[Amazon Link]

This is how out-of-control my to-be-read pile can get: I saw this book (written in 1999) recommended somewhere, but that source is lost in the mist of time. ('Twas probably in a "hardcore right-wing radical" publication or website, see below.) Sometime after that, I must have found it on a remainder table somewhere, because there's a "Retail $24.00/Our Price $5.00" sticker on the front. And, now, finally…

Don't let my procrastination mislead you, it's good. The author, José Latour, is sort of a Cuban Elmore Leonard. He was a dedicated functionary in the Communist bureaucracy for years, becoming a full-time writer in 1990. He then got in a spot of trouble for writing a book (The Fool) that fictionalized the actual corruption in Cuban government. This book, Outcast, was his first effort written in English, and he got it published outside Cuba. Eventually, "seking creative fiction and fearing dictatorial repression", José moved to Spain in 2002 and now lives in Canada.

This book's hero, Elliot Stiel, is a lowly English teacher in Havana. His professional life is constrained by the perception that he's politically unreliable. He's divorced, drinks too much, going through the motions, waiting for the undertaker to come.

Unexpectedly, he's offered a new life by an obviously well-to-do American who claims to have known Elliot's long-missing father. All he has to do is rendezvous with an offshore yacht, and … well, double-unexpectedly, Elliot finds himself the victim of murderous betrayal. But he makes it to Miami, and starts working on his plan for vengeance. This requires some quick moneymaking, which (in turn) involves immersion in Floridian low-to-medium level criminal activities. Eventually, the super-twisty plot works itself to a conclusion.

Latour's depiction of post-USSR Cuba is honest, and therefore bleak. Not that he's all that easy on America: Elliot's observations of relative abundance lead him to conclude that It's All About the Benjamins here in the USA. That unsubtle conclusion is easy to live with, because Latour keeps things moving and interesting.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

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

A very intense, edge-of-seat movie that Mrs. Salad had no desire to see. So I set aside an afternoon…

As you (probably) know: It's a story of the 2012 Benghazi disaster, seen from the viewpoint of a private security team tasked with protecting the secret CIA enclave in town. Unfortunately, the team seems to be the only folks on the ground who (a) know how much danger is lurking in the city and (b) have semi-adequate skills to deal with the inevitable clash of civilizations. What results is a tale of graphic violence and ineptitude resulting in (as everyone knows) too many dead Americans.

The movie wisely stays out of the direct partisan political controversy, but is damning enough for what it shows.

Directed by Michael Bay, previously known for semi-mindless action flicks; this is not one of those. Also revelatory is John Krasinski, previously mostly known for being "Jim on The Office". If they gave Oscars for "Displaying Previously Unexpected Talent", you'd have to think both Bay and Krasinski would be nominated in a heartbeat.

Our Republican Constitution

Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People

[Amazon Link]

The good people at the Interlibrary Loan desk at the University Near Here waggled their magic wands and got this book all the way from the University of Wyoming in Larimie! That's far! And wouldn't it be nice if it were available from somewhere closer?

The author, Randy Barnett, is a law prof at Georgetown, and a longtime libertarian-leaning scholar of the US Constitution. His purpose here is to distinguish between two major conceptions of the Constitution: "Republican" and "Democratic". Guess which one he advocates? (Hint: see title.)

The Republican and Democratic Constitutions don't have any necessary connection to the same-named political parties. (Especially in 2016.) The contrast starts in the interpretation of first three words of the document: "We the People". The Republican Constitutionalist holds that this refers to people-as-individuals, that individuals are the referent here; the Democratic vision holds that it's, instead, the collective.

This difference leads (necessarily?) to the origin of basic rights: Republicans (following the language of the Declaration of Independence) view such rights to be "endowed by [our] Creator", or, in more agnostic language, inherent in the nature of humanity and the physical world. On the Democratic side, rights are granted by the state through (of course) the will of the aforementioned collective, which is held sovereign.

Barnett runs through our entire US history, showing how these Constitutional conceptions played out in Supreme Court cases over the years. The Democratic side has had some major victories, and may be seen to be currently ascendant (especially if Hillary wins and gets to replace a few Republican-appointed Justices).

He's particularly scathing on the concept of "judicial restraint", the notion that the courts should yield wide latitude to the elected branches of government. That's not so: the Framers intended the judiciary to be a major impartial check on the possible abuses inflicted by the executive and the legislature. There's every reason that they should use their full skepticism when reviewing the Constitutionality of (say) Obamacare. (And they failed in that.)

Barnett also demonstrates that "judicial restraint" is used mostly as an argument of convenience, not principle. When it stands in the way of (say) a progressive goal, the progressives don't hesitate to drop it.

What to do, then? Barnett leaves his answer in a very short conclusion. He would prefer that an Article V Consitutional Convention be called, to propose a raft of amendments to clarify and strenghen Federalism and the proper limited powers of government. This shows no sign of happening, but … maybe.

Barnett's discussion is lively and blessedly light on the arcana of Constitutional law. I think it would be comprehensible to anyone with a good background in American history. (If you want less comprehensible, there's always Richard Epstein; love him, but he can be impenetrable now and then.)

