The Phony Campaign

2016-07-31 Update

PredictWise odds on Hillary are unchanged from last week, a 70% chance of winning. But Trump's lead is widening in the Phony Standings:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2016-07-24
"Donald Trump" phony 829,000 +7,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 780,000 -33,000
"Jill Stein" phony 489,000 +79,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 35,900 -1,700

You might have thought that the Democratic National Convention this past week would have given Hillary more of a bump in phony hit counts. But we report, you decide.

  • Mickey Kaus called the convention "Hillary’s Pantsuit Uniparty", and the opening minutes of her acceptance speech a "festival of phoniness". Glad I missed it.

    Mickey quotes from her speech:

    I believe that our economy isn’t working the way it should because our democracy isn’t working the way it should. That’s why we need to appoint Supreme Court justices who will get money out of politics and expand voting rights, not restrict them. And we’ll pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United!

    Others have mentioned the obvious point: the Citizens United case was all about trying to suppress an Hillary-critical movie. It's more than a little depressing to realize that the official position of a major political party and its presidential candidate is to (at best) partially repeal the First Amendment, because it successfully protected speech critical of said party and candidate.

    Mickey points out that the imaginary process that translates First Amendment repeal into economic improvements flowing to the "middle class" is the political equivalent of one of those elaborate Rube Goldberg mechanisms. You have to be a dedicated ideologue to believe that causal chain would work.

    Or, as the Underpants Gnomes might put it:

    Phase 1: Overturn Citizens United!
    Phase 2: ???
    Phase 3: A thriving middle class!

    The amendment process is (fortunately) cumbersome, and I'd wager (also fortunately) there's zero chance that a First Amendment repeal could get through all the necessary hoops. No doubt Hillary and other equally cynical Democratic pols know this.

    Additionally, there's the pedantic point I've made before (about Mitt Romney's advocacy of a "Balanced Budget Amendment): the Presidential role in the process of amending the United States Constitution is: none whatsoever.

    Which makes the proposal … that's correct, phony.

    Painting the Citizens United decision as an all-purpose bogeyman must focus-group extremely well. Which is also depressing.

  • And another thing: you want "big money" out of politics? Here are a couple of ideas that would work far better than First Amendment repeal:

    1. If you're a politician, don't accept "big money".
    2. If you're a voter, don't vote for politicians who take big money.

    If you can't manage that, maybe you really don't believe the problem is "big money": maybe you just want to force people you disagree with to shut up.

  • Phoniness also appears in the second spot on the ticket. At Reason, Steve Chapman describes "Mike Pence's Towering Hypocrisy". Chapman attended a 2010 Federalist Society speech given by Pence, and describes it as "an exercise in pomposity and sanctimony so insufferable that I walked out before he was done."

    But pompous and sanctimonious as it was, it was an argument for Presidential restraint, dignity, and humility. And a mere six years later:

    But when Pence accepted the second spot on a ticket with Donald Trump, he made clear that he didn't believe a word he said. The address is full of lines that would disqualify Trump from a moment's consideration.

    Trump has not the slightest trace of the humility and dignity Pence once deemed essential, and it's hard to imagine his being constrained by the limits of presidential authority. As for the Constitution, Trump thinks it contains an "Article 12" and wants to censor the internet without regard for the First Amendment. "Somebody will say, 'Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech,'" he snorted. "These are foolish people."

    I can't begin to comprehend why any respectable pol would chain himself to the Trump dumpster fire.

  • It's unusual for me to quote an entire blog post, but here's Patterico, short and sweet and reality-based: "Your Vote Does Not Matter".

    So you really don’t have to be a jerk to your friends because they’re not voting the way you would like.

    No individual vote ever matters in a presidential election. We learned this in Florida 2000. If it’s close enough that your vote could theoretically matter — which is far less likely than your winning the lottery — a swarm of Democrats will swoop in and start reinterpreting the votes of people who could not vote competently to begin with. The brief moment when your vote seemed to matter will pass, and your vote will be swallowed up in all the phony reinterpreted votes.

    So your vote simply doesn’t matter. To use the language of the beloved alt-right: you are “virtue-signaling” by announcing for whom you will vote. Some of you are signaling the virtue of being on the team or part of the tribe. Some of you are signaling the virtue of adherence to abstract principle rather than group membership.

    But none of it really matters. So just relax.

    Also see: United States Senate election in New Hampshire, 1974. Literally too close to call, so they had a do-over.

  • Which leads me to your tweet of the week:

    "Indeed."

Terminator Genisys

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It seems I just mentioned that I'm cynical about Hollywood filmmakers resurrecting beloved characters in slapdash efforts to vacuum money out of the suckers' pockets. Sometimes that works for me (Star Trek, Rocky) and sometimes it doesn't, like here.

In fact, I am kind of at a loss to even describe the plot premise. The series has gone back and forth in time over and over. Associated paradoxes, multiple timelines. Multiple actors playing the same character. The only constant is our old friend Arnold, who plays Good Terminator once again here. I'm just not sure where he came from.

Suffice it to say: there's a Bad Terminator relentlessly pursuing the Good Guys. The Good Guys are on a quest to avoid Armageddon, and in order to do that, something needs to be blown up. Along the way there is considerable amounts of gunplay, explosions, crashes, yelling of "get down". And someone says "I'll be back" and "Come with me if you want to live".

"Hasta la Vista"? I could have missed it. I don't think so.

Executive summary: special effects are great, J. K. Simmons is great, everything else is mediocre.

Brooklyn

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I got this from Netflix mostly for Mrs. Salad: a period drama revolving around a young woman gradually finding her way in a strange land. (She also likes Outlander.) I was prepared to be bored into slumber; instead I was somewhat surprised: I liked it too.

As the movie opens, the time is early-1950's, and young Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) has no prospects in Ireland. She's stuck in a menial job, and has no suitors. Fortunately, America beckons, specifically… well, you see the title up there. Helped out by her church, she hops on a ship, and gets set up with a retail job and a spot in a rooming house with other immigrant Irish women, run by mother-hen Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Waters). Eilis is desperately homesick, but she's helped out by a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) and unexpectedly takes up with earnest Italian-American Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen). He's a plumber with no apparent mob ties. She starts taking bookkeeping courses at Brooklyn College.

Things are looking up. Then tragedy strikes. Eilis is called back to Ireland, and feels the pull of her old home. Will she stay or go?

The movie was nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. (Didn't win any.) It is a well-acted, interesting story with sympathetic characters. That's rare enough these days.

I also found myself talking with an Irish accent for a couple hours afterward. Scary, but I got over it.

Creed

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

I fell off the Rocky series by missing Rocky V 26 years ago (!) and Rocky Balboa 10 years ago. I am as cynical as the next guy about Hollywood filmmakers resurrecting beloved characters in slapdash efforts to vacuum money out of the suckers' pockets.

But I heard that Creed was pretty good. Sylvester Stallone was Oscar-nominated for his performance. And, yeah, it was pretty good.

