URLs du Jour

2007-03-30

  • Great couple of articles from Noemie Emery and Patrick Hynes on fickleness toward politicians. Noemie reflects on the Strange New Respect afforded to once-reviled conservatives (specifically Ronald Reagan) by the media (specifically Time) once they are safely dead; Patrick adds on the mirror image of once-lionized liberal politicians getting swept into the memory hole once their usefulness expires.

  • Some readers know that my Day Job involves managing some of the e-mail systems and accounts at UNH. It's always interesting to see what my peers are up to at other institutions of higher learning. Today brings news from Georgetown U, where their mascot, Jack the Bulldog, has his own e-mail account and entry in the online Campus Directory. Jack's in the Theology Department. I would not have guessed that.

    UNH's mascot is a wildcat, and we no longer attempt to maintain a live one. The original, Maizie, didn't live long in captivity; she's now contentedly stuffed, and does not read her e-mail.

  • Objects of Geek Affection Department: first that nice Pam Beesely from The Office bares all for Wired magazine, then prickly übergeek Chloe O'Brien from 24 does some sort of weapon modelling in outfits not appropriate for CTU. What's the world coming to, eh?

URLs du Jour

2007-03-29

  • A few days early, Jack Shafer offers some tips on how to crank one's skepticism filters up to 11 in preparation for April Fool's Day. None of our readers are gullible enough to need it, of course, but you might want to pass it along to your some of your more credulous friends.

  • In sad news, former Red Sox pitcher Ugueth ("Ugi") Urbina has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for attempted murder. About the only beacon of sunshine here is the tagline automatically appended to all Yahoo!'s baseball-related news:

    Use what you learned in this article to dominate at Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball '07

  • It's not all bad news for ex-Sox, though, as Nomar Garciaparra is now the proud father of twin daughters. Talk about divergent life paths! Yes, Yahoo! suggests that you also use what you learned in this article to dominate their fantasy baseball league.

  • However, it's very, very bad news for ABC's The View; Rosie O'Donnell has apparently turned into a large seething petri dish of leftwing paranoid conspiracy, subjecting viewers a "9 minute rant" about 9/11.

    The link goes to a loon site, and "rant" is their term, not mine. They also say that Rosie was "reaching around 30 million viewers," but I'd wager that number was a lot lower by the time the ninth minute rolled around.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:29 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-03-28

  • If you liked the "Crisis ≠ Danger + Opportunity" post from a few days back, Ben Zimmer at Language Log has more fascinating information. (No, I'm not being sarcastic; it is fascinating, dammit!)

  • Apparently, Barack Obama delights in using the term "social Darwinism" against any political foe who might happen to favor free markets, property rights, and less government dependence. Betsy Newmark catches a recent occurrence, but the Google reports [as I type] 24500 hits for Obama "social darwinism", indicating that he's been deploying this rhetoric for a number of years.

    Well, it's better than calling us Nazis, I suppose. Betsy points out the implications: despite Obama being the alleged fresh-faced candidate of shiny new ideas and approaches, he's really philosophically attached to collectivist old-school approaches. Will Wilkinson, writing nearly two years ago, came to the same conclusion, dating Obama's philosophy as "coming from 1935 or thereabouts."

  • Staying in our Democrat-quoting mode, Hillary Clinton was recently quoted in Newsday speaking on heath care to a forum at UNLV:
    "And people are going to have to take better care of themselves," she added. "We cannot afford all the illness that folks are bringing on themselves. ... We need to start working on that, myself included."
    This is via Ann Althouse, who points out there's a couple of ways to interpret that, one more charitable than the other. I'm afraid I'm betting on the other, but maybe that's just the Social Darwinist talking.

  • A good article telling real inconvenient truths about American health care contains a version of the classic P. J. O'Rourke quote:
    If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free.
    Hillary makes the corollary pretty obvious: if you think the nanny state is intrusive and annoying now, wait until it starts paying for your health care.

  • Michelle Malkin notes the recent anonymous threats and vile comments directed against Kathy Sierra, the unprecedented reaction to them, and asks, simply enough: "Where have y'all been?" Good point. Rough language at the link.

Love Shannon, Despise the AARP

"Me too" posts are lame and lazy, but every so often I see something that captures my own thoughts perfectly, and expresses them better than I would be likely to do myself. Such is the case with Shannon Love's recent post at the ChicagoBoyz blog, eloquently titled "!@#$% the AARP!"

The AARP's new TV ad campaign in which innocent little children earnestly lecture the audience about how "important it is to keep promises" fills me with a blind rage every time I see it.
Oh, yes. Hell, yes. I wish I'd thought to point out these slick and slimy insults to our intelligence out myself, but Shannon has a definitive analysis.

The children in the ad campaign speak with the earnest and hectoring certainty of the stupid, demanding a continued cash flow from workers to retirees. This neatly ignores the upcoming fiscal trainwreck that our promise-now-pay-later entitlement system will impose on younger generations, guaranteed to make those kids in the ads poorer than they would be otherwise once they grow up. I'd appreciate the irony, if I weren't so deeply offended and annoyed.

I have a dim glimmer of hope that these ads are so transparently phony that they'll make more people think: "Hey, wait a minute. Wouldn't it be a better plan to make more people less dependent on government handouts?" Unfortunately, I don't see much evidence of that.

School for Scoundrels

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

This movie got below-average reviews and was a box-office dud, but I like both Jon Heder and Billy-Bob Thornton, and I remembered the TV ads as kind of appealing. So I picked it up, and it's not too bad. Not great, but a decent way of spending a couple hundred minutes on a Sunday afternoon.

Heder plays Roger, a shy and good-hearted "meter maid". He's put upon by his peers, disrespected and abused by the citizenry, ineffectual in his volunteer work, and hopelessly infatuated with the cute chick down the hall. He falls into an "adult education" class run by "Dr. P", played by Billy-Bob, who's a take-no-prisoners, me-first sonofabitch.

