A Face in the Crowd

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

This is yet another Big Important Social Drama from the 50's. It was Andy Griffith's first movie; it was Lee Remick's first movie; it was Walter Matthau's fourth movie. Big surprise: Andy Griffith was a pretty good actor, at least when Elia Kazan was directing him.

Andy plays Lonesome Rhodes, who goes from being a feral jailed hobo to the pinnacle of TV-superstar popularity, due to his just-folks humor and raw animal magnetism, or something like that. He is shepherded along the way by Patricia Neal, who goes from a fresh-faced happy innocent helping to run her daddy's Arkansas radio station to a bitter chain-smoking drunk. Walter Matthau watches all this happen as a writer who's only briefly fooled by Lonesome's act. Anthony Franciosa plays a sleazeball agent. Everyone's impossibly younger than you remember them.

What happens to the people is interesting enough, but it's paired with a Tedious Cautionary Tale against the power of TV-based demagogues, who might use their hypnotic power over the populace to elect a Republican to the Presidency. The nefarious scheme is only foiled when Patricia deftly manages to dink controls in the network control room, and Lonesome's true contempt for his mass audience is transmitted to the nation. Oops, I guess that's a spoiler. Sorry.

Anyway, the primary message is: don't listen to those phony TV folks; you should instead trust us movie folks to give you the real scoop.

The big extra on the DVD is an interview segment with Budd Schulberg (writer), Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, and Anthony Franciosa. Andy Griffith says a very bad word; I'm still recovering from my swoon.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:53 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/30/2005

  • Arnold Kling points to what he (probably correctly) calls "The Most Important Economic News of the Year": productivity growth over the past five years has been larger than any previous five-year period in the past 50 years. This strongly implies that the fiscal doomsayers that predict ruin as the baby boomers (like me) start raking in their entitlement benefits are incorrect: only relatively modest adjustments in benefits or taxation will be necessary to get to what Kling calls the "affordable welfare state," since productivity increases will automatically increase government revenue.

    As Woody Allen said in one of his old (i.e.: funny) movies: I really have mixed feelings about this. (1) I'd rather see the welfare state wither and die; the norm should be people making private arrangements for funding forseeable events, like retirement and medical care. (2) I'm dubious that politicians won't find a way to overpromise, overspend, and otherwise outpace even lavish incoming tax revenue. (3) On the other hand, it's nice to know there's a scenario under which we aren't all headed for financial ruin; good for me and Mrs. Salad, good for the Pun Kids.

  • A belated Christmas gift from Bill Gates: yet another unpatched Windows security flaw that will automatically infect your computer if you browse an appropriately evil website. Apparently (if you need to run Windows), Firefox is slightly more secure than IE. Linux and Mac users, as usual, are safe. A Slashdotter sagely comments: "Guys, you keep posting that same story about a serious security flaw in Windows."

Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:58 PM EDT

Black Rednecks and White Liberals

[Amazon Link]

This is Thomas Sowell's latest book. It contains six longish essays on topics that will be familiar to readers of Sowell's other works. The book's title actually only refers to the first essay; it's an exploration of how today's "black culture" shares a number of characteristics with "redneck" culture as seen in the South in previous centuries. Other essays explore Jewish culture, German culture, black education in America, slavery as a worldwide phenomenon, and a culminating semi-philosophical essay on how "visions" (belief systems) can unlearn the lessons of history.

Sowell, as always, does a great job of digging out neglected lessons of history and culture. After reading him, it's very easy to lose patience with more conventional writers. Highly recommended.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:55 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/29/2006

  • Matthew Hoy reports that the yarn about federal goons visiting the home of a UMass-Dartmouth student was echoed as fact in a Sacramento Bee editorial three days after it was debunked.
  • Similarly, Patterico notes the LA Times report of Wyoming Governor Freudenthal's declaration that his state considered the Endangered Species Act no longer in force, as well as other outrageous statements. The problem here? The report was based on an April Fool's prank. Kausfiles also gloats (but not unseemingly so) about this misstep, and also points to this correction:
    A Dec. 18 article defending the separation of church and state stated that the Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed that Ellen DeGeneres played a role in the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina because she was the host of the Emmy Awards before both events. He made no such claim.
    Apparently it was too hard to find something outrageous that Rev. Falwell actually said? Hey, we'll just go with something we heard someone say he said at that cocktail party last night …
  • So is it going to be "Journalists Behaving Badly" day here at Pun Salad? No, not entirely. Grady Hendrix spent one hour and seventeen minutes watching the "Special Features" section of the Dukes of Hazzard DVD. His article at Slate may be the funniest thing ever appearing at that site. (At least intentionally funny.)
  • Roger L. Simon says bravo to Michael Crichton's illustrated talk, "Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century." American Thinker dubs it a "must-read." Pun Salad heartily concurs!

Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:58 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/28/2006

  • Andrew Sullivan gets a lot of grief here, but today totally redeems himself with the Moore Award Winners 2005.
    The award goes to those who best represent anti-Americanism, equation of the West with terrorists, fanatical Bush-hatred, and rhetoric that makes even Huffington Post readers raise their eyebrows.

    He catches Jane Smiley making an even bigger ass of herself than I did here; he credits her with "helping us better understand, several decades later, why so many Western lefties were once fans of Joseph Stalin." Amazingly, Ms. Smiley's effort is only good for an Honorable Mention.

    Next year, Andrew starts off with a clean slate here at Pun Salad. As if he cares.

  • Both Geek Press and Bruce Schneier point approvingly to this method of determining whether the NSA or anyone else is "snooping on your e-mail": briefly, set up two new e-mail accounts, one on a foreign provider; then send "interesting" mail from one to the other, containing an otherwise-unpublicized URL pointing to a web server to which you have log access. Then watch the logs.

    I'm not sure what this would actually prove about the privacy of your existing e-mail accounts. But it seems easy enough to do, if you're comfortable about adding to the wrong end of the signal/noise ratio of whatever monitoring is going on. (And I suppose if you're really of a certain worldview, you might also want to worry about whatever hassles you can get into as a result.)

  • My close personal friend Dave Barry won't be resuming his weekly column. A recent interview containing this news and more is right here. Fortunately, his blog is consistently funny, and he's apparently going to keep at it.
  • Protein Wisdom posts a high point of Jimmy Carter's presidency:
    Carter: … So the director of the CIA [Stansfield Turner] came and told me that he had contacted a woman in California that claimed to have supernatural capabilities. And she went in a trance, and she wrote down latitudes and longitudes, and we sent our satellites over that latitude and longitude, and there was the plane.
    How did this country survive even four years of this guy? I remember the brouhaha when it was revealed that Nancy Reagan consulted a psychic during Ronnie's presidency; I predict the outrage about this will be much less.
  • In the olden days, YAF used to be "Young Americans for Freedom;" nowadays they seem to have changed their moniker to "Young America's Foundation." WTF? Was being "for freedom" a little bit too controversial? Well, anyway: via Dartblog, the YAF has released a list of "America' s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses." We here at Pun Salad are deeply gratified that a UNH course didn't appear; no doubt some of our profs will want to try again next year.

Office Space

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

I scored this DVD ("Special Edition with Flair!" it says) as a Christmas gift from the Salad family. Aren't they great?

The movie, in case you don't know, is a great takeoff on the major and minor irritations of cubicle work. The cast does a fantastic job. Jennifer Aniston is (as always) extremely easy to watch, and displays her great talent at light comedy.

