Monday, September 30, 2019


Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, in an interview on Sunday, suggested that President Donald Trump is obsessed with her because he knows he is an illegitimate president and he has a guilty conscience about beating her.

The comments came when host Jane Pauley said that Ms. Clinton's name does not come up much in any campaign except the president's -- meaning that the members of her own party don't talk about her or her failed 2008 and 2016 campaigns. Now, the first blush thought about this lack of mention by everyone except her old opponent might be something like, well, Democrats don't want to remind anyone that they backed a campaign so awful its candidate could lose to Donald Trump. And the president, for his part, would very much like people to be reminded of exactly that as a way of suggesting that they are unlikely to do much better four years later. Every day he refreshes the electorate's memory of the unlikeable, short-sighted, secretive, smug, self-righteous 2016 nominee he increases the connection between that choice and whatever not-quite-so-clueless-but-pretty-damn-close choice Democratic primary voters make next year.

But even if the answers are more prosaic or more complex than that first-blush thought, Ms. Clinton's theory clearly indicates one of her key weaknesses as a nominee: She had a lot of dumb ideas. The president "knows" he is an illegitimate president? Right, because questioning the idea that he's the greatest thing since even before sliced bread came along fits Trump's personality to a T. He has a guilty conscience about defeating her? I understand why Ms. Clinton would like to believe that powerful and amoral men feel badly about doing things which cause her trauma or insult. But while that might have even been a little true in 1998 it's not even on the scope in 2019. She's met Donald Trump. She was at his 2005 wedding. What if anything that she knows about the man either personally or professionally suggests he has a guilty conscience? He slept with a porn actress while his wife was changing their new son's diapers, fer cryin' out loud!

Sure, she walks back the statement once she realizes what she's said with a lame remark about "insomuch as a he has a conscience," but she's already said that she thinks Donald Trump secretly feels badly about defeating her. Once again we see proven the old truism that despite his character Bill Clinton is a great retail politician, while Hillary Clinton is married to a great retail politician.

Saturday, September 28, 2019


You know who really hates all of this fuss over the president's phone calls with the Ukrainian leader and the subsequent impeachment hoorah?

Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, that's who.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Some random political thoughts while I sit around and wait for the 2020 Libertarian National Convention to put a name to the space I’m already planning to mark on that November’s ballot:

— President Trump’s in trouble because someone who didn’t hear the actual conversation he had with the president of Ukraine says he suggested a quid pro quo arrangement between military aid and an investigation of Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Hunter Biden was named to the board of directors of a large Ukrainian natural gas firm while his father was vice-president because his history of lobbying, investment fund management and law practice in the United States made him well-suited to understanding how energy corporations in former Soviet republics operated. Anyway, a number of Democratic legislators and presidential candidates think that if the president really did that, he should be impeached. I’d agree, if it wasn’t for the fact that a big chunk of this same group seem to think that winning the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton was an impeachable offense and have conducted themselves accordingly.

— Some people have suggested second amendment activists have used Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s position on the possession of AR-15 and similar semi-automatic rifles to scare voters away from supporting all Democratic candidates. O’Rourke supports a “mandatory buy-back” program for these weapons, which I put in quotes to illustrate how those words don’t mean what O’Rourke says they do. If the government forces you to give up property you own (mandatory) and sets the price it will pay you, that’s not really “buying.” And if it didn’t sell you the weapon then it’s not buying anything back, since it never owned the item in question. In any event, as long as anyone quoting O’Rourke includes his qualifying phrase, “When I’m elected President” then the charge of scare-mongering is false, since no one other than O’Rourke thinks that will happen.

— United States Representative Sheila Jackson Lee must have been upset at all the contenders to her crown as the dumbest elected official in Washington because she reminded us why she holds that title. Lee, in arguing for gun control measures, said she had held an AR-15 rifle, which was as “heavy as 10 boxes that you might be moving” and fired .50-caliber rounds. The actual AR-15 weighs about seven and a half pounds and fires a .223-caliber round, under half the size she said. Now, any ordinary person can be dumb enough to make mistakes when listing design specifications for a rifle. But it takes a member of Congress to make the kinds of mistakes thirty seconds of Googling can correct. And it takes Sheila Jackson Lee to suggest that a common-use rifle owned by somewhere near 10 million Americans is as heavy as ten moving boxes and fires a round that comes in a cartridge almost five-and-a-half inches long.

