Memorial Day 2015

[Memorial Day]

Story here.

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The Wrecking Crew

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

For the first time in my life, I made a request to our local arty cinema house that they wangle a showing of this movie, and they did! It pays to ask nicely. (They might have gotten it without my request, but I'm taking credit.)

It is a documentary about the music biz in the early days of rock, concentrating on unheralded genius studio musicians. (In that, it's very similar to Standing in the Shadows of Motown.) The "Wrecking Crew" is a loose moniker referring to a roughly-defined group of performers in (mostly) Los Angeles in the 1960s. It is no exaggeration to say that if you've listened to any popular music at all from that era, you've heard them. The group included Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, who went on to their own careers. But mostly the group was only famous within the music community, their work often going uncredited.

They would come in for all sorts of session work: commercial jingles, movie and television soundtracks, and the like. But the documentary concentrates on their studio contributions to 60's pop/rock, providing music for groups like The Monkees, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Grass Roots, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, … I could keep going, but it would be a very long list. Even when a group had decent musicians, economics dictated that expensive studio time be used efficiently, with a minimum of takes, so bring in the experts who could rattle off just about anything flawlessly with minimal practice.

In many cases they would add memorable bits of genius. That bass intro to "Wichita Lineman"? From Sonny and Cher's "The Beat Goes On"? On the "Mission: Impossible" theme? All invented by Carol Kaye. (Or so she claims, and I believe her.)

(It should be noted that the "Wrecking Crew" name is not without controversy.)

Lots of famous talking heads: the late Dick Clark, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Webb, Mickey Dolenz, Nancy Sinatra, Cher, even Frank Zappa. That's diversity.

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Gone Girl

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

Mrs. Salad and I might be the last people in the 48 contiguous United States to see Gone Girl. But we finally got around to watching this nasty little thriller. Currently rated #147 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. I don't think so, but it's still pretty good.

It leads off with the unexplained disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), leaving hubby Nick (Ben Affleck) the natural suspect. But everything is not as it seems. Or maybe things are exactly as they seem. No spoilers here.

The Dunne's relationship is explored through flashbacks and Amy's narration through her diary. It's filled with dysfunction, dishonesty, and general sleazy behavior. But could it have led to murder most foul?

In addition, the unexplained disappearance of an attractive young woman leads to a media frenzy. Getting roped into the affair are Nick's twin sister Mo (Carrie Coon); a perceptive and diligent detective (Kim Dickens); a hotshot defense lawyer (Tyler Perry); Amy's parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes); and Amy's pathetic ex-swain (Neil Patrick Harris). Everybody's good.

Last Modified 2015-05-24 9:31 PM EDT
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The Phony Campaign — 2015-05-24 Update

[phony baloney]

Our PredictWise lineup remains unchanged this week, and Jeb maintains his healthy phony lead on the field:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,050,000 -410,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 401,000 +19,000
"Rand Paul" phony 384,000 +222,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 106,000 -2,000
"Scott Walker" phony 102,000 +7,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 99,200 -540,800
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 85,800 -4,200

But what are the phony stories behind those numbers?

  • The application to US Presidential politics is indirect, but I got a chuckle reading the incoherent leftist rant at Salon by one Andrew O'Hehir: "London as neoliberal theme park: The Platform 9 ¾ economy and the Tories’ shocking victory". In case you hadn't heard, you clueless Muggle, this is a reference to the London terminus of the Hogwarts Express at King's Cross station, from the Harry Potter books; it recently was granted a permanent home at the non-fictional station. O'Hehir is having none of it:

    Nothing quite so blatantly sums up the victory of neoliberalism in 21st-century London, and that city’s relentless commodification of every aspect of its literary and historical legacy, like Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross. If anything, the vulgarity and banality of Platform 9 ¾ are too blatant; it’s a crack in the façade that demonstrates how thoroughly London has become Londonland, a nearly convincing scavenger-hunt simulation of itself, chock-full of royal bones and references to Dan Brown novels. To enter Westminster Abbey – which is still nominally a house of worship for the Anglican Communion, rather than a historical theme park – now costs 44 pounds for a family of four, or about $68. (The Catholic Church has abundant problems, but it still has some pride; a few days later we visited Notre Dame in Paris, for free.)

