Wordplay

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

Let's see: (a) I don't watch many documentaries; (b) this documentary is about crossword puzzles, which I'm not that interested in; it revolves around Will Shortz, who works for (c) the New York Times (feh) and (d) Commie National Public Radio (blech); it features interviews with (e) Bill Clinton (ack), (f) Daniel Okrent (bleagh), (g) Jon Stewart (tedious), and (h) Mike Mussina (boooooo…).

But, guess what, it was really quite good, a nice windup to the year. All those objectionable folks are quite bearable as long as you keep them talking about crossword puzzles. And Will Shortz, despite his poor choice of employers, is funny and extremely likeable.

The event at the center of the movie is the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. A few of the top contenders are interviewed in depth; what's striking, aside from their unusual talent, is their mutual respect, self-deprecating humor, verbal cleverness, and (for lack of a better word) normalcy.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:09 AM EDT

Miami Vice

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

I wasn't a fan of the old TV show, but remember enough to do comparisons. Movie Sonny: chubbier than TV Sonny. Movie Rico: not quite as chubby as TV Rico. Movie Castillo: whoa, much chubbier than TV Castillo! Movie and TV music: Phil Collins, "In the Air Tonight."

Other than that: it's Michael Mann, so you know the cinematography will be stunning. And (other than the dirty words, graphic violence, and occasional nekkid women), it seems more like a TV show than a movie. You're already supposed to know and care about the heroes, so no time is spent in characterization. It's long on moodiness and attitude, short on plot explication; we know that there's some sort of drug dealing going on, and the undercover Crockett and Tibbs are performing some sort of vital task in the whole process, involving "product" and "loads" and "go-fast boats", all of which prevents Crockett from shaving.

Three stars is probably generous, but including gratuitous Phil Collins music gets the filmmakers some extra credit. That's bravery.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:05 AM EDT

URLs du Last Jour of 2006

  • We don't do Current Events much here at Pun Salad, because if (frankly) you need this blog to tell you that James Brown, Gerald Ford, and Saddam Hussein recently shuffled off the mortal coil, well, maybe you should widen your web browsing habits.

    However, we do try to provide pointers to where you can get something better than mere trivial knowledge of current events: the understanding of underlying trends, a sense of proportion, under-reported happenings, and—dare I say it?—yes, I guess I do—uncommon wisdom.

    In that spirit, I bring you: Dave Barry's Year in Review.

    … there are many things about 2006 that we will not want to remember. This was the year in which the members of the United States Congress, who do not bother to read the actual bills they pass, spent weeks poring over instant messages sent by a pervert. This was the year in which the vice president of the United States shot a lawyer, which turned out to be totally legal in Texas. This was the year in which there came to be essentially no difference between the treatment of maximum-security-prison inmates and the treatment of commercial-airline passengers.

    This was the year in which -- as clearly foretold in the Bible as a sign of the Apocalypse -- Howie Mandel got a hit TV show.

    See? You don't really need to keep on top of that current-events stuff, as long as you can wait until the end of the year to find out what Dave says.

  • And in the "I'm From The Government, And I'm Here To Kill You" Department: Don't undergo kidney dialysis in New York. One of the nanniest of all nanny states nannies some of its residents to death. Gosh, how could that happen?

  • And if you're in need of a New Year's Resolution, Joel Achenbach proposes a pretty good one: Be more like 007 in 2007.

See you next year, folks. Hope it's a happy one for you and yours.


Last Modified 2006-12-31 9:02 PM EST

Boondock Saints

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

So I was reading this list of the "Top 150 Guy Movies of All Time", putting the ones I hadn't seen into the Blockbuster rental queue. This one finally showed up.

It's about two nice Irish Catholic lads from Southie who, for hazy reasons, get into the game of vigilantism. Willem Dafoe plays a brilliant gay FBI investigator hot on their trail. The dialog is funny, the action is very violent. While it wasn't a critical success (20% on the Tomatometer), its unique premise, offbeat characters, and unusual style worked for me.

The reliable IMDB trivia page counts 33 bodies, and 246 occurrences of the f-word. Frankly, I would have guessed higher than that latter number; in a 110-minute movie, that's only 2.24 occurrences per minute! Seemed like more.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:59 AM EDT

John Tucker Must Die

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

I am probably about 37 years too old, and also the wrong sex, to enjoy this movie. The title isn't meant to be taken literally. John Tucker must not actually die, although that would probably have made the movie a little more interesting.

It's one of those slapdash prefabricated movies. The characterizations are as thin as the paper the scriptwriter used to write them. Four girls: the brain, the cheerleader, the hippie, and the unpopular one. (That's all you need to know.) Each want to humiliate the title character for his romantic duplicity, although it's hardly clear why; in the real world, each would have a long waiting list of alternate suitors. But, given the unlikely premise, everything is predictable. (John Tucker has a nicer and less popular brother; want to hazard a guess as to whether he winds up with the unpopular girl at the end? … hey, you're right!)

Jenny McCarthy appears as the mother of the unpopular girl. Hm. Extra half star for that, and an occasional laugh here and there.

If you haven't seen Mean Girls, though, watch that instead. Same kind of thing done much better.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:00 AM EDT

Concert Notes

I rarely go to concerts, and I even more rarely blog about them. My qualifications to review music of any kind: none whatsoever.

But when the local paper mentioned that guitarist Johnny A. was coming to the Stone Church in Newmarket (NH), I jumped over to their website to pick up some tickets. And I had such a good time, I wanted to share my enthusiasm.

I'd previously seen Johnny A. at the UNH Whittemore Center hockey arena, opening for B. B. King. This (to put it mildly) was not the most intimate of venues, although he did a fine job. (So did B. B.) But the Stone Church was much better; it's a dinky place, and you can't get too far away.

[Which reminds me: if B. B. King married Johnny A., would he become B. B. A.? Ha! I crack me up.] [Johnny A with Jimmy Webb]

Anyway: Johnny did a two hour set, approximately. His band consists of himself, a bassist, and a drummer (didn't catch their names, sorry). Usually I scoff at paranormal claims, but the band was so tightly coordinated, I suspect some sort of psychic bonding is going on.

His repertoire is a mix of oldie covers (e.g., Jimmy Webb, Chuck Berry, Johnny Rivers, Jimi Hendrix) and his own compositions. His guitar style is—as near as I can tell, and remember you have to take this with a huge grain of salt, coming from me—a wonderful mishmosh of rock, jazz, blues, country, surf, and classical. (If there are any guitar genres I forgot, you can probably toss them in there too.) This all works for me. And there's no doubt that Johnny is producing pretty much exactly the sound he wants; his mastery of the instrument is complete. It's simply astounding to watch.

I had had the impression that his stage presence would be cool and relatively aloof, as befits a musical genius. Instead he comes off as extremely affable and maybe a little goofy—but in a good way. In his between-numbers patter, he revealed that he had recently moved up here to New Hampshire.

So: if you like guitar music, check out Johnny A, if you haven't already done so. Buy his CDs, and if you get a chance, go see him play.

[Image, by the way, shamelessly ripped off from Mr. A's website, shows him playing last year with Jimmy Webb down in Boston.]


