Commuter Rail Flim-Flam

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan devoted a portion of her recent inaugural address to advocating a commuter rail line "from Boston to Nashua and Manchester".

We must find a consensus way forward on rail that will build on our many advantages and help set the stage for a new generation of economic growth by keeping more of our young people right here in the Granite State.

We'll pause briefly to note the cognitive dissonance involved in "keeping more of our young people right here in the Granite State" by building infrastructure to get them to/from jobs outside the Granite State.

As a followup, New Hampshire Public Radio interviewed Thomas Mahon, identified as the "chair of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority." This agency recently dumped $3.7 million into a "feasibility study" (link goes to their spiffy website).

Note: this most recent study should not be confused with either the study done in 2007 nor the study done in 2010. Those were different studies, and … the only thing these folks like more than trains is composing yet another study about trains.

The NHPR interviewer, God bless him, actually asked a pointed question:

But even in that best case scenario, the rail plan would not pay for itself in terms of passengers. How do you make the case for rail if it can’t for itself? Why do it?

Mahon's response could be characterized as hot air and handwaving:

It’s an investment in the state of New Hampshire. It’s an investment in the people of New Hampshire. It’s an investment in the businesses of New Hampshire and the development that will be there. The economic and financial impacts of that would be significant. If you look at other places that have instituted commuter rail, you can see that there’s a high level of activity around the stations. There’s redevelopment and development in those areas. It would mean 5,600 jobs over the first ten years and then 1,700 jobs a year thereafter.

A couple of NHPR commenters take the interviewer to task for even having the temerity to ask the question. But commenter "John Dough" (I would guess that's not his actual name):

Who actually believes that a business that needs 5,600 workers to transport 2,600 commuters [the study's best case estimate of new daily riders] is a smart way to spend $250,000,000 in taxpayer money? The same morons who spent $3,700,000 in taxpayer money to pay a consultant to tell them that's a smart thing to do.

Or: it's not enough to claim that it's an "investment". Mr. Mahon, can you show that it's a good investment? I don't think so.

I know I've asked this before, but: Why is it that people that harangue us about "trickle down economics" often seem to be the same people who are total suckers for the argument that dumping millions of tax dollars into a government-managed boondoggle will magically generate "redevlopment and development" ushering us into a golden world of prosperity?

You should not believe the quarter-billion dollar price tag, by the way. Randal O'Toole references a study that found that "the average North American rail project cost more than 40 percent more than the original approved cost". (And the study's author believes those underestimates resulted from "strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying.")

You may also want to check out this Charlie Arlinghaus op-ed:

Public policy is not about bright shiny objects. Too often politicians are so distracted by the shininess of an idea that they forget what their policy goal is. The classic example of this is the glassy eyed fascination so many people have with the romance surrounding trains. People think trains are really cool so let’s get one. It doesn’t really matter why. The excitement around the vehicle obscures the policy goal and the possible solutions.

I'd like to think that rail advocates were even slightly more hard-headed than Charlie's caricature of them, but… what "problem" can commuter rail solve that can't be solved cheaper and more flexibly with buses?

More generally: is commuting 2600 bodies daily fifty miles to a central hub really an innovative 21st-century proposal? Is that really the way the future is going to do things?

The Seven Deadly Virtues

[Amazon Link]

So the title of the book is The Seven Deadly Virtues and there are seventeen chapters. Apparently nobody told editor Jonathan V. Last that there would be math. And I don't know why Owen Wilson is on the cover.

Those quibbles aside, it's pretty good! Mr. Last persuaded 17 other conservative writers to each pen an essay on (in all but one case) a single virtue. Why so many? Well, first there are the classic virtues noticed by Plato (I'll put Mr. Last's assigned writer next to each):

  • Temperance [Andrew Stiles]
  • Prudence [Andrew Ferguson]
  • Courage [Michael Graham]
  • Justice [Rob Long]

Christian theology adds three more…

  • Faith [Larry Miller]
  • Hope [David Burge, aka Iowahawk]
  • Charity [Mollie Hemingway]

And to pad things out, Last's writers also opine on "everyday" virtues:

  • Chastity [Matt Labash]
  • Simplicity [James Lileks]
  • Thrift [Joe Queenan]
  • Honesty [Rita Koganzon]
  • Fellowship [Christine Rosen]
  • Forbearance [Sonny Bunch]
  • Integrity [Jonah Goldberg]
  • Curiosity [Christopher Caldwell]
  • Perseverence [Christopher Buckley]

If you're counting, that's 16: add in Mr. Last's introduction, and P.J. O'Rourke's overview of the first two batches, "The Seven Deadly Virtues and the New York Times".

Famous folk, all except… I had never heard of Rita Koganzon. Her back-of-the-book-bio shows why: she's a mere grad student (albeit at Harvard) and her publications are in serious journals I don't read.

I'm a little surprised that Christopher Buckley made the cut, due to his 2008 endorsement of Obama and his subsequent separation from his dad's magazine, National Review. (This also led to a wicked and delightful Iowahawk parody, so I'm also a bit surprised that Buckley agreed to appear in the same book as the Hawk.)

The essays range (in my subjective opinion) from superb to good. And the humor content varies from (usually) high to (a couple cases) undetectable. Some writers seem to stray from their topic. For example, Mr. Lileks on "Simplicity" takes off on his (well-known, if you know about Mr. Lileks at all) habit of picking up ephemera. (He ties it back up by the end of the essay.)

