Incoming!

Via a mailing list I subscribe to, folks at the Internet Storm Center are pretty irate at an assignment given by an actual professor at an actual state college. They quote, allegedly verbatim, from the assignment:

Student is to perform a remote security evaluation of one or more computer systems. The evaluation should be conducted over the Internet, using tools available in the public domain.

In conducting this work, you should imagine yourself to be a security contracted by the owner of the computer system(s) to perform a security evaluation.

The student must provide a written report which has the following sections: Executive summary, description of tools and techniques used, dates and times of investigations (AKA break ins), examples of data collected, evaluation data, overall evaluation of the system(s) including vulnerabilities.

The ISC folks point out that what the prof is requiring his students to do is almost certainly illegal, and therefore suggest that students also include in their written reports:
Dates of student's incarceration so that they can be excused from class and not counted absent.

There are a number of other amusing observations at the ISC; nothing more inspires the writing of computer geeks than anger at others' stupidity.

I say "amusing". I hope I still find it amusing after the attacks are over.


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An Automatic Buy at Amazon

Title: Harald. Author: David Friedman. Even though I never read books in this particular genre, that's good enough for me.


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User Support Translation II

Just a helpful note: when you're in a "support dialogue" (e-mail or verbal) with a system administrator, and he or she types or says this:

I appreciate your patience.
what he or she really means is:
I really hope you'll be patient with me, instead of tearing my head off, which is probably what you feel like doing.
Similarly, when you hear/see:
I appreciate you maintaining your sense of humor about this.
the translation is:
Someday we may look back on this and laugh. I doubt that's going to be very soon, though.
Just so you know. (Previous User Support Translation is here.)

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Lefty Hypocrisy on Free Expression

Oh, I know: what could possibly be interesting about lefty hypocrisy on free expression? Isn't that kind of dog-bites-man?

Well, maybe. This is entertaining mainly because it involves Cathy Siepp, who probably can make anything interesting, turn the world on with her smile, etc.

Start with her LA Times op-ed here (free registration required, I think). It recounts a trip with a friend to the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, famed for stocking controversial books that no one else will touch.

But then the friend thinks …

… perhaps the long-delayed English translation of Oriana Fallaci's new book, "The Force of Reason," might finally be available, and that because Fallaci's militant stance against Islamic militants offends so many people, a store committed to selling banned books would be the perfect place to buy it. So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

"No," snapped the clerk. "We don't carry books by fascists."

Oops.

Cathy points out that it's "particularly repugnant that someone who fought against actual fascism in World War II should be deemed a fascist by a snotty San Francisco clerk." And she demonstrates that, at least in some quarters, free speech is only worth protecting if it's in service to correct causes (To requote a British Muslim: "peace or social justice", for example.)

Continue on, if you wish, to Prof Volokh's blog entry pointing to Cathy's article, which I will quote in its entirety:

A very good piece (as usual).
This one-liner has gathered, as I type, nearly 100 comments with an unusually low light/heat ratio for the Volokh site. Feel free to check them out for yourself, but I'll do my own summary of the anti-Cathy ones: in a conflict between free expression and certain "progressive" goals, we'll be happy to jettison free expression in a scant second, and how dare you criticize us for doing so.

Finally, check Cathy's own brief article on the hurly burly, both funny and smart.


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Flightplan

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

This movie got poor reviews (37% on the Tomatometer), but it's really not that bad. Maybe it's that movie critics tend not to be parents of small children, and haven't recently had that sinking feeling of losing track of a kid.

That's what happens to Jodie Foster here, and it happens, of all places, on a transatlantic jet flight. And unfortunately, the other passengers and flight crew soon have their doubts whether the child was on board at all. Nobody seems to have noticed her except Jodie!

Jodie Foster is a fine actress, and the other cast members are pretty good too. To go into detail would require major spoilers here, but the real problem is that the plot becomes more and more farfetched the more you think about it. Well, that understates things: it becomes completely unbelievable. (If you're so inclined, check the IMDB message boards where they fly jumbo jets through the plot holes.)

But it's pretty easy to suspend disbelief while watching the movie; things move along at a decent clip once the child disappears.

I guess when you make a movie like this, you're pretty much giving up on selling it as an in-flight movie.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:34 PM EDT
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I Saw This Coming …

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

You belong in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
You value freedom above all else.
You would fight and die for your family and your home.
Which Heinlein Book Should You Have Been A Character In?
Brought to you by Quizilla

Via Ms. Passey, who got the same results, at which neither she nor I was surprised.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:39 PM EDT
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Blogiversary

It's been a year since the first entry at Pun Salad. So a few notes are in order to mark the occasion.

  • It's been fun. It's still fun. I plan on sticking around.

  • If I had to come up with some other reason besides "fun" for blogging, I'd guess that it's somewhat worthwhile to get one's thoughts ordered enough to HTMLize, and discipline oneself to blog on a semi-regular basis. Otherwise, one could find oneself doing … what? Well, probably something less reputable.

  • I got into it with no expectations other than having an outlet for random thoughts. Readership remains small; I'm pretty far out on the long tail. That's fine. What my readers lack in numbers, they make up for in their intellectual qualities, outstanding senses of humor, and good looks. (Yes, you there. I'm talking about you. You're smart, funny, and cute.)

  • People link to the darndest things. I've put a lot of work into postings that, as near as I can tell, went unread except by some IP address in South Africa, and various web spiders. But a near-throwaway comment about meeting Richard Feynman long ago got a link from the Blogfather, and an accompanying spike in hits. (I had visions of coming in the next day to find the web server melted down into a gray plastic puddle. But it muddled through.)

  • Despite all the high-minded seriousness exhibited here, Pun Salad is currently at the top of a Google query for "girl Bob's discount furniture ads". I'm glad to provide this service for the Internet community.

  • Incoming mail has been 100% positive, kind words, illuminating comments. Polite corrections. It's much appreciated.

  • Thanks specifically to the good folks who've found it worthwhile to blogroll me: Shawn Macomber, Joe Malchow, Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey, and Katie Newmark. Now, there's a talented group.


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Live Free or What?

[LFOD] I feel I've been scooped by the good John Hinderaker at Power Line on a matter pertaining to my beloved state of New Hampshire. I would be derelict if I did not chime in on the issue. John says:

When I lived in New Hampshire, I enjoyed the perennial battles over the state's motto, "Live Free Or Die." It was on New Hampshire license plates then, and still is. The motto has been around for quite a while. It comes from a quote by New Hampshire's greatest Revolutionary War hero, Gen. John Stark. Stark reportedly gave a toast in 1809, when poor health led him to decline an invitation to a reunion of veterans of the 1777 Battle of Bennington: "Live free or die; death is not the worst of evils."

It's been the state motto since 1945. As I pointed out here, it's really the best state motto. (Although the competition isn't exactly Olympic-caliber. Maine: "Dirigo", Latin for "I Direct". Please.)

Liberals hate "Live Free Or Die." They hated it in the late 60s and early 70s, when I lived in New Hampshire, and they hate it still. The only difference is that liberals have grown more powerful in the state as southern New Hampshire increasingly consists of Boston bedroom communities.

Indeed. We even had a case go to the Supremes about it. (Argued by then Attorney General David Souter, who lost.) So now, "living free" also includes the right to tape over the motto on your plates, if you hate it enough. Now that's irony.

So I've enjoyed the latest motto controversy. New Hampshire, inspired by its more liberal elements--or, more likely, by its real estate developers--came up with a new jingle; it doesn't really qualify as a motto: "You're going to love it here." Feeble, no? Nevertheless, signs displaying the new slogan were posted along highways entering New Hampshire. The result was unhappiness

This is where John goes off the track a little, unfortunately.

  • The "You're going to love it here" slogan was the brainchild of a Portsmouth NH ad agency hired by the New Hampshire Department of Travel and Tourism. It's probably not politically motivated, other than by our state's ongoing effort to get out-of-staters to come in and help fund our state government. So that, um, we residents don't have to. (And don't think we don't appreciate it, folks!)

  • It in no way replaces LFOD, the Official State Motto.

  • New Hampshire's highway welcome signs haven't, generally, ever had the LFOD motto on them. (There's one, on I-89 in Lebanon, which remains. My theory is that it's there to irritate Vermonters, always an amusing activity.) The welcome signs have pretty much always been bland; the new ones simply went all the way to total smarmy adspeak.

