The Seven Deadly Virtues

[Amazon Link]

So the title of the book is The Seven Deadly Virtues and there are seventeen chapters. Apparently nobody told editor Jonathan V. Last that there would be math. And I don't know why Owen Wilson is on the cover.

Those quibbles aside, it's pretty good! Mr. Last persuaded 17 other conservative writers to each pen an essay on (in all but one case) a single virtue. Why so many? Well, first there are the classic virtues noticed by Plato (I'll put Mr. Last's assigned writer next to each):

  • Temperance [Andrew Stiles]
  • Prudence [Andrew Ferguson]
  • Courage [Michael Graham]
  • Justice [Rob Long]

Christian theology adds three more…

  • Faith [Larry Miller]
  • Hope [David Burge, aka Iowahawk]
  • Charity [Mollie Hemingway]

And to pad things out, Last's writers also opine on "everyday" virtues:

  • Chastity [Matt Labash]
  • Simplicity [James Lileks]
  • Thrift [Joe Queenan]
  • Honesty [Rita Koganzon]
  • Fellowship [Christine Rosen]
  • Forbearance [Sonny Bunch]
  • Integrity [Jonah Goldberg]
  • Curiosity [Christopher Caldwell]
  • Perseverence [Christopher Buckley]

If you're counting, that's 16: add in Mr. Last's introduction, and P.J. O'Rourke's overview of the first two batches, "The Seven Deadly Virtues and the New York Times".

Famous folk, all except… I had never heard of Rita Koganzon. Her back-of-the-book-bio shows why: she's a mere grad student (albeit at Harvard) and her publications are in serious journals I don't read.

I'm a little surprised that Christopher Buckley made the cut, due to his 2008 endorsement of Obama and his subsequent separation from his dad's magazine, National Review. (This also led to a wicked and delightful Iowahawk parody, so I'm also a bit surprised that Buckley agreed to appear in the same book as the Hawk.)

The essays range (in my subjective opinion) from superb to good. And the humor content varies from (usually) high to (a couple cases) undetectable. Some writers seem to stray from their topic. For example, Mr. Lileks on "Simplicity" takes off on his (well-known, if you know about Mr. Lileks at all) habit of picking up ephemera. (He ties it back up by the end of the essay.)

An adapted version of Jonah Goldberg's contribution can be read here.

Consumer note: my generous family gave me the hardcover for Christmas, but it's a tad pricey ($20.57 at Amazon as I type). I would recommend the Kindle version at $9.99.


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The Equalizer

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

So this is pretty much a by-the-numbers action flick. But it's got Denzel Washington as the hero, and that's enough to raise it up to four point zero stars right there.

Mr. Washington plays Robert McCall, living a quiet existence in a downscale Boston community (Chelsea/East Boston or somewhere in that area). He takes the Red Line to work at a big-box home improvement store. (Actually, according to IMDB, a defunct Lowe's in Haverhill.) He's affable enough, but essentially a loner.

He's got insomnia, which makes him a regular customer at a seedy all-night diner, where he drinks tea (made from a teabag he brings from home) and reads his dead wife's novels. This leads him to meet "Teri" (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who has ambitions to leave her sordid life. (The guy playing Teri's pimp, David Meunier, previously played Johnny Crowder on Justified; pretty much the same sleazy character, except with a Russian accent instead of a Kentucky accent.)

Teri's ambitions are hindered by a brutal beating from Russian mobster/pimp. Which leads McCall to help out, first peaceably, then not so much. It turns out that McCall has (as Liam Neeson would put it) "a very particular set of skills", and he finds himself at war with the entire Russian mob. The Russian mob should have known better.


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The Phony Campaign — 2015-01-25 Update

[phony baloney]

Our arbitrary Betfair-based selection criteria once again produces the same phonies. Mitt's huge Google hit count last week was a glitch as suspected, and he's come crashing back to earth:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-01-18
"Jeb Bush" phony 749,000 +214,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 386,000 -3,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 385,000 -6,495,000
"Rand Paul" phony 159,000 -5,000
"Chris Christie" phony 121,000 -2,000
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 91,000 -2,800
"Marco Rubio" phony 84,300 +1,200
"Scott Walker" phony 76,800 +2,200

  • The Washington Post's Jen Rubin thought Romney was dreamy four years ago. But now, not so much, as she gives advice to Jeb:

