Tuesday, May 24, 2016

If Obama had a father, he'd look like this guy


Moody's Analytics: Hillary Clinton Will Win Presidency

Come to think of it, I've never seen MoodysGuy and LAGuy in the same room . . .

Only The Beginning

"The Door," episode five of this season's Game Of Thrones, started out a bit weak but turned into a fine episode.  It also did some stuff we've never seen before and explained a lot of origins, including things we didn't know needed explaining.

We start at Castle Black.  Sansa gets a letter telling her someone is waiting for her at Mole's Town.  She goes over there with Brienne where they meet Littlefinger.  He's ridden north to see her--his men have apparently taken Moat Cailin on the way.  (I have no idea how far that is, but I think it's a way). He's happy to see her unharmed, he says, but she goes on about how Ramsay hurt her in every way he could, and Petyr should have known about it.  She says she could have Brienne kill him right now.  Baelish says he made a mistake.  Should we trust him?

She spurns his offer of protection.  She'll take Winterfell without him.  He notes great-uncle Blackfish has used the Tully forces to take Riverrun--a lot of geography this episode.  She might want to seek out his help (assuming he's telling the truth--we've seen no evidence of what he says).  She's not interested in that, either.  He walks away.

This is what I mean by a weak start.  This scene may be a big moment for some, but it makes no sense.  First, Littlefinger is smart--if he thought there was any chance he might be in danger, even if he truly felt bad about what he'd done, he'd have a few knights hanging around to protect him. (Cersei pulled a power play on him in the first season, threatening to have his neck slit--you think he'd vow at that point never to be without some muscle around.) Second, as angry as Sansa is, she knows she doesn't have the forces she needs right now.  She's being offered the men necessary to retake Winterfell and she says no.

Worst of all, this scene seems to exist as an answer to all the fans who were unhappy about her treatment at the hands of Ramsay.  Sansa isn't complaining to Littlefinger, she's talking to us directly so the producers can explain they get it.  All I can say is boohoo--everyone gets treated badly on this show, let's not make Sansa a special case.

Now we cut to Braavos, where Arya is sparring with the Waif, and losing. Another weak start to a sequence.  For the first four seasons, Arya was the star of the show--she had one mentor after another, each one creating great moments, but for the last season and a half she's been stuck at the House Of Black And White, endlessly preparing for we don't know what.  Time to move on.  Luckily, it looks like that might happen.

Jaqen may not be that impressed with Lady Stark's fighting, but he's willing to give her an assignment.  But first, we get the origin story of the Faceless Men--we didn't need it, but there it is, and it's nice to know. Though the way he describes it, it's not clear if they're much better than some crime syndicate, paid to kill by the highest bidder.

Anyway, Arya's job is to kill an actress, so we go with her to watch a play, and see something unlike anything yet on the show.  We've occasionally caught glimpses of commoners singing songs or telling jokes about--who else--royalty. But here we have a lengthy scene where performers tell the story, in burlesque, of Robert Baratheon, Joffrey, Cersei, Tyrion, Tywin, Ned Stark and Sansa--everything we saw in season one.  Arya is much taken with it until her father appears, portrayed as a dolt from the North.  Now it's not so funny.  Arya, of course, was there when her Ned's head was chopped off.

She goes backstage to meet the troop.  (We start this scene with a close up of a penis. I'm sure there are screen grabs out there right now.) Arya returns to Jaqen and figures she can poison the actress's rum.  But she questions the mission--she guesses the younger actress playing Sansa wants to kill her competition.  Jaqen tries to explain she's got a job to do, and servants of the House don't ask questions.  Sounds like a weak argument to me, but Arya better do it--either she brings in a new face, or donates hers.

We go to the cave.  Bran and the Raven take a journey way back to the old days, where the Children Of The Forest are in charge.  And we see them killing a human and turning him into a White Walker--another origin story.  When Bran awakens, he asks Leaf (I think it's Leaf) why the Children did this, and is told it was to fight the humans who were taking over.  How's that worked out for you?