An adapted version of Jonah Goldberg's contribution can be read here.

Consumer note: my generous family gave me the hardcover for Christmas, but it's a tad pricey ($20.57 at Amazon as I type). I would recommend the Kindle version at $9.99.

The Equalizer

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

So this is pretty much a by-the-numbers action flick. But it's got Denzel Washington as the hero, and that's enough to raise it up to four point zero stars right there.

Mr. Washington plays Robert McCall, living a quiet existence in a downscale Boston community (Chelsea/East Boston or somewhere in that area). He takes the Red Line to work at a big-box home improvement store. (Actually, according to IMDB, a defunct Lowe's in Haverhill.) He's affable enough, but essentially a loner.

He's got insomnia, which makes him a regular customer at a seedy all-night diner, where he drinks tea (made from a teabag he brings from home) and reads his dead wife's novels. This leads him to meet "Teri" (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who has ambitions to leave her sordid life. (The guy playing Teri's pimp, David Meunier, previously played Johnny Crowder on Justified; pretty much the same sleazy character, except with a Russian accent instead of a Kentucky accent.)

Teri's ambitions are hindered by a brutal beating from Russian mobster/pimp. Which leads McCall to help out, first peaceably, then not so much. It turns out that McCall has (as Liam Neeson would put it) "a very particular set of skills", and he finds himself at war with the entire Russian mob. The Russian mob should have known better.

The Phony Campaign

2015-01-25 Update

[phony baloney]

Our arbitrary Betfair-based selection criteria once again produces the same phonies. Mitt's huge Google hit count last week was a glitch as suspected, and he's come crashing back to earth:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 749,000 +214,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 386,000 -3,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 385,000 -6,495,000
"Rand Paul" phony 159,000 -5,000
"Chris Christie" phony 121,000 -2,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 91,000 -2,800
"Marco Rubio" phony 84,300 +1,200
"Scott Walker" phony 76,800 +2,200

  • The Washington Post's Jen Rubin thought Romney was dreamy four years ago. But now, not so much, as she gives advice to Jeb:

    But above all, [Jeb] needs to be himself — a wonkish, optimistic, forward-looking conservative. Candidates who aren’t themselves eventually get into trouble, as Romney did in 2008 coming out as a fire-breathing conservative and Paul has done in insisting his foreign policy is Reagan-esque when it is more Kucinich-esque. Romney’s entry into the race by announcing his strategy (run to the right of Bush, care about the poor) was so blatantly phony it serves as an example of what not to do. If Romney wants to mimic Huckabee on gay marriage, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on immigration and Paul on the Federal Reserve, that should be of no concern. (Is Romney going to threaten a trade war with China as he did last time?) Romney will talk his way right out of the establishment circles that are his main source of support if he goes down that road. Bush, by contrast, can say he is not severely conservative, or libertarian conservative, but a conservative with a reform agenda. If that’s not good enough, he won’t win the race. Worse things — like losing your soul and respect of others — can happen.

    I demand solid proof that any politician in the race has not lost their soul or respect of others.

  • Jonathan V. Last has a good article about Mitt's presidential ambitions.

    Having followed Romney around in both 2008 and 2012, I was always convinced that the odds of him running in 2016 were high. For one thing, the man has a decades-long history of running for office, over and over, even after voters reject him. He’s a career politician without a “career” in politics. (He was an active governor of Massachusetts just long enough to build Romneycare, and after that he spent the rest of his term preparing for his first presidential bid.) He has never in his life—not once—shown a willingness to take “no” for an answer from the electorate. Running for office is what he does.

    The other thing that struck me was that Romney really wanted to be president. A lot. The reasons for this desire weren’t immediately obvious. He has—clearly—very few deeply-held political convictions. He has—again, clearly—no Big Ideas about ways in which he wants to lead the country. The sense I always got (and this might be incorrect—I’m not his rabbi) was that Mitt Romney wanted to be president because he wanted to be president. And when the impulse to run is yoked to personal ambition and removed from politics, philosophy, or the world of ideas—well, that sort of yearning dies hard. Which is why, in January of 2012, I started saying that if Romney wasn’t elected president, I expected he would try again in 2016.

    Very insightful, RTWT.

  • An amusing op-ed from Patrick Walker that appears at "", and as near as I can tell, nowhere else. Mr. Walker does stridency as only a true left-winger can:

    If Democrats are taking progressives' pulse after Obama's all-too-typical State of the Union address, they should be deeply troubled about their party's future. To put the matter in a nutshell, Democrats are now staking their electoral hopes on Elizabeth Warren's progressive message, but leaving presidential policy-making in the hands of corporate-owned faux progressives like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The result is that Obama and Clinton are forced (within the limits imposed by their corporate puppet-masters) to babble Warren's progressive rhetoric--while no serious progressive believes them for a heartbeat.

    In other words, when you make phony progressives your party's presidential face, you're pretty damn sure to lose face with progressives who are clearly the real deal. A brief but wide sampling of progressive reactions to Obama's SOTU address, culled from articles published on the Common Dreams website, forcefully illustrates just how little real progressives are buying Obama's threadbare progressive shtick. For those reactions, read here, here, here, and here. Even more scathingly skeptical is this response from the leftist Black Agenda Report.

    Elsewhere, Patrick reveals his dream Dem ticket would be Senators Warren and Sanders. I imagine just about every GOP pol would agree.

