The Ice Harvest

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

This movie has a lot of talent behind it: Richard Russo and Robert Benton on the screenplay, Harold Ramis directing. And a couple of solid leading men in Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack. Although this movie is funny in parts, don't go in expecting a wacky laff riot. The comedy is as dark as … it's very dark, OK? And it's mainly a film noir, with all the violence, deception, cynicism, and betrayal that incurs.

Thornton and Cusack play a couple guys on the outskirts of organized crime in Wichita, Kansas. They get the bright idea to rip off a couple million from the local mob boss, and that's a done deal right at the movie's start. But (for some reason) they can't leave town right away, and the rest of the movie describes Cusack's increasingly convoluted efforts to escape. Bodies start piling up about halfway through.

The DVD extras include a funny outtake where Billy Bob slips into his Karl voice from Sling Blade. Also there's a pretentious filmed conversation between Benton, Russo, and the author of the novel on which the screenplay's based, Scott Phillips. So I found out that a brief bit where Oliver Platt drunkenly talks about What It Means To Be A Man In America, wasn't actually meant to reflect his stupid self-absorbtion; Russo apparently put it into the script in all earnest seriousness. Here I thought it was one of the jokes.

I found myself wondering afterwards: is it credible that they're lugging around over $2 million in currency in a medium-size bag? If it's entirely in $100 bills, that's probably doable: extrapolating from this page, such a boodle would weigh between 40-50 pounds. This one roughly concurs.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:20 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 28-Apr-2006

  • A pretty good article here from Daniel Henninger; he reports on the final day of oral arguments in the Supreme Court's term. Very interesting, but what especially tickled was this:
    … Justice Souter had fixed the attorneys with a stiff, slightly scary New Hampshire stare.
    Beware, all you non-Graniteers! We've perfected that kind of thing up here.

  • Just across the Salmon Falls River, a Maine blogger named Lance Dutson publishes the Maine Web Report. His bête noir is the Maine Office of Tourism and how they spend funds in trying to suck vacationers into the state; he's especially unfond of Tourism's relationship with Warren Kremer Paino Advertising, an agency located on Park Avenue in New York City. Now Dutson's been hit with a multi-million dollar lawsuit from Warren Kremer Paino. A good place to start is this Pajamas Media article, full of relevant links. Also (via Instapundit) Ed Cone has more.

    I'd like to urge anyone outraged by this to take their vacations in New Hampshire instead. That'll show 'em.

  • Have we mentioned that a lot (by which we mean: probably all) of the political gasbaggery about fuel prices is grounded in economic illiteracy? Oh, yeah, we did. But since that post, there have been lots more demonstrations, and none more entertaining than Mary Katherine Ham's interview with Maria Cantwell (D-WA) excerpted at Wizbang. The post also has links to a couple of columns from Thomas Sowell, also recommended.

  • On the other hand, if you (a) just want to have some web-surfing fun; (b) have seen Shakespeare in Love; (c) have seen Star Wars movies (the good ones): go see George Lucas in Love.


Last Modified 2007-11-01 5:25 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 27-Apr-2006

  • Penn State has backed down from its censorship attempt against Josh Stulman's art exhibit about terrorism. That's good news, although wouldn't you think that allegedly smart people would avoid such ham-handed stunts in the first place? David Bernstein at Volokh's comments here; Chris Perez at FIRE's Torch blog is here, and he makes the point that the underlying speech code used as a basis for the censorship is still in place.

  • And in another bit of good news, one of our state senate committees unanimously recommended passage of HB1582, disallowing New Hampshire from participating in the Federal "Real ID" program. Weekend Pundit, even though it's not the weekend, has a summary here with links to appropriate news stories.

  • If even one percent of the media attention given to gasoline prices was given to sugar prices instead, the outrage would be withering. Americans pay twice the world price for sugar; that money goes to a relative handful of sugar producers. Your Federal Government makes this possible. And it's not even an example of "unintended consequences" of a well-meaning program; that's the way it's supposed to work. If you feel in the mood to get outraged by yet another example of how efforts to protect (politically well-connected) people from "unbridled capitalism" work, check this article on the CEI Openmarket blog.

  • My own Senator Judd Gregg proposed that 3% of Iraq funds requested by Dubya be spent on border security instead. Joe Malchow thinks Judd is a genius; Jed Babbin thinks he's a stooge. Pun Salad … um … believes the truth is somewhere in between.

  • Except that Judd's vote for Trent Lott's Railroad to Nowhere is maybe pushing me more toward the "stooge" end of the spectrum. Our other Senator, John Sununu, voted Nay, so good on him.


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Just Deserts

Currently cropping up on the more philosophical blogs is discussion of the book Liberty, Desert and the Market : A Philosophical Study by Serena Olsaretti. From the description at Amazon:

Defenders of the free market argue that inequalities of income are "just" because they are deserved, and that they are what free individuals are entitled to. Far from supporting free market inequalities, this book argues that, when we examine the principle of "desert" and the notions of "liberty" and "choice" invoked by defenders of the free market, the conception of justice that would accommodate these notions calls for their elimination. The book will be of interest to readers in political philosophy, political theory, and normative economics.
Will Wilkinson did an initial post on Olsaretti here; Bryan Caplan was at the same meeting and commented here; Will responded here. Comments in Bryan's article pointed to a two part review of Olsaretti's book by Anthony de Jasay here and here. All good and thought-provoking, and (to my mind) making very effective arguments against Olsaretti's thesis.

Here's my four cents (I have two main points, each worth maybe two cents). Bryan states:

Olsaretti relies heavily on the Rawlsian premise that no one deserves to profit from inborn talent.
… and goes on to rightly ridicule this as being counterintuitive and counterproductive. Let's look at a weaker and slightly less ridiculous claim:
No one deserves to profit solely from inborn talent.
At least this is more superficially plausible.

But does anyone, anywhere, ever profit solely from inborn talent? I don't think so. This is an argument I made back in my Usenet days a couple of times, which I'll update here: consider two universes: (a) this one; and (b) one which is identical in every respect save that Serena Olsaretti chooses to spend her college days partying, squandering both her parents' cash and her prodigous intellect. Afterwards, she alternates between welfare, getting more handouts from Dad, and working at McDonald's. The difference in the Olsarettian 2006 salary between Universes (a) and (b) is six digits, and it therefore follows quite directly that ALL six digits of that salary are a result of Olsaretti's choices and effort—the only difference between the two universes—and also presumably a result of a mutually voluntary arrangement between Olsaretti and her employers. Unless personal effort and mutually voluntary agreements are devoid of moral significance--which seems absurd to me--clearly she is entitled to whatever difference exists between what she is and what she could have been.

But maybe even that is thinking about it the wrong way. Yes, a lot of our success (and failure) is predicated on some things over which we have little or no control: heredity, luck, some health issues, etc. But as I'm sure someone has pointed out somewhere: I may not "deserve" two healthy kidneys; that doesn't imply someone else "deserves" one of them. Even less does it mean that some third party "deserves" the power that would force me to give up one of my healthy kidneys to someone who "needs" it.

I think Jasay is making a similar point when he says:

The whole "entitlements" theory of justice is going about it the wrong way round. The point to prove is not that each individual is entitled to the fruits of his efforts (or to what he has exchanged them for), but that somebody else is entitled to take such fruits away from him.
It would be interesting to see someone try to justify that.

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URLs du Jour — 26-Apr-2006

  • Dr. Mike Adams of Town Hall fame came to visit the UNH campus last week. Unfortunately, I missed his presentation, but he found the trip perilous enough to refer to here. The column is a collection of some of his zingers. Here's one fit to print in our PG-13 blog:
    If you are easily offended by free speech on campus, I have just the solution: Get the hell out of college.

  • Dr. Adams' visit is also covered by our intrepid student newspaper here with the amusing headline:
    Ex-democrat 'ruffles feathers, tutus'
    Heh! It sounds as if Mike is aiming to be a Y-chromosomed Ann Coulter. Good luck with that.

  • Pun Salad shot its wad (and I mean that in a totally PG-13 way) on gasoline prices yesterday, but Professor Drezner has a good sober article on the issue, the highlight being a quote from Professor DeLong:
    Democrats are (because of the environmentalist wing of the party) generally in favor of higher gasoline taxes and higher gasoline prices--except when gasoline prices are high. Republicans are in favor of letting oil markets "work"--except when gasoline prices are high.
    To repeat: heh.

