The Phony Campaign — 2015-04-19 Update

[phony baloney]

Last week's O'Malley/Biden boomlet at Predictwise fizzled out this week, as their Oval Office Occupancy probabilities have dropped to 1.5% and 1.1%, respectively. So, by our arbitrary cutoff of 2%, they're outta here:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-04-12
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,970,000 +1,195,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 511,000 +125,000
"Rand Paul" phony 227,000 +29,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 160,000 +76,300
"Scott Walker" phony 114,000 +5,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 95,500 +18,700

And what of Ted Cruz? He was tantalizingly close to inclusion last week at 1.8%. But as I type, his odds have gone back to the are-you-kidding level: 0.9%. Ted's poor impressions of characters from his favorite episodes of The Simpsons may have contributed to this fade.

But when it comes to phoniness, everyone's a sure thing:

  • On Monday, Hillary went to a Chipotle in Maumee, Ohio. The media picked up this momentous story and ran with it. She eats! At Vox, Matthew Yglesias called it "the dumbest media frenzy of 2016 (so far)". That did not stop him from writing about it, though.

  • Hillary's phoniness got talked about a lot this week. Michael Walsh was especially acerbic in "The Sham Candidacy of Hillary Clinton — and What It Means for the Republic".

    Let us please stipulate that in a rational world, a woman like Hillary Rodham Clinton would have absolutely no chance of being nominated for, much less elected, president of the United States. She has achieved nothing, accomplished nothing (unless you count the four dead Americans at Benghazi, for which she will ultimately be held responsible); she is an exremely [sic] poor public speaker, full of annoying verbal and physical tics; she is legendarily dishonest; she is a hard-core Alinskyite; and in general a wretched human being. By rights, she should be laughed off the stage, the same way the smart set laughed at Lurleen Wallace, who succeeded her husband George Wallace, the racist Democrat, as governor of Alabama back in 1967. She has no natural political constituency, except the manufactured “women’s vote,” and no rationale for her candidacy except that it’s “time” for a woman president, just as it was “time” for a part-black African, part-Arab, half-white, paternally cultural Muslim to pass for a traditional African-American Christian and be elected president in 2008.

  • At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff discussed Hillary's Wednesday lie that all her grandparents were immigrants. (This took approximately 40 seconds to be debunked: only one of her grandparents was born outside the US.)

    Why did Clinton lie about her grandparents? Perhaps because she wanted to show an authentic connection to the American experience.

    Unfortunately for Clinton, the more desperately she seeks to demonstrate authenticity, the more inauthentic she looks.

    As I said a few months back: With Hillary, as with her husband, dishonesty is the default setting.

  • The great Charles Krauthammer worked the topic into an entire column: "Hillary’s Authentic Inauthenticity". This is about as sympathetic as conservatives will get on the issue:

    She doesn’t just get media coverage; she gets meta-coverage. The staging is so obvious that actual events disappear. The story is their symbolism — campaign as semiotics.

    This quality of purposeful abstractness makes everything sound and seem contrived. It’s not really her fault. True, she’s got enough genuine inauthenticity to go around — decades of positioning, framing, parsing, dodging — but the perception is compounded by the obvious staginess of the gigantic political apparatus that surrounds her and directs her movements.

  • Face it: when it comes to phoniness, we could be all-Hillary all the time here. Let's force ourselves away. Jeb Bush was in our fair state this week, and…

    On a New Hampshire radio show Friday morning, Bush acknowledged that campaigning requires a person to reveal "vulnerabilities" and "get outside your comfort zone," two ways of proving that a candidacy is "not all staged in some kind of phony way."

    … demonstrating that Jeb failed to take Jonah Goldberg's advice from a few months back: stop reading your stage directions.


Last Modified 2015-04-20 4:28 AM EDT
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Money is Evil, Unless You're Sending It To UNH (2015 version)

Last year, the University Near Here offered a program called the "Future Leaders Institute". Subtitle: "A Summer Camp for Ambitious High-School Students." Pun Salad was unsympathetic.

But despite the scorn and derision, they are doing it again this year. Their description is slightly altered this year, and I've tweaked my 2014 comments appropriately. Otherwise, it's a rerun.

What will our Ambitious Future Leader High-School Students be doing at camp? Whittling? Canoeing? Learning how to recognise different types of trees from quite a long way away?