Extras on the DVD include a few deleted scenes and a series of interviews with writer/director Mike Judge and many cast members. Stephen Root, who plays Milton, reveals that he took one of the red Swingline staplers after the movie as a souvenir. Now that would probably bring in some real money on eBay.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:53 PM EDT

Must Love Dogs

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

This is one of those prefabricated romantic comedies without surprises. Although it has a lot of talented actors, they aren't straining themselves here. The dialog has the kind of forced cleverness that is usually restricted to self-important TV sitcoms. Although Diane Lane does a pretty good Mary Tyler Moore impression, I guess. John Cusack sleepwalks through the whole thing. There are a couple of laughs, but not enough to make it worth renting.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:52 PM EDT

Merry Christmas!

… try not to make baby Jesus cry.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 4:00 PM EDT

UMass-Dartmouth Student Admits Hoax

We've been following allegations that Department of Homeland Security agents visited the home of a UMass-Dartmouth student because he requested a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao. (Previous articles, with links here and here.) Today's (New Bedford, MA) Standard-Times shoots the story it broke last week in the head:

The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for "The Little Red Book" by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story.

… but not before a considerable number of Bush-haters had gullibly swallowed his story whole. Start with his professors, who despite their high scholarship and experience were completely fooled, no doubt because "everyone knows" this is the kind of repression that occurs all the time in Bush's Amerikkka.

The reporter, Aaron Nicodemus, I don't blame so much; he may have been duped at the beginning, but he stayed on the story until it crashed and burned under its own increasing implausibility. Good on him for that, anyway.

Among folks uncritically reporting the tale were Teddy Kennedy in a Boston Globe op-ed. In addition, as James Taranto pointed out, Teddy referred to the forbidden text as "Mao Tse-tung's Communist Manifesto"; apparently that blunder passed by the op-editors.

Molly Ivins also found the story too in line with her prejudices to avoid swallowing whole. And, if you ask The Google, you can get countless similar examples.

Will the debunking of this hoax get as big a play as did the original lurid yarn about Homeland Security cops checking up on what people are reading? Doubtful.

By the way, I strongly recommend reading the Standard-Times story; it's a pretty good tale of how a little tiny lie blows up to echo around the Whole Wide World, and then comes down to a 22-year-old kid breaking down and crying in his parents' house in New Bedford. The Boston Globe has more details.


Last Modified 2005-12-24 12:23 PM EST

An Inclusive and Inoffensive (and Almost Certainly Lawsuit-Safe)

Seasons Greetings from Pun Salad

(Original authorship unknown, adapted shamelessly ripped off from Achenblog.)

From me "the wishor" to you "the wishee," please accept without obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally responsible, socially conscious, energy efficient, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of a winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions, I wish you a financially successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but with due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures or sects, and having regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform or sexual preference of the wishee. By accepting this greeting you are bound by these terms:

This greeting is subject to further clarification or withdrawal. This greeting is freely transferable provided that no alteration shall be made to the original greeting and that the proprietary rights of the wishor are acknowledged. This greeting implies no promise by the wishor to actually implement any of the wishes. This greeting may not be enforceable in certain jurisdictions and/or the restrictions herein may not be binding upon certain wishees in certain jurisdictions and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wishor. This greeting is warranted to perform as reasonably may be expected within the usual application of good tidings, for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first.

The wishor warrants this greeting only for the limited replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wishor. Any references in this greeting to "The Lord", "Father Christmas", "Our Savior", "Rudolph the red nosed reindeer" or any other festive figures, whether actual or fictitious, dead or alive, shall not imply any endorsement by or from them in respect of this greeting, and all proprietary rights in any referenced third party names and images are hereby acknowledged.This greeting is made under United States Law.

Dated this 22nd day of December, in the year two thousand five.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:54 PM EDT

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

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

Mrs. Salad and Pun Son went to choir practice; Pun Daughter went to a friend's birthday party; nothing on TV. But I'd been thinking about seeing this movie, and it came to our local dinky movie theater, so …

This movie was written and directed by Shane Black, previously known for writing and producing some of the ultraviolent brain-dead (but fun) blockbusters of the late '80s and early '90s (e.g., Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight). This, in contrast, is a little movie. The protagonist, Harry Lockhart (played by Robert Downey Jr.) narrates with the full knowledge that it is a movie, which is an interesting twist. He's a small-time New York crook who gets thrown into a noirish murder/kidnapping plot in LA. The plot is in-your-face about its own unbelievability, and has no problem mashing together jokes, violence, sex, and ugly perversion.

In short, recommended, but I think you'll have to hustle to catch it in the theatres. (On the other hand, it's not the kind of movie that would lose much in a DVD viewing, so don't go nuts.)

Larry Miller has a small but (as usual) dead on performance. Amazon link above goes to the movie soundtrack, they don't have a picture for the DVD yet.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:54 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/23/2005

  • Happy Festivus, ye fargin' heathens! GeekPress points to the relevant, hugely entertaining, Wikipedia entry.
  • Stuart Buck points out a government invasion of privacy that (unfortunately) not enough people get upset about.
  • Why I read Ann Althouse: she can puncture a hot-air balloon (in this case, a New York Times review of Munich) in less than 30 words.
  • Daniel Drezner posts a chilling article summarizing why the upcoming baseball season might seem unusually long for Red Sox fans. Majorly dedicated Soxers probably already know this stuff, but if you're a contented dilettante like me, it's a good, albeit depressing, summary.

Last Modified 2005-12-23 3:44 PM EST

URLs du Jour -- 12/22/2005

  • I wish Johnny Damon the best. In fact, I hope he bats .350 next year and hits a grand slam to pull the Yankees within one run of the Red Sox in the seventh game of the ALCS with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then, I hope A-Rod strikes out; Boston goes on to meet the Dodgers (with Grady, Nomar, D-Lowe, and Bill Mueller) in the World Series.

    Unfortunately, all that would probably give me a heart attack somewhere along the line. But still, that's the dream I'm going for. Soxblog concurs in wishing Johnny well, and has more informed speculation as to his probable performance.

  • More on the allegations that Department of Homeland Security agents visited the home of a UMass-Dartmouth student because he requested a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung via Interlibrary Loan: The student remains anonymous. Inside Higher Ed reports that the DHS has "adamantly denied" the visit. Although the original newspaper report claimed the book was requested through UMass-Dartmouth's ILL program, the librarians there denied handling the request for the book. The student now says he directed the request to UMass-Amherst. (Although it's not clear whether the reporter bungled this in the original story, or the student changed his story on this debunked detail.)

    I'm strongly leaning toward the theory that the student made this up out of whole cloth, gulled his professors, who then (unexpectedly) told the story to the equally gullible reporter, who in turn (applying the stringent editorial standards of the Mainstream Media) told the Whole Wide World.

    Meanwhile the story is being echoed uncritically on the Web. (See here, here, here, here, or here.)

  • On the other hand, here's a non-anonymous report of an actual government official threatening a civilian for activities protected under the First Amendment. Exercise for the reader: explain why this won't be similarly echoed 'round the web.
  • Judicial follies: a Santa Fe District Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order against David Letterman. Prof Volokh has the story and comments appropriately.
  • The most twisted programming tutorial I've ever seen: Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby. Worth taking a look even if you have no plans to learn Ruby, or any programming language, ever. To say any more would ruin the surprise. Go. (Via Linux Weekly News.)

Last Modified 2017-03-02 5:24 AM EST

URLs du Jour -- 12/21/2005

Happy Solstice, all. I drive to work in the dark, drive home in the dark, and some would argue much of the time in between is spent in the dark as well.