    Andrew is pretty peeved not just about the Tory win, but also free-market capitalism in general, and just about everything he sees reminds him of the neoliberal menace. The American connection?

    Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush may yearn for smoochy photo-ops with Cameron in order to engage white America’s kneejerk Anglophilia, or because they swoon for his plummy Oxonian accent and long to meet his deep-pockets pals in the City of London. But if Cameron were American … well, it’s a useless thought experiment, because aristocratic, London-bred dudes like him – directly descended from the profoundly mediocre King William IV and distantly related to the current queen – are quintessentially not American. At any rate, Cameron is far too bland, far too internationalist and far too free of Jesus to be a viable Republican in any state south of New Hampshire, or in any era since about 1988.

    Nothing personal about Cameron, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be viable in New Hampshire either. (It's just a rumor that we keep electing Maggie Hassan because low-information voters confuse her with Maggie Thatcher.)

  • At MSNBC, Joe Scarborough mused on the hypothetical fate of a hypothetical Hillary campaign aide who might hypothetically suggest Hill take unscripted questions from the press:

    “That would be the aide’s last morning working for Hillary Clinton,” Scarborough said. “Have prepared text, have your phony town hall meetings with phony people and lobbyists. … They don’t have to talk to the press for a year.”

    For example…

  • Hillary visited our fair state and… immediately forgot where she was.

    Hillary Clinton misstated her location at a campaign event today in New Hampshire. Instead of saying New Hampshire, the presidential candidate said, "Here in Washington."

    Senile? Or, given that she was speaking at Smuttynose Brewery, surrounded by beer, perhaps just drunk?

    In any case, if she can't avoid making silly flubs in prepared remarks, it should be little surprise that she's desperately afraid of taking unscripted queries.

  • This week at least, Hillary's say-anything-to-win strategy translates into the tactic of sounding like a left-wing demagogue without actually taking any specific left-wing positions. Reporting from Smuttynose:

    On Friday in New Hampshire, Clinton spoke with a passionate, progressive voice, pounding away at Republicans for “jumping on the bandwagon” to kill the Export-Import Bank, whose authorization in Congress is set to expire June 30. It was a safe call, to say the least: House Democrats support the bank. Moderate Democrats such as Sen. Chuck Schumer support the bank. A liberal like Sen. Elizabeth Warren? She’s pro-bank, too.

    “It is wrong that Republicans in Congress are now trying to cut off this vital lifeline for American small businesses,” said Clinton, at the SmuttyNose Brewery in Hampton. Republicans, she said, would threaten the livelihoods of American workers rather than “stand up to the Tea Party and talk radio. It’s wrong, it’s embarrassing.”

    Hillary's claim that Ex-Im benefits small business is utter bullshit, unsupported by facts. (More, if you need it, here.) It speaks to the gullible dimwittedness of the reporter who detected a "passionate, progressive voice" raised in defense of that creaky New Deal-era monument to corrupt crony capitalism. (The reporter is slightly redeemed for noticing that this was an utterly "safe" position for Hillary to take.)

Last Modified 2015-05-24 9:33 PM EDT
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[Amazon Link]

The title is sometimes rendered as Robert B. Parker's Kickback. And, assuming you don't block ads (and you shouldn't do so here, because they are non-intrusive click-here-to-buy-at-Amazon pictures), you'll see the late Mr. Parker's name is the biggest thing on the cover, followed by the title, "A Spenser Novel" and (finally) the actual author, Ace Atkins, relegated to small type in the lower corner.

Oh, well. I loved Mr. Parker too. And I assume Mr. Atkins is getting paid well enough to shoulder this disrespectful indignity.

Spenser is coming off knee surgery, a side effect of a previous case. A mother arrives at his office with a tale of woe: her son made the grievous mistake of setting up a fake social media account lampooning his high school's principal, hinting at non-standard sexual proclivities. And for that, the kid has been shipped off to a juvenile facility out on a remote island in Boston Harbor.

An obvious injustice, and despite the fact that the kid's mom can't afford his normal rate, Spenser is soon on the case. The problem is the old mill city of "Blackburn", up north of Boston on the Merrimack River. (Sounds like Scenic Lowell.) It turns out to be a nest of corruption, where a couple of judges and the cops conspire to ship kids off to the island at the slightest excuse, ignoring most due-process protections. Why? Well, you probably noticed the title.