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:07 AM EDT

The Men Who Stare at Goats

[Amazon Link]

This is Jon Ronson's second dip into investigating wackiness; I liked his previous book THEM quite a bit. This one isn't quite as good, jumping around quite a bit in time, space, and topic. It's mainly about the US military's forays into unconventional methods of waging war. The goats in the book's title lived at Fort Bragg, and were the subject of all sort of nasty military research, including psychic warfare: people would attempt to get a goat's heart to stop just by staring at it.

But that's just one of the items discussed here. Ronson has a knack of digging out all sorts of unconventionally-thinking people, some at the fringes of respectability, others well outside. He gets them all to talk. Topics visited include the Branch Davidian siege in Waco; Guantanamo; Abu Ghraib; the Heaven's Gate suicides; the CIA's MK-ULTRA experiments. Uri Geller and Art Bell make appearances.

Ronson seems a little credulous at times, but that could well be one of the tactics to get his subjects to open up. It's amazing that so many … um … unconventional thinkers have been able to get the military to take their ideas seriously.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:03 AM EDT

Superman Returns

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

This was kind of a disappointment, mostly for reasons I expected, a couple I didn't. Expected: it's a canonical example of a movie made for cold-eyed monetary reasons; it has nothing to add or interesting to say about the characters. They didn't even bother to commission new soundtrack music, using the old John Williams score. And Perry White asks: "Does he still stand for truth, justice … all that stuff?" All that stuff? This grates like super-fingernails on a kryptonite chalkboard. (For commentary on this point, Michelle Malkin is your go-to girl.)

Unexpected: it's overlong and padded with pointlessness. Supes moons after Lois like a geeky teenager. And the Christ symbolism is unceasing and unsubtle. (A good rule of thumb: when an unrefined philistine literalist like me notices symbolism, it's already too heavy-handed.) If you want to make a movie about Jesus, just make it about Jesus.

It's not utter dreck, though. Special effects are good. (Although Brandon Routh is such a smoothie, I found myself wondering if he was a computer-graphic character, like Roger Rabbit.) Kevin Spacey is a good Lex Luthor; even though he's pretty much recycling the Gene Hackman approach from the 1978 movie, he's still fun to watch. It was also nice to see Jack Larson (aka the Real Jimmy Olson) and Noel Neill (aka the Real Lois Lane) in small roles.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:02 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-12-27

  • A post-Christmas mini-essay from Dean Barnett is worthwhile reading, as he describes why he prefers the version of the song that goes "we'll have to muddle through somehow."

  • David Friedman posts a thoughtful-as-usual essay titled "Global Warming: Confusing Moral and Practical Arguments"
    In controversies over global warming, one issue that keeps coming up is whether it is anthropogenic, whether if the world is getting warmer it is our fault. So far as I can tell, the question stated in that way is almost entirely irrelevant to the controvery; it reflects a confusion between moral and practical arguments.
    The dominant environmentalist vision these days is not so much "moral" as secular-religious. One fundamental tenet is that nature in the absence of man is the ideal, and "moral" actions are ones that tend to push things toward that ideal.

    You catch glimpses of this religiousity all the time: dissenters from the environmentalist gospel are considered to be not so much mistaken as they are heretics; the only "moral" response to them is vituperation and shunning. (Fortunately, burning at the stake has gone out of style these days.)

    And since it's a moral/religious problem, the tone of the debate and "acceptable solutions" are those traditionally used by religionists: prohibitions, onerous regulations, demands for your money and time, and (above all) apocolyptic fear-mongering and endless hectoring. It's not surprising that solutions often don't make a lot of sense if you're looking at them from outside the vision, especially from an economic perspective.

    So (in that view) it's a huge deal that global warming is anthropogenic, and the only acceptable "solution" is to stop it by getting people to forego their evil ways, and behave more as they should: as if they weren't here at all.

  • But I've said that before. Another recent data point is provided by Jerry Taylor at Cato, who noted a Rolling Stone article titled "Can Dr. Evil Save the World?" The article's "Dr. Evil" is Lowell Wood, who presented a "terraforming"-style solution to global warming (in Stone-ese: a "nefarious scheme"): loading the upper atmosphere with particulates that would increase Earth's albedo, and cool us off. Jerry Taylor seems bemused at the tone of the article:
    The author of the piece thinks this is nuts, but it's unclear to me exactly why. There's little doubt that it would work. There's little reason to fear secondary, unanticipated consequences. And it's a lot cheaper than the alternatives.
    But it should be clear why this sort of thing is anathema to environmentalists: it's just not in the range of "acceptable solutions" demanded by their vision. One of the milder responses in the RS article:
    Bill Nordhaus, a Yale economist, worried about political implications: Wasn't this simply a way of enabling more fossil-fuel use, like giving methadone to a heroin addict? If people believe there is a solution to global warming that does not require hard choices, how can we ever make the case that they need to change their lives and cut emissions?
    In other words: how will we impose our moral vision on vast swaths of humanity if it turns out to be unnecessary to do so?

  • A little sophomoric philosophy: Scott Adams, cartoonist extraordinaire, has a bit of a bee in his bonnet about free will: namely that it's an illusion. His latest forays into the topic are here and here.

    I'm sure there are interesting things in the comments. With (respectively) 312 and 292 comments (as I type), there would almost have to be. I'm not likely to find them, though.

    However, Bryan Caplan has the definitive reply:

    In the end, what the determinists have going for them is the axiom of causality. And what believers in free will have going for them is virtually all of our waking experience. Decades after first hearing both sides of this debate, I still choose ubiquitous introspection over a plausible a priori postulate.

    Good point. I'll also make a point from extrospection (which I've made before, but never mind): everyone else seems to act as if free will exists too. Including, obviously, Scott Adams: he keeps trying to argue against free will, as if he'd contemplated the arguments for and against, and had come to a reasoned and uncoerced choice … against. And he keeps posting about the issue as if his readers could do the same, influenced by the sterling quality of his rationality. You don't see lawnmowers and toasters doing this sort of thing. (If you'd like to see a much better explication of this point, check section 6B of Bryan's essay on free will; or read the whole thing, especially if your name is "Scott Adams.")

URLs du Jour

2006-12-26

  • Patrick Hynes points out Irwin Stelzer's column at the Daily Standard website outlining the incoming Democrats' legislative priorities. They're dreadful, as you might expect: minimum wage, protectionism, kicking drug companies in the teeth, and all manner of resentment of "the rich" worked out in tax policy. (And, I might add: no hope of reasonable defusing of the fiscal time-bomb posed by the current trajectory of entitlement programs.) Pat comments:
    Next time some libertarian friend of yours tells you that there isn't a dime's worth of different between liberal Democrats and 'big government conservative' Republicans, slap him upside the head.
    Slap received here, although I don't recall actually saying that. But slaps should also be held in reserve for both (a) Republicans who only fitfully and ineffectively campaigned on the other side of these issues before the election, when it actually mattered and (b) the voters, for whom it probably wouldn't have made a lot of difference anyway. Not to mention that the GOP has squandered a lot of its credibility on spending and trade in any case.

    Pat also says:

    But hey, those damned Republicans tried to keep that girl in Florida alive, so screw them, too, right?
    For the record, not all libertarians were on the "starve her" side. My posts (I guess I'm feeling a tad defensive today) touching on the issues spurred by the Terri Schiavo case are here, here, here and here.

