July 30th, 2015

Woody Allen continues to demonstrate his moral bankruptcy

I know, I know: why bother to even discuss Woody Allen at this point?

But this interview with the 79-year-old comedian and film director was featured on Yahoo, and so I admit that I succumbed to the click bait and read the following Allen quote:

I started the relationship with [Soon-Yi Previn, his then-girlfriend Mia Farrow's adoptive daughter, who was---at most---21 years old at the time to his 56] and I thought it would just be a fling. It wouldn’t be serious, but it had a life of its own. And I never thought it would be anything more,” Allen revealed. “Then we started going together, then we started living together, and we were enjoying it. And the age difference didn’t seem to matter. It seemed to work in our favor actually.”

I wrote that Soon-Yi was 21 at the outset, but there is evidence that she was no older than 20 and perhaps younger. At any rate, she appears to have been over the age of consent. Whatever Allen’s sense of his actual relationship with Farrow’s children may have been, as Farrow’s daughter Soon-Yi stood in a quasi-stepchild role to Allen and any affair with her was a betrayal of Farrow and the other children, in addition to whatever shock may have come from the age difference.

Allen and Soon-Yi have now been married for 20 years (how time flies), so the couple has stood the test of time and then some, particularly by celebrity or Hollywood standards. However, no matter how much time passes, Allen still doesn’t get that he is conveying a profound narcissism and lack of understanding of the depth of the pain he caused. We learn that, when he disrupted Farrow’s entire family by having this affair, it wasn’t even because of a serious reason at first—such as, for example, love—it was for what was in his own words “just a fling.”

Nor does he seem to understand how that sounds to other people. If it is true, at least he should have enough moral awareness to keep quiet about it. But he doesn’t.

[ADDENDUM: By the way, in a completely unrelated story, Mia Farrow is also in the news today for this abominable action.]

July 30th, 2015

Why Fiorina isn’t higher in the polls despite her obvious gifts, and Trump is

I asked that question yesterday, and I’ll try to answer it today.

I believe Carly Fiorina scores low because she’s not held elective office, and she lost the one election she entered. Even though she did well considering it was in bluer-than-blue California, she still lost.

Also, although she can explain her firing from Hewlett-Packard in a way that doesn’t reflect poorly on her (see this and this), the firing still doesn’t sound to the casual listener like a success story.

But far more importantly, Donald Trump—who naturally gains more publicity from his statements and his candidacy because he is flamboyant and somewhat outrageous—–has taken the spot Fiorina would otherwise occupy, that of “business-oriented political outsider.” He is far, far more well-known from his long self-promoting stint in the public eye, and he is therefore a magnet for the protest voters on the right. Supporting Trump is a twofer for anyone who’s angry at the establishment: he is not a GOP establishment member and he also gets the goat of those who are.

Trump (and the publicity in the MSM in reaction to him) has also managed to focus on illegal immigration, a topic that makes many Americans particularly furious and frustrated. That is probably the source of a great deal of his support, because he is one of the few people who are finally reflecting the feelings of much of America, when few on either side of the aisle seem ready to do so.

Is Trump sincere? I don’t happen to think so. I happen to think his main motive is narcissism and hearing the sweet sound of his own voice amplified and repeated. But others disagree, or they don’t care if he is or isn’t sincere. They like to hear him stick it to the Republicans who have played along with illegal immigration (as well as increases in legal immigration) all this time in order to placate their big business donors. Trump may be a big business guy himself, but he doesn’t depend on donors’ money in order to run and that gives him a certain amount of rhetorical freedom.

July 30th, 2015

Lost and found: a piece of Flight 370?

After all the false leads in the year and a third since Malaysian Flight 370 vanished, we now have a real possibility that a piece of it has washed ashore, a sort of cryptic message in a bottle that may have drifted thousands of miles from wherever the plane’s gravesite—and that of its 227 passengers and 12 crew—lies.

