Monthly Archives: April 2016

aliendinerA new study finds that hand-dryers give white blood cells a good work out and make them muscular and strong, while paper towels will let their muscles atrophy as they get lethargic. So I strongly recommend that public restrooms please use hand-dryers.

Virginia Postrel argues that conservatives can make it in the academy, but only if they stop living in the closet.

Attention Michael Cain! Californians are moving to Texas! More seriously, I find the statistic about them moving to states with better business environments uninteresting because isn’t that like 47 of the other states?

Though I was critical of the Minnesota gun firm that made guns that transformed into looking like a cell phone, I find this pretty cool. I can’t tell if I’m being inconsistent.

Erin Einhorn looks at the hardships of Detroit kids that go to charter schools. I suppose it would just be better if we relieved them of that option?

Buyer’s Remorse? More than a third of millennials say they wouldn’t have attended college if they’d known the costs in advance. Is there an argument for a five-year price lock-in?

Leonid Bershidsky looks at Swedish and German approaches to prostitution. I’m somewhat partial to the Swedish model. That the German model created trafficking problems (and other degeneracy) doesn’t compel me to reconsider.

Maybe soda bans and taxes aren’t going to make everybody lose weight.

A new study shows that being a smoker is a cause, rather than merely an effect, of shafty treatment from potential employers. I was pretty meticulous about not showing any signs of being a smoker on any job interview.

Who’s not buying what Bernie Sanders is selling? Soviet refugees, that’s who. Many are, unfortunately, buying what Trump is selling.

I don’t think the problem is that we’re too reliant on GPS, but rather that they are not sufficiently accurate that we cannot be completely reliant on them.

Everybody’s raiding Kansas! Also while we don’t know where the unmatched socks end up, lost phones end up in Atlanta.

Wow! Infertile mice have been made fertile with 3D-printed ovaries.

Back home, there is a term for this: Alcohol Abuse.

Yep, the real story of Denny Hastert sexually abusing kids is the hypocrisy. What else would it be?

Category: Newsroom

In a review of the follow-up to My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Ted Trautman talks about love plots in sequels:

Each genre that celebrates romantic love—rom-coms hardly have a monopoly on it—has its own way of abandoning relationships just as they’re getting interesting. Among romantic comedies, the most common solution is to simply not make sequels—to bury Jerry Maguire under Yucca Mountain and let its fiery passion cool into domestic routine far from public view. Which, frankly, is as impressive as it is disappointing: In an industry where intellectual property is increasingly recycled and warmed over, it must take tremendous willpower (or tremendous deference to young audiences’ tastes) not to throw Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a room together and call it Swipe Left in Seattle.{…}

The first is introducing a new love interest: Call it the “When Harry Met Someone Else” approach. Sometimes an actor is unable or unwilling to return for a sequel; sometimes filmmakers just prefer new blood. In either case, the sequel ditches one lover in favor of the other, setting him or her—usually him—on the path to falling in love with a new character. A recent example of this is Zoolander 2, which kills off the title character’s wife Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor) in a tragicomic accident in the film’s first few minutes, clearing the way for a much less compelling postscript of a romance between Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz). In a classic, more extreme instance—Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me—Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley) literally self-destructs to make room for Powers (Mike Myers) to fall in love again with Heather Graham’s Felicity Shagwell. For other serial monogamists, see: Bond, James; Jones, Indiana; Wayne, Bruce; the Ted movies, the Missions Impossible, and plenty of others.

The second method is artificial estrangement, or when couples who once attained marital or premarital bliss have suffered some falling out between movies—but who maintain enough grudging affection for each other that they spend their sequel falling back in love along more or less the same narrative lines as in the previous film. A relatively recent example is 2013’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, which pits Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) against his wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) in pursuit of a coveted promotion. In no time at all, they’re reenacting the bitter rivalry that was already exhaustively explored in the first film, and round two falls flat. Other movies to follow this pattern include Wayne’s World 2, Spider-Man 3, and my personal favorite, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which features a characteristically chipper Nicolas Cage breaking and entering into the home of his ex-girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger) in order to steal her National Archives ID card—you know, just regular breakup stuff.