  • Shannon Love makes a good, if crude point point on warrantless, intrusive searches that nobody seems to get all het up about.
  • Interesting kerfuffle going on down at UMass/Dartmouth. Inside Higher Ed has a story claiming
    A senior at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth was interrogated last month by Department of Homeland Security officials because he tried to borrow from a campus library an unabridged version of The Little Red Book, which centers on Mao Tse-Tung's views of Communism.
    Whoa. That's a pretty nasty abuse of state power, as well as an indication that the DHS has way too much time on its hands. But is it true? The student is anonymous, and apparently his claims were second-hand accounts passed to the media through his UMass/Dartmouth profs. The comments at Inside Higher Ed include a number of skeptics (as well as the usual folks drawing Nazi parallels). Boing Boing also reports the story, and has an active thread discussing whether this is a hoax or not. Apparently the story was also reported as happening at UC-Santa Cruz with the professorial names changed. Slashdot story (predictably less skeptical than Boing Boing) is here. Original story from the New Bedford, MA Standard-Times is here. Now you know everything I do, and perhaps more. It will be interesting to see if this goes anywhere.
  • Via Tim Harford at Marginal Revolution comes a pointer to a delightfully contrarian take on good old Scrooge. Excerpt:
    Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that's a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat? Who is a more benevolent neighbor than the man who employs no servants, freeing them to wait on someone else?
    Good point. I'll show this to any member of the Salad family that accuses me of Scroogian behavior.
  • Update to yesterday's item about Dell treating Jane Galt poorly: they've now come through with "free expedited shipping and a 10% discount on a similar refurbished machine" in Update VI of her original article. Who knows how much being a famous blogger helped with this? But if she's forgiven them, I suppose I have to as well.

URLs du Jour -- 12/20/2005

Instead of using "google" as a verb, like everyone else, I'm going to start using the word as if it referred to an actual being, sort of like an oracle. For example, instead of saying "I googled for possible greylist milter software," I will say "I asked the Google for possible greylist milter software."

My hope is that this anthropomorphic quirk will be seen by others as endearing in a dotty-old-uncle sort of way. But it also has the advantage of being (roughly) true.

  • We use mostly Dell servers here at the U; only exceptions are the file servers (NetApp) and the WebMail servers (needed a little more oomph there, so we went with HP Opteron-based machines). This blog is hosted on the Dell PC in my cube; I'm typing on a Dell laptop. When a disk went wonky on the University backup web server, Dell got us a replacement disk the same day, and I had to talk the Dell tech guy out of coming here from across the state to install it.

    But I'm 90% decided to stop buying Dell because of their poor treatment of second-smartest woman in the world. Frankly, they need a market-based reality check.

  • The smartest woman in the world, on the other hand has the inside scoop on one person's jihad against those little silver balls some folks use to decorate their holiday confections. An "environmental lawyer" named Mark Pollock is responsible for their vanishing from the People's Republic of California. Concludes the SWITW:
    Pollock is a fanatic who's determined to stamp out other people's small pleasures in pursuit of his own version of righteous living (and collect lots of money along the way). He succeeds because it costs him almost nothing to sue. His victims settle rather than spend more, in time and money, to fight his claims. Any litigation system that encourages--indeed, rewards--this petty tyranny needs serious reform.
    She is, of course, absolutely correct, as usual.
  • The "logic" of socialism is alive and well in discussions of health care, where it's fueled by both envy and fear. Anthony Dick has a good article at NRO that describes how this is currently playing out in Canada. Michael Moore is unlikely to make a movie based on this article.

Last Modified 2005-12-20 5:32 PM EST

URLs du Jour -- 12/19/2005

Pet peeve du jour: (literally) stupid web forms with inflexible input formats. You must type your credit card number without spaces. You must type your phone number with (or sometimes, without) parentheses around the area code. Etc.

Dude, it's a frickin' computer. It takes at most a handful of microseconds to parse, check, and convert free-form input into your canonical internal format. Web programmers that don't do this are incompetent or lazy, probably both.

Hm, now let me check to see if I've done this anywhere …

  • We've had a weekend of Tedious Hysteria about the "revelation" that the NSA was authorized to do warrantless taps on foreign calls. On the left, the word "impeachment" appears frequently. There's confusion between the rules for criminal investigations, and those for wartime intelligence. Personally, I think Dubya should have been impeached if he hadn't done this; his current critics would be the first to cry "failed to connect the dots" if legalistic t-crossing and i-dotting caused a future terrorist attack to be missed. For a good commentary, see Matthew Hoy; he also has pointers to further reading.
  • Moving on to more important matters: you remember all those pedants years ago who pointed out that King Kong was impossible because mass goes up as the cube of linear size, while muscle and bone strength only goes up as the square? Well, Forbes says: this remains the case. (A number of other entertaining observations, too. Via GeekPress.)
  • Saturday Night Live was pretty good this weekend. One of the highlights, the Narnia rap:

    (via the Corner), at least for awhile. (On the other hand, Debbie Downer? I love Rachel, but I got the Downer joke, don't need to see Debbie again, could write those skits myself, if I wanted to, which I don't, thanks.)


Last Modified 2012-10-25 4:07 PM EDT

The Italian Job

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

I didn't have very high hopes for this movie, but I put it in the Blockbuster queue on a lark. It is a yarn about professional thieves, who need to pull off two insanely complex heists, the second in response to a murderous double-cross after the first. Even with low expectations, I was disappointed.

Although there are some pretty neat driving scenes, that's about it. Everything is utterly predictable. (Watch for the loose end. You'll know exactly how the movie's climax is "surprisingly" resolved.) The dialog is clunky and unmarred by cleverness. No actual acting talent is involved. (OK, well, I'll bump it up a half-star for Seth Green, who has a funny episode when he imagines what Jason Statham is saying to a pretty cable tech.)

You also need to not think very hard about thorny questions of relative morality between (a) the "good" crooks who endanger countless innocent lives without apparent thought during their capers, and (b) the "bad" murdering double-crossing crook.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:55 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/18/2005

I view Christmas as a concrete wall. And I'm headed toward it at 80 MPH on a ice-covered street in a gasoline truck with no brakes.

Yes, it's only a week away.

  • Movie fans will not want to miss Iowahawk's sneak preview of upcoming Hollywood flicks, guaranteed to shake off this year's box office doldrums. Sample:
    Lunch Lady: poignant story of school cook-turned-playground strangler has generated advanced Oscar buzz for star Jennifer Lopez, who reportedly gained 400 pounds, facial tatoos and gum disease for the role.
  • The Club for Growth blog has recently been added to the ol' blogroll, as they seem to be on the side of the angels, and have not as yet been caught taking cash from Jack Abramoff. A recent entry points to yet another sad sign of business as usual, disguised in a bill to mint yet another version of those pain-in-the-butt dollar coins:
    The dirty little secret about this bill is that it would force every single vending machine on federal property or on the premises of an entity receiving federal funding to accept these new coins.
    Yes, friends, happily Your Federal Government has solved all the bigger problems than the spectacular unpopularity of dollar coins, and hence now issues decrees concerning the inner workings of vending machines. I note that my own Congressman Jeb Bradley voted for this idiocy. A stern rebuke is on its way via his web page.
  • And, via Dartblog: What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything? The Google knows!

3-iron

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

This Korean movie is sweet and pretty in the beginning, then gradually takes a turn to the dark and mystical. A young Korean man with a BMW motorcycle delivers restaurant door-hangers to homes; if they're undisturbed later, he breaks in and lives there for awhile. He takes pictures of himself, he does minor repairs, he does the laundry, he eats some of the inhabitants' food.

One day he chooses a house inhabited by an abused wife. This knocks his life off course.

Watchable all the way through. Neither Korean law enforcement nor Korean jail administration come off well in this film.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:52 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/16/2005

Unaccountably, the Major State University for which I work has closed its doors today due to inclement weather. This almost never happens. What this means: I have to get in to work anyway to change tapes, since the guys that usually do it won't be there. So this might be my last post ever. If so, watch the news in March for when they dig out my frozen body out of a melting snowdrift somewhere between Rollinsford and Durham.

