Answered Prayers

As I learned as a little Lutheran lad, God answers all prayers. Sometimes, however, the answer is: Medammit, would you stop bugging me! (Via the infidel Treacher.)

Save the Planet!

Offering yet another public service, Iowahawk presents "Ten Things You Can Do to Save the Planet." Sample:

7. "Green begins at home." Whether you live in East Hampton or Topanga Canyon, there are dozens of little things you can do around your compound to minimize harm to the environment. For instance, have your groundskeeping staff lower the water levels in your koi ponds, and turn off your energy-wasting security cameras between 1 AM and 7 AM. If you own a summer ranch in Montana, send an email to the trail boss and tell him/her to add Beano to your cattle herd's feed to reduce ozone-depleting methane emissions.

URLs du Jour

2006-05-30

  • There ain't no social problem that nanny-staters and earnest do-gooders can't make worse. The latest data point comes from an unlikely source: a New York Times article from Harriet Brown, discussing ham-handed (heh!) attempts by public schools to make their students more svelte. Only problem is that many such efforts are (at best) ineffective and based on shaky science. In some cases, they probably make things worse: "A recent Internet discussion board among families with anorexic and bulimic children identified middle school health classes, which focus on weight, as the No. 1 trigger for their teenagers' disorders."

    (Via Prof Althouse.)

  • In serendipitous fashion, Jonathan Adler at Volokh points to a Philadelphia Inquirer story where a Greenpeace fact sheet was released containing the (verbatim) sentence:
    In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE].
    A Greenpeace spokesmodel, apparently called in to fill the "humorless stereotype" role, followed up with the comment: "Given the seriousness of the issue at hand, I don't even think it's funny."

  • Fortunately, Al Gore remembers to fill in the blanks in his alarmist and armageddonist rhetoric. Over in BBC-land, he's quoted:
    But Mr Gore, fresh from an appearance at the Cannes film festival, delivered a starker message that the world was now facing a "danger which could bring the end of civilisation."
    (Via Drudge.)


Last Modified 2006-06-02 9:28 PM EDT

Won't Get Fooled …

The story up to now: John J. Miller compiled a list of the 50 greatest conservative rock songs for National Review. Sitting right up at number one: "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who; certainly one of my all-time favorites, too.

Pete Townshend took time to reply. Miller responds. And both Althouse and Bainbridge comment. Radley Balko is unimpressed. All worth reading.

The interesting part (for me) was Townshend's comment that Daltrey's interpretation of the song significantly shifted Townshend's original intent:

I am just a song-writer. The actions I carry out are my own, and are usually private until some digger-after-dirt questions my methods. What I write is interpreted, first of all by Roger Daltrey. Won't Get Fooled Again - then - was a song that pleaded '… leave me alone with my family to live my life, so I can work for change in my own way…' But when Roger Daltrey screamed as though his heart was being torn out in the closing moments of the song, it became something more to so many people. And I must live with that.
… the intentions of the songwriter get "readjusted" before the song even gets out of the recording studio. Something bloggers don't have to worry about, right?

The Official Pun Salad Comment on Miller's list: If you're going to put in Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man", then it's an utter travesty to leave off Glen Campbell's "Galveston" (written by Jimmy Webb). Miller compounds this error by leaving it off his followup list here, while putting in a Charlie Daniels song.

The Da Vinci Code

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

While everyone else in the United States was going to see X-Men, our family checked out The Da Vinci Code.

Once someone has pointed out the illiteracy of the title to you (It's as if someone titled a work about Lawrence of Arabia The Of Arabia Code) it's difficult to take seriously. Unfortunately, the movie takes itself pretty seriously, while simultaneously being incomprehensible and ludicrous. (Sure, we'll move Mary Magdalene's tomb from there to there. No one will ever notice us moving it, and it's a much less conspicuous location!)

Tom Hanks is glum throughout. Audrey Tatou manages to crack a smile at a couple of points, which is good for half a star.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:09 AM EDT

The 40 Year Old Virgin

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

I'm pretty late getting around to seeing this movie, but you know, they wait for you just fine. It follows in the fine tradition of Wedding Crashers, an extremely funny and filthy movie whose premise is entirely captured by the title.

Steve Carell plays Andy, the titular character; his friends at the Best Buy-like store where he works decide to remedy his situation. Misadventures and hijinks ensue, and as you might expect, Andy is frustrated in his quest right up to the very end of the movie. A pleasant surprise: the movie is downright traditional in its treatment of love and commitment.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:42 AM EDT

Memorial Day 2006

Let's all remember.


Last Modified 2007-05-27 8:47 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-05-28

  • Janice Brown of the always-impressive Cow Hampshire blog has a new one: New Hampshire Blogging, featuring lists and critiques of Granite State blogs and bloggers. Janice is delusional kind enough to list Pun Salad as "Best of New Hampshire Blogs", for which I'm humbly grateful. But not humble enough to forego pointing it out.

  • Folks often remark on the near-total lack of puns here at Pun Salad. The explanation is simple: lack of imagination and creativity on this end. However, I know 'em when I see 'em: Bill Gnade of Contratimes blogs on "Neanderthal Man on Facile Fuel." Heh! But there's a serious point in there:

    Look. We all know majorities are "enlightened" when they agree with you and "Neanderthals" when they don't. But the Neanderthals of a few years ago now "understand" that the President is incompetent. What would be really interesting is to take a poll to determine how highly Americans approve of themselves. I am sure there would be convincing data proving that Americans always think rather highly of their own grand capacities. Heaven knows we can now safely conclude from sundry polls that the vast majority of Americans know how to run a country. What a relief.

    (Bill introduced himself to me after finding himself on the same list referred to in the point above. He describes himself as "something of a goofball with a big vocabulary." Which is something I merely aspire to.)

  • Any George Will column is worth reading, but one that contains the phrase "demented and vicious charlatans" is a must-read.

  • We previously blogged on Jim Pinkerton's insightful article illuminating the common vision of the pro-illegal immigration side of the debate that "pursues a trans-nationalizing, world-flattening globalism that regards nation-states as, at best, necessary evils -- and at worst, unnecessary evils." Confirmatory evidence continues to roll in; the latest being this article from Sheldon Richman, which declaims:

    Somewhere in my reading about immigration, someone made the deceptively simple point that it's not immigration we should be talking about but migration. That's another way of saying the focus has been on "us," when it should be on the people coming to the United States. The discussion has proceeded as if they have no rights in the matter but we do. We will let them come here if and only if we have a use for them. And "we" doesn't refer to a group of free individuals, but rather to a collective Borg-like entity with rights superior to any held by its constituents. The collectivist, and therefore statist, nature of the discussion indicates how far we've drifted from our individualist and voluntarist moorings.

    I'd be a lot more tempted to agree with Sheldon if the US really were the minimal state he (and, pretty much, I) idealize. But, as we've seen with other pure libertarian commenters, Sheldon's unconstrained vision excuses him from having to deal with actual costs, benefits, and trade-offs.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:44 AM EDT

Shopgirl

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

Steve Martin wrote the screenplay for this, based on his novella; he plays the role of Ray Porter. The movie's pretty far from even the thoughtful-person's-wackiness of the beloved Roxanne and L. A. Story. And the movie's really about Mirabelle Buttersfield, played by Claire Danes, as she bounces off both older, rich, sophisticated Ray and young, goofy Jeremy, played by Jason Schwartzman.

Danes is impressive, and Schwartzman is hilarious, especially in a sequence involving one of Mirabelle's gold-digging co-workers mistaking him for Ray. Steve Martin understates his performace as Ray, which makes sense, since Ray's kind of emotionally shut down. But still, I kept wanting to at least catch a glimpse of the Wild and Crazy Guy. But that would have made it a different movie, and probably not a better one.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:45 AM EDT

Stumbling on Happiness

[Amazon Link] One of the perks of working at UNH: if you see a halfway-serious book come out that you think you'd like to read, you can ask the library to order it, and (if they do), they'll let you know when it comes in, and hold it for you until you pick it up. And for free! What a world.