  • Here is "59 Things A Man Should Never Do Past 30". Pun Salad is well past 30, and can report that he never does 58 of those things, and that number 26 should be changed from "Air drum" to "Air drum, unless to a Who song." Because it seems that should be pretty much irresistible no matter how old you are.


Last Modified 2006-04-27 7:40 AM EDT
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Pun Salad Orders Probe Into AP Headline Lying

The headline to the AP article says:

Bush Orders Probe Into Gas Price Cheating
Gosh! But then the first paragraph immediately backs off from that flat accusation:
President Bush, under pressure to do something about gasoline prices that are expected to stay high through the summer, ordered an investigation into possible cheating in the markets. The government also asked states on Tuesday to guard against unfair pricing.
Oh. Possible cheating.

Reading on, we discover that nowhere in the article is any evidence for "cheating" presented. In fact, nowhere does the article describe what kind of "cheating" could "possibly" be going on, other than (six) vague references to "price gouging" and (one) "market speculation". No actual evidence is provided, although a letter from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras is quoted:

Consumers around the nation have expressed concerns about what they have perceived as anticompetitive or otherwise unfair conduct by the world's major oil companies.

Your eyes should be rolling at this point: that's it? Yes, that's it. This isn't "cheating". This isn't even "possible cheating." It's not even strong enough to rise to "alleged cheating" or "suspected cheating". It is, at best, "imagined cheating." The AP's headline is yet another indication of its increasingly sloppy journalism.

My headline to this story would probably be something like:

Bush Orders Probe in Response to Unfounded Suspicions Based in Economic Illiteracy
with the subheading:
Almost Certainly Knows Better; Wants to be Seen as "Doing Something"
… probably too inflammatory, but much more accurate.

For folks who want to see some decent analysis, there are lots of links at this Hit&Run post; Rich Lowry is good, as is Captain Ed; here is Thomas Sowell being bluntly honest, as usual. James Glassman agrees with me that Bush probably knows better. And the MSM hasn't been totally brain-dead on the issue; see this WaPo article from last week (via Knowledge Problem). All stuff you won't hear from politicians of either party, or the AP.


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Becker-Posner on Inequality

The Becker-Posner blog delivers a one-two punch to inequality tub-thumpers. Other bloggers are blogged down with Mary McCarthy, the Duke lacrosse team, and Michael Hiltzik's sock puppetry, so let's check it out.

Becker's comments are aimed at the income inequality generally caused by the increasing gap in compensation between high-skilled and low-skilled workers. (He's not really responding, for example, to Krugmanesque resentment aimed against those at the tippy-top 99th-99.99th percentile of the income distribution.) His conclusion:

… the forces raising earnings inequality in the United States is [sic] on the whole beneficial because they were reflected higher returns to investments in education and other human capital.
The flip side of this, I think, is that to reduce inequality at this scale would mean decreasing the differential returns on such investment somehow, probably via a state-decreed thumb on the scale; that doesn't sound like a hot idea.

Becker argues instead for educational reforms to increase the percentage of kids who get out of high school and move on to college. This is very similar to the kind of thing advocated by Smilin' Al Greenspan and disdained by Paul Krugman. (And discussed here last month.)

Posner starts where Becker leaves off, in a slightly more philosophical vein. He points out that, other things being equal (heh), we're likely to see an increase in income inequality driven by "differences in IQ, energy, health, social skills, character, ambition, physical attractiveness, talent, and luck." Active measures to "fix" such inequality, he argues, are likely to make us all poorer.

But it still might be a good idea to "fix" such inequality if it presented us with otherwise insurmountable social problems. Does it? The Pos (his friends call him "the Pos") argues convincingly that it almost certainly doesn't. Americans aren't particularly resentfully envious; the lower class isn't large enough to make the whole structure unstable; we're a considerably more egalitarian society in non-monetary measures.

Both mini-essays are well worth reading in full; click away! [Link to Becker via Poor & Stupid.]


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Dunkin

Perhaps you've seen the new Dunkin' Donuts ad on TV, which features the memorable lyric

Doing things is what I like to do.
Yes!
Doing things is what I like to do.
Yes!
… attached to a sing-song melody. What I thought was: Geez, what a stupid jingle, I could have written that when I was ten years old. And people would have laughed at me.

Then, of course, I noticed that I was singing it to myself. Over and over. Darn, it really is catchy.

Anyway, Seth Stevenson at Slate has a whole article about the ad. The jingle is not by a 10-year-old, but They Might Be Giants. (Head slap: I should have known that.) And there are more coming in the same vein, so prepare yourself for further goofy inanity. Comments Stevenson:

I've always wondered how ad execs feel when they inflict some insipid catchphrase or jingle on us. I'm sure there's pride, but is there also a modicum of guilt involved? I hope?
It's what they like to do. Yes!

Now, if someone could tell me about the woman doing the ads for Bob's Stores. She's mesmerising!


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The Wages of Fear

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

This movie is (as I type) number 119 on IMDB's top 250 movies of all time. It's very gripping, although it takes quite awhile to get going. Set in an isolated poor South American village, where (somehow) a group of foreigners have become entrapped without sufficient funds to get anywhere they want to be. Opportunity knocks when the evil American oil company about drilling 300 miles away hits a gas pocket, causing a well fire. And the only way to put it out is for our ragtag bunch to drive two trucks loaded with nitroglycerin over the treacherous route from the village to the drilling site.

The photography and staging of the trip is stunning. The acting is less so. Without giving too much away, the next-to-last shot of Yves Montand is kind of giggle-inducing, although that's certainly not the intent.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:20 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-23

  • Soxblog checks out Senator John Kerry's Boston Globe op-ed commemorating the 35th anniversary of his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Apparently the commemoration is pretty much occurring due to Kerry's own relentless self-promotion; he also gave a speech marking the event yesterday at Faneuil Hall. (The Boston Globe, of course, is eager to cooperate.)

    Soxblog deems the op-ed to be a "new low" for Kerry, mainly by digging Kerry's actual testimony out of the memory hole and comparing it to Kerry's current, um, convenient interpretation.

  • Irony Department: Little Green Footballs covers the student art exhibit censored by Charles Garoian, director of the PSU School of Visual Arts (discussed here yesterday). It turns out one of Prof Garoian's publications is pugnaciously entitled "Fighting censorship in the art classroom".

  • In the meantime, David Bernstein has much more at Volokh's. The Penn State spokesperson is disputing the facts as reported in the college newspaper; it's far from clear what's really going on.

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North Country

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

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess. Her husband was mean to her, so she took the kids and moved in with her parents in the cold and dark land in which they lived. But her parents weren't very supportive, and she was forced to work in the mines. And the men there were really mean to her and the other women who worked there.

So she got a lawyer, and made the men be nice to her. The End.

Well, it wasn't quite that bad. A lot of acting talent (Charize Theron, Frances McDormand in another Minnesotan role, Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Sissy Spacek) is employed here in service of a script that is mainly concerned with hitting all the right buttons. Sean Bean is especially good in playing a heckuva decent guy, which is a relief from his usual slimeball roles.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:14 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-22

  • So I woke up this morning with the bright idea to change the title of yesterday's post about Massachusetts' out-migration from "Fleeing Mass" to "Mass Exodus". Heh!

    But I first asked the Google about that clever wordplay, and it turned out that Jeff Jacoby had already used it for the same purpose back in January. Can I claim retroactive plagiarism? Nah, guess not. Here's Jacoby's conclusion:

    This is a state in which a tax cut can be decisively approved by the voters yet never go into effect. In which grocers can be prosecuted for pricing milk too low. In which archaic blue laws decree when shops may and may not open for business. In which local officials have been known to heatedly object to opening town meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance. In which a $2 billion Big Dig ends up costing $14 billion. In which Ted Kennedy keeps getting reelected.

    Is it really any wonder so many people are fleeing Massachusetts? Maybe the real mystery is why so many of us stay.

    Pun Salad's new slogan: a mere three months behind the MSM!