  • A bit of amusement resulted from a Hugh Hewitt radio interview with Scott Walker. Hewitt brought up the issue of Walker's lack of a college degree. Walker's response:

    I say I’m like the majority of people in America. I’m someone who went to college, had the opportunity in my senior year to go and take a job full-time, which was not the only reason I went to college, but one of the biggest reasons was to get a job. And the American Red Cross offered me a job my senior year, and I took it, thinking someday, maybe, I’d go back. But a few years later, I met my wonderful wife, Tonette, a year after that, we had Matthew, the year after that, we had Alex. And now like a lot of folks in America, you know, your family and your job take the time away from you from finishing it up. But I don’t think anybody, and I’ve got a Master’s degree in taking on the big government special interests, and I think that is worth more than anything else that anybody can point to.

    Now I bolded five words there, but only because they seem to have been the only words heard by Mark E Andersen at the DailyKos. Who blustered:

    Gov. Walker was unable to finish college. There are plenty of websites and blogs out there full of accusations about why he left Marquette, but we're not exploring that today. This is about how he has the audacity to suggest that he has a master’s degree when he does not even have a bachelor’s degree.

    There's more at the link. Kids, the lesson here is: never let your bile-fueled hatred of a politician lead you to such public obtuse foolishness.

    The Twitchy kids accumulated a number of amusing tweets in response. A good one from a Pun Salad favorite:

Last Modified 2019-01-09 6:38 AM EDT

Insights du Jour - 2015-01-20

  • Just before I cut out for the long weekend, James Taranto provided a handy rebuttal to those willing to suppress "hate speech". RTWT if you can, but here's the key paragraph:

    The trouble with policing hate speech is that without double standards there are no standards at all. As a practical matter, what defines hate speech is not the feeling that motivates the speaker, which can be policed only through totalitarian means if at all. It is, rather, the offense taken by the listener. The best definition of hate speech is “speech I hate”—the opposite of an objective standard.

  • As I type, President Obama's penultimate State of the Union address is scheduled for tonight. Recycling a bit of Kevin D. WIlliamson's wisdom from last year:

    The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.

    "Other than that, though, it's fine!"

  • Your insightful tweet du jour is from the immortal Nick Searcy:

    That's 10pm on FX, and I'll be there.

Last Modified 2019-01-09 6:38 AM EDT

The Wind Rises

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

A recent offering from the genius Japanese animation folks Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It's a (highly fictionalized) biographical drama about Jirô Horikoshi, the primary aeronautical engineer behind the WW2 "Zero" Japanese fighter plane. (Which was used to kill a lot of Americans, but Jirô gets a "Werner von Braun" pass for this.)

Growing up in early-20th century Japan, young Jirô is obsessed with airplanes, but his lousy eyesight precludes him from being a pilot. Fortunately (since this is a Miyazaki flick) his future path comes to him in a dream, where he meets his hero, aircraft designer Italian Count Caproni, who doesn't actually pilot his planes either. Jirô sets doggedly on his path.

The story follows Jirô through his education and employment with Mitsubishi. Along the way, Jirô meets Nahoko, the love of his life, during a train trip to Tokyo. Which is disrupted by the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, probably the deadliest in Japan's history; Jirô behaves heroically, saving Nahoko and her caregiver. Various other things happen, including some bad/sad things. It's a little unfocused, much like real life is.

All this is charmingly and gorgeously rendered on the screen, because it's Studio Ghibli. It's a bit of a departure from their usual pure-fantasy genre, but it worked for me.

Last Modified 2015-02-02 5:45 AM EDT

MLK@UNH: 2015

[Amazon Link]

It has become something of a Pun Salad tradition to check out how the University Near Here is celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. And what better day to do that than the Official Federal Holiday marking the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.?

[Note: since it is a tradition, there's quite a bit of self-plagiarism recycling of previous years' content in this article.]

Not that today is the birthday: that inconveniently fell a few days ago, January 15. But who wants a day off in the middle of the week?

And, not that UNH is celebrating MLK Day today, or even back on the 15th. We were between semesters last week, and even the U isn't silly enough to schedule serious events on a holiday. Instead, MLK-related events will be held between January 28 and February 22.

As always: the announced schedule is full of the usual thoughtless gasbaggery:

The goal of the 2015 MLK Celebration is to engage members of the campus and local community in conversations that recognize the diversity of experiences and viewpoints of people with intersecting identities, such as those who identify as inter-racial, inter-cultural or of mixed religious background. As we seek to live Dr. King's legacy, we seek to broaden our understandings of the intricacies of our roots.

That's just two sentences. When you are "inclusive", your primary prose style directive is: "include" as many words as you possibly can. Also pluralize unnecessarily, because that makes you sound more profound. So: "understanding" becomes "understandings"; "intricacy" becomes "intricicies".

And about the "intersecting identities" thing: this is a term of art among the grievance industry, specifically hatched from the feminist sociological theory of intersectionality:

The theory suggests that—and seeks to examine how—various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic injustice and social inequality. Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society, such as racism, sexism, biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, and belief-based bigotry, do not act independently of one another. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the "intersection" of multiple forms of discrimination.

You thought you had just one identity? Oh, you poor individualist troglodyte. In fact, "you" aren't really "you" in this tedious telling: "you" are simply an endlessly pigeonholed product of your "gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, and other axes of identity".

But there's no specific evidence that our UNH writers meant to drag in (or were even aware of) all that ideological claptrap. Instead, they imply it simply means people with parents of different backgrounds.