  • But, thanks to the utter lameness of the "You're going to love it here" slogan (as John points out):

    The Senate passed a bill Thursday to require the state motto, "Live Free or Die," on highway welcoming signs. The motto could replace the "love it" slogan on the beige signs, or, more likely, appear on new signs.

So, bottom line, LFOD fans need not fret. The motto is alive and well.

Amusing side note: Current news stories have our governor, John Lynch, all for getting rid of the "generic" slogan; the Concord Monitor, however, recalls that he thought it was great when it was officially introduced last summer. Headlines the Monitor: "Lynch liked slogan before he didn't." (This formulation will undoubtedly be John Kerry's most enduring legacy.)

(Image, um, borrowed from Fosters Daily Democrat. Thanks guys. Don't sue me, OK?)


Last Modified 2012-10-25 1:53 PM EDT
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Heartwood

[Amazon Link]

I'm catching up on James Lee Burke novels. This one is no exception to his usual masterly stuff. This is his second Billy Bob Holland book. Billy Bob is a lawyer, and ex-Texas Ranger based in Deaf Smith, Texas. Like Burke's other major protagonist, Dave Robicheaux, Billy Bob is a fundamentally decent but occasionally hot-tempered hero, incessantly haunted by mistakes in his past.

The usual Burkean elements are here too: a rich but corrupt family mired in evildoing; little people with the odds stacked against them; characters with circus-freak physical deformities; characters with psychological problems that would earn you or me a quick trip to the rubber room; a touch of the supernatural. Inventive mayhem and intense psychic travail all the way through, and a whole lot of dead folks by the end.

And I don't think there's a writer alive whose descriptions can plunk you into a scene like Burke. Rodeos, drive-ins, barbecue joints, mansions: you're right there.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 1:54 PM EDT
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Quoting the Pledge

Roger Clegg (at the NRO Corner) posts what he terms "Today's Puzzle":

Here's a book review from the Washington Post this week: What's been airbrushed out of the quotation in the last sentence?

We click on over to the referenced review, go down to the end, and read …

Yoshino [the author of the reviewed book] might seem Pollyanna-hopeful to some, but his optimistic insistence on fair treatment for everyone is really not much different from our country's most idealist vision of itself: "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
At this point the hands are in the air, waving. "Oooh, teacher, I know." Yes, the reviewer, one Terry Hong, has quoted the Pledge of Allegiance, omitting the standard "under God" between "nation" and "indivisible."

And seemingly ironically, the review is of Covering by Kenji Yoshino. "Covering", states the review, "means to play down certain characteristics in order to fit into the perceived mainstream." And by leaving out "under God", isn't the reviewer "playing down certain characteristics" herself? In order to "fit into the perceived mainstream" of the reviewer's religion-phobic WaPo readership? Ah-ha! Gotcha, Ms. Hong!

It would be so neat if that were the whole story. But in fact the original text of the Pledge as written by the socialist Francis Bellamy in 1892 doesn't contain the "under God" phrase; this was added by Congress in 1954. Although it would be pretty to think that the reviewer was self-censoring the quote, it's plausible that she is well aware of the history, and actually does think that the "most idealist vision" of America was Bellamy's original version. So Roger Clegg's "puzzle" is kind of a misfire, sorry Roger.

And not that it matters, but: the fact that it was written by a socialist should be a red flag (heh) signal to think about doing without the Pledge entirely, instead of fiddling with its language. One would have thought the Congressional Commie-haters in the 1950's would have figured that out. I love my country as much as the next guy, but the Pledge is essentially a prayer to the Holy State, and I find it increasingly creepy as I get older.


Last Modified 2006-02-25 9:45 AM EST
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Debunking "Hate Speech"

Sean Clark catches a Penn State student (quoted in a newspaper article) claiming that "hate speech is not protected by the Constitution." Sean counters:

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a statement like this has been made. This belief has become somewhat pervasive, especially on college campuses, making it high time to put this fundamentally false and dangerous belief to rest.
And he does so, pretty convincingly. Sean's organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a great resource for countering illiberal restrictions on expression at universities.

FIRE has given my own employer, the University of New Hampshire, a speech code rating of red. Which is bad enough, but it's probably only a matter of time before UNH does something (um, again) to embarrass itself by attempting to quash free expression.


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The Two Minute Rule

[Amazon Link]

Robert Crais has been one of the few authors I auto-buy in hardcover. This new book is (unfortunately) not in his Elvis Cole series, but nevertheless an impressive page-turner. The protagonist is Max Holman, an ex-criminal just released from a ten-year sentence for bank robbery. He has hopes to see his estranged son Richard, but Richard is a cop, and he's gunned down with three other cops just before Max is released. Max takes it upon himself to find out what happened to his son. Things are complicated by policemen who have apparently been convinced by a too-pat solution to the case, and don't appreciate Max's interference.

Crais's characters are well-developed, the plot is intricate, and the book was obviously meticulously researched. A long scene is set around the famous Hollywood Sign, and it's obvious that Crais has done some crawling around up there himself.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:35 PM EDT
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Firewall

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

Although this movie got kind of mediocre reviews, I thought it was better than OK. Harrison Ford plays a network security geek for a Seattle bank. Pay must be pretty good for that, because he's got a huge house on the water. (Although his wife is an architect, so that probably helps too.) If you saw any previews whatsoever, you already know about 80% of the movie: bad guys take the good guy's family hostage, he tries to turn the tables on them. It's pretty standard fare, but well done.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the luminescent Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe on 24) play … well, pretty much the same character as Chloe on 24. Does she ever worry she'll be typecast?


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:36 PM EDT
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In (Indignant) Defense of House

Sally Satel and Jonathan Klick have a pretty good article at NRO on allegations of racial bias in medical care. Unfortunately, they lead it off with an example from House, and they get it all wrong.

Here's their excerpt:

Dr. Foreman to African American patient: Your blood pressure's a little high. I have something new that should help you out. Combines a nitrate with a blood pressure pill. It's targeted to African-Americans.

Patient: Targeted?

Foreman: Yeah, well, see we tend to have nitric oxide deficiencies. The studies show this drug counteracts that problem. It's the first drug to—

Patient: Ah…I've had white people lying to me for 60 years.

The patient rejects that drug, returns the next day, and finally leaves satisfied when another doctor tells him, "I'll give you the same medicine we give Republicans."

Then Satel and Klick comment:

This exchange between a black doctor and his black patient took place on House, Fox's medical drama. The idea that a physician (black or white) will give his white patients better care than his black patients has, alas, found its way into mainstream, primetime television.

I read this, and I say: whoa, hang on a cotton-pickin' minute. (And I'm not trying to imply anything racial by using the term "cotton-pickin'", I was just influenced at a young age by Tennessee Ernie Ford and Foghorn Leghorn.)

How many ways did Satel and Klick get this wrong?

  • The only one claiming that blacks are getting inferior medical care in this episode is the patient; he has no evidence for this save his own racial obsession.

  • It's not just "another doctor" saying "I'll give you the same medicine we give Republicans.": it's Dr. House his own self.

  • He says this only after the patient says that he didn't get the medicine that Dr. Foreman prescribed. (Says the patient: "I didn't fill that Oreo's prescription.")

  • He also only says this after the patient refuses to accept a prescription for the "racist drug" from House as well.

  • But it later turns out that House lied to the patient about prescribing the "Republican" drug; he reveals to Foreman "I told him it was the white stuff. I gave him the black stuff."

  • Foreman gets upset by this. I still can't figure out why.

So, rather than reinforce the idea that black people get inferior medical care, this episode of House debunks it. The black patient gets the appropriate medicine despite his own misperceptions; both House and Foreman do their best to make that happen. (And the only reason House succeeds where Foreman fails is because House has no compunctions about lying to the patient.)

I realize that it's tough to set a strong opening hook on a magazine article. But House, as near as I can tell, diligently avoids PCness and political tendentia; it's one of the reasons I'm a devoted viewer. So I'm disappointed (and indignant!) that Satel and Klick misrepresent a fine TV show.

(A very dedicated fan has the transcript of the episode here, probably in violation of 19 different copyright laws. More power to him or her.)


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:47 PM EDT
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Quick Headline Quiz

The Federal Reserve reported today:

  • The median US family income (before-tax, inflation-adjusted) rose 1.6 percent between 2001 and 2004.