Nah. The camp's theme is "Money, Greed, Corruption." (Week One covers "Money, Greed and Society". The optional Week Two's topics: "Money, Politics and Government".) It doesn't sound like the Future Leaders will be learning any useful wilderness skills, or having much fun at all. The curriculum will be set up by faculty members of the Paul College of Business and Economics… no, sorry, I'm kidding. It will be run by R. Scott Smith, Professor of Classics, and Nick Smith, Professor of Philosophy, both of UNH's College of Liberal Arts (COLA).

Let's take a look at the program description, commenting as we go:

We tend to have mixed feelings about money and how it influences us.

What they actually mean to say: different people hold wildly different opinions about it.

Ayn Rand once described money as the "root of all good."

She did! Or rather, one of her Atlas Shrugged good guys, Francisco d’Anconia, did. His speech is reproduced here. (Recommended reading.)

Karl Marx (echoing a host of ancient thinkers) thought money was closer to the "root of all evil."

Despite the "quotes", I'm pretty sure Marx didn't say that, but it's true that he was no fan. Last year, the source of the quotation was correctly identified as 1 Timothy 6:10, where love of money (not money itself) is identified as the "root of all evil".

[1 Timothy, by the way, is also well-known for being the epistle where Apostle Paul advocated that women shut up and know their place and advised slaves to be respectful to their masters. Bible-thumpers pick and choose which parts of the book to thump.]

In any case: you see where we're going with this: it's gonna be Rand vs. Marx and a "host of ancient thinkers." Good luck, Ayn.

Money provides a near universal common denominator that allows people on opposite sides of the world to exchange things of value with great efficiency.

Stipulated. Not even Francisco d’Anconia would disagree. But:

Money motivates us, for better or worse, to do things we would not otherwise do.

Confused drivel. All incentives, including economic ones, can lead us to make different choices than we would otherwise. That is the definition of "motivate". But the paycheck is not the goal, it's not in the driver's seat; it's what the paycheck allows us to do. (Quoting Francisco: "[Money] will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires.")

Your desires may be wise or foolish, noble or base. Don't blame (or bless) "money" for your own choices and values.

Business leaders often see making money as their primary goal, but this objective often conflicts with and sometimes overrides all other principles.

Pay attention, aspiring academic writers: If, in a single sentence, you use "often" twice and "sometimes" once, nobody can prove you wrong.

No doubt: businessmen are guilty of attempting to run their businesses more profitably than a couple of COLA profs think they should. It's difficult to work up any outrage, or even concern, about that at all.

Although we live in a democracy where citizens' votes are supposed to count equally, we know that money influences politics at many levels.

A brave stand against (unnamed) corrupt politicians! Hey, I won't defend them. Although I'd wager far more politicians are corrupted by their love of coercive state power than by love of money. Good luck getting a couple of Liberal Arts profs to even recognize that, let alone preach against it.

Can one be a good person, honest, loyal and caring while attempting to maximize profits and win elections in a money-hungry world?

Yes. Thanks for asking.

But ask the question without adding the superfluous phrase "in a money-hungry world." People that blame a "money-hungry world" for their own poor life choices are irresponsible losers.

Or are ethical principles naive in a world where money and power are so entwined?

The answer here is "No". Again, thanks for asking.

Here's one bit I left out. From up at the top of the page:

Cost: one week: $900 two weeks: $1,600.

Yes, they are charging money to tell the kiddos how awful money is. (Is this irony? I can never tell.)

I'll close with the final paragraph of Francisco's speech, linked above:

Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns–or dollars. Take your choice–there is no other–and your time is running out.

I'd put the whole thing on the Ambitious Future Leaders High-School Students' required reading list. In fact, I'd be happy to give a dramatic reading of it for the AFLHSS this summer. And to show what a money-loving greedy selfish bastard I am: I would do it for free.


Last Modified 2015-04-17 6:19 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2015-04-12 Update

[phony baloney]

It looks as if Hillary is officially getting into the race today. The official response among people betting actual money on the outcome was… to wager a little more heavily on some other Democrat to win. Martin O'Malley (as I type) is given a 2.3% chance of becoming our next president, and Joe Biden is coming in at 2.0%. So by our (arbitrary) standards (2% or above), we welcome them both to the phony standings:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-04-05
"Jeb Bush" phony 775,000 +12,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 386,000 +4,000
"Rand Paul" phony 198,000 +46,000
"Joe Biden" phony 145,000 ---
"Scott Walker" phony 109,000 -6,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 92,100 ---
"Marco Rubio" phony 83,700 -1,400
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 76,800 -4,800

On the Ted Cruz watch? PredictWise says his odds are improving! From 1.5% last week to… a solid 1.8% this week! Hang in there, Ted!