That includes one of this year's invited speakers: Natasha Trethewey, a past United States Poet Laureate, and a Pulitzer Prize winner. If you would like to check out some of her work, Google "Selected Poems by Natasha Trethewey, and click through to the NYT. Ms. Trethewey was an invited speaker last year, but her event was cancelled due to weather. UNH could do worse (and has).

Also coming is Kane "Novakane" Smego, a "nationally-recognized spoken word poet". A YouTube sample:

Catchy! Undeniable talent! But a fast-talking charismatic out-of-towner talking in rhyme… where have I seen that before? Oh yeah:

Last Modified 2019-10-29 5:23 AM EDT

Deep Shadow

[Amazon Link]

Number 17 in Randy Wayne White's "Doc Ford" series. If you look over at Amazon, you'll see that a number of readers were unimpressed, but I liked it quite a bit, sue me. The premise is ludicrous, but if I stopped reading books with ludicrous premises, I would eliminate a lot of items in my TBR pile. Which might be good, but I'd also have a lot less fun.

The story is that one of Doc's Dinkins Bay acquaintences, cantankerous Arlis Futch, thinks he has a lead on Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista's lost "treasure plane", which was rumored to contain vast riches looted from the Cuban treasury, and vanished on its way off the island in 1959: could it have crashed in a small inland Florida lake? Futch thinks it's likely enough to purchase the lake and the surrounding land. He enlists SCUBA-skilled Doc to go exploring, and they bring along Doc's hippie friend Tomlinson, and the Native American/juvenile delinquent introduced in the previous book, Will Chaser.

Multiple disasters strike: the lake is unexpectedly delicate, and a catastrophic underwater avalanche traps Tomlinson and Will with their dwindling air supply.

In addition, a couple of ex-cons, fresh off a robbery/murder/rape spree, just happen to encounter the lake at the same time. They are desperate and violent, but also greedy. So Doc has serious problems above-water as well.

Could it get worse? Yes it could: the area is legendary for harboring a great, mysterious beast. Much worse than your average Florida snakes, gators, and crocs. That legend turns out to true enough to menace both the good guys and bad.

It's too long, a very common malady among contractually-obligated popular novelists. But you'll learn a lot about Florida lake geology, so that's a plus. I'm very fond of the Will Chaser character, and I hope to see him again. Final quibble: I would have liked to see a map, because I got kind of lost relying solely on text descriptions of the complex geography.

The Phony Campaign

2015-01-18 Update

[phony baloney]

Mitt jumped into a huge phony lead this week. It could be due to people dusting off their old pages from 2012 and 2008:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Mitt Romney" phony 6,880,000 +6,575,000
"Jeb Bush" phony 535,000 -12,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 389,000 +5,000
"Rand Paul" phony 164,000 +6,000
"Chris Christie" phony 123,000 ---
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 93,800 +200
"Marco Rubio" phony 83,100 -3,300
"Scott Walker" phony 74,600 +3,000

… or it could be one of those oddball transient Google Glitches. We'll see.

  • At The Week, Mark Ambinder laid out the positioning strategies for each of the GOP "mainstream" candidates, Jeb, Mitt, and Chris. For Jeb:

    Bush hopes that voters much prefer a real human with conservative instincts than a phony conservative with occasional flashes of human-ness. He will risk losing the primary to win the general election.

    Implied: Mitt and Chris are big phonies. I think this means phoniness will be a trending issue in the coming months. Good news for us!

  • At the left-wing Mother Jones, David Corn detailed the intertwinings between Mitt's business and politics, as exemplified by Solamere Capital, run by son Tagg Romney, with which Mitt has been more actively involved post-2012.

    It gets pretty far-fetched at times:

    One of Solamere's initial investments was in a North Carolina financial-services firm operated by former officials of a financial company run by Allen Stanford, who was later convicted of running a massive Ponzi scheme. These officials had come from the Charlotte office of the Stanford Financial Group, which had been closed by the feds for selling phony certificates of deposit.

    Note there's no claim that the "former officials" did anything wrong; they just once worked for a guy that did. And Corn is quick to deploy the usual bullshit clichés about Romney's investments in companies that "downsized and shifted jobs overseas".

    On the other hand, Corn's article does illuminate the ease with which financial success comes to the politically well-connected. (And to his credit, he has in the past noted Hillary's comfy crony capitalist ties as well.)

  • Speaking of Hillary, America Rising PAC examined her "Phony Populism On Free Trade" shortly before the elections:

    A peculiar thing happens every time Hillary Clinton decides to run for President; her views on free trade start sliding left and she calls for a “time out” on free trade agreements. We can only assume that the campaign for Gary Peters (D-MI) saw this and figured she would make the perfect surrogate for him. After all, Peters voted against every trade agreement that came up for a vote during his time in Congress and opposes attempts to give President Obama trade promotion authority. Even those Hillary Clinton backed as Secretary of State.

    America Rising PAC is dedicated to opposition research on Democrats, hiring "trackers" who "attempt to shoot video of every single public utterance the candidates' make, in hopes of catching gaffes and flip-flops and collecting an archive that can be mined for hypocrisy and errors." Sounds as if they could be a rich source for us over the coming campaign season.

  • For example, news of (a real actual thing): Hillary: The Coloring Book caused them to imagine its "missing pages", for example:

    [wat dif?]

    Seems as if they might have a sense of humor.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

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

This is one of those movies I think of as aimed squarely at the PBS demographic. Telltale signs:

  • Helen Mirren

  • France

  • Multiculturalism. In this case: Indian, as in "from India".

