Sunday, March 31, 2019

Just wondering

Are we okay with the deportment of Virginia politicians? Asking for a friend.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Approaching it

Peggy Noonan isn't a reliable narrator, but sometimes she gets close:
It is just such an air of extremeness on the field now, and it reflects a larger sense of societal alienation. We have the fierce teamism of the lonely, who find fellowship in their online fighting group and will say anything for its approval. There are the angry who find relief in politics because they can funnel their rage there, into that external thing, instead of examining closer and more uncomfortable causes. There are the people who cannot consider God and religion and have to put that energy somewhere.

America isn’t making fewer of the lonely, angry and unaffiliated, it’s making more every day.
Emphasis mine. She almost found it there. Substitute "will not" for "cannot" and try it again. You see it every time someone speaks not of God, but of some vague spirituality, which in nearly every instance is so protean to be without any structure at all, and is easily discarded, too. C.S. Lewis was on this one a long time ago:
The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first - wanting to be the centre - wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake...what Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they 'could be like Gods' - could set up on their own as if they had created themselves - be their own masters - invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come...the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
It's tough business to make these arguments, especially as a Catholic, given the scandals of the Church that we have endured. But to reject a religious infrastructure and substitute politics instead always brings destruction. We will always struggle to know God; it's intrinsic to faith. Being God is infinitely more difficult.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


So people have been selling things like this candle. And there's a market for it. Or rather, there was a market, until their deus ex machina dropped down with bupkis.
Sanctus rectum
I do struggle with schadenfreude and its applications. Mockery is fun, but it's not good form to stroll on to a battlefield and start shooting the wounded. And there are plenty of people who are wounded. My usual social media feed, amply stocked with people who believe the soul of wit is posting 50 Trump-bashing posts a day, every day, features many who are struggling with what's next. A few are posting cat pictures. Others are muttering.

Still, the aftermath of the Mueller investigation has been worth it, as we contemplate the carnage on the battlefield. Will anyone really care what Rachel Maddow thinks any more? The Adam Schiffs and Jerrold Nadlers of the world will persist, but they aren't likely to get anywhere, and there's no appetite for their bumbling. The focus will shift to the 2020 Democratic field, whose members will jostle for position and, if the first moments are any indication, will not impress.

It's a period of transition.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Light posting for the next few days

Events are in the saddle again. Feel free to make this an open thread.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Full display

Readers of this feature will remember that I was, during the 2016 election, in the NeverTrump camp. I hated being there, because I did not want Hillary Clinton to be president, either, but I had serious misgivings about Trump's demeanor and assumed he was going to do irreparable damage to the conservative cause.

Once he was elected, I took a "wait-and-see" stance. I also stopped being a NeverTrumper, because what was the point? In the 2+ years of his presidency, he's really helped to clarify a few things, to wit:

  • His opponents on the Left are unhinged
  • His opponents on the Right range from unhinged to cynical, sometimes both (a good trick, by the way, but watch Bill Kristol some time if you doubt this assertion)
  • Nothing that the mainstream media says about Trump can be taken at face value
A liberal college-era friend of mine made an astute comment about Trump. My friend, who has struggled with mental health issues, objects to the "Trump is mentally ill" tropes that seem to be back in the air, now that Mueller looks to be a disappointment. He said this:
Apparently, [George] Conway thinks diagnosing Trump will some how confirm or nail down some "secret" about him. Trump is already on full display. We don't need psychiatry.
And that's spot-on. Trump has been on full display his entire adult life. What you see is what you get. So, having viewed the display of Trump, and the circus that surrounds him, what do you make of the display? 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Orange Man reminds us

That's too much work and we're in a hurry.

Received wisdom

So what causes a guy to shoot up a mosque? It's not a what, it's a who:
In his rambling, 70-page manifesto, the Australian white supremacist who massacred some 50 Muslims in New Zealand last week cited, as inspirations, British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley, the People’s Republic of China, a videogame called Spyro the Dragon, fellow white supremacist terrorist Dylan Roof, and the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Bering Breivik. Conspicuous by her absence from this list was Chelsea Clinton.

