The Phony Campaign

2016-04-24 Update

PredictWise has dropped John Kasich below our arbitrary 2% inclusion threshold.

Nevertheless, his campaign lumbers on. Maybe someone has made this observation already, but: I see him someday as having an Alec-Guinness-in-The-Bridge-on-the-River-Kwai moment. Suddenly thunderstruck by the enormity of his own actions, saying "What have I done?"

Ditto, for Trump/Clinton voters.

[Update: Almost certainly, I was semi-remembering above what Jonah Goldberg observed last month.]

Anyway, Hillary leaps into Kasich's vacated number two position this week:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 256,000 -116,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 198,000 +8,000
"Ted Cruz" phony 97,600 -155,400
"Bernie Sanders" phony 78,200 -3,600

  • The story that seems to have made the biggest phony splash recently: ‘Hot sauce truther’ Trump calls Clinton ‘phony’.

    Donald Trump ripped into Hillary Clinton on Tuesday morning during an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” show, calling the Democratic presidential candidate “phony” for claiming she carries hot sauce with her at all times.

    Context: Trump claimed Hillary was pandering, since she made this claim on an NYC "urban" radio station. But it appears that this might be a rare instance in which she's actually telling the truth.

  • To be fair, Trump was almost certainly making what he thought was a safe bet. At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti reviews Hillary's long, tired history of dishonesty and poorly-hidden naked power hunger. Why has her primary campaign failed to sew up the nomination so far?

    A lot of the reason is Clinton: her tin ear, her aloofness, her phony eagerness to please, her suspicion of the press and of outsiders, her let us say complicated relationship with the truth, the blithe way in which she dissembles and deceives.

    Continetti repeats something we've noted in the past: when caught off-guard, Hillary's first instinct is to lie.

  • Also, to assume the rules don't apply to her. At Reason, Scott Shackford notes another example: "SuperPAC to Spend $1 Million to Target Hillary Haters on Social Media" At issue is the "Correct the Record" SuperPAC run by Hillary flack David Brock, and how it's doing something that's supposed to be illegal: coordinating with Hillary's campaign organization. It's a convoluted tale, but:

    The reason this is worth noting and worth mocking is how much it implicates Clinton's attacks on Citizens United as hypocritical and self-serving. Sanders has attacked Clinton for all the money her campaign has received from corporate donors and her corporate speeches, and she has insisted that this money has not corrupted her positions—which is actually a defense of the Citizens United decision.

    She's special, once again exempt from the rules she wants to make everyone else follow.

  • Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times opines on "Ted Cruz’s Phony Concern for ‘The People’".

    How can you tell when a politician like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is lying? When he talks about the need to let “the people” decide. What he really means is “the game is rigged and the insiders get to decide.”

    Yeah, yeah. Please note Andrew Rosenthal was the guy who wrote the dishonest yarn about George H. W. Bush and the supermarket scanner back in 1992. ("Bush Encounters the Supermarket, Amazed")

    So how can you tell when a "journalist" like Andrew Rosenthal is lying? When he's writing about Republicans.

Last Modified 2016-04-26 12:50 PM EST

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

[Amazon Link]

Reading Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test last month reminded me how much I enjoyed his writing, so I prevailed upon UNH's main library to borrow a copy of So You've Been Publicly Shamed from UNH-Manchester's stacks. It's pretty good.

Ronson examines the relatively recent phenomenon of people changing their behavior, losing their livelihood, or getting exiled from polite society due to negative attention, often ginned up via social media sites.

It begins when Ronson notices a spambot named "Jon Ronson" unleashed on Twitter, with his photo attached, babbling nonsensically about fictional gastronomic adventures. Ronson tracks this back to a couple of arrogant Internet wannabe-entrepreneurs who refuse to take down the bot when asked politely. Ronson organizes a mini-campaign of ridicule and abhorrence, which saves the day: the spambot is removed. Good news, right?

Well, in that instance perhaps. Ronson expands his investigation through various case studies: a journalist who gets caught making up quotes; the girl who made a stupid tweet about AIDS in Africa; the race-car executive whose fondness for sado-masochism was revealed; the girl (a different girl) who posted a Facebook photo mocking a "silence and respect" sign at Arlington National Cemetery; and more.

