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LGM at the Movies: The Martian

[ 218 ] October 12, 2015 |


I don’t go to many movies these days, so it takes a combination of factors to pull me into a theater. The Martian managed to do so by combining a genre I like, with a director who produced two of the best films in that genre, with a lead actor who is often in good films, all combined with almost uniformly strong reviews.

This post is an expression of genuine perplexity. I thought The Martian was a really bad movie.

It’s as if Ridley Scott took the last two minutes of the original version of Blade Runner — the preposterous happy ending that he was supposedly forced to tack onto the movie by the studio — and blew it up into a two and a half hour gazillion dollar exercise in box office cynicism. The movie is a kind of endlessly extended version of one of those corporate advertisements that features a relentlessly cheerful and exquisitely multi-cultural cast, whose point is to give the viewer the vague feeling that MegaCorp Inc. is all about making the world a better place as opposed to maximizing shareholder value.

The Martian doesn’t feature any actual Martians, but it also doesn’t contain any recognizable human beings. The characters here make Star Wars look like a Bergmanesque foray into psychological realism: the closest the movie comes to gesturing towards any kind of complexity is when the head of NASA says a couple of things that might be interpreted as questioning whether it makes sense to spend untold sums to launch a likely-to-fail mission to rescue one person. Any risk that the film might veer into the gravitational field of even an extremely distant reality is soon quashed, and we’re back to the equivalent of a Coke commercial with very expensive special effects.

One special effect Scott omits is anything beyond the bare outline of the paint by number plot that would get a viewer to care about the fate of Matt Damon’s character. Here is the sum total of what we learn about him (spoiler alert): he’s a botanist, he hates disco music, and he loves his parents. Of course he’s also incredibly resourceful and blandly heroic, but these are not so much revelations as pure generic conventions, that could spew from the MacBook of the laziest Hollywood hack, and apparently did.

Per Rotten Tomatoes, the critical consensus regarding The Martian is that it’s “surprisingly funny,” which is true if you find jokes about how science nerds are clumsy and disco music sucks funny, as opposed to excruciatingly hackneyed.

The only interesting thing about this movie is the question of why it’s getting so much critical praise. That the 77-year-old Scott seems to be completely out of ideas is sad but predictable, as is the fact that he’s now the kind of director that a studio can trust with a gigantic budget, knowing that he’ll boil the necessary pots to “win” the box office battles.

In The Invisible Bridge Rick Perlstein suggests that the sudden renewed popularity of Horatio Alger novels in the wake of the Watergate indicated a longing in the public for the supposed verities of a supposedly simpler more innocent time, and that this same desire eventually helped get Ronald Reagan elected. Perhaps a similar explanation helps account for why, at the height of the new gilded age, The Martian is being praised to the skies.


Sometimes a bit of police brutality might be nice

[ 106 ] October 6, 2015 |

The specimen in this nine-minute video is Luke Gatti. He seems to have a little too much to drink Sunday night. In the world of the cyber-panopticon, that can make you famous:

The blog entry below is slightly more than a year old, so props to our aspiring scholar for not getting arrested again for 54 weeks:

Apparently Phillips Street, alcohol, Luke Gatti and late night weekends, make for a bad combination. Perhaps because he’s only 18-years-old, but still no excuse for such outlandish behavior.

Arrested two weeks ago on Phillips Street for disorderly conduct (which included calling a detective the N-word), this time around Mr. Gatti seemed to go out of his way to get arrested yet again on that same notorious street, and when taken back to the police station, assaulted an officer.

With his father looking on, Luke Gatti was arraigned this morning before Judge John Payne who set bail at $250, taken out of the $1,000 bail posted over the weekend to get out of jail.

Noting the arrest only two weeks ago Judge Payne said to Gatti, “I’m a little concerned you’re going to pull a trifecta before the month is over.”

Gatti will appear in Eastern Hampshire District Court with his hired lawyer on October 15 for a pre-trial conference.

Unless of course, in the meantime, he gets arrested again.

