The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

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

We did our civic duty by traipsing out to see the last Hunger Games installment. What does it mean when my primary feeling on leaving the theater was: I'm kind of glad that's over.

Or, as Mrs. Salad put it, "I liked it better when the kids were killing each other."

Recap: the rebellion against the dictatorial rule of Panem by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is in full swing. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is the rebellion's charismatic mascot, the Mockingjay. The suspicions I had from the last movie turned out to be correct: some of the "good guys" of the rebellion are as power-hungry as the thugs they want to replace. Katniss must find a way to accompish her personal goals (revenge, mostly) while avoiding getting killed or co-opted by either side. This involved two-plus hours of shooting, explosions, betrayal, running, and so on. The only one who seems to be having any fun is President Snow; everyone else is very somber.

I haven't read the books, and managed to avoid spoilers, so I was blessedly clueless about how all this would play out.

Danny Collins

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

Why yes, we did watch two Jennifer Garner movies in a row. It wasn't on purpose though.

Al Pacino plays the titular Danny. He is a famous washed-up rock star, living on expensive booze and nose candy. He still sings his ancient hits for adoring crowds, though. He has a young, cheating, wife and a loyal manager (Christopher Plummer). As a birthday surprise, the latter gives him a long-lost letter from John Lennon, one that he was meant to receive decades ago.

After a bout of Lennonist introspection, Danny decides to upend his life, travelling cross-country to New Jersey, where he seeks to reunite with his long-lost bio-son (Bobby Cannavale), who has acquired a wife (yes, Jennifer Garner) and cute daughter (Giselle Eisenberg). Complication: his son despises him and has no desire for reconcilation.

Also, Danny charms the heck out of the staff of the local Hilton where he's staying, most notably the manager (Annette Bening, who I kept expecting to remove her glasses and let down her hair, but never did). In the meantime, he starts working on composing new material, as Lennon suggested long ago.

So Danny's looking (unsubtly) for redemption, both personal and professional. Will he succeed? After experiencing a devastating setback? If you have seen more than five movies of this type, you can probably guess.

This movie wouldn't work at all if not for the acting talent, especially Pacino giving Danny's character believable charisma. Still it (apparently) fizzled in its theatrical release.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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

A perfectly nice kids movie. No kids were actually present when we watched it, but that's OK.

Alexander is a kid who perpetually lives in the shadow of the other members of his solidly middle-class Pasadena family. He's continually disrespected by his peers and teachers at school, too. When it all gets too much to bear, he makes a sad birthday wish: a similarly bad day for his dad, mom, sister, and brothers. And this wish comes true. With consistently funny, and occasionally hilarious results.

It's a "bad day", of course, in a PG-rated, affluent suburban sense. Nobody succumbs to homelessness, drug abuse (other than cough syrup), or is the victim of urban crime or terrorism. It's just property destruction, major embarrassments, poor fashion choices, stuff like that.

Steve Carell plays Dad, Jennifer Garner plays Mom, and a bunch of Disney youngsters play the kids. There is a very funny cameo from Dick Van Dyke.

What I learned: you can say "penis" four times in a PG Disney movie. Also "boobs" (just once). Times change.

The Phony Campaign

2015-11-29 Update

PredictWise has raised Chris Christie's probability of being our next President to a mighty 2%, so according to our criteria, he's back.

An unaccountable drop in phony hits for Cruz, Bush, and Rubio has caused Bernie to leap into third place. And I thought he was so authentic!

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-11-22
"Donald Trump" phony 80,100 -2,100
"Hillary Clinton" phony 63,000 -9,100
"Bernie Sanders" phony 33,700 +600
"Ted Cruz" phony 27,700 -12,700
"Jeb Bush" phony 24,700 -9,700
"Marco Rubio" phony 24,300 -9,300
"Chris Christie" phony 16,600 ---

  • I am not one to cry "racist" at the drop of a hat. So perhaps that gives me a bit more credibilty when I say this tweet from Trump manages to be both phony and racist:

    (Note that I'm embedding the actual tweet, so it might go away. Still, as I type, Trump has kept this in his feed for a week.)

    Everything about this graphic screams "phony". (Matt Welch at Reason: "obvious Internet bullshit")

    I don't rely on Poltifact for objective fact-checking, but they seem to have their ducks in a row here.

    None of the numbers are supported by official sources. The figures on black-on-white homicides and white-on-white homicides are wildly inaccurate. And, as several news organizations quickly noted, the "Crime Statistics Bureau" doesn’t exist. We looked for that agency as well and the closest we found in San Francisco were a number of crime scene clean-up services.

    Factcheck, what say you?

