The Phony Campaign

2015-08-30 Update

No changes this week in our phony lineup, according to our arbitrary PredictWise criterion. Jeb! increases his solid phony lead on the pack:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 2,340,000 +620,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 490,000 +79,000
"Donald Trump" phony 343,000 +7,000
"John Kasich" phony 185,000 -12,000
"Joe Biden" phony 168,000 +8,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 122,000 -9,000
"Scott Walker" phony 115,000 -9,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 104,000 -1,000

In the phony news this week:

  • Michael Kinsley (of all people) writes in Vanity Fair (of all places) some surprising wisdom:

    […] the biggest problem with American politics is phony umbrage: invented issues that substitute for serious debate. They allow candidates to climb onto their high horses and go nowhere important. They allow voters to avoid thinking about the choices this country needs to make. Yet they often dominate the political debate.

    Kinsley is well-known for occasional non-ideological insights, and this is one of those times. His general topic is "what may be the the worst editorial that has ever graced" the pages of the New York Times. That's a high bar to clear.

  • Been wondering why the media ignores Bernie Sanders? Find out the awful truth in "Why The Media Ignores Bernie Sanders". Samuel Warde connects the dots.

    See if you can follow what Warde bills as "proof": (1) Warde lives in Colorado; (2) one of his news sources is Denver's channel 9; (3) which is owned by TEGNA Media; (4) in which Carl C. Icahn has a 7% ownership stake; (5) Icahn has been named-dropped by Donald Trump as his (hypothetical) Secretary of the Treasury or (again, hypothetical) chief trade negotiator in the (even more hypothetical) Trump Administration!

    Q.E.D. All that's missing is a strident wake up, sheeple!

  • The coveted Deez Nuts endorsement goes to…

    Deez Nuts, the 15-year-old Iowa boy whose fake third-party presidential campaign has gone viral, has endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich for the GOP nomination.

    Deez (I call him Deez) endorses Bernie Sanders on the Democrat side. But he's still endorsing himself for the general election in November 2016. (In the event of a Trump/Clinton matchup, I'll probably do the same.)

  • You've probably already seen this, but:

    When voters were asked [in a Quinnipiac University poll] to say the first word that came to mind when they thought of Hillary Clinton, the most popular responses were “liar,” “dishonest,” and “untrustworthy.”

    Complete list is at the link. "Phony", our personal favorite, appears pretty far down (a mere 8 responses), but that's OK. Surprisingly: it was edged out by "murder" (9 responses); apparently some people are still sore about Vince Foster.

  • At some point, you have to ask: is Jeb Bush even an actual person?

    (Apologies for the dreadful narrator and his meandering presentation.)

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

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

Our track record on summer blockbusters: six so far. Seems like fewer! We saw this one at the Regal Cinemas Fox Run, in a theater with "plush seating" recliners, just like at home. If you have those at home.

Anyway, the movie: Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt, again, with his IMF teammates Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames). Unfortunately, the current CIA head (one of those Baldwin guys) has developed a strong dislike of the IMF's independent and impudent ways, and he wangles the team's dissolution. For libertarians, this is the most unlikely part of the movie: a government agency that actually gets terminated? Hah!

In addition to this friendly fire, Ethan is also set upon by the ultra-secretive "Syndicate" (aka the "Rogue Nation" in the title). It's led by the creepy Solomon Lane, who's responsible for thousands of innocent deaths worldwide. And there's also the beautiful-but-deadly Ilsa—whose side is she on, anyway?

It's very long, 131 minutes, but it's filled with plenty of imaginative action: plane-dangling; chases with cars, motorcyles, and on foot; opera assassination (Turandot, so it's classy); fights with guns, knives, fists, and tranquilizer darts. And the ritual death-defying break-in to the impregnable fortress to … sorry, I forgot what that was for, actually.

In short, all good (forgettable) fun. No illusions that any of these characters exist outside of their action bubble. (Hunt's wife from a previous movie? Gone, baby, gone.)

Hillary is Creepy

Hillary Clinton is grabbing a trick from the Obama campaign playbook: invite people to enter a drawing to have dinner with her. I was a sucker for this offer, just as I was for Obama's. Because (frankly) what amateur libertarian/conservative pundit wouldn't want to meet her, just on the off chance that you could post just the right question at just the right time to cause a well-publicized Clintonian meltdown, one that would cause all but die-hard supporters to realize that, OK, it's time to back away slowly from the crazy lady.

Such is the fantasy, anyway.

And good news, you can enter the drawing without giving the campaign one red cent! The link is buried in the fine print. It's the law, I think. No purchase necessary to win, or something.

The downside: you get on the campaign mailing list. Just about every day something comes in, usually begging for money. That's OK, I know where the delete button is.

But today…

[Hillary is creepy]

Whoa. I would think this would cause even some Hillary fans to say: Back off, lady! Or perhaps: Sheesh! How dumb and gullible does she think I am?

Or am I wrong? Does this really fool nearly every recipient into thinking that Hillary gives a rat's patootie about his or her birthday? Do they click immediately on one of the links, thinking OMG, she cares! She really cares! About me!

I got no clue. The pessimist in me has observed before: if there weren't a lot of idiot voters out there, Hillary and Bill would be, at best, mini-mall lawyers in Little Rock. (Making the generous assumption they would have avoided disbarment. Or jail.)


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

Set in mid-eighteenth century Britain, Belle is a combination of Austen-like soap opera, inspiring (but fictionalized) biography, a little courtroom drama, and social commentary. It's not bad, but "just OK" not great either. It seems designed as Oscar-bait, but did not get any nominations.

The hero is "Dido", the beautiful but illegitimate mixed-race offspring of a British naval officer and a West Indies slave woman. The officer does the right thing, extracting the young Dido from slavery and ensconcing her with his British noble family. Then he's off again doing what British naval officers do, which unfortunately involves him dying.

Leaving Dido in a complex situation: her family has mixed feelings about mixed-race folk; British society of the day was not the most enlightened either. While Dido is charming, intelligent, and beautiful, her Austenesque prospects are not good. (There is a lot of back and forth about who's gonna marry who.)

Complicating things even further is her Uncle William, a judge, who must rule on the case of the Zong, a slave ship that threw its living cargo overboard in order to have enough drinking water for the more fortunate crew.

All in all: watchable, but also missable.

In Plain Sight

[Amazon Link]

Amazon's Kindle version helpfully informs me that this is "A Joe Pickett Novel Book 6" by the great C. J. Box. It is, as usual, very good.

Joe is beset by problems. A missing ranch matriarch has prompted a shovel fight between three feuding brothers that Joe gets roped into. (Although as a game warden for Wyoming Game and Fish he shouldn't usually need to get involved in shovel fights, it seems he is around when this sort of thing crops up.) His supervisor despises him, clearly looking for an excuse to fire him.

And, oh yeah: a sociopathic killer is on his way to Twelve Sleep County to unleash misery on the Pickett family and murder Joe. That's not good either. (There's a back story to that, and it would help to have read books 1-5 in the series in order to flesh out a few things.)

What follows is a page-turning (for me, actually screen-swiping) tale of suspense, action, and violence. Box does something unusual for genre authors in involving Joe's family deeply in the plot. Joe is a devoted family man, but all the Pickett are recognizably unsaintly humans. So the Pickett family has its internal frictions and misunderstandings. But they are decent and likeable. In particular, Joe's oldest daughter, Sheridan, is growing up into a solid, perceptive young lady.