As before: I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't be able to detect the differences between a Spenser novel written by Mr. Parker and one by Mr. Atkins in a double-blind test. (I like to think I kind of can, but I wouldn't put a lot of money on it.)

Gripe: much is made of the corrupt interaction between Blackburn's judges, the cops, mobsters, and the owners of the (aieee!) for-profit juvenile facility the kids are being sent to. The usual cheap shots are taken, the profit motive being the root of all evil, etc. It's not as if there weren't sordid stories of misbehavior in Massachusetts government-run hoosegows.

Kind of neat is the appearance of a character unseen since 1973's The Godwulf Manuscript, Iris Milford, playing a critical role. (In a note to the odd things a long-running fiction series does to a timeline: she was "pushing thirty" back then, which would make her somewhere around seventy now. As Spenser says: "Let's not think about it. Math makes my head hurt.")

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The Invisible Woman

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One of Mrs. Salad's Netflix pix. Sometimes these work out, other times not. This time, not.

Or maybe I was just not in the mood. The movie is based on the true-enough extramarital affair between middle-aged Charles Dickens (yes, that one) and the minimally-talented much younger actress, Ellen "Nelly" Ternan. Dickens has gotten bored with his pudgy wife. (Although he was interested enough previously to have ten children with her.)

Ralph Fiennes plays Dickens (he also directed). Felicity Jones plays Ms. Ternan. The movie was nominated for the costume design Oscar, ignored for everything else. Understandably, because it's dull. Mostly characters spouting wooden dialogue at each other. Sample, thanks to IMDB:

Charles Dickens: A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is a profound secret and mystery to every other.

Nelly: Until that secret is given to another to look after. And then perhaps two human creatures may know each other.

Arrgh. Shhuuut uuuuup!

Rated R, although I can't figure out why. I may have been napping during the hot stuff. If there was any attempt at humor, I missed that too. There's a low-budget train crash, though.

Last Modified 2015-05-23 2:27 PM EDT
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The Conservatarian Manifesto

[Amazon Link]

I have dead-tree subscriptions to both Reason and National Review. I rarely read anything in either publication I outright disagree with. At worst, I might tend to quibble with an article's misplaced emphasis here or there. I sometimes wish I was as cool as the kids at Reason; other times, I don't think I would be respectable enough to fit in with the sages of National Review.

Which means I'm pretty much a receptive target for Charles C.W. Cooke's recent book, The Conservatarian Manifesto. His general idea: to put together an intellectually respectable whole out of the pieces of conservatism and libertarianism, one that might also translate into practical political success.

And he does a fine job, picking eminently defensible positions from Libertarian Column A and Conservative Column B. A brief overview:

  • First and foremost: a return to strict federalism, where appropriate political issues are fought out and decided locally. This is appealing both on practical and theoretical grounds.

  • Build alternative institutions to those currently dominated by the left.

  • It's also important to defend and advocate a strict originalist interpretation of the Constitution. No more "living" Constitutionalism. (Echoing Jonah Goldberg: "The only good constitution is a dead constitution.")

  • For a success story, see the history of "gun control".

  • For a failure (although perhaps success in the offing): the war on drugs. (Given Federalism, see above, this would no longer be a national issue in any case.)

  • Lumping together so-called "social issues" is incoherent. There's really no reason to demand or expect a person to sway the same way on abortion, gay marriage, and/or legal pot. (Cooke is, like me, anti-abortion, resigned to gay marriage without deeming those opposed to be bigots, and, see above, pro-drug legalization.)

  • Foreign policy and defense are obviously "Federal" issues. Cooke leans conservative on the former (general non-intervention policies are just asking for trouble), but sounds libertarian on the latter (becauseKM-face it—the DoD wastes piles of money.)

  • Immigration also causes a conservative lean: libertarians tend to be way too blasé and glib about the negative effects of large flows of low-skill immigrants.

Cooke is also an astute reader of the political scene; his analysis of where "compassionate conservatives", outright libertarians, and tea-partiers go wrong is on-target, I think.

