URLs du Jour

2007-01-31

  • In yet another refuting datapoint to that whole 'liberaltarian alliance' thing, Captain Ed takes note of new legislation from Senators Obama and Schumer to ban "deceptive" electioneering practices. In case your first instinct to the above is to say: Why, who could be for deception?, Ed will explain:
    The impulse to pass laws to punish the worst of the deceivers is understandable, but it will open a Pandora's Box of litigation that will get used to initimidate smaller grass-roots organizations into silence.

    The bill allows "individuals", according to the NYT, to file lawsuits against anyone promoting what the plaintiff sees as "deceptive" public argument. While Schumer and Obama may have a high-minded opinion of the average American and his/her eschewing of courts for nefarious uses, the rest of us who live in the real world understands exactly what this will mean. Any campaign advertising or position paper will become fair game for all sorts of lawsuits, and more than likely multiple suits in courts all over the country.

    If it winds up being a McCain/Obama race in 2008, fans of the First Amendment will probably start drinking heavily on Election Night, and continue doing so until at least 2012.

    (Via NRO Media Blog.)

  • But speaking of liberty: While we weren't looking, Dubya actually went and did something to give libertarians warm-and-fuzzy feelings in his State of the Union address: he proposed counting employer-paid health insurance as taxable income, and (instead) give taxpayers with health insurance a hefty deduction. Jacob Sullum gives this a big thumbs-up, and Arnold Kling grades it A+. And the word on the street is, Arnold's a pretty tough grader.

  • And this is a day late, but in case you haven't heard: the commencement co-speakers at the University of New Hampshire's May ceremony are the previous two presidents. And that's of the USA, binky.

    Quoth UNH's Interim President J. Bonnie Newman:

    The world as we know it has changed remarkably since these two world leaders visited the Granite State, and in the ways it has changed for the better, both President Bush and President Clinton are largely responsible for the good.
    Leading one to wonder, not for the first time, what in the world President Newman could possibly be talking about. Maybe her goal was to give praise so over-the-top effusive that not a single thinking adult could take it seriously.

    Mrs. Salad, being a Professor, attends commencement. The logistics for a normal ceremony are daunting; can't wait to see what happens at this one. People wishing to maintain (a) a reasonable blood pressure and (b) their sanity would probably be well advised to stay away.

  • Your Google Hit Count du Jour: "Hillary Clinton" narcissism gives 109,000 hits. I have a lousy record at predicting meme spread, but I'll go out on a limb and say this number can only increase.

    My small input to the hitcount is a couple of old Usenet articles made in the wake of 9/11 here and here. You'll notice in the second post my fearless prediction of Hillary's political future, also incredibly wrong.


Last Modified 2007-01-31 7:42 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2007-01-29

  • Your word for the day is "gliberalism", as defined in weekend WSJ op-ed by Harvard prof Ruth Wisse, on the dominant ideology on American college campuses.
    Recent surveys confirm that university faculties have been tilting steadily leftward, but I think it is wrong to assume they have been tilting toward "liberalism" as is commonly assumed. Liberalism worthy of the name emphasizes freedom of the individual, democracy and the rule of law. Liberalism is prepared to fight for those freedoms through constitutional participatory government, and to protect those freedoms, in battle if necessary. What we see on the American campus is not liberalism, but a gutted and gutless "gliberalism," that leaves to others the responsibility for governance, and arrogates to itself the right to criticize. It accepts money from the public purse without assuming reciprocal duties for the public good. Instead of debating public policy in the public arena, faculty says, "I quit," but then continues to draw benefits from the system it will not protect.
    Spot on. It would be nice if, over the next few decades, we could evolve into a more sensible placement of higher-ed institutions into American life.

  • Today is Milton Friedman Day; Arnold Kling has a short essay in which he reveals his Friedmanesque posing of what he calls "The Fundamental Problem of Political Economy":
    How do we limit the power that idiots have over us?
    … something I'm sure we all wonder at times, so you'll want to check that out.

  • Via Dartblog, I happened upon an entire website devoted to Pompous Ass Words.

    I checked the list, and, dear reader, you'll be happy to know I've avoided all the P. A. words listed on the above page in nearly two years of Pun Salading.

    Well, almost all. I have used the word "tendentious" (including variations) seven times. I love "tendentious"; the suggested synonym "biased" lacks the in-your-face obnoxiousness connoted by "tendentious". You'll never be free of tendentiousness as long as you read Pun Salad!

    Of course, had I been using more of those pompous ass words, I might have been tempted to respond as did Jeff Harrell, although not as risibly, and probably more jejunely.

    Oops.

Poolhall Junkies

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

I think I may have seen this on a list of good "guy movies" at some point, so I put it into the Blockbuster queue, and it finally made it to the top.

It is written by, directed by, and stars Mars Callahan. It's the story of Johnny Doyle, who has only one talent, and one real interest, and that's playing pool. There's a raft of colorful characters in his orbit: his sleazy mentor Joe (played by Chazz Palminteri); the prickly but lovable poolhall owner Nick (Rod Steiger, in his last movie); his headstrong brother Danny (Lex Luthor with hair); the ambivalent-about-his-lifestyle girlfriend (Alison Eastwood); mysterious competitor/rival Brad (Ricky Schroder?!); the girlfriend's rich and offbeat uncle Mike (Christopher Walken); and a host of (probably too many) buddies with their own stories.

The dialog at times seems like output from the ClichéMaster 7000; the plot follows pretty familiar lines as well. Acting is OK-to-mediocre, except for Christopher Walken, who fits into his role as if it had been written for him.

And you know there's going to be a climactic pool game, with (essentially) our hero's life riding on the line. But I didn't see the ending coming at all; thumbs up for that.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:43 AM EDT

Google Maps De-Rez

A Slashdotter reports:

"While viewing my school (the University of Massachusetts Lowell) with Google Maps, I noticed that a select portion of the campus was pixelated: the operational nuclear research facility on campus. Curious, I attempted to view the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It too was pixelated. What or who is compelling Google to smudge out these images selectively? Will all satellite images of facilities that the government deems 'sensitive' soon be subject to censoring?"
As a Pun Salad value-added feature, I can report that New Hampshire's favorite terrorist target is also low-res only.

Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:46 AM EDT

The Protector

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

One of the persistent criticisms of free-market capitalism is its alleged failure to provide adequate levels of vital products and services: so-called "market failure". For example, the critics say, in a laissez-faire economy, R-rated movies about Thai marital arts masters gone off to Sydney Australia to rescue elephants kidnapped by gangsters—and also to avenge the murders of their fathers—would never be made. I believe Paul Krugman argued this last year, and since he's behind the Times Select wall, you can't very well prove that I'm just making that up, can you?

Well, fortunately, that criticism has been ably addressed by this film, and Krugman and those other critics will just have to shut up now.