There's a pretty good supporting cast (including my brother Horatio). The movie makes an honest effort to get Roger's characterization right. The first few minutes are a great example of "show, don't tell" moviemaking. If they'd kept that up, it could have been a great little movie, instead of a not-awful little movie. But it kept me awake and laughing most of the way through.

Consumer alert: the original movie was PG-13, and this "Unrated Ballbuster Edition" DVD has added bad language and slapstick crotch-related violence that (I estimate) would bounce it up to a PG-14.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:23 PM EDT

Al Gore's Writers Make Him Look Like a Pretentious Blowhard

Or maybe he writes his own stuff, in which case he makes himself look like a pretentious blowhard.

Or … light begins to dawn … perhaps Al just is a pretentious blowhard. That theory has the advantage of simplicity.

What's this all about? It's Mr. No-Controlling-Legal-Authority's recent testimony to Congress, where he said:

As many of you know, the way that the Chinese and the Japanese, both of whom use the so-called kanji characters, express the concept of "crisis," they use two symbols together. And the first one means "danger" and the second means "opportunity."
Ben Zimmer at the Language Log blog was all over this, and has lots of links. It turns out the core assertion is just wrong. And, as Victor Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, points out: "A whole industry of pundits and therapists has grown up around this one grossly inaccurate formulation."

Zimmer also points out that Gore went above and beyond the usual bogosity in using the hifalutin term "kanji", also (at least technically) incorrect. It does pump up the pseudo-profundity, however, which I'm sure was the purpose.

Enough dumping on Gore, though. Follow the links, and you'll find plenty of other victims who have been suckered into believing the beguiling bit of misinformation, and it's bipartisan. Condoleezza Rice fell into the trap. It goes (at least) all the way back to a speech JFK gave in 1959. It's also claimed that Nixon said it, although I can't verify that. (I scanned through a few pages in his Six Crises, which would be a likely enough place to find it, but was unsuccessful.)

We won't even go into what makes this particular bit of bunkum so appealing to various speechifiers; even if it were true, it's about as profound as pointing out that "there's no 'I' in 'TEAM'".

Probably my point ("and I do have one, I think") is that politicos should hire some fact-checkers with skills in the Googling Arts to prevent such gaffes. In addition to the Language Loggers, it's pretty easy to find skepticism on this point from the Acton Institute, The Straight Dope, and Jane Galt. Even the tedious Marty Kaplan pointed this out at Huffpo last year, but (predictably) he only detected Republicans as the abusers.

UNH is Dumber Than UVa

Phi Beta Cons reports that the University of Virginia has declined to sign onto the "American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment", which Commits the participants to a whole bunch of planning, action items, inventories, progress reports, etc. Commented UVa, in its press release:

Despite assurances from the document's proponents that it is simply a promise to spend two years planning for future actions, the document in fact contains stipulations that would require us to commit future institutional (which, under Virginia law, means state-taxpayers') resources without appropriate planning or cost justification, without scientifically verifiable means of proving that the predicted results have occurred, and (perhaps most oddly in a document that presents itself as a commitment to improving the environment) without a clear definition of the meaning of the commitment's benchmark term, "climate neutrality."

Hey, that's an unusually sober and responsible statement! I'm sure sober and responsible UNH will follow in the same sober and responsible path… oh heck, I guess not. Our (interim) President is already down as one of the signatories. And here is UNH's press release, with the usual feelgood self-backpatting. There's no indication that anyone here thought for even a couple seconds about the issues raised in the UVa statement.

Granite Staters will be happy to know that UNH's "commitment" will be appearing soon on a tax bill or tuition statement near you.


Last Modified 2007-03-23 6:13 PM EDT

URLs du Cathy

Cathy Seipp, one of the great sources for stellar writing, common sense, and humor in the blogosphere has passed away. To honor her memory, allow me to share links to some of her writing that I found especially good over the past couple years:

  • Cathy wrote on Bob Newhart;

  • And Richard Feynman (bet you never thought you'd see both Feynman and Newhart this close together in a single post);

  • She did a great interview with Matt Stone and Trey Parker from South Park;

  • A perceptive (and prescient) look at TV shows 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip;

  • She looked at online privacy (funny article title: "Gladys Kravitz Nation");

  • A digression on journalistic ethics, managing to be hilarious on a serious topic and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston is a self-important humorless weenie;

  • Her skeptical take on gay marriage;

  • Her devastating review of an idiotic book about Charleton Heston;

  • Her experiences in trying to find an Oriana Fallaci book at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, and her funny and smart blog post on the fallout from her article;

  • Her response to feedback she encountered to one of her LA Times op-eds on parents obsessed with getting their kids into selective colleges, containing the timeless observation:
    I guess they detected, just beneath the surface, my usual impatience with officious blowhards and took it personally.

  • And finally, something she wrote back in October 2005 about her illness. It probably should be bookmarked by anyone who might need to know someday about how to handle a dreadful disease with extraordinary bravery and class.

She will be greatly missed. My sympathy to her family and friends.

Hollywoodland

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

Not to age myself or anything, but I still remember the shock I felt back in 1959 when I read that George Reeves, star of the old Adventures of Superman TV show had shot himself. So you might think I was an obvious sucker for this movie, centered around that event. But … it's just OK.

The movie follows two timetracks: the first is that of seedy PI Louis Simo, played by Adrien Brody, hired by Reeves' mother to investigate the alleged suicide. The second details how Reeves (played by Ben Affleck) progressed from a 1940s player of bit parts, to getting cast (and typecast) as Superman, to becoming a dead guy, all while making bad romantic choices.

Acting ranges from OK to really good, although—sorry, Ben!—Affleck is only sporadically a good fit for Reeves. Neither the fictional Simo nor the fictionalized Reeves is much of a hero. And—possible spoiler here—although different scenarios are presented as to how Reeves' death could have been other than suicide, that little detail remains unresolved at the end of the movie, just like in real life. There is some effort to draw parallels between the life paths of Simo and Reeves, but that seems strained and ultimately lame.

