Monthly Archives: July 2016

“Substantive and concrete,” as opposed to…

On a grammatical level, this cursory list suggests that Clinton is more likely to use keywords that are substantive and concrete. She mentions men, women, children, Americans, students, and teachers, while Trump uses more pronouns like I, they, me, anybody, somebody, nobody, people and folks.

Clinton also uses stronger verbs like deserve, create, and invest, while Trump uses going, are, got, and is. 

Clinton talks about growth, responsibility, challenges and threats, while Trump uses the words great, bigger, problems, and worst.

When it comes to Trump’s rhetoric, what is perhaps most striking is the frequency with which he references himself. He says I, me, or my 850 times in these seven speeches. (He says 700 times, me 94 times, my 56 times, mine 5 times, and myself 2 times out of the total 25,722 words in the corpus.) What this means is that 3.3% of his words are self-references, which is a remarkably high figure by the standards of any typical corpus.

By way of comparison, Clinton says I 360 times, me 36 times, and my 52 times out of the total 23,089 words, bringing the total percentage of explicit self-references to 1.9%.

Another difference between the two is that Trump, unlike Clinton, refers to himself in the third person. For instance, “Nobody would be tougher on ISIS than Donald Trump. Nobody.” Or, “…the chances of peace really rise and rises exponentially. That’s what will happen when Donald Trump is president of the United States.”

Trump’s narcissism has already been pointed out by others, but it is strikingly distilled even in a cursory linguistic analysis.

–Katelyn Guichelaar and Kristin Du Mez, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, By Their Words

h/t Alan Jacobs


Some blonde guy in Sally Jesse Raphael glasses

A few years later, The Real Ghostbusters (RGB) cartoon came out and Egon, the brains of the ‘busters, was now the main character. Only, it wasn’t my father’s Egon, it was some blonde guy in Sally Jesse Raphael glasses. I was so disappointed that they had taken the character away from my dad and so offended that people who liked the cartoon just accepted this new Egon without question. “Don’t you feel bad that you’re not in the cartoon?” I asked one Saturday morning as RGB came on and I changed the channel. He laughed. “Umm, no. It’s fine. It’s business, Violet. The cartoon is its own thing. The same way you used to ask if the fans knew I wasn’t really Egon? Well, I’m not. It’s a character. There was a different Superman when I was a kid. Things change. Well, some things… I think we have a ways to go before we get a hunky Jewish cartoon character.” Along with the cartoon came updated action figures and toys, trading cards, video games, and a whole new set of enthusiastic fans.


I still get annoyed when I see blond cartoon Egon, but who cares?! It’s a 20-year-old cartoon! The new movie is not the original and it’s not trying to be. Give it a chance and go see it! Or don’t, that’s fine. But resist the urge to hold on so tightly to the past that you choke off new life. I reserve my right as an almost 40-year-old to mutter about how everything was better when I was young, but let’s let this generation have their own Ghostbusters. Let’s give my nine-year-old daughter a chance to put on a proton pack and feel like a badass. In the spirit of my dad and his love for movies and comedy above all, I’ll be there for Ghostbusters 2016 opening weekend with my kids, eating popcorn, wearing my Egon Spengler tribute pin, cheering on the new crew, and laughing loudly, from the heart.

–Violet Ramis Stiel, On My Dad Harold Ramis and Passing the ‘Ghostbusters’ Torch to a New Generation of Fans

Causes and pretexts

We do not draw the moral lessons we might from history. On the contrary, without care it may be used to vitiate our minds and to destroy our happiness. In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind. It may, in the perversion, serve for a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons for parties in church and state, and supplying the means of keeping alive, or reviving dissensions and animosities, and adding fuel to civil fury. History consists, for the greater part, of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetites, which shake the public without the same

—“troublous storms that toss

The private state, and render life unsweet.”

