The Killers (1964)

[Amazon Link] [2.5 stars] [IMDb Link]

Yes, we saw this 41-year-old movie just after we saw the 59-year-old version of the same movie.

The movies are quite different though. The 1964 version, I'd wager, is less comprehensible; unlike the 1946 version, I'm pretty sure they never get around to explaining why the hit men got their original assignment.

Interesting trivia: this was Ronald Reagan's last movie, and he plays the bad guy, and gets to slap Angie Dickinson around. Well, once you've done that, I guess there's nothing left to do in show biz; you might as well go into politics.

This is probably the daffiest role Clu Galager ever played.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:24 AM EDT
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The Killers (1946)

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

This is kind like of Citzen Kane, if Kane had been an ex-fighter and a small-time thug. And Burt Lancaster instead of Orson Welles.

But it's a pretty good little film noir, loosely based on a Hemingway short story. Acting is uniformly good.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:35 AM EDT
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The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

[Amazon Link] [3.5 stars] [IMDb Link]

Steve is a documentary-maker, kind of like Jacques Costeau, although he's well on the way to being a has-been pothead. And unfortunately, his diving buddy gets eaten by a "jaguar shark". And his long-lost son shows up. And his wife is on the edge of dumping him. So he's under a bit of strain.

Not laugh-out-loud funny, but well-acted and imaginative. Most of the humor is understated and embedded in context, instead of gags. Zissou's ship (the Belafonte) devotes major resources to the sauna and kitchen; the lab space, not so much. Nearly all the sea creatures encountered are (literally) fantasic, CGI-generated. It's not clear Zissou knows anything at all about them; he makes up names for them on the fly.

Willem Dafoe could make a comedy very easily.

And I didn't know Bud Cort was in this until the credits. And then I said, "Holy crap, that was Bud Cort?" And then I looked at his IMDB entry; he's been making movies steadily for years, but I've managed to avoid seeing any of them since MASH in 1970. Well, I guess I don't look much like I did in 1970 either.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:25 AM EDT
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URLs Du Jour (7/28/2005)

  • Blessings upon Joe Malchow, an undergraduate student at that university on the other side of our fair state. He got The Guardian mad at him when he pointed out an inconvenient truth. Adding Joe's blog to the roll. (Via Roger L. Simon.)
  • Concerned about the civil liberties of Muslims in these trying times? Consider the case of 63-year-old Mr. Jihad Daniel, reported by Wendy McElroy at Fox News. His persecutors are not Gonzales and the Patriot Act, but instead… well, read for yourself.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:36 AM EDT
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URLs Du Jour (7/27/2005)

  • In case you haven't seen it from the 32,382 other folks who have linked it: Relationships 101: "Do I look fat?"

    Fortunately, Mrs. Salad and I are at the point in our relationship where the conversation would go something like this:

    Q: Do I look fat?
    A: Yeah, kind of.

  • The WSJ's "Best of the Web Today" is celebrating its fifth birthday, and the first part of a retrospective is here. Go check it out.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:36 AM EDT
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I Took An Online Test, And …

I am 26% Hippie.
Wanna Be Hippie!
I need to step away from the tie-dye. I smell too good to be a hippie and my dad is probably a cop. Being a hippie is not a fashion craze, man. It was a way of life, in the 60.s, man.

Frankly, I'm a little shocked at scoring that high. (Heh, he said "high", man.)


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:39 AM EDT
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End of the World, as We Know It

I believe that this could well be one of the signs of the Apocalypse; if these two giants are facing off, we mere mortals can only hope, at best, to scavenge for food and shelter for ourselves and our families in the glowing rubble afterwards.


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URLs Du Jour (7/26/2005)

  • Alex Tabarrok has a short but pungent article on the difference between activists and scholars. Case in point is (scholar) Steve Levitt's work that seems to show that car seats don't help much in improving safety for kids older than two. Versus (activists) Dennis Durbin and Flaura Winston who freaked (heh) in a letter to the NYT. Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspiracy also has useful observations.
  • David Gelernter has a great LA Times op-ed on affirmative action.

    In practice, affirmative action means cheating in a good cause. (But all cheating, for any cause, gnaws at a nation's moral innards like termites.) Affirmative action means a plus factor in university admissions, job hiring and promotion for candidates from protected groups, in the interests of "diversity." (But why should "diversity" mean official "minorities" and women but not libertarians, farmers, Mormons, Texans, children of soldiers, aspiring Catholic priests, etc.?)

    Exactly. One of the manifestations of moral-innards-gnawing is the deception that becomes second nature to some Affirmative Actioneers. You want examples? See here for a Dartmouth example; here for a University of Idaho example; here for Auburn; here for the University of Michigan; here for Indiana.

    (Pointer to Gelernter's op-ed from La Shawn Barber, who also has comments worth reading.)

  • But to end on a positive note: this is probably the funniest thing I've seen today. It's got a good shot of the funniest thing of the week.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:39 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour (7/25/2005)

  • Bruce Schneier has his eye on the Transportation Security Agency's "Secure Flight" program. He finds that it is "a rogue program that is operating in flagrant disregard for the law." While I'm not as big a privacy bug as is Schneier, he's very convincing that the program is a huge mess on just about every other conceivable measure as well. As they say: read the whole thing.
  • But if you are Concerned about privacy, you could do worse than checking out Cathy Seipp's article at NRO about it; she writes about Zabrasearch which looks to be a very effective way to look up stuff about people.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:41 AM EDT
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Bad Day at Black Rock

[Amazon Link] [3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

Have I mentioned that we signed up for Blockbuster's online DVD rental program? It's pretty good. One of the great things is that I can add movies to my queue on a whim, as long as I can make it to a web browser before the whim decays into the "what was that movie I wanted to rent?" memory hole.

