Category: media

Santayana 2022

George Santayana famously said that “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.

That appears to include Democrats now campaigning as if Trump were on the ballot, along with a lot of Republicans, as Hugh Hewitt writes:

Five years after Hillary Clinton titled her latest memoir, “What Happened,” the revolution that hit American politics in 2016 remains little understood. When the former secretary of state joined me on air to discuss her book in 2017, she’d worked out in her own mind what drove the most improbable upset in modern political history.

Clinton told me. “I understand the resentment. I understand the very strong feelings that a lot of people in our country have about everything from the economy to race to immigration to national defense.”

But the cataclysm of 2016 is more complicated than that. Even now, do any of us who live inside the Beltway bubble or who swim in the waters of “elites” really understand?

Now comes an explanation from Walter Russell Mead, a scholar of U.S. foreign policy, national politics and national security as well as a past professor at Yale, who gets very close to the answer. I have no idea how Mead votes. To me, he’s always been a respected voice whose wide-ranging interests and scholarly credentials are not in question. He’s not a political analyst in the way the term is used today.

So it was a surprise that Mead used the final chapter of his latest book, “The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People,” to reexamine what happened in 2016.

Mead’s whole book deserves an in-depth read, but for those in the political analysis business, the final pages are worth the cover price. “Getting to grips with the Trump presidency is a trying task,” concedes Mead. “Trump was such a unique and controversial figure that both his achievements and his failures defy conventional analysis.”

“Yet with all his many shortcomings,” Mead continues, Trump “understood some important truths about international politics and the state of the world that eluded his establishment critics.

“To millions of Americans, [Trump] was like the little boy who dared to cry out that the emperor had no clothes — that the American elite had lost its way and had no answers for the problems of the United States, much less for those of the world beyond our frontiers.”

The folks caught most unaware of the undertow in 2015 and 2016? Republicans like me, categorized by Mead as Sun Belt Republicans, not so because of where we lived but because of our broad commitment to “optimism, laissez-faire conservatism, free trade, and a vigorous promotion of American values abroad and at home.”

We were blindsided by Trump, both his march through the primaries and his eventual upset in November 2016. The “Republican establishment, both intellectual and political, were the ones to suffer defenestration as Trump stole the Republican Party out from under them in 2016,” Mead observes.

Trump tallied 63 million votes in 2016, and he collected even more — 74 million — four years later. He lost the popular vote to Clinton by almost 3 million and to President Biden by 7 million.

Why were voters pulling the lever for Trump? They expressed their disapproval of who had come to govern American life, left, right and center, and what those “elites” had set as their priorities.

“If the mid-century model of an American economy built on the growing success and stability of a middle class no longer worked, what kind of society was the United States? … And if the United States could no longer see itself as a providential nation with a global mission,” Mead writes, “what did it mean to be an American?”

Similar forces are at work in other Western countries. Democratic electorates across the globe have been voting since World War II, Mead explains, to govern themselves via people like themselves who share their values. They have voted again and again against elites, especially elites embodying different morals and world views, he said. Even Ukraine’s struggle against Russia can best be understood in this context of “self-rule first,” Mead told me Monday.

Finally, he writes, a broad cross section of voters “wanted less and less to do with conventional Republican foreign policy. They still scorned Democratic talk about multilateralism and international institutions, but they no longer saw establishment Republicans as trustworthy opponents of the Democratic agenda at home or abroad.

“By 2016, millions of GOP voters were ready to strike out in a new direction. Donald Trump was in the right place at the right time.”

Read Mead. He has provided the balanced, persuasive short course on all that we need to understand.

Presty the DJ for Sept. 9

Today in 1926, Radio Corporation of America — then owned by General Electric Co., Westinghouse, AT&T and United Fruit Co. (now known as Chiquita Brands International) — created the National Broadcasting Co. …

… which later returned to RCA’s parent, General Electric Co. (from whose name came the famous NBC chimes), and now is part of what used to be Universal Studios …

… and is part of Comcast cable TV …

In a possibly strange way, that makes every Universal-owned show on NBC “pure NBCUniversal,” or something.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Sept. 9”

The FBI and its media toadies

Non-conservative Matt Taibbi:

CNN Newsroom anchor Jim Acosta, famed for being the WWE version of a media tough guy during the Trump years, curled up like a kitten last weekend when interviewing Phil Mudd, onetime head of the FBI’s National Security Branch. Also a former CIA man, Mudd is now an Acosta colleague, a “senior intelligence analyst” on the CNN payroll.

“You know, there are real consequences,” said Acosta, “when people go out and trash the integrity of the FBI…”

It was less question than invitation, and Mudd jumped at it. The FBI man seethed that even if you’re upset about the raid of Donald Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago, if you think state police can deal with the Iranians, the Russians, the Chinese, white collar crime, mortgage fraud and cyber-porn involving kids, you suck.