The Phony Campaign

2016-09-25 Update

As I type, PredictWise puts Hillary at a 70% chance of winning in November, down 2 (two) percentage points from last week. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight puts her probability significantly lower (58.1%, 57.5%, or 56.0%, depending on which methodology you like); that's down a few percentage points from last week.

Nearly everyone seems desperate to make this election interesting, as opposed to…

Our Phony Polling shows Jill Stein expanding her phony lead, with Trump solidifying his grasp on second place over Hillary in third. Gary Johnson continues to be in the cellar:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jill Stein" phony 3,750,000 +890,000
"Donald Trump" phony 1,100,000 +20,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 819,000 -201,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 110,000 +20,100

  • Is your vote for Jill Stein a wasted vote? Find out the unexpected answer to that question from Joshua Holland, writing in The Nation: "Your Vote for Jill Stein Is a Wasted Vote".

    If the last three presidential elections are any guide, 75 to 90 percent of those who say that they’re planning to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November won’t follow through. Yes, there are some dedicated Green voters, but much of the party’s support is an expression of contempt for the Democrats that evaporates in the voting booth. I’m a registered independent and a supporter of the Working Families Party, and my disdain for the Greens springs from my own experience with the party. I agree with much of the Greens’ platform, but when I went to Green Party meetings, I found a wildly disorganized, mostly white group that was riven with infighting, strategically inept, and organized around a factually flawed analysis of American politics. There are effective Green parties in Europe, but ours is a hot mess. And while the Greens’ bold ideas are attractive, what’s the point of wasting one’s time and energy on such a dysfunctional enterprise?

    Mostly white? Well, there you go.

    Honestly, I don't understand the concept of "wasted vote". Given the zero probability of your vote changing the election outcome, I don't see any benefit to not voting for the candidate you think is most in alignment with your own views. Where's the "waste" in voting for someone destined to come in third or fourth, as opposed to someone who'll be in the top two?

    Holland's essay doesn't clear things up on that score.

  • On a related note, Ms. Adele M. Stan, writes at Alternet with a list of 12 Ways Gary Johnson Is a Hardcore Right-Wing Radical.

    Ms. Stan, of course, has a clear fear: that "Johnson’s candidacy could pull more voters from Hillary Clinton than from her Republican rival, Donald Trump". Can't have that!

    For Ms. Stan, a "hardcore right-wing radical" is anyone who believes that the Federal Government should shed significant amounts of power (and associated dollars), returning such powers to the private sphere, or to the states. Here are some of "Johnson’s alarming stances and ties" according to Ms. Stan:

    1. Opposes federal guarantees for student loans.
    2. Opposes virtually all forms of gun control.
    3. Opposes the [Federal] minimum wage.
    4. Opposes equal-pay laws.
    5. Opposes collective bargaining for public employees.
    6. Proposes cuts to Social Security and removing Medicare and Medicaid from federal control.
    7. Supports private prisons.
    8. [ … You can read the remaining items at the link if you would like … ]

    For those who don't assume the Federal Government is entitled to ever-increasing power and money, all those stances are fine ideas. Thanks to Ms. Stan for clarifying.

  • Sometimes I think I should just auto-blog anything Kevin D. Williamson types. For example, "What Conservatives Can Learn from Gary Johnson". Kevin (I call him Kevin) has a deep sense of history, and will remind you (if necessary) of the 1980 candidacy of John Anderson, and its similarity to the Johnson/Weld effort.

    Gary Johnson and William Weld are both decent, honorable men with fine records in public service and no particular reason to be elected president and vice president. But the strength of this year’s Libertarian-party candidacy is a reminder that there is a substantial number of Americans who are looking for something that the Republican party is not offering, neither in its pre-Trump configuration nor after its disfiguration by Trump and Trumpism. Johnson is not offering them exactly what they want (still less what they need), but he is thriving for a reason, and conservatives should take note.

    What he said.

  • A reminder from Ronald Bailey, writing at Reason: "Burn-It-All-Down Political Antinomianism Is Not Libertarian". After quoting former Democratic presidential hopeful Jim Webb and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel and (some) Reason commenters, Bailey notes the significant meme: "burn it all down". Where "it" is the current political establishment.

    The burn-it-all-down Trump supporter (or potential supporter, in Webb's case) is engaged in what I call political antinomianism. In Christian theology, an antinomian is a person who believes the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation. In the current electoral context, voters disgusted with how corrupted our political system has become are attracted to the lawlessness at the heart of Trump's personalized theory of governance. "Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it," declared Trump at the Republican National Convention. Supporters have faith in Trump the Great Man and therefore are political antinomians.

    I see that tendency myself in some of the blogs I read. I'm persuaded by Bailey's argument that it's (at best) a dead end.

The Martian

[Amazon Link]

I saw The Martian (the movie) about a year ago. At the time, I wondered: why bring a botanist to Mars? and speculated that it might be answered in the book. And it was, right on page 12! Good for Andy Weir, the author, for clearing that up.

Every sentient being knows the basic plot, but anyway: through a disastrous combination of events, a lone member of the Ares 3 manned mission to Mars, Mark Watney (the botanist), gets left behind while the other crew members make an emergency return to Earth. Mark is more alone than any human being has ever been, and has only the remnants of the mission to help him survive.