The quick jettison tack has often annoyed me. Whether the romantic plot in the first movie was the main plot or a subplot in an action film, it’s annoying to have all of that build-up for a story that’s often scratched almost immediately in the follow-up.

We’ve gotten used to this notion that just about every story needs a romantic plot, and it’s usually one of the two above. Book series tend to be a little better about this if only because the author knows that this can’t be done for every novel. So often, love interests will last several books before being dispatched for one reason or another. In crime series, often in a violent manner, sometimes in a dramatic manner, and sometimes in an oh-by-the-way manner.

One of the things that really impressed me about the Jason Bourne series was Robert Ludlum’s commitment to the relationship and marriage between Jason Bourne and Marie St Jacques. This was especially impressive because St Jacques exhibited many of the problems with first-book love interests. Namely, that first books are often the busiest in a series. You’re introducing the main character, the man character’s world, and the love interest. It’s hard for the last character to get all of the attention she (or he) deserves to be a sufficiently compelling character in subsequent stories. But Ludlum did it! He even managed to make Bourne a family man, which is not easy for an action hero. Meanwhile, in the movies, she was dead in the first ten minutes of the second movie, and a new love interest, Nicky Parsons, was added*. Parsons hung around for more than one film, though, so there’s that.

I found it noteworthy that, after Ludlum died and his books were taken over by Eric Van Lustbader, the very first thing he did (off-screen, in between novels actually) was kill off Marie. Van Lustbader may have replaced her with someone else, but that decision as well as other changes in direction made me less interested in the Bourne novels.

The dispatching of love interests off-screen in between sequels – or in the opening salvo of the sequel – is the ultimate cheap shot. If the last romantic plot was disposed of so easily, why should I invest at all in the new romantic plot? As understandable as the desire may be to have a by-the-numbers characters-meet-and-fall-in-love story, it’s a mark of laziness. Good on those writers who do a better job.

* – I was relatively certain a character named “Nicky Parsons” appeared in the books, but as a relatively minor character allied with the antagonist. Poking around has only dug into a number of assertions that the – or any – character did not exist in the books.

Category: Theater

Over There, I wrote my piece advocating screwing Trump out of the nomination declining to let Trump become a plurality winner:

Sometimes, though, you can’t just get along. It is my own extreme view that even if Trump gets to 1237 delegates, the party should look for ways to stop him. I don’t expect that they will, for a variety of reasons. I believe doing so would be wrong, in the sense that changing the rules midstream typically is, but wrong in a way that two wrongs can make a right. It wouldn’t be for their own benefit (they would be spat upon), or their party’s benefit (the party would be destroyed), or their party faction’s benefit (no party to have a faction of). It would be for the country’s. I would not be comfortable with the means, but the ends would justify them.

But we’re not even talking about that. I am not comfortable with the means above because, while yes there are rules about changing rules, there is nonetheless every reason for a candidate to believe that if they can round up a majority of the delegates that they are the nominee. Depriving them of that would be cheating and would be “stealing” the nomination. However, the 1237 threshold exists very explicitly for a reason. No major rule change is required to deny Trump the nomination if he fails to reach that threshold. When they were revising the rules to solve Yesterday’s Problem, they easily have said “A majority of voting delegates whose votes count” (ie not those voting for people ineligible under Rule 40b), but they didn’t. They said a majority. As badly as the party tried to rig the rules for a plurality candidate, that was a bridge they didn’t cross. And for good reason.

Nowhere has it been written that a plurality winner automatically becomes the winner or that a convention is a formality for the delegate leader. The West Wing had an episode devoted to it, where the candidate who came into the convention with the most delegates lost to the protagonist. Not only has it not been written, it has not historically even been assumed. Every year journalists daydream of a brokered convention or a contested convention. . That these concepts even exist in our vocabulary indicates that, even pre-Trump, it was known that the plurality winner did not have the nomination democratically conferred on them. The only other time in modern history where nobody came into the convention with a prohibitive delegate count, the convention was contested.