The movie looks great, though, and there's some cleverness in inserting Affleck into Reeves' TV and movie roles.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:23 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-03-20

  • If Zach Wamp be for us, who can be against us?

  • San Francisco State University has declined to punish the local College Republican organization where paper Hezbollah and Hamas flags (containing the word "Allah" in Arabic) were stepped on, drawing the ire of people who get irate about such things.

    However, this was only after dragging the CR's to a "hearing," raising the threat of disciplinary action against clearly protected free expression. Chilling effect, anyone? Says Greg Lukianoff in the linked article:

    … the fact remains that the university should never have investigated or tried them in the first place. This was a protected act of political protest and it is impossible to believe the university did not know that from the start.
    "Indeed."

  • Yesterday, I remarked (with many others) about Hillary Clinton's immortal line:
    "I turn off a light and say, 'Take that, Iran,' and "Take that, Venezuela.' We should not be sending our money to people who are not going to support our values," she said.
    That's scary enough on foreign policy, but Iain Murray points out that it's also pretty idiotic energy policy.
    Switching off a light doesn't harm Iran or Venezuela in the slightest. It most likely harms the ordinary coal miner in West Virginia or Kentucky. Electricity, Madam Senator, comes from burning coal or natural gas, sometimes from nuclear and just occasionally from a renewable source like wind or solar. Oil-fired power stations are a thing of the past.
    I suspect, in Hillaryland, if you feel you're being tough and effective, that's good enough.

  • Jeopardy! fans … well, you probably already read Ken Jennings' inside look at game tactics, and what the show "encourages" (but doesn't requrire) you to do. ("The answer may surprise you!")

    Ken's post was inspired by the recent first-ever three-way tie at the end of the show a few days back. Ken got a tip from the Jeopardy! publicist about it, and blogged to his readers about the upcoming "never-before-seen occurrence". The post's title: "Once ever[y] twenty years, without explanation, Alex does the whole show in French." Heh!

  • Ann Althouse has the definitive word on the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" high school free speech case recently argued before the Supremes:
    "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," "Bong Hits 4 Jesus"...

    It never gets old, does it? It's funny, and it will always be funny. "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." People will be laughing about that line in Conlaw classes years and years from now.

    … if they're high.
    I hope the Supreme Court writes an interesting opinion, so it can be a main case in the case book, to lighten the load of studying free speech forever. Oh, you think I'm not taking drugs seriously enough... taking drugs seriously... taking drugs ... heh heh heh... what are you, the principal or something? The Principal of the Blogosphere? Eric Alterman already has that job, so settle down. It's time to talk about "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." Heh heh... It never gets old, does it?
    I suspect it's one of those things that never gets old … if you're high.
    … I haven't been anywhere near marijuana since I sat next to those guys at a Kinks concert in 1973.
    Ah. Pretty good simulation, though, Professor.

Last Modified 2007-03-21 9:25 AM EDT

For Your Consideration

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

Christopher Guest has previously taken on folk singers, dog shows, community theater, and aging British rock stars, all to major critical acclaim. His comedy hinges on his characters' deadpan overestimation of their own talent, intelligence, importance, and/or sanity. In this movie, the target is the movie industry, and—I think this is no coincidence—the critics were at best lukewarm.

Well, pilgrim, I'm here to tell ya: For Your Consideration is every bit as good, if not better than, Guest's previous movies. The plot follows the travails of the cast and crew of Home for Purim, a dreadful tear-jerker which inexplicably picks up "Oscar buzz." And things proceed from there.

Speaking of the Oscars: if I ran 'em, I'd give one to Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, John Michael Higgins, Jennifer Coolidge, Parker Posey, Rachael Harris, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, the immortal Larry Miller, and even maybe Ed Begley, Jr. OK, that's probably technically too many, but they're all great.

And Catherine O'Hara is amazingly good here; her performance skates a neat thin line between comedy and tragedy.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:24 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-03-19

  • Kathryn Jean Lopez extracts a quote from a recent Hillary Clinton speech:
    "I turn off a light and say, 'Take that, Iran,' and "Take that, Venezuela.' We should not be sending our money to people who are not going to support our values," she said.
    Otherwise sensible people have wondered out loud if Hillary "might be more ruthless against terrorists than the other Democratic contenders." That's a low bar to clear, obviously, but it seems she's doing her very best to prove them wrong.

    [The HRC quote has also made an appearance in Taranto's "Great Orators of the Democratic Party" series. Heh!]

  • I became a Virginia Postrel fan when she was editing Reason magazine a number of years ago; whenever she said something I disagreed with, it was a virtual certainty that she was right and I was wrong.

    She has a thoughtful essay today over at Cato Unbound titled "An 18th-Century Brain in a 21st-Century Head", and it's well worth reading if you're interested in or concerned with the future of liberty.

    (Actually, there's a number of articles at Cato Unbound on that topic, generating quite a bit of blog discussion over the past couple weeks. So if you've missed out, it's a good time to catch up.)

  • Neal Stephenson had an op-ed in yesterday's NYT about 300. Begins:
    A week ago Friday, moments before an opening-day showing of the movie "300" at Seattle's Cinerama, a 20-something moviegoer rushed to the front of the theater, dropped his shoulders, curled his arms into a mock-Schwarzenegger pose and bellowed out a timeless remark of King Leonidas of Sparta that has in the last week become the catchphrase of the year: "Spartans! Tonight we dine in hell!"
    Well, tonight I dine in Rollinsford, New Hampshire; nevertheless, I have to catch this movie pretty soon. (Via Lileks.)

Lost Embrace

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

This could well be the best ever Argentinian movie I'll ever see. It's mainly about Ariel, a moody Jewish kid in Buenos Aires, looking to put together enough documentation to support his claim of Polish citizenship so that he can get out of Argentina and hang around in Europe. We're introduced to his complex family and its history, together with the quirky denizens of the small mall where his mother runs a lingerie shop.