  • Even though The New Republic is kind of a bad joke these days, I am obligated to mention a recent article by Elspeth Reeve appearing there: "Hillary Clinton Needs to Be More Fake". Really? Well, here's the argument, I think: Hillary was "real" back when Bill was running for president. And, while some people found it appealing, most were turned off. Ms. Reeve concludes:

    To become more “authentic,” Hillary must become even more fake, set us at ease by playing to all the dumb tropes of the popular portrait of the everywoman—one who is devoted to slopwave food (premium juice, premium oatmeal, kale slurry) but is a little embarrassed about it. A wacky career gal who is unlucky in ... something. Clinton should consider tripping publicly, perhaps while eating yogurt. Then laugh really loud, but not inauthentically loud. The only thing worse than being fake in politics is being real.

    Perceptive commentary or barely coherent drivel? You make the call!

    The blurb at the end claims Elspeth Reeve is a senior editor at The New Republic. And she couldn't get away with lying about that, could she?

  • Also welcoming Hillary's Official Announcement was Ian Tuttle at National Review: "Hillary Clinton’s Truman Show Campaign".

    For decades, Hillary Clinton has had her entire life scripted. She has existed in a world insulated by handlers and managers and “her people,” all of whom are employed for the overarching purpose of mediating her engagement with the calamitous world “out there.” Yet every time the bubble is pricked, and we no longer have to see Hillary Clinton through limousine glass darkly, we rediscover her vices — her obsessive secretiveness, her arrogance, her shrewish treatment even of those closest to her — and the unmistakable fact that she is simply not equipped to deal with the world unmediated.

    As you would expect a right-wing troglodyte to say: Ian Tuttle is on-target here. I wonder if low-info voters will catch on?

  • We couldn't let this NYT report go by: "Jeb Bush Listed Himself as ‘Hispanic’ on Voter Form".

    The NYT (somewhat surprisingly) compares this to Elizabeth Warren's self-identification as Native American. But that misrepresentation (as Ian Tuttle notes) helped Warren gain traction on academia's slippery promotion slope; there doesn't seem to have been any obvious benefit for Jeb to fib to the voter-registration officials. So does it imply anything? At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff speculates that it was a Freudian slip. David Frum is quoted:

    Both Jeb Bush and Barack Obama are men who have openly and publicly struggled with their ambivalence about their family inheritance. Both responded by leaving the place of their youth to create new identities for themselves: Barack Obama, as an organizer in the poor African-American neighborhoods of Chicago; Jeb Bush in Mexico, Venezuela, and at last in Cuban-influenced Miami. Both are men who have talked a great deal about the feeling of being “between two worlds”: Obama, in his famous autobiography; Bush, in his speeches. Both chose wives who would more deeply connect them to their new chosen identity. Both derived from their new identity a sharp critique of their nation as it is. Both have built their campaign for president upon a deep commitment to fundamental transformation of their nation into what they believe it should be.

    (I have duplicated the emphasis that Mirengoff added to Frum's words.)

    At National Review, Mark Krikorian believes that this was Jeb's way of "subscribing to the tribalism that … has replaced color-blindness and assimilationism". Maybe. I like his further point:

    But rather than pick on Señor Arbusto (sorry!), it’s more productive to use the incident as a teachable moment (ugh!). Jeb’s fakery suggests why we should abolish government racial and ethnic categories, building a wall of separation, as it were, between race and state, as we do between church and state. No one would think of asking your religion on a voter-registration form or job application — in fact, it’s illegal. So should it be for other attributes that are irrelevant to the content of your character — hair color, say, or handedness or what country your grandparents came from.

    Mr Krikorian and Pun Salad have been in agreement on this for years.

  • Another must-read for students of political phoniness this week: Dartmouth's own Brendan Nyhan in the NYT explains "How Scott Walker Has Escaped the ‘Inauthentic’ Label So Far" Among the insights, after summarizing the recent history of (successful and unsuccessful) political phoniness:

    It also helps that Governor Walker is likely to become a better political performer than Mr. Romney or Mr. Kerry ever were. Candidates who seem too programmed appear to fall in the uncanny valley between politicians and regular people, which reminds the news media that all candidates are artificial and sets off a search for (often dubious) evidence of their inauthenticity. By contrast, more skilled performers like George W. Bush or Fred Thompson can attempt wholesale reinventions and face less scrutiny.

    I will only quibble that "skilled performer" Fred Thompson's 2008 campaign went pretty much nowhere.

  • At Hot Air, the headline of Allahpundit's article about Rand Paul's South Carolina campaign is chuckle-worthy: "Anti-war candidate gives speech in front of big-ass warship"

    At Reason, Nick Gillespie used the occasion and the theatrics to ask: "Has Rand Paul Turned Into a Neocon Hawk?". (Spoiler: no, not really.)