  • I'll take the liberty of quoting three paragraphs from Thomas Sowell's latest column where he sticks a sharp pin in the hot-air balloon of a talk show host's comment that a particular high corporate executive salary "makes no sense".
    Years ago, a famous essay pointed out that nobody knows how to make a simple lead pencil. That is, there is no single individual anywhere who knows how to grow the wood, mine the graphite, produce the rubber, and manufacture the paint.

    Complex economic processes cause all these things to be done and coordinated by a wide variety of people, just in order to produce something as simple as a lead pencil. Multiply that by a hundred or a thousand when it comes to the complexity of producing a car or a computer.

    If you cannot understand something as simple as making a lead pencil, why should you be surprised that you don't understand why someone is making a lot more money than somebody else?

    The 48-year-old masterful essay that Professor Sowell refers to is right here. It should be required reading for politicians everywhere, about which they should be required to pass a comprehension test afterwards (including Professor Sowell's question above), and they should be required to write their answers with a Number 2 Mongol 482 Woodclinched Yellow Pencil. Just sayin'.

  • Meanwhile, over at the American Spectator blog, John Tabin espies a sentence which, in his estimation, "may be the perfect distillation of everything that has been wrong with American liberalism since the Progressive Era." So you'll want to check that out.

  • Bob Newhart's retail Christmas memories. 'Nuff said. (One of my Christmas gifts from the Salad family: the second season of The Bob Newhart Show on DVD. Woo!)


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:25 AM EDT

Little Miss Sunshine

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

Yes, I liked this better than Blade Runner, which is probably enough to get me unceremoniously drummed out of the Geek Brotherhood. Oh, well, I can save some money on the dues.

However, in my geeky defense: Mary Lynn Rajskub, Chloe from 24, has a small role. Although she's not hunched over a keyboard here, she does wear a headset, is (mostly) a no-nonsense hardass, and you can kind of get a Chloe vibe off that, if you're so inclined.

As to the rest of the movie: it's a dark comedy, playing off the utter dysfunction of the Hoover family. You won't get any descriptions here, though; part of the enjoyment is discovering how and why the various family members are the way they are. Although it involves—you can probably deduce this from the DVD box—throwing everyone into an aging and cantankerous VW Bus for a trip from Arizona to California. The bus is practically a character on its own.

And almost certainly you can thank your lucky stars that whatever interpersonal problems your family has, they're not as bad as the ones shown here. (If they are, well, my sympathies, and … have you ever considered writing a screenplay?)

Very notable is Steve Carell, who, in a departure from his normal roles, gives a nuanced disappearing-into-the-character performance that's really worth watching. If there's any justice, he should get a nod for Best Supporting Actor; there probably isn't any justice, though.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:01 AM EDT

Blade Runner

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

When this DVD showed up in the $5 bargain bin at Wal-Mart (no, I'm not kidding), I snapped it up. After all, it got a studly 92% on the Tomatometer, and the IMDB folks have ranked it number 96 (as I type) on the top movies of all time. It's a blending of two genres I revere: science fiction and film noir. It stars Harrison Ford, one of my all-time favorites. It has a obsessive fan website devoted to it (which you should really check out, by the way, if you're interested in (a) the movie, or (b) the heights to which obsessive fans can go). And yet …

It's kind of dull; I had to start it three times before I watched it through without dozing off. It's heavy on symbolism and ambiguity, which I don't appreciate. The hero isn't very likeable or even understandable (which relates back to the movie's ambiguity on a key plot point, no spoilers here, but if you don't know about it by now, any of the links above will tell you). The acting is flat as a pancake, save for Rutger Hauer.

I should mention some positives, too. The movie impressively depicts its near-future dystopia. The "director's cut" version I got has dropped Ford's droning voice-overs and sappy ending seen in the original release. So that's good.

And, yes, I really did watch this movie on Christmas. Talk about incongruity!


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:01 AM EDT

Merry Christmas!

I always wondered what that <blink> tag was good for. I suspect, however, that it's one of the things that … make baby Jesus cry. [Amazon Link]

By the way, I wanted to bloviate a bit about the "War on Christmas" as garishly illustrated at right: turns out (a) it's over and (b) we won. This is a shameless generalization from personal experience. Nearly every retail establishment I visited the past few weeks, the workers wished me some form of "Merry Christmas" instead of the tediously inoffensive "Happy Holidays." A few brief conversations with others showed they'd had the same experience.

But then …

I saw various news reports about a poll that showed that 95% of shoppers were not offended by "Merry Christmas". In fact, 51% of those polled were actively bothered by the "Happy Holidays" greeting. In fact:

For some shoppers, a clerk who says "Happy Holidays" might as well be saying "Don't shop here" — 36% say they have avoided shopping at a store or have cut their visit short after being greeted with a "Happy Holidays" instead of a "Merry Christmas."

So—and here's the problem—the retailers have no doubt read those polls themselves, or done their own, and are simply shifting their tactics in pursuit of the same goal: the politically-correct minimization of offense. They don't really mean it!

Darn. But honestly, I suppose it's difficult to blame them for that; it's not as if they should be going out of their way to offend people; they're not bloggers.

Which allows me to quote a post over at Protein Wisdom:

Merry Christmas to all Xtians, and everyone else who is too mature to take offense at the religious observances of other people!

And to those who do take offense at other people's religious observances, IN YOUR FACE!

There's also a tasteless video, so … oh, you've clicked over there already. Well, Merry Christmas anyway.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:09 AM EDT

North of Havana

[Amazon Link]

As I've previously stated, I'm working my way through Randy Wayne White's "Doc Ford" series; this is number five out of (so far) twelve. I may catch up sometime in 2009, with the help of my co-worker, Pete, who is generous with his books and recommendations. And also, fortunately, patient.

Anyway: the book starts with a late-night call to Ford from his friend Tomlinson, who happens to be stuck in Cuba. We know Doc pretty well, and it's a foregone conclusion that he'll be on the way to try to extricate Tomlinson, whose throught processes have gone even more off-kilter than usual.

Doc's plan is complex, but even so is quickly overtaken by events driven by a host of colorful characters, most of whom—no surprise—are not entirely what they seem to be at first. The ending is (to be honest) not particularly credible, but still quite gripping. The portrait White draws of Cuba is honest and sad.

By sheer coincidence, the book's climax occurs on Christmas Eve, the very day I finished it. I love it when things like that happen.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:05 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-12-23

It's Eloquence Day here at Pun Salad, in which we take note of interwebbers who make their points using powerful and effective language.

  • First up is Roger L. Simon, who ruminates on the character of one Sandy Berger.

    What manner of moral reprobate could act they way he did after some three thousand people were murdered by Islamist terrorists. No doubt the inner Sandy has a raft of rationalizations, varied ways of justifying his criminal behavior to himself whether he was defending his own actions or Clinton's or both. (It would be interesting to know, wouldn't it?) Perhaps Berger is even sophisticated enough (though I suspect not) to reference EM Forster's famous dictum: "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." But the problem is - Berger wasn't just betraying his country, he was betraying real, living human beings, past and potential victims of terrorism. As we learned on 9-11, it doesn't matter what country they come from. It is a betrayal of humanity as much as it is a betrayal of our country (though of course it is that.)

    Roger looks at this with a novelist's eye for character.