    But above all, [Jeb] needs to be himself — a wonkish, optimistic, forward-looking conservative. Candidates who aren’t themselves eventually get into trouble, as Romney did in 2008 coming out as a fire-breathing conservative and Paul has done in insisting his foreign policy is Reagan-esque when it is more Kucinich-esque. Romney’s entry into the race by announcing his strategy (run to the right of Bush, care about the poor) was so blatantly phony it serves as an example of what not to do. If Romney wants to mimic Huckabee on gay marriage, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on immigration and Paul on the Federal Reserve, that should be of no concern. (Is Romney going to threaten a trade war with China as he did last time?) Romney will talk his way right out of the establishment circles that are his main source of support if he goes down that road. Bush, by contrast, can say he is not severely conservative, or libertarian conservative, but a conservative with a reform agenda. If that’s not good enough, he won’t win the race. Worse things — like losing your soul and respect of others — can happen.

    I demand solid proof that any politician in the race has not lost their soul or respect of others.

  • Jonathan V. Last has a good article about Mitt's presidential ambitions.

    Having followed Romney around in both 2008 and 2012, I was always convinced that the odds of him running in 2016 were high. For one thing, the man has a decades-long history of running for office, over and over, even after voters reject him. He’s a career politician without a “career” in politics. (He was an active governor of Massachusetts just long enough to build Romneycare, and after that he spent the rest of his term preparing for his first presidential bid.) He has never in his life—not once—shown a willingness to take “no” for an answer from the electorate. Running for office is what he does.

    The other thing that struck me was that Romney really wanted to be president. A lot. The reasons for this desire weren’t immediately obvious. He has—clearly—very few deeply-held political convictions. He has—again, clearly—no Big Ideas about ways in which he wants to lead the country. The sense I always got (and this might be incorrect—I’m not his rabbi) was that Mitt Romney wanted to be president because he wanted to be president. And when the impulse to run is yoked to personal ambition and removed from politics, philosophy, or the world of ideas—well, that sort of yearning dies hard. Which is why, in January of 2012, I started saying that if Romney wasn’t elected president, I expected he would try again in 2016.

    Very insightful, RTWT.

  • An amusing op-ed from Patrick Walker that appears at "OpEdNews.com", and as near as I can tell, nowhere else. Mr. Walker does stridency as only a true left-winger can:

    If Democrats are taking progressives' pulse after Obama's all-too-typical State of the Union address, they should be deeply troubled about their party's future. To put the matter in a nutshell, Democrats are now staking their electoral hopes on Elizabeth Warren's progressive message, but leaving presidential policy-making in the hands of corporate-owned faux progressives like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The result is that Obama and Clinton are forced (within the limits imposed by their corporate puppet-masters) to babble Warren's progressive rhetoric--while no serious progressive believes them for a heartbeat.

    In other words, when you make phony progressives your party's presidential face, you're pretty damn sure to lose face with progressives who are clearly the real deal. A brief but wide sampling of progressive reactions to Obama's SOTU address, culled from articles published on the Common Dreams website, forcefully illustrates just how little real progressives are buying Obama's threadbare progressive shtick. For those reactions, read here, here, here, and here. Even more scathingly skeptical is this response from the leftist Black Agenda Report.

    Elsewhere, Patrick reveals his dream Dem ticket would be Senators Warren and Sanders. I imagine just about every GOP pol would agree.

  • A bit of amusement resulted from a Hugh Hewitt radio interview with Scott Walker. Hewitt brought up the issue of Walker's lack of a college degree. Walker's response:

    I say I’m like the majority of people in America. I’m someone who went to college, had the opportunity in my senior year to go and take a job full-time, which was not the only reason I went to college, but one of the biggest reasons was to get a job. And the American Red Cross offered me a job my senior year, and I took it, thinking someday, maybe, I’d go back. But a few years later, I met my wonderful wife, Tonette, a year after that, we had Matthew, the year after that, we had Alex. And now like a lot of folks in America, you know, your family and your job take the time away from you from finishing it up. But I don’t think anybody, and I’ve got a Master’s degree in taking on the big government special interests, and I think that is worth more than anything else that anybody can point to.

    Now I bolded five words there, but only because they seem to have been the only words heard by Mark E Andersen at the DailyKos. Who blustered:

    Gov. Walker was unable to finish college. There are plenty of websites and blogs out there full of accusations about why he left Marquette, but we're not exploring that today. This is about how he has the audacity to suggest that he has a master’s degree when he does not even have a bachelor’s degree.

    There's more at the link. Kids, the lesson here is: never let your bile-fueled hatred of a politician lead you to such public obtuse foolishness.

