URLs du Jour — 2006-08-31

  • The Washington Times editorializes on UNH Prof William Woodward here. Conclusion:

    Most people have come to expect a certain amount of nuttiness from academia and are reconciled to it -- but not when it comes to September 11. Conspiracists can believe whatever they choose in the privacy of their own homes and can proclaim it in lecture halls they rent with their own resources. But don't expect taxpayers to subsidize it. Those who do will get the William Woodward treatment.

    Via Drew Cline.

  • You've probably seen this already, but … aren't anchors supposed to be heavy?

    No amount of photoshopping, however, will make Katie look credible. Sorry.

  • And Orson Scott Card reveals the Psalm of Al:

    1. Great storms ravage our cities, and the wise man saith: Global Warming hath done this.

    2. Drought keepeth all storms at bay, and the wise man saith: This also hath Global Warming done.

    3. Global Warming maketh the oceans rise; it maketh deep snow to fall;

    4. Flood and fire, feast and famine, typhoon and tornado, hail and lightning, all things good and bad that come from sky or sea, Global Warming hath made them all.

    And so on. Via CEI.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:51 PM EDT
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The Thing Called Love

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

Youngsters may not believe this, but there was once a guy named Peter Bogdonovich who was a majorly talented director. He made fantastic movies in the early 70s: The Last Picture Show, What's Up Doc, and Paper Moon. Then things kind of fizzled. This movie is kind of a good example: Bogdonovich made it in 1993, it was a huge box office flop, only seeing limited release. The DVD was only released earlier this year.

So it's a chance to see Sandra Bullock in one of the early movies she made, and River Phoenix in one of his last. (It's a little weird how movie history-time works; Sandra Bullock seems to have been around longer than that, and River Phoenix doesn't seem to have kicked the bucket so long ago. But the IMDB doesn't lie …)

Oh, how's the movie? It's OK, a story about young people trying to Make It in Nashville. Very clichéd, but there are some clever scenes and dialog. Sandra Bullock has I'm-gonna-be-a-star written all over her. In her first scene, she auditions a song she (actually) wrote herself, and it's hilarious.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:41 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-29

  • If you'd like to know exactly how plugged into the local political scene Pun Salad is: while I was taking a Saturday afternoon nap at Pun Salad Manor in Rollinsford, Shawn Macomber was approximately 3.4 miles away partying down with NY Governor George Pataki and the Strafford County Republicans. (But, frankly, reading Shawn's article is as good as, if not better than, being there.)

  • Depressing Story du Jour: One of the major points in James Fallows' widely-hyped Atlantic Monthly article "Declaring Victory" was that Muslims in America were infertile ground for launching terror plots, since the US was a lot better at assimilation than Europe and Britain. Unfortunately, a recent WaPo article says, in essence: not so fast, Jim:
    If only the Muslims in Europe -- with their hearts focused on the Islamic world and their carry-on liquids poised for destruction in the West -- could behave like the well-educated, secular and Americanizing Muslims in the United States, no one would have to worry.

    So runs the comforting media narrative that has developed around the approximately 6 million Muslims in the United States, who are often portrayed as well-assimilated and willing to leave their religion and culture behind in pursuit of American values and lifestyle. But over the past two years, I have traveled the country, visiting mosques, interviewing Muslim leaders and speaking to Muslim youths in universities and Islamic centers from New York to Michigan to California -- and I have encountered a different truth. I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States. At the same time, the real story of American Muslims is one of accelerating alienation from the mainstream of U.S. life, with Muslims in this country choosing their Islamic identity over their American one.

    So good news about the "few signs" of "radicalism", bad news about the increasing alienation; that's not the way it's supposed to work. (Via LGF.)

    You might (however) want to check out Aziz for a contrary take. (Via Instapundit.)

  • Manatees: not as dumb as they look. An inspiration to all of us who aspire to that status.

  • Quote du Jour: via Thomas Sowell:
    Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

    —T. S. Eliot


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Moonbat in our Midst

The New Hampshire mainstream media (in the form of the Manchester (NH) Union Leader) has noticed that UNH psych prof William Woodward is a member of lunatic conspiracy group "Scholars for 9/11 Truth." Their initial Sunday article is here; initial reader response here; Monday followup here. And today (Tuesday) there's another article and also an editorial. The dustup has prompted an article at Inside Higher Ed, which has further quotes.

[If the Union Leader reporters had been Pun Salad readers, they could have discovered Prof Woodward back on June 20 or July 30.]

Prof Woodward now says he wants to teach a 9/11-related course, which would be akin to having a Holocaust revisionist teach HIST 869 ("Germany from 1918 to Present"). I don't think anyone in charge here is actually dim enough to let him do that, but I've been surprised and disappointed by unexpected dimness before.

The Union Leader articles document a spectrum of responses from (a) outraged demands for Prof Woodward's firing; to (b) delicately-worded responses from politicians and university officials, paraphrasible as "He's a loon, but, hey, academic freedom"; to (c) cheers from fellow moonbats for Woodward's "speaking truth to power". NH-blogger Kim comes down solidly in camp (a).

Pun Salad, on the other hand, favors ridicule and contempt, in roughly equal measures. And also plans to encourage UNH sophomore Pun Daughter to keep away from psych courses.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:52 PM EDT
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The Pink Panther

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

I really wanted to like this movie. Steve Martin is a genius comic god, so how bad could it be? Pretty bad, sorry. There are occasional laughs, but every time I laughed, I thought: "Peter Sellers would have been funnier." I also fell asleep for awhile, that's not an indication of high quality.

I long for the days of Roxanne and L. A. Story. Heck, I wish Steve would just make something as good as Bowfinger again.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:37 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-28

  • The "inequality" issue seems to be on the upswing again. As near as I can tell, nobody's saying anything new about it. But I liked this from Coyote Blog, who looks at Kevin Drum's "stupendously ridiculous" conjecture on the source of increased inequality:
    After all, the income from economic growth has to go somewhere, and if it's not going to the middle class it's going to end up going to the rich. Where else can it go?
    and comments:
    What's bizarre about all of these statements is it [sic] treats wealth, and in this case specifically income growth, like a phenomena that is independent of individuals and their actions. They treat income growth like it is a natural spring bubbling up from the ground, and a few piggy people have staked out places by the well and take all the water before the rest of us can get any.

    Wealth and income growth comes from individual action. Most rich people are getting more rich because they are intelligently investing and taking risks with their capital, applying the output of their mind to create new wealth. There is no (none, zero, 0) economic correlation that says that if the rich get really rich, then there is less left over for the poor.

    Also worth reading on the issue are Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek and Will Wilkinson.

  • About the Emmys: I loves me my 24, and Kiefer Sutherland is a good actor, but the Ankle-Biting Bull Dog seems to have it right:
    Now nothing against Kiefer, whom I love in the show, but if all it takes to win "Best Actor" is to yell "Chloe, THERE'S NO TIME!!!" over and over again, well, hell, I could do that.
    And (as Bull Dog also points out), it is an outrage and a travesty that Hugh Laurie wasn't nominated.

  • Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be women's studies majors.
    Women's studies courses are different. They tend to abandon rigorous analysis in favor of consciousness-raising exercises and self-exploration. One textbook explains that women's studies "consciously rejects many traditional forms of inquiry, concepts, and explanatory systems; at the same time, it is developing new and sometimes unique traditions and authorities of its own." Those "unique" traditions include providing students with "credit for social change activities or life experience, contracts of self-grading, diaries and journals, even meditation or ritual."

  • And Bill Gnade ruminates on Dubya's alleged fondness for yarns involving mammalian methane manufacture.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:53 PM EDT
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The Google Says Pun Salad is Your Go-To Blog For …

I am not making this up. [Cathy
Poulin]

But most people coming here from the Google are looking for Ms. Cathy Poulin, pictured at right. If you don't know Cathy, you don't watch a lot of TV in the Northeast United States; she's Public Relations Director for Bob's Discount Furniture, and appears as Bob's annoying sidekick in their television commercials. There's just something about her that makes you want to grab the laptop and ask the Google who is that irritating woman in the Bob's Discount Furniture ads?

Frankly, a fan site for Ms. Poulin is overdue. (And, for the record, I'm sure she's a fantastic person in real life, a good dancer, and that her whole on-air schtick is an assumed persona.)


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:36 PM EDT
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The New Terrorism Meme: What, Me Worry?

Bruce Schneier is a well-known cryptologist and computer security expert. So it's worth paying attention when he offers his opinion on terrorism; he's not totally unqualified.

But his latest effort, entitled "What the Terrorists Want" is a misfire. In fact, the overall thesis is very similar to James Fallows' Atlantic article about which I blogged here. Briefly: by definition, terrorists hope to accomplish their goals by provoking fear in the populace; this is causing us to overreact and engage in counterproductive behavior.

Schneier's essay is condescending ("I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute."), simplistic, and confused. He advises against "panic"—as if anyone's for it. He advocates thinking "critically and rationally"—he's no doubt in favor of regular exercise and a good diet, too. Like Fallows, he points to policies he doesn't like as being based on "fear", but doesn't really show that they are.

Schneier cites a number of false alarms that caused evacuations, redirected flights and delays. The unstated assumption is that the real culprits are "fear" and "overreaction." But any security system will have false alarms that have to be checked out; the only way to avoid them is to have no security whatsoever. Schneier knows this, almost certainly; it does his essay no credit to pretend otherwise.

I also found this ironic: he links to a 2004 essay of his as to what he says "our government can and should do to fight terrorism", which includes:

The only effective way to deal with terrorists is through old-fashioned police and intelligence work - discovering plans before they're implemented and then going after the plotters themselves.
… which is, more or less, exactly what happened recently in Britain. But apparently, the 2006 version of Schneier can still find room to pooh-pooh:
In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports.
Schneier is very demanding about "old-fashioned police and intelligence work", I guess. It's fine, unless it works too soon, i.e., before tickets are bought on the planes you're planning on blowing up.

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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-24

  • Everything You Know Is Wrong Dept: Astronomers have officially revoked the planetary status of Pluto; it is now a planot. (Heh.) Scott Adams provides definitive professional commentary on the matter in which he reveals the name of the funniest planet; although anyone who is, or ever has been, a nine-year-old American boy knows this already.

  • Quote du Jour: from Thomas Sowell, who buries a major bit of wisdom in a column about crime:
    If the choice between policy A and policy B is regarded as a badge of personal merit, either morally or intellectually, then it is a devastating risk to one's sense of self to make empirical evidence the ultimate test.
    Unfortunately, this failing is a lot easier to detect in other people than it is to see in oneself.

  • But, speaking of my hypocritical sanctimony, I took an online test, and …

    The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Third Level of Hell!
    Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

    LevelScore
    Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
    Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Moderate
    Level 2 (Lustful)High
    Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
    Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)High
    Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
    Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)High
    Level 7 (Violent)Low
    Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
    Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

    Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

    Unfortunately, I can't remember whether Level 3 is one of the "fun levels" or not. I note that there is no circle for sanctimonious hypocrites; I guess they're headed to heaven, which will come as no surprise to them. (Via WitNit.)


Last Modified 2012-10-23 2:14 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-23

  • Did you know you can send money to Your Federal Government not because you want to avoid legal unpleasantries, but just because you feel like it? Tim Worstall investigates, and provides you an address to which you can send that check, and how much money has been received into that account recently. (As you might expect, calling the amount "negligible" would be a vast exaggeration.) Tim's reporting leads him to the following conclusion about folks advocating tax increases:
    They mean taxes should rise for you, not that they should rise for them. For if they really did believe that the Federal Government spends money better, more wisely, deserves it more, than they themselves do, wouldn't there be rather more flowing into that account?
    That's my libertarian rant for today.

  • David Weigel notes that many political blogs are showing drops in traffic. But this caught my eye:
    The bloggers who finally establish liberal and conservative sites in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are going to find themselves incredibly popular come late 2007.
    Well, we'll see how that works out, I guess. (But I always thought these guys and this guy were already incredibly popular.)

  • In the omigod-this-can't-be-true department: Barbara Eden is 72 today. (Or, as Wikipedia notes, maybe 76.) Sheesh.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-22

  • A longtime claim of advocates of socialized medicine (typically euphemized as "single payer" or "universal" health care) is that we'd spend significantly less overall on care under such a system, since we wouldn't waste so much money in insurance company red tape and that nasty profit motive. This conjecture is based on the (accurate) fact that American medical spending per capita is higher than other countries where single-payer rules.

    Steve Burton does some simple math to debunk that claim. It turns out that current government spending on health care per capita is also higher than other countries—and it doesn't cover everybody. Steve's conclusion:

    … Americans are not getting their money's worth for what they are already spending on publicly funded healthcare.
    Corollary: medical socialists are delusional or dishonest if they think costs would decrease "for free" under their proposed system. The more likely outcome is drastic cutbacks in care, either by fiat or rationing. (Via Stuart Buck.)

  • Another thing that doesn't come for free is "diversity" as practiced in modern institutions of higher education. Inside Higher Ed reports that the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse is proposing a tuition increase of $1320 over three years "to diversify the student body there." This is on top of the current $5500 bill for tuition and fees, and whatever regular tuition increases might occur.

    If I were to struggle to say something good about this, I suppose it would be: at least they're being honest about the cost. Only half-honest, though, because they continue to euphemize "racially discriminatory admissions policy" as "diversity."

  • But it's not all euphemisms today at Pun Salad; from the AV Club interview with Samuel L. Jackson:
    AVC: You're doing the voice of God for an audiobook version of the Bible. How does the voice of God differ from the voice of Samuel L. Jackson?

    SLJ: Not very much.

    Didn't think so. (Via Galley Slaves.)


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:57 PM EDT
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"We Win"

I was semi-diligent on my semi-vacation about finally getting around to reading James Fallows' article in the Atlantic Monthly, "Declaring Victory." Herewith my report.