Last Modified 2015-04-15 5:45 AM EDT
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Miscellanies du Jour - 2015-04-10

  • Fairness dictates that we note the University of Michigan decided that their students were mentally stable enough after all to endure the showing of American Sniper on campus. Clearly they were unable to stand ridicule of their politically-correct wussiness.

    Katherine Timpf provides a list: "Seven Other Things That Have Been Declared ‘Unsafe’ at Colleges" Among her examples…

    2. Face paint of any color at any event ever

    Last October, Arizona State University’s athletics department banned facepaint — “whether the theme is black, maroon, gold or white” — because ASU is an “inclusive and forward-thinking university” and they must make sure that “everyone feels safe and accepted.” They did not explain whether or not any students had actually reported feeling threatened by the paint, and if so, how those students were handling their lives currently.

  • At Minding the Campus, John Leo summarizes a new report from the National Association of Scholars: "Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism". From the report:

    To the unwary, “sustainability” is the newer name for environmentalism. But the goals of the sustainability movement are different. They go far beyond ensuring clean air and water and protecting vulnerable plants and animals. As an ideology, sustainability takes aim at economic and political liberty. Sustainability pictures economic liberty as a combination of strip mining, industrial waste, and rampant pollution. It pictures political liberty as people voting to enjoy the present, heedless of what it will cost future generations. Sustainability’s alternative to economic liberty is a regime of far-reaching regulation that controls virtually every aspect of energy, industry, personal consumption, waste, food, and transportation. Sustainability’s alternative to political liberty is control vested in agencies and panels run by experts insulated from elections or other expressions of popular will.

    The University Near Here has its very own Sustainability Institute. They don't advertise their hostility to economic and political liberty, but I imagine they would do so if plied with enough organic, locally-produced wine.

  • George Leef has an interesting and provocative article looking at a new book by Kevin Carey: The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere. It's about the impending breakout of low-priced higher education. Folks in the employ of your traditional bricks-and-mortar universities, beware:

    One implication of the rise of the University of Everywhere seems to be that in the future, students who are serious about learning and demonstrating their capabilities will stop enrolling in the typical college or university. Those institutions have developed great expertise in hauling in money but remarkably little expertise in teaching and assessing student outcomes.

    Why it's enough to make a University administrator sound like Governor William J. Le Petomane: "We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!"

    I've put Carey's book on the top of the to-be-read pile.

  • Despite the blog's title, we don't do a lot of puns here. But this one gave me a chuckle:


Last Modified 2015-04-11 6:00 AM EDT
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Irritants du Jour - 2015-04-08

  • Yesterday, the United States Postal Service unveiled a new stamp honoring the late Maya Angelou. It simply features her smiling picture, her name, and a quote:

    "A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."

    Well, that's nice. But it didn't take much time for people to point out something that should have been caught long before:

    A number of luminaries are expected at Tuesday morning’s unveiling ceremony for the new stamp honoring the late author Maya Angelou, among them first lady Michelle Obama. An 89-year-old children’s book author named Joan Walsh Anglund won’t be there. But her words will be: The quote on the stamp originated with Anglund.

    Not that it matters, but Ms. Walsh is a much paler lady. It appears she's handling the misattribution with grace and tact.

    “Yes, that’s my quote,” Anglund said Monday night from her Connecticut home. It appears on page 15 of her book of poems “A Cup of Sun,” published in 1967. Only the pronouns and punctuation are changed, from “he” in Anglund’s original to “it” on the stamp.

    So not only did they misattribute the quote, but they also "fixed" its non-PC pronoun.

    Your Federal Government (and also the University Near Here) seem to have problems with accurately quoting notable black Americans. At least this one isn't carved in stone or anything.

    Present at the celebration was Nikki "Thug Life" Giovanni, previously seen at Pun Salad here.

  • The University of Michigan will not be showing Clint Eastwood's American Sniper due to some student complaints. The people in charge followed the usual craven template used to justify the stifling of unacceptable expression:

    “While our intent was to show a film, the impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcomed at our program,” stated The Center for Campus Involvement, which oversees student activities and is run by university employees, as it announced its decision Tuesday on its various social media accounts, including Twitter and Facebook.

    To underscore the wimpiness of this cave-in, the replacement movie will be Paddington. Which will only make bears feel unsafe and unwelcomed, so that's OK.

    The University Near Here plans to show American Sniper in the Memorial Union Building next week. At least that's the plan. I don't see Paddington in the schedule.