The movie … well, even by martial arts standards, the movie is low in humor. You'd think, with that premise, that there'd be more. The good-guy star, Tony Jaa, has no acting ability, although he's absolutely astounding in the fight scenes. But (again, even by loose martial arts standards) the action and fight scenes are poorly integrated into the overall plot. It's OK, not great, not awful.

[Before some outraged economist writes in: yes, I know what market failure really is. And I haven't actually checked to see if this movie was subsidized by either the Thai or Australian government, although I would hope not.]


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:42 AM EDT

"People Are Dumb"

Yesterday, one of BBSpot's "Daily Links" was

People Are Dumb
The linked article is titled "World cares more about ducks than dead Iraqis and Hillary Clinton." It bemoans:
On a day when 55 people were killed by bombs in Iraq, the most read story on BBC news was news of a duck who survived gunshot wounds and two days in the fridge.

The story was more popular than Hillary Clinton's announcement to run for President in 2008, the 200-tonne oil leak from a beached ship.

This reminded me of a classic Jack Ziegler cartoon: two men sitting side-by-side on a commuter train, each with his newspaper. One man's paper is headlined: LOTS OF IMPORTANT INFORMATION THAT YOU HAVE TO KNOW. But instead of reading it, he's looking forlornly over his neighbor's shoulder at the other paper; its headline is: GOSSIP, RUMORS & WACKY STUNTS.

The cartoon is over 25 years old (it's in this collection); not much has changed since then, other than that people think things are worse than ever these days.

[I also, inexplicably, am reminded of the Monty Python sketch where a gang of mauraders haul off BBC newsreader John Cleese as he's on the air, droning on: "In Geneva, officials of the Central Clearing Banks met with Herr Voleschtadt of Poland to discuss non-returnable loans on a twelve-year trust basis for the construction of a new zinc-treating works in the Omsk area of Krakow, near the Bulestan border." Finally, they drop him off a pier.]

Anyway. It turns out the linked article's thesis is actually more subtle than "people are dumb":

News becomes dumber because we want more, and then we get addicted to dumb news, and demand more of it.
It's more subtle, but that doesn't make it right, of course. It's pseudo-economic analysis, coupled with a fuzzy collective "we", married to a dubious analogy about addiction, with an equally dubious unstated assumption about what people "should" want from news sources, and what those news sources "should" provide.

I don't want to belabor the obvious here, but … I guess I will anyway:

  • People go to news sources for varied reasons; there's no single "correct" reason.

  • Likewise, news sources jigger and adjust themselves in order to provide what their customers want. But (importantly): they don't do this the same way. The Wall Street Journal doesn't look like USA Today, and almost certainly neither one looks like your local newspaper. Newspapers don't do the same thing as TV news or newsmagazines. Everyone's website is different in content, emphasis, and tone.

  • Hence, as almost always happens in a dynamic market, it's become easier and easier for people to pick and choose a mix of news sources that provides what they want (as opposed to what some earnest scribblers think they "should" want).

  • I don't mean to downplay the problem of so-called "rational ignorance," where the electorate lacks adequate knowledge to make informed voting decisions. But rational ignorance is the opposite of dumb; its the realization that becoming more knowledgable on such matters has high cost with few tangible benefits.

  • But for those folks who choose to peruse to higher-quality news sources: thanks to the Interweb, that choice is wider, easier, and cheaper than ever before. That's a huge win over just a few years back. And that's a fact that the linked article just spaces over.

  • But—I gotta say—just about any rational person (not just the rationally ignorant) would be more interested in the Lazarus Duck story than in a widely anticipated, no-surprises entry into the presidential campaign. Ditto for yet another Iraq body-count story. It's not "dumb" to think so, either.

I also, frankly, think it's a little annoying for the BBSpot guy to complain about reader frivolity. Nobody goes to BBSpot looking for the latest on the oil spill in Devon, either.

URLs du Jour

2007-01-25

  • As an antidote to yesterday's depressing pessimism about Republican GOP candidates, Jim Geraghty says some nice things about John, Mitt, Newt, and Rudy. ("No, wait: the glass is actually half full!")

  • Another must-read today is Tyler Cowan in the New York Times on the topic of inequality. Knowledgable, even-handed and non-demagogic. I'll quote the last two paragraphs:
    The broader philosophical question is why we should worry about inequality — of any kind — much at all. Life is not a race against fellow human beings, and we should discourage people from treating it as such. Many of the rich have made the mistake of viewing their lives as a game of relative status. So why should economists promote this same zero-sum worldview? Yes, there are corporate scandals, but it remains the case that most American wealth today is produced rather than taken from other people.

    What matters most is how well people are doing in absolute terms. We should continue to improve opportunities for lower-income people, but inequality as a major and chronic American problem has been overstated.

    "Inequality" is one of the last rhetorical clubs that one can use to pummel free-market capitalism; it's not too surprising that a lot of politicians and their economist enablers want to grab it.

  • Not appearing on Cute Overload anytime in the forseeable future: the prehistoric frilled shark.


Last Modified 2007-01-28 8:05 AM EST

Lady in the Water

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

I see that this movie has won "Razzie" nominations for Worst Director (M. Night Shyamalan); Worst Supporting Actor (M. Night Shyamalan); Worst Screenplay (it's by M. Night Shyamalan); and Worst Picture. Its Tomatometer score is 24%. Ouch!

But I will defy the critical consensus; it's not that bad! In fact, I stayed awake for the entire thing, an increasingly rare occurrence. It has Paul Giamatti, who's always good. It's filled with colorful characters, and their interactions are interesting and often amusing.

Its premise, however, is completely fantastic, and the plot gets detached from reality sometime in the first quarter hour. It moves into a dreamlike mode, where the characters all (unquestioningly!) buy into the fantasy world, and diligently try to discover its oddball rules and what roles they're playing in it.

I can understand that some people might hate that kind of thing; it's not exactly my favorite cup of tea either. But on its own terms, it worked for me. Maybe for you too, if you can withstand the unspoken but obvious scorn of the video store rental clerk.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:40 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-01-24

  • Tired of wussy Republican senators? Me too. Here's something you can do to register your tiredness.

  • And Erick over at Red State has picked up and aptly summarized something I've noticed about the current crop of GOP presidential candidates: they all suck.

    That is one great benefit George W. Bush has right now. Compared to these guys, W. is the BSD (ask John Derbyshire if you don't know what that is and it has nothing to do with computers) king titan in charge. There is no one to offer inspiration, excitement, or an articulate defense of conservatism out there.

    Maybe looking to politicians for inspiration and excitement is something we need to get over.

  • I was also impressed with Jane Galt's mini-essay on the inherent psychologies and biases involved in the abortion debate. Even if you can't stand to read another thing about abortion, it's very worth reading.

  • <joke lameness="max">And I've been meaning to read Amy Kane's article on procrastination, but … well, you know.</joke>


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:43 AM EDT

Well, Now, If We Wanted to Take the Children to See Komodo Dragon Babies … Where Would We Take the Children to See Komodo Dragon Babies?

