The Major and the Minor

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

One of Mrs. Salad's Netflix pix, and she made a good choice this time. I surprised myself with how charmed and amused I was while watching this classic screwball comedy.

As the movie begins, Miss Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) is not making it in 1941 New York City. She's an in-home scalp-massager (really), and when a randy client (Robert Benchley) gets the wrong idea, she decides to pack it in, go back to small-town Iowa, and settle for the young man who's (apparently) still waiting for her.

Problem: she can't afford the full-fare train ticket from NYC to Iowa. So she poses as an almost-12 year old! She manages that well enough to get on board, but her fraud is soon detected, and she has to deceive Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland), a teacher at an Illinois military academy, in order to avoid getting tossed off the train.

Hence the Major/Minor title. Complications ensue, of course, since this is a screwball comedy. Susan finds herself enmeshed in the workings of Kirby's school; she fools everyone, save for Kirby's fiancee's younger sister.

Yes, there's a little bit of dancing. I think this was part of the Hays Code: if Ginger Rogers is in a movie, she's gotta dance.

This was Billy Wilder's American directoral debut, and he also co-wrote.

The Scary Campaign, 2016. Boo!

It's Halloween! While Pun Salad usually concentrates on how phony our presidential candidates are, 'tis the season that reminds us that they are also quite scary. But how scary? Let's ask the Google:

Query String Hit Count
"Donald Trump" scary 16,300,000
"Hillary Clinton" scary 13,800,000
"Jill Stein" scary 611,000
"Gary Johnson" scary 326,000

Unsurprising. When we did this in the past, we observed:

  1. Our "phony" hit counts are dwarfed by the "scary" hit counts. For Hillary and Trump, it's an order of magnitude difference! What that means, in terms of the country's mood is obvious: months of negative ads predicting the dire results of the Other Person winning has turned us into a nation of quivering sheep huddled in a dark corner.

  2. I tend to favor the "Wizard of Oz" hypothesis myself: people find these guys scary, but they're actually just phony.

But I could be wrong. So let's dip into the Google results to see what people are saying:

  • At the Independent, Kirsty Major warns "If you think Donald Trump is scary, take a look at his kids". As a bonus, there's a Halloween allusion:

    They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and so it is with Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. The son of the Republican presidential hopeful and his first wife Ivana Trump has got himself into a spot of trouble by using a bizarre Halloween-urban-legend-esque allegory to compare Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles. “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you three would kill you, would you take a handful?” read an image he tweeted, with a picture of a big bowl of the popular sweets for emphasis. “That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”

    OK. What else? Well, the WaPo's David Ignatius advises us: Don’t be fooled — Donald Trump’s foreign policy is as scary as ever". And the gay-themed Advocate will run down "Donald Trump's Scary Supreme Court Picks". (Not LGBT-friendly at all.)

    And then there's the NYT, doing its bit for linguistic analysis last year, finding "95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, From Donald Trump’s Tongue". Sample:

    While many candidates appeal to the passions and patriotism of their crowds, Mr. Trump appears unrivaled in his ability to forge bonds with a sizable segment of Americans over anxieties about a changing nation, economic insecurities, ferocious enemies and emboldened minorities (like the first black president, whose heritage and intelligence he has all but encouraged supporters to malign).

    Scary! Democrats prefer more dialog more appealing to rationality, like "He is going to put y'all back in chains" or resurrecting the 1964 he's-gonna-nuke-us "Daisy" ad.

    From that last link: "Daisy", now 52 years older, says, predictably "And to see that coming forward in this election is really scary."

  • So what about Hillary, our second-place finisher? Quite frankly, the stuff that Google turns up is pretty mild in comparison. Theory: people opposed to Hillary tend to subscribe to the Bene Gesserit litany against fear: "Fear is the mind-killer". And we don't like our minds killed.

    But it's out there. Example: Josh Barro, writing at the ad blocker-hostile Business Insider reals "This is what scares me most about a Hillary Clinton presidency". It's relatively staid, given the massive decades-long record of Clinton-based corruption:

    If anything goes badly wrong in the world over the next four years — not terribly unlikely under any president, given all the upheaval in Europe and China — I'm worried that voters will look at the webs of influence surrounding Clinton and be more inclined to be suspicious that problems affecting their livelihoods have arisen because of self-dealing by elites.

    Suggestion: replace "be more inclined to be suspicious" with "correctly conclude".

    Even back in 2014, Mr. Leonard Benton of the Havok Journal described "What Scares Me About President Hillary Clinton".

    Hillary Clinton is 66 [now 69] years old, but age doesn’t scare me. What scares me is that she reminds me of Doloris Umbridge in the Harry Potter books; she knows what is best for you and she will make you understand it. I can see her now forcing parents to carve her name into their own children–figuratively, if not in practice. What also scares me about Hillary is that she has been a sideline member of the political machine from 1979 until 2013 and she is so far out of touch that she believes her own hype and thinks she is the gift we deserve and need. 22 years as the wife of a Governor then President, a Senator for 8 years, and finally Secretary of State for 4 years. She has ridden the coat tails of her husband through all these events and the Clinton machine is a powerful political machine. Is it enough to get her into the White House? I dearly hope not.