Unofficial reports are that the piece is indeed from a Boeing 777, the type of plane involved in the disappearance, and that there are no other 777s that are unaccounted for. Experts are being dispatched even as we speak to identify it further and more exactly, through a number that was found on it which might be some sort of maintenance number but is neither a serial nor a registration number. The item appears from photos to be similar to a plane part known as a flaperon, which “is a lightweight part of an aircraft wing that helps control the plane’s movement. It is lightweight and has sealed chambers, making it buoyant.”

The buoyancy would explain a lot about how it ended up on the island. Notice that the place it was found is named Saint-Andre de la Reunion Island, otherwise known as Reunion Island—aptly named for the site of a plane’s re-entry from the land of the unknown into the realm of human awareness.

We can only hope it’s from Flight 370, because the mystery has been excruciating for the families of the passengers and crew. Chinese people made the bulk of the plane’s passengers, and many of their families don’t want the debris to be from Flight 370, or are at best ambivalent about it, which is completely understandable. What a horrific experience they’ve undergone, and what a wrenching series of downs and ups and downs:

On Thursday, several families said they still believe, against the odds, that the missing passengers are out there, or that this is another false alarm. To believe otherwise is to accept the worst.

They called on the Chinese press to stop printing “hearsay,” and said they were not ready to accept that the wreckage found on Reunion may be a piece of the missing plane…

They have spent the last year locked in Kafkaesque nightmare: cloistered in a hotel for weeks waiting for news, told not to talk to the media, fed false information, and when they made too much noise, reportedly beaten by Chinese police.

Absent verifiable facts, the rumor mill went wild. Some still believe that the plane was intercepted, perhaps by Islamic extremists or the CIA, and that their relatives could alive, waiting to be rescued.

“Closure” is a very overused word, but if ever people needed it, it would be the families of Flight 370.

It had been predicted that if the wreckage were to be found, it would probably be in eastern Africa or nearby because of the way tides work in the Indian Ocean. Reunion is somewhat east of Madagascar, which would place it in the expected area—an area that’s quite large but still circumscribed. Unfortunately, however, even if the debris is from the plane and it confirms a crash, that doesn’t help to point towards a more precise answer to the question of where the rest of the wreckage might be found or even where to search for it.

A suitcase also found on the beach at Reunion has been turned over to authorities, but it could be a false lead because there is nothing to tie it to Flight 370 so far. Reunion is no desert island, either; it is a resort and sugar-raising area with 800,000 residents, so a suitcase could have come from many other sources.

This article indicates that, if it is determined that the flaperon is from the missing plane, it would put an end to the conspiracy theories about its disappearance. I disagree. Those who believe in conspiracy theories tend to be resistant to contrary evidence that would seem convincing to non-conspiracy-theorists. For example, I can readily imagine that if this plane part is declared to have been from a 777 and even from the doomed flight, many of those who believe in a conspiracy will just reply that it was planted or fabricated by lying authorities in a further coverup.

July 29th, 2015

Score another one for Fiorina

Fiorina is forceful, firm, and focused:

Why isn’t she higher in the polls?

July 29th, 2015

Hillary Clinton: I’m like a refrigerator…

…just buy it and open the door.

Clinton was asked about her position on the Keystone pipeline. This was her answer:

“If it’s undecided when I become president, I will answer your question,” Clinton said. “This is President Obama’s decision. I’m not going to second-guess him.”

At least she can’t be accused of lying and/or making false promises on that one—although, come to think of it, she might be lying when she says she’d be willing to answer the question after she became president.

By the way, the reference in the title of this post was to this gem from Nancy Pelosi about the passage of Obamacare:

”It’s like the back of the refrigerator. You see all these wires and the rest,” said Pelosi. “All you need to know is, you open the door. The light goes on.”

July 29th, 2015

Congress, Republicans, and conservatives: so now whatta we do?

In yesterday’s thread we talked about the problems in Congress between the GOP and conservatives. Today I want to highlight part of a comment by “Mark” that goes like this:

“McConnell’s gift is his brutally candid assessment of reality” and the flaw of conservatives is that our overwhelming desire for instant deployment of our principles overlooks the checks and balances that stand in our way. Ironically, those checks and balances are the part of a CONSERVATIVE framework laid out by our Founders. We conservatives act like petulant children who don’t like being told that major obstacles put what we want out of reach, or that smaller steps are the best we can do in the present.

