The Morning Jolt

Culture

Predictions, Old and New

A Star Wars popcorn box during the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opening night fan event in New York City, U.S., December 19, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Today is the last Morning Jolt of 2019, with a lot of business to resolve before 2020 starts: the cold hard facts and difficult lessons of this weekend’s attacks on houses of worship; how accurate my instincts were in the past year, plus predictions for the coming year; knocking around some insufferable critics of the new Star Wars film; and a buffet table full of podcasts . . .

Why America Needs Armed Citizens

Let’s get one thing straight: An armed citizen responding to an attempted mass shooter in a place of worship, like yesterday at the West Freeway Church of Christ, is no one’s first choice or ideal scenario. We would all prefer a world where no gunmen ever charged into a church, and no man with a knife ever charged into a rabbi’s house, as in Monsey, N.Y. Saturday night. We would all prefer to live in a world where the cops were already on-scene in those situations, and the police would always know where they need to be before the worst even gets started. But we don’t live in either of those worlds.

In light of those cold hard facts, we need to choose the next best option. There are a lot of gun-control advocates who believe the next best option is for worshippers to remain unarmed in houses of worship and to just hope for the best. On any given day, the vast majority houses of worship and religious gatherings will not be attacked, even if the weekend’s attacks spur copycats. In the minds of gun-control advocates, the idea of an armed citizen doing something wrong — firing at the shooter and hitting an innocent bystander, or accidentally firing his weapon — that it is better to just remain unarmed and hope for the best. If an attacker does burst in during services, I guess their advice would be to duck, hide, and pray . . . which is ironic, because every other time this crowd insists that your thoughts and prayers are meaningless.

There’s no guarantee that an armed citizen will always respond as quickly and effectively as we saw at the West Freeway Church of Christ Sunday. But the presence of an armed citizen makes that scenario possible. The alternative is to be like the Hasidic Jews at the rabbi’s house in Monsey, trying to repel the attacker with furniture and whatever else is available. You might stop an intruder by throwing a chair at him. But you have a much better chance of stopping him with a firearm — perhaps without even firing a shot, depending upon how rational he is at that moment.

By the way, a revealing detail about the Monsey attacker:

In 2018, he had been charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, second-degree reckless endangerment and menacing a police or peace officer, according to a police report in a local paper. He was released on $1,000 bail, the report said. 

The gunman’s pastor told the New York Times that he has untreated schizophrenia.

As John McLaughlin Used to Bellow, ‘Predictions!’

I went back and checked my predictions for 2019. A few I nailed:

  • ·“Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg does not retire or meet her maker and ends 2019 on the court.”
  • “The vast majority of Democratic presidential campaigns fizzle out quickly.”
  • “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report finds no evidence of Donald Trump colluding with Russia.”
  • “On an almost entirely party-line vote, the House impeaches the president.”
  • Avengers: Endgame earns rave reviews as the way to end an epic story and set up a new era of Marvel films.”
  • “Critics compare [Star Wars Episode Nine] to Return of the Jedi and complain that J. J. Abrams played it safe and stuck to the old formulas, but audiences are pleased again.” 

And some were wildly off-base:

  • ·“Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito come under increasing pressure from conservative legal minds to retire.” If there was any pressure this past year, it was really quiet.
  • “As the year ends, the conventional wisdom is that [the Democratic primary] is a four-person race, with Biden, Beto O’Rourke running surprisingly strong, Kamala Harris running a less combative campaign than everyone expected, and Amy Klobuchar emerging as the dark-horse candidate.” Yeesh, what was I thinking?
  • “The economy has a mild bear market and not-quite recession.”
  • “Vladimir Putin will deny rumors of serious health issues.”

A couple people argue that no one in the news business should ever make public predictions, because the one constant lesson of the news business is that life is unpredictable. I suppose the idea is that a journalist making a public prediction indicates what he thinks will happen, and that gives the audience a sense of possible preconceived notions that could be shaping how he sees what he covers. This may shock you, but those expectations of what is going to happen will be formed in journalists’ heads whether or not they are ever shared with the public. Beyond that, it’s fun. Lighten up, Francis.

