Stone Cold

[Amazon Link]

The 2014 copyright on this book tells me I'm a mere 4 years behind on my C.J. Box reading. I'll catch up before I die. I hope.

It's a Joe Pickett book, with a strong appearance from plays-by-his-own-rules Nate Romanowski. Nate has fallen in with an (um) interesting gig: he's seemingly on assignment as a freelance vigilante, bringing rough justice to bad people the ordinary system hasn't been able to punish.

Meanwhile, Joe is up in the mountains with Dave "Comic Relief" Farkus, trying to retrieve a Wyoming Game and Fish pickup left stranded near a mountaintop in a previous book. When, out of the blue, he's called in to meet with colorful Wyoming Governor Rulon. (He's the kind of governor you wish your state had.) Joe's back on secret-agent duty, looking to investigate some weird, possibly nefarious, goings on in remote (and fortunately fictional) Medicine Hat County. Specifically, there's this guy, Wolfgang Templeton, that might be up to no good.

Keep a low profile, Joe is advised. Stick with your cover story, just observe what's going on. And, oh yeah, the last guy sent up there died in an "accidental fire".

Needless to say, Joe doesn't keep a low profile. And finds himself in deep doo-doo. Fortunately, Joe has learned a lot about survival among desperate people over the years.

Meanwhile, Joe's daughter, Sheridan, is an RA at her University of Wyoming dorm. And one of the students in her charge is exhibiting strange behavior. As if his high school yearbook picture had "Most Likely to Be a Mass Shooter" caption. That's also suspenseful.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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

It's impressively acted, cleverly written. Didn't care for the ending. It was nominated for seven Oscars, and won two: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor.

The Best Actress, Frances McDormand, is Mildred, about as far from Marge Gunderson as you can get and still identify as female. She's difficult, and events have made her more so: months back, her daughter was raped and murdered, and there's been zero progress in the investigation. So to draw attention to this miscarriage, she posts three … well, you see the movie's title. They are designed to let others feel her outrage. (And also make up for the guilt she feels.) The local cops are unhappy, because they know there's no magic spell that can turn zero leads into more than zero leads.

The main local cop, Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), is somewhat sympathetic, but he's got pancreatic cancer with a grim prognosis. One of his deputies, Dixon (Sam Rockwell, the other Oscar winner), is a real loose cannon, under a cloud of a torture allegation. (And, give subsequent events, that's an entirely credible allegation.)

The movie proceeds with considerable bad language, very black humor, occasional violence, shocking plot twists, and so on. And then… well, did I mention that I didn't care for the ending?

I searched for enlightenment using Google, and happened upon a New Yorker pre-Oscar essay on the movie by Tim Parks The Feel-Good Fallacies of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. Keeping in mind that "feel-good fallacies" you might share with a New Yorker writer might be the null set, I think he put his finger on something:

How does a film so empty of emotional intelligence, so devoid of any remotely honest observation of the society it purports to serve, sweep the board on prizes? This in a time when intolerance and gun violence are rife, when both would seem to demand a more serious response. “Three Billboards” gives us a world in which cleverness is all-important. All of the confrontations involve quips; the characters are intelligent only insofar as they know how to attack one another. But it goes deeper. In one of the few moments when the film attempts to suggest real grief on its heroine’s part, Mildred is sitting on the ground, having just witnessed the destruction of her billboards. Beaten, she weeps. Her head drops, she looks at her pink slippers, and the clever script, by the extremely clever [screenwriter/director Martin] McDonagh, has this distraught woman start a hell of a clever conversation between the two fluffy creatures on her feet about what she should do. Grief quickly dissolves into grim comedy, with one slipper deciding that the police had better watch out for Mildred’s response, and the other challenging her to live up to this bold claim. It is at once one of the slickest and sickest moments in a movie that constantly encourages its audience to believe that it is watching something serious while it is actually being fed a diet of eye candy, violence, and standard repartee.

Ouch! Part of this is Park's feeling that Our Times Call For … some different movies, I guess.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • It is difficult to argue with Proverbs 11:2:

    2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
        but with humility comes wisdom.

    This is almost the famous "pride goeth before a fall". Usually, however, that bit of wisdom is credited to Proverbs 16:18. The humility recommendation is a bonus here.

  • OK, just one more P.J. O'Rourke article from American Consequences. This one's a cheer: Who Do We Appreciate? The Electoral College.

    The operation of the Electoral College is complicated, but the effect is simple: It gives the parts of America with a thin head-count more say over who becomes president than they would have if only thick heads were counted.

    However, before we discuss whether this is a good thing or a bad thing (although it’s obviously a good thing), let us first not discuss the 2016 presidential election.

    While it’s true that a certain person – who insists on repeatedly, constantly, endlessly reminding us – won the “popular vote” (or not quite, since she got 48.2%), it’s also true that she was, as it were, trumped by another person in the Electoral College, 304 to 227.

    BUT… The two of them knew the rules and campaigned accordingly. If they had been running to gain a majority of the popular vote instead of a majority of the Electoral College vote, they would have conducted different campaigns. Worse campaigns. Campaigns aimed at the lowest common denominator of voters – at the masses, the mob.

