Monday, December 21, 2015

Lindsey Graham drops out

Lindsey Graham has dropped out of the presidential race. Slate remarks:

Graham’s campaign . . . will be remembered most—if it’s remembered at all—for the time that Donald Trump doxxed Graham during a campaign rally by giving out his personal cell phone number. The South Carolina senator never made it onto the main debate stage and while he turned in a few entertaining performances in the undercard events, winning those JV games never translated into a noticeable bounce in the polls.
Graham was one of my favorite of the Republican candidates because of his emphasis on being open to compromising with Democrats.

I was also touched by a moment in this interview (starting at about 6:30 in the video below), when Frank Luntz asked Graham what he'd say to his parents if they were alive and sitting in the audience. After his parents died within a year of each other when he was in his early 20s, Graham adopted his orphaned sister, Darlene, who was only 13. Instead of mentioning anything about being a Senator or running for president, he immediately said: "that Darlene turned out really good."

How do kids stop believing in Santa Claus?

From a Slate article:

As Occidental College cognitive scientist Andrew Shtulman writes in a study soon to appear in the journal Cognitive Development, “Santa violates our expectations about spatiotemporal continuity by visiting all the world’s children in a single night; he violates expectations about containment by entering children’s houses through their narrow chimneys; and he violates expectations about support by flying through the air on a wooden sleigh.” Still, kids' belief in Santa is stronger than nearly any other fantasy character. . . .

Shtulman rounded up 47 children between the ages of 3 and 9. All the kids in the study said they believed in Santa, but it turned out that they didn't all think about Santa in the same way. An older child who was more capable of identifying the implausibility of Santa Claus would argue, for example, that Santa could know whether every child was naughty or nice because, as one reported, “He has cameras all around the world.” Or they might suggest that Santa's reindeer can't actually fly; they're held up by yarn. By contrast, younger children would simply answer that Santa's reindeer fly thanks to magic.

The children were attempting to reconcile the folklore surrounding Santa's superhuman abilities with their developing knowledge about the constraints of the physical reality in which they live. Some kids were already better at distinguishing the plausible from the impossible (for instance, when asked, they said that pickle-flavored ice cream is possible but unlikely, while applesauce can never be turned into an apple). These kids had also “begun to engage with the mythology surrounding Santa at a conceptual level, questioning the feasibility of Santa’s extraordinary activities while also positing provisional explanations for those activities in the absence of a known answer,” writes Shtulman.

Granted, Shtulman wasn't necessarily interested in the question of Santa per se. Nor could he directly assess the kids' skepticism, because provoking young kids to question the plausibility of Santa might draw the ire of their parents. Instead, he sees Santa-related lore as exactly the sort of false knowledge that's typically transmitted to kids from people they trust most: parents and teachers. “Studying children's beliefs about Santa can shed light on how children interpret testimony that they cannot personally verify through firsthand observation,” he says.

For most kids, at some point the weight of evidence against the likelihood of Santa being real becomes too heavy to sustain their belief, even if their parents continue to encourage it. Shtulman relates the story of one child whose mother continued to talk up Santa. Then, as she set about wrapping presents, she found a note that her son had written on the back of the paper: “If Santa uses this paper, Mom is Santa!”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Democratic debate on the Saturday before Christmas

I won't be live-blogging this poorly timed debate, which you can watch on the ABC News website.

You might be able to find some live-blogging at TPM, National Review, Libertarian Girl (who's working for Rand Paul's campaign), Althouse (my mom), and Alex Knepper.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Are you more likely to be killed by a gun or a car?

The New Republic tells us it's "no longer true" that "you’re more likely to die in a car accident" than by being shot (in the United States). TNR's evidence is that the number of gun-related fatalities has just barely exceeded the number of deaths in car accidents.

But that conclusion is at odds with the evidence. TNR follows the standard practice of those who support stricter gun control in focusing on gun-related deaths in general, without pointing out that many of those deaths are suicides or killings in self-defense.