    For more head-shaking exasperation: Nick G at Reason. At Power Line, John Hinderaker checks out the other movies on the UMich schedule, apparently OK when judged on saftey and welcomingness. And at AEIdeas, Mark J. Perry performs needed (but cruel) editing to bring UMich president Mark Schlissel’s inauguration speech up to date in light of this news.

  • I am inclined to view Rand Paul favorably, but his speech announcing his candidacy contained something really stupid:

    I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed.

    As many people have noted, he should have stopped after "equally". Over to Patrick Brennan:

    Now, maybe Paul just meant he wants to get rid of all laws that land people of color in prison at rates higher than the rate at which they commit the crime in question (his campaign didn’t say this, though). The problem with this is that it’s quite hard to say which laws those are, so we can’t just promise to repeal whichever ones qualify. And even if we could determine which laws are applied unequally, that doesn’t mean we should do away with them, it just presents a problem that might be outweighed by the law’s necessity or benefits for public order. There are other ways to fix the unequal application of justice than repealing statutes wholesale. (Indeed, Paul and other conservatives have suggested some of them.)

    It was a cheap pander, more likely to be seen by the panderees as insulting than convincing.


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The Phony Campaign — 2015-04-05 Update

[phony baloney]

In exciting news, the bettors have thought better of Ted Cruz's candidacy, and have raised the PredictWise probability of his being elected President from 1.4% last week to … drum roll … 1.5% this week (sad trombone).

Our phony lineup remains unchanged:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-03-29
"Jeb Bush" phony 763,000 +10,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 382,000 -11,000
"Rand Paul" phony 152,000 -21,000
"Scott Walker" phony 115,000 -36,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 85,100 -5,800
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 81,600 -16,000

  • Back in March, Scott Walker visited Concord High School and revealed that he'd purchased an item at a Granite State Kohl's for a cool $1. (There's an 18-minute video at the link which I didn't view in its entirety, but I'll assume this Tale of Smart Shopping is in there somewhere.)

    It took a while for Scott's Tale of Shopping to become an Official Talking Point of Outrage, but I assume (1) opposition researchers dug out this meager crumb, leading to (2) fulminations about it at "progressive" sites; (3) our local Democrats dutifully transcribe such fulminations into letters sent to local print media—I assume there's some sort of organized clearinghouse that assigns such letters like homework—and (4) our local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, dutifully prints them.

    And so it came to pass that on April Fool's Day, 2015, a letter from one Anthony McManus of Dover appeared in my paper, and it saith (in part):

    Scott Walker doesn’t deserve to be President because he doesn’t understand the irony and implications of his recent boasting about having been able to buy a t-shirt at Kohl’s for a dollar while campaigning in NH. It was likely meant to be an example of how frugal he is in his approach to spending, but consider this:

    The shirt was more than likely not made in the USA, another example of American jobs going overseas. The country of origin was probably one with subsistence wages, sub-standard working conditions, and minimal or non-existent health providers and educational opportunities for the workers who produced the shirt and their families. In other words, a system of exploitation of the population for the benefit of the factory owner and the large corporation, like Kohl’s.

    I.e., Walker doesn't "deserve to be President" because he doesn't buy the usual protectionist claptrap.

    I don't know about you, but this makes me want to go through Anthony McManus's closets and drawers to discover the countries whence the items of his apparel originated.

    Further illumination on this weighty matter came from an unlikely source: PolitiFact. They were egged on to check Walker's story by "readers from around the country." By which they meant: people who would love to catch Walker in a lie, even if it was only about shopping. And, as we know, Politifact would love to catch Walker in a lie as well. And so they dispatched their crack investigative team.

    But, alas, Politifact reluctantly had to rate Walker's yarn as "True". First, they examined the video, and determined that Walker was referring to the sweater he was wearing that very day. (Not, as Anthony McManus claimed, a t-shirt.) And, no doubt using CSI-style video recognition technology, they identified the item as a "Chaps Twisted Button Mock Sweater" in a color called "walnut twist."

    And Politifact found… well, what just about anyone who's spent more than five minutes in a Kohl's would have been able to tell them: Chaps sweaters can routinely be found on deep discount clearance, and if "Kohl's Cash" is used—as Walker claimed it was—"he could have easily gotten one for $1 out-of-pocket."

    Thanks goodness for investigative journalism!