For example in 2013 McConnell knew he couldn’t win the effort to block Obamacare funding. He didn’t want to fund Obamacare, but more importantly, he didn’t want the GOP to reinforce branding as the cruel party of government shutdown. Cruz was a fool to do the shutdown stunt, but it served his personal ambitions at the expense of the appeal of conservatism to the general electorate.

McConnell’s pragmatism needs to be comprehended and not derided in knee jerk declarations of “RINO.”

I’m fairly certain that a lot of readers here would disagree vehemently with Mark. But I think he is correct in his general point that conservatives’ “overwhelming desire for instant deployment of our principles overlooks the checks and balances that stand in our way.” That is something I’ve been writing about for years, although I never said it quite as elegantly and succinctly as Mark does right there.

For example, I keep seeing cries of “get rid of Boehner” and/or “get rid of McConnell.” But other than acting as a conservative pep rally firing up the base, the call to do this lacks some fairly important details such as how it could happen. When last I checked, both positions were elective offices voted on by colleagues, and unless there is widespread support for a challenge it has no chance of succeeding. Conservatives often accuse the establishment wing of the GOP of going for the empty gesture or kabuki theater (often a correct charge, by the way), but they themselves seem to be rather enthusiastic about their own empty gestures and kabuki theater.

For example, I happen to think highly of Ted Cruz: smart as a whip, articulate, bold, and a principled conservative with whom I agree on most issues. But I think his strategy is to appeal to the conservative base with gestures that are doomed to failure while at the same time offending most of his colleagues in the Senate (see this, for example). The reason is that Cruz lacks a power base, and the establishment is called “the establishment” for a reason: they have a power base, and they have the numbers.

That’s why I say that the way to combat the establishment in the Senate is to get more conservatives in there. If you can’t elect more conservatives right away, that means you have to work harder to convince people of the rightness of the conservative cause, raise more money, and expand conservative ideas into the forums of media, entertainment, and academia. If that’s not quick enough for you, that’s too bad, because the others have been playing this game for a long long time. And if you don’t care about winning control of Congress and think it’s a lost cause, then you have to have an alternate approach.

Then there’s what commenter “Jimmy J” wrote yesterday, which I think is right on the money and relevant to the whole question of what to do about Congress. Here’s an excerpt:

I once worked for a Naval Officer who thought like a politician. Whenever an issue or problem came up he would immediately go into this mode of thinking: What will the big brass think, what will SECDEF think, what will my sailors think, how will this be perceived in the civilian world, and the final piece of the puzzle – how can I address this and enhance my career?

It was a new experience for me. I had always been in operating units and our problems usually consisted of a mission and how we accomplished that mission. Except for directions or commands from higher authority, we never gave a second thought to how what we were doing to complete the mission would look to anyone else. That tour of duty (2 years) gave me an insight into how the Pentagon and Washington DC work…

IMO, that is why so much of what we see in our representatives seems so mystifying and horrifying. We see what appears to be a straightforward way to solve a problem, but we don’t see the checklists of donors, lobbyists, friends, other party members, journalists, personal preferences, career enhancement chances, etc., etc. that influence what actually happens.

The behavior is clearly endemic to politics. In that sense both parties are alike, and in fact ALL parties will always be alike, and nearly all politicians will be, as well. The problem is inherent, unavoidable, inevitable, baked in the cake, etc. Conservatives (or those who say they are conservative) are hardly immune, either, and anyone who goes into politics can (and probably will) end up this way even if the person doesn’t start out that way.

So what’s the solution? My attitude towards politics and politicians has long been a practical one. I’ll summarize it as this: don’t expect much, and vote for the ones least likely to do the worst damage. That means conservatives usually; next in line are Republicans. It’s really a rather simple decision most of the time. But it is a frustrating process because it doesn’t advance things very far, or at least it certainly hasn’t up to this point.

In terms of electoral politics, however, I see no alternative. Congress is never going to be composed of a majority—or anywhere near it—of principled people, much less principled conservatives.

