The Voice of the Accuser


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keith_ellison2c_u-s-_house_of_representatives_from_minnesota27s_5th_district_01Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against Brett Kavanaugh deserved a thorough investigation and didn’t get it. That was scandalously unjust.

It would also be unjust to neglect a scandal bubbling on my own side: the accusations against Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison.

We should listen to Ellison’s accuser as we listened to Dr. Ford. Giving her our attention and an open mind is the right thing to do, and it will deprive the Republicans of a weapon: The chance to call Democrats hypocrites who attack a Republican for sexual misconduct while letting one of our own people slide away easily.

I hope that Congressman Ellison is innocent. If he’s not, we should run him out of politics and into whatever punishment the law demands. Either way, we need to know if the accusations are true.



Many Sides of The Other Side




Saw Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind last night. It’s his last film, uncompleted when he died.

Some top Hollywood professionals, including producer Frank Marshall and director-actor Peter Bogdanovich (who both worked with Welles on the movie), put in huge efforts to turn hundreds of reels in different formats into a single movie, according to a documentary featurette that screened with the film. Marshall and three of the film’s top post-production people attended the screening and talked about their struggles in bringing Welles’ last creation into a complete and living form.

Did their long, hard work yield a good movie? Well . . .

The Other Side of the Wind is a picturesque, scattershot mess about Jake Hannaford, a director who’s screening his newest and not yet complete movie, also called The Other Side of the Wind, at his 70th birthday party. While he hosts the party, he has to deal with biographers and documentarians intruding on the party, friends and assistants who try to help the director but sometimes only bother him, severe problems plaguing the movie, and so on.

It’s a jumble — an energetic and intriguing jumble, but a jumble.

And wildly sexist. The movie has very few women, almost all of whom are complainers or annoyances. Two exceptions: a clueless teenager whom the aged Hannaford seems to be grooming for seduction, and the film-within-the-film’s leading lady.

This woman is one of the most blatant fantasies ever put in a non-porno film. She’s exotically beautiful, sexually hungry (though a bit of a tease), completely wordless (she never speaks) and almost always nude. She doesn’t even have a name; the movie calls her The Actress. She’s all sexuality, no personality.

By the way, the woman who played her — Oja Kodar — was Welles’ lover and the movie’s co-writer. Make of that what you want.

The movie never bored me, but it rarely fascinated me. It’s a shame, too. Welles offered some characters with potential for richness and surprises, and he displayed some intriguing visuals, but they didn’t come together into anything focused and coherent.


Liberal views, “conservative” life


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When I hear conservatives criticize liberals — not liberal policies, but liberals themselves — I wonder how many liberals they’ve met. My politics are liberal, but you could call my daily life conservative.

• I’m in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage — the only marriage I’ve ever had. My family is the center of my life.
• As a self-employed freelancer, I embodied a Republican ideal: the independent business owner.
• I value hard work. I work hard at my job, and I honor and reward the hard workers in my home. (We own our home, by the way. It’s in the suburbs.)
• While I’m not religious, I respect the devotion that kept my fellow Jews going amid centuries of suffering.
• I’m proud to show how much I love my country. We proudly post our American flag on federal holidays.

If I live like a conservative, why do I talk, write, and vote like a liberal?

Because my liberalism comes from beliefs so old-fashioned that you could call them conservative.

• I believe in individual freedom — for instance, the freedom of consenting adults to have any kind of sex or marriage that they want.
• I believe in the Declaration of Independence and its demand that everyone has the right to the pursuit of happiness — especially when people pursue happiness by immigrating to the United States.
• I believe in the First Amendment’s protection of expression (including anti-American expressions such as flag burning), freedom of religion (including Islam), freedom of the press (even if Donald Trump calls the press the enemy of the people), and freedom of assembly to petition the government for redress of grievances.

That’s why I’m a liberal, no matter how conservative my life seems to be.


The indictment of Donald Trump


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I don’t think Donald Trump or any other president should be immune from indictment. You or I can face indictment, and a president isn’t above us. He’s a public servant, our employee. He works for us.

