The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Recovering from a Weekend of Violent Shocks

Are we growing numb to this?

A young man clad in black and wearing a ballistic vest blasted his way into a Baptist church in this south Texas town on Sunday with an assault-type rifle, leaving at least 26 people dead and 20 others injured.

The gunman fled in a vehicle and died following a pursuit, law-enforcement officials said, adding that it wasn’t known whether he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound or was shot by someone else. Wilson County Commissioner Ernest “Skip” Hajek confirmed his identity as Devin Patrick Kelley. He said Kelley lived in the New Braunfels, Texas, area northeast of San Antonio.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed that Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge in 2014.

Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for two counts of assault on his spouse and on their child. He was given a bad conduct discharge, confined for a year and reduced to the rank of E-1. . .

This is the disturbingly regular time when we grasp for answers, and I think our David French puts things in the clearest possible perspective. Many of this morning’s furious calls for gun control will overlook that the shooter was not legally permitted to purchase or own his firearm. The coming days will probably reveal how he obtained his weapon; unless the shooter purchased his firearm at a gun show, it is unlikely that any new law would have prevented this atrocity, short of a complete ban on the private ownership of guns.

Is the impulse to commit mass murder so undetectable, and so unpreventable?

David:

 . . . while I’m extraordinarily grateful for the courage of the good guys with guns who’ve ultimately put a stop to multiple mass shootings — including this dreadful massacre — it’s not at all clear to me that good guys with guns present the answer to our troubles. They help, certainly, but they are not the cure for this national disease. If recent history teaches us anything, it’s that there is no reliable way to stop a man determined to commit mass murder. He can use guns, cars, trucks, fertilizer, or boxcutters to exact a terrible toll in human life.

Though there is no single answer, there is still effort. Individually, that means learning to how to use a weapon, carrying it, and remaining prepared to defend yourself and the people around you. Individually, that means if you see something, you say something. If a person is acting erratically or radicalizing in dangerous ways, then contact local law enforcement. Collectively, it’s difficult to identify effective prophylactic public policies. We have better answers for jihadists and other terrorists than we do for vengeful and evil men who lash out based on purely individual slights, real or imagined.

The weekend brought another horrifying surprise assault — thankfully not a deadly one, but disturbing in its own way:

Republican Sen. Rand Paul has five rib fractures, including three displaced fractures and lung contusions, after an assault in his home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a senior adviser told CNN.

Paul sustained what were initially reported as “minor injuries” after a neighbor allegedly assaulted him in his home Friday. Kentucky State Troopers said the neighbor, Rene Albert Boucher, “intentionally assaulted” the senator. The motive for the alleged assault is unknown, but assaulting a member of Congress is a federal crime and could likely result in severe charges including felony assault or assault of a member. Both Capitol Police and the FBI are investigating the incident.

The Final Countdown Begins in Virginia

This morning, Quinnipiac University released a new poll showing Democrat Ralph Northam up by 9 points over Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia gubernatorial election. As dire as that sounds for Gillespie, cynical minds will interpret this result as a face-saving correction by the pollster; the school’s previous survey last week showed Northam up by 17 points.

Most other pollsters show a much closer race: Christopher Newport University shows Northam up by 6 points, Emerson has Northam up by 3 points, the New York Times/Siena has the same, Rasmussen shows a tie and the Republican firm The Polling Company has Gillespie up by 3 points.

No one knows what the results will show Tuesday night, but it does feel like the Northam campaign stepped on a bunch of rakes in the closing weeks and days:

1. How did Democrats, of all people, not realize what a colossal mistake it is to print up any amount of flyers that leave off Justin Fairfax, the African-American candidate for lieutenant governor? Yes, yes, it’s allegedly because a union requested it, because of a disagreement with Fairfax over a pipeline project, but who couldn’t foresee that move becoming controversial? Former Democratic governor Doug Wilder chose to not endorse Northam, implying the flyer was a factor. Wilder has always had an independent streak, but if African-American turnout is lower than Democrats hope, you can expect a lot of finger-pointing about that flyer.

2. The Latino Victory ad — accepted by the Northam campaign as an in-kind contribution — was so over-the-top and incendiary that Chuck Todd was left asking the Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, “Democrats don’t like it when Republicans stereotype — aren’t you stereotyping? Are you saying that . . . all pickup truck drivers are racist? Do you understand why some people think the ad implies that?” Perez ignored the question and just accused Gillespie of running a “dog whistle politics” campaign. Now even those inclined to find Gillespie a squish have a reason to vote against the Democrats this year.

3. The support of the liberal PAC Democracy for America is probably not make-or-break for the Northam campaign. Still, it’s a little unusual to see a liberal group announce in the final week that they’re suspending support for the Democratic nominee and calling him “gutless, politically senseless, and morally debased” . . . for saying he would sign a bill banning sanctuary cities.

4. Patrick Ruffini observed that Northam is running ads tying Gillespie to Trump . . . on Fox News. How do you think most Virginians watching Fox News feel about Trump? This is basically doing the other guy’s get-out-the-vote for him.

Does all of that add up to a Gillespie win? We’ll know in 48 hours.

The Final Dossier: The Last Word on Twin Peaks . . . Ever?

Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost’s new novel, The Final Dossier, provides fans of the original program with a lot of the answers they’ve been seeking for almost three decades. It’s just maddening that the book is so necessary after the show’s 18-episode revival on Showtime.

The Final Dossier is perhaps best described as the detailed backstory and elaboration that fans thought they would get with Frost’s novel from last year, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and the Showtime series. While there are murmurs about starting work on a possible fourth season someday, it is entirely possible — perhaps likely — that this is the last word on Twin Peaks that fans ever get from one of the creators.

