy warrior for many decades.  

Jack Kemp, R.I.P.

UPDATE:  The Democratic Strategist shares a few lesser-known anecdotes about Kemp -- especially his commitment to racial justice before he entered politics.

UPDATE II: Bruce Bartlett remembers his one-time boss.  In a Facebook note commenting on the above post, Bartlett told me, "Jack always used to tell me that the only thing standing between him and those who wanted him dead when he was a quarterback were four really large black men. That sort of thing creates a very deep bond." 

UPDATE III:  Noting the current state of the GOP, the mother of a good friend of mine said of Kemp's passing, "He died of a broken heart."   

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