    (But with respect to Roger's reference to the Pajamas Media coverage, please also see Dartblog's somewhat irritated note.)

  • Speaking as one prosecutor to another, Patterico "thanks" Durham (NC) County District Attorney Mike Nifong for his intrepid handling of the Duke rape whatever-it-is-now case. No way to excerpt this gem, just go "read the whole thing."

  • And written on a napkin, something that speaks to the whole "whither libertarianism" issue that's been going around the past few days:

    Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty; it is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed.

    The napkin attributes this to "Tilton", but a little Asking Of The Google finds that it almost certainly originates with Charles Caleb Colton. Others attach it to Ben Franklin, Emma Goldman [it is on her gravestone], or Abraham Crowley [?]. The quote appears engraved in the archway of an impressive colonial-era government structure in Delhi, India; this Time magazine article from 1942 mentions it portentiously; this tourist guide finds it "rather patronising"; a commenter at Kevin Drum's blog deems it "somewhat nauseating."

    Nevertheless, I like it. (Original napkin link via Club for Growth.)


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:26 AM EDT

Dartmouth One-Ups UNH Again

I griped last week about the unbroken string of lefties that UNH invites to keynote its hagiographical celebration of Martin Luther King Day. But it turns out that Other Side of the State University has outdone us by inviting none other than Mr. Harry Belafonte.

People commenting negatively include Dartmouth student Joe Malchow and Dartmouth trustee Todd Zywicki. Todd's position:

Let me be clear--Harry Belafonte has the same right to express his bizarre, ignorant, and hateful opinions as any other showbiz crackpot. And student organizations or political groups should be permitted to invite him to speak on campus if they so desire. But there is a vast gulf between that and providing him with the honor of the Keynote speaker of Dartmouth's MLK celebration and a major platform to spew his opinions. Is he really the best person, and are these the best sentiments, to honor King's memory?
and Joe's:
Dishonest and bigoted as he is, Mr. Belafonte's right to speak merits not a whit of protestation. Free speech exists to protect unpopular speech. But here's something curious. Dartmouth's activists and perennial offendees recently held a "rally for civil discourse," at which they decried as unacceptable speech that offends. Mr. Belafonte, with his trashing of the United States — so full of verve and excitement is it — and his support for an economic system that has shattered millions of lives during its bleak reign, offends me. I don't expect a soul to care. Those activists at Dartmouth have, however, attempted to set a new standard for what is appropriate speech at Dartmouth: civility. Harry Belafonte, the man who called Colin Powell a slave, is flatly incivil. Let us see what happens.
"Indeed." Back in 2002, Ronald Radosh summarized Belafonte's long record of support for left wing thuggery.

URLs du Jour

2006-12-22

A wise man asks: "Who would have thought the English language would ever have need for those words assembled in that order?" I wonder at that myself. Here are examples, unattributed and hat-tipless; click for context.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:26 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-12-21

  • Interesting contoversy generated by Brink Lindsey's New Republic provocative article exploring the possiblity of libertarians shifting their political allegiances to liberals. Lots of smart people are saying interesting things about it, but as a Pun Salad value-added, the above link takes you to the "Whole Article" at the Cato site, rather than the "Here's the First Couple Paragraphs And To See More Subscribe to The New Republic Article" everyone else is linking to.

  • Patrick Hynes is one of the aforementioned smart people, and he deems the notion "nonsense." His attitude toward libertarians dissassociating their alliances with conservatives is perhaps best paraphrased in the Sanford-Townsend Band lyric: "Don't let the screen door hit you on your way out."

    I'm dubious of Lindsey's thesis for the more fundamental reason: generally speaking, it's hard to find a modern day conservative/libertarian schism that can't be matched with an even worse liberal/libertarian schism.

  • On a semi-related point, Bruce Bartlett also gets in some (big-L) Libertarian-bashing, triggered by news that ex-congressperson Bob Barr has dumped the GOP and gone Lib. Bruce doesn't mince words:
    My conclusion is that for libertarian ideas to advance, the Libertarian Party must go completely out of business. It must cease to exist, period. No more candidates, no more wasted votes and no more disillusioned libertarian activists.
    I used to belong to the LP before I decided it would be more productive to just burn up twenty dollar bills every so often.

  • Betsy Newmark excerpts and comments on Bradley Smith's LATimes op ed on the FEC's recent action fining Moveon.org and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, for unapproved political speech. Smith was a believer in the First Amendment while he was on the FEC, and he's irate:
    … these groups aren't being punished for making errors in their filing papers. They're being punished for criticizing politicians. Now, it's natural that politicians don't like that and might pressure the FEC to shut their critics up — the FEC reportedly acted in part because of pressure from Congress and a lawsuit brought by Reps. Christopher Shays and Martin T. Meehan — but why should ordinary citizens feel offended by criticism of public officials? Shouldn't we be more upset by efforts to silence criticism of public officials?
    And Betsy points out that the FEC's behavior is essentially lawless:
    Congress hasn't done anything to adjust the tax code provisions that allow the creation of 527s, but the FEC doesn't seem to need any stinkin' law on the books.
    Problem for the "liberaltarian alliance": today's liberals are largely in favor of regulating political speech; I don't think you can call yourself a "libertarian" without finding that odious.

  • Speaking of outrageous double standards (we were, weren't we?), Jay Nordlinger points one out today at NRO, discussing recent revelations about Clintonista Sandy Berger swiping classified documents from the archives:
    Call me a right-wing paranoid — it's been done before!—but I think that, if Sandy Berger were a conservative Republican, the story of his criminality would be a really, really big deal.
    This is, of course, not paranoia, but the simple sad truth. The disparity in media coverage (in both volume and tone) between Berger and (say) the whole Plame/Wilson brouhaha could not be wider; the only explicable reason for it is simple Big-media bias.

    Betsy Newmark makes similar points:

    Shouldn't the media have been more interested in knowing why he took such a risk in stealing classified documents? What was in those documents? Why did this story go nowhere at the time and we're just finding out these new details because the Associated Press filed a FOIA request? Why didn't all the media outlets want to know that information? after all, these were documents that he was reviewing in order to talk to the 9/11 Commission about security measures taken in the time before 9/11. No one really seems to have cared that there was something that Berger wanted to steal and destroy regarding that period.
    Media-driven outrage is extremely and obviously selective.

  • I really liked the Back to the Future trilogy. But Wikipedia has an article from someone who really, really liked the Back to the Future trilogy. (Via BBSpot.)


Last Modified 2006-12-21 5:53 PM EST

"I left my, um … heert? … heart in San, uh, Frankie? … Francie? … oh, bloody 'ell!"

Rowan Walker has written a newspaper story one can appreciate on many levels:

Millions of adults have such poor reading skills that they struggle to keep up with karaoke lyrics at Christmas parties, research has found.

The Department for Education's Get On campaign found classic songs like 'Summer Nights' from Grease (starring John Travolta) require the reading and English skills expected of an 11-year-old, yet more than 5.2 million adults struggle to read them. About 17.8 million adults had problems with other favourites such as 'Angels' by Robbie Williams. Skills minister Phil Hope urged adults to brush up reading skills if they struggle to sing along.

'We might think we know these tunes inside out, but only on reading the lyrics properly do we realise that some of our favourite numbers are complicated,' he said.