Someone should tell New York University students Leen Dweik and Rose Asaf. “This, right here, is a result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world,” Dweik told the former First Daughter outside a memorial for the dead, in a video that instantly went viral. “Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there.”
Right here in River City. Based on the available evidence, I'd always thought the next interesting thing Chelsea Clinton said would be the first interesting thing she said, but apparently I've not been paying enough attention. There's more:
For those of us who consider Chelsea Clinton a cringe-inducing banality, that she could be accused of anything so momentous, never mind a racist slaughter in the Antipodes, was puzzling indeed. And so it was with great curiosity that I read the Buzzfeed piece in which the pair explain their actions. In it, they accuse Clinton of having “stoked hatred against” all Muslims, everywhere, with a single tweet criticizing just a single one, Ilhan Omar. When the Democratic congresswoman complained about lawmakers being forced to pledge “allegiance to a foreign country,” she wasn’t repeating a hoary anti-Semitic trope which has instigated all manner of desecrations and violent attacks and pogroms. No, according to these NYU coeds, exemplars of American higher education as impressive as those Yale students who screamed at a distinguished professor for hours over Halloween costumes, Omar was “speaking the truth about the massive influence of the Israel lobby in this country.”
It always comes back to Ilhan Omar. If you want to know who has real power, understand who cannot be criticized.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The merit of the meritocracy

So what makes the college admissions scandal so infuriating? It's the realization that, in the end, our best and brightest aren't. Even wobbly Jonah Goldberg sees it:
It’s also a searing indictment of the value of an elite college education in the first place. None of these parents seemed remotely concerned about whether their kids could hack it once they got into their dream schools — and rightly so.
It's an open secret -- once you are in an elite college, you get to stay and you get to graduate. You don't have to worry about academic standards, particularly. Harvey Mansfield, a venerable professor at Harvard, notes that the average grade there is an A. And he has a system for dealing with grade inflation:
Mansfield described how, in recent years, he himself has taken to giving students two grades: one that shows up on their transcript and one he believes they actually deserve.

“I didn’t want my students to be punished by being the only ones to suffer for getting an accurate grade,” he said, adding that administrators must take the lead in curbing the trend.
That's an admission of defeat. It also should cast doubt on the value of the credential that Harvard provides. But it doesn't. It should be difficult to earn an A in a college course; in my personal experience and the experience of those near to me, it is. But members of my family don't attend Harvard. Perhaps we're better off because of it.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Watch the world burn

Paris is burning again:
French yellow vest protesters set life-threatening fires, smashed up luxury stores and clashed with police Saturday in the 18th straight weekend of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron. Large plumes of smoke rose above the rioting on Paris' landmark Champs-Elysees Avenue, and a mother and her child were just barely saved from a building blaze.

French police tried to contain the demonstrators with limited success.
Limited success has been the French way. There's more:
Yellow vest groups representing teachers, unemployed people and labor unions were among those that organized dozens of rallies and marches Saturday in the capital and around France.

Protesters dismiss Macron's national debate on the economy as empty words and a campaign ploy by Macron to gain support for the European Parliament elections in May. Protesters are angry over high taxes and Macron policies seen as coddling business.

"Those who participated in this great debate are mostly retirees and upper middle class, meaning Macron's electorate, even though we understood this great national debate was supposed to respond to the yellow vest crisis," lawyer and protester Francois Boulo told Europe-1 radio.
The two takeaways?

  • Great debates are mostly crap; and
  • There will be no response that threatens a bureaucrat's rice bowl
The yellow vests aren't coherent themselves, of course. But they aren't going away.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


The smartest thing I've read about the massacre in Christchurch, from Andrew Klavan:
When tragedy or atrocity strikes — as it just did with the mosque shootings in New Zealand — thoughts and prayers are not just an expression of compassion. They are, more importantly and more wisely, an expression of humility and helplessness. They are a way of saying: “There is nothing we can do in the face of this wickedness but we stand in solidarity with the victims and ask God to comfort their families in their sorrow.”

