The Phony Campaign — 2012-04-29 Update

[phony baloney]

The phony race continues to narrow, with President Obama's lead over Mitt Romney shrinking to a 24.7-to-1 margin:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-04-22
"Barack Obama" phony 30,600,000 -2,300,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,240,000 +30,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 274,000 +1,000

And the phony high points of the week were:

  • CNN reports that the humor at the 98th annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner—and please note that I am quoting directly from the story here, because this is a play on words that even I would be ashamed to make—"went to the dogs." For phony purposes, President Obama's speech Went There:
    "I know everybody is predicting a nasty election, and thankfully, we've all agreed that families are off-limits," the president said. "Dogs, however, are apparently fair game."

    The president's punch line: An ad by a phony Super PAC that featured Romney on Air Force One with a dog cage on top of the aircraft and promoted dog freedoms, while warning of Obama's policy of dog socialism.

    But the president didn't back away from his own doggy history:
    "That's pretty rough. But I can take it, because my stepfather always told me, it's a boy-eat-dog world out there," Obama said.
    Maybe you had to be there.

  • Ms. Ann McFeatters, a Scripps-Howard columnist who has (it says here) "covered the White House and national politics since 1986" penned a commentary headlined with a blazing insight: "Romney trying too hard, coming off phony".
    And now we have the great loosening-up campaign.

    The problem?

    Nobody can really imagine living next door to Mitt Romney, let alone exchanging house keys with him in case of emergency.

    That is how Howard Baker, the Republican former senator from Tennessee and all-around good guy, once described a hypothetical perfect presidential candidate.

    To quote Han Solo: "I don't know, I can imagine quite a bit." I find myself easily imagining all sorts of people living next door. I find it harder to imagine that Ms. Ann McFeatters is actually paid to write this by-the-numbers drivel, yet here it is right on my screen. It's a funny world.

  • Speaking of imagination, Captain Ed noted that you have to have a very flexible one to take political attack strategies seriously. He mused on a MSNBC Morning Joe commentator, whose remarks were reported thusly:
    The interesting thing that's happened in the last week, I think, is the way in which the Obama campaign has shifted away from the consistent argument that they've made over the course of the last year, really, about Mitt Romney, which is that he is a flip flopping phony, away from that argument to the argument he is a right-wing nut. And, you know, with David Plouffe coming out and saying that he is the most radical conservative since Barry Goldwater. You can't kind of have it both ways. Barry Goldwater was not a flip flopping phony. And so, if you're going to say that Romney is a flip flopping phony, you can't say that he's a hard right conservative.

    I think they are shifting in that direction and that is, I think, part of their trying to adapt to a new environment where they think Romney might be able to get to the middle, and they want to try and keep him over there on the far right.

    I suppose they need to fill the MSNBC airtime somehow. If they just noted that political argument is designed to bypass rationality and aim for the gut…well, that would take about 7 seconds, and what would they do with the remaining 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 53 seconds that day?


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:57 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2012-04-23

  • Constitution Signers, National
Constitution Center The editors of National Review examine the proposed "People’s Rights Amendment" that would restrict rights protected by the Constitution to only "individuals acting individually", denying any protected rights to individuals acting cooperatively. It overturns centuries of law, and concentrates unprecedented power in Congress. Nancy Pelosi considers this to be a fine idea. Hey, what's not to like?

    The editors conclude:

    Nancy Pelosi proposes to amend the Constitution the way the iceberg amended the Titanic. The First Amendment has served us well. Nancy Pelosi has not, but she has led her Democrats to a disturbing place in their quest to secure power, even at the cost of cashing in the Bill of Rights.
    You can check the legislative status of this odious amendment here, including its cosponsors. Who deserve your unmitigated contempt.

  • Over the weekend I attended the Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC "Save-Our-Republic Tea Party" in Dover New Hampshire's lovely Guppey Park. Skip of GraniteGrok was there too, and did great work recording the event for posterity. Check out his reports here and here. Attendance exceeded expectations, and the speakers were almost all good. (Only exception: Dr. Joe Tarta, speaking about ObamaCare, was unprepared and lackluster. Sorry, Dr. Joe.)

  • Hey, kids, remember when President Obama was pushing to get Obamacare passed, and repeatedly said things like "If you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan"?

    That was a lie, of course. But the Obama Administration is engaging in a desperate (and expensive: $8 Billion) attempt to make sure a large fraction of the electorate don't find out about that lie until after the election. A bunch of old folks were due to get pushed out of the popular "Medicare Advantage" program in October 2012. But…

    But the administration’s devised a way to postpone the pain one more year, getting Obama past his last election; it plans to spend $8 billion to temporarily restore Medicare Advantage funds so that seniors in key markets don’t lose their trusted insurance program in the middle of Obama’s re-election bid.

    The money is to come from funds that Health and Human Services is allowed to use for “demonstration projects.” But to make it legal, HHS has to pretend that it’s doing an “experiment” to study the effect of this money on the insurance market.

    That is, to “study” what happens when the government doesn’t change anything but merely continues a program that’s been going on for year.

    I strive to live up to the Costello Pledge ("I used to disgusted, now I try to be amused.") But President Obama really makes this tough. (Also on this topic: Peter Suderman at Reason.)

