URLs du Jour

2006-06-30

  • Jacob Sullum notes a report that Surgeon General Richard Carmona gave out inaccurate and misleading statements on the harmfulness of secondhand smoke, unsupported by evidence.

  • Radley Balko points out a story in the Nashua (NH) Telegraph that shows, at best, that the Nashua police force seems to have an unconscious hunger for bad publicity:
    A city man is charged with violating state wiretap laws by recording a detective on his home security camera, while the detective was investigating the man's sons.
    Radley terms this "nauseating;" it's tough to disagree. Jay Tea at WizBang is slightly less agitated, though. The story has also made it onto Slashdot, where the comments are the usual mix of wisdom and windbaggery with a signal/noise ratio in the basement.

  • But it's not all police thuggery down there in Nashua; the Telegraph also reports on a local man who was recently granted a "Worst name of all time" award at collegehumor.com. (Via my close personal friend Dave.)

Last Modified 2006-07-01 10:13 AM EDT

Cronicas

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

Although this has gotten very good reviews, I suspect it's mainly because of the foreign film mystique; put it in English, set it in America, nobody'd be too impressed. It's supposedly a "thriller", but the thrills are pretty far apart and mild.

John Leguizamo plays a reporter for a Spanish-speaking TV schlock-news show in Miami. He and his crew have gone down to Ecuador to cover a string of child murders. Before you know it, they get in too deep; while trying to maintain their story, they keep secrets from an honest cop. The movie is too arty and self-serious to have a thrilling climax: it just ends at a certain point.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 2:57 PM EDT

Unconstrained Vision Watch

An amusing observation (or maybe a sad observation, depending on how you look at these things) occurs over at the CEI OpenMarket blog, where Peter Suderman looks at Slate's dialogue about Wal-Mart between Jason Furman and Barbara Ehrenreich. Furman is an economist, Ehrenreich most certainly is not.

Suderman is especially drawn to an exchange where Furman imagines what might happen if a big-box high-volume low-wage-paying discounter (Best Buy, specifically) were replaced by smaller, higher-wage, higher-priced shops (Stereo Exchange, for example). Clearly:

We would have more "good jobs" and fewer "bad jobs." The average wage in the electronics retail sector would go up. But where would all the former Best Buy workers go? Most of them wouldn't work at Stereo Exchange. Maybe some would take a pay cut and work at McDonalds. Maybe others would get lucky and find this was just the prod they needed to find a better job. It's hardly obvious this would be an improvement.
Ehrenreich simply doesn't get it:
I'm a little baffled by your Best Buy/Stereo Exchange example. If Stereo Exchange took over from Best Buy, there'd be a lot more better-paying jobs in the retail electronics business. Why wouldn't the former Best Buy workers take a lot of these new and better jobs? They're not all as clueless as you seem to think.
Suderman points out Ehrenreich's economic illiteracy:
Must be nice to live in that wonderful fantasy world where massive wage increases to a million-plus person workforce don't have any effect on how many people can be employed, or what product costs are (and therefore how much product can be sold), or any of that icky economic tradeoff stuff.
Clearly, if you're going to discuss the Wal-Mart phenomenon coherently, it might help to have a basic grasp of (a) why people shop there; and (b) why people work there. In both cases, it's because (a) they perceive themselves better off for doing so; and (b) they typically can't get a better deal elsewhere. Closing off the Wal-Mart option for people, on average, makes them worse off. You might close your eyes real tight and imagine some people better off afterwards, like Barb does, but that's not the smart way to bet overall. It's pretty simple, but it's the sort of thing the minds of folks like Barbara Ehrenreich just don't/can't/won't grasp.

But wait, it gets better, or worse. Our old buddy Anya Kamenetz weighs in on Barb's side:

[Ehrenreich] wants to see the working class fight for better conditions--a living wage, etc--more or less the way they did it the first time, through solidarity, in the streets. (Yes, she's a socialist. got a problem with that?) I wish.
When facts and logic are not on her side, Ms. Anya can always be relied upon to go for tendentious cant. Typical of those with the unconstrained vision, she and Barb know that the only things causing the world's problems are human stupidity and malice; the proper and obvious solutions, then, involve fighting in the streets.

Not that this sort of thing is restricted to fringe wackos. Mainstream wackos are also in on it. Recently reported in the Washington Times were the remarks of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, addressing a recent lefty religious gathering:

"This is a moral nation, so the first thing we must do is convince people that poverty is a moral problem," Mr. Dean said. "It is a moral principle to raise the minimum wage. It is nothing but economist mumbo jumbo to say raising it will hurt jobs."
Economist mumbo jumbo. Great. Can't wait for the Democrats to get back in power so they can start ignoring "economist mumbo jumbo" as they're on their way to building utopia.

The WTimes did manage to dig out an economist saying mumbo jumbo that Dean would find agreeable:

Christian Weller, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, said that a minimum wage increase from $5.15 to $7.25 would increase minimum wage earners' share of the nation's overall wealth.
Sure. For minimum wage workers (a) who keep their jobs; and (b) whose employers don't decrease their work hours to keep payroll expenses level. Weller apparently feels he can ignore everyone else. But that's more of the "icky economic tradeoff stuff" Suderman refers to; even if you're an economist, you don't have to mention it.

Weller continues:

"Profits are at their highest levels, but the purchasing power of the minimum wage is at its lowest since the 1950s. I think it is only fair to take a bit from the top and give it to the bottom," Mr. Weller said.
So, at bottom, Weller basing his recommendation on a subjective call about what's "fair"; he's really not speaking as an economist, but, like Dean, Ehrenreich, and Kamenetz, as an unconstrained-vision moralist. Talk about mumbo jumbo!

Last Modified 2006-08-09 1:57 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-06-28

  • Does God hate shrimp? Find out at GodHatesShrimp.com

  • In a great spirit of bipartisanship, David Boaz catches both Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (Republican) and Senator "Dick" Durbin (Democrat) attributing the Constitution's authorship to Thomas Jefferson. Wrong! (This is Secretary Rice's second strike.)

  • In keeping with Pun Salad's habit of only covering burning (heh) issues after they've burned out: I'm happy that the flag desecration amendment failed yesterday, too bad New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" senators voted for it (as did all but three Republicans). Good arguments from The Torch and BOTWT. The latter is especially on target:
    Burning the flag is a stupid and ugly act, but there is something lovely and enlightened about a regime that tolerates it in the name of freedom. And of course it has the added benefit of making it easier to spot the idiots.

  • So Mrs. Salad and I were watching Jeopardy last night, and she asked, "Wonder whatever happened to Ken Jennings?" Then today (via Volokh) I see Ken has a blog. He seems to have kept his head on straight; his FAQ is informative and pretty funny in spots.

Just Like Heaven

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

Not bad! An inventive premise (you should stop reading now if you want to be totally surprised by it): Reese Witherspoon plays a workaholic doctor who gets into a nasty traffic accident. Later, Mark Ruffalo rents her vacant apartment, but Reese's spirit shows up, demanding that he move out. Gosh, I wonder if they will fall in love?

I believe this is a chick flick. Because I think men are likely to wonder why Reese's spirit can't pick up a phone, but can lie on a table and ride in vehicles. This doesn't spoil the movie, but it does make one wonder about the physics of spirits.

Geek alerts: Jon Heder is in it, as is Rosalind Chao from Star Trek.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:01 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-06-27

  • Sixty years ago, George Orwell wrote the famous essay "Politics and the English Language," in which he complained (among other things) about folks who mistakenly wrote "tow the line" when they should have written "toe the line." As David Friedman points out, such misuse is still going on today at Time magazine. Tsk!

    Asking the Google about "tow the line" will amuse usage-nitpickers. One of the most provocative hits is a report from the Portland (Oregon) Mercury, headlined:

    Tow Truck Companies Forced to Tow the Line
    This could have been a clever play on words, right up our alley at Pun Salad, had the companies actually been forced to tow something (somehow) resembling a line. A line of cars, maybe? Unfortunately, it was simply a story from 2003 about new infernal regulations, and the headline merely another misusage. Drat!

