The Double

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

I'm pretty sure this is the movie Mrs. Salad wanted to watch last year, instead of the arty/pretentious Dostoyevsky-based Jesse Eisenberg flick we got instead. Same title. They should make a law against that.

I liked this one a bit better. Richard Gere (yes, this is the second Richard Gere movie in a row) plays Paul Shepherdson, a retired CIA spook. His pre-retirement job was tracking down a deadly Russian assassin dubbed "Cassius". Cassius was never found, but Shepherdson claims that he must be dead, since assassinations with his modus operandi have stopped.

But a US Senator gets murdered with Cassius's trademark throat-slitting technique. This catches the notice of FBI agent Ben Geary (Topher Grace), who prevails on CIA head Tom Highland (Martin Sheen) to bring in Shepherdson to try once again to locate and neutralize Cassius.

Things are (of course) not what they seem, the characters have hidden motives, and so on. Decent acting, of course. There are PG-13 levels of violence and language.

The Phony Campaign

2016-08-28 Update

PredictWise again ignores the yuge crowds at Trump rallies and continues to express 80% confidence that Hillary's gonna beat the tar out of him in November. To a pulp. Like a rented mule. Like a drum. Like swords into plowshares.

And in the phony standings, Jill Stein continues to impress:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jill Stein" phony 1,160,000 +140,000
"Donald Trump" phony 814,000 -82,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 769,000 +13,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 89,600 +45,500

  • The Democrats-with-bylines media continues to trash Jill Stein, of course. Example this week is the ultra-dependable Dana Milbank of the WaPo, who detects "From Jill Stein, disturbing echoes of Ralph Nader" The allusion being to Nader's role in the 2000 election; dejected liberals credit him with swinging the election to Dubya over Gore.

    In ordinary times, a voice such as Stein’s contributes to the national debate. But these are not ordinary times. Trump’s narrow path to the presidency requires Stein to do well in November, and polls indicate Trump does better with her in the race. But, 16 years after Ralph Nader helped swing the presidency to George W. Bush from Al Gore, liberals (including Bernie Sanders supporters) who otherwise agree with Stein are more inclined to recognize that she makes more likely the singular threat of a President Trump.

    Or: "You're cute, honey, but I've got my money on the other babe."

    At Reason, Anthony L. Fisher debunks the Nader-beat-Gore mythologizing, and notes the reason why Hillary sycophants like Milbank push it nonetheless.

  • More to my liking is Kevin D. Williamson, who's in nobody's pocket. His contribution this week is pointing out "Trump’s Unlikely Story". But what really caught my attention was the subheadline:

    This isn’t a campaign — it’s psychotherapy.

    Normally, I'd scoff. But (remember) just last week we linked to an article that was headlined "No, Jill Stein Supporters, You Are Not Crazy". Apparently that's a thing now: either (a) figuring out just what type of mental dysfunction is going on with candidates and their supporters, or (b) reassuring assertions that you're not crazy; it's those other guys.

    Kevin's in the former category:

    We should consider the possibility that Donald Trump is not really running a presidential campaign at all — that this is not politics, but psychotherapy. Trump has always been a figure of fun among those whose respect he most craves — the New York business community and the editors of the New York Times – and he obviously desires to be something more than a reality-television grotesque: a figure of significance. His presidential campaign is his bid for self-actualization, and it has taken along a great many gullible and credulous people — and a major political party — for the ride.

    That sounds unfortunately plausible.

  • Also firmly in National Review plague-on-both-houses camp is Jim I. Geraghty: "The Post-Reality Election". Many examples of candidates "insisting that the obvious truth wasn’t true". Here's one:

    Hillary Clinton [sought] to assure CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the complicated and shady financial dealings of her family foundation were on the up and up. “I know there’s a lot of smoke, and there’s no fire,” she said. This was perverse to say the least: The adage is, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and that’s what common sense and experience tells us. But in Clinton’s telling, smoke should not be taken as evidence of fire. It’s like she’s citing an ancient proverb from her own personal alternate reality.

    One could only wish that Anderson Cooper were quick enough to follow up on the metaphor: "Wait a minute. If there's no fire, where the bleep is all the smoke coming from?"

  • I should point out the Facebook group "Libertarians Against Gary Johnson & Bill Weld". Its raison d'être:

    Gary Johnson & Bill Weld are fakes. They are big government, big spending moderates and have the record to prove it. They are as libertarian as Hillary!

    It's Facebook, so there's a lot of crap. I came away saying… "Yeah, maybe, but still better than Trump or Hillary."

  • And in the Twitter:

    A number of these signs were posted in LA to coincide with a Hillary's fundraiser (minimum admittance $33K) hosted by Justin Timberlake and that nice Jessica Biel. (The underlined "ill" in "Hillary" indicating that the perps were probably not Hillary supporters.)

Last Modified 2019-01-07 7:08 AM EDT

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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

Why yes, it is yet another cynical attempt by filmmakers to squeeze a few more dollars (US, Australian, and Euro) out of the rubes who loved a previous movie.

Worked for me. It's a tribute to how a bunch of extremely talented actors (and wonderful filming locations) can make a movie interesting despite a script that's at best mediocre.