There are numerous ways Mars can kill you, and Mark deals with most of them. They range from passive (running out of food, water, or air) to spectacular (explosive decompression, surprisingly treacherous terrain, …). Mark deals with these issues with a combination of humor, bravery, and amazing geeky resourcefulness.

One thing, though: you're exposed to a lot more radiation on Mars than we are on Earth. As near as I can tell, neither the book nor the movie mentioned this at all. But I could have missed it. It definitely falls into the "not much Mark can do about that" category.

Reading the book got me thinking about the general differences between books and movies based on those books. It's very rare (in my experience) that both are high quality, and The Martian is one of those rarities. (Another: Lord of the Rings.) I kept noticing differences: book-Mark (heh) deals with a few more disasters than does movie-Mark. And the book is littered with far more f-bombs than is the movie, understandable for the movie's PG-13 rating. (Annie Montrose, the NASA spokesperson played by Kristen Wiig in the movie, is particularly potty-mouthed in the book.)

Bottom line: the book is very good, and it doesn't matter much, enjoyment-wise, if you see the movie first.

Last Modified 2016-09-24 10:26 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2016-09-19 Update

PredictWise (as I type) has Hillary with a mere 72% win probability, down another couple of percentage points from last week. I thought she would be lower than that. I note that the FiveThirtyEight site run by Nate Silver has her at 61.1% this morning, well down from her near-90% probability a month ago.

I'm reminded of Woody Allen's 1979 "Speech to the Graduates" (back when he was funny, and we could imagine he wasn't a perv):

More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

And now on to the Phony Poll. You'll note that Jill Stein has seized the lead once again:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jill Stein" phony 2,860,000 +2,350,000
"Donald Trump" phony 1,080,000 +217,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 1,020,000 +55,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 89,900 -36,100

  • Ms. Sasha Stone proclaims: "If You are Voting for Jill Stein, Here is What I know About You". She knows five things, none of them flattering. Here's number one:

    1. I know you are selfish. It’s easy to pretend to care about other people and that somehow protesting the two-party system means you are doing the moral and ethical thing. You think that “what you believe in” matters more than what might happen to other people. Don’t pretend like you care about anyone other than yourself and your image and your brand. Selfishness is the only trait you display in this silly, pointless vote. Just stay home. Don’t bother revealing this ugly trait to the world.

    Might be just me, but I'd guess petulant name-calling and childish insults would be a counterproductive persuasion tactic. Could work on weak-minded leftists, though.

  • At (of all places) the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada earns his paycheck (plus, in a decent world, a hefty hazardous duty bonus) by reading and reviewing Stronger Together: A Blueprint for America's Future, the campaign book authored by Clinton/Kaine. His one-word review: "deplorable" (Ha!). But he goes into detail, for example:

    If you want one more recitation of the fact sheets on how a Clinton administration would ease student debt, fight the Islamic State and reform criminal justice, you’ll get your fill of bullet points here. You’ll also find little argumentation, because in this book whatever state of affairs Clinton and Kaine don’t like is self-evidently “outrageous,” while things they do like are just “common sense.” In a “Stronger Together” world, everything is empowering, everyone is public-private-partnering, and everything, Bill Clinton-style, is aimed at the 21st century. And we know their reforms are right because they’re all deemed “smart” — smart investments and smart federal standards and smart defense budgets and smart solutions. The rich must pay their “fair share” in taxes, with fairness less defined than obviously understood among friends. It’s the adjectival school of policymaking.

    Yay, Carlos! I'm a pretty libertarian guy, and believe that even politicians have the right of free speech. But if I were two clicks more to the authoritarian side, I'd support banning the words Carlos mentions from campaign advertisements, speeches, and websites.

  • I think Megan McArdle had an excellent take on Hillary's attempted health coverup: "Clinton Never Learns That the World Sees Every Stumble". Sample:

    Perhaps less obvious, but also true: this whole cycle was straight out of the playbook that worked for Bill Clinton for many years. Hide, deny, lie, and when that lie breaks down, spin another while surrogates and supporters attack. That playbook lost its mojo on Jan. 19, 1998, when the Drudge Report broke the story of Monica Lewinsky's presidential trysts. It has been steadily getting less effective since that day. Unfortunately, the only person who doesn’t seem to realize that is Hillary Clinton.

    As must be obvious to even the most devoted Hillary supporter (Rich Lowry, last week): "If there were any doubt before, the episode shows a Clinton White House would be habitually secretive and deceptive."

    But those Hillary supporters are much like Tommy Lee Jones:

  • And we don't dump on the Libertarians here as much as we should, sorry. One reason: they get the (un)coveted Pun Salad vote. But Kevin D. Williamson is honest and tough on William Weld's Wishful Thinking on fiscal reform.