    (The point Orwell was making, by the way, wasn't simply the usual usage pedantry: he was pointing out that such mistakes happen because metaphors like "toe the line" become so tired from overuse that people simply stick them into their lifeless prose thoughtlessly. That's the real sin.)

  • Since we trashed the NYT yesterday, they go ahead and have a pretty neat article today about possible large-scale geoengineering tactics that might mitigate global warming. There's also a cool (heh) graphic. (We blogged about geoengineering back in March.)

    What's particularly interesting in the article is the (for lack of a better term) religious objections to geoengineering by traditional envrionmentalists. Their vision is essentially misanthropic: humans are the ones (allegedly) responsible for messing up the environment, hence the One True Solution is (somehow) to make the environment approach, as much as possible, its state as it would be if humans weren't here at all. So they only have one item on their possible-solutions list for global warming: draconian regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Anything else is heretical. Check the article for yourself and see if you can't detect this vision in many of the naysayers.

    But we're only going to get better at geoengineering, and uncertainties, risks, and costs associated with the techniques will only decrease. If we can overcome the "religious" objections, I'd bet that we'd be able to set the "global thermostat" to whatever temperature we want within the next few decades. (Which, of course, raises its own set of scary problems, as also noted before.)

  • The Bull Dog at Ankle Biting Pundits detects hypocrisy in the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffet. Warren recently made big news, giving away $37 gazillion to charity; he's also a well-known opponent of getting rid of the Death Tax. Bull Dog points out that Warren's charity maneuver will allow his estate to evade a lot, if not all, taxation upon his demise. So his pro-death-tax activity becomes simply advocacy of Taxes Those Other People Have To Pay.
    I'm happy that Buffett is doing what he wants with his money - a right he's earned because he's worked very hard to make it. Just please don't tell us how much we need the estate tax when you've done your best to avoid it - to the tune of approximately $18 billion. I don't blame him for wanting to avoid the tax (in fact I applaud him for it), so long as he shuts the hell up about the government deserving a slice of other people's money who choose to pass all of it to their children instead of donating it to charity.
    Good point. Sic 'im, Bull Dog.

  • I can't decide whether this article at Inside Higher Ed is more funny than pathetic, or the other way around. The pseudonymous "James Pierpont" applies for a faculty position at his "highly regarded national university." James is gay, but was not "out" to anyone except family and friends. However:
    During one of my campus visits, I knew that an intimate knowledge of and appreciation for diversity would be a trait required of the position. So in 3 different sessions with 12 different individuals, I chose to share that I am gay as a means to illustrate my ability to empathize with students, professors, and staff of diverse backgrounds. It was a strategic decision, which, after researching institutional policy, I believed would unfold in the context of a confidential faculty search.
    Shorn of euphemism: he thought he'd be able to come out just enough to score some free affirmative-action points on the hiring scorecard. Unfortunately, blabbing his sort-of secret—surprise, surprise—somehow leaked out to other than the "12 different individuals." And the whole rest of the self-absorbed, cliché-ridden, soggily-written, not-particularly-coherent article is how James feels about all that. So check it out! It's like a car accident: you can't help but keep looking.

  • Of course, maybe James could apply for Dr. Susan Roberts' position of Associate Professor of Political Science at Davidson University. BOTWT catches Dr. Roberts in what, in a better world, should be a firing offense in the op-ed pages of the Charlotte Observer:
    It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court would now uphold an amendment prohibiting flag burning, even with the change in the court's composition.
    Assistant Professor. Of Political Science. Gee.

  • And there's apparently also an opening at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:11 PM EDT

I Took an Online Quiz and …

I am a
Canna
[Canna]
What Flower
Are You?

I am confident this means nothing whatsoever.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:14 PM EDT

The Times They Are A-…Something

So I was going to crack wise about this letter from New York Times editor Bill Keller, in which he responds to readers complaining about his decision to publish information on the government's secret program to examine international records for terrorist-financing activity. But then Paul at Wizbang summed it all up by providing a much shorter version:

Dear Reader:
  1. We have no reason to believe the program was illegal in any way.

  2. We have every reason to believe it was effective at catching terrorists.

  3. We ran the story anyway, screw you.

Bill Keller

Hugh Hewitt has a very detailed fisking of Keller; in Matthew Hoy's response, the words "idiot", "stupid", and "irresponsible" appear.

Also good on this issue is Soxblog:

I'm convinced that we'll look back at the New York Times' latest choice to reveal a classified program for battling terrorism as the left's bridge too far. In a way, this is unfair to the left. Being a religious reader of the liberal blogs (and what a week it's been on that front!), I've found nary a word of support for the Times' chosen course of action this time around. Normally these are people who relish trumpeting the Bush administration's purported trampling of our civil liberties; this time, they've been curiously mum.
And Instapundit is just great, from his opening sentence:
BILL KELLER ISN'T VERY BRIGHT, or else he thinks you aren't.
… on. Go read the whole thing.

On a totally unrelated matter (via Poor&Stupid), Malcolm Gladwell, is pretty put out with a recent NYT article on drug prices:

The Times' lead read: "Prices of the most widely used prescription drugs rose sharply in this year's first quarter." Wrong, wrong, wrong. It should have read: "Prices of the most widely used prescription drugs fell last year."

Correction, anyone?

Don't hold your breath, Malcolm.

And then there's this:

[NYT stock price]

Maybe the problem will fix itself soon enough.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:34 PM EDT

The Producers

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

Things worth noting:

  • The IMDB trivia notes: "This is a movie based on a play based on a movie about a play." Heh.

  • Holy cats, it's long. One hundred and thirty-freakin-four minutes. Lots of funny stuff, but they could have cut out a good 30 minutes without losing any of it. (The original Producers clocked in at 88 minutes.)

  • Nathan Lane is great, of course, but I kept thinking: if only the young Groucho Marx could somehow be brought back … he would have been beyond perfect in the role of Max Bialystock. Maybe in 20 years some kid will be able to do that on his desktop on a whim: sample Groucho's image, voice, and mannerisms from the Marx Brothers digital archive, and just plug him into Nathan Lane's part here.

    Or maybe that could happen next week. What do I know? What I do know is, I'd like to see it.

  • Uma Thurman remains very easy on the eyes, and is pretty funny to boot.

  • Ernie Sabella turns up in a deleted scene; as noted by the IMDB trivia (again), this is a reunion for Simba, Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King. Very cool!

  • The DVD outtakes are marred by (I approximate) 536 scenes where Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane are giggling at each other. They could have cut that down a bit.

  • Stay to the end of the credits to see Mel.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 2:58 PM EDT

The Heat Islands

[Amazon Link] This is the second novel in Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford series. It's excellent!

Doc is a ex-NSA spook, seemingly content with his life as a marine biologist, running a biological supply company. Unfortunately, he gets dragged into a murder mystery when a despised marina owner is found floating out in the water during a fishing tournament. Doc's friend gets accused of murder, and is surprisingly copacetic about it. In addition, Doc has to deal with his complex relationship with a woman tennis pro, and somehow he's also gotten on the bad side of a psychotic killer. So he keeps busy throughout, but maintains his bemused sense of humor.

Compared with the first book, Sanibel Flats, there's no international intrigue, and no apocolyptic finish. This also works fine for me.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 2:57 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-06-25

  • I suspect this happens more often than we generally realize:

    1. A scientific paper is published that presents equivocal data of marginal statistical significance;

    2. The results are overinterpreted by the author of a science-popularizing book who casts it into support of his provocative thesis; he cites the paper in a supporting footnote that nobody follows up on, but looks solid;

    3. The book is endlessly quoted by magazines and newspaper op-eds, and the dubious thesis becomes Scientific Truth for the masses.

    Mark Liberman at Language Log does some impressive detective work in tracking down a (probably) mistaken overgeneralization in the area of cognitive differences between boys and girls, and shows pretty convincingly that it's a specific case of the process above. Any others?