  • The resulting cultural clash. In this case: between the frogs and the wogs.

  • Attractive ethnic young person struggling against the odds to achieve personal and professional success. In this case: Hassan is a gifted chef, but will he be able to break into the tradition-bound restaurant scene, and also get the girl?

  • Metaphorical title. It's the distance between the Indian restaurant run by Hassan's dad and the traditional hoity-toity French restaurant across the road. But—wow, man—the real distance in terms of culture and effort is much longer. I mean, think about it, man.

  • Lines of dialogue meant to be inspirational, but come out wooden. ("Five mother sauces. You must find them in your heart. Then, bring them to your pots. That's the secret.")

  • Hugging. Lots of hugging.

You might think I didn't like it. Mostly, I did! But this genre's components are nearly as predictable as your average romantic comedy, slasher flick, or superhero blockbuster.

Anyway: if you have a foodie PBS watcher in the house, you could do worse.

The Phony Campaign

2015-01-11 Update

[phony baloney]

I've tweaked my rule for inclusion in the Phony Campaign table: candidates need to display "Back" odds of 30 or less on Betfair's "2016 Presidential Election - Next President" betting table.

This week, we welcome Chris Christie to the Table, with a solid fifth-place showing:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 547,000 -112,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 384,000 +13,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 305,000 +12,000
"Rand Paul" phony 158,000 -16,000
"Chris Christie" phony 123,000 -
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 93,600 +1,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 86,400 +2,500
"Scott Walker" phony 71,600 -11,400

  • To welcome Governor Christie, we'll quote from an open letter to the Governor, published in the Cherry Hill Courier-Post, penned by one Steve Hoffman of Blackwood, NJ. (Exit 3 on the NJ Turnpike.) Steve is irked by Christie's well-publicized embrace of the Dallas Cowboys, a team based about 1500 miles from New Jersey.

    The state of New Jersey is made up of Eagles, Giants and Jets fans. You jumped ship like all the other front-running Cowboys fans in this state. You have no loyalty to your home team. You may win over the state of Texas, but in this state, to us Eagles, Giants and Jets fans, you are a phony.

    And you want to be my president? I don’t think so.

    It's certainly a character flaw to not be a fan of a team in a neighboring state.

  • And it's not just the letter-writing rabble disrespecting Governor Christie over his fandom:

Christie Cheerleader]

  • Virginia ex-Governor Bob McDonnell will likely not be our next President, because getting sentenced to a couple years in prison tends to preclude traditional campaign activities.

    But CNN tracked down ex-lobbyist, ex-con, Jack Abramoff to provide advice to Bob about life in the slammer:

    The most important thing in prison is are you a genuine person. Prisoners can quickly pick out who's a phony, who's lying, who's a BS artist.

    I've never been in favor of granting prisoners the right to vote, but that's the best argument I've seen for it.

  • Left-wingers tend to be humorless wretches, and it would be a stretch to call Mr. Alden Graves, columnist for the Bennington (Vermont) Banner, actually funny. But, to his credit, Mr. Graves is clever in composing his screed about the 2016 candidates:

    The iron-willed Mrs. Clinton is just a bundle of dithery indecision about running for president next year. She has refrained from batting her eyelashes and smiling coyly when asked the question, but even Mary Pickford, who reigned as "America's Sweetheart" for a decade, knew when to retire the act. There is always the added danger of the country deciding that it would probably be better off with Elizabeth Warren anyway.


    And I have the perfect campaign slogan for Jeb Bush: "Now try the smart one!"

    At least Mr. Graves is funnier than Jon Stewart, but that's the soft bigotry of low expectations talking.

Punch Your Inner Hippie

[Amazon Link]

A Christmas gift from my generous family. Even though they probably are not in 100% agreement with Frank J. Fleming's thesis here. I read it slowly, and I suggest you do the same, because the mind can only take so much awesomeness in a short period.

I had read Frank's previous books: Obama: The Greatest President in the History of Everything and How to Fix Everything in America Forever. "Punch your inner hippie" was a cast-off bit of advice in the latter, but it was a grain of sand that grew into the pearl of wisdom discussed at length in this oyster, by which I mean book.

Your "inner hippie" is that little whiny voice in the back of your mind that keeps holding you back from your full potential. Like any hippie, it is stupid, probably with leftover damage from overconsumption of mind-altering substances, but nevertheless mistakes the random neuron firings from years ago in a 2am crowded, smelly dorm room for insightful wisdom. It is a lazy, shiftless leech that hangs out on your sofa while you're at work, watching MTV or MSNBC. It is easily gulled by nonsense, especially when accompanied by bad music and bright flashing lights.

So: Frank's good advice is to (metaphorically, of course) punch your inner hippie in its stupid face until it shuts up. And then you can set your course for your awesome goals.

Frank's path to self-help and punching is clearly described, and probably won't get you arrested, if you listen to advice of competent legal counsel at appropriate points. Also, adequate insurance is a must.

Each chapter contains a summary/FAQ at the end and study questions to test your mastery of the material. Example:

Think of times in your life when you've been a lazy, useless failure. Can you identify your inner hippie's influence in each of those times?

How does having a hippie inside you make you feel?

Did you answer that last question with an actual list of feelings? If you did, could you feel the influence of your inner hippie making you do something so asinine?

I note that Frank's publisher is Broadside Books, billed on the back cover as "An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers". Yes, they really, inexplicably, jam those three words together and italicize the last bit. Perhaps they think that's what the cool with-it kids do? That's kind of a hippie move right there.

