Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Question

 If you’ve watched, read or heard national political reporters and pundits over the past couple of years, you’ve almost certainly seen them all-but rubbing their hands in anticipation of questioning Republican candidates for the 2024 nomination.

They aren’t excited about queries on inflation, or Ukraine, or the debt, or the border, or crime.  They’re all a-twitter (pun certainly intended) over getting to ask this question, in front of as large an audience as possible:

"Did Donald Trump lose the 2020 election?"

The question is viewed as a can’t-miss by the press: humiliating Republican candidates who answer in the negative as too afraid to cross Trump, enraging the hard-core Trumper base against anyone who says “yes,” and opening the floodgates for untold hours of gleeful on-air mockery from media figures all too happy to continue poisoning the electoral well for the GOP.

Any candidate who is seriously in this race had better have an answer ready, and it had better be one that the electorate at large can nod along with in agreement. 

To be more specific, they had better be ready, willing and able to say, "Yes."

Any candidate worried about offending Trump’s hard-core fan club with that answer is in the wrong race.  

You can’t get those votes, or at least not enough of them to spend time and capital getting wobbly over.  Your job isn’t to mollify a hostile minority of the party in the primaries, it’s to generate enough support outside of "Trump or nobody!" to overwhelm them.  

You also shouldn’t be worried about Trumpian dead-enders staying home in the general.  Yes, some of them will do just that, but not all of them.  

More importantly, an awful lot of Republicans either didn’t vote for President at all or voted for an opponent or a write-in the last two elections, and a whole lot more formerly GOP-leaning suburban independents switched parties entirely thanks to Trump.  Beat him and you get the vast majority of their number in your corner in November.

Joe Biden is the most unpopular president since, well, Donald Trump.  Those independents do not like him, don’t think he should run for re-election, and barring the presence of an opposing nominee on the ballot whom they like even less—Trump—they do not want to vote for him.  They will more than make up for the soreheads (and if you believe they won’t, again, why are you bothering to run at all?).

For any candidate who actually wants to win the nomination and the general election, this is the kind of answer they’ll need to give:

"Of course he lost."

"As a sitting president with a strong economy, he somehow found a way to lose to a senile, doddering old fool who spent the election hiding in his basement.  Donald Trump certainly did lose to Joe Biden, and he lost because he can’t control his own mouth."

"I was as happy as anybody on election night in 2016.  I thank God every day that Hillary Clinton never became president.  But since that night Donald Trump has lost and lost and lost, and he will keep losing if given the chance."

"He lost the Congress in a massive midterm landslide, when he was too undisciplined to run on a strong economy."

"He lost re-election to Joe Biden, a guy who’s been the punchline of jokes since the 1970’s."

"He acted like a toddler having a tantrum over losing, gave the party a black eye that it will take decades to get over, and also lost two Senate seats in Georgia by telling Republicans not to vote in the run-off."

"And just two years ago, he cost us the Senate again by endorsing weak candidates for no better reason than they were on television and sucked up to him."

“That is more than enough losing.  Donald Trump has had his chances, again and again and again. He doesn’t deserve another.  He’s the only person on this stage who can’t beat Joe Biden.

"And we know that because he lost to the guy already."

"Yes, Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. America can’t afford for him to lose again."

That’s tough stuff.  It’ll send Trump’s minions online and in the Trump-friendly conservative media into a tizzy.  But unless you’re willing to lay that out there, you will not get a vote from the majority of the electorate that is not going to tolerate more hemming and hawing about 2020.

Trump lost.  If you’re not willing to say that, to his face, why are you running?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

"First Man"

I caught a matinee this afternoon. I've been very excited about this one, because (a) duh, aerospace engineer and life-long space geek, a movie about Neil Armstrong is like catnip and (b) the author of the original biography, James Hansen, was my history professor at Auburn, and he is an all-around great guy. 

The movie was not at all what I'd expected, which is not the same thing as saying I didn't like it. It's very claustrophobic up until the last act on the Moon (I trust there need be no spoiler warnings about the most famous event of the latter 20th Century), which seems like a strange artistic choice for a movie about space travel, but when you consider the tight confines of a cockpit or space capsule, which are vividly emphasized throughout the movie, it makes sense. 

The movie is obviously very heavily influenced by Kubrick, in visual style, tone and narrative. There's very little exposition, considering all the heavily-technical aspects of space travel, which was fine with me, but I always wonder if people who aren't immersed in the field will be able to follow it. I also don't think the script adequately captures Armstrong's quiet and extraordinary humility, but then again, that might have made for a dull movie, and this (unlike Hansen's book) is drama, not history. 