Almost every other reaction is absurd. To suggest you have the solution to the eternal problem of evil in the form of addressing your pet peeve or of blaming and attacking your political opponents is disgraceful. It is to use the bodies of the slain for a soap box. It degrades you and insults the victims.
When I pray, I am asking for God's help. I'm not necessarily asking for His help for me, but in the main what I'm really asking for is help in understanding the greater meaning of what I've experienced. In my own experience, I don't always get the answer I want, but I invariably get an answer, even though it can take a while to sink in. That's the nature of discernment.

From what I have read about the massacre and the incoherent series of beliefs put forth in the killer's manifesto. Klavan gets to that, too:
It is likewise absurd to extrapolate from the murderer’s philosophy in order to condemn philosophies that may have something in common with it. There are psychopaths on the right and left. I assume that, right and left, we all stand against them. I am a small-government, classical liberal American conservative. I think the Democratic party has lost its collective mind. But I am more than willing to stipulate that Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer, Jim Jordan and Nancy Pelosi can all agree that murdering innocents at their prayers is bad. This is not where our disagreements lie.
We'll have plenty of time to discuss our disagreements in the next few years. But thoughts and prayers are still in order.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Values, they say

Surprising, but not surprising:
On Wednesday, the far-left smear factory Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) fired its co-founder and former chief litigator, Morris Dees.

"Effective yesterday, Morris Dees’ employment at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was terminated," SPLC president Richard Cohen told The Montgomery Advertiser in a statement on Thursday. "As a civil rights organization, the SPLC is committed to ensuring that the conduct of our staff reflects the mission of the organization and the values we hope to instill in the world. When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action."

Dees, 82, co-founded the SPLC in 1971. The organization gained a reputation for taking the Ku Klux Klan to court and then it started labeling and tracking "hate groups." In recent decades, it started listing conservative and Christian organizations along with the KKK, and last year it settled a defamation lawsuit for $3.375 million.
We will follow this one closely.

Horror in Christchurch

We don't talk about New Zealand much in this feature, but we must today. An Australian man, who apparently had accomplices, decided to shoot up a mosque in Christchurch:

Forty-nine people have been killed and at least 20 wounded in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described one alleged gunman, who had Australian citizenship, as an "extremist, right-wing" terrorist.

A man in his late twenties was charged with murder and will appear in court on Saturday morning, police confirmed.

Two other men and one woman were detained nearby and firearms seized, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

He said police had determined that one of the people detained was not involved in the incident, and officers were working to understand if the other two were connected.

The shooting was the deadliest in the country's history.
The Daily Mail isn't the most reliable source of news around, but no one does a better job of gathering images, and the images are awful:

Names of other terrorists written on the weapon
You can see images of the gunman's bizarre manifesto at the link; I'll not post them here. We will learn more about this atrocity, and the people who committed it, in the coming days. At this point all I can say is this -- killing people indiscriminately in their place of worship is the mark of cowardice.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thought experiment

A hypothetical that is likely true. . . .

If reports are accurate, the academic cheating scandal has been going on for nearly a decade. If that’s the case, it’s highly likely that students who were admitted under false pretenses have completed their educations and have graduated. Once they got there, they (theoretically) did the work required to earn a degree. Do you take away their diploma? Can you? And if you do endeavor to strip a student of a degree he has ostensibly earned, what does it say about the academic rigor of your institution and the value you provide?

When is a meritocracy not a meritocracy?

When you can buy your way in. And therein lies the resonance of the Varsity Blues case. One of the most reassuring fictions we hear is this: if you work hard and play by the rules, you can go anywhere. That's not true and never has been true, especially where higher education is concerned, but it's not news.

My alma mater is Beloit College. Beloit is a fine school and I received a good education there, as did my classmates. In the higher education world, Beloit is well regarded, but it's down the pecking order a bit from the top liberal arts colleges. In most of the rankings one sees, Beloit travels with schools like Lawrence, Knox, Kalamazoo, Earlham, Wooster, like that. If you were to slot Beloit among Minnesota liberal arts colleges, it would fall behind Carleton and Macalester and would be roughly comparable to St. Olaf, but a touch ahead of Gustavus, although St. Olaf and Beloit are very different places. I have worked with people who graduated from all of the Minnesota schools I've mentioned here and, qualitatively, there's no real difference in the education they received. As regular readers of this feature know, Benster is a graduate of Knox.