So when Tyler Cowen blogged earlier this month about Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness being "so far the best book this year," I was able to latch onto it pretty quickly. And he's right, it's very good.

The author is a psychology prof down at Harvard, and researches happiness; or, specifically, how people tend to go wrong in predicting what will make them happy (or not), and how happy (or not) they'll be after certain events.

It doesn't hurt that Professor Gilbert is probably the funniest guy on the Harvard faculty, and has a gift for presenting even the driest research with a Dave Barry-level gift for humorous exposition.

The book confirms the general thesis: Predictions are difficult—especially about the future. (I've seen this attributed to Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, and Neils Bohr.) Although Gilbert might also throw in: memory is unreliable, especially about stuff that happened in the past. When you put these together with the hundreds of ways our brains engage in self-deception, it's enough to make one despair.

But don't. I recommend drowning oneself in aphorisms: the journey is the reward; do what you love, love what you do; get over yourself; and don't worry, no matter what happens, eight hundred million Red Chinese still won't give a shit.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:45 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-05-26

  • Still Lying After All These Years: Jonah Goldberg shows that Al Gore (still) never lets the facts get in the way of whatever story he wants to tell; when in Cannes for his movie's debut, he ran into Ms. Arianna Huffington:
    Gore told Huffington that this was his second trip to Cannes. "The first was when I was 15 years old and came here for the summer to study the existentialists - Sartre, Camus. ... We were not allowed to speak anything but French!" This, gushed Huffington, "may explain his pitch-perfect French accent." Perhaps. Though according to David Maraniss' biography of Gore, the former vice president's 15th summer was spent working on the family farm. Remember those stories about how Al Sr. said, "A boy could never be president if he couldn't plow with that damned hillside plow"? That was the same summer.
    Zut alors! Jonah also points out that Al got C's in French in high school.

  • Tim Graham, spurred by a recent NYT story that referred four (4) times to "fiscal conservatives" went a-Nexising for NYT references to "fiscal liberals"; and came up with three (3) references—in the past twenty-five (25) years.

    So, when everyone's a fiscal conservative, how do we get these budget deficits? Must be magic.

    For an independent (and much easier) data point: asking the Google for "fiscal conservative" gives about 344,000 hits (as I type); "fiscal liberal" garners a mere 10,500.

  • Carl Schaad helpfully posts a map you can use to find out how prepared you are for the coming hurricane season. Disclaims Carl:
    Now, I'm NOT saying "Everyone Panic!" There will be time for that in two weeks.

Don't Dislocate Your Shoulder While Patting Yourself on the Back

Alex Tabarrok posts on the "Ethics of Economists":

I have an article in TCS today on why economists tend to be more in favor of immigration than the typical person. Surprisingly, the ethics of economists may be part of the answer!

Apparently, in this debate, it's not enough to be correct; you also have to be morally superior to your opponents. I've recently blogged about how this relates to Thomas Sowell's famous book A Conflict of Visions. And comments like the above remind me of nothing so much as Sowell's subtitle to his companion volume The Vision of the Anointed: "Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy."

It's not surprising that economists tend to be smarter than other people on economic issues. When Alex, and the co-signers of his open letter point out (for example) that a free labor market makes us all richer, they're right. But what they're right about is the relatively narrow theoretical economic issue, while neglecting practical cultural, legal, and political issues. It's not a matter of "ethics", really: it's more of a matter of focus. And, um, vision.

Meanwhile, Robert Rector at NRO provides a list of some of the costs of "reform" as passed by the Senate. Read the whole thing, and decide for yourself who's got a better look at the whole issue.

URLs du Jour

2006-05-25

  • I pointed to a couple of Prof Sowell's columns on immigration yesterday. Part III of the series is here. Strong stuff, and pretty convincing from someone who likes the free market, but is also a clear-eyed expert in how cultures work, or don't.

    Fairness dictates that I point out (or, more accurately, link to Radley Balko pointing out) that there are fallacious arguments on the other side as well. No, folks, illegal immigration is not like slavery.

    But neither is opposing illegal immigration like asking illegals to "ride on the back of the bus." If I had a nickel for every bad argument I'd seen on either side …

  • Tom Maguire looks at Bob Kerrey's defense of the loutish behavior of the New School's student body in response to John McCain's graduation speech there. Saith Kerrey:
    … student protests are a necessary and essential part of democratic free expression. Did we not love the brave and disrespectful students at Tiananmen? Did we not applaud the determination of the student led movements that helped bring down the dictators that ruled Eastern Europe in 1991? Have we forgotten the critical difference students made in reversing an unlawful election in Ukraine or in driving the Syrians from Lebanon or who still seethe in discontent under the religious law of Iran's mullahs?
    Maguire sticks the obvious pin into this inflated idiotic rhetoric:
    Well - it must be delightful for the New Schoolers to have their President pandering so, but I hope they have learned enough to realize that no, when you are in the heart of New York City surrounded by thousands of like minded progressives, standing up to a solitary seventy year old man is not Tiananmen.

    Meanwhile, Ann Coulter checks out Jean Rohe, the student speaker at the New School commencement.

    We mostly heard about Rohe's bravery from Rohe—and, really, who is in a better position to judge? As Rohe herself put it: "If there's one thing that I know about myself, it is that I care for people, and in that sense I have a great deal of character."
    Raising the obvious question: who's more narcissistic, Jean Rohe, or Dr. Diana? Discuss amongst yourselves.

  • On the hypocrisy watch, John Henke analyzes when it's OK to compare people to Goebbels, and when it's not.

  • Actual Yahoo news headline: Cate Blanchett to play Dylan in biopic. Co-starring Harvey Keitel as Joan Baez?


Last Modified 2008-06-03 8:12 AM EDT

Al Gore's Penguin Army

For fans of Linux, Batman, and South Park who don't like Al Gore much, it's pretty funny:

(Via the Ankle Biters. They also suggest reading this Robert Balling article.)


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:53 AM EDT

Immigration Debate Insight

James Pinkerton has an illuminating essay at Tech Central Station titled "Universalism vs. Nationalism" that has helped me understand why the immigration debate is so weird. He begins:

Here's a question: Why do Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and The Wall Street Journal editorial page have such similar views on immigration?

The answer is that all four of the above -- Mahony, CAIR, the ACLU, and the Journal -- have chosen universalism over nationalism. The four embrace different visions of universalism, to be sure, but each one of them is similar insofar as it seeks to transcend passports and borders. Each of the four pursues a trans-nationalizing, world-flattening globalism that regards nation-states as, at best, necessary evils -- and at worst, unnecessary evils.

When Pinkerton uses the magic word "visions", that pricks up the ears of all those who have read Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions. And we say: "This explains a lot, actually."

For example, the other day I linked to a Cafe Hayek article from Don Boudreaux containing this puzzling paragraph:

The narrow cost-benefit solution might well be further restrictions on immigration -- I say "might," not "is" -- even if, in my opinion, such restrictions are unethical because they violate the basic human rights of Americans and foreigners alike.
The telling clue that we're dealing with a vision here lies in words like "unethical" and "basic human rights". The ideal situation is to have no restrictions on immigration at all; Don's acknowledgement that the costs of such a policy might outweigh the benefits is extremely hedged.

Similarly, David Friedman, in discussing a hypothetical situation whether to hire the next-door kid or an illegal immigrant to do a task: "I would have done the right thing—by hiring the illegal…"; he goes on to justify lawbreaking in this case because "most people believe in obeying laws selectively—ignoring the ones they think are foolish or wicked except when the risk of getting caught makes it more prudent to obey." [Emphases added.] Again, we're obviously dealing not at all with costs, benefits, and trade-offs, but more with an overarching moral vision that will brook no compromise.