TNR links to a Washington Post blog post that says that about two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. So if you, like most people, are confident you're not going to intentionally kill yourself with a gun, then it's safe to say you're more likely to die in a car crash than by being shot.

I don't know how many of the gun deaths were killings in self-defense — I imagine it's difficult to come up with reliable statistics on that. But of course being fatally shot in self-defense is a serious concern only for those who attempt to commit serious crimes.

TNR also says that "gun deaths have inched up" (while fatal car crashes have declined), which gives the impression that you should be alarmed at your increasing likelihood of being fatally shot. After all, the TNR post is largely written in the second person, talking about "you." But the WaPo post clarifies that the increase in "gun deaths" has been driven by increasing gun-related suicides — not gun-related homicides, which have been decreasing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Live-blogging the first main Republican debate since terrorist attacks in Paris and California

I'll be live-blogging the debate here — while trying to make risotto! Keep reloading this post for more updates.

There's more live-blogging going on by National Review, TPMAlthouse (my mom), and Alex Knepper.

8:49 — Rand Paul gives an opening statement strongly bearing down on his unorthodox views on foreign policy and terrorism.

8:50 — John Kasich says his daughter doesn't like politics because it's too darn loud.

8:53 — Carly Fiorina says, "It's time to take our country back" — but "insults won't take our country back." She describes how she's been repeatedly tested, including being "called every B word in the book."

8:54 — Jeb Bush's theme (in his attempt to salvage his campaign) is that these are "serious times," so we need a serious leader like him.

8:56 — Marco Rubio reminisces about his grandfather telling him they're in the greatest country in the history of the world — in contrast with President Obama, who wants America to be more like the rest of the world.

8:58 — Ben Carson begins his opening statement with a moment of silence for the victims of the attack on San Bernardino.

9:01 — Moderator Wolf Blitzer asks Donald Trump if "the way to make America great again is to isolate ourselves from the world."

9:03 — When Bush is asked about Trump's proposal to bar non-American Muslims from entering the country, Bush hits Trump hard, calling him "unhinged" and unfit to be commander-in-chief. "He is a chaos candidate, and he would be a chaos president." [VIDEO.]

9:06 — Cruz is asked about Trump's proposal, and doesn't take the bait to attack Trump. He briefly says he "understand[s]" why Trump proposed it, and quickly pivots to attacking Obama.

9:09 — Fiorina focuses on technology, noting that social media as we know it didn't exist when the Patriot Act was enacted.

9:13 — Kasich emphasizes the need to work with our Arab and European allies.

9:14 — Cruz stands by his vote for a law to reform our "bulk collection of metadata of law-abiding citizens." Rubio disagrees: "We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools." Cruz retorts by calling Rubio a liar, saying he "knows that what he is saying is not true."

9:17 — Paul agrees with Cruz's vote but takes a much stronger position, saying the metadata collection made us "less safe." Paul adds that Rubio is "the weakest of all the candidates on immigration" since he's for "an open border." "Rubio has more of an allegiance to Chuck Schumer and the liberals than to conservative policy." [VIDEO.]

9:20 — Christie slams all three of the Senators who were talking about metadata — Cruz, Rubio, and Paul — suggesting that they've "never had to make a consequential decision." Christie declares that the viewers "don't care" about "which bill these guys like more."

9:22 — Bush on surveillance by the FBI and NSA: "We shouldn't even be talking about it!"

9:26 — Fiorina points out that Obama should have consulted with "the private sector" while creating the infamous

9:33 — Alex Knepper observes:

The right whines about 'political correctness' so often that it is starting to truly degrade the power of the term, much like 'racist' doesn't have the impact it used to due to overuse by the left.
9:36 — Another dust-up between Rubio and Cruz on fighting terrorism.