  • It has been estimated that each smartphone and tablet contains approximately 4000 patented elements. At Wired, Lore Sjöberg reviews some of the more obscure ones, including:
    Method for Using Up All Your Battery Power at Once

    Motorola took out this patent in 2004, which describes a software approach to making it so that your electronic device takes several hours to get down to 50 percent battery power, then suddenly drops to 10 percent “in, like, half an hour, and you’re not even watching movies or anything.” The fact that this functionality is apparently necessary for practically any device with a touchscreen puts Motorola in a strong bargaining position.


Last Modified 2012-04-25 12:25 PM EDT
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The Righteous Mind

[Amazon Link] As a loyal employee of University Near Here, I requested that the library purchase this book. That doesn't always work, but did in this case. (And near-immediately, two other UNH folks requested it after me; so I had to kind of rush through it, in fear of a $10/day fine.)

It's an excellent, important work by University of Virginia psych prof Jonathan Haidt. And I don't think I've said this about any book before: you should read it. Not "you should read it if you're interested in moral psychology." Not "you should read it if you're interested in how psychology interacts with politics."

No, you should read this book if you're a human being. Just that simple. It's accessible, funny in spots, and well-written.

By coincidence, I read The Righteous Mind in parallel with Charles Murray's Coming Apart, discussed below; this turned out to have a certain degree of synergy, as observations from one book provided insights into the other. That's also a good idea, if you can manage it.

Haidt's subtitle is: "Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion". Why indeed? We're all human beings, roughly in the same environment, equipped with the same mental hardware, confronted with roughly the same problems. What's the deal with not getting along? (The first line in the Introduction quotes Rodney King from 1992: "Can we all get along?") The book is a sequel of sorts to The Happiness Hypothesis which I read back in 2007; it stands well on its own, though.

The first part of the book continues a metaphor Haidt developed in that previous book: "The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider's job is to serve the elephant." We would like to think that our moral sense is based in rationality; in fact, we habitually make moral judgments based on our intuitions (that's the "elephant") and "rationally" justify those judgments (as "rider") after the fact.

In the second part of the book, Haidt looks at the the moral "taste buds" that govern our moral sense. He enumerates six good/evil pairs: Care/Harm; Liberty/Oppression; Fairness/Cheating; Loyalty/Betrayal; Authority/Subversion; and Sanctity/Degradation. Not everyone "fires" on all six pairs; in fact, Haidt's key insight is that this is how liberals and conservatives differ: liberals tend to view things on the first two keys, while conservatives weigh in on all six. (And libertarians bring in another taste arrangement.)

The book's third part concerns the old individualist/collectivist dichotomy. Haidt's metaphor here: we're 90% "chimp" (rugged selfish individuals), and 10% "bee" (collectivistic sacrificers to the group.) Deny either side at your peril.

A significant part of the charm of the book is that it's very much a story of Haidt's intellectual odyssey, and how (as a self-described Jewish atheist liberal Democrat) he gradually began to understand (if not necessarily agree with) the conservative moral outlook. (Conversely, I found myself with a deeper insight into the liberal mind.) The old saw about liberals thinking that conservatives are evil, while conservatives simply think that liberals are stupid? That makes a lot more sense now.

I can't really do the book justice here. Once again, I encourage you to read it yourself.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:29 AM EDT
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Coming Apart

[Amazon Link] This latest book from Charles Murray showed up at the library of the University Near Here without me even having to ask for it. Somebody up there likes me.

Murray's topic is the increasing split in the US between (1) a (relatively) well-educated, high-skilled, well-paid elite; and (2) just about everyone else. This is something he alluded to a few years back in The Bell Curve, a study discussing (among other things) how differences in IQ were fragmenting society. Perhaps predictably, everyone focused on the racial angle presented in that previous work. Here, Murray concentrates his statistics on white people only, probably a wise move.

"Oh," I hear you saying. "Yet another book about inequality." Yeah, but Murray shows (in my opinion) the right way to look at "inequality". It makes other treatments look shallow and somewhat silly. For one thing, he doesn't concentrate on income inequality; that's a relatively small part of the problem, and (in any case) not amenable to easy solutions.

What's the problem? Murray is deeply troubled by the trends that point to a rapid degradation of the vision of what makes America exceptional. (Murray, like me, is a fan of American exceptionalism.) Our shared civic culture is "unraveling".

The classes are dividing themselves along multiple dimensions. There's a physical separation, as the well-to-do can increasingly migrate to communities with a high concentration of People Like Us; others find themselves left behind or priced out of their upwardly-mobile communities. Murray statistically exemplifies these trends by creating a semi-fictional upperclass community called "Belmont", and a lowerclass community called "Fishtown."

Trends in Fishtown have been getting worse, year by year. (Things aren't as peachy as they could be in Belmont either.) Especially troubling are declines in what Murray considers to be the uniquely American ("founding") virtues: industriousness, honesty, marriage, religiousity. Page after page, chapter after chapter, Murray measures, to the extent that such things can be measured, the decline in each since the early 1960s.

Murray's tone, as usual, is informal and reasonable. I've been reading pessimistic we're-all-doomed works since the mid-sixties (yes, I'm old), so had started to dismiss them. Murray's somewhat more convincing. He goes out of his way to discuss possible objections to his methodology, and, while upfront about his own libertarian viewpoint, is conservative enough to talk persuasively about civic morality.