  • Not that this, or most any, blog is a paragon of spelling virtue, but … headline on a blog post at a site entitled "ProgressiveU":
    If your going to college...READ THIS!!!
    Moan.

  • William F. Buckley Jr. on George W. Bush, Jacob Weisberg, and articulateness.

  • And say what you will about Al "No Controlling Legal Authority" Gore, but he can occasionally be tempted to at least pretend that he has a sense of self-deprecating humor.

    "It's funny because it's true."


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:19 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-06-23

  • Bryan Caplan presents Ten Ideas Worth Thinking About with respect to voting and democracy. Especially pungent:
    9. Politics is the realm of intellectual pollution. Everyone can be worse off if everyone emits toxic chemicals into the air. Similarly, everyone can be worse off if everyone expresses silly beliefs in the voting booth. In both cases, individuals focus on the private good of convenience or feeling good, ignoring the serious side effects on the public good of clean air or wise policy.
    It's pretty sobering reading for democracy fans. Still, there's always Winston Churchill's observation as a counterargument.

  • Best title of the day so far goes to Rachel DiCarlo's Weekly Standard article "A Desire Named Streetcar". It discusses "traffic calming", a term applied to a broad swath of techniques to slow traffic (and maybe encourage you to use mass transit instead, you eco-pig). So the next time you're in bumper-to-bumper land, you can console yourself that it's all by design.

    The Google gives you 1.8 million hits for "traffic calming", a number you might find surprising if you've never heard of the term before. Like, um, me.

  • Here's a listing of libertarian college professors. Only one in the whole state of New Hampshire, and he's in that Other University.

    Massive irony department: Massachusetts claims 14 libertarian profs.

  • I got 13 out of 14 right on the Hitler vs. Coulter Quiz. I think it may be harder if you're a liberal.

  • And I know you've been wondering: is Arianna Huffington a lying liar? Find out in Dr. Peter Rost's blog post, titled "Arianna Huffington is a Lying Liar. Here's the Proof."

URLs du Jour

2006-06-22

  • We've previously blogged about Ms. Anya Kamenetz here and here. Her main claim to fame is the unusual amount of consternation her words can cause among people wedded to old-fashioned ideals of rationality, economic literacy, and moral responsibility.

    Anyway, she's back, and up to her old tricks. Background: a USA Today article about college graduates with large student loan debt. It was the usual sad stuff, and gathered a respons from Cato's Neal P. McCluskey in a USA Today letter here and (at more length) a Fox News op-ed here.

    This caused Ms. Anya to hit the roof at the HuffPo here.

    Throw a lot of federal money at a problem, then say it doesn't exist. That's the conservative party line when it comes to higher education.

    McCluskey responds here, demonstrating that Ms. Anya was probably a little too selective in her fact-quoting, and really didn't understand the problem. His bottom line:

    It's really fairly simple: As long as government is willing to increase student aid, colleges will inflate their prices to capture it. Moreover, as long as states continue to subsidize public postsecondary institutions with taxpayer dollars, we will see public colleges and universities waste massive amounts of money. Finally, as long as those subsidies continue, we will keep seeing tuition at public colleges and universities buffeted by the boom-and-bust cycle that governs most state budgets.
    Also responding was the less polite Radley Balko, who was more, um, direct:
    That someone with so lacking critical thinking skills is oft cited as the "voice" of the under-30 crowd is about as apt a critique of what government meddling has done to higher education and Kemenetz's generation as just about anything I could write. You want college kids to graduate with less debt? Cut federal grants and subsidized loans. Let private organizations and charities fund scholarships for qualified low-income kids. And let the colleges fight it out for the natural market of qualified, prepared, college-bound types. Tuition costs will drop, the quality of higher ed will improve, and a degree will be worth more than the paper it's printed on.
    All in all, another amusing thrashing of Ms. Anya. I probably enjoyed it more than I really should have.

  • Amidst all the hoopla, I've been wondering why I don't care about World Cup Soccer. Fortunately, Mr. Last has the answer:
    But there is one obstacle to soccer acceptance that seems insurmountable: the flop-'n'-bawl.

    Turn on a World Cup game, and within 15 minutes you'll see a grown man fall to the ground, clutch his leg and writhe in agony after being tapped on the shoulder by an opposing player. Soccer players do this routinely in an attempt to get the referees to call foul. If the ref doesn't immediately bite, the player gets up and moves along.

    A Mr. Curt Schilling makes an appearance later in the article, as an example of the kind of thing soccer players don't do.

  • Volokh and I aren't the only ones irate at Jacob Weisberg's "Bushisms" schtick. Mark Liberman at Language Log puts it this way:
    Jacob Weisberg is engaging in cynical manipulation of regional and class prejudice in order to enrich himself.
    He's actually been on the Weisberg case for quite awhile. If you're a little tired of the piles of Bushisms merchandise at your local Barnes and Noble, check it out. (Via Prof Althouse.)

    I gotta start reading Language Log if only for the headlines:

    FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME, IT'S NOT HYPERBOLE
    Heh.

Last Modified 2007-04-18 4:11 PM EDT

Pun Salad is …

[Best of NH 2006]

(I know. I'm as shocked as you are.) Thanks to New Hampshire magazine for this honor.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:26 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-06-20

  • Via Michelle (ma belle), a Chronicle of Higher Education article on "Scholars for 9/11 Truth", a group of academics dedicated to … well, here's the description of a speech at a recent meeting of the group given by James Fetzer, one of the co-chairmen:
    "The threat we face," he said, is "imminent and ominous." He recommended arming the citizenry.

    During the question-and-answer session, an audience member asked whether there might be a way to capture a TV station, to get the word out about September 11. Mr. Fetzer upped the ante on the idea.

    "Let me tell you, for years, I've been waiting for there to be a military coup to depose these traitors," he said from the podium.

    "Yeah!" shouted some men in the audience.

    "There actually was one weekend," Mr. Fetzer went on, "where I said to myself, my God, it's going to happen this weekend, and I'm going to wake up and they will have taken these guys off in chains."

    His voice was building. "Listen to me," he said. "The degree of perfidy involved here is so great, that in the time of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, frenzied mobs would have dragged these men out of their beds in the middle of the night and ripped them to shreds!"

    "Yeah!" cried a chorus of voices in the audience. "Yeah!"

    Sounds just like a normal faculty meeting!

    For you Wildcatters out there, there's also a UNH connection: one of the "Full Members" listed on their website is our own William Woodward, psych prof. Great.

  • At Big Lizards, Dafydd has two posts (here and here) that point out the sheer hell would-be legal immigrants to this country routinely go through. Folks opposing "amnesty" for illegal immigrants should also be appalled at the abusive bureaucracy he describes for those who are trying to play by the rules.

Yet Another Lame Bushism

Jacob Weisberg at Slate has an ongoing "Bushism of the Day" feature. Today's is here, and quoting it in full, it is:

"I tell people, let's don't fear the future, let's shape it."
Now the point of "Bushisms" is to draw attention to the President saying illogical and ungrammatical things. There are people who (apparently) derive loads of amusement from this, and Weisberg has a mini-publishing empire going on the topic:
Click to buy George W. Bushisms: The Slate Book of The Accidental Wit and Wisdom of our 43rd President; More George W. Bushisms; Still More George W. Bushisms; the Deluxe Election Edition Bushisms; and the George W. Bushisms 2005 Day-to-Day Calendar.
… you have to be a devoted Bushisms fan to buy the 2005 calendar, I suppose, but even if you're tempted, clicking the link shows that it's unavailable from Amazon.

But back to today's quotation. Apparently the thing we're supposed to laugh at is the "let's don't" construction.

The problem is, there's nothing wrong with that. Checking the Google shows that it's very common, with 177,000 hits. And one of those hits is to the appropriate entry in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, which deems the usage "Standard".

I've remarked before that Weisberg seems pretty desperate to keep this "Bushisms" shtick going. This is just more confirming evidence.

[update: Great minds think alike. Professor Volokh's especially good on Bushisms, and much more polite than I.]