Fallows basically has (a) good news; (b) bad news; (c) a recommendation. The recommendation is that we (as the title indicates) "declare victory" in the War on Terror. I'll look at that last, because I think it's the weakest part of the article.

The Good News. Fallows says that there is a broad consensus among the experts he consulted (about 60 of them) that al-Qaeda has been dramatically degraded in its ability to fund and organize large-scale attacks like 9/11. They do not (if they ever did) pose a significant threat to America's existence. (The term "existential threat" appears a lot in Fallows' article, and has caught on among the commenters too.)

Fallows does not discount the possibility of future terrorist attacks killing many, many Americans. In fact, he sees it as likely:

Yes, there could be another attack tomorrow, and most authorities assume that some attempts to blow up trains, bridges, buildings, or airplanes in America will eventually succeed. No modern nation is immune to politically inspired violence, and even the best-executed antiterrorism strategy will not be airtight.
But, Fallows says, let's keep that "in perspective": those kinds of things, bad as they are, aren't likely to do us in as a nation. And we've made them much harder to pull off today, as compared with five years ago.

Also, Fallows notes, a domestic-origin threat is less likely in America, because we've done a better job than Europe and Britain in assimilating Muslims into our society. That's not particularly relevant to his recommendation, but his argument is convincing, and it is good news, as far as it goes.

The Bad News. Among the experts Fallows consulted, nobody much likes the Iraq situation, although the arguments given have the distinct smells of second-guessing, score-settling, and goalpost-moving. Interestingly, few of the experts favored near-term American withdrawal from Iraq.) Many echoed the usual refrain that Iraq was a "distraction" from the War on Terror.

More generally, Fallows detects, or at least manufactures, consensus on the point that our reaction to terrorism is what constitutes the "existential danger" to America. Iraq is one example of this, but he also cites "willy-nilly spending on security" and "the erosion of America's moral authority" as others. (Presumably this last is caused by allegations of torture and other misbehavior in Iraq and Guantanamo.)

The Recommendation. Given the above, Fallows' solution/recommendation is that we declare that the "global war on terror" is over.

Fallows glancingly refers to America "cowering defensively"; he quotes an imaginary Bin Laden advisor gloating that Americans "live as if terrified". He refers numerous times to inevitable "overreaction" if the war isn't declared to be over. It's a recurring theme that the real problem is us doing dangerous and counterproductive things, and that will stop if we simply declare victory.

But it's a pretty flimsy argument. Yes, it's easy to grant that a lot of spending on "security" is misdirected and even makes us less safe. But it's not that way because of overheated brains in the feverish grip of wartime rhetoric; it's simply business as usual for Federal Government, where (a) the measure of how important you think an issue is to spend more money on it; (b) bureaucrats have every incentive to engage in ass-covering behavior, whether it's effective at thwarting terror attacks or not (as long as they're seen to be "doing something", and can't be blamed for anything); (c) our Congressional representatives engage in the the usual pork-barrelling to direct Federal funds to their local districts.

In short, the major problem isn't fear, but stupidity and business-as-usual. And declaring the war on terror to be "over" doesn't change that dynamic one bit.

Neither is it evident that the good news will continue if we declare victory in the war on terror. The sucesses against terror that Fallows outlines have occurred while we were using the "war" tactics that he now deems unnecessary and counterproductive. Can we drop the "war" metaphor now and still continue the policies that gave us this beneficial result? Hey, maybe. But it looks much like wishful thinking; Fallows doesn't really show that it's likely.

For example, Fallows reports what seems to me to be a really good recommendation:

In most cases, [his experts] argue, money dabbed out for a security fence here and a screening machine there would be far better spent on robust emergency-response systems. No matter how much they spend, state and federal authorities cannot possibly protect every place from every threat. But they could come close to ensuring that if things were to go wrong, relief and repair would be there fast.
That makes sense. But it makes sense totally independent of Fallows "declare victory" strategy.

So I recommend reading the article for that kind of thing, not really so much for the feelgood rhetoric of "we won."

Fallows' article is not available online to non-subscribers, unfortunately. However, you can read Fallows' restatement of his thesis after the thwarting of the recent airline bombing plot here. He's interviewed about his article here.


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Void Moon

[Amazon Link]

Void Moon is from veteran mystery writer Michael Connelly. It's not in his famous Harry Bosch series, however. The main characters here are all criminals. Fortunately, it's made pretty clear that we're supposed to cheer for Cassie, the ex-con thief and would-be child abductor, because she's nicer, and probably better looking, than her nemesis here, the psychopathic Karch.

This is an extremely commercial potboiler, with all the rivets showing. The author routinely (and obviously) withholds information, so he can reveal it at the Proper Dramatic Moment—ta-da!—in a later chapter. Convenient coincidences abound. But Connelly is also an extremely talented writer, so things mostly work, and it's a page-turner. It would make a pretty good movie in the right hands.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:44 PM EDT
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Snakes on a Plane

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

Surprisingly enough, this movie is not about shrews on a bus, nor does it concern carp on a train, not even moose on a velocipede. No, it's snakes on a plane. And that's not referring to a Euclidean plane either, Mister Smart Guy.

No, the bad guys put crazed snakes on a jet plane to eliminate a witness against a mobster. Because they (the snakes) are cold-blooded, and therefore undetectable by normal airport security. Otherwise, they would have gone with peeved meerkats instead, and then we'd have a totally different movie.

Ahem. When you're in midcoast Maine on a rainy Sunday afternoon, you take what you can get. Despite all the hype, this was a movie I was perfectly prepared to wait forever to see.

And it does turn out to be funny in spots and creepy-scary in spots, but it's ludicrous and predictable all the way through. Dumb fun, with emphasis on dumb. (Exercise for the reader who's seen three or more Hollywood movies in this genre: predict who's going to live and who's going to die among the characters as they are introduced. I guarantee you'll be at least 80% right.)

Samuel L. Jackson is a force of nature, however, and he's pretty fun to watch. It's also good to see Todd Louiso, but mainly because I start remembering all the better stuff he's appeared in.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:36 PM EDT
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Totally Unremunerated Plug

On our sort-of vacation we stayed at the Howard House Lodge Bed & Breakfast in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Very helpful and friendly folks run the place, and it's in a beautiful setting just outside the developed area of the town. We saw a rafter of about 10 wild turkeys rambling through the grounds. Flowers everywhere, comfy chairs on your own private deck. And wireless is just a short walk to the office away. Private baths. Their breakfast is fantastic: fresh fruit, homemade bread and other bakery items, a different egg dish every day. Other than the decks, the rooms aren't fancy: motel-type but decent. The housekeeper was diligent, and did origami-type stuff with the towels.

Downsides: they don't take plastic, no pets. But if that doesn't bother you, and you're planning on staying in Boothbay area for a couple days, it's pretty good. We had a great time.

Yes, I had to look up the correct name for a collection of turkeys.


Last Modified 2006-09-13 3:41 PM EDT
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Captiva

[Amazon Link]

This book is the fourth entry in the Doc Ford series from Randy Wayne White. I am diligently working through them.