  • The mean family income in the US fell 2.3 percent between 2001 and 2004.

Quiz: which headline appears on the story written by Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer?

  1. "Median American Family Income Increases"

  2. "Average American Family Income Declines"

Answer here. Try to contain your surprise.

Last Modified 2006-03-02 3:54 PM EST
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A Cure for the Blues

Unhappy? Depressed? Morose? Don't take those false drugs, suggests George Will; just become a conservative:

A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that conservatives are happier than liberals -- in all income groups. While 34 percent of all Americans call themselves ``very happy,'' only 28 percent of liberal Democrats (and 31 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats) do, compared to 47 percent of conservative Republicans. This finding is niftily self-reinforcing: It depresses liberals.

My friend George attributes this to conservatives being "more pessimistic" than liberals: they have fewer false hopes to be dashed. I'd say instead that it's not an optimism/pessimism thing but (to flog a meme I've mentioned a time or two in the past) an different-vision thing. Specifically: the difference between "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions of reality. (Also dubbed "tragic" and "utopian" visions.)

People should buy and read A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell. I'll plagiarize quote a perceptive Amazon reviewer, Marc Cenedella:

The Tragic (constrained) vision of human nature views man as possessing foibles, incentives, and the desire to act in his own self-interest. The Tragic "sees the evils of the world as deriving from the limited and unhappy choices available, given the inherent moral and intellectual limitations of human beings." …

The Utopian (unconstrained) vision holds that man has not yet achieved his full moral potential, and that that potential is essentially perfectible. It is "foolish and immoral choices explain the evils of the world - and that wiser or more moral and humane social policies are the solution." …

Seen that way, it's little wonder that those of the Utopian/Unconstrained camp tend to be on the unhappy side: they know that the failures of the world around them are caused by stupidity and malice; they are, in addition, constantly frustrated by reality in bringing their own plans to fruition.

Bottom line: read Sowell, you'll be happier for it.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:36 PM EDT
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Just So You Know

Person Used for Nocturnal Sabotage, Accurate Learning and Adept
Destruction

(Via WitNit.)


Last Modified 2012-10-25 1:55 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-22

  • Professor Volokh looks at an AP story on Justice Scalia's talk at the American Enterprise Institute, and asks if they're "fundamentally unserious." (Softball question, Prof. The answer's yes.) He also notes that the AP was outreported by blogger Ted Frank both on overall substance and a relevant detail. Interesting, not surprising. (Instapundit also comments.)

  • While many people I like are going batshit over a United Arab Emirates company taking control over some operations at major American ports, it seems Dan Drezner is a welcome voice of reasonableness and proportion. And Mullings points out that the episode demonstrates the Administration's usual ineptness at figuring out how such things will play in the political arena and taking preparatory actions. Dartblog detects politically-motivated hypocrisy in spades, finding folks who were against racial profiling, before they were for it.

    However, as an ankle-biter noticed, Jimmy Carter thinks the deal is just fine. That's enough to make any concerned American worry about it.

    Dafyyd seems to also have a sound analysis and a possible winning compromise. (As in: I can't see any obvious flaws. But why would you expect me to see any obvious flaws? Do I look like a foreign policy whiz?)

  • Newspapers can cause a storm of violent reaction for publishing cartoons of Mohammed, okay. But it turns out you can't even draw an inebriated hillbilly getting kicked off a log into a ravine without irking someone, specifically Lynda Ann Ewen, PhD, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Marshall University, and Co-Director, Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia. Go figure.

  • A recurring theme: we take the Internet too much for granted, and we need constant reminders as how insanely great it all is. Today's brief essay on that topic is from Chicago Boy Mitch Townsend. In a wish-I'd-written, he says:

    You care about this because it is going to make your life better. You will have more money. Your children will have a library card that is close to the one the angels have in their wallets.

    Exactly.

  • Also good today is Jonah Goldberg who demonstrates that liberals who favor a "living Constitution" in most instances are more than willing to pound a stake into its heart when it comes to the NSA's warrantless surveillance. Mathew J. Franck is also impressed and proposes "a simple test" to distinguish principle from expediency in Constitution-interpreters:
    [A]nyone who defends Roe v. Wade in any way, shape, or form as an appropriate use of judicial power, has no standing to complain about anyone's constitutional argument on any question. Blab about whether you like this or that political outcome all you want, but don't try to convince us that you are actually interested in the integrity of constitutional reasoning.

  • PBS: it's good for something. (A new motto for them, perhaps?) Check your local listings.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:48 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-21

  • Richard Cohen op-edded last week at the WaPo. He writes to "Gabriela", a student who dropped out of an LA high school "after failing algebra six times in six semesters, trying it a seventh time and finally just despairing over ever getting it." Sample "advice" from Cohen:
    Here's the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know -- never mind want to know -- how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later -- or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note -- or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.

    There's been a lot of reaction, mostly negative. An excellent place to start is (as you might expect) Joanne Jacobs; she comments: "[I]f that's the kind of reasoning taught by writing, I'll take algebra." She also has a lot of links to people doing more detailed dissections of Cohen.

    But Cohen's argument isn't new, and it gives me a chance to plug one of my favorite writers on education, the late Richard Mitchell, who for years published a beautiful small newsletter called The Underground Grammarian. Almost twenty years ago, in Volume 11, Number 6, he considered the math-related comments of a Peoria superintendent of schools, Gerald Brookhart, who had displayed an attitude similar to Cohen's:

    Brookhart, naturally, puts us in mind of Socrates, and the strange thing he said to Callicles, who thought himself a superior sort of person, and thus entitled to more wealth and power than he had yet acquired. "It is your neglect of geometry," said Socrates, "that leads you to want a greater share than other men." The Brookharts of this world, having never thought about it, assume that things like geometry and the multiplication table are taught in schools only out of tradition, and they are easily seduced into believing that such arts are useless to those who aren't going to make some money from them.

    But in fact the mathematical arts are the best studies in which to learn certain truths that are essential to the making of wise choices. It is in mathematics that we most readily see that the permanent relationship between principle and necessity is not subject to appeal, that every particular is a local manifestation of some universal, that there is a demonstrable difference between what we believe and what we know, and that experience can never do the work of logic. It is in mathematical studies that a child (provided that there be a true teacher, and not a Brookhart) can have his first inkling of Justice and Truth, and of the immense and momentous difference between the laws and Lawfulness.

    If you buy into the "job skills" model of education, Mitchell's argument will seem strange, of course. But it shows most directly just how seductively wrong Cohen's argument is. "Read the whole thing."

  • In fact, just about all of Richard Mitchell's published works are available at this site; it's one of the densest collections of wisdom you're likely to find on the web. It was set up by one Mark Alexander, also an Underground Grammarian fan, who blogs here.

  • Dafydd at Big Lizards chronicles the legal maneuvering behind the effort to derail the California execution of Michael Morales. The argument is that the procedure, involving staged injections of three chemicals, might be painful at some point. Dafydd (be warned) describes Morales's 1981 crime in considerable stomach-churning detail; I think it's impossible to care one whit about a brief owie inflicted on Morales after reading it.

  • And via Hit&Run, the LA Times reports that the "Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board", recommended by the 9/11 Commission, has yet to meet. This isn't exactly "news": the Google reveals similar stories in various outlets: a couple weeks ago at wired.com; last month at govexec.com; last August at the WaPo; last August at the Boston Globe; and last May at the NYT (abstract only for TimesUnselected, of course).

    Nice that the LA Times (and Reason) finally noticed, I guess.

  • And Frank J. at IMAO provides us with a "Super Happy Fun Partial Birth Abortion FAQ!" Not for those who prefer euphemisms.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-20

  • No, the University of New Hampshire does not consider "President's Day" to be an actual holiday. Hmph. Thanks for asking, though. In honor of the day, however, you could do worse than check out David Boaz's appreciation of George Washington, who was what we call today a class act.

    Boaz refers to this New Yorker review of David McCullough's 1776 in The New Yorker last year, in which one Joshua Micah Marshall claims that Washington's character "was all a put-on, an act." Marshall apparently thinks that "character" is a given, innate, immutable property that can't be changed, let alone improved, only covered up. Fortunately, Washington knew differently.