Anyway. I was particularly glad to see the (very) dramatic focus on the Gemini/Agena near-disaster, Armstrong's crashing of the LEM simulator (he actually crashed two of them), and the very-near crash-landing on the Moon itself. Entirely too few people today know anything about what a near thing Apollo and the '60's space program in general actually were, and this is a fine, and unusually accurate by Hollywood standards (I think we can thank Jim Hansen for that; he's credited a co-producer) primer on what went on behind all the "Right Stuff" gauzy portrayals. 

So check it out. I liked it, and much more importantly, Jim Hansen likes it, and Neil Armstrong himself trusted Jim. That should be more than good enough for anybody.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Hurricane Memories: Opal, 1995

I moved to Fort Walton Beach in the spring of '95, had an apartment on the Sound over in Mary Esther. Opal was hanging out off the Yucatan when it suddenly strengthened and picked up speed. It arrived two days earlier than the early forecast had predicted. 

The day it caught fire, I hadn't turned on the radio or TV, and back then nobody had the Internet at their desks all day. I had gone to bed, just switched off my lamp when the phone rang. It was my dad, asking when I was leaving town. "I dunno... maybe early Thursday?" (I think this was Monday night.)

Long pause. Dad said, "Have you seen a forecast today?"


"Get up and turn on the TV!"

I did, and the screen was full of a Cat 5 monster bearing down on, basically, me. 

"Uh, maybe I'll leave tonight."

"Good plan, Einstein."

I evac'd to my folks' home Enterprise, AL (with a lot of help from Dad) ahead of the horrific panic traffic, and of course that beyotch Opal followed me.  The storm died down to "only" a Category 3 by landfall (which still devastated the Gulf Coast from Pensacola to Appalachicola), but like Eloise a generation earlier, she was going north so fast that hurricane damage lasted well into three states.  

She kicked the crap out of everything from FWB to pretty much Atlanta. My folks' power was out for two weeks. Mine was back on by that Sunday, I think thanks to Hurricane Erin having gone through about 6 weeks earlier, clearing out all the dead limbs and giving the recovery crews a lot of practice.

To be honest, I was shocked to find out I had power.  The last update on Opal that I'd seen before the power in Enterprise went out declared that she'd made landfall at Hurlburt Field.  As I could see Hurlburt from my balcony, I figured that was it, anything I'd left down there was wiped out, so I stayed around to help Mom and Dad clean up.

My sister called Sunday.  "Your answering machine is picking up."  

I didn't believe her.  "Kitty, I don't have an answering machine.  I don't even have an apartment any more."

"Okay, smart-ass, you call it."  I did, and it picked up.

I snuck back across the state line on a back road after hearing the State Troopers weren't letting anybody but emergency crews in, allegedly to prevent looting (to this day I don't know whether that was actually true or not, but I wasn't taking any chances).  Driving through the wreckage of Fort Walton, I was convinced I'd find one wall with an answering machine hanging from it.

But I was lucky, a lot luckier than most in that area.  The storm surge stopped six feet shy of the building, and I had the worst damage in the complex:  a single broken window.

Everything else, though, was a hell of a mess. Every boat left in the Destin and Fort Walton harbors either sank or was washed up on the mainland. There was a huge sailboat stuck in the median of Highway 98, pointing west with its keel buried in the dirt for weeks. They had to pull it out with a crane. 98 itself was cut just east of Okaloosa Island, and the old Eglin Officer's Beach Club was destroyed, never to be rebuilt. That next year there was a rash of insurance-collecting arson fires in the old restaurants down on the water that had been trashed; FWB was always big for firebugs.

Two huge oaks fell on my old fraternity house in Auburn. The knucklehead brothers figured they were man enough to cut them down themselves... but forgot to move their cars first. When they got out the chainsaws, one of the trees rolled off the side of the roof and smashed three or four cars.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Elly Welt

Elly Welt was Auburn University's Writer-In-Residence from the late 80's through the 90's. She retired around 2000 and moved to Seattle to be with her children. She died this last weekend, after struggling with heart failure for many years.

I had to talk my way into Elly's fiction writing class my junior year. She didn't want to accept anybody who wasn't an English major, and looked at me like I had two heads the first time I strolled into her corner office on the ninth floor of Haley asking for a seat. It took two quarters to convince her she ought to allow in this weird Engineering major who hung around the English department a lot.

Elly's classes were not for the faint of heart. We were required to write a short story a week, and pass out copies to the rest of the class (to say nothing of Elly herself) for criticism. If you were really unlucky she'd call on you to read it out loud, and then tell you in no uncertain terms what you'd done wrong--or right, on rare occasions. One poor girl started her first story with a long quote from a Tiffany song, and was never seen again.

