Black Mass

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The IMDB trivia-gatherers count 254 f-bombs in this movie.

Johnny Depp plays the late, not particularly lamented, James "Whitey" Bulger; the movie documents his rise from a small-time South Boston hoodlum to a one-man crime wave… and then his fall. There's no great moral lesson to be learned from Whitey's character arc.

On the other hand, Whitey's corruption of his boyhood pal, FBI agent John Connolly, is a moral lesson, but it's pretty straightforward: don't be corrupt.

Along the way there's a lot of unglamorous violence. Depp does a fine job of portraying Bulger as a creepy unpredictable psycho. ("Probably not that much of a stretch for him.")

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Whitey's brother, Boston politician Billy Bulger. He's fine, of course, but doesn't look a bit like Billy. (Maybe the movie producers figured they had too many potato-faced actors in the movie already.)

URLs du Jour

2019-07-08

[Amazon Link]

  • A left-leaning Facebook friend posted a Forbes article with the startling headline: United States Spend [sic] Ten Times More On Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than Education.

    The author is James Ellsmoor, a "Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur". And he's a cheerleader for "sustainable development and renewable energy". But that headline! Could that possibly be true?

    Well, not really. Since I put some effort into analyzing it at Facebook, I might as well share here as well.

    The bare facts: a recent report from the International Monetary Fund which claims that the US subsidized fossil fuels to the tune of $649 billion in 2015. And compares this to (I assume) the annual budget of the Federal Department of Education, which is about $68 billion.

    So, ohmigod, right? Not really. First, the vast majority of education spending in the US takes place at the state/local level. As even Politifact notes we spend more than 'almost any other major country' on education: more than $620 billion dollars on K-12 education each year.

    So Ellsmoor is dramatically understating how much is spent on education to get his "Ten Times" claim.

    But what about that "fossil fuel subsidy". Isn't that (still) way too much money for the US to be spending?

    Well, here's the thing. It's not as if Uncle Stupid is writing huge checks to Exxon/Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell. There's no budget line item for "Fossil Fuel Subsidies". The IMF report Ellsmoor cites defines its "subsidy" figure as "fuel consumption times the gap between existing and efficient prices (i.e., prices warranted by supply costs, environmental costs, and revenue considerations)."

    In other words, the IMF study thinks fossil fuels are too cheap, and calls the difference between the actual price and their imaginary "efficient" price a "subsidy". Merits of that calculation aside, it's spurious to compare it with actual government expenditure.

    So the headline is (doubly) misleading, and (if we assume that Ellsmoor knows better) wildly dishonest.

    Forbes used to be better than this.


  • Bryan Caplan writes wisely at the Library of Economics and Liberty: Historically Hollow: The Cries of Populism. Specifically, he has zero patience with the present-day demagogues bitching about Amazon/Facebook/Google/etc.

    During [the last fifteen years], I’ve seen the tech industry dramatically improve human life all over the world.

    Amazon is simply the best store that ever existed, by far, with incredible selection and unearthly convenience.  The price: cheap.

    Facebook, Twitter, and other social media let us socialize with our friends, comfortably meet new people, and explore even the most obscure interests.  The price: free.

    Uber and Lyft provide high-quality, convenient transportation.  The price: really cheap.

    Skype is a sci-fi quality video phone.  The price: free.

    Youtube gives us endless entertainment.  The price: free.

    Google gives us the totality of human knowledge! The price: free.

    That’s what I’ve seen.  What I’ve heard, however, is totally different.  The populists of our Golden Age are loud and furious.  They’re crying about “monopolies” that deliver firehoses worth of free stuff.  They’re bemoaning the “death of competition” in industries (like taxicabs) that governments forcibly monopolized for as long as any living person can remember.  They’re insisting that “only the 1% benefit” in an age when half of the high-profile new businesses literally give their services away for free.   And they’re lashing out at businesses for “taking our data” – even though five years ago hardly anyone realized that they had data.

    Let me make explicit what is usually implicit: Read The Whole Thing.

    Speaking of explicit: Elizabeth Warren has made it an explicit part of her campaign to destroy all that. The other Democratic candidates aren't as definite, but make strong noises that way.

    And if you're looking to Donald Trump as someone who might appreciate Bryan Caplan's simple truths, think again.


  • Another article from the "bad news" half of the current Reason issue: Robby Soave noting that Socialism Is Back, and the Kids Are Loving It.

    For decades, democratic socialism was an old man's ideology. Its adherents were aging hippies, old-time union organizers, and folks who fondly remembered the pre-'60s left. As recently as 2013, the average member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) was 68 years old. Even today, the ideology's best-known spokesperson, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), is 77.

    But Sanders is suddenly an outlier. Today, most DSAers are young: The average member is 33. The ideology's second-best-known spokesperson, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), is just 29. And the DSA's ranks have grown larger as well as younger. Socialist gatherings buzz with youthful energy, and they are taking place all over the country.

    I have lost hope.

    Well, not really. I remember that my age cohort, the baby boomers, were supposed to usher in the "Greening of America". And now everyone's bashing us for … not doing that, I guess.


  • The Daily Wire interviews Donald Bolduc, who's in the running to replace Jeanne Shaheen in the US Senate. Parts I and II.

    (My pedantic old-man gripe: the headline refers to "Jeanne Shaheen’s NH Senate Seat". It's not her seat, Daily Wire. It's the state's seat; she's just sitting in it.)

    Anyway: this is not the worst possible thing for a Republican candidate to be saying about health care:

    This area in particular in Congress is broken and it's hurting the people of New Hampshire. It’s more expensive and failing our veterans; it's failing our elderly and our young, and everybody in between. Everyone in America must have affordable health care, and we must understand that one size does not fit all. So, the Democratic plan doesn't work from the beginning. It’s the leading cause of individual bankruptcy in New Hampshire. This just should not happen.

    What we need to really think about for affordable health care is lower costs for prescriptions – and I'm not talking about generic medications as a substitute either – transparency in billing, and recognizing pre-existing conditions is hugely important. We must innovate to ensure quality health care so we need competition and a free market.

    The other thing that I've been hearing a lot about is expanding and supporting a transferable health savings account (HSA) where people can invest in their own health care and take that health care from one job to the next, and it actually becomes their money. That, at some point in time, makes a heck of a lot more sense than what we're doing now.

    Select health care like you do auto insurance. Provide choices in health care like we do in auto insurance, and recognize that everyone's situation is different. Reward good behavior for people who stay healthy – and that's something that we don't do. Let’s incentivize this a little bit.

    The ACA and the Medicare-for-all that the Democrats are so in love with is socialized medicine at its best, and it is going to crush New Hampshire and America.

    Yeah, that thing about medical-caused bankruptcy is probably bogus. Still: not Jeanne Shaheen.


  • Here's a fact from blogger Ann Althouse that made my jaw drop, rocked my world, caused me to question the nature of physical reality: Did you know that Alan Arkin co-wrote "The Banana Boat Song"?. (Video of a very young Arkin singing it with his group at the link.)

    Well, OK, it's not quite that simple.

    Now why do they play it as a crowd sing-along at baseball games? The Wikipedia page does not enlighten me on that issue. Maybe "Me wan' go home" reflects a desire for the team to hurry up and finish the game?