And, without spoilers, this book "changes everything" for Joe. We'll see what happens next.

The Phony Campaign

2015-08-23 Update

Our arbitrary criterion for inclusion (2% or higher probability of becoming president at the PredictWise prediction market) says we must bid farewell once more to the hapless Martin O'Malley. So:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,720,000 -1,700,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 411,000 -2,000
"Donald Trump" phony 336,000 -36,000
"John Kasich" phony 197,000 -7,000
"Joe Biden" phony 160,000 +1,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 131,000 +4,000
"Scott Walker" phony 124,000 +3,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 105,000 +2,000

What went down in Phonytown this past week? Let's see:

  • The RantPolitical site features a rant by Mark Twain (but probably not the famous one; the report of the famous one's death was not an exaggeration): "Hillary Clinton’s Phony Agenda Will Further Destroy America’s Economy". Well sure:

    Hillary Rodham Clinton mocks and ridicules the Confederate flag to position herself as a phony goddess of liberty. She contemptuously ridicules 299,521 Confederate dead and 200,000 armless and legless Confederate veterans who haunted barber shops and street corners until the 1940s. She belittles those long dead to serve her power binge. Four died needlessly in Benghazi because of Hillary. It’s now, always and forever all about Hillary. “Race is still a problem in America,” bitches Hillary. Where are the low income projects, and where’s the gangsta rap from Yukon Denalis within 20 miles of Hillary’s Chappaqua, N.Y. felony personal server home?

    I am not sad to see the Confederate flag go, but (on the other hand) nobody should fool themselves that the motive behind Hillary's every thought, word, and deed is compassion for the downtrodden. As Mr. Twain indicates: it's about her power lust.

  • Ex-Congresscritter Allen West reacts to the leaked video of Hillary's meeting with "Black Lives Matter" activists. Intro:

    I’m pretty sure those of you reading this have long known Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is nothing if not a big fat phony. Her campaign talking points are taken straight from the Democrat Book of Pandering. Adding insult to injury, Mrs. Clinton’s delivery of said talking points is as wooden as the paper on which they’re printed.

    Video of the encounter at the link. West encourages viewers to pay "special attention to the Democrat candidate’s facial expressions and body language." West can stand it, can you?

  • Matthew K Burke collects the "Top Ten Reasons Why Jeb Bush Is NOT A Conservative". Just ten? Well, it's a round number. Here's #3:

    Jeb Bush’s dad famously said “Read my lips, no new taxes,” but went on to be the Rockefeller Republican that he was, raising taxes which ultimately cost him his re-election and resulted in giving America — Bill Clinton (not to mention his wife). Jeb Bush is flexible enough in his phony conservativism to not make the same mistake. He won’t pledge to not raising taxes, period. Is there any conservative in America who thinks taxes are possibly too low. Yes, there is one — Jeb Bush.

  • Kimberly A. Strassel of the WSJ provides a useful service for us libertarian-leaners, using Ohio Governor John Kasich an example:

    As the nation goes about mentally categorizing the crowded Republican field, here’s one way to divide the arena: small-government reformers and big-government surrenderists. That debate is at the center of a bigger GOP meditation on how to better appeal to the poor and minorities. Mr. Kasich has emerged as the most eloquent and compelling spokesperson for the go-big camp.

    Also falling on the big side, in Strassel's view: Santorum, Huckabee, Rubio, and (to the extent you can dig any coherent policy views out of the morass), Trump. Curiously left out of her indictment: Jeb (see above), Scott (Bucks-for-the-Bucks) Walker.

  • This week's award for unintentional hilarity goes to Chris Tognotti writing at Business Insider: "Bernie Sanders' campaign is facing a major danger"

    Oh no! What is it?

    These may be the boom times for Team Bernie, but there's still a bit of trouble in paradise. On Monday, a Sanders interview ran in the New York Times Magazine, conducted by longtime political journalist Ana Marie Cox. One of her questions sent Sanders and some of his supporters into a tizzy: “Do you think it’s fair that Hillary’s hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?”

    Read the whole thing for Bernie's answer to this lamely-framed question, the resulting Twitstorm, and (above all) Tognotti's deep-thinking analysis about What It All Means. Basically: Sanders' failure to insufficiently genuflect to current progressive theology on race and gender is completely problematic.

What We Do in the Shadows

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

It's a vampire comedy. Starring, co-written, and co-directed by one-half of Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine Clement. So of course it's funny. It's R-rated (MPAA: "bloody violent content, some sexual material and language.")

The idea is that it's a documentary, filmed in a reality-TV style. Except the subjects are vampires, four of them living in a unremarkable house in Wellington, New Zealand. They have the typical housemate spats: who's gonna clean up all that blood, stuff like that.

It's a funny premise, maybe a tad too thin when stretched to an hour and a half. Another theatrical-release sputterer, our second in a row. What's the deal there? Maybe it did better in New Zealand.

The Drop

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

A little crime thriller based on a Dennis Lehane short story; Lehane also wrote the screenplay. The story was set in Dorchester, because, well, Lehane. The movie moves the action down to Brooklyn, and adds a few more characters and plot threads.

The protagonist is Bob Saginowski, a nebbish who lives alone, and works tending bar at his cousin's joint. His cousin is Marv, played by the late James Gandolfini, his last role. The bar is called "Cousin Marv's" and it's a so-called "drop bar", where the primary source of profit is its use as a temporary repository of cash used in illegal transactions.

One night, Bob hears whimpering coming from a trash can; he investigates and pulls out a half-dead pit bull puppy. He also meets Nadia (the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo herself, Noomi Rapace) who helps him nurse the puppy back to health. All would seem to be well, until a local criminal psycho shows up with all sorts of demands. Bob seems totally helpless in the face of malevolent evil. But is he?

Despite all the star power, the movie fizzled in its theatrical release. I was particularly impressed with Tom Hardy: this is the same guy who played Bane? And Mad freakin' Max? And here's he's just a schlub, albeit one with unexpected qualities.

Zero For Kelly

I am on the mailing list of "Friends of Kelly Ayotte" the campaign organization spun up for the New Hampshire Republican Senator's 2016 campaign. This entitles me to receive four or five e-mail missives a week, many with a couple irritating focus-grouped tropes that seem to have been invented by the Obama campaigns:

  • Something about "common-sense solutions" is usually present, often with a explicit New Hampshire tie-in:

    • "Your donation will go directly into the field to help fund our grassroots campaign for common-sense New Hampshire solutions";

    • "The fundraising numbers we report after this deadline will go a long way in setting the tone for our campaign for common-sense New Hampshire solutions."

    • "You and I both know that Kelly has been leading the charge for common-sense solutions in the Senate";

    • "We’re putting together a letter to the editor team to help spread the word on Kelly’s record of strong leadership and common-sense solutions for the Granite State."

    • "From the North Country to Nashua, Granite Staters are lining up behind Kelly and her campaign to bring New Hampshire common-sense solutions to the Senate."

    Who's against common sense? Not Senator Ayotte! This drumroll of vapidity might impress some recipients; to me it's just a reminder that the sender thinks I'm easily swayed by repetitive meaninglessness.

