[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As I type, the IMDB raters have Whiplash as #38 on the Top 250 movies of all time. I really don't know about that, but it's pretty good. Nominiated for 5 Oscars (including Best Picture), and won 3.

The story centers around young Andrew, student at the (fictional) Shaffer Conservatory in NYC. He seems to be a nice enough guy: goes to movies with his dad (hey, that's Paul Reiser); clumsily asks out Nicole, the snack bar attendant at the theater.

But he has a goal: to be a legendary drummer, like Buddy Rich. And he sees a possible path to that goal when Fletcher, conductor of the school's jazz band, happens upon one of his practices. Unfortunately, Fletcher is a volatile, foul-mouthed martinet, who loves to play mind games that terrorize the band members. The unfolding conflict between Fletcher and Andrew is filled with "didn't see that coming" events.

J.K. Simmons—who, to me, will always be J. Jonah Jameson—plays Fletcher, and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his efforts. My only quibble: I think it should have been Best Actor, period. (Although I haven't seen four out of the five Best-Actor-nominated performances, I can't imagine them being better than J.K.)

The Phony Campaign

2015-04-26 Update

[phony baloney]

The skin-in-the-game bettors at PredictWise once again judge that Joltin' Joe Biden has a 3% shot of being our next president, over our arbitrary inclusion threshold of 2%. So…

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 979,000 -991,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 444,000 -67,000
"Rand Paul" phony 195,000 -32,000
"Joe Biden" phony 144,000 -
"Marco Rubio" phony 123,000 -37,000
"Scott Walker" phony 112,000 -2,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 83,000 -12,500

Still MIA: Ted Cruz (hovering around 1%). Carly Fiorina, who I understand is about to announce, has yet to appear in PredictWise's candidate list.

  • I don't understand why Hillary remains in such a consistent second-place to Jeb. Remarking on her phoniness seems to be a default topic for pundits, something to write about when you can't think of anything else. All within the past week:

    Gee. It's almost as if this sort of thing is becoming too easy.

  • Jack Shafer offers Hillary campaign advice, dropping this howler:

    Above all, you must be sincere, because if there is one thing the press can’t tolerate, it’s a phony.

    It's hard to believe, but I don't think he's kidding.

    Jack Shafer can be insightful, but here demonstrates a remarkable obliviousness. The press loves phonies. If it didn't—I think I've said this before—both Clintons would be, at best, mini-mall lawyers in Little Rock. (Making the generous assumption they would have avoided disbarment. Or jail.)

  • Here's something else I've said before: for the Clintons, dishonesty is the default setting. A New York Times reporter provided yet another confirming anecdote this week, reporting on Chappaqua meetings between Bill Clinton and offcials of KazAtomProm, the Russian uranium firm.

    “When I first contacted the Clinton Foundation, they denied any such meeting ever took place. And when we told them we have already talked to the head, who not only told us all about the meeting but actually has a picture of him and Bill at the home, that he proudly displays on his office wall, they then acknowledge the meeting had taken place.”

    "We apologize for lying. In our defense, we thought we could get away with it."

  • Brendan O'Neil notes Hillary's 2016 marketing strategy: to campaign "as a woman". Patronizing? Sure.

    But of course, that’s the card Hillary herself is playing. She uses the Twitter hashtag #GrandmothersKnowBest (one wonders if that will be printed on the side of the missiles she fires at errant states that dare to piss off Madam President). And her launch video was all about gender. Primarily featuring women – and of course containing a nod to gay marriage, for it is political suicide for any public official to fail to genuflect cravenly before this most orthodox of modern orthodoxies – her video is an identity-fest. It says nothing of policy – bar supporting families and being nice to working people – and instead tick-boxes all identities, especially gender ones. Young woman? Check. Ethnic woman? Check. Old woman? Check. Mexicans? Check. Gays? Check, check, check. Left-leaning observers are falling over themselves to pat Granny Hillary on the back for what one describes as her ‘shift in tone from 2008 to 2016’, where she will now be ‘running as a woman’. In 2008, she ran as a politician; in 2016, she will run as a woman. How, precisely, is this ‘shift in tone’ from defining a female candidate by her politics to defining her by her gender a positive thing?

    It's not, of course. But if your policies are tired rehashes of stale progressivism, and your record of accomplishment is worse than spotty, what are you gonna do? Market your chromosomes, that's what. Just ask the current occupant of the Oval Office for advice on that.

  • Once you read Jonah Goldberg's observation about GOP candidates' proclivity for “reading your stage direction”, you start to notice it everywhere. Jeb Bush

    “I have to show my heart,” [Bush] said. “I have to talk about my life experience.”

    Or as his dad put it in Exeter in 1992: "Message: I care."

