The Phony Campaign

2015-05-31 Update

[phony baloney]

After a few weeks' absence, Joe Biden struggles back into the phony poll, with the PredictWise oddsmakers putting him at a 2% probability of being Our Next President.

This gives our poll an even split: 4 Dems, 4 Gops.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 898,000 -152,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 493,000 +92,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 414,000 +314,800
"Rand Paul" phony 216,000 -168,000
"Scott Walker" phony 157,000 +55,000
"Joe Biden" phony 144,000 -
"Marco Rubio" phony 129,000 +23,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 95,000 +9,200

  • One of my favorite fiction writers, Carl Hiaasen, is quite put out: "Jeb Bush raises tons of money, loses credibility"

    The following words were actually spoken last week by Jeb Bush’s non-campaign spokesperson: “Governor Bush is actively exploring a run. He has not made a final decision.”

    Every grownup in America knows this is a lie.

    Good point. It's a legal fiction designed to tap-dance around the arcane financing rules imposed on declared candidates. As long as he's not official, Jeb can raise money for his Super PAC.

    Trivia: You can see the Federal Election Commission's list of the—as I type—356 declared candidates here. Of the eight names above, four appear in the FEC list: (Clinton, Paul, Rubio, Walker); four are absent (Bush, O'Malley, Biden, Warren). Considering the latter group, my guess is that O'Malley's official FEC Form 2 Statement of Candidacy is in the mail. There's a pretty good chance that neither Biden nor Warren will run. So what's Jeb waiting for? (Some sober analysis here.)

    By the way: It's easy to dismiss 345 or so of those FEC-declared candidates as "delusional". And, I confess, I was about to do that. But if we're going to start picking apart candidates on their personality traits and psychological abnormality…

    Oh, wait a minute that's what we do here. So, yeah: delusional.

    Back to Hiaasen: he picked a mighty convenient time window in which to make his complaint about Jeb. Hillary announced on April 13, and before that she was in the same position Jeb is now. Where was Hiaasen then? And Jeb is expected to declare in a couple weeks, after which Hiaasen's point would be moot.

    And note that declared candidate Hillary continues to personally court donors for Super PAC "Priorities USA". Given Hiaasen's sputtering outrage at Jeb's Super PAC antics, you'd expect at least a mention of that. Instead, crickets. Or, for Hiaasen, swamp cicadas.

    This is why I pretty much stick to the fraction of Hiaasen's writing that's explicitly labeled "fiction".

  • In 2006, Elizabeth Warren co-wrote a book that (among other things) decried as "myth" the notion that “you can make big money buying houses and flipping them quickly.”

    And—I bet you can see this coming—at National Review, Jillian Kay Melchior and Eliana Johnson detail how Senator Warren previously made big money by buying houses and flipping them quickly.

    If she runs, one of her campaign slogans will need to be: "Do As I Say, Not As I Do."

  • As many people noted this week, Hillary's fake southern accent reappeared, after a four-year absence, while campaigning in South Carolina.

  • Byron York covers Martin O'Malley's campaign announcement in Baltimore, miraculously unmarred by gunfire. Enjoy the identity politics:

    The first speaker was black, gay, and an illegal immigrant. The young man, Jonathan Jayes-Green, told the crowd that his family came to the United States from Panama legally — "in search of the American Dream" — when he was 13 years old. "But our path to that American Dream became complicated when our visa expired and we became undocumented," Jayes-Green said.


    One might think that with Jayes-Green's appearance, O'Malley had covered the gay marriage issue. Actually, no. The next speaker, Johns Hopkins student Joseph Weinstein-Avery, stressed that he was just an everyday Baltimore guy — "I love my Orioles and my Ravens" — going to school and hoping to enter public service some day. "I'm a grandson, a son, a nephew and a friend," Weinstein-Avery said. "I'm your next door neighbor's kid — all thanks to the job that my two moms did raising me."

    Yes, I am talking about the hyphenated last names. Democrats are totally pandering to the hyphenated-last-name voters.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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

Another summer blockbuster under my belt. Mrs. Salad had other things to do, but I went with Pun Son.

The IMDB raters reckon this (as I type) to be #30 on the top 500 movies of all time. One spot above Casablanca? Five spots above Raiders of the Lost Ark? Eighteen above Gladiator? Please.

But it certainly kept my eyes on the screen.

The story has Max (Tom Hardy, not Mel) in trouble, yet again. He would just as soon wander the toxic wasteland all by his lonesome, of course. But right at the start, he gets grabbed by psychotic warlord "Immortan Joe", doomed to serve as a "blood bag" and eventual organ donor for Joe's elite troops. Fortunately, there's something else going on: the warlord's trusted right-hand, "Imperator Furiosa" (a filthy, bald Charize Theron) has decided to get out from under Joe's thumb, taking his harem with her.

Max more or less volunteers in Furiosa's heroic escape. (A pretty easy choice when the alternative is going back to being a blood bag.) What ensues is some of the most amazing action-packed battle sequences you'll ever see, full of unbelievable stunts and gripping imagery.

It's just not #30, is all.

Last Modified 2015-05-29 6:10 AM EDT

Memorial Day 2015

[Memorial Day]

Story here.

The Wrecking Crew

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

For the first time in my life, I made a request to our local arty cinema house that they wangle a showing of this movie, and they did! It pays to ask nicely. (They might have gotten it without my request, but I'm taking credit.)