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump retweeted a bogus graphic purporting to show the percentage of whites killed by blacks and other homicide data delineated by race. Almost every figure in the graphic is wrong, some of them dramatically so.

    Obviously, the worst thing about the graphic is the made-up "whites killed by whites/blacks" figures of 16/81%. According to the FBI crime stats, turning those numbers around would be closer to the truth.

    The only imaginable purpose here is to stir up white fear and hatred.

    Trump found this credible. What does that say about him?

    Trump has (so far) left this tweet in place, even after it's been widely and credibly debunked. What does that say about him?

    Not that Trump has a monopoly on bogus statistics. See, for example, Deroy Murdock's takedown of similarly wild numbers promulgated by some "Black Lives Matter" demagogues. That's no excuse.

    The sad fact is that Trump continues to ride high in the polls. I can only hope that this means his supporters (a) aren't paying any attention whatsoever to his dreadful character issues; (b) that they eventually will figure out what a disgusting weasel he is.

  • Ms. Hillary Clinton found time to bash the Pfizer merger with Irish company Allergan. “For too long, powerful corporations have exploited loopholes that allow them to hide earnings abroad to lower their taxes. Now Pfizer is trying to reduce its tax bill even further.”

    Also (unsurprisingly) playing the demagogic populist card, Donald Trump ("disgusting") and Bernie Sanders ("a disaster").

    The WSJ editorialists rebut:

    What a spectacle of phony outrage. Pfizer CEO Ian Read says he’s been traveling to Washington for two years and telling “almost anybody who would listen” that the U.S. tax code is “hugely disadvantageous” for companies like his. He points out that an Irish company, after taxes, can choose to invest in the U.S. nearly 88 cents of a dollar of profits earned in its home country.

    Pfizer's motives aren't difficult to explain or understand, but when the pols are in fullscale populist bullshit mode (and the media largely lets them get away with it), it's hard to make that case.

    Ms. Hillary almost certainly knows better, but she's also in say-anything-to-get-elected mode. We'll give her extra phony points for that.

  • Here's why I won't be voting for Rubio in the upcoming New Hampshire Primary: his "Billion-Dollar Sugar Addiction". Elaina Plott, writing at National Review, notes that Rubio's support for sugar subsidies just happens to benefit one of his biggest financial supporters, and is totally out of whack with his generally pro-free market, anti-crony capitalism message.

    Rubio has staked his candidacy on empowering the middle class, and has denounced the Export-Import Bank as a bastion of “taxpayer money” for “corporate welfare.” His support for sugar subsidies, and his tight relationship with their largest beneficiaries, flies in the face of that position, which may pose problems as the primary season develops.

    I will, as usual, be voting for some candidate that has no chance of winning.

The Phony Campaign

2015-11-22 Update

PredictWise has dropped Ben Carson's presidential probability under our arbitrary threshold (2%), so our leaderboard shrinks accordingly. The Donald shows an impressive increase in hit counts to lead Hillary:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-11-15
"Donald Trump" phony 82,200 +9,900
"Hillary Clinton" phony 72,100 -800
"Ted Cruz" phony 40,400 +2,700
"Jeb Bush" phony 34,400 -4,800
"Marco Rubio" phony 33,600 -8,100
"Bernie Sanders" phony 33,100 +1,600

  • At Breitbart, John Nolte notes "Yet Another Phony Anti-Trump Fact Check from The Washington Post".

    The serial-fraud that is the Washington Post fact-checker just keeps rolling along, this time with yet another phony attack on a Republican presidential candidate. WaPo’s dishonest left-wing partisans awarded Donald Trump three Pinocchios for saying, “The current state of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is absolutely unacceptable. Over 300,000 veterans died waiting for care.”

    One problem (as Nolte admits) 300K is, at best, a worst-case upper bound on the actual number of vets who died awaiting care. The actual number is far lower, and the VA datakeeping is shoddy enough that nobody can tell how much lower. So Trump is wrong to throw out 300K as actual fact.

    Although his outrage is (as normal for Breitbart writers) over the top, Nolte does have a point about disparate treatment fact-checkers exhibit between Democrat and Republican lies.

  • Example: The Associated Press is relatively dispassionate in its fact check of last Saturday's Democrat debate. The AP quotes Hillary:

    CLINTON: "Since we last debated in Las Vegas, nearly 3,000 people have been killed by guns. Two hundred children have been killed. This is an emergency." She said that in the same period there have been 21 mass shootings, "including one last weekend in Des Moines where three were murdered."

    And rebuts:

    THE FACTS: The claim appears to be unsupported on all counts.

    Seems straightforward enough. Like Trump, Hillary spouts specific and dramatic, yet bogus, statistics designed to spur fear and loathing among listeners. How did the Washington Post treat this "unsupported" claim? Three Pinocchios, like Trump?