Last Modified 2006-06-20 5:27 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-06-19

  • Matt Labash covers the YearlyKos convention for the Weekly Standard. It was, he reports, especially notable for its diversity:
    Like at Pastor Dan's Interfaith Service on Sunday morning, which featured "greetings from faith traditions." They had a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a pagan, a Unitarian, and an atheist. And it wasn't the setup to a joke! They didn't walk into a bar or anything! An atheist! At an interfaith service! That's diversity!
    Matt took the Kossovites less than seriously, apparently. You'll also want to check Shawn Macomber's two-parter at the American Spectator here and here. And Byron York here and here. If you're looking for sycophancy instead, I assume you know where it is. (Oh, all right. It's here.)

  • Lileks on unfortunate Minneapolis architecture. I must point out, in all false modesty, that I noticed the (select to reveal spoiler) Tron similarity before I read him making the same point. I'd like to say "great minds think alike", but I'm afraid it's more honest to say "geek minds think alike."

  • And out in Sin City, the valedictorian at Foothill High School had her microphone switched off in the middle of her graduation address by the high school administration due to Unacceptable Content. The ACLU sprang into action … on the side of the administration. I suppose you can guess the reason.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:27 PM EDT

URL du Father's Day

Fathers, sons, daughters, tofu eaters, heroin addicts, and Red Sox fans (does that cover everyone out there?) will want to check out Daniel Gilbert's blog entry on Father's Day. (Via MargRev.)

For the record: yes, fatherhood is not a total bowl of cherries. But just about every day for the past 19.5 years, I am knock-kneed at my good fortune of being the father of my two wonderful children.

And the good fortune of having a heck of a good guy for my own dad.

Meet the New Direction, Same as the Old Direction

So the Republicans have shown themselves to be largely incapable of spending restraint. Given the chance, they wet the bed on deficit reduction. They don't respect the First Amendment. They're unreliable friends of the free market. They love to stick the nose of the Federal Government into places in which it doesn't belong. And they love to stick the nose of the Federal Government into places in which it doesn't belong. And (did I mention?) they love to stick the nose of the Federal Government into places in which it doesn't belong. I could go on, but you get the point.

All this makes me say to myself: time to become a Democrat. Then something happens to make me aware of the major flaw in that plan, which is: Democrats.

The latest data point is the much-ballyhooed brand-spankin-new effort by the Democrats to put forward their 2006 manifesto, dubbed "A New Direction for America". This being Pun Salad, the first thing we must point out is: that title is a Emily Litella bit just waiting to happen. It's also very recycled, having been tried both by Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry during the 2004 election cycle.

(And, if you've got 95 bucks to blow, you can go here and get a document of some sort titled "THE NIXON ADMINISTRATION: A NEW DIRECTION FOR AMERICA." Description: "stples rusty, pages a bit worn and soiled. SIGNED ON THE COVER BY THEN-VICE PRESIDENT SPIRO T. AGNEW." There's nothing new under the sun.)

But it's childish to concentrate on that focus-grouped title. What about the substance? Sad to say, it turns out the title is pretty much the high point of the plan:

Democrats offer a New Direction, putting the common good of all Americans first for a change …
Love the meaningless demagoguery of "putting the common good of all Americans first" followed by the petulance of "for a change".
… and will:

Make Health Care More Affordable: Fix the prescription drug program by putting people ahead of drug companies and HMO's, eliminating wasteful subsidies, negotiating lower drug prices and ensuring the program works for all seniors; invest in stem cell and other medical research.

More meaningless demagoguery: "putting people ahead of drug companies and HMO's". What does that mean? Do people eye their medical bills and think "Whoa, I'm clearly not being put ahead of drug companies and HMOs here".

And who's not in favor of eliminating subsidies, especially those "wasteful" ones? How about naming three of them?

Notable is what's missing: any mention of "universal coverage", let alone "single payer". Gutless.

Lower Gas Prices and Achieve Energy Independence: Crack down on price gouging; eliminate billions in subsidies for oil and gas companies and use the savings to provide consumer relief and develop American alternatives, including biofuels; promote energy efficient technology.
Let's see: Shameless pandering on "lower gas prices" of course. Accusations of price gouging belie economic illiteracy. The "consumer relief" thing was a stupid idea that went nowhere when Senator Frist proposed it earlier this year. And energy independence? Gee, that's a new idea.
Help Working Families: Raise the minimum wage; repeal tax giveaways that encourage companies to move jobs overseas.
See Jane on the minimum wage. See Prof Drezner on job outsourcing. Democrats are too wedded to their old ideas and crumbling union constituencies to offer anything innovative in this area.
Cut College Costs: Make college tuition deductible from taxes; expand Pell grants and slash student loan costs.
Democrats are against "wasteful subsidies", unless they're subsidizing colleges and universities.
Ensure Dignified Retirement: Prevent the privatization of Social Security; expand savings incentives; and ensure pension fairness.
Translation: Democrats have no plans to do anything about runaway entitlement spending, other than to oppose anything that might actually let people control their own retirement funds.

And who could be against ensuring "pension fairness"? Not me. Not you. Not anyone. Because it sounds good, and it's meaningless.

Basically, Democrats look at the problem and declare themselves unwilling to make tough decisions, or even easy ones.

Require Fiscal Responsibility: Restore the budget discipline of the 1990s that helped eliminate deficits and spur record economic growth.
Nothing specific about raising taxes, which is probably what they mean by "budget discipline." Guess they'll figure out the details after the election, and let us know.

Now, what's missing? Well, terrorism, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Israel, … generally, that whole foreign policy and national defense thing. Gutless.

Also nothing on privacy or civil liberties. Gutless.

[Update: geez, how could I have left out: also nothing on immigration. Again, gutless.]

The Democrats apparently view Joe Voter as (at least potentially) a little jangly bag of fear and resentment against Them, as exemplified by job insecurity, retirement insecurity, energy costs, medical costs, college costs. So their (vague) theme is: we'll stick it to Them, and "put you first." We'll take care of you! Anybody fooled? Me neither.


Last Modified 2006-08-13 3:50 PM EDT

Room Service

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

This being the second half of a Marx Brothers double feature. Not very good at all, unfortunately. No musical numbers whatsoever. No Margaret Dumont. Unfunny premise. If you need to say you've watched all the Marx Brothers movies, go ahead; otherwise, avoid.

Lucille Ball and Ann Miller appear, although they don't do anything notable.

Intriguing theory: although Zeppo was not funny himself, Zeppo's presence was a necessity for a first-rate Marx Brothers movie. Discuss amongst yourselves! Although I have no idea how you would go about doing that.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:05 PM EDT

At the Circus

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

This is the first half of a Marx Brothers double feature (with the other movie on the other side of the DVD). At the Circus is notable for Groucho's musical number "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady". Harpo also has a harp number, Chico a piano ditty. There is a love interest between the circus manager and a performer who (for some inexplicable reason) sings with a horse, and they're both awful. Eve Arden plays one of the baddies who want to take over the circus. She's only noticeable because, well, she's Eve Arden. Margaret Dumont is in the house, perhaps playing her role a little bit looser than in the other movies. Spoiler: she gets shot out of a cannon; I think that's probably the high point.

The laughs are there, but they're few and far between. Groucho doesn't even show up until ten minutes into the movie. Best you stick with their earlier stuff.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:09 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-06-16

  • If you found yourself cowering in a corner as a result of recent headlines about the upswing in violent crime reported recently by the FBI, read Steve Leavitt at Freakonomics for perspective.
    So the actual increase in violent crime from 2004 to 2005: 2.5%. Given that violent crime has fallen 40-50% since its peak, this hardly seems like reason to panic. And I find it very interesting that none of the headlines I could find made any mention of the fact that property crime fell 1.6 percent. I guess after so many years of falling crime, more falling crime just isn't newsworthy.
    Steve also points out, amusingly, that the media are quoting an "expert" criminologist for their stories who was massively wrongheaded in his commentary on the crime issue back in the nineties. I guess you don't get dropped from reporters' rolodexes that easily.