The idea: Apollo Creed had an illegitimate son, Adonis. Fortunately called "Donnie" here, mostly. As the movie opens, Adonis is in some sort of juvie, and parentless. (We knew about Apollo, but his mom also passed away.) He's an angry young man, who likes to punch other kids.

Fortunately, Apollo's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad, woo!), becomes aware of young Adonis and takes him away from his orphan life. He gets a good education, a good job in finance, and… well, he still has the urge to hit people, fighting in Mexican venues. That's his true calling.

Mom's not happy about that, but Adonis takes off to Philly, tracks down Rocky, and inveigles him into becoming his trainer. You can probably plot out the narrative arc from there, right?

Sylvester Stallone fits into the Rocky role like a glove. A boxing glove, sure, but still. The movie is heavy on sentiment and nostalgia for past movies, but you know what? It all worked for me.

Star Trek Beyond

[5.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another Star Trek movie. Some people say: stop, already. I say: bring it on!

Although I feel a touch of geezerhood seeing all the "Star Trek 50th Anniversary" notices slapped on all the merchandise lately. Yes, I was there at the beginning. It's beginning to look as if I won't be there for the end. Because Star Trek will never end.

In this dandy entry, both Kirk and Spock are experiencing midlife crises. Kirk is finding that the Enterprise's five year mission is getting a tad boring. (Boring? The recent movies take place in an alternate timeline from the Original Series, more boring, but with superior special effects.) And Spock is shocked by the passing away of the Spock from the TOS timeline, and wonders if it's not time to turn his efforts into preserving Vulcan heritage.

After a brief but amusing (seemingly irrelevant) diplomatic mission, the Enterprise visits Yorktown, a fabulous Death-Star-sized space station. Also arriving, a tiny ship inhabited by a desperate alien, requesting that the Federation help rescue her crew, inexplicably taken hostage on a planet hidden inside a mysterious nebula.

Sure thing, Kirk says, we can do that. But (guess what) it turns out to be more than he bargained for. Things don't go well for the Enterprise, way too many of the crew are wearing red shirts, and Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, and Scotty are split up, some held in captivity by the mysterious villain Krall, others merely in mortal danger.

It's a fine entry in the continuing series. Oh, yeah: Sulu is totally gay. I would have thought Chekov, but…

Below Zero

[Amazon Link]

Another entry in C. J. Box's Joe Pickett series, a fine job as usual.

In between special missions for Wyoming's eccentric governor, Joe is relegated to his normal game warden duties, specifically chasing down a poaching archer who isn't very particular about what kind of animals he shoots. For example, Joe's dog, Tube. (Tube survived, but sheesh, what kind of asshole shoots a dog for fun?)

In the meantime, back in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a man and his son are apparently on a semi-random killing spree, targeting those with large carbon footprints. They're accompanied by a 14-year-old girl who's shocked by the killings, and she reaches out to the Pickett family via burner phone for help. Why? Well, she claims to be someone from the Picketts' past, someone we thought was carelessly blown up in a previous book. Whoa, didn't see that coming.

Joe goes in pursuit of the murderous pair, hoping to rescue the girl. Along for the ride is his daughter Sheridan; Joe's dangerous buddy and Federal fugitive Nate Romanowski; and the weaselly FBI Agent Portman. Lots of action and plot twists.

UNH Wants to Assure You That Race Still Matters at UNH

Although I've retired from the University Near Here, I prowl their website now and again. Unfortunately (for our purposes) UNH has gotten much more careful about avoiding hard-left lunacy on its public site. Nobody wants a repeat of last year's widely mocked "Bias-Free Language Guide".

But one thing about Social Justice Warriors is their fervent belief that attention must be paid. To their issues, of course. But also, to them. Because what good is it to own a superior moral sense and a host of tendentious opinions, if you can't make them widely known? Beyond the small group of students you've managed to wangle into your classroom each semester, that is?

So last week, UNH published "Talking About The Hard Issues" on the web. Subtitle: "Courses on race, class and culture have students digging deep". (Which reminds me of a joke, the punchline being "there must be a pony in here somewhere!")

If the warning bells aren't going off for you yet, Sentence One, Paragraph One might do the trick:

This isn’t about the shooting of black men by police officers, or about Dallas and Baton Rouge. […]

Note the faulty parallelism. It serves as a little signal flag indicating where the Modern University Brain allows itself to go, and what it avoids.

"Dallas", of course, refers to the July 7 murder of five police officers, with nine other cops and two civilians wounded. "Baton Rouge" is the July 17 murder of three police officers, with three others wounded.

A fair opening sentence, then, might have been:

This isn’t about the shooting of black men by police officers, or about the shooting of police officers by black men. […]

… but I'm pretty sure the Modern University Brain doesn't even consider typing that.

In any case, the article claims not to be about that. (Why bring it up then?) Instead the article's purpose is to describe three courses offered at UNH:

  • "Race Matters" (offered through the Women's Studies department of the College of Liberal Arts). It's instructed by Jennifer Jaime Nolan, who's also the University's "Associate Vice President for Community, Equity and Diversity". Sample word salad from the course description:

    Specific attention focuses on how diverse women have made history in their own lives and in the lives of others by resisting the interlocking systems of oppression.

    Ayn Rand? Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Phyllis Schlafly? I'm betting that they would make things a little too diverse for Professor Nolan.

  • "Implications of Race, Culture and Oppression for Social Work Practice" (offered through the Social Work department of the College of Health and Human Services). Taught by Professor Vernon Carter, it is "designed to increase awareness related to the insidious nature of oppression."

    It's insidious, I tells ya! Much like Senator Joe McCarthy worked to reveal the insidious Commies back in the fifties, Professor Carter works to wake up his students to his reality, which is Perpetual and Permanent (albeit Unconscious) Racism:

    Carter adds, “My goal is to get them to see who they are, how they are. I want them to look at themselves and acknowledge the differences. Racism in particular is rooted in our national way of being. Members of the dominant race are advantaged whether they want to be or not. Others are disadvantaged. Racism and all of the other isms are systemic. We are socialized from birth to believe we are superior and the other is inferior. Often we are unconscious of our unearned privileges related to race, gender, sexual orientation … but they’re there.”

    Wait a minute. Didn't our rooted-in-racism nation elect, and re-elect, an African-American President? Relatively recently? I think I saw something about that on the news.

  • "Race, Class, Gender and Families" (offered through the Human Development and Family Studies department of the College of Health and Human Services). Tyler Jamison is the instructor. She says (oh joy): "police violence will be part of the conversation this semester in conjuncture with a component she teaches on incarceration."

    “Students tend to be really surprised by the disproportionate number of black men who are incarcerated compared to white and Latino men,” Jamison says. An infographic she uses in class reveals that one in 106 white males over age 18 are incarcerated, compared to one in 36 Latinos and one in 15 black men “The effect of that on a family is profound. If your provider is in jail, what happens to your family? There is a disproportional effect on families of color, families with low income.”

    What do you want to bet that Professor Jamison provides no equivalent infographic showing crime rates classified by the race/ethnicity of the offender? Is the incarceration rate out of whack with the underlying crime rate?