She was tough. She was smart. She was one of the best writers I've ever encountered. You should go buy a copy of Elly's novel "Berlin Wild" right now, and you'll see what I mean. And she was very quickly enchanted by this odd Land Grant college where she'd landed a highly-coveted position. 

Elly had never spent any time in the Deep South before coming to Auburn. She was a Jewish mama from New York the Midwest, and a product of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the gold standard of academic fiction training. With that background you'd have expected her to look down her nose at the motley pack of public school kids from Alabama and Georgia and the Florida Panhandle who'd bluffed their way into her classes.

Instead, she and her husband Peter, a retired M.D., embraced the students, the town and the college. By the end of Fall Quarter in 1989, she was bugging me with questions about how Pat Dye was going to keep from having an aneurism over the looming First Time Ever game against UAT. 

I wish Bruce Pearl could have met Elly. They'd have got on like a house on fire.

Elly set me on the path. I kept taking her classes anytime they were offered, including going to the dean of the graduate school to get permission to take her MA class as an undergrad (and an undergrad engineer at that). She recommended me for the first Auburn Birdsong Scholarship that sent me to Oxford in 1991, and after I graduated she helped Scott Brown and me bash the manuscript of "The Uncivil War" into something publishable. 

We always kept in touch, even after her retirement and Peter's death, along with a few other of her former students from Auburn. The last time I heard from her was an email last fall. She was tickled to tell me that the conversation at her (ritzy) retirement complex dining room in Seattle was buzzing about the Tigers' November surge, and as a former Auburn professor, she'd been quizzed by most of the male residents for "inside info."

Elly struggled with ill health for a long time, but she kept writing, even after tastes changed and the New York publishing houses lost their interest in literary fiction. She finished three or four more novels after leaving Auburn (I've read one of them; it is magnificent), and I believe her daughter will be publishing them with Amazon in the future. I hope so. She deserves to be read much more widely.

I miss Elly terribly already, but I was very lucky to have known her. I hope you did, too.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

GA06 2017: The Twitter Rant

The following was originally written as a post-election day Tweetstorm at my account, @willcollier, after Karen Handel defeated Jon Ossoff in the June 2017 congressional run-off. It got a lot of attention, more than anything I've written about politics since 2004 when Steve Green and I, writing at VodkaPundit, had our dust-up with the late Steve Lovelady. As several people have asked for a version that isn't 40 separate Tweets long, here it is, edited a bit for clarity and to remove Twitter-isms.

Thanks to everyone for reading.

* * *

So it’s time for some post-runoff Gaming Theory, from an actual resident of GA06.

If you lived in the 6th, you were bombarded by fliers, signs, ads, door-knockers, and most of all, phone calls. At least once a day (and usually more than once), the phone would ring from an out-of-state area code.

First it was robocalls, then the last couple of weeks, call centers. They weren’t targeted. They were calling everybody, every day. And they wouldn’t take “Go to Hell” for an answer—trust me on this one.

Now, imagine for a moment that the roles in the ’16 election were reversed, and Hillary had nominated a Bay Area Democrat for her cabinet. California would have called a special election.

Imagine millions of dollars and tons of vicious social media rhetoric flowing out of Georgia to the Republican candidate for that race. How do you think Californians would have reacted to that?

Self-awareness not being a notable Leftie trait at the best of times, the Left coast is already declaring GA06 a mass Klan meeting.

That’ll go over just as well here in 18 months, dudes. You should definitely keep that up.

One big factor that was missed by the national press: the sheer annoyance of the race. Not only did this special and the runoff extend the godawful 2016 election for another 8 months in a district where neither major nominee was remotely popular, the ridiculous amount of money that poured into the Ossoff campaign from out of state resulted in wall-to-wall ads.

You could not turn on the radio or TV without hearing/seeing a campaign commercial, and Ossoff’s fans seemed determined to cover every square inch of Georgia with “Jon Ossoff” signs. The state will probably have to dig a new landfill to get rid of them.

That strategy made sense in the jungle primary: put this nice-looking kid out there, use the money to flood the zone and slip him through the crowded ballot on name recognition.

That was a smart strategy. It very nearly worked—in April.

Back then, Ossoff never uttered the word “Democrat,” nor did it appear in his ads. But yesterday, there were only two names and two parties on the ballot.

Karen Handel might as well have her name next to “Generic Republican” in the dictionary. Ossoff, thanks to the media blitz on both sides, might as well have had “Nancy Pelosi” on his ballot.