It is a documentary about the music biz in the early days of rock, concentrating on unheralded genius studio musicians. (In that, it's very similar to Standing in the Shadows of Motown.) The "Wrecking Crew" is a loose moniker referring to a roughly-defined group of performers in (mostly) Los Angeles in the 1960s. It is no exaggeration to say that if you've listened to any popular music at all from that era, you've heard them. The group included Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, who went on to their own careers. But mostly the group was only famous within the music community, their work often going uncredited.

They would come in for all sorts of session work: commercial jingles, movie and television soundtracks, and the like. But the documentary concentrates on their studio contributions to 60's pop/rock, providing music for groups like The Monkees, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Grass Roots, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, … I could keep going, but it would be a very long list. Even when a group had decent musicians, economics dictated that expensive studio time be used efficiently, with a minimum of takes, so bring in the experts who could rattle off just about anything flawlessly with minimal practice.

In many cases they would add memorable bits of genius. That bass intro to "Wichita Lineman"? From Sonny and Cher's "The Beat Goes On"? On the "Mission: Impossible" theme? All invented by Carol Kaye. (Or so she claims, and I believe her.)

(It should be noted that the "Wrecking Crew" name is not without controversy.)

Lots of famous talking heads: the late Dick Clark, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Webb, Mickey Dolenz, Nancy Sinatra, Cher, even Frank Zappa. That's diversity.

Gone Girl

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

Mrs. Salad and I might be the last people in the 48 contiguous United States to see Gone Girl. But we finally got around to watching this nasty little thriller. Currently rated #147 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. I don't think so, but it's still pretty good.

It leads off with the unexplained disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), leaving hubby Nick (Ben Affleck) the natural suspect. But everything is not as it seems. Or maybe things are exactly as they seem. No spoilers here.

The Dunne's relationship is explored through flashbacks and Amy's narration through her diary. It's filled with dysfunction, dishonesty, and general sleazy behavior. But could it have led to murder most foul?

In addition, the unexplained disappearance of an attractive young woman leads to a media frenzy. Getting roped into the affair are Nick's twin sister Mo (Carrie Coon); a perceptive and diligent detective (Kim Dickens); a hotshot defense lawyer (Tyler Perry); Amy's parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes); and Amy's pathetic ex-swain (Neil Patrick Harris). Everybody's good.

Last Modified 2015-05-24 9:31 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2015-05-24 Update

[phony baloney]

Our PredictWise lineup remains unchanged this week, and Jeb maintains his healthy phony lead on the field:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,050,000 -410,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 401,000 +19,000
"Rand Paul" phony 384,000 +222,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 106,000 -2,000
"Scott Walker" phony 102,000 +7,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 99,200 -540,800
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 85,800 -4,200

But what are the phony stories behind those numbers?

  • The application to US Presidential politics is indirect, but I got a chuckle reading the incoherent leftist rant at Salon by one Andrew O'Hehir: "London as neoliberal theme park: The Platform 9 ¾ economy and the Tories’ shocking victory". In case you hadn't heard, you clueless Muggle, this is a reference to the London terminus of the Hogwarts Express at King's Cross station, from the Harry Potter books; it recently was granted a permanent home at the non-fictional station. O'Hehir is having none of it:

    Nothing quite so blatantly sums up the victory of neoliberalism in 21st-century London, and that city’s relentless commodification of every aspect of its literary and historical legacy, like Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross. If anything, the vulgarity and banality of Platform 9 ¾ are too blatant; it’s a crack in the façade that demonstrates how thoroughly London has become Londonland, a nearly convincing scavenger-hunt simulation of itself, chock-full of royal bones and references to Dan Brown novels. To enter Westminster Abbey – which is still nominally a house of worship for the Anglican Communion, rather than a historical theme park – now costs 44 pounds for a family of four, or about $68. (The Catholic Church has abundant problems, but it still has some pride; a few days later we visited Notre Dame in Paris, for free.)

    Andrew is pretty peeved not just about the Tory win, but also free-market capitalism in general, and just about everything he sees reminds him of the neoliberal menace. The American connection?

    Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush may yearn for smoochy photo-ops with Cameron in order to engage white America’s kneejerk Anglophilia, or because they swoon for his plummy Oxonian accent and long to meet his deep-pockets pals in the City of London. But if Cameron were American … well, it’s a useless thought experiment, because aristocratic, London-bred dudes like him – directly descended from the profoundly mediocre King William IV and distantly related to the current queen – are quintessentially not American. At any rate, Cameron is far too bland, far too internationalist and far too free of Jesus to be a viable Republican in any state south of New Hampshire, or in any era since about 1988.

    Nothing personal about Cameron, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be viable in New Hampshire either. (It's just a rumor that we keep electing Maggie Hassan because low-information voters confuse her with Maggie Thatcher.)

  • At MSNBC, Joe Scarborough mused on the hypothetical fate of a hypothetical Hillary campaign aide who might hypothetically suggest Hill take unscripted questions from the press:

    “That would be the aide’s last morning working for Hillary Clinton,” Scarborough said. “Have prepared text, have your phony town hall meetings with phony people and lobbyists. … They don’t have to talk to the press for a year.”

    For example…

  • Hillary visited our fair state and… immediately forgot where she was.

    Hillary Clinton misstated her location at a campaign event today in New Hampshire. Instead of saying New Hampshire, the presidential candidate said, "Here in Washington."

    Senile? Or, given that she was speaking at Smuttynose Brewery, surrounded by beer, perhaps just drunk?

    In any case, if she can't avoid making silly flubs in prepared remarks, it should be little surprise that she's desperately afraid of taking unscripted queries.