    Or does Professor Jamison simply cherry-pick the factoids she needs to "prove" the underlying story of Oppression?

Thomas Sowell recently observed the perverse incentives facing politicians:

Black votes matter to many politicians — more so than black lives. That is why such politicians must try to keep black voters fearful, angry, and resentful. Racial harmony would be a political disaster for such politicians.

Racial polarization makes both the black population and the white population worse off, but it makes politicians who depend on black votes better off.

A similar dynamic works at UNH: a sizeable chunk of the professoriate and their administrative allies depend on advancing what's been called a culture of victimhood. As long as they can keep everyone thinking on the oppressor-oppressed axis, they'll be seen as important and relevant. Inconvenient facts won't matter much.

After all, as Governor William J. Lepetomane once observed:


Last Modified 2016-07-28 9:36 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2016-07-24 Update

The PredictWise punters give Hillary a 70% probability of being Our Next President, Trump 30%. (No longshot bets reported on Johnson/Stein yet.) Hillary was at 78% about a month ago, but that was apparently Irrational Exuberance.

In the phony poll, however, the race is much closer:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2016-07-17
"Donald Trump" phony 822,000 -133,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 813,000 +92,000
"Jill Stein" phony 410,000 +141,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 37,600 +12,700

  • At the Daily Beast, the cheerful Olivia Nuzzi reports: "Trump's Newest Ad Is So F---ing Weird". (No bowdlerization at the link; and for some reason the URL spells it "frickin".)

    No foolin'. Through the magic of Twitter-embedding:

    And if you can't bear to watch it, it's in reference to Trump's convention speech, and (other than bombastic, obnoxious music and images of said speech) the content is "75 MINUTES TOTAL SPEECH TIME,” “24 MINUTES TOTAL APPLAUSE,” “33% TIME SPENT APPLAUDING.” Really. That's it.

    That could be true, Nuzzi notes, other than the last number, which should be 32%. And I think she really nails it here:

    Trump has no values, no internal world, no sincere desire to make concrete changes to this country to fix what supposedly ails us, he has only a primal need to know how long people cheered for him and how big of a deal that length of time is, given the total time of the event in question.

    I'm sure all successful politicians have (let me be as charitable and non-judgmental as possible) unusual psychological profiles, putting them well outside the mainstream.

    But I can't think of any mainstream-party Presidential candidate with Trump's obvious psychological kinks, ever.

    And, as Nuzzi notes, it's frickin' weird that the Trump campaign makes those kinks so blatantly obvious.

  • Other big GOP convention news was (you've probably heard) that Mrs. Trump's speech was blatantly plagiarized. Does that matter? Well, according to Mr. Matthew Yglesias, "Melania Trump's plagiarism matters because it exposes Donald Trump's profound laziness".

    Plagiarism offers a window into a different aspect of Trump, one that isn’t integral to his appeal. Trump is a phony. And a lazy one at that. He refuses to put in the work, and if he becomes president the consequences are likely to be disastrous and unpredictable.

    Just ask his wife who stood up on a nationally broadcast primetime telecast to vouch for his integrity and decency, and turns out to have been set up for humiliation because Trump couldn’t be bothered to build the kind of professional presidential campaign that would equip Melania Trump with a decent speech.

    The Yglesiasian argument seems to be: if Trump weren't such a lazy phony … well, Mrs. Trump would still be using someone else's words. But at least her hubby would be paying someone for them.

    (Applying the Yglesiasian plagiarism standards to college students is left as an exercise for the reader.)

  • The headline on Jeff Jacoby's Boston Globe excellent column is inaccurate: "Trump and Clinton: A guide for haters". Among the numerous points made:

    The former first lady and secretary of state is at least as unprincipled as Trump, willing to say or do virtually anything in the pursuit of power and wealth. Like other politicians, Clinton’s stands on controversial public issues have flipped and flopped, invariably putting her on whichever side has grown more popular: She’s been for expanding free trade and against it, for same-sex marriage and against it, for the Iraq war and against it, for more gun control and against it, for a crackdown on illegal immigrants and against it, for the trade embargo on Cuba and against it, for the ethanol mandate and against it — the list goes on and on.

    But really, Read The Whole Thing. Other than the headline, which I assume some dimwit Globe editor wrote. Because note the final paragraph:

    To be clear, I don’t hate Hillary Clinton. I don’t hate Donald Trump. But I do find them both to be indecent and unworthy, graspers of low character whose rise to political eminence is a terrible reflection on the Republican and Democratic parties. Neither deserves a vote for president. They certainly won’t get mine.

    Good on you, Mr. Jacoby. Mine neither.

Dirty Money

[Amazon Link]

Amazon reminds me how long it can take for books to percolate up to the top of the to-be-read pile: "You purchased this item on November 1, 2010."

And it gets worse: Dirty Money (© 2008) is the continuation of a tale beginning two books previous: Nobody Runs Forever (© 2004, I read it in 2005) and Ask the Parrot (© 2006, I read it in 2010). It's hard to appreciate plot continuity over a span that long.

Nevertheless…

Stark's perennial antihero, FNU Parker has (finally) made a semi-clean getaway from the armored car heist in the first book. And he's got some clean cash from the racetrack heist in the second book. But the $2.2 million from the armored car, stashed in an abandoned Massachusetts church, poses a problem, as does one of his former partners, a cop-killer on the lam. Also: a female bounty hunter with a deceased partner. Also: lotsa cops, a pleasantly ditzy innkeeper, a third-rate true-crime writer, a colorful money launderer, …

Through it all, Parker is slightly more honorable than his fellow criminals, unflappable in the face of betrayal, close calls with the law, and botched plans. And very, very violent.

This looks like the last Parker novel, as "Richard Stark" (aka Donald Westlake) passed away shortly after finishing it, and there are apparently no plans to pick up the series under a different writer.

UNH: On the Edge of Poseurable

Gosh, I see the University Near Here has adopted a new motto for its website:

Welcome to UNH, a flagship public research university on the edge of possible.

I think more standard usage would suggest a "the" before "possible": on the edge of the possible.

But even then, it's eye-rolling. What could that conceivably mean?

UNH goes right up to the edge… why would it do that? Stop! Come back!

Any chance it could trip over the edge of the possible into … the impossible? Probably not. By definition.

My suggestion:

Welcome to UNH, a flagship public research university where people are paid good money to come up with meaningless, intelligence-insulting slogans for our web page.

OK, so it's not the best marketing, but it has the advantage of truth.


Last Modified 2016-07-23 11:33 AM EDT

The Affair

[Amazon Link]

It has been too long since I read my last Lee Child/Jack Reacher novel. As with a number of authors, I'm playing catchup with Mr. Child. As usual, I'm in awe of his skill in rendering a page-turner. (Well, I read it with the iOS Kindle app, so: screen-swiper.)

This is an origin tale of sorts, the sort of thing they do with superheroes. It's set in 1997, just before the events of Reacher #1, Killing Floor. Reacher is still in the Army, still (sort of) an MP, and he's sent undercover by his superiors to the small Mississippi town of Carter's Crossing, where the grisly murder of a beautiful young woman may be connected to the nearby Army base, inhabited by a secret team of Rangers flying in and out of Kosovo. (Why the secrecy? One of the Rangers is the son of a powerful US Senator.)