I haven’t terribly much to add here. There seems to be a persistent underestimation to how bad a Trump nomination would be for conservatives and Republicans. That it would amount to a score on a scorecard. Even further, there seems to be an odd dynamic that because nominating Trump fits a certain narrative, that the party is obligated to validate the narrative. A couple narratives, actually, first “The guy who gets the most votes should win” which at least has some logic to it, but also “This is what the Republican Party has become.” So become that, dammit.

Category: Newsroom

Over There, I left the following comment in reference to boycotts of North Carolina in response to their Bathroom Bill:

Not bothered by Apple and PayPal, and believe it is entirely appropriate for them to hold US states to a higher standard than foreign countries. For the most part.

The governors and state legislatures trying to get into the act with “unnecessary travel”, though, seem mostly to be preening and showboating.

The reference to PayPal is that they chose not to open up a data center in Charlotte in response to the Bathroom Bill. The governors and state legislatures are choosing to “restrict unnecessary travel” to North Carolina (and, presumably, any state that passes a law they believe crosses a line. Most of the conversation that followed in the thread involved the Double Standard. I said my piece there and you can read that thread. I wanted to jot a quick note about why PayPal didn’t bother me, while state governments do.

A couple months ago, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it, but I thought this piece made some good points. Which in turn got me thinking about “unnecessary travel” and why states are supporting it to begin with. Would my wife have to skip a training conference in North Carolina? I… sort of doubt it. So what’s unnecessary? How much effort is going to have to go in to sorting it out? Have they really even thought about it? Maybe I’m being unfair and they have.

It’s not exactly a public/private distinction. If a governors’ association decided to hold their conference in Richmond instead of Raleigh, I would largely respond the way I do to PayPal. The tangibility of declining to do a particular thing in a particular state is pretty clear cut. There are a lot of good alternatives for places to hold a conference or build an office center. So I get what they’re doing, and why, and so it seems less showboatty. It’s tangible, the costs are easier to measure. On the other hand, I can imagine states quietly approving the vast majority of travel as “necessary” while retaining their headlines for Goodthink.

My view on the bill is general, but not emphatic opposition. Attempts to portray the bathroom issue as clear-cut bigotry aside, it’s not an uncomplicated issue. Indeed, opponents of the bill themselves don’t always have their arguments straight. When Houston was going to pass the opposite bill (forbidding business from forcing people to go to the restroom in accordance with their genitalia) I read simultaneous arguments for the righteousness of the bill doing X and that X is a strawman argument that the bill doesn’t even do. The discussion has landed on the former, though, and thus far at least it doesn’t appear that there have been any problems. My current inclination is to let businesses do what they wish (with the possible requirement that they allow a unisex option).

Some have taken North Carolina to task for being anti-local government, but that argument doesn’t really stick with me. This does seem like the sort of thing that is appropriately (though perhaps not exclusively) dealt with at a state level. Since it deals with conflicting rights, I can understand why if you want it (whichever “it”) in Charlotte you would also want it in Podunk, and vice-versa, and given travel having different rules in every municipality are complicated.

Category: Statehouse

DinojesusThis page about sums up where we are on ecigarettes. It’s a news article about a cancer institute that’s somewhat optimistic about ecigarettes that plans to study them… with various “Related” stories embedded with figurative ominous music about their menace.

Statewide minimum wage pre-emption bills are a bad idea for the same reason that setting too high a statewide minimum wage is a bad idea. Different places have different needs, and I think we can handle some patchwork.

Megan McArdle says that the Panama Papers actually reflect pretty well on capitalism, and mostly reflects well on weak institutions and corruption.

Hearing that there was talk of Mayim Bialik being underpaid relative to Kelly Cuoco on Big Bang Theory had me prepared to say “Cry me a river” to Bialik because she is secondary cast, but she’s actually pretty gracious and that’s actually a really hard pay gap to justify. Hopefully she negotiates something better.

Proposed labor reforms in France are not going over well. Even worse, economic unrest is causing alcohol abuse.

