Curse of the Golden Flower

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

Or, as they say at IMDB: Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia. First I'll point out the obvious: this movie has lots of over-the-top visual spectacle, lovingly exploring every nook and cranny of the Forbidden City as it was back in the good old days of the tenth century AD. It's a tale of political intrigue, love, betrayal, violence, and flowers. The action is imaginatively choreographed. Flying ninja assassins appear out of nowhere at unexpected times, wreaking untold havoc.

(OK, I know they're not really ninjas. Ninjas are Japanese. Still, they look like superninjas.)

The bad news is that it's a pretty slim story on which to hang all this pageantry. The main characters are devious, surly, and otherwise unlikeable. There are long, nap-inviting, periods where not much happens onscreen except flashing glorious costumery, beauty, and stilted elliptical dialog.

There are some probably unintentionally funny moments. Watch for the cleanup crew bringing out the Emergency Backup Mums, like this sort of thing happened every day. Also the improvised mosh pit, as the golden soldiers chant "Catch! Catch! Catch!"

So: not great, not awful, not a bad way to spend an evening.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:44 PM EDT

Usin' My Noggin

[Thinking Blogger]

Amy Kane recently tagged me with a "Thinking Blogger" award. Yeeks! I'm humble, gratified, and—a little—discomfited. Because it gives me a peculiar kind of Blogger's Block: now I gotta be thoughtful? My fingers hover over the keyboard … beads of sweat appear on my forehead … time passes … <voice imitation="lucille_ball">waaaaah!</voice>

Oh, well. We'll extend our usual Pun Salad guarantee to cover this: we'll make you think, or twice your money back. Ah, there we go, I can type again.

This game was started back in February by, appropriately enough, "The Thinking Blog". And I'm asked to link to five further blogs that "make you think."

Well, they all make me think. But I'll take it to mean that "thinking" is the primary reaction to the blog: not amusement, not amazement, not appreciation, and not approbation (specifically, not me pumping my fist in the air, shouting "Yes! What he (or she) said!") Instead, we're looking for bloggers that put the wrinkle in my brow and start the cogs turning creakily underneath.

  1. Bill Gnade of Contratimes is an easy choice. Not prolific, but his posts always bear close reading, crafted with care and wit.

  2. Kip Esquire of A Stitch in Haste reminds me of an old Usenet guy, Blair Houghton, who I believe came up with the classic Usenetism: "Cogito ergo I'm right and you're wrong." Kip is, as near as I can tell, never agnostic on any issue. If I disagree, he makes me aware that I'll need to crank the Rumination Dial up to 11 to make sure I know why.

  3. I've been reading David Friedman since—well, since we were both a lot younger. His wide-ranging blog is titled, simply enough, Ideas. Here's the start of a recent post:

    There is considerable evidence that both falling in love and long term attachment are associated with the levels of various chemicals in the brain. Suppose we learn enough about the process to be able to control it artificially. What might the results be and should we approve?

    I'll try to pretend my thoughts on this were much deeper and nuanced than: "I held my nose, I closed my eyes. I took a drink."

  4. Virginia Postrel blogs at dynamist.com, the name reflecting her notion that the most important modern ideological conflict is between "dynamists" who embrace technological and social changes associated with 21st-century capitalism, and "stasists" who don't. She's also non-prolific, but her posts are always worth reading and thinking about. Even if most of my thinking is along the lines of: "Virginia Postrel is a frickin' genius."

  5. Darn, I'm running out of numbers, only this one left? Well, let it be Megan McArdle, aka "Jane Galt", at her blog Asymmetrical Information. She describes herself as a "squishy libertarian", and is right now gamely defending her pro-immigration views against a whole bunch of irate commenters. Similar to Kip, if I disagree with Megan, there's an uncomfortably large chance that I'm wrong.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:51 PM EDT

Oddly Fascinating Spam

My day job, as I've mentioned before, involves administering the mail systems at UNH. So I'm hip-deep in spam, and (unlike most of you, I hope) I actually look at a lot of the spam that gets caught by our filters, making sure that it's being properly classified.

One current technique is to package a advertisement graphics attachment with a text attachment. Charmingly, there's an actual effort to make the text look "real", but without resorting to a canned script (which might be more easily caught).

So the generating script is apparently spidering around the web, yanking bits of text from anywhere. The result is bizarre and oddly fascinating. Here's one that came in this morning, enjoy:

It is recommended that you disable message broadcasts from your Windows Network dialog in the Control Panel. She stared, momentarily uncertain of the threat, but then she saw the wash of blue light and her panic galvanized her into desperate action. Now, by my holidame, What manner of man are you. I would strongly caution against downloading any zipped or archived file from groups trafficking this type of material.

Yesterday I couldn't see sparks without at least three or four of you together, but today it's all sharper, and more furious. The service can be started by running EventSinkHost. That thing is a black hole. Now he was by a pond in the infinity of the thistles, allowing his horse to drink, and she came riding up on her mare.

How can she stand wearing that. ZIP 4828 21-08-92 Motley Crue. Will be zero if Maximum Number ofVersions is zero. Additional Linux systems supported. Will be deleted by memDC. The resource directories typically have a default type like Bitmap for the group that contains bitmap resources. The data is a list of names. See section Year 2000 (Y2K) Problems. How can I use debugging. The pointer representing the interface for the object.

How can I specify to use the string resource in the DLL instead of the project's own. Weiramon entered last, his lordlings at his heels and a tight-mouthed scowl on his face. Pudgely is saying something, making a joke about how close they came, the others eke out a laugh, but Y. Who cares what they think. A while ago, Steve Kemp asked what will happen with backports. This deprives the security community of much-needed statistics and data.

A fine effort, but the message's spam-score was 12.882, well above the level that plonks it into my incoming spam folder. And, even when I choose to look at it, the best part is: I use one of those 90's style text mail readers (mutt), hence I never see the ads that accompany this weirdness. So bite me, spammers.