I know that the Justice Department has argued that no court can indict a president. “The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions,” Assistant Attorney General Randolph Moss wrote in 2000.

But if an indictment makes the president unable to run the executive branch, the 25th Amendment should come into play: “[When] the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” (People usually think that the 25th applies to physical problems such as Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack or Woodrow Wilson’s stroke, but the amendment never mentions illness.)

I’m no fan of Vice President Pence, and I don’t like thinking of him as acting president. But I’d rather see that outcome than let a president, any president, be above the law. If he’s broken the law, then indict him and prosecute him, and let the vice president (even Pence) take over.

And yes, Republicans, I would have applied that standard to Bill Clinton. I would have had no problem with Al Gore as acting president.

Captain Uhura


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The chain of command on the Kirk-Spock version of the U.S.S. Enterprise is stupidly sexist.

After Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock, who takes over? Chief Engineer Scott, Helmsman and Weapons Officer Sulu, and in one episode of the original series, Assistant Chief Engineer DeSalle. But what about Communications Officer Uhura?

In movies and TV, Uhura has commanded the Enterprise just once, in an episode of the animated series when every man on the ship was unavailable — as if Uhura ranked under even the lowliest yeoman swab, as long as he was male.

I can understand Scotty taking command before Uhura. He outranks her and seems to have more seniority.

But Sulu? The guy who’s in charge of steering the ship and firing weapons would deserve to take over if the Enterprise were a warship constantly speeding into battles, firing on enemies, and evading attack.

It’s not a warship, though. One of the Enterprise‘s top missions is contacting civilizations new to the Federation — a job of communications. The chain of command should be Kirk, Spock, Scott, Uhura, Sulu. (I get the feeling that TOS’s producers installed DeSalle simply because they needed someone in charge and didn’t think about putting Uhura there.)

If we see future movies featuring the original characters, I want to see Uhura in the command chair.

The droid and the Dark Side


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What turned innocent Ben Solo into evil Kylo Ren? I blame C-3PO.

As little Ben grows up, mommy Leia’s busy as politician and diplomat, spending long days and long voyages to build a new republic and leaving daddy Han Solo as the family breadwinner. So Han’s gone a lot, trading and smuggling with Chewbacca all over the galaxy. Meanwhile, Uncle Luke’s off X-winging with R2-D2, seeking young adepts for his new Jedi academy.

Thus Leia and Han leave much of Ben’s upbringing to the nanny who knows etiquette and protocol: C-3PO.

But C-3PO, hard-wired to be a servant, isn’t great at handling the willful, emotional Ben. C-3PO knows only one way to calm Ben’s frequent tantrums: Tell him stories like the one he told the Ewoks about Luke, Leia, Han, and grandpa Darth Vader.

Ben’s in no mood to consider the often absent Mom, Dad, and Uncle Luke as heroes — but C-3PO’s tales of Vader captivate him. Mom’s trying to patch together fragile coalitions with demagogues and ward-heelers, Dad’s dickering for scraps and running from customs agents, and Uncle Luke’s begging children to go to school; but Vader was a Force-choking badass who could’ve ruled the galaxy.

C-3PO’s not very shrewd about human emotion, but eventually he notices Ben’s Vader-worship. He refuses to reveal more about Vader, which only fires Ben’s fascination higher. So by the time Supreme Leader Snoke comes to tempt Ben into joining the Knights of Ren, the young man is primed to go.

And it’s all the fault of the family’s loyal droid.

What will topple Trump? (It’s not what you think)


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US-VOTE-TRUMPWhenever Donald Trump says something offensive, some of his opponents say something like, “That’s it! This time, his supporters will turn on him!”

But it doesn’t happen. Some supporters make the turn, but a gigantic amount don’t. See this story from CNN and this one from the Washington Post.