  • As the academic year winds down, University employees are apparently itching to demonstrate their devotion to supressing free expression. Today's example is Penn State. Only a few days ago, their administration was recently half-cheered at the Torch blog for issuing a press release explaining their refusal to shut down College Republicans' "Illegal Immigration Awareness Day". Yes, there was a lot of tut-tutting about the event being "unproductive" and "offensive". And the Torch went on to point out that Penn State still had blatantly unconstitutional speech codes in place.

    No kidding. Via David Bernstein at Volokh, it's apparent Penn State's brief fling with the First Amendment was not the beginning of a meaningful relationship after all. An article from the Penn State Digital Collegian:

    For Penn State student Josh Stulman, years of hard work ended in disappointment yesterday when the university cancelled his upcoming art exhibit for violation of Penn State's policies on nondiscrimination, harassment and hate.

    Three days before his 10-piece exhibit -- Portraits of Terror -- was scheduled to open at the Patterson Building, Stulman (senior-painting and anthropology) received an e-mail message from the School of Visual Arts that said his exhibit on images of terrorism "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue" and the display would be cancelled.

    Stulman's real crime was apparently his art's blunt honesty about Palestinian anti-semitism and terror. Charles Garoian, professor and director of the School of Visual Arts, is quoted as saying that kind of thing runs afoul of "Penn State's Policy AD42: Statement on Nondiscrimination and Harassment and Penn State's Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate."

  • Sharp-eyed Jonah Goldberg points out:

    1. Al Gore is fond of decrying fear-mongering. For example, here, he accuses the administration of "consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear". Here he claims Republicans are "especially proficient in the use of fear as a technique for obtaining and holding power." Here the claim is the administration "seems determined to use fear as a political tool to consolidate its power and to escape any accountability for its use." Get it? Al thinks fear is icky.

    2. But if you go to the website for Gore's new "documentary" about global warming? The very first thing you see is

      By far the most terrifying film you will ever see.

    Well, it's not icky when we do it. Hypocrisy, thy name is Al.

  • And while I'm at it, the second thing you see at the above website is a Mark Twain quote:

    It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

    Is it just me, or isn't that a damned odd witticism to use for a movie titled An Inconvenient Truth? Twain's quote should encourage prudent skepticism; a quality entirely absent from the movie (specifically) and the Global Warming cheerleaders (generally) on their pet topic.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:23 AM EDT
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Fleeing Mass

Last month I looked at (here and here) a NYT article that purported to show Vermont in terrible demographic trouble due to a massive outflux of young people.

Now the latest is this Boston Globe article (referred to by Jay Tea at Wizbang) that points to similar direness for Massachusetts. The Census Bureau recently reported that, on average, about 116 more people per day have been moving out of Massachusetts than have been moving in. (This is a net interstate migration number only, not counting foreign (im|em)migrants, or in-state births and deaths; the period studied was 7/2000-7/2004.)

Unsurprisingly, the Globe finds someone to bash Governor Mitt ("Mitt") Romney for this, even though he was in office for only 1.5 years out of the four year period.

The (PDF) report from the Census Bureau is here. Other fun facts therein:

  • New York is the most popular state to be from; it has lost people at an average rate of slightly over 500 per day. (That's the highest out-migration rate in absolute numbers.)

  • On the other hand, Florida has about 523 people per day moving in. (That's the highest in-migration rate in absolute numbers.)

  • Measured in percentage terms, Nevada is the in-migration champ, at about 2.33% of its population per year; New York has the highest out-migration percentage rate, losing 0.96% of its population per year. (Massachusetts is in second place by this measure: 0.66%)

  • New Hampshire has been gaining about 21 people per day (0.61% rate). Maine, of all places, has been taking in about 22 people per day, (0.63% rate). And even Vermont is still getting a trickle of 2.5 persons per day (0.15% rate).

  • The report also compared the migration rates from 1990-2000 with those from 2000-2004. The out-migration rate in Massachusetts seems to be increasing (from 0.41% to 0.66%). The in-migration rate in New Hampshire is also increasing (from 0.33% to 0.61%). Maine went from an out-migration rate of 0.04% to in-migration rate of 0.63%.

Jay Tea has some speculations about why Massachusetts and New York are leaking population; my own is that people get a little confused on their labyrinthine roads, take the wrong turn, and wind up out of state, unable to find their way back.

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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-21

  • The headline says it all:
    Bill Gates makes cryptic remark on Internet rights to China's Hu
    … causing numerous geeks to wonder what algorithm and key length Gates used. (Link via CEI Open Market.)

  • Speaking of geek news, huge story here. Boldly go, babe.

  • Dan Henninger writes negatively about the blogosphere:
    Not surprisingly, a new vocabulary has emerged from clinical psychology to describe generalized patterns of behavior on the virtual continent. As described by psychologist John Suler, there's dissociative anonymity (You don't know me); solipsistic introjection (It's all in my head); and dissociative imagination (It's just a game). This is all known as digital identity, and it sounds perfectly plausible to me.

    A libertarian would say, quite correctly, that most of this is their problem, so who cares? But there is one more personality trait common to the blogosphere that, like crabgrass, may be spreading to touch and cover everything. It's called disinhibition. Briefly, disinhibition is what the world would look like if everyone behaved like Jerry Lewis or Paris Hilton or we all lived in South Park.

    Anyone who happens to notice any untoward dissociative anonymity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, or especially disinhibition around here should feel free to let me know as soon as possible. I'm probably not introspective enough to notice myself.

    Also, you should check out Randy Barnett's response at the Volokh Conspiracy.

  • And Janice Brown has a nominee for Official New Hampshire State Monster: the Lakawaka, safely offshore, haunting up the Isles of Shoals. She apparently glows in the dark. The monster, that is, not Janice.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-20

  • I'm in full me-too mode with Mickey Kaus today about Ann Coulter's current column.
    However the Duke lacrosse rape case turns out, one lesson that absolutely will not be learned is this: You can severely reduce your chances of having a false accusation of rape leveled against you if you don't hire strange women to come to your house and take their clothes off for money.

    Also, you can severely reduce your chances of being raped if you do not go to strange men's houses and take your clothes off for money. (Does anyone else detect a common thread here?)

    And if you are a girl in Aruba or New York City, among the best ways to avoid being the victim of a horrible crime is to not get drunk in public or go off in a car with men you just met. While we're on the subject of things every 5-year-old should know, I also recommend against dousing yourself in gasoline and striking a match.

    This is the kind of column I am this close (imagine my thumb and forefinger close enough to diffract photons passing between them) to sending off to the Pun Kids as fatherly advice. I won't, however, since there's nothing more off-putting than getting fatherly advice you don't need. And I think (and fervently hope) they don't need it.

  • It's kind of easy to find a "scientific consensus" when you ignore anyone who doesn't go along with it.

  • Prof Volokh continues to be puzzled by the "Bushisms" posted at Slate; the latest being Dubya's "I'm the decider" quote. It's also witlessly mocked at the Huffington Post. For people whose lives don't revolve around Bush-hatred, it's all pretty mystifying.

  • And you may have been wondering: is Moses Paltrow ugly? Find out in this blog post: "Moses Paltrow is Ugly". (Via Galley Slaves.)

Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:22 AM EDT
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Link List Maintenance (and RSS Feed Gripes)

Changes to the link list over there on the right:

  • Added the CEI Open Market blog;

  • Added Will Wilkinson's Happiness & Public Policy blog;

  • Added Lynne Kiesling's and Michael Giberson's Knowledge Problem blog;

  • Removed the Last Throes of Liberalism blog, since it seems to have had its last throe. (You ever notice that 'throes' is much more common than 'throe'? The Google confirms this, with about 6.1M hits for the former, and about 192K for the latter, a ratio of nearly 32 to 1. I guess them throes rarely travel alone.)

  • Updated link target for Shawn Macomber.

  • Added the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, who seem to be a rational bunch, and unaffilated with the New Hampshire Libertarian Party, not that those two things have necessarily anything to do with one another.

  • Carl Schaad changed his blog URL, and has permalinks and RSS feeds at the new location; good for him!

  • Removed Lileks' Screedblog; James has gone screedless for over a whole month. Good for him, bad for us. Hopefully, the Bleat will announce any future Screeds.

All the new/changed links are well worth your browsing.