Frost’s first Twin Peaks novel was an intriguing and leisurely journey through esoteric American history and conspiracy theories that only occasionally overlapped with characters and events from the 1990-1991 ABC television series. For what it was, it was really good; it just felt more like a mix of X-Files, National Treasure, JFK, Dark Skies, and Stranger Things than the titular program. Back in 2016, I called it “a fascinating, eye-opening, thought-provoking fun read . . . that is still going to leave a lot of diehard Twin Peaks fans disappointed.”

Co-creators Frost and David Lynch have said in interviews that their friendship and working relationship are fine, and yet . . . Lynch offered this unexpected comment to Entertainment Weekly in March when asked about Frost’s book: “I haven’t read it. It’s his history of Twin Peaks.” [emphasis in original]

In that light, it’s less surprising that Frost’s book and the Showtime series were distant cousins at most. It’s nice that their friendship is rekindled, but perhaps the creative visions of the two men don’t quite align so much after all. When the recent series was done, some fans speculated that there was a better, much more coherent version of the story from Frost that was left on the cutting room floor by Lynch’s creative vision.

Frost may forever disagree with this characterization, but in The Final Dossier, it sure feels like he’s cleaning up the incoherent mess that Lynch left at the end of the series. Infuriatingly unresolved plotlines and cliffhangers are tied up every few pages: the unsavory end of Leo Johnson, the fate of Donna Hayward and the rest of her family, what happened to James Hurley, and so on. If The Final Dossier doesn’t completely explain the otherworldly final vision of Audrey Horne from the Showtime series, it gives fans the general gist of how her character spent the last 25 years and a likely explanation of her character’s painfully inscrutable scenes in the Showtime series. Perhaps most unexpectedly, we finally get a definitive answer to the haunting, closing question in the last line of dialogue of the original series, “How’s Annie?”

The narrative in The Secret History of Twin Peaks offered some glaring contradictions to what was seen onscreen in the original program, leaving some fans grumbling about Frost’s faulty memory or uncharacteristic lack of concern with detail. In his follow-up, he comes up with one fairly convincing explanation after another for those contradictions: lies, cover-ups, misinformation and efforts to hide secrets.

Within this narrative, the intervening decades brought a lot of pain and suffering for the town and its citizens, one that no doubt overlaps with Frost’s assessment of how the country has changed since the early 1990s to today. The timber industry collapsed, the sawmill shut down, and addiction to meth ravaged the poor and desperate. (In real life, the effort to protect the spotted owl played a role in the decline of the logging and timber industries in the Pacific Northwest. The population of the spotted owl kept declining, year by year, even after many new restrictions and regulations on the timber industry, and scientists now blame the invasive barred owl species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is spending $3.5 million over six years to remove 3,600 barred owls from sites in Oregon, Washington, and California.)

The Final Dossier suggests that the bleak tone of the Showtime series was not an accident or Lynch’s vision alone. What had once been a charming, if strangely haunted, small town now seemed to be overpopulated with trailers and drug-dealing backwoods white trash. An acerbic FBI pathologist writes in a meandering forensic report, “The world is changing pronto, Chief, and now that these salt-of-the-earth ‘country volk’ realize they’ve been left behind, it’s going to be sheer hell playing catch up.”

Anyone who follows Frost on Twitter can tell he’s left-of-center and brimming with disdain for President Trump and Republicans in general. In The Final Dossier, Frost’s politics don’t overwhelm the reader, but poke their heads up intermittently, and not always in ways that seem to make sense for the characters. Did anyone use the term “trigger warning” in 1989? Would any currently-serving FBI agent ever characterize the 9/11 attacks as “the first toll of the bell striking midnight for the American Experiment” in a memo? Donald Trump is never named specifically, but abundant clues in the context make clear that Frost imagines one of the series’ minor characters, a seductive gold-digger, interacting with Trump in the mid-1990s. It’s even suggested that Trump at some point wears a jade ring that is always associated with bad luck in the movies and series.

Spoilers Ahead

Frost even incorporates the most confounding aspect of the final episodes of the final series, the suggestion that the series original protagonist, FBI Agent Dale Cooper, succeeded in traveling back in time and saving Laura Palmer from her grisly fate. This closing twist suggested that history had been rewritten, and that nothing depicted in the series had actually happened, a possibility many fans found dissatisfying and a cop-out (no pun intended). Frost offers a scenario where history was indeed altered . . . yet like a river still running downhill around an obstruction, the altered path of fate did not dramatically alter the destination.

This ending is a little vague, but avoids the implication of the end of the Showtime series, that everything you watched and loved about this television show never happened. Some fans have speculated whether David Lynch is being honest when he says how much he loves Twin Peaks; it’s his most mainstream and popular work, but one that he co-created, one that required numerous creative compromises, and one that some critics argue was largely misinterpreted by the culture at large: What was supposed to be an examination of the capacity for evil to hide in the mundane within small-town American life turned into a national game of “Clue.” A lot of viewers felt a streak of misanthropy (and some argued, misogyny) ran through the new Showtime series: the town is declining, the young people are on meth, children are constantly endangered or neglected, brutal violence is rampant, even the villain seems to be going in circles chasing mysterious coordinates, and our once-heroic protagonist spends much of the series as a hapless, mentally inert man-child. If Lynch had intended to offer an artistic middle finger to a creation he had grown to hate as commercialized and kitschy, he wouldn’t have had to change much.

The Final Dossier gives the creation, and the fans, one last bit of affection before that last farewell.

ADDENDA: Tonight the quiz show Jeopardy begins its tournament of champions. A kind reader calls my attention to the fact that contestants will be wearing blue ribbons and memorial pins to honor Cindy Stowell, a longtime friend of my wife and myself. It is great to see her remembered and honored; I just wish everyone had a chance to see her beyond a cancer patient and Jeopardy champion.

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