    In an absurd interview with MarketWatch, Weld insists that he and Johnson would submit a balanced federal budget within 100 days of taking office. How? Part of the Johnson-Weld program is Libertarian party wish-fulfillment, heavy on closing military bases, domestically and, presumably, abroad. We might close as many as 20 percent of them, he conjectures, without doing very much damage to our military capacity. He is probably right about that, but that would not have much of an effect on the federal budget. That is because growth in military spending, like most of the rest of growth in government spending, is driven by personnel, not by infrastructure, mainly by paychecks, health-care benefits, and pensions. Never mind the number of military personnel we have, compensation spending per capita in the armed services has risen more than 40 percent since 2001, from an average cost of $88,000 per military employee in 2001 to $125,000 and climbing by 2012, according to a Bipartisan Policy Center study. With all the money we spend on aircraft carriers, bombs, and bases, more than a third of all military spending is personnel compensation, and the majority of that is cash compensation rather than medical benefits and the like. Military medical benefits and pensions alone account for more spending than does the discretionary budget for any federal department save the Department of Defense itself and the Department of Health and Human Services.

    Williamson notes: If the Libertarian candidates can't tell the truth about balancing the federal budget, then no one can. And the Libertarian candidates aren't telling the truth about balancing the federal budget. Therefore…

    Oh well. Where's a good place to buy gold and silver these days?

Dear Eleanor

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One of Mrs. Salad's picks. Sorry, honey, this movie kind of irritated me.

It's 1962 in rural California. 15-year-old Ellie's mom just got fatally hit by a car (but not badly enough for a closed-casket funeral), and Ellie blames herself for making her mom late. If only she'd crossed the street a few seconds earlier! Or later.

Or just waited until she could have crossed the street safely. Sheesh.

Anyway, Dead Mom was a huge Eleanor Roosevelt fan, and was due to introduce her at a shindig. That obviously didn't happen. But Ellie's best friend "Max the Wax" has the wind in her whiskers, and to snap Ellie out of her funk, she inveigles them both into a classic movie road trip, off to see Eleanor at her upstate NY estate.

A lot of unlikely things happen. They pick up an older gentleman whose real-life character (without spoiling things too much) was previously portrayed by Clint Eastwood many years ago. Ellie's dysfunctioning father snaps himself out of depression long enough to go chasing after Ellie with Max's sorta-boyfriend in a sidecar. The girls stop to pick up Max's Aunt Daisy (Jessica Alba), who's working as a Las Vegas dancer. (Unfortunately: Las Vegas, New Mexico.)

It's all kind of contrived, sorry. ("Gee, Max, it's as if our lives are under the control of some wacky screenwriter, and we have no free will of our own!")

Jessica Alba is pretty easy to look at, though, and her fate here is better than it was in Sin City.

Wait a minute, Ione Skye was in this?! I missed that totally.

Eye in the Sky

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

The IMDB genre-classifiers put this movie in "Drama, Thriller, War" categories, although there aren't that many thrills. And, geez, "Comedy" wouldn't be that farfetched, because … well, let me explain.

Helen Mirren plays no-nonsense British Colonel Katherine Powell who has long sought to take homegrown terrorist Susan Danford off the board. (Susan's organization has just brutally killed one of Katherine's undercover operatives, which only serves to heighten Katherine's eagerness.) Years of surveillance have paid off, as Susan is tracked to a small house outside of Nairobi. A drone with a couple Hellfire missiles awaits above. Even better: a couple more high-ranking bad guys are spotted! And making things more urgent, a tiny beetle-sized flying camera has spotted a couple of suicide vests being prepared for an imminent operation!

So, blammo, they take out the house, movie over in 15 minutes, right? Wrong. These sorts of operations need signoffs, especially when the original plan was to capture Susan and bring her back to England for trial. Complicating matters: the house is in a crowded marketplace area, and there could be significant "collateral damage", i.e. not-particularly-terroristic men, women, and children getting blown up.

So there's literally a worldwide discussion between Katherine in Surrey, a civilian/military committee in London (including Alan Rickman in his last movie), drone operators in Nevada, the Secretary of State in China, a spy on the ground in Nairobi, and more. Options are endlessly weighed, arguments about collateral damage vs the risk of not being able to stop the suicide bombers are made. The buck-passing approaches comic levels; a little script-dinking could have made this into Dr. Stranglove for our terroristic age.

But (sorry for the spoiler) the Chekhov's Gun rule applies: you don't put Hellfire missiles in your movie unless you're gonna blow something up eventually.

Here's what I liked: the movie itself doesn't seem to take sides between the hawks and doves. Both are allowed to trot out their best arguments, and neither is presented as either evil or incorrect. (Alan Rickman's final speech is particularly powerful. I'm really going to miss that guy.)

And, oh yeah: Danny from Caddyshack is now the US Secretary of State. I'm glad that he finally made something out of his life.

Last Modified 2016-09-18 12:48 PM EST

The Given Day

[Amazon Link]

I became a Dennis Lehane fan via his Kenzie/Gennaro private eye series, set in Boston. But recently he's turned his talents to writing novels more likely to be found outside the "Mystery" section at Barnes & Noble. Which is fine, I can follow him just about anywhere. Unless he decides to write about lady time-travelers or something.

No problem here, though. Lehane sets this novel in mostly in post-WWI Boston. (I assume he has access to a time machine. His prose has the kind of evocative detail that is otherwise inexplicable.) There's a mix-in of historical figures: e. g., Calvin Coolidge, Babe Ruth, John (later, more commonly, "J. Edgar") Hoover, and more. But the action follows mostly two fictional protagonists: white Danny Coughlin and African-American Luther Laurence. The novel plays out against real-life history, and you may have a dim idea of the nastiness involved: a flu epidemic, anarchist violence, a Boston police strike, a deadly molasses flood, and the Babe going to the Yankees.

