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.