“If you say defund the FBI,” he went on, “let your kid be abused by an adult!”

“Yeah,” said Acosta. “It doesn’t add up.”

Mudd — who’s supposed to be both retired from law enforcement and a member of the media now — then went on about how difficult things are for FBI agents now that the unredacted warrant was out, releasing names and robbing agents of their birthright anonymity just as “our kids are going back to school.”

“Yeah…” said Acosta again. “They want to intimidate people in law enforcement.”

As they spoke, CNN flashed a graphic of mean things people said online about the FBI last week, like “kill all feds.” Acosta noted, as if spontaneously, that this reminded him of the atmosphere before January 6th (I thought of the “kill all cops” memes, but what do I know?) before asking Mudd if he was worried about another “spasm” of “domestic terrorism. Mudd said yes, America is filled with extremists like the ones “abroad,” and “I think we’re going to see a catastrophic event” like January 6th.

Watching, I found myself wondering, “What is this?” There was no pretense of separateness between the CNN employees, and the spot’s purpose appeared to be to let a senior CIA/FBI counterintelligence official whine about the reaction to the Trump raid, stoke fear, and compare Americans to al-Qaeda. It felt less like news than something out of a dystopian novel like Fahrenheit 451 or We, and this is essentially on air round the clock. Dollars to doughnuts, if you turn on cable right now, you will find, somewhere, a former intelligence official yammering at you through your telescreen.

We’re a week into one of the biggest stories of our time, and the feds and media have spent most every minute acting as an unembarrassed unified front. One after another, national security “analysts” lined up to give breathless, hyperbolic, and and eerily synchronized commentary about the Mar-a-Lago raid. If the message on day 1 was about how they “must have” probable cause of a crime, that was the word up and down the dial. If by the weekend it was “I’ve never seen this level of threat,” you heard that in more or less the same words from the likes of Mudd, McCabe, and others on multiple channels. What’s the public supposed to see, other than an American analog to China Central TV or Rossiya-1, when they tuned in to all this? …

The media vs. self-defense

Paul Mirengoff:

I was amused by this report in the Washington Post about how black women in D.C. are getting gun permits and learning how to shoot. According to the Post, black women represent “a fast-growing group of gun owners.” A black woman who trains some of them to shoot says the increase in females who want her instruction is “over 1,000 percent recently.”

The Post spins this development as a reaction to church shootings, the shooting at that Illinois parade, the one at the Buffalo grocery store, Trayvon Martin, and even “the insurrection.”

But the odds of these women being shot in any of those contexts are miniscule compared to the odds of being attacked in one’s neighborhood by an ordinary criminal who, in all likelihood, is black.

Towards the end of its report, the Post gets to the point:

Black women are unsafe. . .Violence against Black women and girls shot up nearly 34 percent in 2020 amid an overall spike in homicides, to about 8 deaths per 100,000 — a rate more than twice that for White women, at about 3 per 100,000, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Five Black females — women and girls — were killed every day in 2020.

The handful of mass shootings, the shooting of Trayvon Martin (a male), and the “insurrection” (in which no black women were killed) contributed essentially nothing to these statistics.

The Post blames “America,” saying it has let black women down. A more realistic view is that the left-liberals who run cities like D.C., most of whom are black, have let blacks down by abandoning common sense measures that in the past curbed violent crime — proactive policing, serious anti-crime prosecutors, stiff sentences, etc.

These leaders have willfully failed to keep city streets even moderately safe. Black women are responding sensibly. They are engaging in self help by arming themselves.

The crime rate against women would drop significantly if male perpetrators got shot in their attempt to rob, rape or kill their intended victim. The recidivism rate of a bad guy bleeding out in the street will be zero.


A Hollywood story that deserves its own movie

Fans of Mel Brooks know “The Producers,” in which two producers’ plans to make money by making money-losing movies is foiled by their accidentally making a popular movie.

Proving that real life is stranger than fiction, Buzz Dixon tells this story:

The Mob had a problem: 
Deep Throat was making too much money.

I won’t recount the history of porn in America at this time — it’s fascinating stuff (and not for the reasons you think!) — but it’s too much of a sideshow to what I want to post about.

Suffice it to say this:
The same black market-to-barely legitimate distribution system that made bootlegging not only possible but highly profitable during Prohibition, the same system that got pressed into service to spread comics and pulp magazines far and wide, that same system had a modestly earning sideline in shoveling porn around the country up to the 1960s.

At that point, as more and more adult films began being imported from Europe, as American indie producers found more legal tolerance for their grindhouse features, the Peraino members of the NYC-based Colombo crime family decided to splurge ($22,500 to $50,000 depending on who tells the story) on a feature length 35mm full color porn film that had an actual bona fide (albeit goofy) story and something that could be loosely interpreted as acting by less discriminating members of its audience.