A quibble, echoing a point made by Donald Devine at The Federalist: I'm old enough to remember the Frank Meyer days at National Review and his "fusionist" efforts, attempting to tie together the adherents of free markets (e.g., Rothbard) with the devotees of virtue and order (e.g., Russell Kirk). It's kind of weird that a writer for the current-day NR doesn't mention Meyer at all. (Since I have the book on Kindle, this was easy to check.)

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So I picked a sleepy Monday night, well after the movie's release date to check out my first summer blockbuster. I'm too old to fight with crowds. I think there were fewer than a dozen other people in the large theatre. I did not spring for the 3-D version, and by all accounts I didn't miss much.

Bottom line: I had a lot of fun. I read about the Avengers' nemesis Ultron back in early 70's, back when I could free-ride off a fellow college student's comic-collecting mania. In addition to the superheros from previous installments, we get the Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver here. Cool!

I should talk some about the plot: the Avengers are sent to assault the last Hydra stronghold in some fictional dinky European country in order to recover Loki's scepter, somehow misplaced in an earlier movie. They do, but the "magic" in the scepter is actually technological mumbo-jumbo that Tony Stark feels he can use to defend the Earth against the hostile alien menace that he (correctly) thinks is about to attack.

Stark's high on hubris, and this time it bites him in the ass. What he creates is not the obedient robot he expected, but one who concludes the most direct route to peace is to eliminate the obvious troublemakers: i.e. the entire human race.

There's a lot of frenetic battle, but each member of the team gets a chance to shine, playing a pivotal role in their (oops, spoilers) eventual victory over Ultron. Everyone's brave, and despite occasional violent disagreements, the team eventually peforms brilliantly.

If I had a quibble: things are often way too frenetic, in the sense that you can't quite tell what's going on: everything's a fast-moving blur.

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The End of College

[Amazon Link]

Another book provided through the excellent Interlibrary Loan facilities of the University Near Here, from UMass/Amherst. Sort of ironic in this situation, since the book predicts the imminent radical restructuring, if not demise, of these traditional bricks-and-mortar institutions.

The author, Kevin Carey, doesn't seem to be a radical bomb-thrower; as near as I can tell, his politics are mildly liberal, with articles and columns appearing in The New Republic, Slate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The American Prospect. But his critique of America's colleges and universities would be a comfortable fit in Reason, National Review, or The Weekly Standard.

Carey's brief history of American higher-ed indicates the problem: we have agglomerated three different major purposes (classical liberal arts education, professional training, and scholarly research) into what he calls the "hybrid" university.

"Hybrid" is probably the most polite term that could be applied; a more apt metaphor for an out-of-control monster assembled out of hubris and spare parts might be "Frankenschool".

Carey deftly notes that the current higher-ed system is incoherent, expensive, inflexible, and unsustainable. It is a procrustean bed, chopping up subject matters into semesters, credit hours, four-walled classrooms, and campuses. It takes little to no account of variance in students' talents, learning styles, or interests. The visible fist of government regulation and accreditation stifles experimentation and innovation. Non-academic fripperies are constructed in an effort to attract more paying students. (Carey's example: the University of Northern Arizona, with mediocre academics, but a shiny $100 million fitness center.) Education gets a back seat; studies show that the typical student doesn't learn much.

What will save the day, in Carey's view, is (1) the Internet and (2) new insights into cognitive psychology, combining into on-line course offerings that will be low-cost, effective, and far more nimble than the existing setup. Carey calls this "the University of Everywhere". No longer will an MIT/Harvard education be restricted to the handful of souls who manage to get through the admissions filter. Instead, you can get it for low or zero cost on the Web. (As with his critique of the status quo, Carey's enthusiasm for free-market innovation fits right in with my own conservative/libertarian sympathies.)

Carey is a very good (and occasionally very funny) writer, and he certainly did his research. He took an online introductory molecular biology course from MIT (could have been free, but he paid a few hundred bucks for MIT's certification of completion). He travelled all over the country to interview representatives of traditional schools as well as the disruptive people earnestly hoping to come up with "killer apps" for the education market.

Will Carey's vision come to pass? I have to say: I hope so, but remain skeptical. Carey himself discusses how every new technological breakthrough has been hailed as a revolutionary alternative to traditional schooling—going back to radio! And computers have been marketed as education saviors for decades; hey, anyone remember Plato? So who knows?