In the first three books, White used a third-person narrative; here he shifts to first-person, story told from Doc's POV. I don't know any series where this has been done before. It works. Doc turns out to be the decent guy we've always known, incessantly getting dragged into crime and intrigue when all he really wants to do is do research and run his marine biological supply company on the Gulf Coast of Florida. But he turns out to be deadly when provoked; we always kind of knew that too.

The first person narration also makes it easy to imagine that Ford is a close relative to Travis McGee. White does a better job at this than any other would-be John D. MacDonald imitator I've sampled, probably because he's not trying to generate a McGee clone.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:40 PM EDT
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Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

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

We would ordinarily wait for the DVD for movies like this, but we're "on vacation", which means we need to fill up our days and nights with frivolity that we wouldn't ordinarily engage in.

But this was a pleasant surprise, because it really is pretty funny, and has a great supporting cast. The script is one of those that throws out jokes every half-second, so if you don't like one, just wait, another will be along shortly.

Speaking of supporting cast: Gary Cole deserves, but almost certainly won't get, an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Reese Bobby, Ricky's dad. He's a shiftless bum who has embraced his shiftlessness, and just dominates the movie when he shows up. (Jane Lynch is also great as Mom.)


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:46 PM EDT
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I Am Charlotte Simmons

[Amazon Link] This book by Tom Wolfe follows Charlotte Simmons as she encounters college life at Dupont U, a fictional highly-selective college. Charlotte is from a small town in western North Carolina, and she's impossibly brilliant.

She is, unfortunately, not brilliant enough to detect that she's the main character in a Tom Wolfe novel, which means that she's going to get the rug pulled out from under her life, and we get to watch. She finds herself interacting with three fellow students: Jojo, a fading basketball jock; Adam, a dorky Jew from Boston; and Hoyt, a devious fratweasel. Charlotte also has a rich-bitch roommate, and a couple of girlfriends that she bonds with out of their common loneliness. We also catch amusing portraits of a can't-get-over-the-sixties professor, the powerful and manipulative basketball coach, and many others.

In short, it's a lot of fun; but as the father of two kids in college, I couldn't read it without wincing a lot too.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:41 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-15

  • Via CfG: a Maryland Senate candidate, tired of boring old issues like national security, taxes, fiscal restraint, etc., simply promises to cure cancer if elected. Because, you know, that's what senators do.

  • There has been a pretty interesting series of posts from Mark Liberman at Language Log, investigating the commonly-seen claim that women use many more words per day than do men. Liberman, despite being plugged into the appropriate research community, can't find any evidence of that claim being true. (Or, for that matter, false.) Mark's latest post is here, with links to previous information. Also notable for quoting the author of a book titled The Princess Bitchface Syndrome: Surviving Adolescent Girls. That is one fine title; either side of the colon would be a fine name for a rock band.

  • Showing up too late to be included in yesterday's Movie linkfest are Scott Adams' paean to the movie mumbles (which is why I pretty much automatically turn on the captions when watching DVDs these days); a salute to John Huston over at the American Spectator, where you'll probably learn some things you didn't know about the old guy (like, if you didn't know he was dead: he is); and Ken Jennings has a movie trivia question that will sear your brain.

  • I made a contribution to yesterday's Best of the Web Today, namely one of the headlines seen in their "Bottom Stories of the Day" feature:
    No Salmonella in Wild Turkey Droppings
    … for some reason, that cracks me up.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-14

It's movie day here at Pun Salad!

  • George Mason econ prof Tyler Cowen is one of the approximately four people in the world who liked Lady in the Water from M. Night Shyamalan. In fact he calls it "the best movie this summer." That's good enough for me!

  • On the other hand, Havard econ prof Greg Mankiw recommends Little Miss Sunshine. Also, good enough for me. If only more economists recommended movies!

  • Radley compares and contrasts Social Security vs. Mayonnaise.

    To force this into our movie theme, I'll toss in an additional comparison of my own: your navy flight school sergeant will not call you "Social Security" as a pet name.


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Go West

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

The second half of our Marx Brothers double feature. The boys are in the Wild West, involved with a classic western plot of an attempted land grab by bad guys.

Margaret Dumont never shows up. There is, however, a long train chase sequence full of (apparently dangerous) stunts that must have been incredibly expensive to film.

Unfortunately, it's relatively slight in the laughs department. When Groucho ties up and gags the train engineer, he asks: "Did you know this is the best gag in the picture?" And he's about right.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:39 PM EDT
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The Big Store

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

One of the Marx Brothers later (in other words: not as funny) movies, set mostly in a department store. Margaret Dumont is here, so that's a big plus. Notable for big witless slapstick scenes full of special effects and gimmicks.

One of the funnier scenes comes right at the beginning. Chico is a piano teacher at a conservatory; as he leaves, he tells the kids to go practice. They sit at their pianos, and start playing just like Chico, down to "shooting" the high keys with their right index fingers. Hilarious.

An odd moment in the middle: a zombie woman starts singing a lullaby. This turns out (after a little IMDB sleuthing) to have been Virginia O'Brien, who was actually famous back then for her deadpan singing style; people thought it was funny! Today, it's just creepy, apologies to the late Ms. O'Brien.

The immortal (so far, he's still alive at age 101) Charles Lane makes an uncredited appearance at the end. He was a relatively young 36 here, but still looked old.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:38 PM EDT
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How to Lie With Statistics in the Atlantic Monthly

I promise to comment on James Fallows' real important article on the War on Terror in the current Atlantic Monthly real soon now. But on my way, I noticed … well, a blast from the past there on pages 36 and 37, in an article titled "The Heights of Inequality" by Clive Crook. You can read the first two paragraphs (or the whole thing, if you're a subscriber like me) here.

In 1971, Jan Pen, a Dutch economist, published a celebrated treatise with a less-than-gripping title: Income Distribution. The book summoned a memorable image. … Suppose that every person in the economy walks by, as if in a parade. Imagine that the parade takes exactly an hour to pass, and that the marchers are arranged in order of income, with the lowest incomes at the front and the highest at the back. Also imagine that the heights of the people in the parade are proportional to what they make: those earning the average income will be of average height, those earning twice the average income will be twice the average height, and so on. We spectators, let us imagine, are also of average height.

Pen then described what the observers would see. Not a series of people of steadily increasing height—that's far too bland a picture. The observers would see something much stranger. They would see, mostly, a parade of dwarves, and then some unbelievable giants at the very end.

Why did I consider this a blast from the past? Because back when I was a young'un, I read a great little book by Darrell Huff: How to Lie With Statisics. And one of his examples of chicanery was exactly the method used by Pen, now echoed by Crook.