Where did that marvelous text come from, though? Literally, here, there, and everywhere. Googling shows (for example) that the "infinity of the thistles" thing is from The Satanic Verses by recently-knighted Salman Rushdie; a pirated PDF is out there on the Web. The "sparks" sentence is from From the Two Rivers: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. "Weiramon" is from a different Jordan book, The Fires of Heaven. "Pudgely" is from Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash.

And (to my surprise), a "holidame" is not some bimbo generated by the Starship Enterprise's holodeck, but actually from Shakespeare's Henry VIII, Act V.


Last Modified 2007-06-23 12:02 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-06-22

  • Elizabeth Warren is a Harvard Law School professor, and she has a Big Idea: to create a federal "Financial Product Safety Commission" to—as you might guess—bring additional regulations to the financial sphere. The title of the linked article, "Unsafe at Any Rate," is obviously meant to leech off whatever good feeling today's "progressives" have for Ralph Nader's 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed and the regulatory onslaught it inspired. Probably she doesn't detect the irony of the "progressive" rehashing of 42-year-old memes instead of coming up with anything actually innovative.

    And Professor Warren is postitively giddy over at TPM Cafe, where she reports that John Edwards, presidential candidate, has embraced this idea (although he's renamed it the "Family Savings and Credit Commission"). "John Edwards has stepped up," she swoons. "Will other candidates join him?"

    But another prof, Don Boudreaux, has an excellent response to this, packaged as a letter to the editor:

    If such a commission does its job, I suggest that the first dangerous financial product that it attacks be Social Security. Not only are Social Security's returns lousy; not only does the institution providing it have no sound plan to keep it solvent; not only does this institution intentionally mislead its clients about its insolvency (witness its discussions of the illusory "trust fund")—but its "customers" are forced to buy it. THAT is a dangerous financial product!
    "Indeed."

  • The US Senate passed an energy bill last night. Andrew Roth calls it "an amalgamation of bad ideas." For Iain Murray, it's a "disastrous move". More:
    It avoided the worst proposed excesses, the $28 billion tax hike and an increased mandate for expensive, inefficient renewable power, but includes a 36 billion gallons mandate for miracle fuels that don't exist yet, new efficiency standards for appliances, etc., much higher CAFE standards but no automatic increases after 2020, and criminalizes "unconscionably excessive" gasoline prices. The result will be much higher prices for gasoline, appliances and less-safe autos, but not (for now) for electricity.
    And both of New Hampshire's senators voted for it. Moan.

  • I never metaphor I didn't like: "Sure enough, a quick check revealed that the boxes were, indeed, completely empty."

  • Yes, that last item contained, arguably, a pun. The people responsible have been sacked.

  • Four words: Photo by Steven Spielberg.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:52 PM EDT

Pop Quiz, Hotshot!

What Steely Dan lyric does Bill and Hillary Clinton's recent video bring to mind?

  1. You been tellin' me you're a genius
    Since you were seventeen
    In all the time I've known you
    I still don't know what you mean 
    

  2. I hear you are singing a song of the past
    I see no tears
    

  3. Well, I've seen 'em on the TV, the movie show
    They say the times are changing but I just don't know
    These things are gone forever
    Over a long time ago
    

  4. Babs and Clean Willie were in love they said
    So in love the preacher's face turned red
    Soon everybody knew the thing was dead
    He shouts, she bites, they wrangle through the night
    

  5. Show biz kids making movies
    Of themselves you know they
    Don't give a …
    
    (Rest is here. We're a PG blog!)

  6. All of the above.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:54 PM EDT

So I Married an Ax Murderer

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

I'd seen this quite awhile back. Since then, I'd seen the Shrek movies, the Austin Powers movies, and—hey—even the Wayne's World movies. And probably dozens of SNL rerun sketches. So, I said, Mike Myers is a major comic genius, so maybe the Ax Murderer movie wasn't as bad as I remembered?

Wrong. It was pretty much as bad as I remembered. Two good things: (1) Nancy Travis is easy on my eyes. And (2) Mike Myers plays his character's own hyper-Scottish father.

But if you're amused by the latter, you can get it without having to sit through a whole movie:


Last Modified 2012-10-19 1:02 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-06-21

Happy Solstice to all you pagans out there. But if I find you guys dancing naked on my lawn again this year, I will call the cops. No kidding, and I don't care how many of my family are arrested with you.

  • A recent "Think Progress" article decries the "domination" of talk radio by "conservatives." It offers a pretty typical (and pathetic) "progressive" solution: increased Federal regulation of radio ownership, aimed at increasing "diversity." (Am I getting in enough sneer quotes for you?)

    Apparently putting together radio programming to which people might actually want to listen of their own volition is too difficult for "progressives," so they want the coercive power of the state to make things a little easier. Never mind that the whole "progressive" idea is radically regressive, harkening back to the bad old days when lots of people thought government bureaucrats and technocrats would wisely plan the economy for the common good.

    Fortunately there are no Truth In Labeling laws for ideologies, otherwise a lot of "progressives" would find themselves in jail. For an actually no-sneer progressive idea, check this Slate article from a few months back: Abolish the FCC.

    "Progressive" link via an AnkleBiter. Also commenting are Mark Levin, Paul at Wizbang, and James Gattuso, who calls the proposal "as wrong as it is dangerous." ("Other than that, though, it's fine!") Michelle Malkin calls it—heh!— the "Hugo Chavez approach to the radio airwaves."

    But nothing I can see at the Reason website. What's up with that? Too easy?

  • Various bloggers are exposing themselves to ridicule by going through the Forbes Celebrity 100 and listing the members they don't know.

    Hey, why not? Here are mine: #24, Michael Schumacher; #31, Ronaldinho; #38, Roger Federer; #41, Kimi Raikkonen; #48, LeBron James; #53, Gisele Bundchen; #58, Valentino Rossi; #93, Rhonda Byrne; and #98, Hayden Panettiere. Rhonda's the only one I think I concievably "should have" known. Other than that, you have a pretty good profile of sports I don't even come close to following, and a TV show I've managed to avoid.