What I don’t understand is why so many conservatives focus on rage at Republicans, as though they’re the biggest problem. They’re not. They’re just part of a much much bigger problem. Nor do I understand why so many conservatives say there’s no difference who you vote for, and that both parties are the same. They are not, and although they share many characteristics (as I’ve noted above), the Democrats and the left do more damage in the long run. So why enable them with your vote, or with your abstention from voting?

[NOTE: Also see commenter Eric’s response to Jimmy J.]

July 29th, 2015

How big is Africa?

Much bigger than you thought.

Or at least, it’s much bigger than I thought.

How big? This big:


I don’t know how well you can see what’s inside the map, but it’s the US, most of Europe, China, India, and Japan.

[ADDENDUM: More information on this can be found here.]

July 28th, 2015

Can he really feel your pain?

Here’s an article about Dr. Joel Salinas, a Boston neurologist with mirror touch synesthesia, which is the sensation, when watching other people, of perceiving that “whatever touches their body [is felt] on my own body as well and it’s kind of reflected as a mirror.”

Seems a little suspect; how do we know it’s not just having a lively imagination crossed with a great deal of empathy?—although in my experience, “a great deal of empathy” would be unusual among neurologists, who may self-select for lack of empathy due to the number of extraordinarily difficult and incurable progressive and debilitating diseases and conditions they almost inevitably see in their patients.

Here’s a more scientific definition of mirror-touch synesthesia:

Three conditions must be met in order to confirm the presence of mirror touch synesthesia. The first condition is that the synaesthetic response, which is defined as the sensation synesthetes feel after observing someone else being touched, should feel like conscious experiences. The second condition is that synesthetic responses are induced by a stimulus that normally does not induce that response. The third condition is that the synesthetic experiences must occur automatically, without conscious thought.

There is some experimental verification for the phenomenon. For example, subjects with the condition who watch someone else being touched on the cheek while also being touched on their own cheek experience a higher than chance number of errors as to which side it’s happening on, depending on what they’re watching.

It’s not really about pain, but more often about touch. Studies estimate its prevalence in the population as being around 1.5 to 2.5 percent. What’s more, the empathy thing I mentioned is not unrelated:

Mirror touch synesthetes have a higher ability to feel empathy than non-synesthetes, and can therefore feel the same emotions that someone else may be observed to feel.

The latter, however, is an intensification of what many or even most people experience when seeing someone who is crying, or anxious, or upset in some other way. To a certain extent we pick up on the feelings, both negative and positive, of people we counter all the time. Some of us are much less sensitive to it, some more. I’m usually (although not always) in that latter group, so much so that I sometimes have to purposely block it out in order to function in the world.

[NOTE: I was drawn to the headline because, back during the days of my neurological injuries and chronic pain, I used to go to a lot of orthopedists, neurologists, and neurosurgeons, and I used to fantasize about having some sort of machine I could put them in that would simulate the pain I felt so that they could feel it and understand, if only for a minute or so.]

July 28th, 2015

What’s going on with the Republican leadership in Congress?

There’s been so much news lately about intra-Republican wars in Congress between the GOP regulars and the conservatives (such as McConnell and Ted Cruz, respectively) that it’s hard to sort out. In fact, I spent several hours last night reading article after article about it and came out of the experience with a singular lack of clarity and a huge amount of frustration, not only with the situation itself but with the unclear and shallow way it’s being written about.

It’s almost impossible to untangle the massively knotted skein of what’s actually happening. I don’t mean what the right is saying is happening, or what the establishment is saying is happening, or what the left is saying is happening, or the MSM, or various blogs on the right. I mean trying to figure out the truth. What are the goals and motives of each side—particularly the decidedly unsympathetic McConnell—besides the givens of gaining power and money, that is?

This Politico article is one of the few pieces that tries to explain how McConnell got to the pinnacle of power that he’s reached. It’s a mystery to most of us way-outside-the-beltway folks, who look at him and see a guy who looks uncharismatic, unappealing, and doesn’t radiate Machiavellian power. He almost fades into the background; the nickname “turtle” seems fairly descriptive.

