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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61 Hours

[Amazon Link]

Reacher's back, and continues in his dangerous habit of getting involved in massive, murderous conspiracies through pure chance and coincidence. It's as if God (in the person of author Lee Child) has it in for him.

In this outing, a lawyer in the service of a drug baron is driving erratically in a South Dakota snowstorm, just badly enough to cause a tourist bus filled with old people on a jaunt to Mount Rushmore to swerve off the highway.

Filled with old people, and also Reacher. Big mistake, lawyer.

The accident causes the bus passengers to be taken in by the decent citizens of Bolton, SD. Their town has recently been blessed with a massive nearby Federal high-security penitentiary. This provides local jobs, a steady traffic of sad people visiting prisoners, and (for some reason) a biker gang dealing high-quality crystal meth from a mysterious facility outside of town.

All this wangles Reacher into unravelling various mysteries and conspiracies, and also attempting to protect the life of a feisty old lady, who's promised to testify against one of the bikers who got nabbed. As always with Reacher: dry humor, sudden violence, lots of corpses.

Don't want to spoil anything, but the book has an unexpected ending, an unusual incentive to buy the next book in the series. Like, right now.


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Nightcrawler

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

Let's see what genre IMDB puts this in… hm, "Crime, Thriller". OK, I guess. But it's also a pretty wicked, bleak satire on local TV news and MBA-speak. Those are pretty fat, cheap targets for folks in the movie business to disdain, but, OK, worked for me.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a petty thief who yearns to better himself. And, as the movie demonstrates, he'll do just about anything to accomplish that. Problem: his existing "business associates" know that he's a thief, and who'd be stupid enough to hire a thief?

A chance encounter puts him on a possible career path: shooting freelance video for "if it bleeds, it leads" local TV news shows. (Yes, they actually say that at one point.) He finances his startup with a stolen high-end bicycle, gets a fast car, a video camera, and a police scanner. He deludes a stupid young kid into an "internship". And he develops a sordid, corrupt relationship with Nina (Rene Russo), a news producer who's devoted herself enthusiastically to broadcasting stories that appeal to the fear and ignorance of her viewers.

So eventually something happens: Louis gets to the scene of a mass homicide well before the cops do. Will he do his civic duty and help the cops promptly corral the bad guys? Hint: no, he does something entirely sociopathic and creepy.

The movie is not without amusement: in his spare time, Louis has used the Internet to immerse himself in the language of business ladder-climbing and hard-nosed negotiation. Combining this with his genuinely sleazy career and deranged personality… that can get darkly funny.


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Le Chef

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

Possible alternate title: Who Knew Jean Reno Could Be Funny?.

M. Reno plays famous French chef Alexandre Lagarde, of the three-star restaurant Cargo Lagarde and a TV cooking show. He has problems: the restaurant has come under control of a young whippersnapper who wants to dump his old-fashioned cuisine for new-fangled molecular gastronomic offerings. And he's not exactly wrong: Lagarde has gotten into a rut, lazily holding onto the recipes that brought him to past glory, disdaining innovation.

Also, in an irrelevant subplot, he's neglecting his grad-student daughter.

Enter Jacky Bonnot (played by Michaël Youn), a youngster with a creative mind, a gifted palate, a seriously pregnant girlfriend, and an irritating manner of hectoring customers that prevents him from keeping any kind of cooking job longer than 90 minutes or so. Fate throws Jacky and Lagarde together, and they plot to save Lagarde's job, and Jacky's culinary career.

It's French, with English subtitles. It's also very sitcom-formulaic, but it worked for me. Probably its French pedigree fooled us into thinking it was more sophisticated than it actually was. Make it American, with (say) John Noble and Jim Parsons in the starring roles and it probably wouldn't work at all.

Or maybe it would, because those are two seriously talented guys.


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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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Fury

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

Fury! Alas, not about the wartime exploits of Sergeant Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos. Here, it's a word painted on the cannon barrel of a WWII tank commanded by Brad Pitt.

It's set in the closing days of the war in Europe, April 1945. There's still a lot of fight left in the Nazis, though. And the titles at the movie's beginning note that the Sherman M4 tanks used by American forces were outmatched by the Germans' Panzer/Tiger tanks in both offense and defense. Eek. (They ain't kidding about that either: A popular non-fiction book about the armored Army in WW2 is titled Death Traps.)

Brad and his longtime tank crew have been fighting in North Africa, France, and Belgium. But one of their gunners literally had his face shot off in their last battle, so into their close-knit group comes replacement Norman, an Army clerk-typist who's been forced into a combat role. Initial relationships are rocky; for one thing, the tank crew seems to have run out of patience with obeying the Geneva Conventions. (OK, they didn't exist until later, but you know what I mean.)

To enjoy this movie, you can get overly disturbed by (as the MPAA says): "strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout". War is Hell, and the movie is not shy about demonstrating that.