But HarperCollinsPublishers is also the bunch that "erased" Israel from maps in its "Middle East Atlas" it sold in the area. That's a super-hippie move. I believe I saw a quote from a HarperCollins editor when that decision was made: "Whatever, man. It's your arbitrary reality, and who are we to harsh your mellow?" Or maybe I made that up.

But in any case, Frank should punch his publisher (once his royalties are safely collected) and get a new one.

Last Modified 2015-01-09 8:04 AM EDT

Frivolities du Jour - 2015-01-08

[Amazon Link]
  • Mr. James Lileks is aiming for the aging geek (i.e., my) demographic with his new feature, "Visions of Nerdery", old, invariably garish, paperback covers from Ace Books. The first batch has Murray Leinster, A.E. Van Vogt, Andre Norton, Gordon R. Dickson, and Lewis Padgett/C.L. Moore. Good fun.

    (Examples, from Amazon, on your right.)

  • As a dedicated employee of the IT department of the University Near Here, it was tempting to forward "An Honest Letter From Your I.T. Department" to my boss. Just as a suggestion.


    You’re receiving this message because the I.T. Department is upgrading the software you most use and upon which your productivity entirely depends.

    Although we refer to this as an upgrade, it is, at best, a lateral move. The software does the same things as before, except your favorite features have been moved to a place where you will never find them again. The features you never use, on the other hand, have been assigned keyboard shortcuts that are maddeningly easy to type. For example, “Hide All Menus” (Shift+E) or “Quit Without Saving” (Spacebar).

    There's more, and, well, "it's funny because it's true."

  • Your Tweet du Jour is Iowahawk's comment on the Washington Post's recent "How to find a feminist boyfriend" op-ed:

  • And I thought I would throw in this bit from The Big Bang Theory, which shows why Mayim Bialik deserves to win an Emmy for her portrayal of Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler:

Last Modified 2019-10-29 5:20 AM EDT

Irritants du Jour - 2015-01-07

In the midst of horrible news, the relatively minor irritants continue.

  • I wanted to mention this New York Times editorial which describes a free-speech effort in Havana organized by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera. As the NYT says:

    Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the government barred prominent critics, including Ms. Bruguera, from reaching the square. Some were detained and others were reportedly prevented from leaving their homes.

    Aw. We're disappointed. But what, according to the NYT editorialists, is the real problem with Cuba's continuing repressive tyranny?

    This move, unfortunately, will amplify the criticisms of those who opposed Mr. Obama’s historic shift on Cuba policy.

    Instead of "amplify", I would have said "prove to be accurate". But the NYT's primary concern that those entirely accurate criticisms will be taken seriously. Can't have that!

  • Ludicrous moral equivalence of the year (so far) is from Ben Railton of Talking Points Memo, who penned: "Sorry, Freedom Lovers: America's Hero Worship Is Just As Bad As North Korea's".


    Well, here's the logic: North Korea's reaction to Sony's The Interview? It's just like

    Remember March 2003? That’s when Natalie Maines, lead singer of the popular country music group The Dixie Chicks, told a British audience, “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

    And as you may not remember, the US Government immediately whisked the Dixie Chicks and their families into a concentration camp for dissidents and they were never heard from again. Just like what would certainly happen in North Korea.

    Oh, wait, that didn't happen. Instead, the group went on to campaign against Dubya and make a platinum, Grammy-winning album, and (as far as I can tell) currently live comfortable has-been music star lives.

    In fact, I saw Maines alive and (again, as near as I could tell) well on PBS the other day.

    Ben, is that comparison really the best you could do? If so, perhaps your "just as bad" thesis is unsound.

  • Slashdot headline: "Happy Public Domain Day: Works That Copyright Extension Stole From Us In 2015".

    I'm not a fan of absurdly long copyright periods, but the "stole from us" language presumes that "we"—you and I—had some sort of cosmic moral ownership right to (say) Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, one of the works that would have entered the public domain this year under previous law.

    Please. I'd rather have perpetual copyright than have to take that presumption seriously.

  • Carl Woodward of the Baltimore Post-Examiner penned "Why Libertarians actually care about online privacy".

    Carl's is a radical left-wing perspective. The "greatest threat to our privacy" is (of course) "corporate power." If "Libertarians" (Carl capitalizes the word consistently) were "honest" about their priorities "they should join their comrades on the radical left in calling for the abolition of private property."

    But as far as answering the question implied in the headline: Carl asserts that "Libertarians" care about online privacy because (tada!) we like stealing "movies, media, and games."

    Free advice to Carl: any actual libertarian reading that will conclude that your grasp of libertarianism is weak, and probably 95% projection. Read something first, then try again

  • And, finally, Charles C. W. Cooke examines a New Year's Day New Yorker article from Adam Gopnik about gun control. Saith Charles:

    The result is one part The-Science-is-Settled desperation, one part smug social-positioning, and one part literary catharsis — all washed down with a healthy dose of basic ignorance.

    An impressive combination! I encourage you to read the analysis.

Last Modified 2015-01-08 6:01 AM EDT

Insights du Jour - 2015-01-06

  • Don Boudreaux replies to a self-described "social justice warrior" about freedom of association:

    I do oppose legislation that forces businesses to serve customers that businesses prefer not to serve. My opposition to such legislation doesn’t mean that I look kindly upon such refusals to serve; quite the contrary. Yet I value freedom - including freedom of association - so highly that I find it abhorrent that government forces Jones to associate with Smith when Jones prefers not to associate with Smith. Freedom should be equally available to all peaceful people, including to those who act in ways that we find disagreeable.