Suppose, Huff said, we want to represent the difference in incomes between Rotundia ($30/week) and America ($60/week). (The book was written back in 1952.) We could draw a bar graph (and Huff does), but that's pretty boring. We could also (and Huff does) draw a picture of an American holding two moneybags and a Rotundian holding one:

[How to Lie 1]

That's fair. But let's not be fair; let's lie. Huff draws a graphic with two moneybags, the American's twice as tall as the Rotundian's:

[How to Lie 2]

Now, Huff points out, the heights of the two moneybags are in two-to-one ratio; but the actual area of the American's moneybag on the printed page (or, in our case, the screen) is four times bigger. Worse (or, if we're doing the lying, better), the mind's eye is busy imagining the actual 3-D object, which, being twice as large in every dimension, is actually eight times bigger.

And this is how Pen lied, and how Crook lies in echoing him. The "unbelievable giants" we're asked to imagine at the end of the parade really are unbelievable; they are the equivalent of the American's moneybag above.

It would be bad enough if this were just done in words, but the Atlantic graphics folks actually have a cute drawing of the parade across the two-page spread with the "unbelievable giants" (or the shoe of one of them, anyhow) at the right edge. In short, the Atlantic actually redoes Huff's big-moneybag illustration.

Now the article is not without its points. I just thought it was cute how a 2006 article quotes a 1971 treatise, both enthusiastically using a dishonest technique debunked in 1952. Nothing new under the sun.

I'd suggest the Atlantic buy copies of How to Lie With Statistics for its entire editorial staff. (The Amazon page is here. If you don't want to buy the book, cheapskate, you can "search inside the book" for "moneybag" and read Huff's funny exposition, it's classic.)


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:58 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-11

  • With respect to the hypothetical I constructed near the bottom of yesterday's post:
    [S]uppose (just suppose) one key to preventing the latest plot was one of the (allegedly) Constitution-skirting procedures Healy deplores. Specifically, if not for one of those nasty NSA warrantless wiretaps, we'd currently be watching news reports of a half-dozen planes plummeting into various American cities.
    Here's Time magazine on the methods used to foil the British Muslim terrorists:
    MI5 and Scotland Yard agents tracked the plotters from the ground, while a knowledgeable American official says U.S. intelligence provided London authorities with intercepts of the group's communications.
    So no longer quite so hypothetical. Patterico has a good roundup of links to others who speculate on this topic. I'm a little more confident about saying that I'd prefer Gene Healy et. al. to not be making the call on acceptable intel-gathering methods. (Time link via the Corner.)

  • The point of today's E. J. Dionne column is apparently that it's fine for Democrats to campaign against the Iraq war, but it's a "smear" if Republicans campaign on what they think the likely outcome of the Democrats' policies would be. Tsk, E. J. didn't take his even-handed pills this morning, did he?

  • On the other hand, if you don't read James Lileks every day, then read him today. The whole thing is a wish-I'd-written, but, I liked this:
    And now I rest. Sorry — I had many things to discuss, but at the end of the day they all seem obvious. Terrorists = bad. People who think the arrests were a PR move = foolish. Likelihood substantial portions of the business fliers will subconsciously adopt the nuke 'em from orbit, it's the only way to be sure posture after learning they can't take their laptops on the flight = high. Seriously, when I learned that they were confiscating books today, I had a vision of a plane full of people all staring straight ahead, hands in their laps, waiting, waiting, waiting for it all to be over. No books. Because, you know, they might overwhelm the cockpit crew with a dramatic reading.
    Plus which, a couple old pictures to make you chuckle.

  • Let me put on my sysadmin hat to remind you: don't base your password on your name, even if your name is kind of foreign. Script kiddies will raise havoc. (Via Bruce Schneier.)

  • Donald Hall take note: there is a huge difference between "poet laureate" and "Nobel laureate." But maybe not in the way you expect.


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Perl/Dylan Geek Alert

I just disabled an error message in one of my Perl scripts, with the explanatory comment:

# I used to care, but things have changed

Hope that doesn't come back to bite me. But there are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:59 PM EDT
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Cato's Healy Disappoints on Terror

It's only been a few days since Atlantic Monthly landed on my doorstep with the James Fallows cover article "Declaring Victory". The entire story is only available to subscribers on-web, but you can read the summary for yourself:

The United States is succeeding in its struggle against terrorism. The time has come to declare the war on terror over, so that an even more effective military and diplomatic campaign can begin.
And this morning we awake to news of the foiled (and we hope it's completely foiled) plot to blow up multiple airliners over American cities. But, as Fallows says, the war on terror is over. So, whatever happens, we can be glad about that.

Gene Healy is Senior Editor at the libertarian Cato Institute. On the Cato@Liberty blog (in a post from a couple days ago), he deems Fallows' article to be "important" and "brave". And his reasoning about the "brave" part is kind of poignant today:

… because one subway bombing while this issue's on the stands and Fallows's name might become the punchline to a thousand bitter jokes about pollyannaish predictions.
If the current plot had been successful, the death toll would probably have been in the thousands, probably outdoing your average subway bombing by an order of magnitude or so. So bump up the "bitter joke" estimate appropriately: say around 10,000.

But Healy's argument is still worth considering:

But if and when another attack happens, it won't disprove Fallows's point: we do not now, if we ever did, face an existential threat from the likes of Al Qaeda. As he puts it, "terrorists, through their own efforts, can damage, but not destroy us. Their real destructive power lies in what they can provoke us to do."
That's not a new argument, of course. It's been around, in one form or another for about, oh, almost five years now. The classic formulation is "If X, then the terrorists have won." (21,600 hits on the Google, as I type; Wikipedia even has an entry.)

Just because it's old doesn't make it wrong, though. Let's press on:

If fear, not reason, governs our reaction to terrorism, then Al Qaeda can provoke us into launching unnecessary wars and abandoning the constitutional protections we cherish.
So Healy takes brave stands (a) against fear; and (b) for reason; (c) against "unnecessary" wars; and (d) for constitutional protections, at least the ones that we cherish. Anyone want to take the opposing side on any of those? Raise your hands out there … I hear crickets chirping.

Does it get any better than this? Fortunately, yes, a little:

If we proclaim this conflict World War III (or IV—the hawks appear divided on this point, if on little else), then certain consequences follow for the American constitutional order. Which is one reason why Fallows urges the abandonment of the war metaphor.
I'm actually kind of sympathetic to those who dislike the phrase "war on terror"; it's fundamentally obfuscatory and confusing to declare "war" on a tactic. Who says when it's over, how do we know we've won? ("Just ask James Fallows" is maybe not a good answer.)

But on the other hand, whatever "metaphor" we use, we don't want people blowing up planes. Especially we don't want people blowing up planes while we're figuring out—not what to do to thwart them—but what to call what we're doing to thwart them.

Of course, Al Qaeda is a threat that should be taken very seriously—in some ways, more seriously than the adminstration has in the past. But for nearly five years, too much of the public debate over foreign threats has been dominated by breathless hysteria. The soundbite "the Constitution is not a suicide pact" has become the tell-it-to-the-hand of constitutional debate, as if it is a given that unless we gut the document, we will be committing national suicide. Peace and liberty don't do well in an atmosphere of panic. Fallows's calm, sober optimism serves as a useful corrective.

Some good points there, of course, but it's (really) less than helpful to deem the policies you dislike to have been a product of "breathless hysteria" and an "atmosphere of panic." Is there any real evidence of that? Is that really the best explanation? I doubt it.