And the selection is better than any local video store.

I've also been queueing up movies from my dim childhood, like this one, which I saw on a black-and-white TV one afternoon in Omaha in the early 60s. I was much impressed then, not quite so much now; it's standard one-guy-against-the-town stuff, not quite as good or complex as High Noon. And there's a racial angle, probably daring at the time the film was made.

After an impressive opening shot of a passenger train barrelling toward the dusty town of Black Rock, the cameraman loses his imagination for the rest of the picture, leaving the camera planted about ten feet away from the actors at all times. Apparently, according to the IMDB, this was a very early Cinemascope effort, so maybe they were just getting their feet wet.

Spencer Tracy was nominated for an Oscar. Must have been a slow or sentimental year, because Spence mainly just talks, except for one scene where he shouts. He gets a couple action scenes too.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:28 AM EDT
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Why Going to the Movies Sucks

You may have read about the Great Box Office Slump of 2005. This past weekend movie theaters ran about 7% behind the same weekend last year. That's typical for the year as a whole.

Now, I actually saw two (pretty good) movies in theaters over the weekend, see below. But my experience may have something to say why a significant number of people are finding better things to do, even when scorching temperatures would seem to beguile them with air-conditioned comfort.

On Friday, I went to the Newington Regal 12 with Pun Son to see Batman Begins. The listing on the Web said the movie was starting at 2:25. But when we got there shortly before 2:25, the sign in the window and above the cashier said the movie was starting at 2:55. So Son and I went to a nearby Barnes and Noble for a bit to browse.

When we returned (in plenty of time to see a movie starting at 2:55), the signs had been changed to 2:25. The tickets we bought said 2:25. And (indeed) when we got to the theater, the movie had already started. So we returned to the cashier, got our money back, and went home, irritated at the wasted trip, a little black cloud hanging over my head.

We tried again on Sunday, July 24. Again the newspaper listing and the Web said the movie was scheduled for 2:25. This time (again) the sign in the window and above the cashier said 2:55. And (unfortunately) this time the signs were right; the movie really was starting at 2:55. So we wasted half an hour sitting in the theater waiting for the movie to start.

Complaining to the cashier did no good, of course, although it did embarrass Son, so the effort was not wasted. And it's not as if I need a lung transplant or anything, so let's try to keep it in perspective.

But I have absolutely no problem in generalizing wildly from my own experience: if theaters aren't getting this right, it's likely they are botching many of the other dozens of details that impact the moviegoing experience. Although the movies are as good or better than ever, the theatergoing experience may be turning into more of an inconvenient ordeal that more and more people are deciding they can do without.

(Hmpf! That'll show you; piss me off, I'll blog about you.)


Last Modified 2005-07-25 5:37 PM EDT
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Batman Begins

[Amazon Link] [5.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

Best. Batman. Movie. Ever. Maybe best comic book movie ever.

Back in the early 70's I used to buy comics for the Caltech Coffeehouse. For a few glorious issues, Batman was drawn by Neal Adams. And he went up against Ra's Al Ghul for the first time. Magic stuff, never read better before or since. And this movie captures that Batman.

Oh, sure, he's got "issues". And people seem to spend a lot of time pontificating about them. But fortunately, he doesn't. And his issues don't get in the way of kicking massive amounts of villainous ass.

And it has an appropriate amount of humor. And everybody's great in it, especially Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:29 AM EDT
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You Know You've Been Watching Too Much Red Sox When …

… you see a Drudge headline reading

REPORT: Clement Was Supreme Runner-up...

and you think: "Clement? Why not Schilling or Wakefield?"

UPDATE: Worse than I thought. Tonight, I saw:

Lawmakers bid to impeach Arroyo

Thoughts going through my head: OK, he's not pitching that well, but shouldn't that be up to Francona? Or is it in retaliation for this?


Last Modified 2005-07-24 11:22 PM EDT
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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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

This is a completely enjoyable movie. Tim Burton is a wizard. David Kelly, who plays Grandpa Joe, deserves an Oscar.

And Helena Bonham Carter has never looked worse. Not even in Fight Club.

I'm not sure why people (including the increasingly doddering Roger Ebert) were saying that Johnny Depp was imitating Michael Jackson; I thought I caught a real strong and obvious flavor of the late Mr. Fred Rogers in Depp's performance.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:30 AM EDT
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URLs Du Jour (7/21/2005)

  • If you want to get depressed, read Jerry Taylor's analysis of the energy bill working its way through Congress. According to Jerry, "virtually every section of the bill represents a rejection of free markets and limited government."
  • On the other hand, if you want to get amused, there's a pretty good takedown of a CJRDaily article by Paul McLeary, by Mike Krempasky of RedState.org here. McLeary's article purports to discuss a recent ruling by a federal appeals court on free-speech muzzling campaign finance laws; it is full of sanctimony. "[C]ampaign finance laws are there for a reason," he intones.

    Tellingly, McLeary doesn't link to the actual ruling. Krempasky does (it's here). And it's not hard for him to show that McLeary (to be maximally charitable) misunderstood most of what the decision said. McLeary implies it's all about bloggers and the Internet; but in fact, they aren't mentioned in the decision at all. Saith Krempasky:

    The best part of this? McLeary's piece of excrement has a goal in mind: to argue against expanding the media exemption to include bloggers. You know, because the press is so…neutral. And objective. And…well, honest. You can't make this stuff up. And would someone tell McLeary that a broad extension of the media exemption would protect folks that use corporate facilities to engage in political hackery - even folks at Columbia University.

