The Phony Campaign — 2015-08-30 Update

No changes this week in our phony lineup, according to our arbitrary PredictWise criterion. Jeb! increases his solid phony lead on the pack:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 2,340,000 +620,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 490,000 +79,000
"Donald Trump" phony 343,000 +7,000
"John Kasich" phony 185,000 -12,000
"Joe Biden" phony 168,000 +8,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 122,000 -9,000
"Scott Walker" phony 115,000 -9,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 104,000 -1,000

In the phony news this week:

  • Michael Kinsley (of all people) writes in Vanity Fair (of all places) some surprising wisdom:

    […] the biggest problem with American politics is phony umbrage: invented issues that substitute for serious debate. They allow candidates to climb onto their high horses and go nowhere important. They allow voters to avoid thinking about the choices this country needs to make. Yet they often dominate the political debate.

    Kinsley is well-known for occasional non-ideological insights, and this is one of those times. His general topic is "what may be the the worst editorial that has ever graced" the pages of the New York Times. That's a high bar to clear.

  • Been wondering why the media ignores Bernie Sanders? Find out the awful truth in "Why The Media Ignores Bernie Sanders". Samuel Warde connects the dots.

    See if you can follow what Warde bills as "proof": (1) Warde lives in Colorado; (2) one of his news sources is Denver's channel 9; (3) which is owned by TEGNA Media; (4) in which Carl C. Icahn has a 7% ownership stake; (5) Icahn has been named-dropped by Donald Trump as his (hypothetical) Secretary of the Treasury or (again, hypothetical) chief trade negotiator in the (even more hypothetical) Trump Administration!

    Q.E.D. All that's missing is a strident wake up, sheeple!

  • The coveted Deez Nuts endorsement goes to…

    Deez Nuts, the 15-year-old Iowa boy whose fake third-party presidential campaign has gone viral, has endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich for the GOP nomination.

    Deez (I call him Deez) endorses Bernie Sanders on the Democrat side. But he's still endorsing himself for the general election in November 2016. (In the event of a Trump/Clinton matchup, I'll probably do the same.)

  • You've probably already seen this, but:

    When voters were asked [in a Quinnipiac University poll] to say the first word that came to mind when they thought of Hillary Clinton, the most popular responses were “liar,” “dishonest,” and “untrustworthy.”

    Complete list is at the link. "Phony", our personal favorite, appears pretty far down (a mere 8 responses), but that's OK. Surprisingly: it was edged out by "murder" (9 responses); apparently some people are still sore about Vince Foster.

  • At some point, you have to ask: is Jeb Bush even an actual person?

    (Apologies for the dreadful narrator and his meandering presentation.)

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Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Our track record on summer blockbusters: six so far. Seems like fewer! We saw this one at the Regal Cinemas Fox Run, in a theater with "plush seating" recliners, just like at home. If you have those at home.

Anyway, the movie: Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt, again, with his IMF teammates Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames). Unfortunately, the current CIA head (one of those Baldwin guys) has developed a strong dislike of the IMF's independent and impudent ways, and he wangles the team's dissolution. For libertarians, this is the most unlikely part of the movie: a government agency that actually gets terminated? Hah!

In addition to this friendly fire, Ethan is also set upon by the ultra-secretive "Syndicate" (aka the "Rogue Nation" in the title). It's led by the creepy Solomon Lane, who's responsible for thousands of innocent deaths worldwide. And there's also the beautiful-but-deadly Ilsa—whose side is she on, anyway?

It's very long, 131 minutes, but it's filled with plenty of imaginative action: plane-dangling; chases with cars, motorcyles, and on foot; opera assassination (Turandot, so it's classy); fights with guns, knives, fists, and tranquilizer darts. And the ritual death-defying break-in to the impregnable fortress to … sorry, I forgot what that was for, actually.

In short, all good (forgettable) fun. No illusions that any of these characters exist outside of their action bubble. (Hunt's wife from a previous movie? Gone, baby, gone.)

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Hillary is Creepy

Hillary Clinton is grabbing a trick from the Obama campaign playbook: invite people to enter a drawing to have dinner with her. I was a sucker for this offer, just as I was for Obama's. Because (frankly) what amateur libertarian/conservative pundit wouldn't want to meet her, just on the off chance that you could post just the right question at just the right time to cause a well-publicized Clintonian meltdown, one that would cause all but die-hard supporters to realize that, OK, it's time to back away slowly from the crazy lady.

Such is the fantasy, anyway.

And good news, you can enter the drawing without giving the campaign one red cent! The link is buried in the fine print. It's the law, I think. No purchase necessary to win, or something.

The downside: you get on the campaign mailing list. Just about every day something comes in, usually begging for money. That's OK, I know where the delete button is.