Points for discussion:

  • Oh, sure. That's why reading skills are valuable: so you can keep up with the karaoke machine.

  • If you follow the link, or just notice the funny spelling, it turns out this research was done in England. So—whew!

  • You have to assume that the "researchers" didn't needlessly put their cancer-cure experiments on hiatus while they tackled this burning issue.

  • Still, at the typical Christmas party, what are the chances there is at least one other reason the connection between your eyes, brain, and tongue might not be working at full literate efficiency, especially given the clue that you've dropped enough of your inhibitions to do karaoke?

  • Look at that parenthetical "(starring John Travolta)" in the article. Why is that there? How does the mind of a British journalist work, anyway? Did he need three words to fill up the print column, and those were the best he could come up with?

  • Isn't the poor quality of British journalistic writing more worrisome than the poor quality of British karaoke singing?

  • Although I strongly suspect alcohol might be involved here as well.

  • And (in any case) how does just one person, illiterate or not, sing "Summer Nights"? You need Danny and Sandy, plus at least two Pink Ladies and two Thunderbirds, right? Otherwise it doesn't make any sense. Or does the karaoke machine do those other parts? I don't know much about karaoke, sorry.

  • "More than 5.2 million adults"? Would that be, like, 5.3 million adults?

  • Apparently the "Get On" campaign's permanent job is to hector and insult British adults. They appear in this 2002 BBC article as well, where they bemoan that "nearly one in three adults (29%) in England could not calculate the floor area of a room in feet or metres - with or without calculators or paper and pens." And hence were likely to "be buying too much paint and wasting wallpaper or seeds."

  • Our own research reveals, by the way, that 100% of British journalists can't write about this stuff without emitting tons of needless words. Shorn of waste, the above fact is simply: "29% of English adults could not calculate the floor area of a room."

  • Although I strongly suspect the real numbers, honestly reported, would be more like: "3% couldn't calculate the floor area of a room, and 26% told us to piss off, so we're not sure."

  • And for that matter, the BBC writer doesn't seem to know that areas are measured in square feet. (Or "square metres", whatever those might be.)

  • The 2002 article notes that the "Get On" campaign "is part of the government's "Skills for Life" strategy, which aims to raise skills levels in 750,000 adults by 2004." And yet, in 2006, millions remain karaoke-illiterate. Is this, perhaps, the least effective government program ever? A deafening silence from the British journalists on this point.

  • I don't think I've ever heard the song 'Angels' ("by Robbie Williams"), but the lyrics are easy enough to dig up. The longest word in the entire song is in line two:
    I sit and wait
    does an angel contemplate my fate
    Yes, "contemplate" is a toughie, apparently enough to make about 12.6 million Brits who had no problem with "Summer Nights" freeze up on stage for crucial seconds, then run off sobbing to the loo.

  • So who do you think has the most worthless job: "Skills minister Phil Hope", the researchers tasked to come up with these numbers, or the journalists that write about them?

(Original article via Dave.)

Last Modified 2006-12-19 6:18 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2006-12-18

  • With respect to Time magazine's Person of the Year: fortunately, I read Ann Althouse's warning before I revealed my inner dork. [What do you mean "inner" dork?-ed. Good point.] Dylan fan that she is, I'm surprised Prof. Althouse didn't apply the obvious lyric to Time magazine's efforts to be "with it" and "happening":
    Because something is happening here
    But you don't know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?
    Jeremy Lott is, if anything, even less impressed.

    Update: Michelle Malkin? Even less impressed than Jeremy!

  • Continuing on an issue we discussed yesterday, there's a good roundup of the blogosphere's McCain-phobia at Beltway Blogroll. (Via Instapundit.)

  • Iowahawk channels James Lileks, analyzing the April 3, 1959 edition of "Night Life in Chicago".

  • I don't know what genius composed this, but:

    [Fox Slow News Day]

    (Seen at Surviving Grady, stolen from Danger West.)


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:27 AM EDT

The Break-Up

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

I liked this movie quite a bit more than the critics did. Warning: I'm going to spoil the ending here. It's an (almost) totally believable demonstration of how two ostensibly happy people, Gary and Brooke, (played by Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston) let a minor disagreement put their relationship into the toilet, through unwillingness to compromise, game-playing and selfishness. And—unlike the normal romantic comedy—the film is honest enough to recognize there's no going back. Although both characters "grow", there's no way to glue their shattered relationship back together.

You wouldn't think that this could still be funny, but it is. The supporting cast is superb. Ann-Margaret plays Brooke's mom, yowza. Justin Long, who I thought was mediocre in Accepted, is great here, as Brooke's co-worker. [And he's even better in the alternate ending and a deleted scene on the DVD, so check that out too.]

In real life, however, you have to think that the Vince Vaughn character would have realized: Hey! My girlfriend looks just like Jennifer Aniston! And then proceeded to do the dishes, go to the ballet, and basically anything else she wanted.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:07 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-12-17

  • People (including me) have deemed Senator McCain's recent Internet-regulating legislation to be (unfortunately typically) insufficiently respectful of free speech. Much of this interpretation was spurred by Declan McCullagh's CNET article from a few days back.

    Now that I and everyone else have chicken-littled this story, it's probably time to toss in some skepticism. Instapundit was contacted by Senator McCain's office claiming that, honest, the bill only relates to child pornography, and does not target individual bloggers. And Kip Esquire, in a comment to this arguably alarmist article at The Liberty Papers says:

    No apologist for McCain am I, but Declan McCullagh has a proven track record of distorting the provisions of legislative proposals.

    McCain specifically referred to child pornography, which enjoys zero First Amendment protection. McCullagh suddenly substitutes the term "obscenity," which is an entirely different legal term of art and which enjoys some First Amendment protection, including the right of possession. ("Obscenity," incidentally, is not just "naughty pictures," but hard-core XXX material.)

    So McCain gets a thumbs down, but so does McCullagh for yet more sloppy journalism.

    There's probably enough to be dismayed about, liberty-wise, about John McCain without distorting things.

  • Is Jimmy Carter an intellectual coward? Find out from Betsy Newmark, in her article entitled "Jimmy Carter is an intellectual coward".

  • Drew Cline's Friday Book Corner features picks from New Hampshire's own P. J. O'Rourke; it's always good to know what someone far smarter and funnier than you is reading. P. J. is, by the way, the author of one of the all time great quotes:
    Giving money and power to Government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
    Drew says P. J.'s new book, On the Wealth of Nations, is "generally available", but—hmph!—Amazon hasn't coughed mine up yet.

  • eWeek is reporting that a so-called zero-day exploit for Windows Vista OS is going up for auction on the underground, garnering bids of $50,000. The idea is that (allegedly) the code will allow attackers to compromise brand-new Vista-based computers shortly after they come online. (Some exploits require the owner to make an innocent mistake; others just come in over the ethernet port and make themselves at home. It's not clear what variety this exploit is.)

    Prices for other goodies designed to make our lives miserable are also quoted in the article. A security expert is quoted as saying (wistfully?): "I think the malware industry is making more money than the anti-malware industry." Aiee! Anyone want to borrow my Fedora Linux CDs?