Hypothetical: suppose (just suppose) one key to preventing the latest plot was one of the (allegedly) Constitution-skirting procedures Healy deplores. Specifically, if not for one of those nasty NSA warrantless wiretaps, we'd currently be watching news reports of a half-dozen planes plummeting into various American cities.

Healy seems blithe about that tradeoff. I suspect he'd probably not want to think about the possibility that such a tradeoff might even exist.

Admittedly, I find it difficult myself. I'm mainly just relieved as hell that my daughter returned from Europe two weekends ago, instead of this weekend. And I'm fairly certain I'm grateful that Healy's not calling the shots on acceptable anti-terror tactics.

I haven't read the Fallows article yet; I hope it's better than Healy's take on it.


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Ms. Anya Goes Wobbly

Ms. Anya Kamenetz is always whiny, but it's unpredictable whether her whines will be (A) mostly infuriating or (B) simply ludicrous. Her recent post at HuffPo, entitled "Starbucks Labor Revolutionary Canned" goes for Plan B. Let's look:

Daniel Gross, 27, has spent the last three years trying to organize his fellow Starbucks baristas into the Industrial Workers of the World ( I wrote about him last spring in New York Magazine.) He has reached some success at at least three Starbucks in Manhattan, and others elsewhere, despite vociferous opposition from management.
Immediate thoughts:
  1. Wow, the Wobblies are still around!? I don't think I've heard of them since US History class back at Harry A. Burke Senior High School in Omaha. (And, kids, that was a long time ago.)

  2. However, the Wobblies are now apparently desperate enough to consider Starbucks baristas as "Industrial Workers." The mighty have, indeed, fallen.

  3. Ms. Anya's breathless reporting of the result of three years' effort: "some success at at least three Starbucks in Manhattan." OK, she's impressed, but at this rate they'll have "some success" in the remaining Manhattan Starbucks in, oh, about 150 years. So the revolution may not be televised; at this rate, we'll see it in our holodecks.

The overwhelmingly young members of his union are stuck, like millions of teens and 20somethings nationwide, in low-wage, mostly dead-end food service jobs with unpredictable hours and rigid codes of behavior.
Ms. Anya's mind seems to float right by the reason these folks are "overwhelmingly young": because people leave dead-end jobs for better ones as they acquire job skills and experience. In short, they aren't stuck. This is good for them, and works out OK for Starbucks. The only people who have problems with this are those stuck in a 1930's-era manichean capitalist-hating mindset … oh, right. The Wobblies.
Some are trying to work their way through college, others have families to support; all of them have this strange idea that they deserve better conditions and prospects.
It is a strange idea. Conditions are, well, food service conditions, which (to my untrained eye) are probably above average at Starbucks. Nobody's confusing your average barista's work environment with that of a coal miner or a commercial fisherman, at any rate.

And it could well be that some of these good folks actually do "deserve better prospects". Hard to say without more details. If, however, you spent high school and college in a haze of Nintendo and marijuana as you eked out a BA in Art History … well, maybe you don't deserve better prospects.

But, questions of what you "deserve" aside: if you expect "better conditions and prospects" by dint of being a Starbucks employee, … you may need to adjust your expectations. Or find a different job.

They have embraced the radical socialism of the One Big Union (the one that brought you Joe Hill and "Pie in the Sky") , now just a shadow of its former self, because of its decentralized, democratic structure and its uncompromising ethos of solidarity.
Wha… The One Big Union is just a shadow of its former self because of its decentralized, democratic structure and its uncompromising ethos of solidarity?

No, that's not what Ms. Anya means to say. She's just in dire need of an editor, or a copy of Strunk & White.

Anyway …

"The IWW is basically a fan club for anarchists and labor geeks," one barista told me. "But we're making it into something real."
Color me skeptical.
Last week, Daniel Gross was reprimanded and fired. His offenses included sticking up for a fellow fired union member at a picket line. The baristas have called for a Starbucks boycott; details are at their website.
Starbucks is, of course, not talking about the firing. But when Ms. Anya says Gross's actions "included" merely sticking up for an ex-co-worker (or co-ex-worker), we can surmise some other actions were also "included" that Ms. Anya doesn't see fit to mention.
Is their quest quixotic? Maybe, but the Starbucks Wobblies make me happy.
And that's what it's really all about, isn't it? Making Ms. Anya happy?
I'll leave you with Barbara Ehrenreich's words from a Slate debate in June: "Yeah, I'm talking "class war" as a solution to poverty and rising inequality. But remember, the working class didn't start this war and—mainly due to the weakness of the unions and the pusillanimity of the Democrats—has been fairly supine in the face of repeated attacks. I say it's time to fight back. What's your solution?"
I'll chime in with a tedious rehash of what I said back in June: Typical of those with the unconstrained vision, Ms. Anya and Ms. Barb know that the only things causing the world's problems—even down to the woes of the baristas—are human stupidity and malice; the proper and obvious solutions, then, involve violent rhetoric about war, attacks, and fighting.

In contrast, I can't resist posting this comment from a nice man on the HuffPo site who doesn't quite get what the fuss is all about:

My daughter, a graduate student in Chicago, is a barista at Starbucks. She makes double the minimum wage, has flexible hours around her school schedule, and has the best benefits available. Even as a part-timer, she has full medical, dental, etc. Not only that, but she was able to put her fiance on full benefits prior to their marriage under the domestic partner benefit clause. No wonder it is hard (at least in Chicago) to get a job there.
A little dose of reality that, of course, Ms. Anya and the Wobblies will not find relevant. Because their worldview would implode if they did.

Previous posts mentioning Ms. Anya: here, here, here, here, and here.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-09

  • We kind of like looking at the interaction of language and politics here at Pun Salad. One of the more popular themes of the past few years has been that of Berkeley's George Lakoff who contends that Republicans are particularly good at "framing" issues: for example, talking about tax cutting as "tax relief", thereby placing their opponents in the unenviable position of being anti-relief. (Um, which they are. Sorry, George.)

    Although he doesn't mention Lakoff, Fred Barnes has a pretty good counterpoint to that argument at the Weekly Standard. Basically: liberals are, and have always been, pretty active in that game as well.

    At the local level, liberals often go by a different name. They are "activists." Again, the media have helped popularize that word. So the folks who protest plans to build a Wal-Mart in their town or suburb are "activists." The people who oppose a zoning change to allow a church to be built are "activists." What about those who don't want an abortion clinic in their town? They're still conservatives.
    Lots of other examples too.

  • Guaranteed to put me in a poor temper is just about any article in Inside Higher Ed about student racial classification at colleges. This one is no exception.
    On Monday, the U.S. Education Department—following nearly nine years of study and planning—released draft guidance for colleges on how to change the way they collect and report information about students' race and ethnicity. The system proposed by the department would for the first time allow students to pick multiple boxes, with colleges reporting all of those who checked multiple boxes in a new "two or more races" category. In addition, the new system changes the way data will be gathered about Latino students and divides the "Asian and Pacific Islander" category into two distinct groups.
    Yes, it's Your Federal Government At Work, with multiple well-paid bureacrats in arduous labor for nine years to say: it's OK to ask your students if they consider themselves to be multi-racial.