    But for the real clincher, see Steve Chapman at Reason: "Clinton Is a Threat to the 2nd Amendment—and the 1st"

    Donald Trump is a clear menace to our democratic form of government, the rule of law and my James Madison bobblehead. The teenage Ted Cruz could recite the entire Constitution from memory. Trump wouldn't know it from Two Corinthians.

    But it's not exactly safe to entrust your copy of the Constitution to Hillary Clinton, either. You might get it back with some parts missing or mutilated—like the First Amendment and the Second.

    I sometimes think she'd look for a way to quarter soldiers in houses without the owner's consent, just to have another Amendment to traduce.

  • Things are even milder for Jill Stein. Why, one "J Clifford" tells us at Irregular Times that "No, Jill Stein Is Not The Scary Leftist Wacko Democrats Say She Is". But there are many, many links revealing who Jill thinks is scary:

    Presumptive Green Party nominee Jill Stein believes Hillary Clinton would be a more dangerous president than Donald Trump, because while Mr. Trump says “scary things,” the former secretary of state actually does them.

    Give Jill some stopped-clock points for correctness here.

  • Last but not least, my candidate, Gary Johnson. "Judy M" at the dreadfully earnest Care2 site details: 7 Scary Facts About Gary Johnson (And One Awesome Fact).

    Spoiler: not a single one of the "scary" facts is actually scary. ("He Supports the Keystone XL Pipeline." Eek!? "A President Johnson Would Get Rid Of Obamacare." Aieee!?).

    The awesome fact:

    Johnson has run 17 marathons, four Ironman Triathlons, is an active rock climber, and has climbed the seven highest summits on every continent, including Mount Everest (just after breaking a leg!). His doctor writes that Johnson, who weighs 172 pounds and has normal blood pressure and pulse, exercises about an hour a day.”

    When I think about exercising, I often say: "Nah; Gary's doing enough for both of us."

Wishing you a non-scary Halloween. Or at least one that's less scary than Election Day.

Last Modified 2016-11-04 10:04 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2016-10-30 Update

FBI Director James Covey announced that he's (let us not quibble) re-opening the criminal investigation into Hillary's shoddy e-mail practices, the Republicans cheer, the Democrats jeer, but what about the PredictWise bettors? Her win probability has plummeted to … 87%, four points down from last Monday. They seem to be taking things in stride.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, their polls-only forecast gives her a 78.6% shot, down about 5 points from last Monday. (But maybe when more polls come in over the next few days…)

This week's Getty illustration: Hillary, when the indictment comes in.

And the phony poll standings show a general decrease in phoniness hits for everyone. Which is inexplicable, unless those Google hit counts are meaningless! (Which, oh yeah, they are.)

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 1,540,000 -370,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 1,040,000 -580,000
"Jill Stein" phony 428,000 -21,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 84,900 -4,800

  • Trump made hits this week by griping about "rigged" polls, who he claims are oversampling Democrats at the command of John Podesta:

    Here's how all of this affects you: When the people who control the political power in our society can rig investigations like her investigation was rigged, can rig polls -- you see these phoney [sic] polls, and rig the media, they can wield absolute power over your life, your economy and your country. And benefit big time by it.

    The argument: polls that show a decisive Hillary win demoralize Trump voters, who assume a position at their nearest dive bar instead of going to vote.

    Ah, but what about the scads of lazy Hillary voters who see her lead and say: "Ah, she's gonna win without me," and stay home?

    I have little love for left-leaning Politifact, but they rate Trump's claim "Pants on Fire", and their explanation seems credible even to this skeptic.

  • Gil "O" Tanenbaum wonders, at Jewish Business News: "Is Jill Stein A Political Hypocrite?". Spoiler: Gil thinks maybe yes.

    Is Jill Stein a phony when it comes to her attacks on big business? Well according to a report in The Daily Beast the Green Party candidate for President sure seems to be.

    I find it somewhat suprising that Jill's worth may be "as much as" $8.5 million. That's some cabbage right there. And apparently she hasn't made it by investing in exclusively socially conscious companies. Her mutual funds invest in nasty companies like Exxon, Chevron, Goldman Sachs, etc. Who do you think you are, Jill? Hillary?

  • My candidate, Gary Johnson, seems distinctly unmellow these days. He had an interview with a Guardian reporter, and …

    But then Johnson was asked about his tax policy. The reporter said he hasn’t found a single economist who agrees with him.

    Johnson lost it and shouted at him about marijuana legalization and how people told him it couldn’t be done. When asked about what this has to do with taxation, he said, “It’s leadership. It is leadership.”

    Video at the link, your own call on whether Gary should go back on his legal-in-some-states meds. I'm still voting for him.

