Pathetic Hillary Flacktivism (In My Local Paper)

A recent op-ed in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, impressed me with its sheer vapidity and self-importance. The author, one "Douglas Smith of Durham [NH]" wants us to know how vital he and Hillary Clinton were to enticing foreign visitors to come to the United States to spend money. The author blurb at the bottom of the column describes Smith's recent history as a Federal employee:

He is the former Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he served from October 2009 to November 2013. During his tenure, Assistant Secretary Smith was the DHS representative on the President’s Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, the President’s Export Council, the White House Business Council, and the World Economic Forum Risk Officers Community.

Or: "a political appointee who went to a lot of meetings." He is now "the Executive Vice President of MWW, a public relations firm." (His DHS bio is still online and it's a minor example of the revolving door between business and government.)

The op-ed, as previously indicated, is awful. Executive summary/paraphrase:

"Tourism is good. It helps the economy. Before Hillary and I came, tourism was down, because Bush. Hillary and I brought tourism back. Hillary and I talked to many people. Hillary and I saved America by promoting tourism and stopping terrorism. She's running for President, vote for her."

Yes, it's almost that bad. Smith's actual prose seems to come out of the Soundbyte-2000 political boilerplate generator, which I understand you can get off the discount PC software rack at Staples.

Speaking of Hillary: "This kind of smart, pragmatic leadership is just what Americans want and just what America needs from its leaders."

Speaking of Hillary's deep thinking: "Secretary Clinton understood that there was no need to make a false choice between economic and national security and that we can — and must — have both."

Anyone who writes like that thinks his readers are gullible idiots.

But what about Smith's implication that Hillary (and he) managed to lift foreign tourism out of the toilet where it had languished post-9/11?

Here is a one-page PDF from the "National Travel and Tourism Office", part of the Department of Commerce. There is a small graph, which I snipped:

US Visitors and
Spending 1998-2013

Eyeballing, this says: foreign tourism grew throughout 1998-2013, save for recessions (2000, 2008) and terrorism (2001).

Did Hillary and Smith do anything exceptional for foreign travel during their tenure? Not really.

  • Looking at the 2003-2008 (non-Hillary) period, visitor spending went from $80 billion to $140 billion, which works out to be a tad under 12% growth per annum.

  • The Hillary era saw (in 2009-2013) growth from $120 billion to $180 billion. This comes to a bit under 11% per annum.

I'm sure Hill and Smith went to a lot of meetings and talked to a lot of people and went on a lot of fun junkets, but I don't see any evidence that this had any effect on tourism growth, which is riding a long-term growth trend.

A slightly more interesting question is: what possessed Douglas Smith to write this utterly lame op-ed? I suspect there's an effort by Hillary groupies to embellish her record as Secretary of State. Somehow people may have gotten the impression (Libya, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, China, Israel) that her foreign policy ranged from foolhardy to dangerous. Actual accomplishments are hard to find.

By the way: a little Googling finds that Douglas Smith is the son of Marjorie Smith, longtime Durham Democratic pol. (Formerly a state Senator, currently in the House.) Did Doug's mom tell him to write this?

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Tim's Vermeer

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A very good documentary about an unlikely subject: a high-tech inventor and entrepreneur, Tim Jenison, decides to duplicate a famous painting by Johannes Vermeer. And (spoiler!) does.

But the details are what makes this interesting. Jenison's background and fortune result from his innovative linking of computers and video, with his inventions in use across the world. But somehow his interest is piqued by an art-history oddity: how did Vermeer accomplish his near-photographic depictions of his subjects, unprecedented in history, and even unusual for its time?

Jenison became acquainted with the theory, explicated by David Hockney and Philip Steadman, that Vermeer was somehow using optical gimmicks to match details and color while he was painting. There's little or nothing in the historical record to back that up, but Jenison starts reverse-engineering a possible mechanism, using only materials and methods that would have been available to Vermeer back in the 17th century Netherlands. After some initial encouraging success, he decides to attempt reproducing The Music Lesson. He duplicates Vermeer's studio in a San Antonio warehouse; he buys props and pigments, and otherwise gets to work.

In the wrong hands, this could have been as interesting as watching paint dry. (Heh.) (And they make that joke in the movie too.)

The nature of Vermeer's genius (artistic or "merely" technical) is apparently still mired in controversy, but the film points out a lot of evidence in the painting pointing to optical wizardry: chromatic aberration, distortion that might have been introduced by a concave mirror in the setup, differences in illumination too subtle for the human eye to pick up itself. I was convinced, but I only heard Tim's side of the story.