Is there hope? Who knows? In Murray's view, the only possible scenario that might reverse this decades-long dismal trend is an at-least-quasi religious revival, a rededication to the things that made America great, and (possibly) a return to smaller decentralized government. I would like to think that's possible, let alone likely. For my kids' sake, if not my own.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:29 AM EDT
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Authentically Black

[Amazon Link]

I picked up this 2003 book by John McWhorter a few years back, and (like way too many of the books I buy) it took awhile for it to make it to the top of my to-be-read list. But most of the topics McWhorter addresses are still fresh.

That's good because it made an interesting read; but also not so good, because the topics revolve around race relations in America. And the controversies then are approximately the same ones today. Progress? Not much.

Perspective: In 2003, Barack Obama was a relatively obscure Illinois State Senator (and unmentioned in this book).

McWhorter is a linguistics professor at Columbia. Politically, he self-identifies as a cranky liberal Democrat, and (indeed) is liberal enough to write for The New Republic on (most recently) the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. In 2000, he wrote Losing the Race, subtitled "Self-Sabotage in Black America". It was controversial, as McWhorter dissented from the standard racial victimology. Some of this book is largely a response to critics of that previous work. So at a number of points, I felt like I was coming in on the middle of an argument. No matter.

McWhorter is an independent thinker, refusing to be pigeonholed. His views are thoughtful and worth reading even if you don't wind up agreeing. As indicated, he maintains that the portrayal of African-Americans mostly as victims of white racism is the wrong thing to emphasize; it ignores history and breeds despair. He has no patience with the "reparations" movement (which was a bigger thing in 2003 than it is today). He views race hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson with contempt; on the other hand, he musters a good argument for respecting W.E.B. DuBois and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. He recommends that big cities get rid of "racial profiling" (but I think even at the time the book was written, "profiling" complaints mainly those who came under the "terrorism" profile rather than the "driving while black" profile.)

He has some good suggestions for Black History Month. He argues that if you're going to teach an African language to Americans, it shouldn't be Swahili; it should be Mende, a language which a lot of Africans brought to America as slaves actually spoke, traces of which still survive today.

Bottom line: McWhorter is an independent thinker, well worth reading.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:25 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2012-04-22 Update

[phony baloney]

The phony gap between our two leading candidates continued to narrow this week, with the President beating Mitt by a 27.2-to-1 margin. (As opposed to last week, where the ratio was 27.5-to-1.)

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-04-15
"Barack Obama" phony 32,900,000 -100,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,210,000 +10,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 273,000 +11,000

So what went down in Phonytown this week?

  • Charles Krauthammer's headline: "The Buffett rule is another phony Obama free lunch". (Note: a lot of folks have been misspelling this as the "Buffet Rule". Maybe this is a freudian-slip revealing their hopes that the free lunch will be a buffet.)

    Anyway, Dr. K makes a point we've mentioned before, but is worth repeating:

    OK. Let's do the math. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates this new tax would yield between $4 billion and $5 billion a year. If we collect the Buffett tax for the next 250 years -- a span longer than the life of this republic -- it would not cover the Obama deficit for 2011 alone.

    As an approach to our mountain of debt, the Buffett rule is a farce. And yet Obama repeated the ridiculous claim again last week. "It will help us close our deficit." Does he really think we're that stupid?

    [Amazon Link] Krauthammer may mean that last bit as a rhetorical question, but… yes, I'm pretty sure President Obama does think we're that stupid. (I sure seem to use Herman Cain's spot-on book image a lot here, but, here I go again.)

  • Maureen Dowd got her snark on in her New York Times op-ed column: "Phony Mommy Wars". She officially found a way to disapprove of Ann Romney's reaction to Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen's on-air remark that Mrs. Romney "never worked a day in her life."
    But at a fund-raiser at a private home in Palm Beach, Fla., on Sunday, the night before her 63rd birthday, Ann made it clear that she wasn't really aggrieved. She was feigning aggrievement to milk the moment.

    "It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother, and that was really a defining moment, and I loved it," a gleeful Ann told the backyard full of Florida fat cats, sounding "like a political tactician," as Garrett Haake, the NBC reporter on the scene, put it.

    It's important when you act the martyr not to overplay your hand. If you admit out loud to a bunch of people -- including Haake, who was on the sidewalk enterprisingly eavesdropping -- that you're just pretending to be offended, you risk looking phony, like your husband.

    Ms. Dowd finding phoniness in a political campaign. How insightful!

    Gosh, I'm pretty sure an "enterprisingly eavesdropping" reporter could have found some partisan glee in Democratic ranks over what Rush said about Sandra Fluke a few weeks back. You remember: that was back before the "war on women" wasn't phony.

    Impress me, Maureen, and open up your other eye.

  • Speaking of phony outrage, a Mr. Tommy Christopher examined banner at a Romney campaign event that stated: "OBAMA ISN'T WORKING". Gosh, Tommy wondered. What could that possibly mean? He rooted around in his subconcious and…
    The slogan is a multiple entendre, but one of those entendres, intentionally or not, is evocative of a nasty racial stereotype about black men.
    A belated add-on to Tommy's post revealed that this slogan has been part of the Romney campaign for nearly a year. From a campaign-site post dated July 24, 2011:

    Obama isn't working

    … is actually a nod toward this slogan from Margaret Thatcher's 1978 campaign:

    Labour isn't working

    Tommy, however, didn't back off his charge. Because, you see, the first thing he thinks of when he sees "isn't working" is "lazy black men."


