Pathetic Hillary Flacktivism (In My Local Paper)

A recent op-ed in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, impressed me with its sheer vapidity and self-importance. The author, one "Douglas Smith of Durham [NH]" wants us to know how vital he and Hillary Clinton were to enticing foreign visitors to come to the United States to spend money. The author blurb at the bottom of the column describes Smith's recent history as a Federal employee:

He is the former Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he served from October 2009 to November 2013. During his tenure, Assistant Secretary Smith was the DHS representative on the President’s Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, the President’s Export Council, the White House Business Council, and the World Economic Forum Risk Officers Community.

Or: "a political appointee who went to a lot of meetings." He is now "the Executive Vice President of MWW, a public relations firm." (His DHS bio is still online and it's a minor example of the revolving door between business and government.)

The op-ed, as previously indicated, is awful. Executive summary/paraphrase:

"Tourism is good. It helps the economy. Before Hillary and I came, tourism was down, because Bush. Hillary and I brought tourism back. Hillary and I talked to many people. Hillary and I saved America by promoting tourism and stopping terrorism. She's running for President, vote for her."

Yes, it's almost that bad. Smith's actual prose seems to come out of the Soundbyte-2000 political boilerplate generator, which I understand you can get off the discount PC software rack at Staples.

Speaking of Hillary: "This kind of smart, pragmatic leadership is just what Americans want and just what America needs from its leaders."

Speaking of Hillary's deep thinking: "Secretary Clinton understood that there was no need to make a false choice between economic and national security and that we can — and must — have both."

Anyone who writes like that thinks his readers are gullible idiots.

But what about Smith's implication that Hillary (and he) managed to lift foreign tourism out of the toilet where it had languished post-9/11?

Here is a one-page PDF from the "National Travel and Tourism Office", part of the Department of Commerce. There is a small graph, which I snipped:

US Visitors and
Spending 1998-2013

Eyeballing, this says: foreign tourism grew throughout 1998-2013, save for recessions (2000, 2008) and terrorism (2001).

Did Hillary and Smith do anything exceptional for foreign travel during their tenure? Not really.

  • Looking at the 2003-2008 (non-Hillary) period, visitor spending went from $80 billion to $140 billion, which works out to be a tad under 12% growth per annum.

  • The Hillary era saw (in 2009-2013) growth from $120 billion to $180 billion. This comes to a bit under 11% per annum.

I'm sure Hill and Smith went to a lot of meetings and talked to a lot of people and went on a lot of fun junkets, but I don't see any evidence that this had any effect on tourism growth, which is riding a long-term growth trend.

A slightly more interesting question is: what possessed Douglas Smith to write this utterly lame op-ed? I suspect there's an effort by Hillary groupies to embellish her record as Secretary of State. Somehow people may have gotten the impression (Libya, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, China, Israel) that her foreign policy ranged from foolhardy to dangerous. Actual accomplishments are hard to find.

By the way: a little Googling finds that Douglas Smith is the son of Marjorie Smith, longtime Durham Democratic pol. (Formerly a state Senator, currently in the House.) Did Doug's mom tell him to write this?

Last Modified 2014-08-05 4:16 PM EDT

Tim's Vermeer

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A very good documentary about an unlikely subject: a high-tech inventor and entrepreneur, Tim Jenison, decides to duplicate a famous painting by Johannes Vermeer. And (spoiler!) does.

But the details are what makes this interesting. Jenison's background and fortune result from his innovative linking of computers and video, with his inventions in use across the world. But somehow his interest is piqued by an art-history oddity: how did Vermeer accomplish his near-photographic depictions of his subjects, unprecedented in history, and even unusual for its time?

Jenison became acquainted with the theory, explicated by David Hockney and Philip Steadman, that Vermeer was somehow using optical gimmicks to match details and color while he was painting. There's little or nothing in the historical record to back that up, but Jenison starts reverse-engineering a possible mechanism, using only materials and methods that would have been available to Vermeer back in the 17th century Netherlands. After some initial encouraging success, he decides to attempt reproducing The Music Lesson. He duplicates Vermeer's studio in a San Antonio warehouse; he buys props and pigments, and otherwise gets to work.

In the wrong hands, this could have been as interesting as watching paint dry. (Heh.) (And they make that joke in the movie too.)

The nature of Vermeer's genius (artistic or "merely" technical) is apparently still mired in controversy, but the film points out a lot of evidence in the painting pointing to optical wizardry: chromatic aberration, distortion that might have been introduced by a concave mirror in the setup, differences in illumination too subtle for the human eye to pick up itself. I was convinced, but I only heard Tim's side of the story.

The film was produced by the comedy/magic duo of Penn and Teller, with Penn Jillette (a longtime friend of Tim Jenison) providing a lot of narration and Teller directing. Hence, much of the reason Jenison's not just another obsessed geek working on an obscure project is due to piggybacking on Penn and Teller's fame. Which is fine, but makes me wonder: what about all those other guys. Do they have equally interesting stories to tell?