We’re talking Deep Throat, folks, and I’ll head everyone off at the pass and say Linda Lovelace (nee Linda Susan Boreman) was at the very least coerced and intimidated into making the film, so sympathy to her, and a big hearty horselaugh to all those others involved as you read further.

We come not to praise Deep Throat (which in addition to being the first American porn feature with an actual story was also a musical [!] and a borderline sci-fi film [!!]), but in the words of another / later / even more infamous Deep Throat:  “Follow the money.”

. . .

Deep Throat may very well be the biggest return on investment of any movie ever made, basically walking around pocket change for Mob wiseguys turned into a $250 million grossing picture!  (And that’s just the generally agreed upon lowest gross estimate for the film; nobody really knows for sure.  Gawd only knows what they could have done with Lucasfilm’s marketing team.)

Of course the Mob harbored absolutely no desire to let the Feds have any of that, and so for ideas on how to hide it, they turned to a bigger / badder / even more financially corrupt institution:  Hollywood

I’ve posted elsewhere about the financial shenanigans the Hollywood studio system employs to hide its loot.  One of their mainstays is cross collateralization.

It works like this:
Say a studio release six movies in a three month period.  One smash hit, one modestly successful, two break even, one mild disappointment, one bomb.

The studio takes money from the smash hit and modestly successful films’ revenues and apply them to the losses of the bottom two films.  With any luck all six films barely break even, and as such the studio keeps all the revenues and the profit participants (har!) get bupkis.

They call it “standard industry practices”.

And that’s what the Mob wanted to do with Deep Throat.

. . .

Deep Throat wasn’t conceived of as a franchise tentpole; it was just a standalone stroke film.

So they cobbled together a distribution company called Bryanston Films (presumably because it was the least Mafioso-sounding name they could think of) and, like Mel Brooks’ ill-fated The Producers, went out in search of the worst movies they could lay their hands on so they could “lose” money with them and siphon off that sweet, sweet Deep Throat cash (and more on why they wanted to do that in a bit).

Among the very first films they distributed was Dark Star, a low budget sci-fi movie shot mostly on 16mm as a student film by two USC classmates:  John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon.

Budgeted at a final grand total of $60,000, it looked a helluva lot more polished and professional that Deep Throat.  Still, Bryanston expected to lose money on this and were surprised when word of mouth among sci-fi fans earned the film a cult reputation that edged it into break even territory.

Oh, well, you can’t lose ‘em all, can you?

. . .

So they tried again, picking up a couple of Hong Kong imports to cash in on the kung fu craze they knew next to nothing about.

They figured by overpaying for a film, it would be easy to claim they lost money on it, and normally that would be true…

…unless one of the Hong Kong films you pick up is The Way Of The Dragon with Bruce Lee, and you release it just as a larger studio announces their (relatively) big budget Bruce Lee epic, Enter The Dragon.

Well, lightning can’t strike three times, can it?

Wanna bet?

They opted for something safe and crappy, absolutely guaranteed not to make any money.  A film made by some punks from some podunk place down south, shot on 16mm with even lower production values than Deep Throat and arguably far worse acting.  A stupid, ugly, vulgar film about a family of cannibals.

After running it for Bryanston, the screening room projectionist looked them square in the eye and famously said:  “There are a lot of sick bastards in this world and every single one of them will pay five dollars to see this movie.”

Boy howdy, was he ever right!

Ladies and gentlemen, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

. . .

Meanwhile, outside the confines of Bryanston’s front offices, virtuous forces were gathering against them.

It’s hard for people to fathom today, but once upon a time hard core porn was illegal in many if not most communities in the United States.

Typically the reason had to do with blue nose morality, but law enforcement also knew the Mob liked to move money around using liquid assets.

That’s why local authorities waged war against pinball machines:  They made it possible for the Mob to hide cash from heroin sales by claiming it was just millions of kids putting their quarters down.

Having a string of failed movies, and using Hollywood-style cross collateralization made it possible for the Perainos to hide a lot of the Colombos’ illicit cash —

— but the movies had to fail massively for the scheme to work.

And try as they might, Bryanston just couldn’t get their movies to fail.

(Well…most of them…)

To help hide money from the Colombos’ other rackets, the Perainos began siphoning for of their Deep Throat cash off to Mob-dominated Las Vegas casinos.

Casinos, like pinball machines, could hide a lot of illicit cash.

Cash the FBI and the IRS would love to be able to trace.

How do you penetrate many levels of Mob security to get a look at their books?

. . .

By now the Bryanston boys were growing desperate.

