Shortly after moving to Austin, I visited the famous Sixth Street, downtown hub of music and public intoxication. At one end of Sixth Street, nearest the freeway, was a run-down dimly-lit doorway. High above the doorway was a sign:


In case you haven’t seen it, Midnight Cowboy is a famous 1969 movie directed by John Schlesinger, featuring Dustin Hoffman. It was the first X-rated movie to win an Oscar. It tells the story of a Texan man’s journey to New York, where he attempts to become a male prostitute.

So when I saw the sign, I initially thought that it was some kind of ironic joke. I assumed that underneath I would find a bar full of hipsters, or a themed souvenir store. When that turned out not to be the case, I decided that it was probably the sign of some unlucky Asian business that was blissfully unaware of the associations their name was bringing to mind.

At no point did I seriously entertain the idea that Midnight Cowboy was a house of ill repute. It looked so much like a stereotypical Hollywood idea of an Asian massage parlor offering ‘happy endings’, that I decided it couldn’t possibly be one. Yet that’s exactly what it was.

Austin police were apparently fooled as well. It was only after being tipped off by the FBI that they started a serious investigation. In 2011, they discovered that the massage parlor had plenty of (presumably stained) mattresses, but a suspicious lack of massage tables.

In retrospect, I felt like an idiot. Sometimes a place that looks so much like a brothel that you can’t believe it could actually be a brothel, is actually a brothel. Things can be a lot simpler than they appear.

And I’m starting to feel that way about Donald Trump.

Last week at a rally in Orlando he urged the audience to raise their right arms in salute and pledge allegiance to him. They did. At other rallies, his supporters have been heard chanting Hail Trump.

Trump says he wants to round up over ten million people for deportation. He says he’ll call Detroit carmakers into his office and tell them how to run their businesses. He says he’ll defend any supporters who end up in court for roughing up protesters. And through it all, my brain keeps saying: Look, if he was actually a fascist, the next Hitler or Mussolini, he wouldn’t be acting like a stereotypical Hitler-wannabe, would he?

But I keep thinking: Midnight Cowboy. Which, incidentally, is now the painfully hip ironic cocktail bar I assumed it was in 2005.

“It’s outrageous that you are questioning Hillary Clinton’s (check as appropriate):

☐ flip-flopping over gay marriage
☐ voting to let George Bush take us to war in Iraq
☐ promising to oppose free trade agreements then secretly supporting them
☐ giving expensive paid speeches to Wall Street banks
☐ keeping her government e-mail on a private server and then deleting it
☐ taking millions of dollars of foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and not reporting tax properly

Meanwhile you are giving Bernie Sanders a free pass, based solely on the fact that he’s a man who didn’t do any of those things. It’s pure sexism.

Suggesting that Hillary Clinton didn’t deserve $200,000 per speech is sexism. Suggesting that President Hillary Clinton will give the bankers their $200,000 worth is also sexism.

Besides, Bernie Sanders simply isn’t a viable choice. The next President will need to be able to persuade Republicans in Congress to compromise. Bernie has no experience with that. Hillary has worked closely with Republicans during 8 separate Benghazi hearings, so clearly they’ll cooperate with her when she’s elected.

Polls may say that Hillary Clinton is the least trusted of any candidate except possibly Trump, but if she proved she had nothing to hide by releasing those speech transcripts it would merely legitimize the demands.”

…But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.

A sophisticated politicians credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and over-emphasis on anti-Semitism, saying: “You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your finer real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them.”

New York Times, 21 November 1922

A few weeks ago I had an idea for an article. I would set out the arguments in favor of a political position which I deeply want to be true. And then, I would set out the evidence which proves that it’s actually false. The idea is that if you’re really in favor of evidence-based policy, you’ll be in favor of it even when your own sacred cows are being made into policy hamburger — so why not demonstrate that with an article?

There was just one problem, though: I couldn’t think of a good example subject. I decided to wait until one presented itself. Last week, Martin Robbins in The Guardian saved me the effort when he wrote about tuition fees for university.

It’s obvious that today’s costly tuition fees are a major deterrent to poorer people going to university — if you make it expensive to get a degree, that’s clearly going to favor the wealthy. Increasing tuition fees will dramatically reduce the number of poorer people going to university.

Obvious, but also wrong