  • Some messages do their best to disguise their nature: personal-name From lines, content-free Subject lines: "New Hampshire Summer" from Thomas Reiker; "Show them" from Stephanie Hubbe; "Could you..." from Ada Furciniti; "Exclusive Invitation" from Jon Kohan; and (my favorite) simply "Hey" from "Thomas". ("Hey" back atcha, Thomas!)

    I get it: there is a marginally greater chance that recipients will read a message if it looks like it might not be campaign spam.

I guess that's the name of the game these days. They'll continue until some other gimmicks become the latest thing.

But I got a paper-mail solicitation the other day. I decided to waste a stamp and send it back, filled out this way:

[Zero for Kelly]

Yes, there's that "New Hampshire common sense" again.

And I also composed a letter to send along explaining my snottiness. I have no idea whether anyone will read it at Kelly's end, but here it is (HTMLized):

Dear Friends of Kelly Ayotte:

Allow me to explain why I am donating the generous sum of $0 to Senator Ayotte's campaign. I am particularly irked on two specific points:

  • Senator Ayotte's enthusiastic support for the Export-Import Bank is misguided. There has rarely been an issue that unites conservatives and libertarians so uniformly as this one: it's time for this corrupt institution of crony capitalism to sail into the sunset. The arguments are well-known, but if you need a short reminder, check out a recent column in The Hill by David Williams: "The Export-Import Bank is dead and should stay that way". (

  • Senator Ayotte's co-sponsorship of the "Campus Accountability and Safety Act" (CASA) is also a red light for me. The current version of CASA is a slight improvement over the previous one, but it still fails to take campus sexual assault seriously as a crime, with all that entails: an unbiased investigation, carried out by professionals, with proper respect for due process for the accused. Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner has detailed the many problems with the legislation. ( A particularly disturbing detail is the failure of Senator Ayotte's office to respond substantively to her questions about due process.

I have written to Senator Ayotte on these two issues and have received her unconvincing boilerplate replies.

Although I find Senator Ayotte's positions on those two issues particularly wrong-headed, her record shows that the problem is more general. Consider her scorecard from FreedomWorks on key issues of economic freedom. Her lifetime score ( is a mediocre 65%. And it's only that high due to her outstanding voting record in her first year. Year-by-year, her score looks like this:

2011: 83%
2012: 69%
2013: 64%
2014: 50%
2015: 33%

The scorecard from the Club for Growth ( shows a similar dismal trend:

2011: 98%
2012: 86%
2013: 79%
2014: 60%

In addition her current rating from Heritage Action ( is a very low 29%, near the bottom for Republican senators.

Given this, your claim that Senator Ayotte does not "drink the water in Washington" is laughable. My gut feeling is that she is clearly compromising the principles she ran on in 2010, cynically attempting to position herself as a "moderate" in order to be re-elected. I have no current enthusiasm for voting for her, let alone supporting her campaign financially.


Paul A. Sand

Girl with a Pearl Earring

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

I had this pegged as a snoozefest, as history-based melodramas tend to be. Instead I was pleasantly surprised. It's not new (from 2003), but Mrs. Salad loooves Mr. Darcy, aka Colin Firth.

It is a fictionalized guess at the backstory behind Vermeer's titular painting. Griet, played by Scarlett Johansson, is a Puritan peasant girl in Delft. Economic necessity gets her work in the Vermeer household; they are also in continual danger of declining economic status should the painter's patron (Tom Wilkinson) lose interest, a matter of great concern to Vermeer's wife and mother-in-law.

Colin Firth plays Vermeer, a typical obsessed moody genius. He notes that Griet is not only beautiful (duh, Scarlett Johansson, remember?) but also has a natural artistic eye. Gradually she gets drawn into his orbit as assistant and model. And… well, you've probably seen the painting.

Surprise: Cillian Murphy in a small role where he is not a slimy villain.

Usually I don't notice cinematography. But I did here: it's very good. In fact, I thought while watching that the cinematographer made a conscious effort to make his shots "painterly", if that's a word. So I checked on IMDB and was gratified to note that the movie was Oscar-nominated for cinematography. And this article seems to confirm my guess about the cinematographer's aims.

Suggestion: if you can swing it, watch as a double feature with the documentary Tim's Vermeer.

The Phony Campaign

2015-08-16 Update

PredictWise has dropped Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee below our 2% probability threshold, while the Democrat field was widened to (again) include Martin O'Malley.

Could it be that Jeb Bush's impressive phony hit counts are real, not merely a Google glitch? Although shedding nearly a million hits since last week, he's still maintaining a comfortable 8-to-1 lead over Hillary:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 3,420,000 -930,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 413,000 +3,000
"Donald Trump" phony 372,000 -137,000
"John Kasich" phony 204,000 -22,000
"Joe Biden" phony 159,000 -1,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 152,000 ---
"Bernie Sanders" phony 127,000 -17,000
"Scott Walker" phony 121,000 -38,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 103,000 0

  • Bernie Sanders' phony scores really should be higher. Steven Hayward of PowerLine reports that Bernie's stump speech includes

    “Men, stand with the women and demand pay equity. There is no defensible reason why women are making 78 cents on the dollar. That has got to change.”

    … and notes the Free Beacon report from last year:

    Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats, was the worst of the gender pay gap offenders in the previous analysis. He remains near the bottom of the list, with the average female salary $21,730 lower than the average salary received by men in his office.

    Sanders' supporters sputter that Bernie's gender gap does not take "area of employment, hours of work, and time in the workplace" into account. No doubt that's true; the point being that neither does the 78 cent figure Sanders demagogues about.

  • I should point out that PredictWise still gives Hillary the highest odds of becoming our next president. (49% probability as I type; next highest is Jeb at 37%)

    I can hear you saying how can that possibly be true? Especially after the week she's had. Perhaps the answer is best summed up in this Daily Caller article from Derek Hunter examining the belief system of MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski.

    While discussing Clinton’s claim that she never sent or received any classified material that was classified at the time, Brzezinski said, “If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, I would vote for her.”

    Then Brzezinski went on to say, “But this is to my point of candidates pretending things don’t exist. So you’re going to tell me something doesn’t exist and I’m going to believe you. And you think the American public is that stupid? That’s very insulting!”

    Yes: Hillary insults Mika's intelligence with her obvious dishonesty, but she'll vote for Hillary anyway.

  • George F. Will opines: "Trump A Phony Republican And Vulgar Candidate". Begins:

    In every town large enough to have two traffic lights there is a bar at the back of which sits the local Donald Trump, nursing his fifth beer and innumerable delusions.

    I wouldn't know about that myself, but I will defer to Mr. Will's expertise.

  • Okay, so we had to say buh-bye to Rand Paul this week. I resemble Steven Landsburg's reaction: "the biggest disappointment of this camapaign season has been Rand Paul"

    I just saw Senator Paul on Fox News, where he made four substantive statements, one nonsensical, one innumerate, one economically illiterate, and one evasive to the point of dishonesty.

    So, yeah, disappointing from Paul. Other candidates do that and are doing just fine, though.