Details and results differ. To put it mildly. Ronson is somewhat bemused by his failure to find an overarching, universal, story. (Malcolm Gladwell would have.) Some shamees have their lives irretrievably altered; but some don't. Some handle it well, some don't. Sometimes the social outrage is well-earned, in some cases it's totally out of proportion to the offense.

That's OK. With Ronson, following him on his wide-eyed, open-minded journey is the reward.

Oddly enough: even though NJ's ex-Governor Jim McGreevey is profiled (he's now working in prison reform and ex-convict rehab), Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky are absent. Too obvious? What brought this to mind was Lewinsky's most recent career move: public discussion of public shaming herself, giving a Vanity Fair interview in 2014 ("Shame and Survival"); a TED talk in 2015 ("The Price of Shame") And a Guardian interview just the other day (" Monica Lewinsky: ‘The shame sticks to you like tar’")

Oh, wait. The interviewer in that last link is Jon Ronson. Never mind.

Last Modified 2016-04-25 5:47 AM EST

Batman v Superman

Dawn of Justice

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

I had a day off, so boogied on over to Newington to catch a late morning/early afternoon screening before it vanishes from theatres. I think there were five other people in the auditorium.

I read all the vitriol directed at this movie, but wound up liking it anyway.

Most of the plot is right up there in the title. Batman/Bruce Wayne has gone a little bit around the bend in his pursuit of evildoers, and he's more than a little irked at how the Superman/Zod battle from the previous movie trashed Metropolis and left thousands of collateral-damage casualties. Superman, for his part, is unfond of Batman's increasingly violent vigilantism.

Add Lex Luthor to the mix, who's eager to encourage the mutual irritation of our heroes into a deadly duel. And Lois Lane, always in peril. And—you probably already have heard—a reclusive female superhero, famous for her Lasso of Truth, Bracelets of Submission, and Bazongas of Awesomeness.

It's fun, but honestly, it's also way long, and I invited disaster by not timing my restroom visits better. And, geez, the plot is mystifying: just what is Luthor trying to accomplish here? At least the Gene Hackman version from 1978 (!) had a clear, if ludicrous, goal in mind. And our superbabe: exactly why is she doing what she's doing at the beginning? If any of this was explained, I missed it.

Also it's kind of pretentious: someone should tell the scriptwriters that's it's pointless for us mere mortals to draw coherent moral lessons from the travails of superheroes. Don't bother!

Along with the pretentiousness comes humorlessness. Although Jeremy Irons as Alfred delivers some good acerbic lines, the funny banter between B & S ("I thought she was with you.") comes as kind of a shock when it finally arrives.

Last Modified 2016-04-25 5:54 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2016-04-17 Update

It's the same old lineup, according to our 2%-or-better PredictWise criterion. Cruz's big hit-count lead from last week was one of those ephemeral Google glitches, and he drops back into third today:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 372,000 +102,000
"John Kasich" phony 254,000 +140,000
"Ted Cruz" phony 253,000 -88,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 190,000 +79,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 81,800 +15,000

  • On Al Sharpton's 8AM Sunday MSNBC show last week, ex-Congresscritter Anthony Weiner (pictured) deemed Donald Trump a "phony". You have to sit through six minutes of video to dig it out, but Weiner's main evidence for this allegation was that Trump made donations to his past political campaign.

    Sharpton and Weiner also criticize Ted Cruz's disdain for "New York values". Left unspoken, I'm pretty sure: "Hey, here we are, two disgraceful people on a national TV show. There's your New York values."

    Back in August, Trump called Weiner a "perv". So there's no love lost there.

    (Note, however, the CNN headline back then: "Donald Trump defiant after calling Anthony Weiner a 'perv'". Like there's some reason for Trump to be apologetic about that? Yes, Trump's often an obnoxious blowhard, free with reckless insults. But not in that particular instance.)

  • The Donald had his own phony charge this week, a result of getting skunked by Cruz in the race for Colorado delegates:

    Debunked in a number of places, for example National Review:

    Donald Trump is right: The system is rigged. It’s rigged in favor of front-runners. That’s why Trump, who is leading the Republican nominating contest, has a larger percentage of delegates (46 percent) than of votes (37 percent). Unsurprisingly, Trump never mentions when the rules have helped him. He much prefers to whine and peddle conspiracy theories when they don’t.