  • An amusing bit of phoniness was spotted this week by Mickey Kaus:

    On Sunday, Bob Scheiffer asked Marco Rubio if as president he’d sign his own “Gang of 8″ immigration bill. Rubio ducked, saying “That’s a hypothetical.” Yes, it is! A germane and highly informative hypothetical, which he should be able to answer. It’s his damn bill. He tried to foist it on us. Why won’t he tell us if he’d sign it? And if Rubio’s so keen on letting Republican primary voters know he’s learned his lesson, why isn’t the answer he gives simply “No, I wouldn’t sign it today”?


How Not to Be Wrong

[Amazon Link]

You know how Amazon throws purchase suggestions at you based on your browsing history? This book showed up in one of my visits a few months back; I can't remember what triggered it. The title was memorable, certainly: How Not to be Wrong. What a magnet for someone who finds himself wrong much more often than he'd like! While hanging out in the University Near Here's Engineering, Math & Computer Science Library, I noticed it on the New Books shelf, and…

The author, Jordan Ellenberg, is a math prof at the University of Wisconsin. To a first approximation, the book is a reply to the perpetual whine of math students everywhere: When am I going to use this? (That's actually the title of the book's introduction.) It is an entertaining hodgepodge, showing how mathematical analysis (has been|can be) applied to real-world problems, but occasionally veering into more abstract realms as well. Along the way, Ellenberg also likes to tell anecdotes about historical and present-day mathematicians. (UNH's Tom Zhang is mentioned for proving the bounded gaps conjecture about the distribution of prime numbers.)

Did I say hodgepodge? Examples: how smart people at MIT gamed the Massachusetts Cash WinFall lottery; how "statistical significance" can be abused/misinterpreted in research; how "regression to the mean" works, and how it's been misunderstood; the strange mathematics of democratic voting when there's more than two choices; the fallacy of assumed linearity; digging causality out of correlation. And more.

Ellenberg has an easy style, and he's unafraid to crack wise.

"If you care at all about math, this is the kind of thing that makes you want to stab yourself in the hand with a fork."

"The extent to which you care about this distinction is a good measure of whether you would enjoy going to graduate school in analytic philosophy."

"Mathematics is a way not to be wrong, but it isn't a way not to be wrong about anything. (Sorry, no refunds!)"

"Are you there, God? It's me, Bayesian inference."

Not quite a chuckle per page, but almost. Ellenberg could be the Dave Barry of mathematicians.

The Phony Campaign

2015-04-19 Update

[phony baloney]

Last week's O'Malley/Biden boomlet at Predictwise fizzled out this week, as their Oval Office Occupancy probabilities have dropped to 1.5% and 1.1%, respectively. So, by our arbitrary cutoff of 2%, they're outta here:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,970,000 +1,195,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 511,000 +125,000
"Rand Paul" phony 227,000 +29,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 160,000 +76,300
"Scott Walker" phony 114,000 +5,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 95,500 +18,700

And what of Ted Cruz? He was tantalizingly close to inclusion last week at 1.8%. But as I type, his odds have gone back to the are-you-kidding level: 0.9%. Ted's poor impressions of characters from his favorite episodes of The Simpsons may have contributed to this fade.

But when it comes to phoniness, everyone's a sure thing:

  • On Monday, Hillary went to a Chipotle in Maumee, Ohio. The media picked up this momentous story and ran with it. She eats! At Vox, Matthew Yglesias called it "the dumbest media frenzy of 2016 (so far)". That did not stop him from writing about it, though.

  • Hillary's phoniness got talked about a lot this week. Michael Walsh was especially acerbic in "The Sham Candidacy of Hillary Clinton — and What It Means for the Republic".

    Let us please stipulate that in a rational world, a woman like Hillary Rodham Clinton would have absolutely no chance of being nominated for, much less elected, president of the United States. She has achieved nothing, accomplished nothing (unless you count the four dead Americans at Benghazi, for which she will ultimately be held responsible); she is an exremely [sic] poor public speaker, full of annoying verbal and physical tics; she is legendarily dishonest; she is a hard-core Alinskyite; and in general a wretched human being. By rights, she should be laughed off the stage, the same way the smart set laughed at Lurleen Wallace, who succeeded her husband George Wallace, the racist Democrat, as governor of Alabama back in 1967. She has no natural political constituency, except the manufactured “women’s vote,” and no rationale for her candidacy except that it’s “time” for a woman president, just as it was “time” for a part-black African, part-Arab, half-white, paternally cultural Muslim to pass for a traditional African-American Christian and be elected president in 2008.

  • At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff discussed Hillary's Wednesday lie that all her grandparents were immigrants. (This took approximately 40 seconds to be debunked: only one of her grandparents was born outside the US.)

    Why did Clinton lie about her grandparents? Perhaps because she wanted to show an authentic connection to the American experience.