It has been nearly four years since I saw the first movie, so I had only a dim recollection of the status of most of these characters when the movie opens. But it seems all the characters that survived the first movie are here. Sonny (Dev Patel) is still borderline delusional, his marriage to the beautiful Sunaina is imminent, he's insanely jealous when a suave, rich buddy shows up and starts macking on Sunaina, and he's looking to expand his hotel empire from one to … two. This requires him to travel with Muriel (Maggie Smith!) to San Diego to meet with financiers, including devilishly handsome Ty (hey, that's David Strathairn!). They'll think about it.

Evelyn (Judi Desch!) has a job offer to do something or other with fabrics, and she's nervous about her slow-motion nearly-romantic relationship with Douglas (Bill Nighy!) who's still technically married to Jean (Penelope Wilton!). Madge (Celia Imrie! Previously seen in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace as "Fighter Pilot Bravo 5") is having a tough time deciding which Indian rich guy to marry. Norman (Ronald Pickup!) is having doubts about the fidelity of Carol (Diana Hardcastle!) and worries that he may have accidentally taken out a hit on her.

And finally, two new guests arrive at the hotel: Guy (Richard Gere!) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig!). But there's only room for one! And Guy is immediately smitten with Sonny's domineering mom (Lillete Dubey!).

Anyway, you get the point: there's a lot going on. Piles of hilarity and melodrama ensue. I said the script was mediocre, and it was, but we'll give it a thumbs for taking an unexpected turn in a couple places. (Specifically: I thought I saw things coming a mile away, but so did the scriptwriters, and they steered away from the expected paths at the last minute. Good for them.)

Don't Breathe

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

So Pun Son unexpectedly proposed that we go see a movie; this was the best choice consonant with our movie tastes. Ordinarily, I'd have waited for the DVD to show up from Netflix. In this case, the theatre was a good choice, since a small chunk of action takes place in near-total darkness, and that doesn't work well on my home setup.

Anyway, that nice Tessa from the ex-TV show Suburgatory has moved to Detroit, and fallen in with a bad boyfriend known as "Money". They have looped in Alex, a troubled youth whose father just happens to work for a home security firm. The trio uses Alex's alarm-disarming knowledge to make a modest living ripping off affluent homes for easily-fenced items.

But—of course—they are tempted by a possible big score. An elderly man living in a decayed, nearly-deserted neighborhood got a recent six-figure settlement for the wrongful death of his daughter. They speculate (on apparently flimsy grounds) that he must have that cash in his house. What's more, the old guy is blind. This should be easy, right?

Well, wrong. The victim is an Iraq vet defending his own turf, has a real mean dog, and secrets of his own. We are quickly in a edge-of-your-seat thriller.

I suggest a sequel title: Don't Fart, Either.

Nowhere to Run

[Amazon Link]

Let's see now … this is the fifth C. J. Box book I've read this year. Adding in ones read in previous years, that makes thirteen. Eventually, I'll catch up.

Mr. Box continues to put his series hero, Joe Pickett, through the physical and emotional wringer. He's winding up his game warden stint in Baggs, Wyoming, looking to return to his family in his beloved Saddlestring. But first he needs to track down allegations of mysterious shenanigans in the Sierra Madre mountains: hunters harrassed, game stolen, petty vandalism. He quickly runs into two dangerous brothers with unconventional views on government. As in: they don't think it should apply to them. I sympathize. But things take a violent turn and Joe barely escapes with his life.

Things get more complex when Joe returns to civilization. (That's kind of a spoiler, but come on, you knew they weren't going to kill off Joe.) After a search, the local law enforcement can't find any evidence to support Joe's story. Did he just make it up? Do the brothers have anything to do with the recent disappearance of an Olympic athlete in the same area? What's the story with the FBI's interest in Joe's tale? And what's with the skinny dude who claims to be with the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation, who has a lot of questions? Who proceeds to vanish, and the DCI claims doesn't work for them?

Everybody wants Joe to just wash his hands of the mess and return to Saddlestring. You know that's not going to happen, though.

The Phony Campaign

2016-08-22 Update

The PredictWise "choose your doom" punters assign a 79% probability of a Hillary win, down from last week's 80%. And in the phony poll, one candidate has made a dramatic come-from-behind showing:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jill Stein" phony 1,020,000 +180,000
"Donald Trump" phony 896,000 +23,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 756,000 -115,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 44,100 -3,200

  • What is behind Jill Stein's remarkable phony showing? Who knows? But a recent article by Caitlin Johnstone has encouraging news for Jill Stein supporters who have begun to doubt their own sanity: "No, Jill Stein Supporters, You Are Not Crazy".

    What is the definition of insane? According to Einstein, insane is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Trying to vote for the “lesser evil” in the desperate hope that this will somehow move us away from evil. Trying to vote for a woman who has shown us time and time again that she will push for military aggression at every opportunity in the desperate hope that this will somehow lead to less needless destruction and chaos. Trying to vote for a party that has already clearly demonstrated hostility to the progressive agenda in the desperate hope that this will facilitate a progressive agenda.

    That’s what’s crazy. You are healthy, wise, and right. Keep fighting the good fight, my bright-eyed brothers and sisters. You’re the only thing keeping things sane.