Despite their best / worst efforts, their movies kept making money!

It finally dawned on them that their least profitable films (“least” as in “but still”) were more conventional films with recognizable although far from big box office draw names.

Finally an independent production showed up that was ideal for their purposes:  A dumb medium budget horror film with a bunch of has been stars in it, too well made to appeal to the freaks buying tickets for Blood For Dracula and Flesh For Frankenstein (two Andy Warhol produced horror films that surprised the hell out of everybody by being modestly successful), too inept for mainstream audiences who came to see The Human Factor or Caravan To Vaccares.

With a cast featuring Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, and William Shatner — all woefully miscast — it was sure to turn off younger audiences.

In fact, the only young character in it was just a minor supporting role played by a kid who was one of a half dozen sidekicks on a modestly successful sit-com, a kid whose next role would be in a dumb disco dance fad movie.

So Bryanston acquired The Devil’s Rain and put it into general release.

And it fared poorly, and it lost money, and the boys at Bryanston smiled because at long last their scheme was working…

…until 18 months later when Saturday Night Fever was released and suddenly theaters were demanding every movie with John Travolta in it get re-released to cash in.

. . .

The Feds finally found a crack in the financial wall surrounding the Mob’s money.

Remember, even in the late 1970s, porn was not legal everywhere in the United States.

On July 7, 1974, the FBI arrested Harry Reems, Ms. Lovelace’s Deep Throat co-star, in New York for a federal obscenity charge filed in Memphis.

Dick Nixon, desperate to distract Americans from his own political scandals, kept pressing for crime bills and prosecution against porn, even though his own commission on pornography saw no societal harm in it.

The FBI, on the other hand, saw the Deep Throat obscenity case from a different perspective:  A chance to finally get their hands on the Mob’s books.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Using their right of discovery from the Reems’ case and similar indictments in other federal courts around the country, the FBI swooped in on Bryanston and grabbed their financial records.

Sound familiar?

It should.

If you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s Casino, you know roughly half-way through the film the FBI launches raids across the country to crack the Mob’s money laundering schemes.

Casino clocks in just shy of three hours — and Scorsese spends about a fourth of that time just explaining how the casino business works so the rest of the movie will make sense.

Adding a whole big sub-plot about how Deep Throat and Bryanston led the FBI right to the Mob’s piggy banks would have been fascinating — and incredible long.

So Scorsese just dismisses how the FBI found their way in and follows what happens after they did.

Wiseguys went to jail, that’s what happened.

. . .

Bryanston’s books provided the loose thread the FBI pulled that unraveled the whole deal.

No, it didn’t eliminate organized crime or shut down Mob influence in Las Vegas, but it sure put a dent in ‘em.

And it put a lot of guys — many named Peraino — behind bars.

Bryanston went inert for 30 some years.  It makes noises now like it wants to come back as a legitimate distribution company, but so far…nothing.

All the original players are pretty much dead and gone, the lucky ones via natural causes, the not-so-lucky ones by other mobsters.

I was sparked to write this because several online friends had shared The Devil’s Rain poster recently without knowing how it fit into the weird history of the Mob and porn and Las Vegas, so I thought I’d write up this summary for them.

Up above I mentioned almost every film Bryanston release proved modestly successful at the very least.

The one exception is The Last Porno Flick (a.k.a. Those Mad, Mad Moviemakers).

I knew and worked with the late Larry DiTillio, who wrote the screenplay for the movie.

Without knowing it, he and the other film makers pitched a movie to Bryanston that was exactly like what Bryanston was trying to do!

i.e., a movie about some con men trying to make a bad porn movie so they could hide money.

Larry described the horror he and the other members of the production team felt when they realized they were in the Mob’s den, pitching a movie that made fun of what the mobsters were actually trying to do.  He felt sure they were all going to leave with broken kneecaps at the very least —

— but to their surprise the Bryanston boys went for it and not only agreed to distribute the film but financed it as well.

And it flopped.

Larry felt sorry for them.

They had tried so very, very hard to be a failure, but they just kept on succeeding.

And when somebody brought them a film idea that reflected what they had been going through, they probably thought to themselves, “Yeah, let’s do this, let’s show the world what it was like for us.”

And the world didn’t give a crap.

When life imitates art

Michael Smith:

Director Christopher Nolan used Christian Bale to take a three-movie tour of the darker side of The Batman. Bale’s moody, tortured, and introspective Bruce Wayne gave the world a look into the grittier side of Gotham and its nasty criminal underbelly.

Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) gave rise to a story arc that left any hint of Adam West’s comedic Batman and his criminally comedic opponents behind, and in doing so, returned Batman to his origins.

If you feel as though you are watching an episode of Nolan’s Batman every time the news reports lax enforcement of the laws in the deep blue cities, you aren’t wrong.