    Unfortunately for Clinton, the more desperately she seeks to demonstrate authenticity, the more inauthentic she looks.

    As I said a few months back: With Hillary, as with her husband, dishonesty is the default setting.

  • The great Charles Krauthammer worked the topic into an entire column: "Hillary’s Authentic Inauthenticity". This is about as sympathetic as conservatives will get on the issue:

    She doesn’t just get media coverage; she gets meta-coverage. The staging is so obvious that actual events disappear. The story is their symbolism — campaign as semiotics.

    This quality of purposeful abstractness makes everything sound and seem contrived. It’s not really her fault. True, she’s got enough genuine inauthenticity to go around — decades of positioning, framing, parsing, dodging — but the perception is compounded by the obvious staginess of the gigantic political apparatus that surrounds her and directs her movements.

  • Face it: when it comes to phoniness, we could be all-Hillary all the time here. Let's force ourselves away. Jeb Bush was in our fair state this week, and…

    On a New Hampshire radio show Friday morning, Bush acknowledged that campaigning requires a person to reveal "vulnerabilities" and "get outside your comfort zone," two ways of proving that a candidacy is "not all staged in some kind of phony way."

    … demonstrating that Jeb failed to take Jonah Goldberg's advice from a few months back: stop reading your stage directions.

Last Modified 2015-04-20 4:28 AM EDT

Money is Evil, Unless You're Sending It To UNH (2015 version)

Last year, the University Near Here offered a program called the "Future Leaders Institute". Subtitle: "A Summer Camp for Ambitious High-School Students." Pun Salad was unsympathetic.

But despite the scorn and derision, they are doing it again this year. Their description is slightly altered this year, and I've tweaked my 2014 comments appropriately. Otherwise, it's a rerun.

What will our Ambitious Future Leader High-School Students be doing at camp? Whittling? Canoeing? Learning how to recognise different types of trees from quite a long way away?

Nah. The camp's theme is "Money, Greed, Corruption." (Week One covers "Money, Greed and Society". The optional Week Two's topics: "Money, Politics and Government".) It doesn't sound like the Future Leaders will be learning any useful wilderness skills, or having much fun at all. The curriculum will be set up by faculty members of the Paul College of Business and Economics… no, sorry, I'm kidding. It will be run by R. Scott Smith, Professor of Classics, and Nick Smith, Professor of Philosophy, both of UNH's College of Liberal Arts (COLA).

Let's take a look at the program description, commenting as we go:

We tend to have mixed feelings about money and how it influences us.

What they actually mean to say: different people hold wildly different opinions about it.

Ayn Rand once described money as the "root of all good."

She did! Or rather, one of her Atlas Shrugged good guys, Francisco d’Anconia, did. His speech is reproduced here. (Recommended reading.)

Karl Marx (echoing a host of ancient thinkers) thought money was closer to the "root of all evil."

Despite the "quotes", I'm pretty sure Marx didn't say that, but it's true that he was no fan. Last year, the source of the quotation was correctly identified as 1 Timothy 6:10, where love of money (not money itself) is identified as the "root of all evil".

[1 Timothy, by the way, is also well-known for being the epistle where Apostle Paul advocated that women shut up and know their place and advised slaves to be respectful to their masters. Bible-thumpers pick and choose which parts of the book to thump.]

In any case: you see where we're going with this: it's gonna be Rand vs. Marx and a "host of ancient thinkers." Good luck, Ayn.

Money provides a near universal common denominator that allows people on opposite sides of the world to exchange things of value with great efficiency.

Stipulated. Not even Francisco d’Anconia would disagree. But:

Money motivates us, for better or worse, to do things we would not otherwise do.

Confused drivel. All incentives, including economic ones, can lead us to make different choices than we would otherwise. That is the definition of "motivate". But the paycheck is not the goal, it's not in the driver's seat; it's what the paycheck allows us to do. (Quoting Francisco: "[Money] will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires.")

Your desires may be wise or foolish, noble or base. Don't blame (or bless) "money" for your own choices and values.

Business leaders often see making money as their primary goal, but this objective often conflicts with and sometimes overrides all other principles.

Pay attention, aspiring academic writers: If, in a single sentence, you use "often" twice and "sometimes" once, nobody can prove you wrong.

No doubt: businessmen are guilty of attempting to run their businesses more profitably than a couple of COLA profs think they should. It's difficult to work up any outrage, or even concern, about that at all.

Although we live in a democracy where citizens' votes are supposed to count equally, we know that money influences politics at many levels.

A brave stand against (unnamed) corrupt politicians! Hey, I won't defend them. Although I'd wager far more politicians are corrupted by their love of coercive state power than by love of money. Good luck getting a couple of Liberal Arts profs to even recognize that, let alone preach against it.

Can one be a good person, honest, loyal and caring while attempting to maximize profits and win elections in a money-hungry world?