Did I mention RSS feeds? Yes, I use them to let me know when most of the sites over there post new material. So, not that it matters, but let me get these RSS pet peeves off my chest:

  • Sites that switch syndication feed URLs without notice, leaving the old, stagnant one gathering dust on the floor. Real helpful.

  • Sites whose first entry in their syndication feed is not the latest entry. (I'm talking about you, National Review Online!)

  • Sites that provide non-compliant syndication feeds. Folks, this isn't (too) difficult. Go here and fix what it says to fix.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-18

  • From yesterday's "Quick Takes" at Inside Higher Ed:
    Ohio State University officials on Friday cleared Scott Savage, a librarian at the Mansfield campus, of harassment charges filed against him based on his recommendation of an anti-gay book for a freshman reading assignment. A conservative group had threatened to sue the university if the charges were not dropped. They were dropped the same day that the group went public with its complaints about the way the librarian was being treated.
    Good, although much of the damage this controversy did to Mr. Savage and OSU-Mansfield is almost certainly irreparable in the short term. Instapundit notes that the American Library Association, normally quick to defend librarians, was silent in this case, and makes the plausible speculation that professional politicization could well have something to do with it.

  • K-Lo at Phi Beta Cons has posted a statement from James Votruba, President of Northern Kentucky University, about the anti-abortion display that Professor Sally Jacobsen helped destroy.
    By leading her students in the destruction of an approved student organization display, Professor Sally Jacobsen's actions were inconsistent with Northern Kentucky University's commitment to free and open debate and the opportunity for all sides to be heard without threat of censorship or reprisal. …

    Professor Jacobsen has been removed from her remaining classes and placed on leave from the University. She will retire from the University at the end of this semester.

    Good for President Votruba.

  • I dutifully go over to The Huffington Post daily to see what's up with those glamorous mostly-lefties. Today I see (with the banner "JUST IN"):
    Cheney Receiving Katrina Tax Benefits For Non-Katrina Donations...
    with the link going to this article at TaxProf Blog. Commenters there are bouncing off the wall in rage:
    Why is this man not in jail? … How does this guy sleep at night? This administration makes me sick to my stomach. They are sooooo corrupt. … what i'd like to know is when will the US population stop accepting this criminality?
    … and more, much more, of the same. What did the VP do? Well, according to the article, (and the linked press release), he and the Mrs. legally reduced their taxes by donating $6,869,655 to charity out of their $8,819,006 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI); specifically, to the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, Inc. for the benefit of the Cardiothoracic Institute, the University of Wyoming for the benefit of the University of Wyoming Foundation, and Capital Partners for Education for the benefit of low-income high school students in the Washington, D.C. area.

    The gripe is that normally charitable deductions are limited to 50% of your AGI; the so-called "Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005" lifted this restriction for 2005; it's not required that the charitable donations be Katrina-related, and (indeed) none of the Cheneys' donations are.

    So the argument is, … well, I'm not sure what the argument is. Mainly, I guess, that the VP should be in jail for obeying the law. This concludes today's tour of Moonbatville.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-17

  • Orwell long ago recognized that imprecise, inaccurate, and euphemized language is a bane to clear thought and effective action. So it is with the "war on terror." Via the smartest woman in the world, go read Jonathan Rauch on jihadism.

  • A Greenpeace founder advocates building nuclear power plants. Why? Well, "because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change."

    Okay, so global warming hysteria is good for something.

  • And in a masterpiece of blog brevity, Jed Babbin quotes Eleanor Roosevelt on the Marines, examines whether it's dismissive to call Katie Couric "perky", compares religious reaction to authors Salman Rushdie and Dan Brown, and provides a link to that great 70's song that I've only just now heard for the first time, "Go On Home You Foreign Communist". I'm in awe.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-16

  • Paul Hsieh operates GeekPress, a great daily stop for geeks. In an unusual move, he recently penned a longish (for him) article on global warming skepticism and goes into (as he puts it) soapbox mode.

  • Paul points to this Richard Lindzen article (as I did a few days back) which refers to global warming non-alarmists being "libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse." At Tech Central Station, Nick Schulz analyzes another example of that scurrilous trend, the latest issue of Vanity Fair sliming Frederick Seitz.

  • But it's not just global warming alarmists who want their opponents to Shut the Bleep Up; out in the wilds of Northern Kentucky University, one Sally Jacobsen undertook what Greg Lukianoff deems "the most perverted inversion of the concept of free speech I have seen in a long time". (Since Greg is the President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, that's quite a distinction.) Prof Jacobsen urged students in one of her classes to go out and destroy an anti-abortion display of about 400 small crosses on campus. In a docile effort to please the teacher, they proceeded to do so; Jacobsen apparently participated in the destruction as well.

Last Modified 2006-04-17 7:05 PM EDT
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The Constant Gardener

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

Not my cup of tea, sorry. This is a manipulative political thriller, based on a John le Carré novel, where a handful of saints go up against a conspiracy involving corrupt British officials in league with a couple of murderous international drug companies. It's set mainly in Kenya. Rachel Weisz plays Tessa, who is murdered early in the movie, but keeps showing up in flashbacks. The movie revolves around her husband's (played by Ralph Fiennes) efforts to pierce the coverup erected by the conspirators, and to find out what Tessa was up to. The ending is bleak.

The acting is first-rate, and the director, Fernando Meirelles, is the same guy who did City of God, and he does as good a job of depicting African squalor as he did Brazilian squalor. The critical praise for the movie seems mainly based on its wise choice of villains, primarily drug companies. Corrupt African officials are brought in mainly as window-dressing; the United Nations folks, as near as I can tell, are uniformly honest and hard-working.

I will not be holding my breath to see an equivalent movie based on a more realistic premise of UN corruption.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:20 AM EDT
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Intellectual Diversity at Ohio State Mansfield

Here is, for free, a quotation that will illuminate a lot about Higher Education for you:

Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.
The originator of this much-requoted gem was Wallace Sayre, a Columbia University professor. Its clarifying power is immense; sometimes it seems that a hefty fraction of academia is devoted full-time to demonstrating its truth.

Today's example is from the Mansfield campus of Ohio State University, where it was decided that all incoming first-year students would read a single common book. The committee charged with this first crack at Molding Young Minds included OSU-M's head reference librarian, Scott Savage.

The committee's initial proposals included titles by authors Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Jimmy Carter, and Maria Shriver; Savage said, (paraphrasing) heywaitaminute, why should we be mandating these ideologically-driven books? How about the relatively non-ideological Freakonomics instead?

That heated up things a bit; in response

… one committee member sent an e-mail saying that a controversial book would get more students engaged and debating. The university, he wrote, "can afford to polarize, and in fact has an obligation to, on certain issues."
I suspect Savage might have thought at this point something like: Oh, yeah? You give me tat, it's time for a little tit (almost certainly seriously paraphrasing here). From his March 8 e-mail to the committee:
But if we are decided that we want to engage our students in the kind of exchange of ideas on which the "secular" university is founded, then let's choose something that confronts the accepted wisdom of Ohio State University! Like students and young profs did in the '60s, man!
And he offered four new suggestions: The Professors by David Horowitz, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis by Bat Ye'or, It Takes a Family by Rick Santorum, and The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian.

This last title hit the fan, pushed buttons, and broke the camel's back, causing panties to bunch, cows to be had, and goats to be gotten. I haven't read it, and probably won't ever do so, but you may read the book's web promotion here; it gets good blurbs from Dr. Laura, Michelle (ma belle) Malkin, David Limbaugh, and a number of other righties. Within a few days, two openly gay faculty members at OSU-M filed a "Discrimination/Harassment Complaint Form" with the OSU HR Department. According to one, Savage's book recommendation made him feel "fearful and uneasy about being a gay man on this campus." The other characterized the recommendations as "a matter of harassment--of creating a hostile work environment."

Now if you're like me, a number of questions leap to mind, primarily: Ohio State University has a campus in Mansfield? Who knew? But it's pretty easy to see this as a heavy-handed attempt to stifle any right-wing expression on the hallowed two-bit campus, and protect impressionable young minds from any but a narrow range of "correct" ideological thought. The complaint is simply the blunt tool OSU makes available for this purpose. And, of course, the only "hostile work environment" here is the one Savage now finds himself in.

The OSU-M faculty and staff should be deeply ashamed and embarrassed. Should be, but, I bet, won't be.