The “serious” predictions for 2020:

  • ·Early in the year, Nancy Pelosi relents and sends over the articles of impeachment after Senator Mitch McConnell makes a fig-leaf concession to House Democrats that is entirely symbolic, not substantive. There are growing murmurs that senators in both parties want to get impeachment off their plate as quickly as possible. Both articles of impeachment fall short with 46 votes; all Republicans and Democratic West Virginia senator Joe Manchin vote against removal. By March, the general public has almost entirely forgotten about impeachment.
  • Joe Biden wins the Democratic nomination, but he somewhat backs into it because every other candidate makes bigger mistakes or proves less acceptable to some key faction of the Democratic party. Because of Biden’s age, there’s intense interest in his running mate selection. Biden surprises many by selecting Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, concluding she gives him the best shot in the upper Midwest.
  • As for the overall political environment, much like Clubber Lang in Rocky III, my prediction is pain. The 2020 presidential election will be even uglier than the one in 2016 — nastier, uglier, more outright criticism of the other side’s voters, more false attacks, more accusations and counter-accusations of foreign influence and social media disinformation. President Trump’s rallies will be even more raucous and shocking to the national media, the protesters outside the venue will be even angrier, and more Americans succumb to the temptation of violence in the name of politics. At least one seemingly respectable cable news talking head has an on-air meltdown.
  • I’ll be honest, I have no idea whether Trump wins reelection in 2020. I think it all comes down to who the electorate is angrier at, or finds less appealing, when early voting starts in autumn. The Democratic nominee could win easily with a simple, “end the circus of chaos that has been running Washington for the past four years” message. But they have largely forsaken that, and the economy is humming along.
  • Speaking of the U.S. economy, I predict it continues to enjoy its current strength in 2020 — not great, but good. The unemployment rate increases slightly but stays below 4 percent.
  • In Hong Kong, the year brings neither a Tiananmen Square-style large-scale crackdown nor political liberation; the tense and uneasy standoff with intermittent small-scale clashes between police and protesters becomes the “new normal” by the end of 2020.
  • By historical standards, 2020 is a calm one on the world stage. Foreign leaders know that depending upon who wins in November, U.S. foreign policy could change dramatically — so for now it’s best to lay low and wait and see what happens; a lame duck President Trump might retaliate to any provocation with a wildly disproportionate response. 

The fun predictions for 2020:

  • The Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in a repeat of Super Bowl XLVII; Lamar Jackson is MVP and everyone in the league starts looking for the next strong-armed quick mobile quarterback.
  • The Cincinnati Bengals select Joe Burrow with the first pick in the 2019 draft.
  • The Saint Louis Blues beat the Washington Capitals in six games to win the Stanley Cup.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA Finals over the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games; our old friend David French tries to convince the guys at The Dispatch to make the new publication entirely focused upon LeBron James.
  • Helped by new free agent pitcher Gerrit Cole, the New York Yankees win the World Series in seven games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • The top-grossing summer movies are Wonder Woman 84, Marvel’s Black Widow, and Top Gun: Maverick. The critical darling of the year is The Many Saints of Newark, the Sopranos prequel film starring Michael Gandofini as a young Tony Soprano, playing the role his late father James Gandolfini embodied.

Speaking of films . . .

It’s Safe to Discuss Star Wars with Spoilers Now, Right?

J. J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a giant middle finger to Rian Johnson and the preceding film, The Last Jedi. He might as well have called it: Star Wars Episode Nine: The Apology for Episode Eight.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Picture Abrams’ “to-do” list as he sat down to write and put together Episode Nine. He had to . . .