The Chester Zoo in Manchester, England.

You can learn much more about Komodo dragons right here.

Five Things You Never Wanted to Know

Janice Brown of Cow Hampshire has blog-meme-tagged me with the "five things" thing. Okay, but … you'll be soooorry.

  1. I always unload the bottom rack of the dishwasher first. Mark my words, friends: do it otherwise, and you're just asking for pain and misery.

  2. I thiink Kristen Wiig is the shiit. (Not original, but nonetheless true.)

  3. My voice sounds like a big cartoon dog swallowed a foghorn.

  4. You know the guy who, when asked what he did, replied "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."?

    Well, I could tell you what I do, but then I'd have already bored you to death.

  5. I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I will tag (but, like Janice, not nag) these good folks: Bill Gnade at Contratimes; both Doug and Skip at Granite Grok; cubicle neighbor Marcus del Greco at Garden of Blog; and Joe Malchow at Dartblog.

Chuck&Buck

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

Mrs. Salad often speaks of "hide in your sweater" moments, when it becomes painful to witness others' embarrassing behavior; you just want to bury your face in something soft to avoid seeing more.

This movie is full of those. Childhood friends Chuck and Buck are reunited after Buck's mother dies, somewhere in the 805 area code. But there's something seriously off about Buck; apparently sheltered by his mom for his entire life, he's mentally and emotionally still a pre-teen, and he's still sexually obsessed with his old buddy. Chuck, in the meantime, has a (female) fiancee and an important job in LA. Buck moves down there in an attempt to bring back what he sees as a happy time in his life.

What follows is not without laughs (it's billed as a comedy/drama), but mainly I alternated between hiding in my sweater and wondering if anyone was going to make it out alive; both major characters seem like their lives could crash and burn at any time.

Interestingly, the movie refuses to facilely portray homosexuality as a healthy adult lifestyle. Poor Buck is a poster child for maladjustment; Chuck wants nothing more than to get his childhood frolics safely behind him.

But the main reason I rented it was because of the presence of Paul Sand and Maya Rudolph—talk about a cast of my dreams! As it turns out, Maya has only a small role, and "Paul Sand" turns out to not be me.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:41 AM EDT

Inconvenient Questions in Denmark

A few weeks back, Jimmy Carter cemented his place in history as Worst Ex-President Ever by publishing an anti-Israel book, which (in the words of 14 former members of the advisory board of the Carter Center) "confused opinion with fact, subjectivity with objectivity and force for change with partisan advocacy."

One of the telling incidents in that kerfuffle was Carter's refusal to debate Alan Dershowitz at Brandeis University. Dershowitz made predictable (and accurate) observations afterward in the Boston Globe:

You can always tell when a public figure has written an indefensible book: when he refuses to debate it in the court of public opinion. And you can always tell when he's a hypocrite to boot: when he says he wrote a book in order to stimulate a debate, and then he refuses to participate in any such debate.
Zing! Which brings us to today:

The WSJ has an amusing (at least in part) article, written by Flemming Rose and Bjorn Lonborg, indicating that Al Gore may have observed Carter's behavior and thought: hey, good idea! Al recently travelled to Denmark to peddle the global warming gospel. Rose, who is an editor for Denmark's biggest newspaper, thought it might be a good idea to set up an interview with Gore. He also thought it would be a good idea to bring along Lomborg to the interview. Lomborg is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, widely perceived as a dissent from environmentalist orthodoxy. And then …

The interview had been scheduled for months. The day before the interview Mr. Gore's agent thought Gore-meets-Lomborg would be great. Yet an hour later, he came back to tell us that Bjorn Lomborg should be excluded from the interview because he's been very critical of Mr. Gore's message about global warming and has questioned Mr. Gore's evenhandedness. According to the agent, Mr. Gore only wanted to have questions about his book and documentary, and only asked by a reporter. These conditions were immediately accepted by Jyllands-Posten. Yet an hour later we received an email from the agent saying that the interview was now cancelled. What happened?
Rose and Lomborg lack an answer to this question: "One can only speculate." It's doubtful that straightforward answers will be forthcoming from Gore or his camp. Instead, they'll be looking for softball questions from more docile interviewers.

The remainder of the article focuses on the issues Gore would have been forced to confront, had he submitted to the interview.

If the name "Flemming Rose" rings a bell, he was the one who made the call to publish the so-called "Mohammed cartoons" earlier last year. It seems that confronting religious orthodoxy of any stripe is one of his strengths.


Last Modified 2007-01-21 7:26 PM EST

True Fact

The prime sponsor of HB92, the bill that would legalize marijuana in New Hampshire, is named Charles Weed.


Last Modified 2007-01-21 6:05 PM EST

Crank

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

I'm not sure why, but more and more these days, I put on one of these thrill-a-minute, nonstop action flicks and wind up nodding off in the middle somewhere.

Theory: I'm finally growing up, no longer impressed with flashy, but essentially empty, movies.

Alternative theory: I'm just getting old.

Anyway, this movie has an unusually absurd premise. A professional hit man (played by Jason Statham) is dosed with a poison which will eventually kill him; the end, however, can be delayed if he keeps adrenaline coursing through his system. He spends this extra time wreaking R-rated revenge on his enemies. Amy Smart plays Jason's girlfriend, for whom (of course) he was about to give up his profession. Dwight Yoakam—always nice to see Dwight—plays Jason's Dr. Feelgood, cooly advising on the best way to avoid death.

There's a lot of flashy self-conciously stylistic cinematography and hyperkinetic editing. If you like that sort of thing for its own sake.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:42 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-01-19

  • You don't often see a full-throated libertarian rant in Slate magazine, so it's worth pointing it out when it happens: Jack Shafer argues for abolishing the FCC and establishing private property rights in the broadcast spectrum.

  • And as long as we have one item on our libertarian wishlist, we might as well make it four. Arnold Kling writes at TCS of the "Big Three" items on his agenda:
    1. Increase the proportion of children who are schooled outside of the public school system.

    2. Increase the proportion of health care spending that is paid for directly by consumers.

    3. Limit the fraction of people's lives where they collect Social Security.

    All three reforms would help decrease dependency on, and interference of, the government in everyday people's lives.

  • On a more sober note, Dean Barnett notes what he calls "the most depressing poll ever", and it's hard to disagree with him. The question is:
    Do you personally want the Iraq plan President Bush announced last week to succeed?
    Before you look, imagine your worst nightmare about how many people don't say "yes".

  • And Professor Bainbridge comments on a discussion that's gone from Robin Hanson to Jane Galt about how much deference and respect to give to the opinions of college professors, with special consideration given to those at "elite" schools. The Prof comments:
    I'm 48 years old. I spent 11 years in college and graduate school, with the latter 7 years spent at elite institutions. I've spent 18 years teaching at law schools ranked in the top 25, which I think safely qualify as elite institutions. Having thus spent 60% of my life hanging out with elite professors, I feel confident in saying that: If all I know about a view was that professors held it more, and elite professors even more so, I would be inclined to be skeptical of that view.
    I'm (uh) slightly older than the Prof, and have hung out at fewer elite institutions, but … what he said.