Yes. Thanks for asking.

But ask the question without adding the superfluous phrase "in a money-hungry world." People that blame a "money-hungry world" for their own poor life choices are irresponsible losers.

Or are ethical principles naive in a world where money and power are so entwined?

The answer here is "No". Again, thanks for asking.

Here's one bit I left out. From up at the top of the page:

Cost: one week: $900 two weeks: $1,600.

Yes, they are charging money to tell the kiddos how awful money is. (Is this irony? I can never tell.)

I'll close with the final paragraph of Francisco's speech, linked above:

Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns–or dollars. Take your choice–there is no other–and your time is running out.

I'd put the whole thing on the Ambitious Future Leaders High-School Students' required reading list. In fact, I'd be happy to give a dramatic reading of it for the AFLHSS this summer. And to show what a money-loving greedy selfish bastard I am: I would do it for free.

Last Modified 2015-04-17 6:19 AM EDT

The Imitation Game

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

As I type, The Imitation Game is #209 of IMDB's Top 250 movies of all time. Nominated for eight Oscars, winning one. Don't get me wrong, it's OK. Even slightly better than OK. But…

It is based on the actual life of Alan Turing, ably played by Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch. It centers around his World War II work in Bletchley Park, heading the team that built the "Bombe", an electomechanical gizmo that broke the Nazi's "Enigma" encryption scheme. The movie also has scenes from Turing's early life as a bullied schoolboy, and from the early 1950's with the events leading up to his "outing" as a homosexual, conviction for indecency, and chemical castration. Ms. Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, a Bletchley Park co-worker who was as close as Turing got to a female love interest.

The movie is eminently watchable, as Turing struggles with his co-workers, his superiors, and his own prickly personality to accomplish his decryption vision. Cumberbatch is no doubt a gifted actor, and I bet he could play something other than prickly gifted oddballs if given the chance.

Slate has a good article outlining how much the movie diverged from the true story of Turing and Bletchley Park. Unsurprisingly, a lot of things were changed or invented in the movie; that's just how it's done. It seemed to irritate me a bit more than usual, though.

There was a repeated line that took me right out of the movie, though:

"Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."

This is one of those sappy "inspirational" quotes that might appear on a poster you can buy at Walmart for $5.98. Maybe with a kitten looking bravely at a big dog. I can't imagine a real person saying it in real life.

But it's repeated three times in this movie: once from young Turing's schoolboy crush to Alan, once from Alan to Joan, then from Joan back to Alan. I groaned a bit louder with each occurrence.

The Phony Campaign

2015-04-12 Update

[phony baloney]

It looks as if Hillary is officially getting into the race today. The official response among people betting actual money on the outcome was… to wager a little more heavily on some other Democrat to win. Martin O'Malley (as I type) is given a 2.3% chance of becoming our next president, and Joe Biden is coming in at 2.0%. So by our (arbitrary) standards (2% or above), we welcome them both to the phony standings:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 775,000 +12,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 386,000 +4,000
"Rand Paul" phony 198,000 +46,000
"Joe Biden" phony 145,000 ---
"Scott Walker" phony 109,000 -6,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 92,100 ---
"Marco Rubio" phony 83,700 -1,400
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 76,800 -4,800

On the Ted Cruz watch? PredictWise says his odds are improving! From 1.5% last week to… a solid 1.8% this week! Hang in there, Ted!

  • Even though The New Republic is kind of a bad joke these days, I am obligated to mention a recent article by Elspeth Reeve appearing there: "Hillary Clinton Needs to Be More Fake". Really? Well, here's the argument, I think: Hillary was "real" back when Bill was running for president. And, while some people found it appealing, most were turned off. Ms. Reeve concludes:

    To become more “authentic,” Hillary must become even more fake, set us at ease by playing to all the dumb tropes of the popular portrait of the everywoman—one who is devoted to slopwave food (premium juice, premium oatmeal, kale slurry) but is a little embarrassed about it. A wacky career gal who is unlucky in ... something. Clinton should consider tripping publicly, perhaps while eating yogurt. Then laugh really loud, but not inauthentically loud. The only thing worse than being fake in politics is being real.

    Perceptive commentary or barely coherent drivel? You make the call!

    The blurb at the end claims Elspeth Reeve is a senior editor at The New Republic. And she couldn't get away with lying about that, could she?

  • Also welcoming Hillary's Official Announcement was Ian Tuttle at National Review: "Hillary Clinton’s Truman Show Campaign".

    For decades, Hillary Clinton has had her entire life scripted. She has existed in a world insulated by handlers and managers and “her people,” all of whom are employed for the overarching purpose of mediating her engagement with the calamitous world “out there.” Yet every time the bubble is pricked, and we no longer have to see Hillary Clinton through limousine glass darkly, we rediscover her vices — her obsessive secretiveness, her arrogance, her shrewish treatment even of those closest to her — and the unmistakable fact that she is simply not equipped to deal with the world unmediated.