But today…

[Hillary is creepy]

Whoa. I would think this would cause even some Hillary fans to say: Back off, lady! Or perhaps: Sheesh! How dumb and gullible does she think I am?

Or am I wrong? Does this really fool nearly every recipient into thinking that Hillary gives a rat's patootie about his or her birthday? Do they click immediately on one of the links, thinking OMG, she cares! She really cares! About me!

I got no clue. The pessimist in me has observed before: if there weren't a lot of idiot voters out there, Hillary and Bill would be, at best, mini-mall lawyers in Little Rock. (Making the generous assumption they would have avoided disbarment. Or jail.)

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[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Set in mid-eighteenth century Britain, Belle is a combination of Austen-like soap opera, inspiring (but fictionalized) biography, a little courtroom drama, and social commentary. It's not bad, but "just OK" not great either. It seems designed as Oscar-bait, but did not get any nominations.

The hero is "Dido", the beautiful but illegitimate mixed-race offspring of a British naval officer and a West Indies slave woman. The officer does the right thing, extracting the young Dido from slavery and ensconcing her with his British noble family. Then he's off again doing what British naval officers do, which unfortunately involves him dying.

Leaving Dido in a complex situation: her family has mixed feelings about mixed-race folk; British society of the day was not the most enlightened either. While Dido is charming, intelligent, and beautiful, her Austenesque prospects are not good. (There is a lot of back and forth about who's gonna marry who.)

Complicating things even further is her Uncle William, a judge, who must rule on the case of the Zong, a slave ship that threw its living cargo overboard in order to have enough drinking water for the more fortunate crew.

All in all: watchable, but also missable.

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In Plain Sight

[Amazon Link]

Amazon's Kindle version helpfully informs me that this is "A Joe Pickett Novel Book 6" by the great C. J. Box. It is, as usual, very good.

Joe is beset by problems. A missing ranch matriarch has prompted a shovel fight between three feuding brothers that Joe gets roped into. (Although as a game warden for Wyoming Game and Fish he shouldn't usually need to get involved in shovel fights, it seems he is around when this sort of thing crops up.) His supervisor despises him, clearly looking for an excuse to fire him.

And, oh yeah: a sociopathic killer is on his way to Twelve Sleep County to unleash misery on the Pickett family and murder Joe. That's not good either. (There's a back story to that, and it would help to have read books 1-5 in the series in order to flesh out a few things.)

What follows is a page-turning (for me, actually screen-swiping) tale of suspense, action, and violence. Box does something unusual for genre authors in involving Joe's family deeply in the plot. Joe is a devoted family man, but all the Pickett are recognizably unsaintly humans. So the Pickett family has its internal frictions and misunderstandings. But they are decent and likeable. In particular, Joe's oldest daughter, Sheridan, is growing up into a solid, perceptive young lady.

And, without spoilers, this book "changes everything" for Joe. We'll see what happens next.

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The Phony Campaign — 2015-08-23 Update

Our arbitrary criterion for inclusion (2% or higher probability of becoming president at the PredictWise prediction market) says we must bid farewell once more to the hapless Martin O'Malley. So:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,720,000 -1,700,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 411,000 -2,000
"Donald Trump" phony 336,000 -36,000
"John Kasich" phony 197,000 -7,000
"Joe Biden" phony 160,000 +1,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 131,000 +4,000
"Scott Walker" phony 124,000 +3,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 105,000 +2,000

What went down in Phonytown this past week? Let's see:

  • The RantPolitical site features a rant by Mark Twain (but probably not the famous one; the report of the famous one's death was not an exaggeration): "Hillary Clinton’s Phony Agenda Will Further Destroy America’s Economy". Well sure:

    Hillary Rodham Clinton mocks and ridicules the Confederate flag to position herself as a phony goddess of liberty. She contemptuously ridicules 299,521 Confederate dead and 200,000 armless and legless Confederate veterans who haunted barber shops and street corners until the 1940s. She belittles those long dead to serve her power binge. Four died needlessly in Benghazi because of Hillary. It’s now, always and forever all about Hillary. “Race is still a problem in America,” bitches Hillary. Where are the low income projects, and where’s the gangsta rap from Yukon Denalis within 20 miles of Hillary’s Chappaqua, N.Y. felony personal server home?

    I am not sad to see the Confederate flag go, but (on the other hand) nobody should fool themselves that the motive behind Hillary's every thought, word, and deed is compassion for the downtrodden. As Mr. Twain indicates: it's about her power lust.

  • Ex-Congresscritter Allen West reacts to the leaked video of Hillary's meeting with "Black Lives Matter" activists. Intro:

    I’m pretty sure those of you reading this have long known Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is nothing if not a big fat phony. Her campaign talking points are taken straight from the Democrat Book of Pandering. Adding insult to injury, Mrs. Clinton’s delivery of said talking points is as wooden as the paper on which they’re printed.