  • On a related note, PC Magazine posts "Our 15 Favorite Celebrity Websites." I had heard of everyone here save someone/something called "Daughtry", how about you? Observations:

  • Fans of the Lio comic strip will not want to miss this installment of Retail from a few days back.

    "The little weirdo hasn't said a word." Heh!


Last Modified 2014-12-01 9:54 AM EST

George Lucas Was Unavailable For Comment

The ABC radio news announcer at 6am this morning reported that thousands of "droids" had gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice.

URLs du Jour

2007-06-20

  • Eddy Elfenbein is succinct and damning in his recollection of a four-year-ago-today NYT column by Paul Krugman, simply by quoting him:

    The big rise in the stock market is definitely telling us something. Bulls think it says the economy is about to take off. But I think it's a sign that America is still blowing bubbles — that a three-year bear market and the biggest corporate scandals in history haven't cured investors of irrational exuberance yet. … In short, the current surge in stocks looks like another bubble, one that will eventually burst.

    Mr. Elfenbein appends a graph of the S&P 500 index since that fateful day. I liked that idea so much, I popped over to bigcharts.com and composed one that compares the index with performance of a specific stock over that time period:

    [Big Chart]

    Worth a thousand or so words; that's yer Pun Salad value-added. (Original link via Instapundit.)

  • There's an interview with Hero Genius (and Red Sox employee) Bill James at Opinion Journal. It's entertaining, but those looking for rare nuggets of baseball wisdom have to realize that the Sox are paying for exclusive access to any such nuggets that James may or may not have dug up. So:

    He also refuses to take credit for the Red Sox rise. "Nothing I do leads directly to consequence, and if it did I wouldn't tell you," Mr. James says.

    Heh! Still worth a look if you're a baseball fan. And, by the way, the Red Sox Magic Number is 85 as I type.

  • The American Medical Association recently weighed in on "gaming addiction" as a malady both (a) potentially serious (for the addicts) and (b) possibly profitable (for the medical profession). Lore Sjöberg helps identify a few more computer-related disorders. For example, there's—oh oh—"Narcissistic Blog Disorder":

    This disorder is characterized by the creation of a blog in which the individual consistently denigrates not only the opinions of others, but the very fact that others have opinions, saying things like "nobody cares what some overpaid starlet has to say about global warming" and "nobody cares what some crusty career politician thinks is wrong with society today." Simultaneously, the individual assumes that people do care about what he or she has to say, in spite of the individual's only political or activist experience being watching the movie Dave twice.

    Hey, I can't help it, I'm sick!

  • Arnold Zwicky examines the linguistic history of not knowing your ass from a hole in the ground. <shot expense="cheap">Paul Krugman take note!</shot>


Last Modified 2012-10-19 1:06 PM EDT

Flags of Our Fathers

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

I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did, because Clint Eastwood, who directed, is pretty much a Cinematic God. It's the story of the men who raised the famous flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in 1945. And here are the lessons the movie drives home with all the subtlety of a brick to the noggin:

  1. War is hell.

  2. Especially so on Iwo Jima.

  3. Being a war hero is no picnic either.

  4. Especially if your government is using you as a bond-sale tool.

  5. And you know that the flag thing was probably the least dangerous thing you did while you were on that damned flyspeck island.

  6. And, in any case, when your usefulness is over, everyone forgets you.

  7. On the other hand, you get to marry Melanie Lynskey.

So, save that final bit, it's pretty bleak and depressing and pointless. Waaaah! Fine for some, not my cup of sake.

One of the flag-raisers, Rene Gagnon, was from Manchester, NH. Janice Brown has an excellent article about Rene at her Cow Hampshire blog.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:45 PM EDT

The Most Honest, Open Congress in History

CNN asked all 435 US House members for a list of their "earmark" requests for the upcoming FY2008 budget. The dismal results:

Staffers for only 31 of the 435 members of the House contacted by CNN between Wednesday and Friday of last week supplied a list of their earmark requests for fiscal year 2008, which begins on October 1, or pointed callers to Web sites where those earmark requests were posted.

Of the remainder, 68 declined to provide CNN with a list, and 329 either didn't respond to requests or said they would get back to us, and didn't.

CNN has an easy form with pulldowns so you can find out how your Congresscritter reacted to CNN's query. For example, I can tell you that both New Hampshire's newly-elected House members, Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes, stonewalled on CNN's query, failing to provide a response. Tsk! On the job barely six months, already arrogant and secretive!

How a Unix Geek Parses the Vanity License Plate "MRSED"

"Ooh, Mr. Sed!"

"..."

"I guess it's probably Mrs. Ed."

URLs du Jour

2007-06-19

  • The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has named two universities to its Red Alert list: Johns Hopkins and Tufts. An institution can manage to get on the list due to "severe and ongoing disregard for the fundamental rights of its students or faculty members."

    So, I hear you asking: only two? So far.

    As FIRE points out, prospective students should keep in mind the question: "Why risk tens of thousands of dollars of tuition at these schools when it could all be taken away in the blink of an eye—no college degree, and no refunds?" Simply for saying or writing something to which someone in a position of authority decides to take offense.

  • For Granite Staters: the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance has issued its legislator report cards for 2007. (For people in other states: it's an excellent example.) My five House reps scored a—wince!—a C, a D+, a D, and two F's. My senator, Iris Estabrook, also grabbed an F.

    It could have been worse. If I lived in Durham, for example. The six reps scored two D's, two F's, and two "CT"s, which stands for "Constitutional Threat."

  • There's an interview with Hero Genius Brad Bird at Town Hall. Go read now.

  • And then there's just plain genius at work as Iowahawk pens another installment in his "Inspector Dan Rather" series: "The Ratings Always Drop Twice."
    I was working down in Cable Hell's Kitchen. A freelance investigative gig at HDNet, a smalltime news outfit wedged between MTV-6 and the Cubic Zirconia Channel. Not much money, but they didn't ask too many questions and they didn't have any nosy "fact checkers." I had just pulled out my hip flask for a snort of Zima malt beverage when I saw a familiar silhouette in my office door. It was short and curvy with a pair upturned perky hairflips straight out of the CBS makeup department.