— One of the worst things about having President Trump in office is the realization that when our nation could really use a potential opponent who displays the traits of character, clear-thinking and responsibility he lacks, his adversaries offer so little to choose from. Among his three most likely opponents we find lies about being Native American, the theft of another politician’s life story and claims it was the speaker’s own and a supposed socialist who owns three homes and who dropped “millionaires” from his litany of complaints about “millionaires and billionaires” after his book made him one.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Need to Read More?

Apparently I do, because it seems like a lot of people post inspirational quotes on Facebook that were said by people I’ve never heard of. I’m not sure what exactly that means, but I bet it means something.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Picturing the Final Frontier

Bored Panda shows 35 winners of the Royal Observatory Greenwich's Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest. The images are stunning, and several of them are...wait for it...out of this world.

Sorry not sorry.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Meet the Boss

Way back in the 1980s there would be movies with high school kids who would "come of age" through an experience that usually involved music or perhaps sports. The music might be a soundtrack, a special song played at a specific dance or the kid might join a band himself or herself. Through a variety of experiences connected to a cool, MTV-ready playlist, the youngsters would step out on their own, as their parents realized it was time to let their kids grow up and fly.

So when Gurinder Chadha came together with Sarfraz Manzoor to tell a version of Manzoor's own coming-of-age story in the late 1980s, they not only made a move about that time, they made a movie that could pretty comfortably be of that time. Which didn't pose much of a problem for the director of Bend It Like Beckham, Chadhas' 2002 story of a teenage Punjabi girl whose traditional-minded parents resist the idea of her playing soccer in their new London home. Thus an adaptation of Manzoor's memoir came to the screen as Blinded by the Light.

Viveik Kalra plays Javed Khan, the character based on Manzoor. Although he has lived in England most of his life, he feels separated from his classmates and neighbors because of his Pakistani origin and strong local prejudice. But his desire to write also clashes with his father's eyes-on-the-prize attitude of what he should do with his life. He has one longtime friend, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), and a new acquaintaince at his new school, a Sikh student named Roops (Aaron Phagura). One day Roops loans Javed two Bruce Springsteen cassettes and advises him to take a listen: As the trailer tells us, Roops thinks that "Bruce is a direct line to all that's true in this sh**y world." Javed is skeptical: What can the son of a working-class family in New Jersey have to say to the son of immigrants in Luton, England?

Plenty, as it turns out, since Javed's exposure to Springsteen's universal themes of longing, not fitting in and pursuing his dreams opens up new courage for him in showing his writing to his teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), pursuing a young lady Eliza (Nell Williams) and throwing himself more and more into Springsteen albums and music. The natural clash with his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) is magnified by Malik being laid off from work and pushback from his sister Yasmeen (Tara Divina), who also thinks there is nothing in the music of an American singer for a Pakistani in London.

Two themes guide Blinded. One is Javed's discovery of his voice as a writer and as a person when he listens to Springsteen's own journey in his songs. Another is Javed's desire to be himself as an individual person, not defined for either good or ill by his skin, religion, country of origin or culture. Both the racism of the National Front movement active in that part of England at that time and his own family's desire for him to fit in a predefined role chafe as Javed Khan tries to learn who Javed Khan might be.

Although the cast and Chadha do great work, and the production design excellently evokes the atmosphere of the mid-to-late 1980s, Blinded could have stood more work. Malik is really the only other member of Javed's family who has a regular role; Javed's mother primarily looks at him worriedly and counsels her husband that he was once little different from the son he's raising. The sisters have less consequence except in specific instances. A conflict between Javed and Matt seems artificial, and a lot of the story points echo Beckham more directly than they should.

On the other hand, Blinded doesn't make Javed a spotless hero and he learns that there is a lot of value in his own culture, heritage and community. Rather than cast off his past as he would restraining shackles, he sees chances to synthesize old and new as he looks for his path in the world.

The latter may be one of the best parts of Blinded by the Light. As it turns out, a working-class white kid turned rock star does have something to say to a young Pakistani immigrant half a world away. There are some universals to human experience and sometimes they transcend our artificial lines, our boundaries and our mortal terror of cultural appropriation. Javed Khan learns that over the course of the movie, and that matters more than a movie character arc usually does because Sarfraz Manzoor learned it before Javed did... and Sarfraz learned it in the real world.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Weight

For almost the last decade, physicists thought there was something weird about the proton. The subatomic particle seemed to shrink in the presence of another particle called a muon. Its diameter was 4% less in atoms where ordinary electrons were replaced with muons.