The film was produced by the comedy/magic duo of Penn and Teller, with Penn Jillette (a longtime friend of Tim Jenison) providing a lot of narration and Teller directing. Hence, much of the reason Jenison's not just another obsessed geek working on an obscure project is due to piggybacking on Penn and Teller's fame. Which is fine, but makes me wonder: what about all those other guys. Do they have equally interesting stories to tell?

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The Glass Rainbow

[Amazon Link]

Another fine Dave Robicheaux mystery from James Lee Burke.

After his Montana "vacation" in the previous book, Dave investigates a possible serial killer preying on young women in his Louisiana parish. He is intrigued by the story told by an prisoner held up in Mississippi, the brother of one of the victims; he's no prize, but he tells Dave that (unlike the other victims) his sister was no prostitute. And he points his accusatory finger at a local pimp/dealer that Dave has long despised.

Nothing is ever simple though. (It's a long book.) The pimp turns up dead, unfortunately after Dave's friend Clete Purcell has beaten him up and threatened him.

In addition, Dave's daughter Alafair has grown into a young woman; she's moved into the orbit of Kermit, the scion of a local rich family. (And in these books, rich families always have a corrupt and sordid history that leaks malevolently into the present.) Kermit has an ex-con associate who's become a literary success with his tales of his previous life. Dave is appalled, and this drives a heart-breaking wedge between him and Alafair.

For Robicheaux fans, the plot trajectory will not be surprising: Dave is witness to various horrors, Clete's outrageous behavior skates on the edge of self-destruction. What's different in this episode is Dave's increased sense of his own mortality, symbolized by his hallucination of an old river paddlewheel out on the bayou.

A throwaway line reveals that Dave is 70 years old in this book. (Close to the author's own age.) None of us is getting any younger, but I hope to see Dave in a few more yarns.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Pun Son and I wanted to go see a movie last Friday afternoon. For anyone interested in why the movie business isn't doing that well these days, I can offer a possible explanation: our choices were extremely limited, and we almost called it off.

IMDB reported a lot of movies playing near us. But nearly without exception: sequels to movies which one or the other of us had not seen; critically-reviled R-rated comedies; mostly-mediocre movies aimed squarely at the kiddos.

I wished Edge of Tomorrow were still around, but it wasn't.

So we settled on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; I'd seen the previous movie, but my son hadn't. I summarized for him: well-meaning scientist develops a way to boost the mental capacities of simians, but things go poorly, and the clever apes split off from humanity to live in a remote Northern California forest.

So in this movie, it's a number of years later, and humanity has been decimated by what's called the "simian flu". A ragtag remnant lives in the ruins of what was once San Francisco. Meanwhile, the supermonkey community has thrived into a growing primitive enclave, living in harmony with nature, blah blah blah. The humans are unaware of Apedom, and Apedom suspects that the humans may have gone extinct.

Trouble brews when a small band of humans are dispatched to try to revive the hydropower generated by a small dam in the apes' territory. The humans and the apes discover each other, and quickly agree to work together to their mutual benefit.

Just kidding! Although the movie delivers generous indications as to how that happy-but-boring result could have happened, mutual distrust, suspicion, and intra-species betrayal eventually cause the situation to fly right into the crapper.

The movie does an excellent job of making all this believable and interesting. Everything works: the actors are all wonderful, especially Andy Serkis as Caesar, the noble ape leader. (I agree with this guy and anyone else who says Serkis deserves an Oscar.) The special monkey effects are jaw-dropping; or they would be if you noticed them as special effects, which you probably don't.

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URLs du Jour — 2014-07-17

Screeching toward the end of the week…

  • NR's Phi Beta Cons blog provides a post headlined "Specializing in Unemployment", noting a higher education trendlet: students searching for, and universities offering, "esoteric and niche fields" of study. Second paragraph:

    Well, [students] won’t have to look far for such programs. From “Adventure Education” to a dual major in “EcoGastronomy”—yes it’s a program for environmentally-friendly eating—the list of highly-specific university programs has been growing in recent years. And while these disciplines may sound innovative and exciting, the reality checks that ivory tower over-specialization bump into may tell the story better.

    I normally wouldn't quote that, but the second link in that paragraph goes back to the University Near Here. (The first link goes to another member of the University System of Near Here, Plymouth State University.)