  • Your quote du jour is Mencken wisdom, via Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution:

    I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. Does it exalt dunderheads, cowards, trimmers, frauds, cads? Then the pain of seeing them go up is balanced and obliterated by the joy of seeing them come down. Is it inordinately wasteful, extravagant, dishonest? Then so is every other form of government: all alike are enemies to laborious and virtuous men. Is rascality at the very heart of it? Well, we have borne that rascality since 1776, and continue to survive. In the long run, it may turn out that rascality is necessary to human government, and even to civilization itself – that civilization, at bottom, is nothing but a colossal swindle. I do not know: I report only that when the suckers are running well the spectacle is infinitely exhilarating. But I am, it may be, a somewhat malicious man: my sympathies, when it comes to suckers, tend to be coy. What I can’t make out is how any man can believe in democracy who feels for and with them, and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of.

    Related is the well-known poker aphorism: "If you don’t see a sucker at the table, you’re it."

  • And more tweet-sized wisdom from Iowahawk:


Last Modified 2019-01-07 5:24 AM EDT

The Nice Guys

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

A pretty good indication that a movie's going to be good, or at least interesting: directed and co-written by Shane Black.

It is set in the funkiness and moral rot of mid-70s Los Angeles. In the opening scene, that kid from Iron Man 3 swipes one of his dad's porn mags (for our younger audience: a magazine with pictures of naked women; how retro) and is perusing a picture of one "Misty Mountains". When, unexpectedly, a small car plummets off the nearby freeway, crashing entirely through the young man's house. When he checks out the wreckage, the dying victim is … Misty Mountains, herself, posed just like in the mag, except for a lot more blood.

An ultra-Dickensian coincidence, to be sure, although one Dickens might not have come up with himself. Whatever. We're off to concentrate on our protagonists: Healy (Russell Crowe), whose profession is beating up people for money. And March (Ryan Gosling), a widowed sad-sack semi-sleazy private eye, way too fond of booze and cigarettes, bringing up a precocious 14-year-old daughter on his own.

March is not above taking clients' money for worthless cases, namely investigating whether Misty is still alive. He and Healy are drawn together when Healy is hired to dissuade him from even a bumbling investigation. Gradually, they become aware that a lot of people involved in shooting Misty's final porn movie are turning up dead.

Amid all the carnage, there's a lot of hilarity. According to IMDB, this was originally going to be a TV series. (And it's slightly reminiscent of the series The Good Guys.)

Against Democracy

[Amazon Link]

Against Democracy? You might think this might be a very short book. Page one: Democracy has given us Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as major party nominees this year. Democracy sucks. Q.E.D., baby!

But Jason Brennan, a professor at Georgetown U, probably wanted to deliver a more scholarly takedown, and he has. It's difficult to avoid noting that, even though a lot of the book was probably written before 2016, it's hard to read it without finding current events illuminating and supporting his thesis.

Brennan is immune to the feel-goodness and bovine sacredness of the word "democracy". Let's ignore all that, he says, and ask the sober question: what does democracy have to recommend it? Not that much, he argues. As individuals, the democratic poltical power we wield is insignificant, but it does tend to "stultify and corrupt" us, turning us into "civic enemies" with excuses to despise our neighbors.

Worse, our votes are woefully outnumbered by the thoughtless and irresponsible. (The data is irrefutable.) What possible argument could there be allowing those masses to hold political sway over us? We wouldn't pick a random person from the phonebook to do our plumbing or to remove our appendix — why do we entertain the idea that they're entitled to have a say in national issues of peace, prosperity, and liberties?

Brennan's an entertaining and accessible writer, aiming (I think) at the bright-undergraduate level. I appreciated the Monty Python reference to the "women lying in ponds distributing swords" form of government. More seriously, he divides the populace into "Hobbits", "Hooligans", and "Vulcans". Hobbits are apathetic and ignorant about matters political. Hooligans are the "rabid sports fans of politics"; they are too interested, cheering on their side, unable or unwilling to consider alternatives. Finally, Vulcans are the holy grail of political participants, making their views dependent on evidence, self-aware of their own limitations and uncertainties. (But even Vulcans, I think, can have incompatible political visions and values.)

Brennan convincingly argues that Vulcans are nearly invisible and have at best minor influence.

The cliché is: democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others. Brennan feels the force of that argument, but asks us to consider various possible schemes of epistocratic government; granting a larger share of political powers to those who (in some manner) shown themselves more likely to exercise them responsibly.

One approach I wish Brennan would have considered more carefully: instead of restricting the political power of voters, approach things at the candidate side. A requirement for running would be to subject yourself to a battery of tests to measure your intelligence (maybe an IQ test); general knowledge and academic achievement (something like the SAT); maybe a quiz on current affairs (where's Aleppo?) or general civic knowledge; maybe specialized queries on economics or science.

You wouldn't disqualify anyone based on test scores, but you would publicize everyone's scores. Would voters pay attention? Maybe enough on the margin to improve results.

The Phony Campaign

2016-10-24 Update

Another week closer to the election! I'm getting pretty good at using TiVo to dodge brain-rotting political ads.