The movie worked for me; the filmmakers cared enough to construct an interesting and believable situation and three-dimensional characters. It's billed as a comedy, and there's a considerable amount of amusement.

Jewish mothers seem to be the same everywhere. Or at least in both American and Argentinian movies; at one point when Ariel claims no interest in having kids, his mom hands him her cake knife and begs, "Kill me!"

Your consumer reporter needs to point out that the cute girl you see on the DVD box over there appears in a single short scene. I was kind of expecting the movie to be about her.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:25 PM EDT

Mamas, Don't Let Your Daughters Grow Up to be Comics

I wrote this a few days back:

It's a well-travelled path: a flat-out comedian wants to be taken More Seriously As An Actor, and so gets into a movie that allows him to show that he's more than Ace Ventura/Carl Spackler/Happy Gilmore/Austin Powers/Mork/Navin Johnson.
Something that bothered me (even as a basic Neanderthal when it comes to feminism) was how easy it was to make that list, and the total absence of women on it.

Hypothesis: one's career path as an actor is severely limited if you (a) are a woman, and (b) start out doing comedy.

Evidence: let's look at Saturday Night Live cast members. Let's look at only the ones currently alive, because who knows what might have happened to Gilda Radner or John Belushi?

Five most successful males: Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers.

Five most successful females: Janeane Garofalo, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christine Ebersole, Jane Curtin, … um, … maybe Nora Dunn?

You see what I mean, I hope, even those of you saying: "Who's Christine Ebersole?"

More: look at the Oscar nominees for Best Actor/Actress for the past few years. On the guy side, we see Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, … all with early solid roots in comedy. Even one of Leonardo DiCaprio's early roles was on the Growing Pains sitcom.

On the gal side side, we have … Helen Hunt. And maybe you could make an argument for Diane Keaton and (going back a ways) Mary Tyler Moore. But otherwise, the women nominees did not start their careers cracking jokes.

Also check today's USA Today article provocatively headlined: Few bright spots for funny ladies. It points out that there are darn few leading TV sitcom roles for funny women these days, let alone career paths to increased acting respectability. (There's also a fetching picture of the aforementioned Ms. Louis-Dreyfus.)

The conclusion is inescapable: women who want to have wildly successful acting careers should probably avoid starting out in comedy.

I have no explanation.

URLs du Jour

2007-03-15

  • Amy Kane writes from the year 2027:
    It seems crazy now, but when the government began regulating what we eat, drink and smoke—shortly after our red state went blue—there was a minor backlash. Some people complained of a "nanny state" taking away free choice and treating us like dull-witted children.

    "I think the government should stop telling us how to live our lives," said a cranky old-timer in a man-on-the-street interview.

    "All these regulations," said another. "It's like being pecked to death by ducks."

    "Cranky old-timer"—hey, that could be me!

    I have to comment on one of the commenters, who says:

    I can live with the smoking ban, but God help the government entity who tries to take away my potato chips.
    Arguments of the form "I can live with X, but God help the government entity who tries to take away Y" miss the point. By sanctioning X, you've already given away the game to the pecking ducks who might someday decide to take away Y. And also Z.

  • I find it really difficult to listen to politicians; I'd be happier listening to them scrape their fingernails across a chalkboard. Fortunately, we have journalists to listen for us; they will summarize, more or less accurately, what the politician says. But Drew Cline performs above and beyond by noting what Hillary Clinton didn't say at a recent New Hampshire appearance:
    When Hillary Clinton spoke at the NH Democratic Party's 100 Club Dinner Saturday night, what struck me most was that she never once mentioned the War on Terror. Now, I don't expect her to necessarily use that term, but she did not even glancingly refer to the broader war against Islamic extremists in which the country she seeks to lead is deeply engaged. She mentioned Iraq, of course. But only as if it were an isolated war contained within the borders of that nation.
    It's unwise to count on Andrew Sullivan being right about anything these days, but he was on target with a recent comment on Hillary:
    I come back to character, which I've learned matters a lot. I simply see her opportunism and focus-group politics to be disconcerting. This isn't about gender. My long passion for Margaret Thatcher should lay that to rest. But I see in Clinton the antithesis of Thatcher: an instinct always to say what she thinks we want to hear.
    Well, make that half on target. Because, as Drew indicates, the flip side is her instinct to not say what her audience won't want to hear. In any case, Sullivan's conclusion is apt: "America needs better."

  • And I think I need this bumper sticker:

    [Bumper Sticker]

    I'd like to think so, anyway. So humor me. It's from Wondermark. Hint, hint.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:30 PM EDT

Club For Growth Scorecard

You might want to check out today's release of the Club for Growth's Congressional Scorecard for last year. Broadly speaking, the Club favors keeping economic decision-making in the hands of the private sector as much as possible; their scorecard reflects how well your Congresscritters and Senators voted along those lines.

Granite Staters: you want the good news first, or the bad?

The good news is that Senator Sununu was in a three-way tie for first place (with Senators Coburn and DeMint), a 100% "correct" voting record. Senator Gregg came in well above-average, with a 92% score, good enough for 11th place.

Presidential candidates: Senators Clinton, Obama, and Biden scored 8%, 7%, and 1% respectively, putting them on the short bus. Senator Brownback impressive at 98%, good for fifth place. Senator McCain: 76%, putting him solidly in "shows promise, needs improvement" category.

Speaking of Senator Sununu, he's up for re-election this year. I have no particular insight into his race, but according to guys I trust, he's said to be "vulnerable". My personal opinion is that if he loses, New Hampshire will be well on its way to becoming another Tedious New England State, and that would be a damn shame. We'd need to change our motto from "Live Free or Die" to something more progressive, something like, oh, say, "I'm a Loser, Baby, So Why Don't You Kill Me?"