    No. Even though the paper unleashed its fact-checkers on the debate, they failed to notice, let alone award Pinocchios to, Hillary's numbers.

    Politifact: not much better. They generously rated Hillary's bogosities as "half true"

    Bottom line: don't rely on fact-checkers. Check on your own.

  • Could the "democratic socialism" espoused this time around by Bernie Sanders be … shudder … phony? At PowerLine, Scott Johnson finds it to be weak tea. Also not to mention way past its sell-by date.

    Sanders’s democratic socialism isn’t socialism. He disclaims public ownership of the means of production. Sanders’s socialism is Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights, only more so. It’s the welfare state above all, in which income and wealth are confiscated from some and redistributed to others in the interest of “equality” and “security” and all things good.

    At National Review, Brendan Bordelon collects semi-exasperated reactions from Democrats who don't call themselves socialists. Hey, we're for all that tired soak-the-rich crap too!

    But as a true believer who’s spent his decades-long political career running as a socialist, it was probably inevitable that Sanders would keep the label in his presidential campaign. Dropping it would call his ideological integrity into question, and fundamentally undermine what is perhaps the central facet of his persona.

    Right. Couldn't have that.

  • Finally, a generally relevant Facebook post from Robert Higgs:

    The day-to-day practice of politics consists largely of pushing the envelope to see how big a lie -- and how many of...

    Posted by Robert Higgs on Sunday, November 8, 2015


Last Modified 2015-11-23 5:09 AM EST

The Promise

[Amazon Link]

It has been over two years since Robert Crais's last novel (Suspect), and over three years since we have heard from the World's Greatest Detective, Elvis Cole (Taken). I put in my order for this one back in April, and it magically appeared on my Kindle last Tuesday. And, gobble, gobble, gobble, it's all done. Hope I won't have to wait another couple years for the next one.

Yes, I'm kind of a Crais fanboy.

We are introduced to a very shady character, "Mr. Rollins", who's in the business of selling stolen goods to the highest bidder. He is dealing with Amy and Charles; Amy has produced something he really, really wants to buy.

But things get complicated for Rollins when a lowlife courier for one of his associates leads the cops to the house he's using, including the heroes of Suspect, Scott James and the World's Greatest K-9 German Shepard, Maggie. Also—Dickensian coincidence—Elvis is on the scene: Meryl Lawrence, Amy's boss, has hired Elvis to track down Amy, which has taken him to Rollins's doorstep too.

The result is a murderous mess. Elvis becomes a suspect for the cops merely for being in the area. Scott and Maggie are targeted, because they've seen the mysterious Rollins. Amy, it becomes apparent, has reasons of her own for falling in with a criminal crowd. And (this is pretty standard for Crais books) there are more than zero dirty folks working for the ostensible good guys. And generally, other people Are Not Who They Seem.

People who find Joe Pike, Elvis's deadly sidekick, the best thing about this series will be disappointed; he's here, but doesn't do much. Elvis is also not as much of a wisecracking laff riot as he used to be. A relative newcomer to the books, Jon Stone, displays surprising depth of character.

I wouldn't recommend reading this as someone's first Crais book; read his previous 19 novels first.

The Phony Campaign

2015-11-15 Update

PredictWise oddsmakers have increased Ben Carson's odds of gaining the Presidency just enough to return him to our phony poll after a week's absence. Yay, Ben!

I also should probably report a change in methodology for the "Hit Count" numbers in the table below. Previously, I ran the Google query from my Chrome browser and copied the result manually from the web page. I've switched over to the Google Web Search API to do all that programmatically.

Bad news: Google has deprecated this API. For over five years, as I type. If Google ever decides to kill it dead, I may have to do something else.

Good news: I now generate my phony table completely non-tediously. I have a Perl script that:

  1. Scrapes the previous week's table for the old hit counts;
  2. Scrapes Predictwise for an updated list of candidates with a 2% or greater probability;
  3. Queries Google for each candidate's phony hit counts;
  4. Generates the updated table, sorted into descending order by current hit count.

For some reason, the Google API gives much smaller hit counts than I obtain with a search via Chrome. I can live with that.

This is probably way too much effort to implement a methodology that is essentially meaning-impaired (as Carl Bialik noted ten years ago in the WSJ: "Estimates for Web Search Results Are Often Wildly Off the Mark". Nevertheless:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-11-08
"Hillary Clinton" phony 72,900 -412,100
"Donald Trump" phony 72,300 -304,700
"Ben Carson" phony 52,300 ---
"Marco Rubio" phony 41,700 -102,300
"Jeb Bush" phony 39,200 -137,800
"Ted Cruz" phony 37,700 -133,300
"Bernie Sanders" phony 31,500 -175,500

  • Our phony leader, Hillary, took yet another unprincipled stand this week, as noted by the NYPost: "Hillary Clinton’s bought-and-paid-for betrayal of charter schools".