These vices are the causes of those storms. Religion, morals, laws, prerogatives, privileges, liberties, rights of men, are the pretexts. The pretexts are always found in some specious appearance of a real good. You would not secure men from tyranny and sedition, by rooting out of the mind the principles to which these fraudulent pretexts apply? If you did, you would root out every thing that is valuable in the human breast. As these are the pretexts, so the ordinary actors and instruments in great public evils are kings, priests, magistrates, senates, parliaments, national assemblies, judges, and captains. You would not cure the evil by resolving, that there should be no more monarchs, nor ministers of state, nor of the gospel; no interpreters of law; no general officers; no public councils. You might change the names. The things in some shape must remain. A certain quantum of power must always exist in the community, in some hands, and under some appellation. Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to the occasional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in which they appear. Otherwise you will be wise historically, a fool in practice. Seldom have two ages the same fashion in in their pretexts and the same modes of mischief. Wickedness is a little more inventive. Whilst you are discussing fashion, the fashion is gone by. The very same vice assumes a new body. The spirit transmigrates; and, far from losing its principle of life by the change of its appearance, it is renovated in its new organs with the fresh vigour of a juvenile activity. It walks abroad; it continues its ravages; whilst you are gibbeting the carcass, or demolishing the tomb. You are terrifying yourself with ghosts and apparitions, whilst your house is the haunt of robbers. It is thus with all those, who, attending only to the shell and husk of history, think they are waging war with intolerance, pride, and cruelty, whilst, under colour of abhorring the ill principles of antiquated parties, they are authorizing and feeding the same odious vices in different factions, and perhaps in worse.

—Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) [ed. J. C. D. Clark, pp. 310-12]

Where we write our names

Changing the world is good for those who want their names in books. But being happy, that is for those who write their names in the lives of others, and hold the hearts of others as the treasure most dear.

–Valentine Wiggin (Orson Scott Card), Children of the Mind (1996), p. 354

This is your (ancestors’) brain on barbecued meat

It’s around this time that we see in the fossil record (based mainly on rib and pelvis fossils) a reduction of the size of the gut areas in Homo erectus, the early human species credited with consistently incorporating animal foods into its diet. This species evolved a smaller, more efficient digestive tract, which likely released a constraint on energy and permitted larger brain growth, as predicted by the expensive tissue hypothesis. Yet the increase in brain size we see in the fossil record at about 2 million years ago is basically tracking body size; while absolute brain size was increasing, relative brain size was not. Maybe meat was not completely responsible—so what was?

Perhaps it was the shift from eating antelope steak tartare to barbecuing it. There are hints of human-controlled fires at a few sites dating back to between one and two million years ago in eastern and southern Africa, but the first solid evidence comes from a one-million-year-old site called Wonderwerk Cave, in South Africa. In 2012, Francesco Berna, then of Boston University, and his colleagues reported bits of ash from burnt grass, leaves, brush, and bone fragments inside the cave. Microscopic study showed that the small ash fragments are well preserved and have jagged edges, indicating that they were not first burned outside the cave and blown or washed in, as those jagged edges would have been worn away. Also, this evidence comes from about 30 meters inside the cave, where lightning could not have ignited the fire.

Soon after that, the 790,000 year old site of Gesher-Benot Ya’aqov in Israel yielded evidence of debris from ancient stone tools that had been burned by fire. Nearby to the burnt tools were concentrations of scorched seeds and six kinds of wood, including three edible plants (olive, wild barley, and wild grape), from more than a dozen early hearths. This marks the first time that early humans came back to the same location repeatedly to cook over these early campfires. Hearths are more than just primitive stoves; they can provide safety from predators, be a warm and comforting location, and serve as places to exchange information.