    "Well, well, well. If it isn't little Katie Couric," I growled as she walked in. …

    Many guest appearances from our favorite folks.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 1:10 PM EDT

The Queen

[Amazon Link] [5.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

We're slowly working our way through last year's "must-see" movies, but I was a little trepidatious about this one. As just about everyone knows, it's the story of the reaction of England and its royal family to the 1997 death of Princess Di. And I couldn't see any way that a red-white-and-blue-blooded Yank like me could find that interesting.

But Mrs. Salad wanted to see it.

Well, more fool I. Helen Mirren won an Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth II, and I don't think an Oscar was ever more richly deserved. She's onscreen for most of the movie, and I had a tough time looking away. The real Queen wouldn't have been as good here.

And, to its credit, the movie doesn't take the easy way out. Yes, both Princes Charles and Philip are portrayed as IQ-85 twits. But Tony Blair's wife, Cherie, and a number of Tony's buddies come off poorly as well—for being tediously convinced of their intellectual progressive superiority over hidebound concepts such as tradition and duty. You don't see that kind of careful characterization in support of a movie's themes very often, let alone done well.

The movie makes clear that Queen E's a pretty tough and down-to-earth admirable old bird, driving her own car when given a chance. Her flaw, such as it was, was failure to understand and adapt quickly to a massive media-driven frenzy of sentimentality. She comes away not defeated, but smarter and stronger.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:45 PM EDT

Just So You Know

What's My Blog
Rated? From Mingle2 - Free Online Dating

It turns out that mentioning Moby Dick "may not be suitable for children." OK, point taken.

URLs du Jour

2007-06-18

  • Hope y'all had a good Father's Day; I did. It helps to have two great kids. And, as Joel Achenbach explicates, being Dad is a pretty easy gig:
    There are great fathers out there, without question, but the grading scale has always been absurdly generous. You get points just for showing up. Pick up a baby? Huge points. Change a diaper? The crowd roars and cheers.

    To be considered a good father you basically have to be just a tiny bit better than Darth Vader.

    But you probably don't need to be a father, or even a social sometimes-conservative to be a little saddened by Heather Mac Donald's article about Hallmark's new cards, "For Mother on Father's Day," marketed in their African-American specialty line.
    There were no "For mother on Father's Day" cards among the rest of the store's Father's Day offerings, only in the "black" section (though of course the 48 percent Hispanic and 25 percent white illegitimacy rates are no cause for celebration). No evidence yet of same-sex marriage or "You've got a new turkey-baster baby!" greeting cards, either, but if Disney is offering gay marriage getaways, Hallmark will surely follow.
    (Via Joanne Jacobs.)

  • It's been kind of interesting to observe the voting record of our new Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. (And when I say "interesting," I mean "painful.") The recent outrage (extensively described at Granite Grok) was Congresswoman Carol's vote against Tom Tancredo's amendment to a Homeland Security funding bill which would deny DHS funding to communities who have designated themselves "sanctuary cities" refusing to cooperate in enforcing Federal immigration laws.

    Forty-nine House Democrats were either scared or sensible enough to vote for Tancredo's amendment, and it passed easily. Apparently Shea-Porter doesn't think she even needs to pretend to be moderate in order to win re-election. It'll be interesting to see how that works out for her. (And when I say "interesting," I mean … I guess I mean "interesting.") The attack ad writes itself.

  • Speaking of immigration, Jonathan Rauch has a column on the topic, and it's Postrel-recommended, which means its almost certainly on the right track.
    On the legal side of the immigration equation, there are easy trade-ups to be had. In fact, even a National Journal columnist with no apparent qualifications could write a better bill.
    Bad news is that Rauch doesn't have much to say on what to do about the illegals already here, other than point out that a saner legal-immigration policy would do a lot to stem the future illegal flows.

  • On another topic entirely, honest: Stuart Buck has an aside to this fascinating abstract, which I'll quote in full:
    In a study testing whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by one's mind-set, 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General's recommendations for an active lifestyle. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided. Subjects in the control group were not given this information. Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. These results support the hypothesis that exercise affects health in part or in whole via the placebo effect.
    Short-but-sweet summary: it doesn't actually matter if you exercise, you get all the benefits from exercise by simply believing you're exercising. I am desperately trying to figure out how I can use this knowledge to avoid Planet Fitness in the future.

    Perhaps cracking open "about two to three ounces" of pistachios is all the exercise I need to live forever. Yeah, that's the ticket.

  • I kinda liked this NYT correction, via Language Log:
    A graphic last Sunday about health and safety issues misspelled the name of a new diagnosis for the shoulder pain caused by playing tennis on Wii, the video game console. It is acute Wiiitis, not Wiitis.
    If Kristen Wiig has a Wii, I hope she avoids acute Wiiitis.

    And it seems to me if we get pains from excessive blogging, we should call that ASCIIitis.

    Thankyouverymuch, I'll be here all week.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 1:11 PM EDT

Ratatouille

[Amazon Link] [5.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

I dragged the family to the sneak preview of Ratatouille. There's no big surprises here: it's a Pixar film, written and directed by Brad Bird, which pretty much means it's as good as it gets.

The premise is that a French rat has aspirations to become a gourmet cook. Complications ensue when … oh, heck, it doesn't matter. Just go see it, for goodness' sake.

I was enough of a geek to notice that Pixar's CGI technology has gotten noticably (even) better. Again. Check the details on the rat fur!

I've said this before, but: how is it that I deserve to live in a time and place that produces works like this?

There is also a hilarious short feature, Lifted, preceding the feature. It (finally) answers the question: do aliens have to learn how to abduct humans? Why yes they do, and some of them aren't very good at it.