    Whoosh! There goes Hillary Clinton, hurt­ling leftward after another 180-degree cartwheel on a critical issue — this time, a flip-flop on charter schools.

    Charters once had no greater fan. Back in 1996, Clinton hailed them as being “freed from regulations that stifle innovation, so they can focus on getting results.”

    But the two national teachers unions — the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — were first to endorse her latest presidential run.

    And so charters go under the bus.

    How many Hillary fans are shocked by this new demonstration of (hat tip: Jennifer Rubin) "ethical vacuity and policy hypocrisy"? At last count, zero.

  • You (on the other hand) will not be shocked to learn that (as reported by the Washington Examiner): Clinton has highest percentage of fake followers. On Twitter, that is.

    An audit of Hillary Clinton's main Twitter feed, @HillaryClinton, shows that 41 percent of her followers are not real people, a far higher percentage of fake followers than all other Republican or Democratic candidates.

    In contrast, Bernie has only 10% phony followers. GOP candidates range from 36% phony (Chris Christie) to 21% (Rand Paul).

  • But surely someone else was phony this week? Sure. Media Matters reports: "On Good Morning America, Donald Trump Gets Away With Promoting Right-Wing Media's Phony Unemployment Figures"

    On the November 10 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, host George Stephanopoulos allowed GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump to greatly exaggerate the nation's unemployment rate when he falsely claimed that "unemployment is probably close to 20 percent." Trump has a history of trumpeting debunked right-wing media myths as campaign talking points. He previously claimed that the unemployment rate "might very well be" 40 percent or more, echoing Rush Limbaugh. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, October's unemployment rate stood at just five percent, the lowest rate since April 2008.

    Well. Media Matters is… not wrong. My guess is that Trump pulled the 20% number out of his nether regions. The media reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) U-3 rate, most recently 5.0%, as "the" unemployment rate. But even the BLS's broader U-6 number ("Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force") is "only" 9.8%. Unless you buy into dark insinuations of politically-driven statistics, there's no way to push that up to 20%.

    Some folks looking for bad news cite the Employment-Population Ratio (EPR) instead of the BLS unemployment numbers. And (check the link) that ratio plummeted starting in 2008, and has not come close to its pre-recession value since.

    These people have a point. More people working would be good for them, and good for the overall economy. But note that the current EPR is 59.3%; compare to the historic peak EPR back in 2000, just shy of 65%. Even bringing things back to that number is only about a 5-6% difference.

    Bottom line: if you want to make the case that the economy is lousy, do so without making up numbers.

  • Prepare for more of this sort of headline: "Rubio slams Bush’s ‘phony attacks’".

    Sen. Marco Rubio's campaign is slamming Jeb Bush for making "phony attacks" on the Florida senator.

    In a new online advertisement released on Tuesday, the GOP presidential candidate notes Bush's past praise for Rubio, including his statement that he could be a good president.

    Shorter: Jeb liked Rubio before he despised him.

    The article claims that the Bush-affiliated Super PAC "Right to Rise" is "willing to spend $20 million on criticism of Rubio’s 2016 Oval Office bid." Because they previously tried to make the case for Bush, that didn't work, so they're looking to destroy Rubio instead. Hey, they gotta do something with all that money.

Spectre

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

James Bond movies are (at least for now) must-see-in-theatre movies for us. We boogied on down to the Regal Fox Run Stadium 15 in Newington for this outing. We even splurged on the RPX auditorium, which has a (literal) seat-shaking sound system. Consumer note: this is a stupid gimmick.

I was prepared to be wowed, instead I came away slightly disappointed.

As the movie begins, Bond is in Mexico, on the trail of a baddie. We don't know why, and — as it turns out — his ostensible boss, M, doesn't know why either. But the resulting devastation (can't he just shoot someone?) causes an international incident. Bond's agency, MI6, finds itself under criticism, and the double-0 program might be phased out in favor of panopticon-style surveillance and drones.

We eventually find out Bond's reason for going to Mexico, and the continuation of this project leads him to various scenic locations, always in mortal danger. But his current enemy, the head of SPECTRE, seems to know his every move, and seems to enjoy playing with him like a cat with a mouse.

Therein my disappointment: SPECTRE has all the cards, and the only way Bond survives is because they are setting him up for the finish. It seems that Bond isn't any danger to their nefarious scheme (until the very end, that is): he's an important part of their nefarious scheme.