    That kind of straightforward defense of liberty is all too rare in today's illiberal climate.

  • Paul Graham recently wrote "Let the Other 95% of Great Programmers in", a pro-immigration essay that (at least) applies to the high-tech area.

    Paul Graham is a brilliant thinker and writer. But he's had a number of critics in this case, among them (equally brilliant) Philip Greenspun, and I think Phil has the slightly better argument.

    And in the middle of Phil's essay, I found this particular gem:

    I’m pretty sure that this is an illustration of my hedge fund manager friend’s mantra: “When the market gives you an answer you don’t like, declare market failure.”

    … a mantra that has much wider application than immigration issues.

    [Today's illustration is one of the leading results for searching "market failure" on Getty Images. Underwater housing market, get it? But certainly it's an example of the hedge fund manager's mantra.]

  • At NRO, Andrew C. McCarthy offers some constructive criticism for the "No Labels" crowd, who want Washington to "work", in order to "solve the nation's problems".

    Our political divide is about principles, not labels. Labels have always been given to sets of principles, but principles and politics have never been mutually exclusive. The practice of politics in a constitutional democracy is, after all, the repetition of a calculation about principle: Knowing that everyone does not agree with me but that I have opportunities to convince them over time, how much can I afford to compromise today such that my principles can advance in the short run and prevail in the long run?

    McCarthy assumes "No Labels" people are earnest and well-meaning, but I'm cynical enough to think they're just trying to obfuscate their motives. McCarthy's closing question is well-posed:

    When I encounter politicians these days, I’m less interested in whether they style themselves as “constitutional conservatives” or “pragmatic progressives”; I want to know: Do you want to make Washington work or work against what Washington has become?"

The Phony Campaign

2015-01-05 Update

[phony baloney]

Some minor movement in the phony hit counts over the past week, but not enough to change our overall standings:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 659,000 +36,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 371,000 +2,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 293,000 -8,000
"Rand Paul" phony 174,000 +7,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 92,600 -4,600
"Marco Rubio" phony 83,900 -6,200
"Scott Walker" phony 83,000 +1,900

  • Scott Walker has dropped below our arbitrary criteria for inclusion (longer than ten-to-one odds at betfair), but we'll leave him in for now. Because this story, at Reason, about Walker's hands-off approach to the recent investigation of a police shooting of a mentally ill individual seems possibly relevant. Author Ed Krayewski comments:

    While at least Walker didn’t back a decision he wasn’t versed in, it’s disappointing the potential presidential candidate isn’t taking the opportunity to own a piece of legislation that could, implemented properly, do a lot in bringing accountability to police violence. Owning it would require getting involved.

    Any chance Walker could be tiptoeing around this to avoid offending anyone? Or is it that he doesn't (for all I know, correctly) see his current role as Governor as appropriate for involvement?

  • Salena Zito examines Elizabeth Warren's claims to be a "populist":

    … [N]ot unlike her past claims of Native American ancestry — she appears to be only about 1⁄32nd populist in heritage.

    Ouch. Instead, Ms. Zito claims, Sen. Warren is a solid "progressive". (A question-begging label I despise, but anyway…) As a matter of history, progressives and populists have had a mutual contempt, and little common ground.

  • Indispensable Jim Geraghty takes a look at the Hillary squad pushing nasty opposition research about the very-long-shot candidacy of Jim Webb. (Not the songwriter, the one who used to be a Virginia Senator.) Why? Geraghty's analysis is insightful, and (since Hillary's the current betting favorite to win the White House) more than a little scary.

    […] Hillary’s allies’ making a ludicrously early and unpersuasive effort to shop dirt on long-shot Jim Webb doesn’t look so unexpected. It’s just what the Hillary 2016 campaign is going to be: paranoid, needlessly nasty, and making unnecessary enemies.

    And why should her Presidency be any different?

  • And what about our current leader in the phony standings, Jeb Bush? Who also widened his phony lead on Hillary? Fine. Here's a recent story about how carefully Jeb is demonstrating his connection to ordinary Americans:

    Jeb Bush’s flirtation with running for president in 2016 will take the former Florida governor to the familiar and lush stomping grounds of the Bush political clan: Greenwich [Connecticut].

    Does anything say "wealth and elite privilege" like Greenwich, CT? Jeb could make Mitt Romney look like a True Man of the People.

Last Modified 2015-01-06 11:08 AM EDT


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

[Sung to the tune of "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey:]

It's the train, the train on a frigid track.
An endless track.
Such a cold piercer!
Get on board, prepare for some abuse.
Avoid the caboose!

Solar heat is a thing of the past,
And the passengers are split up by caste.
Poor shlubs in back know nothing fiercer
Than the guy in charge of the Snowpiercer.
Miserable saps, beware his loyal slaves
They misbehave!

Last Modified 2015-01-06 11:55 AM EDT

Moms' Night Out

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

It's good, PG-rated fun. (Why is it PG? MPAA: "mild thematic elements and some action") It was distributed by "Affirm Films", a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, whose mission statement says it is "dedicated to producing, acquiring and marketing films which inspire, uplift, and entertain audiences." That means there's God stuff.