  • If you're a video whiz who doesn't say "Huh?" when you hear the words "Milton Friedman", you might want to enter this YouTube contest to win a cool $5K. Tell them Pun Salad sent you.

URLs du Jour

2007-01-18

  • We previously noticed the threatening efforts of Weather Channel's "Heidi Cullen, Climate Expert" to silence any hint of skepticism or dissent from global warming orthodoxy. Now Marc Morano of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has a short article mentioning this and similar efforts by others. (Via Drudge.)

    The Blog Hero also has thoughts on the Global Warming Thought Police.

  • Jacob Sullum is skeptical of that claim from Slashdot we passed along yesterday that Senate Bill S.1 would force bloggers "to register with the Federal Government as lobbyists."

    So I'd say there's no immediate reason to start packing for the slammer. Honest, I almost appended "It's Slashdot, so there's a good chance this is alarmist bullshit." to my post yesterday.

  • Jacob also reports on the thuggish behavior of newly elected New Hampshire State Representative Delmar Burridge (D-Keene), who responded via e-mail to a constituent who asked him to support HB92, a pot-decriminalization measure. Representative Burridge declined vociferously, and said in closing:
    I am copying two members of the Keene Police Department in case you want to change your ways and act legal and save your friends.

    You are very passionate in your beliefs and would make a great snitch. It is thrilling to dime on your so called friends.

    Excellent! As I type, asking the Google for "Delmar Burridge" garners 70 hits. This will only go up. I predict at least one link will, when followed, contain the word "asshat".

    Oh yeah. This one. Duh.


Last Modified 2007-01-18 7:03 PM EST

The Illusionist

[Amazon Link] [4.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

A very pleasant surprise. This movie got decent reviews from the critics; I liked it even better than they did.

The film's setting is Eastern Europe in the early 1900's. The aristocracy is beginning to decay and crumble. Little aristocrat Sophie and little son-of-a-furniture-maker Edward find themselves falling in love; once Sophie's family finds out, she's spirited away, and Edward moves on to become, after many years, Eisenheim, master of illusion. And then they meet again, with Sophie about to become engaged to a murderous slimeball prince-in-waiting.

The acting is top-notch, as expected from Edward Norton (as Eisenheim) and Paul Giamatti as the ambivalently corrupt policeman who loves magic, but is tasked with eliminating Eisenheim. Playing Sophie is Jessica Biel (to whom I always refer as "that nice Jessica Biel", ever since she was on Seventh Heaven), and she steps up to go toe-to-toe with these heavy hitters, a pleasant surprise.

The movie is deliberately old-fashioned—when was the last time you saw an iris-to-black transition, for example? The magic is astounding (the great Ricky Jay was an advisor on the film). All in all, a lot of fun to watch.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:44 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-01-17

  • Apparently, we need to add the Patterson family to the list of presidential hopefuls visiting New Hampshire recently. As with the other hopefuls, Pun Salad has so far missed seeing them. And they're being coy about their intentions. But experts say the signs are unmistakable:
    "The Pattersons have an uphill climb, that's for sure," said political analyst George Stephanopoulos on his ABC program This Week. "But this New Hampshire trip vaults them onto the national stage, sending the message that they are serious about '08. All that's left now is the paperwork."

    "Honestly, who in their right mind would visit the Audubon Society of New Hampshire if they weren't running for office?" he added.

  • Jeff Goldstein is back at Protein Wisdom; while his replacement bloggers did a decent job, … well, there ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby. If you weren't particularly persuaded by yesterday's slam at Dennis Kucinch's attempt to revive the "Fairness Doctrine" ("But … how can you be against Fairness?"), please check Jeff's post where he responds to Taylor Marsh's defense of same.
    … Marsh is simply upset that in her chosen field of endeavor, the product she hopes to peddle just doesn't sell well. And so like any other mouthpiece of the grievance culture, Marsh is looking for the government to step in and pump up her popularity artificially. That she wishes to couch her desire for government to intercede in the choices of consumers as "FAIR" is simply another shining example of how "fairness," to progressives, is all about equality of outcome.though they hope very much to convince us that it is really about equality of opportunity.
    The Baby Jesus loves Jeff Goldstein.

  • Powerline reports NH's own Senator Gregg is attempting to give the President "recission" authority, effectively reviving the line-item veto. Andy Roth also is keeping tabs. Nice to see Republicans coming up with good ideas … much too late.

  • On the other hand, Slashdot is reporting
    Under Senate Bill S.1, political bloggers with a readership of over 500 who comment on policy matters or hope to incite 'grassroots' action amongst their readers would be forced to register with the Federal Government as lobbyists.
    See you in jail, folks!


Last Modified 2007-04-18 3:48 PM EDT

Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys

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

I don't think very hard about the reasons, but it's difficult for good movies to be made from good books. Even the sucesses seem to be a step down in quality. (For example, The Princess Bride was a fantastic book; the movie was pretty good, but not as good as the book.)

It's even harder, I think to translate humor between media; it's unusully context-dependent. That's why we say things like, "You had to be there, I guess."

All this is leading up to say: this movie isn't very good. Even though Dave Barry is one of the funniest guys on the planet. The book on which this movie is based is very funny. But it doesn't translate well.

The movie is (essentially) a bunch of skits on the general theme of guyness. The actors (except for the immortal John Cleese) aren't comically gifted. Dave appears as a narrator, and he's not bad. It would have been better to just have had him onscreen reading his book out loud. Then we could have turned the picture off and it would have been like a book on tape. That might have worked.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:41 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-01-16

  • Yesterday, I briefly mentioned James Carroll's idiotic MLK op-ed in the Boston Globe. One of his overwrought babblings:
    The disgrace of US poverty, now necessarily seen in the context of a globalized economy, is a footnote to the smoldering catastrophe of world wide disparities between rich and poor. Cities, especially in the southern hemisphere, teem with desperate people, and no system of authority or organization seems remotely able to respond.
    Today brings a welcome whiff of reality from Mary Anastasia O'Grady, writing in the WSJ:
    Not only did the world-wide trend toward greater economic liberty hold steady over the past year, but the incomes of poor individuals across the globe are rising as result. The world isn't only growing richer. The gap between the per-capita income of have-not populations and that of the developed world is narrowing.
    This is in the context of this year's release of the 2007 Index of Economic Freedom, which has good news (the US is the fourth-freest economy in the world) and bad (we're only number 4). You can buy the dead-trees report at the link, or download it for free. The report's conclusions are not surprising: if you really care about improving the economic conditions of great masses of people, you need to not prattle about "economic justice", but instead encourage economic liberty.