As always: Reacher has detective skills to rival Sherlock Holmes. He not only has to figure out the crime, he also has to deduce the motives of the various members of the military bureaucracy that sent him there. There's also a beautiful but mysterious lady cop who seems way out of place in Carter's Crossing. Eventually, rough justice is delivered. But as we know, it's life-changing for Reacher.

The Jungle Book

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

By the time the animated version of The Jungle Book came out in 1967, I considered myself "too old" (16) to see Disney movies. Nearly 50 years later, they're must-see. It's a funny old world.

Even better, this was a free showing, put on at the Memorial Union Building at the University Near Here. The 3-D version was playing in the theatre next door, but we opted for the 2-D version. I think that may have been a slight mistake.

Anyway: it's the story of "man-cub" Mowgli, orphaned at a young age by the evil tiger Shere Khan, rescued by the good panther Bagheera, adopted by a pack of wolves. (Mowgli's one of those rare kids who, when asked if they were "raised by wolves", can answer "Yeah, you got a problem with that, bigot?")

Years later, Shere Khan puts Mowgli in his sights, a very dangerous place to be. It's decided to return Mowgli to civilization, but that plan goes awry when the good-hearted but lazy bear Baloo enters the picture, and decides to use Mowgli's man-resourcefulness for his own purposes.

The movie is fun, the kid playing Mowgli is fantastic, and the actors providing voices to the various animal heroes (Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong'o, Giancarlo Esposito) and villains (Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken) are outstanding.

There are also a lot of sly and subtle gags. Favorite: Mowgli finds an old cowbell, rings it, and… who does it summon but King Louie, voiced by Mr. Walken.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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

I noticed this was streamable from Netflix, and with Mrs. Salad out of the house for the evening, why not? I was shocked to discover that I'd watched the original Sin City back in 2005; was it really that long ago?

My comment at the time: "Not recommended for anyone under 45, or over 55." Now I'm well over that suggested age limit.

In any case: this movie connected to the original through some of the characters. There's Marv (Mickey Rourke); Nancy (Jessica Alba); Gail (Rosario Dawson); Dwight (Josh Brolin here, was Clive Owen previously); the evil Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). And Hartigan (Bruce Willis). There are multiple subplots revolving around new characters: cocky gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and manipulative Ava (Eva Green, also providing nudity).

It's all sordid and violent. Most people seem to think it's not as good as the original; it also seems to not be as original as the original.

A Dirty Job

[Amazon Link]

Christopher Moore: another author I'm playing catch-up with. This one is © 2006; which puts me ten years behind. It is another wonderful concoction of fantasy, horror, and hilarity; all held together by Moore's wonderful writing.

The odds are against the "hilarity" bit, right from the start. Charlie Asher, the protagonist, is happy about his newborn daughter, Sophie. Unfortunately, his beloved wife, Rachel passes away unexpectedly in the hospital while being visited by a seven-foot tall black man in a mint-green outfit. Who claims that Charlie shouldn't be able to see him.

Never mind, Charlie is bereft. He glumly returns to his job at his second-hand retail store in San Francisco. But (as it turns out) he's been drafted into a new job by supernatural forces: a position he refers to as "Death Merchant". See the title: somebody's gotta do it.

What that job entails is difficult to explain (and the aforementioned supernatural forces do a pretty lousy job of making it clear), but it's a vital function to prevent the Forces of Darkness from taking over the city, and eventually the world. Epic battles ensue, involving Charlie's employees, his daughter, a couple of soap-eating hellhounds, and a 1957 Cadillac El Dorado with "two chrome bumper bullets that looked like unexploded torpedoes or triple-G-cup Madonna death boobs."

A lot of fun. It would make a great R-rated miniseries. Allegedly something's in the works, but like all those decent Heinlein movies "in development", I'll believe it when I see it.

The Phony Campaign

2016-07-17 Update

Another week, another atrocity, another storm of platitudes. (One difference: the preaching of the usual suspects about "gun violence" is muted.) As discussed last week, we'll continue to do our thing here.

PredictWise (unsurprisingly) claims that Trump and Clinton are the only candidates with any chance at the Oval Office. Depressing!

So we'll shake things up a bit on this end. We included Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson last month; today we'll add in the Green Party nominee, Jill Stein. I was shocked at her initial strong showing:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2016-07-10
"Donald Trump" phony 955,000 +370,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 721,000 +203,000
"Jill Stein" phony 269,000 --
"Gary Johnson" phony 24,900 0

  • Jill (I call her Jill) is not a huge Israel fan:

    She's a few meters more to the left than Bernie. So why the high phony score?

    One example: Despite her background in medicine (it's Dr. Stein, thankyouverymuch) Mike Stone at Patheos noted her answer to the straightforward question: “What is your campaign’s official stance on vaccines and homeopathic medicine?”.

    Instead of Stone's (and my) preferred answer ("Vaccines work; homeopathy is bullshit."), Jill provided (in Stone's words) "a long winded and evasive answer", and "a confused and muddled hash invoking big pharma conspiracy theory buzz: a convoluted political double-speak that would make the most jaded and cynical politician proud."

    In this, Jill is merely following the Green Party platform. Generally speaking, the Greens combine the economic ignorance you would expect from socialists with the scientific ignorance you might not.

  • And there's also: Jill Stein Pledges To Pardon Snowden and Appoint Him To Her Cabinet. My suggestion would be: Secretary of State, where odds are he's be less negligent on matters of national security than Hillary was.

  • On CNN… "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg calls Trump a 'faker,' he says she should resign."

    As it turns out, they were both right.

    Unfortunately, she chose to "apologize" instead. ("I regret that I revealed my complete lack of judicial temperament," or words to that effect.)

  • I call your attention to the posting Phony Bernie Sanders Endorses Hillary Clinton" because I am impressed by the translated-to-French-and-back prose. Sample:

    On Tuesday, Sanders formally took off his masks to expose the phony beneath while he formally counseled Hillary to grow to be president of america. All appreciate one will have had for Bernie’s philosophical consistency has evaporated. Instead of complete-blown, card-wearing communists, the left has now not had a unmarried philosophically constant candidate of their space of playing cards. All their communicate of loose school, loose healthcare, and top source of revenue taxes has been a lie to realize and wield energy over the ignorant plenty that believed them.

    I agree! I think.

    Well, just kidding. My guess is the original version is here.

    On Tuesday, Sanders officially took off his mask to reveal the phony underneath when he officially endorsed Hillary to become president of the United States. All respect one may have had for Bernie's philosophical consistency has evaporated. Other than full-blown, card-carrying communists, the left has not had a single philosophically consistent candidate in their house of cards. All their talk of free college, free healthcare, and high income taxes has been a lie to gain and wield power over the ignorant masses that believed them.

    Yeah, well, what are you gonna do?