    Hey, I think I could have come up with that all by myself in, oh, four years. Maybe five, if you want it spell-checked.

    The educrats' fervent hope is that this will cut down on the number of students who refuse to state their race, which has been growing over the past few years. Needless to say, there's almost nobody in the whole sorry endeavor who wants the government and colleges to get out of the Jim Crow business of pigeonholing students by their "race."

    If you want more Salad Screediness on this topic, it's right here.

  • Well, my wish for a Lieberman victory yesterday went unfulfilled. I'll live. Especially since Radley Balko reminds us why he wasn't that great (not that Lamont would be any improvement). And also especially since Dean Barnett has updated his Lamont/Lieberman FAQ. Including:
    Connecticut is not a great state; it's a mediocre state at best. No pro sports teams, its largest city is a cultural abyss and it's got Yale. And what kind of nickname is the Nutmeg State? Nutmeg is a spice, for crying out loud. Are there any other states that have chosen to name themselves after a spice? Would West Virginia consider calling itself the Garlic Powder State or Colorado the Cumin State?
    Well, Dean, Nevada is sometimes deemed the "Sage State". (Honest.) But as someone from the Granite State—named after a rock, for crying out loud—I'm hardly one to throw stones.

    Yes, that was almost kind of a pun here at Pun Salad; now you know why we don't do that too often.

  • People who aren't experts on anything will want to read Stephen Colbert's "How to be an Expert on Anything." Especially relevant to bloggers, methinks.


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Brick

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

This is a conscious effort to bring the old Spade/Marlowe private-eye flick into the 21st century. The result is bizarre and fun.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, famous for playing Tommy Solomon in 3rd Rock from the Sun, appears here as a high school student whose ex-girlfriend has been murdered. The genre insists that he play the knight errant, venturing into the mean streets of San Clemente, California, to bring justice upon the wrongdoers. Just as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, he needs to consort with a bad element, dish out some fisticuffs, have fisticuffs dished out upon him, and, above all, maintain his stoicism and the ability to crack wise. There's also "the stuff that dreams are made of," in this case a high-value brick of heroin that nobody seems to be able to hang onto for long, and might be cut with poison.

Lukas Haas, the cute Amish kid from Witness, appears as a menacing drug dealer. He still has the big eyes and unusual skull shape, but their effect here is to make him creepy.

Also appearing in a small role: Richard Roundtree, the original Shaft! And he's still a bad mother- [shut your mouth!—ed. I'm only talkin' about Richard Roundtree!]

Everyone speaks hyper-elliptically in what I assume is supposed to be the patois of your typical California high school drug culture, mixed with Hammett/Chandler tough-guyisms. ("The ape blows, or I clam.") It's kind of amusing trying to figure out what they really mean; but even if you do, it doesn't matter too much, because everyone lies a lot too. Subtitles are a must, because it wouldn't do to play these characters as if they just stepped out of elocution class; there's a lot of mumbling and fast-talking.

By the way: I hardly ever get brand new DVDs, but Blockbuster Online really came through this time, delivering this to my door on the very same day of its scheduled release. Good for them.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:37 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-08

  • I don't know (as I type) the results of the Connecticut primary election between Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman. I hope Lieberman wins, and that hope exists for the basest of reasons: it would be fun to watch the Kos/Hamsher/HuffingtonPost crowd's heads explode. (Conversely, they'll be insufferable for months if Lamont wins.)

    Dean Barnett has a Lieberman - Lamont FAQ if you want to get up to speed quickly.

  • AP writer Charles J. Hanley has written a "news" story headlined "Half of U.S. Still Believes Iraq Had WMD" which is devoted to debunking that belief. Dafyyd, in turn, analyzes Hanley's article, finding it full of misstatements; Henley igores any facts that might confuse or contradict his narrative. It's impressive work from Dafyyd. Recommended.

  • Likely voters in the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary are a foul-mouthed bunch. But they at least have a good excuse: they were asked their opinion of Hillary Clinton. Benjamin Zimmer of Language Log analyzes the asteriskation of the responses as seen in the Boston Herald article. In regards one respondent's dubbing of Hillary as a "political wh***," Prof Zimmer muses:
    But we can safely assume the respondent isn't commenting on Hillary's acumen as a "political whizz," her inexperience as a "political whelp," or her imposing presence as a "political whale." The word is indubitably …
    … well, you'll have to click on the link to find out.


Last Modified 2006-08-09 9:15 AM EDT
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GQ Misses a Huge Movie Jerk

The cover of the current GQ promised to tell us "The Biggest Movie Jerks of All Time". Inside, the article has a somewhat more PG-13 title, "The Dickhead Dozen".

The first guy to come to my mind, however, was totally missing from the list. That would be: William Atherton. In the eighties, he owned movie jerkdom.

  • He played the officious Walter Peck in Ghostbusters, memorably being called "dickless" by Bill Murray.

  • He played Richard Thornburg in Die Hard and Die Hard 2; in the latter, Bonnie Bedelia referred to him as "Dick", leaving no doubt about what she really meant by that.

  • Last but not least, he played Professor Jerry Hathaway in Real Genius, Val Kilmer's nemesis. When Kilmer calls him an "unbelievable bastard," he coolly replies: "Count on it."

In fact, in some cases, it's rumored he may not have officially been hired at all; he just showed up on sets, being a jerk, making up his own jerk lines. It was easier just to let him be in the movie.

The GQ list is woefully and inexplicably incomplete by being Athertonless. In fact, he belongs at the very top.


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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-07

After a couple false alarms, Pun Salad seems to have a solid hold on Wiggly Worm status in the TTLB Ecosystem. I'm a little confused about how that happens, but thanks to everyone who made that happen, however you did it.

  • Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs has (again) performed above and beyond the call of duty in detecting and publicizing fraudulent reporting. The latest example is a faked Reuters photo of Beirut, photoshopped to boost apparent damage from an Israeli airstrike.

    This has been pretty well-covered in certain parts of the blogosphere, but if you've managed to not hear about it, Michelle is your go-to girl: here, here, here, and here.

    I'll get all preachy here and point out the General Issue of which this latest kerfuffle is but a Shining Example: ideology can easily trump honesty and professionalism in the mainstream media. Journalists who think their job description includes "afflicting the comfortable" are perfectly happy to lie on behalf of that goal. A sharp-eyed skeptical editor can transmogrify into a credulous sucker when convinced he's in the job of "speaking truth to power."

    This is nothing new; for a historical example, ask the Google about Walter Duranty.

    What is new is that we have the good fortune to be fully in an era where mainstream media lies can be found and made widely known within a few days, or even hours. Not only do we have a "library card that is close to the one the angels have in their wallets," we have a powerful tool to improve democracy.

    Just sayin', is all. You and I should not take this for granted.