    Lee Harris also has a good essay on Washington at Tech Central Station.

  • Of course, not all ex-Presidents compare well with George Washington. For example: is there any anti-American government that Jimmy Carter won't suck up to? The Ankle-Biting Bulldog looks at Carter's recent WaPo op-ed that demands we Play Nice with Hamas and finds it disgraceful. Powerline has more on the upstanding Hamas rulers and concludes:
    Jimmy Carter is the terrorists' useful idiot, the man who, Lenin to the contrary notwithstanding, wants to give (not sell) them the rope.

  • And I remember 44 years ago today pretty darn well. "God Speed, John Glenn."


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:48 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-19

  • Dartblog pays attention to what Hamas has been up to after taking control of the Palestinian Authority "parliament": (a) renouncing treaty obligations that recognize Israel's right to exist; (b) demand that Israel continue to send it $42 million each month. Incoherent and violent, a charming combination.

  • Dartblog also points to today's Dilbert, which makes a good point about oil economics while still managing to be funny. You're not going to see Garfield manage that feat anytime soon.

    But it's not all leeching off Dartblog today, although it could be. He's on a tear, just go look.

  • Via Michelle, ma belle, Drudge reports that the beloved Mainstream Media are gearing up for yet another week of Cheney-hunting. Over at HuffnPuff, they're also trying to get a few more yards out of the dead horse of a story, which means they're becoming even more meta; there's been little actual news for days, so they write about the coverage, speculate without evidence, then write about speculating without evidence, then …

    The four-day-old blog entry by Steve Martin is still the top "featured post" as I type. Give them points for honesty, that's been the high point of their coverage. Today's article by Arianna is regrettably typical. She watched Meet the Press, which featured Mary Matalin as a guest. I am not making this up: after savaging Ms. Matalin's sins in jewelry, clothes, and makeup, Arianna decrees that Mary was also "nasty".

    In the meantime, at least 15 actual people were killed in Nigeria by rioting Muslims. As I type, there's a link to the Yahoo! story on the HuffnPuff front page … and that's it. Hamas? Nothing. Yes, never mind that, isn't that blouse Mary Matalin wore just so absolutely dreadful? Over to you, Alec Baldwin and David Mamet …

    Arianna's also quite incredulous that David Gregory, NBC's White House Correspondent, found it necessary to apologize for his Cheney-related heated unprofessional exchange with Scott McLellan earlier in the week. It really is true: when you're on an obsessive Ahab-like crusade, you just don't see how you appear to the non-obsessed. At least Gregory seems to have figured this out. Will Arianna?


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Elizabethtown

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

I've liked Cameron Crowe's past movies, so even though the critics didn't like it much, I decided to check it out. Not great, not bad. The problem is that it's about too many different things: a family story, a love story, a dealing-with-failure story. And it winds up being about an hour too long. And there's a lot of yakking, mainly by Kirsten Dunst's character, saying things meant to be deep. But movies can really only stand so many deep thoughts uttered in conversation. After awhile, it begins to dawn on viewers that they're watching a clever scriptwriter, not a movie.

That said, it's still kind of fun. Because the script is pretty clever, and the supporting characters are quirky and interesting. Nice to see Loudon Wainwright III again, always liked that "Dead Skunk" song.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:38 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-17

  • Via BBSpot, a very funny Wired column in which Lore Sjöberg offers up his perfectly believable explanations of why he was querying the Google for things like "hot lemur on tarsier action".

  • As a matter of fact, it looks like you and I should read just about everything by Lore Sjöberg. And not just because I like looking up the HTML encoding of ö. Even though he looks like a young Charles Manson, I'm sure he's just a nice Scandinavian-extracted kid at heart like you and me. Well, me.

    And he's an excellent writer too, like you and me. Well, you.

  • UNH's own Shawn Macomber has been paying attention, and reports that the French are really unpopular.

  • And if you're a geek looking for decorating ideas at home or office, here are some great ones. (Via GeekPress of course.)


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Four Brothers

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

(Yes, movie weekend is beginning a bit early at Salad Manor, due to a well-deserved day off.)

Every so often I'm surprised by a better-than-expected movie, and this is one of those. The director, John Singleton, coaxes great performances out of every actor involved. The script features clever dialog, and doesn't skimp on characterization in favor of mindless violent action. (Although there's plenty of that, fortunately.) It's beautifully shot.

The idea is that four adopted sons of a saintly ex-hippie (played by Fionnula Flanagan) is murdered in a convenience store robbery. The brothers (Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, André Benjamin, and Garrett Hedlund) decide, with varying levels of enthusiasm, to try to figure out whodunnit. And, guess what, they do, with lots of ensuing mayhem.

It's not a great ad for the Detroit Police, however: only one unambiguously honest cop is shown. They're apparently unaware of several outbreaks of mini-warfare in the city until they're long over. And they've got no problem with beating on people under interrogation.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 1:51 PM EDT
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Fantastic Four

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

I put off seeing Fantastic Four due to lackluster reviews, but I read this comic a lot in college, so how long could I resist?

The good: Michael Chiklis is just about perfect as Ben Grimm, aka The Thing. He's the centerpiece of the movie, and rightfully so, since he was always, at least to my college-age mind, the most interesting of the quartet. And the special effects are pretty good.

And it was nice to see Stan Lee in a cameo. How cool must that have been, to—even in a movie—actually talk to the superheroes you helped invent?

The not-so-good: everybody else, including the venerable Dr. Doom. I mean … they're practically teenyboppers in this movie! Reed Richards was graying around the temples because he was, um, mature. (In this movie, it's due to the accident that gives the group their powers.) No doubt the script doctors claimed that having heroes and villians older than 29 would have hurt the box office. Feh!

And the dialog is beyond wooden.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 1:51 PM EDT
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Popular Mechanics Triumph

Instapundit points to a great article at the Popular Mechanics website that criticizes leaked excerpts from the report issued yesterday by the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. They demonstrate "the report's most troubling shortfall: consistently blaming individuals for failing to foresee circumstances that only became clear with the laser-sharp vision of hindsight."

They have a followup article here based on their examination of the full report. And (finally) their current cover story on Katrina myths and recommendations for the future is here. It's all good.

That said, many folks have unrealistic idealized notions of the infallibility and efficacy of government action. Any actual response will inevitably fall far short of what they imagine the government could be doing. So even if PM's recommendations were carried out in full, it still won't prevent future well-publicized outrage over the "inadequacy" of government disaster response.

And another thing: not to go all elitist or anything, but Popular Mechanics isn't the first publication to leap to one's mind when thinking of good, solid reporting and analysis like this. Why don't we see this sort of thing from more conventional journalistic sources? Oh, right, they're busy doing Cheney stuff.

It seems Reason used to do this kind of thing, but maybe that was back in the Poole/Postrel days …


Last Modified 2006-02-16 6:50 PM EST
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User Support Translation

Just a helpful note: when you're in a "support dialogue" (e-mail or verbal) with a system administrator, and he or she types or says this:

Thanks for the additional information.

what he or she really means is:

Why didn't you !@%$#%@ say that in the first place, you !@%$#%@!

Just so you know.

(Note: if you happen to be someone to whom I've said this, you are of course an exception to this rule.)


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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-15

  • Vernon, California, is a small "city" a few miles south of downtown LA. According to this fascinating article at the LA Times:

    The city is five square miles of low-slung industrial and commercial buildings, laced with railroad tracks. Green space is nearly nonexistent. Among the few splashes of color is the landmark mural of farm animals on the side of the Farmer John pork processing plant.

    Although (the Times reports) about 44,000 people work there, the live-in population is estimated at 93. There are less than 60 registered voters.

    Now, without looking at the article, can you imagine what sort of city government Vernon has? Well, it's probably worse than you can imagine: it's basically a setup to enrich those in charge, and to maintain their grip on power. There hasn't been a contested election in a quarter century. Almost all voters are "either city employees or related to a city official."

    The story concerns the efforts of a small group of people to move into Vernon and get on the City Council. Who could blame them for attempting to hop on the gravy train, right? Of course, they get massive thuggish pushback from the entrenched government; it's also an iffy question whether a convicted felon is behind the effort to horn in on the cushy situation.

    As Mel Brooks famously said in Blazing Saddles: "We've gotta protect our phony baloney jobs, gentlemen!" Libertarians of all stripes can only look, chuckle, and draw parallels between Vernon's government and ones that differ only in degree, not in kind.