That's fine, of course, as long as it's recognized. I like and admire both Don and David. But it's interesting that they are arguing, at bottom, not based in their expertise in the fields of economics and law, but from their visions. And in particular, it seems to be what Sowell would call an "unconstrained" vision; it's unusual in that this particular flavor of vision unites the disparate factions Pinkerton mentions.

Also buttressing this view is that Mr. Constrained Vision, himself, Thomas Sowell, is taking a much different side on this issue. See here and here for two of his recent columns on the topic.


Last Modified 2006-05-25 7:20 AM EDT

How Does It Feel?

Bob Dylan is 65 years old today. Mark Steyn recycles a funny article he wrote for a previous birthday.

URLs du Jour

2006-05-23

  • Surely as the light of day must follow even the darkest night, a "Bushism of the Day" article from Jacob Weisberg in Slate is followed by a reality check from Eugene Volokh. What Weisberg thinks he's trying to accomplish here is beyond me. Worse, he's being paid to do this, while Prof Volokh provides his antidote for free. It's a funny world, innit?

    Update: Weisberg does it again. So does Volokh; unfortunately, I think the Prof is too polite to simply point out that Weisberg is reduced to sneaky quote-surgery to keep his tired "Bushisms" schtick going.

  • Also doing impressive fact-checking is David Frum, who noticed the subheadline on a recent Fareed Zakaria column in Newsweek:
    Since the mid-1970s the demand for petroleum in Western Europe and Japan has been flat. In the United States it has doubled.
    This "fact" is repeated further down in the column. The only problem, as David points out: this isn't true at all. He digs out a report from the Department of Energy that says petroleum consumption only went up about 17.5% in the US between 1976 and 2004. He continues:
    And even that modest figure does not quite capture the full story. Petroleum use in the US remained essentially flat for most of the 1980s and 1990s. Petroleum consumption hit a peak of 18.847 million barrels a day in 1978 - and did not return to that level until 1998. It was during the cheap oil years 1998-2001 that oil use spiked again, and it's a good bet that today's high prices will drive oil use back down again.
    David also notes some other impressive statistics. Most notable (to me): "Energy use per dollar of GDP is about half what it was in 1970." Put another way: between then and now, the same amount of energy use produces about double the GDP. That's amazing, but it's the kind of information that sources like Newsweek have no interest in. Wonder why not?

  • Both The Torch and Phi Beta Cons take note of major changes to the speech policies at Penn State to bring them more in line with constitutional free speech protections.

    Not coincidentally, it's also reported that a lawsuit over aforesaid speech code has been settled. Comments the Torch:

    Hopefully, this will serve as a wake up call to the hundreds of other "red light" public universities identified in Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource. If college presidents don't want to hear the knock of a federal marshal serving a lawsuit, they would be wise to immediately reassess their unconstitutional policies.
    One of the other "red light" public universities, by the way, is this one right here.

  • Jim Harper of Cato@Liberty has a short but effective post on the "Net Neutrality" issue that I'm just going to steal in full:
    The opponents of broadband regulation have produced an amusing animation that pretty effectively skewers the campaign for “net neutrality.” Why, yes, of course it’s produced by large corporations seeking after their own interests. But the piece effectively points out that the campaign for federal regulation of broadband is also a product of large corporations seeking after their own interests.

    So, if it’s a debate between two large corporate interests, we can drop the ad hominem and just discuss which group of large corporations is trying to protect its property and its investments, and which group of large corporations is trying to win rents through the legislative and regulatory process. Figured it out yet? Good.

    Indeed!


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:54 AM EDT

Sky High

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

This movie is much better than it has any right to be, because it is completely and utterly predictable. From the point all the characters are introduced, you or I could have written the remainder of the movie. Will the high school losers triumph? Will the beautiful senior inexplicably attracted to the semi-nerd hero turn out to be not so nice? Will the semi-nerd hero become a jerk, but then see the error of his ways? Will the school's bad kid be redeemed? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

But the script is (actually) clever: the idea is to mash-up high school teen movie clichés with superhero movie clichés, and, on that level, it works just fine. And the acting is really good. Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston play the superhero parents exactly right: decent, clueless, a tad egotistical. Cloris Leachman, Bruce Campbell, Kevin McDonald, Dave Foley, and Lynda Carter(!) have smaller roles, and they're all hilarious. (At one point, Lynda has the line: "I'm not Wonder Woman, you know." And millions of middle-aged guys go: "Heh")


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:42 AM EDT

Proof

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

This is kind of a "chick flick" but I liked it quite a bit anyway. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Catherine, who is beset on all sides by (a) her crazy, brilliant, recently dead math professor father; (b) her well-meaning manipulative sister; (c) one of her father's ex-students, who's going through the great man's notebooks, hoping to tease out some publishable mathematics from all the insane rambling; (d) her own self, because she's desperately afraid that she's as nutty as her dad, and that her brilliant talents might be as delusional as pop's.

That all sounds kind of dreary, but the movie has quite a bit of humor. Much of the script involves University faculty and students, and displays not one whiff of reverence toward them, so that's good too. In addition to Gwynnie, the first-rate cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Hope Davis.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:42 AM EDT

Immigration: Good and Bad Arguments

I've mentioned before my ambivalence on the illegal immigration issue. There are a lot of good arguments on both sides, made by people I trust. But when people on one side make obviously poor arguments, that pushes me (probably irrationally) to the other side. I noted that kind of thing previously with David Friedman. Now I'm also seeing it, unfortunately, from Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek.

Don wants to confront the argument that "immigrants free-ride on government-provided goods." He admits that might be true, but:

But even if we conclude that, on pure cost-benefit grounds, the best course of action is to restrict immigration further because immigrants overuse public-supplied and subsidized goods and services, why blame immigrants? Why point accusing fingers at immigrants? Why not blame government for supplying and subsidizing things that it ought not supply and subsidize?
… and at this point, I'm thinking: wait, who's blaming anyone? Why is that even entering the equation? Aren't we all just trying to find a better policy than the status quo here?

On the web, it shouldn't be too hard to find examples of the kind of argument you're trying to refute. You can link to those arguments; you can quote them. And your readers can judge for themselves whether you're representing your opponents' arguments fairly. Your readers can also consider whether the folks you're refuting are truly representative of the other side, or just a handful of fringe-dwelling fruitcakes.

But when you don't link or quote the actual arguments of your opponents, it invites speculation that you're simply setting up a strawman. I've really come to expect better service than this at Cafe Hayek.

To see an actual argument about the type of (further) fiscal mess we might find ourselves in as a result of immigration "reform", check David Frum:

The first and most immediate impact of the president's amnesty/guestworker plan will be a huge increase in taxes on the American middle-class. 11 million illegals - plus unknown numbers of guestworkers and other low-income migrants - will become eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, for Medicaid, for unemployment insurance, for Section 8 housing, and so on and on through the menu of the American welfare state.

Libertarians may retort: Well these migrants would not be so costly if we abolished EITC, Medicaid, Section 8, etc. True enough. But these migrants will also qualify for the vote. David Boaz estimates that 9% of the 2004 electorate was economically and socially libertarian. I have no idea if that is accurate, but whatever the figure may be, I think we can guarantee that the number will plunge precipitously if the president and Senate succeed in adding millions of low-income, government-dependent, non-English-speaking, affirmative-action-eligible voters to the rolls.

Those business lobbies pushing for more cheap labor are adding a huge future liability to the public finances of the United States. The amnesty/guestworker plans in the Senate accommodate that demand. It's a little like the prescription drug benefit: a pleasant freebie for an influential constituency today at a huge, concealed cost to the taxpayers of tomorrow. This is not moderation; it is innumeracy.

There's none of the nasty accusations, blame, and finger-pointing at immigrants there; to the extent that there is blame, David is pointing his finger at Dubya, the Senate, and business lobbies. Don, and people on his side, should try to confront these types of arguments, if they can. If they keep flailing away at strawmen instead, people like me are likely to draw obvious conclusions.