Anyway, on to the bad news: On the House side, our ex-Congressmen got pretty mediocre scores: Jeb Bradley got 49%, putting him in 168th place. Charlie Bass got 43%, in 200th place. Note: their "moderation" on these "growth" issues didn't save them from becoming ex-Congressmen. On the other hand, it's a safe bet their replacements will not score as high in next year's compilation.


Last Modified 2007-03-14 6:44 PM EDT

The Marine

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

This movie is put together by "WWE", World Wrestling Entertainment. The hero, John Triton, is a pro wrestling superstar. I must quote from the DVD box:

WWE champion John Cena dominates the big screen as Marine John Triton. Wherever there's danger, Triton is usually smack dab in the middle of it... and he doesn't play by the rules! After he's unwillingly discharged from Iraq, Triton's beautiful wife Kate ("Nip/Tuck's" Kelly Carlson) is kidnapped by merciless jewel thieves led by a vicious killer (Robert Patrick)! Now, Triton must fight to save her, utilizing his most powerful weapon - himself!
I went in with very low expectations, and so wasn't disappointed. The plot was ludicrous, but straightforward. There were some funny lines (all from the bad guys, I think), and the acting was better than you might expect. The filmmakers followed some pretty simple rules:
  • Any large sheet of glass will eventually either be shot at, or have people hurled through it;

  • If large gasoline or propane tanks are present, they will explode in impossibly large fireballs within minutes;

  • Any wheeled vehicle will be eventually destroyed; Blowing it up (in an impossibly large fireball) is best, but driving it off a cliff or pier is acceptable too, as long as it's also on fire or full of bullet holes;

  • Despite undergoing multiple instances of physical stress that would (at minimum) land any mortal in the hospital for a week, the hero will persevere in kicking ass, until all asses are ultimately kicked.

The theatrical release was rated PG-13. The blaring UNRATED on the DVD means, I'm pretty sure, that a few frames of violent content were patched in, which would raise the rating to about a PG-16 or so.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:23 PM EDT

Sea Change

[Amazon Link]

I've settled into a reasonable compromise on buying the works of Mr. Robert B. Parker: get the Spenser novels in hardcover, wait for the others in paperback. So this one showed up last week, and I gobbled it up. It's last year's installment in the series following the police chief of Paradise, Massachusetts, Jesse Stone.

Gripe: it's one of those newfangled tall paperbacks, nearly seven and a half inches as opposed to the standard slightly-under 6 and a half inches. This will raise hell with my book storage! Oh well…

It's good, of course. With Parker, it's interesting to look at how his series characters develop. Spenser has long since settled down past any turmoil in his personal life; he knows himself, he knows pretty much how his relationship with Susan Silverman works. They chat a lot, but we're pretty sure they're going to wind up in the same place at the end of the book as they were at the beginning.

Jesse, on the other hand, is still trying to figure out (a) his drinking; (b) his relationship with his ex-wife Jess. It promises to play out for awhile.

But there's a mystery, too! An unknown woman is found floating in the harbor, in the middle of "Race Week" when a lot of out-of-towners show up looking for pleasures licit and illicit. It turns out that the victim is involved with a lot of the latter. Fortunately, Jesse and his team are almost certainly among the most dogged detectives anywhere. Elvis Cole may be the World's Greatest Detective, but Jesse's probably up there in the top ten.

According to RBP's "blog" at Amazon, the movie based on Sea Change will air on CBS May 20. Tom Selleck returns to his role as Jesse. I think Tom Selleck is great, but I "see" Kevin Spacey as Jesse, myself.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:24 PM EDT

See This Movie

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

It was really tempting to make this a one-word post: "Don't." And you're welcome to stop here if you want.

But I'm going to waste some words on it. Seth Meyers plays Jake, a clueless wannabe film director, who unaccountably tugs at his ex-girlfriend's heartstrings just enough to get his movie entered into the Montreal Film Festival. The problem is that it's not exactly been shot yet. And he doesn't have any money. Or talent.

That sounds promising, but Jake is grating and unlikeable in pursuit of his narcissistic fantasy.

His buddy, Larry Finkelstein, is played by John Cho, the Harold in Harold and Kumar; he puts in a pretty good performance as the movie's "producer."

But … well, don't.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:25 PM EDT

Geeky DST Reflections

I hope all our American readers remembered to make the Great Leap Forward on their clocks this morn. If you'd like to read an amusing essay on the topic, Joel Achenbach is your man:

Daylight saving time is here already, weeks ahead of the normal schedule, rousting us from bed, speeding up an already accelerated existence. By government edict, the sun does not rise when it should, and you must emerge from your comfy bed in predawn darkness. The moment when the clocks move forward by an hour has been moved back by nearly a month. Forward: back. Confused? Temporally discombobulated? Can you honestly say what time it is "right now"?

I can, of course, because I am a Linux geek, and the patch that fixed our timezone settings to reflect the new date for the shift was issued last March. While there's been quite a bit of frustration among my peers stuck with less well-designed operating systems …

"This is INSANE. I buy a standard product for 2500 bucks and then I get a note telling me to update it for a problem known for a couple years. And the patch screws up my system. How long will my appointments be shifted? For three weeks now and two weeks at the end of "old" dst?," a post from customer on the Microsoft DST chat said.

(<schadenfreude>heh</schadenfreude>) I've been able to ignore the hassle. (I'd say "Thanks, Linus!" but in fact Linux inherited its sensible design in this area from old-school Unix.)

What really impressed me was my watch, a Casio with (what they call) "Waveceptor" technology. I was prepared to have to kick it into DST mode, a trick that involves multiple button presses, incantations, and (often) breaking out the reading glasses to peruse the 3-point type in the manual.

But no! This morning, the watch had done its usual early-AM listen to WWVB in Fort Collins, Colorado, and (apparently) WWVB told it to do the switchover. The watch seemed proud of itself, perhaps even veering into smugness. (I'd have probably known about this behavior if I'd read the entire 3-point type manual.)

(True geeks will really want to check out that WWVB link, by the way. Those NIST guys are really smart.)