  • The Weekly Standard has an article on "Web 2.0" by Andrew Keen. The main problem, thinks Keen, is that it will get too many of the Great Unwashed into the media creation game.

    Just as Marx seduced a generation of European idealists with his fantasy of self-realization in a communist utopia, so the Web 2.0 cult of creative self-realization has seduced everyone in Silicon Valley. … The consequences of Web 2.0 are inherently dangerous for the vitality of culture and the arts. Its empowering promises play upon that legacy of the '60s--the creeping narcissism that Christopher Lasch described so presciently, with its obsessive focus on the realization of the self.

    Sorry, I don't see it. Nothing in current or future technology is likely to repeal Sturgeon's Law ("Ninety percent of everything is crap.") Keen bemoans the destructive changes in the mainstream media: newspapers, TV networks, the music industry, all in decline! This shows, I think, one of the cleavages between conservatives and libertarians: most libertarians know that marketplace-driven destruction is creative destruction. Conservatives just see change, and bemoan the coming dark ages. I'm sorry, but the coming dark ages have been coming ever since I was a kid.

    The corollary to Sturgeon's Law is that ten percent of everything isn't crap, and that's still going to be an unprecedented flood of good stuff, that we don't have to rely on an "elite" set of gatekeepers for us to find and present. This isn't utopian; it's just what's gonna happen. To a large extent, it's already happened.

    The real problem with Web 2.0, by the way, appears in passing near the beginning of the article, meant to display a canonical example:

    LAST WEEK, I was treated to lunch at a fashionable Japanese restaurant in Palo Alto by a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur who, back in the dot.com boom, had invested in my start-up Audiocafe.com. The entrepreneur, like me a Silicon Valley veteran, was pitching me his latest start-up: a technology platform that creates easy-to-use software tools for online communities to publish weblogs, digital movies, and music.

    Yes, exactly. "Web 2.0" is, God bless it, an overhyped creature of entrepreneurs making "pitches" in fashionable restaurants, trying once again to turn the crank on the old money machine. That's fine, I love capitalism and entrepreneurship, probably more so than the next guy. But, come on, do we really have to take the resultant hype all that seriously? No; keep your checkbook in your pocket, unless there's something concrete behind the buzzwords.

    Ironic note at the end of the article:

    Andrew Keen is a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur and digital media critic. He blogs at TheGreatSeduction.com and has recently launched aftertv.com, a podcast chat show about media, culture, and technology.

    Oh, OK then.

  • And I promised myself after yesterday: no more Cheney URLs! It's too easy. But … oh, heck … Steve Martin.


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In the Beginning…Was the Command Line

[Amazon Link]

When I read just about anything by Neal Stephenson, I start the comparisons: he's three times funnier than I; he's fourteen times more literate than I; he's 48 times a better writer; … well, you get the idea. Combination of admiration and jealousy. And if he puts his name on a collection of grocery lists, I'm off to pre-order it at Amazon.

Anyway: this short book is a discussion of computer user interfaces, giving a nice brief in favor of good old Unix-style command line. It being Stephenson, there are lots of entertaining diversions off to places like Disney World, and Ames (Iowa) High School in the early 70's.

The book is copyrighted 1999, which puts it out of date in some respects. BeOS, which Neal liked a lot, is (I think it's fair to say) mostly defunct. And Linux has come a long way toward widespread respectability, which makes his salesmanship on its behalf a little unnecessary today.

But some things haven't changed: Microsoft's OS's still stink on ice, and the GUI metaphor continues to mean that a lot of CPU power is (still) spent on preventing users from knowing what's going on, and actively confusing them in some cases. Although, granted, you miss quite a bit with non-GUI web browsers.

Bottom line: luminescent writing on a geeky topic. I think non-geeks would like it too.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:34 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-01-14 (All-Cheney Edition)

I'm weirdly obsessed:

  • Joel Achenbach makes the long-awated Burr-Hamilton parallel. Someone had to.
  • The infidel Treacher.
  • The WSJ compiles the TV gagsters.
  • And one I'm just going to steal from Lucianne, who, um, appropriated it from Free Republic: Ten Ways Dick
Cheney Can Kill you

  • So far speculation is that either:

    1. Cheney violated a major hunting safety rule, to wit: "Don't shoot people."
    2. Or Harry Whittington violated a major hunting safety rule, to wit: "Don't get in Dick Cheney's way."

    The truth is out there.

    But seriously, best wishes for a speedy recovery to Mr. Whittington.


Last Modified 2007-08-22 1:41 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-01-13

Pretty slim pickings today, sorry.

  • Your Dick Cheney links:

    Personally, I think Scott Adams is the highlight here.

    It would be neat to come up with an Aaron Burr/Alexander Hamilton parallel. Problem is that any accurate one would probably be too historically abstruse for most people, including me.

  • Worried about the trade deficit? Don Boudreaux will tell you why you should stop.


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Why Pun Salad Will Not Be Blogging the Winter Olympics

Because my close personal friend Dave Barry tells you everything you need to know.


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URLs du Weekend — 2006-02-11&12

  • We're all a little weather-obsessed this weekend in the Northeast; snow-deprived for so long, the major media is treating our current snowstorm as a replay of 1978. My sister called from Iowa to check if we survived.

    Folks, it's just snow. Happens most every winter.

    That said, Carl Schaad of AccuWeather has a blog, and it's really funny. Check it out. If AccuWeather had a cable channel, I'd totally watch it over those stiffs at The Weather Channel.

  • GeekPress helpfully points to an article on mind-control paraasites:
    Half of the world's human population is infected with Toxoplasma. Parasites in the body - and the brain. Remember that.
    But is that really true, or just what the mind parasites want us to believe? Hmm…

  • Tyler Cowen, ostensibly an economist, also has his eye out for matters of true import; via his Marginal Revolution, he points to a Nature article that reports one of the enduring mysteries of life (at least for physics majors) has been solved: do people swim faster in water or syrup? No spoilers here, you'll have to look for yourself. One of the University of Minnesota researchers observed:
    The fluid looked like snot. I don't know how to describe it any more poetically.
    Unfortunately, Minnesota is not in the market for a Poet Laureate.

  • But no, it's not all fun and games and shoveling here at Pun Manor this weekend. We also have our eye on the usual Important Stories. Via the infidel Treacher, we have More Cartoons That Might Offend in the Middle East. (Well, I'll be darned. Cracked. Still around. Wow.)

  • Note to Dubya: that hunting trip with Cheney? Bad idea.

    (Yes, I'm in competition for the Worst Cheney Hunting Joke.)


Last Modified 2006-02-16 8:24 AM EST
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Layer Cake

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

Movie Weekend continues with Layer Cake. It's a very complex and well-acted crime thriller, centering on an anonymous cocaine middleman played by Daniel Craig. His stated plan is that old gangster-movie cliché: an early retirement. Unfortunately, he's plunged into the middle of high-level criminal doings that he only barely understands; the movie's plot revolves around his fumbling efforts to escape the myriad conflicts among his double-crossing colleagues. Dialog is witty, with understated humor bubbling underneath. Recommended for anyone with the stomach for a little sex, a lot of violence, and the ability to understand plot twists explicated in various English accents.

I'm looking forward to seeing Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. After seeing this, I'm pretty sure he could do a great job.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:37 PM EDT
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Break In

[Amazon Link]

I stayed away from reading Dick Francis for years, thinking that his books were about horse racing, and I had no interest in horse racing, so that was that. And worse, he was British, so that conjured up all sorts of thoughts about tea cozies. Dumb mistake! If you're holding back from reading Francis for such reasons, cease and desist.

This one has the usual Franciscan protagonist: a brave, loyal, and fearless jockey cum mensch named Christmas Fielding. (But his friends call him Kit.) He is called to help out his sister and his brother-in-law rescue their stables from financial ruin caused by scurrilous rumors planted in the press for mysterious reasons. This puts him in enough peril, but in addition, he's wooing the niece of an actual princess. Great fun.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:37 PM EDT
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Stealth

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

Be warned: sometimes you rent a critically-drubbed movie, your tiny little inner voice saying "It's got that nice Jessica Biel in it, how bad can it be?" Pretty bad, it turns out.