    Well, first: that "Einstein" saying is both (a) apocryphal and (b) one of the tiredest clichés in the lazy writer's toolbox.

    But in other news: if you're encouraged in the slightest bit by some dippy true-believing leftist telling you that "you are healthy, wise, and right" … well, maybe you should seek professional help. That's only one step up from the voices in your head telling you things.

  • In related news, the New York Daily News reported recent Texas polling:

    The Green Party doctor's support in the Lone Star State, 2%, is the same as support for Harambe the gorilla and less than that for joke candidate Deez Nuts, according to a new poll.

    "Deez Nuts", the article explains, is "the fictional politician sprung from the brain of Iowa teenager Brady Olson." Harambe is the gorilla Cincinnati Zoo officials shot dead earlier this year. No word as yet from Caitlin Johnstone on the sanity of Nuts/Harambe supporters.

  • Buried in this Buzzfeed article, "Juanita Broderick Wants To Be Believed" was the mutation of Hillary's web page on the topic of "campus sexual assault". As I type, there's a "Hillary" quote:

    "I want to send a message to every survivor of sexual assault: Don't let anyone silence your voice. You have the right to be heard."

    Buzzfeed points out the unsubtle change from the previous version:

    “I want to send a message to every survivor of sexual assault: Don’t let anyone silence your voice. You have the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed, and we’re with you.

    The change was made after Juanita Broderick pointed out that Hillary doesn't believe in any of that, if the perpetrator of the assault is named "Clinton".

  • There's been some back and forth among the contributors at the linguistic blog Language Log about the verbal stylings of Donald Trump. But my favorite analysis (so far) is Mark Lieberman's: "The em-dash candidate". Trump's words don't come across well in standard sentence/paragraph form, but "it works pretty well if printed as free verse." I'll reproduce Mark's transcription of a passage in full:

    I'll tell you in particular lately
    we have a newspaper
    that's failing badly
    it's losing a lot of money
    it's gonna be out of business very soon
    the New York Times OK?
    I love it!
    they wrote a story today
    "anonymous sources have said"
    three anonymous sources, anonymous this, anonymous that
    they don't use names, I don't really think they have any names OK?
    but "anonymous sources have said"
    there are no anonymous s- you know with my campaign, I'll be honest with you
    it's me
    it's me
    they never call me
    they don't call me
    but these are the most dishonest people
    The good news is- I love- you know I put down
    "failing @ New York Times"
    the newspaper's going to hell
    they got a couple of reporters in that newspaper who are so bad
    with- I mean lack of talent
    but it's going to hell
    so I think maybe what we'll do
    maybe we'll start thinking about taking their press credentials away from them
    maybe we'll do that
    I think so
    I think so
    you know
    when they write dishonest stories
    you can't read em it's so much
    you can't read em there's so much I'd be reading all day long.
    When they write dishonest stories
    we should be a little bit tough, don't we agree, you know?
    Real garbage they're garbage it's a garbage paper OK
    So here's the story folks, talking about garbage
    talking about garbage
    talking about garbage
    you have a governor in this state who's done a very poor job.

    I did some of this myself during the 2008 election cycle. My victim was Elizabeth Kucinich, Dennis's lovely wife.

  • Our state's current governor, Maggie Hassan, is running for the US Senate seat currently occupied by Kelly Ayotte. Apparently a CNN interviewer decided to get in Maggie's face a bit, and… "Hassan Can’t Say If Clinton Is Honest, Even After She’s Asked Three Times"

    The Hillary-related questions asked by the CNN interviewer were:

    1. “Do you think that she’s honest and trustworthy?”
    2. “Do you think she’s honest?”
    3. “But do you think that she’s trustworthy?”

    You can read Maggie's non-responses at the link. But to be fair, it's difficult to know how to answer such questions if you have political reasons for not being honest yourself.

    A few days later, a local radio station tried again, and confidently reported: "Gov. Maggie Hassan now says 'Yes,' Hillary Clinton is trustworthy". Whew!

Last Modified 2016-08-22 8:50 AM EDT

The Three-Body Problem

[Amazon Link]

I heard nice things about The Three-Body Problem recently. Specifically, I participated in a blog comment thread discussing the novel Decoded by the Chinese writer Mai Jia, which I'd read a couple years back. Somebody else in the thread mentioned this book as a better example of recent Chinese literature, and it did win the 2015 Hugo award for Best Novel. And (best of all) I still have borrowing privileges at Dimond Library of the University Near Here, it was available there, so…

It's a mind-blowing tale of interstellar chicanery, but first there's a horrifying tale of how China essentially went insane during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s. This was also a plot point in Decoded—apparently it's allowed for current Chinese writers to honestly examine that period. (Don't get your hopes up; the censorship in China is still pretty bad. Tianmen Square? Fahgettaboudit.)

The Cultural Revolution smashes apart the family of Ye Wenjie. Her physicist father is killed when he refuses to renounce relativity, quantum mechanics, and the big bang theory. One of his denouncers is his wife, Ye Wenjie's mother. Ye Wenjie is an astrophysicist by training, but, politically suspect, she's banished to Mongolia to harvest timber. She gets into even more trouble there, involving a copy of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Eventually, however, she's rescued, recruited into working on the mysterious "Radar Peak" military installation. Which turns out to be a Chinese effort to communicate with extraterrestrial civilizations.