There currently is no Bruce Wayne or Batman, but there certainly are a rogue’s gallery of crime bosses, evil businesspeople and assorted corrupt politicians, elected officials, and bureaucrats.

The news from San Francisco, LA, Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis, and Minneapolis seems to indicate each of those cities are racing each other to become America’s Gotham City, just this time without the heroes who almost inevitably try to save them from themselves.

These Soros backed DAs are more Heath Ledger’s Joker than they are Harvey Dent (former DA turned crime boss). Where Dent was more focused on enriching himself through his crimes, Ledger’s Joker was a malevolent, malignant, deeply scarred character more intent on punishing the Batman and the people of Gotham City than profiting from his criminal enterprise.

People like Chesa Boudin (thankfully recalled), George Gascon, Larry Krasner, Alvin Bragg, Kim Foxx, and other leftist District Attorneys are using arbitrary, capricious, and frankly, race focused, application of the law to punish people they believe have wrong them and society in some way. You might want to add Nancy Pelosi, who is beginning to look like the Joker more every day, and the hapless puppet, Merrick “The Penguin” Garland, to that list – they are most certainly easy on the members of their criminal gang as they deal quite harshly with those who have not joined them in their crime spree.

Many of the people on the dark side of our contemporary Gotham Cities allegedly ascribe to the premise that crime doesn’t imply a need for law enforcement and a justice system, that rather it is the opposite, it is created by law enforcement and the justice system to keep the poor and racial minorities down, their real purpose is to use those criminals to punish a populace those officials viscerally hate.

Their ruse is that of “criminal justice reform” but this evil cabal of corrupt officials uses lax enforcement of the law to create a frontal offensive on the law abiding. The real objective of their policies is to set criminals free to continue to commit crimes, and in turn, continue to punish the society these people believe is fatally flawed, weak, and just wrong. Society deserves to be punished, especially those typically Republican white suburbanites whose successes have obviously come at the expense of those committing crimes.

Those suburbanites are the people who deserve to feel a little of the fear, loss and oppression that causes criminals to become criminals. They need to be served a little mental anguish to teach them a lesson about what things will be like until people begin to see the light and sign on to their leftist brand of sociopolitical policies.

Biden is the current head of a national criminal enterprise.

Albeit more of a 60’s Caesar Romero character than the darker Heath Ledger or Joaquin Phoenix versions, Biden plays a national level Master Joker to America’s Gotham. There is little doubt he has used the power of his various political offices to enrich himself (he has never had a real job in the private sector, just like about 60% of those making policy), but almost comedically, he finds himself at the head of an organization that is a strange mix of pretty much all the organized groups opposing Batman’s crusade to rid Gotham of crime.

The Democrat Party embodies elements of the Circus of Strange (a criminal syndicate which operates out of a travelling circus) and the Court of Owls (a centuries old aristocratic secret society which wielding immense power and influence over the affairs of Gotham City).

In Nolan’s 2012 Dark Knight Rises, Batman returns after taking the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes to fight Bane’s terrorism. Bane’s professions to the people (rich are the enemy, total democracy) are akin to the professions of the American left and end, predictably, in the very same chaos and dystopia the left’s policies always do.

Batman does save Gotham, but while saving Gotham from an immediate threat, he doesn’t really “save” the city. He serves as the inspiration for a popular uprising of the people who retake their city.

But don’t turn that dial.

The Democrats will always be the party of The Joker.

But you can feel a stirring, a movement rising in opposition to Biden, Pelosi and their minions in the blue cities and states. There is a lot of Nolan’s Batman story line in the presidency of Donald Trump. Either 2024 becomes a Dark Knight Rises version of our American story or perhaps a new Dark Knight (DeSantis) tugs on the mask and cape or a new Catwoman (Kristi Noem) squeezes into the black bodysuit and takes over.

In any case, brighter days are ahead for Gotham.

Pot and kettle, or something

USA Today has an ironic editorial that starts with frenetic back-self-patting:

Did you hear about the rape – and subsequent arrest in the case – of a 10-year old Ohio girl?

Did you see the stunning failure of police – who ran away as children were being killed – in the hallway of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas?

What about the harrowing details of Jayland Walker’s death in Akron, Ohio, where officers fired 90 or more rounds at the 25-year-old Black man?

Do you know why you’re aware of these stories?

Local journalists. Men and women who live and work in the communities they cover.

In each of these cases, those journalists are part of the USA TODAY Network, a family of more than 200 newspapers in 45 states committed to covering their communities. They are among scores of journalists in every state, at companies big and small, profit and not-for-profit, covering local news for their communities.

They’re also somewhat of an endangered species.