So why does it matter? The real value of a college isn't the education as much as it is the opportunities you get from being part of the alumni network. If you are a graduate of Beloit College, your resume will get reviewed, but if you are a graduate of Georgetown, or USC, you might get put higher up on the pile. And if the big boss knows what Hoya Saxa means, it could count a lot down the line. But are grads of these prestigious schools more talented? On the margin, yes, but it's not a sure thing. And that's what gnaws at people.

Be the solution

National Public Radio reports, with a straight face, the following:
Andrew Weissmann, the architect of the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, will study and teach at New York University and work on a variety of public service projects, including his longstanding interest in preventing wrongful convictions by shoring up forensic science standards used in courts, the sources added.
Emphasis mine. This Weissmann guy has spent his career specializing in wrongful convictions, as the invaluable Mollie Hemingway reminds us:
If Mueller had no effective supervision against the abuses of the above underlings, why would anyone trust him to supervise his good buddy Weissman, whom he picked to run lead on his probe of Trump? Weissman destroyed the accounting firm Arthur Anderson LLP, which once had 85,000 employees. Thanks to prosecutorial abuse, jurors were not told that Arthur Anderson didn’t have criminal intent when it shredded documents. The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction, but it was too late to save the company.

Weissman also “creatively criminalized a business transaction between Merrill Lynch and Enron,” which sent four executives to jail. Weissman concocted unprecedented charges and did not allow the executives to get bail, causing massive disruption to the families before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed most of Weissman’s case.
The most direct way to prevent wrongful convictions is to remove people who pursue them. So it's good news, I guess.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Value Proposition

It's a tale as old as time -- gaming the system and selling indulgences:
Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among 50 people charged in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating scheme, according to court documents unsealed in Boston on Tuesday.

The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment.

Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children's chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches to identify the applicants as athletes.
It's outrageous. You usually have to build a dormitory to get your kid into one of those places.

A year ago, we were approaching the endgame of this college admissions fandango. Fearless Maria had applications into a number of universities, including at least one of the elite schools named in this scandal. We would never be able to prove it, but it's possible that some kid, somewhere, got a slot in Coveted East Coast University that Maria might have received otherwise, were it not for this particular scam. Having said that, she is now attending a good university with a similar academic approach and rigor, only with a less prestigious zip code. And she's having a wonderful experience there.

The issue involved is straight out of Economics 101 -- scarcity. About 23,000 students applied to Coveted East Coast University last year, but only 3000 were admitted. The prize isn't the education, or the experience, or even the sheepskin credential you get at the end. The prize is access to the alumni network, which is the real leg up. If you can find your way into Coveted East Coast University, you might be classmates with a future senator or even President. You won't necessarily know it, but once you're in, it's a good bet. And once you are in, you usually get to stay, even if you like to party and don't necessarily crack the books that much. It's a Golden Ticket.

What's most interesting to me is that the universities aren't in the crosshairs about this, as the linked article from NBC News makes clear:
Lelling stressed that the colleges themselves are not targets of the investigation, which is ongoing. No students were charged, and authorities said in many cases they were kept in the dark about the alleged scam.
I don't believe this. At a minimum, the colleges looked the other way. But it's more splashy to indict an actress than an assistant director of admissions. And the corruption and moral rot in our higher education system runs far deeper than a few B list celebrities trying to buy their daughters into Coveted West Coast University. But that's another post.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Control problems

Nancy Pelosi is finding out that the gavel is a poisoned chalice:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was quoted Monday as saying she is not in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump, breaking from other Democrats who are eager to exercise their constitutional power to oust the president from office.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Post’s Joe Heim, Pelosi said Trump is “just not worth it.”

“I’m not for impeachment,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before.”
Well, that's good to know. Do you think she's actually in control of her caucus, though? She just got rolled by the Big Three on the meaningless anti-hate resolution. She's not going to be able to move much of anything on her agenda, either. How's that working out for her?