If you've seen 2001 or even the episode of Star Trek with Dr. Daystrom and his handy M5 computer running the Enterprise, you pretty much have seen the first part of this movie already: AI starts killing the good guys. The AI here is called EDI, or "Eddie". As in: open the pod bay doors, Eddie.

The movie is set in the near future, where a trio of crack US pilots, including that nice Jessica Biel, apparently go wherever they want in the world to blow up terrorists. Their stealth fighters are advanced enough to take down a bad-guy multi-story building in the middle of a city without hurting any innocent bystanders in the teeming streets below. (Apparently the building didn't have any innocent janitors.) But Eddie breaks up this happy family … oh, who cares?

Oh, and the screenplay was by W. D. Richter, who also wrote the screenplay for the wonderful movie Slither back in the early 70's, and Big Trouble in Little China in the 80's. Sad to see this descent into hackdom.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:37 PM EDT
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The Skeleton Key

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

This is in the Supernatural Thriller genre, Young Woman in Distress division. Kate Hudson plays the Young Woman. She is hired by an older woman (Gena Rowlands!) to take care of her stroke-impaired husband (John Hurt!) in a decaying creepy mansion in Louisiana bayou country. Everyone there is a little crazy and haunted, save for the old lady's lawyer, who just seems sleazy.

In short order, mysterious and disturbing things start happening to our heroine. If you watch it, I suggest you pay attention to those historical references and flashbacks; if you don't, the ending won't make a lot of sense. Not that it makes a lot of sense if you are paying attention; the plot depends a lot on Kate Hudson doing exactly the things she actually does, but we don't see many compelling reasons for her to do those things.

The MPAA rating advisory says: "Violence, Disturbing Images, Some Partial Nudity, and Thematic Material". What you may be wanting to know: does the partial nudity belong to Kate Hudson? Yes it does. (I would have had to knock off a star or two if it had been Ms. Rowlands.) Said partial nudity is (however) not enough to keep the movie from being rated PG-13.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:38 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-10

  • Constrained Katie has a roundup of skeptical reaction to Dubya's American Competitiveness Initiative. It's the same old social-engineering "investment" crapola, where megabucks targeted by wise and benevolent bureaucrats will pay off handsomely down the road. Sure.

  • Remember "Rock the Vote"? It seems headed for an overdue and unlamented death, according to a recent LA Times article. Quoted is chairman of the board Fred Goldring, who speculates:
    "We're like the popular kid who never gets asked out because everyone thinks he already has a date."

    If only Fred had been around when I was a kid! It would have been nice to have a buddy tell me the reason I was home on Saturday night was that I was too popular!

    Here is the Rock the Vote website. And they have a blog! And, in second place on their "Current Issue Links" blogroll: the AARP! I'm obviously non-young, and spectacularly unhip, but even I rolled my eyes at this.

    But hipness aside: for a group concerned with "political power for young people", a quick glance around the website shows that RtV is spectacularly uninterested in thinking critically about Social Security. Given well-known demographic and fiscal trends, it's tempting to speculate on exactly how devoted RtV is to the political interests of the young.

    All this spurred by a funny short article at the American Spectator by Doug Powers, which riffs on the problems of RtV specifically and tedious left-wing pop-culture icons generally. Memorable paragraph:

    Celebrities can really get full of themselves. Years ago, my wife and I saw Don Henley in concert. Some great music, but in order to hear it, those in attendance were forced to put up with a sanctimonious monologue about saving Walden Woods that would have made Thoreau himself take his own life. We came to hear "Boys of Summer" and "Hotel California," and ended up nearly violating federal law by wringing the neck of an Eagle.

  • If you're looking for a good reason to throw fundraising appeals from the Republican National Committee in the trash unopened, Jay Tea at WizBang has one. (Or, alternately, you could use the RNC's postage-paid envelope to send Jay Tea's article to them instead of a check.)

  • But our own Senator Sununu continues to impress me, and (frankly) it's not easy for a politician to do that consistently. Latest news is that he's successfully encouraged the Administration to drop a couple of the worst parts of the Patriot Act extension. Power Line has more, and they speculate in addition that it (once again) puts Democrats in between a rock (of appearing soft on terrorism) and a hard place (of disappointing their moonbat base). Gee, that's too bad.


Last Modified 2006-02-10 7:07 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-09

  • The BBC echoes a claim from Reporters Without Borders that Yahoo! (which the BBC spells as "Yahoo") provided data to the Chinese government that resulted in the jailing of reporter Li Zhi in 2003. The Reporters Without Borders press release is here. (Via Slashdot.)

  • After a too-long absence, Iowahawk is back with his usual insightful made-up reporting from the "seething Midwest":
    Green Bay, WI - Like a pot of bratwurst left unattended at a Lambeau Field pregame party, simmering tensions in the strife-torn Midwest boiled over once again today as rioting mobs of green-and-gold clad youth and plump farm wives rampaged through Wisconsin Denny's and IHOPs, burning Texas toast and demanding apologies and extra half-and-half.

  • Spot-on commenting from Shannon Love at ChicagoBoyz on the revelation that low-fat diet advocates are wearing the emperor's new clothes:
    Many people pushed the low-fat idea not because the evidence backed it but because it conformed to their social and political prejudices. Low-fat diets appeal to puritanical moralists of all stripes. Leftists love to castigate the corporate world for providing a high-fat diet to ignorant masses. Blue Staters love to mock Red Staters for their presumed high-fat diets and so on. Indeed, for every study that people thought confirmed the idea there was easily one that refuted it. The idea that the benefits of low-fat diets were well proven came from the heavy marketing of cherry-picked studies.

    Shannon goes on to draw parallels between this and other politically-hyped "science" that (predictably) points to Imminent Crisis and demands Immediate Government Action.

  • My very own Senator Sununu is out front on the "Pork Barrel Reduction Act". Here's a plug at the Truth Laid Bear. I plan on dropping a thank-you note to Senator Sununu, and a where-were-you note to our other Senator, Judd Gregg.

    By all accounts, pork is is a minuscule drop in the bucket in terms of the overall budget. The bill could be (however) important in terms of changing the political climate in Washington. How can they be expected to trim the big spending items if they're unwilling to trim the small ones?

    Not to mention that the whole pork thing is irredeemably seedy and unbecoming, in the cases where it's not actually corrupt. So go ahead and write your Congresscritters if you're so inclined.


Last Modified 2007-04-18 3:53 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-08

  • Don Boudreaux has an interesting note which I think is related to the Fallacy of Asymmetric Idealization mentioned a couple days ago; Don looks at the tendency of some to (a) take the level of government spending as reflecting the "informed will of the people"; (b) point with alarm at the budget deficit; (c) deduce that taxes must be raised.

    Waitagoldarnedminnit, says Don. (I'm paraphrasing.) If the spending level reflects the "informed will of the people", there's no reason to think that the current taxation level isn't also the informed will of the people. There's no obvious reason to prefer "informed will" on one side over the other.

    Or, alternatively, there's every reason to presume dysfunction on both sides, not just the taxation side.

  • And (via Poor & Stupid) George Reisman detects Newspeak in an NYT editorial. He quotes:

    But the biggest shortcoming [of the President's energy proposals] is the total absence of a program that would deliver any of these dandy new technologies to the marketplace. By program we mean a uniform set of incentives — what the economists call market signals — that would drive American industry to build the more fuel-efficient vehicles and the cleaner power plants that we need.

    Reisman points out, not altogether calmly, that "what economists call market signals" are produced by the market: people demanding things that they actually want, as opposed to the things the NYT editorial board thinks they should want. That is, of course, exactly the opposite of what the editorial advocates.

    Reisman concludes:

    The New York Times is a malevolent, alien influence, one that is hostile to the United States' very reason for being.

    Well, yeah. But what really irks me is their use of free-market lingo to push for coercive measures. Orwell memorably pointed to the comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism, who could not bring himself to say outright "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Similarly, the Times can't simply say: "We believe in forcing people to buy cars they don't prefer, and to pay sky-high prices for gas when you can get good results by doing so." They have to wrap themselves in the inflated language of "incentives" and "markets". Bah!

  • And Andrew Sullivan isn't particularly happy with the NYT (on a different matter) either:

    They are not journalists. They are merely cowards.

    In contrast, Little Green Footballs is relatively sedate:

    It's a lesson, all right—a lesson in Gray Lady hypocrisy. But it's neither startling nor new.