Violent crime in America: A complex story

[ 94 ] October 2, 2015 |

(1) The United States is on average much more violent homicidal than other developed nations. For example, here are the most recently available homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants for ten countries:

Canada: 1.6
South Korea: 0.6
Denmark: 0.8
Ireland: 1.2
UK: 1.0
Italy: 0.9
Spain: 0.8
Australia: 1.1
China: 1.0
United State: 4.7

(2) Both the violent crime rate and the homicide rate in the US have declined by about half over the past 25 years. Over the past half century violent crime and homicide in America have followed a roughly parabolic pattern:

homicide rate

violent crime

(3) The reasons for the massive run-up in the violent crime rate between 1960 and 1990, and (especially) for the equally sharp decline in the rate since then are not well understood. Many theories have been proposed, but none of them are especially well supported. The most that can be said at this time is that both the run-up and the decline each had many causes, but identifying and sorting out the relative importance of those causes is extremely difficult to do.

(4) Mass shootings intended by their perpetrators to draw media attention have a symbolic cultural significance that goes far beyond their minuscule role in overall crime statistics. Among other things, they throw light on the fact that the United States remains, in comparative terms, a remarkably violent place, although it is true that we are now “only” about five times rather than ten times more violent murderous than our economic peers.

Edited to reflect that the big gap between the US and otherwise similar nations is in regard to homicide, as opposed to violent crime per se.

A not very well regulated militia

[ 87 ] October 1, 2015 |


Message board tips for aspiring mass murderers.

Background on the 4chan board where this thread appeared:

The board is famous for its stories of social awkwardness and nostalgia of the simpler times, as well as discussion of abnormal social behaviour. It is heavily used by NEETs[4] (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) who regret their life decisions and hold anger and disdain over males with active social and sexual lifes. it also containts [sic] Constant discussions about relationships with females and family. Dispite [sic] all of this, the board holds heavy pride in its own nature, with heavy hate over normies or “Normalfags” who do not understand their culture as well as constant calls for a “Beta Uprising”. [T]his has spawned different memes.

Sophisticated behavioral economics experiment reveals elites prefer policies that benefit elites

[ 83 ] September 30, 2015 |

rubin greenspan

Internet-required snark aside, this is actually a very clever study. Two of the authors describe the results in Slate:

Elite Americans are not just middle-class people with more money. They display distinctive attitudes on basic moral and political questions concerning economic justice. Simply put, the rich place a much lower value on equality than the rest. What’s more, this lack of concern about inequality among the elite is not a partisan matter. Even when they self-identify as progressive Democrats, elite Americans value equality less highly than their middle-class compatriots.

This finding has profound implications for public policy. Contemporary American politics presents an enduring mystery. Why does the public policy response to nearly five decades of rising economic inequality remain so tepid, even as large majorities of Americans consider inequality excessive, and even under a two-term Democratic president? Our study, published Thursday in the journal Science, co-authored with colleagues Pamela Jakiela and Shachar Kariv, proposes an answer: Regardless of party, the elite donors whose money dominates politics, and the elite officeholders whose decisions set policy, don’t value economic equality. When the American government abjures egalitarian policies, it is implementing the bipartisan preferences of the American elite.

The study used a variation of the dictator game, which measured both the basic selfishness and the efficiency maximizing preferences of a hyper-elite (Yale law students), and an intermediate elite (Berkeley undergraduates), against a baseline of the American population as a whole.

The experimental behaviors of these three subject classes—once again, making real allocations with real money—revealed stark differences between attitudes toward economic justice among ordinary Americans and among the elite. To begin with, the Berkeley and Yale subjects were twice as likely to be selfish as their compatriots in general. In this respect, intermediate and extreme elites stand together with each other, and stand apart from the rest of the country.

What’s more, elite Americans show a far greater commitment to efficiency over equality than ordinary Americans. And this time, the bias toward efficiency increases with each increment of eliteness. The ALP subjects split roughly evenly between focusing on efficiency and focusing on equality; the Berkeley students favored efficiency over equality by a factor of roughly 3-to-2; and the Yale Law students favored efficiency by a factor of 4-to-1.

Yale Law students’ overwhelming, indeed almost eccentric, commitment to efficiency over equality is all the more astonishing given that the students self-identified as Democrats rather than Republicans—and thus sided with the party that claims to represent economic equality in partisan politics—by a factor of more than 10-to-1. An elite constituted by highly partisan Democrats thus showed an immensely greater commitment to efficiency over equality than the bipartisan population at large.

The authors suggest these findings help explain why drastic increases in wealth inequality in America over the course of the last generation have generated such a tepid political response. Elite preferences have a vastly disproportional effect on political action than the preferences of the population as a whole, and what elites prefer is to grab ever-larger slices of the economic pie. That a lot of these people believe themselves to be deeply committed to egalitarian social policies would not, I suspect, surprise either Karl or Groucho Marx.