  • Also catching my eye was this HuffPo article from Ms. Anya Kamenetz. It's about the (good) financial advice to college graduates given here. At the end of her quibbling post, Ms. Anya protests about student loans:
    It would be great if all graduates could follow some neat formula to solve this debt problem. But people are really in a bind. We need a better way of thinking about it than the tired language of "personal responsibility."
    "Tired language"? What the hell does she mean? Is there a new and sparkly way to say "you should honor your freely-incurred financial obligations"? I recall Will Wilkinson's reaction to one of her previous efforts:
    Anya Kamenetz's mind is an ideological funhouse mirror designed to baffle and enrage the economically literate.
    So I guess we could just append "… as well as the morally responsible" to that.

  • Speaking of Garrison Keillor: two articles, one by Sam Anderson in Slate, another by Lawrence Henry at American Spectator. I think Henry knows some things that Anderson doesn't.

  • Tyler Cowen comments on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Films:
    I hate inspiring films. This AFI list of the most inspiring films is yuck. How about Audition, or Ichi the Killer?
    I wouldn't go that far. (And to answer Tyler's question: they just considered American films.) All of the movies are good, some great; it's the AFI, after all. But a lot of them are more "good for you" than "inspiring".

    Saving Private Ryan? Tom Hanks and most of his men get killed on a PR mission that has nothing to do with the war. That's inspiring?

    Pinocchio is there, but not The Lion King?

    Where's Groundhog Day? Roxanne?

    For another list, you can check Bryce and Lisa at Co-Creations Unlimited. They're very objective:

    The number that follows each movie is a CONSCIOUSNESS CALIBRATION number, where 75 = grieving, 100 = fearful, 150 = anger, 175 = pride, 200 = courage/empowering, 250 = trust, 300 = inspiring/hopeful, 350 = forgiving/accepting, 400 = understanding/reasoning, 500 = loving, 540 = joous/serenity, 600 = blissful, 700 = ineffable, 800 = enlightening, 1000 = christ consciousness. The highest any nationally released movie has ever calibrated to is now 700 (What the Bleep Do We Know). If you are wondering what a consciousness calibration number is you must check out our website that explains Dr. David R. Hawkins evolutionary technique.
    Now Bryce and Lisa do have Groundhog Day. But if you're tempted to ask "Hey! Where's Lord of the Rings?" … well, don't even try, because:
    Note: Yes we have seen Lord of the Rings but it will never be on any of our lists of inspiring movies as it is very fear/anger based and calibrates to only a 150.
    So there you go.

Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:29 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-06-15

It's an unusually good day for playing Whack the New York Times.

  • From today's Corrections column:
    An article on Sunday about commencement speeches around the country referred imprecisely to audience reaction to a speech by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Boston College. While some people turned their backs on her and a protest banner was unfurled during her appearance, the scene inside Alumni Stadium where she spoke did not turn tumultous, nor was she heckled while speaking.
    What the article said was:
    Several commencement addresses, including Senator John McCain's at the New School University in New York and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's at Boston College, turned tumultuous, as some graduates heckled them.
    So, yes, the article "referred imprecisely" to Secretary Rice's speech, in the sense that everything it alleged about the speech was factually incorrect.

    A shorter version of the correction: "We just make this shit up. Who knew people would notice?"

  • Yesterday, the Times printed a tear-jerking op-ed from one Mourad Benchellali, who was captured in Afghanistan, imprisoned at Guantánamo for two and a half years, and released back in the summer of 2004. What they left out: Mourad went to Afghanistan with his big brother Menad, who dodged Guantánamo, but nevertheless was recently sentenced to 10 years in France for subsequent terrorism. His father got an 18-month sentence. From the CNN story:
    The Benchellali family was at the center of the case, with Menad's mother, Hafsa, and brother, Hafed, also on trial for roles in the plot to carry out an attack in France.
    And Mourad is still in a French slammer somewhere.

    Do you think any of that might possibly be relevant in judging the credibility of an op-ed columnist? Maybe disclose that to your readers? Not if you're the New York Times. Also commenting on this at more length: Roger Simon (who calls the Times folk "incompetent propagandists") and Matthew Hoy (who observes: "The Times has chosen to sacrifice decades of hard-won credibility in an effort at short-term, partisan political gain.")

  • The Times also demonstrated its humility and sense of fair play in a recent spat between regular columnist Thomas Friedman and General Motors. (I know what you're thinking: "Can't they somehow both lose?" But bear with me.) Friedman wrote an unusually nasty May 31 op-ed in opposition to GM's plan to offer fuel credit as an incentive to buy certain models. He deemed GM to be "dangerous to America's future" and likened the company to a "crack dealer."

    Naturally enough, GM wanted to reply. Read the sad tale of the company's long and futile effort to get their letter to the editor published. In response to Friedman's 800-word column, they submitted a 490-word letter. The Times demanded a cutback to 175 words. GM says: how about 300? The Times: no, let's try 200. GM: OK.

    But then the Times demanded that the submitted letter not refer to the Friedman column as "rubbish." (Yes, "crack dealer" is OK, "rubbish" was deemed to be a little too rough!) GM eventually gave up on the letter idea.

    Then Friedman (yesterday, June 14) prints an 1100-word attack on GM's blog entry that details the controversy. Classy, especially for not revealing anything about the NYT's aversion to letting GM get its reply letter into the paper.

  • And on a related note (stealing the idea from Club for Growth):

    [NYT stock price]


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:25 PM EDT

Donald Hall, Poet Laureate

[Amazon Link]

New Hampshire's own Donald Hall will be assuming Poet Laureate duties for the US come fall. I'm not even a minor poetry reader, but back when the Salad Kids were tiny, his book Ox-Cart Man (illustrated by Barbara Cooney) was a favorite both for them and for me. If you don't know it, it's a short tale of a New Hampshire farmer taking his ox cart, loaded with produce from the year, from his farm to Portsmouth. Once in Portsmouth, he sells everything, including the cart and the ox. (And kisses the ox good-bye on his nose.) Then he returns to his farm, and it starts all over again.

He packed a bag of wool
he sheared from the sheep in April.

He packed a shawl his wife wove on a loom
from yarn spun at the spinning wheel
from sheep sheared in April.

He packed five pairs of mittens
his daughter knit
from yarn spun at the spinning wheel
from sheep sheared in April.

Even now, when we pass by sheep in the field, it's a contest between Mrs. Salad and me to see who'll say "sheep sheared in April" first.

The book is based on Hall's original poem "Ox Cart Man"; you can see nineteen drafts and three published versions of that poem from UNH's Milne Collection right here.

Congratulations (and thanks) to Donald Hall.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:02 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-06-13

  • Racial and sexual discrimination can get you in trouble, even if (a) you're a university, and (b) you're only discriminating against white guys. What is this country coming to? (Via La Shawn.)

  • Charles E. Kupchella, the President of the University of North Dakota (home of the Fighting Sioux) actually has a backbone. He is threatening to sue the NCAA over their pressure on UND to change their logo and nickname, which the NCAA deems "hostile and abusive" toward Native Americans.
    The NCAA leaves us no recourse but to consider litigation to make the point that the policy you have instituted is illegitimate and that it has been applied to the University of North Dakota in an unfair, arbitrary, capricious, fundamentally irrational, and harmful manner.
    President Kupchella makes a clear-headed and straightforward case, remarkably free of the usual educratic linguistic fog; read the whole thing.

    [Since this is Pun Salad, I invite the reader to please make up a witticism involving a play on the words "Sioux" and "sue", and then pretend I actually typed it in here. Thanks in advance.]

  • Professor Volokh vs. Captain Copyright. I'm betting on the prof.

  • The Club for Growth reminds us libertarian-leaning New Hampshirites why we're pretty lucky to have John Sununu in the Senate: he's one of seven Republicans threatening to filibuster a bill restricting the free speech of so-called "527" organizations. (The other six: Allen, Brownback, Coburn, DeMint, Enzi, and Vitter.)