Trump is not popular here, and I doubt he ever will be. Dan MacLaughlin, aka @baseballcrank does an admirable job of tallying that reality

But “unpopular” is not the same as “toxic.” Leftie media types started griping yesterday about the GOP putting Pelosi in anti-Ossoff ads. There’s good reason for that: she’s toxic everywhere except hard-Left enclaves.

GA06 is a lot of things, but hard Left isn’t one. Pelosi, her caucus and its nutball fan club are about as disliked as Notre Dame football around here.

When Ossoff couldn’t hide in the crowd of the primary, the crowd he really was hanging with—Hollywood and Pelosi—was instantly toxic in Cobb and north Fulton; somewhat less so in more Democratic Dekalb, but the damage was done.

I’ll add another factor that the national media wants to ignore: the post- election temper tantrums on the Left. Once again, Trump isn’t popular in this district. But you know what’s a lot less popular?

Riots. Morons in black masks with clubs. Kids who’ve never thought about paying a mortgage telling you you’re a terrible person because you wouldn’t vote for a corrupt old liar in a pantsuit. Those things are really, really unpopular. And the Left’s bratty insistence that it deserves a do-over after it lost an eminently winnable election Isn’t getting any traction in middle America.

Today’s run of the usual suspects saying Ossoff lost because he didn’t go full Bolshevik are right up the same alley. And they’ll result in similar reactions in later elections, especially those that aren’t bolstered by $30 million in now-wasted activist money that simply filled coffers of Democratic consultants and advertisers and broadcasters.

But all they really succeeded in doing was pissing off the people they needed to get votes from. Bad strategy, bad politics.

And so, Jon Ossoff, we who actually live in GA06 say to you, your loopy fans, and most of all your phone centers:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Star Wars: The Airing of Grievances

Forget Life Day--in a galaxy far, far away, it's Festivus.

WARNING: The following column contains not just SPOILERS, but also COMPLAINTS about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Proceed at your own risk.

* * *

The long, long awaited Star Wars: Episode VII finally arrived in theaters last week, well over a generation after Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and friends took their last bows on the big screen. And it’s pretty good.

The new movie unleashed a slew of new characters to take the baton—er, lightsaber—from the sixty- and seventy-something original cast, and almost all of them are well-written, and blessedly, well-acted. The movie has all the full-throttle momentum of the original films, and none of the deadly-dull-when-not-remarkably-silly aura of the failed prequels.

Again: The Force Awakens is a pretty good movie, and a far better Star Wars movie than anything we’ve seen since 1983. But it’s not great.

A great many Star Wars fans felt a disturbance in the Force when Hollywood journeyman J.J. Abrams was announced as the director of Episode VII. The most commonly-seen reaction online was, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Abrams’ history with the frustrating TV series “Lost” and disappointing movies like “Super 8” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” gave good reason for the fan cautiousness.

But with The Force Awakens soaring to record-shattering box office in its first few days of release, we ought to give Abrams his due: his chops as a visual artist are first-rate, and while the same could be said about his predecessor George Lucas, Abrams by contrast knows a good line of dialogue from a bad one. Episode VII sparkles with (at least by Star Wars standards) clever repartee between heroes and villains old and new.

All of which is a long way of saying that what Abrams does well is characterization and action. What he does badly, here and elsewhere, is coherent plotting.

Like a lot of modern directors, Abrams is a sucker for, “Oh, that will look cool, let’s do it!” without regard for whether “that” makes any sense or not.

The most glaring example in The Force Awakens is the Starkiller Base. You can almost hear the story meeting: “So we kind of need a Death Star. But bigger. Hmm… what’s bigger than a machine that can blow up a planet? Hey—how about a planet that can blow up stars! Star Wars! Cool!”

The base is goofy on so many levels. Even stipulating that the laws of physics in the Star Wars galaxy are considerably more flexible than our own, the Sunsucker Base (c’mon, that’s what it is) makes no sense at all.

Start here: unless it can move around the galaxy--something the movie doesn’t hint at one way or the other--you’re only going to get one shot out of it. After it sucks in the nearest star (which, by the way, is depicted as being so close to the base that at a minimum, all that snow on the planet’s surface would have been vaporized), it’s useless. Not only will the weapon not have any fuel for another shot and be a sitting duck for enemy ships, the planet’s atmosphere is going to freeze solid around all those First Order troops because, whoops—no sun.

So the Sunsucker is epically dumb, even in a universe with near-instantaneous faster-than-light drives and solid laser swords and people with mumbo-jumbo mystical powers. It’s every bit as dumb as the doubletalk “red matter” and “nova that threatens the galaxy” in Abrams’ pretty but vapid first “Star Trek” movie.