  • Finally, a sobering report from Kevin D. Williamson from FreedomFest in Vegas, baby: "I Told You So". Kevin was skeptical about the claim America was about to have a "libertarian moment", and one bit of confirming evidence was the flameout of Rand Paul's presidential campaign (before I even got a chance to vote for him in the New Hampshire Primary). And so…

    In the event, the two presidential candidates Americans got most excited about were Donald Trump, a nationalist, and Bernie Sanders, a socialist. Between the two of them, they make a pretty good national socialist. Trump won his party’s nomination and Sanders ceded his to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is (arguably) a little bit more of a nationalist and (arguably) a little bit less of a socialist but in many ways a much better distillation of the partnership between big government and big business that characterizes our current political moment.

    RTWT, friends. Depressing but insightful.

Into the Storm

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Did you see Twister? I saw Twister. I liked Twister. And, Into the Storm, you're no Twister.

The plot is so formulaic that it might have been sketched out by algorithm. Monster tornadoes threaten Midwesterners. Documentary filmmakers are under pressure to get gripping video to please their corporate masters, and the leader is willing to risk everything to further his career. A widowed father struggles to raise his two teenage sons, one a whiner, one a troublemaker. Needless to say, the events bring them Closer Together.

It was never easier to pick out victims and survivors. The only question is: will that one guy perish in an act of (a) greed-driven stupidity or (b) redemptive courage. (Spoiler: the latter, as it turns out.)

Richard Armitage, Thorin Oakenshield himself, plays the dad. I think he may have gobbled up 80% of the acting budget. Everybody else is pretty generic. How much acting talent do you need to shout "Get down!", or mutter "Ohmigod"? Over and over. I didn't keep exact count, but I think these two lines were repeated dozens of times.

Room

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

Room is, as I type #124 on IMDB's list of the top 250 movies of all time. Brie Larson won an Oscar for Best Actress, and it got nominated in three other categories, including Best Picture. And I thought it was pretty good too.

I kind of wish I'd seen it knowing even less than I did about the plot. If I'd gone in knowing nothing, there would have been a certain amount of oh-that's-what's-going-on realization.

If you think you might feel the same, I urge you to stop reading now.

Still here? Fine. Five-year-old Jake and his mother are being held prisoner by "Old Nick", limited to a few dozen square feet. The only connection to the outside world is a small skylight and a door they can't open. It becomes apparent that Jake has never, ever, been out of the space. He hides in a small closet when Old Nick comes to drop off groceries and rape mom.

I was somewhat surprised that the movie didn't end when I thought it would.

Confession: I thought there would be a Shocking Plot Twist along the lines of the "elaborate but incorrect" theories described here. (It's not really that elaborate.)

A Dishonest and Stupid Change

Judd Gregg, one of our state's former Senators, recently took to the op-ed page of my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat, to advocate a Big Idea, that will… well, let him tell you:

In the parlance of Congressional budgeting, if you have an idea that scores positively — in other words, if it raises money without raising taxes — you have struck gold.

In the words of Kenny Bania: "That's gold, Jerry! Gold!".

Such an item allows you, should your colleagues accept it, to either reduce the deficit or spend money on some program that has general support but no funds to pay for it.

Expressed another way, if something scores positively, it creates opportunities for action by the Congress. And this is particularly appealing because Congress is generally wedged into a straitjacket of inaction when it comes to new initiatives or reducing the deficit because it has no way to pay for either effort.

The subtext: Judd's ex-colleagues are demonstrably inept at making difficult fiscal choices, and would much prefer to discover a gaggle of gold-egg-laying geese, or maybe lay claim to whatever loose change they can find in the US Capitol seat cushions.

So what's Judd's Big Idea? Sell the Post Office? Terminate the Small Business Administration? Well, sorry. None of that for Judd. Instead, the loose-change thing turns out to be close.

Here is an idea that involves small change but translates into budgeting gold.

It is currency modernization.

Warning to the reader: "Modernization" will turn out to be a marketing euphemism.

Our present currency system is illogical. We produce coins that cost more than they are worth. Yet, at the same time, we rely far more excessively than other industrialized nations on paper currency. We simply have not modernized our approach to managing our currency to catch up with a 21st century market society.

Judd's argument contains a smidgen of fact: it's probably true that pennies and nickels cost more to make than they're worth. (He elides the "to make" part.)

[It's also worth pointing out that penny and nickel face values are still greater their melt-value. When that stops being true, they will immediately vanish from general circulation.]

But in absolute terms, the amounts involved are capital-T Trivial. The GAO estimated (for FY2014) a yearly loss of $91 million for making pennies and nickels. But making dimes and quarters more than made up for that; the US Mint realized a total profit ("seignorage") of $315 million from its overall coin production.

So "we" (actually: the Mint) could at best save about $91 million a year by not producing pennies and nickels. With Your Federal Government spending $3.8 trillion per year, this represents about 13 minutes of spending.

We'll look at the paper currency argument later. Back to Judd:

It is a bit embarrassing to have the world’s largest and most important economy but yet be so far behind our competition in the simple act of managing our physical money.

What can Judd possibly mean here? There's close to zero "competition" for US currency in the domestic economy. (Although that could change.) In recent years, the US dollar has been the most commonly used currency worldwide, the Euro coming in a distant second. It's the most widely held currency, period. It's hard to find any symptoms whatsoever of a "competition" problem.

So there's no need for Judd to be embarrassed. But let him ramble for a while, he'll eventually get around to what he's actually talking about:

On the bright side, some moves are being made toward addressing this problem. If those moves translate into real action, we stand to realize benefits both from making day-to-day economic activity more efficient and rational, and from saving the taxpayers considerable sums.

The Treasury has announced sweeping changes to our paper currency. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional audit group, has supported major modernization 10 times in the last 25 years. Most importantly, a group of thoughtful and respected legislators led by Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and John McCain, R-Ariz., and Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., have made fixing our currency system a priority.

They are pushing for a dollar coin to be included in a package of GAO-recommended savings measures with their bill, the United Savings and Accountability Act (USA Act).

Enzi, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has also pushed to make sure that savings generated from this modernization will be able to be scored in the budget process.

Ah, there it is: the dollar coin.

A majority of the American people likes this reasonable approach. Sixty-one percent of Americans support going to a more coin-dominated system when they are told of the savings it would generate.

But in actual fact, US dollar coins have proven to be dreadfully unpopular. "The American people" have had the option to use them, on and off, for decades, and the lack of acceptance has been spectacular. Simply, when given a choice, "the American people" prefer the paper dollar. This strongly suggests that there are hidden costs to dollar coin usage (primarily convenience, I would suspect), and those unremunerated costs would be borne by the citizenry.

Gregg's Big Idea: remove the choice. "We tried to be nice, but you didn't behave as you were supposed to. So now we're going to do this for your own good."

How much would this currency reform save us?

Yeah, how much would it save "us"?

It is estimated that switching from the one-dollar note to a one-dollar coin could save the country up to $13.5 billion. Additional savings could be made from suspending the production of the penny and redesigning the nickel. This is a lot of money that could go to reducing the deficit or to funding programs that have broad bipartisan support.