Now we're at the Kingsmoot.  I've been worried the Iron Islands are becoming Dorne North, but to my surprise the plot is getting good.  As expected, Yara puts herself up for King (or Queen).  Others say why have her when Theon, the King's male heir, is around?  In a way, I was hoping Theon would jump in and screw over his sister, but nope, as expected, he backed her, figuring she knows what's best. (If he's just gonna be an advisor, I'd prefer he stayed with Sansa..)

It looks like she'll be the choice--the first ruler Queen they've ever had--when Euron (sounds like both Urine and Huron, bother making sense in a place surrounded by water) walks in.  Did his alarm clock fail?  Yara says he killed his brother, Balon (her dad), and he says yeah, what of it?  Of course, this means she'll have to kill him, or vice versa, but we can worry about that after the Kingsmoot.  Euron mocks Theon (easy enough to do) and says Yara has a good idea--build the biggest fleet the world has known.  But he should be in charge since he's been sailing around the world.  He plans to take the fleet to Dany, give it to her (good thing she just lost her last fleet), marry her and taken the Seven Kingdoms.  Gotta give him credit, that's a good plan--Yara just sounds like more of the same.

So he wins the Kingsmoot and is drowned in a baptism-like ceremony.  He's dragged onto the shore and after a while spits out the water and comes back to life.  Another origin tale--this is why they say "what is dead may never die." Once he's up and running, the first order of business is to kill his niece and nephew. However, while he was busy dying, Theon and Yara took sailed off with all the ships.  So Euron says let's build new ones and chase them.  Sounds like a plan, though how long will it take?  Six months?  A year?  I don't even see that many trees around.

No matter how long it takes, now we've got some real action.  Theon and Yara are sailing around as essentially free agents, perhaps wishing to return to Pyke and take out Euron, perhaps to loot the coast, or perhaps even to help Sansa.  Who knows?  Meanwhile, Euron wants to kill them.  Best of all, he wants to join up with Dany and get in the big game.  That's the kind of plotting I can get behind.

Speaking of Dany, we're on the hill not far from her miraculous takeover of the Dothraki.  She talks to Jorah, who's been banished twice, but now all is forgiven.  There is a problem, though--he's got greyscale. (I thought she'd say "ew" and ask how long was he gonna wait to tell her.) She asks if there's a cure, and he says he doesn't know--you'd think that question would be a high priority for him.  Actually, there is a cure, sort of--Stannis somehow kept Shireen alive (until he burned her at the stake). Besides, Jorah and Dany have seen tons of magic, can't they use it to help him?  Actually, I was surprised Mormont didn't cut of much of his left arm when he first got it.

Jorah says he'll kill himself before it completely takes over, and starts to walk away.  Dany stops him, saying he hasn't gotten permission to withdraw.  She commands him to seek a cure.  Good for her.  However, does this mean he's out of the show?  I can't imagine following him around, aimlessly asking people if they know a good greyscale doctor.

He also mentions he loves her.  We all knew that, though he's never acknowledged it to her directly (though he did overstep himself now and then).  Anyway, a little late to do anything about it now that he can't touch her.  He still makes a better match than Daario, though, who is dull and annoying.  I'd rather he have the greyscale.  Anyway, I guess Dany's on the march--probably back to Meereen first.  I hope she doesn't get stuck there again, but she's at least got to get back her dragons.

At Meereen, things have calmed down.  The deals Tyrion has made seem to have worked, but he feels they need more PR--with Dany gone, they have to convince the people she's still behind everything.  (I thought it might be the old plot where they hire someone to impersonate her.)  They bring in that priestess, Kinvara, they saw in Volantis.  She remembers Tyrion--I guess he is fairly memorable. (Tyrion and Varys are there with no guards--what is it with non-fighters not having guards nearby?).  She's willing to work with them, since she believes Dany is the Chosen One. Varys isn't thrilled--he doesn't much like sorcerers and their ilk (they did treat him badly), and challenges her. Look at Mel--she backed Stannis and that didn't go well.  The Priestess (wearing the same necklace as Mel--take if off so we can see how old you are) challenges him back, appearing to have knowledge of his earlier days.  Tyrion doesn't care as long as they can work together.  Actually, with Dany returning, do we really need this plot?  And what happens when the Lord of Light has to choose between Dany and Jon?