  • As previously noted, New Hampshire's own Senator Sununu is being raked over the coals by some conservatives who don't like his membership in an alliance that's working to obstruct the Patriot Act renewal. Glenn Reynolds has a fine summary of why I'm pretty happy with the senator.
  • Jacob Sullum has a nice holiday-related column about Sam Alito and his jurisprudence vis-a-vis government-sponsored Christmas displays.
    While I oppose government-sponsored religious displays as a matter of policy, I've concluded that constitutional challenges to them are not only unsatisfying in their results but intellectually suspect in their premises. All these displays constitute official endorsements of religion to some extent, but that does not mean they represent an "establishment of religion," which is what the First Amendment actually prohibits.
    I think I'd prefer an anything-goes policy on the government's right to erect religious displays on public property. Not that that's a good idea, but it's a better result than the endless judicial quibbling in the Federal courts over whether a manger scene is balanced by two menorahs, a Kwanzaa bush, and a bunch of Santas. ("No! It needs more menorahs!") A bright line is impossible to draw. If the citizenry doesn't like a particular display, let them vote out the perpetrators. And they should feel equally free to toss the Chula Vista bozos discussed here at Hoy Story.
  • Another reminder of those old cartoons that would morph a character's head into a lollipop (helpfully labelled "Sucker") when he was flimflammed: Via Dartblog, a news story from the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger:
    After vowing during his campaign that he would not raise the gas tax, Gov.-elect Jon Corzine said yesterday he will reconsider the idea now that gasoline prices have eased and the state's budget gap has ballooned to more than $5 billion.
  • Constrained Katie points out that Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions has been named as one of National Review's "ten important books of the last 50 years." She points to Charles Murray's reprinted review. This blog extends its wholehearted agreement to all involved. Strong suggestion: read the review, buy and read the book. (Note, the link above will take you to Amazon, but if you're feeling in the Christmas spirit, instead use a blog link where Amazon will kick back a commission to a blogger. If you're at a loss, I suggest The Smartest Woman in the World.)
  • And Jay Tea at Wizbang! reminds me why I dropped my subscription to the Boston Globe. Matthew Hoy, bless him, also comments.

Last Modified 2012-10-25 4:09 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/15/2005

  • Well, I'll be damned, Jim: tribbles are real. (This is from the Cute Overload website, which, beware, will rot your brain if you go too often.)
  • And now for something completely different, as they say. Via Jim Cerny, here is an amazing ad for
    "Astonishing Shortcut Fighting Secrets So Dangerous They Were Banned By Congress Finally Revealed By Notorious Former Military 'Secret Weapon' Who Scares Even Top Martial Art Pros... By Quickly Turning Even Scrawny Weaklings Into Monster Killing Machines Almost Overnight!"
    So consider this URL a palate-cleanser after the first one.

    Also please assume I've taken this course; even though I'm a not-particularly-scrawny weakling, it would be advisable to treat me like a Monster Killing Machine! If that's OK with you.

  • And—sorry, don't seem to be able to get off the religion thing these days—here is an article by Mark Steyn (at the UK Spectator, free registration required). Topics covered: whether ethical monotheism is really the worst idea ever, John Lennon, the Narnia movie, population trends in Europe and America, depressed Germans, and more.

Last Modified 2012-10-25 4:11 PM EDT

Interesting Juxtaposition

Not that it matters, but Tyler Cowen posted a quote from a blog post by Eric Rasmussen:

I would rather see a preacher honestly say, "I believe Christians are better than other people." A Christian has to believe that. If he doesn't, he is denying sanctification—he is saying that even genuine Christian belief has no influence on a person's behavior. Maybe that is true, but should somebody who believes it be a Christian?
We could quibble here. As a sort-of-ex-Lutheran, I'm pretty sure the Standard Explanation is that we're all horrible sinners; although we get all exercised about good and evil people down here, the differences are pretty minor when viewed from God's vantage.

But then I spied this in a John Derbyshire article at NRO:

So far as the straight and narrow is concerned, the notion that religious belief is a social good does not actually bear up very well under examination. India is much more religious than Japan, but much worse behaved. (Homicide rates 0.034 per 1,000 vs. 0.005; adult HIV/AIDS infection 0.9 percent vs. 0.1; etc., etc.) Similarly within these United States. George Barna's surveys show that African Americans are the most religious group in U.S. society, Asian Americans the least religious, white Americans intermediate. The statement "My religious faith is important to me" draws an affirmative response from 52 percent of Asian Americans, 68 percent of whites, 72 percent of Hispanics, and 89 percent of African Americans. However, statistics on various kinds of social dysfunction and misbehavior—crime, illegitimacy, drug addiction, AIDS infection—vary in precisely the opposite way, Asian Americans having, and causing, the fewest problems, African Americans the most. (Barna's surveys turn up a lot of counterintuitive results: For example, that born-again Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians.)
… So maybe the answer to Rasmussen's objection is that what he terms Christian "false modesty" is actually just an honest reflection of reality.

I dunno. I really didn't think this blog would deal with matters religious, honest, but it's seemed to take that turn over the past few days. It's probably the season. But in keeping with that theme, Scott Adams also has a few thoughts theological containing the following Wish-I'd-Written:

I can't bring myself to believe in a God with a personality like my own. I base that on the paucity of lightning attacks on people who deserve it.
Now there's wisdom, sports fans.

Last Modified 2012-10-25 4:22 PM EDT

More On "Hostility to Atheists"

I remarked (not particularly seriously) below on Professor Eugene Volokh's "Hostility to Atheists" post. He's followed up with another article on the topic. He begins:

Quite a few of the comments to my earlier posts suggested that there isn't that much wrong with people saying that they had an "unfavorable" view of atheists, or that they wouldn't consider voting for an atheist candidate. Let's say that the posts were instead about Jews, not about atheists, …
Whoa. Let's not say that. It's simply not illuminating to set up a parallel between an ethnic group and a group of people who simply share a belief (or, more accurately I guess, disbelief).

Even if (as Eugene clarifies in an update) he's specifically trying to "focus this on attitudes towards people who are Jewish by religion, rather than by ethnicity," it's a parallel that generates more heat than light.

Look: generally speaking, it's OK to dislike a person based on his beliefs. And by extension, it's OK to dislike a group of people based on their shared beliefs. It may not be nice to do that, but it's OK. Needless to say, it's usually not OK to extend this principle beyond mere dislike.

This is, of course, distinct from bigotry, which generally bases dislike on features over which the target has no control (race, ethnicity, physical appearance, etc.). It is, at worst, stereotyping, betting that an individual shares the (perceived) typical properties of the group to which they belong. That's not great, but it's not a call to break out the drum and bugle corps of moral indignation, either.

I can't help but be reminded of George H. W. Bush's semi-famous interview with Robert I. Sherman of (I am not kidding) American Atheist Press back in 1987. (Source here.)

RS:
"Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?"
GB:
"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
RS:
"Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?"
GB:
"Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists."
Now Bush's first response is (to my mind) thoughtless and stupid. But his second response, I tend to smile at. Just not very high on atheists. Heh.

I say all this as someone who's not particularly religious himself. And I get along OK with a lot of atheists myself. But of all the things Prof Volokh might worry about, this would seem as if it should be pretty far down the list.