    Zing! (Of course, if you want to get depressed again, read what the ruling does say.)


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:48 AM EDT
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A Note on "White Men"

Last week, Patterico got kind of bothered about a sentence in an LA Times story about Chief Justice Rehnquist announcing that he had no immediate plans to retire, and how that affected Dubya's search for a replacement. In the paper's print edition:

The leading candidates were all white men.

But in the web version of the story (here), this read:

The leading candidates were all men.

See the difference, Clarence? So do I. And so did Patterico:

This is an entirely fictional account, as anyone who has been following the process well knows. … Numerous reports in late June, including reports crediting White House sources, reported that Latino and women candidates were rumored to be on President Bush's short list.

For example, a June 18 AP article named Emilio Garza as one of six candidates on Bush's short list. The article also named Edith Jones, Alberto Gonzales, and Miguel Estrada as "plausible picks"; A June 19 Washington Post article and a June 22 Chicago Tribune article both listed Gonzales as among the top contenders, citing anonymous sources close to (or working at) the White House. And, of course, the well-connected Bill Kristol famously predicted on June 22 that O'Connor would be the first retirement, and that Gonzales would be nominated to take her spot.

Now: there's obviously no problem with Patterico pointing out Edith Jones to refute the "men" part of the LA Times sentence. But he takes special note of the transformation of "white men" (in print) into just "men" (on the web), and points to Gonzales, Estrada, and Garza to refute the "white" part. And that's just, well, not exactly on the button.

When the LA Times refers to "white men," they're referring to race. Attempting to refute the "white men" wording by naming of three Hispanic counterexamples misses the point (such as it is), since "Hispanic" isn't considered to be a "race": it is an "ethnicity". It's entirely possible for Gonzales, Estrada, and Garza to be "white", and as far as I know, they are.

But that is way too simplistic. Because once you start looking into the classification of people by race and ethnicity, one of the first things you realize is that it's a politically-charged can of worms, where easy labels don't have much to do with reality or people's perceptions.

We have, of course, a long and sad history in this country of counting and classifying people by race. Racial classification was once important to maintain segregation and Jim Crow; nowadays, it's considered important for other allegedly more honorable reasons, like maintaining affirmative action programs, enforcing civil rights laws, and monitoring racial inequality. Classifying by ethnicity has some of the same pedigree. ("No Irish need apply!")

There are many fascinating documents at the Census Bureau website that offer views into how Your Federal Government currently thinks about this. A good place to start is Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity written in 1997 by the Office of Management and Budget. Therein you'll find:

  • The Five Official Races: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White.
  • The Two Official Ethnicities: "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic or Latino."
  • How to tell: "Self-identification is the preferred means of obtaining information about an individual's race and ethnicity, except in instances where observer identification is more practical (e.g., completing a death certificate)"
  • What order to ask: "When the two question format is used, the Hispanic origin question should precede the race question."

It goes on and on in excruciating sensitivity and detail. ("A Cape Verdean ethnic category should not be added to the minimum data collection standards." Darn!)

The 2000 Federal Census asked questions based on these regulations. The (PDF) document, "Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin" summarizes the results. It's full of interesting numbers, but for the purposes of this already-too-long article, let's concentrate on the folks reporting Hispanic ethnicity. Without peeking, and with reference to the OMB's Five Official Races, what race mixture would you guess Hispanics reported?

I would have guessed: mostly "white", with some "black" (like Big Papi, David Ortiz).

I was surprised to find that only about 48% of Hispanics identified as "white"; only 2% said "black". But really surprising (and, I would imagine, kind of embarrassing to the Census Bureau) was this: about 42% said "Other". In other words, a huge chunk of Hispanics looked at the Five Official Races, and said: "Nope, none of those."

So, returning to the LA Times and Patterico: are Estrada, Gonzales, and Garza "white men"? I guess I've learned that there's no fixed answer to that question. The LA Times was wrong to imply the "yes" answer; Patterico was wrong to assume "no". A Census Bureacrat would ask them to "self-identify" racially. That might be fun for entertainment value. Would it settle anything? It might tell us how the individual viewed the nature of "race", but …

I happened across this page on the "Mixed Media Watch" website while researching this issue. It discusses the recent movie Hitch, which has a romance between characters played by Will Smith, indisputably African-American, and Eva Mendes, indisputably Hispanic. Says the article:

Eva Mendes was given the role opposite Smith because the moviemakers were worried about the public's reaction if the part was given to a white or an African American actress, according to Smith. The actor is saying that it was feared that a black couple would have put off worldwide audiences whereas a white/African American combo would have offended viewers in the U.S. …

Eva Mendes—who is of Cuban descent—was seen as a solution because apparently, the black/Latina combination is not considered taboo.

OK, fine. I guess. But then we have the comments by ordinary joes and janes following the article. "Mendes looks white." "You must be blind or somethin." "EVA MENDEZ [sic] IS WHITE, SHE IS PREDOMINANTLY MEDITERRANEAN, YOU CAN TELL" "Are you people blind or just in denial? This woman is about as white as Will Smith is white." "Obviously you have a distorted view of what white people look like. Based on the language you use it is highly reflective of a desperate and bitter white supremacist."

At this point, I invoked the name of an old Asian buddy: Ho Lee Cao. It goes on and on.