This is, to put it mildly, a big honking deal if true. Subatomic particles are not known for changing their size -- sure, they're so small that precise measurements can be tough, but recent discoveries have been able to really refine the ability of experiments to do so. If the proton grew or shrank depending on whether or not a muon was present, then a whole lotta stuff was going to be not so.

Then some physicists doing the same kind of measurements last year measured the proton with muons present and then without muons, just electrons. Turns out the earlier measurement of proton size without the muons was just wrong. They matched well within the margin of error.

None of the physicists was named Litella, although that would have been appropriate. Sometimes in science, the boring answer really is the right answer.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Documented Day

Today is Constitution Day in the United States, honoring the document that created our republic. Reading it doesn't take a long time and is probably not the worst thing you could do as a citizen.

Or as a presidential candidate.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Stumbling Block

Kevin Williamson is one of my favorite writers at National Review and elsewhere that he may appear. It's almost impossible to misunderstand him, unless he throws around one or another of those kinds of vocabulary words that make you mark your place when you head to the dictionary. His points of view are up front and not hidden behind attempts to make palatable what he believes to be true but difficult. He's witty and can be hilarious when he trains his keyboard on a target that the reader also rather mislikes, but he goes out of his way to make certain that every accusation has backup and sourcing. His The Case Against Trump made it clear why people would have been better off voting for someone else and should have been stapled to every briefing paper every GOP presidential hopeful received leading up to the primary season, so they could realize what they were doing when they tried to position themselves to pick up the coiffed one's supporters when he dropped out. The End Is Near (And It's Going to Be Awesome) clearly explains how everyone's failure to rein in government spending will provoke an economic collapse that might lead us to better ways of doing things. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism explains even to the meanest of intellects why that system will never work with human beings. I enjoy his podcast with NR online editor Charles Cooke, even down to the psych-out abrupt endings.

All of which means I really wanted to like The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics. I like the idea of it: Encouraging people to take up the actual responsibilities of being citizens of our republic instead of outsourcing our thinking to systems ill-equipped to handle it, such as memes or Twitter. I think generalizing thoughts about groups of people is a good way to increase tensions between them and lead to dangerous kinds of bigotry and prejudice and that we do better as individuals a society and a country when we take people in smaller groups or even one-on-one. Those tenets are part of Williamson's basic argument in Minority.

He also points out that the United States Constitution was not designed to govern a direct democracy, but instead protect the people from the consequences of such a government when it was mishandled. After all, mob rule is just a more energetic form of democracy, in which the majority can install a tyranny as it sees fit and demand that others follow it, individual conscience be damned. These are all good thoughts and I agree with them. I don't even mind so much when Williamson works within his usual caustic tone that jabs as much as it argues, but his dyspepsia here is what eventually weakens Minority and make one hope for someone else to cover these matters in a more palatable tone.

In the chapter on democracy, for example, Williamson decries how a whole lot of the people who have the right to vote don't really know enough to use that right in a responsible way that will elect qualified people who can do the jobs we ask them to do. Such people are just a few generations away, he says, from chimpanzees flinging feces around at each other and yet their hands are on the levers of power. I would agree we have a lot of people who don't bring much information or wisdom into the voting booths with them. But they're not just a few generations away from chimps, Kevin. They're the same several million generations removed that the rest of us are, even though they want to act without much thinking. Being disappointed and disgusted with them is understandable and some hyperbole serves to make the case -- but at this level, laced with this much disdain? Condemn me if I'd rather laugh with the chimps than sneer with the savants, Kev, but you had the choice and the tools to approach the matter better -- and you didn't.