  • But (on the other hand), the NYT was brave enough to print this very bad news for the Food Police: Low-Fat Diet Does Not Cut Health Risks, Study Finds. Bring unto me the Quarter Pounders with Cheese! And the head of Michael Jacobson!

  • Instapundit dubs the Coretta Scott King funeral Wellstone II, after the 2002 funeral of Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota which Democrats turned into a political rally; most folks not driven by partisan hatreds found it distastefully ghoulish. And it didn't play out well for the Democrats in the 2002 elections, either in Minnesota or in the rest of the country.

    But that didn't stop it from happening again at the King funeral. Glenn's got lots of links to various reactions. And nails the problem succinctly:

    The problem with today's Democrats is that they try to invest the naked hunger for power with the dignity of the civil rights movement, a dignity that they no longer possess because it was based on a self-discipline that they no longer possess.

  • [Cathy
Poulin] And for whoever it was came here searching for "Cathy Poulin pictures". Here you go. But really, that's not a sign of a healthy mind. (Background here, fourth item.)

    For the person looking for "Lumumba chocolate": What? Sorry, I got nothing.

    For the person looking for "Courtney Cox dress Longest Yard": I don't blame you, but just rent the DVD again.

  • And Scott Adams brings his unique perspective to the Intoonfada:

    Let me go on record as saying I don't approve of the burning of embassies. But I must confess I'm intrigued by the notion of causing it to happen. Apparently the indirect method of causing embassies to be burned down is both totally legal and also a highly prized right. As you know, there aren't many ways you can burn down an occupied building and get away with it. But it is completely legal to use your freedom of speech to indirectly incite other people into doing almost any dumb ass thing you can think of. That's a big reason I became a cartoonist.

    So the next time you're about to commit mayhem because of a cartoon you saw in a newspaper, you might want to second-think that a bit.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:35 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-07

  • Prof Bainbridge is disappointed with Weare NH's town meeting that failed to expropriate Justice Souter's house. In his typically lucid and acerbic way, he says:

    Pity. Somebody really needs to give this Court the finger one of these days, if only to remind them that they serve the people instead of the other way around. We've allowed these nine old codgers in robes to be infallible, albeit only because they are final, which inevitably gives them delusions of being a super-legislature empowered to solve all social ills according to whatever personal preferences are shared amongst at least 5 of them.

    In Weare's modest defense: simple easy-going neighborliness (by all accounts) make it difficult for many in the town to confront a longtime resident this way.

  • Scott Adams has—in all seriousness—some excellent advice—I am not kidding—on getting along with your mate. Honest.

  • It's safe to assume a strong correlation between (a) one's geekiness and (b) how interesting one will find in this doc: Notable Properties of Specific Numbers. I spent a lot of time there; the entry for the reciprocal of the fine-structure constant was utterly transfixing. Really. Via GeekPress, of course.

  • And (via the Corner), somebody did actual research to discover:

    Revealing your innermost feelings on the internet is good for you, psychologists said today.

    A study of the phenomenon of blogs - or online diaries - found people writing them feel happier and more organised.

    Note that as far as Pun Salad is concerned, the first paragraph is only tenuously connected to the second. If "innermost feelings" are ever accidentally discharged into this blog, cleanup operations will begin immediately, heartfelt apologies will be issued, and those responsible will be sacked.


Last Modified 2007-04-18 3:52 PM EDT
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3:10 To Yuma

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

I tend to put movies in my Blockbuster queue when I see a recommendation from someone else on the Web; unfortunately, the elapsed time from queue entry to actually watching the movie can be months. So I don't remember why I rented this movie. Somebody said it was good.

No matter. It's OK, a monochrome Western with psychological-thriller undertones. The underrated Glenn Ford is the voluble but dangerous bad guy; he gives an understated and subtle performance that really makes the movie work. Van Heflin is the borderline-failure rancher who gets roped into delivering him to a Yuma-bound train while Ford's gang circles menacingly. It builds to a tense, if slightly incredible, climax, as Van Heflin smuggles a bomb onto a plane piloted by Dean Martin… woops, wrong movie. Frankie Laine does the theme song, so you can hear what Mel Brooks parodied in Blazing Saddles.

The IMDB says they're remaking this with Walk the Line director James Mangold. Cool.

Still alive, Glenn Ford will be 90 on May 1.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:00 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-06

  • A wonderful article at the Weekly Standard by Matt Labash reports on Logan Darrow Clements' effort to get the great town of Weare, New Hampshire to condemn Supreme Court Justice David Souter's property, in order to build the "Lost Liberty Hotel". This is an effort (you may have heard) to protest Souter's vote with the majority in the widely-despised Kelo eminent domain decision last summer.

    Although Labash says that Clements has "a whiff of the born-loser libertarian about him," it was hard not to read the article and not like and admire Clements for his stubborn, but good-humored, pursuit. (And I'm a born-loser libertarian myself, although not quite so much of an Objectivist as is Clements.) Sample:

    An unapologetic capitalist in proud Randian fashion, Clements started selling "Lost Liberty" items on his website, everything from throw pillows to camisoles. He was flooded with suggestions for names of dishes that he could serve in the hotel's Just Deserts Café. A typical meal might start with the Chicken Seizure Salad and Revenge Soup (served cold). For an entrée, there'd be the Bader-Ginz Burger with Half-Baked Potato or the Eminent Lo Mein. Dessert might include Rocky Road to Serfdom Ice Cream, or perhaps a nice plate of Petit Forfeitures. Even without all the annoying puns, one could easily conclude it was some kind of joke, though Clements's press release warns, "This is not a prank."

    Annoying puns? No such thing here at Pun Salad, Matt. We are amused by every last one, even the ones we don't quite understand.

    Clements' website is here, where you can buy stuff if you're so inclined, and read the latest news about the effort. (Lately, it's been bad; WaPo story here.)

  • The Fallacy of Asymmetric Idealization: easy to commit, but once you know what it is, it's also easy to detect. Will Wilkinson explains it all for you.

  • GeekPress has been reading the "Things I Learn From My Patients" thread at a discussion site for student doctors, and picks some of the best. My favorite:
    Never leave your last refill of Percocet in plain sight after your doc's office closes if one of these 3 friends is coming over for dinner:

    1. some dude
    2. my friend
    3. that bitch

    Also, I must remember: never clean the bathtub naked while the cats are around; it's dangerous! Hm, come to think of it, the cats are always around; best to just leave the bathtub-cleaning to others.


Last Modified 2006-02-08 2:19 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-05

  • Here's how Joe Malchow works: at 8:34am on Saturday, he says blogging will be "light today". This is followed by one, two, three, four, five postings in less than 24 hours; then at 3:29am Sunday he posts an long and well-researched article on the recent history of the "backlash against Muslims" meme, which, like most mirages, always seems to be just ahead, but never actually arrives. Sample:

    As George Bush has said, the entire system of Islamic fundamentalism is eerily similar to Communism, in that it is pillared by peons and controlled by rich elites. As has always been the problem the top-down elitist regimes, the West has an irksome habit of attempting to supplant tyranny with freedom. The Islamists have guarded against this troublesome interest in human rights in two ways: through terrorism and by convincing Muslims that every day brings the high likelihood of a genocide prosecuted against them by everyone else in the world (the infidels) and that therefore ‘offense’ must be taken—or in the least, professed—early and often.

    One major component of insightfulness is a long memory, and Joe's obviously got one. Or at least he remembers enough to ask the Google the right questions.

  • Also insightful is Mark Steyn in the Chicago Sun-Times: "'Sensitivity' can have brutal consequences"

    Very few societies are genuinely multicultural. Most are bicultural: On the one hand, there are folks who are black, white, gay, straight, pre-op transsexual, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, worshippers of global-warming doom-mongers, and they rub along as best they can. And on the other hand are folks who do not accept the give-and-take, the rough-and-tumble of a "diverse" "tolerant" society, and, when one gently raises the matter of their intolerance, they threaten to kill you, which makes the question somewhat moot.