How badly people want to pigeonhole others by "race"! After all this rambling, I'm still not sure what "race" Mendes, Gonzales, Estrada and Garza are; I'm sure I don't care.

What I do care about is that, somehow, it would be nice to make progress toward some future where it didn't matter any more, where the Census Bureau would just count noses without paying undue attention to their hue or ancestry. Unfortunately, the trends I see are mostly in the other direction.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:50 AM EDT
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URLs Du Jour (7/20/2005)

Let's see … the big news of the day is Dubya's nomination of a Supreme Court justice last night, so let's look at:

  • You know the adage about the dog walking on its hind legs: not done well, but you're surprised to find it done at all. Read the inspiring story of how Laird Breyer programmed his Bayesian spam filter to play chess. This is a classic bit of technical writing in the mold of Kernighan, Plauger, Pike, et. al. as we follow Laird on his quest. OK, the result is not a very good chessplayer, but—you're surprised to find it done at all. And probably more important, just reading about his design process is a lot of fun. (Via Slashdot.)
  • We often feel we have a huge investment in our arguments, even more so when the arguments are carried out in public; so when two people debate a contentious issue, it's rare to see one persuade the other. So it's worth noting that James Glassman and Tyler Cowen debated private Social Security accounts a few months back in Reason magazine, Glassman being pro, Cowen being anti. Now, Glassman has been persuaded by Cowen's argument. The revalatory article is here. Key paragraph:

    I believe the president should focus on putting Social Security on a sound footing. The best way to do that is to adjust benefits by increasing the retirement age, cutting back payments further for those who choose to retire early and indexing the growth in benefits to the consumer price index (that is, inflation) rather than to wages. Raising payroll taxes -- or increasing the ceiling below which those taxes are collected -- should be off the table. Such a hike would have a disastrous effect on the economy.

    (Tyler Cowen's gracious comments are here.)

  • Happy 36th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Go check out Google Moon, and be sure to zoom aaaaallll the way in …

    [Update: there used to be an easter egg back in 2007. Gone in 2012.]


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:55 AM EDT
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Star Trek: Insurrection

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

Please note that, since I bought the first 8 "Special Collector's Editions" of Star Trek movies, I was more or less going to get this one too, no matter how bad. And the next one.

But in fact, Insurrection is a pretty good movie, taken on its own terms; I don't need major drama in a Star Trek movie, or an apocalyptic plot. Jean-Luc and his gang aren't saving the world, or even a world here, just trying to get the bad guys to leave a few hundred nice people alone, to live in their idyllic hippie commune. Unfortunately, the Federation has decided to be on the side of the bad guys, because the hippies happen to be sitting, nearly literally, on a fountain of youth.

The Enterprise crew muddles through, however, and the outcome is never really in doubt. The script has some genuinely funny and touching moments, mainly relating to the crew feeling frisky.

At times it sounds as if they're trying to Make A Tiresome Point About Today's Problems, like the old series used to do, but it's not fortunately not heavy-handed. What, the Ba'ku are supposed to be Palestinians? Or maybe Israelites, since the Son'a are planning to (more or less) "push them into the sea." American Indians? Or … hey, maybe this was a pre-emptive comment about the Supreme Court's eminent domain decision in Kelo; the hippie planet is being taken for "public use." My head hurts.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:56 AM EDT
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URLs Du Jour (7/19/2005)

  • Those who had even the slightest doubt that campaign finance "reform" is mainly about getting politically troublesome people to shut up should take a look at Ryan Sager's article at Tech Central Station, wherein he describes efforts by the political establishment in Washington State to muzzle a couple of radio talk-show hosts that are speaking out a bit too effectively in support of efforts to repeal a gas tax increase. It's more than slightly depressing that Ryan also reports that the local Seattle Post-Intelligencer is "actively cheering on the enemies of the First Amendment."
  • But what is it with Washington, anyway? Via Joanne Jacobs, we learn that Washington State University officially got into the business of attempting to disrupt a performance of a non-PC student play; a University office purchased tickets for hecklers to attend, and the University's president defended the hecklers as "a 'responsible' exercise of free speech." When the playwright appealed to Campus Security for help, they asked him to change the lyrics of one of the satirical songs he'd written. To avoid trouble, you know.

    The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has a detailed report here.

  • Tear yourself away from your web browser, and see if you can still remember how to work that newfangled TV, because PBS is doing a show on Bob Newhart. Cathy Siepp has a good appreciation here at NRO.

    True fact: Mrs. Salad and I still quote lines from The Bob Newhart Show at appropriate times. (Favorites: "Not a pretty picture, Emily." "More Goo to go!" "It's blue, Bob!") Of course, in a few years, we'll start doing that at inappropriate times, and then we'll have to worry.

  • For a good time, do a Google search on "Non-Terrestial Officers". A cautionary tale of hacking while high. (Via Hit&Run.)
  • You could do worse than to visit Achenblog at the Washington Post, written by the great Joel Achenbach. Fortunately, nobody's threatened his First Amendment rights recently. Musing over his mail pile today, he:

    … encountered a new book from Ray Kurzweil, "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology." It looks provocative, and I'm sure Ray is right, but I have a feeling that there is nothing in the book that is going to help me solve my problems RIGHT NOW. The Singularity isn't near enough. I haven't transcended biology. For me, the South Beach Diet may be near.