  • This week at least, Hillary's say-anything-to-win strategy translates into the tactic of sounding like a left-wing demagogue without actually taking any specific left-wing positions. Reporting from Smuttynose:

    On Friday in New Hampshire, Clinton spoke with a passionate, progressive voice, pounding away at Republicans for “jumping on the bandwagon” to kill the Export-Import Bank, whose authorization in Congress is set to expire June 30. It was a safe call, to say the least: House Democrats support the bank. Moderate Democrats such as Sen. Chuck Schumer support the bank. A liberal like Sen. Elizabeth Warren? She’s pro-bank, too.

    “It is wrong that Republicans in Congress are now trying to cut off this vital lifeline for American small businesses,” said Clinton, at the SmuttyNose Brewery in Hampton. Republicans, she said, would threaten the livelihoods of American workers rather than “stand up to the Tea Party and talk radio. It’s wrong, it’s embarrassing.”

    Hillary's claim that Ex-Im benefits small business is utter bullshit, unsupported by facts. (More, if you need it, here.) It speaks to the gullible dimwittedness of the reporter who detected a "passionate, progressive voice" raised in defense of that creaky New Deal-era monument to corrupt crony capitalism. (The reporter is slightly redeemed for noticing that this was an utterly "safe" position for Hillary to take.)

Last Modified 2015-05-24 9:33 PM EDT


[Amazon Link]

The title is sometimes rendered as Robert B. Parker's Kickback. And, assuming you don't block ads (and you shouldn't do so here, because they are non-intrusive click-here-to-buy-at-Amazon pictures), you'll see the late Mr. Parker's name is the biggest thing on the cover, followed by the title, "A Spenser Novel" and (finally) the actual author, Ace Atkins, relegated to small type in the lower corner.

Oh, well. I loved Mr. Parker too. And I assume Mr. Atkins is getting paid well enough to shoulder this disrespectful indignity.

Spenser is coming off knee surgery, a side effect of a previous case. A mother arrives at his office with a tale of woe: her son made the grievous mistake of setting up a fake social media account lampooning his high school's principal, hinting at non-standard sexual proclivities. And for that, the kid has been shipped off to a juvenile facility out on a remote island in Boston Harbor.

An obvious injustice, and despite the fact that the kid's mom can't afford his normal rate, Spenser is soon on the case. The problem is the old mill city of "Blackburn", up north of Boston on the Merrimack River. (Sounds like Scenic Lowell.) It turns out to be a nest of corruption, where a couple of judges and the cops conspire to ship kids off to the island at the slightest excuse, ignoring most due-process protections. Why? Well, you probably noticed the title.

As before: I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't be able to detect the differences between a Spenser novel written by Mr. Parker and one by Mr. Atkins in a double-blind test. (I like to think I kind of can, but I wouldn't put a lot of money on it.)

Gripe: much is made of the corrupt interaction between Blackburn's judges, the cops, mobsters, and the owners of the (aieee!) for-profit juvenile facility the kids are being sent to. The usual cheap shots are taken, the profit motive being the root of all evil, etc. It's not as if there weren't sordid stories of misbehavior in Massachusetts government-run hoosegows.

Kind of neat is the appearance of a character unseen since 1973's The Godwulf Manuscript, Iris Milford, playing a critical role. (In a note to the odd things a long-running fiction series does to a timeline: she was "pushing thirty" back then, which would make her somewhere around seventy now. As Spenser says: "Let's not think about it. Math makes my head hurt.")

The Invisible Woman

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One of Mrs. Salad's Netflix pix. Sometimes these work out, other times not. This time, not.

Or maybe I was just not in the mood. The movie is based on the true-enough extramarital affair between middle-aged Charles Dickens (yes, that one) and the minimally-talented much younger actress, Ellen "Nelly" Ternan. Dickens has gotten bored with his pudgy wife. (Although he was interested enough previously to have ten children with her.)

Ralph Fiennes plays Dickens (he also directed). Felicity Jones plays Ms. Ternan. The movie was nominated for the costume design Oscar, ignored for everything else. Understandably, because it's dull. Mostly characters spouting wooden dialogue at each other. Sample, thanks to IMDB:

Charles Dickens: A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is a profound secret and mystery to every other.

Nelly: Until that secret is given to another to look after. And then perhaps two human creatures may know each other.

Arrgh. Shhuuut uuuuup!

Rated R, although I can't figure out why. I may have been napping during the hot stuff. If there was any attempt at humor, I missed that too. There's a low-budget train crash, though.

Last Modified 2015-05-23 2:27 PM EDT

The Conservatarian Manifesto

[Amazon Link]

I have dead-tree subscriptions to both Reason and National Review. I rarely read anything in either publication I outright disagree with. At worst, I might tend to quibble with an article's misplaced emphasis here or there. I sometimes wish I was as cool as the kids at Reason; other times, I don't think I would be respectable enough to fit in with the sages of National Review.

Which means I'm pretty much a receptive target for Charles C.W. Cooke's recent book, The Conservatarian Manifesto. His general idea: to put together an intellectually respectable whole out of the pieces of conservatism and libertarianism, one that might also translate into practical political success.

And he does a fine job, picking eminently defensible positions from Libertarian Column A and Conservative Column B. A brief overview:

  • First and foremost: a return to strict federalism, where appropriate political issues are fought out and decided locally. This is appealing both on practical and theoretical grounds.

  • Build alternative institutions to those currently dominated by the left.

  • It's also important to defend and advocate a strict originalist interpretation of the Constitution. No more "living" Constitutionalism. (Echoing Jonah Goldberg: "The only good constitution is a dead constitution.")

  • For a success story, see the history of "gun control".

  • For a failure (although perhaps success in the offing): the war on drugs. (Given Federalism, see above, this would no longer be a national issue in any case.)