The book chosen for the incoming frosh is The Working Poor : Invisible in America by David K. Shipler. The students could do worse. And if they stay at OSU-M, I imagine they will.

The history and quotes above are variously gleaned from this Inside Higher Ed article, this article at the Alliance Defense Fund website, which includes a link to a PDF sent to OSU-M officials demanding a cessation of the investigation targeting Savage. (If I notice any emerging details substantially contradicting or enhancing the history, I'll correct.)

For other commentary, see Professor Volokh and Joe Malchow.


Last Modified 2007-04-18 3:58 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-13

  • Scientific consensus on global warming is much easier to achieve when you can do stuff like this:
    Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis.

  • I'm not a huge fan of things Microsoft, but I found this Fortune/CNN article where Bill Gates describes his work environment and procedures to be kind of neat. Dude, he's got a Dell. (Via Club For Growth.)

    Actually, it's just one entry in a "How I Work" series at the CNN site. Other tidbits I thought were neat:

    • Marissa Mayer, a VP at Google uses Pine for her work mail. Not bad, Marissa, but you should check out Mutt!

    • John McCain:
      I read my e-mails, but I don't write any. I'm a Neanderthal -- I don't even type. I do have the rudimentary capability of calling up some Web sites, like the New York Times online, that sort of stuff. No laptop. No PalmPilot. I prefer my schedule on notecards, which I keep in my jacket pocket.
      Senator, the New York Times is the first website that leaps to your mind? Sigh.

  • The CEI Open Market blog mercilessly lampoons a WaPo excercise in clueless journalism; their intrepid reporter visits the Hagerstown, MD Wal-Mart Supercenter, and it's pretty much like sending Bronko Nagurski to review the Bolshoi Ballet.


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Relatively Deprived at The New Yorker

Winterspeak speaks about a recent New Yorker article by John Cassidy on different methods of measuring US poverty. Both links are well worth following. I'll concentrate on the latter here.

You might expect a New Yorker article to be a textbook case in advocacy of "progressive" nostrums. And you wouldn't be wrong in this case. But before he runs into that particular ditch, Cassidy actually does a pretty good job of reporting how the current official measure of poverty was invented. He does a great job of demonstrating what's wrong with it: (a) it's an income measure, not a consumption measure; (b) it doesn't take into account regional variations in the cost of living; (c) it's a pre-tax measure, so doesn't take into account post-tax adjustments such as the Earned Income Credit, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.; (d) it doesn't take into account changing expenditure patterns since the measure was derived over forty years ago; (e) it doesn't distinguish between people poor due to a temporary downturn in their financial fortunes and those truly stuck in chronic hand-to-mouth existence.

Cassidy also quotes conservative/libertarian critics (Nicholas Eberstadt; Cox & Alm) of poverty calculations briefly, which is good. Unfortunately, he unfairly tars them with a bad-faith brush:

Conservatives would prefer a measure that reduces the number of poor people.
Winterspeak demonstrates that two can play that game:
… the Left wants "poor" to be defined in such a way that maximizes its size, and so will bolster the case for government transfers …
That's fine, guys. Probably even par for the course. And it may, in fact, be true that relatively few people are interested in an actual statistical measure of economic hardship, except as a crutch to support their particular political causes. Too bad.

Anyway, back to Cassidy's article. Since he's implied that conservatives are wont to jigger the poverty numbers to support their policy positions, he apparently feels that gives him the green light to do the same. He proposes that poverty not be defined by the current "absolute" measure that's (as everyone admits, poorly) based on a calculation of subsistence; instead, we should base it on "relative deprivation", e.g., "classify a household as impoverished if its pre-tax income was, say, less than half the median income".

Why? Well, because Cassidy's big bugaboo is dat old debbil, Inequality. And by flawless logic, his redefinition allows a repurposing of the forces of the "War on Poverty" into the "War on Inequality". This isn't simply killing two birds with one stone; it's arguing that the two birds are actually just one big bird anyway.

To support this thesis, Cassidy quotes a number of studies that purport to show inequality causes social ills all by itself. The "relatively deprived" are unhappy, no matter how good their situation might be in an "absolute" sense. Their health is poorer, and they die sooner. Even if they have color TVs and dishwashers, they "may lack skills—such as how to surf the Web for help-wanted ads—that could enhance their prospects in the job market."

Now this thesis is alarmingly easy to lampoon, and Winterspeak does so. Let's take it slightly more seriously. Probably the thorniest allegation is the alleged link between inequality and poor health; frankly, in comparison, the other issues seem more like petty whining.

Even this allegation tends to fall apart when looked at skeptically, however. Probably the best refutation is by the aforementioned Nick Eberstadt and the new-kidneyed Sally Satel in a short booklet entitled "Health and the Income Inequality Hypothesis: A Doctrine in Search of Data." (PDF available for free here). [Via commenter 'Tex' in the Asymmetrical Information comment thread.] Nick and Sally review the evidence, demolish the thesis, and conclude:

How did it happen that a notion with such questionable empirical documentation and such a limited relationship to the testable proposition has come to acquire so much respect within the academy and so much authority in policy circles?

As we have seen, the phenomenon surely cannot be explained simply in terms of the quantitative persuasiveness of studies of the inequality hypothesis. To the contrary, the ambitious intellectual claims of this school of thinking have been undergirded by research that has all too often relied upon limited or unrepresentative data sets, hazily expounded causality, elementary econometric fallacies, and results that cannot be replicated.

So Cassidy's strongest argument in support of his poverty-as-inequality thesis probably isn't true. Can anything be salvaged from his article?

Not much. It's almost certainly true that the past few decades worth of expensive anti-poverty measures haven't been all that effective in decreasing the "absolute" poverty rate. Is it possible that the definition change Cassidy advocates might (somehow) be more effective?

This isn't promising, for example:

Therefore, the way to reduce relative poverty is to reduce income inequality—perhaps by increasing the minimum wage and raising taxes on the rich.
Ah, "increasing the minimum wage and raising taxes on the rich." Is there no social problem that these solutions cannot cure? For minimum wage issues, see Jane and Prof Bainbridge. As for "raising taxes on the rich": nothing in Cassidy's article supports the notion that reducing inequality by chopping away at the "top end", decreasing the after-tax incomes of the rich, will alleviate any social ills of the poor. Knocking people off the top rungs of a ladder doesn't make the ladder any easier to climb by those at the bottom.

And then we have handwaving:

Raising public awareness about relative deprivation could help to change attitudes toward the poor, by showing how those at the bottom of the social hierarchy continue to face obstacles even as they, along with the rest of the society, become more prosperous. The Times recently reported that more than half of black men in inner cities fail to finish high school, and that, nationwide, almost three-quarters of black male high-school dropouts in their twenties are unemployed. "It doesn't do a poor person any good to say 'You are better off than you would have been thirty years ago,' " [American economist Victor] Fuchs said. "The pathologies we associate with poverty—crime, drug use, family disintegration—we haven't eliminated them at all."
… and, of course, nothing in the article supports the notion that changing the poverty definition will do anything to alleviate, let alone eliminate, the named social pathologies either. Nor is it clear why changing the poverty definition will raise "public awareness", or why "public awareness" can't be raised without changing the poverty definition.

Cassidy does make the valid point that the relatively-poor tend to be "socially and geographically isolated" from other Americans. Since I've read Mickey Kaus, I'm convinced that's a serious problem. Again, however, Cassidy makes no convincing argument that the problem is specifically due to relative deprivation, nor that the social engineering he proposes is likely to solve or assuage it. He should take this Kaus quotation to heart:

We're Americans--we don't mind people getting rich. We do mind richer people lording it over less rich people, or even thinking they're better than less rich people.
This would involve abandoning the obsession with inequality and economic resentment, which is a cherished position by some on the Left. On the other hand, it might actually help.

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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-11

  • Tim Worstall's article at Tech Central Station today is much worth reading. He claims recent studies show (a) the sensitivity of global temperature to CO2 levels is less than thought and (b) economic models estimating future CO2 emissions have a systematic error that cause them to swing high. But unfortunately (c) the UN panel charged with investigating this isn't interested in straightening out this issue expeditiously.
    We are (depending upon which side of the argument you are on) either facing the greatest threat to the health of the planet or we're about to spend trillions upon trillions of dollars on fixing something that doesn't actually need fixing.
    Worstall advocates figuring out which, as would most reasonable people.