Last Modified 2014-12-01 5:18 AM EST

Pan's Labryinth

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

This movie got uniformly rave reviews from both critics (96% on the Tomatometer) and movie buffs (#41 on IMDB's top 250 films of all time). It won three Oscars, and was nominated for three others.

The premise is stunningly original. A little girl, Ofelia, is taken with her remarried pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather. Their new home happens to be a portal to a supernatural fairyland, which Ofelia proceeds to explore.

That doesn't sound so bad! But—oops!—it's set in 1944 Fascist Spain. The stepfather is a cruel and sadistic brute, a captain working to put down the resistance, and Ofelia's new home is also an army outpost. Both the natural and supernatural worlds are filled with dangerous monsters, ready to pounce at the slightest mistep, and outbreaks of sudden explicit violence and death.

So there you go: it's very dark, and not for the kiddies! Might not be for you, either, if you prefer movies where all the good guys wind up OK at the end.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:09 PM EDT

I See a Licensed Psychic in Your Future

You may have noticed that:

  • Libertarians love to rail against abusive occupational licensure laws, sold to the public under the guise of consumer protection, almost always a tool used by entrenched interests to enlist the power of the state in supressing competition. Milton Friedman devoted a whole chapter to the topic in 1961's Capitalism and Freedom. I mean—Lawzy me!—how else might the great masses be saved from the depredations of unlicensed interior decorators, florists, sign hangers, hair braiders, or horse teeth floaters?

  • And we Granite Staters also enjoy picking on our southerly neighbor, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, pointing out (among other things) their lackluster law enforcement, everyday political corruption, spendthrift government, and absurdly hysterical overreaction to pranks.

  • And of course any story involving the self-serious preying on the superstitious and gullible is interesting on its own merits.

So this story from the Boston Globe's intrepid Salem, MA correspondent is a veritable perfect storm of blogging goodness.
The [Salem] City Council unanimously passed an ordinance last night to license palm readers and fortunetellers who have been in Salem for at least a year, pass a criminal background check, and submit a résumé showing at least five years of experience.
Yes, quite literally almost a license to steal! But—wait a minute—it turns out that's not enough for …
… a group calling itself the Witches' Public Awareness League, made up of several locals who have for years offered psychic readings for a fee, said the proposal isn't enough to stop interlopers who show up during the busy Halloween season and steal their business.
Get outta town, you interloping witches! Those are our marks! The entire article is full of gems. One more:
While it imposes new standards, the ordinance will allow more palm readers and fortunetellers to operate in Salem, by lifting a cap that limits the number of licenses to one per 10,000 residents. Passed more than a decade ago, that limit allowed only 12 official psychics. Some Wiccan business owners have since plied their trade unlicensed, because there were no penalties.
Well, thank goodness all that's changed now. (Via Granite Geek who asks the obvious question, so I don't have to: "Shouldn't they have foreseen this?")

Last Modified 2007-06-15 12:34 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-06-14

[US Flag]

  • It's Flag Day, and Mark Steyn has recycled a pretty good column of his from a couple years back. It's about flag-burning. Bottom line:

    … a flag has to be worth torching. When a flag gets burned, that's not a sign of its weakness but of its strength. If you can't tand the heat of your burning flag, get out of the superpower business. It's the left that believes the state can regulate everyone into thought-compliance. The right should understand that the battle of ideas is won out in the open.

    And Michelle has an article with displays satisfactory and not.

  • From the same mentalities that brought us clothes washers that don't wash comes Senate Bill 1419, which ostensibly proposes

    To move the United States toward greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers from price gouging, to increase the energy efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles, to promote research on and deploy greenhouse gas capture and storage options, and to improve the energy performance of the Federal Government, and for other purposes.

    … but Iain Murray proposes a shorter description:

    … the re-hashed command-and-control socialism and populist demagoguing masquerading as an Energy Bill.

    He has a raft of specific criticisms, but, at bottom, it's authored by a host of people that distrust or hate the market. This inevitably means that we're in for (a) lower quality; (b) higher prices; (c) expensive litigation; (d) massive inconvenience; (e) shortages/unavailablity (for things you want); f) gluts (of things you don't want); And you can enjoy it all in your not-actually-clean clothes, driving your tiny "efficient" car between your office and home, both of which are too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. Fun!


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:44 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-06-13

  • Mr. Wizard, Don Herbert, has passed away. Geeks of a Certain Age remember him fondly. His official website is here.

  • Jesse Walker looks nearly in vain for a serious presidential candidate who opposes ethanol subsidies. The only possible exception he detects is Fred Thompson.

    It's pretty amusing that the Democrats (in particular) who vaguely inveigh against "corporate welfare" are happy to support this specific example of it. In case you need to be convinced on that score, Jesse links to and excerpts a Jay Hancock column in the Baltimore Sun that should help.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 1:11 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-06-12

  • UNH makes the big time with a glowing article at Inside Higher Ed. It discusses Provost Bruce Mallory's "Democracy Imperative" project, which is:
    … a new community of practice and national network of multidisciplinary academics and civic leaders in the fields of public deliberation, democratic dialogue, and social change who are dedicated to the advancement of deliberative democracy through higher education.
    OK, so that sounds like a perfect storm of academic buzzwords, and you can read lots more at the links. However, I was favorably impressed with Provost Mallory's "Academic Freedom Forum" a few months back. So there's a decent chance that there's useful substance behind the verbal fog.

    And there's apparently no truth to the rumor that the Art Department is renaming one of its display spaces "The Mallory Gallery." Disappointing!

  • New Hampshire also makes an appearance at the Cato@Liberty blog, where Tom Firey looks at our state's recent near head-on collision with a mandatory seat belt law. The bill's sponsors trotted out the standard argument that since the state might incur additional expenses for some non-belted accident victims, that entitled them to force everyone to buckle up. Tom points out:
    The slippery slope problem of such thinking is obvious. Because government provides an education benefit to children, can it mandate certain behaviors for adults of child-bearing age? Because government provides some health benefits, can it regulate everyone's risk-taking behavior? Because government provides retirement benefits, can it dictate people's employment decisions?
    If you're on a slippery slope, it probably makes more sense than usual to buckle up, although I trust you to make your own decisions on the matter.