But of course it’s not:

…[McConnell] achieved his iron-fisted grip on the politics of his home state and his fractious party on Capitol Hill through discipline, cunning and, oftentimes, fear. Which is why, at the moments that have found him happiest—winning elections, blocking bills, denying the sheen of bipartisanship to President Barack Obama—he has radiated not joy but menace. Stepping to the microphones at a Capitol press conference some years ago, he announced with the slightest trace of a smile, “Darth Vader has arrived.”

Conservatives dislike him a great deal: he likes to bluster and then to compromise and cave. Not to cave to them, but to the Democrats. That’s seen as a series of unforced errors, and conservatives are angry about it (that includes me, by the way).

McConnell started out in politics as a moderate Republican in a blueish state, and as time went on he moved to the right. But that change has seemed to be less about ideology and principle and more about politics and power.

In a state that was predominately Democratic, being a moderate was the only way to get elected as a Republican. But over the years, as the national GOP moved rightward, McConnell, whose ideology was power, moved with it.

So, why did he become a Senate leader in the party?:

Although registered Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans, Kentucky’s eight-member congressional delegation contains only one Democrat, and Democrats have not had a federal statewide candidate win there since President Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996. “There are now three or four generations of Kentucky political leaders who count McConnell as their mentor,” says Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former Senate chief of staff, who is now a senior adviser to the minority leader’s embattled campaign.

When Senate Republicans elected McConnell as their leader in 2006, they did so very much because of his reputation as a party-builder with a killer instinct.

He did block Obama’s agenda when he was Minority Leader, enforcing party discipline. But now that he’s Majority Leader, the task is different and his clashes with the conservative wing expose the fact that ideologically he’s not really a conservative at all.

Here’s another description:

Even for a politician long hailed for his pragmatism—“McConnell’s gift is his brutally candid assessment of reality,” Dyche says—his rapprochement with Paul is remarkable, and in some respects risky. “It’s so transparently cynical that it feeds into the whole ‘he’ll do anything to keep power’ charge,” one McConnell loyalist told me. “And I think, given his lack of personality, that’s what makes him vulnerable.

Mike Lee and Ted Cruz have been fighting McConnell for quite some time, as the article shows. They’re still fighting

More here and here about the Senate infighting.

But the infighting between conservative Republicans and establishment Republicans isn’t limited to the Senate. The House has gotten into the act too on the highway bill and its amendments or lack thereof.

Some of this is a disagreement in political strategy. As best I can piece it together, one of McDonnell’s motives (besides the aforementioned power/money) is that he believes that in 2016 it will be beneficial to Republican candidates to be able to point to a record in this Congress of a modicum of cooperation rather than blocking Obama or introducing more extreme bills. I think that approach is wrong, both because people will still view Republicans-lite as evil Republicans, and because if McConnell angers the base any further he loses them, and without them he can’t win.

People sometimes compare politics to watching sausage being made. But watching sausage-making sounds like a walk in the park compared to what’s going on in Congress right now.

July 27th, 2015

Is Hillary in trouble?

Perhaps a better question would be: how much trouble is she in? And: what difference will it make?

The answer I would give right now to both questions is the same: not much (trouble, or difference). But perhaps some.

As Mark Halperin points out, Sanders is rattling Clinton, and will deplete more of her resources to fight him than she expected to have to expend at this point. What’s more, he’s pulling her to the left, which could hurt her with whatever remains of the middle.

That said, I continue to believe that she will be nominated (Halperin agrees), and that most Democrats would not even think of voting for a Republican in the general, whoever that Republican might be.

There are some lessons here, however. The first is that Clinton is a paradoxical candidate. On the one hand, she’s just not likeable, even with many Democrats. But as Obama famously put it (although he meant it to be a put-down), she may indeed be “likeable enough”—likeable enough, that is, to win the nomination and to win the presidency.

The second is that (and conservatives who are angry at the GOP, please take note) the way to win the fight is to pull a party to your side, not to form a third party. In the case of the Democrats, this meant that someone like Bernie Sanders, who is actually a socialist, is working within the mainstream Democratic Party right now rather than becoming the nominee of the Socialist Party or any other third party. Third parties in this country tend to act as spoilers in elections. But influencing a party within that party (as the left has done to the Democrats) can be very effective.