Back in the cave, Bran is tired of waiting for the Raven to teach him. He downloads himself into the roots and sees a bunch of wights and White Walkers. The Night King can see him (which makes sense, even if it isn't explained) and grabs him. Not good. Bran awakes in terror, but worse, he's been marked, and now the wight army can find the cave.  Good work, Bran. The Raven, who was already rushing Bran's education, now knows it's over.  Time for everyone to leave, and Bran to replace the Raven, even though the kid isn't ready.

We return to Castle Black for a war council. It's an odd group, when you think of it--each with different experiences and viewpoints that tend to clash:  Sansa, Jon, Brienne, Melisandre, Davos, Tormund, etc.  They talk about getting allies from northern Houses, but realize the big ones have already sided with the Boltons.  Okay, so they'll get the small ones. Sansa mentions the Blackfish and the Tullys at Riverrun--though she lies about how she found out. Why?  Is the Littlefinger meeting so awful?  She doesn't want them to know there are more who would help?  Thanks a lot, Sansa.

Brienne and Sansa walk off.  Sansa wants to send her to meet Blackfish, even though she'd rather stay and protect Sansa--guess she's like to improve on her poor record of protecting those to whom she swore an oath.  She doesn't mind Snow (though he's a bit brooding--his attitude has become a running gag, though it's also clear now they know what happened to him), but Mel and Davos, no thanks.  And she's creeped out a bit by Tormund.  I think they make a lovely couple.

Out in the courtyard everyone says goodbye as they ride toward their various destinations.  Tormund's still looking at Brienne, even if she's not giving out much of a vibe.  Edd is left behind to run things--so I guess he's Lord Commander, no vote taken, no questions asked.  Not too much to protect, I guess, now that Jon invited the Wildlings over.

Back in the cave, the Raven is taking Bran on another trip. Didn't he last say it was time to get out?  And sure enough, while Bran is whiling away his time on an empty moment in old Winterfell (and not Lyanna's story, which we're still waiting to see), the Night King et al attack.  Meera tries to wake Bran up, but he's stuck in his trance. She wants him to take over Hodor and get out of there.  He hears her in his vision, and takes over the young Hodor.  This is where the kid lost his sense.  Meanwhile, the wights attack and kill Summer, Leaf and Raven (what a collection of names).  Hodor (warged by Bran) and Meera run through the cave to a heavy door which requires Hodor's strength to open.  Meera escapes, dragging Bran, who keeps telling Hodor to "hold the door." Young Hodor keeps repeating it until all he can say is "Hodor." Now there's an origin story (even if the words are very similar to the punchline of a well-known joke).  Is that where the episode title comes from?

Hodor does hold the door, and is left behind to be killed by the wights as Bran escapes.  Hodor is a beloved character, and has become a cult figure--he went out well, protecting his master, but still a sad moment.

A memorable episodes.  Unpromising scenes turn into pretty amazing material.  We had nothing from King's Landing (probably just as well) which meant no Cersei, Jaime, Clegane, Qyburn, Olenna, Margaery, Loras, Tommen, High Sparrow, Unella, Pycelle and a bunch of others.  Nothing from the Sand Snakes (who have become the Jar Jar Binks of the show?).  No Ramsay or Rickon.  No Samwell or Gilly. (With all the trouble up North, shouldn't Jon send a raven telling him to return, or at least asking for counsel?)  No Dragons.  No Bronn--I'm starting to wonder if he'll show up this season.

We're at the halfway point, and things are moving.  Bran is out and ready to fight, even if he doesn't know how.  Sansa and a bunch of others are ready to take on Ramsay.  The pressure in King's Landing is starting to boil over.  Arya has an assignment.  Dany is ready to move on. Euron is ready to move on Dany.  And the White Walkers are ready to destroy everything.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Did she say it in Latin?