  • Cathy Seipp describes why she's a skeptic on gay marriage. For example:
    What agitators for gay marriage never address is why a homosexual domestic partnership should be more worthy of government approval (or employee benefits) than a myriad of other domestic partnerships. Why not two single moms who live together with their children, like Kate & Allie? Or a straight woman and her gay male best friend, like Will & Grace? Or two unmarried heterosexual sisters who live together and share all expenses — kind of an old-fashioned arrangement, but certainly not extinct; I happen to be friends with a pair like this myself. Why can't they get a tax break?
    Maybe Andrew Sullivan should take this up. It'd be more interesting than the over-and-over Bush-bashing.

  • And via the Bleat, your new philosophy: goat on the pole. Some misguided people think the goat is not on the pole; they're wrong, those theories are passé.


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Hooray for HTML::Template

Don't do a lot of programming-blogging here, but I thought I'd mention a recent overhaul of the script that generates the very page you're currently reading. Folks with no interest in Perl or web programming should probably move on.

It involved converting from the original plain old CGI script (using Lincoln Stein's famous CGI.pm) to use of the HTML::Template Perl module. Briefly, HTML::Template allows you to factor out the HTML structure of your web page into a template file; your Perl code then simply (heh!) "fills in the blanks" in the template, then blasts out the resulting page to you, dear reader.

Don't see any difference in the blog? That's the idea.

The instructive metric is (probably) total code size.

Old CGI script:
297 lines, 8334 bytes
New CGI script:
213 lines, 6541 bytes
New Template:
120 lines, 3050 bytes
So, instead of one file, we have two. But the total size of the two new files is only slightly bigger than the size of the old CGI script. (12% bigger, measured in lines; 15% bigger, measured in bytes). That's a pretty modest cost, given that (I think) the result is easily more maintainable.

The slight downside is that you have to keep your template tag names consistent between the Perl code and your template. No big deal. (Or shouldn't be a big deal for a disciplined coder; for me, on the other hand … fortunately, the generated error messages are clear and not too insulting.)

The major time taken in the conversion was that dippy little month calendar over there on the right. This required nested template loops, with an associated nested Perl data structure constructed in the script. My brain hurt badly afterwards; it didn't help that the official documentation was kind of weak on this point. Fortunately, the Google allowed me to find a Linux Gazette article where some brilliant hacker, Ben Okopnik, had figured it out.

I am, admittedly, a latecomer looking at HTML::Template, but in case you find yourself spending a little too much time trying to maintain HTML-generating Perl code, you might want to check it out.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-10

Happy Hundredth Day of 2006!

  • The day is not yet over, but the funniest thing I've read so far is Larry Miller on amateur hair cutting and Get Smart.

  • The most inventive pseudonym for a blogger I've seen in a while: "Feynman and Coulter's Love Child", author of The Third Edge of the Sword

  • Via the Corner, a fascinating e-mail car wreck.

  • But it's not all whimsy today. Arnold Kling's classic commentary on the Massachusetts health care plan is right here.

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Self-Refuting Statements

Saith Scott Adams at the Dilbert Blog:

I don't believe in free will.
The interesting thing is, he's saying this as if he had a choice to believe otherwise.

His concluding exhortation is:

Discuss.
A puzzling request, since any "discussion" would merely be the end result of a bunch of brain-chemicals bouncing off each other in eminiently predictable combinations, albeit with a bit of unpredictability thrown in by the grace of Heisenberg. Is there some reason I should pay attention to that? (Much less engage in that?) I don't think so.

Or maybe I do.

Just sayin', is all.


Last Modified 2006-04-09 7:13 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-09

  • If you followed any of the links in yesterday's collection on the new Massachusetts mandated health care coverage legislation, you'll also want to look at today's contribution from Tyler Cowen. He looks at positives and negatives, concluding:
    That all being said, the Massachusetts plan is better than I would have expected. I am not convinced that the plan will work out badly, at least relative to feasible alternatives.
    Certainly a masterpiece of damning with faint praise, there. As always, New Hampshire remains a "feasible alternative" to many Massachusetts residents and businesses sick of being stuck with the bill for its politicians' well-intentioned whims.

  • Other than that, we have a wish-I'd written from Cathy Seipp, who blogs on reaction to her article about parents, um, focused on getting their kids into selective institutions of higher education:
    But I won't pretend I was surprised that many people took offense, especially those high-anxiety type parents on College Confidential. I guess they detected, just beneath the surface, my usual impatience with officious blowhards and took it personally.
    Ouch!

  • And another wish-I'd-written from the good fellas at Surviving Grady on yesterday's nail-biting Red Sox-Orioles game:
    One of those everything-hangs-on-every-pitch games where you clutch onto your precious, slender lead like Roger Ebert straddling the last cheesecake on the dessert cart, and pray to God and Sonny Jesus that when the final out is recorded, you'll still have it secured in your grip.
    Heh. Roger Ebert. The Red Sox magic number is, as I type, 157. Speaking of Grady, Bill Mueller has a batting average (0.500) that matches the won-lost record of his new team (2-2); D. Lowe is scheduled to pitch in Philly this afternoon; Nomar, unsurprisingly, is on the 15-day DL. It's nice to have a National League team to root for, though.


Last Modified 2006-04-10 9:22 AM EDT
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Hondo

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

This is a pretty good old-fashioned John Wayne western, only released on DVD a few months back. It's based on a Louis L'Amour story; Louis L'Amour was nominated for an Oscar for this contribution.

It was originally filmed in 3-D, although that feature didn't make it onto the DVD. There are only a few "hey, this is 3-D" shots.

Geraldine Page is a fish out of water, although she got an Oscar nomination too. She's the only woman in the movie. I got the impression from the DVD extras that she might not have got along well with the rest of the cast and crew in an undoubtedly testosterone-soaked environment.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:16 AM EDT
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Sense and Nonsense on Mass Health Care

The Massachusetts legislature recently passed a bill aiming to (as the Wall Street Journal puts it) "obtain universal health-care coverage in their state." If you're like me, your first thought when you see the word "universal" is: Klingons, too?

But other people have more serious thoughts. Arnold Kling, for one, points to his WSJ on-ed column which begins:

The elected leaders of Massachusetts have come up with a novel solution for the vexing problem of paying for health care: abolish the laws of arithmetic.
Needless to say, Arnold's not impressed. Nor is Don Boudreaux, who quotes much of Arnold's article, adds the valuable insight that it's yet another example of faith-based government:
Those with a faith in government -- as well as the secular priests who minister to them (politicians) -- continually commit what science writer Matt Ridley calls "the reverse naturalistic fallacy": inferring an "is" from and "ought." Those who commit this fallacy believe that if something ought to be true, then it is true.
Shawn Macomber is also skeptical, and is probably the only one covering the issue that makes the critical link to the movie The Lost Boys. For fairness, he points to Ronald Bailey's Reason article sympathetic to mandatory coverage; also to Michael Tanner's recent Cato Policy Analysis, which deems mandated coverage to be a "slippery slope" to a government-run health care system. Shawn feels that Tanner has the more convincing argument here, and it's hard for me to disagree.

Oh, and the "nonsense" promised in the title? Always easy to find at the Huffington Post. Dr. Peter Rost reads the New York Times article on the legislation, and has some Serious Thoughts on the "universal" concept:

But as is often the case with these situations universal healthcare in the U.S. is very different from universal healthcare in Europe. In Europe it means that the government provides your healthcare. Period. In the U.S. it means that the government forces you to provide your own coverage.
Bastiat wrote "The state is the great fiction by which everybody seeks to live at the expense of everybody else." Dr. Rost believes that fiction. Unfortunate that he's far from alone.

Last Modified 2006-04-08 5:09 PM EDT
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Zathura: A Space Adventure

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

A rare midweek movie at the Salad Household; also a rare PG-rated movie, which we saw without even the excuse of kids. But it's quite good. The filmmakers did a fine job picking the small cast, did an awesome job on special effects, and got a script that was appropriately funny and scary. There are cool spaceships and vile monsters, two squabbling brothers, a hilariously bored sister, and a brave wise-cracking astronaut. It's a big win.