Fiddlers

[Amazon Link]

The city in these pages is imaginary.
The people, the places, are all fictitious.
Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique.
I read my first 87th Precinct novel about a third of a century ago, back in the summer of 1973, as I was haunting the Lake Mills, Iowa, public library for stuff to read that long lonely summer.

But that's nothing. Ed McBain, the pseudonym of Evan Hunter, had been writing them for almost a half century, since 1956. Like all good series, devotees want to know what the characters are up to; how are their lives working out?

But this is the last one, since Evan Hunter died last year. So reading it was a bittersweet experience. For better or worse, there's no closure on any of the threads running through the series. The Deaf Man is still at large. Steve Carella is still a mensch, but still sorely put upon, this time by his misbehaving daughter. Bert Kling's love life is still in a ditch. Ollie Weeks, always a great detective, continues his largely clueless quest to become a better human being. Meyer's still bald. Et cetera.

And there's also a serial killer rambling through the Big Bad City, shooting random people in the face. Or so it seems.

I will miss checking in to see what's going on with my acquaintences in the 87th.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:48 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-05-18

  • Is today the happiest day of the year? Find out in this article, headlined "Today is happiest day of the year." (Via Club for Growth.)

    If you're not reading this today, that's just too damn bad, grumpo.

  • But putting a little frowny face on my day is the Official Notice from the Seattle Public Schools that I'm a racist. According to their page on "Definitions of Racism" anyway. Specifically a "cultural" racist, because I'm in major agreement with "emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology".

    Also I suspect I may have an unfortunate "future time orientation." Comes from reading too much science fiction at an early age, I think. (Via Volokh. Radley Balko also comments, and has a suspect perp picked out.)

    Update: The CEI blog has a more serious analysis of the page.

  • New White House press secretary Tony Snow is getting denouced for his use of a "racially charged term." And—don't laugh, please—that term is "tar baby." For examples, see here and here and here and here. For extra credit, try to find the most idiotic overreaction among these examples, or any others you can pry out of the Google.

    Of course the controversy is entirely phony, manufactured by people who don't imagine for a moment that Snow was motivated by racial malice, but just love to stir the pot. Read Goldstein for an antidote to the claptrap.

    [It's probably worth pointing out that I almost started this item with "New White House press secretary Tony Snow is also being tarred with the racist brush …". But with the Seattle Public Schools after me, who needs that kind of additional trouble?]

  • Joe Malchow comments amusingly on an article on Princeton's efforts to "boost staff diversity."

  • We previously blogged about Dr. Diana, topless USC prof. Now Joanne Jacobs discusses the case of 10th grade world history teacher Erica Chevillar, who supplemented her $33K salary by joining the USA National Bikini Team.

    If you're diligent enough, you can follow the links to compare and contrast Dr. Diana's and Ms. Chevillar's, um, cases. They're both very interesting examples of free expression outside the classroom! Although, um, there are important … differences. I don't think I can comment further, however, without typing something that would get me in trouble either at home or work, and probably both.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:55 AM EDT

Hostile and Abusive

Inside Higher Ed reports that the NCAA has decided, after great deliberation, that William & Mary's "Tribe" athletic nickname is "hostile and abusive". You can read the NCAA press release here and the William & Mary comments here.

This is one episode in a long-running controversy, and it will strike many who haven't been paying attention to it as silly. In fact, it will strike many who have been paying attention to it as silly.

There's a website for everything. Adam Smargon maintains a long list of college nicknames here, and it's interesting to try to taxonomize.

By far the most common class of nicknames are Animals you Don't Want to Mess With: Lions, Tigers, Bears, as expected; But also Bobcats, Broncos, Bulldogs, Cobras, Cougars, Coyotes, Gators, Jaguars, Leopards, Rattlers, and Wildcats. And there are plenty of variations; in addition to just plain "Bears", there are Black Bears, Golden Bears, Polar Bears, Sugar Bears, and Grizzlies. And, of course, Bruins.

Then there are Not So Scary Animals, for colleges wanting a milder image: Anteaters, Armadillos, Badgers, Banana Slugs, Beavers (Go, Caltech Beavers!), Boll Weevils, Cardinals, Dolphins, Frogs, Gamecocks, Gophers, Great Danes, Greyhounds, Jackrabbits, Kangaroos, Larks, Owls, Penguins, Peacocks, and Roadrunners.

Once we move beyond animals, another popular theme is professions, both legitimate and il-: Anchormen, Buccaneers, Cornhuskers, Cowboys, Engineers, Explorers, Foresters, Governors, Loggers, Lumberjacks, Mariners, Miners, Monarchs, Mounties, Orediggers, Pirates, Raiders, Rangers, Senators, and Statesmen. Religion appears, too: Angels, Saints, Devils (including Blue, Red, Delta, Jersey, Sun, and Dust varieties), Demons, Missionaries, Bishops, and Deacons. And the Yeshiva Maccabees.

There's a strong whiff of militarism, both historical and current: Archers, Knights, Crusaders, Colonels, Commodores, Generals, Grenadiers, Lancers, Leathernecks, Majors, Midshipmen, Minutemen, Musketeers, and Cavaliers. Vikings, Spartans, and Trojans, of course, and just plain Warriors.

Some schools have chosen to skate right up to the edge of the ice by choosing actual ethnic group names: Celts/Celtics, Dutch/Dutchmen (Flying and not), Scots, Irish, Ragin' Cajuns, Scots, Norse.(And Oles, thanks much, St. Olaf!)

But none of those schools are in Official NCAA Trouble. It's hard to find any common theme in the above. However, what's obviously absent is (a) any sign of disrespect or malice toward the nickname referents; (b) any notable offense taken by any nicknamed group.

But all that changes for Native Americans; those nicknames are presumed "hostile and abusive"; because offense is at least pretended to be taken.

Names that will at least draw a sharp look from the NCAA include: Indians, Braves, Tribe (as William & Mary discovered), Redmen, and Savages. Specific tribes can also land you in jeopardy: Choctaws, Seminoles, Chippewas. Also, interestingly enough, the University of Utah "Utes" and the University of Illinois-Champaign "Illini" found themselves on the shitlist. (It's not clear whether the states will have to change their names too.)

A number of teams with "Warriors" and "Braves" were excused by the NCAA; as were the San Diego State Aztecs.

I doubt whether anyone is actually offended by a college team's nickname; it's hard to imagine that anyone will be helped even if every last nickname that referred directly or indirectly to Native Americans were wiped out. I guess concentrating on empty, symbolic gestures saves people from actually dealing with tough problems.

URLs du Jour

2006-05-16

It's darn damp in the Granite State. You may have heard. But I'm safe at home, and the water is only barely over my ankles.

  • Sometimes I get asked "Whereabouts in New Hampshire do you live?" The answer is: the part of the state colored orange in the map over there to the right. Aieee, we're all gonna die! [Accuweather Link] (Via Carl.)

  • Radley Balko takes a rare look behind the Times Select wall at David Brooks' Sunday op-ed cheering that "conservatism that emphasizes freedom [is giving] way to a conservatism that emphasizes authority." Radley finds Brooks to be fact-challenged, and the details are well worth reading for those (like me) who are occasionally squeamish and disturbed about social libertarianism.

  • Looking for enlightened and fair policy on the immigration issue? Don't look at Pun Salad; we still got no clue whatsoever, other than idly wishing that people not be rewarded for breaking the law. There's a vast amount of opinion out there, and we find ourselves nodding docilely in agreement with just about everything we read, no matter if it contradicts what we docilely agreed with 23 seconds earlier.

    However, just because we have no informed opinion on an issue under debate doesn't mean that we can't have a meta-opinion on the debate itself. Prof Althouse observes that immigration is "suddenly making everyone crazy," and that may be the single most sensible thing said on the topic. Unfortunately, as the Prof observes, the craziness has led to the breakup of a group blog, since the publisher can brook no dissent on the issue.