  • A fresh opportunity for phoniness arose with the hoopla over Indiana's version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Jeb Bush apparently grabbed that opportunity with relish, as the NYT gleefully reported: "Jeb Bush Seems to Shift Tone in His Praise of Indiana Law":

    Jeb Bush appeared to modify his public comments about Indiana’s “religious freedom” law on Wednesday in a closed-door Silicon Valley fund-raiser, telling a small group of potential supporters that a “consensus-oriented” approach would have been better at the outset.

    The reporter deemed Jeb's position to the Silicon Valley fat cats to be "strikingly different in tone and in scope" than what he said a couple days previous to Hugh Hewitt.

    I sympathize somewhat with Jeb. Unless he says exactly the same thing on a topic to all listeners at all times, outlets such as the NYT will note that his comments are "strikingly different in tone and in scope".

    And if he does manage to stick to his talking points, he will be noted as "not straying from his pre-packaged script."

  • Even "respectable" MSM-friendly conservatives are beginning to notice Jeb's intractable problem connecting to the GOP base. A recent Tampa Bay Times analysis contains a good quote about his seeming annoyance with having to deal with those people:

    "That's not a starting point for dialogue with conservative voters. That's more like a middle finger," said Tucker Carlson, editor in chief of the Daily Caller. "You couldn't pick two more resonant issues for Republican primary voters than immigration and Common Core. ... Jeb says to them, 'Not only do I not agree with you, I don't agree with you at all — and I don't really respect your views on it.' "

    Or as Mickey Kaus tweets it:


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The Phony Campaign — 2015-03-29 Update

[phony baloney]

Small technical note: I'm arbitrarily switching our inclusion criterion for the phony poll (which were already arbitrary) to "2.0% or higher at PredictWise.

For now, Predictwise (run by some smart Microsoft Research employees) is driven by the Betfair exchange results we were previously using, although they go to the trouble of (a) calculating a probability from the current betting odds; (b) sorting the results by decreasing probability; (c) normalizing the results so they add up, more or less, to 100%.

Under the new criterion, the candidate list is the same this week, with Hil and Liz for the Dems; Jeb, Scott, Marco, and Rand for the GOPs:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-03-22
"Jeb Bush" phony 753,000 -138,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 393,000 -23,000
"Rand Paul" phony 173,000 +5,000
"Scott Walker" phony 151,000 +2,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 97,600 +5,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 90,900 -5,200

  • Ted Cruz announced his candidacy this week and promptly… remained just as much of a long shot as he was before (PredictWise: 1.4%). If that depresses you as much as it does me, Kevin D. Williamson wrote a piece for us at NR: "Of Course Ted Cruz Could Win".

    Well, yeah, sure, he could. But people wagering actual cash think otherwise.

    It's a darn shame, too, because if we included Ted in our table, he would be in a solid third place, right behind Hillary. For example, Peggy Noonan from her Saturday WSJ braindump column:

    It is not hard to notice that every Cruz conversation, every interview, seems to be the rote performance of a speech. In public, and often in private, he moves his hands and face and modulates his voice like a TV pro. Politicians have to be actors, but the trick is to be an actor without being a phony.

    Ms. Noonan also quotes, but does not name, another conservative senator: "He's a complete charlatan, you know." Merits aside, it's hard to see how he wins when he's generated this much intraparty ire, this early in his career.

    Also see: Matt Lewis in The Week.

  • In one of those coincidences that made "synchronicity" a thing: the world "spoliation" plays an important role on last week's episode of "Better Call Saul". And then "Better Call Paul" Mirengoff of Powerline uses the term to describe what Hillary did at some point to her private e-mail server.

    The public need not draw adverse inferences about Clinton’s actions relating to Benghazi, and most non-partisans probably won’t. But if the public reaches the inescapable conclusion (assuming the facts support it) that Clinton destroyed documents after the State Department, not Republicans, asked her for them, and that controversy was swirling around her at the time, Clinton’s bid for the presidency might well be set back.

    My guess is such a setback would require actual journalistic diligence and integrity from the MSM, so it's not likely.

    For example, note George Will's recent column noting the most characteristic behavior of Hillary, Bill, and their close associates: a sleazy, shady lawlessness. Can you tell me with a straight face that anyone else (especially any-Republican-one else) would have not been hounded out of public life long ago?

  • These tweets from NYT reporter Amy Chozick drew a lot of attention:

    At first I thought… naw, "HRC Super Volunteers" has to be a false-flag operation run by some right-winger with a sense of humor and a good feel for a tone that might fool a credulous NYT reporter.