    Video of the encounter at the link. West encourages viewers to pay "special attention to the Democrat candidate’s facial expressions and body language." West can stand it, can you?

  • Matthew K Burke collects the "Top Ten Reasons Why Jeb Bush Is NOT A Conservative". Just ten? Well, it's a round number. Here's #3:

    Jeb Bush’s dad famously said “Read my lips, no new taxes,” but went on to be the Rockefeller Republican that he was, raising taxes which ultimately cost him his re-election and resulted in giving America — Bill Clinton (not to mention his wife). Jeb Bush is flexible enough in his phony conservativism to not make the same mistake. He won’t pledge to not raising taxes, period. Is there any conservative in America who thinks taxes are possibly too low. Yes, there is one — Jeb Bush.

  • Kimberly A. Strassel of the WSJ provides a useful service for us libertarian-leaners, using Ohio Governor John Kasich an example:

    As the nation goes about mentally categorizing the crowded Republican field, here’s one way to divide the arena: small-government reformers and big-government surrenderists. That debate is at the center of a bigger GOP meditation on how to better appeal to the poor and minorities. Mr. Kasich has emerged as the most eloquent and compelling spokesperson for the go-big camp.

    Also falling on the big side, in Strassel's view: Santorum, Huckabee, Rubio, and (to the extent you can dig any coherent policy views out of the morass), Trump. Curiously left out of her indictment: Jeb (see above), Scott (Bucks-for-the-Bucks) Walker.

  • This week's award for unintentional hilarity goes to Chris Tognotti writing at Business Insider: "Bernie Sanders' campaign is facing a major danger"

    Oh no! What is it?

    These may be the boom times for Team Bernie, but there's still a bit of trouble in paradise. On Monday, a Sanders interview ran in the New York Times Magazine, conducted by longtime political journalist Ana Marie Cox. One of her questions sent Sanders and some of his supporters into a tizzy: “Do you think it’s fair that Hillary’s hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?”

    Read the whole thing for Bernie's answer to this lamely-framed question, the resulting Twitstorm, and (above all) Tognotti's deep-thinking analysis about What It All Means. Basically: Sanders' failure to insufficiently genuflect to current progressive theology on race and gender is completely problematic.

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What We Do in the Shadows

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's a vampire comedy. Starring, co-written, and co-directed by one-half of Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine Clement. So of course it's funny. It's R-rated (MPAA: "bloody violent content, some sexual material and language.")

The idea is that it's a documentary, filmed in a reality-TV style. Except the subjects are vampires, four of them living in a unremarkable house in Wellington, New Zealand. They have the typical housemate spats: who's gonna clean up all that blood, stuff like that.

It's a funny premise, maybe a tad too thin when stretched to an hour and a half. Another theatrical-release sputterer, our second in a row. What's the deal there? Maybe it did better in New Zealand.

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The Drop

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A little crime thriller based on a Dennis Lehane short story; Lehane also wrote the screenplay. The story was set in Dorchester, because, well, Lehane. The movie moves the action down to Brooklyn, and adds a few more characters and plot threads.

The protagonist is Bob Saginowski, a nebbish who lives alone, and works tending bar at his cousin's joint. His cousin is Marv, played by the late James Gandolfini, his last role. The bar is called "Cousin Marv's" and it's a so-called "drop bar", where the primary source of profit is its use as a temporary repository of cash used in illegal transactions.

One night, Bob hears whimpering coming from a trash can; he investigates and pulls out a half-dead pit bull puppy. He also meets Nadia (the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo herself, Noomi Rapace) who helps him nurse the puppy back to health. All would seem to be well, until a local criminal psycho shows up with all sorts of demands. Bob seems totally helpless in the face of malevolent evil. But is he?

Despite all the star power, the movie fizzled in its theatrical release. I was particularly impressed with Tom Hardy: this is the same guy who played Bane? And Mad freakin' Max? And here's he's just a schlub, albeit one with unexpected qualities.

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Zero For Kelly

I am on the mailing list of "Friends of Kelly Ayotte" the campaign organization spun up for the New Hampshire Republican Senator's 2016 campaign. This entitles me to receive four or five e-mail missives a week, many with a couple irritating focus-grouped tropes that seem to have been invented by the Obama campaigns:

  • Something about "common-sense solutions" is usually present, often with a explicit New Hampshire tie-in:

    • "Your donation will go directly into the field to help fund our grassroots campaign for common-sense New Hampshire solutions";

    • "The fundraising numbers we report after this deadline will go a long way in setting the tone for our campaign for common-sense New Hampshire solutions."