When taking aim at recent campus trends to do more than just bemoan or protest "undesirable" speakers but to gather in masked mobs as "antifa" and actually commit violence to prevent those events from happening, Williamson references columnist and author Ann Coulter in a footnote. I've little interest in Coulter's ideas or her manner of sharing them. If they're good they usually get expressed better by someone who's not as much of a jerk about it as she is. But in the note Williamson describes her as a "ghastly hunk of prom queen jerky." Nothing in what Williamson says in the chapter requires this kind of damning reference to Coulter's appearance; if it did he wouldn't have stuck it in a snide footnote. As an author and speaker, Coulter offers targets aplenty for those who would wish to point out that she is more of a burden which free speech requires us to carry than a pillar that supports it. Any of them would have made that point without a bitchy little ring-the-doorbell-and-run-away shot at her looks. Again, Kevin, you had the choice and the tools to do something better, but you didn't.

As a person who values the rights of the individual, the way our governmental system was set up to protect them and is worried about how modern moves like cancel culture, intersectionality and the immaturity that social media both fuels and is fed by can erode such rights, I'm glad to see discussions about those matters make it into print. As a reader who wants to explore them in a useful manner, I'll be keeping my eyes open for treatments that do so with less acid than Smallest Minority.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Vote Down

Writing at Vox, Kelsey Piper apparently believes she has made the case for removing the age restriction on voting entirely. According to her piece, anyone who can be taught the concept of voting and who is physically capable of casting a ballot should be allowed to do so. She hasn't made the case at all, of course, because she fails to note the elephant in the room: Kids don't know what they're doing.

She notes that such an objection overlooks the reality that there are a lot of people who vote who don't know what they're doing -- and you can pick just about any election you want to as proof. But that's not really a reason to extend the franchise to the Santa-comes-down-the-chimney set as much as it is a reason to remove it from some others. But that's wrong.

Sure, if we wanted an informed and intelligent electorate we would prune the rolls of somewhere north of 50% of registered voters -- even though many of the uninformed and less intelligent remove themselves from the rolls by either not registering or not voting if they do. The Vox piece gives us a good place to start, in fact. But we have, in our nation, said that people who are 18 years of age can make a rational decision to put themselves in harm's way for the benefit of that nation and its people. If they are allowed to do that, then they get to vote in elections, even if they don't often exercise that right and they may choose poorly. Which leaves us without a rational reason to ratchet the age back up to where we might be better served by our voters and their choices.

Could some 12-year-olds make more responsible decisions as voters than do people twice, three, four or more times their age? Of course! But not enough of them to risk that the rest might also persuade Mom or Dad to drive them to the polls and vote Ariana Grande into the White House. Show me a 12-year-old who would make a great voting citizen today and I will show you one who would make an even better voting citizen in six years. Show me a 12-year-old who would make a lousy voting citizen today and we've got six years to either fix it or subtly persuade that person to join the ranks of the non-voters. Both next year's Democratic primaries and the November general election should put us way ahead of the curve in convincing them.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur

United States District Judge Indira Tawani, taking the only choice open to her in order to defend the public and pursue justice, sentenced actress Felicity Huffman to fourteen days in federal prison Friday.

Citizens, you may now sleep safely. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen has pointed out, "in prison everyone wears the same clothes." After spending her fortnight in orange and coughing up fines adding up to literally more a thousandth of her net worth, Felicity Huffman will be exactly like every other ex-con in the country.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Numbers, Revisited

Back in April I suggested that Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, who decided not to play baseball for the Oakland A's because he thought a football contract was worth more money, should pay special attention to the number 3.2. That number is how many times per game the Arizona Cardinals, who drafted Murray, let their quarterback be sacked during the 2018 season.

Well the official 2019 season of National Football League play has begun, and in the first week the Cardinals hosted the Detroit Lions. The Lions were in the middle of league rankings when it came to sacks with 41 on the season for an average of 2.5 per game. Probably a good opponent against whom Mr. Murray could begin to adjust to the greater speed and size of NFL defensive players compared to those in college.

But both 3.2 and 2.5 proved to have no bearing on the 27-27 tie between the Cardinals and Lions, as Murray was sacked once by linebacker Christian Jones (6'3", 250 lbs), once by linebacker Jahlani Tavai (6'2", 250 lbs) and three times by linebacker Devon Kennard (6'3", 256 lbs) for a total of five knockdowns. This one game supplied almost one-sixth of Kennard's career sack total of 19.5. For context, the A's also played Detroit on Sunday, notching a 3-1 win over the Tigers in a game in which not a single Oakland player was knocked flat on his can by a 250-lb man moving at 17 mph.

A 100-count bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol runs for about 11 bucks according to Walmart's website set to Phoenix zip codes. For reference.