9:37 — Trump is asked why he supports killing terrorists' families. Trump says: "That will make [terrorists] think, because they may not care much about their lives, but they do, believe it or not, care about their families." Bush says that's "crazy." Trump retorts that Bush is "very nice," but "we need toughness." They then descend into crosstalk, aggressively interrupting each other. Trump: "I know you're trying to build up your energy, Jeb, but it's not working!"

9:43 — Paul says Trump's proposal on the internet would require getting rid of the First Amendment, and his position on terrorists' families would require us to withdraw from the Geneva Convention. Trump responds incredulously: "So they can kill us, but we can't kill them?!" When Trump clarifies his position on the internet, the audience boos, and Trump directly tells the audience he can't understand why they're booing: "These are people who want to kill us!"

9:48 — Rubio sounds impressive with his knowledge of Syria, but Paul interjects: "That's factually incorrect."

9:50 — Fiorina, who explicitly refused to play the gender card in the first main debate that included her (see 10:55 here), quotes Margaret Thatcher: "If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman." [Ian Tuttle of National Review objects: "Conservatives are respecters of individuals, and of reasoned arguments over mating calls, and should act and speak accordingly."]

9:54 — As CNN cuts to a commercial and the camera backs away from the stage, we see some revealing body language: Cruz shakes Trump's hand, and Trump pats Cruz on the back, while Trump, with a serious look on his face, appears to say just a couple words to Cruz.

9:58 — Cruz maintains that the focus should be on killing terrorists rather than promoting democracy.

9:59 — Cruz mocks Obama for seeking to work with "moderate rebels." "It's like a purple unicorn — they never exist!" [VIDEO.]

10:01 — Trump pauses for a few seconds while a protester yells during his time. Then Trump says we should have taken the $4 or 5 trillion we spent on "nation building," which we got "nothing" out of, and instead spent it on infrastructure in the United States. Fiorina: "That's exactly what Obama said!"

10:04 — In response to a series of questions about whether to try to spread democracy in the Middle East, Carson points out that on airplanes, the announcement says that in case of an emergency, you should put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. "We need oxygen now."

10:07 — Cruz obnoxiously keeps speaking while Blitzer tries to cue Hugh Hewitt to ask Trump a question, and the audience boos Cruz.

10:11 — My mind was starting to wander amid all this foreign policy talk, but then Kasich grabbed my attention by saying: "It's time that we punched the Russians in the nose."

10:14 — Christie calls Obama a "feckless weakling." Christie says he'd shoot down Russian planes in a no-fly zone over Syria, even if this would risk war with Russia. "It's called a no-fly zone. Maybe it's because I'm from New Jersey — I just have this plain-language hang-up." Paul responds, while pointing to Christie: "If you're in favor of World War III, you have your candidate!"

10:16 — Bush's explanation for why he'd be better than Trump at dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin: "I know what I don't know. I will seek out the advice." Knepper says:
Jeb "Socrates" Bush knows what he doesn't know! (But can he be as wise as Rumsfeld and consider what he doesn't know he doesn't know?)
10:18 — Trump scolds the moderators for starting so many of their questions, especially in the earlier debate (with the lower-tier candidates) with asking about what "Mr. Trump" has said. Trump says it's "in order to get ratings," and it's "very unprofessional." Bush suggests that if Trump thinks this debate is "tough," he isn't ready to be president. Trump sarcastically responds, "Oh yeah, you're a tough guy, Jeb!" [VIDEO.]

10:21 — Carson says just because he's quiet and not "boisterous" doesn't mean he wouldn't be a strong leader. "I don't do a lot of talking. I do a lot of doing." (So there, Carly Fiorina!)