    The Twitchy kids accumulated a number of amusing tweets in response. A good one from a Pun Salad favorite:


Last Modified 2015-01-27 6:28 AM EST
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Insights du Jour - 2015-01-20

  • Just before I cut out for the long weekend, James Taranto provided a handy rebuttal to those willing to suppress "hate speech". RTWT if you can, but here's the key paragraph:

    The trouble with policing hate speech is that without double standards there are no standards at all. As a practical matter, what defines hate speech is not the feeling that motivates the speaker, which can be policed only through totalitarian means if at all. It is, rather, the offense taken by the listener. The best definition of hate speech is “speech I hate”—the opposite of an objective standard.

  • As I type, President Obama's penultimate State of the Union address is scheduled for tonight. Recycling a bit of Kevin D. WIlliamson's wisdom from last year:

    The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.

    "Other than that, though, it's fine!"

  • Your insightful tweet du jour is from the immortal Nick Searcy:

    That's 10pm on FX, and I'll be there.


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The Wind Rises

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

A recent offering from the genius Japanese animation folks Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It's a (highly fictionalized) biographical drama about Jirô Horikoshi, the primary aeronautical engineer behind the WW2 "Zero" Japanese fighter plane. (Which was used to kill a lot of Americans, but Jirô gets a "Werner von Braun" pass for this.)

Growing up in early-20th century Japan, young Jirô is obsessed with airplanes, but his lousy eyesight precludes him from being a pilot. Fortunately (since this is a Miyazaki flick) his future path comes to him in a dream, where he meets his hero, aircraft designer Italian Count Caproni, who doesn't actually pilot his planes either. Jirô sets doggedly on his path.

The story follows Jirô through his education and employment with Mitsubishi. Along the way, Jirô meets Nahoko, the love of his life, during a train trip to Tokyo. Which is disrupted by the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, probably the deadliest in Japan's history; Jirô behaves heroically, saving Nahoko and her caregiver. Various other things happen, including some bad/sad things. It's a little unfocused, much like real life is.

All this is charmingly and gorgeously rendered on the screen, because it's Studio Ghibli. It's a bit of a departure from their usual pure-fantasy genre, but it worked for me.


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MLK@UNH: 2015

It has become something of a Pun Salad tradition to check out how the University Near Here is celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. And what better day to do that than the Official Federal Holiday marking the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.?

[Note: since it is a tradition, there's quite a bit of self-plagiarism recycling of previous years' content in this article.]

Not that today is the birthday: that inconveniently fell a few days ago, January 15. But who wants a day off in the middle of the week?

And, not that UNH is celebrating MLK Day today, or even back on the 15th. We were between semesters last week, and even the U isn't silly enough to schedule serious events on a holiday. Instead, MLK-related events will be held between January 28 and February 22.

As always: the announced schedule is full of the usual thoughtless gasbaggery:

The goal of the 2015 MLK Celebration is to engage members of the campus and local community in conversations that recognize the diversity of experiences and viewpoints of people with intersecting identities, such as those who identify as inter-racial, inter-cultural or of mixed religious background. As we seek to live Dr. King's legacy, we seek to broaden our understandings of the intricacies of our roots.

That's just two sentences. When you are "inclusive", your primary prose style directive is: "include" as many words as you possibly can. Also pluralize unnecessarily, because that makes you sound more profound. So: "understanding" becomes "understandings"; "intricacy" becomes "intricicies".

And about the "intersecting identities" thing: this is a term of art among the grievance industry, specifically hatched from the feminist sociological theory of intersectionality:

The theory suggests that—and seeks to examine how—various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic injustice and social inequality. Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society, such as racism, sexism, biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, and belief-based bigotry, do not act independently of one another. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the "intersection" of multiple forms of discrimination.

You thought you had just one identity? Oh, you poor individualist troglodyte. In fact, "you" aren't really "you" in this tedious telling: "you" are simply an endlessly pigeonholed product of your "gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, and other axes of identity".

But there's no specific evidence that our UNH writers meant to drag in (or were even aware of) all that ideological claptrap. Instead, they imply it simply means people with parents of different backgrounds.

That includes one of this year's invited speakers: Natasha Trethewey, a past United States Poet Laureate, and a Pulitzer Prize winner. If you would like to check out some of her work, Google "Selected Poems by Natasha Trethewey, and click through to the NYT. Ms. Trethewey was an invited speaker last year, but her event was cancelled due to weather. UNH could do worse (and has).