No, what turns supporters into opponents isn’t what a president says but what he does.
• The first George Bush lost popularity among his fellow Republicans because he broke his promise “No new taxes.”
• Jimmy Carter practically encouraged members of his own party to become Reagan Democrats because he failed to rescue American hostages in Iran and revive the economy.
• Richard Nixon lost Republican support because he led the Watergate criminal conspiracy.
• Lyndon Johnson lost favor among his fellow Democrats because he couldn’t win or pull out of the Vietnam War.

Compare those guys to Bill Clinton. His sex and perjury scandal was as big a controversy as Watergate. Why didn’t Democrats abandon Clinton?

It’s not because Democrats are more loyal than Republicans. Look at how Democrats treated Carter and Johnson.

The difference is that most Democrats never saw Clinton’s scandals as huge, crucial matters of governance and politics. But Bush’s tax hikes, Carter’s failures to fix the economy and the Iran calamity, Nixon’s attempts to undermine a presidential election and federal investigations, and Johnson’s murderous war — everyone argued about them, but very few called them unimportant. At least not for long.

So Trump can probably say what he wants. His supporters won’t abandon him — until he does something as Chief Executive (and not just as a talking mouth) that they can’t stand.

The rambling wreck of Star Trek


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Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise is a masterpiece of design, one of the great icons of 20th century design, up there with the crown of the Chrysler Building and Paul Rand’s logos.

But nothing’s perfect.

Take the weapons array, on the underside of the saucer section in most versions.

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Its death rays can shatter anything that flies through space — as long as they’re somewhere below it. A tiny Klingon vessel flying over the Enterprise can fire disruptor cannons and photon torpedoes at the bigger ship’s bridge (inconveniently located atop the saucer), and old NCC-1701’s mighty weapons can’t do a damn thing about it.

And look at the struts holding up the Enterprise’s nacelles.


Pretty thin, considering that the nacelles push the ship through space and make it capable of warp speed. And the struts aren’t exactly a tiny target; they look nearly as long as the nacelles. Cut those sticks — a few disruptor blasts from any Klingon or Romulan warship would do it — and the Enterprise is a paperweight. (Okay, a paperweight with impulse power, but impulse is watery sauce compared to warp power.)

Now, let’s go inside the ship. Over the years, bad guys and equipment malfunctions have cut off the bridge and other parts of the ship from the rest of the vessel, depriving our heroes of necessities like, say, air.

Well, that’s kind of dumb. Every cabin, corridor, and crawl space (except maybe the brig’s prisoner cells) should have an independent air supply, canteens full of fresh water, at least one phaser, a first-aid kit, and other prerequisites for keeping oneself alive in unpredictable situations.

I love the Enterprise, I really do.

But nothing’s perfect.

“Whores” scores


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I recently finished P.J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores, which I recommend. Though the book is more than 25 years old, and O’Rourke is as conservative as I am liberal, which is a lot, I found it hilarious over and over.

A lot of the appeal is O’Rourke’s honesty.
• He despises government but can’t stop noticing that a lot of people who comprise it are likeable, sincere, and hard-working.
• He makes fun of people who petition the government for a redress of grievances but admits that he’d impose his own desires and quirks on the political system if he had half a chance.
• He knows that neither liberals nor conservatives are solely and wholly evil: “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”

And unlike a lot of political grumblers, he goes on the scene — in Washington or in a war zone — to look into what he’s griping about.

Good stuff. Read it.

The movie trailer drinking game!


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My wife and I have invented a virtual drinking game. It’s virtual because it’s to be played in movie theaters, which don’t usually allow alcohol.

It’s the Movie Trailer Cliche Game. Take a sip every time a trailer includes:

“[Name] was just an ordinary guy — until . . .”
“I Feel Good” by James Brown, “All Star” by Smashmouth, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, or “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff
Fast fades in and out of black
Person in front of explosion
Slow-motion walk toward the camera
People looking up in shock or awe
Three-word sentences (e.g., “This ends now,” “Let’s do this.”)
Two-word sentences (“Let’s roll” or, before a fight, “Let’s dance.”)
White or pale gold credits on a black background
Poop joke or fart joke in a kids’ movie
Black screen with voice-over

By the end of the trailers before most movies, you’ll be smashed silly.