    It's so exciting to have one's employer served up as a Bad Example to a wide readership.

  • It's interesting what you can surmise from the results of Googling a word. For example, when I Google "ecogastronomy", what the results tell me is: "a made-up self-important word that's desperately trying to sell itself to the rest of the world." Most of the top results refer to UNH's program, indicating that the rest of the world may not be that interested.

  • Pun Salad recently examined the decision of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to remove the column of George F. Will, replacing it with that of Michael Gerson. Gerson seems to be trying his best to convince everyone that was a very bad idea, as in this column bemoaning the expansion of legal weed and gambling. And those pesky libertarians are part of the problem!

    The ideological alliance behind these changes is among the strangest in U.S. politics. Libertarians seek to lift governmental restraints on consensual acts. State governments seek sources of revenue without the political inconvenience of requesting broad tax increases. Both find common ground in encouraging and exploiting the weaknesses and addictions of citizens. (And business interests and their lobbyists, of course, find new ways to profit from reliable vices.)

    At best, Gerson has half an idea here: sin taxes bring in revenue that doesn't have to come from the average taxpayer. But the charge that libertarians want to encourage and exploit "the weaknesses and addictions of citizens" is thoughtless and baseless slander.

    I wouldn't have found that on my own, having given up on Gerson long ago. But I do read Jacob Sullum and he offered up a quick rebuttal: "Michael Gerson Explains Why Libertarians Should Want to Ban Everything".

    By Gerson's logic, a true libertarian would want to criminalize as much commercial activity as possible, the better to starve the beast. The less there is to tax, the smaller government will be, so when all peaceful transactions are banned, we will be living in a libertarian paradise.

    A commenter to Sullum ("John") is also good: "Gerson is a curious breed of moron. It is not that there isn't an element of truth to what he says. It is that he takes that element and manages to derive epically stupid claims."

  • MST3K has been gone since 1999, but Michael J Nelson can still make me laugh:

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Geek Seeks iPod Song-Shuffling Nirvana

[Note: out of whack with normal Pun Salad content. Feel free to skip, unless you're interested in the kind of mental aberration that causes people to algorithmize everyday issues.]

Ever since I've had one kind of iPod or another, I've been trying to come up with a good algorithm to govern its music selection. Herewith a description of my latest scheme. It assumes some easily-acquired familiarity with iTunes/iPod operations.

Guiding principles and relevant facts:

  • I prefer a random shuffle of songs. Apple has a "genius" feature that, among other things, will create an "aesthetically coherent" playlist of songs (they say) "will sound great together". I don't care about that.

    In fact, I actively don't want that. I kind of like hearing a sweet Linda Ronstadt tear-jerker immediately followed by an ass-kicker from The Who.

    So shoot me. (Also: yes, I'm old.) But this preference makes things easier.

  • But! I do want to hear certain songs more often than others. For whatever reason. I may simply love the song (e.g., "Bernadette" by the Four Tops) and could listen to it every day for the rest of my life. Or it might be new and fresh, just downloaded/purchased.

    Conversely, I might prefer to hear certain songs less often than others, because they are older or less-loved.

    This preference makes things more difficult.

  • My iTunes song collection is much larger (about 400 GB) than the space available for songs on my primary iPod (an older Nano, about 7.22 GB). So I need to cycle a subset of iTunes library songs onto the iPod when it syncs. It would be nice if songs that have been recently played were replaced with songs not-so-recently played; that way, everything gets heard eventually.

The iPod/iTunes system has a simple way of representing song preference: the rating, which can be 1-5 stars. (Songs can also be unrated.) So let's say I rate all the songs in my library (and, going forward, remember to rate any new incoming songs).

This reduces the problem to: how do I insure higher-rated songs get played more frequently, while still keeping things simple?

Initial vague answer: keep more of my high-rated songs on the iPod than low-rated songs. A simple song shuffle will play the high-rated songs more often, simply because there are more of them.

Duh, right?

To firm this up, let's do some simple math. Let pn be the probability of playing a song with an n-star rating. So we have:

p5 + p4 + p3 + p2 + p1 = 1

And the "play higher-rated songs more frequently" implies that:

p5 > p4 > p3 > p2 > p1

The values I'm using are

( p5, p4, p3, p2, p1 ) = ( 13, 415, 15, 215, 115 )

Those numbers are arbitrary and could change (within the above constraints), but (modulo randomness) they say: out of a shuffle of 15 songs, it's expected 5 songs will be 5-star, 4 will be 4-star, 3 will be 3-star, 2 will be 2-star, and 1 will be 1-star. (This seems to work for me in practice.)