Jumping ahead to the (roughly) present day, Wang Miao is a researcher working on nanotech. He gets unexpectedly recruited by a police investigation into a wave of suicides among physicists. He is led into playing the immersive virtual-reality game "Three Body", the origin of which is mysterious. The game itself is set in a nightmarish world continually thrown into chaos by its unpredictable orbital path around its three suns. In related news, it seems that the very underpinnings of physics are being ripped asunder. (I hate it when that happens.)

The book is not without humor. One of the other "Three Body" players is described: "The strangely dressed woman was a famous writer, one of those rare novelists who wrote in an avant-garde style but still had many readers. Your could start one of her books on any page."

I laughed out loud at that one.

Bad news: The Three-Body Problem is part one of a trilogy, and it ends in kind of a cliffhanger.

Last Modified 2016-08-22 8:57 AM EDT

The Cobweb

[Amazon Link]

Back in the mid-1990s, writer Neal Stephenson teamed up with his uncle, George Jewsbury, to write a couple of books. (The pseudonym they used at the time was "Stephen Bury". Recent editions de-pseudonymize Mr. Stephenson, while inventing a new pseudonym, J. Frederick George, for Mr. Jewsbury. I don't know why.) I read the first book, Interface, back in 2012. I liked it fine, but I enjoyed The Cobweb even more. Ostensibly a thriller, with heavy comic overtones. Think Carl Hiaasen, without Hiaasen's mean-spiritedness.

It is mostly set in the leadup to the 1990/91 Gulf War; the primary action is centered around the fictional twin cities of Nishnabotna and Wapsipinicon, Iowa, home to Eastern Iowa University. (Stephenson lived in Ames, Iowa during some of his Formative Years.) A secondary location is the Washington, D. C. environs; there are also side trips to Kennebunkport and … well, I'd tell you, but it would be a spoiler.

The joint protagonists are Clyde Banks and Betsy Vandeventer. Clyde is a salt-of-the-earth Iowa county policeman, who's married to his formidable childhood sweetheart, Desiree, and who's looking to displace the current sheriff in the upcoming election. Betsy's in the CIA, where her hard work and honesty has begun to attract the attention of her superiors. Which is not an unmitigated blessing, because of the honesty bit.

Coincidentally, Betsy's brother, Kevin, is at Eastern Iowa U, struggling to get his Ph.D. in the massive (but corrupt) agricultural research organization run by Dr. Arthur Larsen. When offered a lucrative opportunity to jump up in the hierarchy—all he has to do is cut some major ethical corners, not ask any inconvenient questions, and not look too closely at some of the Middle Eastern students coming in, or what they're up to—he grabs it. To his eventual regret.

Now if you check out the book cover over there (you may have to disable your ad blocker, which you should, it's just an Amazon ad, nothing obnoxious or clickbaity), you'll see biohazard symbols and a gas mask. And if you remember the Gulf War, you'll recall the concern that Saddam Hussein might be willing to deploy bio-WMDs to avoid a certain loss. Could the mysterious doings in Wapsipinicon have anything to do with that? Hint: yes, but let's not go into details.

There are plot twists and turns, as Clyde and Betsy battle their respective bureaucracies and struggle to uncover the truth. There's a pulse-pounding climax.

A wonderful book, readers, highly recommended if you're into this sort of thing at all.

Without getting too mushy or overanalytical, what I've noticed in Stephenson's work over the years is: his books, through the actions of his characters, seem to champion the same values I hold dear. You'd think that would be more common than it is. It's not. So when it happens, it's worth pointing out.

Why Do Bluebirds Hate Me?

More Answers to Common and Not-So-Common Questions about Birds and Birding

[Amazon Link]

I was given this book as a retirement present by one of my wonderful (but now ex-) co-workers at the University Near Here. She's a knowledgable birder, while I … well, I have a bird feeder. It's about the only remotely interesting thing I do. Our conversation naturally hit on avian topics now and then, mostly her answering my "what the heck was that bird" questions. So this book was appropriate.

The author, Mike O'Connor, runs the Bird Watcher's General Store on Cape Cod This book is a compilation of his columns from The Cape Codder newspaper called "Ask the Bird Folks".

Mike is pretty funny—imagine if Dave Barry ran a bird-watching supply store. And I learned a lot. For example: if you've ever snuck up on Mourning Doves, you'll know they emit a high-pitched whistle when they take off. It turns out that's not their speaking voice—all they can do with that is coo. Instead, the whistle is emitted from their wing feathers when they are in bugout mode. Which is, apparently, different from the sound of a normal takeoff, so it's used as a danger signal.

Now I do have one minor gripe: Diane from Brewster, MA wrote in about a dead Blue Jay in her yard underneath a power line, wondering if the poor thing could have been electrocuted. As it happens, I've noticed that in my own yard. Every so often dead Blue Jays will appear directly underneath the power pole that feeds Pun Salad Manor. (I know: yeesh.) So I was eager to read Mike's response. Funny, but the bottom line is "I doubt your power lines had anything to do with it." Given Diane's and my common experience, I'm thinking that's wrong.

