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
2016-10-17
"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.