    I emphatically empathize.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:59 AM EDT
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No Doubts Here

Via Power Line, you might want to check out the story from the "Public Editor" on the activities of Professional Journalists at the New York Times and how they (mis)handled this op-ed from Phil Carter. It's a wacky laff-filled comedy of errors, as the (unnamed) editor in charge of the article "accidentally" put into publication a version of the article containing passages that Carter had not written and, in fact, had vociferously objected to placing in his article. And—guess what?—as the PubEd states, "Many saw an anti-Bush bias in the added language."

Pontificates the Public Editor:

Even with this sorting out of the mistakes actually made and the mistaken perceptions of some readers, the doubts about the paper's credibility stirred up by this incident won't be easily erased.

There are no "doubts" that need to be erased here, Mr. Public Editor: I had zero confidence in the credibility of the Times before, and it continues.


Last Modified 2005-07-18 5:08 PM EDT
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Maria Full of Grace

[Amazon Link] [2.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

This movie follows a young woman as she goes from working in a flower factory in a small Columbian town to working as a drug mule, transporting heroin in her gut to New York City. It has earned High Critical Praise (a 97% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes). And the actress playing Maria, Catalina Sandino Moreno, won an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

But your Uncle Pun will tell you the straight scoop: This movie is boring. As near as I can tell, Ms. Moreno's primary talent is that she's extremely pretty. Sorry; this is one of those movies one is Supposed To Like, but I couldn't.

To be fair, I nodded off once or twice during the movie, so I may have missed some redeeming scenes.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:22 AM EDT
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I Took an Online Test and …

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?


Last Modified 2012-10-26 11:00 AM EDT
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Gratitude, Again

Dean Barnett at Soxblog posts a moving and thoughtul essay. Key sentence:

Happily married, my days filled up with things I enjoy, I'm a pretty lucky guy and my wife and I are a very happy couple.

Given what comes before and after this, it's a remarkable thing to say. If I ever start whining about my life, I suggest that someone (a) kick me, hard, and (b) remind me about Dean. Best wishes to him.


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Jimmy Webb, An Appreciation

The back page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal has an article on songwriter Jimmy Webb. It's liberally excerpted on this Scott Johnson post at Power Line. That's inspired me to write this short tribute.

I've been a fan since he wrote songs for the great Johnny Rivers album Rewind in 1967. Almost immediately, I started noticing his music everywhere: hit songs for Glen Campbell, Richard Harris, and the Fifth Dimension. "Overnight success" is a cliché, and often a lie, but Jimmy Webb probably came as close to really being an overnight success than anyone.

I used to be kind of defensive about this. It's pretty easy for sophisticates to take cheap shots at Jimmy: he's commericial, he's bland, his music is too "pretty", etc. Memorably, a poll conducted by Dave Barry deemed "Macarthur Park" the "worst song ever recorded."

But I liked him anyway; I bought his albums. I bought albums simply because they had his songs on them. I bought albums where he just produced. And, for me anyway, they hold up fine. (In comparison, I almost can't listen to old albums by the Eagles, Jackson Brone, or Fleetwood Mac. I'm like: What was I thinking?)

I'm occasionally heartened by discovering fellow devotees, like the WSJ author and Johnson. Even the indisputably hip Tim Cavanaugh writing at Reason's Hit&Run blog a couple years back noted:

… the feeling I get whenever some wanker calls "MacArthur Park" the worst song of all time when they should be acknowledging Jimmy Webb as one of America's greatest living composers.

Yeah, baby! There's one for our side! I thought. So I'm no longer defensive about my fannishness at all.

Jimmy played a concert in a small but trendy hotel club down in Boston back in February of this year. Despite listening to his music for nearly 40 years, I'd never seen him in person; so Mrs. Salad and I went. It was just him and a piano, playing songs old and new. Truth be told, he's not a great singer, and his piano playing was a little rough in spots. But he understands the songs, and that understanding comes out in his performance; that more than makes up for any technical imperfections. The audience was on his side from the start. He acknowledged applause with soft and honest thanks in an Oklahoma accent he's never lost. In between songs, he told great stories about his past, present, future, and his famous friends, all with gentle self-deprecating humor.

Standing ovation at the end. He took his bows with a dazzling kid-like smile.

I'd brought a poster from the recently-released Rhino box set of Jimmy's older music. After the concert, he was standing outside the club, greeting his audience. We trotted up and got his signature on the poster. I babbled semi-coherently. (I think I managed to avoid saying "I'm your number one fan!" though.) He was, unsurprisingly, gracious, polite, and friendly; and shook my hand.

A great musician, and a nice guy. Thanks, Jimmy.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:31 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour (7/14/2005)

  • Bryan Caplan looks at Adbusters and discovers "the bitterest people alive complaining about the pettiest problems imaginable." (I love that description; I'll probably be plagiarizing it soon.)
  • I missed this great Julian Sanchez essay on "parentalism" (which is to be carefully distinguished from paternalism). Fortunately, Will Wilkinson pointed me to it.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 11:02 AM EDT
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And Now For Something Completely Different …

Sometimes I write programs for fun, although not as much as I used to. I might as well share my meager efforts with the Whole Wide World. My Sudoku puzzle-solving program is described here. Disclaimer: probably only interesting to those (a) comfortable with compiling and executing C programs on Unix-like systems from the shell; (b) interested in puzzle-solving algorithms; and (c) haven't done this for themselves already.


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I Took an Online Quiz and …

Want to Get Sorted?
I'm a Hufflepuff!


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FEC: Threat or Menace?

Cato's Daily Dispatch has an item pointing to this article concerning the Federal Election Commision's ongoing struggle to regulate currently-unregulated political speech on the Internet. From the article:

A growing number of the online pundits of various political persuasions are urging the Federal Election Commission to explicitly grant them the same wholesale exemptions from regulations governing contributions to political candidates that mainstream reporters, editorial writers and pundits get.