Which made me think of the Austin Powers quote:

Dr. Evil: Scott, I want you to meet daddy's nemesis, Austin Powers

Scott Evil: What? Are you feeding him? Why don't you just kill him?

Dr. Evil: I have an even better idea. I'm going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.

That's probably not what the filmmakers wanted me to think.

Veterans Day 2015

Veterans Day 2015

… thank a vet near you.

Wool

[Amazon Link]

Online chatter about the genesis of this book a few years back caused me to stick it into the to-be-read pile. It's an amateur author's fantasy: write a book, publish it yourself (via Amazon), fall into fame and fortune.

Frankly, I didn't expect it to be as good as it was. But the author, Hugh Howey, writes well and knows how to grab the reader's interest with intriguing plot and sympathetic characters.

It is set in an imaginative dystopia: thousands of people inhabiting a "silo" set deep into the earth. (But is it Earth?) Going outside is deadly. (Or is it?) Yet, every so often someone is sentenced to go outside and clean the sensors with specially designed… wool.

But "wool" also refers to the stuff that is proverbially pulled over one's eyes. As it turns out, like most fictional dystopias, the masses are social-engineered to believe a lot of stuff that isn't true. Will a few brave souls manage to uncover the truth?

My only quibble: there are villains, and they are way too obvious. Might as well twirl their mustaches while cackling evilly.

Inventing Freedom

[Amazon Link]

A swell nonfiction book from Daniel Hannan, who is (according to the book flap) a writer, blogger, and a "member of the European Parliament representing South East England for the Conservative Party since 1999." (He blogs here.)

Hannan's subtitle: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. (If you can't see it over there on the right for yourself, you are probably blocking ads, and you shouldn't, because they are very non-obtrusive on this site, my friend.) We talk a lot about "American exceptionalism" here in the US; Hannan's argument is that it's really Anglospheric exceptionalism. The roots of our uniqueness date back (at least) to the dim history of England's inhabitants, left behind when the Romans decided to pull out. Hannan notes that English destiny was already diverging from the European continent even then. Geography helped:

The Anglosphere is a "more or less" alliance of shared language, ideals, and religion. These commonalities gave rise to limited government, personal liberty, the rule of law, and strong property rights.

Along the way, there is a lot of history. Much of it over my head: I'm regrettably forgetful of my English history (last seen formally in high school, and it was a weak subject for me even then). Hannan is telling history as it relates to his overall thesis, though, so it's best to be skeptical. I would love to see a discussion on the general topic between Hannan and Deirdre McCloskey.

Unfortunately, as Hannan points out, we are drifting away from Anglospheric ideals. Great Britain's sovereignty is being eroded by its European Union membership. The current US President has a long record of minor and major snubs to England, preferring instead to cozy up to random dictators.

Hannan's book closes with a plea, originally made by American revolutionist Joseph Warren, in the context of our historic membership in the liberty-loving Anglosphere: Act worthy of yourselves. One hopes.

Wild

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

I think the honest title of this movie should have been Reese Witherspoon Wants an Oscar. Really, she hits a lot of the clichés: she (at times) looks awful; she has many feels; she uses the f-word a lot; her character has had bad things happen to her and made awful choices; she gets a shot at redemption; she also Learns Things About Herself.

And sure enough, she was nominated! But, unfortunately, Julianne Moore was also nominated that year. And her character had Alzheimer's! Sorry, Reese.

Anyway: Reese plays "Cheryl Strayed", and she is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, solo. She is initially out of shape and incompetent. Flashbacks show us how she got there: an abusive father, a dying mother, broken marriage, promiscuity, drug use, and an addiction to pretentious Simon and Garfunkel tunes.

The scenery along the way is fantastic, so there's that. And there's plenty of ways to get seriously killed or hurt on that kind of hike, and Cheryl discovers most of them, so there's suspense. Her project ran right up against the boundary between "noble quest" and "damn-foolish risk". Still, the movie kept me on her side.

The Phony Campaign

2015-11-08 Update

Aieee, the carnage! PredictWise has dropped both Ben Carson and Chris Christie below our (arbitrary) 2% threshold for inclusion in the phony poll. (Disagree? Put your money where your brain is, chump.)

To the standings! Who's the phoniest of them all?

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-11-01
"Hillary Clinton" phony 485,000 -595,000
"Donald Trump" phony 377,000 -733,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 207,000 -50,000
"Jeb Bush" phony 177,000 -48,000
"Ted Cruz" phony 171,000 -99,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 144,000 -51,000

  • At the Washington Examiner, Byron York details Jeb!'s "this time for sure" campaign midcourse correction: "In restart, Jeb blames advisers, promises authentic, can-do candidacy"

    In Tampa, seeking to re-boot a deeply troubled campaign, Bush pledged to be himself. "I can't be something I'm not," Bush told the crowd, saying it was a lesson he had learned during his years as Florida's governor.