  • The British Broadcasting Corporation recently aired an interview with a London cab driver, in the mistaken belief that he was an expert on Internet music downloads. Thousands of pretty American newscasters are thinking: "There but for the grace of God go I." Or they would be thinking that, were they not airheads. (Via Dave.)

  • With The Da Vinci Code movie coming out, you'll want to brush up on some of the fundamentals (heh) of Christianity. The Holy Office has an impressive "crib sheet" that will tell you everything you need to know about this obscure sect so you can impress your co-workers around the water cooler with arcane facts. For example, bet you didn't know:

    The first Baptist was John the Baptist, who was said to eat locusts and honey, although contemporary Baptists generally prefer barbecue.

    By the way, if you don't get the reference to "Touchdown Jesus," click here. (Via Jane.)


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:55 AM EDT

Mission: Impossible III

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

I took in my first summer blockbuster in an uncrowded theater with multiple leaks in its roof. Fortunately there were only a few quiet scenes in the movie where you could hear the drips into the dozen-odd buckets placed around the auditorium.

This is a big dumb fun movie, with a lot of PG-13 loud action. Especially memorable is a rush hour from hell crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Some guy named Tom Cruise is the main hero here, and he's OK. Philip Seymour Hoffman is appropriately menacing as the bad guy. Simon Pegg, fondly remembered from Shaun of the Dead has a small role as an implausibly omniscient computer geek, similar to Chloe from 24.

The writer/director here is J. J. Abrams, also in line to write and direct the next Star Trek movie, so there are hopeful indications that it might not totally suck, although there's no indication that it will be remotely cerebral.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 6:15 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2006-05-14

[Amazon Link]

I think that promotion from "Multicellular Microorganism" to "Wiggly Worm" in the TTLB Ecosystem was a transitory screwup at the Bear's end; I'm now back to lowly MM status. Bloggy bigtime continues to elude Pun Salad.

But as long as you're here, my friend, that's all that really matters. Thanks for reading.

  • When both Ann Althouse and Power Line gush about Dion's new album, it's as good as a voice from a burning bush. So click and buy, like I did.

  • Andrew Roth at the Club for Growth blog reads the Boston Globe so I don't have to; he finds this article describing a poll of Massachusetts emigrants:
    A majority of people who moved out of Massachusetts last year report they are very satisfied with life in their new state and would not move back … The results showed New Hampshire was the top destination for people who left Massachusetts.
    UNH's own Andy Smith did the poll, and he's quoted: ''I see so many people who move from Massachusetts and say they will never move back."

  • But all those incoming NH residents will apparently find "REAL ID" awaiting them here, thanks to the Republican-controlled NH Senate. Weekend Pundit is extremely pissed.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:47 AM EDT

Harald

[Amazon Link] I don't often (or, more precisely: never) read books in this genre, but the author is a great writer of non-fiction on libertarianism and economics, so I thought I'd give it a try. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure this is a genre, since I've never read a book with the particular combination. The technology is vaguely medieval and the characters human, and there's no magic, but the history and geography are entirely invented.

It's also one of those books that just plunks the reader into a world, and the reader has to make some effort to deduce the way the world works via dialog and descriptions. Plus, people talk funny. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't pass a pop quiz on exactly who was related to who, or other major plot points. Someone more acclimated to this type of writing would probably have done better.

There's a great deal of edged-weapon warfare in the book, but the blood, gore and screaming horror is underplayed; it's more like one of those strategy games played in the back of the comic book shop translated into prose. The tactics, insofar as I could understand them, were clever, and served to let the good guys prevail over the bad guys in most cases.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:47 AM EDT

Lord of War

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

Nicolas Cage plays Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian immigrant who, tired of working in his dad's restaurant, one day decides to become an international arms dealer. (Who knew it was that simple?) This movie is kind of like Scarface, showing Yuri's quick rise to the top of his perilous and unsavory profession. Also, there is a hot woman involved, played by Bridget Moynahan, who eventually tires of all the shenannigans.

There are frequent laughs in the movie, as when Yuri gets arrested by an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. "Let me guess," Yuri says, "this isn't about the alcohol or tobacco."

The conflict between Yuri's cynical realism and moral stridency in the movie really grates, though. Throw in some cheap anti-Americanism and things get pretty tedious. The screenwriter, Andrew Niccol, also did The Truman Show, so this is pretty disappointing.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:50 AM EDT

Northfork

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

This movie set in 1955 Montana; the town of Northfork is dying, as the dam downriver is about to be completed and put it underwater. Also dying is a sweet little kid named Irwin. (When he's asked for his surname, he replies "Sir Irwin.") The movie follows Irwin around in his deathbed fantasies. (Or are they fantasies?) We also follow around six men who are tasked with making sure everyone has left the town. As might be expected, the people they run across are a colorful lot. And there are angels, who enter and leave town in a shiny DC-3.

The movie has a nice offbeat occasional humor; when a father (played by James Woods) is bemused by something his son, Willis, has said, the screenwriter is not shy about having him say: "What are you talking about, Willis?"

Pleasant surprise: Nick Nolte, playing the local preacher attending to Irwin, can still act. You might want to switch on the captions, though, because I swear about half the stuff he says is in a deep incomprehensible mumble.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:50 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-05-11

  • Iran's loon-in-chief sent a letter to Dubya earlier this week. You can be all serious and read the original (PDF) here; but (frankly) it's 18 muddily-typed pages, and it really begins to drag somewhere in the middle of the second line of page 1. Instead, I'd suggest reading the Lileks version or the Iowahawk version.

    And one perspicacious observer found the letter's reference to Guantanamo Bay prisoners similar to what you'd hear in an institution of Higher Learning, but a tad hypocritical. Ouch!

  • Much ado today about the revelation that major phone companies are providing records on domestic calls to the NSA, allowing traffic analysis and data mining. The Pajamas folk have a great resource to bloggers pro and con on the issue. Personally: (a) I'd prefer that government not be snooping on vast amounts of data full knowing that 99.99+% has no relation to enemies foreign or domestic; (b) on the other hand, I'm probably not willing to indulge my preference at the cost of missing another upcoming terrorist attack; (c) it's pretty clear that the law has failed to keep up with technology; (d) but that might not be the greatest excuse to pretend the laws don't apply; (e) people who speak with vehement certainty on either side of this issue amaze me.

  • OK, I probably wouldn't pass a quiz on the contents of the Democratic Party's 2004 platform. But you'd think this guy would be able to get it right. The phrase "two-faced weasel" appears in the linked article, so I'm sure many Pun Salad readers will want to check it out.

Brainless Head on Topless Prof

A truly impressive story swirls around one Diana Blaine, a Senior Lecturer in the Writing Program at the University of Southern California. Pardon me, that should be Dr. Diana Blaine, for she has a PhD in English from UCLA.

Dr. Diana (as she calls herself on her blog) is, if we were going for a one-word label, a feminist. If we were allowed two words, we'd stick a "strident" on the front of that. Perhaps the best place to go for an introduction to the controversy is this article at Inside Higher Ed.

A lecturer at the University of Southern California said she started a blog because her students wanted "more of me after our class time has ended," she wrote. And they got it.

Diana Blaine, who lectures on feminist theory, recently linked her blog to an online photo album that has topless photos of her near a painting of a topless woman, and at Burning Man, an annual weeklong festival in Nevada where clothing is optional.

Eek! A link to said photos is provided. Not recommended.

Dr. Diana also caught the attention of the Cardinal Martini blog, where a USC undergrad writes under the pseudonym "Andrew Winthrop Cunningham III". He was particularly set off by Dr. Diana's Daily Trojan editorial in April of last year about a rape accusation against a USC football player. (Charges against the player were later dropped.) A key paragraph from her editorial:

So if a few bad eggs don't respect women's right to decide if to have sex with them, why should I hold the whole football team accountable? Because I do. Because I hold every single male on this campus responsible. Because every single male on this campus has the responsibility for stopping rape. Every fraternity brother, every science major, every professor, every one of them. Because they all rape? Of course not. But because only men rape and only men can stop other men from raping.
OK, that's fairly typical feminist rhetoric where I come from. But it's guaranteed to dismay anyone with more traditional attitudes toward responsibility and causation. And logic.