[Aside, added a couple of days later: it's an arithmetic progression, where each rating-star increases the play probability by a fixed amount. One could also imagine a geometric progression, where the play probability gets increased by a fixed factor. For example, if we wanted each rating star to double the play probability, we'd have:

( p5, p4, p3, p2, p1 ) = ( 1631, 831, 431, 231, 131 )

Nothing magic about that either. It's all about what produces a mix that "sounds right" to you. End of aside. On with the show:]

How do we make that happen? Surprisingly easy!

I created 5 smart playlists: "Nano1", "Nano2", …, "Nano5", one for each rating. The math described above enters when we define each list:

Suppose we want to store a total of N songs on the iPod. (For my Nano, a conservative choice for N is 900.) Simply populate each playlist with songs having the corresponding n-star Rating, but limit it to N * pn items.

Consider "Nano3": the p3 probability is 15, so the playlist should be limited to

900 * 15 = 180 items.

And that translates into the smart playlist definition:

smart playlist nano3

The "least recently played" criterion is not that important (at least not to me), but it insures that the songs in the library will get sync'ed out to the iPod sooner than they might if we were to rely on a random selection.

To keep things uncluttered, I put these five playlists into a Playlist Folder named "Nano".

And finally (finally!), I plugged in my Nano, and specified that it should sync from the aforementioned "Nano" folder. Looks like this: NanoSync spec

All done!

Going forward: if I happen to notice that a certain song isn't getting played enough, or getting played too often, it's easy to raise/lower its rating to increase/decrease the probability it will get played. And if I decide I don't want my iPod to play a song ever again, I can de-rate it (or more drastically, delete it.)

I'm not sure whether I should be admired or pitied, but I'm happy with the setup, and maybe someone out there with the same geeky compulsion will find inspiration here.

PS: this was inspired by Jamie Zawinski's (apparently failing) efforts to come up with an iTunes playlist solution to match his desires. Fortunately, my desires were far less complex than his. And I recognized I could satisfy them even with iTunes doing (as Jamie puts it) "the stupidest possible thing."

Last Modified 2014-07-18 8:36 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2014-07-14

With the heat index sneaking toward 90°…

  • I mentioned previously that I was of mixed feelings about immigration policy, but leaning negative toward the current "comprehensive" proposals. That said, Kevin D. Williamson seems to have a very sensible take on things, as he usually does. A key point:

    Where the national government acts to establish rules and standards for immigration, it must first establish the controlling criterion, answering the question of what it intends to accomplish through its immigration policies. While some governments may be liberal in the sense that Robert Frost understood the term — too broadminded to take their own side in a fight — the government of the United States is generally expected to act in the interest of the people of the United States. Sometimes it engages in humanitarian efforts in service to a consistently ungrateful world, but its controlling principle is the national interest of the United States.

    This is number two of seven points, and they all seem unassailable. Check it out.

  • A. Barton Hinkle advises a cooling off:

    Reaction to Supreme Court decisions generally falls into two camps: (a) The court wisely followed the Constitution, legal precedent, first principles, logic, and sensible jurisprudence, or (b) WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!

    Reaction B was on full view after the Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court held that some companies could cite religious objections to avoid complying with a federal contraception mandate. The New Yorker offered a typically measured and thoughtful response: “When the Taliban Meets Hobby Lobby,” which was based on the extremely realistic premise that the Taliban would move to the U.S., set up a closely held corporation, and then file suit to avoid having to pay insurance coverage for polio vaccinations.

    Don't freak out, he advises. But when does that ever stop people from freaking out?

  • Dave Barry reveals (in the WSJ) why "Gloria" is, well…

    I think one of the greatest works of music ever written—and I include Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in this category—is Van Morrison's "Gloria."

    The brilliance of this song is evident from the opening lyrics:

    "Like to tell you 'bout my baby, you know she comes around;

    Just about 5 feet 4, from her head to the ground."

    Right away, you know exactly what this song is about. It's about a woman who is approximately 5 feet, 4 inches, measured vertically, as opposed to horizontally. So you can assume she is reasonably fit.

    Musicologists, take note.