    The winner-take-all feature of electoral college votes isn't exactly "fair". Example: in New Hampshire, Hillary beat Trump 47.62% to 47.25%, less than 3K votes out of 743K cast. But Hillary got all four electoral college votes from the state. Hence, the 52.38% of voters who didn't vote for her… got nothing for that effort.

    Not that it matters, but while I was looking that up, I discovered that Reform Party candidate Rocky De La Fuente got 677 votes here, good enough for sixth place (behind Hillary, Trump, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and write-in Evan McMullin).

    This year, Rocky—I am not making this up—"filed as a candidate for US Senate in the 2018 elections in seven states, and remains in the running in six." (Specifically: Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.) Interesting! What would happen if he won more than one?

  • Kevin D. Williamson writes at NRO about Asymmetrical Capitalism.

    I have for many years argued that most people would be enthusiastic about capitalism if not for their interactions with a small number of businesses that unfortunately occupy critical positions in the everyday economy: banks and credit-card companies, insurance companies, cable providers, airlines, and a few others. Most of those companies have a few things in common. They tend to be located in industries that are heavily regulated, which leads to consolidation and weak competition. They generally are located at choke points, meaning that many people in the ordinary course of affairs are obliged to do business with them in order to simply get on with their lives. And they often are located at the intersection of big government and financial services. And in almost all cases, they put consumers on the losing end of an asymmetrical relationship.

    Here’s what I mean by asymmetrical: If I’m at Walmart and I’m told there’s going to be a six-hour delay at check-out, I flip the metaphorical bird to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, drop my purchases where I stand, and mosey on down the road to Target or AutoZone or Academy or whichever store it is that has what I want. Walmart and I have the right kind of free-market relationship, because we both have the power of exit: It’s easy for Walmart to say “No” if I want the company to start stocking Armani or to cut the price of bananas by 20 percent, and it’s easy for me to walk away if Walmart isn’t giving me what I want at a price I like. That’s why companies such as Walmart and McDonald’s — and other firms in markets that have lots of buyers and lots of sellers making lots of transactions — cannot simply raise prices or unilaterally set terms.

    Spoiler: KDW suggests that the odds be evened somewhat by giving consumers more power of exit.

  • You might have heard about it. Or maybe not: The Mass Shooting Nobody Will March Against. Jazz Shaw at Hot Air:

    In the pre-dawn hours yesterday [June 17], the nation experienced yet another mass shooting. One dead, 22 injured, including a 13-year-old boy. It took place at the crowded Art All Night Trenton festival in New Jersey. To their limited credit, a couple of cable news outlets mentioned the shooting in their coverage yesterday and this morning. The New York Times wrote a rather lengthy article about it, though it showed up on page A-17. It received similarly “not prominent” coverage in other major papers. The Associated Press took a fairly deep dive on it, but you need to search around a bit on their website to find it.

    Why the reluctance to wave the bloody shirt? Doesn't fit the narrative. Perps and victims were the wrong color. Weapons weren't those scary-looking ones. The dead guy had been recently released from prison, where he served 14 years of an 18-year sentence for aggravated manslaughter.

  • A bit of cheery news is related by Scott Johnson at Power Line: SPLC Hate Cult Pays Up. Specifically, $3.375 Million to the (self-described) "counter-extremism organisation" Quilliam International and its founder. From the press release:

    The Southern Poverty Law Center, Inc. has apologized to Quilliam and its founder Maajid Nawaz for wrongly naming them in its controversial Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. In a public statement, the SPLC’s president, Richard Cohen, explained that “Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have made valuable and important contributions to public discourse, including by promoting pluralism and condemning both anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamist extremism.”

    Can't help but wonder: How do your average SPLC contributors feel about their money being used to compensate victims of the SPLC's reckless sliming?

  • Speaking of hate cults: A recent WaPo op-ed was provocatively/wistfully titled Why Can't We Hate Men?. The author, Suzanna Danuta Walters, is "a professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University".

    The wags at the College Fix took a gander at Northeastern's anti-"hate" policies, and said, hey, it could be amusing to get the college to weigh in on this. And: ‘Hate has no place here’: University responds to prof’s call to hate men. Or, mostly, doesn't respond.

    It is unclear if Waters discriminates against male students who enroll in her classes. Numerous Northeastern faculty members and officials, including Title IX coordinator Mark Jannoni and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

    Reached via email, campus spokeswoman Shannon Nargi emailed The College Fix a statement that simultaneously seemed to denounce Waters while defending her call for hatred as a “controversial idea.”

    “Northeastern University steadfastly supports a safe and inclusive learning and working environment in which hate has no place,” the statement reads. “The university has more than 1,000 faculty members whose viewpoints span the entire political spectrum. Consistent with our unwavering commitment to academic freedom, the opinions of an individual professor do not reflect the views of the university or its leadership.”

    Well, there you go. Can't help but think that any student-identifying-as-male enrolled in Prof Suzanna's class might be a tad concerned about fair treatment, though.

    I don't usually go to Rate My Professors, but Prof Suzanna's score is pretty dismal there (1.8, compared to 3.58 for the average Northeastern instructor). A recent comment:

    Do you want a good grade in her class? Then, agreeing with her is mandatory. It is probably the best if you just avoid taking a class from her.

    I will keep it in mind.