The Accountant

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

Netflix's auto-rating system thought I would like this movie, and they hit the nail on the head. It's an intelligent crime thriller, with stellar acting. (Two Oscar winners, Ben Affleck and J. K. Simmons. Two other Oscar nominees, Anna Kendrick and John Lithgow. And some folks who'll be recognized someday, I'm sure.)

Mr. Affleck plays "Christian Wolff" (an alias), a high-functioning autistic, and he's in the titular occupation. His claim to fame: he helps all sorts of people (often bad people) track down financial irregularities in their (often criminal) enterprises. That's an extremely lucrative, but also extremely dangerous, calling. So far he's survived. But a brash young DOJ agent is tasked with tracking him down. Also, his newest assignment for an ostensibly honest tech firm turns out to be as dangerous as the ones he accepts from mobsters.

The main narrative is punctured with flashbacks to "Wolff's" family history and influences. This doesn't seem necessary, until it is. Stay with it, and pay attention. This movie does a better job of tying up loose ends in unexpected fashion than any I've seen recently.

Freddy and Frederika

[Amazon Link]

Another pick off National Review's 2010 Conservative Lit 101 list. Which has not failed me yet, this one is excellent. (I've got one left to go, No Country for Old Men. Someday.)

It is a massive (550 page) tale, set in a slightly-alternate universe, of the English monarchy. Currently, Queen Phillipa sits on the throne, kept company by her husband Prince Paul. But she's getting up there in age, and there are many concerns about the heir apparent, Freddy, Prince of Wales. Who is married to the lovely, but large-snouted, Frederika.

One thing you'll note right away, is that the Royal Family is a bit … off. They are not without their admirable qualities, but their environment, isolated from both commoners and budgetary constraints, has made them psychologically odd. Freddy especially is given to inappropriate humor and wacky causes. (He became aware that most published books were about mammals. Out of a desire for uniformity, he importuned a publisher to make him general editor of a series of books not about mammals. And so it came to pass, each book containing his introduction: "Though the volume that follows is by a mammal, it is not about a mammal, and a jolly good thing, too.")

But there's a strong (and justified) concern that Freddy might not cut it as monarch. Enter the mysterious Mr. Neil, who has allegedly been advising the monarchy for ages. His prescription: Freddy and Frederika must travel incognito to the USA and persuade them to rejoin the mother country. Piece of cake, right?

Well, although it takes until page 155, they eventually parachute into America (specifically, a fetid New Jersey swamp), and their quest begins. More, I shall not reveal.

The book is very funny, with frequent dodges into hilarity. The author, Mark Helprin, is not above low-brow humor (there's a lot of "Who's On First"-style dialogue), but you'll get generous amounts of middle- and high-brow entertainment as well. But how can you resist cracking a grin when Freddy's mistress's name turns out to be "Lady Phoebe Boylingehotte"?

Not that it's all funny. There are some dark turns near the end. All in all, it's a moving work as well as a comic one.

I kept thinking: "They should make this into a thirteen-part miniseries. And cast it with great British actors." Sadly, it's hard to see how such an effort could do justice to the book.

URLs du Jour

2017-09-18

Proverbs 20:2 reminds us that arbitrary tyranny wasn't a bed of roses:

2 A king’s wrath strikes terror like the roar of a lion;
    those who anger him forfeit their lives.

Note: the Proverbialist doesn't really see anything wrong with that state of affairs; it's simply the way things were. Don't poke the lion.

Nowadays, we're much less likely to worry about random violence from irked governmental officials. (But you still have to watch out for the IRS.)

Instead, you have to be careful not to anger the crowd of the perpetually offended. They will mess you up.