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:57 PM EST
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Good for Foster's

1 of 2 Two delightful girls give thumbs up
- Runners at 1st Annual Rock 2 Rock 5 Mile Fun Run I dumped on my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, back on Wednesday for its uncritical coverage of a dinky protest in downtown Dover NH put on by a group called "CREDO", a left-wing organization run out of San Francisco. The protest was allegedly a non-partisan grassroots-activist gathering concerned with tax "fairness" to the middle class; in actuality, it was all about "taking down" our district's current Congressman, Frank Guinta.

Foster's redeemed itself somewhat with a Saturday editorial that revealed to its readers CREDO's not-particularly-grassy roots and partisan purpose. So good for them. Although it would have been nice had the original Foster's story had included at least some of this information.

Interesting paragraph:

Foster's asked some of the picketers to better explain the slogans on their signs. The response: We're just holding them.
Protesters unable to explain what their signs mean? Hm. I wonder if it was a rent-a-mob? (I note from a picture at the original article that at least three signs at the shindig had a telltale "SEIU"—Service Employees International Union—border.) Too late to find out now, I guess.

Last Modified 2012-04-26 3:49 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2012-04-20

  • Team Obama Apparently the offer to have dinner with (just) President Obama wasn't generating enough campaign dough, so Julianna Smoot spammed me yesterday:
    Want to meet George Clooney and Barack Obama -- at Clooney's house?

    He's hosting supporters at his home next month to help build support for this campaign and elect President Obama in November. And he's saving seats for two grassroots supporters like you and their guests. It's just not a chance most people get -- well, ever.

    What follows points you to a page to enter a drawing in exchange for a $3-and-up campaign contribution. But if you read the fine print, you'll find a link to this page where you can enter for free.

    So: a chance to (a) check out George Clooney's house; and (b) give President Obama a piece of your mind. Without having to donate to the campaign. What are you wai… oh, you've clicked already.

  • Jonah Goldberg has a new blog in support of his new book The Tyranny of Cliches. Which I already have on order.

  • Congressperson James McGovern represents a long Massachusetts district, and he's no fan of the Constitution as written. He's proposed the "People's Rights Amendment" to the Constitution. It ostensibly would undo the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United by definition; where the Constitution mentions "people, person, or persons", the Amendment explicitly restricts the language to "natural persons" only.

    UCLA lawprof Eugene Volokh outlines just what that would mean:

    So just as Congress could therefore ban the speech of nonmedia business corporations, it could ban publications by corporate-run newspapers and magazines — which I think includes nearly all such newspapers and magazines in the country (and for good reason, since organizing a major publications as a partnership or sole proprietorship would make it much harder for it to get investors and to operate). Nor does this proposal leave room for the possibility, in my view dubious, that the Free Press Clause would protect newspapers organized by corporations but not other corporations that want to use mass communications technology.
    And there's more. All of it enabling a chilling and unprecedented power grab by the state.

    Supporters of this travesty include Nancy Pelosi. In a more sensible nation, support for such an Amendment would cause an ignominious defeat in a subsequent election. Instead…

  • I'll be setting the iPod to play The Band on my way home tonight. RIP, Levon. Check out Marc Cohn's great tribute from a few years back:


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:28 AM EDT
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The Descendents

[3.0 stars] The Descendants (2011) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

The director of this movie, Alexander Payne, is known for making arty-but-accessible comedy/dramas (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election). IMDB has this, too, as a comedy/drama, but the actually-funny content is low. It won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and was nominated for four others (Best Picture, Actor, Director, and Editing).

George Clooney plays Matt King, a man beset with life-changing problems. First, his wife was in a speedboat accident off Honolulu, and is seriously comatose in the hospital. His two daughters deal with this crisis in different ways, both providing Matt with concern.

In addition—and I bet this is a problem you don't have—Matt is the trustee of a large tract of unspoiled oceanside land in Kauai, handed down to him from his ancestors: a Christian missionary married to a Hawaiian princess. The trust is about to bump into the rocky and arcane rule against perpetuities, which may shower Matt and his family with a large fraction of a billion dollars.

Oh, and it turns out Matt's wife was desperately unhappy, having an affair. This causes Matt to manufacture a new problem: discover the identity of his wife's lover. (This works out well for the movie; otherwise, it would mostly involve a lot of sitting around in a hospital room.) Matt drags his daughters along on this adventure.

There's lots of Hawaiian scenery, and a number of colorful characters. Very watchable, but I couldn't get past the essential grimness of Matt's wife.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:29 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2012-04-18

  • screwed At Commentary, Alana Goodman has a very good headline summarizing yesterday's news from the World's Greatest Deliberative Body, the United States Senate: "Dems Back Down on Plan to Pretend to Do Something About Budget". She quotes Politico:
    The Democratic-led Senate hasn’t passed a budget blueprint since April 2009, and it won’t do so again this spring as election-year pressures consume Capitol Hill. In fact, Conrad’s budget “markup” Wednesday won’t even be a real markup because senators won’t actually offer amendments or vote.