PredictWise gives Hillary a 91% probability of winning, unchanged since last week. While FiveThirtyEight gives her a mere 83.9% shot.

At right, my second-choice candidate gives its acceptance speech.

In the phony standings this week, the Donald continues to dominate, but Hillary cuts into his lead some:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 1,910,000 +420,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 1,620,000 +625,000
"Jill Stein" phony 449,000 +39,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 89,700 -32,300

  • We need more Hayekian insight in this election, sure, but this? "Salma Hayek shot down Trump for a date so he planted a phony story in the National Enquirer" And that phony story was…

    The actress said that her rejecting Trump then led to a story in the National Enquirer, which instead claimed Trump said he wouldn’t date the actress because she was “too short.”

    Ms. Hayek is, indeed, short; 5 foot 2, according to IMDB. Is that s a credible excuse for not dating her? We're only hearing her side of the story, sure, but Trump sounds like a high school petulant loser.

    Oh, right: he always sounds like a high school petulant loser.

  • At the WSJ, Greg Ip does a reality check on Hillary's tax claims:

    “We are going to ask the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share,” she said at Wednesday’s debate. “And there is no evidence whatsoever that that will slow down or diminish our growth.”

    Aside: to repeat a point I've made in the past, I despise the intelligence-insulting lie embedded in that small word "ask". If/when a tax increase is passed, nobody will be "asked" to cough up more money to the US Treasury. That money will be demanded. By implying otherwise, Hillary might as well add: "I'm wording things that way because I think anyone listening is stupid enough to believe me."

    That lie is nearly always accompanied by the bullshit phrase "fair share", which I've also loathed for a long time. Exactly how much is that fair share? Why, my friends, it always really means "more than they're paying now".

    The Tax Foundation's most recent analysis of income tax data:

    In 2013, the bottom 50 percent of taxpayers (those with AGIs below $36,841) earned 11.49 percent of total AGI. This group of taxpayers paid approximately $34 billion in taxes, or 2.78 percent of all income taxes in 2013.

    In contrast, the top 1 percent of all taxpayers (taxpayers with AGIs of $428,713 and above), earned 19.04 percent of all AGI in 2013, but paid 37.80 percent of all federal income taxes.

    In 2013, the top 1 percent of taxpayers accounted for more income taxes paid than the bottom 90 percent combined. The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid $465 billion, or 37.80 percent of all income taxes, while the bottom 90 percent paid $372 billion, or 30.20 percent of all income taxes.

    It's my devout wish that someone would corner Hillary, or anyone else braying about "fair share", show these numbers, and ask: Is that "fair"? What would the numbers have to look like to make them "fair"?

    But I've been wishing that for a long time, and I don't think I'll see it in my lifetime.

  • Er, where was I? Oh, yeah. Continuing with Hillary's claim that there's "no evidence whatsoever" enacting her proposals "will slow down or diminish our growth": that turns out to be a lie as well:

    Two independent analyses conclude that by raising taxes so dramatically on the wealthy, her program will crimp investment and economic growth, though they disagree on how much.

    Details at the link.

  • Is Gary Johnson happy that Hillary Clinton's geography gaffe didn't get the "Aleppo Moment" treatment? Find out the shocking answer in Anthony L. Fisher's Reason article, titled "Gary Johnson's Not Happy That Hillary Clinton's Geography Gaffe Didn't Get the 'Aleppo Moment' Treatment".

    Clinton, whose candidacy is largely built on her foreign policy experience, described the Iraqi city of Mosul as a "border city," when it is in fact, 75 miles from the nearest border in one direction, and 100 miles from the border of Syria in another direction. As U.S. News and World Report's Steven Nelson noted, "Ireland is closer to Wales. Montreal is nearer to New York state and Damascus, Syria's capital, is closer to Israel – either its de facto or internationally recognized borders."

    Speaking of "fair", shouldn't all candidates get asked the same set of "gotcha" questions? Again, not holding my breath.

Never Go Back

[Amazon Link]

One more off the top of the Lee Child to-be-read subpile. By sheer coincidence, I read it near-simultaneously with the release of the new Tom Cruise movie based on the book. Given the reviews, I'll probably wait for the DVD.

About four books previous in the series, while dealing with nasty people in a South Dakota winter, Reacher needed some investigative assistance from his old MP unit, now based just outside Arlington Cemetery. This caused him to interact over the phone with Susan Turner, the new commander. She was helpful and funny; she also admired the dent in her desk Reacher had made years previous by slamming some jerk's head into it.

So, after the South Dakota events, Reacher decided to visit Susan; this wasn't easy, as his usual propensity for detecting and defusing massive criminal conspiracies kept delaying him. But in this book, he makes it! Only to find that Susan's been relieved of command due to accusations of bribery. Complicating things further, Reacher is accused of delivering an (eventually) fatal beating to an LA gang banger long ago.

And, oh yeah: also a paternity suit.