Last Modified 2006-01-06 2:48 PM EST

URLs du Jour -- 12/13/2005

  • A rare treat: an article by Larry Miller at The Daily Standard. (If you don't know who Larry Miller is, that's OK: you've almost certainly seen him somewhere.)
  • George F. Will remembers Eugene McCarthy, and manages to tie in the beloved New Hampshire Presidential Primary and the despised McCain-Feingold campaign regulations.
  • Lileks migrates from his usual haunts, penning a Year in Review article for The American Enterprise. Must read. Free sample:
    Summer movie season. Ticket sales are way down, and Hollywood wallows in self-pity, wondering what America really wants. The studios collect a stack of comment cards nine miles high that show Americans are craving movies about NASCAR racers who join the Marines, go to Iraq, and kill terrorists with martial arts kicks. The comment cards also indicate that most Americans have no idea where the accent falls on "Affleck." With all of this in mind, astute producers greenlight a picture about how Edward R. Murrow valiantly kept Joe McCarthy from introducing the Patriot Act. Quentin Tarantino starts another film where some guys, okay?, hip guys in black suits, dig? (who turn out to be neo-Nazi, Christian, Canadian separatists) fly planes into public schools. The cockpit-encounter dialogue is killer. Why do they call it a cockpit, man? You don't think that's gay? You think the whole shape of the plane is an accident? It's all just suppressed homoeroticism, man. In the climax, the bad guys will ram their Boeing into a school that refuses to teach Intelligent Design.
    (Via Mr. Hewitt.)
  • And, Lordy, is this ever cool: write some lyrics and the most famous singers in the world will sing them for you. (Via David Post at Volokh; he observes that it might be shut down soon.)

URLs du Jour -- 12/12/2005

  • Eugene Volokh despairs at what he calls the "hostility to atheism" currently in America. He cites a poll which (more accurately) points to a relatively high percentage of respondents who confessed to a mostly or very unfavorable opinion of atheists.

    Leave alone the slight distinction that can be made between (a) hostility to atheism and (b) not having a high opinion of atheists. Aren't the poll results simply explained by the fact that atheists act like jerks all the time? (Note: if you click the link, the relevant part is about halfway through the page. Also note that the the person making this assertion is not himself a believer.)

  • Dafydd ab Hugh at the Big Lizards blog trashes some senators, among them one of my own, John E. Sununu. At issue is the reauthorization of the Patriot Act; Senator Sununu is trying to include (in the words of a press release on his website) "modest protections for civil liberties". Comments Dafydd:
    There is a certain kind of conservative, such as former Rep. Bob Barr, who slides so far towards libertarianism that he ceases to support even the concept of law enforcement... these "conservatives" see even so much as tapping the cellphone of a suspected al-Qaeda bombmaker as an unacceptable abrogation of our rights.
    … to which I want to say: come on, now. First, there's no inherent conflict between libertarianism and full-fledged law enforcement; although I think the ACLUies go more than a little overboard sometimes with taking tools out of the hands of investigators, that's pretty far from Dafydd's caricature. And even non-ACLU types have some problems with the blank checks in the Patriot Act.

    For a more balanced view on Patriot renewal, see Glenn Reynolds and (linked to by Glenn), Orin Kerr. Yeah, I know that Sununu is mixing it up with a bunch of Usual Suspects here, but there's no reason to assume he's not doing so for admirable reasons of his own. I am a fan of Big Lizards, but Dafydd's slur is uncalled for.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 4:22 PM EDT

Fever Pitch

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

I finally managed to see this movie. I figured the combination of the Farelly Brothers (directors), Nick Hornby (who wrote the novel on which this was based), Lowell Ganz (screenwriter), my beloved Boston Red Sox, and a host of decent actors would come up with, well, a better movie than this.

Not that it's awful. Some funny lines are uttered. But I have my doubts whether Jimmy Fallon has the chops to make it as a movie leading man. Drewie Barrymore is also kind of flat. (I thought he was excellent in a small role in Almost Famous.) As a romantic comedy goes, it's utterly predictable. The Fenway scenes (however) are fantastic. However, if you want to see a movie based on a Nick Hornby book, go for High Fidelity.

But it's got JoBeth Williams; I don't think I've seen her in a movie for about twenty years!

Also note that the link above is to the special "Red Sox" edition of the DVD; consensus is that other than the nicer box, the DVD's extras aren't worth the additional price.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:55 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/11/2005

I made it back to New Hampshire, yippee! I needed to spend seven hours sitting in United Airlines Concourse C at O'Hare yesterday waiting for my Manchester flight, apparently due to the aftereffects of the past few days' weather. But whenever I started to feel sorry for myself, I heard much worse stories from my fellow refugees.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find it easy to clear the snow off my car and drive out of the airport parking lot. I'd heard nothing but prophecies of doom from Mrs. Salad and my co-workers.

Anyway, back to our regularly-scheduled programming:

  • Like me, and probably you, Bryan Caplan gets nagged about flossing by dental professionals on his periodic visits. Unlike me (and probably you), Bryan is an economist and asked them hard questions about trade-offs, and did some research, ably documented here. Impressive, but it only makes me feel marginally less guilty about not flossing. (Heh.)
  • Ann Althouse had a post a few weeks back (kind of) about "overstated metaphors." I added a comment to the effect that I really liked 'em, and was mainly jealous that I could never come up with good ones myself. Well, if you're like me: click here. Titled "Worst analogies ever written in a high school essay," it's roughly the same idea. (I think they're mostly similes, not analogies; I'm pedantic enough to point this out, but not enough to get upset about it.) I laughed out loud at a number of them. Sample: "The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can."

    I wish I could do that. (Via Michelle, ma belle.)

  • The best thing I've seen about Richard Pryor is by Roger L. Simon at the much-maligned Pajamas Media. Roger worked (uncredited) on the screenplay of Bustin' Loose back in the late 70's and has personal reminiscences that are worth reading. (Via Instapundit.)

Last Modified 2005-12-11 9:11 PM EST

Bungled Quote of the Day

Andrew Sullivan deems this his "Quote of the Day":

"Politics turns into virtue what religions often see as a vice—the fact that we do not all think alike, that we have conflicting interests, that we see the world through different eyes. Politics knows what religion sometimes forgets, that the imposition of truth by force and the suppression of dissent by power is the end of freedom and a denial of human dignity. When religion enters the political arena, we should repeat daily Bunyan's famous words: 'Then I saw that there was a way to Hell, even from the gates of Heaven.'" - Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, reminding us of something vital that today's Republican leadership has forgotten.
This typifies why I increasingly find Andrew's blog unuseful for obtaining insight on important matters; he views nearly everything through spectacles colored by the gay-marriage issue, and propounds everything through that narrowed vision.

Had Andrew actually thought about this for over a fraction of a second, he would no doubt realize how absolutely idiotic a statement Rabbi Sacks has made here. He'd realize that politics is (indeed) all about imposing truth by force. That is, in fact, the only thing it's good for; we want, for example, slavery to be prohibited, by force when and if necessary. The best outcome for which we can hope is that the sphere of the political world be severely limited to the classical liberal vision.

The institution that does the best job of satisfying varying values, interests, and modes of thought is neither politics nor religion, but the free market, of course. Rabbi Sacks and Andrew do not see fit to mention that. Politics, by its nature, is a one-brand, one-size-fits-all, top-down monopoly. Political winners don't just decide for their customers; they decide for everyone under their domain; this is irrespective of their (hopefully democratic) methods or (hopefully benign, if not noble) motives.

Andrew is peeved at Republicans because at least some, maybe most, of their opposition to his pet issue comes from folks operating under (presumably) religious motives. And he sees Rabbi Sacks' essay as another hammer he can use to pound that particular nail. Fine. But you can make your argument about that without erroneous generalization.

Illiberal incursions into modern American politics are bad, not because they're religiously-motivated, but simply because they're illiberal. The primary mass-murdering regimes in recent history have (of course) been illiberal, but also pretty much irreligious. While Islamic religious fundamentalism is clearly dangerous, that's not a lesson Republicans particularly need to learn, and it's clearly not the lesson Rabbi Sacks is trying to teach.

The problems with a simplistic focus on banning religious insights from the political sphere are the ones you might expect. You throw out good ideas and alienate possible allies, simply because of their beliefs and motives; you throw the door open to bad ideas simply because they've passed your secular litmus test. Why?