Whether or not the socialist Norman Thomas said in 1944 what he is commonly quoted as having said, it has been happening for many many decades:

The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of ‘liberalism,’ they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.” [Thomas] went on to say: “I no longer need to run as a Presidential Candidate for the Socialist Party. The Democratic Party has adopted our platform.”

As Upton Sinclair—who had run for office in California first as a Socialist and then as a Democrat—once wrote to Thomas:

The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to ‘End Poverty in California’ I got 879,000.

Nationally, Bernie Sanders would be next to nowhere as a Socialist—except in Vermont, where he ran as a third-party candidate initially and then as an Independent; see his Wiki bio for more of the scoop on his electoral history, and the arrangement he has with the Democratic leadership in the Senate. But as a Democrat he’s doing rather well on the national scene.

July 27th, 2015

True-blue Virginia. And then there’s Florida.

Right on schedule, Virginia is turning into a blue state as a result of immigration:

Each year the federal government prints millions of visas and distributes these admission tickets to the poorest and least-developed nations in the world…

A census study entitled “Immigrants in Virginia,” released by University of Virginia (UVA) researchers, documented the phenomenon: “Until 1970, only 1 in 100 Virginians was born outside of the United States; by 2012, 1 in every 9 Virginians is foreign-born.”…

UVA’s report explains that more than three out of four of Virginia immigrants (77 percent) are coming from either Latin America or Asia—immigration from Europe, the report writes, “lag[s] far behind” representing only 10 percent of Virginia’s immigrant population. This is consistent with trends nationwide. According to the 2013 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigration Yearbook, only 8.7 percent of green cards issued by the federal government went to immigrants born in Europe, a product of immigration changes pushed through by Ted Kennedy in 1965.

DHS’ yearbook, however, does not provide information on parental nativity– in other words, it doesn’t say whether an immigrant from the United Kingdom may be the child of Saudi parents.

Additionally, according to DHS, of those refugees issued admissions slips into the United States, 75 percent came from four countries– Iraq, Burma, Somalia and Bhutan– while another 15 percent came from Iran, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Dominican Republic.

Large numbers of these settlers handpicked by the federal government have come to Virginia.

This has been done with little national fanfare (I have no idea whether it’s a big deal locally), and with no need for the locals to acquiesce at the change in their community and little opportunity for meaningful action against it. I strongly suspect that, if people there do protest, they are shouted down as racists.

It’s a brilliant approach by the left. It works, and by the time anyone is aware of what it means, the demographics and politics of a state have changed—perhaps forever, as seemingly happened in California.

Speaking of California, please refresh your memory on the history of Proposition 187 there. Some day I hope to write a longer post on the subject, although today isn’t that day. Today I’ll just mention that Proposition 187 was passed in California in 1994 and nicknamed “Save Our State.” It was designed to halt the benefits already flowing in California to illegal immigrants. Although it passed by the wide margin of approximately 59% to 41%, ultimately the will of the people didn’t stick, because of a concerted legal assault by the left in the federal court system, and the failure of a Democrat as governor, Gray Davis (who succeeded Republican Pete Wilson) to defend it there.

Sound familiar?

One more thing—there’s another article today about a somewhat different kind of immigration that might be influencing the political makeup of a very important swing state. This time we’re talking about Florida, which is experiencing an enormous influx of people fleeing economic problems in Puerto Rico. They are already citizens, and although when living in Puerto Rico they cannot vote in presidential elections, once they become residents of Florida they are like any other (non-felonious) citizen who resides there, and they can.

Interestingly enough, however, it’s not clear which party most of the new arrivals affiliate with. At least, that’s what the WaPo article says:

Puerto Rican voters tend to lean Democratic, but a great number of the newcomers do not identify with any party, making them appealing targets for politicians and recruiters on both sides.

And, according to the article, both parties are courting them with vigor.

July 26th, 2015

Cornhead on Carly

Here’s a Powerline post written by commenter “Cornhead,” about his visit to Iowa to see Carly Fiorina speak.

He was impressed.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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