Needless to say, both Susan and Reacher are being framed by mysterious powerful forces that don't hesitate to ruin, or murder, people who might uncover their nefarious schemes. Name-clearing involves first breaking out of the Army's clutches, then a peril-filled road trip to find out the facts behind the paternity thing.

Unsurprisingly, a page-turner. Somewhat surprisingly (possible minor spoiler follows, mouse-select to reveal): I'm pretty sure Reacher doesn't actually kill any of his adversaries in this book. That might be a first in the series.

Light of the World

[Amazon Link]

I've finally "caught up" with James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels. (It's taken decades, but I did it!) Light of the World came out back in 2013; Mr. Burke's latest is in his other series concentrating on the Holland family. Which is also good, but I don't want to get involved.

(Not that there aren't connections: one of the primary characters here, Wyatt Dixon, is a crossover from Bitterroot, a Billy Bob Holland book. The connection isn't mentioned or even alluded to here.)

Anyway: the book finds Dave, wife Molly, and daughter Alafair up in Montana, taking a break from Louisiana seediness and violence. Also in tow is Dave's lifelong buddy Clete Purcel; soon to appear is Gretchen Horowitz, Clete's rediscovered daughter. (After a horrific childhood, and a brief career as a Mafia hitter, Gretchen has found a new career in making movies.) Danger soon infests this idyllic scene, as Alafair is nicked by an arrow while out for a jog. Whodunnit? But that's not all: a young Native American woman has gone missing, and she just happens to be the adopted daughter of an oil company scion.

And, in addition, the gruesome serial killer, Asa Surette is missing and presumed burnt up, as a result of a collision between a prison transport bus and an oil truck. But is he really dead? Signs point to no, and if he's alive, he has a serious animosity for Alafair, who interviewed him in prison.

As always, Mr. Burke's spectacular prose punches the reader in the face with descriptions of natural beauty, harrowing terror, and ongoing violence. And dialog: I sometimes wish I could talk like his characters. But I'm sure people up here in New Hampshire wouldn't take to it.

You, Me and Dupree

[0.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Oh, dear Lord, it's awful. A "comedy" that didn't elicit a single laugh, chortle, or giggle from me.

Worse, the people who came up with the movie title do not employ the Oxford Comma.

Anyway: Mrs. Salad was out of town, and we (somehow) were gifted with this 10-year-old DVD, which she saw no interest in watching, ever. So…

Molly (Kate Hudson) and Carl (Matt Dillon) are newlyweds. Best Man Dupree (Owen Wilson) is Carl's longtime best buddy, but he's currently an underachiever, to put it mildly; to attend the wedding, he's lost his job and domicile. So we can put Dupree up in our house until he's back on his feet, right, honey?

Added complication: Molly's dad (Michael Douglas) is unimpressed with Carl, to the extent that he recommends vasectomy to Carl.

None of the main characters are interesting or likeable. Nobody ever says anything funny. The PG-13 rating prevents Kate Hudson from getting naked. There are unexpected developments, sure, but in order to say "I didn't see that coming" you have to care enough about the plot to imagine what might be coming next.

On the back of the DVD box, one Lesley Nagy, film critic of KBWB-TV in San Francisco, is quoted: "IF YOU LIKE WEDDING CRASHERS, YOU'LL LOVE YOU, ME AND DUPREE!" Let me just caution you: Lesley is a liar. Maybe not as bad as Hillary, but she's right up there. For I liked Wedding Crashers just fine, but ….

The Phony Campaign

2016-10-17 Update

PredictWise has Hillary with an astonishing lock on the Presidency (91% probability, up from 86% last week). FiveThirtyEight is slightly more dubious: 83.9-89.1%, depending on your choice of methodology. At right: the Trump campaign.

He's doing pretty well in the phony poll, however:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 1,490,000 +200,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 995,000 +106,000
"Jill Stein" phony 410,000 -65,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 122,000 -7,000

  • Professor Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek pens Another Open Letter to Hillary Clinton, caused by her boobish agreement with Donald Trump on prosecuting Chinese steelmakers. This is nothing new; Boudreaux quotes a 112-year-old speech from Winston Churchill debunking the trade know-nothingism of his time. Nothing much has changed.

    I don’t for a moment expect Churchill’s words to cause you to rethink your hostility to free trade; you crave power, not truth. But I do want you to know that you and Mr. Trump are merely the latest drum majors in a long, shameful parade of charlatans and scammers who absurdly promise the masses that greater prosperity is to be had if only they’ll agree to pay higher prices for the goods and services they consume.

    At this point our best hope is that Hillary's merely a shameless liar on this issue, that she really knows better.

  • Ever wondered why we're stressed? Jim Geraghty, indispensable as usual, has the answer: "We’re Stressed Because We Feel Obligated to Act in Contradiction to Our Values"

    Geraghty obseves that partisan Democrats (containing a good chunk of Bernie Sanders supporters) now find themselves having to "swallow their pride, put aside their concerns and worries, and pretend [Hillary] is noble and trustworthy." Despite daily revelations to the contrary.

