Alienated America

Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse

[Amazon Link]

By coincidence, I found myself concurrently reading two books about dysfunctional America. The other one, The Inclusive Economy, focused on poverty, and I didn't care for it much. This one, however, by Tim Carney, exceeded my expectations. When I get around to composing a "top 10" nonfiction list, this will definitely be on it.

Carney's goal is daunting, to explain various symptoms of social dysfunction among some areas of America. There are increased "deaths of despair" caused by drugs, suicide, and alcohol. People report feelings of loneliness, depression, and free-floating anger. People perceive that the "American Dream" is deader than the dodo. And we alreadly know about the murderous wackos.

Arguably worse: Donald Trump got elected by tapping into all this angst.

So what's going on? Carney convincingly ties things to the breakdown of healthy communities. Much is due to the decline of church attendance. (For example, those Trump voters? They report being "religious" at a higher than average rate. But their church attendance is actually lower than average. Hm.)

Yes, economic dislocation, in terms of good old "creative destruction" has its part. When a factory shutters, a significant fraction of "good decent" people move away, leaving behind a population without good prospects. But its more than that. (Carney visits a North Dakota fracking boom town, which is pretty dysfunctional on its own terms.)

Carney does a fantastic job of slicing and dicing demographic data, exit polling, and plain old shoe-leather reporting on communities that work and communities that don't. He doesn't have any grand top-down solutions, and explains why he doesn't. "Solutions" are something that have to be bottom-up; the best thing he can recommend is that governments stop some of the trends we're on: restore religious liberty, stop discouraging private charity, decentralize, deregulate.

You know, the kind of things that no major politician is advocating.

Personal note: one of Carney's Bad Example locations is Pottawattamie County, Iowa. Where I lived for the first ten years of my life. Guess it was a good idea for Mom and Dad to move us out back in 1961. The big city in the county is Council Bluffs, across the Missouri from Omaha. I guess it's where Omahans go to sin these days. And the current nickname for the place is "Counciltucky". Ouch.

God's Pocket

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One of Mrs. Salad's picks. And then (could I confide in you here) she decided she didn't want to see it. And I didn't particularly want to see it either, but how can one in good conscience send a DVD back to Netflix unplayed? So after a few months, she's off to lunch with her ex-coworkers, and…

IMDB classifies this in the "Crime, Drama" genres. Sure. Maybe a bit of Film Noir. And some very, very dark comedy, but you probably shouldn't laugh at these poor folks. Although I eventually did.

This was the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's last movie, and I hope it didn't send him over the edge. He plays Mickey, small-time crook, full-time loser. He's married to hot chick Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), though. But she doesn't seem very happy about that, or anything else.

Mickey is saddled with a pill-popping semi-psychotic stepson, Leon. At least for awhile. Because while he's at work, he threatens an old black guy, who promptly knocks his lights out, permanently, with a piece of pipe.

Problem: Mickey can't afford a decent funeral from the local ghoul/mortician, "Smilin' Jack". Mickey just pulled off a minor league heist with some buddies (including John Turturro), but that went very wrong, and the cash is not forthcoming. Maybe a hot tip on the ponies will come through.

Meanwhile, a "neighborhood" column-writer for the local newspaper (Richard Jenkins) decides to write about Leon's death. Which means interviewing Jeanie, with whom he's immediately smitten. And then…

Well it was based on a novel. Maybe it all came together in the book. Onscreen, it's kind of a mess. Sort of watchable, if you like watching pathetic people wreck their lives.

Acting is first-rate though. Too bad they weren't acting in a better movie.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • At Reason, Billy Binion blasts Beto: Beto O’Rourke Proposes Plan to Punish Tech Companies for Failing to Censor Hate Speech.

    Democratic presidential hopeful and former congressman Beto O'Rourke announced on Friday that he would like to remove legal protections from tech companies if they fail to police hate speech online. As with previous attempts to interfere with internet speech, the move would be an assault on the First Amendment.

    O'Rourke joins a growing chorus of lawmakers and political activists who would like to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms from facing lawsuits over potentially defamatory statements posted to those platforms by users.

    Given that all Senate Democrats have signed on to "partially" repeal the First Amendment, I guess Beto! thinks he has to do something in that same direction.

  • Politico talked to "experts on aging" about the septugenarians running for President. One expert claimed that Wheezy Joe, Bernie, Liz, and President Bonespurs were "superagers". Somehow immune to the bodily deteriorations besetting the rest of us who are Getting Up There.

    But what I really noticed was this bit from the doctor who performed surgery on Biden twice to fix brain aneurysms.

    Kassell, who performed brain surgery on Biden, went a step further: “I am going to vote for the candidate who I am absolutely certain has a brain that is functioning. And that narrows it down exactly to one.”

    One can almost hear Joe in the background: "And that's me, right, Doc? Maybe you should say it's me."

    Because (thanks to Viking Pundit for pointing out) here are Six times Biden described major events in his life that never happened noted by the Washington Examiner.

    And, unfortunately too late to make the Examiner list, a report from the Washington Free Beacon, Biden claiming that MLK, RFK Were Assassinated in 'the Late '70s'.

    But he's fine, really.

  • The WSJ editorializes today on The Great Student-Loan Scam.

    Some economists are predicting a recession in the next year, but the New York Federal Reserve’s quarterly household debt survey last week showed few portents. What it did show is that more Americans are defaulting on their student loans, and that government budget gnomes have vastly underestimated the future taxpayer charge.

    Defaults have fallen for most forms of consumer debt as the economic expansion continues. Mortgage delinquencies last quarter hit a historic low. But severely delinquent student loans have soared since 2012 and are now 35% of “severe derogatories”—more than credit cards (23%), auto loans (21%) and mortgages (11%).

    It's funny (but not really funny) how Uncle Stupid never pays for his own mistakes. James Freeman has more, noting that the student loan system is the scam that helped make Liz rich.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s past claims of minority status may not be the most embarrassing fraud she’ll have to explain as she continues to seek the Democratic presidential nomination. A Journal editorial outlines the scale of a Warren-backed disaster that is goring taxpayers even as it has helped the Massachusetts lawmaker accumulate a small fortune.

    Sen. Warren has done as much as anyone in Washington to support the taxpayer-financed bubble in higher education by serially demanding expansions in student loans and pretending the government would make money off the program. But now the cost to taxpayers—including those who never went to college— is getting too big to ignore. A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York notes the disturbingly high delinquency rates on student loans compared to other types of debt.

    If I win the "Have a Beer with Liz" contest, I'll try to bring this up.