The movie centers around harried mom Allyson, who claims to be not "happy". As near as I can tell, this is due to her not living up to her own standards of what a "mother" is supposed to be. Otherwise, she's fine: her kids are rambunctious but loving; her husband (Samwise Gamgee) travels a lot, but is loving; she's got a network of loving friends, a big friendly church, a nice house, and a Sienna minivan.

So she decides to arrange (see title) a "moms' night out" for her and her friends: the pastor's wife, Sondra (Patricia Heaton), and childhood friend Izzy. A fancy restaurant is arranged, makeup is applied, nice shoes are worn, a small non-mommy purse is acquired. And then things rapidly go downhill, because (a) the restaurant misunderstands/loses her reservation and (b) the kids are left with dads and acquaintances, and their childcare skills are weak.

Involved are: bikers, a tattoo parlor, the cops, a parakeet, a pothead, bowling, a nice African-American family, a British cabbie, a high-speed chase, a holding cell, accidental tasering, occasional punching. Good clean fun. It goes on about 10 minutes too long, but that's forgivable. Patricia Heaton is a gifted comic actress.

Outrages du Jour - 2015-01-01

The "outrage" in the title is rhetorical overkill. I'm not a guy who gets outraged. Very often. In public. But:

  • Reason compiles "Five Mindbogglingly Stupid Government Tricks of 2014". They are (1) cop paramilitarization; (2) the decline of Secret Service professionalism; (3) the VHA; (4) the CDC's botched Ebola handling; (5) Social Security's effort to collect ancient mispayments. From the last one:

    In at least some cases that made the headlines in 2014, the government intercepted tax refunds to adults because, bureaucrats claimed, they benefited from Social Security overpayments made to their now-dead parents in the 1960s and 1970s.

    And yet, the faith held by the average "progressive" remains: the government is manifestly qualified to regulate ever more areas of our lives.

  • Reason's list does not include the Small Business Administration (SBA). As Veronique de Rugy admits, the SBA has a pretty good rep, because we all have the warm-n-fuzzies for the mom-and-pop corner store, the neighborhood's cozy eatery, the garage-based entrepreneur.

    Veronique notes a recent report that details where some of that cool SBA cash went:

    Amongst the $1 million SBA Wealthy Lifestyle loan recipients are exclusive Rolex and other up-scale, affluent jewelers; Lamborghini and other luxury auto dealers; aesthetic enhancement and plastic surgery clinics; helicopter tour companies, BMW motorcycle dealers; wineries- including those in Napa Valley and Sonoma, CA; lodges and resorts in Jackson Hole, Cape Cod, Palm Beach, Lake Tahoe and across America; high-end private clubs for yachting, skiing, shooting, surfing, smoking cigars, and members-only country clubs; injury lawyers; artistic dental firms; venture capital, mezzanine finance & private investment pools; specialty companies including luxury pet resorts, golf courses, marinas & more!

    Her conclusion:

    The bottom line is the Small Business Administration is not doing what it claims it does, is careless with taxpayers’ money, and is misleading the public. Let’s abolish it once and for all.

    Full agreement here!

  • And then there's the National Security Agency (NSA), who did a "Christmas Eve document dump" where, according to Kevin D. Williamson:

    […] we learn that agents of the National Security Agency, the spookiest spooks in all our vast spookocracy, are a bunch of stalkers, using the effectively boundless surveillance powers of their organization to spy on husbands and wives, overseas girlfriends, and sundry romantic partners. And that’s our government at work: While the guys who are supposed to be keeping an eye on Gordon Gekko are keeping their eyes on marathon porn sessions instead, the guys who are supposed to be putting a hurt on Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad are trying to figure out whether their girlfriends are browsing Tinder. One curious analyst targeted the numbers in her husband’s telephone directory. Another spied on his wife, who was stationed overseas.

    I part company with some of my libertarian brethren when they reflexively hate the Federal Government's anti-terrorist measures. But everything here simply screams out: the NSA is unaccountable and sloppy, and needs badly to be brought under control.

  • Ah, but it's not just outrageous government follies today at Pun Salad: Someone noticed that …

    HarperCollins has produced at atlas for use in English-speaking schools in the Middle East that features a conspicuous omission. There’s Gaza, and there’s the West Bank. Jordan and Lebanon are accounted for. But…where is Israel?

    To quote Han Solo: "It ain't there. It's been totally blown away." Perhaps an innocent mistake, or they couldn't find room for six extra letters on the map? Nope:

    Collins Bartholomew, the subsidiary of HarperCollins that specialises in maps, told The Tablet that including Israel would have been “unacceptable” to their customers in the Gulf and the amendment incorporated “local preferences”.

    Now, as I type, HarperCollins has apologized and will "destroy any remaining copies."

    But (apparently) there will be an upcoming fierce battle between Amazon and HarperCollins. I know which side I'll be cheering for.

Happy New Year, 2015

Just some beginning-of-year stuff. I have some blog resolutions:

If you're interested—and I can't think why you would be—I perled up a script to scrape through the blog and make (IMHO) attractive pages showing the movies/books I watched/read in 2014.

If you missed it: This post from March, an old-fashioned fisking of the program for the "Future Leaders Institute" at the University Near Here, might be my favorite from last year.

I'm in agreement with Kevin D. Williamson: making predictions is difficult, especially about the future. But his seems safe, and I'll concur:

So here’s the one prediction I will make: 2015 will be one of the best years in human history. And next December, we’ll all be bitching about it.

Happy New Year to all.

Last Modified 2016-07-15 6:23 AM EDT