Meanwhile, our neighbor Ilhan Omar is continuing to demonstrate her commitment to avoiding hate in her own inimitable style:
Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., told Fox News on Monday that it was "silly" to compare President Trump with former President Barack Obama, adding: "One is human. The other is really not."
Dehumanize your opponents? That should satisfy everyone.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Laugh now, but. . .

Kurt Schlichter, discussing the antics of the Big Three (AOC, Omar, Tlaib) strikes again:
Not only does it rile up Nancy because these clumsy radicals have stolen the spotlight and made it immeasurably harder to pull off her “We’re sensible” scam on the swing seat suckers but it rankles because none of these debutantes have paid their dues. Nancy and the rest of her leadership worked for years and years accumulating power, rising through the ranks, and when they finally regained power suddenly these newbies who paid no dues but have a lot of Twitter followers showed up and took over the Democrat agenda. That’s got to be infuriating, and you can see it when Nancy talks about them – she can’t say it out loud, but you know what’s running through her mind is, “Who the hell do these upstarts think they are?”

Well Nancy, they seem to be your party’s future.
And if you doubt the heartburn it's causing the "sensible" types who got elected in the "Orange Man Bad" reaches of suburbia, consider Exhibit A, Dean Phillips, as reported in a perceptive profile from Politico Magazine:
Like many rookie lawmakers—at least, those of his moderate tribe—[Phillips] doesn’t want to rock the boat. Those Democrats who flipped red districts campaigned on promises not to clash emptily with Republicans; the irony, of course, is that they arrived in Washington only to realize that the g. reater threat to their jobs is coming from the left flank of their own party.

Phillips approaches the subject like he approaches every other political subject: gingerly. “It’s creating some interesting challenges in that some very young and new members have followings. Two people, their collective following exceeds the entire remainder of the Democratic caucus,” he says, deploying some digital hyperbole in referring to Omar and Ocasio-Cortez. “By definition, they become to the public the voice of a party, they become even de facto leaders of a party.”

As if this point isn’t explicit enough, Phillips adds, “This majority was achieved not by winning in AOC’s district or Ilhan Omar’s district, [but] by victories in districts that had not been terribly favorable to Democrats in the past. … So if there’s a tension in the party, it’s how do you maintain that majority?”
Let's assume, for sake of argument, that Phillips is sincere. In that case, he really should have primaried Erik Paulsen. But that wouldn't have worked, so instead he boarded the crazy train. I have no sympathy for Phillips at all; he should be made to defend his colleague Omar at every turn, or, if he really has the courage of his convictions, he should start denouncing her. But he won't. Dean Phillips wanted to be a Congresscritter in the worst way, and now he has his wish.

Back to Schlichter (emphasis in original):
The moderate Dems will have to turn on the radicals or get turned out. It already happened once as a couple dozen Dems joined Republicans to add an amendment to a gun grab bill that mandated reporting illegal aliens to ICE if they tried to buy a firearm. Ocasio-Cortez and her group opposed it. In fact, the Lil’ Kommissar even threatened to put these rebels on a list to be terminated (via primary now) for daring to *squints real hard* want to report to immigration authorities any illegal aliens trying to illegally buy guns.

Do it, AOC. DO IT
Nothing like intra-pinko cannibalism. Turn the Democrat Party into the Donner Party. While you consume each other, I’ll be here gobbling cruelty-free, carbon neutral popcorn.

But, of course, there is always a chance that things don’t go the way we hope, and that there are enough historically ignorant suckers in the big blue cities to allow these freaks to take over the levers of power. Sure, the Democrats’ pain is hilarious, but the fact that a major political party has surrendered itself to the zealots of an ideology that has murdered 100 million people is not so hilarious. Maybe if the socialists get in charge here, they won’t bring misery and murder. Maybe the ones in Congress now are so smart and competent that they can actually make this blood-splattered ideology work. But it’s going to be a hard sell for the Dems to get us to bet our lives on it.
It's not funny at all.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Every generation throws a Beria up the pop charts

If you've study history, eventually you learn about Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin's secret policeman. He's infamous for any number of reasons, especially his body count, but the most memorable and terrifying idea of Beria's is embodied in the following quote:

“Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.”