  • Glenn Reynolds demonstrates yet again why he is the One True Blogfather, putting himself in harm's way, posting pictures of the devastation wrought by Republican-caused Tropical Storm Alberto.

URLs du Jour

2006-06-12

  • Amusing and amazing facts about outcomes of US higher education, as summarized in a talk given to the incoming freshman class of the University of Chigago by Andrew Abbot. You'll laugh, you'll cry. If you're a parent with kids in an expensive college, you'll almost certainly cry.

    The long and the short of it is that there is no instrumental reason to get an education, to study in your courses, or to pick a concentration and lose yourself in it. It won't get you anything you won't get anyway or get some other way. So forget everything you ever thought about all these instrumental reasons for getting an education. The reason for getting an education is that it is better to be educated than not to be.

    (Via the Pejman.)

  • Early to bed and early to rise … fuhgeddaboutit. Drink Coke! The Economist shows that it makes you healthy, wealthy, and, if not wise—see the item above for that—at least makes your country freer. This will come as no surprise to The Smartest Woman in the World. (Via Club for Growth.)

  • Think of all the times you've seen a story with this structure:

    1. A serious problem is perceived;

    2. Political posturing and demagogic demand for "solutions" causes a policy shift;

    3. Said policy shift has unintended consequences, that:

    4. Makes the situation worse off than before.

    It's all a lot of fun until someone gets hurt, or killed. For a possible example, see Paul at Wizbang, where it is alleged that the "uparmoring" for Humvees in Iraq is making them more susceptible to fatal rollovers.

    There are a few reasons to be skeptical: for one, the source is working "to design a lighter-armored vehicle to replace the Humvee." But still. If it is true, will the posturers mentioned in point (B) above take any of the blame?

  • One of the nice things about blogging is that it's safe against malware … whoa, wait a minute … aw, crap!

    Blog.Worm

  • Pun Salad readers in a position to make critical personnel decisions in their organizations will want to head on over to Prof Althouse's article titled "Is it legal to fire a woman because her breasts are too large?" Key quote:

    I really didn't expect to find Cheney in this article.

    I think it's safe to say that none of us did.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:04 PM EDT

Sanibel Flats

[Amazon Link]

A colleague with excellent literary taste, knowing my liking for Robert Crais, and James Lee Burke, recommended that I read some Randy Wayne White books. In addition, the blurbers on the cover compare White to Carl Hiaasen and John D. MacDonald.

With all that buildup, I was prepared for possible disappointment. But for once, the hype is pretty close to the mark. The protagonist of White's series, Doc Ford, is a marine biologist running a small biological supplies company on the Florida Gulf Coast. He's also an ex-spy of some sort. In this first book of the series, he's tasked with figuring out why an old friend involved with shady characters in Central America has apparently been murdered; his friend's son has also been kidnapped.

Ford deals with the situation intrepidly, running into a host of colorful characters, many of them dangerous. The resolution is thrilling and satisfying.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:09 PM EDT

How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog

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

Kenneth Branaugh plays a curmudgeon playwright inexplicibly wed to Robin Wright Penn, the Princess Bride. The script forgets to make his character sympathetic or interesting, and his witty repartee isn't all that witty, instead it just comes across as contrived.

Also contrived: the plot. Although there are some funny bits, and everybody's talented enough, there are probably better ways to spend your viewing time.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:09 PM EDT

Your Papers, Please

Jim Harper is the Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute; he's also a member of the Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee. At a meeting of that committee last Wednesday, he accepted a challenge from John Gilmore (issued to the entire committee) to fly home without showing official government identification to airport security screeners.

The story of his epic battle to return home is here at the Wired website. Spoiler: in a massive anticlimax, Jim gave himself over two hours to clear security; he wound up getting through without much hassle and with two hours to kill waiting for his plane, no doubt making Gilmore's head spin at yet another inexplicable failure of American Fascism to display itself.

Jim Harper has a book on the issue of increased demands for identification in America post-9/11. His general point is well-taken: over-reliance on demands for "official" ID is odious in a free society and probably a misallocation of scarce security resources that makes us less safe. However, guys like Gilmore often seem more worried about the government than the actual bad guys. I find that misguided and tedious.

URLs du Jour

2006-06-09

  • An obscure musician named Paul McCartney will celebrate his 64th birthday this coming Sunday. Some of us have been waiting since 1967 for this, when we first heard the song "When I'm Sixty-Four".
    I could be handy, mending a fuse
    When your lights have gone.
    You can knit a sweater by the fireside
    Sunday mornings go for a ride,
    Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
    Who could ask for more.
    Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
    When I'm sixty-four.
    (I bet I could have typed that in from memory. But I cheated and used the Google.)

    A good article by Myrna Blyth is here at NRO; she was present at the beginning, at the Beatles' first press conference in New York. She liked Linda more than Heather.

  • You've probably heard that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, famous terror mastermind, was recently transformed into Maggot Helper with some help from a couple extremely competent American F-16s. He reports on the incident via Iowahawk:
    Now, back in the madrassa when we studied the afterlife, I always wondered what would be the last thing to go through my head. I'm pretty sure now it was one of Mahmoud's anklebones. And if you're wondering if it was painless? Imagine a full-frontal 800 degree root canal while listening to a Neil Young record. But hey, I figure no big whoop, just the admission price to heaven's eternal ho sammich.
    He goes on to describe what happened after that. It's not quite what he expected.

  • Declan McCullagh reports on a defeat of colleges hoping to quash FCC regulations demanding that law enforcement entities be able to remotely install "wiretaps" on college networks.

    More appeals coming, I'd bet. Previously blogged here last year.

  • In recent blogroll tinkering, I've added:

    • From the wilds of North Hampton, New Hampshire, Amy Kane's Atlantic Avenue. In a recent post, she reports that she's living in her own future. Unfortunately, no hot stock tips or lottery numbers were involved, just Styx songs.

    • Radley Balko's blog, The Agitator. Radley is your go-to guy on antics of the nanny state, the police state, snoopy governmental agencies, and drug warriors. If you're straddlin' the fence between libertarianism and conservatism, Radley will keep you from falling off onto the conservative side.

    • Bill Gnade's Contratimes, a Monadblog. I can't describe it any better than the six blind men of Indostan could describe the elephant. Mr. Gnade is funny, wise, sharp, and a darn good writer. Just go check it out.

    • Greg Mankiw's blog, which is cleverly titled "Greg Mankiw's Blog". Greg is a Harvard econ prof, but nevertheless makes a good deal of sense.

    • And finally, The Technology Liberation Front, a group blog of "liberty-loving technophiles who are passionate about progress and suspicious of government meddling in the high tech arena." As should be we all.

    No deletions this time around. All the links over there are well worth your surfing time, even if only to give you something to get mad at.

"Libertarian Dem" Considered Oxymoronic

Markos Moulitsas, aka "Kos", posted about "The Libertarian Dem". Liberty-lovers should check it out, if only to see how badly the term "Libertarian" can be twisted.

Will Wilkinson has a good response. Excerpt:

It's pretty clear that Kos is pushing a program of positive liberty rather in opposition to the classical libertarian notion of liberty as non-interference. I fear that once you cash out precisely what Kos has in mind by ensuring that people aren't "unduly exploited by employers," whatever that means, or by "poverty prevention" and "social net programs," we'll discover something disappointingly like the Democratic party status quo. In which case, Kos will be simply declaring a pretty standard set of Democratic policies as "libertarian," in defiance of the normal understanding of the term. Is this a Machiavellian attempt at the dark Lakovian arts of re-framing? Or, more hopefully, a reflection of a sincere wish to court libertarians away from a lately abusive alliance with Republicans?
I'd bet the answer to both Will's questions is yes. Serendipitously, Stephen Spruiell at the NR Media Blog dug up a Swedish magazine's interview with Kos, where he's quoted:
"I was in England recently, where they don't allow political ads on TV. It was a fantastic experience. It was so beautiful that I cried."
Yes, the "Libertarian Dem" is also enthusiastically in favor of government regulation and supression of political speech. What else?