If you saw Jumanji, based on a book by the same author that this movie's based on, you can probably guess the shocking surprise twist at the end ahead of time. But that's OK, pretend you're a 12-year-old instead; you'll never see it coming.

Watched some extras on the DVD and was delighted to see Ralphie; he's made it big in Hollywood, and did not shoot his eye out after all.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:15 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-06

  • The House passed HR 513, the anti-free speech regulation of so-called 527 groups yesterday. The Club For Growth is all over the issue. My CongressCritter, Jeb Bradley, voted for this. Right now, my feeling is that this is an unforgivable offense.

  • The John Stark Review quotes:
    … after four years of failure... by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretence of military necessity, or war power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities …
    And asks: who said it? You could ask the Google, or just hit the link above. Hint: they're Democrats!

  • Prof Althouse has a response to an anti-blog article by Matt Welch. As usual, she submits a well-expressed insight:
    People blog for lots of different reasons, and blogging is still burgeoning and developing. Don't cave into nostalgia for a Golden Age, especially one that got its golden glow from the horror that was 9/11. Things were bound to change and shake around, and some bloggers that you liked then may put you off now. But there are always a million new bloggers, and blogging is a beautifully fruitful format. The great power of blogging is the way it releases the creativity of the individual mind. That sense of not being able to predict your own opinions and observations -- that feeling of writing to discover your own ideas and interests -- is the great intrinsic value of blogging. There will always be millions of individuals blogging for the sheer joy of self-expression. Find them.

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Dr. Doom Strikes Back!

… or at least his minions do. See the interesting article at Inside Higher Ed about the Eric Pianka/Forrest Mims controversy. Mims has claimed that Pianka "enthusiastically advocated the elimination of 90 percent of Earth's population by airborne Ebola" in a speech to the Texas Academy of Science last month. The IHE article begins:

Environmental scientists haven't been the top targets of intelligent design advocates, who have generally focused on attacking evolutionary biologists. But an outspoken environmental scientist at the University of Texas at Austin — whose research focuses on the damage modern society inflicts on the Earth — has found his work suddenly under scrutiny from unexpected sources.

The article goes on to link Mims to the Evil Forces of Intelligent Design. And it quotes numerous people to the effect that Mims has "severely distorted" Pianka's views; that Pianka "intended no such thing". Pianka himself refused comment.

It's somewhat smelly that the major effort here seems to be the trashing of Pianka's critics, and a lot of words expended on what Pianka didn't mean. OK, what did he say? Mims asserts that someone attempting to videotape Pianka's speech was prevented from doing so. Quotes from the other attendees are a mixed bag. For example:

"We would like to state … that many of Dr. Pianka's statements have been severely misconstrued and sensationalized," David S. Marsh, president of the academy, said in the release. "The purpose of his presentation was to dramatize the precarious plight of the human population. He did nothing more than apply commonly accepted principles of animal population dynamics to humans; an application not unique to this presentation and one that can be surmised by any student of ecology."

So Professor Pianka was simply bemoaning the "precarious plight" of humanity? Hey, nothing wrong with that! But contrast:

John Hanson, a biology instructor at Texas Tech University who attended the speech, said that at no point was Pianka literally arguing that "humans are bad and we need to go away." "Rather, he was talking about human impacts on the environment," said Hanson. "From a nonanthropomorphic point of view, it probably would be best for the planet with less humans."

No precarious plight seen there. It's all about what's "best for the planet". And Dr. Doom Pianka wasn't literally advocating mass human extinction. Really. It's just that the planet would be better off afterwards.

It all sounds much like the blind men expounding on the nature of the elephant. Except everyone's yelling at the one guy who's got hold of the trunk.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:14 AM EDT
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Lying with Statistics at the New York Times

Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek examines how the New York Times presented the "facts" in a recent article on immigration's impact on wages and prices. Russell finds that the NYT's "multimedia" presentation (by which it apparently means: graphs) more or less pulls its techniques from Darrell Huff's classic text How to Lie With Statistics.

Specifically: when the NYT wants to establish the point that a certain set of percentage changes are a Big Deal, they graph the percentages themselves as Big Fat Scary Bars. On the other hand, when it's desired to demonstrate that a different percentage change is Not A Big Deal At All, they graph the percentage as a small chunk of a very big pie. There are other problems with the article as well; Russell concludes: "What a dishonest article. The Times should be ashamed."

I commented similarly (here and here) about an NYT article last month claiming to show that Vermont was in dire demographic shape due to young people moving out. The statistics quoted to support this were uniformly jiggled and presented to paint Vermont as in a uniquely bad situation. For example, the article claimed Vermont was the "second-oldest state;" this turned out only to be true by a single measure: median age of population living in households. By median age of the entire population, Vermont fell to fifth place. And if you (reasonably enough) instead measure the "oldness" of a state by percentage of population over 65, Vermont is (as of the 2000 Census) in 31st place.

The Times also pointed with alarm to the factoid that Vermont's over-65 population was projected to be 30.4% of the adult population in the year 2030. Note they've restricted their sample to make that number higher than it would be otherwise; if they look at the entire population, that percentage shrinks to 24.4%. Also, unlike the previous statistic, the NYT makes no effort to compare this number to other states. Why? Well, because eight other states are projected to have a higher percentage of over-65 adults in 2030. Pointing this out would have been consistent, and honest, but would have weakened the thesis of the article.

All that is prelude to the latest example, today's article from David Cay Johnston, headlined "Big Gain for Rich Seen in Tax Cuts for Investments". The article is apparently authored in "close cooperation" with the reliably lefty think tank Citizens for Tax Justice. (Their two-page PDF press release "Tax Cuts on Capital Gains & Dividends Doubled Bush Income Tax Cuts for the Wealthiest in 2003", also released today, is here; it helpfully advises "For additional coverage of this issue, see the New York Times, April 5, 2006, page A1". Gee, I wonder how they knew that?)

The article is full of Big Scary Facts, presented to make them as Scary as possible. Consider, for example:

Among taxpayers with incomes greater than $10 million, the amount by which their investment tax bill was reduced averaged about $500,000 in 2003, and total tax savings, which included the two Bush tax cuts on compensation, nearly doubled, to slightly more than $1 million.

Gasp! But some things are worth pointing out:

  • The accompanying graphic makes clear that we're talking about (apparently exactly) 6,126 tax returns. It also hypothesizes that these returns saw an average of $1,019,369 "total tax cut". Let's do what the NYT doesn't: multiply these two numbers together. We're talking about $6.2 billion dollars. Compared to (say) the annual deficit, this is relatively small potatoes. Compared to the total amount of money collected by the IRS, it's even smaller potatoes. But of course, since the NYT doesn't even calculate that number, it can't very well compare it to anything or put it in context.

  • Also in hiding is any notion of the actual amount of tax collected from those rich bastards. You can figure it out, though: those 6,126 tax returns each average $5,780,926 sent to the IRS, totalling about $35.4 billion. The great outrage that the NYT/CTJ alliance is trying to hype is (apparently) that this number isn't (35.4+6.2 =) $41.6 billion instead.

  • The average over-$10M filer's Adjusted Gross Income is $25,975,532, working out to an effective average tax rate of about 22%; absent the hypothetical "cut", the rate would bump up to 26% instead. Even if we totally buy the NYT/CTJ numbers, it's obvious that a 26%-vs-22% tax rate for a few thousand tax returns isn't going to send anyone to the class-war barricades. Once again, such a calculation waters down the thesis, so it isn't mentioned.

  • It's doubtful, however, whether even that $6.2B number is actually real: it's based on CTJ's taxation "model". In calculating the "cuts", does the model assume that those 6,126 tax returns would have exposed the same amount of dividend and capital gains income to tax at the higher pre-2003 rates? I don't want to get all supply-side on you, but that seems unlikely; folks making over $10M are notoriously flexible and nimble at arranging their finances to minimize their tax burden. It's not hard to imagine that the reason they're "saving" so much on the tax cuts is that they chose to take dividends and capital gains income in response to the lower rates. There's no indication whether either the CTJ or the NYT did even a wild-assed guess at the magnitude of that effect.