■ For example, the Google LFOD alert rang of an Adam Liptak NYT front page article: Cake Is His ‘Art.’ So Can He Deny One to a Gay Couple? "He" is Jack Phillips, operating Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado. He'd prefer not to construct wedding cakes celebrating gay marriages, and that case is going to the Supreme Court. And one of the presented arguments is one we've seen before:

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group that represents Mr. Phillips, said in a brief that the Supreme Court has long recognized a First Amendment right not to be forced to speak. In 1977, for instance, the court ruled that New Hampshire could not require people to display license plates bearing the state’s motto, “Live Free or Die.”

Anger the Progressive Lion and you'll find yourself fighting for your livelihood, if not your life.


NR's Kyle Smith piles on the literary stylings of Her Royal Entitledness: The Real Title of Hillary’s Book: Why I Should’ve Won.

[…] the book only makes sense when you realize that What Happened is a fake title, a P. T. Barnum–style ruse to draw in the suckers. The real subject of this 500-page chunk of self-congratulation and blame-shifting — its real title — is “Why I Should Have Won.” If Hollywood is a place where you peel off the fake tinsel only to find the real tinsel underneath, Hillary Clinton is homo politicus all the way through. It’s all she has. It’s all she is. She earned the Oval Office, dammit, and she wants you to know it. Peel off the phony, power-addled political hack, and all you’ll find is the real, power-addled political hack underneath.

A telling factoid about the book in which Hillary promised to "let her guard down": there are "two pages about her hairdressers, but only two clipped paragraphs about that time she collapsed on 9/11".


■ Arnold Kling takes pains to analyze political faction dispassionately. He counts Four political parties in the fractious US today. And I am in…

4. Conservatarians, meaning conservative-flavored libertarians or libertarian-flavored conservatives. I don’t count the fringe folks on the alt-right–they are electorally irrelevant and out of the picture. There are some Republicans in Congress who are conservatarians, but not any that I know of on the alt-right. Conservatarians worry about unsustainable fiscal policy, the power of the regulatory state, and a loss of key values, such as individual responsibility and respect for freedom of speech.

None of the four parties are close to a majority, Kling believes, which means that there will be a lot of nose-holding in our future.


■ Scott Sumner has some New Hampshire-related content at his Money Illusion blog. Poverty does not cause social problems (and the cream rises to the top). The odd factoid: The two states with the highest rates of opioid fatalities are West Virginia, one of the poorest states and New Hampshire, one of the richest.

Of course it’s silly to argue that affluence causes addiction—correlation doesn’t prove causation. But it’s equally silly to suggest that people in West Virginia become drug addicts because they are poor. There are a billion poor people (by American standards) in China, and very few are heroin addicts.

Scott doesn't actually explain New Hampshire's opioid problem (West Virginia's either). But he knocks off the economic explanation pretty handily.


■ The LFOD alert also chimed for this NH1 news report: NH becomes 22nd state to decriminalize marijuana.

“The governor and Legislature both deserve a lot of credit for moving the state forward with this commonsense reform,” said Matt Simon, the Manchester-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Unlike his predecessors, who opposed similar proposals, Gov. (Chris) Sununu appears to understand that ‘Live Free or Die’ is more than just a motto on a license plate.

Now if we could just expand it beyond pot smoking…


■ The Caledonian Record is "a family-owned, independent daily newspaper serving six counties in Northeastern Vermont and Northern New Hampshire." And our local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, could take a few editorial lessons from it. I invite you to read: Tale of Two States

The United States Census Bureau released income data this week and a couple things jumped out at us.

First, the highest median household income in the nation is being earned in New Hampshire. Granite State households are bringing in $76,260/year - 30-percent more than the national median of $59,039.

Second, Vermont is the only state in the country that suffered a rise in our poverty rate. Data shows that over 71,000 Vermonters are now living below the poverty line ($12,228 for individuals & $24,399 for families)… 10,000 more than last year. By way of comparison, New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate in the country, at 6.9 percent.

And of course…

With their “Live Free or Die” ethos turbo-charging their robust economy, New Hampshire taxes neither sales nor income.

Vermont has a lower opioid death rate, though. So they have that going for them.