That said, parts of Rabbi Sacks' article contain good (if pedestrian) arguments for classical liberal democracy. His off-kilter focus and inability to make relevant distinctions, however, are fatal flaws. There are at least a few thousand better explications of the brief for liberal democracy; go read them instead.


Last Modified 2005-12-11 3:21 PM EST

The Substance of Style

[Amazon Link]

A marvelous book (that I've finally got around to reading) from Virginia Postrel, who I like to call The Smartest Woman in the World. I seem to recall from her blog that the original title was Look and Feel; that would have been better, I think.

And if this book had been written by someone else, I probably wouldn't have read it. As matters stylistic go, I'm solidly in the lower percentiles of the bell curve. Should Ms. Postrel visit my house, I would imagine an uncomfortable silence as she scanned the rooms, perhaps with a small arch of the eyebrow, gently biting her lower lip.

But I digress. Even if you don't think you're interested in that stuff, Ms. Postrel will make you interested, because her observations are fresh, insightful, and cleanly laid out with zero academic bafflegab. Topics range from toilet brushes, computers, cosmetic practices of Afghan women, plastics, shopping malls, and many, many more. She goes through life with eyes wide open, and she'll tell you interesting things that you'll be glad to know.

Coincidentally, Ms. Postrel recently had a blog post semi-lamenting the "respectable but unspectacular sales" of this book. So consider this an unabashed plug; the link above goes to Amazon, so go there and buy a copy already. (The link actually goes to the hardcover edition, because that's what I read, but you should buy the in-print paperback to get her the royalty.) You won't be sorry. Don't take two years to read it, either, as I did.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:53 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/8/2005

Or, more accurately, URLs accumulated during the past couple days, sorry. San Diego is nice, although a little cooler than I expected.

  • In a possible career-destroying move, Scott Adams posts a simple rule for being funny. That allows me to say definitively that this post is not funny. If you laughed, you shouldn't have, you pervert. (OK, now that I added that last bit, it is funny. … What? It's still not? Crap.) (Heh, he said "crap.")
  • Say what you will about the New York Times, they can still manage to be funny. Fans of Goodnight Moon will want to check their recommendations for newer editions. I mean, think about the children!
  • And, oh yeah: Aieee, we're all gonna die!. (Via Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey.)

URLs du Jour -- 12/6/2005

  • As a computer geek and Star Wars fan (and Simpsons fan), I found this story of how they made the "THX Sound" very interesting. Fascinating geeky factoid: since the program used to generate the sound was based (somewhat) on a random number sequence generated from a time-dependent seed, they were unable to recreate the exact version of the sound everyone liked when it was accidentally lost. (Via BBSpot.)
  • Help send Shawn Macomber to Iraq. No, honest, he wants to go.
  • Every so often, I spy a beautifully written blog entry that helps remind me of What's Important in Life. The Second-Smartest Woman in the World has written three of those recently. Abjure the usual blog-ordering and read the first one first, the second one second, and the third one third.
  • And a blog I had not read before ("What Would Tyler Durden Do"-heh!) has a straightforward analysis of celebrity posturing for death-row Stanley "Tookie" Williams. The blogger points out something usually missed: the pleas for clemency can not stand to mention the names of the people Tookie murdered. What's up with that? (Via Galley Slaves.)

Last Modified 2012-10-25 4:13 PM EDT

Blogging May Be Light …

… over the next few days, as I am physically on the Left Coast, attending the LISA system administrators conference put on by USENIX.

The weather is nice here. But, holy crap, it seems that people are completely into cell phones here. While sitting at LAX, it seemed like 80% of the folks in the area were yakking away on them.

Anyway, (belated) must-click URL for you: My close personal friend Dave Barry is not currently producing weekly columns, and it's a miracle that the republic has nevertheless survived. But he's written his Annual Gift Guide, and that will have to do for awhile. Probably more items than you might imagine are associated with dogs and poop.

Jane Smiley is a Better Human Being Than Holman Jenkins, and Probably Me, and You Too.

I don't delve into the Huffington Post much; Greg Gutfeld aside, it's pretty much 24x7 IHateBush there, which I suppose is OK for some, but pretty tedious for me.

But I did run across this article by Jane Smiley, a once-famous author, entitled "Twenty-Five Years a Sucker!" It's in response, sort of, to a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal which is avaliable online to subscribers only there, but which a helpful, albeit clueless, flouter of copyright law has duplicated here.

The satirical op-ed is in the form of an imagined letter to Prius customers from Toyota. Its primary point is that the expensive Prius doesn't save its buyers money at current gas prices, nor is it likely to do so in the future. It also takes some amusing swipes at Prius buyers. Fair-use sample:

You will share our pride in the latest figures from J.D. Power & Associates, which show that the Prius continues to move off a dealer's lot in just eight days, compared to 36 days for a Honda Civic hybrid. Clearly, our customers are willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of showing themselves behind the wheel of so conspicuously virtuous a vehicle.

But we are also a far-seeing corporation. We recognize that the Prius's distinctiveness may be a wasting asset for reasons outlined in this letter. Other motorists may see the Prius operator and think "sucker." Our lawyers advise us this may affect your car's resale value. Toyota regrets any inconvenience.

Did I say amusing? Well, Ms. Smiley Was Not Amused. She begins:
I happened to read a commentary in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, only because it was about the Prius -- a car that I own. The photo of the author, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., had that sneering look that free-marketers often adopt before they are indicted for tax fraud or accounting irregularities.
Now you might think this an inauspicious beginning; most writers over the age of fifteen do not start off articles with wish-fulfilling judicial fantasies based on someone else's physical appearance. But Ms. Smiley is a Professional Author, so let's cut her some slack.
I have to say that Junior did not disappoint. …
Yes, "Junior". Ms. Smiley has squandered the slack we previously cut. Not content with making fun of Jenkins' picture, Ms. Smiley makes fun of his name, too. We really are in teenage-girl revenge-writing mode here. Not to mention that making fun of names isn't really the best strategy for someone named "Smiley" to adopt. Her husband, Guy, could have told her this.
… He belittled Prius drivers for having fallen for Hybrid Synergy Drive hype, sneered at the "emotional" relationship Prius drivers seem to have with their vehicles, and eventually got around (toward the end of the piece) to calling Prius drivers "suckers."
And this is a sin for which Jenkins must pay. But first:
Junior caused me to reflect upon my Prius, and to compare it to the other cars I've bought in the last eight years -- a Chevy diesel truck, a Mazda van, a Saab, a Subaru Outback sedan, and, of course, the Prius. All of these cars cost between twenty and twenty-five grand. I still have the truck. It once had a sudden stopping problem that got fixed after the dealer rummaged through the paperwork and found an old recall notice, but it's been fine since. The Mazda van gave me serious back pain, so I bought the Saab. The Saab rode very rough. Every bump was like a pothole, so I bought the Outback, which had a very smooth ride, but only got about twenty miles to the gallon. When I tried the Prius, which rode nearly as well as the Outback, cost less, and had more cargo room and leg room in the backseat, I decided that the two were comparable, as cars go.
Yes, we must pay too, forced to read through a tedious description of Ms. Smiley's automotive choices. Only a Professional Author could imagine that we'd be interested in her rough-riding Saab.
The Prius has been entirely reliable, comfortable, and useful. There have been recalls -- Toyota notified me and fixed the potential problems during regular servicing. As far as I can tell, the Prius's only disadvantage is that if the dogs aren't looking at you when you are backing up, they don't realize that you are coming toward them (since it backs up silently, on electric power).
OK, so she's apparently backed over a few dogs. That is a disadvantage, especially for the dogs. One hopes the humans have learned from the dogs' experience and quickly vacate any area where Ms. Smiley might decide to fling her Prius into stealth-reverse mode.
Since all my cars have seemed comparable to me, I have not felt like a "sucker" in the Prius.
Well, there you go. It's all about feelings. And Ms. Smiley's are hurt.
And when I am driving on the highway and the car tells me it is getting 53 or 54 miles to the gallon and when I am driving around my neighborhood, which is hilly, and it tells me I am getting 41-43 miles to the gallon, and when I was stuck in traffic in LA it told me I was getting 72 miles to the gallon, it seems more like a bonus and a pleasure than the reason I bought the Prius, which cost me more than the Saab and less than the Mazda and the Subaru.
… yes, it's all one (Professionally-Authored) sentence. I especially like the deal with getting 72 mpg while stuck in traffic. ("We'd go 72 miles on a gallon, unless we were actually going somewhere, which we're not.")
I like how it looks, too -- I am tall, and it fits me.
So there!
Junior Jenkins doesn't say what sort of car he drives in his satire upon Prius drivers, but no doubt his car reflects something about who he thinks he is, and if I am to go by the article he wrote, his only value is money.
Now we're really getting down to it. I don't know anyone whose "only value is money", and I would guess Ms. Smiley doesn't either. Economically speaking, if you buy a car, it is pretty much self-evident that you would prefer to own the car than own the money you're spending. Otherwise you wouldn't make the transaction.