    Also, I should add that today's Getty illustration is one of the top results when you search for "Gloria" there. So it's not just gratuitous beauty, and see looks like she could be about 5 feet 4 from her head to the ground.

  • Dave also accepted a suggestion I sent him with gracious credit.

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A man wearing a cowboy hat and a dress was arrested in Salina, Kansas, after leading police on a strange high-speed pursuit on Saturday.

    The perpetrator is from New Hampshire, and you know how we get a little wild when we're out of town.

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The Valley of Fear

[Amazon Link]

Continuing my project of re-reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes yarns… This is billed as a novel, but it's pretty short, and (in fact) is actually two longish stories, connected by a thin thread. But that's OK.

The first story kicks off when Sherlock is warned, via a mysterious encrypted note, that the crime syndicate led by the villainous Moriarty has designs on one "Douglas", at Birlstone Manor. (So it's set pre-Reichenbach Falls.) Near-immediately after Holmes and Watson decode the note, a Scotland Yard inspector shows up with news of a grisly crime: Mr. Douglas of Birlstone Manor has taken a couple sawed-off shotgun blasts to the cranial region, and it's quite a mess.

So Holmes and Watson head off to Birlstone Manor, and are confronted with the usual set of clues, suspects behaving oddly, and clueless cops. But (hopefully not a spoiler) Holmes cracks the case theatrically.

The second (Sherlock-free) story is a 20-years-previous prequel, set in the mid-1870s in a Pennsylvania coal-mining valley. This is the titular "Valley of Fear", as it is controlled by a particularly nasty organized crime ring through murder, extortion, and terror. It's very much plus ça change territory: not too much different than Whitey Bulger in South Boston, a century later, or Boyd Crowder in Harlan County Kentucky, a few decades after that.

The most notable thing in the second half is the overwriting. I found myself thinking: if Edward Bulwer-Lytton were reading this before publication, he'd probably say "Gee, Art. Don't you think you need to tone this down a bit?" But it's good fun for a short read, and Doyle really does convey the grime and squalor of that time and place.

Last Modified 2014-07-14 6:45 AM EDT
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Worthless Immigration Poll (and Why Jennifer Rubin Irritates Me At Times)

I have a weak, leaning negative, opinion on immigration "reform". People I like are on both sides. Mostly they have decent arguments.

But the pro-"reform" side is getting desperate, seeing their "comprehensive" legislation going nowhere, and desperate people make progressively poorer arguments.

Case in point is a recent "Right Turn" blog post from Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's designated right-winger. The title: "Immigration polling tells Congress to act". All it's missing is an exclamation point. Act, Congress, act!

Jennifer's post presents the results of a recent poll carried out by Harper Polling, sponsored by groups who would like the stalemated legislation passed: Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE), the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers. Compare with PNAE's press release, which has links to the detailed poll results (to which I refer below). Jennifer echoes this consortium's talking points with zero skepticism. Skepticism is certainly warranted by a poll that just happens to support the legislative goals of its sponsors. (And, not coincidentally, coincides with Jennifer's own preferences.)

Jennifer also flings drive-by spitball insults at the opponents of the legislation: they are "loud but in the distinct minority". Their worries that Obama can't be trusted to implement and enforce the border security measures mandated in the bill? That's an "excuse for not acting" and it "is not fooling anyone." Her clear implication is that the other side is acting in bad faith, and rudely to boot.

Jennifer finds one poll result portentious:

The survey of likely voters finds, for example, that the vast majority of voters believe the system is in need of fixing.  86% of Republicans believe Congress should take action to fix the immigration system. 79% of Independents agree.

One of the least meaningful polling questions ever is to ask the respondents whether something obviously dysfunctional should be "fixed". And make no mistake: the question generating the response that so impresses Jennifer was just that vague:

When thinking of the issue of immigration, do you believe the United States immigration system is functioning the way it should or is in need of fixing?

Arrgh. Again, who is against something being "fixed"? The amazing thing is the 7% of respondents who said the system is "functioning the way it should". (Another 8% were "not sure".)

But it is fallacious to imagine that the pro-fix "vast" majority even agree on what needs to be "fixed" in immigration policy, let alone what tactics should be adopted to "fix" it. The poll implies a false near-unanimity where none exists.

(Similarly for "reform", which the poll asks about too. Unsurprisingly, everyone's for "reform". Because doesn't reform, by definition, "fix" things?)