  • But it's not all insightful out there today. In fact, in a (London) Times column, one Simon Jenkins bemoans the awfulness of the "derisive images of Muhammad." Here's a typical paragraph:

    To imply that some great issue of censorship is raised by the Danish cartoons is nonsense. They were offensive and inflammatory. The best policy would have been to apologise and shut up. For Danish journalists to demand "Europe-wide solidarity" in the cause of free speech and to deride those who are offended as "fundamentalists … who have a problem with the entire western world" comes close to racial provocation. We do not go about punching people in the face to test their commitment to non-violence. To be a European should not involve initiation by religious insult.

    In the war for free speech, Jenkins clearly is staking out the Neville Chamberlain position. Saying that Danish journalists come "close to racial provocation" cravenly avoids having to consider whether what they're saying is true. Which, of course, it is. But Jenkins' mind just slips by this inconvenient fact, because it's easier just to slap the "provocation" label on it. (And to make false analogies to violent behavior. Publishing pictures is not "punching people in the face.")

    Jenkins warns that the alternative to self-censorship of the press is real censorship by the state, asserting a neat dichotomy that makes it easy to reach the "right" conclusion. A flat and principled defense of free expression is out of the question. He concludes:

    The best defence of free speech can only be to curb its excess and respect its courtesy.

    Back in the day, a military guy once said about a Vietnam battle: "It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it." Jenkins has the same attitude toward free speech: to save it, it must be destroyed.

Tomorrow: something else, I hope.


Last Modified 2006-02-06 3:52 PM EST
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Belated New Hampshire Holiday Crime News

From the Dover (NH) police log, as published in the January 16 Foster's Daily Democrat (free registration probably required):

Gail P. Napolitano, 49, of 80 Union St., Dover, was arrested on Dec. 24 and charged with simple assault, domestic related, following a dispute with her mother. Napolitano allegedly winged a fruitcake at her 71-year-old mother, who had been staying with her for the holidays, after learning of her mother's decision to spend Christmas Eve night elsewhere. She was released on $500 personal recognizance bail, and had a court date on Dec. 27.

Christmas, of course, always brings its share of fruitcake-winging incidents, not only here in New Hampshire, but as far as I know in the rest of the country. When will our legislators wake up to ban this alleged "foodstuff"? Too many of our homes have them just lying around, especially during the stressful holiday season; a simple momentary flash of hot-headedness can result in yet another senseless winging. Because of their usefulness as doorstops and paperweights, fruitcakes are often carelessly left within reach of children.

This madness must stop!


Last Modified 2006-02-08 2:19 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-04

  • On the Mohammed Cartoons: if you'd like a brief history and a much more eloquent defense of free expression than the one I provided yesterday, check Paul Marshall at the Weekly Standard here. Matthew Hoy makes sense as always, and Virginia Postrel does too.

  • And Eugene Volokh, pbuh, compares and contrasts the Boston Globe editorial on this controversy to those it made on Serrano's "Piss Christ" and similar NEA-funded Christian-irritating art. He discovers a disparity unsurprising to those who read (or, in my case, used to read) the Globe.

  • Glenn isn't too happy with the Globe either.

    The funny thing is that the Globe views fundamentalist Christians as a god-besotted threat to liberty, but makes excuses for people like this.

    Might quibble with that "funny" though. How about "tedious"?

  • Let's give intolerant hotheads belonging to other religions some link love, though. Joanne Jacobs links to a story from Bennett, Colorado, where some parents are upset that their children were shown a video about the opera Faust, in which (you may have heard) the title character sells his soul to the devil.

    No mention of whether the dismayed parents were Christians, or thin-skinned Satanists objecting to a negative portrayal of Mephistopheles. In any case, Joanne reports the teacher "plans to look for a job next year in a less conservative town." Also unmentioned: whether she was threatened with decapitation.

  • The Slashdot headline says it all: Wasp Larvae Feed on Zombie Roaches. Very catchy; if not a good name for a rock band, perhaps a pretty decent song title.


Last Modified 2006-02-08 2:20 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-03

  • Meme Watch Department: The Google reports a measly 177 hits for "shadeggelic," up only 29 since we looked on January 21. Since Congressman Shadegg lost the race for Majority Leader, I suppose we're looking at a Failed Meme, at least for now.

    The "Oprahfication of America" meme is also looking pretty peaked: only 267 hits, an increase of 33 from January 20. We'll continue to track it, though.

  • Time to bloviate on the Muhammad cartoon issue. Let's stipulate the following:

    1. Freedom of expression is a Good Thing.

    2. Gratuitously insulting someone else's religion/race/culture is (at worst) an Impolite Thing.

    3. Threatening (let alone comitting) violence against those you think have insulted your religion/race/culture is a Really Bad Thing.

    That's where I'm coming from, anyway. Free speech can be offensive to some; those who get violent or coercive against free-speakers should be slapped down, hard. The only alternative grants censorious power to the easily offended; applying that censorious power will engender endless rancour; the final result will be tyrannical.

    So: I'm dismayed by the State Department; I think Hugh makes some good points but is basically misguided.

  • Eric Raymond says: The Cheesecake Factory Must Die. I'm in heartfelt agreement. We wanted to go to the one in Providence RI a couple years back. Their website "helpfully" pointed to a MapQuest map that put us in the middle of a Providence neighborhood that might be most charitably described as "in decline".

    Eventually we found it. Once we got there, however, service was poor and the food, including the cheesecake, was mediocre.

    Also on my must-die list: Ruby Tuesday. Tried twice, once in Portland ME, once in Orlando FL. Same crappy service and less-than-mediocre food in both locations; that's enough for me to give up.


Last Modified 2006-02-08 2:22 PM EST
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Groundhog Day

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

As a little self-constructed ritual, I watch this movie every year on February 2. It gets better every year.

Last year, Jonah Goldberg wrote a paean to Groundhog Day in National Review; you can read the first part here. A very religious interpretation of the movie is here. A nice essay by Alex Kuczynski at the NYT is here.

Check 'em out; and if you haven't seen the movie, check it out.


Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:34 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-02

  • Peggy Noonan's random thoughts on Democrats, Tom Shales, and Wendy Wasserstein here. Ms. Noonan's random thoughts are often superior to the non-random thoughts of others.

  • Everything you wanted to know about moondust. You'll also learn what "tubinates" are, if you don't know already. (Via Geek Press.)

  • A friend passes along news from our mutual alma mater:
    PASADENA - A raucous initiation turned embarrassing early Tuesday when two dozen Caltech students - dressed in Superman capes, tutus and other outlandish outfits - were rescued after getting stranded on the Mount Wilson Toll Road. …

    The annual "Mount Wilson Night," when freshmen are initiated into Page House, one of the dorms at Caltech, had started off as planned, said Nick Goeden, a Caltech sophomore who was called early Tuesday morning to aid rescuers.

    Way to go, Page Dudes. Thank goodness we never did any stupid stuff like that. Oh, wait…

  • Destined to be featured on every website owned and operated by the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy… stop me if you've seen it already… Hillary does her Ed Grimley impression. "I'm as doomed as doomed can be, you know."

    OK, so maybe it's not Ed Grimley. Who, then? Shirley Temple? Bela Lugosi? Ah that's it: Hillary's imitating Shirley Temple doing a Bela Lugosi impression. (Via Club for Growth.)


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URLs du Jour — 2006-02-01

  • While I remain in New Hampshire, Jay Nordlinger has been sent to Davos Switzerland to hobnob with the powerful. I weep bitter tears at the unfairness of life, but Jay is having to make some sacrifices:

    Funny thing about Switzerland? You look forward to having hot chocolate here, in the land of chocolate? You know, aprés-ski and all that? They give you this mediocre powder in a packet, and a cup of hot water. Strange. I think I had better hot chocolate from Meijer's Thrifty Acres circa 1972.

    But seriously, folks: Jay's observations are worth reading whether he's at Davos or not. "Read the whole thing."

  • Chicago Boy Mitch has done the Exact Right Thing in digging out this gem from Richard Nixon's State of the Union Address:
    As we move toward the celebration 2 years from now of the 200th anniversary of this Nation's independence, let us press vigorously on toward the goal I announced last November for Project Independence. Let this be our national goal: At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving.

    Why, yes that was 32 years ago. Good example of why it's a bad idea to waste time paying attention to State of the Union Addresses.

  • And Jay Tea at Wizbang! adds another reason why I'm glad I dropped my subscription to the Boston Globe. (Lets see, that makes what, about 138?)


Last Modified 2006-02-08 2:16 PM EST
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