This is the kind of thoughtless insult that doubtless goes over well in the circles in which Ms. Smiley travels, because neither she nor her friends thinks about what it could possibly mean. Exercise for the reader: what does that say about their values?

He writes as though he is a dedicated comparison shopper, never settling for less than the most he can get for his money. In that case, I am sure he drives a Dodge or a GM, which he probably bought when those less than successful companies lured some people that you might call "suckers" into the showrooms with big rebates and financing deals. He congratulates himself everyday on what a good deal he got, and no doubt Junior keeps a running tab on how much he is paying for gas in comparison to how much he saved on the deal he made.
It's clear, isn't it, that Ms. Smiley has no idea what car Jenkins drives (other than it's probably not a hybrid)? The whole point of this prose is to imagine what a loathsome human Jenkins is, and how much better Ms. Smiley is. On no other basis than fantasies generated by her self-constructed caricature. This is easy, if you are a Professional Author.
The problem with Junior, though, is that he epitomizes more …
You thought Ms. Smiley was already over her head in drawing unwarranted conclusions on zero evidence? She's not done, my friend; there's more.
… than just the sneering, know-it-all attitude of the free market conservatives who pride themselves on gaming the system to their own advantage. He epitomizes the greedy egotism that is their only value and is the only value that they attribute to everyone else.
Waiiiit a minute, Jane baby. You said above that money was Jenkins' only value. Now it's "greedy egotism"? This is why Professional Authors often need Professional Editors.

But petty consistency is of secondary importance to hammering home the primary point, which is (again): I'm so much better than that tawdry Holman Jenkins!

Personally, I'm in favor of government regulation of economic life.
Gee, now there's a shock!
I think the deregulation fad of the 1980s was the beginning of the end of American democracy.
… and she doesn't need to present any evidence whatsoever for that thesis.
One of my favorite injustices is a small one -- it's the way that economics professors at places like the University of Chicago prescibe "creative destruction," economic insecurity, and low wages for others but reserve special treatment (tenure, for example) for themselves. At any rate, the reason I am in favor of government regulation is that intellectual leaders who promote free market orthodoxy, like Junior Jenkins, are so shallow, and theorizing about the free market has made them that way.
It is no particular surprise that Ms. Smiley would have an antipathy toward economics generally. But the main remarkable thing: she favors "government regulation" because those free marketeers are just so icky and shallow. Because they … make fun of her car!

Never mind that the argument for academic tenure is quite different from the argument for free-market capitalism. According to Jane, it's really the same thing.

Oh, those free marketers always give lip-service to actual freedom in the market -- the idea that people like me might be willing to pay a premium for some other value than getting the most for your money. I also pay a premium for free range chickens, grass-fed beef, and organically grown produce. I pay the premium not only because I believe in genetic and environmental diversity, good flavor, and boosting my family's omega-3 fatty acids, but also so that those who are doing the growing can make a living and refine their techniques on the off-chance that in the future, such a large premium will not have to be paid.
Ms. Smiley, of course, has the money to spend on Priuses and free-range chickens without having to worry overmuch that she'll need to scrimp on something else. She's not too worried about the folks who might actually need to make tough economic choices.
I would prefer, in fact, that the government had regulated the big agricultural companies so that they had never contaminated the plant gene pool, the water systems, the soil, and our own DNA to begin with, but it's too late for that now.
Ms. Smiley lives in the fantasy world that imagines a uniformly beneficient "government regulation" of the economic system. If you want to believe that, it really helps to not pay attention to those lowbrow economists.
In fact, every free market correction comes after the fact. In addition to "creative destruction," of course, there is "destructive destruction," but get some orthodox free marketer to talk about that!
I deeply suspect that the challenge would be less to get "free marketers" to talk, and more to get Ms. Smiley to listen. Her ignorance seems invincible.
Likewise, I wish that government regulation had preserved us from the melting Greenland ice cap, the freshening North Atlantic that is endangering the Gulf Stream, the melting permafrost in Siberia that is giving off extra methane, and Dick Cheney's 2001 Energy Taskforce, which seems to have made him think that the war in Iraq was a good idea. I wish we had used less oil in the last twenty years. I once had another sucker car -- an '86 Toyota Tercel wagon that got 45 miles to the gallon on the highway without hybrid synergy drive. It was totally reliable -- once I checked the oil and left the cap off, then drove 240 miles. Five of the six quarts of oil blew out of the engine, but it was fine. "It's a Toyota," said the dealer. It was so obviously the car of the future. But greed (of the oil companies and the automakers) said otherwise.
In SmileyWorld, the only possible thing that could keep Toyota from making 45 mpg Tercels today is that nasty old greed. Never mind that if people wanted Tercels, and if they could be made under current government safety regulations, Toyota would be happy to make as many as they could sell. Because, dear Ms. Smiley, of "greed."
At the very most basic level, government regulation describes what sort of society citizens want to live in, whether or not all the regulations work or all of them are wise ones. I would like to live in a society where the government says to the corporations, "first, do no harm":
Oh, Lord. Here it comes.
"Don't sell poison and call it food"
Apparently, Ms. Smiley thinks corporations are currently selling poison and calling it food.
"Don't pay your workers such a low wage that they can't have both food and lodging"
and a Prius.
"Don't leave millions of citizens without elementary healthcare"
Somehow this became a corporate responsibility too? Quelle suprise.
"Leave the natural world better than you found it."
… when I think of all the innocent trees slaughtered in order for Jane Smiley's books to be published, I weep bitter tears.
"Don't cheat on your taxes, your accounting, or your business practices."
Yeah, government is just way too cool about that stuff.
"Don't steal elections."
Sure, let's throw that in. We tell corporations to make sure that elections aren't stolen. That's their responsibility.
"All citizens have basic human worth."
Citizens, hm? Reading between the lines, apparently Ms. Smiley is down on immigrants.