URLs du Jour

2006-06-08

  • Both New Hampshire senators, Gregg and Sununu, voted against cloture on the Federal Marriage Amendment, helping to seal its doom for now. This was a switch for Senator Gregg, who voted for it in 2004. Yay for both of them.

    Dafydd proposes an interesting substitute that would protect unwilling states from being forced to accept gay marriage by judicial fiat, while allowing willing states to do so, and decline to accept gay marriage for federal purposes. Maybe next time they'll try something more sensible.

  • Good WSJ editorial today on the Death Tax, especially good where it discusses a fact that makes lefty heads spin: the tax is unpopular among people (like me, unfortunately) that would never have to pay it:
    Americans favor repealing the death tax not because they think it will help them directly. They're more principled than that. Two-thirds of the public wants to repeal it because they think taxing a lifetime of thrift due to the accident of death is unfair, and even immoral. They also understand that the really rich won't pay the tax anyway because they hire lawyers to avoid it.

    Also mentioned is a point that relates back to my Paris Hilton post of yesterday:

    The American Family Business Institute has found that the bulk of the Hilton estate has long been sheltered from the IRS in tax-free trusts.
    So even if you have a nasty burning desire to hurt Paris, keeping the estate tax around won't do the job. Sorry. Maybe you could kidnap her stupid little dog instead.

    [Yes, I know repeal failed. Sigh.]

  • If you happen upon a random USB flash drive just lying around, make like Dionne Warwick's ex-boyfriend and walk on by. (Via GeekPress.)

URLs du Jour

2006-06-07

  • Decades ago, when socialist ideas were still popular, the notion came about that the "airwaves" (i.e., some parts of the electomagnetic spectrum) should be a "national resource." This eventually resulted in Dan Rather, at which point nearly everyone should have recognized it to be a Really Bad Idea.

    But bluenoses and power junkies of left and right continue to hold on. Jacob Sullum examines the latest outrage, Senator Brownback's proposal to increase the FCC's "indecent" programming fines by an order of magnitude. Jacob asks: how about we junk the whole kit and kaboodle, take the First Amendment seriously, let people decide what to watch on their own, and we parents take some responsibility for what our kids see? Good question.

  • Greg Mankiw quotes a Cato brief on estate taxes around the globe, so I will too:
    Of 50 countries surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2005, 24 do not have an estate or inheritance tax, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Sweden. Of the 26 countries in the table that do have estate or inheritance taxes, the United States has the third highest rate at 46 percent.
    There is no way that the Federal Goverment should feel entitled to 46% of anything, even with exemptions. The only motivation to setting a number that high is envy. (Sorry, seem to be on a Death Tax kick these days.)

  • Lileks' Bleat is an everyday stop for me, but he's really good when he riffs on old movies. Today, he starts on 42nd Street:
    … the star of course is Ruby Keeler, who dances like sacks of wet cement falling from a second-story window. It's like watching an interpretative dance based on the Whack-A-Mole game.
    And there's more after that, so check it out.

We'll Always Have Paris

Prof Bainbridge is pretty much always on the side of the angels in my book, but I have to dissent in part from his recent post on repealing the estate tax.

First, the good: he recognizes "the liberal arguments against repeal strike me as wholly without merit." He also quotes Bruce Bartlett's too-rarely-seen argument that the super-rich actually benefit from current estate tax rules in many ways, despite the ostensible class-warfarism rhetoric behind arguments against repeal.

But then …

… I get to thinking about Paris Hilton and her ilk and the case for taxing trust fund babies into having to work for a living takes on tremendous gut level/populist appeal.

So maybe the right answer is an estate tax that has substantial deficit neutral exemptions for small business and family farms, but no loopholes for the Hiltons of the world.

Linking Paris Hilton to the Estate Tax is immensely popular. The Google currently gives 70,300 hits for that combo. There was an anti-repeal TV ad awhile back that featured a Paris lookalike cooing her thanks to Congressional Republicans for their repeal efforts. We love to hate her, and many have no compunctions about leveraging that hatred to argue tax policy.

But it's a wild misfire. Paris makes more than enough money on her own to fuel her, um, active lifestyle. Check, for example, the Forbes Celebrity 100 where she's reported bringing in $6.5 million per year. OK, she's not exactly mining coal, but neither is Prof Bainbridge. (Or me. Or, probably, you.)

In addition, it's not as if Paris has ever experienced an estate tax hit, nor is she likely to see one in the near future. Her grampa, Barron Hilton, is still alive and kicking at 78; Forbes reports that he's worth about $1 billion, barely enough to get him on the 400 Richest Americans list (he's number 346). Interestingly enough, Wikipedia reports that his father, Conrad Hilton, left him and his siblings "almost nothing"; Barron sued successfully to win a bigger share. Besides running the hotel chain, he founded the San Diego Chargers, and had a bunch of other businesses.

Paris's father, Rick, is also still alive (he's 50). His Wikipedia entry says that (in addition to being an heir someday, with his seven siblings), he's a real estate broker.

So what does this all have to do with the estate tax? Nada, really. This WSJ editorial (found with the Googling above) points out that, if anything, the presence of an estate tax encourages the high-consumption lifestyle that Paris putatively represents: spend it now, or the state will grab a huge chunk of it when you croak.

But what's really disappointing is the Prof's apparent inclination to punish people he doesn't approve of through the tax code. OK, so Paris is an airheaded slut. That's hardly a good basis for one's stance on tax policy. Should we really try to tax people based on their character?

URLs du Jour

2006-06-06

  • On this Day of the Beast, assuming you've dodged the raining fire and brimstone, etc., you'll want to check out The Straight Dope for all your 666 facts, including a canonical list of beastisms, e.g.:
    $665.95 = Retail price of the Beast
    $656.66 = Walmart price of the Beast
    And those with a mathematical bent should look at Mike Keith's page full of 666 numerology. Example:
    The sum of the first 144 (= (6+6)(6+6)) digits of pi is 666.
    Ooh! Those without a mathematical bent should check out the page too, if only to marvel at what one can accomplish over years of dateless weekends. (Both links via the invaluable GeekPress.)

  • Totally unrelated to the previous topic, at least I hope so: You can read Chapter One of Ann Coulter's new book Godless at Town Hall. It's more incendiary than enlightening, and not likely to convince the unconvinced, but fun reading. According to Mickey, the book "contains a multi-chapter attack on Darwin's theory of the evolution of species" which makes it pretty easy to dismiss. Do you have to be a liberal to think evolution is an actual science? Hope not.

  • The Club for Growth is on a Death Tax roll these days. If you're interested, click over and look around.

  • And although I said some less than complimentary things about the Green Mountain State yesterday, it turns out that they have some pretty smart drivers. GMAC gave their National Driving Test around the country, and Vermont drivers' average was good enough to place it in the number three spot, behind only Oregon and Washington. New Hampshire was all the way down in 26th place. Maine was #32. And (surprising nobody, really) Massachusetts was in 48th place (tied with New Jersey), and Rhode Island was 51st, after D. C.

    I got 90%, and the test was pretty easy. (However, if you're a pedestrian in an unmarked crosswalk when it starts to rain after a dry spell, I'd advise ducking for cover if you see me coming.)

URLs du Jour

2006-06-05

  • Before you ask: no, I didn't see Rachael Ray in Portsmouth last week. In fact, she didn't even tell me she was coming! Hmph.

  • In happier news, the Union Leader reports that:
    New Hampshire residents pay less of their income in state and local taxes than in any other state in the country, according to data compiled from U.S. Census Bureau information.
    According to a calculation by economist Dennis Delay, Granite Staters pay 12.3% of personal income in taxes. Maine residents pay 17.3% (which ranks it 8th highest in the US); Vermonters cough up 16.2% (good for 12th place); Massachusetts is all the way down at 13.7% (44th); and Connecticut is even better at 13.5% (47th).