The NYT accompanies the article with a "multimedia" (again, this means "graph") section, of which I've included a snippet. It's ordered by increasing income bracket, and the bottom line refers to those over-$10M filers. [scary bars] Ooh, look, those scary bars! And the big one must mean "the rich" are getting away with something, right?

Well, it's even less meaningful than Russ's example. In this case, it means that almost half the (again, hypothesized) "cuts" for the over-$10M bunch come from cuts in investment tax rates. If the total "cut" came 2/3 from investment rate cuts and 1/3 from "regular" cuts, then they'd draw a +200 bar instead!

It's a calculation, in other words, that gives you a Damn Big Scary Bar, which is why they did it.

Another paragraph of note:

Because of the tax cuts, even the merely rich, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, are falling behind the very wealthiest, particularly because another provision, the alternative minimum tax, now costs many of them thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars a year in lost deductions.

First, the use of "falling behind" is just fascinating: a staple phrase of class-warfare rhetoric, but Johnston can't resist employing it even in this wildly inappropriate context. Note that he's referring here to the "merely rich" (making $500K-$10M) paying income taxes at a 25-26% average rate vs. the "very wealthiest" (>$10M) paying at an average 22%. That's "falling behind"! Most everyone in my neck of the woods would be more than willing to "fall behind" while pulling in over $500K per year. And I somehow think that those "merely rich" aren't especially resentful of the "very wealthiest" either; instead they're trying to figure out how to be in that bracket next year.

Second, it's worth pointing out that the Alternative Minimum Tax us a legacy of a previous round of legislating resentment of "the rich" via the tax code. (Jonathan Rauch has a good resentment-free article on it here.)

I could go on; Johnston's article is a target-rich environment. But the point is clear; the New York Times habitually jiggles and cherry-picks numbers to support its arguments, and displays them misleadingly.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:17 AM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-04

  • Ramesh Ponnuru has a book coming out later this month: The Party of Death. Subtitle: "The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life". If that seems a little overheated to you, check out this article from the Seguin (TX) Gazette that covers the … um … provocative beliefs of one Eric Pianka:
    A University of Texas professor says the Earth would be better off with 90 percent of the human population dead.

    Pianka's beliefs have recently been publicized by Forrest Mims, an effort apparently spurred by the Texas Academy of Science's recent grant of the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award to Prof. Pianka. You can read Mims on Pianka here; Pianka's home page is here. You can read a Pianka sort-of defense and a Mims-trashing here by another guy with a big beard and a falcon.

    Is this a case of a devotee of environmentalism being unusually outspoken and honest in taking his ideology to its logical conclusion? If so, maybe Ramesh has a point.

    (Link to the Seguin Gazette article via Carl Schaad. Link to the falcon guy via Andrew Sullivan.)

  • What I learned today from reading the Bleat: I was an idiot for liking King Kong so much. Sigh. Usually Mr. Lileks and I agree on this sort of thing so often that it's unsettling. I assume a temporary bad mood turned him into a grouchy quibbler while watching the movie. At least he didn't go into the whole square-cube law thing.

  • What I learned from reading the Liberty & Power blog: scriptwriters for the TV show Law & Order either don't know the Constitution, or they desperately wish the Ninth Amendment could just be interpreted away.

  • Jacqueline Passey discovers that the pre-release marketing for this movie has probably gone a little overboard. (Pun Salad tries to keep it PG-13, but can't help but notice that the Google reports an extraordinary number of hits for this.)

  • If you didn't swoon at that last item, you might want to check out FIRE's award of "Speech Code of the Month" to Barnard College.
    This speech code deserves special recognition because it accomplishes the unique feat of violating itself.
    Yes, at Barnard College, they do adopt the time-honored strategy of destroying the village in order to save it. Or something.

  • The magic number for the Red Sox is 162.

  • And, oh yeah: Aieee! We're all gonna die! (Via The Corner.)


Last Modified 2006-04-06 8:17 AM EDT
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An Army of Davids

[Amazon Link]

Hey, did you know Glenn Reynolds wrote a book? I had a vague memory of him mentioning it once or twice on his blog, and I saw it at Amazon, so …

But seriously, it's good. Longtime Instapundit readers will recognize most, if not all, of the book's themes. And people worried about whether Glenn could write something coherent beyond the length of a typical blog post can rest assured. (Kidding! This isn't his first book!) Glenn's writing style is chatty and jokey.

The subtitle expresses the theme: "How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths" There are chapters on space exploration, life extension, and nanotechnology. Also one on the "Singularity", the prediction that the exponential increase in computing power will result in superhuman intelligence and unprecendented changes in everyday life.

Maybe we'll finally get those flying cars.

This is very worthwhile reading for people interested in how technological trends mold society, and the arguments are plausible.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:15 AM EDT
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Pun Salad Review: Coca Cola BlăK

[pictcha]

Your intrepid reporter noticed dinky little (8oz.) bottles of Coca-Cola BlăK in the Waterboro Maine Hannaford. (And I hope you appreciate the extra effort in getting the typography right here.) The cost was $1.49; since I was in the statist hell that is Maine, I also had to kick in five cents bottle deposit and probably about 7 cents sales tax.

The idea is that it's Coca-Cola with some coffee extract thrown in. And, gosh, that's pretty much what it tastes like. You get 45 calories and 46 mg of caffeine, almost enough to keep you awake while driving from Waterboro to Rollinsford, NH.

See, this is why I'd be a lousy reviewer. I didn't like it much, and I think $1.49 for 8 ounces of anything liquid is pretty outrageous. But maybe you'd like it; maybe you'd be wowed its subtle interplay of flavors. Assuming that there is a subtle interplay of flavors, because I am not one of those people who can detect a subtle interplay of flavors.

But if you're looking for my opinion: looking for cold, brown, and fizzy? Go with Diet Dr. Pepper. Looking for hot and coffee-flavored? Go with coffee. You're welcome.

More information at the corporate website here, includes flashy graphics and sultry feminine narrator.

An actual review from Consumer Reports here. They like the French version better, they claim it's heavier on the coffee.

This, for me, raises thorny questions: did Consumer Reports send someone over to Paris to taste-test the French version of BlăK? How does someone get that job? And doesn't that mean that subscription prices for Consumer Reports are probably just way too high?


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:16 AM EDT
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URLs du Saturday Afternoon

  • New article at Iowahawk. 'Nuff said.

  • Google Romance. Beta, of course.
    Here on the Google Romance team, we follow the philosophy "Don't be medieval," so we …
  • And I'd like to ask you all not to mention anything to Mrs. Salad about this.

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Correction: Jill Carroll is Not Cool With That

Dartblog points out this article from the Christian Science Monitor that indicates Jill Carroll's post-release statements reflecting well upon her captors were actually coerced as part of the deal for her freedom.

I should not have implied otherwise a few days ago.


Last Modified 2006-04-01 12:54 PM EST
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URLs du Jour — 2006-04-01

Happy April Fool's Day to all. Be careful out there on the Web today, many determined people are out to pull your leg.

  • Arnold Kling gives more reasons to be skeptical of James Pinkerton's "fix" for a sucky Federal government. Michael Giberson at Knowledge Problem is similarly unimpressed. I'm relieved that folks more credible than I find Pinkerton non-compelling.

  • But I was so wrapped up in Pinkerton yesterday that I missed reading Nick Schulz at Tech Central Station, who's also noticed a hockey-stick increase in global warming alarmism. Noticing Time's suggestion that "maybe we can begin living more like the average Chinese or Indian", Nick observes:
    According to the CIA World Factbook, the per capita GDP on India is $3,400 a year, and $6,200 a year in China. In the United States it's $41,800. So yes, Time is indeed advocating cutting living standards by as much as ten times. If you want something to "be worried" about, as Time asserts on its cover, well there you have it.
  • Sam Kazman welcomes new regulations under Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for trucks, SUVs, and vans by pointing out (a) they reduce consumer choice, and (b) oh, yeah, they also kill people. Your Federal Government, bringing you both Death and Taxes!

  • Since I read Kausfiles I now know there's a punctuation symbol meant to indicate ironical statements, and it's HTMLable: ؟. I'm excited by this new expressivity, but kind of worried that I'll use it incorrectly؟

  • And finally, two words: (1) Skateboarding; (2) Bulldog. God Bless America.

Last Modified 2007-04-18 4:03 PM EDT
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