  • Also at NR, Dennis Prager is peeved at a perennial campaign trope about "unity":

    In their current campaigns for president, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John Kasich regularly proclaim their intention to bring Americans together. He, one suspects, because he is naïve, and she because she will say pretzels come from Neptune if it will garner votes.

    Why the universality of this nonsensical "unity" theme? Easy, Prager notes: "Because Americans fall for it every four years." For the low-info voter, it's easy to hear calls for "unity" as containing a soothing implication: "At last, people will stop disagreeing with me."

  • In this week's Demo Debate, Bernie made mention of Hillary's "super PACs and 501(c)(4)s, money which is completely undisclosed." Hill was prepared:

    CLINTON: Well, make -- make no mistake about it, this is not just an attack on me, it's an attack on President Obama. President Obama...


    CLINTON: You know, let me tell you why. You may not like the answer, but I'll tell you why. President Obama had a super PAC when he ran. President Obama took tens of millions of dollars from contributors. And President Obama was not at all influenced when he made the decision to pass and sign Dodd-Frank, the toughest regulations...


    CLINTON: -- on Wall Street in many a year.

    CLINTON: So this is -- this is a phony -- this is a phony attack that is designed to raise questions when there is no evidence or support, to undergird the continuation that he is putting forward in these attacks.

    Or, shorter: Obama and I can take contributions from anyone, in any amount, because we're incorruptible.

    And what happened after the debate? Maureen Dowd of the New York Times (never a fan of Hillary's brand) observes:

    Sanders flew to the Vatican that night to underscore his vision of himself as the moral candidate. And Hillary headed to California, underscoring Bernie’s portrayal of her as the mercenary candidate. She attended fund-raisers headlined by George and Amal Clooney in San Francisco and at the Clooneys’ L.A. mansion that cost $33,400 per person and $353,400 for two seats at the head table in San Francisco — an “Ocean’s Eleven” safecracking that Sanders labeled “obscene.”

    Agreeing with Bernie about George Clooney's money-raising obscenity : George Clooney:

    To go with the "obscenity" theme, it looks like Clooney is working on a 70's porn-star mustache.

  • If you've been wondering what Bernie Sanders' tax return and private plane menu prove, look no further than PJMedia's Michael Van Der Galien: "Bernie Sanders' Tax Returns and Private Plane Menu Prove: He's a Hypocritical Phony Extraordinaire."

    The menu (pictured at the link) is pretty fancy. But what might be a dealbreaker for a significant fraction of Bernie fans: no vegan main course offerings. The horror!

Last Modified 2019-01-08 6:35 AM EST

Come to Grief

[Amazon Link]

Back around 1998 or so, I put the then-current list of Dick Francis novels on my to-be-read list. I'd read many of them; I wanted to make sure I'd read them all. This one features Francis's ex-jockey turned investigator, Sid Halley.

It's kind of a mystery, although we know the perpetrator practically from page one: Sid has accused a famous, beloved TV personality—think a male, British Oprah—of a horrifying crime. This brings down torrents of scorn and abuse on Sid's head. Things aren't improved when the accused's mother commits suicide (also page one) and the accused's father assaults Sid outside his house (page three).

What's going on? The story catches us up via flashback: a family with a cancer-stricken daughter has hired Sid to discover the perpetrator of an atrocity committed against the daughter's beloved horse. Who could do such a thing? Sid finds out, to his eventual peril.

The book reminded me of how much I miss Dick Francis. Sid Halley is a wonderfully-drawn hero/narrator: decent, modest, somewhat self-doubting. But when it counts, his core character is "tungsten carbide" (as one of his antagonists observes). I saw him here as Brendan Coyle, the guy who played Bates on Downton Abbey—the character's right, but unfortunately Coyle's a little too chubby to be believable as an ex-jockey.

The Phony Campaign

2016-04-10 Update

Our 2% PredictWise criterion gives us the same old lineup, but (in a shocking development) Ted Cruz has leapt from fourth place to a solid first:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Ted Cruz" phony 341,000 +271,000
"Donald Trump" phony 270,000 +2,000
"John Kasich" phony 114,000 -100,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 111,000 +12,400
"Bernie Sanders" phony 66,800 +6,800

Okay, it's probably just a Google Glitch, but we'll take our excitement where and when we can get it.