  • Lumping together so-called "social issues" is incoherent. There's really no reason to demand or expect a person to sway the same way on abortion, gay marriage, and/or legal pot. (Cooke is, like me, anti-abortion, resigned to gay marriage without deeming those opposed to be bigots, and, see above, pro-drug legalization.)

  • Foreign policy and defense are obviously "Federal" issues. Cooke leans conservative on the former (general non-intervention policies are just asking for trouble), but sounds libertarian on the latter (because—face it—the DoD wastes piles of money.)

  • Immigration also causes a conservative lean: libertarians tend to be way too blasé and glib about the negative effects of large flows of low-skill immigrants.

Cooke is also an astute reader of the political scene; his analysis of where "compassionate conservatives", outright libertarians, and tea-partiers go wrong is on-target, I think.

A quibble, echoing a point made by Donald Devine at The Federalist: I'm old enough to remember the Frank Meyer days at National Review and his "fusionist" efforts, attempting to tie together the adherents of free markets (e.g., Rothbard) with the devotees of virtue and order (e.g., Russell Kirk). It's kind of weird that a writer for the current-day NR doesn't mention Meyer at all. (Since I have the book on Kindle, this was easy to check.)

Last Modified 2015-06-09 6:04 AM EDT

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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

So I picked a sleepy Monday night, well after the movie's release date to check out my first summer blockbuster. I'm too old to fight with crowds. I think there were fewer than a dozen other people in the large theatre. I did not spring for the 3-D version, and by all accounts I didn't miss much.

Bottom line: I had a lot of fun. I read about the Avengers' nemesis Ultron back in early 70's, back when I could free-ride off a fellow college student's comic-collecting mania. In addition to the superheros from previous installments, we get the Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver here. Cool!

I should talk some about the plot: the Avengers are sent to assault the last Hydra stronghold in some fictional dinky European country in order to recover Loki's scepter, somehow misplaced in an earlier movie. They do, but the "magic" in the scepter is actually technological mumbo-jumbo that Tony Stark feels he can use to defend the Earth against the hostile alien menace that he (correctly) thinks is about to attack.

Stark's high on hubris, and this time it bites him in the ass. What he creates is not the obedient robot he expected, but one who concludes the most direct route to peace is to eliminate the obvious troublemakers: i.e. the entire human race.

There's a lot of frenetic battle, but each member of the team gets a chance to shine, playing a pivotal role in their (oops, spoilers) eventual victory over Ultron. Everyone's brave, and despite occasional violent disagreements, the team eventually peforms brilliantly.

If I had a quibble: things are often way too frenetic, in the sense that you can't quite tell what's going on: everything's a fast-moving blur.

Last Modified 2015-12-31 10:08 AM EDT

The End of College

[Amazon Link]

Another book provided through the excellent Interlibrary Loan facilities of the University Near Here, from UMass/Amherst. Sort of ironic in this situation, since the book predicts the imminent radical restructuring, if not demise, of these traditional bricks-and-mortar institutions.

The author, Kevin Carey, doesn't seem to be a radical bomb-thrower; as near as I can tell, his politics are mildly liberal, with articles and columns appearing in The New Republic, Slate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The American Prospect. But his critique of America's colleges and universities would be a comfortable fit in Reason, National Review, or The Weekly Standard.

Carey's brief history of American higher-ed indicates the problem: we have agglomerated three different major purposes (classical liberal arts education, professional training, and scholarly research) into what he calls the "hybrid" university.

"Hybrid" is probably the most polite term that could be applied; a more apt metaphor for an out-of-control monster assembled out of hubris and spare parts might be "Frankenschool".

Carey deftly notes that the current higher-ed system is incoherent, expensive, inflexible, and unsustainable. It is a procrustean bed, chopping up subject matters into semesters, credit hours, four-walled classrooms, and campuses. It takes little to no account of variance in students' talents, learning styles, or interests. The visible fist of government regulation and accreditation stifles experimentation and innovation. Non-academic fripperies are constructed in an effort to attract more paying students. (Carey's example: the University of Northern Arizona, with mediocre academics, but a shiny $100 million fitness center.) Education gets a back seat; studies show that the typical student doesn't learn much.

What will save the day, in Carey's view, is (1) the Internet and (2) new insights into cognitive psychology, combining into on-line course offerings that will be low-cost, effective, and far more nimble than the existing setup. Carey calls this "the University of Everywhere". No longer will an MIT/Harvard education be restricted to the handful of souls who manage to get through the admissions filter. Instead, you can get it for low or zero cost on the Web. (As with his critique of the status quo, Carey's enthusiasm for free-market innovation fits right in with my own conservative/libertarian sympathies.)

Carey is a very good (and occasionally very funny) writer, and he certainly did his research. He took an online introductory molecular biology course from MIT (could have been free, but he paid a few hundred bucks for MIT's certification of completion). He travelled all over the country to interview representatives of traditional schools as well as the disruptive people earnestly hoping to come up with "killer apps" for the education market.

Will Carey's vision come to pass? I have to say: I hope so, but remain skeptical. Carey himself discusses how every new technological breakthrough has been hailed as a revolutionary alternative to traditional schooling—going back to radio! And computers have been marketed as education saviors for decades; hey, anyone remember Plato? So who knows?

But if you're interested in the future of higher-ed, Carey's book is an easy and fun read, full of insightful observations and interesting possibilities. A website devoted to the book (with excerpts) is here. And you'll also want to check out libertarian scholar Bryan Caplan's critique ("Wrong but beautiful") here.