(And I am now sad, since the original post was one of those linked to by the late Charles Hill of Dustbury who added his own witty $0.02, but who will do so from now on at a URL we who remain cannot yet read.)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Campaign Bits

-- Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke has said that living near where a person works is a luxury that we have currently limited to the rich, and that he will change housing policy to help fix that. People, he said, have a right to live near their jobs. You would think this might be kind of a catchy idea, since he is essentially campaigning against rush hour, but it would sound a lot better coming from someone who had a job right now.

-- Jon Ossoff 2017: "I am the definition of an unqualified candidate running for office in a race that normally would be inconsequential except that national media hope to use it as a stick with which to hit President Trump. It's practically impossible to find a candidate as manufactured as I am.

Beto O'Rourke 2018: "Hold my beer."

Beto O'Rourke 2019: "Hold this beer too."

Jon Ossoff 2019: "No, you hold my beer."

-- National Review political correspondent Jim Geraghty raises the possibility that a three-hour debate might not be the fairest format for some of the more...experienced...candidates in the field, as it could tax their resources. Mr. Geraghty overlooks the fact that three hours of the current Democratic field would tax anyone's resources, experienced or not.

-- Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sued CBS for interviewing two women who allege he sexually assaulted them. Lt. Gov. Fairfax is still only the lieutenant governor even though Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has never explained how a picture of someone in blackface ended up in his medical school yearbook and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted to donning the insulting makeup and persona during his own college years. The three men are the only statewide elected officials in Virginia, which leaves the fourth in line for the governor's seat the speaker of the House of Delegates, Kirk Cox. Cox is ineligible for the office, as he has confessed to something even worse than wearing blackface, sexual assault or being lied about in the eyes of the Virginia Democratic Party: He's a Republican.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Irrational Sentencing

The impending sentencing for actress Felicity Huffman, who paid someone to correct the answers on her daughter's SAT test to ensure the young woman's admission to college, has drawn a lot of comment. Much of it is very dumb, and I suppose the main reason that my opinion will not add that much to the dumbness is that it will not be as widely read as the rest.

Huffman plead guilty and wants to be punished by a fine and significant community service. The prosecutor wants her to spend 30 days in jail, and we see the dumb rear its head very quickly. I am not under any illusion that house arrest within her mansion is any kind of punishment for Ms. Huffman unless we are talking ridiculous amounts of time. The prosecution's recommendation to the judge takes snarky note of the unremarkable fact that a rich person lives in a nice home in making the case for some kind of incarceration. But let's not pretend that 30 days in jail will amount to anything other than a pinion in the Panama for the prosecution. The sentence is about the same theatrics behind the dawn raid on Huffman's home, in which FBI agents felt it best to arrest a test cheater over the sights of drawn weapons.

Huffman will be no more or less employable because of such a sentence -- Hollywood has already sentenced her to being a non-Meryl Streep woman over 50, so her roles will start to shrink soon. It will be of no material benefit to the federal government or jail which houses her. SAT test proctors will not breathe a sigh of relief that they are protected from offers to to switch a few of those penciled ovals from wrong to right for a stack of cash. A jail sentence will not signal to those tempted to cheat that it's wrong -- they already know it's wrong just like Ms. Huffman did, but they, also like her, think they won't be caught. They still will. Federal prosecutors will parade Ms. Huffman's incarceration-ish stint in jail because it's a rich person behind bars, not because any element of society will be any safer or better off if Felicity Huffman gets a monthlong wardrobe change.

Ms. Huffman's letter to the judge makes a couple of telling points. No matter what happens to her in the judicial system, she has a life sentence of her daughter knowing her mother didn't think she could get into college on her own. Sure, she's an actress and knows how to play a role, but it's tough to believe that's all part of a script. She makes a good argument that the overall balance of right and wrong is probably better served by her paying a significant fine and finding community service work to help undo some of what she's done -- but she doesn't seem to be aware that she's hardly the best one to make that argument stick.

Ms. Huffman's former Desperate Housewives castmate Eva Longoria wrote a letter in support of her friend's request for leniency which, in true celebrity fashion, made good points about Ms. Huffman's character while also giving herself a starring role and taking digs at other former co-stars, who aren't named. Actor William Macy, Ms. Huffman's husband, unsurprisingly argues that his wife should not be sentenced to jail and mentions in support how she acted partly out of the stresses and excesses of motherhood and maternal love.