In this week's phony news:

  • One possible driver of Cruz's hit counts is the widely-reported remarks of one Peter King, US Congresscritter from the great state of New York. As reported in the New York Daily News, on the Thursday "Joe Piscopo" show (AM 970), the Rep inveighed:

    “New York keeps going forward,” King continued, citing the city’s response to 9/11. “We’re tough, and to have some guy like Ted Cruz with cowboy boots walk around criticizing us. Listen, I hope he gets the cold shoulder and other things from every New Yorker. Send him back where he belongs. He’s a phony.”

    Trivia: Rep King may have been the first candidate to drop out of the 2016 Presidential race, back in July 2015. But the real shocking news here is: Joe Piscopo has a radio show. Good for him. I always liked Joe.

  • The Daily News despises Cruz, but they're also kind of rough on the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua:

    The complaint from the left is that Hillary has been insufficiently supportive of the $15/hour minimum wage.

    "She has in this instance, as others, tried to pose as someone who is sympathetic to the idea of a $15 (national) minimum wage without actually being sympathetic to it," Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said.

    It's an idiotic idea, but apparently it's an important item on the Democrat purity test, and Hillary is trying to copy the answers from the guy next to her.

  • I once subscribed to the Boston Globe. Came to my senses long ago. But had I somehow persisted, I would have been presented with a fake front page this morning, dated April 9, 2017, with fake stories imagining the worst horrors of a Trump Administration.

    OK, some of it's funny, at least to the easily amused:

    Education Secretary Omarosa  Manigault summoned PBS officials to Capitol Hill to discuss remaking “Celebrity Apprentice” using hand puppets. T8

    It's all accompanied by an editorial: The GOP must stop Trump.

    I'm far from a Trump fan, but why should anyone believe that the Globe is a good source of advice for the GOP?

  • Jonah Goldberg wonders: "Why Won’t John Kasich Go Away?"

    The man is famously irascible, pugnacious, and sanctimonious. He’s prone to defending his policies, such as his expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare in Ohio, by insinuating that he cares more about his eternal soul than his critics. A lot of people talk about how unlikeable Cruz is. Well, I’ve met both men, and I’d much rather have a beer with Cruz.

    Me too. Although I'm pretty much open to having a beer with anyone. I like beer.

Last Modified 2019-01-08 6:35 AM EST

Hive Mind

How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own

[Amazon Link]

Another book snagged for me by the intrepid librarians at the University Near Here from Williams College via the Boston Library Consortium. I will miss this service when I retire in a few months.

This book by is by Garett Jones, an econ prof at George Mason University's Center for Study of Public Choice. I believe I put it on the to-be-read pile when I read a glowing review from Jones's GMU co-prof, Bryan Caplan. (Also see Caplan's followup post.) The book is short (168 pages of main text) and accessibly written; although the underlying thesis is heavily statistical, I don't think I saw a single R2 value; there are several scatterplots which imply important correlations.

The thesis is summed up pretty neatly by the book's subtitle. In short, it's good to be smart, but as far as your quality of life goes, it's better to be in close proximity to a lot of smart people. Why? The book delves into the ways high-IQ polities can (and to whatever extent research can verify) do lead to advantage. High-IQ people tend to be more patient, with longer time horizons; hence investment is favored over consumption. This also implies they can play out, in a game-theoretical sense, long-term strategies that result in positive-sum outcomes. In the political arena, smart voters are less likely to fall for fallacious arguments from ignorant and demagogic candidates… oh, hey, wait a minute here.

[Coincidentally, I noted this recent article: "Human intelligence is declining according to Stanford geneticist". Oh oh.]

It's all well and good to observe the relation between mass-IQ and mass well-being, but what does that imply for policy? Well, Jones makes much of the Flynn Effect, the notion that average IQ improved over recent history. (But see above.) Jones argues, plausibly, that whatever we can do to improve average IQ (short of, you know, the bad old eugenicist tactics) would be worth exploring: improved childhood nutrtion, alter immigration policies to favor the smarter, etc.

All in all, a decent read.