Note the bullshit signifiers here: "could" and "up to". And (most important) no mention of the timeframe for those savings.

And, in any relevant context, despite Judd's dishonest claims otherwise, it turns out to be not a "lot of money". The recent GAO study is easy to find. They have a more conservative estimate of the savings to the federal government: not $13.5 billion, but ("potentially") $4.4 billion. (I don't know where the $13.5 billion number comes from. I suspect it's fantasy.)

And how long would it take for those "potential" savings to be realized? 30 years.

That averages to about $147 million per year. In the same ballpark as the savings from penny/nickel abolition. And in terms of a $3.8 trillion yearly budget, that works out to about 20 minutes worth of spending.

Also note: it's not as if the government loses money printing dollar bills. That would be hard to do; they take at best a few cents worth of paper, ink, and labor and turn it into something "worth" a dollar by fiat. It's just that they could make more money with coins instead, due to their longer lifespan. (Again: "seignorage", a word worth knowing.)

Canada, our neighbor to the north and a good place to try out ideas like this, has successfully made this switch. Canadians experienced cost savings 10 times higher then their initial estimates.

Judd demonstrates, again, his telling aversion to meaningful numbers. According to the GAO, the Canadian government saved $450 million over 5 years in its switchover. So an average of $90 million/year, about 0.028% of their current yearly spending. Given Canada's smaller budget, that's a slightly bigger deal than we'd see in the US: A whole 2.5 hours out of the year!

In an election year like this, big things are not going to happen in Congress. But positive, incremental initiatives that can help pave the way for broader reforms of budget and governance should be doable.

Actually, big things will never happen in Congress as long as they are distracted by time-wasting penny (heh!)-ante schemes like this.

Currency modernization is an opportunity to get real savings that can be used by this Congress as it wrestles with paying for government and reducing the debt.

As shown above, the savings are at best trivial and the debt will continue growing.

It is a small change, in small change. But it does score positively, so it is actually a fairly big deal for a Congress that urgently needs some change.

Change, change, change. Get it? This clever play on words will no doubt convince dozens.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, this is probably not a huge deal. I could learn to live without pennies, nickels, and dollar bills. I am simply tired of pols like Judd Gregg making stupid and dishonest arguments for decreasing Americans' currency choices.


Last Modified 2017-02-27 5:57 AM EST

Three Weeks to Say Goodbye

[Amazon Link]

A non-Joe Pickett novel from C. J. Box. Also (somewhat surprisingly) Mr. Box moves out of his wheelhouse, the great Western outdoors, and tells a tale mostly set in the city (Denver) and mostly indoors.

The plot springboard is one that will set a chill through the spine of any adoptive parent: Jack and Melissa McGuane have had their daughter since birth, nine months previous. Unexpectedly, through a botched adoptions process, the bio-father shows up to demand the child back. Worse, he has the law (and his father, a powerful Federal judge) on his side. Worse, bio-dad is weird and off-putting, in a sociopathic sort of way. And (yes) even worse, he enjoys playing mind games with Jack and Melissa, jerking them around in hopes that he'll relinquish his parental rights.

Bottom line: well, see the title.

Since the psycho has the law on his side, it's not surprising that Jack and Melissa turn to shady, extralegal tactics to prevent the child-snatching. They turn to their longtime friends for assistance: a semi-rogue cop who's overfond of booze and tobacco, and a gay real estate developer. Jack himself is not perfect: he admits to having a volatile temper and occasional violent fantasies. Melissa starts hitting the vodka bottle pretty heavily. And the more they push, their story gets more sordid and bloody. It all serves to put the final outcome very much in doubt.

Coolidge

[Amazon Link]

I very much enjoyed Amity Shlaes' previous book on the Great Depression. This one, a biography of our 30th President, not quite as much, but that's OK.

Coolidge's life (1872-1933) is set against the background of a dynamic period of American history, of course. Growing up in remote Plymouth Notch, Vermont, he attended Amherst College, and settled down in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he became a lawyer and got started in local Republican politics. He held a variety of elected posts in Massachusetts, eventually becoming Governor. His handling of a police strike proved immensely popular, and he got the Vice Presidential spot on the 1920 GOP ticket with Harding. And then became President when scandal-ridden Harding died a couple years later. Elected in his own right in 1924, he chose not to run in 1928, giving way to technocratic Herbie Hoover, who presided over the beginning of the Depression. Coolidge passed away from a sudden heart attack, just a few weeks after FDR came into office in 1933.

Ms. Shlaes lays things out in strict chronological order. This can be a little jarring at times, juxtaposing (for example) a discussion of farm subsidies with a discussion of how Coolidge's wife got on with then-President Harding's wife (not well), then a description of "incoherent and hostile" articles Coolidge wrote for a women's magazine,… I know: life is like that, things jump wildly from one thing to another. Still, I would have appreciated a smoother flow.

Coolidge started out as a "progressive" Republican in the Teddy Roosevelt mold, but gradually became the penny-pinching fan of limited government we libertarians hold dear. His efforts to cut spending while cutting tax rates, extracting the US from the fiscal disaster of World War I, were remarkable then and now.

A few random notes:

  • Coolidge's Veep, Charles G. Dawes, was a pretty colorful guy. He (apparently) badly damaged the Coolidge Administration's relationship with the Senate by giving a needlessly fractious inauguration speech in 1925. Shlaes notes that Dawes was also "a gifted musician and had composed a tune, "Melody in A Major," that would later be heard in a popular song. I was disappointed that Ms. Shlaes didn't name it: "It's All in the Game". (Mark Steyn claims, not implausibly, that that could be the "most enduring vice-presidential legacy of all.")

  • Floods. Lots of floods back then. No wonder dams were so popular.

  • I was somewhat surprised by the pro-war fever that preceded WWI. Example: in 1916, the Amherst College student newspaper advocated that the school form "its own battalion" in preparation for conflict, something that other colleges had already done. That sort of thing happening today is unimaginable. Given the immense human and fiscal cost of the war and its dismal results leading to even worse carnage a couple decades later: it's just another item on the list of "when America got it wrong".

The Phony Campaign

2016-07-10 Update

Note: I've been choosing to concentrate on Presidential politics over the past months. That can seem inappropriate when the latest murderous horror sweeps over the country. Still, I don't have much to say that hasn't already been said better by others.

So I'll continue with the normal shtick until further notice.

PredictWise has (again) judged that Bernie has approximately zero chance of becoming our next President, almost certainly due to the FBI's determination that some people are just too important to prosecute. So we are back to the big three, and Trump has pulled out to a solid phony lead against Hillary:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2016-07-03
"Donald Trump" phony 585,000 +69,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 518,000 -52,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 24,900 +700

  • A major component of wisdom is the ability to make distinctions, and so i recommend this NR article: "Liars and Bull**** Artists" by Fred Schwarz.

    People say Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both liars, and that’s correct in the sense that they both make a general principle of avoiding the truth. To be precise, though, Hillary is a liar, while Trump is something a bit different: a bull**** artist. (I’ll use the abbreviation BSA to save on asterisks; we’ll need them later on.) One of the many ways you can tell: When Hillary is caught in a lie, she doubles down on it, but when Trump is caught in a lie, he casually switches to a different one.