    As you would expect a right-wing troglodyte to say: Ian Tuttle is on-target here. I wonder if low-info voters will catch on?

  • We couldn't let this NYT report go by: "Jeb Bush Listed Himself as ‘Hispanic’ on Voter Form".

    The NYT (somewhat surprisingly) compares this to Elizabeth Warren's self-identification as Native American. But that misrepresentation (as Ian Tuttle notes) helped Warren gain traction on academia's slippery promotion slope; there doesn't seem to have been any obvious benefit for Jeb to fib to the voter-registration officials. So does it imply anything? At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff speculates that it was a Freudian slip. David Frum is quoted:

    Both Jeb Bush and Barack Obama are men who have openly and publicly struggled with their ambivalence about their family inheritance. Both responded by leaving the place of their youth to create new identities for themselves: Barack Obama, as an organizer in the poor African-American neighborhoods of Chicago; Jeb Bush in Mexico, Venezuela, and at last in Cuban-influenced Miami. Both are men who have talked a great deal about the feeling of being “between two worlds”: Obama, in his famous autobiography; Bush, in his speeches. Both chose wives who would more deeply connect them to their new chosen identity. Both derived from their new identity a sharp critique of their nation as it is. Both have built their campaign for president upon a deep commitment to fundamental transformation of their nation into what they believe it should be.

    (I have duplicated the emphasis that Mirengoff added to Frum's words.)

    At National Review, Mark Krikorian believes that this was Jeb's way of "subscribing to the tribalism that … has replaced color-blindness and assimilationism". Maybe. I like his further point:

    But rather than pick on Señor Arbusto (sorry!), it’s more productive to use the incident as a teachable moment (ugh!). Jeb’s fakery suggests why we should abolish government racial and ethnic categories, building a wall of separation, as it were, between race and state, as we do between church and state. No one would think of asking your religion on a voter-registration form or job application — in fact, it’s illegal. So should it be for other attributes that are irrelevant to the content of your character — hair color, say, or handedness or what country your grandparents came from.

    Mr Krikorian and Pun Salad have been in agreement on this for years.

  • Another must-read for students of political phoniness this week: Dartmouth's own Brendan Nyhan in the NYT explains "How Scott Walker Has Escaped the ‘Inauthentic’ Label So Far" Among the insights, after summarizing the recent history of (successful and unsuccessful) political phoniness:

    It also helps that Governor Walker is likely to become a better political performer than Mr. Romney or Mr. Kerry ever were. Candidates who seem too programmed appear to fall in the uncanny valley between politicians and regular people, which reminds the news media that all candidates are artificial and sets off a search for (often dubious) evidence of their inauthenticity. By contrast, more skilled performers like George W. Bush or Fred Thompson can attempt wholesale reinventions and face less scrutiny.

    I will only quibble that "skilled performer" Fred Thompson's 2008 campaign went pretty much nowhere.

  • At Hot Air, the headline of Allahpundit's article about Rand Paul's South Carolina campaign is chuckle-worthy: "Anti-war candidate gives speech in front of big-ass warship"

    At Reason, Nick Gillespie used the occasion and the theatrics to ask: "Has Rand Paul Turned Into a Neocon Hawk?". (Spoiler: no, not really.)

Last Modified 2015-04-15 5:45 AM EDT

Miscellanies du Jour - 2015-04-10

  • Fairness dictates that we note the University of Michigan decided that their students were mentally stable enough after all to endure the showing of American Sniper on campus. Clearly they were unable to stand ridicule of their politically-correct wussiness.

    Katherine Timpf provides a list: "Seven Other Things That Have Been Declared ‘Unsafe’ at Colleges" Among her examples…

    2. Face paint of any color at any event ever

    Last October, Arizona State University’s athletics department banned facepaint — “whether the theme is black, maroon, gold or white” — because ASU is an “inclusive and forward-thinking university” and they must make sure that “everyone feels safe and accepted.” They did not explain whether or not any students had actually reported feeling threatened by the paint, and if so, how those students were handling their lives currently.

  • At Minding the Campus, John Leo summarizes a new report from the National Association of Scholars: "Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism". From the report:

    To the unwary, “sustainability” is the newer name for environmentalism. But the goals of the sustainability movement are different. They go far beyond ensuring clean air and water and protecting vulnerable plants and animals. As an ideology, sustainability takes aim at economic and political liberty. Sustainability pictures economic liberty as a combination of strip mining, industrial waste, and rampant pollution. It pictures political liberty as people voting to enjoy the present, heedless of what it will cost future generations. Sustainability’s alternative to economic liberty is a regime of far-reaching regulation that controls virtually every aspect of energy, industry, personal consumption, waste, food, and transportation. Sustainability’s alternative to political liberty is control vested in agencies and panels run by experts insulated from elections or other expressions of popular will.