Speaking of the Boston police, Danny is one, also the son of one. If you think you have a dysfunctional family, odds are Danny's got you beat. His misadventures are legion: a seemingly doomed romance with the domestic help, conflicts with his brothers, father, and (very nasty) godfather, undercover exploits in the anarchist/Bolshevik underground, his attempts to get decent wages and working conditions for his fellow policemen, … most of this accompanied by danger, violence, betrayal, and heartbreak.

Luther doesn't have an easy time of it either. There's the general problem of being a black guy in an openly racist environment. He also makes some bad decisions, which cause him, eventually, to be estranged from his pregnant wife.

This is the first novel in a series of (so far) three. I hope to get to them eventually; even though I don't care much for historical fiction, Lehane makes it work for me. Lehane's politics are relentlessly left-wing—one of his acknowledgments is to that Howard Zinn book—so I had to discount that a tad.


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

Another movie that I am not proud to have watched, but … you know, Salma Hayek.

Maybe I could get away with claiming that I thought it somehow concerned free-market economist Friedrich Hayek? No, probably not: I've used that excuse five or six times already.

Anyway: Everly is Salma's one-named character, a prostitute in a heap of trouble for trying to inform on her boss, a ruthless Japanese criminal kingpin. After being sexually brutalized by some of his minions, she manages to temporarily turn the tables. But it soon becomes apparent that her boss's entire criminal infrastructure has been targeted to wipe her out. In addition, her long-estranged mother and cute daughter are also targeted.

It's rated R for "strong bloody violence, torture, nudity, sexual images and language", but probably not as much of that rating is due to nudity as one might like.

The Phony Campaign

2016-09-12 Update

Pictured at right (no, your right): a basket of deplorables, according to my dog.

PredictWise has Hillary this morning with a mere 74% win-probability, down 2% from last week. Frankly, I thought she'd be lower, but the prediction markets might want to see a few post-weekend polls before they panic.

But what really matters is that's she's also recovered her rightful standing in the Phony Poll:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Hillary Clinton" phony 965,000 +169,000
"Donald Trump" phony 863,000 -147,000
"Jill Stein" phony 510,000 -1,050,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 126,000 +49,600

Before we take the usual cheap shots, the 9/11 anniversary has me recalling Hillary's post-WTC remarks, recounted at the time by Nicholas Lehman in The New Yorker. (Unfortunately the article is not online, but I'm pretty sure my quoting is accurate.) Lehman asked Hillary how she thought people would react to knowing that they are on the receiving end of a murderous anger. Her response:

Oh, I am well aware that it is out there... One of the most difficult experiences that I personally had in the White House was during the health-care debate, being the object of extraordinary rage. I remember being in Seattle. I was there to make a speech about health care. This was probably August of '94. Radio talk-show hosts had urged their listeners to come out and yell and scream and carry on and prevent people from hearing me speak. There were threats that were coming in, and certain people didn't want me to speak, and they started taking weapons off people, and arresting people. I've had firsthand looks at this unreasoning anger and hatred that is focussed on an individual you don't know, a cause that you despise--whatever motivates people.

I originally posted this to Usenet back in October 2001. At the time, I thought it demonstrated Hillary's "wacky narcissistic self-martyrdom". What's the first thing that leaps into her mind when asked about the mindset that caused the deaths of thousands of Americans? Why, yes, this is just exactly like her getting booed in Seattle seven years previous.

In addition to painting her poltical opponents with the same brush as mass murderers, she quite clearly needs to view herself as under constant physical threat. Coming from the person who claimed to have landed under sniper fire in Bosnia, it's not a particularly credible claim.

Just wanted to get that off my chest.

  • Does phony populism feed the family? Fortunately, E. J. Dionne has the answer: "Help Wanted: Phony Populism Doesn't Feed the Family". Now, E. J. is a doctrinaire liberal, so we don't expect much more than Hillary-good, Trump-bad. And we are not disappointed:

    The truth is that Clinton has offered many more serious policy proposals for raising workers' incomes than Trump has. Her website is full of ideas on expanding profit-sharing, a "Make it in America" initiative to promote manufacturing, plans on family leave, child care, cutting student debt and much more.

    Gosh, aren't "proposals" and "ideas" great? When will Democrats go for broke and start selling the whole package as a Five-Year Plan? Surely that will work!

  • Since I'm writing on Monday, who knows where this will go, but it's clear that Hillary's health is just one more issue on which she's decided to admit only as much as she is absolutely forced to. Rich Lowry sums up the obvious:

    If there were any doubt before, the episode shows a Clinton White House would be habitually secretive and deceptive.

    And (as with the her e-mail issue), the only near-certainty is that this week's statements will be revealed next week to have been lies, carefully-worded prevarications, or irrelevant fakery.

  • Hillary, of course, was caught saying what she really thought:

    Hillary Clinton, speaking Friday at a big-ticket fundraiser in New York City, said half of Donald Trump’s supporters could be categorized into a “basket of deplorables,” implying that his backers hold “irredeemable” views on issues of race, gender and religion.