Anyway, it's all pretty incendiary, and Dr. Diana is nothing if not self-assured. Here's the beginning of one of her recent blog posts:

Yesterday my father's doctor and I were discussing dad's imminent death from kidney failure.
One might expect this to be a touching tale of a treasured relationship approaching its end. One would be … mistaken. That sentence is Dad's last appearance in the post.
We spoke of the need for acceptance and letting go; we spoke of the need to span from bodies and pus to grace and light. We held one another and shared our experiences and cried. Then she got out a pad and prescribed me John Milton's Paradise Lost.

If you have a sleeping problem, Paradise Lost is probably a good alternative to Ambien.

Needless to say it wasn't your usual doctor visit. Then again in case you can't tell I don't exactly live your usual life.
Needless to say, in case you can't tell, Dr. Diana is not a huge comma fan.
She told me she was impressed with my depth and my humanity and my intellect. She also told me that I was beautiful. I told her that I had learned through hard spiritual work to own these gifts of mine, that humility includes both acknowledging strengths as well as weaknesses. Anything less would be to spit in the face of the magical powers that made us.
I'm impressed by the depth of Dr. Diana's narcissism, her unconventional (albeit convenient) definition of "humility", and her effortless twaddle about "magical powers."

And I'm also impressed about what you can get away with at USC.

URLs du Jour

2006-05-10

Apologies for the no-posting holiday yesterday. I was celebrating this blog's evolution from "Multicellular Microorganism" to "Wiggly Worm" in the TTLB ecosystem. At least that's what it says over there on the right; watch out, Instapundit!

  • In celebration of the upcoming blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, Mark Steyn amusingly points out that our fellow-NHite Dan Brown (who is, you may have heard, the author of the original novel), has a "penchant for weirdly inauthentic historicity" and exhibits other stylistic flaws. Mark also looks at the Gospel of Judas, and doesn't like that much either.

  • Tired of being amused? Perhaps you're more in the mood for disgust? Craven and dishonest University administrators are always fertile sources for that sort of thing. Today's example is from the Torch, which carries a guest column from the ex-editor of the Daily Illini, describing the history of his publication of the Mohammed cartoons, and his subsequent sacking. He concludes:
    It's a truly astonishing experience to be summarily fired from your job and then erased from the public's memory for trying to provide one's readers with information pertaining to one of the most newsworthy stories of the year. It's a nauseating pattern that one might have expected to find in the pages of a dystopian novel—but not at a modern American university.

    Ah, it's a question we've all asked: am I in the pages of a dystopian novel, or at a modern American university? Hard to tell, sometimes.

  • The WaPo has an article about those VW ads that emphasize how safe their Jettas are. The sub-headline says:
    Jetta Commercials Show Real People in Real Crashes To Sell Viewers on Safety
    … where, well, "Real People" are actually "Professional Stunt People" and "Real Crashes" are actually "Staged Crashes". On the other hand, they apparently used actual Jettas with no additional padding or reinforcements. And despite my kvetching, the commercials are pretty stunning.

  • And (via Carl Schaad) here's a pretty neat Flash video allegedly showing a time-lapsed horde of FedEx aircraft avoiding a thunderstorm (and probably also Jettas) as they try to make it to their Memphis hub. (Carl's skeptical of its authenticity, and you should be too, but I, like, totally believe it.)

Vapid Small-Town Newspaper Editorial du Jour

My local newspaper is Foster's Daily Democrat, based in Dover, New Hampshire. Yesterday, I made the mistake of reading one of their editorials (free registration required, suggest you not bother) entitled "First AT&T, now 'Big Oil'." It is just so shoddy and stupid… I feel the need to share the pain. It begins:

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
— Mark Twain

There are certainly more than three insufferably pretentious ways to lead off a short editorial. The writer picks one: this well-known Twain quote, which might have have conceivably been appropriate if the editorial went on to accuse someone of lying or citing fraudulent statistics. As we'll see, that doesn't actually happen.

After weeks of a sustained frontal assault on their record-breaking profits, the oil industry came out swinging last week. Leading the pack was ExxonMobile [sic] which reported $36.1 billion in profits for 2005, an increase of over 40 percent. For the first quarter of this year, profits topped $8 billion with the company's estimated intake at $1 million a day.

The extensive research the writer did for this editorial did not include nailing down the correct spelling for "ExxonMobil". Nor did the writer do a simple sanity check on the "estimated intake" of $1 million per day; that would result in a quarterly/yearly totals about a factor of a hundred lower than the profit numbers quoted. Is this a lie, a damned lie, or a statistic?

Citing only an 8 percent margin, oil executives and talking heads justified the profits as "reasonable."

But reasonable by whose standards?

Let me guess the implied answer: not my standards, buddy boy. I'm doubtful whether the writer actually bothered to read, let alone understand, any serious discussion of profit margins. Let's see:

The average mom and pop business works on a margin of 2-4 percent, if they have one at all. Grocery stores, which depend on volume as do the oil companies, work on a 2 percent spread.

I'm not even close to being a business expert, but even I can notice a fallacious comparison of apples and … um, gasoline.

An honest writer would ask: are ExxonMobil's margins out of whack with comparable companies? And the answer isn't that hard to find: no. For example, here's a WaPo article that ranks ExxonMobil's gross profit margin at 127th within the Fortune 500. And at USA Today, they say:

… Exxon's profit margins are below-average compared with others that have triggered no outcry. Exxon's first-quarter profit margin was 9.4%, meaning it kept 9.4 cents of every $1 in revenue. Microsoft kept 27.3 cents of every $1 in revenue in its most recent quarter; General Electric, 11.4 cents and McDonald's, 12.3 cents. In fact, Exxon is below the 11-cent average of Standard & Poor's 500 companies, says analyst Howard Silverblatt.

So, back to the Foster's editorial, which is fast approaching incoherence:

"Big Oil" benefits from its size. Were it smaller, 8 percent might be reasonable. Given that oil has replaced AT&T as the country's largest monopoly, 8 percent is gluttony.

It is nonsensical to lump a bunch of companies together as "Big Oil" and call the agglomeration a "monopoly"; this just shows the editorial writer doesn't know what a monopoly is.

A windfall profits tax currently being discussed in Congress will do little to help the average driver, nor will peeling back the federal tax for a couple of months. Ditto a $100 rebate. On the other hand, threatening to breaking up Big Oil's monopoly might get its attention.
… getting "attention" is, of course, the goal of every petulant child going off on a tantrum. Other than that, the writer provides no justification for any of these judgments as to what will "help the average driver". (How much of your $2.90 per gallon goes to those nasty profits? How much goes to taxes? Did the editorial writer even try to find out?)

It would be entirely appropriate for the editorial writer to read Arnold Kling's article "Energy Policy for Idiots":

Let's go s-l-o-w-l-y. Start by asking yourselves these questions:

  • Should the goal of U.S. energy policy be to raise long-term domestic energy production, or to reduce long-term domestic energy production?
  • Should the goal of U.S. energy policy be to increase profits earned by Iran and other foreign producers, or to reduce their profits?
  • Should the goal of U.S. energy policy be to increase consumer demand for gasoline, to leave consumer demand alone, or to reduce consumer demand?

Neither questions nor answers are too tough. Even for a Foster's editorial writer.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:56 AM EDT

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Turns out the answer really is "practice." (Via Marginal Revolution; Donald Luskin is unimpressed.)

Le Samouraï

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

This 1967 French movie is famous for being perhaps the slowest paced thriller ever made; it takes one hour and forty-five minutes to tell a story that most modern American directors could polish off in a pre-title prologue.