  • ·Wrap up the Disney trilogy as well as the over-arching arc of the nine-film series, now being nicknamed “the Skywalker saga.”
  • Write around the tragic death of Carrie Fisher, with only a few bits of unused dialogue from other films available to make her “appear.”
  • Win back fans irritated by The Last Jedi.
  • Decide whether Ben Solo/Kylo Ren could be redeemed, which would more or less define the theme of the trilogy.
  • Figure out a new main villain, as the previous film unceremoniously killed off Snoke.
  • Figure out what shape the Resistance is in, as the last film suggested they had been whittled down to about two dozen combatants and explain why the rest of the galaxy didn’t seem to care which side won the war.
  • Include all the traditional elements of Star Wars movie with space battles, lightsaber fights, chases, etc. 

Abrams returned the favor to Johnson, ignoring, un-doing, or blowing off every choice Johnson made in The Last Jedi. We learn where Snoke “came from” in the opening minutes. The Resistance appears to be in roughly the same state as at the end of The Force Awakens. Rose Tico practically disappears. Luke Skywalker’s ghost appears and rebukes Rey for throwing away her lightsaber, a line that might as well be delivered from Mark Hamill to the preceding director. The galaxy cares, Ben Solo is redeemed, the Force is apparently now any super-power the heroes need, and the old classic big bad villain, the Emperor, is back. (I don’t get why everyone thinks Palpatine’s return from the dead is impossible when the prequel films already featured an army of clones. Abrams never spells it out, but two quick bits of dialogue hint that A) the emperor had been studying the use of Sith magic to bring back the dead since the prequels and B) all of the “rough draft” Snokes in vats of fluid show Palpatine had been working on cloning for a long time.)

Some of the complaints in the not-so-glowing reviews for The Rise of Skywalker is that the movie is A) way too “busy,” with too many characters moving too fast rushing around chasing MacGuffins and B) consists of a lot of “fan service,” scenes and lines and moments that call back to previous movies. These criticisms are accurate but not that consequential. This is a heaping buffet table of fanservice, with offerings piling up and tumbling onto the floor. But it’s good fanservice — every little musical cue from John Williams, every little bit of dialogue that echoes the original trilogy. It’s a delight to have Billy Dee Williams back being charming, aging gracefully into the elder statesman role. The complaint of “too much fanservice” can be interpreted as, “this movie has too many scenes, lines of dialogue, jokes and moments that fans will enjoy.” How dare Abrams do that!

Among the many parts of The Last Jedi that didn’t work quite right was how much our main trio of characters spent apart — and early on in The Rise of Skywalker we’re reminded of the chemistry John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley are capable of demonstrating onscreen. I could have watched them bicker with romantic tension for two hours. Adam Driver has always seemed like he was acting in a different movie, and it’s not surprising to see this actor popping up everywhere these days — Driver brings his A-game, 110 percent, every time.

And Harrison Ford came back, for the one scene and circumstance where seeing Han Solo again would make sense. Maybe I’m precisely the target audience for the idea of turning grey and having a moody long-haired son and loving him and believing in him no matter what mistakes he makes or what he does wrong, but boy, there are no better or more fitting last words for this character to say onscreen than, “I know.”

Some of these reviews are furious; I think there’s a certain class of critic who not only enjoyed The Last Jedi but loved the way it seemed to slap around fans of the pervious movies and mock their expectations. I don’t want Star Wars to turn into a political football, but clearly some folks brought expectations to this movie that were shaped by our ongoing cultural conflicts. You see complaints like, “everyone has been coded as being aggressively straight” and “Poe Dameron’s gung-ho heroism is a clumsy expression of toxic masculinity,” and you realize some people can’t turn it off — everything has to be viewed through their ideological prism, and they cannot enjoy themselves unless they are being reassured about these real-world issues that never seemed that central to tales set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .

ADDENDA: Whatever your taste in podcasts, chances are I recorded one in recent weeks that is to your liking. There’s a special bonus holiday-themed edition of the pop-culture podcast with Mickey, the rant against Adam Gase and a culture of excuses on Turn on the Jets, a long chat about the Democratic primary and a bit of The Mandalorian with Jonah, talking Christmas memories with The Editors, and our ongoing end-of-the-year awards on the Three Martini Lunch . . .

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