    The University Near Here has its very own Sustainability Institute. They don't advertise their hostility to economic and political liberty, but I imagine they would do so if plied with enough organic, locally-produced wine.

  • George Leef has an interesting and provocative article looking at a new book by Kevin Carey: The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere. It's about the impending breakout of low-priced higher education. Folks in the employ of your traditional bricks-and-mortar universities, beware:

    One implication of the rise of the University of Everywhere seems to be that in the future, students who are serious about learning and demonstrating their capabilities will stop enrolling in the typical college or university. Those institutions have developed great expertise in hauling in money but remarkably little expertise in teaching and assessing student outcomes.

    Why it's enough to make a University administrator sound like Governor William J. Le Petomane: "We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!"

    I've put Carey's book on the top of the to-be-read pile.

  • Despite the blog's title, we don't do a lot of puns here. But this one gave me a chuckle:

Last Modified 2019-01-09 5:11 AM EDT

Irritants du Jour - 2015-04-08

  • Yesterday, the United States Postal Service unveiled a new stamp honoring the late Maya Angelou. It simply features her smiling picture, her name, and a quote:

    "A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."

    Well, that's nice. But it didn't take much time for people to point out something that should have been caught long before:

    A number of luminaries are expected at Tuesday morning’s unveiling ceremony for the new stamp honoring the late author Maya Angelou, among them first lady Michelle Obama. An 89-year-old children’s book author named Joan Walsh Anglund won’t be there. But her words will be: The quote on the stamp originated with Anglund.

    Not that it matters, but Ms. Walsh is a much paler lady. It appears she's handling the misattribution with grace and tact.

    “Yes, that’s my quote,” Anglund said Monday night from her Connecticut home. It appears on page 15 of her book of poems “A Cup of Sun,” published in 1967. Only the pronouns and punctuation are changed, from “he” in Anglund’s original to “it” on the stamp.

    So not only did they misattribute the quote, but they also "fixed" its non-PC pronoun.

    Your Federal Government (and also the University Near Here) seem to have problems with accurately quoting notable black Americans. At least this one isn't carved in stone or anything.

    Present at the celebration was Nikki "Thug Life" Giovanni, previously seen at Pun Salad here.

  • The University of Michigan will not be showing Clint Eastwood's American Sniper due to some student complaints. The people in charge followed the usual craven template used to justify the stifling of unacceptable expression:

    “While our intent was to show a film, the impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcomed at our program,” stated The Center for Campus Involvement, which oversees student activities and is run by university employees, as it announced its decision Tuesday on its various social media accounts, including Twitter and Facebook.

    To underscore the wimpiness of this cave-in, the replacement movie will be Paddington. Which will only make bears feel unsafe and unwelcomed, so that's OK.

    The University Near Here plans to show American Sniper in the Memorial Union Building next week. At least that's the plan. I don't see Paddington in the schedule.

    For more head-shaking exasperation: Nick G at Reason. At Power Line, John Hinderaker checks out the other movies on the UMich schedule, apparently OK when judged on saftey and welcomingness. And at AEIdeas, Mark J. Perry performs needed (but cruel) editing to bring UMich president Mark Schlissel’s inauguration speech up to date in light of this news.

  • I am inclined to view Rand Paul favorably, but his speech announcing his candidacy contained something really stupid:

    I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed.

    As many people have noted, he should have stopped after "equally". Over to Patrick Brennan:

    Now, maybe Paul just meant he wants to get rid of all laws that land people of color in prison at rates higher than the rate at which they commit the crime in question (his campaign didn’t say this, though). The problem with this is that it’s quite hard to say which laws those are, so we can’t just promise to repeal whichever ones qualify. And even if we could determine which laws are applied unequally, that doesn’t mean we should do away with them, it just presents a problem that might be outweighed by the law’s necessity or benefits for public order. There are other ways to fix the unequal application of justice than repealing statutes wholesale. (Indeed, Paul and other conservatives have suggested some of them.)

    It was a cheap pander, more likely to be seen by the panderees as insulting than convincing.

The Pity Party

[Amazon Link]

This latest book by William Voegeli comes highly recommended with back-cover blurbs by William Kristol, Randy Barnett, Harvey Mansfield and Power Line's Scott Johnson. Its amusing subtitle: "A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion". I was favorably impressed with Professor Voegeli's previous book Never Enough. And this one was easily snagged via the University Near Here's membership in the Boston Library Consortium; the smart folks at MIT sent it up here with alacrity.

I was not disappointed: the book is well-written and full of insight. Voegeli is not really mean-spirited, as his subtitle claims; this is an ironic preemptive defense against one of the charges that liberals would no doubt want to wield against him.