Marine Major Mark Thompson (no relation) believes – credibly – that his military trial for rape was badly flawed. He’s fighting it hard. There’s only one problem

If you’re a smart dude, women in STEM careers may not be the optimal place to look for a partner.

Sweden has a national phone number, which you can call to talk to a random Swede. I don’t know why I consider this such a neat idea since I can’t imagine I would ever do this and I don’t know who would. Maybe a journalist who needs a “word on the street” on some upcoming election?

I don’t think this is how population distribution works. (Or, for that matter, anti-discrimination law?)

In response to a previously linkied piece by Eli Lake on the French police state, Todd Seavey argues that domestic and foreign force cannot be so easily separated.

Unlike some scoffers, I actually think union exemptions to minimum wage have a decent rationale, but I can understand the resentment here.

My daughter is, unfortunately, at the age where I have to watch what I’m watching around her.

An interview with Johnathon Schaech, who you may recognize as the asshole lead singer on That Thing You Do, but is also known for being Ellen Degeneres’s fake boyfriend prior to her coming out.

Outside of Austin, they’re building a village for the homeless with some kind of nice and neat houses.

Since I periodically link to articles on the overaggressiveness of child protective agencies, it’s only fair to link to one where they did absolutely nothing except maybe help cover things up.

I hadn’t heard of the Vyapam Scam in India before. Oy.

Category: Newsroom

John Winthrop believed inequality is a problem. In 1630, on board the ship Arbella, he made the case in the sermon “Model of Christian Charity.” Whatever one thinks of his purported explanation for why inequality exists or of his ideas for coping with the problem, he warns that the problem is real.

God, Winthrop says, has “so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in submission.” Among the reasons Winthrop cites:

[God] might have the more occasion to manifest the work of his Spirit: first upon the wicked in moderating and restraining them, so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor the poor and despised rise up against and shake off their yoke. Secondly, in the regenerate, in exercising His graces in them, as in the great ones, their love, mercy, gentleness, temperance etc., and in the poor and inferior sort, their faith, patience, obedience etc.

That’s only one part of the sermon, but I’m going to dwell on it. I read it as saying social inequalities are justified because they’re “God’s will.”

But justified or not, inequality is a problem, Winthrop seems to also be saying. Whatever good he can see coming from inequality, its existence is a warning as well as a opportunity for providence to do what providence does. The rich could eat up the poor. The poor could rise up against the rich.

Our sensibilities here are not necessarily what we might think they are. About the poor rising up to “shake off their yoke,” we probably entertain the possibility that the uprising is or can be a good thing. Or we might be quick to point out that what Winthrop might call “rising up” is more an assertion of rights, or an attempt to survive, than anything nefarious. Still, I don’t know how far most of us would go to endorse the uprising or the collateral damage that might ensue.

To make it more personal, I’d resent it if someone mugged me even if I grant they did so only because they really needed the money or because they are a bread thief. Not that all redistribution or “rising up” is comparable to a mugging. But if ending someone else’s poverty requires me to surrender even a small portion of my wealth or occasions an inconvenience to me of some sort, and even if I agree that the redistribution is right and just, it can still hurt in the short term. (For what it’s worth, a goodly amount of so-called “liberal” reform in the US usually sold on the claim that only the very rich will be inconvenienced. See Obama’s 2008 promise to raise taxes only on those who earn more than $250,000.)

Most of us probably agree that the rich eating up the poor is a bad thing, for certain values of “eating.” (I don’t really want to do it, but (sigh) I guess I have to offer this link.) But I’m not so sure we don’t do it. Most of us who adhere to a given political orientation–liberal, conservative, libertarian, for example–concur that feeding off the poor is bad. We may differ in assessing how the poor are fed off of, who is to blame, and how to end the feeding. But most of them–most of us–at least claim to agree that it’s bad.

Still, we’ve got ours and intend to keep it. Very few of us are going to engage in a life dedicated to fixing those things. Even fewer will withdraw from society to avoid all complicity in the feeding, not that such withdrawal would be easy or helpful. Maybe we can endorse a “first do no harm” strategy: don’t actively do anything to make things worse but try to fix things when we can and when it’s convenient. That’s probably the best we can hope for unless we want to be (non-fallen) angels, and I don’t want to be an angel.