Well, I'm kind of kidding. This movie is an acknowledged classic. (So I suppose I should have liked it more.) Alain Delon plays a hitman whose life begins to unravel when the Paris police manage to pick him up as a suspect (by sheer dumb luck) after one of his murders. He takes this more or less in stride; he seems pretty bored by it, in fact.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:50 AM EDT

NH Senate Bails on Real ID

Unfortunately, the New Hampshire Senate refused to unequivocally opt out of the Federal "Real ID" program; it amended the bill (HB1582) to (instead) appoint a commission to study compliance costs, etc. All but two of the Senate's 16 Republicans went along with this; all voting Democrats were opposed. Weekend Pundit has details and links.

Someone remind me again why the Republican Party should go on living?

Superman Returns Trailer

The new trailer for Superman Returns is available (Quicktime). Apparently the premise is: he was gone for awhile, now he's back. Observations:

  • Perry White asks: "Does he still stand for truth, justice, all that stuff?" All that stuff? Could director/writer Bryan Singer possibly be such an asshat?

  • Kevin Spacey plays Lex Luthor. Or, actually, he seems to be imitating Gene Hackman playing Lex Luthor. Which isn't the worst possible thing he could do, but, darn it, couldn't Kevin Freakin' Spacey come up with a fresh take?

  • On a possibly related note, they're also apparently recycling the John Williams score from the 1978 movie.

I dunno, this might be a "eh, wait for the DVD" summer blockbuster.


Last Modified 2006-05-06 7:10 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-05-05

It's Vitriol Day here at Pun Salad! I'm actually feeling very copacetic and happy with the world in general, but maybe that's only in comparison with these fine folks:

  • Howard Dean recently fired the Democratic National Committee's gay outreach advisor, after said advisor's domestic partner criticized the Democrats "for not taking stronger action to defend gays." A number of folks have criticized Dean, claiming that he wouldn't have fired a heterosexual critic's spouse. Fortunately, the fair-minded Soxblog leaps to Dean's defense:
    Dean is a mean-spirited cretin, and he extends his mean-spirited cretinous nature to all comers, be they gay, straight, bi-sexual, or virginal. I have every confidence that if given the opportunity, Dean would be every bit as vindictive and petty towards a straight couple.
    So there.

  • And Jonah Goldberg is always pretty good, but he's massively PO'd today at … well, let him tell it:
    It is the congressional GOP that should be booed and shamed from the public square for the harlot it has become. Before the pyre of pandering even ended, the Republicans launched their fire sale, offering to sell off their remaindered principles at bargain basement prices. It was almost like they were paying voters to take their intellectual integrity off their hands. ("We're practically giving it away!")

  • And finally, Carl Schaad is put out at some unwelcome house guests, specifically ten billion clover mites:
    They come out in the Spring, usually invading by way of a door or window they've jimmied open. Their sole purpose is to crawl around on your walls and entice you to smash them, at which point they have the audacity to burst into a tiny red mark that stains the molecules of whatever they're on, making it impossible to clean apart from using some sort of nuclear weapon. (I've tried SOS® Pads but they just take off the paint.)

I think if the fall elections featured a Democrat, a Republican, and a clover mite … right now, I'd be sorely tempted to vote for the tiny bug.

URLs du Jour

2006-05-04

  • Ann Coulter notices CNN's inconsistent treatment of two products with recent price increases outpacing inflation: gasoline and college tuition.
    The only solution to high gas prices considered on CNN was to pay oil company executives less, perhaps by order of the president. But somehow, no one ever suggested that the solution to the high price of college -- far outpacing inflation -- was to pay professors less. In that case, the solution is for the government to subsidize college professors' salaries even more than it already does.

  • Over at Porkbusters, there's a report card on how our Senators voted on the Coburn anti-pork amendments. For NHers: John Sununu is one of the "Anti-Pork Heroes" for (so far) voting for all amendments; Judd Gregg garners a "Not Impressive" score of voting for 1 out of three; the same score (ahem) as the Pork King himself, Robert Byrd.

    It could be worse. Of the three states surrounding NH, 5 out of the 6 Senators were "Maximum Porkers" (Kennedy, Kerry, Collins, Snowe, and Leahy). Only Jeffords of Vermont managed to vote for one anti-pork amendment.

  • And finally, some blogroll additions: Cato's real live blog Cato@Liberty; the occasionally ill-tempered Kip Esquire; and (last but not least) the eminently sensible Tom Hogan and Ryan Lirette have provided Ninth State. All well worth your while.

University Art Censorship du Jour

Brandeis gets into the act. The Boston Globe has more.

In an interesting reversal from the Penn State case, the art in question is by Palestinian teenagers and can fairly be called anti-Israeli. About half the student body at Brandeis is Jewish.

But the common denominator is the spinelessness of the University administrators who find censorship to be the path of least resistance.

One Was Harder Than the Other

Actual Slashdot headline: Apple Defeats RIAA and France In Same Day.

(Yes, a cheap laugh. Approximately 398 Slashdotters have already made variations on the same thing in the comments.)

Kvetch, Kvetch, Kvetch

National Review's website is redesigned, and all glitzed up like J-Lo at the Grammys, but at the top I get:

[No flash]

Very funny, guys, but Flash 8 is not an option for Linux. How about putting something useful there instead?


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:00 AM EDT

Disagreeing With David

There are few public intellectuals I respect more than David Friedman, but I think he's kind of off his game in this post about hiring illegal immigrants, entitled "Doing the Right Thing." Since we're both old Usenet hands, I'll quote his entire post and intersperse my comments.

Yesterday I was listening to a radio talk show host discuss immigration. He pointed out that a lot of illegal immigrants are hired by home owners to do casual labor. He then asked his listeners to imagine they had a grand piano to move, an illegal would do it for $40, and an American citizen, perhaps the kid next door, for $100. Would the listener save money by hiring the illegal or do the right thing by hiring the citizen?
That's not bad for a thought experiment. Just to make it explicit, let's assume "other things being equal": they'd both do a job of comparable quality, they're equally well-insured against accidents, you don't have a neighborly attachment to the next door kid, etc.
My response, if I had been able to get through, would have been that I would have done the right thing—by hiring the illegal, who almost certainly has more need for the money than the kid next door.
David here drags in the assumption that one particular thing is not equal, however: by some measure, the illegal worker has more "need" for the money than the legal one.

I don't gripe about anyone spending their money according to whatever criteria they prefer. I do wonder, however, how generally David uses this particular measure in his everyday transactions: does he shop at a grocery store that "needs" his money more? Does he fly airlines that "need" his money more? When shopping for a car, does he buy from a manufacturer that is in the direst financial straits, and therefore (again) "needs" his money more? (Again, assuming other things being equal.)

It's fine if he does do that. Although I'd wager he doesn't.

Moreover, David's not holding this "need" criteria up as an arbitrary personal quirky preference. Instead it's a preference based in morality: it's "the right thing". I.e., it's not just "I would do this"; it's "I would do this, strongly implying you probably should too, because it's 'right'."

I would prefer an argument for that, rather than an assertion.

I'd also expect an economist to say something about the price differential here. If the prices were reversed, and the illegal worker was asking for $100 versus the kid's $40, would hiring the illegal still be "right"? Or would this be an indication that the "needs" of the two were also reversed?