    To just be grossly generalist, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call ‘the basket of deplorables,’” Clinton told donors gathered at a Manhattan restaurant. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that, and he has lifted them up.”

    Eh, so she doesn't like 'em. She later "apologized" by saying that she shouldn't have said "half", which is just quibbling over numbers.

    It's no secret that I despise Trump, but… gee, I kinda wish she'd go into more detail on who she puts in the "basket of deplorables". Would I make the cut?

    Almost needless to say: Hillary's deepest contempt, deep down, must be for her own supporters. The people who have bought every one of her lies for decades. The people who have nothing to look forward to except more of the same.

  • Recommended: An insightful article from William Voegeli, "Hillary’s Empty Moralism Is a Reflection of the Greater Progressive Movement". Voegeli observes that people wonder if "Clintonism" is a coherent body of thought, or is there a big difference between the Bill-version and the Hillary-version.

    So, is Clintonism one body of thought, or two? The Clintons’ rhetorical oeuvre makes clear that the best answer is zero. Again and again, for a quarter century, their every attempt to connect and rationalize individual policy proposals culminates in sour nothings, windy declarations as solemn as they are vacuous.

    There's a quote from a Hillary speech earlier this year that almost proves the point by itself: “I believe in an America always moving toward the future.”

    Gosh, me too. Heck, as a physics major, I believe the entire frickin' universe is always moving toward the future. I shudder when I consider the alternatives.

  • Let's not let Trump go unzinged this week. Peruse Kevin D. Williamson on "What the Perpetually Aggrieved Mean by ‘Winning’". He notes the uncanny parallel…

    Bill Clinton was, so far as I can tell, the first American president who was actively admired for his dishonesty. Democrats — and not only they — loved to bask in Slick Willie’s cleverness, to watch him get himself into jams and get himself out again, making his opponents look like fools. Of course he betrayed his family, his supporters, and the country that entrusted him with the highest office in the land — but he won! This is what is going on in the mind of Donald Trump when he praises Vladimir Putin: Sure, he’s a brute, but look at those poll numbers. That is why in the minds of his admirers, anything Trump does can be spun into gold. “Winning!”

    Mr. Williamson reveals an ugly truth that (in his case) hits very close to home. RTWT.

The Walk

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

A coincidence of Netflix queue dynamics provided this movie near the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

It is a fictionalized version of a movie we've actually seen before: Man on Wire, the 2008 documentary that described Philippe Petit's audacious and illegal tightrope walk between the WTC towers back in August 1974. That documentary won an Oscar; this movie won zero Oscars, and was kind of a box office dud, and we know how things turn out, but I still found it enjoyable.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit, which demands that he adopt a silly French accent. OK, that decision that was probably demanded by reality, but still. A Paris street performer, he takes it into his head to conquer the towers, and he gradually acquires a motley (but colorful) array of co-conspirators whose dedication to Petit's dream varies. But there's only so much dramatic tension you can muster when (again) we know how things are going to turn out. (The movie also sent me to a reality-vs-film site to see how well it followed reality. Pretty well.)

The filmmakers do a stunning CGI job of recreating the 1974-era WTC. It kind of made me wish that I'd seen it in theatre-3D when it came out in 2015; if I had managed to avoid vertigo-related barfing, it would have certainly been awesome.

The Hateful Eight

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

Quentin Tarantino's latest movie. Made sure Mrs. Salad was out of the house, since she's made her opinion clear on Tarantino after watching Reservoir Dogs a couple of decades ago. Not her cup of tea.

But it really is a pretty nifty movie. A stagecoach contains bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), bound for Red Rock, where Daisy is due to hang. It (however) needs to take shelter from a Wyoming blizzard at the remote "Minnie's Haberdashery". The stage is waylaid by another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who has a collection of three criminal corpsicles, also on his way to Red Rock to collect bounties. Finally, they pick up Chris Mannix (Boyd Crowder himself, Walton Goggins), who is Red Rock's new sheriff, or at least claims to be.

Making it to Minnie's, they find an even more diverse bunch awaiting them: Mexican Bob (Demián Bichir); hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth); cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen); ex-Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). Strangely missing is Minnie; Mexican Bob claims to have been left in charge while Minnie has gone to the "other side of the mountain."

Needless to say, not all these people are actually telling the truth about their backstories or motives. And (since it's a Tarantino movie) the main thing is: who, if any, of these people will be alive at the end of the flick?


  • Kurt Russell does a very good R-rated John Wayne impression for his character. This was intentional. (I think I remember him doing the same in the wonderful Big Trouble in Little China.)

  • If you're counting, you'll count nine living characters at the Haberdashery at its peak population. So who's the non-hateful one? IMDB trivia says it's the coach driver O. B. (Beware spoilers at the link.)

  • Ennio Morricone did the music. Woo!

  • Quentin Tarantino should do a light, fluffy, romantic comedy. Just to show he could do it.


Announcing the latest addition to the Salad household:

He's a real sweetheart. One feature is that he often looks at me expectantly, seemingly saying: "You know what you're supposed to do now, right?" No, sorry, I don't. Maybe I'll figure it out.