As always, when the pyramid of stupid needs a capstone, one may turn to Joy Behar of The View, whose response to an item on Mr. Macy's letter was: “Who wrote that speech? It's, like, out of 'Desperate Housewives.' ” She thought it was funny, you see, because Ms. Huffman used to star in Desperate Housewives and it was kind of a soap opera and Mr. Macy's letter was a little overwrought and Ms. Behar's SAT answers could use a couple of "proctors" themselves.

Unlike some other wealthy families involved in this admissions scandal, no students were displaced by Ms. Huffman and Mr. Macy's daughter. She gained admission to a college which did not require the SAT, but that offer was rescinded when the scandal broke. Should some folk spend time behind bars for their roles in this? Sure...unless we can show that fining them would be more productive. Either way, we shouldn't pretend that a monthlong sentence for a wealthy actress will do anything for society as a whole, in spite of what the people who actually will benefit from it tell us.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Rest in Peace

The death of Dustbury blogger Charles Hill following an auto accident removes Oklahoma's best blogger from the internet. Charles had been dealing with some significant health challenges in the last couple of years which had not slowed his practice of regular and plentiful postings.

I met him once, corresponded with him frequently via our respective comment sections and always appreciated his comments on my posts. I am glad that after he linked several recent entries I followed through on an impulse to thank him in the comment section of one of them. Through Charles' site I discovered several other good blogs to read and because he included me in his list of links I know there were people who found mine.

Oklahoma blogging was better because of Dustbury and will be much, much less now that Charles is gone.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


According to this Tweet from Haggard Hawks, the Welsh word "hiraeth" refers to an interesting mix of nostalgia with homesickness -- it's more than just missing the attributes of a particular time and place; it's thinking that time and place is actually more your home than any current situation.

It could be a useful word, but we have to realize that every time and place is one of mixed blessings. More conservative-leaning folks such as I might have a sense of homesickness for the 1980s and the presidency of Ronald Reagan. But that was also a decade with Ted Kennedy in it, which means that although the occupant of the White House was significantly smarter and more dignified then than now, Washington waitresses and Kennedy campaign staffers are a good deal safer today.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

True to Themselves

Although he has magically been given human form, Sherman the (former) shark maintains his focus on the things that matter.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

You Have Questions, He Has Answers

The recent annual "Mindset List" had as one entry the realization that outside of a short stint for Jeopardy's 35th anniversary, Alex Trebek has never had a mustache for those entering college in the fall of 2019. People who remember Trebek when he started the Jeopardy gig or in some other game shows stints know that he was often well-regarded for his shaped and carefully trimmed mustache.

With or without 'stache, you can hear Alex offer you affirmations of varying impact in different categories here on the Trebek Affirmation Soundboard. And although one of the entries is entitled "Rickrolled," you are not actually Rickrolled if you click on it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Sample Size

Writing at Public Book, Alexander Manshel, Laura B. McGrath, and J. D. Porter describe a survey that shows whether being nominated or winning a particular book prize matteers to book sales. There are some neat graphs and interesting comparisons between several different books.

The authors suggest that the prizes do have an impact on sales -- in short, the prizes matter. This shows how a larger sample size makes for more nuanced conclusions. By surveying a large number of people, they are able to draw conclusions based on large amounts of data.

In contrast, I surveyed only myself and came to the conclusion that the prizes have no impact on whether or not I purchase a book. This result is good enough to govern my purchasing habits, but not nearly enough to determine the actual impact of the prizes. So it's probably better that they did more research than I did, although I will say that my research was sufficient for my needs.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Agin' 'Em

To say that Howard Zinn's 1980 book A People's History of the United States has detractors undersells the widespread work of polemicists, opinion writers and historians right and left who question its scholarship, aims and the honesty of its author. Zinn was a political science professor at Boston University when he wrote the book that would define the rest of his life. He said he intended it to counter the kind of historical narrative that only focused on the powerful, political and economic elites and the winners. He wanted a history that told the stories of the people that those traditional narratives overlooked.