    Verdict: on target.

  • The Trump campaign tweeted something controversial.

    The six-pointed star caused some to accuse Trump of anti-Semitism. That, by itself, doesn't make a lot of sense; sometimes a star is just a star. But it was taken from a genuinely vile website. I found a guest article by a Power Line commenter to be persuasive:

    Is Donald Trump himself a misogynist, racist, Jew-hating troglodyte? Heavens no. I would surmise, in complete seriousness, that there is not enough substance to that shallow, self-absorbed cartoon of a man even to BE a misogynist, racist, or an anti-Semite. Perversely, for Trump to be a misogynist, a racist or an anti-Semite would actually require him a measure of introspection (albeit, in a warped form) that he rather obviously lacks. Rather, the world begins and ends with Donald Trump. Nothing, and no one else, even exists.

    That should not detract from the fact that Hillary Clinton is, indeed, the "most corrupt candidate ever." Well, maybe not ever. Within living memory, Lyndon Baines Johnson is a real contender. But in the past half-century? Sure. Put that in a star, oval, hexagon, whatever.

  • One of the more tedious tropes of the 21st-century American Progressive is to dismiss any dissent from orthodoxy as "hate". While discussing Hillary's documented dishonesty and gross negligence in handling classified material, John Kass makes an important distinction.

    I'm certain that many will clench their fists and denounce me as a Clinton-Hater. But hate by definition is irrational, and so I reject the hater diagnosis.

    Instead, I'm probably something of a Clinton-Loather. Hate is about the loss of control, like the barking of a dog or someone who shrieks into the wind or at a crowd. Loathing takes time and consideration. And I've had years of watching the Clintons lie and dissemble and tell partial truths and get away with it, and take advantage of the principles of honorable men such as James Comey.

    Loathe. Good word.

  • Heat Street is an irreverent clickbait site owned by the otherwise staid Dow Jones. I think it's aimed at folks who (like me) got turned off from the abomination that Breitbart has become.

    Example headline: "Imbiber-In-Chief: Hillary Clinton Plans to Drink Heavily as President"

    My immediate reaction: not as heavily as I will.

Deadpool

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

Deadpool was quite the sensation when it came out. A dirty superhero movie! Yay! And (as I type) #199 on IMDB's list of the Top 250 Movies of all time. Above Annie Hall! Above The Wizard of Oz!

And… above Groundhog Day? No, sorry, I don't think so.

Deadpool is Wade Wilson (played by Ryan Reynolds). Unfortunately kicked out of his Special Forces unit, he bums around as a mercenary. Fortunately, out of the blue, he meets hooker-with-a-heart Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and falls in love! Unfortunately, he also gets cancer, so that's bad. Fortunately, he volunteers for a procedure that might cure him, and it does! And also unlocks his mutant superpowers! Unfortunately, it also leaves him looking (in the words of his buddy) "like an avocado had sex with an older, more disgusting avocado." Also, the people running the show are evil. So Wade is out for revenge and (possibly) a cure to restore his good looks.

There's a lot of cleverness in the movie, but as was pointed out in Spinal Tap: there's a fine line between clever and stupid, and this movie doesn't seem aware of that. Entertaining, didn't live up to the hype.

Rated R for (MPAA says) "strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity". And (good news) some of that is contributed by Morena Baccarin.


Last Modified 2016-07-10 9:17 AM EDT

Zootopia

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

The Memorial Union Building at the University Near Here hosts a few free movies during the summer, so Mrs. Salad and I decided to check out Zootopia, a non-Pixar Disney animation feature issued earlier this year. Spoiler: it's funny and good-hearted. (And as I type it is #172 on IMDB's top-250 movies of all time.)

Zootopia is set on an Earth free of humans, but all the mammals have (roughly) human-level smarts and language skills. And—fortunately—the carnivorous ones have learned how to get along without feeding on the others. Old stereotypes die hard, though: there's a lingering mistrust of predators among their once-prey. Things aren't helped by the behavior of some bad eggs.

In addition, our bunny heroine, Judy Hopps, has to deal with breaking down a different longtime prejudice. Rabbits simply don't go on the police force in Zootopia. That's Judy's dream, though, and she's full of spunk and determination. Soon she's put on the case of a missing mammal: the meek Emmet Otterton has joined over a dozen mysteriously-vanished sharp-toothed once-predators. Judy dragoons a fox con-artist into helping her out, and (of course) he turns out to be unexpectedly useful.

So there's lots of action, clever lines, and (Disney animation, remember?) visual stunners. The ideological symbolism—diversity, tolerance, can't-we-all-just-get-along, yay!—is a little heavy-handed. "Biology" is used as near-synonym for bigotry, which probably is a relief to the trans-gendered audience segment.

But it's not a consistent message. A wonderful gag involves lemmings—well, acting like stereotyped lemmings. (Something Disney has done before!)

The Drop

[Amazon Link]

Gradually whittling down the Michael Connelly section of my to-be-read pile. The Drop came out in 2011. I hope I can manage to read them at least slightly faster than he writes them. I found this one to be a literal page-turner, ripping through it in just a couple days.

Harry Bosch is assigned two cases here. One is in his everyday wheelhouse: cold homicide cases, some dating back decades, examined with the latest forensic technology. Good news: the lab matches the DNA from a blood smear taken from a long-ago rape/murder victim to that of a known sexual predator. But bad news: the predator was eight years old when that crime was committed. Was there some sort of chain-of-evidence screwup, or is something else going on?

In the second case, Harry is recruited to investigate a very hot case: the son of Irvin Irving, Harry's longtime nemesis, has hit the sidewalk outside his seventh-floor room at the Chateau Marmont hotel. Accident, suicide, or homicide? Despite his Harry-hatred, Irving knows that if anyone can find out the facts, it's Bosch.

(It's interesting, somewhat, that the "Bosch" series on Amazon Prime takes place in a slightly different universe than the books. Irving's a much better person on TV, also blacker, and his son meets his demise in a totally different scenario.)

Bosch, of course, eventually gets to the bottom of everything. He not only needs to deploy his detective skills to the cases, but also to the "high jingo" of Los Angeles politics and inner LAPD workings. He also (potentially) gets a new girlfriend; we'll see how that works out.

The Revenant

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

Another one from the Netflix DVD pile. The Revenant won the Best Actor Oscar for Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu) and Best Cinematography. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), and seven more. And it's a pretty good yarn too.

Most probably know the story by now: it begins with a party of fur trappers up in the wild American frontier of the 1820s. They are decimated in an impressively gory Indian attack, and must rely on guide Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his son to get them back to the nearest fort. That plan quickly goes awry, as Glass gets seriously mauled by a big ol' bear looking for his pic-a-nic basket. That would be bad enough, but inner dissension and betrayal cause Glass to be left for dead. (And his son is left actually dead.) What follows is a tale of survival and revenge. Cool!

I had to look up "revenant": "a visible ghost or animated corpse that is believed to have returned from the grave to terrorize the living." On target there.