It turns out the FBI had a Beria, too:
Top FBI official Andrew McCabe did not just investigate President Trump. As he notes in a little-publicized part of his new book, McCabe even investigated his department boss — then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions — after Senate Democrats asked McCabe to look into allegations Sessions perjured himself during his confirmation hearings when he denied meeting with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.

Sessions had, in fact, met with the Russian ambassador. He later corrected the record and explained he had forgotten speaking with the official and was not trying to mislead Congress.

Ordering the Sessions probe was “another unprecedented, partisan action that has been forgotten,” said former federal prosecutor Solomon L. Wisenberg, a partner at Nelson Mullins LLP in Washington. 
This guy McCabe. And there was more, as Paul Sperry notes at the link:
While it’s widely assumed that the FBI stopped its entire Trump-related Russia investigation once Mueller was appointed in May 2017, McCabe and deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signed off on the third renewal of the FISA warrant on Page two months later.

And in little-noticed June 2017 testimony, McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “the FBI continues to investigate … the Russia investigation.”

Explained McCabe: “[T]he FBI maintains a much broader responsibility to continue investigating issues relative to potential Russian counterintelligence activity and threats posed to us from Russian adversaries."

There are laws against groundlessly subjecting individuals to criminal investigation. Former prosecutors say what FBI brass did to the president and his advisers could potentially be a violation of a federal statute known as “deprivation of rights under the color of law.”  Other statutes proscribing fraud and false statements also come into play. 

It didn't end well for Beria. McCabe won't be facing a firing squad, but he does need to answer for his depredations.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Terrible Beauty and Its Discontents

 If you were to ask any random assortment of film critics and cineastes to provide a list of the top ten films of the 1970s, you would expect to see two films on many lists: Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski; and Annie Hall, directed by Woody Allen. And for good reason -- they are both outstanding. The trailer for Chinatown only begins to suggest how brilliant it really is:

Not long after Roman Polanski directed Chinatown, he committed a horrible crime, raping a 13-year-old girl. He's been busy escaping justice for the last 40 years.

Woody Allen had a string of successful comedies in the 1970s, but he took his game up a notch with Annie Hall:

Woody Allen is still working today, but he's had a slow slide into persona non grata status, as his ongoing depredations have been aired. Some still defend his honor, but there's not much of it left. His movies come and go and only his tribe really cares -- his last successful movie at the box office, Hannah and Her Sisters, is 30 years in the rear view mirror.

We're over 40 years away from when these films were made. Polanski and Allen are both with us, but they are decrepit. In the years since the release of these films, it has become simultaneously easier and more difficult to see them. We live in an on-demand world and you can stream both at any time, but the chances of seeing either film on the big screen is just about nil in 2019, as few theaters would risk the wrath of a public showing.

I have no brief for either Woody Allen or Roman Polanski; they are creeps and monsters. But ought we pretend their masterworks don't exist? Are there no pleasures to be found in either film? Or does the life of the filmmaker devalue his best work, or even render it worthless?

I was too young to see Chinatown when it came out in the theater, but I saw in on the big screen as a college student and it was a revelation. I did see Annie Hall when it came out; I was in high school and it played in my home town for a long time. I enjoy Annie Hall, but I really love Chinatown -- it's one of my all-time favorite films. I trust the tale, not the teller of the tale. And I don't believe those who say the tale is worthless. Do you?

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Terrible Beauty

As it happens, terrible people often produce great things. Once we learn of the terrible deeds of talented people, how do we handle that knowledge.

The matter has come up again with the release of Finding Neverland, the HBO documentary about Michael Jackson and his serial molestation of young boys. I have a lot of Michael Jackson's music in my collection. Am I supposed to stop listening to his music? Writing for The Week, Jeva Lange says yes, but she thinks certain deviant filmmakers are okay:
A boycott can feel like the only course of action when a musician (or a director, or a comedian, or an actor ... ) is credibly accused of something terrible. There is the financial consideration: Who wants their money going to a person, or the estate of a person, who's hurt other people? But a personal boycott is as much driven by one's conscience. In the case of Jackson, I've found it impossible to separate "the art" from "the artist," and the suffering the latter, in all likelihood, inflicted.