Also, Dave Barry would have pointed out that "Electrocuted Blue Jays" would be a pretty good name for a rock band.

The Phony Campaign

2016-08-14 Update

PredictWise (as I type) puts Hillary's election probability at 80%, up 5% from last week. Congratulations to the GOP for putting forth such a strong candidate.

To quote Homer Simpson and Donald Trump: "Oh by the way, I was being sarcastic."

But, dear readers, there's a near three-way tie in our phony poll:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 873,000 -217,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 871,000 +27,000
"Jill Stein" phony 840,000 +212,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 47,300 -61,700

  • What's behind Jill Stein's dramatic rise in phony hit counts? Drudge quotes Julian Assange speaking via video link to the Green Party convention, in a response to a softball "what can we do" question:

    JULIAN ASSANGE: All right, great question. Well, first of all, have coherency in your own movement. I mean, you have to have coherency to be able to understand your own view of the world and the attacks that are occurring, which -- let me tell you that I've just seen that the attacks have started to ramp up on Jill Stein. They are going to go through the roof. I've had attacks from what is effectively the Clinton threat machine. They're now post-convention. You guys are going to be post-convention. Those attacks are going to be ferocious. But you'll see from that and learn lessons from that about how the media works and how one can defend your principles and ideas in the face of that kind of media corruption. ...

    As if on cue, one Chris Sosa wrote at the Huffington Post about "Jill Stein’s Dangerous Anti-Science Campaign".

    Stein’s plan to court left-wing voters disillusioned with the Democrats worked better than political watchers had anticipated. Her media stock rose as she engaged in pointed anti-Clinton rhetoric. In Stein’s world, Hillary Clinton is irredeemably corrupt with an appetite for war and loathing for the environment. Never mind that Clinton’s actual voting record doesn’t support the caricature. Stein’s barbs aren’t meant to reveal truth, rather provoke. Her style is remarkably similar to Donald Trump in its vapidity. One of her nastiest tweets attacked Clinton as a mother.

    Basically, it's a plea to Sanders supporters to forget all the nasty (but true) things Bernie said about Hillary and get in line like good little Democrats. (The "Anti-Science" bit refers to Green Party positions on vaccinations and homeopathy, etc.)

  • For an even less reality-tethered alternate take, check out one Bruce E. Levine at Counterpunch: "Naked Cynicism—Can I Be Bribed to Vote for a Phony, Hedge-Fund Loving Warmonger?"

    Short answer: yes, if and only if Hillary, the Clinton Foundation, and "the entire Democratic Party establishment" creates a “Student-Loan Debtor Foundation", and funds it to the tune of $10 billion.

    More than 43 million Americans have student-loan debt, many with monthly payments that are so crippling that I am ashamed to be part of a Baby Boomer generation that allowed this to happen. So, Democratic Party, prior to Election Day—because I don’t trust you will keep your commitment afterward—start getting those checks in the mail to the most desperate student-loan debtors. That’s the bribe I need—and of course will never get—in order to vote for a phony, hedge-fund whore warmonger.

    In addition to his accurate characterization of Hillary, Bruce deserves some additional credit for proposing a non-government program to help out all those women's studies majors who can't afford both their student loan payments and a hefty supply of decent Chardonnay.

  • Kevin D. Williamson writes at National Review "Thank Goodness Trump Is a Compulsive Liar".

    Wha…? Oh, the subtitle: "Otherwise, he’d just be bonkers."

    At issue is Trump's position(s) on entitlement reform, mostly Social Security and Medicare. Kevin notes the dismal math ("the shortfall of our total future government obligations — not the obligations themselves, just how short we are of paying them — almost equals the entire stock of wealth accumulated by the entire human race over the course of its history"), and Trump's utter inability to offer anything approaching a coherent policy to deal with the issue. But:

    Console yourselves with this: Donald Trump is a habitual, incorrigible liar. He lies about almost every subject he mentions: He lies about his real-estate holdings, lies about his bankruptcies, lies to his business partners, lies to his family, and he lies constantly to the rubes who have bought into his snake-oil presidential campaign.

    Read the whole thing, as you should do with all things Williamson.

  • Also at NR, Ben Shapiro looks at Trump's economic-policy speech in Detroit, and concludes that, as far as principled conservatism goes, Trump is a "Stranger in a Strange Land". His political pretensions are based in ignorance, taken "in order to get where he wants to be."

    Because conservatism is a foreign land to Trump, he regularly and unintentionally demeans conservative positions and philosophies. He allows the media to caricature conservatism as everything leftists have always believed conservatism to be: nasty, parochial, violent, and stupid. And thus conservatives have to spend more time re-explaining their positions than Trump spends defending them and promoting them to the American people.

    Ben also makes a lot of sense.

  • And not to turn this into an NR-fest, but David French asks: "Does Donald Trump Lie Under Oath?" And the conclusion is: well, of course. With examples.

    Trump seems to lie as easily as he breathes. Yes, he inflates his own accomplishments, but that’s not the only reason he lies. He lies to cover ignorance, to win debates, and to make news. He’ll like just because he wants to. In short, much like his Democratic competitor, he says and does whatever advances his perceived self-interest in the moment — often without regard to foreseeable, relatively immediate blowback.