But if you're interested in the future of higher-ed, Carey's book is an easy and fun read, full of insightful observations and interesting possibilities. A website devoted to the book (with excerpts) is here. And you'll also want to check out libertarian scholar Bryan Caplan's critique ("Wrong but beautiful") here.

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The Phony Campaign — 2015-05-17 Update

[phony baloney]

When it comes to picking which white male Democrat is less unlikely to become the next president, the Predictwise guys seem to have a difficult time choosing between Martin O'Malley and Joe Biden.

But this week, it's O'Malley, with Biden dropping off our 2% probability screen. So:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,460,000 +693,000
"Martin O'Malley" phony 640,000 -
"Hillary Clinton" phony 382,000 -8,000
"Rand Paul" phony 162,000 -8,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 108,000 +3,000
"Scott Walker" phony 95,000 -3,800
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 90,000 +14,800

  • At least part of Jeb Bush's uptick in phony hit counts is no doubt due to his mis-response to Megan Kelly's “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the [2003 Iraq] invasion?" This has caused tedious replays of that debate, with the usual suspects dusting off old assertions about what "we" did know then.

    Knowing what we know now, I personally would have advised Franz Ferdinand to have had a little better security in Sarajevo; I would have recommended that Hoover veto Smoot-Hawley; that internment of Japanese-Americans was kind of a bad call; as was the decision to launch Challenger; we shoulda let Lee Harvey Oswald rot in Minsk; and …

    Well you get the point. The only thing phonier than Jeb's answer to the question was the question itself.

    On the other hand, now that the standard has been set, I eagerly await: "Mrs. Clinton, knowing what we know now, would you have married Bill?"

    Not holding my breath on that, though. Because the media's double standard in posing gotcha questions is pretty phony too.

  • NPR—yes, frickin' NPR—wrote perhaps the funniest campaign story this week, compiling "The 13 Questions Hillary Clinton Has Answered From The Press" since announcing her candidacy weeks ago. Sample:

    NBC's Kristen Welker caught up with Clinton outside her very first campaign stop at an Iowa coffee shop:

    "You lost Iowa in 2008. How do you win this time? What's your strategy?" Welker asked.

    Clinton's reply, as she walked toward an open van door: "I'm having a great time. Can't look forward any more than I am."

  • Politico reports on its polling of "insiders" in both parties. This gem:

    Seven in 10 Republicans said Clinton spends too little time campaigning. “But when she does, she is so horrible, dull, scripted and phony that the Hillary juggernaut should create plans to build a soundproof Rose Garden in Brooklyn,” said a Granite Stater.

    Disclaimer: That wasn't me.

  • Howie Carr writes in the Boston Herald: "Now even Barack agrees Elizabeth Warren is phony":

    For once I agree with Barack Obama — he’s calling out the fake Indian as a liar, and who knows more about speaking with a forked tongue than Mr. If-You-Like-Your-Doctor-You-Can-Keep-Your-Doctor?

    In case you haven’t been following the inside-the-Beltway inside baseball, the moonbats have convened a circular firing squad over this Pacific Rim trade legislation that’s before the U.S. Senate.

    Granny rips President Soetoro, he blasts back, the pajama boy senator from Ohio accuses Moochelle’s better half of sexism, the president of NOW seconds those remarks, Obama’s flack says the senator should apologize …

    This is like the old Iran-Iraq War. Isn’t there some way they can all lose?

  • We haven't had a lot about Marco Rubio here, but this story about his relationship with his wife Jeannette covers a period when their premarital relationship was on the rocks:

    "I went clubbing, and I liked it," he wrote in his memoir, An American Son.

    One night he ended up at a South Beach club that pumped foam into a room of sweaty, writhing dancers. "I looked down at my shoes. They were perfectly white," Rubio recounted. "The foam had somehow bleached the color out of my cheap and obviously fake leather shoes. … I left the club and found the nearest pay phone."

    Feeling like a phony, he called Jeanette, then a cab. They married three years later. Her extrovert husband jumped on stage with the wedding band, 200 people watching, and sang Sinatra's My Way.

    "Senator Rubio, knowing what we know now, would you have gone clubbing in fake leather shoes?"

  • Finally, your tweets of the week, first from Hillary:

    And Rand Paul's response:

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