    The 10-year budget plan Conrad unveiled Tuesday is based on the so-called Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction plan, though the chairman conceded it’s “just reality” that any real deficit work by his committee will likely be put off until after November.

    At which point the 16 Democratic Senators up for re-election will suddenly feel like doing their jobs, I guess.

  • My local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat reported on a local (Dover NH) protest on this morning's second page:
    In honor of tax day, dozens of individuals looking to oust national leaders that, in their opinion, support "tax dodgers" gathered in the heart of the city Tuesday evening.
    Well, who likes "tax dodgers"?

    The group identified itself as "Credo". Its leader, David Lam, claimed that "Credo's purpose is more about addressing the actions of individuals and not their political affiliation." And he was quoted: "We hope that in Dover, we can find more local activists who are interested in supporting grassroots efforts."

    As it turns out, Credo has fewer grass roots than my driveway.

    Their slick website (to which Foster's happily points you) is http://www.takedownguinta.com/, devoted to the defeat of the local current Congressman, Frank Guinta. The fine print says that the website is paid for, not by "local activists", but by the CREDO SuperPAC, located at 101 Market St. Suite 700, San Francisco, California. Their anti-Guinta effort is just part of their "Take Down the Tea Party Ten" project. (Congreesman Guinta and others, all of course Republican.)

    Foster's continues have a bad habit of being a gullible, uncritical mouthpiece for any leftist group that manages to gather a few folks on the sidewalks of downtown Dover.

  • Which reminds me: The Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC is sponsoring a Save-Our-Republic Tea Party; Saturday, April 21 2-4 p.m. Guppy Park, 168 Portland Ave. (Rt. 4), Dover. We'll see how Foster's covers that

  • Test your savvy with a tough quiz: "Who Said It? Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney or Wonka Contest Winner Charlie Bucket?"


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:33 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2012-04-17

  • Fat Cat Moe Excellent Conn Carroll editorial on the shaky justifications for the "Buffett Rule", which was fortunately shot down by Republicans (all but one, anyway) in the Senate yesterday. President Obama has made some references to its (fanciful) benefits in fighting "income inequality". But:
    The real danger to our economy is not income inequality, per se. The real danger to our economy comes from wealthy special interests who use government power to squelch competition and enrich themselves.

  • To illustrate Conn Carroll's point: I'm currently reading Charles Murray's Coming Apart. (And you can too; just click the link over there on the right.) I'm just about persuaded that Murray has his finger on real problems, but I think he'd agree that (a) focusing on income inequality is too simplistic; and (b) it's not something easily fixable via tax policy in any case.

    One of Murray's chapters discusses so-called "SuperZips": the zipcodes containing unusually large percentages of the rich and super-rich. From a recent WSJ article from Murray:

    If you are invited to a dinner party by one of Washington's power elite, the odds are high that you will be going to a home in Georgetown, the rest of Northwest D.C., Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Potomac or McLean, comprising 13 adjacent ZIP Codes in all. If you rank all the ZIP Codes in the country on an index of education and income and group them by percentiles, you will find that 11 of these 13 D.C.-area ZIP Codes are in the 99th percentile and the other two in the 98th. Ten of them are in the top half of the 99th percentile.

  • An amusing history lesson from Geraghty the Indispensable, in which he quotes President Obama's stern pledge today to "strengthen federal supervision of oil markets, increase penalties for market manipulation and empower regulators to increase the amount of money energy traders are required to put behind their transactions."

    Comments Geraghty:

    If this pledge sounds familiar… it’s because Obama and his administration announce some new initiative to do this every year, usually as spring turns to summer and the price of gas increases as Americans drive more. It’s almost like the Cherry Blossom Festival.
    Example:
    “Energy traders and companies will face fines of up to $1 million a day if they manipulate oil markets, the Federal Trade Commission ruled on Thursday in a crackdown on fraud that they said causes widespread damage to the U.S. economy. The agency issued a rule, which takes effect November 4, to prohibit fraud or deceit both in the cash, or physical, energy markets and on the regulated futures exchanges.”
    That's from 2009, three years ago. Possible explanations:

    1. Those wily market manipulators were just too damn clever in the past, but we'll get 'em this time, just wait and see.
    2. It's all just rhetorical bluster from the Administration, who are (continually) trying to fool the short-memoried boobs into thinking they're "doing something" about high gasoline prices.

    I think I know which way I'd bet.

  • When show biz mixes with academia, hilarity ensues:
    Jose Angel Santana has sued New York University for wrongful termination. He claims he was fired because he dared to give actor James Franco a “D” in his class, and that the NYU film department has been taken over by Franco.
    This was an acting class. Which is odd, because you don't have to be a good student to get a good grade there; you just have to act like one.


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URLs du Jour — 2012-04-16

  • Socialism Icon The sharp-eyed Jen Rubin blogs on yet another "unintended consequence" of Obamacare: when low- to middle-income employees "opt out" of employer-based coverage to get tax-credit-subsidized insurance: Their employers get socked with penalties, and (arguably worse) things are set up so that their spouse and dependent kids could very well lose coverage. As Jen puts it: Obamacare manages to be "anti-market, anti-employer, anti-family" all in one.