    Diehard Republicans probably have it worse, having to support a lecherous blowhard, a floater of delusional conspiracy theories, etc.

    Of course everybody’s stressed. One of two bad options – a man and a woman who do not reflect the values and sense of ethics of most decent Americans — is all but certain to be president, and lots of people feel the need to pretend that they want these bad options, lest the worse one win. What’s more, people are realizing that they’re going to have to validate one of these people by giving her or him their vote.

    Not me, Jim.

  • David Boaz is roughly on the same wavelength as Geraghty in his diagnosis of "Trump Derangement Syndrome", a coinflip counterpart to the well-known Bush Derangement Syndrome of years past.

    What do we say about conservatives – people who believe, variously, in limited government, free markets, Judeo-Christian values, and the importance of character in public life – who have been forced to utter absurdities in defense of Donald Trump? It’s one thing to say that Hillary Clinton and her Supreme Court justices and her 4,000 bureaucrats are on net worse than Trump and whatever menagerie he brings to the White House. But when free-market conservatives find themselves enthusiastically defending the most protectionist presidential candidate since Pat Buchanan, or Christian conservatives are forced to say that personal character isn’t really a big issue for them, I fear that derangement has set in.

    Examples follow. But the bottom line, friends, is: Politics corrupts us. I'm reading a book that convincingly makes that point, should have a brief description up in a few days.

  • [Amazon Link] Which reminds me: Jon Ronson is a journalist who keeps finding himself in bizarre situations. One of those, years back, found him infiltrating the infamous Bohemian Grove retreat, where megamoguls and famous celebrities gather to engage in bizarre rituals. His unreliable ally back then was Alex Jones, radio-show nutbar behind the Infowars conspiracy site.

    Today, of course, Jones is one of the drivers behind the Trump candidacy. Ronson was able to reconnect with Jones, also meet the nearly-as-wacky political consultant Roger Stone, and explore the crazy sordidness that's actually influencing the Trump campaign. (The recent talk about the election being "rigged" is pure Jones.)

    Ronson has released a short e-book, The Elephant in the Room, telling the tale, and—whoa—it's free to Amazon Prime users. Recommended; Ronson's clearly on the left, but that doesn't obscure his powers of observation. (If you use the link at right, I'll get a small percentage of your $0.00! Thanks in advance!)

  • And there are a lot of things to dislike about PETA, but this is not one of them:

    Seriously, folks: no matter how you feel about PETA, if you have the time and inclination to give one of our furry friends a safe and loving home, I recommend it.

Last Modified 2019-01-07 5:24 AM EDT

Live Bait

[Amazon Link]

Number two in the "Monkeewrench" series, recommended to me by my wise and perceptive sister. Set (mostly) in Minneapolis, the first book described how a bunch of software wizards (company name: Monkeewrench) got involved with a string of local murders, and their interaction with the nice Minnesota (and Wisconsin) cops trying to bring an end to the illegal carnage.

This one is more of a police procedural, with only one of the (surviving) Monkeewrench gang playing a small but vital role. After a relatively homicide-free Minneapolis winter, there's suddenly a rash of unusual murder victims: old folks living in upscale Uptown. The initial M.O.'s are various and confusing. But poor dead Morey Gilbert was widely regarded as a saint in his community, always offering kind words and gentle help to his acquaintances. He also has a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm, wonder if that could have anything to do with it? His wife seems to have known something like this might happen, why? His estranged son is a bitter drunk, hm, suspect?

Many characters have their own secrets. As with the first book, it strikes me as a tad contrived, but that's OK, because the writing is pretty close to page-turning first-rate.

The book itself was a little beat up, obtained from an Amazon reseller. Published at $7.50 suggested retail, It has a 25¢ sticker, looks like from a yard sale, and a ".50" sticker, looks like a used book store. And (finally) I paid $4.28 including shipping. Will it go on to further retail adventures? Who knows?

Last Modified 2016-10-10 11:21 AM EDT

The Secret of Our Success

How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter

[Amazon Link]

Yet another Interlibrary Loan book, this one from Tufts. I believe I put it into my to-be-read list when I came across the author, Joseph Henrich, while reading Matt Ridley's The Evolution of Everything.

It's a fine "big idea" book, as you can tell from the subtitle. What unlikely process, asks Henrich, has brought the human species to dominate more terrestrial environments than any other land mammal? We aren't very strong, not very fast, and not that good at tree-climbing. Why weren't our ancestors all Tiger Chow millions of years ago?

Well, we're smart, you say. But Henrich argues convincingly that we aren't that smart either. His thought experiment: dump fifty humans and fifty capuchin monkeys into a central African jungle. ("To be kind we would allow the humans—but not the monkeys—to wear clothes.") Come back two years later and it's a safe bet that there will be a lot fewer surviving humans than monkeys. There are a couple of tragic real-world examples presented: groups of "civilized" humans accidentally finding themselves in an environment in which they rapidly die off, even in the midst of native populations that are doing just fine.