    But apparently not; although not officially attached to the Clinton campaign, the mail came from a group headed by ex-male model John West, composed of real-deal Hillary fans. And John, for one, is sensitive to that sort of stuff:

    "It was sexist media coverage that brought us together, especially in Texas and Ohio," West said of HRC Super Volunteers' founding. "As a gay man, I find sexism synonymous with homophobia. We're liberals and progressives. So we're very sensitive to that sort of stuff."

    Told you.

    There is a "HRC Suprt Volunteers" Twitter account. I am unconvinced that this is not a parody. I dare you to read it without chuckling.


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Frivolities du Jour - 2015-03-27

  • New Hampshire's own P.J. O'Rourke decides to give that transgender thing a try:

    I look in the mirror. I suppose androgynous middle-age flab is a start. I could probably fit into a bra size 46A. Five days of stubble isn’t helping. But I have it on good authority that where I live, in New Hampshire, many women give up shaving over the winter when nobody ever gets out of their Under Armour anyway. Besides, what’s the most significant difference between men and women, now that age has somewhat banked the fires of passion and the baby-having is done? Women smell good!

    It's an adventure; is Peej up to the challenge?

  • Mental Floss looks at "21 Creative TV Edits of Naughty Movie Lines". Like The Big Lebowski: "This is what happens, Larry! This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!"

  • Have you ever found yourself wondering: who is that hot ad girl? Well, now there's a Tumblr site that may answer that nagging question: Who is that hot ad girl?

    A quick test... that Wendy's redhead? Check. The smart young lady selling AT&T data plans? Check. And the mature (but still hot) woman patiently explaining why you should buy a lot of Viagra? Check.

    Inexplicably absent: Progressive Flo. But she's easy enough to find on Wikipedia.

  • Despite the blog's title, we don't do a lot of puns here. But:


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The Phony Campaign — 2015-03-22 Update

[phony baloney]

The punters at Betfair have shifted Bobby Jindal's odds of winning the Presidency down to 32, below our arbitary criterion (30) for inclusion in the phony standings:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-03-15
"Jeb Bush" phony 891,000 +14,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 416,000 -33,000
"Rand Paul" phony 168,000 +6,000
"Scott Walker" phony 149,000 +7,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 96,100 +10,400
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 92,600 +12,400

But there's still lots of phoniness to look at:

  • At Bloomberg, Will Leitch compares and contrasts Jeb Bush's NCAA tournament picks with President Obama's. And makes the point:

    Three years ago, typically, Mitt Romney wasn’t sporting enough to join the NCAA Bracket fun, but generally, politicians know the value of spending five minutes filling in names of schools with players you’ve never heard of. It’s always nice to briefly engage the country by participating in the same ritual they all are: It reminds them you used to be human. You can criticize a politician for being a phony sports fan by filling out a bracket when they don’t actually watch a lot of college basketball … but honestly, how much college basketball do watch, pal? Yet I bet you found a way to fill out a bracket regardless.

    Might be a bit of political strategizing going on, too: Jeb picked Iowa to beat Davidson (they did); Iowa State to beat UAB (they didn't, but it was a squeaker); and Northern Iowa to beat Wyoming (they did). Could he be tilting his picks to advance his political fortunes? Leitch pooh-poohs: "…if there is a caucusgoer who will vote for a candidate because, 10 months ago, they picked their team to advance in a tournament that has long been decided, I’m not sure they count as “statistically significant.”'

  • The WaPo's Jen Rubin makes fun of the "Hillary needs a rival" argument (we briefly looked at one example last month):

    The notion of getting a workout pony for Hillary Clinton is simultaneously patronizing — like saying she could use more exercise, but not anything too strenuous — and self-delusional. If only she had a competitor then . . . well, then what? Would she stop dissembling about her secret e-mail system? Would she tell us what she really thinks about an Iran deal that gives the mullahs thousands of centrifuges and a pathway to an industrial-size nuclear weapons program? Would she have any new domestic ideas? Would she lose the grating, phony laugh and give back the millions to Goldman Sachs and the oil kingdoms? The plea for a competitor assumes Hillary Clinton has some reservoir of creativity, ethics and candor, which can bubble up to the surface if only a competitor arrived.

    I admit that "workout pony" is a term with which I was unfamiliar. Googling doesn't help much, leading to pages like this. (Which is not unsafe for work in itself, but pages that may be are only a click away from there.)

  • Sign that Scott Walker is a Serious Candidate comes from Politico:

    The weekend before last, at an industry-sponsored agriculture summit in Iowa, Walker said he opposes the Renewable Fuel Standard philosophically and would like to phase it out “long-term” but that he would keep it in place indefinitely to help out farmers.