    Fearless prediction: James Carroll will not read it.

  • Also yesterday, I referred to a survey showing the dismal knowledge of college students on all matters pertaining to American government and history. But perhaps that performance isn't all that surprising when college faculty and administration themselves have only a dim grasp of (say) the First Amendment. Today's reminder of that sad fact comes from FIRE, which is doggedly trying to get Marquette University to clarify or justify its free speech policies, triggered by its censorship of a Dave Barry quote from last year. Marquette's responses have been (so far) confusing and contradictory. Currently they seem have adopted the "stick fingers in ears, hum loudly" strategy.

  • Of course, this whole First Amendment thing can be confusing even to the folks who take oaths to preserve, protect, and defend it. Prof Bainbridge notes the latest antics from Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who is threatening to bring back the "Fairness Doctrine". Worse, he's in posession of even more power these days, recently named chair of a subcommittee that overlooks the FCC.

    Kucinich is quoted as saying

    We know the media has become the servant of a very narrow corporate agenda … The entire domestic agenda has been ignored while the focus has been on the acceleration of wealth upwards.
    In short: a Congressman attempting to use his power to get the media to slant things more to his liking. Gee, it's wonderful to see that whole liberal/libertarian alliance thing working out so well.


Last Modified 2007-04-18 3:46 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-01-15

  • No major wisdom here for MLK Day, and I would have great difficulty doing anything comparable to the tributes at Power Line, Joe's Dartblog, and (above all), Bill Gnade at Contratimes who remembers what most forget.

  • Of course, one of the other features of MLK day, all too predictable, is for op-edders to arrogate Dr. King's legacy to their own pet causes. It's always a safe bet that you can catch at least one example in the Boston Globe, and this year's arrogator is James Carroll. We like to say, being optimistic, that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, but Carroll's clock stopped back in the sixties.

    We honor King today not as a way of recalling the past, but as a way of resuming his campaign in the present. A dream, yes. But equally a three-sided political movement. No racial justice without economic justice! No justice, period, without peace!

    Carrolls' column is worth reading for its hallucinatory recall of the past and its rambling tendentiousness in its view of the present.

  • The WaPo, for its part, has an article on how unaware college students are of MLK:

    In a recent survey of college students on U.S. civic literacy, more than 81 percent knew that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was expressing hope for "racial justice and brotherhood" in his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

    That's the good news.

    Most of the rest surveyed thought King was advocating the abolition of slavery.

    Oh well. College kids. The article goes out of its way to indict the federal No Child Left Behind law for this travesty.

  • But the "recent survey" described in the Post article has a whole website devoted to it, worth checking out if you're feeling inordinately cheerful about what college students know about American history and government. (You can also take a small quiz yourself. <pandering target="reader" option="shameless">I'm sure any Pun Salad readers would score 100%, though.</pandering>)

    It turns out that the MLK question is actually one the students surveyed did the best on. Among the dismal results:

    Fewer than half [of college seniors], 47.9 percent, recognized that the line "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," is from the Declaration of Independence. And an overwhelming majority, 72.8 percent, could not correctly identify the source of the idea of "a wall of separation" between church and state. … Nearly half of all college seniors, 49.4 percent, did not know that The Federalist Papers … were written in support of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Seniors actually scored lower than freshmen on this question by 5.7 percentage points, illustrating negative learning while at college.

    Kids, negative learning is not normally supposed to occur until … uh, you get to be somewhere around my age.

  • Speaking of negative learning, Ronald Cass pens an incisive essay on What We Don't Know about Sandy Berger's theft of classified documents from the National Archives. He's especially stinging on the indolence of the watchdog press:

    Those who wrap themselves so frequently in the mantra of the people's right to know should want to know the truth - all the time. Sadly, today's would-be Woodwards and Bernsteins look more like ostriches than hawks, showing no curiosity about what Sandy Berger was hiding. Had that been the attitude when Watergate first appeared as a minor news story, Richard Nixon would have served out his full second term. The rest, as they say, is history.

  • In the same vein, Instapundit points out the AP flat-out misrepesenting the history and status of the Kyoto Protocol, in a slam at the Bush administration. Glenn's mild, as usual:

    Anyone can make a mistake, but the AP's seem to lean heavily in an anti-Bush direction.

    Glenn apparently hasn't heard that AP changed its name to "Abject Partisanship."

  • But it's just not the American MSM you can't trust; Language Log catches the BBC deleting evidence of its past credulousness as diligently as Stalin once erased Trotsky from historic photographs. A psychic parrot is involved, so I know you'll want to check it out.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:47 AM EDT

Idiocracy

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

I'm a major fan of Office Space, Mike Judge's previous major movie. So maybe I had my hopes up too high, but Idiocracy doesn't quite make it up to that standard.

The premise is that Joe and Rita are picked for an ill-fated suspended-animation experiment, by dint of their extreme averageness. They're supposed to be awakened in a year, but they're forgotten, and instead sleep until 2505. The world of 2505 is one where the intelligence of humankind has crashed, due to comparative overbreeding of, well, the stupid. Mike Judge is not a believer in the Flynn Effect.

So the world of 2505 is dumb, loud, and crude. Worse, it teeters on the brink of survival, as people have forgotten the finer points of technology and agriculture. Joe and Rita spend most of the movie trying to find the "Time Masheen" that will take them back to their own era.

The movie is packed with merciless satire on the habits and proclivities of the unintelligent. There are throwaway sight gags galore. It's just not much more than that.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:43 AM EDT

On The Wealth of Nations

[Amazon Link]

This book is an early entry in a series from the Atlantic Monthly/Grove Press, "Books That Changed the World". Other entries, by other authors, are devoted to Clausewitz's On War, Darwin's Origin of Species, the Bible, and the Qur'an (or, if you're a hick like me, the Koran). I will irresponsibly speculate on a bunch of books I never read, and say that none of them is as funny as this one, on Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.

For example, from the chapter titled "Why is The Wealth of Nations So Damn Long?":

All explanations start out brief. But pretty soon Smith gets enmeshed in clarifications, intellectually caught out, Dagwood-like, carrying his shoes up the stairs of exegesis at 3:00 a.m., expounding his head off, while that vexed and querolous spouse, the reader, stands with arms crossed and slipper tapping on the second-floor landing of comprehension.
But it's not just a laff riot, as people who've read some of the recent O'Rourke works know; he's not just one of America's funniest writers, he's also a decent thinker on serious topics. Here, P. J. wades through each section of Smith, picking up and explicating the good bits, and is suitably derisive when Smith, rarely, wanders off into tall grass. He fits The Wealth of Nations into the context of Smith's life, his other works, and the state of the world in the late 18th century.

If I had to pick a flaw in the book, it's that a few of P. J.'s witticisms are very timely. Will a crack about Britney Spears make any sense to most readers in 2017? (I hope not.)