I'm Hip

I was watching the movie Lucy--a surprise hit from a couple years ago that starts out fun but falls apart along the way.  The plot is about a woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, who acquires amazing powers by using 100% of her brain..

We've all heard the idea that we only use 10% of our brain.  It's in popular culture.  I suppose a lot of people believe it.  But it's one of those facts that, if you bother to think about it, makes no sense. It may speak to us as a metaphor--about not reaching our full potential--but that doesn't make it true.

There are plenty of such beliefs.  How many times have we heard the Great Wall Of China is the only artificial structure that can be seen from space? You don't need any specialized knowledge to understand this is ridiculous.  Of course you can't see it (unless you can see a lot of other things)--it may be long, but it's not that wide.

Which brings me to my main point.  I've often heard you won't do anything under hypnosis that you wouldn't regularly do already.  I even had a friend note this last week when we were discussing the subject.

I don't see how this can be true.  Perhaps you won't do completely outrageous things, like kill someone (though maybe you can at that).  But certainly those people up on stage making fools of themselves are doing something they wouldn't do under normal circumstances.  They express all sorts of emotions, including negative and unpleasant ones, when they're under.  Is that a fun thing to do?  Often hypnotists, when bringing you back, say you'll remember the experience you just had as a pleasant one.  That suggests it might be an unpleasant memory otherwise, so why would you have done it if you didn't have to, except for the fact the hypnotist suggested it.

I don't know what's the difference between the brain of someone under hypnosis and someone who isn't--it's a black box or me.  All I know is I've seen its effects. And they're not necessarily pretty.  Maybe it was hypnotists who came up with this line about how you won't do what you don't want to do, so people would agree more readily to be hypnotized.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Psychiatry From A Distance

The Atlantic cover story, "The Mind Of Donald Trump," is the kind of article you see on a regular basis, where a politician is put on the couch.  These pieces are simplistic, though generally harmless, and occasionally insightful.  This latest, by Dan P. McAdams, has some interesting details, if not exactly shocking conclusions--Trump is an extrovert and narcissist who's not especially interested in being agreeable.

The trouble with this sort of analysis is the conclusions tend to track with the writer's pre-set politics.  McAdams, in fact, already has a book out that purports to be a psychological portrait of George W. Bush.  I haven't read it, but seeing his short profiles of Bush and Obama in the Trump piece make me question how insightful he is.

Bush, he says, is incurious. As McAdams puts it, in his clinical way, Bush has "high levels of extroversion and very low openness" and thus was "predisposed to make bold decisions aimed at achieving big rewards, and to make them with the assurance that he could not be wrong."

Obama, on the other hand, was fairly introverted for a President, very low on the neurotic scale, and quite curious.  And whereas Bush made a bold but questionable decision to invade Iraq after 9/11, Obama

inherited a devastating recession, and after the 2010 midterm elections, he struggled with a recalcitrant Republican Congress.  What kinds of decision might he have made had these events not occurred?  We will never know.

You don't have to be a psychologist (in fact, it's probably best if you're not) to see McAdams' politics lurking behind these allegedly objective appraisals.

Let's imagine how someone with different politics from McAdams might look at these two and get a completely opposite reading.

First, Bush.  Here's a guy who's very open.  He was a popular, wheeler-dealer governor of Texas who knew how to work both sides.  He read widely, and listened to advisors before making decisions.  Once President, he was willing to go across the aisle, sometimes to the detriment of his popularity within his own party (such as his extension of Medicare and his immigration proposal).  Furthermore, he regularly went to Congress to get permission for many of his biggest moves, and often found bipartisan support--for the War in Iraq, to pick one example.

Yes, he was making bold moves, but that's to be expected after a game-changing event like 9/11.  In fact, his stance on Iraq was fairly consistent with American policy.  It was President Clinton who decided America should support regime change--we were essentially at war with Iraq already, and maintaining a tenuous truce where we kept Saddam Hussein militarily boxed in.  The Democrats of Clinton's day spoke openly of the need to do something about Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.  It's not surprising that Bush, after 9/11, would go to Iraq.  If anything, it's surprising he took so long. First he went to Afghanistan, and it was a year and a half after 9/11 before he began the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq--supported by Congress and the American public. (It's true many on the left were unhappy about it.  This seems to have helped lead to the claim that Bush was incurious--they lost the argument and figured it must be because he wouldn't listen to them.)  In fact, if Bush hadn't invaded Iraq, it could have been a problem in his reelection--it's easy to imagine someone like John Kerry saying he had the military experience to deal with Iraq, while Bush doesn't seem to have the stomach for it.