Nearly half of all U.S. counties have only one newspaper, reports the News Media Alliance, which advocates for the media industry. Since 2005, according to a new report from Northwestern University, “the country has lost more than a fourth of its newspapers (2,500) and is on track to lose a third by 2025.”

The pandemic, which devastated so much, was not kind to the industry, leading to job losses and the closure of local media outlets, according to Columbia Journalism Review.

The financial struggles of news organizations focused on local and regional coverage, including broadcast as well as newspaper journalism, stem from the sweeping shift of readership, viewers and advertising to online platforms, and a subsequent dramatic reduction in the revenue that has supported local reporting.

Even if – and perhaps especially if – you are skeptical of the news media, this is a devastating trend.

In all regions of the country, Americans need a local free press that produces vigorous and independent journalism for all – and Congress can help. This week, movement is expected on a bipartisan bill called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). It could pave the way for local publishers to reap the revenue they deserve from the content their journalists create.

Also called the JCPA or Safe Harbor Bill, it would provide a four-year antitrust exemption that would allow small and local news organizations to work together to negotiate an agreement with Google and Facebook on fair compensation.

“Strong local news helps us understand those whose experiences and attitudes are different from us, and, in the process, brings us together to solve our most pressing political, economic and social problems,” the Northwestern study says. “It binds our vast nation of 330 million people together, nurturing both democracy and community. Everyone in the country has a stake in the future of local news, in whatever form it is delivered.”

Congress must be prompted to finally act on this bipartisan proposal to help stop the hemorrhage in local newsrooms and provide tools for long-term stability. America’s democracy depends on it.

On the one hand, few Republicans are fans of Big Tech, which is why this bill has so many Republican cosponsors, including Reps. Glenn Grothman (R–West Bend) and Tom Tiffany (R–Ashland) and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R–Kentucky).

However, few Republicans are also fans of Big Media, and no one in Wisconsin should be a fan of Gannett, which puts out horrible daily newspapers. (That is unless you like regurgitated USA Today content and hardly anything that counts as “local” news or sports anymore.) The argument could be made that media owners like Gannett have contributed mightily to the news media’s business problems.

To the majority of media consumers this probably seems like inside baseball anyway. Better arguments need to be made to generate support for this bill.


An American musical icon

The Spy Command:

John Williams told The Assocated Press earlier this month, that his score for Indiana Jones 5 may be his final movie work.

“I don’t want to be seen as categorically eliminating any activity,” The 90-year-old composer told AP. But a Star Wars score, he said, is a six-month commitment and “at this point in life is a long commitment to me.”

Williams is known mostly for his film scores, which include 51 Oscar nominations beginning in the 1960s for scores and songs. Williams was the composer of choice for director Steven Spielberg, a collaboration that lasted decades.

However, once upon a time, Williams was known as Johnny Williams and his work was all over television in the 1950s and 1960s.

Williams played piano on the Peter Gunn theme for Henry Mancini. Williams also played as a musician in film scores such as The Magnificent Seven, Sweet Smell of Success and To Kill a Mockingbird, he recalled in a 2002 tribute to composer Elmer Bernstein.

Williams was hired in 1958 by Stanley Wilson, music supervisor for Revue television (later Universal), to score episodes of M Squad, a police drama starring Lee Marvin. At that point, the composer was billed as John T. Williams Jr.

Wilson evidently liked the results and kept bringing Williams back for work. One of Williams’ jobs for Revue writing the theme for Checkmate, a 1960-62 series created by Eric Ambler.

Checkmate concerned the exploits of two private eyes (Anthony George and Doug McClure) assisted by an academic (Sebastian Cabot). Williams was now billed as Johnny Williams.

Williams also did the theme (and scored some episodes for) a Revue anthology show, Kraft Suspense Theater. One of the installments he scored, Once Upon a Savage Night, was a particularly tense story about the search by Chicago authorities for a psychopathic killer (Philip Abbott).

One of the victims in the aforementioned “Kraft Suspense Theatre” episode was from Madison, Wis., according to investigator Ted Knight.

In his TV days, Williams was versatile. His credits included the odd sitcom, such as the unaired pilot (plus additional episodes) of Gilligan’s Island as well as the theme for The Tammy Grimes Show, a quickly canceled program in the 1966-67 season.

Producer Irwin Allen brought in Williams to work on series such as Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel, which credited Johnny Williams for their themes.

Johnny Williams even showed up on camera in the first episode of Johnny Staccato, a 1959 series starring John Cassavettes and made at Revue. Williams, clean-shaven and with hair, played a jazz pianist. He was listed in the cast as Johnny Williams.

The Johnny Williams era drew to a close by the late 1960s. His credit for the theme of Irwin Allen’s Land of the Giants series listed the composer as John Williams. For Williams, the best was yet to come.