    Using (once again) Jonah Goldberg's memorable metaphor: Jeb continues to read his stage directions.

  • Bernie Sanders claims to have "serious problems" with Uber because it is "unregulated".

    This did not stop his campaign from using Uber for (honest!) 100% of its claimed transportation costs.

    So, hypocrisy. Especially notable when Bernie claims to be standing up for the "little guy". The solons of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, are cracking down on "little guy" Uber drivers, whose "crime" is mostly providing a service that people want.

    "Live free or die", my fanny. Could we explore giving the city of Portsmouth to Maine?

  • At Cato, Gene Healy notes the passing of Fred Thompson, who was famously unenthusiastic about the grind of his short-lived 2008 presidential campaign. (I cast one of the 2,890 votes he received in the New Hampshire Primary that year. Good for sixth place! Only missed fifth place by 16,000 votes or so!)

    Healy notes that the citizenry used to expect "dignity, reserve and self-denial" from people aspiring to the presidency. Things are different now:

    […] Thompson’s inability to feign enthusiasm for the process spoke well of him. It suggested that he was psychologically healthy and normal. Those qualities are ruthlessly winnowed out by the modern presidential race, which rewards those with an unhealthy appetite for presidential power and glory. You’ve got to want it to win it, and they want it more.

    Fred was elected twice as a US Senator from Tennessee, so he was no stranger to normal campaigning. But a presidential campaign is a different kettle of fish in these modern times.

John Kasich@UNH

Seen two presidential candidates in less than a week, so I'm a little concerned about my mental health. If you find me drooling and naked in some alley, could you please call my wife?

Anyway, Ohio Governor John Kasich visited the University Near Here on Thursday afternoon. His venue was the "Great Room" of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics; he filled it up pretty easily:

[Kasich@UNH]

And, once again, I can prove I was there: that's me in the yellow sweater by the windows. (This pic shamelessly ripped off from the story in Foster's Daily Democrat. I'm living on the copyright-infringement edge here.)

Up-front disclaimer: Kasich is not my first choice. In fact, he's probably in the third tier of my preferences, in the "probably slightly better than Hillary" group. (Also there: Jeb and Christie.)

We kicked off with the Pledge of Allegiance (something Rand Paul did not do). I went along, but just for the record: the Pledge is creepy and socialistic.

Kasich's issue was the budget deficit. He was against it. (I enthusiastically agree.) He claimed that he had eliminated the deficit when he was in Congress. (Arguably true, even given the propensity of politicians to exaggerate: he was chair of the House Budget Committee 1995-2001, and the budget was in surplus for fiscal years 1999-2001.) And he also pointed to his success in turning around Ohio's budgetary woes. (But when viewed from a libertarian perspective his record there is disappointing.)

My subjective impression was that Kasich came off more than a little condescending. And also vague. (He has been less vague elsewhere: this AP story describes some of his concrete proposals both on the spending side and the tax side. I have no idea what the pixie-dust content of the plan is.

He did manage to trot out the old warhorse: a Balanced Budged Amendment to the Constitution. This irritates me. Let me trot out a rant I've made in the past:

  • First, what is the President's legal role in amending the Constitution? None, nada, zip. At best, he could be a cheerleader.

  • Second: amending the Constitution is (fortunately) difficult: two-thirds votes in the House and Senate, and then ratification by three-quarters of the states.

  • It is far easier just to balance the budget. All you need is 50%+1 votes in the House and Senate.

  • Politicians—especially incumbent Congresscritters—who say we need a Balanced Budget Amendment, and follow that up by voting for unbalanced budgets are hypocrites evading their responsibilities. (I'm especially looking at you, Kelly Ayotte.)

Whew. I feel better. Back to Kasich.

Another rough point was his denigration of "outsiders". He refused to mention their names (Trump and Carson, of course), but he analogized the situation to a poorly-performing football team. The fans are understandably frustrated, and come up with a solution: let's go up into the stands and bring down some likely-looking spectators to play on the team instead!

Governor Kasich, did you just imply that Trump/Carson supporters are the kind of idiots who would follow such an ill-advised strategy? OK, so you might be correct. But you need their votes should they ever come to their senses. Maybe insulting them is not the best strategy.

Another thing I noticed was a lot of local pols in the room: ex-Senator Gordon Humphrey (Gordo has a beard!), Ed Dupont, Tom Rath, a couple others I vaguely recognized but not enough to put names to.