But I haven't felt similarly about films directed by two other celebrities accused of abuse: Woody Allen and Roman Polanski.
Why? Because making a film is apparently more of a collaborative effort:
But to take Allen and Polanski as representative examples, it is much harder to justify boycotting films in response to directors' alleged sexual misconduct than it is a solo singer like Jackson. The accentuation of a director as the single "author" of a film is known as auteur theory, and has persisted as the primary mode of interpreting and analyzing movies since the 1960s. But auteur theory has plenty of problems, not the least of which is that it subscribes to the notion of a "lone genius," emphasizing the overriding importance of the director — who, historically, is often a man — over the work of the others involved in the creation of a picture.

Allen, as one example, is a particularly heavy-handed director, often writing and acting in his films. His subject matter is also difficult to grapple with as a moviegoer; as The New Yorker's Richard Brody notes in his own attempt, "There has always been something sexually sordid in Allen's work," which makes watching his films while knowing the allegations deeply uncomfortable. But even Allen's most hands-on and autobiographical films are collaborations, and the final product is consequently the work, also, of the actors, actresses, and technical teams behind them.
This analysis doesn't make a lot of sense; as Lange admits later on, Michael Jackson's best work is certainly in collaboration with Quincy Jones. If you want a sense of how crucial Jones was to Jackson's work, consider another group Jones produced, the Brothers Johnson. I'll post two videos, both from the late 1970s, when Jones was working with the Brothers Johnson and with Jackson:

These are similar songs, with similar structures, and they were both big hits in that era. Whose vision dominates these two recordings?

Quincy Jones is a very rich man because of his collaboration with Michael Jackson, but he also made a lot of money working with the Brothers Johnson. He won't care whether Jeva Lange listens to Jackson's music. But there's a larger question about Jackson, and Allen, and Polanski, and Bill Cosby, and Kevin Spacey, and so many others. Should their work disappear entirely? I'm coming back to that topic next.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019


I'm operating under the assumption that Donald Trump is going to tell Congress to piss up a rope when it comes to turning over his tax returns. I also assume the matter is going to be adjudicated, probably all the way to the Supreme Court. And I imagine that, in the end, Trump would win that battle.

Congress has an oversight role and it's crucial, which is why the Founders established it. Unfortunately, for most of my life, Congress has been terrible at it. Watergate was a glamorous time for the Left and those events, now nearly 50 years ago, have permanently deformed our politics. Everyone wants to be Sam Ervin, but there was an important difference then -- an actual, observable crime, the burglary of the Democratic National Committee. This crime was a matter of public record. There's nothing of the sort that has happened while Trump has been in office. That's why the Mueller investigation is likely to be a dry hole, and why the Democrats have now moved on to their Holy Grail of tax returns. I don't know how what Trump's tax returns from ten years ago have to do with his conduct in office, but surely there must be something juicy to give to the Post.

Please understand -- Trump's conduct in office deserves a full measure of scrutiny, as did the behavior of his predecessors. We didn't get much scrutiny of his immediate predecessor, but that's now left to the historians. I don't care what Trump did in 2009. What he does in 2019 matters, but Jerrold Nadler and Adam Schiff don't care about that.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Aunt Margaret

I have an aunt named Margaret. She was born in 1925. She died in 1943, some 20 years before I was born, from peritonitis. It's been 75 years since she left the world, far too soon. If you Google her name, you get one image, from her high school yearbook, published in 1942, courtesy of the Little Chute (WI) Historical Society:

All ahead of her, until it wasn't

She was a brilliant young woman. Everyone who knew her said as much. She was also a writer. I have always been told she was very good, but I've not read a word she wrote. That will change soon. My cousin came across some old papers of hers, including books of poetry she'd written. He is sending them to me. I am eager to read them and I may share some of it in this space.

Monday, March 04, 2019

A tale as old as time

In other words, do as I say, not as I do:
Since declaring her candidacy in May 2017, [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign heavily relied on those combustible-engine cars — even though a subway station was just 138 feet from her Elmhurst campaign office.

She listed 1,049 transactions for Uber, Lyft, Juno and other car services, federal filings show. The campaign had 505 Uber expenses alone.