Then there's Barack Obama, close-minded and sure of himself. Oh, he knew the arguments on the other side, it just never occurred to him they could be correct.  This is why as a Senator he had the furthest-left voting record.  He ran as someone with a bold vision, someone who would fundamentally transform America.  Was America so bad it needed such transformation?  No matter, everything would be swept away in Obama's new order.

He won the White House and when Republicans in Congress tried to negotiate, he famously told them "I won." In other words, his idea of compromise was everyone agreeing with him.

He wasn't good at listening to his advisors, either.  He thought he was the smartest in the room, no matter what the subject.  By the end of Bush's term, things had turned around in Iraq, and the country was essentially pacified.  This lower level of violence continued for the first few years of the Obama presidency.  His generals advised him to keep a certain level of troops in the country, but incurious Obama knew better.  He pulled out all troops and, as predicted, the country--indeed, the entire region--descended into chaos. (He also attacked Libya against the advice of military advisors--and did it, unlike Bush, without getting permission from Congress.)

But the best example of his unbending attitude and lack of openness was Obamacare.  We don't have to wonder what kind of decisions Obama might have made with a Congress predisposed toward him, since that's what he had for his first two years. This Congress was not just Democrat, but filibuster-proof.  He could pass just about anything he wanted, and not give in even slightly to the Republicans.  Which is what he did.

Obamacare was unpopular from the start.  The vast majority of Americans liked their health care plans and didn't want them monkeyed with.  Obama made countless speeches promoting his new insurance plan (even saying things that weren't really true, which he either didn't care about, or wasn't curious enough to find out about), but couldn't make his program popular.  Indeed, the public kept begging the politicians not to pass this bill--they even elected a Republican senator in Massachusetts to stop it.  But Obama was not in the mood to listen, and did everything he could to see the law was rammed through, despite the will of the public, despite the arguments against it, despite parliamentary procedure.

Afterwards, the law remained unpopular, but Obama had the personality type that can't admit mistakes and kept insisting it was working, and that the public wanted it. It even contributed to the Democrats' loss of Congress.  Now he had a true chance to show his openness, because if he wanted to get things done, he'd have to negotiate with Republicans--but he was so stubborn, and sure he was right, that he didn't feel the need to give in.  Indeed, he referred to all disagreement with his policies as "bickering" which needed to end, so very little got done.

I'd like to see The Atlantic publish that and then read the comments.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Oh. The Jews again. Of course

His concern is not with the people but rather the expansion of the state and serving the needs of the bankers who control governments from above.

This must be some of that Left that LAGuy is always citing to show balance.

Wall To Wall Waller

Happy birthday, Fats Waller. He died pretty young, but made a lot of people happy while he was around.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Voices carry

Woke up unusually early this morning to run a few errands.

Of course had to have coffee and it was too early for my favorite place, so I went to an all night wicker store, er, McDonald's, and was greeted by an amazingly chipper and cheerful voice. Now, I'm no virgin (barely), so I'm well aware of how this works. Nevertheless, one of the most impressive and creepy things about simulation technology is how it's becoming so plausible. Screw Turing, we're talkin' Pris here. Except for the fact that it was unlikely, it was quite possible that a chipper young thing would show up at the window.

When I get to the window, nobody. Anywhere. Wait a full minute. Nothing. I'm sitting there thinking it's a scene out of Quentin Tarantino, and I start the countdown for how long I'll wait and what my risk is sitting there.

Nearly to the end, getting ready to drop it into gear, and who should walk around the window but John Candy, pulling his pants up on his snazzy uniform, seeing me out of the corner of his eye and looking with irritation at the back of the store and apparently seeing the same thing I saw.