But, you might object, Winthrop’s inequality is a zero sum game. It ignores that we can increase the size of the pie so everybody gets more even if some get even more than others. You might be right. I for one am a bigger believer than I used to be that material wealth can be increased for all and that we should pause before assuming the fact of inequality is automatically a problem. The “inequality symposium” Over There a few years ago drove that point home for me. And maybe material wealth is conducive to moral or humanitarian or spiritual (or whatever you want to call it). Such seems to be one of Deirdre McCloskey’s arguments in Bourgeois Virtues. (I think. I’m only 100 pages into and am a bit unclear on what exactly she’s arguing.)

While important, that objection doesn’t address Winthrop’s point. As long as there’s inequality, some will have more than others. Those who lack will be tempted to envy and to deny the humanity of those who have. How often have I heard of a real hardship suffered by someone much better off than me and yet mocked the person because after all, they had more? I don’ t know, but I can think of at least one example (the context is a discussion of Anne Romney’s convention speech in 2012 where she disclosed she suffered from MS and had suffered from breast cancer.)

Those who have will be tempted to abuse their gifts against their weaker or less provisioned neighbors. As someone who enjoys almost the full complement of special advantages (formerly known as “privileges”) that make living in this country so much easier, I have doubtlessly engaged in enough careless or casual cruelty toward others who do not share my good fortune. If I chose to bore you with specific examples, they would probably just sound like good old fashioned white liberal guilt. Nevertheless, it’s true.

I was going to end with an admonition to question our own envy against those who have what we lack and to exercise restraint and compassion when dealing with those who lack what we have. Noble sentiments. But I suppose most people hold them anyway and my harangues probably just sound preachy.

I’ll leave you instead with this. Less inequality is probably better than more if only because it tempers the temptations to vengeance and casual cruelty. But I suspect we can never end it altogether, and  I’m not sure we ought to if we could. And I agree with Wintrhop. It is a real problem.


A long while back, I jotted a short post comparing the treatment of two coaches at the University of Texas. Football offensive coordinator (at the time) Major Applewhite was caught having sex with a student and was let off with a slap on the wrist. This was revealed when track coach Bev Kearney was caught having sex with one of her runners and summarily fired. This was presented as something of a double-standard on account of sexual-orientation or race, and maybe it was to some extent. But there were also some rather critical differences. Specifically, the student that Applewhite had sex with was not under him in any organizational chart, while Kearney was the coach of the student in question.

Counterfactuals are hard. My view of the Applewhite situation was that he benefited greatly not only because of the org chart but because he was something of a hero who had stored up a lot of goodwill while that’s not the case with Kearney. I don’t honestly think that sexual orientation played a roll with Kearney, though, because coaches having sex with players is something that you just don’t do and get to keep your job. Or do they?

We finally have something closer to an apple-to-apple comparison on at least part of the equation. Louisiana Tech coach women’s basketball head coach Tyler Summitt has resigned upon the revelation that he had a relationship with one of his players:

“It is with great regret that I resign from my position as head coach of the women’s basketball program at Louisiana Tech University,” he said in a statement released by the university Thursday. “I am profoundly disappointed in myself for engaging in a relationship that has negatively affected the people I love, respect and care about the most.

“My hope, plans and prayers are to repair those relationships. I am appreciative of the opportunity I was given to coach at Louisiana Tech. I am heartbroken that my time has ended in Ruston, [Louisiana], but because of my respect for the institution, it is best that I resign. I am hopeful the media and the public will respect the privacy of my family and me as we deal with this difficult situation I have caused.”

This is a resignation rather than a firing, but it was the obvious result. Unlike Applewhite, Summitt was not a hero at Louisiana Tech, but the Summitt is a big name in college basketball to the point that the storied Louisiana Tech women’s basketball program* was willing to hire him at the crisp young age of 25. There also may be a pregnancy involved.