How the media aborted Roe v. Wade

Matt Purple:

Over now to MSNBC, that glorified test of the emergency broadcast system between Fox News and the Big Bang Theory reruns you want to fall asleep to. The Supreme Court on Friday announced it had overturned Roe v. Wade, upending fifty years of abortion law. And the mood on America’s favorite left-of-left cable network was, er, punchy.

It began with Lawrence O’Donnell, who demanded that his audience “never forget the GOP presidents who overturned Roe” (in case Donald Trump was at risk of slipping your mind). After lying that George W. Bush hadn’t won the popular vote before appointing Sam Alito (Bush beat John Kerry by three million votes in 2004, then nominated Alito in 2005), O’Donnell sighed that he was profoundly disappointed. “I spent most of my life in awe of the Supreme Court,” he intoned. Yet today the Court “is not reflexively worthy of respect.”

One imagines Amy Coney Barrett running down the hall: “You guys! We just lost Lawrence O’Donnell!” And certainly the Court has desecrated itself forever by not doing what O’Donnell would have liked it to do. O’Donnell then went on to patronize Clarence Thomas for disagreeing with Roe while being black and married to a white woman. Thus did MSNBC give the country exactly what it needed: a lecture on race from a white guy from Boston.

Elsewhere in the blunderdome came Chris Hayes, MSNBC’s leading man, who in a monologue on Friday set about systematically undermining the whole of the English language. Abortion, which isn’t mentioned in any of our founding documents? “A right enshrined in the Constitution as intimate as any right one could imagine.” Efforts to extend human rights to the unborn? “The forces of reaction.” Allowing state legislatures to vote on abortion law? “A brutal day for American democracy.”

Hayes is like one of those dorky kids who struts around calling people “malefactors” and “ne’er-do-wells” even though he clearly he has no idea what any of those words mean. Yet it’s his use of “democracy” that’s especially telling. Strictly speaking, “democracy” means simply that the people get to decide, either directly or through their elected representatives — as they now will on abortion. Yet for progressives, “democracy” has taken on more of a folk definition. Just as Orwell said the word fascism “has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable,’” so too does “democracy” now have no meaning except as something that makes an MSNBC contributor feel all peachy on the inside. So: lawless abortion, etc.

This debauching of our language admittedly runs both ways (a “Republican” is now one who thinks Donald Trump should maybe be king?). Yet flipping “democracy” to mean “judicial authoritarianism” might be a whole new level of doublespeak altogether. And it really is curious just how many words have had to be blurred in order to keep the abortion boat afloat: “fetus,” “procedure,” “late-term,” “constitutional right,” “choice.” If this much of your thinking is based on not thinking, it may be time to turn the critical gaze inward for a while.

Yet there’s a bigger problem at MSNBC than just vocabulary: its sense of smug superiority. Remember when Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election? The network spent months pompously declaring that the GOP was dead. Then, when that same GOP stubbornly refused to die, when Trump was elected in 2016, MSNBC leaned hard into the Russiagate conspiracy. It wasn’t the conservatism or the populism! This was a Putin snow job, and once it was corrected, they would be back driving the agenda once again.

This same sense of inevitability has pervaded their abortion coverage, which is why MSNBC and their kith and kin may be more responsible for Dobbs than anyone else. They refined pro-choice smugness into televised narcotic. Not only did they fail to seriously engage with the arguments put forward by the other side — fetal personhood, the weakness of constitutional “penumbras,” etc. — their complacency lurched them even further to the extreme. “Shout your abortion!” they cried. “Scrub ‘rare’ from ‘safe, legal, and rare’!” Why not? The other side was just a bunch of theocratic Neanderthals, practically self-refuting.

Even after the Dobbs arguments back in December, which saw the conservative justices all but skywrite “THE VIABILITY STANDARD IS BULLS–T” above the Supreme Court, they still couldn’t quite believe the knuckle-draggers were about to pull it off. Now, they’re making the same mistake again, assuring themselves it’s just a matter of time. Republicans will pay in the midterms! Will they though? Polls have consistently found that decisive majorities support something like the Mississippi law at issue in Dobbs, which bans abortions after fifteen weeks. And are the intricacies of abortion really going to trump the pain of $5 a gallon gas?

So it is that we return to MSNBC for one last ray of insight. On Saturday, a deranged individual named Elie Mystal screamed that Biden ought to make abortions available at federal facilities — and surely he should. Democrats, here’s your game-changer: third-trimester abortions at every post office. And then, when you get shellacked in November, when you lose both houses of Congress, just remember this: the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards frantic attempts to normalize the gruesome.

So the media might have unwittingly produced a result the media opposed? That hasn’t happened since the November 2016 election, thanks to Hillary Clinton’s “Deplorables.”