  • We'll take a short break from politics to note Joseph Epstein's review of Carolina Israelite by Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, a biography of Harry Golden. Pretty much forgotten now, Golden led an interesting life, bouncing back to prominence and influence after a nearly four year stint in a Federal penitentiary for stock fraud. This leapt out:

    The story is told of the conductor Herbert von Karajan getting into a cab, and when the driver asks where he wishes to go, answering: “It doesn’t matter. They want me everywhere.” So, too, with Harry Golden. The speaking engagements poured in. Adlai Stevenson was pleased to have him draft speeches for him in his presidential campaigns. John Steinbeck and Henry Miller—a strange combination—were among his admirers. A friendship earlier made with Carl Sandburg, who also lived in North Carolina, deepened. The two men one day sat down, Ms. Hartnett notes, to compile a list of great phonies of the day, on which appeared the names Norman Vincent Peale, Bernard Baruch, Cardinal Francis Spellman, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Cecil B. DeMille. Not a bad selection. The only names prominently missing, of course, were those of Carl Sandburg and Harry Golden.

Frivolities du Jour - 2015-08-15

[Amazon Link]

  • Hayden Dingman of PCWorld does a comparative review of the $60 Razer Firefly mousepad and…

    By and large, the mousepad is an irrelevant affectation. It’s a fashion statement. Its job could be outsourced to any decent-sized piece of cardboard. And so when Razer sent over a Firefly review unit—yes, even after reading my article on the announcement—I decided to test my theory. I took a piece of cardboard off the Razer Firefly box and compared it to the Firefly.

    Apparently the reviewed item has been superseded by the item at right (which, frankly, has better reviews), the Razer Firefly Chroma Hard Gaming Mouse Mat, and if you buy it at the link, my friends, I get a cut!

  • If you were amused by the previous link, How would you express your amusement in your social media communications? Facebook knows!

    We analyzed de-identified posts and comments posted on Facebook in the last week of May with at least one string of characters matching laughter1. We did the matching with regular expressions which automatically identified laughter in the text, including variants of haha, hehe, emoji, and lol2.

    For the geeky, the (Java-syntax, I think) regexes are in the linked article.

  • Your amusing tweet of the week is from Frank J.:

  • To quote the YouTube hype: "Serf’s up, comrade! Quit your Stalin, and like the video!" From The Future of Freedom Foundation:

Last Modified 2019-01-08 8:03 AM EDT

The Night and The Music

[Amazon Link]

Consumer note for Kindle users: this is a pretty good deal, $4.99 for the K-version at Amazon.

It is billed as a (more or less) complete version of Lawrence Block's eleven less-than-novel-sized stories featuring Matthew Scudder, going along with the 17 novels. I've been following along with Scudder, the alcoholic ex-cop, very unofficial private eye, pretty much from his beginnings back in the 70's. So it was destined that I eventually check this out.

The Scudder novels are found in the mystery section of your local bookstore, but most of the stories here wander pretty far from the genre: by my count, only one is a straightforward whodunit. The remainder pick on Scudder's often bemused, often guilty, witness to people and their doings in the Big Apple. A couple stories are really just vignettes. But that's OK. As his fans know, Block is an utterly captivating writer, and knows how to make you turn pages. (Or, on the iPad, swipe the screen.)

In an afterword, Block tells his Scudder history, with some details about how the series could have easily stopped with the first three books. And then, after the fifth book, Eight Million Ways to Die, Block was in the position of having nowhere to take Scudder. But fortunately for us, he figured it out.

Higher Ed Follies du Jour - 2015-08-14

Let's open with a quotation from Karl Popper, via Don Boudreaux:

[G]etting educated is getting an inkling of the immensity of our ignorance.

Keeping that in mind, on with the show…

  • Our must-read-the-whole-thing recommendation is "The Coddling of the American Mind", an article from the September issue of The Atlantic magazine by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Opening:

    Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.

    Lukianoff is the current head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), one of Pun Salad's go-to resources for news about the war on free expression and thought on campus. Haidt is a professor at NYU (a self-described Jewish atheist liberal Democrat); I read and liked a couple of his books (see here and here).

    Their collaboration is synergistic, and I'm not using that word lightly. Lukianoff brings the litany of (what should be) familiar stories of how institutions of higher alleged-education are imposing an a stifling ideology of political correctness on both students and faculty. That's outrageous, but standard. Haidt's part is to show how this movement, while advertising a compassionate protection for students at risk of "microaggressions" actually winds up making those students worse off psychologically.

    And also, probably, dumber going out than coming in.

    So the article deserves to be read and considered by everyone, especially those in higher ed. Again: highly recommended.

  • Deep thinkers at UC Santa Barbara catalogue "Different Types of Sexual Assault". The opening sets the tone:

    Sexual assault includes any unwanted sexual contact, be it verbal, visual, or physical. It is a continuum rather than a single type of behavior with a set definition. When one examines the sexual assault continuum, it can be assumed that every woman will experience some form of sexual assault.

    Emphasis added. Yes, if you inflate your definition of "sexual assault" broadly enough to include every possible less-than-ideal interaction, you betcha that it will happen to every woman.

    And also every man, but the UCSB scribblers don't care too much about pointing that out.

    This is via Robby Soave at Reason who concludes, sensibly enough:

    Pretending that unwelcome whistling is a form of rape is insulting to women who are victims of actual violence, and asserting that all women will become victims at some point in their lives is irresponsible fearmongering.

    These people don't really care that much about actual victims of sexual assault. Their goal is to use fearmongering, intimidation, and divisiveness to gain power.

  • All that scribbling costs money, though, and that's reflected in tuition bills. Not to worry, Hillary Clinton has a plan to make college more "affordable". Philip Greenspun perceptively describes the scheme:

    Hillary Clinton has proposed to change the way Americans pay for college. The money collected by universities will stay the same, the teaching methods will be unaltered, and students will do the same things for the same amount of time. The big difference is that about $350 billion in additional taxes will be paid by Americans and then the government will make sure that (at least most of) the money gets to the colleges. Paying taxes instead of tuition will make college more “affordable” for Americans, according to Clinton and most of the media (e.g., nytimes), just as Obamacare made health care more “affordable” despite the overall cost remaining roughly constant as a percentage of GDP.

    Sure. Adding:

    It occurred to me that a politician could promise to raise the average American’s tax bill by $70,000 and then buy each family a Mercedes or BMW at list price. This would be called “The Mercedes and BMW affordability plan.”

    Phil's just ahead of his time. I believe this will be on the Democrat platform in 2020.

Irritants & Outrages du Jour - 2015-08-12

Welcome to Pun Salad. How may we irk you today?

  • Michael Tanner takes to the NR website to outline how the GOP candidates are doing on the crony capitalism/corporate welfare front. Short answer: not well. Mr. Tanner's first example is Scott Walker:

    His support for using $250 million of Wisconsin taxpayers’ money to build a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team is a quintessential example of crony capitalism. Among those who will benefit from the taxpayers’ largesse is real-estate mogul Jon Hammes, a partner in the investment group that owns the NBA franchise; Hammes has agreed to serve as the national finance co-chairman for the Walker campaign. Walker also flip-flopped on support for the Renewable Fuel Standard and ethanol subsidies, dropping his earlier opposition in order to buy support in Iowa.

    Also bloodied in Tanner's analysis: Rubio, Bush, and (of course) Trump.