Last Modified 2016-09-08 8:22 AM EST

Life and Fate

[Amazon Link]

Once every few years, I take it into my fool head to read a big, ponderous, Russian novel. It's an eat-your-vegetables thing, a reaction to a self-induced guilt trip about having too much reading fun. So this book went on the to-be-read pile a few years back; it had been sitting on my shelves since 1987 or so.

Its pedigree is pretty good. The author, Vasily Grossman, was a combat correspondent during the Second World War, reporting on the battle for Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin, and the Nazi's Treblinka death camp. He submitted the manuscript of Life and Fate in 1960 to a USSR literary journal. He was rewarded with rejection, and a visit from the KGB, who confiscated all known copies of the manuscript, plus the carbon paper and typewriter ribbons used to type it up. Grossman died a few years later. Eventually, a copy of the manuscript found its way to the West.

I'm sure this oversimplifies things massively: it's War and Peace, set during WW2. There's a huge cast of characters, all going through the agony of (a) war; (b) Nazi oppression; and/or (c) Stalinist oppression. The Battle of Stalingrad is described in all its grisly detail. Grossman pulls no punches on any front; most notably, he's absolutely chilling in detailing the nasty degradation of living under a totalitarian regime, living in fear that some innocent remark or decent act might get you ostracized or imprisoned. Did Trotsky politely praise an essay you wrote years back? Oh oh.

[By sheer coincidence, this book shares a near-identical scenario with the Chinese sci-fi novel I read slightly before this, The Three-Body Problem. In both, a physicist finds himself in deep political trouble for holding to "counter-revolutionary" interpretations of relativity and quantum mechanics. Thank goodness we don't politicize science here in the US these days … oh, wait.]

All in all, an arduous 871-page slog, full of those three-foot long patronymic names. (E.g., Yevgenia "call me Zhenya" Nicolaevna Shaposhnikovna.) I can't say it was fun, but it was worthwhile.

The Fractured Republic

Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism

[Amazon Link]

Gosh, I wish I'd liked this book better. I was really looking forward to reading it, wasted a Boston Library Consortium pick on it. It isn't awful, but not very good. I was encouraged to read it by Charles Murray's review at National Review, where he deemed it "a must read for those who wish to understand modern America." Um, well, maybe. I, for one, don't think my understanding improved much.

Yuval Levin says some insightful things here, especially near the beginning. He points out that both conservatives and liberals have a misty-eyed view of mid-20th century America. The conservatives like the strong families, the relative prosperity. Liberals point to the 91% marginal rate on the Federal income tax and the strong unions. All this is remembered through the eyes of baby boomers, the bump-in-the-demographic-python that has inordinate sway over interpreting the past, reporting the present, and guessing about the future. (Mea Culpa.)

Levin then takes us on a brief cultural/political historical tour of post-WW2 America, up to the present day. This is a short book, this tour is only a fraction of it, so it's necessarily superficial. But the trends are (according to Levin) unmistakable: centralization of power at the Federal level, an unexpected bifurcation in well-being between those working in high-skilled jobs versus those in low-to-medium skilled jobs, a weakening of family, community, and religious ties.

My own recommendation would be to (instead) read America 3.0. Or visit their website (which seems to be unfortunately inactive).

Levin's preferred way forward is to step away from (what he calls) hyper-individualism and excessive centralization, returning strength to the "mediating" institutions at more local levels: family, church, fraternal organizations, local governments, etc.

The latter part of the book is frustratingly vague and hand-waving. Looking for concrete proposals? I'm pretty sure you'll have to look elsewhere. Although there's a mention of increased early childhood education.

The latter part of the book is somewhat (I thought) repetitious. That term "hyper-individualism" appears over and over—and we know anything "hyper" is bad news. It's blamed for everything: weakening of the family, drug use, violent crime, and (probably) disco. It goes hand in hand with the other Levin boogeyman, power centralization.

Last Modified 2016-09-05 5:06 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2016-09-04 Update

PredictWise has Hillary at a 76% win probability, down from 80% last week. Why, at this rate, the race could be an even matchup by late October!

Sorry. We need something to get excited about at Pun Salad.

In the phony polling, Jill Stein continues to pull away from the crowd:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jill Stein" phony 1,560,000 +400,000
"Donald Trump" phony 1,010,000 +196,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 796,000 +27,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 76,400 -13,200

  • If you're looking forward to attending a Jill Stein campaign rally, you might want to leave a lot of time in your schedule for it: "Jill Stein delays rally after landing in wrong Ohio city".

    The presidential long shot accidentally flew to Cincinnati instead of Columbus, where she had been scheduled to speak at Capital University.

    I've long noticed that Ohio has a lot of localities beginning with "C". Very confusing!

    The article is from The Hill, and the comments are an amusing mirror image to the ones I usually see. ("A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump").

    Dr. Jill notes (probably correctly) the Democrats-with-bylines press coverage:

  • There are gonna be Trump/Clinton debates, probably, at some point. Barring a polling miracle, no Johnson or Stein participation. I was going to say "you couldn't pay me to watch" but as a theoretical matter, you probably could pay me to watch.

    In any case, the NYT reports that "Hillary Clinton Piles Up Research in Bid to Needle Donald Trump at First Debate". Sounds like a laff riot! Trump, on the other hand, is disdaining "laborious and theatrical practice sessions":

    “I believe you can prep too much for those things,” Mr. Trump said in an interview last week. “It can be dangerous. You can sound scripted or phony — like you’re trying to be someone you’re not.”