The Phony Campaign

2015-05-17 Update

[phony baloney]

When it comes to picking which white male Democrat is less unlikely to become the next president, the Predictwise guys seem to have a difficult time choosing between Martin O'Malley and Joe Biden.

But this week, it's O'Malley, with Biden dropping off our 2% probability screen. So:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,460,000 +693,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 640,000 -
"Hillary Clinton" phony 382,000 -8,000
"Rand Paul" phony 162,000 -8,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 108,000 +3,000
"Scott Walker" phony 95,000 -3,800
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 90,000 +14,800

  • At least part of Jeb Bush's uptick in phony hit counts is no doubt due to his mis-response to Megan Kelly's “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the [2003 Iraq] invasion?" This has caused tedious replays of that debate, with the usual suspects dusting off old assertions about what "we" did know then.

    Knowing what we know now, I personally would have advised Franz Ferdinand to have had a little better security in Sarajevo; I would have recommended that Hoover veto Smoot-Hawley; that internment of Japanese-Americans was kind of a bad call; as was the decision to launch Challenger; we shoulda let Lee Harvey Oswald rot in Minsk; and …

    Well you get the point. The only thing phonier than Jeb's answer to the question was the question itself.

    On the other hand, now that the standard has been set, I eagerly await: "Mrs. Clinton, knowing what we know now, would you have married Bill?"

    Not holding my breath on that, though. Because the media's double standard in posing gotcha questions is pretty phony too.

  • NPR—yes, frickin' NPR—wrote perhaps the funniest campaign story this week, compiling "The 13 Questions Hillary Clinton Has Answered From The Press" since announcing her candidacy weeks ago. Sample:

    NBC's Kristen Welker caught up with Clinton outside her very first campaign stop at an Iowa coffee shop:

    "You lost Iowa in 2008. How do you win this time? What's your strategy?" Welker asked.

    Clinton's reply, as she walked toward an open van door: "I'm having a great time. Can't look forward any more than I am."

  • Politico reports on its polling of "insiders" in both parties. This gem:

    Seven in 10 Republicans said Clinton spends too little time campaigning. “But when she does, she is so horrible, dull, scripted and phony that the Hillary juggernaut should create plans to build a soundproof Rose Garden in Brooklyn,” said a Granite Stater.

    Disclaimer: That wasn't me.

  • Howie Carr writes in the Boston Herald: "Now even Barack agrees Elizabeth Warren is phony":

    For once I agree with Barack Obama — he’s calling out the fake Indian as a liar, and who knows more about speaking with a forked tongue than Mr. If-You-Like-Your-Doctor-You-Can-Keep-Your-Doctor?

    In case you haven’t been following the inside-the-Beltway inside baseball, the moonbats have convened a circular firing squad over this Pacific Rim trade legislation that’s before the U.S. Senate.

    Granny rips President Soetoro, he blasts back, the pajama boy senator from Ohio accuses Moochelle’s better half of sexism, the president of NOW seconds those remarks, Obama’s flack says the senator should apologize …

    This is like the old Iran-Iraq War. Isn’t there some way they can all lose?

  • We haven't had a lot about Marco Rubio here, but this story about his relationship with his wife Jeannette covers a period when their premarital relationship was on the rocks:

    "I went clubbing, and I liked it," he wrote in his memoir, An American Son.

    One night he ended up at a South Beach club that pumped foam into a room of sweaty, writhing dancers. "I looked down at my shoes. They were perfectly white," Rubio recounted. "The foam had somehow bleached the color out of my cheap and obviously fake leather shoes. … I left the club and found the nearest pay phone."

    Feeling like a phony, he called Jeanette, then a cab. They married three years later. Her extrovert husband jumped on stage with the wedding band, 200 people watching, and sang Sinatra's My Way.

    "Senator Rubio, knowing what we know now, would you have gone clubbing in fake leather shoes?"

  • Finally, your tweets of the week, first from Hillary:

    And Rand Paul's response:

Last Modified 2019-01-08 2:18 PM EDT

A Letter About Pamela Geller

[A letter I sent to my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, links added to text.]

To the Editor:

I was disappointed in Robert Azzi's May 10 op-ed column, in which he discusses the recent attempt by two wannabe mass-murderers, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, to shoot up "The First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest", an event organized by Pamela Geller of the "American Freedom Defense Initiative" (AFDI), held earlier this month in Garland, Texas. Simpson and Soofi were thwarted by the fortunate intervention of an off-duty traffic cop; things could have easily gone much worse.

Azzi's slant is obvious: the terrorists are unnamed, and perfunctorily written off as Muslims who "felt compelled to try and use violence to stop the AFDI event."

Geller and her cohorts, on the other hand, get a fusillade of invective, personal insult, and innuendo: "fanatics", "bigots", "conspiracy theorist", "provocateur", who "spewed hatred", "incited", and "provoked". (And also "extremely well-compensated"; I am at a loss as to why that's relevant.)

I don't know that much about Pamela Geller, and definitely lack the insights into her motivations that Azzi and the people he quotes claim to have; perhaps she really is the personification of Satanic evil that Azzi paints. People I trust find her shrill and obnoxious. But I've seen far more hatred directed at Geller than I've seen go the other way. Her main offense seems to be her steadfast refusal to submit to terroristic threats, at considerable personal risk.

Geller herself described her motivation for the event beforehand: “They’re just cartoons. We’re holding this exhibit and cartoon contest to show how insane the world has become — with people in the free world tiptoeing in terror around supremacist thugs who actually commit murder over cartoons. If we can’t stand up for the freedom of speech, we will lose it — and with it, free society.”