  • And you should, every so often, pretend you're a college sophomore in a late-night bull session, and ask: "Hey, what if we're all just living inside a big computer simulation?" A guy named Nick Bostrom, a Deep Thinker at Oxford, believes that's not only possible, it's actually likely. Joel Achenbach's article explains.

    If you're asking yourself: wait, didn't I see a Star Trek episode about that? Yes, you did. Or at least, you and I had that experience in our simulation.

Shameless Post-Event Self-Promotion

The proprietors of Granite Grok, Doug and Skip, graciously invited me to take part in their Saturday radio show. So Mrs. Salad and I drove up to beautiful Gilford, NH and the studios of WEMJ, 1490 on your AM dial. Also present: Pat Hynes of Ankle Biting Pundits. GG's post about the broadcast is here; a podcast will be available for those not within AM radio range of Gilford.

The WEMJ engineer gave Mrs. Salad a tour of the facilities while Doug, Skip, Pat and I yakked. The guys were very solicitous of this radio newbie. All in all, it was a very pleasant experience; if you're invited, I encourage you to accept.

The subject of John McCain came up, since Doug and Skip had noticed the less-than-complimentary things I've said about him. Pat is, as you may know, the President of New Media Strategics, and Senator McCain is one of his clients. So I gulped a bit, and reckoned as how I thought the McCain-Feingold legislation was pretty much a deal-killer for me ever voting for John McCain.

I braced myself for some ankle-biting at that point, but Pat declined; he's not that big a fan of McCain-Feingold either, it turns out.

Afterwards, we drove east a bit to Danbury, NH for dinner at the "Alphorn Bistro", part of the Inn at Danbury, winner of New Hampshire magazine's "Best German Restaurant" award. Concurrence here, it was very good; if you're in the area, and in the mood, check it out.

URLs du Jour

2006-12-15

  • One strain of libertarian thought on the "war on terror" is to (more or less) say suck it up, it's not that big a deal. This is exemplified by John Mueller, who wrote in Cato Unbound a few months back:

    … the chances any individual resident of the globe will be killed by an international terrorist over the course of an 80-year lifetime is about 1 in 80,000, about the same likelihood of being killed over the same interval from the impact on the Earth of an especially ill-directed asteroid or comet. At present, Americans are vastly more likely to die from bee stings, lightning, or accident-causing deer than by terrorism within the country. That seems pretty safe.

    Mueller recently powerpointed on this topic at the Cato Institute (in support of his new book); Philip Klein was in attendance, and he has a useful rebuttal at the American Spectator.

  • George F. Will auditions for a new role as advice columnist for a men's magazine:

    … if you get the girl up on her tiptoes, you should kiss her.

    It's about Barack Obama. Really.

  • You'll want to check out the 10 most dangerous play things of all time. If you're of a Certain Age you'll say: "Hey, I had that!" to a dismayingly large number of items. If you're a youngster, you'll marvel at how lucky Mom and Dad were to survive their childhoods. (Via the Tech Liberation Front.)

  • Applicants beware: if Killian Advertising finds your résumé's cover letter to be unintentionally amusing, they will have absolutely no compunctions about excerpting it on their Cover Letters from Hell web page. My personal favorite is:

    "I am getting to my goal, slowly but surly."

    Hey, me too! (Via Joanne Jacobs.)

  • Hypnotoad! Was Futurama the best TV series ever? Well, probably not, but I'm still hyped about its upcoming resurrection. From a recent interview with co-creator David X. Cohen:

    Within the new season, we will definitely feature more continuity than in the past. We will also be shedding light on several lingering questions from the original run, including hitherto unknown facts about Nibbler, dark matter and Seymour the dog. By the way, that was my first use of the word "hitherto" in an interview. I think it went well.

    Also being considered: "a full 22-minute episode of Everybody Loves Hypnotoad for the DVD release." Well, of course. All glory to the Hypnotoad!


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:44 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-12-14

  • Blogspotters Bill Gnade and David Friedman have had it with applying invidious labels to people. Good advice.

  • Meanwhile, David Henderson starts what looks to be an interesting series at TCS Daily confronting fallacies and misstatements about the US economy. About time someone took on those liberal statists and morons … oops, sorry, Bill and David … um, those fallacies and misstatements.

  • Speaking of confounding conventional wisdom, Jerry Taylor at Cato@Liberty debunks yet another call for "energy independence."

    The authors of the report are convinced that America's reliance on foreign oil is a dangerous thing. But why? Panicky narratives abound, but none of them are particularly well informed.

    Being against "energy independence" is kind of like being against motherhood, but maybe Jerry will convince you that it's all a lot of hooey.

  • Every weekday, a visit to Lileks.com reminds me that there is nobody like the Bleater. Today's entry, in the middle of nowhere, breaks into a solliloquy on the Pillsbury Doughboy:

    … an ingeniously conceived icon whose implications are best not considered. (What separates him from the other dough? Self-awareness, upright stance, a modicum of shame [he clothes his head and neck] and an easy, ingratiating rapport with the meat-giants who feast on his kin. What was his goal, exactly? Perhaps he wanted to shape our conceptions of dough — not what it was, but what it could be. Perhaps— and more likely, really — he had found himself come to life, realized that a horrible life of experimentation and confinement awaited, and deftly disarmed the Meat Giants by tempting them with delicious biscuits and sugar-drenched rolls. We can only imagine him alone at night, his day's work done, trying to shape dough into the form of a companion, and breathing into its mouth. Failure; every time, failure. He wept small clear perfect tears, and they tasted like beer.)

    This is the kind of thing he does frequently, and seemingly effortlessly: conceiving and executing a beautiful miniature 150-word prose stunt as an aside. You think it's easy? Ha, try it. Then go vote for him.

  • Also, in my humble opinion, there can be no such thing as "too much Kristen Wiig". Video below, link here. (Both Linux-hostile, as near as I can tell, sorry.)

    [There used to be a comedy video here, one of a VH1 series titled "Home Purchasing Club". VH1 yanked it at some point. You suck, VH1.]


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:35 AM EDT

MLK 2007 at UNH is Same Old Same Old

A belated hat tip to La Shawn Barber, who pointed out a provocative Salon Article by Debra J. Dickerson, who says:

When you're as neurotic as I am, it's important to plan ahead for things to worry about. That's why Thanksgiving found me obsessing over Black History Month. You see, it's early December, and no one's asked me yet to come and be black for them in February.
Harsh, but funny. Here at UNH, we traditionally ask people to come in and be black for us for Martin Luther King Day in January.

Well, actually, MLK Day (January 15 in 2007) is a holiday. So UNH doesn't celebrate MLK Day on MLK Day; nobody would show up. The upcoming schedule is here; events start on January 17, and continue until February 1. Most of the comments I made about last year's "celebration" still apply. Again, this is the only holiday for which you'll see the University sponsoring a "spiritual celebration" with "music, poetry, prayer, and reflection." And, once again, I'll bet the ACLU will fail to stop this breach in the wall of separation between church and state.

But what about the invited keynote speaker, the person we ask to come "be black for us"? Guess what? This time, the invitee is Dr. Carlos Muñoz, Jr., described here as

one of the most distinguished Latino scholars in the nation. He has spoken extensively on issues of social justice including ethnic and racial politics, multiculturalism, immigration, and affirmative action.
So that's kind of new; instead we're asking someone to come be Latino for us. Impressive!