    I put "unintended consequence" in scare quotes, because I'm guessing that Obamacare's labyrinth of regulation, penalty, subsidy, and mandate is fully intended to fail, in order to usher in full single-payer socialism. Call me overly cynical, but…

  • In case your blood pressure is dangerously low, a guaranteed boost is Matt Welch's list of "5 New Ways the IRS Is Screwing America". Matt suspects that worse is yet to come:
    The fever dream of central planners everywhere is that the only obstacle to a perfectly balanced budget is insufficient citizen compliance. As we ready our annual humiliation, it's worth remembering that Uncle Sam's desperation for cash, which has already encroached too far on our freedoms, may have only just begun.
    Which reminds me…

  • The Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC is sponsoring a "Save-Our-Republic Tea Party" right down the road from Pun Salad Manor: Guppy Park, Dover New Hampsire, Saturday, April 21. For more information: http://gsplpac.com/. Barring complications, I'll be there. If you attend, and notice someone that looks like the goof over there on the right (no, your right), please say hi.

  • And an apolitical note: If you don't subscribe to Wired, you can still read a very good article from the latest issue here. It's the story of James Erwin, who got caught up by someone else's query on Reddit:
    “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit]?”
    Erwin's response took on a life of its own, and the result is what sounds like it could be a very sweet movie: Rome Sweet Rome.


Last Modified 2012-04-22 9:21 AM EDT
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The Captains

[3.5 stars] The Captains (2011) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

I've been a mild Star Trek fan for—hm, I think I might need a calculator for this—well, a long time. So this documentary was a must-get for me. Plus, Netflix said I would like it, and they were right. The premise is simple and works surprisingly well: William Shatner interviews the five other actors playing Captains from the other Trek series: Sir Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard in Next Generation); Avery Brooks (Benjamin Sisko in Deep Space Nine); Kate Mulgrew (Kathryn Janeway in Voyager); and Scott Bakula (Jonathan Archer in Enterprise). And, last but not least, Chris Pine, Captain Kirk in the latest movie.

Shatner is kind of a well-known goof and egomaniac, but manages to engage each of his interviewees meaningfully. Sir Patrick comes across as the competent professional actor he is. And Scott Bakula comes across as the most regular guy, someone you could actually envision having a beer with. Kate Mulgrew probably has a Shatner-sized ego. And Chris Pine is an agreeable and likeable kid.

But Avery Brooks is, well, out there. He's a Rutgers prof, a musician, and answers Shatner's questions in kind of a jazz riff, accompanying himself on piano. And he coaxes Shatner into responding in kind. This is simultaneously fascinating and cringe-inducing.

Interesting bit of trivia: Shatner discusses the impact of being a TV-series star with all the Captains except Brooks. The record is poor: Shatner, divorced; Stewart, divorced; Mulgrew, divorced before the series, but her kids resented her absence; Bakula, divorced. The exception is Brooks, who's been married since 1976 (long before DS9) with three kids.

What that means, I don't know. Fortunately, Chris Pine is so far unmarried. Just as well.

There are also scenes from a Star Trek convention, with Shatner graciously and amusingly interacts with the attendees. (One attractive costuned young lady identifies herself as a "tribble slayer"—I didn't even know that was a thing.) Brief glimpses of Grace Lee Whitney, Jeri Ryan, and Sally Kellerman; brief interviews with series/movies co-stars Jonathan Frakes, Christopher Plummer, Rene Auberjonois, Connor Trinneer, Nana Visitor, and Robert Picardo.

Really quite a bit of fun, although I can't claim to have been enlightened by all the actor navel-gazing.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:30 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2012-04-15 Update

[phony baloney]

Not much change on the leader board:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-04-08
"Barack Obama" phony 33,000,000 700,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,200,000 -10,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 262,000 -768,000

  • The big phony news this week was made by Obama-buddy and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen, who snarked on-air that Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, had "never worked a day in her life." It was an unusually clumsy attempt to fire up more resentment against the rich.

    Republicans cleverly and easily framed Rosen's comments instead as displaying contempt for stay-at-home moms. And, of course, they feigned outrage! Which barely hid their glee at finally winning a battle in the gotcha! wars.

    This is what politicians do. Matt Lewis doesn't like it though. He presents seven reasons why not, and number six is right down our topical alley:

    It's phony, feigned outrage. Phoniness is, perhaps, the least admirable quality one can possess. But we've seen a lot of phoniness of late. This is silly season, after all. There is no Republican war on women. There is no Democratic war on moms. The truth is that the people pulling the strings who seem angered by this are actually feigning outrage. And the people who are truly outraged are being manipulated by them. It's truly sad. (Meanwhile, Hollywood and Madison Avenue continue to portray dads as dolts. Maybe dads are the real victims, err, heroes? Where's our lobby?)
    Yeah!

  • Many people have commented on the worthlessness of the "Buffett Rule" (the proposal that would allegedly insure that millionaires pay at least 30% of their income in taxes). But nobody does it like Mark Steyn, who notes that at best the Rule will increase taxes $3.2 billion per year. Which is approximately one five-hundredth of the FY2011 budget deficit. [Amazon Link]
    It's that easy, folks! Like President Obama says, all you have to do to pay off his 2011 deficit is save $3.2 billion a year for 500 years.

    He thinks you're stupid. Warren Buffett thinks you're stupid. Maybe you are. But not everyone is. And America's foreign debtors understand that "the Buffett Rule" is just another pathetic sleight of hand en route to the collapse of the U.S. dollar, and of American society shortly thereafter.