It's possible, but difficult, to argue with that. It's so much easier to concentrate on Geller's alleged character flaws!

In short, Azzi's column is yet another example of what has been called "victim-blaming and victim-shaming". He would like to point the finger at Geller for her "intellectually unsustainable provocation". We are invited to imagine that her would-be murderers would never have harmed a fly if not for her brazen blasphemy.

Refuting that view is the plain fact that recent homicidal fanaticism has not only been triggered by artistic expression: it's equally likely to be "provoked" by daring to frequent a kosher deli in Paris; being too close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon; presence at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood. It's extremely likely that if Simpson and Soofi hadn't shown up in Garland, they would have made the news days or weeks later with a possibly much more deadly effort aimed at a different target. Azzi wants to obfuscate that with misdirected and irrelevant attacks; we shouldn't be misled.

The Casablanca Tango

[Amazon Link]

This is the third novel I've read from Mr. James Lileks. I thought the first one was pretty meh. The second one I liked better. But I thought The Casablanca Tango was excellent, easily one of the best mysteries I've read in a while.

The official page says the book is "An answer to the question 'what if Holmes and Watson were hard-boiled characters?'". I didn't read that until after I finished the book, but that's exactly the comparison that occurred to me while reading it.

Holmes and Watson are (respectively) newspaper reporter Harry Holman and his photographer, John Crosley (who narrates). It is set in 1947 Minneapolis, centering around a mass murder at a downtown dive, the Casablanca Bar. Who were the actual targets, who were the innocent bystanders? What's the meaning of the three vertical lines etched in blood on the beautiful blonde now with a hole in her heart?

Harry and John get enough leeway from their boss to carry on their own investigation, uncovering corruption, perversion, and other sordid behaviors.

Lileks fans know that the author is a human time machine, sliding up and down the fourth dimension with ease, especially knowledgeable about the Mill City and environs. The actual 1947 mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, has a cameo, as does the amazing Washburn Park Water Tower in Tangletown.

The style is first-person hard-boiled, very reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. I've read a lot of wannabe-Chandlers, and its the kind of style that's very easy to do poorly. I can't remember anyone succeeding better than Lileks.

I sometimes cast the movie in my head when reading books. Probably because I'd just watched a bit of I Wake Up Screaming on the local old-movie channel, I saw Laird Cregar playing Harry. About time he got a shot at playing a hero. Too bad he's been dead for 70 years.

The Phony Campaign

2015-05-10 Update

[phony baloney]

We say buh-bye to Martin O'Malley (again) this week, as the PredictWise guys have dropped his presidential probability under our arbitrary threshold of 2%. Joe Biden is still hanging in there, though:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 767,000 +7,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 390,000 -29,000
"Rand Paul" phony 170,000 -9,000
"Joe Biden" phony 137,000 -5,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 105,000 -8,000
"Scott Walker" phony 98,800 -10,200
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 75,200 -4,000

Announcing their candidacies this week were Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Magic Mike Huckabee. The oddsmakers behind PredictWise's probabilities remained apparently unshaken by this news.

(Aside: At EconLog, Scott Sumner points to evidence that betting markets did a far more accurate job of predicting the outcome of this week's British elections than did the pundits and pollsters. That's why we use them here.)

  • A truly fascinating mindset is revealed by Rory Campbell at the Guardian, attempting to reconcile Hillary Clinton's populist topple-the-one-percenters campaign message with her schmoozing of billionaires and (mere) multi-millionaires for campaign cash. Never mind her bemoaning of Super PACs while near simultaneously endorsing "Priorities USA", a Super PAC backing her. A San Jose State University professor of politics is quoted:

    “It’s the reality of these times. You have to play dirty to get there and clean up. Clinton is a pragmatic politician and wants to win. There will be criticism but I think people are realistic.”

    All indications this was said totally in earnest, with no laugh track. Expect to see variations on this theme for the next 547 days or so…

  • In other news, the Republican National Committee dug out a 2003 radio interview with Hillary, where she assured listeners that she was "adamantly against illegal immigrants", bemoaning the view from her limo of "loads of people waiting to get picked up to get yard work, and construction work, and domestic work".

    As with other issues, she's now singing a different tune. Nothing new here: she will say and do whatever she thinks necessary to get elected. The MSM will yawn, and so will many voters.

  • Ruben Navarrette's recent column shows just how shallow and stupid "respected" political journalists can get. Case in point is Mark Halperin's recent interview with Ted Cruz. It started off OK …

    But then Halperin made it personal, and the interview careened into a ditch. He told Cruz that people are curious about his "identity." Then, the host asked a series of questions intended to establish his guest's Hispanic bona fides. What kind of Cuban food did Cruz like to eat growing up? And what sort of Cuban music does Cruz listen to even now?

    I've known Ted for more than a decade and I could tell he was uncomfortable. But he played along, listing various kinds of Cuban food and saying that his musical taste veers more toward country.

    I kept waiting for Halperin to ask Cruz to play the conga drums like Desi Arnaz while dancing salsa and sipping cafe con leche -- all to prove the Republican is really Cuban.

    In (slight) defense, Halperin can be perceptive, as when he called President Obama a "dick" on MSNBC. (He apolgoized nearly immediately for his unthinking honesty, however.)

Insights du Jour - 2015-05-08

Some things I've found on-target recently…

  • Would the Bill of Rights ever pass today? Find out the sobering answer in Charles C.W. Cooke's NR article, "Why the Bill of Rights Would Never Pass Today".