Quibbles aside, Kasich did a decent job presenting his ideas to a mostly sympathetic crowd. One young lady tried to filibuster him on Planned Parenthood, but he just said he didn't like 'em and deftly moved ahead. As things wound up, a student group made an inept attempt at disruption. They stood up and started chanting something about oil; they were sitting together a couple rows in front of me, even I couldn't figure out what they were saying, so I doubt anyone else could at the time. But "fortunately" they self-videoed and posted to Facebook. In all their glory, ladies and gentlemen, the vocal stylings of "Divest UNH":

Today we told John Kasich about climate change

Posted by Divest UNH on Thursday, November 5, 2015

To quote P.J. O'Rourke:: "Earnestness is stupidity sent to college."


Last Modified 2015-11-23 5:17 AM EST

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me

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

Back in the day, when I was a young 'un in Omaha, the music scene was far different from the hyper-Balkanized one we have today. Everyone listened to the local AM station KOIL, and it played a hodgepodge. The Beatles, sure, but also Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams. The Stones, Petula Clark, Elvis, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Roger Miller,…

It didn't hurt that we were in the middle of an explosion of creative diversity. I think hundreds of years from now, musical historians will look back on it as uprecedented.

Anyway, in the middle of it all was Glen Campbell. He had a fine career as a sought-after session musician; he was a Beach Boy for awhile; eventually he became a recording star on his own. He went on to superstardom, occasional movie roles, a career fizzle, multiple wrecked marriages, a scandalous dalliance with Tanya Tucker, booze and cocaine.

But I was pretty much always a fan from the 1960s on. Although I'm not big on country music, he could transcend that easily. It helped that he had the musical sense to sing a lot of Jimmy Webb songs—I can't imagine a better pairing of singer and songwriter. His albums nearly always had some dreadful sentimental glop, but that's (a) show biz, and (b) why we have iPods.

And now he has Alzheimer's. This movie (which I watched off Netflix streaming) is about dealing with that malady, while at the same time going on a farewell concert tour. The result is a mixture of heartbreak and triumph. Heartbreak, because it's clear from the get-go that Glen's disease has robbed him of the ability to recall (for example) where he is, his childrens' names, who the President is, or even what year it is. On occasion, he can become querulous, paranoid, and obnoxious.

But also triumph, because he can still sing strongly (albeit not like in decades back), play genius guitar, and connect charismatically with a live audience. And he can still muster up a joke or two. When informed that he was being filmed for a movie about himself, he says: "Oh. I'll be me." From where they got the movie's title.

Quibbles: it's a little long, nearly two hours. Did we really need fourteen dozen talking-head scenes of his current wife telling us how difficult and unpredictable things are? (OK, probably not that many. But it seemed like that many.)

Rand@UNH

Rand Paul came to the University Near Here today, and I figured it was my Civic Duty™ as a registered New Hampshire Republican and a more-or-less libertarian blogger to go see him. And I can prove I was there! That first picture, all the way over on the left, that's the top of my bald head in the middle of the right-facing front row:

Awww, the youth vote. That's me!

He was impressive. I had seen him before, at the New Hampshire Freedom Summit back in April 2014, but I'd forgotten how appealing his no-nonsense libertarianism can be. I will probably vote for him in the primary. Although the bettors driving the PredictWise site round the probability of him becoming our next President off to a very disappointing zero percent, I don't feel that I'm in the voting booth to vote for the winner.

As usual, I am not a reporter, I'm just typing some stuff I noticed, and my impressions.

The crowd filled the Strafford Room at UNH's Memorial Union Building. That's not the biggest venue on campus, but it's the same one Hillary appeared in back in September. (Contrary to some reports, she filled the room, and there was an overflow room available.) In contrast, Bernie Sanders filled up the UNH Field House, a much larger space, a couple days later.

But back to Rand Paul: introduced by his regional coordinator and the local leader of "Students for Rand Paul", he launched into an extemporaneous-sounding speech hitting the points I'm sure he felt were of interest to college kids.

First up: pot. He ripped Jeb Bush a little for his acknowledged marijuana use back in prep school, using him as an example "rich kid" who didn't have to worry that much that his use might land him in jail. Compare and contrast with poor kids from the streets who might get in a considerable amount of legal woe.

From there, he hit his other main themes: a return to federalism, the trashing of privacy rights post-9/11, a non-interventionist foreign policy, a 14.5% flat income tax (while doing away with the employee part of the payroll tax), efforts to cut spending.

Issues on which Paul's position might clash with current student zeitgeist, e.g., abortion, went unmentioned.

After the speech, a few questions were allowed. One guy asked about "Empire", alleging that the US had one. Paul reiterated his non-interventionist foreign/defense policy without going into whackadoodle land.