On a more parochial but all the more amusing note, Jeff Harrison suggests these findings help explain why so many law professors are such awful people (law professors being essentially Yale law students on steroids, or less metaphorically, Adderall):

Look at the law schools most law professors attended and you know the reason law schools are bastions of greed, self-promotion, self-interest, bogus conferences that are vacations, misleading resumes, demands to teach vanity courses, demands for special treatment including two day teaching schedules, truncated semesters, and extra pay for just doing the job.

It was never a mystery to anyone who thought about it but law school hiring committees fish only in the ponds of the greedy and hypocritical.

School’s bar passage rate collapses after it eliminates admissions standards; Dean blames kids today

[ 66 ] September 29, 2015 |


The debate of the moment in legal academia is regarding why bar passage rates are falling.

While it’s true this question involves various statistical confounders, at bottom it’s not terribly complicated: as the average quality of law students declines, fewer graduates will pass the bar. Indeed, since there’s a three-year lag between declining admissions standards and declining bar passage rates, we are likely to see even sharper declines in the number of law graduates who end up licensed to practice law.

Last year I wrote an article for the Atlantic, explaining in some detail how Infilaw, a for-profit law school consortium owned by Sterling Partners, a private equity firm, was hoovering up ever-larger piles of federal educational loan money, by slashing the already-low admissions standards of the three ABA-approved schools Infilaw owns.

At that time I predicted that the bar passage rates at these schools were destined to collapse, despite the radical steps the schools were taking to keep this from happening. Such steps have included bribing students not to take the exam, and even calling them up the night beforehand to encourage them not to show up.

Infilaw’s administration took great offense at the suggestion that throwing their doors open to anyone with a college degree and an LSAT score (any score) would lead to poor outcomes for their loan conduits graduates on the bar. Since then two more summers’ worth of bar exam results have become available.

Charlotte Law School graduate first time bar passage rate, North Carolina bar exam:

2010: 83.3%

2011: 77.9%

2012: 65.4%

2013: 60.3%

2014: 55.4%

2015: 47%

Note that almost all of the 2015 first-time takers were 2012 matriculants. Charlotte’s 2012 entering class had a median LSAT score in the 30th percentile, while one quarter of the class had an LSAT score in the 19th percentile or lower. These are somewhat lower test scores than the graduates who took the 2014 and 2013 bar exam, and far lower test scores than the Charlotte graduates who took the 2011 and 2010 bar exams.

So who does the law school’s administration blame for generating this striking and eminently predictable correlation? If you guessed “the students they chose to admit even though they had test scores that predicted most of them would fail the bar” you would be correct.

Remarkably enough, the class that took the 2015 exam and recorded an abysmal 47% first-time taker passage rate had far better entrance numbers than the class Charlotte admitted last year, which is scheduled to take the bar in the summer of 2017. That class had a median LSAT score in the 18th percentile, while a quarter of the class had an LSAT score in the 9th percentile or lower. So we’re probably a long way from the bottom yet.

And if you’re wondering whether an ABA law school’s bar passage rate can fall far enough to get it de-accredited, the answer is “technically yes, but in reality probably not.” The reality in this case is that the ABA accreditation standards are absurdly lax. For example, they allow the passing percentage of a school’s own graduates to count toward a calculation of whether a school’s bar passage rate is no more than fifteen (!) points lower than the state bar’s overall pass rate. Thus a school like Charlotte, which has grown at an enormous pace, can pump out so many graduates that the school itself can seriously deflate the entire state’s bar passage rate (and indeed it has), thus making it much more likely that the school will somehow find a way to stay in compliance with the ABA standards.

Speaking of the Second Amendment

[ 46 ] September 25, 2015 |

Kay Daly is running for Congress in North Carolina.

She has a son named Jack Reagan and a daughter named Reagan Joy. The family’s recently adopted albino cat is named Goneril.*

*The assertions in this sentence are products of ethnographic research rather than journalism or social science.

. . . Her webpage is what Stanley Fish might call a rich text. A sample:

Kay’s maternal ancestors arrived in North Carolina in the 18th century and served in the North Carolina Militia during the Revolutionary War. Two of her great great grandfathers – Joel Andrew Ray (whose kinfolk settled in Cumberland and Chatham Counties) and David Absolom Knox (whose kinfolk settled in Rowan and Mecklenburg Counties) – served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Through their mothers, who are first cousins five times removed, Kay is a blood relative of James Knox Polk, the 17th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and 11th President of the United States.