What “Maverick” says about us

Kyle Smith:

American culture underwent such volcanic changes starting in the mid-Sixties that when American Graffiti arrived in 1973, the movie seemed like a time capsule from an ancient epoch — even though it was set only eleven years earlier.

A good-natured comedy about clean-cut teenagers driving harmlessly around small-town California while listening to the radio, American Graffiti kicked off a cultural reaction: Suddenly, stories that cast their gaze back in time, before the recent abominations of Vietnam, assassinations, and hippie folk singers, became massive hits. The pre–Kennedy assassination era was now perceived as simpler, tidier, and carefree. No time period is free of hysteria and traumatic events, but forgetting the bad stuff and remembering the cuteness and whimsy can be powerfully attractive. So Happy DaysLaverne and Shirley, and Grease blew up. Rocky, a big-hearted romance built around a boxing saga that could have been written in 1953, led the box office for 1976 and won the Best Picture Oscar over a scathing sociopolitical satire, Network, and two films about moral and political degeneracy: Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men. Capping it all off, in the 1980 presidential election, a hippie-beloved president who openly indulged American angst was supplanted by an unabashed square — a former G.E. spokesman who radiated good cheer and robust self-confidence.

And what is happening today? America has endured a period of upheaval comparable to the late Sixties. The last couple of years in particular were a nightmare tableau of endless wailing and suffering: Guernica with Lester Holt. Somehow, the country’s biggest race crisis in half a century transpired in the midst of our biggest health crisis in a century.

In 2022, America is exhausted, frustrated, and burned out. What people are longing for is a reset, a reversion to norms. The period before #MeToo, before the murder of George Floyd and #BlackLivesMatter, and before Covid-19, now looks as quaint as the Fifties did in the Carter era. True, the 2008 financial crisis, the Iraq War, and the age of spectacular terrorism make it hard to identify any period this century when things were placid, but that just means any creator who can recapture the optimism of the last 15 years of the 20th century is going to get extremely rich.

Top Gun: Maverick is not a great movie. Neither was American Graffiti! However, its success makes it an important movie. It reveals something about ourselves.

The numbers are astonishing. After a huge opening on Memorial Day weekend of $161 million, TG: M held up with an unheard-of drop of only 30 percent the following weekend, and has continued to pack theaters all month, even though it’s aimed pretty squarely at people over 40. Movies for the middle-aged have a very low box-office ceiling because midlife types are busy raising kids and working their tailbones off. People in this age group often tell me they’re too busy and too tired to drag themselves out to the multiplex, given that their home-viewing setup is perfectly adequate (and offers immediate access to the Pinot Grigio in the fridge). Yet Top Gun: Maverick is the highest-grossing movie of Tom Cruise’s career. It appears likely to be the highest-grossing movie of the year.

One big hook is that its action scenes are not merely fierce and engaging, they unabashedly celebrate the military. People who don’t get out to the movies much want to see TG:M because there’s nothing else like it. Along with small business, the military is one of only two beloved institutions left, and yet Hollywood mostly leaves unslaked this thirst for red-blooded, let’s-smoke-those-bogeys jingoism. Another plus is that the movie’s characters are simple and its storytelling clean, linear, and uncluttered. Middle-aged viewers appreciate the break from the trickiness of the refracted-multiverse movies and their demands that you do your homework before you go to the movies by watching 60 hours of television.

Many conservatives are calling TG:M a rebuke to wokeness, but that’s not quite right. It isn’t an anti-woke movie; it’s merely a woke-free movie. It ignores the kinds of disputes that engage crazy people on Twitter and that increasingly obsess the TV and film industries. (Anyway, it does feature a lady pilot, in the interest of being — try not to blow a gasket here — “inclusive.”) By turning back the clock to that 1986 feel, it dodges all the frazzled political discourse of recent years. No black guys get racially profiled. No women get sexually assaulted. Nobody thinks masculinity is toxic and no one calculates how much F-18 fuel consumption contributes to climate change.

“Finally!” cries the audience. Top Gun: Maverick may not be a classic, but it’s certainly a relief. Audiences were dying for a return to the uncomplicated slam-bang of Eighties and Nineties blockbusters, when identity politics were a strange campus hobby that hadn’t yet infected the entire culture.

Show business these days is at pains to avoid listening to the audience, instead pursuing critical acclaim by producing, say, a Black Lives Matter remake of The Wonder Years or an all-female, multicultural 1776. Some of these creations are more interesting than others, but they’re all chasing the same niche. Meanwhile, you can hardly turn on a baseball game without being blindsided by an identity-politics message. There’s a fortune to be made for entertainment producers who offer the audience a chance to get away from all this — the politics, the guilt, the rancor, and the obsessive focus on bad news. When the media feel the need to bleed, Americans feel the need for speed.

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