  • Twenty years ago today, President Reagan gave his "Tear Down This Wall" speech at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Power Line has video and reminiscences from the speechwriter, Peter Robinson. Fun Fact:
    With three weeks to go before it was delivered, the speech was circulated to the State Department and the National Security Council. Both attempted to suppress it. The draft was naïve. It would raise false hopes. It was clumsy. It was needlessly provocative. State and the NSC submitted their own alternate drafts—my journal records that there were no fewer than seven. In each, the call to tear down the wall was missing.
    By being "needlessly provocative" etc., President Reagan helped make a safer and freer world for my kids. I'm grateful.

  • But it's not all serious world-saving stuff here at Pun Salad today. Out in darkest Minnesota, some person claiming to be "James Kirk" has started a sniglet blog. His initial entry:
    Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
    But down in the comments he's done one better:
    I think that Bozone layer may also be responsible for the Dopeler effect, which makes rapidly approaching stupid ideas seem smarter than they really are.
    Good for a couple "heh"s, appropriate since the link is via Instapundit.

Why Andrew Sullivan's Blog is Declining in Value Faster Than the 1923 German Mark

A pretty interesting recent development in the Scooter Libby case is the filing of an amicus brief by a number of famous constitutional law professors putting forth the view that the appointment of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is a constitutional "close question." As this WaPo story says, it would be an argument for letting Libby remain out of jail while the issue is resolved.

Fine. Except that Judge Reggie Walton, to whom the brief was presented, wrote a scathingly sarcastic footnote in response (while accepting the brief):

It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is a reflection of these eminent academics' willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in this Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it.
What's going on here? So asks Professor Volokh, who deems the footnote "odd," and claims that it "makes no sense." He provides a fine analysis of why Judge Walton's remarks are wrong-headed.

You might also want to check Tom Maguire's discussion; he also considers the footnote "odd," and while the brief was accepted, notes that the judge did so "ungraciously." And here too, you'll get an actual, decent, analysis of the arguments involved.

In comparison, Andrew Sullivan provides a dozen-word post deeming Judge Walton's note to be "pretty hilarious snark."

I detect a rather large difference in blogvalue there.

It's true that Andrew Sullivan does not have Eugene Volokh's legal training, nor does he have Tom Maguire's diligence in studying the issues in the Libby case. On the other hand, you don't really need to be a legal eagle to suspect that—just maybe—a court order might not be the most appropriate place in the world to work out one's petty resentments, especially if you're supposed to be a fair-minded judge. Nor do you need to have paid very close attention to think that briefs filed by names like Bork, Dershowitz, and Barnett—just maybe—could raise some actually important legal issues.

That might have occurred to the Andrew Sullivan of a few years ago; but today's version prefers to mindlessly echo and applaud snark, as long as it's directed at the targets he's chosen to despise.

Blue Screen

[Amazon Link]

Attentive readers will maybe have noticed that I am a semi-major Robert B. Parker fanboy, and have been so for slightly—wince—over 30 years. I pick up his Spenser series in hardcover, and the others in paperback as issued. And this one just came out in paperback.

Blue Screen's protagonist is Sunny Randall, Parker's female private investigator. She's initially hired to nursemaid a stunning, but not particularly talented, movie starlet, but by page 40, there's a body, and Sunny gets switched over to investigate that.

But the crime takes place in scenic Paradise, Massachusetts, which puts it smack dab in the jurisdiction of another of Parker's series heroes, Police Chief Jesse Stone. So the two meet, and join their investigatory forces.

The result is actually surprising, but won't be spoiled here. Suffice it to say, I did not see that coming. I'll be tuned in for future entries in both series.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:46 PM EDT

Déjà Vu

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

Shockingly, this turns out not to have been a movie interpretation of the classic Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album. However, there's a Beach Boys song.

Nevertheless, I hope readers appreciate the effort in getting those accents over the letters in the title correct; I don't have one of those fancy-schmancy HTML editors here.

Oh, yeah: the movie. Well, it's pretty good! Denzel Washington is our hero, an ATF agent investigating a horrific terrorist attack on a New Orleans ferry. But what starts out as a police procedural takes a science-fiction twist, … and I shant continue, because part of the fun here is figuring out what's going on, just as Denzel has to do.

The twist is contrived and ludicrous, but if you suspend disbelief just for that one little thing, the movie plays fair with you thereafter. It's not a spoiler to observe that Denzel develops a Laura-like obsession with one of the terror victims, and it's really kind of neat to see how that plays out.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 12:46 PM EDT

In Other News: Melville Claims Moby Dick Not About Whales

You're never too old to learn something. From BoingBoing:

Ray Bradbury has given a disappointing speech in which he claims that his inspirational novel Fahrenheit 451 has nothing to do with censorship -- as has long been held. Bradbury says that the book was intended as a jeremiad against television.
"Disappointing" is in the eye of the BoingBoing writer, of course, and (following the linked article), it turns out that it wasn't a speech, but an interview. Further fun fact from the article: Bradbury walked out of a UCLA class where the kids were insisting that 451 was about censorship. There's a further link where you can view Quicktime video(!) of Bradbury explaining it all.

Disappointing? Only to those who are disappointed when a fondly held worldview is challenged. Mr. Bradbury coming up on 87; he's reached a point where he should be able to say pretty much anything he wants without people carping about it.

URLs du Jour

2007-06-06

It's Corporate Evil Day here at Pun Salad! Raise your pinky finger to the corner of your mouth and check 'em out:

  • Professor Bainbridge has had it with the Google, the proverbial back-breaking straw being the "Street View" feature of Google Maps.
    … I'm persuaded that the people who run Google are basically evil. As a result, I'm pulling all Google widgets off the blog the next time I do an update.