Also coming is Kane "Novakane" Smego, a "nationally-recognized spoken word poet". A YouTube sample:

Catchy! Undeniable talent! But a fast-talking charismatic out-of-towner talking in rhyme… where have I seen that before? Oh yeah:


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Deep Shadow

[Amazon Link]

Number 17 in Randy Wayne White's "Doc Ford" series. If you look over at Amazon, you'll see that a number of readers were unimpressed, but I liked it quite a bit, sue me. The premise is ludicrous, but if I stopped reading books with ludicrous premises, I would eliminate a lot of items in my TBR pile. Which might be good, but I'd also have a lot less fun.

The story is that one of Doc's Dinkins Bay acquaintences, cantankerous Arlis Futch, thinks he has a lead on Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista's lost "treasure plane", which was rumored to contain vast riches looted from the Cuban treasury, and vanished on its way off the island in 1959: could it have crashed in a small inland Florida lake? Futch thinks it's likely enough to purchase the lake and the surrounding land. He enlists SCUBA-skilled Doc to go exploring, and they bring along Doc's hippie friend Tomlinson, and the Native American/juvenile delinquent introduced in the previous book, Will Chaser.

Multiple disasters strike: the lake is unexpectedly delicate, and a catastrophic underwater avalanche traps Tomlinson and Will with their dwindling air supply.

In addition, a couple of ex-cons, fresh off a robbery/murder/rape spree, just happen to encounter the lake at the same time. They are desperate and violent, but also greedy. So Doc has serious problems above-water as well.

Could it get worse? Yes it could: the area is legendary for harboring a great, mysterious beast. Much worse than your average Florida snakes, gators, and crocs. That legend turns out to true enough to menace both the good guys and bad.

It's too long, a very common malady among contractually-obligated popular novelists. But you'll learn a lot about Florida lake geology, so that's a plus. I'm very fond of the Will Chaser character, and I hope to see him again. Final quibble: I would have liked to see a map, because I got kind of lost relying solely on text descriptions of the complex geography.


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The Phony Campaign — 2015-01-18 Update

[phony baloney]

Mitt jumped into a huge phony lead this week. It could be due to people dusting off their old pages from 2012 and 2008:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-01-11
"Mitt Romney" phony 6,880,000 +6,575,000
"Jeb Bush" phony 535,000 -12,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 389,000 +5,000
"Rand Paul" phony 164,000 +6,000
"Chris Christie" phony 123,000 ---
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 93,800 +200
"Marco Rubio" phony 83,100 -3,300
"Scott Walker" phony 74,600 +3,000

… or it could be one of those oddball transient Google Glitches. We'll see.

  • At The Week, Mark Ambinder laid out the positioning strategies for each of the GOP "mainstream" candidates, Jeb, Mitt, and Chris. For Jeb:

    Bush hopes that voters much prefer a real human with conservative instincts than a phony conservative with occasional flashes of human-ness. He will risk losing the primary to win the general election.

    Implied: Mitt and Chris are big phonies. I think this means phoniness will be a trending issue in the coming months. Good news for us!

  • At the left-wing Mother Jones, David Corn detailed the intertwinings between Mitt's business and politics, as exemplified by Solamere Capital, run by son Tagg Romney, with which Mitt has been more actively involved post-2012.

    It gets pretty far-fetched at times:

    One of Solamere's initial investments was in a North Carolina financial-services firm operated by former officials of a financial company run by Allen Stanford, who was later convicted of running a massive Ponzi scheme. These officials had come from the Charlotte office of the Stanford Financial Group, which had been closed by the feds for selling phony certificates of deposit.

    Note there's no claim that the "former officials" did anything wrong; they just once worked for a guy that did. And Corn is quick to deploy the usual bullshit clichés about Romney's investments in companies that "downsized and shifted jobs overseas".

    On the other hand, Corn's article does illuminate the ease with which financial success comes to the politically well-connected. (And to his credit, he has in the past noted Hillary's comfy crony capitalist ties as well.)

  • Speaking of Hillary, America Rising PAC examined her "Phony Populism On Free Trade" shortly before the elections:

    A peculiar thing happens every time Hillary Clinton decides to run for President; her views on free trade start sliding left and she calls for a “time out” on free trade agreements. We can only assume that the campaign for Gary Peters (D-MI) saw this and figured she would make the perfect surrogate for him. After all, Peters voted against every trade agreement that came up for a vote during his time in Congress and opposes attempts to give President Obama trade promotion authority. Even those Hillary Clinton backed as Secretary of State.