But it's also traditional for UNH's invited MLK speaker to be somewhere in the ideological range of left to hard-left. Is that tradition going to be broken too? Well … From Dr. Muñoz's UC-Berkeley web page:

As a scholar-activist, Dr. Muños has been a central figure in the struggles for civil and human rights, social justice, and peace in the United States and abroad since he was a student activist in the 1960s. He played a prominent leadership role as a founder of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. Since then he has served as a leading organizer of various multiracial coalitions, including the Faculty for Human Rights in Central America , Faculty Against Apartheid in South Africa , and The Rainbow Coalition. In 1988, he was a key advisor to the Jesse Jackson presidential campaign. He served on the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and is a co-founder of the Institute for Multiracial Justice in San Francisco , California . He also co-founded Latinos Unidos, a grassroots community organization in Berkeley , California . Dr. Muñoz is a Vietnam Era Veteran and a member of the Veterans for Peace and is active in the Counter-Military Recruitment in the Public Schools Movement as well as in the larger Anti-Iraq War Movement.
Guess not. For the nth consecutive year, UNH will not be exploring ideological diversity for MLK day. One would think that just once we could get someone like Thomas Sowell, John McWhorter, Shelby Steele, or … hey, how about La Shawn Barber?

And nobody, so far, has asked me to come and be white for them, or even Norwegian-American. Sigh.


Last Modified 2016-11-30 4:17 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2006-12-12

  • Kip Esquire does not appreciate the noises some Floridians are making for a so-called "national catastrophe fund", which (they claim) is necessitated by their "soaring" insurance rates. I.e., they'd prefer the country as a whole pick up part of the bill for their choice of domicile.

    Perhaps I could be persuaded to back such a fund, should it also provide for free driveway-plowing in New Hampshire winters.

  • You shouldn't click this link if you're put off by the N-word. It's a response to Jesse Jackson, who wants to "prohibit that word in public usage as hate language." Geoffrey Pullum pulls the rug out on that idea with a single sentence:
    If you want to make sure you know what you look like, don't take down the mirrors.
    There's more, but I think the above is adequate.

  • Ah, Senator McCain. Is there no lousy idea he's unwilling to enshrine in Federal legislation?

  • Janice Brown is soliciting suggestions for an Official New Hampshire State Secret Handshake, but in my humble opinion, you'll have to come up with something really good to beat the one she has already.

    Also check the link for information on a handshake commemorated by an Official New Hampshire Historical Marker, which you will probably want to include in your future travel plans.

Racial Classifiers Fight Amongst Themselves

I can't stop myself from commenting on an Inside Higher Ed article from last week titled "Rethinking Racial Classifications".

An Education Department plan to change the way colleges collect and report data on their students' racial and ethnic backgrounds is attracting growing criticism.
The issue is with this new algorithm:
Colleges would ask students first if they are Latino or Hispanic, with just a yes/no answer. Then the second question would provide a choice of races: American Indian, Asian, African American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or white.
Believe it or not, this method makes sense in the world of Your Federal Government. Because, by regulation, "Hispanic" (or "Latino") is an ethnicity, and that's the only ethnicity they bother to track. One's race, on the other hand, is considered to be independent from one's ethnicity, and the five named above are the standard "important" ones demanded by regulation. We've blogged about this before in greater detail.

Ah, so you're thinking (being the sensible person that you are): it's a darn good idea someone's demanding a rethink on this! The whole exercise is divisive, simplistic, and brings back memories of the Jim Crow era, where your genetic makeup was (to put it mildly) the source of the granting and taking away of legal rights and protections. The sooner we can get beyond this sort of nonsense, the better.

And of course, you'd be right. And yet, at the same time, you would be so very very wrong. Because the criticism dealt with in IHE article isn't the kind sensible people make: it's the kind of criticism levelled by higher education bureaucrats. The controversy between them and government bureaucrats will remind you of the dispute between Biefuscu and Lilliput over which end of the soft-boiled egg to crack. You'll be asking: can't, somehow, both sides lose?

For example, C. Anthony Broh, director of research policy for the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, opines that

Philosophically, this format says, 'we care more if you indicate that you are Hispanic than if you indicate you are black or American Indian, etc.' … Separating the identities of Hispanics from other groups is a visual statement that groups are not treated equally in higher education.
One can't help but suspect that Broh could detect invidious "visual statements" in any set of racial/ethnic classification questions; that kind of thing is easy to find when you want to. Broh also alleges that "research" has found that "a two-question format is particularly confusing to the younger Hispanic population."

Sure, that's not demeaning to incoming Hispanic college students; two questions is one too many for them!

Also extensively quoted is Marsha Hirano-Nakanishi, assistant vice chancellor for academic research and resources for the California State University System, which is almost certainly not a made-up job position.

She wants to first ask students what their race and ethnicity is, giving them the option of checking multiple boxes. Then she wants to ask students if they have a preference of being identified in a particular way. So a student with a strong ethnic or racial identity can answer the first question completely but also show up statistically in the way that reflects that person's actual life.
But Marsha continues:
"We want to respect the individual," she said. "If you bother to ask them what they are, and then ignore them, it seems less respectful."
Right. The problem here is: this racial/ethnic pigeonholing is all about ignoring individuality in favor of glomming everyone together into statistical groups. Marsha, if you want to "respect the individual", how about—oh, I don't know—treating them as individuals, and not as interchangable members of their ethnic or racial identity?

It's crazy, but it just might work.


Last Modified 2006-12-11 9:16 PM EST

Edison Force

[Amazon Link] [0.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

You see the actors here: Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, and you think: hey, how bad can it be? And, guess what: it's extremely possible for Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey to be in a dreadful and nearly-unwatchable movie. I'd tell you what it's about, but, really: don't even bother to think about it.

There are a lot of other people I like in Edison Force as well: John Heard, LL Cool J, Dylan McDermott, and Westley himself, Cary Elwes. They don't help at all. And Justin Timberlake—Elvis Mitchell himself would have to spring for the ticket for me to ever see a Justin Timberlake movie again.

[Oops, I notice that Justin is going to be in the next Shrek movie. Well, except for that one, Elvis Mitchell himself …]

Speaking of John Heard, I wish they'd bring out Between the Lines on DVD. Great little movie, with a great cast, set in Boston, and much more deserving of video-store shelf space than Edison Force.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:36 AM EDT

Accepted

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

This movie could have been good. It made some noises toward lampooning the higher education system in this country, a major sacred cow. It had Justin Long, the "Mac" kid in those Mac vs. PC commercials Apple puts out. It has Lewis Black, a gifted comedian. The premise: a bunch of kids who failed to get accepted at any college—and here, anyone who knows anything about college acceptance says: really?—decide to start their own fake college, the (heh) South Harmon Institute of Technology.

Unfortunately, the potentially-useful higher education critique turned out to be (as near as I could tell) recycled sixties do-your-own-thing-man codswallop. And, for a comedy, I didn't laugh too much.

Here's one possible explanation, from the IMDB trivia page:

Most of the movie was improvised, and a lot of the gags were pitched by the actors on the day of shooting.
Yeah. Note to aspiring filmmakers: unless the actors in question are all named Robin Williams, don't do that.

Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:08 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-12-10

  • Back in the day, as a zit-faced but idealistic young teen, I was a huge Barry Goldwater fan. "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice"? I cheered, while decent people swooned.