    To be sure, even if you think this latest invasion of privacy for profit isn't all that big a deal, consider all the other straws Google has dumped on our backs: China self-censorship, repeated privacy invasions, ignoring patriotic holidays, infringing on copyright, the list of petty annoyances to serious errors has simply grown too long to be ignored. Google's motto, "Don't be evil," is not just a joke.

    I think the Prof means it is just a joke, but otherwise, point well taken.

  • Meanwhile, Lore Sjöberg detects Evil at Apple:
    You may have heard the news that Apple embeds your name in music that you buy from the iTunes Store, even music without digital rights management. The company's fiendish approach prevents you from even knowing what happened unless you look, and prevents you from removing the information unless you try.
    Lore goes on to detail what he terms Apple's "even more insidious tactics" and they are not only insidious, but nefarious, pernicious, and capricious as well!

  • In other good news, Slashdot tells us that the Evil Incarnate Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is being accused of extortion and conspiracy, which is akin to accusing water of being wet.

    Seriously, I have no idea if the mentioned legal action has any merit whatsoever, but if it would get the RIAA off this University's back (and others), it would be a net plus. And Slashdot commenters, as always, are a hoot.

  • And then there's InfoUSA and its CEO, Vinod Gupta. As PowerLine details, in addition to showering former president Clinton with $2.1 million in "consulting fees", and subsidizing flights on its corporate jet to Hillary, the company has also hired Paul Sand to a $180K fulltime position, despite the fact that Paul already has a fulltime job, which he's keeping.

    Oh, wait. It's not Paul Sand; it's Paul Pelosi. That makes a little more sense, doesn't it? Especially if you're Evil!

  • More stupid than Evil is ATI, which recently released a video card driver upgrade that offers "improved TV quality and Broadcast Flag support which enables full US terrestrial DTV support". Danny O'Brien points out that Broadcast Flag support is not mandated by law, and offers nothing positive for non-masochistic consumers. He asks:
    Since when did upgrades include more potential bugs, and fewer features for customers? And when will tech companies upgrade their expectations of standing up to Hollywood's demands, instead of constantly attempting to downgrade ours?
    Potential video card buyers should take note. (Via Tech Liberation Front.)

  • Spoiling our well-thought-out theme of the day, Iowahawk has decided to run for president. About time!
    I have not taken this decision lightly. When considering a run for public office, the first thing a candidate must ask himself is: what can I, as newly elected public servant, expect to get out of this deal? I have researched this question thoroughly, and believe me: being President is a pretty sweet gig. Not only does it pay 400 large, it has plenty of perks including "three hots and a cot," and the world's most fearsome military force at my disposal.
    Three hots and a cot. I like that.


Last Modified 2007-06-06 8:52 PM EDT

… And We're Back!

Sorry, a power outage took out Pun Salad last evening. We had some unusually nasty weather, including—honest—a tornado warning. This apparently scared the hamsters at Seabrook, and instead of running in their wheels as usual, they buried themselves in their wood shavings.

I looked in the BIOS settings, and, well whattyaknow, there's an option to auto-reboot the system when the power comes back on. We'll try that.

Reprehensible

Apparently, yet inexplicably, Senator McCain seems not to have read our Sunday post—one we worked real hard on, too—decrying the immigration-arguers who label their opponents as angry, chauvinistic, bloodthirsty, bigoted nativists, etc. If he'd read it, perhaps he would have refrained from making a charge like this against his fellow GOP presidential candidates:

To want the office so badly that you would intentionally make our country's problems worse might prove you can read a poll or take a cheap shot, but it hardly demonstrates presidential leadership.
Senator McCain believes that the other candidates intentionally want to make problems worse.

Intentionally.

Simply because they oppose his stupid amnesty-now, enforcement-maybe immigration bill.

The Washington Times article is headlined "McCain urges rivals to avoid divisive issue." That's pretty ironic, isn't it?

McCain's chances of getting my vote were already slim. Today they are much slimmer.

(Original link via Kausfiles.)


Last Modified 2007-06-05 9:30 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2007-06-04

  • Andrew Roth reacts to the news that some Vermonters want Vermont to secede from the US:
    New Hampshire should put up huge signs along the border that read, "We welcome all Vermont refugees. Come enjoy our low-tax, business-friendly state! We're not your nanny, but we will offer free coffee at the nearest visitors' center!"
    Listen here, Andrew: the signs are OK, but no free coffee! In fact, incoming Vermonters will have to bring over five pounds of Green Mountain Coffee as tribute, per person.

    LGF and Newsbusters have more on the movement. I especially like this point from one of the essays at their website:

    2. Violence begets more violence, not the other way around.
    Wait a minute … not the other way around, which means … darn, my brain just froze up.

  • But when the Vermonters get here, they'll no doubt be happy to note New Hampshire students are learning culturally acceptable methods of draconian punishment and subjugation of women:
    For one night, on May 9, the quaint colonial town of Amherst, New Hampshire, was transformed into a Saudi Arabian Bedouin tent community, with the help of 80 seventh-graders at the Amherst Middle School. … During the check-in, guests selected a traditional Arabic name for their name badge and completed an actual Saudi customs form, which warned in bold letters "Death for Drug Trafficking" at the top. … Only the seventh-grade boys were allowed to host the food stations and the Arabic dancing, as the traditions of Saudi Arabia at this time prevent women from participating in these public roles.

  • I've linked to the essay containing this series of questions a couple times before:
    I will make the point yet again because I believe it is the crux of the issue: what kind of moral universe do you have to inhabit to be able to believe that your own people -- airline personnel, demolition experts, police and security forces, faked witnesses and all the rest -- are capable of such a thing? How much hate for your own society do you have to carry in order to live in such a desolate and ridiculous mental hell? What psychoses must a mind be riddled with in order to negate what was perfectly obvious and instead believe a theory of such monumental fantasy? How much pure constant hatred does that take? What, in short, is the miserable black hole of self-loathing that drives a person like Rosie O'Donnell and millions like her?
    Well, today, we have another answer.