    I wish I could take credit for this rejoinder, but it's from "goldwaterconservative" at RedState:

    In other words, he is against it because it is bad but also for it because it is good.


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IT Nincompoops

Some readers may be aware of my day job: I help administer some of my employer's computer systems, including those that handle incoming and outgoing e-mail for our domain. Here at Pun Salad, I usually refer to my employer as the "University Near Here", more out of habit than from any intention to obscure. Interested readers can figure it out (hint: from the initials, add dot-e-d-u.), but I can't imagine why anyone would be that interested.

Based on years of experience, I've come up with a saying: "Any idiot can set up a mail server. And I am living proof of that."

So I was intrigued by the provocative take on the Hillary e-mail imbroglio coming from Steve Landsburg:

If Jeb Bush is elected president and appoints me Secretary of State, the first thing I will do is set up a private server to handle my official email correspondence. This is not because I expect to have anything to hide, but because I expect my email to be important, and I do not want my service to depend on the whims of the sorts of aggressively incompetent nincompoops who, in my experience, tend to populate the IT departments of large institutions.

Steve is Professor Of Economics at the University of Rochester. So, while he's not talking specifically about me, he's talking about people like me.

So my first thought was a reflexive Why, I oughta…

But my second thought was: Hey, you know, "Aggressively Incompetent Nincompoop" would have its advantages as a job title. Currently, I am officially an "Information Technologist", very vanilla and vague. Being an "Aggressively Incompetent Nincompoop" would get people's attention and (even better) might lower their expectations. All good.

And then I thought some more. Herewith, my brain dump.

Please note that my comments do not reflect on the IT department of the University Near Here. No nincompoops here, let alone aggressively incompetent ones. We're all darn competent, organized, helpful, cheerful, etc. (And at least some of us are smart enough to not claim otherwise in a public forum.)

Nevertheless, I understand at least some of the dynamics that might have caused Steve's critique.

  • IT departments are bureaucracies. Scott Adams got rich pointing out their funny-because-it's-true follies. Also applicable:

    Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

    First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

    Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

    The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

    My guess is that the University of Rochester is well along this evolutionary path, and that Steve may be dealing with a lot of the second class of people.

  • The higher-ed environment makes things worse, removing a lot of bottom-line scrutiny that might likely be applied in the more market-driven private sphere. (I might have heard speculation that "CIO" stands for "Commissar of Information Oligarchy". But you didn't hear that from me, comrade.)

  • I don't know for sure the sort of IT people that Steve deals with, but IT front-line support can be… well, speaking of people that got rich via funny-because-it's-true caricatures:

    And (it gets worse) the IT people on front-line support tend to be on the bottom of the totem pole, in high-turnover. positions. In an ideal world, they should (at least) have good people skills, even the occasional high-maintenance faculty member. But we don't live in an ideal world.

  • And finally, the services provided by IT must needs be scalable; there's no way to cater to the special needs of each individual service consumer, because resources are simply too scarce to allow it.

    This implies strongly that IT-provided services will be uniform among broad classes of clients, which (unfortunately) also can be characterized as "one size fits all" and "lowest common denominator".

    Corollary: this can easily irk people (like Steve?) who have higher demands and expectations. (And for whatever reason, people tend to expect more of IT than they do of other service-providing departments; nobody demands that Payroll print their paycheck on different color stock, perhaps with an infused cinnamon scent.)

All that being said, however…

I might grant, for the sake of argument, that an all-around smart guy like Steve Landsburg has set up a mail server providing better service than he would have obtained from the University of Rochester IT Department.

I might even grant Steve might do a better job than the State Department's IT gurus. I don't know them.

[It's worth pointing out, however, that Hillary's private mail setup was almost certainly less secure that what she would have received from State: see here and here, for example. Steve would probably do better. It would be hard not to.]

But even though Steve might do a better job than State's geek employees: that's not the way to bet. Why not?

  • Administration of critical IT infrastructure is not a hobby, or even a part-time job; it's not something you do to unwind after a tough day of negotiating with Putin.

  • So Steve would need to delegate. But that assumes that he would have access to non-nincompoops to whom he could delegate. If he knows those guys, why not simply install them at State's IT department in the first place, problem solved.

  • Note Steve's use, in the quote above, of "my", as in "my email". That's a problem: in an employment context, that might not be entirely accurate. For example, my employer's policy explicitly states that "all records" resident on its servers are "owned" by (guess who) my employer.

    My guess would be that State has the same verbiage somewhere. (And obviously, if my guess is correct, Hillary ran afoul of that policy.)

Bottom line: I can't agree with Steve here. But (as always) he gives me a lot to think about.


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