  • John Hinderaker draws our attention a case of disparate impact. The Environmental Protection Agency is quoted as "taking responsibility" for the toxic spill into the Animas River:

    Well, sort of. But not the kind of responsibility that Freedom Industries took when it accidentally discharged 10,000 gallons of toxic material into West Virginia’s Elk River last year. In that case, the EPA and the FBI came down on Freedom Industries like a hammer. The company and several of its employees were criminally prosecuted. The company was forced into bankruptcy, and several of its employees went to jail.

    EPA's spill is in the millions of gallons, and (hence) hundreds of times larger than the Elk River spill. Will any EPA officials get jail sentences hundreds of times longer than the Freedom Industries employees?

  • Speaking of Federal employees that should be in jail: Lois Lerner. (Well, ex-employee in this case.) The Federalist digs a gem out of her released e-mail, in response to a friend bemoaning the "pathetic" political atmosphere in Texas:

    Look my view is that Lincoln was our worst president not out [sic] best. He should 'be [sic] let the south go. We really do seem to have 2 totally different mind sets.

    Lois clearly thinks of herself as owning an enlightened mind set! As opposed to Texans. She might think it's genetic, who knows?

    This was released as part of the Senate Finance Committee's report on IRS abuses. The bipartisan report's conclusions reveal plenty of IRS dysfunction; the Republican chair, Orrin Hatch, went further to claim: "The Committee found evidence that the administration’s political agenda guided the IRS’s actions with respect to their treatment of conservative groups."

    Note that one of the things on the docket for Nixon's impeachment was that he tried and failed to use the IRS as a political weapon. Obama succeeded, and … well, as Bob Dole used to say, where's the outrage?

  • But, as Wired points out it just doesn't matter:

    Scientists confirmed that nothing has any meaning in a paper presented at the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Honolulu on Monday, August 10. A team of researchers compared the energy in the light of over 200,000 galaxies across the cosmos, and the writing in the stars was clear: The universe has about half as much energy as it did 2 billion years ago.

    Ohmigod, we're all doomed! When?!

    That’s right: Everything you know and love, the entire universe of possible things, will be gone in 100 billion years. A trillion, tops.

    That reminds me of an old joke. The punchline being: "Billion? Oh, thank goodness, I thought you said million!"

The Stupidest Angel

[Amazon Link]

Subtitle: "A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror". And what better time to read a heartwarming tale of Christmas terror than early August?

The stupidest angel in the title is Raziel, and Christopher Moore fans have seen him before. (In fact, we've seen most of these characters before. But new readers shouldn't worry, this book stands alone well.) He's been sent to Earth to pull off a Christmas miracle, and he totally screws it up.

Part of his problem is trying to pull off the miracle in Pine Cove, California, long the scene of supernatural mayhem. But (good news), the residents of the town freak out significantly less than those of saner locales would. Hence the death toll, while nothing to be proud of, is kept to a practical minimum.

This would make a fantastic mini-series on one of the cable channels that can abide a little raunchiness and violence. FX? (There's a website for the movie, but production seems to be halted.) I was casting as I read: Seth Rogen for Theo, the once-and-future pothead local constable?

Only downside to a movie is there's probably no room for prose like this:

Theo looked at Gabe's ex-girlfriend, considered the heels, the stockings, the makeup, the hair, the lines of her suit, her nose, her hips, and felt like he was looking at a sports car that he could not afford, would not know how to drive, and he could only envision himself entangled in the wreckage of, wrapped around a telephone pole.

We've all been there, guys, amirite?

Aside, and sorry for the small spoiler: What is it with zombies and churches anyway?

Consumer note: I got a used copy in very good shape from an Amazon reseller, for far less money than the Kindle version.

Last Modified 2015-09-28 3:39 PM EDT

Insights du Jour - 2015-08-10

  • At Reason, Ronald Bailey notes:

    Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency released the final regulations implementing President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP aims to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from electric power generation by 32 percent by 2030. That would amount to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 871 million tons per year below what was emitted in 2005. Of course, the goal of keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is to reduce future warming. It is thus relevant to ask, just how much warming will the president's Clean Power Plan avert? The answer is, […]

    Answer at the link!

    Oh heck, I'll just tell you: -0.015° in the year 2100. (I believe that's Celsius. That would be -0.027° Fahrenheit.)

    The "Clean Power Plan" is all about political power.

  • Jen Rubin oft rubs me the wrong way, but she is on-target by quoting this Carly Fiorina response from "Fox News Sunday":

    What I would point out to Hillary Clinton is that every single one of the policies that she’s currently pursuing make income inequality worse. Exhibit A: income inequality under the Obama administration. Exhibit B: every liberal state in this nation. I spent 12 years in the state of California, a state that’s been ruled by liberals for a long time. And guess what you have: about 130 billionaires — good for them — the highest poverty rates in the nation, the exodus of middle class and destruction of industry after industry after industry. Income inequality is worse under progressive policies because progressive policies favor the wealthy, the well-connected, the big and the powerful.

    The knock on Carly is her lack of government experience, but why can't one of our "experienced" pols come up with such insightful and punchy rhetoric?

    More good Carly quotes at the link.

  • The illustrious Frank J. tweets all the analysis you really need to know about Hillary Clinton's "plan" for college finance:

    Gah! indeed. Instapundit has a followup observation, though:

    It’s a vote-buying scheme that also rewards the higher education industry, perhaps the Democratic Party’s largest source of donations and foot soldiers.

    Again: more about power-grabbing rather than good policy.

Last Modified 2019-01-08 6:36 AM EDT

Ex Machina

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

A pretty good movie for those who like R-rated material (according to the MPAA, "graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence") broken up with sophomoric discussions of artificial intelligence. That's me!

The movie's protagonist is young Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a fine programmer working for "Blue Book", identified as the pre-eminent search engine company in the world. He wins a work contest, and the coveted prize is to spend a week with the reclusive Blue Book founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) at his remote wilderness retreat.

But not is all as it seems: instead of just hanging out, Nathan tells Caleb that his purpose is to evaluate Ava, a robot who's the very latest AI development. Can she pass the Turing Test, showing that she has human-level intelligence?

But before Caleb can say "waitaminnit, that's not how the Turing Test is supposed to work" (and he does), we meet Ava (Alicia Vikander), who's not only smart, but beautiful, at least her humanoid parts. (See DVD box at right… no, your right.) And (once again) things are not what they seem.

The movie is a tad arty at times (for some reason I've become sensitive to this), but the script is clever and the acting is first-rate. (Both male actors, Gleeson and Isaac, are in the new Star Wars movie.) Isaac is really good, managing a complex character who's full of brilliance, deceit, charisma, arrogance, and megalomania. Special effects (mostly Ava) are very good. Scenery (even setting Ava aside) is pretty good too.

The Phony Campaign

2015-08-09 Update

[Amazon Link]

PredictWise gives us the same lineup as last week (using our 2% cutoff). And Jeb has got one of those inexplicable Google spikes, astronomically raising his phony hit count:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 4,350,000 +3,514,000
"Donald Trump" phony 509,000 +201,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 410,000 +15,000
"John Kasich" phony 226,000 +29,000
"Rand Paul" phony 181,000 +20,000
"Joe Biden" phony 160,000 +22,000
"Scott Walker" phony 159,000 +49,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 144,000 +41,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 103,000 +7,100
"Mike Huckabee" phony 73,200 -3,900

The GOP candidates debated on Thursday!