  • Over at the Huffington Post, Senate candidate Al Franken posts a big long whine about how he has to ask people to give him campaign funds. His solution—I bet you've guessed already—is to have the government force people to give him campaign funds. He uses a euphemism for this ("public financing of elections"), but only readers misguided enough to believe what they read at the Huffington Post will fail to see through that.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 1:13 PM EDT

Immigration Debate: Plus Ça Change …

I once pointed to an article by Ann Althouse asking "Why is immigration suddenly making everyone crazy?" That was over a year ago. Back then, I also noticed bloggers I admired making obviously bad arguments (here, here, and here) on the issue. I also noted (here, here and here) that the debate bore the hallmarks of Sowell's "conflict" between constrained and unconstrained visions, where (typically) the constrained-vision side views the other side as misguided, while those in thrall to the unconstrained vision view their opponents much more negatively, as stupid, evil, or insane.

You may have noticed that none of these observations actually changed any opinions, let alone make anyone any less vituperative in their debating tactics.

The latest sad data point: as Peggy Noonan noted in her widely-quoted WSJ column last week, the president and his allies have adopted the unconstrained debating tactic:

The president has taken to suggesting that opponents of his immigration bill are unpatriotic--they "don't want to do what's right for America." His ally Sen. Lindsey Graham has said, "We're gonna tell the bigots to shut up." On Fox last weekend he vowed to "push back." Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff suggested opponents would prefer illegal immigrants be killed; Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said those who oppose the bill want "mass deportation." Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said those who oppose the bill are "anti-immigrant" and suggested they suffer from "rage" and "national chauvinism."
Also of note is Michelle Malkin's recent column which made similar points:
Meanwhile, Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald notes the White House continues to attack opponents of the Bush-Kennedy amnesty package as "nativists." Conservative columnist Linda Chavez accused amnesty critics of "not liking Mexicans." Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff suggested enforcement advocates wanted to "execute" illegal aliens. Sen. Lindsay Graham, South Carolina Republican, trashed immigration enforcement proponents as "bigots" in front of the ethnocentric, open-borders group La Raza. Yeah, we're the nativists.

The Heather Mac Donald article to which Michelle refers is here.

The upshot? Don Boudreaux, a blogger I ordinarily greatly admire, posts a letter written to the Washington Times in response to Michelle's column:

The actions of millions of Mexicans who come to America seeking opportunity demonstrate a profound affection for American civilization - a civilization rooted in an openness and optimism that Ms. Malkin and her xenophobic comrades want to replace with a nativist nationalism rooted in ignorance and fear.
Yes, indeedy! That's exactly what Ms. Malkin wants: nativist nationalism rooted in ignorance and fear! So there's no need whatsoever to deal with the actual arguments made by her or her "xenophobic comrades"! Gee, that was easy.

Professor Boudreaux shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness about these reprehensible debating tactics, all the more remarkable because he'd presumably just read an article making a point of how misguided such tactics are.

The Continuing Adventures of Linux Boy: Fedora 7

Apologies to anyone inconvenienced by our extended outages on Friday, but the blog is now coming to you via the latest version of my Linux distribution, Fedora 7.

Fedora 7 came out May 31. And the call of a new version summons me, much like the tantalizing song of the siren tempts the sailor, sometimes with the same results.

But this turned out OK. Random notes follow.

There is a "live CD" of Fedora 7, but you can't upgrade an existing machine from that, as near as I could tell. (I didn't look very hard, and may have missed it.) The full distribution is available on a 3-Gig DVD image only; no more burning of multiple CDs (good), but … oh, right … this machine only has a CD reader.

Well, no problem, or at least not a big one, to those of us with access to other web servers. I uploaded the DVD image, mounted it, set up a symlink to the mount point in the webroot, and voila, we're off to the races. You still need something to boot your target system with, but the DVD contains a couple of smaller images you can copy to a bootable medium, like a CD or USB stick.

Things were going just swell, when I ran into a sudden and serious stumbling block: the upgrade process refused to continue because it believed the swap partition was invalid. ("Press any key to reboot", it said helpfully.)

After much anguish, I recalled the following caveat from the relase notes:

A change in the way that the linux kernel handles storage devices means that device names like /dev/hdX or /dev/sdX may differ from the values used in earlier releases. Anaconda solves this problem by relying on partition labels. If these labels are not present, then Anaconda presents a warning indicating that partitions need to be labelled and that the upgrade can not proceed.

Well, obviously, that wouldn't apply to the swap partition, right? Wrong, it does. (But, in my slight defense, the error message isn't anything as clear as "You need to label your swap partition, dummy.")

But how do you put a label your swap partition, if it doesn't already have one? A few seconds with the Google reveals: you just use the -L option to mkswap:


# mkswap -L SWAP /dev/hda3

And change the appropriate line in your /etc/fstab:


LABEL=SWAP    swap      swap    defaults 0 0

Restart the upgrade, and we are sailing once again. This time, things ran to completion, and—hooray—everything worked right afterwards.

What of the end result, you ask: was it worth it? Ah, you're missing the point. For a sysadmin:

  1. the focus is on the journey, not the destination;

  2. we're generally pleasantly surprised when anything works at all.

But I'll answer anyway: Fedora 7 is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Many installed packages are in their latest and greatest revisions. (Firefox 2, for example, replaces Firefox 1.5, and that's especially nice.) There's another marginal improvement in font legibility, welcome for my aging eyes. And the undersea-DNA theme from Fedora Core 6 has been replaced with hot air baloons!

But generally, I'm not a professional reviewer, I don't crawl up and down feature lists, and (as noted above), as long as I have a basically-working environment with Perl, a web browser, and terminal windows, I'm pretty satisfied. (And, of course, a working web server for you kind readers.)

Previous adventures of Linux Boy: the Fedora Core 6 Upgrade and the relatively rocky Fedora Core 5 Upgrade.


Last Modified 2012-10-19 1:14 PM EDT