So now the question is, do I let this guy serve me coffee? Sure, why not. They've got a sign that says employees must wash hands, I'm sure. Then I drove off. I suppose he's still alive, but Quentin has a better sense of drama than I do.

Then on my way back from my errand I hear another world class voice, this time on the radio. It's advertising a city. To tourists. A city in Michigan.

Ypsilanti . . . "east of Ann Arbor."

Indeed. West of Detroit. North of Toledo. South of Flint. Sort of catty corner to Ft. Wayne.

F*** you, a**hole

If someone sends you a photo, it's smart enough to examine it and suggest some replies—saving you the effort of actually conversing.

On The Road Again

Broadcast TV has changed in the last couple decades.  With so many choices, numbers that used to get a show canceled--say, 10 million viewers--now make it a hit.  One of the last shows that was a mass hit of the old kind is Cheers, which said goodbye to the airwaves (as far as new episodes) 23 years ago today, May 20, 1993.  It was the second-most watched series finale after M*A*S*H (not to be confused with AfterMASH), with a mind-boggling 84 million viewers.

When Cheers started in 1982, I thought it was the best comedy on television.  It took a couple years and Bill Cosby on the NBC schedule for it to become a hit, but right off the bat critics loved it and the TV Academy showered it with Emmys.  The epic romantic struggle of Sam and Diane was different from what had been seen on sitcoms.  When Shelley Long left after five years, and Kirstie Alley came aboard, the show was still entertaining, but never quite so groundbreaking.

Cheers eventually got a bit tired, but the audience never did--it was a top ten hit in its eleventh and final season.  It was lead actor Ted Danson who decided to call it quits.  He felt his character, Sam Malone--an ex-pitcher and ex-alcoholic who's always chasing after women--would become pathetic if he got too old.

Good call.  But it also meant the show knew it would be ending.  So its creators, Glen and Les Charles, wrote the finale "One For The Road" with that in mind.  Diane returns for a while and all the regulars get to move on.

It's not a great episode.  Finales where you try to say too much--and where you stretch the format (it was over 90 minutes long)--tend not to work as well as solidly-written regular episodes. Yet it was a memorable night, though more due to its aftermath (once again, not to be confused with AfterMASH).

There was a ton of promotion, and to play it up even more, a live broadcast with Jay Leno interviewing the cast immediately following.  However, the actors had been drinking throughout the broadcast--perhaps before as well--and were barely coherent. In many ways, it provided the entertainment that had been missing.

The finale has been repeated many times, but I don't think NBC has ever shown what happened next. I wish they would, just so I could compare it with my memories.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


What is this small liberal arts school they speak of, "University of Chicago"? Seems unlikely.

Or else?

Gentlemen callers. I feel so objectified.

Who Is He

We would be remiss if we didn't note today is the birthday of the great performer and songwriter Pete Townshend.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

He fights

. . . we are asking the court to fine AG Walker and end his abuse of the legal process to intimidate . . .

Challenge Accepted

A few days ago ColumbusGuy threw down the gauntlet. After posting about Cass Sunstein and getting some comments, he wrote:

Okay, DG, and any other Guy who cares to, here's the simple challenge:

Can you give me any instance, in print, since 1996, in which Cass has taken a position that supports Bush or a conservative at the expense of a Democrat, or condemns with consequence a Democrat in a way that supports either a conservative position or W Bush?

I've got a dollar that says there is no such instance in all that time. It ought to be easy enough to do. Just a single instance would serve to negate the proposition.

Fair enough. Here's my response.

Sunstein defended the reasonableness of the Bush administration suspending the Clinton administration's rules on arsenic in drinking water, even though the Bush move was highly unpopular. Sunstein wrote about cost benefit analysis of such issues and was attacked on the left for his views.

Here's the
law review article.

I hope that settles it, but if you want more, how about his controversial stances on Bush's security regime?  For example, he wrote "under existing law, President George W. Bush has the legal authority to use military commissions." He also supported the legality of the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping.

He was attacked on the left for this stuff as well.

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