  • If you have a local 9/11 conspiracy theorist (like I do) that you feel like confronting (like I don't, sorry), Stuart Buck has a pretty good question you could ask that, as near as I can tell, could only provoke (a) confused silence or (b) irrelevant and incoherent bluster. So go for it.

  • You can learn useful stuff on the Internets. Today's lesson: How to Open a Beer Bottle with a Piece of Paper. (Via my close personal friend, Dave Barry, of course.)


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Grizzly Man

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

A very impressive documentary from Werner Herzog about the doomed Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell was obsessed with Alaskan grizzly bears, and went up there every summer to shoot video for ostensibly educational purposes. And eventually, one of those bears ate him up, along with his girlfriend.

But, as the film makes stunningly clear, Treadwell had long since jumped over the line between endearing eccentricity and dysfunctional lunacy. Herzog is clearly sympathetic toward Treadwell, but he's an honest filmmaker. And he paints Treadwell's eventual destiny to be well nigh inevitable.

A number of Treadwell's friends are interviewed, and a few come off as more than a little nutty as well. But maybe it's an Alaskan thing; even the coroner seems to be, um, on the colorful side too.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:35 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-04

  • On the short list of needed reforms: kill agricultural subsidies. They make no economic sense, are unfriendly to the environment, and exhibit the worst corruption in our political system. Jonah Goldberg expands on that here.

  • The downward spiral of Andrew Sullivan continues apace as he uncritically posts a video claiming to show that "Dick Cheney's version of his shooting Harry Whittington [was] a complete fabrication." The provider is a semi-famous conspiracy theorist nutball. As near as I can tell, not even the Huffington Post was credulous enough to bite on this one.

    Dean Barnett has also had it with Andrew, for a different reason; Lileks agrees, as only he can.

  • Now, I do not have to totally fake being a geek. But if you need to, you'll want to see "How To Totally Fake Being A Geek" from Penguin Pete. (Via—where else—GeekPress.)


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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-03

  • Over at Cato@Liberty, Chris Edwards has done the math:

    New data was released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on federal employee wages and benefits. The data for 2005 shows that compensation for the average federal civilian worker ($106,579) is now exactly double the average compensation in the U.S. private sector ($53,289).

    I haven't yet heard any class-war outrage from the inequality mavens about this transfer of wealth to the politically well-connected, but <sarcasm>I'm sure that will happen real soon now</sarcasm>.

  • Mark Twain said: "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the Congress is in session." Also it turns out stock market returns are crappy at the same time. Could we somehow make a deal to double their pay if they'd just stay home? (Via CfG.)

  • I've been a Red Sox fan ever since 1975. Today, I'm a Mike Lowell fan as well.

  • And I've been a Star Trek fan since 1966. (Yep. Really old.) Today, it's announced that Matt Damon will play Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek XI.

    Speaking of doing the math: Matt Damon will be 36 in October. William Shatner was 35 when he first appeared as Captain Kirk. This is supposed to be a "prequel." So my question is: what are they thinking?

    I'll go see it anyway, though. Because I'm a Trekkie.

  • Today's wish-I'd-written is from Dafyyd, in which he refers to:

    … the founder and head of the premier anti-religion organization in the country, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State -- or United Separators, as I call them for short.

    Pretty good title on the article as well. Read the whole thing™.


Last Modified 2012-10-23 2:00 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-02

  • Shawn Macomber was on a Suffolk County (Mass.) jury deciding the future housing arrangments of Rakeem Young, who shot Cassim Weaver to death on Shabazz Way in Roxbury back in the summer of 2004. Rakeen also inflicted multiple gunshot wounds on Darrell Williams, a passenger in Cassim's parked car. At the American Spectator, Shawn examines the case, the violent subculture of which it was a small symptom, and the indifference of the media and the "progressive" surrounding city. Very much worth reading.

  • The American Library Association will be happy to tell you how much they believe in intellectual freedom and struggle mightily against censorship. Well, unless a book is "potentially incendiary" like Londonistan. Then at least one library will be perfectly happy to self-censor. (Via Power Line.)

    Fortunately, publicity works.

  • If you were drunk enough, do you think you'd start raving in an anti-semitic manner? Moxie does the experiment. (Via Raven.)

  • The wish-I'd-written for today goes to Alex Tabarrok:
    The Pentagon is the Post Office with nuclear weapons.
    Read the whole thing™.


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Two for the Money

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

Mrs. Salad and I agreed that this is a "guy flick", albeit without a lot of shooting, explosions, or car chases. Al Pacino plays Walter, the flamboyant and manipulative owner of a sports-betting tout firm. He takes Brandon, played by Matthew McConaughey, under his wing; Brandon has an uncanny talent at picking football winners. It's a very time-honored melodramatic plot of skyrocketing success planting its own seeds of inevitable destruction, can our heroes prevent their lives from crumbling into oblivion, etc. But it worked for me. We learn how the characters tick, we're interested in what's going to happen next. It's very funny in spots.

Has anyone ever noticed Al Pacino "vanishing into a role"? I don't think so. He's sure a lot of fun to watch, though.

Rene Russo, who plays Walter's wife Toni, is probably the best actress in the entire world to play a woman holding her own in a sea of testosterone. Check out her IMDB page, look at the guys she's starred with, and see if you don't agree.

The immortal Gedde Watanabe shows up early in the film, then inexplicably vanishes. Advice to filmmakers: if you're going to hire Gedde, don't waste him!


Last Modified 2012-10-23 1:37 PM EDT
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URLs du Jour — 2006-08-01

  • Southwest Airlines, Dunkin' Donuts, Bernie & Phyl's, Bob's Discount Furniture, Foxwoods, … sometimes it seems we here in New England see the same TV commercials over and over and over again. What we need is more slasher film parody gun store commercials like they have in Utah. (Via Clayton.)

  • Via Captain Carl: first, Accuweather reported an increased likelihood of a Northeast US hurricane this year; now CBS is chiming in. Folks in the area might think about checking NOAA's Hurricane Preparedness page.

    Don't mean to be a mother hen. But if you wind up on the TV news because you're one of the last-minute dorks searching the empty shelves at Wal-Mart for batteries and toilet paper, don't blame Pun Salad.

    As a tie-in to our previous item: NOAA's disaster supply kit does not list guns and ammo. In case you want to add that on.

    You can also peruse this year's hurricane names here; do any of them look like they have your number? "Killed by Hurricane Debby" is, I think, an epitaph that would score a 10.0 on the embarrassment scale.

  • A travel suggestion from Dave Barry:
    IF CASTRO, IN FACT, DIES...

    ...and you are the kind of person who likes REALLY wild street parties, you want to get to Miami now.

    And Drew Cline has an amusing picture on the same topic.

  • Arnold Zwicky examines the algorithm used at iTunes Music Store to asteriskize dirty words. With many, many, many unasterisked examples, so sensitive souls beware. (For sysadmin geeks: Arnold is Elizabeth's dad. A family with more than its share of smart and funny!)


Last Modified 2012-10-23 2:01 PM EDT
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