10:25 — CNN gets Cruz and Rubio to go after each other for a third time, this time over immigration. CNN has used a split screen of the two every time this happens, clearly trying to play up the rivalry between the two 44-year-old first-term Senators. Yet again, Cruz accuses Rubio of lying about Cruz's record: "It's like saying the firefighter and the arsonist have the same record because they're both at the scene of the fire." [VIDEO.] [Added later: Politico says this was the #1 "takeaway" from the debate:]
Rubio is the Barack Obama of 2008: He rises to big moments, lives up to the hype, and is a gifted communicator and performer. There’s a reason Hillary Clinton allies fear Rubio, and are suddenly publicly pushing the idea that the GOP nominee will be Cruz, an opponent they would much prefer.

Rubio is better than Obama was at this point in ’08, and way more consistent. Tangling with Cruz, Rubio was much more detailed and convincing.
10:29 — Trump calls himself "very hard-line" on immigration. "You just need to speak to the people of Israel — walls work, if they're properly constructed. I know how to build."

10:34 — Paul is asked whether he'd send home the 2,000 Syrian refugees who have already been admitted to the US. He says he "hasn't taken a position" on that, but he wouldn't allow any new ones.

10:35 — A college student, asking a question by video, suggests that taking in Syrian refugees is biblically mandated. Christie responds directly to the student, saying his top priority as president would be to keep her and her family safe. (I wish he had added that the role of government is not to carry out biblical mandates.)

10:45 — I've found Carson dull throughout this debate. He tries to show off his knowledge by listing the antiquated weapons in our arsenal. I've been mostly tuning out this latter part of the debate — it's hard to pay attention to two hours of fast talk about foreign policy in the evening.

10:51 — Trump and Cruz are both asked about their willingness or unwillingness to attack each other in public. Trump pats Cruz on the back and says he's gotten to know Cruz better just in the last 3 or 4 days. At the beginning of Cruz's answer, Trump interjects: "You better not attack!" They both decline the invitation to attack each other.

10:54 — Trump is asked if he can assure us that he'll "run as a Republican and abide by the decision of the Republicans." "I really am. . . . I'm totally committed to the Republican Party. . . . I'll do everything in my power to beat Hillary Clinton." [VIDEO.]

11:03 — Bush stumbles through his closing statement. You can sense that he knows he's not doing enough in this debate.

11:06 — In Trump's closing statement (the last one of the night), he seems to be exhausted, running out of steam — as if he's one of those dolls who says a few recorded statements when you pull a string on its back, but the batteries are running low: "We aren't winning anymore . . . If I am president, we will win again. We will have a great, great country — greater than ever before."

Sunday, December 13, 2015

How far The New Republic's standards have fallen after the shakeup

After the exodus of editors from The New Republic last year, the magazine is printing things like this:

Ban guns. All guns. Get rid of guns in homes, and on the streets, and, as much as possible, on police. . . . Ban guns! Not just gun violence. Not just certain guns. Not just already-technically-illegal guns. All of them.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Two presidential candidates say the same thing but don't get the same response

Here's what one candidate said, followed by what another candidate said. See if you can tell which one has been widely ridiculed by the media.

We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet. And we have to do something — we have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them — maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some ways. Someone will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. . . . We've got to do maybe something about the internet, because they are recruiting by the thousands.
Now, here's the other candidate's statement:
Self-radicalization that leads to attacks, like what we think happened in San Bernardino, we’re going to have to ask our technology companies . . . to help us on this. You know, the government is good in some respects, but nowhere near as good as those of you who are in this field. . . . We're going to have some more support from our friends in the online world to deny them online space. And this is complicated — you’re gonna hear all of the usual complaints, you know, 'freedom of speech, etc.,' but if we truly are in a war against terrorism . . . then we've got to shut off their means of communicating.
Click here for the answer.

(Note: I tweaked and added to the transcriptions based on watching the videos — those quotes aren't identical to the text in the linked article. Also note that the link goes to Playboy, but there's no nudity; however, you still might not want to click a Playboy link at work.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

If you mock the idea that Muslims should actively denounce and fight against Islamic extremism . . .