Color me skeptical, but I'm extremely doubtful that any bunch of ham-handed federal regulators will be able to draw a bright well-defined line distinguishing "online pundits" from other Internet content providers, in order to allow the former to publish freely and impose speech restrictions on the latter.

Fearless predictions: (a) any regulation will have major loopholes, allowing the regulation-savvy to set up whatever Internet presence they want; (b) this will irritate enough politically powerful people so that there will be major pressure for the FEC to make its rules ever more stringent; (c) ordinary people not wanting the hassle of deciding whether they're "allowed" to post their political opinions will decide not to do so, effectively chilling them out of their right to free expression.

The best solution would be to jettison the whole evil idea of political speech regulation embodied by McCain-Feingold and the FEC. That's unfortunately unlikely. So get ready for continuing (albeit depressing) adventures in government restriction of free political expression in the name of "reform".


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URLs du Jour (7/13/2005)

  • How long can the Huffington Post tolerate Greg Gutfeld in its midst? He's Iowahawk-level funny, and isn't reluctant to skewer leftist vapidity emitted by the other HuffPo contributors. That doesn't seem like a recipe for longevity.
  • For another HuffPo takedown, see Alex Tabarrok compare reality with Laurie David's earnest UPPERCASE environmentalism.
  • Lileks on relaxation, enjoyment, nostalgia, and (above all) gratitude. I gotta get a dog.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 11:03 AM EDT
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Ray

[Amazon Link] [3.5 stars] [IMDb Link]

The music is great. Jamie Foxx's performance is great, and he deserved the Oscar he got for it (and I thought his acceptance speech was one of the best I've ever heard). And Curtis Armstrong vanishes into the role of Ahmet Ertegun—I didn't recognize him at all.

But the script is beyond hackneyed. If they want to establish (for example) that Ray Charles' foray into country music was a surprising critical and popular success, they'll have a character say "Well, Ray, your foray into country music was a surprising critical and popular success." Bleah.

Much of the movie turns on some facile psychologizing and showbiz cliché. Gee, drug abuse, womanizing, dumping inconvenient personal relationships when they stand in the way of success? Who knew that sort of thing went on in the world of professional music? Anyone who's seen more than three movies in this genre, is who.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:25 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour (7/11/2005)

  • The MinuteMan confesses that he's confused and baffled by recent revelations in the Rove/Plame kerfuffle, and points out that others who have been following the case closely are similarly befuddled. What hope do any of us have. Good advice is to ignore anyone who speaks with certainty; they probably haven't been doing their homework.
  • Reason's Hit&Run blog is good today with Jesse Walker's moving epitaph for Admiral James Stockdale, with additional comment from Dennis Miller on the imfamous VP debate against Quayle and Gore in 1992:

    The reason he had to turn his hearing aid on at that debate is because those fucking animals [that would be the North Vietnamese, not Quayle and Gore] knocked his eardrums out when he wouldn't spill his guts. He teaches philosophy at Stanford University, he's a brilliant, sensitive, courageous man. And yet he committed the one unpardonable sin in our culture: he was bad on television. Somewhere out there Paddy Chayefsky must be laughing his ass off.

    And Jacob Sullum muses on the new surge to treat "obesity" as a public health issue necessitating that government "do something" about it.

    Let's just reflect on whether we want to accept the proposition that everyone's unhealthy habits are everyone else's business. Contrary to Krugman's implication, one needn't be a "blind ideologue" to worry about living in a world governed by that principle.

    Prohibition really is a slippery slope; Sullum deserves much credit for doing far more than his part to try to push us back up the hill.

  • Constrained Katie has a link to a school voucher debate between Clint Bolick (pro-voucher) and Laura Underkuffler (anti); Katie notes that Underkuffler was reduced to arguing against hypotheticals, while Bolick had facts on his side.

    This is why I remain optimistic that voucher opponents will eventually fail. All the hypothetical gloom and doom in the world cannot stack up against the real difference that vouchers have made for students in terrible schools.
  • Professor Althouse asks: why are these people laughing? My theory (which, by the way, is mine): having no real sense of humor, they laugh to signal solidarity with the speaker and their pack of co-listeners.
  • And, oh yeah: Aieee, we're all gonna die!! Well, actually, not quite:

    Infected men, suggests one new study, tend to become more aggressive, scruffy, antisocial and are less attractive. Women, on the other hand, appear to exhibit the "sex kitten" effect, becoming less trustworthy, more desirable, fun-loving and possibly more promiscuous.

    So, sort of a mixed bag then. (Via Instapundit.) Damn cats.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 11:04 AM EDT
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Hitch

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

This was an above-average romantic comedy, mainly notable for the unique situation: A "date doctor" finds himself falling for someone and can't quite seem to do as good a job on his own relationship as he does on others. Will Smith and Kevin James are born to play these kind of light comedy roles. And the writing is above-average (very good at the beginning, falls off at the end).

There are no real surprises in the plot, you can see just about everything coming from miles away. But that's OK, it's still fun.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:24 AM EDT
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Ed McBain, RIP

One of my favorite authors has passed away: Evan Hunter, writing mostly as Ed McBain, chronicler of the cops at the 87th precinct in a thinly-disguised New York City.

He had an amazing career. In the 50s he wrote The Blackboard Jungle. In the 60s he wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock's The Birds. He wrote a slew of novels under his own name.