As for the substance of reform the so-called principles set out by House leadership — secure our borders, expand visas for high-skill workers and farm workers, provide an employer verification program, allow DREAMers to earn citizenship, and provide visas to live and work here legally to undocumented immigrants without a criminal record who pay penalties and back taxes – get support from 60 percent of voters.

Sorry, Jennifer, but that's at best an arguable conclusion. Here's the actual poll question:

Would you support or oppose an immigration reform plan that secures our borders, expands visas for high-skill workers and farm workers, provides an employer verification program, allows young persons brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents an opportunity to earn citizenship, and provides visas to live and work here legally to undocumented immigrants without a criminal record who pay penalties and back taxes?

The options are: Strongly support; Somewhat support; Somewhat opppose; Strongly oppose; and Not sure. What I noticed (and PNAE/Jennifer did not mention): Only 32% of the respondents picked "Strongly support".

So, suppose you only strongly support securing our (manifestly insecure) borders, and don't care about or oppose that other stuff? Is it plausible that you might average things out and pick "Somewhat support" from that list of options? I think so.

A more meaningful result would have been obtained if the pollsters asked a series of questions about the support/opposition for each individual element of the so-called comprehensive reform. I suspect the support for "secure our borders" would be vastly higher than for the other measures. And I further suspect that's precisely why the pro-"reform" group didn't pose the questions that way: they knew they wouldn't get the answers they wanted.

Jennifer/PNAE's purpose, of course, is to convey a sense of panicked urgency among House Republicans to push the legislation through ASAP. So the funny thing is the response to the poll question they are not publicizing:

Which of the following issues is most important in deciding how you will vote for Congress this year: The Economy, Jobs, Spending, Obamacare, Immigration, National Security, Taxes, or Moral issues like abortion and gay marriage?

"Immigration" is such an important issue, it came in at a solid fifth place:

[poll results 1]

OK, so people are really concerned with other stuff. But surely if we ask them:

And, what is the NEXT most important issue to you?

… we'll find that more people will mention immigration, right?

Well, no. Still in fifth place:

[poll results 2]

So (executive summary) 84% of the likely-voter poll respondents did not rank immigration in their top two issues in judging how to vote for Congress in the upcoming election. You wouldn't expect supporters of immigration legislation to promote that result, and they don't. And neither does Jennifer Rubin.

[Note: I posted a comment on Jennifer's blog, but it got flooded out quickly by an array of commenters that hate Republicans and/or Jennifer. So you get my revised and extended comments here instead, sorry.]

Last Modified 2014-07-13 5:21 AM EDT
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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I was somewhat surprised at how much I liked this movie. The overall critical reaction was mediocre. The IMDB raters have it as a ho-hum 7.4 (as I type). But (apparently) the movie plucked all my emotional strings, so there you go. It stars Ben Stiller (who also directed) as Walter, and he's dead solid perfect.

It's based on the classic short story by James Thurber. As in the story, Walter is prone to zoning out while he daydreams various scenarios where he's movie-hero brave, capable, and witty. ("Women want him, men want to be him.") In the short story, that's pretty much it. In the movie, this results in a couple hilarious scenes, but it's only the beginning.

Movie Walter is not Thurber's henpecked husband; instead, he's a middle-aged schlub working as a "Negative Assets Manager" for Life magazine. There's a play on words there, but what he does is take care of the photographic negatives in the Life archives.

Walter has no nagging wife, but has other problems: Life (in this sorta-alternate universe) is about to publish its last dead-trees issue. Legendary photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) has submitted what he claims is the perfect photo for the final issue's cover, but the negative (O'Connell is a dinosaur who still shoots on film) has gone missing. The boss appointed to oversee Life's demise is a sneering bully and makes Walter personally responsible for getting the picture.

Walter is also infatuated with new employee Cheryl (Kristen Wiig); he has a complicated plan to arrange a "meet cute" through a computer-matching site, but the total lack of anything interesting in his life is defeating the site's matching algorithm.

Walter gulps hard, and sets out on a mission to track down the elusive O'Connell and his missing picture. This turns out to present awesome globe-trotting challenges, and Walter must use his (previously only fantasized) bravery and wits in real life.

Bottom line: very funny, but also quite touching.

I have to mention this sentence from movie's the Wikipedia entry:

Later sequences set in Stykkishólmur were actually filmed in Seyðisfjörður.

… lest you be misled.

Last Modified 2014-07-11 5:37 AM EDT
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