Well, after that lecture …

Instead, thanks to the theorists of the free market, we live in a country where the corporations tell the government -- "We are going to do whatever we want, and you are going to do whatever we want, too. Citizens will be valued according to their financial assets. The natural world will be ruthlessly mined for 'wealth creation.' And everyone is going pretend that this is not only more profitable for us, it is morally better."
In all this bleakness, it's a real miracle that one of those nasty corporations produced that Prius, then, isn't it?
What sort of people produce Wal-Mart? …
Oh, damn. Now we're on Wal-Mart.
Why, people like Junior Jenkins, people for whom cheapness is all, no matter what the cost. Every time Junior sees a Prius (or a working stiff), he sees only a price tag. And even though, in the absence of decent regulations, people like me, Prince Charles, and Larry David have to actually fund new ideas (and shop at Costco), Junior laughs at us. He points out that even though we aren't using as much fuel or giving off as many emissions, the oil "is not saved." Well, no, it isn't, right now. But let's try an analogous argument -- just because Junior isn't as promiscuous as he used to be, that doesn't mean any fewer girls (or guys) are having sex.
Yes, folks: we've made fun of Jenkins' appearance, his name, his Smiley-imagined car, and now we're on his Smiley-imagined sex life. Apparently she thought this gambit was so clever, she didn't notice that the "analogous argument" didn't make a lot of sense. Is Junior's hypothetical promiscuity-decrease supposed to be analogous to Smiley's Prius-buying? Then just as many people having sex is analogous to … just as many people buying gas?

Whatever. Needless to say, Ms. Smiley's pretty far down on the list of resources to consult on the subtleties of how the gasoline market might respond to (say) an increase in Prius-buying.

Junior Jenkins has only one value (getting the most for his money) …
This is Ms. Smiley's third statement of Jenkins' alleged "one value" and she hasn't said it the same way twice.
and one fear (of getting suckered) …
Yes, Jenkins is only scared of one thing, in Ms. Smiley's imagination. Ms. Smiley, on the other hand, is scared of a whole bunch of things.
Until the glorious era of re-regulation dawns, I am going to pretend, in spite of the Wall Street Journal, that the free market is on my side. I am going to drive my Prius and eat my organic veggies and vote against the Diebold/Republican axis of evil on, as long as I can procure it, my paper ballot. Actually, the free market has left me no choice.
Let's just, this once, ignore the continued obnoxious moral superiority displayed here. Isn't it totally obvious to everyone, save Ms. Smiley, that the free market has given her the choice of Priuses, organic vegetables, etc.? As well as the cash to afford them?

Disclaimer. I kind of liked Moo. Now I'm ashamed.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 4:16 PM EDT

N is for Noose

[Amazon Link]

This is a pretty good outing for Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton's female private eye. In this book, she's mainly in remote Nota Lake, California, working for a widow who wants to know why her cop husband was so preoccupied in the weeks before his fatal heart attack.

If I wanted to quibble, and I guess I do, I could point out that the revelation of the final clue makes no sense whatsoever: Kinsey cracks the encoding of a five-letter word the deceased has left behind. But I can't think of any possible reason for the word to have been encoded in the first place. It's not one the deceased would have forgotten.

But never mind. Kinsey's fun to follow around as she unravels things. She's insanely chatty and opinionated. And I've only recently noticed that, despite the books being written in first person, Ms. Grafton is particularly skilled in revealing things about Kinsey's character that Kinsey probably doesn't realize herself.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:52 PM EDT

Robots

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

I wasn't expecting to like Robots as much as I did. But it's consistently funny and loaded with sight gags; I'm sure I missed many of them. The CGI is very good. Some scenes seem to be included mainly for the coolness of doing them in CGI. So you have to step back and just admire the tech stuff every so often.

The idea is—you may have heard—the world is completely populated with robots. Even the little birdies are little bird robots. And when two robot parents decide to make a baby, they do so literally, from parts. Double entendres abound. The robot world designers have filled it with rich detail, a lot of which (again) I probably missed.

The story is pretty much cookie-cutter: little guy takes on a huge corporate conspiracy. And you can't think too hard about it. Also, you can't think too hard about a fundamentally inegalitarian society where humanoid robots are "on top" served by a myriad of "lesser" robots doomed to fixed and limited roles throughout their "lives": phones, parking meters, traffic lights, etc. A robotic Marxist would have a field day, if he didn't lose his mind first.

Finally, I'm a sucker for any movie that has prominent end credits for sysadmins.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:52 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/3/2005 (Extremely Belated Edition)

  • I know I've pointed to Russell Roberts recently, but I need to point to him again today, as he excellently bemoans a David Ignatius column in the Washington Post. Even well after liberals say they've been persuaded of the superiority of market capitalism over socialism, they seem to be perennial suckers for "The Plan". In this case, it's Ignatius's head-over-heels rapture over the latest Proposed Massive Government Project to wean us off that nasty foreign oil.
  • Prof Bainbridge compares theory (GOP party head Ken Mehlman saying "People don't elect Republicans to run bloated bureaucracies.") with reality. (GOP Congressman Joe Barton, chair of a subcommittee "charged with regulating America's sports industry" announcing hearings into college football's Bowl Championship Series.) Disgusting.
  • Blog entry titles I wish I'd written:
    It'll Be a Beautiful Day When the Pentagon Has All the Money It Needs and Bombs Schools Having Bake Sales
    (Nick Gillespie at Reason's Hit & Run. You may need to be Of A Certain Age to get this, but still good.)

Sunset Boulevard

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

Number 31 on IMDB's top-250 movies of all time. So I'm really supposed to like this movie a lot more than I did.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that it was probably pretty daring for its time, but that time was 1950. It seems clichéd and a little trashy now, but mainly because of later imitators. Life is unfair.

The actor coming off the best here is … Cecil B. DeMille! He actually gives a believable and unmannered performance. It's also neat to spy a pre-Dragnet goofy Jack Webb (Is he on something?) and a dour Buster Keaton. But Gloria Swanson manages to be over-the-top even playing an intentionally over-the-top role. And William Holden one-notes the doomed corrupted cynic. The script puts Chandleresque dialogue in his mouth, which I think only only a few actors can do believably. (Bogart, Eastwood, James Garner, maybe Harrison Ford on a good day.)

However, it's well worth watching, if only to improve your movie literacy. Only $7.97 at Amazon as I type!


Last Modified 2012-10-25 3:53 PM EDT

URLs du Jour -- 12/2/2005

  • I've already turned in my Christmas list to Mrs. Salad, but if someone wants to buy me this, I wouldn't say no. (Via Instapundit.)
  • Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek posts a longish article about Wal-Mart and makes a pointed observation about the folks who oppose the chain's expansion plans and organize boycotts:
    How strange that those who would help the Wal-Mart worker do so by NOT shopping there! How strange it is that those who would help the Wal-Mart worker want fewer Wal-Marts built, reducing the demand for such workers temporarily or for even longer!
    Good point. We like these people so much, we want to take away their jobs. Blogger Dan Drezner and WaPo columnist Sebastian Mallaby also have some push-back articles about why Wal-Mart is not the Great Retail Satan. Both these articles are somewhat inspired by an essay by Jason Furman entitled "Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story" (PDF). All well worth reading.

    I like Wal-Mart just as much as the next fan of laissez-faire capitalism; I simply wish that just one freakin' time that I would get served by the competent, efficient, employees that I know must work at some Wal-Mart store, somewhere; I have yet to encounter them.

  • Although I hate using psychobabble, a recurring theme these days seems to be "projection": accusing someone of a character flaw while simultaneously displaying it yourself, usually in spades. (I guess you say "projection" if you're tired of saying "hypocrisy"?)

    For example, (via Drudge) a student newspaper reports a speech by Joseph Wilson at Northeastern U. Kind of in the middle he refers to "pro-war policy makers" who were "engaged in character denigration". Gasp! But he also in the same speech (a) referred to the Iraqis as 'assholes,'; (b) called Saddam Hussein a 'madman.'" (well, fair enough); (c) deemed Robert Novak an "asshole" and a "jerk." Nope, no character denigration there!

  • Things I wish I'd written:
    If I'm watching a commercial and I think it's too long, it doesn't help my mood that the name of the product is Infiniti.
    (Ann Althouse)

Last Modified 2005-12-06 10:07 AM EST