Cooking was unquestionably a revolution in our dietary history. Cooking makes food both physically and chemically easier to chew and digest, enabling the extraction of more energy from the same amount of food. It can also release more of some nutrients than the same foods eaten raw and can render poisonous plants palatable. Cooking would have inevitably decreased the amount of time necessary to forage for the same number of calories. In his 2009 book Catching Fire, primatologist Richard Wrangham postulates that cooking was what allowed our brains to get big. It turns out that using fossil skulls to measure brain size, we see the biggest increase in brain size in our evolutionary history right after we see the earliest evidence for cooking in the archaeological record, so he may be on to something. Modern human bodies are so adapted to cooked foods that we have difficulty reproducing while on an exclusive diet of raw foods. For example, a 1999 study found that about 30 percent of reproductive-age women on a long-term raw-food diet had partial to complete amenorrhea, which was probably related to their low body weight.

–Briana Pobiner, Meat-Eating Among the Earliest Humans

“Best” doesn’t mean the most qualified, talented, or honest

This is a running theme throughout the book: When Trump gets sued, he hires the “best” lawyers. When his casinos are struggling, he hires the “best” managers from other companies.

The point is that he sees “hiring the best people” as a legitimate solution to problems with his deals. While most politicians think they themselves are supposed to come up with policy solutions to problems, Trump actually thinks that “hire the best people” is itself a policy solution.

This isn’t an original observation. Scott Alexander, the excellent writer behind SlateStarCodex, had a similar thought after reading The Art of the Deal.

“This thing about hiring the best people, for example, seems almost like an obsession in the book,” Alexander writes. “When he says that he’s going to solve Medicare by hiring great managers and knowing all the right people, I don’t think this is some vapid way of avoiding the question. I think it’s the honest output of a mind that works very differently from mine.”

But there’s an important difference between what Trump means when he says “the best people” and what most people think he means. For Trump, “best” doesn’t necessarily mean the most qualified, talented, or honest: it means the person whose services most benefit Trump, and who will be the most loyal to him personally.

–Zack Beauchamp, Donald Trump’s run for president is baffling–until you read The Art of the Deal

Anti-establishment politiphobia

I think of these people as “politiphobes,” because they see the contentious give-and-take of politics as unnecessary and distasteful. Specifically, they believe that obvious, commonsense solutions to the country’s problems are out there for the plucking. The reason these obvious solutions are not enacted is that politicians are corrupt, or self-interested, or addicted to unnecessary partisan feuding. Not surprisingly, politiphobes think the obvious, commonsense solutions are the sorts of solutions that they themselves prefer. But the more important point is that they do not acknowledge that meaningful policy disagreement even exists. From that premise, they conclude that all the arguing and partisanship and horse-trading that go on in American politics are entirely unnecessary. Politicians could easily solve all our problems if they would only set aside their craven personal agendas.


Trump, Sanders, and Ted Cruz have in common that they are political sociopaths—meaning not that they are crazy, but that they don’t care what other politicians think about their behavior and they don’t need to care. That three of the four final presidential contenders in 2016 were political sociopaths is a sign of how far chaos syndrome has gone. The old, mediated system selected such people out. The new, disintermediated system seems to be selecting them in.


As soon became apparent, Boehner’s 2011 debacle was not a glitch but part of an emerging pattern. Two years later, the House’s conservative faction shut down the government with the connivance of Ted Cruz, the very last thing most Republicans wanted to happen. When Boehner was asked by Jay Leno why he had permitted what the speaker himself called a “very predictable disaster,” he replied, rather poignantly: “When I looked up, I saw my colleagues going this way. You learn that a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk.”


Neurotic hatred of the political class is the country’s last universally acceptable form of bigotry. Because that problem is mental, not mechanical, it really is hard to remedy.


Populism, individualism, and a skeptical attitude toward politics are all healthy up to a point, but America has passed that point. Political professionals and parties have many shortcomings to answer for—including, primarily on the Republican side, their self-mutilating embrace of anti-establishment rhetoric—but relentlessly bashing them is no solution. You haven’t heard anyone say this, but it’s time someone did: Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around.

–Jonathan Rauch, How American Politics Became So Ineffective