    Given high unfavorability ratings, being someone you're not might be a decent debate strategy for both Trump and Hillary. Who can be the more convincing phony?

  • Donald Trump went to Detroit, speaking at a mostly African-American church about economic issues. Meanwhile, Hillary's been fundraising among what the NYT describes as the "ultrarich": Jimmy Buffett, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, etc.

    Naturally, the mayor of Detroit noticed the difference here and … "Duggan blasts Trump as phony candidate without solutions".

    "This is the most phony major party nominee that I’ve seen in my lifetime, and that’s why we’re skeptical," Mayor Mike Duggan said at a news conference with Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield "I feel like I'm watching the next season of The Apprentice."

    I hear you, Mike. When I watch Hillary, it's like I'm listening to the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" for the five thousandth time.

  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File is always worth reading. This week is devoted to defending himself against prominent conservative Trump fans who are put out that Jonah won't get in line. RTWT of course, but as a one-liner, I snorted at this Trump observation:

    Every time you hear him talk about the Constitution, it’s like he’s trying to remember his high-school French.

  • The New York Daily News reports: "Phony ‘Dinner with Trump’ contest raised $1 million, donated $0 to Republican’s campaign".

    If you donated for a chance to win dinner with Donald Trump, your check may not have gone to the Republican’s campaign — and you certainly won’t be sharing an intimate meal at a table for two.

    Darn it! Also:

    I've been known to sign up for "Dinner with Hillary" contests, if and only if I can find the "enter without contributing" page.

Last Modified 2019-01-07 6:45 AM EST


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

One of Mrs. Salad's picks, and I liked it! Good job, honey!

Because of spoilers, I don't want to go much beyond this official description:

Best friends Derek and Clif set out on a trip of lifetime. Their plan: travel to the ends of the earth, see the world, and live life to the fullest. But the trip soon takes a dark and bloody turn. Just days in, one of the men shows signs of a mysterious affliction which gradually takes over his entire body and being. Now, thousands of miles from home, in a foreign land, they must race to uncover the source before it consumes him completely. Footage meant to be travel memories may now become evidence of one of the most shocking discoveries ever captured on film...and perhaps will be their only postcard home.

That's pretty much all I knew going in. Also (MPAA): "Rated R for disturbing bloody violence, and language." Can't really blame them for the language, though, given all the disturbing bloody violence.

Although this movie was (more or less) direct-to-DVD-and-streaming, it's a very professional effort, shot on a shoestring budget of (it says here) $318,000. That's impressive!

And So It Goes

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One of Mrs. Salad's picks, watched through the magic of Netflix's streaming service. Wish I liked it better.

Michael Douglas plays real estate magnate and all-around curmudgeon Oren. His wife is dead, his son is a drug addict and headed to jail, and he's trying to unload his multi-million dollar Connecticut mansion. To simplify that, he moves into a vacant apartment in a complex overlooking the scenic waterfront. Where he encounters Leah, played by Diane Keaton: she's also (conveniently for script purposes) minus one spouse and trying to kindle a career/hobby as a lounge singer. Only problem is that she starts crying when she sings anything that reminds her of her dead hubby. It's easy to imagine that she's Annie Hall, forty years older.

And then the jail-bound son unexpectedly unloads his cute daughter into this situation. Oren has zero grandpa ambitions, so it falls to Leah to pick up the slack there. Guess what happens?

Presumably the title isn't meant to refer to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five catchphrase. A better guess might be that it's meant to evoke the Billy Joel song, except that it doesn't show up in the movie anywhere. Maybe they couldn't agree on financial terms for that.

I agree with the critics: it's a pretty half-hearted effort, not even bothering to make me care what happens to these rich people. Hence, the "dark moment" shared by all romcoms isn't that dark.

The script has a lot meant-to-be-clever lines that aren't actually.

American Ultra

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Did I mention I'm retired? So I can basically do whatever I want, whenever I want? That includes watching schlock movies (like this) in the middle of the day via (in this case) Amazon Prime video. I'm not proud of that, but it happened.

So: Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) live in cohabitational bliss in a small town. Their combined income allows them to scrape by, with whatever surplus going to support their prodigious marijuana habits. But there's something odd about Mike: he's psychologically unable to leave town.

As it happens, Mike doesn't remember he was the subject of an evil CIA experiment (the movie title refers back to Project MKUltra, an actual evil CIA experiment) to develop deadly assassins. His memory was wiped, and he was stuck in Nowheresville.

But now the evil part of the CIA (represented by Topher Grace) has decided to eliminate him as a loose end, and deploys a team of Ultraized assassins to do that. But the slightly-less-evil part of the CIA (represented by Connie Britton) tries to intervene to save him, which involves switching on his assassin training again. Gunplay, knifeplay, gasplay, and explosions occur.

This is your go-to movie in case you want to hear current and past TV stars (Britton and Grace) drop F-bombs like hot potatoes.

Justified fans will moan about the too-small role played by Walton Goggins as one of the "bad" guys. Also in a too-small role: John Leguizamo. He doesn't make the movie worth watching, but he is as brilliant as always when he's onscreen.