Instead, Henrich argues, we're uniquely well-suited to cultural evolution, the process by which knowledge and skills are transmitted from one generation to the next. In addition, good old genetic evolution co-evolves with the culture, to the extent that our species' hardware/firmware is optimized to handle cooked food, written language, throwing small, heavy objects with deadly accuracy (Craig Kimbrel excluded), run long distances, and the like.

It's a wide-ranging tale, and Henrich runs through his argument with clarity and occasional understated humor. As is typical with these sorts of books, a variety of research is cited from anthropology, psychology, economics, and related fields. Some of these results I'd heard before, most not.

As with most results of "dumb luck" evolution, the beneficiaries often don't understand "the secret of their success". I was able to impress my nutritionist wife with the mystery of why South American natives put wood ash (or burned seashells) into their corn dishes before serving. Why? The alkalinity of the ask makes the niacin in the corn available to the human digestive system.

When corn was introduced into "civilized" countries, this technique was discarded, since nobody knew why it was useful. The result: pellagra, caused by niacin deficiency. And (tragically) the cause of pellagra remained a mystery until the mid-20th century.

Also very mind-bending was Henrich's discussion of the brain's "firmware" for recognizing written language. We English-readers can look at (for example) "READ" and "read" and know within milliseconds: that's the same word, even though the letters don't look anything alike. Multiply that feat over myriad font shapes and sizes. How could that skill, developed only a few thousand years ago, be a result of sluggish Darwinian processes? Cultural evolution, baby!

And there's a lot more. As always: there are controversies, and Henrich is only giving his side. So maybe not the last word on this topic. Nevertheless, a fun and fascinating read.

The Phony Campaign

2016-10-10 Update

At right: the Trump campaign. Sorry, Trumpkins.

PredictWise has Hillary Clinton with an 86% shot at being President, which means Donald Trump is still technically alive at 14%, because math. As I type, he's doing better than the Boston Red Sox, who are judged to have a mere 5% probability of winning the World Series.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Hillary's at 77.6-86.1% (depending on methodology). The Red Sox are at 5% there as well.

And in the Phony Poll, Jill Stein comes crashing back to earth, as the Google Gods realize the true phonies this year are…

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 1,290,000 -30,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 889,000 -171,000
"Jill Stein" phony 475,000 -3,445,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 129,000 -13,000

  • For our purposes, coverage of Trump's 2005 "extremely lewd conversation" demonstrated the interesting rules various news outlets have for obscuring bad words. For example, the WaPo goes PG-13 in this paragraph:

    “I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” Trump says. “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”

    … but elsewhere in the article, it's "s---", "f---", and "p---y".

    The bazongas in question belong to Ms. Nancy O'Dell, host of Entertainment Tonight, a show I'm pretty sure I haven't watched in decades. Her official statement makes no mention of the phoniness allegation (although she's apparently denied it in the past, and Googling does not reveal anything on this important issue other than rumor and tawdry speculation):

    "Politics aside, I’m saddened that these comments still exist in our society at all. When I heard the comments yesterday, it was disappointing to hear such objectification of women. The conversation needs to change because no female, no person, should be the subject of such crass comments, whether or not cameras are rolling. Everyone deserves respect no matter the setting or gender. As a woman who has worked very hard to establish her career, and as a mom, I feel I must speak out with the hope that as a society we will always strive to be better."

    It's probably ungentlemanly to observe that the former beauty queen has "established her career" on her extraordinary good looks, so her whole "objectification" complaint rings a little hollow.

    When will we know that "society" has successfully striven "to be better" on this score? When Rachel Dratch becomes an Entertainment Tonight co-host.

  • Speaking of beauty queens: Steve Harvey, well known for botching his gig as host of a recent Miss Universe pageant, interviewed Hillary back in February, during the heat of the primary campaign. You wouldn't expect him to ask hardball questions. But, as recently revealed in a leaked memo, Hillary was guaranteed an even more comfy ride:

    Talk show host Steve Harvey provided Hillary Clinton’s campaign with the exact questions he would ask of Clinton during a February interview, according to an internal campaign memo sent a week before the interview and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

    An impressively phony moment:

    “During this segment Steve will take a trip down memory lane with YOU to talk about the different moments of YOUR life displayed in the photographs below,” the memo explained photos of Clinton that Harvey pulled up on screen as she discussed her childhood, education, relationship with her husband, and election to the U.S. Senate.

    Clinton feigned surprise throughout the interview. “Oh boy. Oh my goodness,” she exclaimed as Harvey displayed a photo of her at 12 years old.

    That's show biz. Also, consistently rendering YOU and YOUR in uppercase is apparently a thing.

  • Was Hillary caught using a child actor at a Pennsylvania town hall campaign event? Find out the shocking answer at Zero Hedge: "Hillary Caught Using Child Actor At Pennsylvania Town Hall".