. . . you're against President Obama on this:

We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers. Part of a cult of death. And they account for a tiny fraction of a more than a billion Muslims around the world, including millions of patriotic Muslim-Americans who reject their hateful ideology.

Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we're to succeed in defeating terrorism, we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. It's a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse.

Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda promote. To speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans, of every faith, to reject discrimination.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Scott Weiland, the former Stone Temple Pilots singer, has died at 48.

The New York Times reports:

Scott Weiland, the American musician whose mercurial vocals were a signature of the rock band he co-founded, Stone Temple Pilots, and who later sang lead in Velvet Revolver, died Thursday in Minnesota. He was 48.

His manager, Tom Vitorino, confirmed the death. A statement posted to Mr. Weiland’s Facebook page said he “passed away in his sleep while on a tour stop in Bloomington, Minnesota, with his band The Wildabouts.” . . .

At the height of Stone Temple Pilots’ fame in the 1990s, Mr. Weiland was known for commanding large stages. The band was initially slammed by critics as sounding like a knockoff of popular grunge acts like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. But S.T.P., as the band was known, found its fan base with broody melodies and memorable riffs. . . .

Throughout his career, Mr. Weiland struggled with drug addiction and was often deemed defiant and bedraggled, but he was also seen as a capable vocalist.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Happy birthday, Woody Allen!

Woody Allen turns 80 today.

He’s been making one movie a year for the past five decades, and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s had just as many misses as hits, but it doesn’t matter; he’s an iconic figure in the filmmaking world.
That's from, which lists some interesting facts about him:
While he was still in high school, he tried sending his jokes in to the newspaper, which promptly started printing them. A typical one went something like this: “A hypocrite is a guy who writes a book on atheism, and prays it sells.”

When Allen’s jokes started appearing in well-known columns, . . . he decided he didn’t want his classmates seeing his name there, so he changed it. Allen Stewart Konigsberg legally became Heywood Allen, and then Woody Allen, a name that seemed to lend itself to comedy writing. And he just kept writing jokes, and soon he was up to 50 a day. He hasn’t been out of work since. . . .

Early Woody Allen films are pretty surprising to those who grew up in his post Annie Hall era. His movies had him slipping on a gigantic banana peel (Sleeper), getting shot out of a cannon (Love and Death), or running around in a sperm suit (Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask). He admits he’s been as influenced by the Marx Brothers as he was by Bergman.

These wackier movies were all made in the 1970s, so one might conclude that he’d at least dabbled in some of the popular substances of the times. But he’s never tried any recreational drugs, and says he can’t fathom why anybody else would. He hasn’t taken Valium (another hugely popular drug of the 70s, although a legal one), or Prozac, or antidepressants. He’s never even taken a sleeping pill. . . .

Actors in Woody Allen movies always seem perfectly cast; they inhabit their parts so well that viewers can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. While there were times when it was inspired by a particular muse, like Mia Farrow or Diane Keaton, generally the movie is written and then Allen and his longtime casting direction Juliet Taylor make decisions about who should play each part. And so begins the audition process, which happens so quickly you might miss it if you blink. . . . Taylor says the shortest casting session has come in at ten seconds.

When he’s interested in an actor, he’ll send them a copy of the script, but it’s never via email, and it’s never through their agent. Scripts arrive, hand delivered directly to the actor, and are picked up again within a few hours. They are accompanied by a typed or handwritten note from Allen, sometimes reintroducing himself (“You may remember me from a film of mine you did called Melinda and Melinda”) and saying he hopes they like the script, and if they take the part, they should feel free to change any of the lines that don’t suit them. He says the biggest favor he can do for actors is to get out of their way and shut up. . . .

Woody Allen says he has never sent or received an email. He writes on the same typewriter he bought for $40 when he was a teenager. Now that he’s writing scripts instead of jokes, he has the challenge of needing to cut and paste, but he handles it old school-style: he cuts up the paper he’s typing on, and staples the pieces together in the order in which he needs them.