    If it sometimes feels as if the Bill of Rights is the only thing standing between the little guy and majoritarian tyranny, that’s possibly because it is. Americans may be freer than most, but it is often thanks to Supreme Court decisions and not to public opinion that America remains an outlier. It is because judges have stepped in that it is legal to burn the American flag in protest; that the Westboro Baptist Church may stage its execrable funeral demonstrations without fear of tort liability; that seditious speech may not be punished by the government; that disgusting videos may not be banned; that conservative Christians have been spared the indignities of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate; that collections of citizens may engage in political criticism; that parents caring for their children may not be forced by the state to join a union; that the residents of Washington, D.C., Chicago, and other “blue” cities may buy and own handguns for their protection; that the government is prohibited from searching cell phones without a warrant; and so on and so forth. Looking around the country — and examining the attitudes that prevail in Washington, D.C., on our college campuses, and in our hopelessly excitable media — can we honestly conclude that three-fourths of We the People would vote today to so restrain ourselves? We are living on borrowed wisdom.

    It is sobering, and not in a good way, to realize that way too many citizens no longer respect neither the Constitution/BofR nor the principles that drove its composers. Example number one in my book: the recently-proposed constitutional amendment that would have restricted freedom of speech in the name of "democratic self-government and political equality".

    One of my state's own senators, Jeanne Shaheen, was an eager co-sponsor of this travesty. (Hillary Clinton, unsurprisingly, is also a fan of gutting the First Amendment.)

    And on Election Day 2014, the voters—the voters in the freakin' "Live Free or Die" statekept Shaheen in office, instead of returning her to Madbury.

  • In related news: you may have noticed that, gosh, for some reason, we've been hearing a lot about "hate speech". Sometimes assuming that it is (or should be) something other than a subset of "free speech". Bruce McQuain points out this 2011 article from Jacob Mchangama in the Hoover Institution's Policy Review. Which makes the point: the notion of "hate speech" is fairly recent, and …

    […] the introduction of hate-speech prohibitions into international law was championed in its heyday by the Soviet Union and allies. Their motive was readily apparent. The communist countries sought to exploit such laws to limit free speech.

    To quote Walter Sobchak:

    … but I can't say I'm surprised. The commies were famed for figuring out ways to make the expansion of state power at the expense of liberty seem palatable and even desireable to fellow-travelling dimwits. It's dispiriting that some concepts like "hate speech" live on after their cynical inventors have been discredited.

  • Pun Salad coined the term "Barackrobatics" for President Obama's recurring rhetorical devices, which often served as a flashing warning light of an imminent clash with truth and/or reality. At Reason, A. Barton Hinkle notes a couple more:

    • "There are those who say…" (invariably things that nobody has said):

      For instance, he has observed that “there are those who say we cannot invest in science.” Those people are wrong, by the way: “Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment and our quality of life than it has ever been before.”

      It also has been his observation that “there are those who say high-speed rail is a fantasy.” They’re wrong, too: “Its success around the world says otherwise.”

      And he has noticed “there are those who say the plans in (my) budget are too ambitious”—but . . . well, you know.

    • And it's fair to say that Obama might be overusing "it's fair to say":

      Two years ago, he allowed that it was fair to say the rollout of Obamacare “has been rough so far.” At the same time, “it’s fair to say that . . . we would not have rolled out something knowing very well that it wasn’t going to work.” And that also makes sense when you think about it, because as he pointed out on another occasion, it’s also “fair to say that all governments think they’re doing what’s right, and don’t like criticism.”

      Last summer, the president decided it was “fair to say that the U.S.-New Zealand relationship has never been stronger.” This must have come as a stinging rebuke to all those who have been talking trash about the U.S.-New Zealand relationship.

    Good ear, Hinkle.

  • And Will Antonin demonstrates that you can even fit an insight into a tweet:

    A more expanded version is available from Nick Gillespie, writing at The Daily Beast: "Trigger Warning: College Kids Are Human Veal"

    Every time we seem to have reached peak insanity when it comes to the intellectually constipated and socially stultifying atmosphere on today’s college campuses, some new story manages to reveal vast new and untapped reservoirs of ridiculousness. In a world of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and official apologies featuring misgendered pronouns that start a whole new round of accusations, wonders never cease.

    Readest thou the thing in its entirety.

Last Modified 2019-01-08 2:18 PM EDT

Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster)

[Amazon Link]

And the subtitle is: "Life Lessions and Other Ravings from Dave Barry". I fear the title/subtitle might imply more coherence to the book than it actually contains. But maybe they figured that "A Bunch of Stuff Dave Has Written Recently" might not sell as well. The title might prompt inattentive parents to buy this as a graduation gift, for example.

That would be preferable to Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss, currently number one in a bunch of categories at Amazon. Really, folks, your graduate would prefer reading Dave to getting yet another copy of Oh, The Places You'll Go!

The essays here:

  1. The insecurity Dave feels about having his family's wimmenfolk meet David Beckham.

  2. An open letter to his daughter Sophie about learning to drive in Florida.

  3. A meditation about how the Greatest Generation compares to Dave's (Baby Boomer) generation in terms of maturity and fun-seeking.

  4. His trip to Brazil during the World Cup. (Dave has an unfathomable fondness for soccer.)

  5. A satire on the clueless hysteria of cable news networks.

  6. An essay on home improvement. (A topic Dave has been writing on for decades.)

  7. An irreverent review of Google Glass.

  8. Recounting a State Department-sponsored trip to Russia with co-author Ridley Pearson. (Spoiler: Dave is not a fan of Putin.)