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:42 AM EDT

World Trade Center

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

I remember when Oliver Stone was named to direct this movie, the dread was palpable in the rightwing fever swamps I hang out in. Surprisingly, Stone plays it utterly straight and conventional here, constructing a paean to the bravery of ordinary people on September 11.

The movie concentrates on two Port Authority cops trapped in the WTC rubble and how their families await word of their fate. And that's the major problem with the movie; absent the 9/11 context, this isn't that interesting a story. But the sharp focus on a few individuals tends to lose that context.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:44 AM EDT

A Scanner Darkly

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

This movie is based on a semi-autobiographical Philip K. Dick novel. The cool thing here is rotoscoping, which takes live-action footage and transforms it into something that looks more like animation. In this movie, it's useful for portraying drug-induced hallucinations, a suit that disguises the indentity of its wearer, and Winona Ryder's breasts.

The main problem, though, is that the movie doesn't have much to do. The premise is: undercover cop gets his brain addled by "Substance D", a drug that plays havoc with the normal functioning between the two hemispheres of the brain. There's a bunch of stuff about paranoia, betrayal, and ubiquitous high-tech surveillance. But all this is padded out with nightmarish drug-fueled wacky hijinks and elliptical dialog, which gets old fast. (Even Robert Downey Jr.'s motormouth character seems initially witty, but it's a trick that goes on too long.)

I don't own the book, but the film duplicates part of Dick's afterword:

This has been a story about people who were punished entirely too much for what they did.
… followed by an impressively long list of deceased and permanenly-damaged people. Then:
In memoriam. These were comrades whom I had; there are no better. They remain in my mind, and the enemy will never be forgiven. The "enemy" was their mistake in playing. Let them play again, in some other way, and let them be happy.
According to Wikipedia, the afterword also contains the statement
[D]rug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to move out in front of a moving car.
… but that didn't make it into the movie. Wonder why not?

The DVD includes interviews with the participants, and also some old footage of Philip K. Dick discussing his (admitted) paranoia and his persecution by the US government; how much of the latter is an imaginary result of the former is anyone's guess.

Winona Ryder is also interviewed, and she makes the obligatory point that, gee, government snooping into our lives is really bad. She didn't say anything about security cameras at Saks.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:44 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

Stardate 2007-01-10

  • "The name's Kirk. James Kirk."

    No, I can't see it. But I couldn't see him as 007, either.

  • Another entry in our occasional series, "Ripping Holes in New York Times Articles": Thomas Sowell ridicules the headline of a recent story on the increased percentage of Asian-descent students at schools that have jettisoned race-based admissions:
    At 41 percent Asian, Berkeley could be the new face of merit-based admissions. The problem for everybody else: lots less room at elite colleges.
    Sowell comments:
    Anybody of any race who takes a place at any college leaves one less place for somebody else. Does an Asian American take up any more space than anybody else? Are they all Sumo wrestlers?
    To the slight credit of the NYT article's author: the "less room" terminology doesn't actually appear in the article, or, as near as I can tell in the Web version of the story's headline.

    A small personal anecdote: back in the day, I went to a junior high school with a high Jewish population, which turned out to be an eye-opening experience, academically speaking. (Also, in late September of 1963, I got to learn what "Rosh Hashana" meant: "75% of your classmates disappear.")

    I'll shamelessly generalize: "diversity" doesn't matter; what really benefits students is being in the midst of a bunch of smart and hard-working kids.

  • In keeping with our "more Accuweather" policy, we quote their Joe Bastardi, which is apparently his real name:
    Those who think that winter 2006-2007 is going to remain mild are in for a shock," said Bastardi. "Winter is likely to come with a vengeance. A week from now, we'll start seeing truly cold air across much of the country, and we expect this change to last."

    Added Bastardi, "Whether we end up with seasonably cold weather, or something far worse, remains to be seen. There are indications that this winter could parallel severe winters of the past. Even should we not see an extremely cold and snowy conclusion to winter, you can be sure that by the end of the month, when those in the Northeast are shoveling out their driveways and sidewalks, the mild weather we're experiencing now will be a distant memory."

    Now, before you go out and buy a couple extra snowblowers: last May, Bastardi also predicted a scarifying 2006 hurricane season (in a gutsy move, Accuweather left the page up), so you might want to be appropriately skeptical. (Via the Blog Hero.)

  • In our "Compare and Contrast" series (of which this is the first, and perhaps to be the only, entry):

    • Over at Atlantic Ave., Amy Kane writes on her vacation:
      Ice. Bait. Beer. These are the three most beautiful words in the English language in the Florida Keys.

    • And then Dave Barry chimes in:
      A GOOD NEWS STORY SHOULD CONTAIN ALL THE IMPORTANT ELEMENTS

      Stupid criminals, Florida, and beer.

    No, I'm not sure what this odd convergence implies. But it may have something to do with the famous quote:
    Beer: The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.
        (Homer Simpson)
    That, and other beer quotes, are here.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:47 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-01-09

  • Yeah, I want one.

  • George Reisman subjects a New York Times article on "conservation" efforts in Japan to a brutal analysis. A panoply of expensive subsidies, high taxes, wide-ranging regulation, and government hectoring have brought the "glorious green future" there, and George is less than impressed with the wondrous results.
    We can supposedly all look forward to the day when we will be as advanced as the Japanese and energy will cost us twice as much as it now does. When we too will be unable to afford central heating and will have to live in houses half their present size. When we will have to gather our entire family into the one heated room in the house. When we will have to follow one another into the same bathwater, and then use that bathwater to wash our clothes, which we will have to dry outdoors, as our great-grandparents did. When we will have to wear long underwear and sweaters to keep warm indoors.
    (Via Poor and Stupid.)

  • Drew Cline (among other things) takes notice of Katrina vanden Heuvel's list of the ten bills she want passed in the new Congress, and comments:
    Notice how many of them seek to use government to compel people to behave as vanden Heuvel wants them to behave.
    Yeah. It's another kick in the teeth to that whole liberal/libertarian alliance thing.

  • There's something about 6174. (Via BBSpot.)

Forecast: Increased use of Accuweather

Richard Morrison at the Open Market blog relays a report that The Weather Channel (TWC) is planning on moving its "brand" from "functional to emotional." One important component is fear-mongering on global warming. (I mean, fear is an emotion, right?)

TWC's "Heidi Cullen, Climate Expert", blogs here. Her most recent post tut-tuts that a DC "local meteorologist" (one Brian van de Graaff) was caught expressing uncertainty on global warming. Heidi was not slow to threaten Mr. van de Graaff with professional death:

If a meteorologist has an AMS Seal of Approval, which is used to confer legitimacy to TV meteorologists, then meteorologists have a responsibility to truly educate themselves on the science of global warming. … If a meteorologist can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn't give them a Seal of Approval.

Charming. But not an unusual tactic from that crowd.

Howl's Moving Castle

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

This is the usual work of genius from Hayao Miyazaki. There's more beauty and creativity in five milliseconds of this movie than in the entirety of Barnyard.