Since full-blown socialism has been discredited on pragmatic grounds for decades, "compassion" is the strongest reed on which progressives can hang their arguments in the present day. And they have done so.

Did I mention irony? Certainly there's a lot of it inherent when "compassionate" liberals deal with their conservative/libertarian critics: then they can be unmerciful, spiteful, hate-filled, vituperative… all in the name of "compassion". This is not, we are told, something on which "reasonable and decent people can disagree". The natural conclusion: you are evil or wilfully deranged, deserving of nothing but bile. It's a funny old world.

Liberal compassion is also weirdly unconcerned with whether the numerous programs, mandates, subsidies, and regulations justified on "compassionate" grounds actually work in accomplishing their stated goals. Why, it's almost as if such measures were undertaken primarily to make their advocates feel good about themselves! Example one is Head Start, which continues to gobble up about $8 billion of spending at the Federal level without any evidence that it's "better than nothing".

In addition to being unconcerned with efficacy, "compassion"-based arguments tend to be incoherent, detached from reality. Liberal compassion springs from the natural sympathy one feels for the nearby unfortunate, and turns it into a blunt-force demand for whatever blank check strikes their current fancy, whether it's billions for stem cell research (save Christopher Reeve!) or subsidized health insurance for the middle class. But (as Voegeli points out) those arguments can't be extended logically to their obvious conclusions. When you ask why we should care much more about the medically-uncovered Betsy Morgan in Schenectady, than the desperately poor Mpinga Bombuku in Kinshasha — sorry, no answer is forthcoming.

My favorite chapter: "How Liberal Compassion Leads to Bullshit". (Yeah, he went there.) Voegeli, like me, is a fan of Frankfurt's classic work On Bullshit, and he illustrates how liberal arguments on gun control, environmentalism, and "diversity" are prime exemplars. Laugh, if you can keep from crying.

I think Voegeli is entirely on-target. I would like to think that your typical liberal could take some valuable lessons away from reading this book, too. If they can keep their heads from exploding, that is.

Last Modified 2015-04-07 4:53 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2015-04-05 Update

[phony baloney]

In exciting news, the bettors have thought better of Ted Cruz's candidacy, and have raised the PredictWise probability of his being elected President from 1.4% last week to … drum roll … 1.5% this week (sad trombone).

Our phony lineup remains unchanged:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 763,000 +10,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 382,000 -11,000
"Rand Paul" phony 152,000 -21,000
"Scott Walker" phony 115,000 -36,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 85,100 -5,800
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 81,600 -16,000

  • Back in March, Scott Walker visited Concord High School and revealed that he'd purchased an item at a Granite State Kohl's for a cool $1. (There's an 18-minute video at the link which I didn't view in its entirety, but I'll assume this Tale of Smart Shopping is in there somewhere.)

    It took a while for Scott's Tale of Shopping to become an Official Talking Point of Outrage, but I assume (1) opposition researchers dug out this meager crumb, leading to (2) fulminations about it at "progressive" sites; (3) our local Democrats dutifully transcribe such fulminations into letters sent to local print media—I assume there's some sort of organized clearinghouse that assigns such letters like homework—and (4) our local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, dutifully prints them.

    And so it came to pass that on April Fool's Day, 2015, a letter from one Anthony McManus of Dover appeared in my paper, and it saith (in part):

    Scott Walker doesn’t deserve to be President because he doesn’t understand the irony and implications of his recent boasting about having been able to buy a t-shirt at Kohl’s for a dollar while campaigning in NH. It was likely meant to be an example of how frugal he is in his approach to spending, but consider this:

    The shirt was more than likely not made in the USA, another example of American jobs going overseas. The country of origin was probably one with subsistence wages, sub-standard working conditions, and minimal or non-existent health providers and educational opportunities for the workers who produced the shirt and their families. In other words, a system of exploitation of the population for the benefit of the factory owner and the large corporation, like Kohl’s.

    I.e., Walker doesn't "deserve to be President" because he doesn't buy the usual protectionist claptrap.

    I don't know about you, but this makes me want to go through Anthony McManus's closets and drawers to discover the countries whence the items of his apparel originated.

    Further illumination on this weighty matter came from an unlikely source: PolitiFact. They were egged on to check Walker's story by "readers from around the country." By which they meant: people who would love to catch Walker in a lie, even if it was only about shopping. And, as we know, Politifact would love to catch Walker in a lie as well. And so they dispatched their crack investigative team.

    But, alas, Politifact reluctantly had to rate Walker's yarn as "True". First, they examined the video, and determined that Walker was referring to the sweater he was wearing that very day. (Not, as Anthony McManus claimed, a t-shirt.) And, no doubt using CSI-style video recognition technology, they identified the item as a "Chaps Twisted Button Mock Sweater" in a color called "walnut twist."