So yeah, if you’re a coach at the collegiate level, straight or gay and black or white, don’t have a sexual relationship with your players.

* – I’m not being sarcastic. There are only three women’s programs that have won over 1,000 games, and Louisiana Tech is one of them. Another is Tennessee, where Tyler Summitt’s mother alone racked up over 1,000 wins.

Category: Newsroom

I’ve hit the big time! There is a parody account of me on Twitter! Came about in a conversation where I was complaining about parody Twitter accounts on Twitter, and most specifically that they often use the same avatar as the real account.

Notably, the parody has over five times the number of followers I do.

Gotta figure out a way to make bank here.

Category: Server Room

canadiancitizenshipThis doesn’t make sense. I’ve been informed repeatedly that the left-wing lurch of young people has nothing to do with youthful exuberance untethered by sufficient life experience.

In Canada, one cost of nationalized health care is that they become more selective about who they let into the country.

Oh, Hillaryoutlawed it.

The progress of unisex bathrooms took a hit at the University of Toronto.

Supporters of raising the minimum wage argue that low minimum wages are a drain on the public coffers. True, though so can high minimum wages.

Excellent: Scott Walker signed a bill allowing for alternative certification for vocational educators.

Resolved, boring and dependable guys are the best.

Massachusetts is going after ITT Tech! The venerable institution decided that, among anything, janitorial work counts as IT because there were computers at the facility.

Though there was a lot to like about Obama’s plan for making colleges accountable, this was the sort of thing I was concerned about. (Now, if we could just incentivizing not allowing weaker students, rather than just poorer ones, that could work.) (But, of course, that runs contrary to certain aspirations.)

I guess I’m glad to know it’s not just American parents who are crazy.

Well this seems about right. As when Rincewind falling off the side of the Discworld, what else is there to do?

I think they certainly have their limitations and liabilities of small-rooms-large-commons housing, but I don’t quite think this level of animosity is justified. And really, to the extent that we can get people to buy in, I think this sort of thing should be encouraged.

Hey, look, every feminist right-wing thought I have ever had about the sexual dynamics of young poeple has just been confirmed. {Somewhat related}

Cool kid problems: According to The Guardian, Portland is experiencing an affordability crisis that could prove to be an existential one.

Category: Newsroom

This month, it was really odd to watch a rhetorical contagious appear out from the void and suddenly start appearing anywhere:

It was really kind of weird. To answer Watson’s question as to when this became a thing, it was during the Republican debate before the New Hampshire primary. At least, that was when I first saw it. Everyone claimed that their x-year old child entered the room and noticed that Rubio was repeating himself. Coincidentally, Rubio repeating himself is exactly what everyone on Twitter was talking about.

So why did this particular thing take hold? The most obvious answer is that it was a quick way to convey that it’s not just political geeks on Twitter noticing Rubio’s repetition. It’s a tihng! If my ten year old kid is noticing, then this must be really bad for Rubio! It was, of course, bad for Rubio. It’s less clear, though, that it was the debate performance itself than the news coverage afterwards. But if eight year old kids around the Twitterverse are to be believed, it was noticeable by just about anyone who happened to be entering the room.

It’s still an interesting tack nonetheless. Especially given that it, as demonstrated above, continued afterwards. That people will use others as a device is not surprising. That’s the way people are. But why filter complex political issues through children who are least likely to understand them. Partially, I would guess, a desire for simplicity. It’s so simple that Rubio is a robot or whatever. That Trump is a “scary man.” And it feeds into this notion that children are especially enlightened in a way, able to see through all of the bullspit we erect.

Politics seems increasingly geared towards simplistic narratives. I mean, it’s always been the case that we like our stories simple, but with realignment last decade occurring primarily along culture war lines rather than strong adherence to ideology (to whatever extent that was ever the case) and economics. This is not just a US phenomenon. Over fifteen years ago, George W Bush achieved the presidency largely through cultural affectation. This year, in Canada, Justin Trudeau has done the same. There are the saved and the damned. White hats and black hats.

Nobody understands that better than kids do.

Category: Newsroom