A long movie, 2 hours and 36 minutes, according to IMDB, but it certainly held my interest. For a Best Actor winner, Leo doesn't actually say that much, and most of his expressions are hidden by facial hair, blood, and grime. I think the Oscar is more like a Purple Heart in this case: selling the audience on Glass's physical and mental anguish.

The Time It Never Rained

[Amazon Link]

This novel was in National Review's Conservative Lit 101 list. Published in 2010, it contained ten novels written by Americans since the 1950s. I had read two already, and I put the remaining eight onto the to-be-read pile. Since then, I've tackled Midcentury by John Dos Passos; The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy; Mr. Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellow. And now The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton. Four to go!

Kelton wrote a lot of genre Westerns, but this transcends the genre. It's set in 1950s West Texas, over the span of a brutal drought (spelled "drouth" throughout) that actually occurred. The central character is aging Charlie Flagg, a successful rancher of cattle and sheep. We get to know Charlie very well, along with his family (a sturdy wife, a feckless son), employees, and neighbors. He's a good-hearted man, albeit a tad paternalistic to the Mexicans that occupy the same space as the Anglos. His primary characteristic is a stubborn determination to live according to his principles, the main consequence of that being his refusal to be involved in any "aid" programs offered by Your Federal Government. (No doubt this is what caught National Review's attention.)

It's a big book, spanning years, and the backbreaking work involved in running a ranch is described in meticulous detail. The drouth makes everything worse, of course, and one by one the ranchers around Charlie succumb to one form of tragedy or another. Charlie sees his own enterprise gradually whittled away, and he carries on only by pride and fortitude.

It's not unremitting tragedy, however. The mock-insulting dialogue between Charlie and his buddies is hilarious.

The Phony Campaign

2016-07-03 Update

Bernie Sanders continues to hang in at PredictWise. (But why does the word "dingleberry" come into my mind as I type that?) While Hillary continues to hold onto her phony lead, Donald Trump is making a strong charge:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2016-06-26
"Hillary Clinton" phony 570,000 -1,000
"Donald Trump" phony 516,000 +61,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 335,000 -22,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 24,200 -48,200

  • Jeff Greenfield is a good liberal Democrat, but also honest enough to write a column headlined "Is This Why Hillary Clinton Is Trusted By So Few Americans?"

    Greenfield's theory:

    It really does appear that both Clintons regard themselves as so removed from the grubby motives that tempt lesser mortals that they are to be judged by a wholly different set of standards.

    If that's the theory, you can surely find the facts to fit, starting with Bill's secretive meeting on a private jet with Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Greenfield also recalls (a) Hillary's comment that she and Bill were "dead broke" as they left the White House; (b) her justification for he $675K Goldman Sachs speeches; (c) her claim that “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported”—well, except for those who were victimized by Bill; (d) their behavior during the Lewinsky affair; (e) her 180° reversals on trade policy, gay marriage, and Iraq.

    Greenfield obviously had size constraints on his column; like anyone else paying attention, he could have rattled off many more examples off the top of his head.

    The problem with his theory that the Clinton's believe they should "be judged by a wholly different set of standards": there's zero evidence that the Clintons view themselves as bound under any ethical standards whatsoever. They have appetites—yuuge appetites—for power, money and (in Bill's case) sex—and the only constraint they feel is can we get away with it?

    And they mostly do. Thanks to fools like Greenfield, who keep making excuses and looking for complex justifications for despicable behavior.

  • A lefty named Conor Lynch attempts to explain: "Why Millions of GOP Voters Bought Into Trump's Phony Populist Act".

    Donald Trump does not come across as a typical plutocrat — and if he did, it is doubtful whether he would be the leader of a new right-wing populist movement in America. Though the billionaire was born into great wealth and privilege, and started running his father’s $200 million real estate firm in the 1970s (a lucky break?), he has a very down-to-earth and unsophisticated way of communicating; as crude as the stereotypical drunk uncle and as slick and self-assured as a used-car salesman from New Jersey.

    All true! Yet not delivering on the headline's promise: why did millons of GOP voters buy into Trump's phony populist act?

    Lynch's analysis turns out to be (let's be kind) flawed by his Manichean view of the world: "the people" versus plutocrats. So, after much anti-capitalist babble:

    […] Trump’s diatribes against the liberal and technocratic elites are not completely unfounded. Right-wing populists like Trump have been able to succeed because Democrats have become less egalitarian and more elitist over the years.

    That's where his logic takes him.

    I have an alternative explanation of why "millons of GOP voters bought into Trump's phony populist act". They were stupid.

    That theory probably won't win me a paid columnist gig at Salon, but it's simple and fits the facts.

  • The populism thing was on a tear this past week, with even President Obama adding his two cents: "Obama takes shot at Trump as a phony populist".

    In an international summit dominated by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, President Obama criticized the presumptive Republican nominee as a phony populist and told Mexicans and Canadians that Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric doesn’t represent the views of most Americans.

    Whatever, Barry.

    Populism is dressed-up demagoguery, whether it's employed by Democrats or Republicans. (Although it's cute to see Democrats miffed when Republicans are politically successful at it.)

Jodorowsky's Dune

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

If you're like me (and why wouldn't you be?), you:

  1. Read Frank Herbert's Dune when it was serialized in Analog back in the 60's, savoring the yarn, accompanied by John Schoenherr's magnificent covers and illustrations.

  2. And (of course) got the book when it was published, for even more geeky goodness. (Even though the Ace paperback cost an outrageous $1.50!)

  3. Gave up on the series after reading Dune Messiah. (Sorry.)

  4. Nevertheless, was excited when the Dune movie came out in 1984, and…

  5. Whoa, it was weird. Visually stunning in parts, but… weird. And not in a good way. David Lynch took the perfectly good sci-fi adventure and made it Lynchian. And also stupid. Lynch reportedly hates the film also.

As it turns out, back in the 70's, before Star Wars, another serious run was made to film Dune, by then-famous surrealistic director Alejandro Jodorowsky, and that's the subject of this documentary. The most notable thing about this version: it would have been much, much, weirder. Jodorowsky wanted to make the movie a hallucinatory trip. He cast his own son as Paul Atreides, recruited Orson Welles as Baron Harkonnen, Salvador Dali as Emperor Shaddam IV, Mick Jagger as Feyd-Rautha.

Also involved were folks who went on to more successful projects (Dan O'Bannon, H. R. Giger, Chris Foss, Pink Floyd). Hints are given that the whole enterprise was drug-fueled, which makes sense.

Jodorowsky's talking head is featured throughout, and he's charmingly insane, in a senior-citizen way. The documentary is set up to sell the point that the movie would have been fascinating and wonderful, ahead of its time, etc. People muse about how the timeline of science fiction movies might have been altered if this version of Dune had made it into existence before Star Wars.

Yeah, no. The movie would have been a stink bomb, an embarrassment to all involved. Yes, many of the ideas were mutated/resurrected in subsequent movies. Better movies.

I can't recommend the movie, it's pretty dull even for a documentary.