    • "You and I both know that Kelly has been leading the charge for common-sense solutions in the Senate";

    • "We’re putting together a letter to the editor team to help spread the word on Kelly’s record of strong leadership and common-sense solutions for the Granite State."

    • "From the North Country to Nashua, Granite Staters are lining up behind Kelly and her campaign to bring New Hampshire common-sense solutions to the Senate."

    Who's against common sense? Not Senator Ayotte! This drumroll of vapidity might impress some recipients; to me it's just a reminder that the sender thinks I'm easily swayed by repetitive meaninglessness.

  • Some messages do their best to disguise their nature: personal-name From lines, content-free Subject lines: "New Hampshire Summer" from Thomas Reiker; "Show them" from Stephanie Hubbe; "Could you..." from Ada Furciniti; "Exclusive Invitation" from Jon Kohan; and (my favorite) simply "Hey" from "Thomas". ("Hey" back atcha, Thomas!)

    I get it: there is a marginally greater chance that recipients will read a message if it looks like it might not be campaign spam.

I guess that's the name of the game these days. They'll continue until some other gimmicks become the latest thing.

But I got a paper-mail solicitation the other day. I decided to waste a stamp and send it back, filled out this way:

[Zero for Kelly]

Yes, there's that "New Hampshire common sense" again.

And I also composed a letter to send along explaining my snottiness. I have no idea whether anyone will read it at Kelly's end, but here it is (HTMLized):

Dear Friends of Kelly Ayotte:

Allow me to explain why I am donating the generous sum of $0 to Senator Ayotte's campaign. I am particularly irked on two specific points:

  • Senator Ayotte's enthusiastic support for the Export-Import Bank is misguided. There has rarely been an issue that unites conservatives and libertarians so uniformly as this one: it's time for this corrupt institution of crony capitalism to sail into the sunset. The arguments are well-known, but if you need a short reminder, check out a recent column in The Hill by David Williams: "The Export-Import Bank is dead and should stay that way". (

  • Senator Ayotte's co-sponsorship of the "Campus Accountability and Safety Act" (CASA) is also a red light for me. The current version of CASA is a slight improvement over the previous one, but it still fails to take campus sexual assault seriously as a crime, with all that entails: an unbiased investigation, carried out by professionals, with proper respect for due process for the accused. Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner has detailed the many problems with the legislation. ( A particularly disturbing detail is the failure of Senator Ayotte's office to respond substantively to her questions about due process.

I have written to Senator Ayotte on these two issues and have received her unconvincing boilerplate replies.

Although I find Senator Ayotte's positions on those two issues particularly wrong-headed, her record shows that the problem is more general. Consider her scorecard from FreedomWorks on key issues of economic freedom. Her lifetime score ( is a mediocre 65%. And it's only that high due to her outstanding voting record in her first year. Year-by-year, her score looks like this:

2011: 83%
2012: 69%
2013: 64%
2014: 50%
2015: 33%

The scorecard from the Club for Growth ( shows a similar dismal trend:

2011: 98%
2012: 86%
2013: 79%
2014: 60%

In addition her current rating from Heritage Action ( is a very low 29%, near the bottom for Republican senators.

Given this, your claim that Senator Ayotte does not "drink the water in Washington" is laughable. My gut feeling is that she is clearly compromising the principles she ran on in 2010, cynically attempting to position herself as a "moderate" in order to be re-elected. I have no current enthusiasm for voting for her, let alone supporting her campaign financially.


Paul A. Sand

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Girl with a Pearl Earring

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I had this pegged as a snoozefest, as history-based melodramas tend to be. Instead I was pleasantly surprised. It's not new (from 2003), but Mrs. Salad loooves Mr. Darcy, aka Colin Firth.

It is a fictionalized guess at the backstory behind Vermeer's titular painting. Griet, played by Scarlett Johansson, is a Puritan peasant girl in Delft. Economic necessity gets her work in the Vermeer household; they are also in continual danger of declining economic status should the painter's patron (Tom Wilkinson) lose interest, a matter of great concern to Vermeer's wife and mother-in-law.

Colin Firth plays Vermeer, a typical obsessed moody genius. He notes that Griet is not only beautiful (duh, Scarlett Johansson, remember?) but also has a natural artistic eye. Gradually she gets drawn into his orbit as assistant and model. And… well, you've probably seen the painting.

Surprise: Cillian Murphy in a small role where he is not a slimy villain.

Usually I don't notice cinematography. But I did here: it's very good. In fact, I thought while watching that the cinematographer made a conscious effort to make his shots "painterly", if that's a word. So I checked on IMDB and was gratified to note that the movie was Oscar-nominated for cinematography. And this article seems to confirm my guess about the cinematographer's aims.

Suggestion: if you can swing it, watch as a double feature with the documentary Tim's Vermeer.

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