    Unfortunately—for Vermont—there are some residents there who want to see their numbers go even higher. One Wally Roberts of Williamstown, VT writes the Rutland Herald:

    I don't mind paying my fair share of taxes, but I'm sick and tired of paying high taxes that should be paid by others and that my children and grandchildren will also be paying for the rest of their lives.
    Fortunately, Wally knows pretty much exactly what "fair" is, which is: some other folks should pay a lot more:
    We can change things here in Vermont by demanding that the Legislature approve by veto-proof margins legislation that imposes higher taxes on the wealthiest 5 percent of Vermont's residents. Demand that candidates for the election in November pledge to tax the rich—fairly.
    See? It must be fair, because he said it was! And the neat thing about taxing the "wealthiest 5 percent" is that they're always there! Even after everyone but 20 people have skedaddled from your fair state, you can still raise taxes on the single richest guy that's left! (No matter how poor he is.) That is, after all, "fair", progressive, and utterly democratic.

    And, fortunately, it's a resentment-fueled cycle that New Hampshire has, so far, avoided.

  • Speaking of fairness and resentment-fueled taxes, Congress is considering the death tax (which supporters call the "estate tax") for repeal. New and prolific blogger Greg Mankiw is all over it: here where he makes the case for repeal on the grounds of fairness; here, he checks the numbers behind Robert Reich's anti-repeal arguments, and finds them wanting; here, he looks at arguments that predict a massive post-repeal decline in charitable giving, and finds them wanting.

    Also worth checking is Tyler Cowan's debate at the WSJ site with Max Sawicky. (Via Marginal Revolution.) All linked pages are themselves very link-heavy, so you can immerse yourself in the arguments on both sides.

  • The other bit of interesting controversy over the past few days is John Kerry's apparent determination to try to rehabilitate his Vietnam War history. Mickey Kaus tries to sugar-coat things by calling Kerry "a political zombie refighting a lost campaign by refighting his role in a lost war, long after both conflicts are over."

    And frankly, in most zombie movies, the zombies have better judgment than Kerry shows in opening up this can of worms. See, for example, the Minute Man.

  • This just in: Philip Seymour Hoffman is a pretty nice guy.

No Longer Racist in Seattle, Yay!

Previously on Pun Salad: we were a little depressed that the Seattle Public Schools had a web page up defining us (and many others) as racist, due to our "emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology" and also having a "future time orientation."

That page has now been replaced due to "numerous concerns". The current statement, authored by "Caprice D. Hollins, Psy.D., Director of Equity & Race Relations", states the earnest purpose of their work was "to bring communities together through open dialogue and honest reflection"; my guess would be that they mainly succeeded in unifying the community toward focused ridicule and shared contempt for the Seattle Public School system.

Fear not, progressives! In the midst of the educationist bafflegab that now appears on the page, there's still a glimmer of leftist spark: Caprice mentions that they do not intend "to continue to hold onto unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality." As if they previously had held onto such concepts, which is almost certainly untrue.

No doubt months of highly-compensated professional educrat time in Seattle will be devoted into studying "the dynamics and realities of how racism permeate throughout our society" over the coming months and years. Which is much more rewarding and productive than, you know, actually teaching kids stuff.

X-Men: The Last Stand

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

Back 35 years or so ago, when I read comic books, The Beast was my favorite X-Man. As good as the first two X-Men movies were, I was always kind of missing him. So it was great to see him finally show up, and even better to have Kelsey Grammer play him to just about perfection.

To further buttress my old-time comic geek credentials: I also noticed Stan Lee's amusing cameo.

Other than that, how was the movie? Well, it's pretty intense. Lots of dyin', and not just the usual bad guys and cannon fodder. They almost go overboard with all the Relevant Social Allegory, but it's mercifully brief, and it's quickly back to things going boom and splat. Besides Grammer, the rest of the cast does their usual first-rate job, especially Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, who can make even the most ludicrous comic-book dialog seem believable.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 6:17 AM EST

Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise

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

Theory: someone made this movie on a bet. Namely, a bet that they couldn't make a movie titled Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise. So they won. I think the plans must have been something like: "Let's take Glengarry Glen Ross, and make it a comedy, and put it in England, and have them sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door instead of real estate, and make everybody even more pathetic and repulsive."

I got this movie because it was directed by Danny Boyle, who also directed 28 Days Later and Millions. It features an impressive performance by Timothy Spall. It's just way too strange for me to recommend it, but it was certainly unusual. A bit predictable at the end, though.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 3:02 PM EDT

Spineless Hawkeyes

Some law students at the University of Iowa are up in arms because a professor in a "negotiations class" assigned and read passages "containing racial slurs".

The passages were—and once again, I am not making this up—"from Robert Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of former President Lyndon Johnson and … a 1964 speech by a black sharecropper named Fannie Lou Hamer." You can read Ms. Hamer's speech here.

It's ludicrous to think this is true outrage, of course. No sane person believes it's racist to quote a prizewinning book or a famous civil rights speech. It's just a handy lever opportunistically used by activists for pushing the UofI administration around. And (equally obviously) the UofI administration lacks the backbone to respond to these challenges with the short shrift they deserve. (Via Protein Wisdom.)

Liberal New Hampshire

Via the John Stark Review, there's an article in the Concord (NH) Monitor that reports New Hampshire rating as "one of the 10 most liberal states in the country."

But if you haven't fainted dead away at the shock of that, you can move on to read the fine print: the measure is based solely on the state's laws on gay rights and abortion. And one of the three groups involved in the ranking is the "SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective," which I am not making up, so take the whole thing with as big a grain of salt as you'd like.

The groups have a (Linux-hostile) website here where you can find out about their ranking criteria and where other states fall. They're pretty hostile to "Choose Life" license plates, although I don't think that impacts a state's ranking.

URLs du Jour

2006-06-01

  • If you're like me, you'll sadly shake your head at this Joanne Jacobs article about the unusual problem faced by Summit Prep, a charter school in Redwood City, CA: it's doing such a good job of teaching, it's in danger of losing its charter. New regulations put it at the mercy of "sponsorship" by the local school district, which is apparently pressuring Summit to increase its efforts at mediocritization.

  • David Friedman catches the Secretary of State making a botched literary reference, attributing "Had we but world enough, and time" to Walt Whitman instead of Andrew Marvell. Somewhat less embarrassing than Al Gore's mistranslation of "E Pluribus Unum" as "From One, Many", but still. It's not a mistake Spenser would have made. Which is why, frankly, we should replace our politicians with fictional detectives.

  • Anya Kamenetz is the disease; Will Wilkinson is the cure:

    Anya Kamenetz's mind is an ideological funhouse mirror designed to baffle and enrage the economically literate.

    But she's in the New York Times … that explains a lot, actually.

  • Bet you thought the CEO of Whole Foods Market would be some sort of long-haired hippie commie. Well, turns out he's not.

    What I love most about the freedom movement are the ideas of voluntary cooperation and spontaneous order when channeled through free markets, leading to the continuous evolution and progress of humanity. I believe that individual freedom in free markets, when combined with property rights through rule of law and ethical democratic government, results in societies that maximize prosperity and establish conditions that promote human happiness and well-being.

    Wow. Me too! Unfortunately, the closest Whole Foods Markets are down in Massachusetts, otherwise I'd totally be there for all my Sesame Tahini needs. (Via an article at American Spectator.)

  • <irony>I'd like to pretend I wrote this, but</irony> … for our student readers, Alex Halavais has written a brilliant article on "How to cheat good".

    If you follow these simple rules, you are almost guaranteed to pass off your plagiarism and cheating as your own work. This will allow the faculty to remain in blissful ignorance, believing that—despite the low pay—they are spreading knowledge in the world, while at the same time convincing your parents to continue to pay for several more years of school, drunken orgies, and Prada bags. Your classmates who do not follow the above rules will constitute the "low hanging fruit," easily picked off and tormented by mean-spirited unfulfilled teachers for their own amusement. You, however, will rise above the fray, secure in your superious ability to act smart, even if you don't understand the text you are passing off as your own.

    (Via GeekPress.)


Last Modified 2016-07-15 8:35 AM EDT