Last Modified 2016-04-25 5:56 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2016-04-03 Update

For yet another week, PredictWise dictates no changes to our leader board, and there are no changes in our rankings:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 268,000 -33,000
"John Kasich" phony 214,000 +25,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 98,600 -6,400
"Ted Cruz" phony 70,000 -11,300
"Bernie Sanders" phony 60,000 -800

True fact: divide Trump's hit count by Hillary's and you get nearly exactly the value of e, base of the natural logarithms. I'm sure that indicates something.

The phony news this week:

  • You can't read much about Ted Cruz without reading about the people who dislike him. Nearly everyone, it seems. You owe it to yourself to get the other side. Readers, Jay Nordlinger knows Cruz and likes him. Jay has a three part series at NRO: here, here, and here. It is personal, and a welcome antidote to the Ross Douthats of the world. Sample:

    You may have heard that he is not well liked by the people around him. Well, I liked him — loved him. But it’s true: Some people found him too cocky, too brash, and too ambitious for their taste.

    I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more patient I am with ambition — certainly if that ambition is directed to positive ends. I think of William Herndon on his onetime law partner, Lincoln: “His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.”

    I've been reading Jay for a number of years, and he's struck me as the straightest of straight shooters. If he likes Cruz, that's good enough for me.

  • In the "who knew you could make a decent living doing that" category, we have Mr. Kevin Long whose gig is to search out and destroy fake social media accounts posing as his celebrity clients. For example:

    While Kevin Long and his haven’t yet been hired by the part-time Palm Beacher, Long says a little bit of work on his part uncovered more than 230 fake Trump pages. And more than 200 for Hillary Clinton.

    The obvious question: what algorithm can possibly detect the phoniness of a fake page, when the actual candidates are so phony themselves? I might have been able to figure this out if I had taken that AI course back in college.

  • We've been trying to ignore John Kasich, but he just won't go away. Also impatiently waiting is Steven "Louder With" Crowder, who posted an open letter to Governor Kasich this week.

    You are one giant, dishonest, poorly coiffed, insufferably smug phony. You unabashedly fancy yourself as the “friendly guy.” The “reasonable guy.” The likeable bloke. Or perhaps you prefer being called  “The Prince of Light and Hope” as you so humbly referred to yourself. Several times. On record. May I remind you that you did so unironically, while also naming your competition “Disciples of Darkness.” Sure, you give out free hugs. But behind that self-satisfied, tight-lipped smile of yours…? You’re a pompous ass who cares more about your own faulty ideals than the will of the people. Also, fire your barber. The “baby bird hatchling” look is flattering to precisely zero percent of population earth. Yourself included.

    Not just a phony, but a poorly coiffed phony. That's gotta sting.

  • Betsy McCaughey brings a reality check to "Hillary Clinton’s Phony Health Care Fixes. (Her words, not mine.) (OK, mine too.)

    The Clinton campaign is finally owning up to what most Americans learned the hard way. The Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable. In fact, its costs are crushing people who have to buy health insurance. Hillary Clinton vows to fix the problem, but don’t count on it. Clinton’s remedies are bad medicine. Some are so preposterous she can’t possibly believe they’d work. She could use a dose of truth serum.

    Although the reliability of so-called truth serums is nebulous at best, that doesn't stop Pun Salad from advocating that there be a number of debates where all participants would be dosed. Including the moderators. That would be a hoot. I would watch that.

  • It seems to be conventional wisdom that Bernie's the least phony of the current candidates. And in recent weeks he's been consistently at the bottom of our poll.

    Folks who want to support him on that basis should check out Matt Welch's "Bernie's Bad Ideas" from the current issue of Reason. Some of Bernie's positions fit well within a libertarian perspective, but (bad news) there's nothing to like in his economic worldview and (worse news) his supporters tend to like his economics best of all.

    A decade ago, left-of-center commentators prided themselves for being members of the "reality-based community," in reference to an old Karl Rove quote that dismissed adherents of such to be naive. Now, after seven years of economic realities smacking Democratic promises in the face, Bernie Sanders has arrived to say that the problem with all the spending, the centralizing, and the stimulusing, is that it did not go nearly far enough.

    I cheer for Sanders because I like to see Hillary lose. But President Sanders would be pretty bad news.