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:26 PM EDT

Borat

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

Or, the full title: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The film's premise, in case you don't know: Borat comes to America to make a documentary, becomes infatuated with Pamela Anderson after watching an episode of Baywatch, decides to road-trip it out to LA, runs into a lot of actual non-actor people along the way (who are not clued into what's really going on with the movie) and gets them to behave amusingly.

I was prepared to maybe dislike this movie for the reason David Brooks pointed out (quoted here):

The genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's performance is his sycophantic reverence for his audience, his refusal to challenge the sacred cows of the educated bourgeoisie. During the movie, Borat ridicules Pentecostals, gun owners, car dealers, hicks, humorless feminists, the Southern gentry, Southern frat boys, and rodeo cowboys. A safer list it is impossible to imagine.
He's right, of course.

I went into the movie knowing that, though, and still had a pretty good time. The title character is bigoted, vulgar, and ignorant, but still manages a naive sweetness, which is kind of a neat trick. I found myself smiling most of the way through, and laughing out loud a number of times. So there, David Brooks.

I seem to recall there was some controversy about the ways in which the movie's targets were deceived into behaving the ways they did. In addition, it's a certain bet the movie was creatively edited to give the impression the filmmakers wanted. I think finding out more about that would decrease my retrospective amusement, so I've avoided researching the topic.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:25 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-03-09

  • Over sixty years ago, George Orwell wrote on the topic of the English language:
    It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
    Today in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank looked at how that all plays out in the campaign speeches of Hillary Clinton.
    Are you in it to win? Would you regard civil rights as the gift that keeps on giving? Do you believe in the American Dream, stupid?

    If you answered yes to any of the above, you might consider supporting Hillary Clinton, the person to send to the White House when you care enough to send the very best. More than any other candidate, Clinton has brought the sensibility of Hallmark greeting cards to the 2008 presidential race.

    Many, many examples provided. I especially liked:
    She mixed metaphors like a Cuisinart: "Take our country back and put it on the right track. . . . I am not running for president to put Band-Aids on our problems. . . . Let's plow ahead."
    If you have, at this point, a mental picture of a band-aid covered snowplow racing around a track, … well, so do I.

  • Also over sixty years ago, Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom:
    Many socialists have the tragic illusion that by depriving private individuals of the power they possess in an individualist system, and transferring this power to society, they thereby extinguish power. What they overlook is that, by concentrating power so that it can be used in the service of a single plan, it is not merely transformed but infinitely heightened.
    … and darned if that point isn't reflected in the current musings of socialist Senator Bernie Sanders from the great state of Vermont, about a "media reform" bill he's about to introduce:
    Because I think that one of the major problems that we have is we're never going to be a vibrant democracy in which people are discussing the real issues facing them unless we address the growing corporate control over what the American people see, hear and read."
    I can't read this any other way than: Bernie is dissatisfied with what the American people "see, hear, and read", and he's not going to be happy unless and until they "see, hear, and read" things more in line with his own thinking, and he's not going to be shy about using the coercive power of the state to make that happen.

    Nah, that's not scary.

    Will the the vast media empire of the New York Times Company prick up its ears at this?

  • OK, so Bernie's an enemy of the First Amendment; wonder how he feels about the Second?
    A federal appeals court overturned the District of Columbia's long-standing handgun ban Friday, rejecting the city's argument that the Second Amendment right to bear arms applied only to militias.
    My own opinion is, roughly, yee-haw! Your go-to guys on this are Clayton, Glenn, and Eugene.

  • Not for everyone, and kind of old, but it made me laugh out loud: How the vi editor would seem if it has been made by Microsoft (via GeekPress, of course).

URLs du Jour

2007-03-08

  • Something to bookmark the next time some Castro/Che-sycophantic journalist goes to Cuba.
    According to Reporters Without Borders, Cuba is the fourth-worst place in the world for journalists — the worst are North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Eritrea (in that order). Cuba has an official press, and everything else is illegal. The regime greatly fears and persecutes any peep of independence. In the crackdown of March 2003 — known as "Black Spring" — 27 journalists were arrested. Some have been released, even as others have been put away. There are now about 25 journalists in prison. And anyone who remains on the outside is constantly harassed, constantly disrupted, doing that dance with death.
    "Read the whole thing." It's a story of real bravery.

    Cuba recently expelled three journalists (one American, one Mexican, one British) for—let's face it—excessively honest reporting. This Investor's Business Daily editorial makes the obvious observations:

    If professional standards mean anything to the mainstream media, getting expelled for that reason is a badge of honor.

    Which brings up why remaining correspondents inside Cuba aren't red-faced about not being thrown out.

  • But that's about as serious as I can get today. We all miss the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. An occasional schtick was Calvin asking his dad kid-type questions about the world, his dad coming up with bizarre, yet internally consistent answers. Elise has discovered that this is funny even without the artwork. Sample:
    Q. Why does the sky turn red as the sun sets?

    A. That's all the oxygen in the atmosphere catching fire.

    Good material for all you dads out there; that Bill Watterson guy is a genius. A relatively recent press release from his publisher where he answers some fan questions is here.
    Q: What led you to resist merchandising Calvin and Hobbes?

    A: For starters, I clearly miscalculated how popular it would be to show Calvin urinating on a Ford logo. …

  • Ann Coulter and Bill Maher are a lot funnier when Iowahawk writes their dialogue. (Warning! Contains invective!)

A Little More on REAL ID

In case you aren't sick of it yet: Yesterday's USA Today editorial came out swinging in support of REAL ID. They gave an ACLU guy some space to respond, but Jim Harper would have been a better choice. He takes the editoral apart, argument by argument. Sample point:

Careful observers noted the contrast between Secretary Chertoff's urgency when speaking to Congress about REAL ID and his Department's willingness to kick implementation down the road another year and a half, to December 2009. Cards wouldn't even be in everyone's hands until 2013. This puts the lie to the idea that a national ID is a security tool at all.
A vital security tool … that we're not going to completely implement for a real long time.