  • Like all decent people, I subscribe to Jonah Goldberg's G-File. Some weeks it leaks out to the Intertubes, and … he's kind of tough on the Donald. After quoting one of Trump's debate answers:

    I know what you’re thinking: It’s like when Abraham Lincoln spoke at Cooper Union. Oh, I don’t mean Lincoln’s address. That was a marvel of erudition and coherence. I mean the crazy shirtless guy with a horseshoe sticking out of his open fly shouting, “Did you feed the cat!?” who was dragged out of the room five minutes before Lincoln spoke.

    RTWT, people.

  • Also available is Kevin D. Williamson's NR article on Trump. Opening:

    Oh, you’re goddamned right this is Vegas, baby! because the Planet Hollywood Las Vegas Resort and Casino is the only truly appropriate venue for a show like the one we have right here. For your consideration: the carefully coiffed golden mane, the vast inherited fortune, the splendid real-estate portfolio, the family name on buildings from Manhattan to the Strip, the reality-television superstardom, the room-temperature-on-a-brisk-November-day IQ. The only thing distinguishing that great spackled misshapen lump of unredeemed American id known as Donald Trump from his spiritual soul mate, that slender lightning rod of unredeemed American id known as Paris Hilton, is — angels and ministers of grace, defend us! — a sex tape. The gross thing is, you can kind of imagine a Trump sex tape: the gilt pineapples on the four-poster bed, the scarlet silk-jacquard sheets, the glowing “T” in the background, the self-assured promises that this will be the classiest sex tape the world has ever seen — that it’s yuuuuuuuge! — the cracked raving 69-year-old Babbitt analogue barking inchoate instructions off camera . . . no, no more, that way madness lies.

    Fearless prediction: neither Kevin nor Jonah will be offered the job of Press Secretary in the Trump Administration.

  • But enough about Trump. Steve Chapman at Reason offers a savvy phony-detection algorithm:

    How do you know when a presidential candidate is being deceptive? No, silly, not when his or her lips are moving. Candidates often tell the truth—like when they say they want your vote or your money. Moving lips are not a reliable clue.

    So what is? Any statement that envisions an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    [I've said this before but] Particularly phony are the calls for a balanced-budget amendment. If Congress really wanted to balance the budget, all they need is 50%+1 of the members to vote for one. A Constitutional amendment is much harder to enact.

  • Scott Walker continues to unimpress:

    Minutes before Charles Koch took the stage to rail against corporate welfare at the gathering of his donor network, Gov. Scott Walker sat down for an interview with reporter Mike Allen. Allen asked a tough question about Walker's proposed corporate welfare for Milwaukee's NBA team.

    Walker's defense is at the link, and a (pretty convincing) rebuttal is at the secondary link here.

  • Lindsay Graham has never scored well enough at PredictWise to make it into our poll, but in case you were tempted to consider him non-phony, Paul Mirengoff at Powerline has some sobering words for y'all:

    The [Washington] Post shows that as a military reservist, Graham was promoted despite doing almost nothing and that he misrepresented his military service. For his part, Graham tells the Post that while he doesn’t mean to “pat myself on the back, Colonel Graham will put my entire record up against anyone who has ever served.”

    Mirengoff knows better than to take a Washington Post hit piece at face value, but this appears to be on-target.

  • Ah, you say, but what about Hillary? Well, same old. Oren Cass has a cynical (i.e., accurate) look at her "climate plan":

    Hillary Clinton has a real climate change plan and a fake climate change plan. She released the fake plan earlier this week to predictably rapturous media applause for its “far-reaching” and “comprehensive” agenda. It features “ambitious” goals to increase renewable energy use in the United States and outlines other platform planks still to come on oil dependency, infrastructure, and conservation.

    The plan is most obviously fake because it is not really a climate plan at all. Clinton offers no estimated reductions in carbon dioxide emissions or future temperatures, probably because her plan cannot achieve any meaningful ones. Her ultimate goal to generate 33 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable sources by 2027 would reduce global emissions by less than 2 percent annually, even if every new kilowatt-hour of renewable power managed to replace coal-fired power. That is only a fraction of the increase expected from China during the same period.

    So if that's her fake plan, what's her real one? Well, it's worse, and she doesn't want to talk about it.

  • Finally, Remy's take on the debates is fun:

    At this point, I may write in Remy on my primary ballot. He's hugged lots of sad people.

Last Modified 2019-10-29 4:56 PM EDT

Frivolities du Jour - 2015-08-07

Not the most serious of content for a Friday:

  • Tom Maguire notes the following in the NYT where it is unclear whether the quoted speaker, arguing that all the Trump hoopla will redound to Jeb Bush's benefit, really used the metaphor he wanted:

    “The longer it goes, the greater the panic is going to build,” said Alex Castellanos, a longtime Republican strategist. “And that means you may not have the luxury to flirt with an undeveloped, budding candidate. Trump has set the Republican Party on fire, and if you’re going to put that fire out you don’t have time to waste. You’re going to have to grab the biggest blanket you got and throw it, and right now that’s Jeb.”

    "That's Jeb": a big old wet blanket.

  • Mickey Kaus noted the earnest ad:

    Voxdotcom just announced, “We are looking for a fast-moving, forward-thinking, innovative editor to lead a team of writers focused on gender, sexuality, race, and criminal justice.” The editor would “[c]onceptualize and implement an editorial strategy for the race and identity team.”

    and me laugh with his own ad:

    We’re looking for a defensive, pissed-off editor to lead a team of bitter, underpaid writers to rehash the ideological battles of the 1980s! The editor would conceive, manage and shape this coverage until the entire team quits. Except that there is no team. We weren’t going to tell you that until you showed up, but the cat is out of the bag now.

    More, very funny, at the link.

  • So I understand Jon Stewart has concluded his Long Goodbye, his last show going out over the cables last night. I don't think I ever watched one of the episodes all the way through; you either find his schtick worth watching or you don't, and I didn't.

    I can't find the source now, but a Pun Salad thumbs-up award goes to whoever observed that Stewart never tired of (a) pointing out the stupidity and moral failings of politicians and bureaucrats and (b) advocating that they be given ever-increasing amounts of power and money.

    Anyway, you might like some smart takes from Federalist writers:

    • If you ever wondered how Jon Stewart has enabled the politics of spectacle, John Daniel Davidson may clear things up for you in "How Jon Stewart Has Enabled The Politics Of Spectacle".

    • And Bill McMorris bids "Farewell To Jon Stewart, The Left’s Donald Trump".

      Bill is pretty amusing himself. Noting a particularly egregious example of Stewart idolatry:

      “It’s time for us to stop asking more from him than any one person can be expected to give,” Jeopardy champion Arthur Chu writes. Substitute L. Ron Hubbard for Jon Stewart, and you have a John Travolta op-ed.

    In Time (of all places), Karol Markowicz says: "Thanks, Jon Stewart, for Making Us All Dumber." Sarcasm, I think.

    Finally, ReasonTV has…

    Just five? Well, they like to keep the videos short.

  • At the CEI blog, Michelle Minton and Gregory Conko ask and answer the question: "What Happens an Hour After Drinking Locally Sourced, Sustainable, Organic Kale Juice?" It's not a pretty picture, Emily.