Also in the “looks cool, makes no sense” category: the Adamantium Falcon. Han Solo’s marvelous old spaceship is continually crashing into buildings, trees, and the surfaces of various planets in this movie, but bounces off all of them without so much as dented fender. Meanwhile the First Order’s TIE Fighters, like their Imperial predecessors (or any self-respecting flying craft), crumble into fiery junk on contact with any solid surface.

While Solo himself is well-written with a nice final arc in The Force Awakens (anyone surprised at Solo’s death ought to have noticed Harrison Ford’s open, decades-long contempt for the movies that made him a superstar), the same can’t be said for the old smuggler’s estranged wife.

The now-General Leia Organa gets the closest to any character of reciting Prequel-level wooden dialogue. What’s worse, Leia gives such short shrift to the bereft Chewbacca at the movie’s end, one suspects that she never let the big guy sit on the couch when he was visiting Han.

I could go on, if I really wanted to: the Lost-worthy “I know but I’m not telling” bit regarding how Luke’s old lightsaber was retrieved from Cloud City (here’s a not-very wild guess: Abrams and Co. have no idea, and just threw it in there).

Then there’s the way characters are continually running into each other by absurd coincidence, or how people in different star systems can all look up and see the Sunsucker Base’s attack with the naked eye--again, a reminder of the bad writing in Abrams’ Star Trek movies.

This kind of script nonsense is why I recommended that Disney hand the keys for its new Empire to writer/director Brad Bird instead of Abrams (which they actually tried to do; Bird declined so he could finish “Tomorrowland”), and why I’m very happy to know that Episode VIII will be scripted and helmed by the much more grounded Rian Johnson.

There’s no denying (and I’m happy to not have to try) that The Force Awakens is a terrific ride. Given the compressed production time and ridiculous expectations, both positive (“Look at that trailer—this’ll be awesome!”) and negative (“Ugh, haven’t we suffered enough?”), it’s probably about as good a movie as we have any business getting.

But enough already with the flat-out nonsense, and with the retreading of old stories. That old galaxy has a whole lot of other interesting worlds and people and creatures to go play with for any more Episodes to be calling back to the original movies.

Disney, Rian: next time, go exploring, and please, don’t leave elementary logic in the airlock. We’ll all thank you for it.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Flaming Computer Follow-up

So, it's been a couple of months since the morning my computer caught fire. After all that drama I owed you guys/gals an explanation of how things played out. It's overdue, my apologies for not posting this sooner.

Short version: while the drive manufacturer did not admit fault on their part, they quite graciously replaced my hardware, and the store I bought the drive from covered my (minimal) other damage and cleanup costs. I was very happy with the way both companies handled the situation.

Longer version: a couple of days after the fire, I got a call from a Global Support Manager at HGST, who was at least as shocked by the incident as anybody else. We eventually agreed that I'd ship the remains of the computer out to California for analysis. The Microcenter store where I'd bought the drive (every single person I dealt with at that store was wonderful, you should shop there if you're ever in Marietta, Georgia) facilitated the shipping for me.

We had to ship the whole box because the drive was completely encased in melted plastic. HGST finally carved the mechanism out of the case and did their analysis. HGST did not admit any fault on the part of their drive, but they were also very careful to not point any fingers in any other directions.

After they'd sent me the analysis slides and we went through a couple of rounds of questions, HGST offered to replace the computer via the Microcenter store, and I was fine with that. Like I told their representative, if I'd wanted to sue my way to a "lottery ticket judgement," I never would have called them in the first place. I was happy to be made whole here and leave it at that. The Microcenter manager followed up by offering to pay the cleanup costs (which amounted to fixing two vacuum cleaners that had been wrecked cleaning up the fire extinguisher dust) and their techs even built up the box for me (which I'd have been happy to do myself).

Best of all, nobody involved ever asked me to sign an NDA, or so much as mentioned the subject. That would have been a deal-killer for me, and I was very pleased by the fact that it never even came up.

The new box works fine, and while the experience was one of the bigger scares I've ever had (as incredibly unlikely as a recurrence would be, I still make sure to power down every morning before I go to work now), I'm impressed with how both HGST and Microcenter stepped up their customer service in a very unusual and not-a-little-stressful situation. Both companies deserve a "thank you, and well done." I'm intentionally not identifying by name the two main people who helped me, but Mr. HGST and Ms. Microcenter, if you'd like for me to do so, please let me know, I'll be happy to make an edit.

Thanks to all of you as well, for all the kind words while I was freaking out in the immediate aftermath.