The hero is young Sophie, who lives a humdrum life, employed in a hat store. The hat store is, however, set in a world of steam power and magic, where a far-off castle wandering in the hills is seen by people as just a slightly unusual occurrence. One day, however, Sophie's—literally—swept off her feet by a wizard. And it's off on a life-changing adventure.

As is the norm in Miyazaki's work, not everything is as it seems initially. The plot is devilishly complex, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't do well on a quiz. The world you're dumped into is full of characters that are operating under their own rules and motivations, most of which aren't spelled out. Never mind, it's fun to watch.

The talent brought in to do the voices in English is first-rate: Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Christian Bale, and Billy Crystal.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:43 AM EDT

The Descent

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

The reviews for this were adulatory; it's almost as if this is the Citizen Kane of horror movies. I don't quite buy that, sorry. It's not bad, though, just not for the squeamish.

As usual, there are lessons: if your yearly thrilling adventure vacation with your girlfriends ends in bloody tragedy one year, you should probably skip it next year. But noooo, nobody follows that commonsense advice here. Instead they go spelunking, get incredibly lost, and meet up with some guys that make Gollum look like George Clooney. A bad time is had by all. There's a lot of noise, shaky camerawork, and fast cutting, which usually indicates the special effects budget wasn't big enough.

No spoilers, but if you're at all familiar with the genre, you'll know it does not end with all the people getting out of the cave, brushing off the cave dust, congratulating each other on how their intrepid teamwork, quick thinking, and courage rescued them from a close scrape.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:42 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-01-05

  • A thought-provoking essay from Peter Wood on how (what he calls) the "New Anger" is likely to doom any liberal/libertarian alliance. It's an introduction to the thesis explored by Wood in his new book A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Today. Which attempts, apparently, to answer the question: why are Those People so pissed off, bitter, and humorless all the time?

    If you're interested, you might want to look at Stanley Kurtz's review of Wood's book. You might also want to check out David Weigel's attempted rebuttal to all this at Hit&Run.

    And I should note: for all the ill-tempered kvetching I do about ideological uniformity here at UNH, the library was happy to order Wood's book at my request. Good for them.

  • Last year 'bout this time we pointed to Radley Balko's list of the "pettiest, silliest, most intrusive, God-awfullest legislation set for either a vote, or set to take effect this month" in New Hampshire.

    Mid-list was HB 1662, a bill establishing the crime of peonage. As it turns out this bill was passed, signed, and took effect this past Monday. Peonage is now a class A misdemeanor in the Granite State. So knock it off, you peons. You were able to pull that crap here for two hundred plus years, but as of 2007 you're no longer welcome.

    In the meantime, Don Gorman of the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance reports no petty, silly, intrusive, God-awful legislation was proposed on the legislature's opening day. Because no legislation at all was proposed on the legislature's opening day. But give them time.

  • Andrew Roth points to a website that's probably as good right now as it's ever going to be. (Note: unless you click within a few days, this will probably, and unfortunately, not make sense.)

  • And I'll just yank this in full from Inside Higher Ed:

    A $1 million sculpture designed to represent the fragility of Earth collapsed under its own weight overnight Wednesday on the Kennesaw State University campus, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The 175-ton sculpture by a Finnish artist was unveiled just three months ago, but campus officials cited faulty glue as a possible cause of its quick disintegration. The phrase "our fragile craft" had been engraved on the piece — "kind of ironic," said one university employee.

    "Indeed."

URLs du Jour

2007-01-04

Whoa, it's just gotten way too political around here lately. Let's revert to our apolitical geeky side today, OK?

  • For example (via BBSpot), you'll want to check out The Best Geek Quotes. I actually have a t-shirt with the current favorite quote:
    There are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't.
    but I'm also quite fond of:
    A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history - with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.

  • Also (via Joanne Jacobs), Miss Cellania has grouped (heh!) together some math jokes. For Pun Salad readers who come here actually looking for puns, there are a large number of unit conversions falling in that category, for example:
    365.25 days of drinking low-calorie beer: 1 lite year
    But you need to take things with a grain of salt. This, for example, is just wrong:
    1 billion piccolos: 1 gigolo
    Being a pedantic-style geek, I need to point out that the pico prefix is 10-12, so to get up to a gigolo, you need 1021 (or 1 sextillion) piccolos.

  • I would imagine, if you're an author, it's immensely gratifying to hear that someone famous has been seen perusing your book. Well, unless you are Dave Barry, the book is Dave Barry's Money Secrets, and the famous person reading your book is … well, click here to find out. And then you might want to start buying gold.

  • As you may know, the text part of incoming spam messages is often filled with semi-coherent rambling in order to fool/poison Bayesian-based spam detectors. One message today contained a sentence that speaks to college students (and ex-college students) everywhere:
    If I don't learn who killed Kennedy, I'm dropping the course.

    The Google managed to find the source of that sentence here; looks like spam software is crawling the web looking for stuff to make their messages appear innocuous.

    (I seldom read my spam, but we've installed some new rules in our local spam-detection software. Caught this one just fine despite the nonsense. So eat me, spammers.)

Barnyard

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

First, a disclaimer: this movie was a pick from Mrs. Salad.

It's stupid. The male cows have udders. It's awful. It's a Lion King ripoff. It's not funny. The movie is 89 minutes long, and about 90 minutes too long. The music is uninspired. It's horrible. A massive waste of time for everyone involved.

I didn't like this movie very much.

You know what would be kind of neat, though? An animated movie based on Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons. I had much more fun imagining that than I had watching Barnyard.


Last Modified 2012-10-21 6:41 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-01-03

  • Kip Esquire aims withering fire on "universal health care". Key line:
    Universal health care: A lie inside a fraud wrapped in an ulterior motive...
    Kip attacks on a number of fronts, some you've probably considered before, some maybe not.

  • At the CEI Open Market blog, Chris Homer detects cold and calculated cynicism in the NYT's recent article which showers Strange New Respect on global warming non-alarmists.
    In so doing, the Times thereby also helpfully rationalizes their political allies' looming failure/refusal to do precisely what they have pounded the table intemperantly for for nearly six years, which is now within their grasp, and which therefore appears far less inviting: rapid — and, we now know, rash — enactment of stringent restrictions on energy use emissions. With the gavel about to switch hands, the Times apparently (and rightly) sensed that this would be a difficult task to affect while simultaneously seeking to maintain a new and fragile majority and also capture the White House.
    Don't worry, though. The CEI folks ("and their ilk") are still despised and vilified heretics in NYT-land, so the world hasn't turned all the way upside down.