    America Rising PAC is dedicated to opposition research on Democrats, hiring "trackers" who "attempt to shoot video of every single public utterance the candidates' make, in hopes of catching gaffes and flip-flops and collecting an archive that can be mined for hypocrisy and errors." Sounds as if they could be a rich source for us over the coming campaign season.

  • For example, news of (a real actual thing): Hillary: The Coloring Book caused them to imagine its "missing pages", for example:

    [wat dif?]

    Seems as if they might have a sense of humor.


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The Hundred-Foot Journey

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

This is one of those movies I think of as aimed squarely at the PBS demographic. Telltale signs:

  • Helen Mirren

  • France

  • Multiculturalism. In this case: Indian, as in "from India".

  • The resulting cultural clash. In this case: between the frogs and the wogs.

  • Attractive ethnic young person struggling against the odds to achieve personal and professional success. In this case: Hassan is a gifted chef, but will he be able to break into the tradition-bound restaurant scene, and also get the girl?

  • Metaphorical title. It's the distance between the Indian restaurant run by Hassan's dad and the traditional hoity-toity French restaurant across the road. But—wow, man—the real distance in terms of culture and effort is much longer. I mean, think about it, man.

  • Lines of dialogue meant to be inspirational, but come out wooden. ("Five mother sauces. You must find them in your heart. Then, bring them to your pots. That's the secret.")

  • Hugging. Lots of hugging.

You might think I didn't like it. Mostly, I did! But this genre's components are nearly as predictable as your average romantic comedy, slasher flick, or superhero blockbuster.

Anyway: if you have a foodie PBS watcher in the house, you could do worse.


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The Phony Campaign — 2015-01-11 Update

[phony baloney]

I've tweaked my rule for inclusion in the Phony Campaign table: candidates need to display "Back" odds of 30 or less on Betfair's "2016 Presidential Election - Next President" betting table.

This week, we welcome Chris Christie to the Table, with a solid fifth-place showing:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-01-05
"Jeb Bush" phony 547,000 -112,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 384,000 +13,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 305,000 +12,000
"Rand Paul" phony 158,000 -16,000
"Chris Christie" phony 123,000 -
"Elizabeth Warren" phony 93,600 +1,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 86,400 +2,500
"Scott Walker" phony 71,600 -11,400

  • To welcome Governor Christie, we'll quote from an open letter to the Governor, published in the Cherry Hill Courier-Post, penned by one Steve Hoffman of Blackwood, NJ. (Exit 3 on the NJ Turnpike.) Steve is irked by Christie's well-publicized embrace of the Dallas Cowboys, a team based about 1500 miles from New Jersey.

    The state of New Jersey is made up of Eagles, Giants and Jets fans. You jumped ship like all the other front-running Cowboys fans in this state. You have no loyalty to your home team. You may win over the state of Texas, but in this state, to us Eagles, Giants and Jets fans, you are a phony.

    And you want to be my president? I don’t think so.

    It's certainly a character flaw to not be a fan of a team in a neighboring state.

  • And it's not just the letter-writing rabble disrespecting Governor Christie over his fandom:

    [Chris
Christie Cheerleader]

  • Virginia ex-Governor Bob McDonnell will likely not be our next President, because getting sentenced to a couple years in prison tends to preclude traditional campaign activities.

    But CNN tracked down ex-lobbyist, ex-con, Jack Abramoff to provide advice to Bob about life in the slammer:

    The most important thing in prison is are you a genuine person. Prisoners can quickly pick out who's a phony, who's lying, who's a BS artist.

    I've never been in favor of granting prisoners the right to vote, but that's the best argument I've seen for it.

  • Left-wingers tend to be humorless wretches, and it would be a stretch to call Mr. Alden Graves, columnist for the Bennington (Vermont) Banner, actually funny. But, to his credit, Mr. Graves is clever in composing his screed about the 2016 candidates:

    The iron-willed Mrs. Clinton is just a bundle of dithery indecision about running for president next year. She has refrained from batting her eyelashes and smiling coyly when asked the question, but even Mary Pickford, who reigned as "America's Sweetheart" for a decade, knew when to retire the act. There is always the added danger of the country deciding that it would probably be better off with Elizabeth Warren anyway.

    Also:

    And I have the perfect campaign slogan for Jeb Bush: "Now try the smart one!"

    At least Mr. Graves is funnier than Jon Stewart, but that's the soft bigotry of low expectations talking.


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