    But I'm sure the proposal plays well in focus groups. Which is the only thing the President is interested in right now.

  • The WSJ notes that the actual "Buffett Rule" legislation is paired with the repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax, the previous attempt to go after "the rich", now threatening to millions of not-particularly-rich. But:
    The Joint Tax Committee--the official scoring referee on tax bills--calculates that the combination of AMT repeal for the middle class and the Buffett tax would add $793.3 billion to the debt over the next decade. As Mr. Obama has said, "This isn't politics, this is math."

  • A useful dose of reality from Don Boudreaux:
    I do not recall ever, as an adult, failing to be mystified whenever I encounter another adult expressing confidence in politicians - confidence either in an individual politician (say, confidence in Ronald Reagan or in Barack Obama) or confidence in politicians as a group. Successful politicians - and particularly those who are successful on national stages - are, with exceptions too few to matter, master con artists.
    Politicians of any stripe should be judged phony until proven genuine.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:57 PM EST
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Empire of Lies

[Amazon Link]

I mentioned this on the default blogview a few days back: this is the first book I've read by Andrew Klavan. Without knowing too much, and having read some of his columns on the web, I was expecting a decent potboiler. But it was even better than I expected.

The book is narrated first-person by Jason Harrow, a seemingly ordinary guy, living in the Midwest with loving wife and a couple of kids. But right at the beginning, we learn he's getting death threats, and that the New York Times is in the habit of referring to him as "conservative Christian asshole Jason Harrow".

(OK, they don't quite say that. But, as Jason points out, for Times readers, the "asshole" is understood.)

What happened? Jason lets us know in the rest of the book. Travelling to New York on family business, he's summoned by ex-girlfriend Lauren to find out what happened to her teenage daughter, Serena. (And, as it turns out, maybe also Jason's daughter.) But it so happens that Serena is mixed up with some very bad dudes, and, once found, she spins Jason a lurid tale of a murderous conspiracy.

Lauren, Serena, and (generally) New York represent a part of Jason's life he'd rather forget: empty nihilism, kinky sex, familial dysfunction, and political leftism. And the conspiracy: is it real, or is it just a yarn spun out of proportion by Jason's (possible) inheritance of his mother's mental illness?

And what is the link to washed-up science fiction TV star Peter Piersall, who. Coincidentally I'm sure. Talks with the cadences. And self-important pomposity. Of the great. William. Shatner?

A very good, very easy read. Maybe a little overwritten for some tastes, but I found it part of the fun. Klavan is especially good at twisting the plot around Jason's character and biography. (Shameles extra commercialism: the Kindle version of this book is only $2.40, an insanely great bargain.)


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:28 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2012-04-08 Update

[phony baloney]

Just a reminder that you shouldn't take these Google hit counts too seriously: Google thinks 97 million hits for Barack Obama vanished over the past week. Even with that, he still maintains a wide lead over his opponents; it's just that last week his advantage was (roughly) 120-to-1, now it's just 28-to-1.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-04-01
"Barack Obama" phony 33,700,000 -97,300,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,210,000 +110,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,030,000 0

  • Mitt Romney thought it worthwhile to bring up the "phony" issue in a Washington speech before the Newspaper Association of America:
    "President Obama came here yesterday and railed against arguments no one is making and criticized policies no one is proposing. It's one of his favorite strategies, setting up straw men to distract from his record," Romney said. "And while I understand why the president doesn't want to run on his record, he can't run from his record either."

    "The idea of this kind of rhetorical excess I don't think serves us very well," he added.

    If you're interested, Wikipedia has a whole article on "the pot calling the kettle black".

  • Except sometimes the kettle really is black (which, as needs to be mentioned in these overly sensitive times, I say with no racial overtones whatsoever). In this case, Mitt's speech followed President Obama's Tuesday speech to the Associated Press, and many folks fastened on this paragraph:
    This congressional Republican budget is something different altogether. It is a Trojan Horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism. It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it; a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that's built to last -- education and training, research and development, our infrastructure -- it is a prescription for decline.
    Radical? Social Darwinism? Wha?

    To a first approximation, I think the logic is: Obama doesn't want to call GOP proposals "conservative" or (God forbid) "libertarian". Those terms, albeit slightly more accurate, are too popular. Employ them, and people will say: Eh. What's wrong with that? Better to use more scary labels.

    "Radical" is old hat, though. The D's and R's have been slinging that at each other just about forever. How "radical" is the congressional GOP budget?. As Matt Welch points out:

    Yes, he is talking about a budget that increases spending by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, and doesn't come anywhere near balancing the budget for as far as the eye can see.
    In a saner and more honest world, mentioning that simple fact would quiet a lot of criticism. (It would be pretty much just us actually-radical libertarians kvetching, and nobody takes us seriously anyway.)

    And yet "radical" is one of the kinder things the Democrats and their lapdog pundits have been saying about the proposed budget. "Cruel" is popular too; "fraudulent" is big; "irresponsible"; "extreme"; etc.

    "Social Darwinism" is more interesting. Matt links to David Boaz's discussion of the sheer nonsense and nastiness involved. While, as David points out, everyone gets their panties wadded when Obama is branded a "socialist", there actually are socialists out there, and that's what they call themselves.