    It's a tough call on whether Trump or Hillary is the worse liar, since their styles are so dissimilar. (French: "They’re the Steph Curry and LeBron James of lies")

  • I'm not sure of the best word to describe this Trump tweet:

    Delusional? As in, "those idiots cannot comprehend my genius"?

  • Betsy Newmark pens a ruthless takedown of a New York Times article, which purports (sympathetically, of course) to explain why Hillary is such a money-grubber.

    It's all because of the scare she got when Bill lost reelection for governor in 1980. There they were - a young couple with a baby and she had to worry about working and providing for them because Bill was, apparently, useless. He was only earning $55,000 a year which is about $160,800 today. What poverty! She was forced, forced mind you, to go work for the Rose Law Firm and become a corporate lawyer instead of working in public service. And then when Bill won back the governorship in 1982, she was forced, forced to keep on working there because she was so scarred. And that whole turning $1000 into 100,000 based on a a tip and the help from a rich friend for cattle futures was so very nerve-wracking.

    They had to move out of the governor's mansion and buy a house that was one of the smaller ones in the neighborhood. And, horrors of horrors, they had to buy furniture from thrift stores that DIDN'T MATCH. And, get this! The poor woman had to raise their 9-month baby without the free help they had used when he was governor. She had to be a working mother while there were people in Arkansas at that time who were making fortunes because they actually, you know, produced things that people wanted like Walmart or Tyson Foods. Yet she was able to buy a home that was worth $112,000 in 1980 which is about $327, 600 today. Not too shabby, but it wasn't like the other mansions that richer people had.

    Betsy's pretty good when she's mad.

Last Modified 2019-01-07 7:08 AM EDT

Hello, My Name Is Doris

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

It's easy to make fun of Sally Field, because of (1) Gidget; (2) The Flying Nun. But that was (honest) nearly 50 years ago. And I don't know if I'm getting sentimental and sappy in my old age, but I found her to be excellent in this movie.

Yes, I can't deny the fact that I like her, right now, I like her! This movie could have been awful, but she makes it very enjoyable with her powerful performance.

Let me explain: Ms. Field plays the titular Doris. As the movie opens, she's bidding farewell to her mom, who she's been taking care of for decades in Mom's humble Staten Island home. She has problems: The house is stuffed to the gills with horded crap. She dresses funny and wears a ludicrous wig. She wears two pairs of glasses simultaneously. She has a Manhattan office job, but it seems she's kind of the female version of Milton from Office Space: a tolerated oddball.

But a chance meeting with a new employee, John, sets her mind reeling with improbably romantic scenarios. (Oh, yeah: she's also prone to spacing out while constructing inner fantasies.) Guess what? At this point, a few minutes into the movie Ms. Field has managed to make me care about what happens to Doris next. (A life-changing odyssey, as it turns out.)

The movie also has a clever script, and a great supporting cast: Stephen Root as Doris's brother, Wendi McLendon-Covey as his wife, Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley!) as a gay co-worker, Tyne Daly (Cagney, no Lacey) as Doris's best friend, Peter Gallagher as a self-help guru who actually seems to believe his own bullshit. Even Max Greenfield, who plays John: he could have been one of those interchangeable Hollywood pretty guys—I thought for a moment he was the guy who plays the Flash on TV—but he gives a fine performance too.

It's OK When She Does It

For the record, I loathe Trump. But just a couple things I noticed:

  • It has been a couple weeks since Hillary gave her acceptance speech. On Trump, she said:

    He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.

    Appealing to people's fears: that's bad!

    But later:

    Imagine [Trump] in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

    Aieee! He's gonna kill us all! Kaboom!

  • Just a couple days ago, Trump dubbed President Obama the "founder of ISIS", and added "crooked" Hillary as its "co-founder". Outrage ensued. From Hillary, no less:

    But back in December, …

    “He is becoming ISIS's best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists," Clinton said during Saturday's Democratic debate, hosted by ABC News.

    Nowhere near the same outcry. In fact, all the analysis seemed to be typified by the cooly rational Politifact, who rated Hillary's video claim "False".

    [At the time. Apparently Trump now appears in ISIS propaganda videos.]

Shocker: It appears that Hillary's one of those people who fails to live up to the standards she demands other people comply with. There should be a word for people like that.

Oh, right. There is.

[Addendum: you should read Jim "Indispensable" Geraghty on Trump's "‘Never Mind, I Was Being Sarcastic’ Candidacy". Demonstrating Trump's actual disqualification for the presidency: he doesn't know the difference between hyperbole and sarcasm.]

Last Modified 2019-01-07 7:08 AM EDT

Creole Belle

[Amazon Link]

The (so far) penultimate work in James Lee Burke's series of novels with hero Dave Robicheaux. As I type, Mr. Burke is 79 years of age, and who knows how many more of these he's got in him? Whatever: as long as he keeps 'em coming, I'll be reading them.

In the last book, The Glass Rainbow, we almost lost Dave, as he took an unexpected bullet in his back. But as this one opens, he's recovering from his wound, with a morphine drip. Which is dangerous enough on its own, but it's also giving him a tenuous grip on reality. Creole singer Tee Jolie Melton comes to visit, and tells him a story of she and her sister being held captive by folks who had something to do with the oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. And she gives him an iPod, with some of her songs but—funny thing, this—only Dave can hear the songs she's put on it. Was Tee Jolie really there at all?