    At a Hillary Clinton town hall yesterday in Haverford, Pennsylvania, a 15 year old girl was supposedly "chosen at random" to ask a question of the former Secretary of State.  But, the well-scripted performance raised some suspicion with a YouTuber named Spanglevision who decided to dig a little deeper.  And, wouldn't you know it, the "random" participant was none other than child actor, Brennan Leach, whose father just happens to be Pennsylvania democratic State Senator Daylin Leach.  Oh, and in case it wasn't obvious, Daylin supports Hillary for president...shocking.

    Yeah, I think that's credible. Could do without all the bold and underlines.

    Note that Snopes attempts to debunk this, but the best they can do is "unproven". I also found their wording of the "claim" to be a little dishonest:

    Claim: Hillary Clinton "hired" a child actor to be "planted" in the audience during a Town Hall campaign event.

    I'm bothered by Snopes putting "hired" in quotes, as if someone was making the specific charge of money changing hands for little Brennan's performance. I may be missing something, but I don't see that word at Zero Hedge. Is Snopes attempting to rebut an allegation that nobody's actually made?

  • Jacob Sullum watched last evening's debate, and solves the mystery: "Clinton Shows How She Manages to Be Less Trusted Than Trump". Casting her e-mail negligence as a "mistake" is well-known. The new inconvenience that she needed to explain away last night: her two-faced speech confession, kept secret until Wikileaked, was "So you need both a public and a private position." Her focus-grouped response: hey, it's exactly the same thing Lincoln did in that Spielberg movie to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed!

    Sullum rebuts:

    Assuming the Wikileaks excerpts are accurate (and Clinton is not claiming they're not), that is a serious distortion of what Clinton actually said in her speech. She was not talking about tailoring your arguments to your audience; she was talking about bribing legislators with promises of lucrative jobs, which she argued was justified by the importance of getting Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. More generally, she said such tactics, although "unsavory," are both necessary and appropriate, although it is best to conceal them from the public, since otherwise people might "get a little nervous."

    It is understandable that Clinton would prefer not to admit endorsing this Machiavellian view, especially given the broader implications of saying one thing publicly and another privately. But by pretending she did not say what she said, she only compounds the impression that she is slippery, two-faced, and untrustworthy.

    Had I been Jacob's editor, I might have suggested replacing "only compounds the impression" with "demonstrates yet again".

The Phony Campaign

2016-10-02 Update

As I type, PredictWise gives Hillary a 79% chance of winning (up a whopping 9 points from last week) and FiveThirtyEight calculates her probability at 67.3-74.4% (up … erm … also a lot from last week).

This week's Getty picture: the Trump campaign.

In phony news: Jill Stein maintains her firm lead, Trump continues to edge Hillary for the coveted second place spot, with hapless Gary Johnson far behind in fourth:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jill Stein" phony 3,920,000 +170,000
"Donald Trump" phony 1,320,000 +220,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 1,060,000 +241,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 142,000 +32,000

  • Most honest people would admit that both Major Party candidates display serious character flaws. But, as a bonus, their positions on major issues are also odious, dishonest, and/or ignorant.

    It's important, therefore, for Major Party sycophants to warn people away from those Other Party candidates. We've seen examples before; this week's hit job is from Michael Tomasky, writing in the Daily Beast: "Why No One Should Vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein".

    But here’s the catch. The libertarian live-and-let-live credo doesn’t apply just to young people who’d like to blow a doob in a public park (that’s how we put it back in my day, sonny, and I’m not going to make any phony attempt to be hip). It applies to polluting corporations. It applies to corporations and individuals who want to make unlimited dark money contributions to political campaigns. It applies to the forces pushing free trade. It applies to employers who don’t want to be nickel-and-dimed over paying their workers a minimum wage. It applies to gun manufacturers, and to the National Rifle Association.

    Discounting Tomasky's overheated, dishonest rhetoric, his shocking truth is that the Libertarian Party candidate holds (some) libertarian positions. Film at 11.

    And those stoners in the park couldn't possibly buy into that crap about personal liberty, limited government, and free markets! That's not cool, man.

  • Mad belabors the screamingly obvious (click for full size):

    My Little Phony

  • And Rudy Giuliani apparently agrees with Mad:

    AOL has some excerpts from Rudy's rude remarks:

    While Giuliani applauded the Republican nominee for showing "admirable restraint regarding Hillary Clinton's phony attempt at feminism," he revealed Trump was ready to attack Clinton for taking money from "countries that stone women."

    "You take money from countries that imprison women. You take money from countries where women can't drive," Giuliani continued as he laid into the former secretary of state. "You take millions and hundreds of millions of dollars from countries that treat women as chattel."

  • Amusingly: "Donald Trump Whines About ‘Phony’ Attack Ads That Feature Him Speaking His Own Words".

    “She said very bad things about me,” he said on Fox News. “Worse than what she said, she’s taking these phony ads, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on phony ads, and I think it’s a disgrace that she’s allowed [to do that].”

    Yeah, that whole First Amendment thing, it's a disgrace.

Last Modified 2019-01-07 5:24 AM EDT