  • And at, Rob Waugh asks: "Is the Large Hadron Collider going to summon the Antichrist next month?" No spoilers here!

    Consumer note: You always can check the world-destroying status of the LHC here:

Higher Ed Follies du Jour - 2015-08-06

  • If you haven't used up your three free American Interest articles this month (or know how to easily fool paywalls), you can read the story of philosophy professor Andrew Pessin, of Connecticut College. Prof Pessin facebooked about the Israel/Gaza situation in the summer of 2014, and made an arguably imperfect analogy about rabid pit bulls needing to be kept in their cages.

    This simmered for a few months before blowing up into a full-fledged Orwellian two-minute hate, inspired by local Muslims.

    But at least Pessin's faculty colleagues and the college administration defended him, right? Well…

    At the same time, Pessin’s colleagues abandoned him. Indeed both administrators and colleagues urged him not to defend himself, lest he anger the accusing students further. One colleague asked him to stop making life difficult for other Jews still on campus by fighting back. The chair of his department threw him under the bus in deference to student crying because Pessin had tried to defend himself.

    Pessin's "caged rabid pit bull" analogy is arguably imperfect but it was far from inaccurate, given Hamas's history of tunnel warfare against Israel. Connecticut College should be ashamed, but probably isn't.

  • The brouhaha about UNH's "Bias-Free Language Guide" is winding down, finally. But Brendan O'Neill at Reason fits it into a growing trend of "microaggression" theory:

    There are many mad and worrying things about the speech codes spreading across campuses like a contagious brain funk. There's their treatment of even everyday words as "problematic" terms of abuse. There's the branding of the most anodyne forms of friendly banter as "aggressive" (apparently it is a microaggression to say to a Latino or Native American, "We want to know what you think"). And there's the idea that even static objects can commit acts of violence against students: one university bemoans "environmental microaggressions," which can include a college in which all the buildings are "named after white heterosexual upper class males." What these codes add up to is a demand that everyone be permanently on edge, constantly reevaluating their every thought before uttering it. It's an invitation to social paralysis.

    It's a remarkably convenient theory. Because it just happens to be an all-purpose tool to intimidate and silence those in a University community who may not wholly buy into the "diversity" ideology and want to treat their colleagues as individuals and not as easily-offended members of whatever racial/cultural/sexual/psychological collective they identify with.

  • At Phi Beta Cons, George Leef recommends O'Neill's essay, and offers a speculation:

    What accounts for this stupendous obsession over race? I’ll give you my take. The “progressives” are increasingly desperate to manufacture distractions that will keep the voters they depend on angry, edgy, and in line. Constant, red-hot rhetoric about race is useful to them. If the heat were turned off and people stopped thinking that race is America’s big problem, they might start thinking instead about the ways in which the mega-state fails them.

    The only quibble I have: it's not only an obsession with race, but every possible us-against-them pigeonhole that "progressives" can imaginably exploit. (Which I've posted as a comment at NR.)

  • On a lighter note, the Chronicle of Higher Education presents "88 College Taglines, Arranged as a Poem". It begins:

    Change Your Life. Start Here.
    Life's Calling
    It's Your Life
    Your Extraordinary Life
    The Life of the Mind
    Change Your Mind. Change Your Life.
    Minds. Motivated.
    Inspiring Minds

    I think the University Near Here's current tagline is "Your education is more than a matter of degree." My recollection is that it was previously slightly different: "Where education is more than a matter of degree." But either would fit right into the Chronicle poem.

    That is not a compliment.

Irritants & Outrages du Jour - 2015-08-05

Not mad enough? We will fix that.

  • The sainted founder of the Boston Beer Company, Jim Koch, uttered the grim news about the possible future of his company:

    “We are vulnerable because we currently report all of our income in the United States and pay a tax rate of about 38 percent on that income,” said founder Jim Koch to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations last Thursday. “Because of our broken corporate tax system, I can honestly say that I will likely be the last American owner of the Boston Beer Company.”

    Will this be the anecdote that finally inspires corporate tax reform? That would be nice.

    I can't help but think that one of Jim Koch's US Senators is Elizabeth Warren, famous for making progressives swoon with her "you didn't build that" rhetoric. Perhaps she'll point out to Koch: "You didn't brew that!"

  • Not that it matters, but Mrs. Salad and I took in the Samuel Adams Brewery tour while we were in Boston a few days ago. It's a short walk from the Stony Brook T Station on the Orange Line, and the price is a bargain: a suggested $2, donated to charity. Educational, and a small amount of free beer is involved.

    And I suppose it will continue to be fun after it's sold to SABMiller.

  • Big debate coming up, and Donald Trump will be there in the middle of things. If you need one more reminder of how depressing that is for any sensible conservative/libertarian, check Jim Geraghty on "Donald Trump’s Odd Fixation on Seizing Middle Eastern Oil Fields"

    Since announcing his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump has made clear that he’s a different kind of candidate. He’s loud, he’s brash, and he’s got an uncanny ability to spark outrage and controversy just by opening his mouth. His is a reality-show candidacy for a reality-show age, and his pitch to voters fits it to a tee: heavy on personality and light on policy. Those stances he does take have a superficial populist appeal — quite a substantial one if the polls are to be believed — but tend to fall apart on closer inspection.

    Case in point: American policy in the Middle East, where Trump has in recent years repeatedly endorsed the bizarre, bellicose fantasy that the U.S. could and should seize oil fields in Iraq and Libya.

    Four years ago, Rick Perry doomed himself by momentarily forgetting exactly which cabinet departments he wanted to dump. Trump's policy positions are nutty (to the extent they aren't vaporous) and yet voters continue to favor him. How long can this go on?

  • More Koch (but no relation to the beer guy) news: Brian Doherty notes that Time headlined its story about a Charles Koch speech "Charles Koch says U.S. can bomb its way to $100,000 salaries: Building bombs and using them is one way to growth, the billionaire suggests to allies."

    In fact, Koch was making the point that government spending, no matter how stupid, wasteful, or destructive, automatically adds to GDP. This is not difficult to grasp. But why, if you're a Time reporter, or an idiot (but I repeat myself), bother with trying to understand that when you can just leap to the Koch smear?

    Time eventually changed the headline, but not before insulting the intelligence of the dozen or so readers it still has.

  • There's apparently a Twitter bot that attempts to "correct" tweets using the phrase "illegal immigrant". "People aren't illegal," it hectors. Euphemisms are suggested.

    I have to admit there's a point there. "Illegal" properly refers to acts, not people.

    But what the bot fails to note is that "illegal immigrant" is already kind of a euphemism, designed to avoid plain language.

    "Immigration lawbreaker" is more accurate. But I won't hold my breath waiting for people to say that.


[Amazon Link]

Another entry from National Review's list of "Ten Great Conservative Novels". Five down, five to go. I was able to find a second-printing copy in the dark and remote shelves of the Dimond Library of the University Near Here; it appears to be out of print, but Amazon has a thriving used market for it.

The author, John Dos Passos (1896-1970), flirted with left-wingism in his early career, but was apparently too much of an realistic individualist to go full Commie. (His reaction to the Communist side in the Spanish Civil War caused a breakup with his former buddy Ernest Hemingway.) Later in his life he voted for Nixon and Goldwater; it's out of that mindset that Midcentury was written.