If You Look Up "Travesty" in the Dictionary …

Lots of bytes flung on the Scooter Libby verdict over the past couple days, huh? One of my favorite quotes is from this (otherwise worthless) WaPo article.

While the White House publicly withheld comment, some Bush advisers expressed outrage, seeing a double standard and citing the documents-smuggling case of former Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. Berger. "Scooter didn't do anything," said former Cheney counselor Mary Matalin. "And his personal record and service are impeccable. How do you make sense of a system where a security principal admits to stuffing classified docs in his pants and says, 'I'm sorry,' and a guy who is rebutting a demonstrable partisan liar is going through this madness?"
"Indeed."

REAL ID == Imaginary Security

One of the occupational hazards of being ideologically perched between conservatism and libertarianism is that you're occasionally irked by both sides. (Liberals, "progressives" and other lefties are, on the other hand, almost consistently annoying.)

Some libertarians occasionally revert to their "civil libertarian" mode, for example; they often seem bent on living up to their caricature as coddlers of criminals and terrorists, viewing law enforcement and security measures as part of a continuing effort to turn the US into Nazi Germany. (Recent example described here.)

But conservatives also sometimes manage to irritate. Such is the case with National Review's recent editorial in favor of REAL ID, new federal regulations that govern standards for state-issued ID cards, typically driver's licenses.

This is spurred by the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. Some of the 9/11 terrorists had fake IDs; some of them had real IDs obtained under false pretenses; some were real, but had fake names, courtesy of a crooked DMV employee. Hence, the logic goes, we must Do Something about IDs.

REAL ID is billed as an anti-terrorist measure, but it's one that broad-brushes just about every single law-abiding American as a potential terrorist. I.e., it's being brought about by the same mentality that designed airport security. It's reactive, overly broad, and (arguably) won't do much to actually make us safer. And, since it doesn't make us safer, it wastes resources that could be used to make us safer.

One valid point made in the NR editorial: A lot of opposition to REAL ID is overblown, in the typical "civil" libertarian mode: aieee, the Gestapo's gonna get us! That's an unfortunate but irresistible debating tactic in a land where millions of people remember watching movies where where the foreign-accented baddies hiss "Your papers, please" to the heroes trying to escape. We don't have to go there; REAL ID is a bad idea, not an evil one.

The rest of NR's arguments are weak. Example:

Any modern society must have a means of identifying people—for national security, business transactions, and more. Most countries have opted for unitary national-identification documents.
This is the "everybody's doing it, Mom" argument that NR would laugh out of existence if it were applied to (say) socialized healthcare. In fact, the US has done OK without (so far) a single top-down, one-size-fits-all ID system. In reality, people working close to a problem can evolve appropriate security systems, to fit specific needs, making trade-offs as necessary to conform to their other requirements.

NR also says:

As for the fiscal objection, the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators have calculated that compliance with the new standards will require $1 billion in one-time infrastructure costs, while Congress has only provided $40 million in the REAL ID Act. Even if this proves to be an exaggeration, the cost problem is real and should be met by disbursing more federal money if the homeland-security funds already provided are insufficient.
Unfortunately, the link goes to a headlined article:
REAL ID WILL COST STATES MORE THAN $11 BILLION
This is a five-year estimate; the "one-time" costs NR trumpets are actually small compared to ongoing costs. And (as the article makes clear) that's not all:
The report also suggests additional costs, such as the added time and effort citizens will spend to comply with the state motor vehicle department. Anticipating three to four identity documents per applicant, with more than 80 million transactions performed annually, applicant processing time will more than double for citizens in most states, with waits in some areas increasing by up to 200%. Several provisions under consideration by the Department of Homeland Security were not addressed by the survey, and could potentially further impact citizens and DMVs and add significantly to the costs described above.
Again, if this were a different context—some intrusive new wrinkle in the tax code, for example—NR would be out in front in questioning whether such an expenditure by governments and the citizenry was actually worthwhile. But those honorable critical faculties are shut off in this case, and all NR can manage is: Pay up, sucka!

By the way, Homeland Security estimates a ten-year discounted price at $17 billion, counting costs from governments and individuals. Given the nature of government cost estimation, it's a safe bet that's a lowball. (Via Cato@Liberty.)

Other people have made the (non-Gestapo) arguments against REAL ID pretty well. Here are some links:

  • I disagree with Bruce Schneier at times, but on this issue he's pretty convincing. Here is a recent article from him; here is what he wrote a couple years back. Both articles have links to a lot of other resources. One key quote:
    A reliance on ID cards is based on a dangerous security myth, that if only we knew who everyone was, we could pick the bad guys out of the crowd.

  • Also consistently thoughtful on all sorts of ID matters is Jim Harper of Cato. Here is his testimony last year to a committee of the New Hampshire State Senate (which, unfortunately, didn't take his advice at the time). Here he fact-checks a Congresscritter's reassurances about the database-sharing provisions of the REAL ID legislation. Here are his thoughts after testifying recently to other state legislative committees. He paraphrases one of his co-testifiers, a state Homeland Security official:
    Along with his philosophical objections to a national ID, he pointed out its practical weaknesses as a security tool. You can nail down the identity of everyone and you'll be no better off in preventing something like a terrorist attack. And as soon as you come out with a highly secure, highly valuable ID like the REAL ID, the hackers and forgers will go to work on faking it or corrupting someone in order to get it. It's a good security practice to diversify your protections rather than creating a single point of failure like the REAL ID Act does. You might make yourself less safe if you rely on a uniform ID system for your security.

  • You might want to check out this recent Slashdot post, which contains valuable links to Homeland Security documents and a C|Net FAQ. (As always with Slashdot, comments are safe to ignore.)