But I mainly enjoyed reading about the 87th. It's probably safe to say he invented the modern police procedural mystery; all those CSIs and Law and Orders owe him.

His primary detective character, the mensch Steve Carella, may have been played by more actors than any other character: browsing the IMDB, I see a real who's who: Robert Loggia, Robert Lansing, Dale Midkiff (who?), Randy Quaid, Burt Reynolds, Jean-Louis Trintignant; also (probably) a couple of Japanese actors, but I can't tell from the IMDB.

I see there's a last 87th novel Fiddlers due later this year. It would have been nice to see the Deaf Man finally run to ground, but it doesn't look (from the Amazon description) as if that's in the cards.

Ed McBain's website is here. Check it out for more details about a great author.

UPDATE: Excellent obit from James Grady at Slate.


Last Modified 2005-07-15 2:26 PM EDT
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I Took an Online Survey, and …

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

… you can too.


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URLs du Jour (7/8/2005)

  • William Sjostrom catches Paul Krugman contradicting himself by comparing two op-ed columns on the same topic (obesity), published a mere four days apart. Oh well. If confronted with his inconsistency, Krugman might model his excuse after Whitman: "I am fat, I contain multitudes." (via Prof Cowen at Marginal Revolution).
  • If you doubt whether a blogger can go up with the best of of mainstream-media analysis, you might want to look at the MinuteMan's speculations on Robert Novak's likely role in the Plame controversy. Unlike a lot of commentators on the matter, he's paid careful attention to everything that's going on, and (unlike a lot of lefty commentators) doesn't let Rove-hatred cloud his thinking.
  • I was optimistic that Brits would react to the terrorist mass-murder in London with the backbone that the Spaniards didn't. At NRO, John Derbyshire disagrees. Hope he's wrong.
  • Way back when (in January 2000), there was an urban legend about "Kentucky Fried Chicken" changing its name to "KFC" because what you were buying wasn't really and truly chicken, but some sort of "genetically engineered organism" that they could no longer legally call chicken. Mrs. Salad played a role in debunking this; see here for the story.

    Ah, but now in these days of modern times … Aieee, it's coming true!!! (Via Geek Press.)


Last Modified 2012-10-26 11:05 AM EDT
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London

[Union Jack] No amusing comments today. Just the somber reminder that we're at war, and the other side, enraptured by their maniacal visions, would like nothing better to kill us and our families.

In addition to making plain (yet again) their barbarity, I think they made (yet again) a dreadful strategic mistake. Spaniards were successfully cowed when Madrid was attacked. Brits won't be.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:25 AM EDT
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Huffington: Correction Needed

Arianna Huffington has had Dick Cheney's heart on her mind for over four years now. Note this article from March 2001:

OK, everybody, listen up: The time has come for the nation to stage an intervention. We need to come together and convince the vice president that he needs to step down. And not just to save his life, but potentially to save the lives of millions of Americans.

Well, that didn't happen, and today Arianna's article seems more than a little silly nagging. But it appears that she desperately wants to be Proved Right on this, clouding her judgment about what to put on her website. So on the evening of June 24, the headline at the Huffington Post screamed: "Cheney Checks Into Vail Hospital..."

Vice President Dick Cheney was taken to the cardiac unit of the Vail Valley Medical Center Friday. Contrary to Associated Press reports that he went to see orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Steadman, at the Steadman Hawkins clinic for a knee injury, Vice President Cheney passed through the Steadman Hawkins clinic and the Colorado Mountain Medical Center to get to the cardiac unit to see Dr. Jack Eck and his team. The Vice President checked into the hospital under the name of Dr. Hoffman.

And more in that vein followed on the 24th: see "Is Cheney Alright[sic]" (with an appended "UPDATE: Cheney's Health: What is the White House Hiding?")

Why is the White House still insisting that the only health issue Vice President Cheney dealt with today is an old football injury to his knee, visiting renowned orthopedist Dr. Richard Steadman? At the Vail Valley Institute dinner tonight, I kept asking what those in the know here knew. …

A couple days later, Arianna tried to give the story some more legs: "It's Not the EKG; It's the Cover-up, alleging that, well, … something … was being covered up.

[And if you feel like checking out some lefty moonbattery, the comments on these posts will provide as much as you could want. Note that Arianna had to delete some comments deemed too offensive, so we're only seeing the inoffensive ones. Sheesh.]

And that's it. Over a week later, nobody besides Arianna is claiming that anything happened at the Vail hospital other than what "official sources" said. And she's apparently realized that there's nothing more there than the innuendo, rumors, and party gossip she's already spread.

Is it too much to expect a retraction?


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URLs du Jour (7/6/2005)

  • Jane Galt does a lovely takedown on a NYT writer, Louis Uichetelle, who bullshits about a book he didn't read carefully, if at all. Comments Jane:

    I don't know where Mr Uichetelle got his Cliff's Notes, but he should ask for a refund.

    and, in an update:

    Actually, maybe I do know where he got his Cliff's Notes--he watched the movie instead of reading the book. Didn't Mr Uichetelle learn in high school that no good can come of this?

    As Prof Reynolds would say: indeed.

  • Similarly, Professor Ann notes that NPR's Nina Totenberg is fantasizing history with respect to Sandra Day O'Connor's appointment. "Ridiculous," says Ann, and you'll agree.
  • Radley Balko has a new blog dedicated to debunking Morgan Spurlock. Reading just a bit will convince you that Spurlock is an even bigger idjit than you previously thought.
  • Via David Skinner at Galley Slaves: I can't decide whether this (QuickTime movie) is sacrilege or very, very, cool. I think what I would think would depend on what Gene Kelly would think. Could someone with the appropriate contacts get back to me on that, please?
  • Via Dave Barry's blog: "Awww, look at that nice poodle. Here doggie, doggie, doggie, … aieeee!!"