Well, Dave has had dealings with the supernatural before, so this is no real big deal. His home, southern Louisiana, is infested with the ghosts and spirits of those who have come to bad ends, many at the hands of evildoers, some at the hands of Dave and his buddy, Clete Purcel.

We are soon in the thick of it: some minor hoodlums try to scam Clete out of his office/apartment using a bogus bourré marker from years back. That doesn't work out for them: surprisingly quickly, they wind up dead. Whodunit? Suspicion falls on a new character who has a never-before-thought-possible relation with Clete.

As always, Mr. Burke's prose is painfully beautiful, his plots very confusing (but with a political-left context, which I just have to live with). His characters are invariably damaged (physically and psychically) beyond any point a human should bear. There is a slam-bang finish, the outcome in doubt until the very end.

Last Modified 2016-08-15 6:34 AM EDT

Bourgeois Equality

How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World

[Amazon Link]

This is the concluding volume of Deirdre McCloskey's trilogy on the near-miraculous enrichment of the world in the last few hundred years. My takes on the first volume, The Bourgeois Virtues, is here; on the second, Bourgeois Dignity, here.

To recap somewhat: the enrichment is something that needs explaining. Humankind muddled around for millennia, stuck in a rut of poverty and oppression, the majority of lives cut short by violence, disease, or some other symptom of deprivation. But starting around the 16th century or so, a hockey-stick increase began in northwest Europe and Great Britain, giving rise to the once-unthinkable widespread prosperity we live in today. Why there, and not somewhere else? And why then, instead of before, after, or never?

McCloskey's plausible and compelling argument … well, it's right up there in the subtitle, isn't it? It was a revolution of ideas, primarily ones that gave respect and legal protection to what McCloskey terms "trade-tested betterment". (That's kind of a clunky phrase, but it's less likely to be misinterpreted than the venerable terms "capitalism" and "entrepreneurship".) McCloskey presents her evidence in streams both wide and deep: how the political and religious climate changed; how the bourgeoisie were depicted in literature, painting, opera, plays, and so on. Alternative explanations for the great enrichment are considered and debunked.

Opposed to the bourgeoisie, since around the mid-19th century, are what McCloskey dubs the "clerisy". Think Sinclair Lewis, and his contempt of George F. Babbitt, multiplied in time and space. (Or think Nancy Pelosi, who rhapsodized that Obamacare would allow people to shuck their stupid day jobs and become "a photographer or a writer or a musician, whatever".)

This could be as boring as mud, but McCloskey's prose is witty and playful, with plenty of fun references (Mae West quoted on page 113; a Monty Python reference on page 628; and many more).

My standard disclaimer: this is a scholarly work, on a matter of ongoing academic controversy. I think McCloskey makes a pretty good case for her side, but (admittedly) I'm only seeing the one side. That said, there are (to my mind) irrefutable insights on just about every page here; even if you don't buy the whole enchilada, you'll come out smarter than you went in.

The Phony Campaign

2016-08-07 Update

PredictWise can be so … predictable at times. Hillary's election probability goes up to 75% this week (from 70% last week), as Trump's manifest unfitness for the Presidency overshadows, for now, Hillary's manifest unfitness for the Presidency.

But Trump fans can at least take heart that his lead in the phony poll continues to widen:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 1,090,000 +261,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 844,000 +64,000
"Jill Stein" phony 628,000 +139,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 109,000 +73,100

  • Some of Trump's phony lead seems to be self-generated:

    • In Arizona, Trump referred to Hillary's "phony lies and disgusting habits". We all know about the phony lies, but I was left wondering what the disgusting habits are. This week's Getty image is one possibility.

    • In Virginia, he griped about polling numbers showing him losing badly:

      "I think these polls, I don't know, there's something about these polls, there's something phony."

    • And in a Colorado radio interview, he railed against the recent good performance of the stock market:

      You know, one of the things, there are so many problems in our country that you can speak for two hours and you don’t cover the subject. The other thing that just came out, is home ownership. It’s the lowest in 58 years. Did they say 58? The lowest home ownership we’ve had, percentage-wise that we’ve had in this country in 58 years. The only thing we have is a phony, artificial stock market. So people think—But I’ll tell you what, nothing relates to the stock. Even in New York, on Wall Street and stuff, people think Wall Street. It’s a whole different world. The stock market is a phony number and it’s gotten there because nobody is paying any interest. When interest rates go up a little bit, you’ll see some very bad and very interesting things happen.

      [It's 51 years, but I won't quibble.]

    Why, it almost seems that he wants to push up his phony hit counts!

  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File this week concerns the dreadful idea pushed far and wide that Donald Trump will "pivot" from his thin-skinned know-nothing loose-cannon image into a "more presidential" version. Ain't gonna happen, says Jonah. Convincingly.