But David does not explain or defend his position further, instead going on to attack the position assumed by the host:

Unless I missed it, the sole argument that the host offered for his unstated assumption that hiring the kid was obviously the right thing was that hiring the illegal immigrant was illegal. My response would be to ask the host if he ever drove faster than the speed limit and if he tasted wine or beer before he reached the legal drinking age. If his answer to both questions was "no," he is in a very small minority of Americans.
One obvious problem—and it should be extremely obvious to any libertarian—is that even though a position might be held by a small minority, that's not necessarily an indication of its falsehood.
If it was "yes," as I expect it would have been, I would next have asked how he would defend himself against the charge of hypocrisy.
Charging hypocrisy is fun, but it's a common example of ad hominem, and not much of an argument against the position itself. I suspect the problem David wants to complain about isn't so much hypocrisy, but inconsistency: if you think that violating laws X and Y are OK, why not violate law Z as well?
In the America I live in, despite political rhetoric to the contrary, most people believe in obeying laws selectively—ignoring the ones they think are foolish or wicked except when the risk of getting caught makes it more prudent to obey.
Again, the bandwagon fallacy. If David thinks the belief "most people" hold is the correct position, then he should probably argue for it directly. (Or just assert it, something like: "I don't think blind unquestioning obedience to legal authority is a moral or wise position.") I'd probably agree with such a clearly stated position.
When I told the story to my wife, she offered another question to put to the host. It is 1855, the fugitive slave law is the law of the land. Do you help with the underground railway or do you do "the right thing" and turn in any escaped slaves who come your way?
… which is yet another example of why blind unquestioning obedience to legal authority isn't always a good idea. But what about this case? The illegal immigrant is not an escaped slave; he's not driving over the speed limit; and he's (probably) not an underage drinker.

So what do those examples tell us about this particular situation? Not much.

In short, David doesn't explain his own position well; his argument against the talk show host's position is contains fallacies and examples that aren't really relevant to the situation under discussion.

(He can do better: to find that out for yourself, buy his books here, here, and here. Or, although it doesn't seem to bear directly on this issue, here, the one I'm currently reading.)

Scary NH Stares

Crazy Norm Janice Brown at Cow Hampshire, inspired by Daniel Henninger's observation of Justice Souter's "stiff, slightly scary New Hampshire stare", has come up with an entertaining article, accompanied by a poll allowing you to vote on the scariest stare from a selection of Granite Staters.

From her choices, I think it's pretty clearly John Stark, but don't let that influence you; get over there and express your opinion.

I'd like to put in my own plug for our ex-Congressman Norm D'Amours, pictured above. Still crazy after all these years.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 3:43 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-05-02

  • Probably the final word on the attempted censorship at Penn State comes from David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy; it is primarily an impressive and impassioned statement from Tuvia Abramson, director of Penn State Hillel. Quote:
    In my 23 years in Hillel on three different campuses, I have not seen an act so blatant as the act of censorship, discrimination, and anti-Semitism like the one which applies to Joshua Stulman.

    This was not a single act. This was systematic abuse and intimidation which was applied by the School of Visual Arts to coerce the student and force him to cancel his art exhibition all because of its political content.

    So there you go. Professor Garoian, Director of Penn State's School of Visual Arts does not come off well at all.

  • David Adesnik asks if Tim Russert would pass Econ 101. My answer: maybe at UNH.

  • If you would like to see if either of your US Senators (a) signed a letter to President Bush letting him know that they would support his veto of a supplemental spending bill and (b) voted for Trent Lott's "Railroad to Nowhere", then check the list at the Club for Growth blog; the members are deemed "duplicitous". Yes, my own Senator Gregg appears. (Our other Senator, John Sununu, signed the letter, voted against Lott's choo-choo.)

Last Modified 2006-05-02 7:41 PM EDT

Another Day, Another Victimized Culture …

… and another disgraceful episode of University self-censorship. An article at Inside Higher Ed describes how a university took down a course website because it contained and described art depicting historical events in what a pressure group deemed to be a culturally insensitive and racist manner. Others accused the professors of cultural insensitivity, and recommended they be fired.

OK, now fill in the blanks: the university is MIT. The professors are Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John W. Dower, and Shigeru Miyagawa, a professor of linguistics and of foreign languages and literature. The course is "Visualizing Cultures". The art in question consists of wood-block prints used as Japanese propaganda in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. As you might expect, the Chinese opponents aren't pictured respectfully in all cases. And the "racism" in question is based in that depiction.

The article goes into some detail on the firestorm generated by the MIT Chinese Student and Scholar Association (the major, if not the whole, source of the complaints). The CSSA's complaint to the MIT administration is here; they profess to be "disappointed at the nonchalance with which this emotionally provocative and demeaning material was presented" and "appalled at the lack of accessible explanations and the proper historical context that ought to accompany these images."

Without getting into the details or accuracy of the charges: their feelings were hurt. Once the well-tuned machinery of Cultural Offense was put into motion, it was only a couple days before the offending pictures were removed from the web and apologies issued. The response of MIT and the professors can be read here; the CSSA's response to that is here. In addition to the self-censorship, MIT has apparently promised to "organize a public forum to facilitate a discussion on the use of sensitive imagery."

A couple random comments:

  • From the CSSA's complaint:

    However, the "Throwing off Asia" exhibit recently Spotlighted on MIT's homepage has shaken our confidence in the cultural sensitivity we have come to associate with this accepting environment.

    Lesson for University administrators: setting up a culturally sensitive "accepting environment" doesn't make it less likely that the cultures you are coddling will confront you over some outrage to their sensibilities; it makes it more likely, since you've (ironically) made them far more sensitive to even minor perceived offenses against their worldview.

  • From MIT's official response, emphasis added:

    One section of the web site -- Throwing Off Asia -- authored by Professor Dower, refers to the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and displays images of Japanese wood-block prints that were used as wartime propaganda.

    Is there any reason for the words I've bolded above, other than so people can read it as: "Hey, it wasn't the Japanese professor who put up the the pictures you're griping about; it was the other guy!"

  • Immediately after the section quoted above comes:

    Some of these images show the atrocities of war and are examples of how societies use visual imagery as propaganda to further their political agendas. The use of these historical images is not an endorsement of the events depicted.

    <sarcasm>That's a really important point to make. Because, you know, otherwise, we might think MIT did endorse war atrocities and propaganda.</sarcasm>.

Fearless prediction: the response of Universities to cultural pressure groups makes this sort of thing extremely likely to happen over and over. Pressure works, whether accompanied by violent threats (as with the Muhammed cartoons), or in its absence. Modern academe simply lacks the language (or the spine) to stand up to such bullying. As a result, there's little to stop higher education on its trip down down the slippery slope into complete smiley-face inoffensiveness. And worthlessness. (Also check out this post at the Torch from Sean Clark.)


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:03 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-05-01

  • It's a cliché to point out that The Simpsons isn't as good as it used to be. Amazingly, they totally turned it around last night with a hilarious satire on the Harvard/Larry Summers controversy and sex differences in general. Principal Skinner inadvertently makes Unacceptable comments in public; as a result, he's demoted to assistant groundskeeper, and a new principal (voiced by Frances McDormand) is brought in and immediately makes Springfield Elementary girl/boy segregated. Lisa is unchallenged by "girl's math", and poses as a boy to escape to the other side. Hijinx ensue. If you missed it, try to catch a rerun.

    Bryan Caplan comments.

  • Not to be missed is Shawn Macomber's account of a recent visit by John Edwards to Portsmouth, NH. Two point five years until the presidential election, and Shawn even now is getting a little tired of the transparently dishonest rhetoric.
    "A flood of whites move out to the suburbs, send their kids to private schools," [Edwards] continued. "Or they move into the richest areas of town. This is so unhealthy. It is unhealthy for our democracy. It is unhealthy for our country."

    It's a fascinating argument from someone who bought a 100-acre plot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, last year, which he has presumably not adapted into a refugee camp for the Other Americans. …

  • As you may have heard, John Kenneth Galbraith has passed away. I remember he and William F. Buckley Jr. were huge friends; it's a tribute, I suppose, to both of them that they could get along even though their political beliefs had approximately nothing in common.

    Jeff Taylor, however, is under no restrictions of friendship when looking at Galbraith. He considers Galbraith's "most enduring legacy" to be "the secular guilt-trip that questions every motive and denies every choice."

  • Another Jeff, Goldstein this time, explains why I might be voting Democrat for President in 2008, if the Republicans nominate a certain Arizona Senator with (as Jeff puts it) a "benevolent tyrant's soul".

    Vote for Hillary? Edwards? Kerry? Gore? Hm. Well, I could just spend Election Day cowering under my desk, I suppose. And then stay there for four years.