Last Modified 2012-10-26 11:06 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour (7/5/2005)

  • Something I'm ashamed for finding even slightly interesting: Martha Stewart's nickname in the slammer was "M. Diddy".
  • Michael Barone explains why a bloodbath over the next Supreme Court nominee is inevitable. Catalysts will be groups like "People for the American Way" and "The Alliance for Justice":

    These groups exist for the purpose of defeating Republican judicial nominees, and their financial supporters -- the big money people and those sending in small amounts in response to direct mail appeals -- would be furious if they meekly accept a Bush appointee as Republican senators accepted Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg when they were nominated by Bill Clinton. Not opposing nominees would be an act of self-destruction for these groups, and Washington lobbying groups are not in the habit of self-destruction.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 11:07 AM EDT
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Happy Independence Day

You want the truth? I got your truth right here. (Also see for their comments: La Shawn; Glenn; Ed; Suzanne; and Calvin.)

UPDATE: And Andrew.


Last Modified 2005-07-04 10:44 PM EDT
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Move Over, Ebert and Roeper

Statler & Waldorf apparently have landed a new gig at movies.com as reviewers. Very, very funny, including at least one joke that would never have made it into the Muppet Show.


Last Modified 2008-08-25 6:00 AM EDT
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Magic Time

[Amazon Link]

Even though I could have been a Van Morrison fan since the 60's, I only started buying his music a few years ago. This is his latest album, and I like it a lot. Thirteen songs done Van-style is a big plus. Mercifully there seem to be fewer it-sucks-to-be-rich-and-famous songs compared to the previous album, so that's another plus.

I see from the Amazon review there are a couple of covers here: "I'm Confessin'" (Perry Como!) and "This Love of Mine" (Sinatra).


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:22 AM EDT
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Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

[Amazon Link] [2.0 stars] [IMDb Link]

I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did, but it's one of those sequels made with all the loving care necessary to quickly cash in on the success of the original. There are some feeble efforts at quirkiness and wit, but apparently whoever was in charge of that was fired at some point early in the production process.

Although Sandra Bullock's character, Gracie, has gone back to her lovable slovenly ways after the original movie, she veers into stupid vanity after her boyfriend dumps her over the phone and moves to Miami without telling her. (I guess Benjamin Bratt wisely avoided the sequel.) It takes the kidnapping of Miss USA and Captain Kirk to jolt her back into action.

The movie is very long. I fell asleep and missed the (I assume) thrilling climax. Couldn't help but notice that the movie kept clunking along for quite awhile after the thrilling climax.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:23 AM EDT
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War of the Worlds

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

We haven't been seeing many summer blockbusters this season; this is only the second.

The special effects are unsurprisingly awesome. And they don't get very cute with H. G. Wells' original story. Details differ: it's modern-day of course, and Mars isn't explicitly named as the source of the invasion. But (minor spoiler) the aliens are finally laid low by microbes, not by resourceful humans.

Tom Cruise plays a divorced working-class guy with a surly son who doesn't like him much and a precocious but troubled daughter. Apparently the custody agreement says the kids are to visit him on alien-landing weekends. This whole dysfunctional family plot gets stapled onto the invasion plot; the result is kind of clunky, but the movie moves too fast to really notice. Similarly, Cruise spends most of the movie trying to get to Boston, where his ex-wife is. Exactly why he thinks that's a good idea is never quite explained, other than it makes the movie happen.


Last Modified 2012-10-26 10:34 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour (7/1/2005)

  • It's Strange Bedfellows day at Eugene's Conspiratorium as Todd Zywicki runs down odd-couple Congresscritters supporting legislation to (they hope) blunt the impact of Kelo. Lefties Bernie Sanders, Maxine Waters, and John Conyers line up with righties Sensenbrenner, DeLay and Blunt. Amazing. But looks as if Nancy Pelosi is reluctant to either check or balance the Supremes:

    Arguing that Congress has no business interfering with the ruling unless it wants to amend the Constitution, Mrs. Pelosi said: "This is almost as if God has spoken."

    One would hope that even the inflated egos of the Kelo majority might flinch a bit at such idolatry.

  • But speaking of Congresswoman Nancy: everybody's dumping on the poor woman. Jonah Goldberg at the Corner points out that Planned Parenthood

    Has issued a press release saying her retirement creates an "ominous vacancy" -- which, curiously enough, is the technical term for Pelosi's mental status.

    OK, a very cheap shot. Being less cheap, The Smartest Woman In The World merely asks Is Nancy Pelosi Stupid, or Does She Think We Are?

  • On occasion, I entertain Mrs. Salad by holding forth on my "Flush Theory" (which is mine): in a nutshell, it's that drinking a lot of water will pick up and carry out a lot of bad stuff as it washes and splashes through your system. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, like most of my theories (which are mine), it's easy to debunk, and Stanley Goldfarb does so at The Weekly Standard.
  • Of course, if I were a celebrity, my views on the Flush Theory (which is mine) would be interesting enough to be the subject of interviews on morning news shows, and other celebrities would write op-eds in the NYT calling me ridiculous. And then I could be parodied at Huffington's Toast. But none of that's gonna happen. Funny old world, ain't it?

Last Modified 2012-10-26 11:08 AM EDT
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