A student wanted to nail him down on climate change; he kind of handwaved about his uncertainty about whether warming was caused by human action or natural processes, and the benefits of electrification. I wish he had given the sort of answer you might hear from Bjørn Lomborg, Ronald Bailey, or Matt Ridley: "climate change" alarmism is mostly poor excuse for sneaking in totalitarian social engineering.

Also weak was his response to a questioner about his flat tax, about whether it would blow up the deficit. It was part: (1) yeah it would, so what, we want to shrink government too and (2) the government spends a lot of money on silly crap (like a $43 Million Afghanistan Gas Station or a study of how cocaine affects the sex habits of the Japanese quail). Problem being: nobody who's done the math thinks that eliminating all possible silly crap-spending will do much of anything about long-term deficit trends.

I managed to get in a question. Roughly: what would newly-inaugurated President Paul do on January 20, 2017 in terms of executive orders, directions to cabinet departments, actions as Commander-in-Chief? His answer was OK, springing off the "executive order" bit: he would undo a lot of executive orders of past Oval Office inhabitants, especially those imposing burdensome business regulations. I wish he'd given a fuller, more specific answer, but that's OK.


Last Modified 2016-11-05 5:49 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2015-11-01 Update

The bettors that drive the PredictWise numbers thought better of Mike Huckabee's appearance in last week's list, and drove his Presidential Probability back under our arbitrary 2% threshold.

Jeb Bush's phony hit counts dropped him back into the pack this week, and, lo, we have a new front-runner. And (if I may be allowed a bit of editorial comment) one who actually deserves the position:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-10-25
"Donald Trump" phony 1,110,000 +703,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 1,080,000 +544,000
"Ted Cruz" phony 270,000 +116,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 257,000 +22,000
"Jeb Bush" phony 225,000 -865,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 195,000 +71,000
"Ben Carson" phony 144,000 -7,000
"Chris Christie" phony 118,000 +8,000

  • Our two phony leaders managed to utter more-obvious-than-usual falsehoods over recent days, which inspired Scott Shackford at Reason to fit three rhetorical questions into his headline: "Does Clinton’s DOMA Lie Matter? Does Trump’s Immigration Lie Matter? Do Any Lies Matter?"

    Shackford patiently outlines the deceptions and the ho-hum, it's-business-as-usual response. Bottom line:

    Politicians lie, obviously, of course, especially during elections. Even when they don't lie, they make promises they don't know whether they can keep, they mislead, they deflect criticism rather than address it. There's a significant voter undercurrent that seems to be embracing it, because the important thing is that those terrible other people—whose lies are so much worse—don't win the election.

    We've come a long way since Jimmy Carter famously promised: "I'll never tell a lie. I'll never knowingly make a misstatement of fact. I'll never betray your trust. If I do any of these things, I don't want you to support me."

    In contrast, I can imagine Hillary or Trump saying: "Yeah, I'll lie. About anything. And my dimwit supporters will love it."

  • Shackford could well have added Dr. Ben Carson into his list, as Carson veered into outright falsehood during the debate when questioned about his relationship with Mannatech, a purveyor of "glyconutrient" dietary supplements to the gullible. The indispensable Jim Geraghty describes "What Ben Carson’s Mannatech Answer Tells Us".

    Carson’s lack of due diligence before working with the company is forgivable. His blatant lying about it now is much harder to forgive.

  • James Fallows is a pretty doctrinaire liberal, but his observations on the GOP debate are kind of interesting, and he has this to say about Ted Cruz:

    What usually rings phony about Cruz’s manner, in my “according to me” personal view, is that he is so transparently talking down. He is posturing about things he obviously knows aren’t really true: that Chuck Hagel might be an agent of the North Koreans, that it makes sense to shut down the government, whatever else he is saying now. In this latest debate, he came out for the gold standard! The chance that a Princeton/Harvard graduate in his 40s, whose spouse is a managing partner at Goldman Sachs (on leave), actually believes in a (ruinous) return to the gold standard, is zero.

    On the gold standard, I'm more in tune with Milton Friedman than I am with Fallows: it's a good idea in theory, but in the modern world it's probably impractical. But I would wager that Cruz has probably thought about it more than Fallows has.

    The funny thing is that Fallows criticized Cruz for the above only to praise him for "twenty seconds of greatness". Unfortunately the YouTube video link Fallows provided has gone stale, but it must be this:

  • They warned us! Specifically, they warned us Hillary would be displaying more "humor and heart" on the campaign trail. The inevitable result? Vines like this:

    (Turn the sound on. Then—aieee!—immediately turn it off.)

  • And the tweet of the week is…


Last Modified 2015-11-02 5:26 AM EST