The structure of the book is (so-called) "nonlinear", with multiple stories intertwined with biographical sketches of actual people, and amusingly-juxtaposed snippets of news stories and advertisements (I assume also real). Dos Passos was a major developer of this technique; it must have been revolutionary at the time.

The biographical sketches are snappy and interesting. Some are famous (Eleanor Roosevelt, James Dean, Jimmy Hoffa…). A couple I had never heard of: Robert R. Young and William F. Dean. (I'm kind of ashamed about not knowing about Dean.)

The fiction bits mostly concern organized labor, with characters on both sides: an old Wobbly reminisces about his colorful life from the bed of a Veterans Administration hospital; a small businessman tries to set up a rival cab company in a small city. Dos Passos's picture of Big Labor is largely unflattering: a smattering of good eggs, mostly ground down by the corrupt.

Last Modified 2015-08-06 6:46 AM EDT

Insights du Jour - 2015-08-03

Haven't done one of these in a while. But here are some things I've found on-target recently…

  • Via Greg Mankiw, a Milton Friedman quote:

    “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”

    Milton Friedman would have been 103 last Friday, and he is sorely missed.

  • In a related vein, P.J. O'Rourke shares his insights at the Weekly Standard:

    I would like to address myself to the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refugees teeming to America’s shore, the homeless, the economically, socially, and mentally tempest-tossed. Also, I’d like to address the young, the hip, the progressive, the compassionate, and the caring. I’d like a word with everyone who votes for Democrats.

    Democrats hate your guts.

    Read the whole thing and see if you don't agree.

  • Brian Doherty has a long but interesting discussion of "4 Prominent Ayn Rand Recanters": Rush's Neal Peart, Representative Paul Ryan, Alan Greenspan, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

    Every sentient being should be aware that a core unquestionable intellectual underpinning of progressive Internet modernity, one as undeniably certain as that A is A, is that Ayn Rand was an idiotic villain and all her fans are malign, childish bozos. (If you are sadly uneducated on this fact, start here.)

    Nevertheless, some people came out of the closet to admit their fanhood… only to hustle back in again.

    I was never a full-blown Objectivist acolyte, even in high school, the first time (and the last) I read Atlas Shrugged. And even then, I skipped over the big Galt speech. Nevertheless I've found her worth quoting in response to some local anti-capitalists.

    Maybe someone should bring out a "good parts" version of Atlas Shrugged, like William Goldman did with S. Morgenstern's The Princess Bride?

The Phony Campaign

2015-08-02 Update

[phony baloney]

The seers at PredictWise have decreed that John Kasich has a 2% shot at the presidency, so we're putting him in, bringing our field to (I think) ten:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 836,000 -88,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 395,000 -73,000
"Donald Trump" phony 308,000 +49,000
"John Kasich" phony 197,000 ---
"Rand Paul" phony 161,000 +4,000
"Joe Biden" phony 138,000 +2,000
"Scott Walker" phony 110,000 -2,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 103,000 -2,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 95,900 -3,400
"Mike Huckabee" phony 77,100 -619,900

I note that Kasich has been flooding the New Hampshire airwaves with ads over the past few weeks. I've also seen some Chris Christie commercials. Maybe the other candidates have been scheduling their ads during Big Bang Theory reruns or something, but I haven't noticed them.

Anyway, on to the phony news:

  • We'll welcome Governor Kasich to the party with a Talking Points Memo headline: "Ohio Gov. John Kasich Criticizes Obama Tax Plan With Phony Lincoln Quote."

    Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, invoked a dubious Abraham Lincoln quote while criticizing President Barack Obama's plan to raise taxes on the wealthy during an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

    “You cannot build a little guy up by tearing a big guy down,” Kasich said. “Abraham Lincoln said it then, and he’s right.”

    TPM attributes this quote to William Boetcker (1873-1962), an American religious leader, it being (more or less) one of his "Ten Cannots", published in 1916. Which are:

    1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
    2. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
    3. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
    4. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
    5. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
    6. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
    7. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
    8. You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
    9. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.
    10. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

    These were published in a leaflet, titled "Lincoln on private property", which did include Lincoln quotes. But number two was from Boetcker's brain, and people shouldn't attribute it, or any of the other nine, to Lincoln.

    On the other hand, none of those things is any less true because Lincoln didn't say them. If you know what I mean.

    [For a table-turner, see Andrew Ferguson on Al Gore's deployment of an equally bogus Lincoln quote.]

  • Hillary is always good for an obvious phony op. After giving her premiere speech on climate change in Des Moines, where she bemoaned the usage of fossil fuels releasing gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which will kill us all dead…

    She climbed into a private jet to whoosh off to her next gig. It's estimated that the 19-seat Dassault model Falcon 900B burns 347 gallons of fuel per hour.

    Prof Bainbridge recalls a historical parallel:

    ZiL lanes (also sometimes called "Chaika lanes") are lanes on some principal roads in Moscow dedicated to vehicles carrying senior government officials. Known officially in Russian as rezervniye polosy ("reserved lanes"), they took their nickname from the black limousines produced by ZiL and the luxury Chaika cars that were used by officials of the Soviet Union as their official vehicles. ... The ZiL lanes and restricted routes caused considerable disruption to Moscow's traffic because of the absolute priority given to their users.


  • You might have heard that, in criticizing the Iran nuke deal, Mike Huckabee compared Obama to Hitler. A number of MSMites echoed the meme, giving it credibility. Only problem is, says Jonah Goldberg: that interpretation is clearly at odds with what Huckabee actually said.

    Now, I’ve never been a big fan of Huckabee’s style of politics — or policy. But a remotely fair reading of the statement strongly suggests that Huckabee was comparing Obama to Neville Chamberlain or some other member of the “Hitler is a man we can do business with” school. That’s the point of calling Obama “naive” for trusting the Iranians — the Hitler in Huckabee’s analogy.

    Clear enough, right?

    As a long-time Internet denizen (around on Usenet when Godwin's Law was first uttered), I'm aware that Nazi analogies and other reductio ad Hitlerum arguments is a sign of the shutdown of higher thought processes. I'm far from sure that comparing Obama/Kerry to famous Hitler appeasers is that sort of thing.

Last Modified 2015-08-03 7:02 AM EDT


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

Truth be told, I could have waited for the DVD, but (on the other hand) I chuckled all the way through.

This is an origin tale of sorts for the Minions, first seen in the Despicable Me movies. We are treated to their Darwinian evolution: a species inordinately attracted to evil bullies of whatever stripe, to offer assistance in whatever schemes they devise. Minions aren't evil themselves, mind you. Nevertheless, it's fortunate that they are so inept that their minionitic assistance more often than not works to the doom of their villainous masters.

Their disastrous service to a would-be world conqueror in the nineteenth century leads them to decades of arctic exile. Their society stagnates without servitude to some wrongdoer, so in 1968 they send forth three brave souls (Kevin, Bob, Steve) out into civilization to find a new bad guy to sign up with. This leads to many adventures, but eventually settles down to work for Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and a plot to steal Queen Elizabeth's crown.

I wonder how they reproduce. Do they reproduce? They all seem to be males, at least they have male names. But they don't seem to have … well, from what we can see, they're pretty smooth all over. They're very tough, perhaps they are immortal.