    In the days ahead, Trump will stay on message for a day or two and the reaction from many will be “The Prophecies Are True!” and “Watch out Hillary!” and “Behold! The Cat Who Pees!” Never mind that serious presidential candidates are expected to be disciplined for months on end. We’ve so downgraded our expectations of Trump that even minimal or sub-minimal professionalism from him is greeted like unprecedented statesmanship. But it won’t last. It won’t last because it can’t. The “Days Since an Unpresidential Screw-Up” Clock will never hit double digits.

    Note: Jonah is vacationing just down the street in Kittery, Maine, and the G-File contains graphic descriptions of local canine-on-rodent violence.

  • Hillary gave her first press conference in 260 days to a group of "journalists of color". Applause was ample, by most accounts, giving credence (if any was needed) to Instapundit's description of mainstream journalists as "Democrat operatives with bylines".

    One of the softball queries: “What is the most meaningful conversation you’ve had with an African-American friend?”

    She rambles on and on… but the only specific she manages to mention is that they've "tried to expand my musical tastes".

    "And they have great rhythm, and sure can dance! You ever notice that?"

  • Your tweet of the week from the gifted and insightful Michael Ramirez captures my own mood perfectly:

Last Modified 2019-01-07 7:08 AM EDT

10 Cloverfield Lane

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

Two movies in less than a month about a young woman being held prisoner by a wacko. Although this one isn't as arty as Room.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, who's decided to dump her husband, leaving their unhappy home, driving off to points unknown. We don't get to learn much about her plans, though, because she's waylaid in a nasty traffic accident. When she wakes up, she's in a … Room, with an IV drip, and her leg manacled to the wall.

Her captor, Howard, shows up, and hey, it's John Goodman! But is it Good Goodman, like in Roseanne, or is it Bad Goodman, like in Barton Fink? Or Batshit Insane Goodman, like in The Big Lebowski?

Well, Howard has a tale to tell: they are in his underground bunker, and they are the only survivors of a huge attack on America by persons or beings unknown. Also present is Emmett, a guy who helped Howard build the bunker. The three develop an odd relationship: Howard is clearly more than a bit off-balance, but is he crazy enough to have made up the whole invasion yarn?

Although the movie's title contains the word "Cloverfield", and was produced by J. J. Abrams, as was Cloverfield, you don't need to have seen Cloverfield to watch this one. Might help with the suspense if you didn't, actually.

The Gentlemen's Hour

[Amazon Link]

I read Don Winslow's Savages, a tale of the California drug trade, back in 2012; I didn't care for it all that much, and went back to read his older stuff, the "Neal Carey" series, after that. But now I'm all caught up with Carey, so returning to more recent stuff…

Whew! The Gentlmen's Hour shows Winslow is as strong as ever. He returns here to the characters of The Dawn Patrol, (which I liked a lot) a diverse group held together mainly by their love of surfing off Pacific Beach, a neighborhood of San Diego. The main character is Boone Daniels, an ex-cop private investigator. On the strength of the events in the previous book, Boone is hired by the defense team of one Corey Blasingame, who's been charged with the murder of a beloved local surfing icon. This is against Boone's better judgment: the kid has confessed, the kid is also a total slimeball, witnesses back up the prosecution's case. And worst of all: one of the detectives that investigated the death is Boone's Dawn Patrol comrade, Johnny Banzai (aka John Kodani); any exculpatory evidence Boone digs up would reflect poorly on his friend.

And as a seemingly unrelated matter: the group of older surfers that show up after the Dawn Patrol includes Dan Nichols, a rich entrepreneur. He hires Boone (again, against Boone's better judgment) to check if his wife has been sleeping around. A more conventional, and also sleazier, thing for a PI to do.

Boone starts unravelling the twisted threads of the nasty plot. Of course putting his life, friendships, and career at risk. As in the previous book, colorful characters abound, the San Diego area is described with a combination of world-weary cynicism and deep infatuation, and it really keep you turning the page. (On my new Kindle: tapping the screen.)

Advice: keep track of the various flavors of bad guys, because things will get confusing otherwise at the big climax.


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

This was lingering in our Netflix DVD queue for a long time; we were out of DVDs, so we queued up the streaming version, and voilà.

It's an interesting example of a science-fiction premise done right: imagine one new thing, in this case a fantastic invention, and see where that takes you in an otherwise normal situation. The invention in this case is the "Timer", a gadget that implants on your wrist. If your one true love also has a Timer, your devices will synchronize and begin counting down to the day you will actually meet. And on that day, it will start counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds until you lock eyes. At that point a tasteful chime goes off, and you wander off into a lifetime of romantic bliss.

There are a few other rules: if your true love doesn't have a Timer, yours will stay blank until they get one. And you can have your Timer removed, but that's very rare. If you get it removed, however, you can't get it back.

Interweave this sci-fi premise onto a standard romantic comedy, and you have TiMER.

The movie shows how a Timer-infested world impacts the life of heroine Oona. She has a blank Timer, which means her true love hasn't gotten one yet. So her dating life is restricted to Timerless dudes. If things start getting serious, she asks them to get a Timer implanted… and so far, that's resulted in no synchronization, and so … it's welcome to Dumpsville, baby, population: you. We also get glimpses of how the Timer (or lack thereof) has changed the lives of people in Oona's orbit, mostly her family.

Mrs. Salad didn't care for the ending, but it was inevitable.