Best recommendation letter ever

[ 22 ] September 25, 2015 |

nash equlibrium

Short and to the point.


[ 33 ] September 21, 2015 |


This bar graph represents the ten best career touchdown to interception ratios among all NFL quarterbacks, past and present (minimum 1500 attempts).

Statistically, the number two man on the list is, at 2.79, a big outlier from numbers three through ten, who range between 2.26 and 1.96. Then you’ve got the #1 guy. (According to Sports Illustrated, four of his five interceptions last year hit the intended receiver in the hands first).

Lazy idlers on the dole grilling up T-bone steaks instead of working for an honest wage

[ 83 ] September 14, 2015 |


So sayeth Mitch McConnell in this hard-hitting interview with Tiger Beat on the Potomac:

Asked about the improving economy, McConnell scoffed: Business leaders tell him they have “a hard time finding people to do the work because they’re doing too good with food stamps, Social Security and all the rest.” Rather than cut deals like centrist Democrats of the past, he said, Obama wants to “Europeanize America” with a diet of “massive debt, high taxes on the most successful people, over-regulation.”

Average monthly food stamp benefit per participant:

United States $133.07
Alabama $128.82
Alaska $172.90
Arizona $123.62
Arkansas $120.86
California $151.44
Colorado $135.11
Connecticut $138.65
Delaware $127.90
District of C $135.17
Florida $138.39
Georgia $136.40
Hawaii $217.49
Idaho $127.30
Illinois $137.99
Indiana $131.49
Iowa $116.28
Kansas $124.68
Kentucky $127.33
Louisiana $131.18
Maine $122.79
Maryland $127.39
Massachusetts $130.92
Michigan $136.65
Minnesota $116.25
Mississippi $123.77
Missouri $128.04
Montana $124.65
Nebraska $122.71
Nevada $123.57
New Hampshire $115.76
New Jersey $134.97
New Mexico $128.58
New York $147.75
North Carolina $121.85
North Dakota $126.10
Ohio $133.50
Oklahoma $128.48
Oregon $127.43
Pennsylvania $128.32
Rhode Island $140.29
South Carolina $131.47
South Dakota $132.18
Tennessee $132.11
Texas $122.35
Utah $125.15
Vermont $124.37
Virginia $127.75
Washington $125.64
West Virginia $119.88
Wisconsin $116.56
Wyoming $124.80
Guam $216.15
Virgin Islands $173.10

Average monthly social security disability check: $1,022

Average monthly social security old age benefit check: $1,290

A hero for our time

[ 57 ] September 12, 2015 |


Who else does this describe?

“I have always gotten much more publicity than anyone else,” Trump boasts, which, as his exaggerations go, is probably one of the more accurate. This ability seems rooted in a seemingly inexhaustible need for attention. D’Antonio reports that “Trump begins each day with a sheaf of papers detailing where and how often his name has been mentioned in the global press. . . . This need to be noticed, and his drive to satisfy it, has made him a singular figure worthy of close inspection.”

It also makes him pretty much a classic case of narcissism, and D’Antonio cites several textbooks in which Trump serves as an example, including “Abnormal Behavior in the 21st Century” and “Personality Disorder and Older Adults.”

Narcissists typically enjoy conflict and will readily lie or exaggerate to gain the upper hand. Trump’s life can pretty much be summed up as an unending stream of conflicts, some real, many manufactured, all good copy. Trump tells D’Antonio: “I always loved to fight, all types of fights . . .

In the age of social media, where everyone is the star of his own Facebook page, “we no longer agree that intense self-­regard is a sign that something is wrong,” D’Antonio concludes. On the contrary, it’s a virtue.


Trump is trying to troll his way to the presidency. That this outcome is still considered impossible represents a failure to fully appreciate the spirit of the age.

Rick Perry drops out

[ 49 ] September 11, 2015 |


“We have a tremendous field, the best in a generation, so I step aside knowing our party is in good hands, and as long as we listen to the grassroots, the cause of conservativism will be too,” Perry planned to say according to remarks released by his campaign.

Perry suspended his struggling campaign while strapped for campaign cash and stuck polling at near zero.

Some might liken this to being the first player cut by the Seattle Pilots.

Apropos of nothing in particular: the Pilots traded essentially all of Lou Piniella’s major league career to Kansas City (Seattle had picked him up in the expansion draft), for John Gelnar and Steve Whitaker. Date of trade: April 1st, 1969.

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