Check 'em out. If you want me, I'll be in the basement, ransacking my files, trying to find my passport, my birth certificate, my library card …

Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:31 PM EDT

The Last Kiss

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

The back of the DVD box promises a "hilarious, irresistably genuine comedy," but it's actually one of those comedies that forgets to be funny at all. The front of the DVD box says "two thumbs up," but I can't imagine this didn't involve the critics' loved ones being kidnapped by the filmmakers.

So much for picking up something on impulse from Blockbuster.

The movie's main characters are self-absorbed and whiny, but not in interesting ways. Most are going through stereotypical crises, which are developed with predictability and without wit. The main character, played by Zach Braff from Scrubs, is fearful of commitment to his pregnant girlfriend, which he demonstrates by taking up with a much younger college student. That doesn't work out, as he would have known if he'd watched any of hundreds of better movies than this one.

Tom Wilkinson saves this movie from utter dreckdom by giving a solid and real performace. It's claimed that the script is by Paul Haggis, who also wrote Casino Royale, Million Dollar Baby, and Crash; I've seen those movies, and it's hard to believe that could possibly be true.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 5:26 AM EST

Stranger Than Fiction

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

It's a well-travelled path: a flat-out comedian wants to be taken More Seriously As An Actor, and so gets into a movie that allows him to show that he's more than Ace Ventura/Carl Spackler/Happy Gilmore/Austin Powers/Mork/Navin Johnson.

This is one of those, as Will Farrell plays IRS auditor Harold Crick as an introverted, friendless, nearly invisible non-entity; totally different from Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby. Supernatural complications ensue when a reclusive novelist (played by Emma Thompson) somehow includes Harold as a doomed character in her latest book, and he can hear her narrative voice as she moves his character through her plot.

I can hear you saying: sounds as if it's a cynical mutation of Groundhog Day. Kind of, but it's pretty good anyway! It helps that Farrell is surrounded by a supporting cast that ranges from very good (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah) to near-immortal (Miss Thompson, Dustin Hoffman).

One big problem is that, while Thompson's character is described as a literary genius, and her novel described as her potential masterpiece, the actual excerpts we're exposed to over the course of the movie are pretty dreadful. (Yes, I was able to suspend disbelief for everything else, except that I couldn't imagine anyone would think that was good writing!)

Trivia: Tom Hulce is also in this, his first non-Quasimodo movie since 1995. He was unrecognizable (but very funny); when I saw his name in the credits, I had to click back to his scene. "Oh, yeah, that's him… wow, he's changed."


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:22 PM EDT

The Watchman

[Amazon Link]

It's a happy day when Mr. UPS brings an Amazon package containing a new Robert Crais book to my door. Even better when the book has The World's Greatest Detective, Elvis Cole, as one of the characters. I know how my free time will be occupied in the near future.

But The Watchman is actually billed as "A Joe Pike Novel." Elvis is relegated to second-banana status, and his taciturn sidekick takes over most of the pages. That turns out OK too.

The plot involves a Paris Hilton-type celebrity heiress involved in an accident, causing her to see something she shouldn't have, causing a large number of men with guns to menace her rich-girl existence. Pike gets roped into playing her bodyguard; he's already shooting bad guys on page 14.

One quibbling drawback, the plot (as it turns out) depends on an unlikely Dickensian coincidence. No biggie, it's still darn fine and extremely suspenseful writing.

From Robert Crais's FAQ:

Although Robert has received numerous offers from Hollywood to buy the screen rights to the Elvis Cole novels, he has no intention of selling them.
Probably applies to "Joe Pike novels" as well. I respect that, but this really would make a pretty good movie if done right. I think Matthew Fox (Dr. Jack on Lost) might make a pretty good Elvis.

Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:23 PM EDT

Moan

From "Camelot":

The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
Hmph. I don't suppose Lerner and Loewe will be coming around to plow my driveway.

(James Taranto provided the link and lyrics for the above, in a different context. He was really on a roll yesterday, check it out.)


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:33 PM EDT

Good News from UNH

Spurred in part by the William Woodward affair from last year, UNH's Provost, Bruce Mallory, held a "Academic Freedom Forum" yesterday. With some trepidation, I attended. I was a little worried that we'd see the worst features of PC-Academe on uncontradicted display.

But instead I was pleasantly surprised. Provost Mallory's invited speakers were refreshingly non-ideological, well-informed, and even-handed. Even entertaining. Especially good was Mark Silverstein, a PoliSci professor from Boston U.

A large fraction of the presentations was devoted to the legal status of academic freedom, and how it relates to the First Amendment. This was enlightening; the definitive word seems to be that the Supreme Court has not really laid down solid precedent in the area, and lower courts (as Silverstein put it) are "all over the map" on the relevant issues. Anyone who pretends to say with certainty how Constitutional law applies to academic freedom is probably overstating the case. It's not even settled who owns the rights conferred by "academic freedom": does it attach to the professors, or to their institution? That's a really important issue, if you happen to be a professor.

But (of course) many "academic freedom" cases don't make it to the courts; certainly Prof Woodward's case never came close to that. And that was one weakness of the forum. For example. the AAUP "Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure" states:

Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.
Now, this phrase was quoted exactly, without caveats, by one of the speakers. (And good for them in doing so.) But there was no mention as to how that might play out, either in legal terms, or in terms of University regulations, or in terms of dealings between the University and (say) the Legislature. But that was arguably the relevant issue in the Woodward affair: why they heck is this 9/11 conspiracy mongering being promulgated in a Psychology classroom? What happens when that "controversial matter which has no relation to their subject" test gets triggered? What should happen?

I had to leave the forum before it was over, unfortunately, so perhaps this came up. But, apart from that quibble, it was incredibly encouraging to see a serious discussion of academic freedom here.

Interesting side issue: Provost Mallory mentioned that he'd recently been importuned by (unnamed) people to shut down a showing of the movie Obsession, a documentary describing "radical Islam's war against the West." (This showing was sponsored by the College Republican group here.) The Provost resisted; the movie was successfully shown here earlier this week. It's nice to see UNH easily pass a test of free expression that some other universities have failed badly.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:33 PM EDT