    And Politifact found… well, what just about anyone who's spent more than five minutes in a Kohl's would have been able to tell them: Chaps sweaters can routinely be found on deep discount clearance, and if "Kohl's Cash" is used—as Walker claimed it was—"he could have easily gotten one for $1 out-of-pocket."

    Thanks goodness for investigative journalism!

  • A fresh opportunity for phoniness arose with the hoopla over Indiana's version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Jeb Bush apparently grabbed that opportunity with relish, as the NYT gleefully reported: "Jeb Bush Seems to Shift Tone in His Praise of Indiana Law":

    Jeb Bush appeared to modify his public comments about Indiana’s “religious freedom” law on Wednesday in a closed-door Silicon Valley fund-raiser, telling a small group of potential supporters that a “consensus-oriented” approach would have been better at the outset.

    The reporter deemed Jeb's position to the Silicon Valley fat cats to be "strikingly different in tone and in scope" than what he said a couple days previous to Hugh Hewitt.

    I sympathize somewhat with Jeb. Unless he says exactly the same thing on a topic to all listeners at all times, outlets such as the NYT will note that his comments are "strikingly different in tone and in scope".

    And if he does manage to stick to his talking points, he will be noted as "not straying from his pre-packaged script."

  • Even "respectable" MSM-friendly conservatives are beginning to notice Jeb's intractable problem connecting to the GOP base. A recent Tampa Bay Times analysis contains a good quote about his seeming annoyance with having to deal with those people:

    "That's not a starting point for dialogue with conservative voters. That's more like a middle finger," said Tucker Carlson, editor in chief of the Daily Caller. "You couldn't pick two more resonant issues for Republican primary voters than immigration and Common Core. ... Jeb says to them, 'Not only do I not agree with you, I don't agree with you at all — and I don't really respect your views on it.' "

    Or as Mickey Kaus tweets it:

Last Modified 2019-01-09 5:11 AM EDT

The Girl With All the Gifts

[Amazon Link]

We gave this book to Pun Daughter for Christmas. It looked intriguing enough that I asked to borrow it once she was done reading it. The dust jacket featured glowing blurbs from Joss Whedon and io9. And it's good, albeit not quite what I expected. (I expected something like The Hunger Games. Nope, not quite.)

I will try to avoid spoilers here: Melanie is a smart kid in an unusual situation: she goes to school with her classmates, but that involves a couple of armed soldiers coming to get her in her cell. One holds a gun on her while the other puts her into a wheelchair with strong restraints on her arms, legs, and head.

Melanie likes school, though, especially her sympathetic teacher, Miss Justineau. One of the things she learns about is the Pandora myth, whence the title; you'll want to keep an eye on that.

It gradually becomes clear that all is not well in the world outside Melanie's prison. Her teachers drop hints about devastating events twenty years in the past, and it's clear that only a remnant of humanity is carrying on civilization. And Melanie is part of a research project that is humanity's last desperate hope to survive.

Unfortunately, "humanity" pretty much views Melanie as one of the eggs that might need to be broken to make that particular omelet.

The book turns out to be (again trying to avoid spoilers) part of a certain well-known genre, distinctive because there's a gloss of scientific mumbo-jumbo backing things up, something the genre often lacks. It's well-written; the author, M.R. (Mike) Carey had previously made his name mostly writing comic books. And (spoilers at the link) it's going to be a movie with Glenn Close.

Big Hero 6

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This year's Oscar winner for best animated movie. And it's from Pixar-infected Disney. So yeah, it's very good.

The setting is explained by IMDB trivia:

… the movie is set in an alternate future where after the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco was rebuilt by Japanese immigrants using techniques that allow movement and flexibility in a seismic event. After the city was finished being rebuilt, it was renamed San Fransokyo due to it being a city with Japanese and American architecture combined.

The result is (sorry for the cliché) a visual feast. The Japanese influence doesn't stop there: I noticed a number of scenes were clearly inspired by Studio Ghibli-style animations.

The movie's hero is Hiro, a kid with a gift for robotic technical innovation. He lives with his brother Tadashi, under the care of their ditsy Aunt Cass. At the start, Hiro's main occupation is hustling patsies at underground robot-fighting matches, but Tadashi successfully persuades him to turn his talents to more productive uses at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. At the peak of his success, however, disaster strikes. (It's kind of dark for a kids' movie.)

It rapidly turns into a superhero-team movie, where Hiro and his friends dedicate themselves to fight the deadly menace. They are aided by Baymax, a health-care robot designed by Tadashi, and heavily modified into a warrior by Hiro. Baymax is both comic relief and emotional peg, and he's a major reason the movie works as well as it does.

The DVD has a short cartoon, "Feast", about a hungry dog, and it is also wonderful.

Last Modified 2017-11-29 1:59 PM EDT