    But no one calls himself a social Darwinist. Not now, not ever. Not Herbert Spencer. The term is always used to label one's opponents. In that sense it's clearly a more abusive term than "socialist," a term that millions of people have proudly claimed.

    David goes on to note that the smear had its roots in a 1944 book by historian (and onetime Communist) Richard Hofstadter. (Which this article by Damon Root debunks.) He concludes:
    Those who deploy the charge are, first, falsely implying that Republicans support radically smaller government, which neither Ryan's budget nor any other Republican plan actually proposes. And second, they are accusing both Republicans and actual supporters of free markets of believing in "the survival of the fittest" and, as Wikipedia puts it, "the ideas of eugenics, scientific racism, imperialism, fascism, nazism, and struggle between national or racial groups." "Social Darwinism" is nothing more than a nasty smear.

    The president should be embarrassed, and those who call for civility in public discourse should admonish him.

    That would be nice, but probably won't happen. Obama is beyond embarrassment, and the "civility" mongers aren't very interested in applying even their ad hoc standards disinterestedly.

  • Although I've never heard of a magazine called the Brooklyn Rail, nor the writer Michael Terry (both seem to be tediously leftist), but the latter presents an entire essay in the former devoted to the phoniness of the Mitt. Sample:
    Already we've seen him telling jokes about closing down factories, chumming with NASCAR fans by regaling them with tales of hanging out with his friends who run the sport, or telling the awkward story of how he first noticed his wife Ann at school, but held off because she was in second grade. Indeed, Romney's every act comes off as though he's trying his damnedest just to be a phony.
    Note: the cover of the Brooklyn Rail may be considered NSFW depending on where you W. That may be why I'm linking to it.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:57 PM EST
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Blast of Silence

[2.5 stars] Blast of Silence (1961) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

An acknowledged minor classic from 1961. Only problem is that I didn't like it very much. As always, your mileage may vary.

It's (yet another) story of a sympathetic professional killer; what is it with moviemakers' fascination with these folks? The hitman here is Frank Bono, played by Allen Baron (who also directed and wrote the screenplay). He's in New York City with a mission to bump off a minor gangster.

Bono is the kind of guy who plans his jobs meticulously. He needs to get a silenced gun from a repulsive dealer. But winds up getting a revolver, which, as any gun nut will tell you, can't be silenced. He stalks his prey, looking for his most unguarded moment, but forgets to find a safe escape route. During the course of the movie he accidentally meets an old friend, and is drawn into his social circle; this makes Bono suddenly yearn for female companionship. As it turns out, that wish is completely unrealistic.

It's self-conciously arty in spots, most noticeable in a Village nightclub scene where a beat group performs jazz with a pretentious guy playing the conga and (sort of) singing. There is also a third-person narrator (uncredited, then-blacklisted Lionel Stander); it's grating tough-guy prose, written by (pseudonymous, also then-blacklisted) Waldo Salt.

It's short, obviously made on a shoestring budget. But it seems much, much longer, because there are endless scenes of Bono walking around, looking moody. Zzzzz.


Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:27 AM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2012-04-01 Update

[phony baloney]

[Administrative note: an unannounced service change at my ISP, "Reliable" Web Hosting, prevented me from posting this yesterday. Apologies for the belated April Fool reference below.]

President Obama maintains a huge phony lead over his likely November opponents.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2012-03-25
"Barack Obama" phony 131,000,000 -6,000,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,100,000 -60,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,030,000 -30,000

In the meantime, on this fine first day of April, I am trying hard to distinguish the real news from the April Fools Day hoaxes. This seems to get harder every year, and I don't think it's me.

Like for example, this.

  • One of Pun Salad's occasional features over the past few years was looking at "Barackrobatics": our President's habitual rhetorical tics meant to obfuscate, tergiversate, adulate, denigrate, and prevaricate. This Danish TV host notes yet another instantiation:

    Note to the President: if you use the same silly metaphors all the time, people will doubt your sincerity. They might think that you're a bit… well, phony.

  • Trivia note: when I coined the word "Barackrobatics" I had high hopes for it becoming an Internet meme. But Googling it reveals that it's never made it out in the wild. Web fame and fortune (especially fortune) continue to elude Pun Salad.

  • On Monday, Jake Tapper noted President Obama whispering sweet promises into the ear of…
    At the tail end of his 90 minute meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev Monday, President Obama said that he would have "more flexibility" to deal with controversial issues such as missile defense, but incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to give him "space."
    Unbeknownst to the President, he was also talking within the range of a working microphone. He sounded like a philandering husband pleading with an impatient mistress for just a bit more time before he breaks the bad news to his wife.

    "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility."

  • On Friday, up in Maine, our President played shrink, and concluded that the problem is that we're all just insane:
    "We won't win the race for new jobs and new businesses and middle-class security if we cling to this same old, worn-out, tired 'you're on your own' economics that the other side is peddling," Obama said.

    "It was tried in the decades before the Great Depression. It didn't work then. It was tried in the last decade. It didn't work," he said. "You know, the idea you would keep on doing the same thing over and over again, even though it's been proven not to work. That's a sign of madness."

    This is the guy who reportedly said "I don't get it" when shown dismal employment numbers after his "investments" in infrastructure and renewable boondoggles fizzled. But did not let that alter his plans for more of the same.

    But we're the crazy ones.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:57 PM EST
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