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This is a pretty crazy story. I hadn’t realized that Hubert Humphrey was an initial skeptic of Vietnam from within the Johnson White House, and went so far as to write a lengthy memo outlining all the reasons not to get drawn into the conflict. (My favorite is that sure, Republicans may attack us for having “lost” Vietnam, but they just lost 45 states in a campaign where they were perceived as warmongers, so ignore them.) Needless to say, LBJ disagreed quite strongly, and the next time it came up Humphrey backed up the hawkish line. His initial instincts were entirely correct though. But you can always play the “what if the Kennedys hadn’t rigged the West Virginia Primary and Humphrey becomes president” counterfactual. It is is one of the less popular ones, even though he might well be the only plausible president of the 1960s who ultimately may have avoided getting us into Vietnam.

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Disappointing, perhaps. But hardly a surprise. Walker going after unions again is like Matthew McConaughey saying something dumb. You’d rather it didn’t happen, but it’s never a shock.

On the other hand, a Russ Feingold return is a considerably greater surprise, and a happier one indeed.

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Ronald Reagan holds roughly the same place in modern conservative ideology than Vladimir Lenin did in Soviet ideology. You could never criticize Lenin in the USSR and get away with it–after all, it was his beautiful, perfect vision toward which we comrades all strove! His imperfect successors only could be criticized in deviating from his path. Lenin was held to embody the revolution, of course. In real life, as Edvard Radzinsky’s Stalin book makes clear, Lenin was very much a conventional politician who changed his mind, dissembled and made unacknowledged flip-flops. Reagan was likewise. Both became mascots after death–in retrospect, the only thing holding the GOP back from the full bloom of current Reagan idolatry from 1988-2004 was the inconveniently alive, deeply sick man holding up the works. After he died, he could finally be turned into an ideological deity. All ideologies must have them, after all.

My basic view is that conservatism isn’t going to be able to move forward without getting over Reagan. But then again, once the Soviets dumped Lenin, it was all over for them.

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Apparently the number of people wanting a ground war with ISIS is sharply increasing. Pres. Obama could, you know, try to argue that these beheadings are intentionally meant to draw us into another protracted ground war, only he can’t because those were essentially the basis for his whole air war in the first place. And now events are overtaking him.

Quite a lot of liberals have had Obama’s back on the ISIS war. I wonder what happens if ground forces become involved. Considering how flawed the strategy of “I’m going to concede this minimal action to my hawkish critics after enormous strain, but this far and no farther!” is on simply a conceptual level, it was only a matter of time before it blew up completely in his face. I guess we’ll see if that happens.

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Always this talk of the threat militant Islam poses to the West. I don’t deny that Europe has real things to worry about, but for America I just dunno. I mean, there is the threat of sporadic attacks, which I’m not minimizing, but apart from that, what is it were terrified of again? Farfetched scenarios where they acquire a nuclear bomb? Nonexistent fifth columnists secretly plotting to implement Shari’a Law? (A worry, by the way, that is utterly banal if one has studied Islam a little and knows what Shari’a consists of.) The implausible notion of militant Islam becoming a mainstream political orientation?

It really is like people just want to live in fear. There’s no reason to.

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This is great fun:

I do think that a considerable portion of the movie could have been improved if Thora Birch’s character Jane had turned down Wes Bentley’s offer at the end. To go from “I got to get out of this place at the first opportunity,” to, “Maybe it’s a bit more complicated than that,” would be an arc, technically. But of course she accepts his offer to be a drug queen in a different city because the movie’s characters have no real motivation, particularly the female ones. In retrospect it’s amazing just how many people were fooled into thinking this was a great movie.

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Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (stream here): Wait, I thought all the odd-numbered movies sucked? Well, here’s (the) one exception. The Search For Spock is a great movie, though it admittedly falls well short of perfection. Production design here is not all that great–the Genesis Planet is clearly just a soundstage, for one thing–and the acting is not nearly as uniformly strong as The Wrath of Khan. But the movie manages its share of powerful dramatic moments that you may well have forgotten about. It has what might be my favorite moment in all of Star Trek: Kirk, while stealing the Enterprise, gets a call from his pursuer on the faster Excelsior, to the effect of, “Kirk, if you do this, you’ll never sit in the captain’s chair again.” This isn’t overplayed but if you think about it, it’s an enormously profound moment in Star Trek. This is Kirk’s calling. It’s his entire identity that he’s giving up, basically on an off-chance to save his friend, and he knows it. He also doesn’t hesitate. “Warp speed.” There’s a beauty to this, a depth of character that simply couldn’t exist in the Abrams reboots–when Kirk sacrifices himself in Into Darkness it doesn’t have a tenth of the same impact as this simple moment of sacrifice that is so subtle and underplayed relative to the enormous stakes to us, the audience. The cost of all those special effects and action setpieces, of the glib, mid-twentyteens character dynamics, is simple and powerful moments like these. The destruction of the Enterprise, the death of Kirk’s son David, the ending which even makes the line, “If I hadn’t [done it], the price would have been my soul,” which is rather clunky as written, have a real impact: put simply, this is a powerhouse movie if you know and love these characters. If you don’t love the movie, go ahead and revisit it. It’s better than you remember.

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