  9. A touching and funny letter to his grandson on the occasion of his bris.

So it's kind of a hodgepodge. Longtime readers will know that Dave is primarily a humor writer and a keen observer of the (absurd) human condition, occasionally with more serious undernotes. Easy reading, but my advice is to space it out; Dave's like a fine wine whose subtleties can get lost if you binge.

List price for the hardcover is $26.95, but Amazon knocks that down to $19.76, and only $9.99 on Kindle. Or free, if (like me) you have a generous co-worker willing to lend you his copy.

Last Modified 2015-05-08 5:59 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2015-05-03 Update

[phony baloney]

The geniuses at PredictWise have judged Martin O'Malley with a 2% shot of being our next president, which is good enough to welcome him back to our phony table. And he slides into a comfortable third place, behind Jeb and Hillary:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 760,000 -219,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 419,000 -25,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 304,000 ---
"Rand Paul" phony 179,000 -16,000
"Joe Biden" phony 142,000 -2,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 113,000 -10,000
"Scott Walker" phony 109,000 -3,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 79,200 -3,800

Not in the PredictWise table at all: Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Bernie Sanders.

  • Kevin D. Williamson reminds us what Elizabeth Warren's inflamed Wall-Street-vs.-Main-Street rhetoric boils down to: getting into bed with lobbyists, dispensing billions of dollars worth of favors to those with the right political connections.

    And, if you are paying attention, you should expect that from Senator Warren, too. She is not what she pretends to be.

    For another data point, see her support for the Export-Import Bank.

  • Okay, Ted Cruz doesn't show up in our table (yet?), but Mickey Kaus's analysis of his shifty position on immigration is worth a read for those who think he's above all the phoniness. In 2013 he proposed a "middle ground" amendment to the "Gang of Eight" immigration bill that would grant amnesty and work permits to illegals but no "path to citizenship".

    But now Cruz claims his amendment was designed to fail, a parliamentary trick to demonstrate that advocates were only interested in eventual citizenship for illegals.

    But as near as anyone can tell, that's not something Cruz was saying back in 2013. Mickey speculates:

    The really annoying thing about Cruz is the air he gives that he’s so smart, he’s figured it all out and everyone else hasn’t. He gave that impression to the NYT in 2013. His team gives that impression […] now. But if you combine those two impressions you’re left with the sense that Cruz is hiding the ball, trying to please everyone at the expense of clarity, like any standard pol.

    I like Cruz, but I try to avoid the illusion that he walks on water.

  • As stated, Mike Huckabee is not on PredictWise's radar at all. But Allahpundit observes that he's making moves to announce on Tuesday, and notices some … differences between 2016 and his previous candidacy in his announcement video:

    What’s missing from this vid, though? It’s got plenty to offer the blue-collar Republicans whom Huckabee’s targeting — promises of wage growth, a solemn vow to protect America’s unsustainable entitlements, and a little saber-rattling at ISIS and other jihadi menaces. But … not a word about gay marriage, abortion, or religious liberty. The furthest he goes is noting that he’ll “lead with moral clarity” and that comes as a lead in to foreign policy.

    I thought Huckabee was a nice, decent guy back in 2008, but (like many conservatives and nearly all libertarians) thought he would have made a disastrous president. Seems to have his phoniness credentials down pat, though.

  • What? No Hillary this week? Fear not:

    You know Hillary Clinton’s voice, right? I mean, you know it. It’s just so loud and annoying. Or maybe it's like a nagging wife. Or inauthentic—that phony Southern accent! Those flat Midwestern vowels! Whatever it is, her voice is burned into your brain.

    But that's just the lead paragraph of "Why Do So Many People Hate the Sound of Hillary Clinton's Voice?" at The New Republic, a purportedly science-based look at the speaking styles of various candidates. (There are sciencey graphs with "percentiles" and "Hz" on the axes, so that's not as implausible as it could be.)

The Pale King

[Amazon Link]

This is (almost certainly) the last bit of fiction we'll see from David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide back in 2008. It is technically unfinished, re-assembled from a partial manuscript and an agglomeration of notes, disk files, and marginalia. His editor compressed all that into 540 published pages, and—I speak as a fan—it's still kind of a mess. But a pretty wonderful mess.

It's roughly centered around the Internal Revenue Service's Peoria office just off the "Self-Service Parkway", a beltway around the city. It is set in the mid-80's, and considers the various offbeat IRS employees, their histories and talents. One of the employees is "David Foster Wallace", who snagged his job there via pull from his parents, something to do after getting tossed out of his college due to a side business where less academically-inclined students outsourced their writing assignments to him.

All this (spoiler, sort of) is completely fictional, but told in such a way that I had to check reputable sources.

DFW's story with the IRS is unfortunately incomplete, but his initial day at work is described with painstaking detail. He is supposed to assume a lowly GS-9 position with the other dweebs, but gets bureaucratically mistaken for a different David F. Wallace, an important GS-13. This causes some minor misadventures, not least of which is a surprising interaction with a female employee.

There are plenty of other folks. Notable is Leonard Steyck: an early chapter describes his boyhood, where he is (literally) Christ-like in cheerfulness, charity towards others, turning the other cheek, etc. Naturally everyone despises Leonard, including his parents. And there's Claude Sylvanshine, who has a supernatural talent of becoming aware of minute details of people in the vicinity. While in a meeting, he discovers flaws in the mitochondrial DNA of one of his co-workers, due to her mother briefly taking thalidomide while she was gestating; he becomes aware of another's shoe size and total blood volume (but not his name).

I don't suppose it would be everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed it. I found it (at various points) hilarious, poignant, and insightful. But, all the while, a resigned sadness knowing that his voice is silenced by his own hand. (I wrote my thoughts on that last August.)