    That was in Nebraska, though, so I got off kind of easy. Can't imagine the opprobrium I would have received elsewhere. In any case, I like to think I've remained somewhat true to those principles, while a certain young lady from Illinois caved like a Kentucky coal mine.

    Nowadays, of course, Barry is revered by the PBS crowd and people who like to claim they're conservatives without actually taking conservative positions. Due in large part, I imagine, to the fact that Barry's safely dead.

    Ah, but someone's working on that last part. (Via Poor&Stupid.)

  • A number of good folks noticed Sunday's WaPo article about large milk producers successfully importuning Congress to pass legislation crushing an upstart Californian dairyman, who dared to—gasp!—compete with the big boys on price. See Alex Tabarrok, Cap'n Ed, and especially Don Boudreaux, who mentions that it's probably a good idea to remember the "venality, the meanness, the duplicity, and the downright vilenss of the pompous power-hungry pols who specialize in being elected to Congress." At Pun Salad, we can't help but agree with that.

  • You also gotta read Mark Steyn's column on the Iraq Study Group's report.
    Oh, but lest you think there are no minimum admission criteria to James Baker's "Support Group," relax, it's a very restricted membership: Arabs, Persians, Chinese commies, French obstructionists, Russian assassination squads. But no Jews. Even though Israel is the only country to be required to make specific concessions -- return the Golan Heights, etc. Indeed, insofar as this document has any novelty value, it's in the Frankenstein-meets-the-Wolfman sense of a boffo convergence of hit franchises: a Vietnam bug-out, but with the Jews as the designated fall guys. Wow. That's what Hollywood would call "high concept."
    Glenn Reynolds rounds up further acerbic comments on the topic.

Nature Girl

[Amazon Link]

Carl Hiaasen is an automatic buy-in-hardback for me. This despite his politics, which seem to be largely driven by antipathy toward (a) capitalism and (b) anyone who arrived in Florida after he did. I can live with that, though. He's a gifted and consistently funny writer; although he's kind of settled into a formula over the past few of his adult novels, it's still very worthwhile to turn the pages.

The normal Hiaasenistic elements are here: an array of colorful major and minor characters, some entirely admirable, some broken-but-mending, some despicable and disgusting. The latter usually get maimed (or worse) in improbable but amusing ways.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:04 AM EDT

Grandma's Boy

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

I was going to say something like: "If you want to see both Shirley Jones and Shirley Knight in the same movie, then shirley this would be your only choice." Then you would say "Don't call me Shirley." And we'd both have a good hearty laugh.

But it turns out that the Shirleys also appeared together in 1979's universally-panned Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. Gosh, I love the IMDB, even when it spoils lame jokes.

Anyway: Grandma's Boy. It's not good clean fun. It's filthy. To quote the MPAA: "drug use and language throughout, strong crude and sexual humor, and nudity." And that's for the rated version; the DVD adds in extra filth. It's not a great movie for kids looking for role models. Or even young people. If I were on the movie rating board, I'd probably give it an NC-40 rating.

But it's a really pretty good crude comedy, revolving around Alex, a 35-year-old video game tester, whose life revolves primarily around games, marijuana, and self-abuse. Largely through the poor financial choices of his roommate, Alex finds himself in need of lodging; his only choice is to move in with his grandmother (played by Doris Roberts) and her housemates (the Shirleys). Add in a set of wacky co-workers, and the movie practically proceeds on autopilot toward its conclusion.

You also might want to read Reihan Salam's funny and perceptive review, originally published in Slate. I've learned that Reihan and I seem to be on the same wavelength; he deems Grandma's Boy "the most thoughtful meditation on the plight of the beta male that I've ever seen." Okay. That makes me feel better for liking it.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:02 AM EDT

I'm Back

Didya miss me? I've been in our nation's capital, at LISA, a yearly conference for UNIX/Linux geeks professional system administrators. I also saw pandas and went to Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street for a Chili Half-Smoke and a chocolate milk shake. I can heartily recommend everything.

At the conference, I learned of the "professionalization" of spamming—by which I mean, the involvement of organized crime. As one speaker put it: Your typical spamming enterprise these days has a hit man in the organization chart.

A couple of speakers alleged (one explicitly, one implicitly) the involvement of (at least) the Chinese government in developing spamming technologies. Many other states (due to corruption, lack of interest, or lack of resources) fail to pursue the crooks.

That's pretty alarming, isn't it? Right now, spammers order their armies of zombie computers to send us all barely-coherent pitches for pump-n-dump stocks, counterfeit Viagra, and porn. What happens when someone decides to move from current tawdry economic goals to political and perhaps military ones? Will we be able to handle those any better? The stuff I heard didn't give me any reason to be optimistic.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:02 AM EDT

American Dreamz

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

A very disappointing lousy movie. Disappointing because the writer/director, Paul Weitz, had a previous movie, In Good Company, that was everything this one was not: funny, with likeable, believable, non-stereotypical characters. He also did About a Boy, also pretty good.

The premise is … well, there's something about an American Idol-like TV show, with a Simon Cowell-like host (played by Hugh Grant); a Dubya-like president (Dennis Quaid), puppeteered by a Rove/Cheney-like chief of staff (Willem Dafoe); an ambitious star-wannabe (Mandy Moore); a lovable show-tunes-loving terrorist. Could have been something funny in all that.

But American Dreamz just stinks. All the characters are either dolts or shits, and have no personality beyond what I would imagine was the one-sentence description in the initial pitch.

Disclaimer: I may have missed something, having fallen asleep for a good fraction of any hour in the middle of this. I doubt it, though. As the perceptive Ross Douthat writes: "Satire is funny; lectures aren't."


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:03 AM EDT

The Lost City

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

Andy Garcia directed, produced, and starred in this movie, which follows the tragic impact of the Cuban Revolution on the wealthy Fellove family. It faithfully shows how the brutality of the Batista regime was replaced by the even worse brutality of the Castro regime.

It's well-acted and beautifully shot. At 140 minutes, it takes its sweet time to tell its story, but it held my interest all the way through.

Dustin Hoffman shows up as Meyer Lansky. Also notable is Bill Murray in a role that calls for him to provide wisecracking commentary on the goings-on; he does a Jack Benny imitation near the beginning that is worth the price of admission. (He does a second imitation near the end that I couldn't place.)


Last Modified 2012-10-21 7:03 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2006-12-02

  • Joe Malchow at Dartblog has conveniently groups together his posts on the "Indian Wars" out there at the University of West New Hampshire. It's good reading.

  • Also with a note on the issue is Drew Cline who argues that the conservative Dartmouth Review needlessly made itself enemies by posting a "full-page cover illustration of a crazed-looking Indian warrior carrying a scalp." Probably true.

  • Ronald Bailey reports on a debate over the black/white IQ gap between Charles Murray and James Flynn. Interesting, and the conclusion makes sense too:
    No matter who turns out to be right in the nature versus nature debate over why there is a gap in black/white IQ scores, the idea that we must strive to treat every person as an individual, not as a representative of some group or other, seems right to me.
    Me too. And embracing that idea at Dartmouth, for example, would do a world of good. Unfortunately, it's unlikely to happen as long as playing the victimized-group card remains a viable ploy.