  • Also enjoyable are a couple of reductio ad absurdum arguments concerning minimum wage legislation. First, from Greg Mankiw:
    Consider this policy aimed to help workers at the bottom of the income distribution:

    1. A wage subsidy for unskilled workers, paid for by
    2. A tax on employers who hire unskilled workers.

    Now, if you think like an economist, you might wonder about the logic of part 2 of this proposal. You might say, "A tax on the hiring of unskilled workers would discourage their employment, offsetting some of the benefits they would get from the wage subsidy. It would be better to finance the wage subsidy with a more general tax, rather than with a tax targeted specifically on employers of unskilled workers."

    I agree. So why did I bring up this proposal?

    Because it looks just like … guess what?

    Second, from Don Boudreaux:

    Why doesn't government require each employer to hire a minimum number of full-time employees? If, as the proponents of modest increases in the minimum-wage argue, "reasonable" government mandates that raise the costs of running a business have little or no ill effect on the labor market, why not also legislate — in addition to a minimum-wage — a "minimum workforce"?

  • But it's not all shameless recycling of libertarian talking points here at Pun Salad today; we also recycle conservative talking points. Jonah Goldberg has assigned a wonderfully apt label to something I'd previously noticed, the media's tendency to lionize conservatives once they're safely pushin' up daisies: the Tito Puente Effect.

Last Modified 2007-01-03 7:43 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2007-01-02

  • Shawn Macomber brings his sharp eye to John Edwards' campaign event last week in Portsmouth NH, with special attention to the arrangements that left a lot of ticket-holders standing outside.
    Catering to politicians, unions and the media while The People are left standing in the cold New England air is an interesting launch for such a class conscious pseudo-populist campaign, but it was not without its logic: If Edwards people had adjusted the plastic cordon line back three feet to accommodate all comers, every major newspaper in the country could not have used variations on the same ready-made headline, "Overflow Crowds Greet Edwards!"
    I don't want to go all Holden Caulfield on you, but Edwards strikes me as unusually phony, even for a politician. Shawn's appropriately merciless.

    Patrick Hynes was also there (with YouTube video). Missing in action: Pun Salad, totally and blissfully unaware of Edwards being here until after he was gone.

  • David Frum remembers Gerry Ford the libertarian:
    Among his very first acts in office, he signed legislation ending the 40-year ban on the private ownership of gold.

    It sounds incredible but from 1933 utnil 1974, it was a very serious offense for a US citizen to own monetary gold. Jewelry was ok, but ingots and kruggerands were strictly prohibited.

    Everyone remembers FDR ending Prohibition; it's less well-remembered he set another Prohibition up.

  • Don Luskin points out the coming 180-degree Democrat turnaround from pre-election deficit-hawk fiscal rhetoric to post election fiscal realpolitik. Hint: it involves FDR's old formula of "tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect." Well, hey, we still get to own gold.

  • But it's not all FDR-bashing here at Pun Salad today. Jane Galt has a nomination for the "stupidest smart person in the world." You'll want to check it out, if only to make sure it's not you.

    Jane's pointer, by the way is to the 2007 Edge Annual Question ("What are you optimistic about? Why?") asked of a number of smart people. I couldn't find anything bloggable, but you might be luckier.

Bruce Schneier is Not Exactly Beyond Fear

Bruce Schneier is a well-known security expert, and he recently deemed something "very scary".

Eek! What was it?

It's this research out of the University of Washington's Computer Science Department; it looks at Apple Computer's Nike + iPod Sport Kit, which consists of a small transmitting sensor placed in one of your Nike shoes, and an equally small receiver you plug into your iPod nano. As you run or walk, the shoe sensor transmits information on your steps to the iPod, which displays time, distance, pace, etc. Essentially, it's a very expensive (but very cool) pedometer.

Expensive but cool, that's Apple in a nutshell. So what's the scary part?

The UW researchers claim:

… our research shows that the wireless capabilities in this new gadget can negatively impact a consumer's personal privacy and safety.
Whoa! How does that happen?

The UW researchers found that the in-shoe transmitter sends out a unique identifier, so that (presumably), when in use, the receiver won't be confused by other transmitters in the vicinity. They demonstrated that the signal can be picked up from about 60 feet away. They built receivers and wrote software that can "identify" transmitters as their owners walk or run near them.

Oh. So, um, really, what's the scary part?

Well, that's where it helps to have a very active imagination. From the UW page:

Since the unique identifier doesn't change over time, someone could use the sensor's broadcast messages to track which locations you visit, and when you visit them. A bad person could use this information to compromise your personal privacy and safety. We describe specific example scenarios, like stalking, in our paper.
Their paper is here (in PDF), and it does go into more detail. For example:
Marvin is a jealous boyfriend who suspects that his girlfriend, Alice, is cheating on him with his best friend Bob. Alice wears Nike+ shoes and uses a Nike+iPod Sport Kit. We assume that Marvin knows the UID of the Nike+iPod sensor in Alice's shoe; Marvin could easily learn this UID by, for example, shaking Alice's shoe in front of a Nike+iPod detector or by turning his Nike+iPod detector on while walking Alice to her car. Alternately, suppose that, unbeknownst to Alice, Marvin maliciously implants a Nike+iPod sensor in one of Alice's shoes, or hides a sensor in Alice's jacket or purse.
The UW researchers then imagine that Marvin installs a receiver near Bob's house, so he can detect when Alice visits, and for how long. He can do the same thing to Bob. He can install a transmitter near Alice's jogging path and see if Bob is also jogging by there at the same time.

But … but … why is Marvin going to all that trouble? If he's that suspicious, and he doesn't respect Alice's privacy, why doesn't he just follow her?

Well, exactly. The UW researchers have (indeed) come up with a neat hack. But their attempts to expand it into something more than a neat hack don't really pass cursory skepticism. Their scenarios posit "attackers" who are doggedly intent on using their Nike+iPod detectors to carry out their nefarious activities. But, in all cases, those nefarious activities could (and in the real world, would) be accomplished more effectively with either no technology or (in some cases) more appropriate technology, like cheap video cameras.

[For example, if you want to get fancy, planting something like this doodad on the person you want to track would seem to be much more effective than any imagined Nike+iPod-based attack.]

But what's really ironic about this is Bruce Schneier's "very scary" pronouncement. His most recent book is titled Beyond Fear, in which he makes the case against reflexive and reactionary "defenses" against terrorism. He memorably railed against imaginining movie-plot threats, even sponsoring a contest where he invited his readers to submit their scariest terrorist scenarios. If he'd been a little more critical in reviewing the UW research, he'd have seen that their "scary" conclusions are based largely on movie-plot threats. And not even very good movies: at best, we're talking the ones that premiere on the Lifetime channel.

One can't help but suspect that Schneier's lack of skepticism is caused by the fact that he can hype the UW research to support a conclusion he's previously reached:

Unless we enact some sort of broad law requiring companies to add security into these sorts of systems, companies will continue to produce devices that erode our privacy through new technologies.
Fear-mongering is OK, seemingly, when it's deployed in support of causes he agrees with, in this case legislation and regulation. Disappointing.

Last Modified 2017-12-05 4:46 PM EST