There might be some symbolism/deeper meaning stuff going on here. Someone over at IMDB insists that it's Moby Dick in a tank, but that stuff goes over my head.


Last Modified 2015-03-18 1:32 PM EDT
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Boyhood

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

As I type IMDB ranks this as #181 of its Top 250 movies of all time. I didn't like it quite as much as the IMDB raters did. Although it was nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture, it only one for Best Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette. (I find that a somewhat surprising win, but I haven't seen the movies with the other nominees.)

Anyway, you probably know the gimmick: the movie was filmed over 11 years (May 2002 - August 2013) with the same actors. This worked pretty well for me. It focuses on Mason, starting when he's seven years old, living with his mom (Ms. Arquette) and bratty sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director/writer's daughter). Mom has split up with bio-dad Mason Senior (Ethan Hawke), but he's still an occasional presence.

So, what happens? Basically, time. Mom gains and sheds a couple husbands (apparently driving both of them to drink, one to physical abuse). The kids do kid stuff appropriate for their age, including sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Dad eventually becomes respectable, but not respectable enough to avoid giving Mason Jr. some poor advice about relationships.

It sounds as if it might be boring. Some people have found it very boring. Not me, though, because even though the problems of these four little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, I still found them interesting enough to want to know what happened next.

However: it's long (2.75 hours) and drags significantly in the final third. Maybe you'll want to hit the play-faster button on your remote?

I can't help but wonder if they're secretly working on Manhood, to be released in 2025 or so.


Last Modified 2015-03-16 5:53 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2015-03-15 Update

[phony baloney]

Betfair's customers continued their on-again, off-again betting on Joe Biden becoming the next US President, by dropping his odds all the way down to 32, below our arbitrary threshold of 30, so he's gone again this week:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-03-08
"Jeb Bush" phony 877,000 -114,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 449,000 -1,201,000
"Bobby Jindal" phony 203,000 +7,000
"Rand Paul" phony 162,000 -2,000
"Scott Walker" phony 142,000 -101,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 85,700 -1,900
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 80,200 -4,000

But I was somewhat surprised that last week's upsurge in Hillary's phony hit count seemed to be one of those Google Glitches. I really thought that the e-mail thing was so transparently phony that she would be back in the lead for good. But perhaps Jonah Goldberg is relevant here:

If you want to know what Hillary Clinton would be like as president, you’re seeing it right now. There is no other Hillary. This is her.

Or: this is not the phony Hillary; it's the real deal.

  • That doesn't mean, however, that we can't enjoy Reason TV's Remy with his commentary on the imbroglio:

  • Even some reliably left-of-center folks are pointing out a certain level of inauthenticity in Clintonville. Like John Heilemann, speaking on BloombergTV to Campbell Brown about the Clinton Foundation's acceptance of dirty dictatorship money:

    “What she generally says is that she was a champion for women and girls. You look at these donations. You look at the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria, Brunei. These are brutally oppressive regimes to women,” Heilemann told guest host Campbell Brown. “It makes her seem like a phony, even if it doesn’t cost her a single vote, it takes away the bragging rights, it seems to me, of being able to say, unambiguously, that she’s a big champion for feminist causes around the world.”

    Seem like a phony, John? What would it take for you to drop the "seem"?

    (Also, John: those countries are brutally oppressive regimes for everyone, not just "to women".)

  • But gosh, let's not dwell on Hillary. Jeb Bush came to our fair state over the weekend. Our local media conglomerate reports on his Dover visit:

    “I’m George’s boy, Barbara’s boy … and George W.’s brother, and all of that I am very proud of,” he said. “But, I know if I’m going to go beyond the consideration of running I have to share my heart and tell my life story in a way that gives people a sense I care about them and have ideas that will help people rise up.”

    Following hot on the heels of this AP story on his appearance in Bedford:

    Just because there is “political heat” around an issue, Bush said, “you don’t abandon your core beliefs.

    “You need to be genuine. You need to have a backbone,” he added.

    Mark Krikorian only needed a tweet:

    On the off chance you don't get the "stage directions" reference, here's a walk down memory lane from Jonah G. What is it with New Hampshire and the Bushes?

  • Also in our state recently: Scott Walker. A couple of AP hacks used the occasion to pen a hit piece: "Scott Walker Draws Scrutiny From GOP Rivals For Changing Positions". They found a local pol to quote:

    Steve Duprey, a Republican national committeeman from New Hampshire who is not aligned with any candidate, said Walker is relatively unknown among voters in his state — meaning the governor is subject to definition by his opponents.

    "You have to be an authentic candidate," Duprey said. "If people think you're flipping left and right, that sticks with you."

    But to be fair, Walker has taken stands that are easy to characterize as inconsistent on immigration, ethanol, abortion, and Common Core.


Last Modified 2015-03-15 11:41 AM EDT
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