Almost immediately, the book would draw rabid praise and cold-eyed criticism. As expected, conservative-leaning intellectuals dismissed Zinn's class-struggle based iconoclasm. But a number of centrist and left-leaning historians also pointed out that Zinn had only inverted the hero-villain narratives of the histories he disliked rather than corrected them. The vision of history in People's History was just as simplistic, they said, and Zinn's zeal to lift up what he saw as oppressed classes led him to omit information that might suggest a more nuanced history.

Nevertheless, excellent publicity and strong financial support have kept Zinn's book and his work at the forefront of academic debate -- its use in high school classes is frequently targeted even today. That's why 2019 can see something like Mary Grabar's Debunking Howard Zinn, a 350-page fisking of Zinn's 40-year-old book. Grabar, a longtime English professor who now works with the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, takes a couple of chapters to outline the popularity of People's History before diving into its text and errors.

Although not herself a historian, Grabar is a scholar and mostly follows standard academic practice in Debunking. She extensively footnotes her work and relies on a wide range of attributed sources -- something Zinn himself did less well at. It's certainly a book that Zinn detractors and folks interested in more honest history should keep for ready access. Grabar's meticulous dissection makes it easy to point out what the professor got wrong, where he may very likely have plagiarized other work and where he ignored clear evidence from his own cited works that says the opposite of what he says it does.

But as a work in its own right, Debunking's polemic tone begins to take on the air of a rather heated PowerPoint presentation. Fisking is fun at first but since Zinn isn't all that creative in his errors Grabar is also stuck repeating herself. The world will be a better place when A People's History winds up in the dustbin of the same and scholars like Mary Grabar can turn their attention to more interesting topics.
Starting in 1967, MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky began his blizzard of brief books and pamphlets about the United States, its history and its politics. At the risk of eliding the hundreds of thousands of words he's put into print, let's just say he holds a negative view of all three.

Writers Peter Collier and David Horowitz began as leftists like Chomsky, but over time migrated to the right, while keeping their laser-intense focus and gift for highly charged writing. In 2004, they collected several essays by historians, political scientists and opinion writers -- and Horowitz contributed a pair himself -- dissecting Chomsky's viewpoints and analysis. They also collected two essays about Chomsky's professional field of linguistics and linguistic analysis. At the risk of eliding the thousands of words they put into print, let's just say they hold a negative view of almost every bit of his work.

Specific targets include Chomsky's view of the actual heroes and villains of the United States' involvement in southeast Asia, his analysis of the true causes as well as the heroes and villains of the Cold War, and the actual reasons behind the September 11, 2001 attacks and some of the subsequent conflict as it was happening in that time.

According to the contributors to this Anti-Chomsky Reader, Chomsky believes the only reason something wrong with the world isn't the United States' fault is because Israel beat them to it. Both, and to a lesser extent some western European nations, cause most of the trouble in the world as ways to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Nearly every American action is seen as a way for wealthy elitists, industrialists and other such power brokers to strengthen or maintain their grip on the reins of power. Pre-USSR collapse, the good guys in the story were the world's Communist dictatorships; now it's a rotating cast of whoever Chomsky believes is getting picked on or bullied by the United States.

These essays also start to wear thin, although their authors are surveying a body of work rather than one book. The Reader could be a useful reference work when countering some of Chomsky's own work on the subjects in question but turns into a kind of heavy slog. The linguistics section presupposes the average reader knows quite a bit about the subject and can leave that reader wondering just what's being written about beyond the claim that Chomsky's a dishonest hack in his own legitimate field of study, not just politics and history. Like Zinn, Chomsky shows little variation in his errors and thus pointing them out takes on a feeling of sameness as well.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

They Chose...Poorly

Eighty years ago today, Nazi Germany decided it wanted its ass kicked.

That's not what its leaders thought, of course. They thought they were invading a weaker neighbor, one that could be quickly overwhelmed by superior military force and modern technology. In this they were largely accurate.

But they also thought that the rest of the world wouldn't care, and that they had the military might to put all of Europe under their control, and that they didn't need frippery like aircraft carriers from which to launch their planes when all of their major enemies could be reached after only a brief flight. They thought that a lonely Great Britain and an isolationist United States, even if the latter entered the war, would prove no match for the mighty Reich. They thought that their own industrial capacity could out-produce other nations to put the latest battlefield technology in the hands of their soldiers and at the command of their pilots.

But it turned out they were kind of wrong, so they got their asses kind of kicked.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of guys.