In all, Ocasio-Cortez spent $29,365.70 on those emissions-spewing vehicles, along with car and van rentals — even though her Queens HQ was a one-minute walk to the 7 train.
She likes to fly, too:
Instead, her campaign embraced the friendly skies, logging 66 airline transactions costing $25,174.54 during campaign season.

The Democratic firebrand or her staff took Amtrak far less — only 18 times — despite high-speed rail being the cornerstone of her save-the-world strategy.

Most of the flights came after her primary win gave her superstar status and Ocasio-Cortez spent weeks jetting around the country, burning fuel to support her fellow Dems.
Do I blame her for using planes and cars? Of course not. Cars take you exactly where you want to go, almost always on a timetable you choose. That's why people buy them and use them. I live 27 miles away from my office. It's not optimal to live that far away, but I own my home outright and the commute isn't the longest one among my co-workers. When we first moved to our home, I worked in downtown Minneapolis and rode the 4 bus every workday. The 4 bus stop is a block away from my house and some people in the neighborhood work downtown and ride it.

Ocasio-Cortez and her staff have work to do. I think the work they do is absurd and counterproductive, but I don't have any say concerning that, as her presence in Congress is at the behest of her constituents, who apparently like her nonsense. As it happens, my representatives in Congress (Betty McCollum, Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith) are as daft as AOC is, so my views, and the people who agree with me, aren't likely to get an airing in Congress. I do appreciate the New York Post pointing out that AOC's actions don't square with her rhetoric, but it won't change how she operates. One of the great joys of being on the portside is that the rules you require for others don't really apply to you.

Saturday, March 02, 2019


Remember this incident at Berkeley?

Well, the guy who did it was arrested yesterday:
University of California-Berkeley officials on Friday arrested a suspect who allegedly assaulted a conservative activist on campus last month.

Zachary Greenberg, 28, was arrested by university police about 1 p.m., after a judge issued an arrest warrant in the Feb. 19 attack on Hayden Williams, the school’s public affairs department said in a statement.

Arrest records from the sheriff’s office say Greenberg was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and attempting to cause great bodily injury.
A 28-year-old man did this. He's apparently not a student, just some dude walking on Sproul Plaza who felt a need to commit a felony because someone offended his sensibilities by existing. You have to wonder what the hell is wrong with a guy who would do this. Here's a mug shot:

Image result for zachary greenberg mugshot
Trouble man
Here was a screen shot of him in mid-rage:

Image result for zachary greenberg mugshot
If Mr. Greenberg gets sent to prison, it may not change the world in an appreciable way, but it will remind people of an important distinction -- free speech is free, but actions have consequences.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Total solutions

The invaluable Richard Fernandez on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's fever dream:
But even if money were no object the total commitment required by the Green New Deal incurs the opportunity cost of not pursuing an alternative strategy based on cheaper energy and climate adaptation -- or even doing nothing.  The Green New Deal for example rules out clean nuclear power.  It can brook no rivals because solving Global Warming requires every resource we can muster.  If we spend trillions on the GND we've no money left for anything else if it bombs. 
Organisms in nature typically undertake multiple parallel strategems in order to survive.  "The Red Queen hypothesis, also referred to as Red Queen's, Red Queen's race or the Red Queen effect, is an evolutionary hypothesis which proposes that organisms must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate not merely to gain reproductive advantage, but also simply to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing organisms in a constantly changing environment.
Nature attacks and defends on many fronts. But a giant ideological bureaucracy can do what Darwin can't: embark on a single strategy to the exclusion of all else.  Nature hedges its bets but only socialism can bet the farm. 
When I was AOC's age, I was pretty certain about many things, but in the 25 or so years that have followed, I've been disabused of many notions. The World Wide Web was, in 1993, still in its infancy. Amazon, the company that has essentially taken over vast sector of retailing in this country, had not yet opened its portal, so to speak. The term "brick and mortar," to the extent it was a term, was not a pejorative. I was working for a large retail organization then and hardly anyone there could have envisioned what has come to pass since then.

Perhaps events will unfold as AOC envisions. But are you willing to sign up for her vision?